dangerzooey (dangerzooey) wrote in phil_of_mind,

A Robust Theory of Epistemological Relativism and How It Does Not Imply One Can't Be Wrong

There are some basic normative prerequisites to scientific method which all of its followers accept. Among these are Hume's Uniformity Principle (that the future will be and that the present is like the past), Occam's Razor/Parsimony (that the simplest explanation that captures all the data is preferred), and Dangerzooey's law #1 (that the conclusion of an inductively strong argument is to always be preferred over the conclusion of a deductively valid argument when their conclusions are contradictory). Furthermore, our human brains operate on these same principles.

When a person refuses to recognize that his physical instantiation of mind (henceforth, for simplicity of explanation, "brain") operates on these principles, he is denying what his own brain has taken as an "assumption", a fundamental rule by which it operates. In effect, he is refusing to acknowledge the scientific theory that the brain has as its very basis of its world-interpretation (henceforth, "perception"). For conceptual reasons, it is important to be clear that "brain" refers to physical instantiations of mind and not, for example, physical instantiations of consciousness or experience.

There is no absolute notion of truth independent of all experience. Therefore, there is no absolute notion of truth independent of all brains (as these are, by assumption, all and only the vehicles of mind, and experience requires mind). However, there may be some absolute notion of truth-relative-to-all-brains-ever. If there is such a thing, it will include all and only those basic principles on which all brains operate (even brains not made of meat), if there are such things.

Now, brains are different. Mouse brains, monkey brains, human brains all parse data differently. So, it can be said that there is truth-relative-to-all-mouse-brains-ever, and truth-relative-to-all-human-brains-ever. Unfortunately, however, there is no clean, non-arbitrary way to determine the sets of these brains. Consider the following thought-experiment:

Suppose no member of the species Glug at time x and no member of the species Glug at time y can (even hypothetically) mate and produce fertile offspring (the typical grounds for demarcation between biological species), but at all intermediate times between x and y, members of the species can produce fertile offspring with either Glug at x or Glug at y. Furthermore, suppose that the reason fertile offspring cannot be created from this pairing is not due to a single mutation, but to a large number of mutations over the time between x and y. Given this, at which time has the new species been formed and the old species died out? Which mutation was responsible for this species change? There doesn't seem to be a clear non-arbitrary delineation. (I make the further presupposition that such a thought experiment could be carried out for any non-biological brains, but I provide no evidence for that here. We may consider, however, our philosophical difficulties with all collective nouns of physical objects as perhaps some evidence for this.)

From this we can see that human science as it is practiced by human scientists involves truth-relative-to-all-human-brains-ever, but the boundary for this, if there is one, is arbitrary. Human science has an arbitrary extension, and for any fact in that system, it will be a fact only arbitrarily. And false claims will be false only arbitrarily. There is, however, a science that does not have an arbitrary extention. That science is the science that involves truth-relative-to-my-brain-now and nothing else, or the science that involves truth-relative-to-your-brain-now and nothing else. Since these sciences, at any moment, have a determinate extention--determined by the very fact of my having a brain now and your having a brain now (even if yours is non-meat--there can be non-arbitrary facts within them. This provides us with a way of being wrong.

I take phenomena like blindsight as clear evidence that even if our brains are non-meat, and even if they are non-physical, there are mental processes beyond consciousness. Everything I've said above depends on only that, not on the assumption that brains are physical, for this distinction is enough to allow that consciousness can be in error about the mind that governs it. (If you don't think there are mental processes beyond consciousness, I can at this time think of no response to that.)

Truth is always relative to its cognitive process, and the only scientific systems in which we can non-arbitrarily hold claims to standards of truth are the unique systems that govern our own minds. Thankfully, you can each hold me (as I can hold you) to the standards dictated by our own unique minds. One tool for doing this may be human science, but we must keep in mind that the limits of this will be arbitrary, and hence, its standards only approximate.

Science is nothing more than cognition, and cognition is nothing more than science.

(c) Kevin Schutte, 5/19/2005
U.C., Santa Barbara

(Needless to say, x-posting everywhere.)
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