excerpted from caro's journal: topic: philosophy of physics

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2000-11-09:19:27

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philosophy of physics
Tom wrote recently
There are certain things that "Man Was Not Meant To Know", and physical law is finely tuned to make sure t hat woman can't know them either. That is, there are certain things that are--that must be--unknowable to everyone, absolutely, in principle. If they weren't, then the wheels would fall off the universe.

And his poetry makes it sound as though the wheels staying on the universe is dependent upon what human consciousness can know in a very direct way. In other words, it sounds as though he is saying that the universe checks with humanity to find out what it is allowed to do, and it alway s acts in such a way as to ensure its survival, and it turns out that that way requires keeping secrets from us. This is not, of course, what he means, but it's more fun to say it his way, especially since it will annoy orthodox Objectivists by causing their Primacy of Consciousness detectors to flash and make loud noises.

What he means is that the conditions responsible for keeping the wheels on the universe, are the same conditions responsible for making unknowable certain aspects of existenc e. That isn't the same thing at all. At least, I think that's what he means. In support, I quote him again:
We can't know very much about that larger frame, simply because creating the conditions required for knowing about it would making know ing--to say nothing of living--impossible.

On the indistinguishability-as-such, however, he appears to be serious. Something tells me that 'distinguishable' wi ll be one word he'll have to give up in favor of a replacement, if progress is to occur, as I've argued. The word is unintelligible, without a distinguisher.
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2001-02-07:19:32

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philosophy of physics
Several papers and two books are in progress currently.

One is a paper, being co-written with Tom, on quantum reality. My thinking on this subject is currently infantile, and it restructures and grows dramatically day by day. I stumble a lot, and get very discouraged, but Tom is exceedingly patient if still pretty realist and poetic and cryptic and mathematical, and he picks me up.

The problem, as I see it at this very moment, is this. Physicists are not philosophers. But they think they are, and they like to make grand philosophical claims. This happens a lot in science, if what I've read in neuroscience journals is any indication.

Worse, the kinds of philosophy that have influenced them so far have been rather barren and sketchy. The realism, which is the more profound of the theories to which they subscribe, conflicts directly with their results. And, according to Tom, they retreat into the comfortable withdrawal of operationalism and positivism. Thus, they say things that, to the ordinary human being, make no sense. Ordinary human beings, who don't have the same delusions of grandeur that physicists have, think that this means that they are saying very profound things that only other physicists can understand. If Tom is to be believed, however, the other physicists don't understand them either. And that, I conjecture, is because they don't make any sense.

For example, here's Bohr:

There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum mechanical description.

Uh hunh.

Clearly, this doesn't make any sense as it stands, especially if one is a realist--specifically, a realist with regard to entities. It doesn't make any sense to me, either, though. But given what I've read so far, I believe that objectivist epistemology--i.e., conceptualism--can make sense of the data. Realism just can't.

Tom and I have written on the problems for realism in the ordinary realm of perception (see our "Edges" paper); these problems for realism are in addition to the quantum problems. They are not based on the problems of quantum mechanics. A lot of people don't understand this about our work. I had thought very little of the problems of quantum physics in any sense, before this winter, whatever Tom may have had in his head all along. My contribution to the paper was based purely on the objects of everyday perception. It may be more comfortable to believe that the two of us are simply confused because we have allowed our thinking to be steered by the issues in quantum mechanics, but it is also erroneous. You'll have to take my word for that, I guess, or check out my considerations on the electron in my dissertation; there, I was obviously still thinking in terms of realism with regard to entities, though I obviously believed that the electron should only be considered a theoretical entity.

There, I've said it, it's on public record. Journals are so convenient.