Occams razor (the idea that the simplest answer is *most likely the best - thus 'parsimony' or economy) is not provable. It is an elegant idea. It tends to hold up to scrutiny as well. But it remains an aesthetic in that all approaches must - to some extent.

Here's my reasoning:

Solipsism can be described in this way: all 'existence' could be the result of tenaciously consistent, constantly recurring figments of a single entity's imagination. Thus, we may all be figments of some greater consciousnesses fantasy, or everything may be figments of my own delusion. As ridiculous as this sounds, this possibility cannot be entirely ruled out.

Therefore, as likely as it seems that empiricism and parsimony render the best (most true) explanations for reality and existence, they remain an aesthetic (method of understanding or world-view chosen in preference to all others).

Also, considering that even empirically based cosmology admits that observations are limited by the 'horizon problem' (the fact that distant information can be billions of years old or never able to reach us at all due to the upper limit of the speed of light), empiricism can never render a comprehensively accurate picture of the universe - even if any human were able to retain all available data and correctly process all significant correlations between said data.

In a few hundred billion years, for example, cosmologists using the same empirical techniques we use now, would be forced to conclude that the universe consists of a single, steady state galaxy. All other evidence would be too far away to reach us at the speed of light - since the universe appears to be expanding faster than that.

Don't get me wrong. I am an empiricist. However, like Einstein, I hold imagination is higher esteem than knowledge. I am not only willing to accept the unknown - I am made more passionately in love with the universe because of it.

*correction - see Jaume's reply below

Views: 90

Replies to This Discussion

Occams razor (the idea that the simplest answer is always the best - thus 'parsimony' or economy) is not provable.

You got it wrong anyway: the simplest answer is most likely the best - not always.

[Edit: unaesthetic typo in the title]
Fair enough. But i did not mean - 'unaesthetic'. I mean that, given the extreme level of ignorance v. knowledge/wisdom that even empiricism provides, I am stating that parsimony is a preference or aesthetic. Thus it is an aesthetic - not unaesthetic. This is supported even better by your correction that Occam's razor is 'most likely' the best.
What I meant is 'Pasimony' (read your title again) offends my aesthetic sense :^)
Parsimony is a guideline. I don't know if that's what you mean by "aesthetic", Howard, but historically, empiricism and parsimony tend to produce the correctest answers. It's a guide to successful betting. I don't consider it a "preference" if it continually leads to the demonstrably best results.

Put it this way: What other aesthetic preference is there that works as well? None. So unless you prefer to have less knowledge, which would seem to be a perverse preference, there really is no choice but to embrace empiricism and parsimony, even if they sometimes fail to produce. No other system produces as well.

BTW, even without the horizon problem, it's impossible to build a completely accurate model of any universe which contains the model. To be completely accurate, the model would need to be 1:1 scale, which is to say as big and complete as the universe in every detail. And the horizon problem would merely limit the boundaries of the knowable. It wouldn't change the fact that empiricism and parsimony are the best way to discover knowledge.
I don't disagree. However - best way almost, by definition, admits limitations that preclude absolutism. These limitations are, however, not an argument to allow for the existence of unsubstantiated (non-substantial) aspects into the definition of 'Truth.'

See: homeopathy = snake oil.
I don't really understand the last sentence in the first paragraph of your comment. But given the abysmal track record of all other systems of knowledge acquisition by comparison, one could be forgiven for assuming that empiricism and parsimony are the only system that actually works at all. And given the mathematical impossibility of completely and accurately modeling the universe, the fact that empiricism and parsimony can't achieve such an impossible model is no demerit.

In short, the scientific method is the only way we have ever acquired reliable knowledge about the universe. There aren't even any close seconds or plausible alternatives. So I'm not quite sure what the point of this line of inquiry really is. No other system seems to work, and it's impossible for the one system we have to work perfectly, though it does produce reliable results. Does that have any practical consequences at all? Do we need to change the scientific method? I don't think so. Are you just saying that we should be humble and admit that we can't know everything? I don't know anybody who doesn't admit that. And even admitting that, so what? Not being able to know something doesn't mean there's anything there worth knowing, so why assume there is?
First, I would say that one of the biggest problems I have with fundamentalists is that - in all things that 'matter' - the truth is 'irrefutably' encapsulated in a Pocket New Testament.

I also think that there can be a part of the 'scientific method' that can be missed by people who 'live in their left brain.' Whatever intuition is - subconscious, not-fully processed right brain intelligence etc. - it has a place in the development of hypotheses. And I think that this 'intuition' transcends random trial and error. Nevertheless, the mechanisms behind it are - as yet - not fully understood. (I would suggest that, when they are, the explanation will contain no woo-woo, btw)

So, how does a cognitive process we don't understand, that seems to play a role in what we 'feel' might be true, fit into the scientific method? Via the generation of a hypothesis, yes. But, I think a lack of 'humility' you speak of allows many empirical thinkers to ridicule many hypotheses before it can be adequately tested.
Well, if all you're saying is that there are things we don't know yet about how the brain works, and that we should keep an open mind with regard to wild hypotheses until they are disproven, sure, I'm down with that.

What I want to avoid is any suggestion that "other ways of knowing" are somehow beneficial, when everything we've ever learned has been discovered via the scientific method, which includes intuition-based hypotheses. Especially if proponents of "other ways of knowing" persist in their quackery after repeated debunkings. We have far more to fear from persistent untruths than from unexplored unknowns.
Other ways of verifying - no. None are better. I will not argue with that. In fact, when it comes to verification, I really don't know how else things can be verified.
everything we've ever learned has been discovered via the scientific method

Hmmm... I’m a diehard empiricist, but I don't think that all valuable information has been acquired thru science.

Much of what I find valuable has arrived thru the venue of subjective experience, not empirical research. I guess I could go back and quantify those experiences, but that would be sort of a Texas Sharp Shooter Fallacy.
I will add - this is an exploration into how art (aesthetically based inquiry) comes into play in the discovery of 'truth.' Einstein himself famously said: 'imagination is more important than knowledge.'

What possible usefulness is there in this statement? I would suggest that he might be warning us against absolutism and too much reliance on what we feel 'certain' of.

For example, one can easily argue that, while Van Gogh was not only religious in his philosophical approach to life's questions (we know from his letters) he was also, very likely, clinically mentally ill. Perhaps, his inquiry into the nature of reality should, therefore, become immediately suspect in the minds of empiricists.

I believe that would be a chauvinistic (not sexist - different thing) approach to assessing his ideas - the best of which he did not express in mathematical or linguistic terms (see: left brain). He expressed ideas about the nature of reality in a way that comes to the viewer somewhat unprocessed by the rationale part of his consciousness.

Nevertheless, I full believe that, having seen his work up close and personal, I gained a deeper understanding about the nature of reality for having done so.
Be careful here, Howard. You are straying dangerously close to the "art is another way of knowing" meme. :-) I've not seen much of van Gogh's work up very close (at least not in years, there is probably some in the Chicago Art Institute that I've seen.) But given that, I would opine that his work teaches us much about our perception of the world, not about the world itself (except insofar as our perception is part and parcel of the world.) And, for me, that's good enough. I don't need grand statements about the world, I'm happy with little things that tease and tickle and coax and cajole ...




Update Your Membership :



Nexus on Social Media:

© 2018   Atheist Nexus. All rights reserved. Admin: The Nexus Group.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service