Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tracking Azzouni

We (Eric Schliesser, Victor Gijsbers, Lieven Decock and me) are reading Jody Azzouni's Knowledge and Reference in Empirical Science (in Amsterdam), because it seems to some of us a rather ignored book. Laudably Azzouni respects the philosophical tradition, meaning that he does not ignore what Carnap, Quine, Kripke and the like have said, while at the same time pays attention to scientific practice --- the movement in philosophy of science that puts the practice of science central ignores the philosophical tradition, whence their deterioration into a philosopically shallow science journalism of sorts. Not so Jody Azzouni.

Azzouni begins to attack deductivism (theories plus auxiliaries entail testable propositions) as well as confirmation holism (to be sharply distinghuished from meaning holism).

The distinction between program and scope is doing a lot of work in the first 47 pages we have discussed. So much that a more careful description of these concepts is warranted.

Section 2
Program for a science (p. 16): "what its terms hold of, and on which its laws are supposed to operate." That's it! 'A science'? 'Its terms hold of'? What does 'which' refer to? Does the
'program' remain fixed over time?

Scope (p. 17): "domain of application of the laws and techniques of the science achieved to date". A more common term for this is: its track record. Clearer than program.

On p. 29, Azzoun asserts that the hard sciences are far less immune to sociological factors
than the soft ones. True or false? Best explanation of Azzouni: "extending the scope of such
a sciene [hard] is arduous". No argument. One illustration. N.D. Cartwright says that
in QM extending its scope is finding good Hamiltonians. Difficult. Students learn paradigmatic
examples and then are supposed to vary. Why are there so few Hamiltonians to begin with?
Cartwright: phenomena are endlessly complex so you have to start with simple Hamiltonians,
which is what QM does and by means of variations on a few simple ones, QM covers large ranges of phenomena (scope extension, in Azzouni's words). Trying to find the right Hamiltonian for each case all over again is a crazy methodology. Azzouni:

"But this gives an entirely false impression of the motives here. The way of proceeding Cartwright describes is required only because the mathematics of Schrodinger's equation and the Hamiltonians is so hard. If it were easy to construct the Hamiltonian for every situation,
and derive its evolution, then the crazy method would be just the right one."

Not the phenomena are complex but the mathematics of the Hamiltonians is hard?
The question is: how to find the right Hamiltonian. THAT is not a mathematical issue.
Suppose you write down one that seems reasonable for the situation at hand. It may
be very difficult to solve its eigenvalue eq. If the Hamiltonian is not time-dependent,
and the Hilbert-vectors factorise in a time-dependent and non-time dependent part (which
they usually do), then the Schrodinger eq. is solved uno tenore.

I think that both Cartwright and Azzouni are right! Finding the right Hamiltonian is hard,
and solving its eigenvalue equation is also hard. This disagreement that Azzouni is
creating here is not there.

By the way, what does this have to do with sociological factors?

Section 3
In the web of belief one can delineate relatively autonomous patches, and these can
be confirmed or disconfirmed. The entire web is never confronted as a corporate body
by the tribunal of scratsches are nerve endings. The patches are belong to different sciences and tractability problems (to extend the scope in line with the program).

Question: is this going contra Quine or is this 'merely' a refinement of Quine?

Victor's Question: are the patches allowed to be inconsistent? (Quine's answer would
be negative, we suppose. Then a broadening of Quine rather than a refinement?)

Section 4
Azzouni thinks conceptions of reduction from metaphysics are not helpful for understanding what is going on in science, and wants a conception of reduction tailor-made for science,
called scientific reduction. What is that? This (44-45):

"we really do take As, and what is going on with them, to be nothing more than Bs, and what is going on with them; we recognise and expect that if, in certain cases, we overcome particular tractabililty problems in treating As as Bs, we will not discover recalcitrant emergent phenomena."

Reduction defined in terms of emergence. Way to go, Jody!

And a physicalist is not someone who believes that physical vocabulary is always succesfully applicable, but someone who adopts a particular methodology: treating failures of demonstrating that physical laws apply, not as having found something that the physical laws fail to apply to, but as a failure to solve intractability problems.

How do you discern an intractability problem from an inapplicability problem?
Azzouni's physicalist can never be refuted: for every problem the anti-physicalist throws in his face, he responds: not applicable, intractable!

So much for now, from me.




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