Sunday, 21 September 2008

Is the phenomenenal disconnected from the noumenal ... ?

A little humour here for Objectivists, from a shop we spotted down in the south-west of Fiji:


Apparently the world's most destructive philosopher is now at home in Sigotoka, Fiji. To all appearances, he's now the only electrical repairman in the world who works on the premise that the phenomenenal is disconnected from the noumenal.

And I'm sure readers of Leonard Peikoff will appreciate the irony of the swastikas on the door:


NB: If non-Objectivists would care for a brief introduction to Kant, "the single most influential philosopher of modern times," not to say the most destructive, then you might like these articles from the archives on the 'catastrophic spider,' written in response to an anti-Objectivist philosopher: Kant Can't, Kant Couldn't, Kant Didn't, and Kant Really Wasn't -- the first by Lindsay Perigo, and the last three by yours truly.
Or there's always Dagny Taggart's answer to Kant.


  1. Yeah. Kant's been doing electrical work for some time now. Ever since the Rand Bank foreclosed on his philosophy consultancy he's been finding life tough going. So he changed to electrical work. Apart from a crankish insistance that it is indeed possible for a monopole to exist inside an electrical machine, he's been scratching a reasonable living...


  2. Those are reverse swastikas, which are an Indian good-luck symbol, IIRC.

  3. Wait...isn't this the guy they called at the end of Atlas Shrugged when the torture machine broke down, but before he could show up, Galt told the bad guys how to fix it?

    Since this electrician on Fiji had the apriori synthetic truth of being Kant's electrician, the scabish intrusion by Galt was a breach of reality, proving that contradictions indeed exist.

    John Donohue
    Pasadena, CA

  4. Yes, the swastika has a long and interesting history, as I'm sure Wikipedia will be able to describe.

    It shouldn't be necessary to note here that the good electrician of Fiji is not a Nazi. I think NOT PC readers are better than that.

    The surname Kant is a popular Indian surname, and the swastika (both right and left) is a popular Hindu symbol.

  5. I thought Kant is a german feller....


  6. From one of the links:

    "Aristotle taught that the true reality is the one we perceive"

    The Earth moves, yet we do not feel it move. My chair feels solid yet is in fact just about entirely empty space. How is true reality what we perceive? We never have unmediated access to true reality: perceptions are theories about reality. Without theory, perception is impossible.

    Kant correctly realized that perception and observation cannot form the basis for theory. With this realization, Kant uncovered a massive fissure in Aristotelian epistemology. The central problem he faced was then: "How is knowledge possible?". What led him up the garden path in trying to solve this problem was his conviction - shared by just about every other philosopher of the time - that Newton's theory was certain truth. It has from this conviction that his irrational ideas about a-priori knowledge were born.

    Had Kant looked more closely at the Pre-Socratic philosophers he might have found some clues to the correct solution to his problem. Here is the father of the Greek enlightenment, Xenophanes:

    But as for certain truth, no man has known it,
    Nor will he know it; neither of the gods
    Nor yet of all the things of which I speak.
    And even if by chance he were to utter
    The perfect truth, he would himself not know it;
    For all is but a woven web of guesses.

    Karl Popper unpacks what Xenophanes was getting at here .

  7. Brian, your quoted line drops its context -- it was contrasting Aristotle's view that there is one reality with Plato's that there are two. Read it again.

    But context dropping is a Popperian thing -- Popper's epistemology (if it is to have any meaning at all) rests on the unacknowledged context of perceptual identification. What do you think you're doing when, for example, you're falsifying something, if not checking the evidence in reality?

    Aristotle's point is that nothing comes to us as knowledge except by way of the senses. We know that the earth moves, that the sun doesn't, that atoms exist, not because this information is directly available to us via perception, which it's not, but because we can integrate conceptually all the information that is directly available to us -- the vast number of relevant perceptions of reality -- into non-contradictory identifications that these things are so.

    That's real knowledge, which we're able to check.

    Kant "uncovered" nothing and correctly realised nothing about any of this, as those four pieces to which I link demonstrate.

    Perceptions are not "theories about reality" (the very idea is absurd context-stealing), they are automatic observations of reality.

    And neither did Popper "uncover" any such flaw, although it's true he simply did just take half of Kant's "system" and make it his own.

    But observe Popper's own context-stealing. Observe that every item of knowledge must have a starting point, including Popper's own so-called knowledge of knowledge itself. And observe that Popper's starting point for knowledge is not in reality, but in the imagination. His own.

    He talks about a "problem of induction," but this is his own primary problem: a "problem of deduction" -- that he has no right to his own starting points. He simply makes them up, from his imagination, and if we are any of us to have knowledge under his framework, we too are required to make up our own starting points.

    And he has the further problem pointed out above: he as a problem at the start, and another at the end: he has no right to the knowledge he uses to check his deduction -- no right to the knowledge we need to use for his falsification process.

    Frankly, he is hung by his own gallows: he says that knowledge of reality itself is impossible, yet his own theory purports to claim knowledge of reality at both ends.

    Frankly, I'm happy to take him at his word -- that he has no knowledge of reality.

  8. Hey PC, would consider moving your exchange with Brian on this thread to a new thread on its own, so that us who are illiterate in philosophy can pose questions about the very subject being discussed? I have some physics/philosophical views that I want to bring up and see if they make sense in today's modern physics theoretical work.

    Just a suggestion.

  9. PC,

    You say that perceptions are not theories about reality, they are automatic observations of reality.

    Imagine building an artificial visual system.

    To do this, we will need deep knowledge about hundreds of things ranging from optics to algorithms for detecting edges. This knowledge will dictate the structure and workings of our artificial visual system and errors in our theory will result in errors in the operation of the system. The system will likely have many levels of various granularity, but all levels will depend in a fundamental way on theory and the overarching purpose of the system will itself be to construct theories to solve problems in the visual domain. In no way does any part of the system just observe reality: At all levels, there is interpretation in the context of a theory. Do you agree?

    There is no such thing as a theory-free observation. We do not make pure observations and from those induce theory. Theories are attempted solutions to problems and the process of constructing a theory starts, as you say, in human imagination: We guess a solution. The ancient Greek philosopher Anaximander guessed, for example, that the Earth must be unsupported as a solution to problems arising from Thales' theory that the Earth is supported by water on which it rides like a ship. So, yes, solutions are simply made up.

    But it does not follow that solutions are arbitrary.

    What is important is how well attempted solutions stand up to critical analysis and testing. When a theory says that X should happen we test for X (with the aim of finding not-X). Without the theory we would never know to test X or even, in many cases, that X is possible or exists. We don't identify X and build the theory from there. Can you see that observation is playing a very different role here to the role it plays in Aristotle? The identification of X requires our theory and also lots of auxillary theories about our instruments and equipment - we don't simply perceive true reality (and I think you agree on that point).

    Do you deny that knowledge arises as a process of trial and error in the context of solving problems?

    Whatever solves your problem solves your problem: Why should Popper not have any rights to this knowledge? Popper's claim is simply that knowledge is never certain, not that we can't have knowledge.

    Knowledge is uncertain because we can never be sure that a better solution might not come along at some point in the future. Do you contest this?

    Note that all of our deep theories of reality contain problems and so are likely wrong in some way. Integrate that ;)

    Unlike Aristotle, Popper does not claim that knowledge starts in concepts and definitions. Definitions and concepts are important in so far as they help solve problems; they are auxillary to theory. The reason Aristotle placed so much importance on definitions is that he couldn't see any way around the justificationist problem that something must be justified in terms of something else and so on ad-infinitum. By placing definitions at the centre of knowledge, Aristotle had to do some fancy footwork to avoid conferring certainty on all knowledge. He proposed that some definitions are uncertain and the result of divining the essence of a thing through induction, which he invented. He probably had a bad conscience when he did this as he tried to pass induction off as the doing of Socrates! Aristotle has more problems than some faint whiff of Plato.

  10. Brian S

    I've been involved in a research projects where we built artificial vision systems. From experience it is clear your analogy does not hold whatsoever.

    First error- context. A human visual system is not and was not built according to some grand theory. There was no-one around to formulate a theory and purpose for human vision prior to humans experiencing vision (now don't be telling me there was a God who did it- that would be too silly). Yet vision is what we have, a system that existed well before any theory. That is, IN THE ABSENCE OF THEORY.

    Second error- context. When we build an artificial visual system we are trying to emulate aspects of the human one. Hence we study how the human one operates and then attempt to replicate aspects of it. To do that requires perception. We perceive information from reality and proceed from there. No-one started out by guessing- holy shitcommander, VISION! Everyone of my research team had direct experience of vision BEFORE starting out to learn about it and that prior to building our own artificial system(s).

    Third error. Context. To build the system, oeprate it and test it and develop it we MUST observe reality. Otherwise we are doing nothing, just dreaming and talking.

    By cutting the link to reality (which is the perceptual step followed by the conceptual one) Popper made fundamental and fatal errors. As much as I enjoyed reading him, his error is clear and his theory unhelpful. Science is not based on rationalisations and floating abstrations.


  11. LGM said...
    I've been involved in a research projects where we built artificial vision systems

    LGM, I think that Brian has made some good points here. I do know and use some of the widely adopted Computer Vision algorithms of today, not for building vision system but for data-mining purposes. These algorithms work across the board, eg, they're used for spam detection, used in voice recognition, used in weather data analysis, used in economic/financial analysis, used in search engine, used in cancer detection, used in electronic chips, used in missile guidance systems and more...

    BTW, a local company in Onehunga call Compac Sort, which develops state-of-the-art computer vision system for automated sorting fruits. Their are some good videos on their website that show how the technology works. The system is far more superior than employing humans to do the sorting, ie, faster & more accurate.

    Their business has expanded in selling to North American & European markets. I was at the NZ/Australian Industrial Mathematics Symposium in 2005, where the engineers from Compac did a presentation on the mathematics/algorithms of how their system works, which was held at University of Auckland. Compac does collaborate with the CRI (Crown Research Institute) scientists to further develop the technology.

  12. LGM said...
    When we build an artificial visual system we are trying to emulate aspects of the human one. Hence we study how the human one operates and then attempt to replicate aspects of it. To do that requires perception.


    PC said...
    We know that the earth moves, that the sun doesn't, that atoms exist, not because this information is directly available to us via perception, which it's not, but because we can integrate conceptually all the information that is directly available to us -- the vast number of relevant perceptions of reality -- into non-contradictory identifications that these things are so.

    What's your take on Physics theoretical predictions that scientists are going to test at the Large Hadron Collider PC? Those tests were invented purely on theory and there was no direct prior observation of those entities ever before in human life.

    Different sorts of particles predicted by theory that scientists will be on the look out for when the LHC is in full operation. One of those test will be determining if higher dimensional universe exists, but that seems not to integrate well with our current perceptrion and knowledge. Are the scientists pursuing a useless exercise here or not? Should the scientists be guided by principles that David Harriman highlighted in his lecture series? I am keen to know.

  13. FF

    I know you have significant experience in software and mathematics. Still, the question arises, how is your post germaine to the topic under examination here?


  14. LGM said...
    Still, the question arises, how is your post germaine to the topic under examination here?

    My post was a comment on vision system not on the topic, it just happens to mixed up with me quoting that Brian has made some good points. Anyway , I 'll try to find a link to an IBM vision-based learning robot that exhibits behavior that its developers didn't expect it would do. That is the program didn't include those instructions in its embedded software.

    See, my question to PC in my previous message. Brian stated the following:

    Without theory, perception is impossible.

    I asked PC to state his take on the blind faith exercise that scientists will be doing at CERN's Large Hadron Collider, if Brian's assertion is wrong? If the search for unseen theoretical particles at CERN are useless, then I think that Brian is correct.

    I am interested to hear both your & PC's views.

  15. Oops, I didn't pose my question very clearly:

    I asked PC to state his take on the exercise that scientists will be doing at CERN's Large Hadron Collider. The intended experiments to be conducted at LHC were purely based on theories (ie, in the minds of the theorists and not on a previous observations), so I think that Brian is correct. If the entire set up of the LHC is useless because there has never been any proof (direct or indirect) that these imaginary particles exist, then Brian's assertion is wrong.

  16. Here I found the link for useful videos. There are a few interesting links with each are more than 30 minutes duration upto an hour long, but I highlighted the ones which I think that you should start with.

    Cognitive Computing 2007

    Scroll down the page and click on the link for Donald Glaser, of UC Berkeley, which describe the computational models of the human visual system which explain its performance in terms of its physiology and anatomy. See the performance of the small robots in there:

    The Brain might Optimize Visual Acuity using Cortical Noise via Stochastic Resonance/Sampling

    The following 3 links (half-way down from the same page) are also interesting. The titles are:

    - Towards Engineering the Mind by Reverse Engineering the Brain

    - Towards an Understanding of Cortical Function: Problems and Solutions

    - From Cognitive Neuroscience to Computing Architectures

    I suggest that you & PC should watch them, since they covered perceptions, intelligence, emergence-behavior, induction, etc...

  17. LGM - Evolution is a type of knowledge generating process - though not a very efficient one. It also works by trial and error. Our visual system operates according to the biases and expectations built into it by evolution and it is optimized for detecting certain things in the environment such as faces and moving objects. In other words, our visual systems operate according to what are in effect theories. These theories often play tricks on us, as the existence of illusions attests.

    Another way of looking at this is that the visual system performs computations built into it by evolution and it would be silly to suggest that the output of the computation is in no-way mediated by the computation. Visual perceptions are in a very real sense conjectures about what the trillions of photons impacting on the retina of the eye represent.

    There is no such thing as a naked perception or a naked observation. Kant is correct on this point and I'm not sure why it presents difficulties for you guys.

    Let me make a guess: I suspect it is because you think theories are induced from observations and for this to hold water it is necessary for there to be such a thing as pure observation. Don't get me wrong here, I don't think chance observations can't be significant in science. Fluke discoveries do happen but these usually happen because the researcher was looking for something else within some theoretical context. My contention is that, in the main, science does not proceed from observations but rather from problem situations in the current theories. Observations don't form the basis of theory, but rather enable us to test theory (testing is one way of trying criticize a theory - there are many others, Popper is not just falsifiability you know). In the case of a fluke discovery, observation inspires us to come up with conjectures to explain the discovery. But nothing like induction occurs when we do this: it's all trial and error.

    Same as evolution, except we're much better at it.

    BTW, it doesn't matter where theory comes from: Reality doesn't care. What matters is how well theories withstand critical scrutiny and testing.

    FF - Yes the LHC is testing the predictions of the Standard Model of Particle Physics. A classic example of observations proceeding from theory. The Higgs boson is purely theoretical knowledge at this point. If we find it, it will because the Standard Model told us it exists and not because we just stumbled on it.

  18. Brian said...
    Fluke discoveries do happen but these usually happen because the researcher was looking for something else within some theoretical context.

    The only fluke discovery in Physics that I am aware of was the Cosmic Microwave background radiation around the mid 1960s, by Penzias & Wilson (both Physics Nobel Laureate). Scientists think that this radiation is one of the pieces of evidence for Big Bang .The discoverers were looking for something else and stumbled across it. However when they consulted other colleagues to see if theory has already predicted the existence of such radiation and to their amazed, that yes, it was already predicted by George Gamow in a paper that he published in 1948, using General Relativity.

    Apart from this fluke, I am not aware of any other flukes. All the major discoveries in Physics, I would say for the last 70 or 80 years had been preceded by theories prior to their observations & confirmations in the lab.

    The longest prediction to date, ie, from the time that a theory is proposed/published to the time it is experimentally confirmed was BEC (Bose-Einstein-Condensation).BEC was first proposed by Einstein in a paper he published in 1925, which he built on the earlier work of Bose. It wasn't until 1995, that this BEC thing was experimentally confirmed that indeed it exists in nature, by Prof. Carl Wieman, et al, at Colorado University. Prof Wieman shared the 2001 Nobel Prize with others for their work on BEC.

    PC should know this, because he attended the free public lectures (for the Sir Douglas Rob Memorial) given the by man himself, Prof. Wieman, at Auckland University in 2005.

    So, it is very clear here, that theory precedes observation in Physics. I think that if it is the other way round, then the advancement of Physics would have been much much slower, than it is today.

  19. Brian S

    " Evolution is a type of knowledge generating process..etc etc"

    Bullshit! Look, dissembling to substitute theory for existence is silly. So stop with the silliness already.

    Knowledge of reality begins with perception. Perception is automatic. It comes via the senses, nowhere else. You do not require a theory of sight to see. You do not require a theory of hearing to hear. You do not require a theory of smell to smell. You do not require a theory of touch to feel. You experience those automatically.

    Note: It is also correct that you do not require a theory of existence to exist or a theory of consciousness to percieve that you are conscious.

    Before you are qualified to discuss matters pertaining to science you need to consider that science (the study of aspects of reality) relies upon your ability to perceive reality. You do that PRIOR to making theories about that which you percieve.

    Popper's error (one of several) was to suppose that perception is presupposed by theory. In the end, that proposal relies on mysic mumbo jumbo. Popper either faces an infinite regression of theory making prior to experiencing ANYTHING or he admits that somehow, in some mysterious way a miracle occurs and theories magically get put into his head so he can start perceiving things. Of course, even that miracle doesn't help him much as there is no way whatsoever he can prove ANYTHING he theorises corresponds with reality (remember according to him, if he observes anything it is already tainted by one of his own theories- biassed right from inception). So, all he can do is beg others to take him at his word. What an utter fuck-up!

    In your situation, before you can seriously consider philosophy of science you need to study Epistemology. You need to learn and understand what a theory (a product of Man's attribute of reason) presupposes. In the meantime, start by experiencing that which is around you. Feel the ground under your feet. Open you eyes and see that which surrounds you. Above all......listen.


  20. LGM - Evolution generates knowledge - it is not explanatory knowledge - but it is knowledge (this goes here and that goes there etc). That knowledge persists in DNA sequences. What do you think is in a DNA sequence?

    Your commandment "just observe!" is pretty bad advice to give a budding scientist. Far better to advise them to get acquainted with the current problem situation. Then they might learn or discover what needs to be observed.

    Yes, in order to learn about the problem situation our budding scientist has to do things like perceive and observe books! But it is vacuous to say this: the problem situation the scientist is learning about has nothing to do with the fact that he learned about it by perceiving a book.

    Some theories, BTW, did get into your head without you perceiving anything: as a new born baby you could do things and you could learn - that knowledge came via evolution.

    A couple of other things:

    The pattern of light on my retinas is simply that: a pattern of light. It could be consistent with all sorts of things happening in reality. My visual system must construct theories about what the pattern represents: it's not just obvious. If it was, it would be really easy to make artificial visual systems.

    It is impossible to trace back knowledge and identify all the things that led to it.

  21. LGM and PC,

    Can one of you clarify to us here of where does epistemology stand/apply in relation to theoretical physics? How is Aristotle's philosophy applies in modern day physics and reality?

    I asked in my previous messages about this, but I haven't got the answer.

  22. Brian

    You've put the cart before the horse.

    Knowledge is a product of the human faculty of reason. It is generated by human beings in accordance with aspects of reality. In other words, humans generate knowledge ABOUT reality. Knowledge does not occur independently of human beings.

    You asked about what is in DNA. The answer is atoms. Nothing more. They do not possess knowledge. DNA does not possess knowledge either. Scientists generate knowledge ABOUT atoms and about DNA (made of many atoms). If there were no humans, hence no scientists, there would be no knowledge of DNA (or atoms). There would be no-one to know.

    Theories are also a product of the human faculty of reason. Theories are conjectural propositions generated by humans for the purpose of explaining certain aspects of reality. They are conjectural and await final confirmation and proof before they are accepted as certain fact. In a sense they are incomplete, hence awaiting a final proof or modification or rejection.

    As with knowledge, theories do not exist independently of the human faculty of reason. The generation of theories presupposes volition and consciousness.

    Your visual perceptions are not a product of theories. Regardless of how you might think you see, you see. Regardless of WHAT you might theorise about HOW you see, you can and do perceive aspects of reality visually. You see. Your visual perception does not rely on conjectural proposition to operate. It operates regardless. You perceive. It's automatic.

    What you think and theorise about is that which you’ve already perceived. How you think about it and theorise about it is up to you. That's the volitional part which comes AFTER perception.

    What is available to you is the opportunity to learn about the faculty of vision. You can build a theory about how it operates, starting from that which you perceive. Similarly you can attend to the same process regarding other entities you perceive. That is the source from which knowledge (and theory) springs- a decision to apply the faculty of reason to that which was perceived. Note, it's volitional to do that, whereas perceiving is not.

    Finally, your fundamental Epistemological error lies in understanding of the senses and the validity thereof. What you need to learn about is how it is that the senses generate percepts that link us directly to reality. Without that you are not qualified to discuss matters pertaining to philosophy of science. Just as it is not possible to discuss the more advanced and abstract concepts of a hierarchical chain of logic until one has understood the basic premise and principles the chain is erected upon, so it is not possible to discuss science until one has a sound understanding of Epistemology right from the validity of the senses.

    Seriously, you need to take a seep look at this subject.


  23. Final sentance should be:

    "Seriously, you need to take a deep look at this subject."


  24. It is impossible to trace back knowledge and identify all the things that led to it.

    Which means we can't identify and eliminate all the mistakes and falsehoods we take for granted.

    Which means can't truly be certain of anything.

    Which means we don't know anything, knowledge is an illusion.

    We don't really know anything.

    But the theory of knowledge that proves knowledge is impossible is counted as true knowledge.

    This is all self-refuting circularity.


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