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Thread: Philosophical musings of science, reality, blind men and elephants

  1. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    Or to add to what Guth is saying, I would claim that what is actually different is that cosmologists are asking much simpler questions than meteorologists. It's not the cosmological universe that is simpler, it is what the physicist has chosen to care about that is simpler.
    Or, not so much that meteorologists are asking complicated questions, it's the TV viewer that is asking what seems to be a simple question which the meteorologist knows involves complicated answers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Len Moran View Post

    I maintain that our reality is phenomena and by phenomena I mean everything - our brains, our senses, our body, the rocks, the stars, the planets. For me the one thing that brings all this together as a whole is mind and consciousness. So outside of our reality of phenomena I don’t consider there to be stars being born in the manner we envisage - the historical time line of the birth of a star occurring before sentient beings evolved is a projection that we make based on a hypothetical human person being present at all times on that time line observing and measuring parameters of the star. Without that hypothetical human observer, we cannot scientifically say what that star is outside of phenomena. You may recoil at that suggestion, but your “common sense view” that the star exists with that historical time line independently of phenomena (our reality) is a philosophical premise you take up, we cannot prove that to be the case because we have no means in which to step outside of phenomena and “common sense” is simply a function of the only thing we can know.
    Actually, I apologize for having used the word "philosophy" in the wrong sense. I see that actually, I misunderstood it. As far as phenomena is concerned (everything we observe), I adhere to the common sense view, that the universe exists without the necessity of an intelligent observer. We observe a myriad of stars in heaven, each of which is of varying light years distant. Doesn't this point to stars emerging as we envision? IMHO, the star exists and is a star,even without a hypothetical intelligent observer. If not, why even bother with cosmology? Or have I misunderstood you?


    Quote Originally Posted by Len Moran View Post
    The important point to make concerning the two paragraphs above is that neither of these two differing viewpoints (that our reality is absolute verses our reality being phenomena that has an unknowable correspondence with mind independent reality) can be verified in the manner that we do physics, both stand outside of that form of enquiry and so we need to understand the nature of the “truths” that physics gives us when asking “what is out there” because the answers you get through physics are limited in their application, they do not have the legitimacy to be extrapolated to areas of enquiry that lay outside of the means by which they were formulated and verified.
    That we by extrapolating beyond what we can measurably verify, are on thin ice, is what I was saying.

    Quote Originally Posted by Len Moran View Post
    So when you ask (at least that's what I think you are asking) how we can discover the last “nut and bolt” of the physical world, from my perspective there will never be a last nut and bolt because we can never escape from the phenomena of the nut and bolt and look to see what underlay the phenomena, it is always going to involve mind and consciousness. To some extent we already see this with QM in that the fundamental building blocks of the microscopic are linked to how we set up the experiment. Of course one can argue as many do that QM is incomplete, but as of now nothing indicates that to be the case.
    Did not quite understand the first part. I agree that we can never get done to the last nut and bolt, because it is physically impossible to do the measurement. (assuming it is not infinitely elephants all the way down...). QM seems to be incomplete, I thought, because it is not compatible with General Relativity, which is a classical theory. Also, the completeness, I would think depends on whether or not basing the model on 0 dimensional points is legitimate. SchrŲdiger, I believe, wished a more multidimensional model, but realized that the resulting math would become extremely complicated. String theory has taken a step in this direction, postulating a 1-dimensional string, but is lacking empirical verification.

    Quote Originally Posted by Len Moran View Post
    If some “final nut and bolt” is discovered through bigger and bigger experiments then you might claim this to be the end of physics. Perhaps it would be – I’m not sure how you would ever be able to tell (and perhaps that’s the point you are making). All I would say is that if we could establish such a thing, then for me it would simply say that physics has reached its legitimate limit in terms of providing models of phenomena. To go any further we would have to invoke models that incorporate mind and consciousness and I have no idea how we could ever do that in an objective manner (how can we use our mind and consciousness to create an objective model of mind and consciousness?). If you were to insist that this “last nut and bolt” provides a final understanding of the physical world then I would say, fine, but just understand that this is not a viewpoint supported by physics, rather it is an extrapolation of that “last nut and bolt” to the “outside” of our reality and thus can only be a philosophical stance in which to take.
    As I said previously, I have the feeling we physics will never get down to the last nut and bolt. The mystery of how mind and consciousness arise from a particular configuration of nuts and bolts is another ball game entirely.


    Quote Originally Posted by Len Moran View Post
    Thus my own view is that physics as an empirical science can never reach any kind of final answer because it cannot reach beyond phenomena. Even though you may not agree with this you cannot fall back onto physics in which to counter it, so you are left with having to understand what ultimately physics is able to tell us about nature in terms of the way we practice physics (which has to ultimately involve empirical verification, otherwise it ceases to be physics). The point is, your hypothetical “last nut and bolt” of physics can still only be a model of “something”. It is a model that only has legitimacy (in terms of how we practice physics) within the reality in which it operates. The “last nut and bolt” of physics tells us nothing scientific about the reality in which that “last nut and bolt” resides and so will always be incomplete as a scientific method of understanding causal mechanisms within our reality.
    My understanding is that anything you can measure, can be measured and modeled by science. For humanity, investigating within the scope of our reality, results in mathematical models to predict and analyze components of the universe. Going beyond that seems to delve in metaphysics.

    Quote Originally Posted by Len Moran View Post
    The problem is that many see physics generally as a discipline in its own right. In terms of predictive mathematical models it is just that, but outside of that narrow window it operates within a philosophical framework that each of us is free to choose. So when you ask how and when physics will be able to provide answers to all of our questions relating to the physical world you firstly have to decide what your philosophical stance is, is it naÔve realism, mathematical realism, objectivist realism – any flavor you like really. You can also go for idealism which says that there is only mind and consciousness. Having chosen your philosophical stance, you are then free to speculate philosophically on the relationship between the verified predictive models and the nature of reality outside of the reality in which those models work.
    My flavor is scientific realism. What science describes is real. Difficult are unobservable entities (graviton, etc.), which science speculates may exist.

    Quote Originally Posted by Len Moran View Post
    Most physicists don’t bother with this, why should they – none of it impacts on the proper job of the physicist which is to create and verify models that allow the rest of us to make use of. But once you go beyond this then I don’t see how you can avoid philosophical enquiry and I think this to be the case with yourself.
    Yes. Thank you for making me realize I misinterpreted the term "philosophy" in the context of this conversation.
    Thank you also for taking time for making such a lengthy response.
    Last edited by grapes; 2013-Dec-09 at 06:12 PM. Reason: got quotes wrong... (grapes: changed \s to /s)

  3. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by grapes View Post
    Or, not so much that meteorologists are asking complicated questions, it's the TV viewer that is asking what seems to be a simple question which the meteorologist knows involves complicated answers.
    Exactly, the "complexity" of a question is really the complexity of what is required to answer it.

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    Haven't posted here in a while, so haven't figured out how to hand the quotes....sorry

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    Then you follow me just fine! You mean what your senses detect, exactly. And for your senses to "detect" anything, you need a brain to interpret those senses, correct? And so everything you detect is a kind of mental construct, does that not follow directly from your own words? So let's recap what you are saying: when you say the "universe is out there," what you mean is a mental construct you form in your head as you interact with whatever it is that is out there-- you do not mean what is actually out there, because that is simply not what you just said in your own words. Thus, to "know" what is "out there," all you can do is just what you are doing: replacing what is out there by your own best mental version, whatever fits in your head that you have evolved genetically, and learned experientially, to be able to do. You are talking about your conversation with reality, so of course what you will end up with is a conversation with reality. Thus, this is not a shortcoming of what you are doing, it is what you are doing. Nothing else could make any sense at all, it wouldn't be true to the words.
    If it is not detectable by my senses or measuring equipment directly or indirectly, then I am not including it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grapes View Post
    Why just a single blind man? In the parable, there were many blind men looking at different aspects of the elephant.

    They all could put their heads together and come up with an abstraction of the elephant...and they'd be pretty close, no?
    Yes, but in the original parable, they don't...

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    That's what makes us scientists...

    ETA: btw, I changed the back slashes to forward slashes in your quotes. Look OK?

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    Quote Originally Posted by grapes View Post
    That's what makes us scientists...

    ETA: btw, I changed the back slashes to forward slashes in your quotes. Look OK?
    That was it! Thanks Grapes... Guess I've been away to long....

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    If it is not detectable by my senses or measuring equipment directly or indirectly, then I am not including it.
    That is kind of tricky. We have strong evidence for gluons and quarks - but what is it we actually observe? Not these particles. We observe things like particle jets, confinement and so on. How do we use these to deduce what is causing them? Well, a model. Even with a photon - we detect it by assuming that certain electronic changes in a material are due to its interaction with a EM related particle which we define as a photon. There is no way to prove that the eye and a scintillation counter are detecting the same particles - we could just as easily propose that there are multiple particles linked by some strange force of entanglement, and an eye and a scintillation counter actually detect different things. Photons are simply the more parsimonious answer.

    Contrary to popular belief theory and experiment are very hard to draw lines between. Most of the Standard Model was theory, then we developed tests for it. But the interpretation of those tests are dependent on the model used to put them into a framework for comprehension. It is highly likely you can come up with more complex but identical (in predictions) theories - when there isn't any way to test them to tell them apart we tend to go for parsimony, the simplest theory. This is not because that is the way the universe 'really' works but a convenience for us, who have to use the theories to make predictions.

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    Aren't gluons and quarks then extrapolations? Where we get into the realm of speculation. Just working as a model, and explaining other phenomena, doesn't really mean they are physically, I would think....

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    As far as phenomena is concerned (everything we observe), I adhere to the common sense view, that the universe exists without the necessity of an intelligent observer. We observe a myriad of stars in heaven, each of which is of varying light years distant. Doesn't this point to stars emerging as we envision? IMHO, the star exists and is a star,even without a hypothetical intelligent observer. If not, why even bother with cosmology? Or have I misunderstood you?

    The important point is that we cannot scientifically determine what exists outside of phenomena (and remember we cannot pick and choose what we class as phenomena, everything that we perceive is phenomena, including ourselves) - the historical timeline of a star is based upon phenomena, therefore that picture is only valid if we pretend that at all points on that time line a hypothetical observer is present. To suggest that the historical timeline of a star exists as we envisage in terms of phenomena is to adopt a stance of naive realism in that you assume (for example) that the rock we observe is identical to the rock as it exists outside of phenomena. You are free to take that view but you must realize that it is a philosophical perspective, not a scientific truth - physics is not able to tell us what that historical time line of a star actually is outside of phenomena, i.e. outside of our reality. I choose to take the philosophical view that what exists outside of phenomena has little correspondence with what we perceive, not even in terms of space and time. From this perspective, the star outside of phenomena has no historical time line because for me time doesn’t exist outside of phenomena. Your view and my view are speculation, belief, philosophy, call it what you like, it doesn’t matter as long as neither of us call those views science.

    We bother with cosmology because it gives a scientific account of phenomena based on empirical verification. Likewise we bother with physics because it gives us verified predictive models of phenomena. Neither case gives us a scientific account of what lay outside of phenomena because the basis of empirical science rests upon empirical verification which can only take place in terms of mind, consciousness and phenomena (i.e. our reality). We have no means of verifying any model as it may exist outside of phenomena (our reality) therefore any model of a star’s historical time line is only valid with respect to a hypothetical observer being present at every point in that timeline and registering phenomena in the same manner we have established for the time line through physics. Without invoking that hypothetical observer we certainly cannot use physics to scientifically describe the time line of the star, the best we can do is to extrapolate the model of that time line as being a philosophical conjecture of the star outside of phenomena.


    My understanding is that anything you can measure, can be measured and modeled by science. For humanity, investigating within the scope of our reality, results in mathematical models to predict and analyze components of the universe. Going beyond that seems to delve in metaphysics.
    But those models are empirical models and are applicable only to the phenomena of our reality. They have no scientific applicability to that which may exist outside of phenomena (i.e. outside of our reality, our minds and consciousness). Thus physics can never establish a final absolute understanding of nature because all our models involve phenomena via mind and consciousness, - your search for such a final understanding or description (or wanting to know how physics can go about such a quest) can never be reached unless you know how we can model our minds and consciousness from a perspective that sits outside of mind and consciousness.

    My flavor is scientific realism. What science describes is real
    Scientific realism says that there exists a reality outside of phenomena along with the hypothesis that we can say something about that reality in terms of the scientific method but that the hypothesis cannot be shown to be true or false in terms of observation.

    Science is based upon observational verification, so if we cannot confirm or refute the hypothesis described above then it becomes a philosophical conjecture. So when you say you are a scientific realist what you are really saying is that you philosophically speculate that the scientific models verified within empirical reality (our reality) are applicable to a reality that exists outside of phenomena (our reality). That’s as much as you can say, physics as a discipline does not have any means in which to assess the validity of its empirically derived models in terms of their correspondence or applicability to what may exist outside of phenomena (our reality). So being a scientific realist doesn’t allow you to suggest that science can probe nature as it exist outside of phenomena, mind and consciousness. To get beyond consciousness and mind you have to be able to step outside of the phenomena and the only way to do that is via philosophical speculation. That’s what being a scientific realist is – you step outside of phenomena and imagine that the scientifically verified models are also applicable to that reality, but you can’t do any more than imagine.
    Last edited by Len Moran; 2013-Dec-09 at 07:41 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    Aren't gluons and quarks then extrapolations? Where we get into the realm of speculation. Just working as a model, and explaining other phenomena, doesn't really mean they are physically, I would think....
    But by that definition then there is no physics. We don't see photons, we see an ejected photoelectron. But we don't see the photoelectron, we see a bulk current flow. But we don't see a current flow, we see a deflection of a needle on a device that uses that current flow to induce a magnetic field (I am old fashioned, sue me). If a current doesn't induce a field (electrodynamics, a theory, says it does and we have strong experimental evidence that it makes good predictions), if ejected electrons cannot cause a current flow (again, electrodynamics says they do), if the electrons are not ejected by photons (QM says they are, but again this is just a model or theory). Every step is based on a theory, the measurements cannot happen without some theory to tell you what the observation means.

    So are photons real? We have a number of effects that we attribute to them. But I have never directly, unambiguously sensed one. We could come up with other models. This is the essence of the problem, observations and measurements are always interpretted. It is very rare in any fundamental physics that the measurement we predict and need to see is something you can sense easily. If you throw out quarks then you have to throw out pretty much all physics of the 20th century. Have we even seen electrons? No, just tracks in a bubble chamber that theory tells us could be due to electrons.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that nearly everything in physics is basically extrapolation. You can choose to draw the line at some arbitrary point, but in doing so you rob physics of its power. If you want answers to basic questions about the universe sooner or later you are going to have to do experiments on a non-human scale (too small to see or too large to see). And when you do theory is all you have to bring these disparate measurements into focus.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shaula View Post
    But by that definition then there is no physics. We don't see photons, we see an ejected photoelectron. But we don't see the photoelectron, we see a bulk current flow. But we don't see a current flow, we see a deflection of a needle on a device that uses that current flow to induce a magnetic field (I am old fashioned, sue me). If a current doesn't induce a field (electrodynamics, a theory, says it does and we have strong experimental evidence that it makes good predictions), if ejected electrons cannot cause a current flow (again, electrodynamics says they do), if the electrons are not ejected by photons (QM says they are, but again this is just a model or theory). Every step is based on a theory, the measurements cannot happen without some theory to tell you what the observation means.

    So are photons real? We have a number of effects that we attribute to them. But I have never directly, unambiguously sensed one. We could come up with other models. This is the essence of the problem, observations and measurements are always interpretted. It is very rare in any fundamental physics that the measurement we predict and need to see is something you can sense easily. If you throw out quarks then you have to throw out pretty much all physics of the 20th century. Have we even seen electrons? No, just tracks in a bubble chamber that theory tells us could be due to electrons.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that nearly everything in physics is basically extrapolation. You can choose to draw the line at some arbitrary point, but in doing so you rob physics of its power. If you want answers to basic questions about the universe sooner or later you are going to have to do experiments on a non-human scale (too small to see or too large to see). And when you do theory is all you have to bring these disparate measurements into focus.
    Quantum mechanics models the photon as a zero dimensional point, when acting as a particle. I already have difficulty imagining something with zero dimensions existing in (shudder...) reality. Yes, physics is often extrapolating or guessing and if the model delivers a correct response, then by all means use it. Yes, to your next to last sentence. That is the point I have been trying to make: too small or too large is beyond our capacity, so finding out a complete physical reality down to the nuts and bolts, will remain beyond our capacity.

  14. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by Len Moran View Post
    The important point is that we cannot scientifically determine what exists outside of phenomena (and remember we cannot pick and choose what we class as phenomena, everything that we perceive is phenomena, including ourselves) - the historical timeline of a star is based upon phenomena, therefore that picture is only valid if we pretend that at all points on that time line a hypothetical observer is present. To suggest that the historical timeline of a star exists as we envisage in terms of phenomena is to adopt a stance of naive realism in that you assume (for example) that the rock we observe is identical to the rock as it exists outside of phenomena. You are free to take that view but you must realize that it is a philosophical perspective, not a scientific truth - physics is not able to tell us what that historical time line of a star actually is outside of phenomena, i.e. outside of our reality. I choose to take the philosophical view that what exists outside of phenomena has little correspondence with what we perceive, not even in terms of space and time. From this perspective, the star outside of phenomena has no historical time line because for me time doesnít exist outside of phenomena. Your view and my view are speculation, belief, philosophy, call it what you like, it doesnít matter as long as neither of us call those views science.
    Yet by looking into the past with the Hubble telescope, don't we have a time machine, showing us the various stages of star formation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Len Moran View Post
    We bother with cosmology because it gives a scientific account of phenomena based on empirical verification. Likewise we bother with physics because it gives us verified predictive models of phenomena. Neither case gives us a scientific account of what lay outside of phenomena because the basis of empirical science rests upon empirical verification which can only take place in terms of mind, consciousness and phenomena (i.e. our reality). We have no means of verifying any model as it may exist outside of phenomena (our reality) therefore any model of a starís historical time line is only valid with respect to a hypothetical observer being present at every point in that timeline and registering phenomena in the same manner we have established for the time line through physics. Without invoking that hypothetical observer we certainly cannot use physics to scientifically describe the time line of the star, the best we can do is to extrapolate the model of that time line as being a philosophical conjecture of the star outside of phenomena.
    But what is the use of cosmology if it does not provide a reliable model, for say, star evolution? Not to mention expansion of the universe? Or am I misunderstanding you?

    Quote Originally Posted by Len Moran View Post
    But those models are empirical models and are applicable only to the phenomena of our reality. They have no scientific applicability to that which may exist outside of phenomena (i.e. outside of our reality, our minds and consciousness). Thus physics can never establish a final absolute understanding of nature because all our models involve phenomena via mind and consciousness, - your search for such a final understanding or description (or wanting to know how physics can go about such a quest) can never be reached unless you know how we can model our minds and consciousness from a perspective that sits outside of mind and consciousness.
    That we can not gain a final understanding of nature as long as we use mathematical models (e.g. approximations), I agree with. I think that all is relative to our final understanding of nature is relevant to us only from the perspective of our minds.




    Quote Originally Posted by Len Moran View Post
    Science is based upon observational verification, so if we cannot confirm or refute the hypothesis described above then it becomes a philosophical conjecture. So when you say you are a scientific realist what you are really saying is that you philosophically speculate that the scientific models verified within empirical reality (our reality) are applicable to a reality that exists outside of phenomena (our reality). Thatís as much as you can say, physics as a discipline does not have any means in which to assess the validity of its empirically derived models in terms of their correspondence or applicability to what may exist outside of phenomena (our reality). So being a scientific realist doesnít allow you to suggest that science can probe nature as it exist outside of phenomena, mind and consciousness. To get beyond consciousness and mind you have to be able to step outside of the phenomena and the only way to do that is via philosophical speculation. Thatís what being a scientific realist is Ė you step outside of phenomena and imagine that the scientifically verified models are also applicable to that reality, but you canít do any more than imagine.
    If we are limited by the way our brains function, then still all that matters is to understand as much as that subset allows of nature.

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    Nothing. Just saying we will never know.
    We just need more time. After all, it's a elephant of relatively infinite proportions. So far, all of our stick poking has barely uncovered the beast's toe nails. We'll just keep poking along....hopefully avoiding poking the elephant in the eye

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    Yet by looking into the past with the Hubble telescope, don't we have a time machine, showing us the various stages of star formation?
    But what is the use of cosmology if it does not provide a reliable model, for say, star evolution? Not to mention expansion of the universe? Or am I misunderstanding you?
    Iím afraid you are still missing the important point Ė what we see through the Hubble telescope is entirely accurate and as you say can show various stages of star formation. But what we observe is phenomena as a product of mind and consciousness that make up our reality. The question to ask is - what is that star outside of phenomena, outside of our reality of minds and consciousness? Scientifically we cannot know what kind of reality lay outside of our reality of phenomena, so physics and cosmology operate within our reality of phenomena and they produce reliable models applicable to our reality of phenomena.

    Iím not suggesting that our models are unreliable or that stars havenít a historical time line, Iím simply stating that such models are applicable only to our reality of phenomena; we cannot in the name of science apply those models to a reality that exists outside of phenomena.

    We can consider two realities, one we call mind dependent reality, the other mind independent reality. The former is our reality of phenomena and is all we can know because we cannot step outside of mind and consciousness. The latter is what may exist with no reference to mind or consciousness or phenomena. (I say ďmayĒ because there is a philosophical perspective called idealism which asserts that there is no reality outside of mind and consciousness).

    The nature of reality in terms of mind dependent reality and mind independent reality is a philosophical topic. I only bring it to your attention because you are asking fundamental questions regarding the ability of physics to reveal the workings of nature. What you have to understand is that the picture of the physicist in one corner observing nature in the other corner in order to establish what is going on in that same corner is a simplistic picture. That picture serves science very well because we produce models based on that separation between mind and the object. But in the wider scheme of things, wider in the sense of nature as a whole, that separation may not apply to nature in an absolute sense. There may exist, outside of the construct consisting of the phenomena of the physicist in one corner examining the phenomena of the object in the other corner within space and time, a notion of reality that is entirely independent of that construct. That reality is mind independent reality and cannot be accessed through science.

    So all I say is, when you next look at the stars ask yourself, what might these stars be outside of my reality of phenomena, mind and consciousness? If you think you have a good idea what they may be like, ask yourself how you would verify that idea using the scientific method. If you come to the conclusion that you canít verify your idea, even in principle, then what does that say about the applicability of scientific models? If on the other hand, you say there is only one reality because that's what common sense says and therefore the stars are exactly the same outside of mind and consciousness, then again ask yourself the question - how can I verify this?

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    If it is not detectable by my senses or measuring equipment directly or indirectly, then I am not including it.
    Sure, but have you considered enough what you mean by "detectable by your senses?" When you answer what you mean by that phrase, I'm going to point out where you invoke the mental pictures you form, as they are inseparable from any decent meaning of "detect." So your own words are talking about what your senses detect, that means your own words are talking about your mental constructs, that means your own words are invoking a kind of conversation with reality that very much has you in it. So you are not talking about reality at all, you are talking about what reality means to you. Hence, physics is about learning what reality means to us, hence, it will always be subject to us, we will never learn about reality independent of us, nor would it have any meaning to try and do such a thing. We never see reality, we see a mirror of reality with us in the reflection. Given this, we should not bemoan that we cannot know reality independently of the limitations of our minds, instead we should marvel that our minds' limitations have still allowed us to understand atoms and cosmologies. It's downright astonishing, we should revel and rejoice in that accomplishment, never bemoan that we don't get to know something else that simply has no meaning.

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    Len and Ken, first of all, thank you for your insights.

    I think I see what you both mean. I must admit, I don't particularly like it (gut feeling), but it surely makes sense (intellectually). I tend to cling to my rather naive world view.

    In my library, I have an anthology of science fiction stories written in the 50's. There is one story which captured my imagination many years ago, entitled, "He who shrank" by Henry Hasse. Undoubtedly influenced by the Rutherford's model of the atom, it related the story of an alien who begins to shrink endlessly, and goes down to the size of an ant, then a molecule, then an atom, at which point he enters a planetary system, and appears on a planet and goes through the same cycle endlessly. This story, which I read as a youth, has undoubtedly, subconsciously contributed to the way I have been seeing things.

    Be that as it may, a question still remains for me: Quantum Mechanics sees the subatomic world quite differently, as a cloud of probabilities, point particles. Our physical world as we know it disappears. Zooming down from our macro world of physical objects to reach the Alice in Wonderland world of subatomic particles, I have always wondered where the phase transition occurs.

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    I also noticed that in my title, I used the word "philosophical"...

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    Be that as it may, a question still remains for me: Quantum Mechanics sees the subatomic world quite differently, as a cloud of probabilities, point particles. Our physical world as we know it disappears. Zooming down from our macro world of physical objects to reach the Alice in Wonderland world of subatomic particles, I have always wondered where the phase transition occurs.
    This question gets to the very heart of interpretations of quantum mechanics, so it might not have an uncontroversial answer. What I would say is, i's not really a phase transition, it is a gradual transition, which relates to a kind of growing uncertainty. At the macro scale, we don't care about quantum mechanical uncertainties. It's not that they aren't there, it's that the things we choose to care about just don't involve them. As we shrink, we would find we needed to care more and more about those things. Eventually, our own brains wouldn't even work any more, as there is a concept of "minimum action" (h) that our brains could not function without violating at some point. So before you got to a place where you thought "gee, that's weird, everything around me is just a kind of probability cloud", your brain would throw a gasket because your own thought processes would dissolve into a similar probability cloud. The way I put that in my sig is, "if an electron was a physicist, it wouldn't do quantum mechanics." The idea is, it wouldn't interact with the micro world the way we do, so it would need a different physics. There might not even be any physics possible, or anything we would recognize as physics at least.

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    But what if we don't shrink? Have a probe which is sent. If we ever manage to build a probe that small...

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    That's what we do-- CERN calls our small probes "antiprotons," though you and I just use photons. But no matter how small our probes, they still need to report back to us, and that's where the problem in translation appears. That's the "Heisenberg divide."

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    So, in summation, as I concluded in my first post: we are doomed never to know... But the search is still fun though...

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    Yet I must repeat my objection to the term "doomed"-- I say we are destined, not doomed, to understand what would have meaning to us, so is actually there to understand, but not to understand what is meaningless, so is not "there" at all. We would not say we are "doomed" to fail to understand what has no meaning, would we?

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    Except that I consider we are doomed, or destined, if you prefer, never to fully understand that which there is to understood. Otherwise the ancients would have been satisfied with their mythologies...
    Last edited by gzhpcu; 2013-Dec-11 at 03:30 PM. Reason: inserted comma

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    Except that I consider we are doomed, or destined, if you prefer, never to fully understand that which there is to understood.
    But that's just it, we might come to understand all that is there to be understood, that's my point. There is no guarantee we won't understand all that could have meaning to us, we just can't understand anything that could not have meaning to us. If it could not have meaning to us, then it is not "that which there is to understand." Understanding is fundamentally connected to us, it's all we can do. Some other being might find other things to understand, but then they have a different reality to understand in the first place.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    .............Understanding is fundamentally connected to us, it's all we can do. Some other being might find other things to understand, but then they have a different reality to understand in the first place.
    italics added

    I know we disagree on this Ken... I respect your opinions and wisdom, but I just had to speak up on this one point.

    A different perspective on reality....not a different reality. One person's (being's) reality does not translate to absolute reality. The blind men all experience a different perspective regarding the elephant, but the elephant is still an elephant irrespective of the independent "realities" of the observers. They would be able to compile their observations to predict what an elephant "is" in order to broaden the scope of their understanding but ultimately they cannot "experience an elephant". I also do agree that simply being able to utilize that certain spectrum of EMR that is our visible light also does not constitute the absolute reality of the elephant.
    We perceive what we can perceive and model after those perceptions. They will never be a set of complete perceptions, i.e. we will never fully understand all of anything.

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    Look we know "reality" is a construct but we can understand the archetype of an elephant and we can appreciate how closely this elephant comes to the archetype. The archetype is in effect the idea of an elephant expressed in biology based on molecules based on atoms and so on. The archetype can exist in our understanding even if there is no elephant and in that respect we can have full understanding. However a "real" elephant may still be outside our complete understanding as in "what does it feel like to be an elephant?" To get there you would have to be an elephant, and judging from human experience, you might still not give a satisfactory answer. This is the reflexive problem of consciousness (and understanding), we can never fully explore our own let alone someone else's and it has the time element too, we are stuck in the now, and constantly have to refer to memory which is unfortunately untestable. We rely on an assumption of concensus within our own memory and that of others. When you get to evolving archetypes it is clearly a joyride.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Badtrip, I agree. Our senses act as a filter. We are perceiving a subset of reality. Maybe what we perceive is the tip of the iceberg, and what is below the water remains beyond our capacity to understand. But at least, a part of the tip corresponds to a reality subset.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BadTrip View Post
    A different perspective on reality....not a different reality.
    OK, then let's play the game again that I played with gzhpcu. Tell me what you mean by the "same reality." As you do, I'm going to point out to you that "reality" is a word, so every time you invoke that word, you mean something by it. We might even agree on a definition to help clarify that meaning. Of course no definition ever confers meaning onto a word, all they ever do is connect the meaning of one word with the meaning of other words. So we must have some kind of shared meaning, based on shared similarities of thought and experience, such that anything we say means anything at all-- including when we say "reality." So that means some alien being would quite demonstrably have a "different reality" than us, simply because they would have to mean something different by the very term "reality" than what we mean! THat's because all their words would mean something different, unless they had the same shared thoughts and experiences that give our words their meanings, but then they would not be "alien" at all, and would have access to the same reality as we do, and would be capable of understanding only the same things we are capable of.
    One person's (being's) reality does not translate to absolute reality.
    It sounds like, by "absolute reality", you mean a reality that is independent of the thoughts and experiences of the being that is uttering that phrase. I would point out such a state of affairs is incoherent, it is internally inconsistent. The words "absolute reality" cannot possibly have an absolute meaning, as they are words in a language, and can confer only the meanings that such a language has access to, which are only the shared thoughts and experiences that can confer meaning in any language. Wittgenstein said this much more succintly: "If a lion could talk, we wouldn't understand him."

    The blind men all experience a different perspective regarding the elephant, but the elephant is still an elephant irrespective of the independent "realities" of the observers.
    So would you say that an "elephant" is something other than the meaning of the word "elephant"? That if I look up the definition of that word, I will find other words that stimulate shared thoughts and experiences among a body of humans. But you are saying that is not what an "elephant" actually is, it is something independent of those experiences, so something independent of those words, so something independent of the definition of an elephant. Ergo, you are saying that an elephant is something other than an elephant? Then what do you mean by the word? When you use a word like "elephant", shouldn't you be able to say what the word means?

    They would be able to compile their observations to predict what an elephant "is" in order to broaden the scope of their understanding but ultimately they cannot "experience an elephant".
    And I would say that "an elephant" is just exactly what they can experience there, and definitively so. An elephant is defined by what they can experience there, because that's just exactly what the word "elephant" means. It just doesn't mean anything else other than that, and any attempt to confer on that word any other meaning than that is incoherent.

    I also do agree that simply being able to utilize that certain spectrum of EMR that is our visible light also does not constitute the absolute reality of the elephant.
    Well, we can build instruments that expand other areas of the spectrum into things we can interact with and interpret with our brains, but that doesn't change the fact that the elephant is what we can interact with and interpret with our brains. I'm not saying we have to stick with our factory issued capabilities, expanding our perception is like expanding our mathematical sophistication. That's all what I mean by the fact that we might very well be able to understand everything about an elephant that is there for us to understand. My point is simply that there is nothing more to understand than that, because that's the very meaning of the word "understand."

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