Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Theoryladenness Dusseldorf

Last week was a two-day conference on Theoryladenness of Experience (10-11 March 2011) at Dusseldorf, Germany, oganised by a.o. Ioannis Votsis (whose front teeth obtain information about the kind of dentists that populate the island of Cyprus). Philosophers of science, cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind and perception gathered. The phrase cognitive impenetrability is the thing nowadays, that much is certain and I have taken home. The very early stages of visual perception seem to be cognitive impenetrable, from which we may conclude that they are not theoryladen. Since in science we are only interested in observation reports, describing at best the propositional content of a perceptual mental state of a creature that has mastered a language at the end of the visual process, the mentioned finding seems to me irrelevant for philosophy of science.

Frequently the philosopher of science is presented with findings in cognitive science with the message that these findings surely are relevant for philosophy of science. But how? How precisely does which result affect which discussion or thesis in philosophy of science? Making that connexion is hard work. No one seems willing to perform it. Who should perform it?

The topic was raised that actual observation plays no major part in current science, which thrives on data gathering and data mining. Looking for the n-th time at the Meyer-Lyner illusion, duck-rabbits, bitch/witch (sorry, young lady/old woman) makes me feel sad. What has that got to do with science? Who cares about observation except zoologists?

Martin Kush gave an excellent talk about the microscope and its role in the strife about reality in the context of constructive empiricism. Bring in the realism debate and passions run high.

There were other informative talks, but see the opening paragraph of this post. Finally I mention Gerhard Schurz's learning an observational predicate, which in the end did not differed that much from my logical analysis of the concept of theory-ladenness. What this analysis results in? You had to be there ...

Charming Alan Franklin was there, who can see elementary particles with his bare eyes. His stories about visiting Karl Popper with Michael Redhead, marrying 4:15 hours in the morning because of his astrological wife, encounters with black bears, and his remark that he is more trusted as a referee than as an author were the crown of an enjoyable conference.

1 comment:

  1. Good morning Muller,

    I'm not an expert on cognative science but it seems that by definition, however, the notion of the mind and it being subjective (I'll try to explain later) implies this so called "cognitive impenetrability". Does one know for certain without doubt the cognition of another person? I'm confident that the answer is no (you can debate this by asking if that was the case, then I can't objectively say that either--though this is another philosophical issue). What I mean to say is that, the cognition of another person who, let just say, simply looked at a tree then described it in English language has a philosophical implication on the accuracy of this meaning to the actual truth (reality). If I say I saw this nice wonderful green tree, philosophically speaking, the concept of 'tree' doesn't necessarily show truth as Nietzsche would argue. How would, then, know if such thing is a tree there are different forms of tree (Platonic form)? Of course, this sounds a bit anal of an argument. But serious enough that has sparked (and many other issues) about 2500 years of philosophical thinking since the pre-socratics.

    I (respecfully) think that any views regarding appearance and reality is necessarily a philosophical issue (not to sound arrogant; it sounds like it though but not my intention to do so).

    If there is insight to some cognitive scientific endeavors, it can complement some old aged questions about reality. Philosophers are not scientists but the very assumptions that scientists do not mention or touch is the very issue that they (generaly philosophers) are very passionate about in order to try to be clear on some so called truth. For example, the nature and concept of "reality" and its connection objects interpreted by the mind (or cognition); and explaining this observed data into some theoretical findings (into an English language that many can understand).

    The concept of cognition is big in connection to the understanding of appearances. Any connections on specifics can help give concrete example to show some (but of course not necessarily support) philosophical arguments. For example, cognitive impenetrability could seem to support skepticism (a view that there is no truth or truth is subjective) but, then, could be used as a way to counter argue on behalf of realism (a view that truth is objective).

    It seems to me though, that there is this general "attitude" towards many disciplines. I remember that in high school, my physics teacher would say that everything is physics because what chemists and biologists study are all about atoms etc. In college, my political science professor would say that everything is political since the fact that humans are social animals they are necessarily political in nature and so on. Philosophy and science is not immune to this type of "attitude" per se. There is some common arrogant notion that either one is some how inferior yet both are not. I think that no discipline has a hold on truth, each do with different view point.

    Since I have a background in philosophy, my biase view is that the "ultimate" theory is about reality, which is unobtainable (unpenetrable); but the only way to it is philosophical understand -- no science can (if you want to be empirical) "absolutely" understand reality on that scope; rather you can at least have notions on reality on its depth and breadth. Can one scientifically use a microscope on the "theory of justice"? This is mainly philosophical.