Saturday, 28 February 2015

Do scientific explanations actually explain?

To provide a scientific explanation of a given phenomenon is to show how it is ultimately derived from physical laws. Sometimes physical laws governing some aspect of physical reality can be shown to be derived from more fundamental physical laws.  But these more fundamental physical laws appear to be simply a brute fact.  In other words certain physical laws appear to govern the Universe and no one has any idea why such physical laws assume the form they do.  Moreover, by necessity, an answer to this question could not come under the province of science since science assumes such physical laws at the outset.

But then scientific explanations are not in fact explanations in the fullest sense of this word.  It is of little avail to say we can explain the existence of X in terms of Y, if Y itself has no explanation and is simply a brute fact. This is why, contrary to what most people believe, science doesn't strictly speaking provide explanations, but rather mere descriptions. Yes we can explain how a phenomenon is deduced or derived from physical laws, but this fails to provide any ultimate explanation if we don't know why physical laws assume the form they do. Indeed since physical laws are simply a brute fact without any explanation, then in providing a scientific explanation we are only ever engaging in discerning specific patterns (some phenomenon) deduced from more general patterns (physical laws).

28 Dec 2015 Update:

A rather excellent article on the same topic by
Dr. Bernardo Kastrup which I'm in full agreement with.  He employs a splendid analogy which is worth quoting:

[O]ne needs to know nothing about computer architecture or software in order to play a computer game well and even win; just watch a five-year-old kid. Playing a computer game only requires an ability to understand and predict how the elements of the game behave relative to one another: if your character shoots that spot, it scores points; if your character touches that wall, it dies; etc. It requires no understanding whatsoever of the underlying machine and code upon which the game runs. You can be a champion player without having a clue about Central Processing Units (CPU), Random-Access Memories (RAM), Universal Serial Buses (USB), or any of the esoteric computer engineering that makes the game possible. All this engineering transcends the “reality” accessible empirically from within the game. Yet, the scientific method limits itself to what is empirically and ordinarily observed from within the “game” of reality. Scientific modelling requires little or no understanding of the underlying nature of reality in exactly the same way that a gamer needs little or no understanding of the computer’s underlying architecture in order to win the game. It only requires an understanding of how the elements of the “game,” accessed empirically from within the “game” itself, unfold relative to one another.
On the other hand, to infer things about what underlies the “game” – in other words, to construct a metaphysics about the fundamental nature of reality – demands more than the empirical methods of science. Indeed, it demands a kind of disciplined introspection that critically assesses not only the elements observed, but also the observer, the process of observation, and the interplay between the three in a holistic manner; an introspection that, as such, seeks to see through the “game.”

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Very foolish to believe in a life after birth!

I just thought I'd share the following metaphor which I found interesting:

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?”
The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”
“Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”
The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”
The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”
The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”
The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover, if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”
“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”
The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”
The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”
Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”
To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”
~ Útmutató a Léleknek
Found here.