Models of Reality: Part 1
The Confusion of Science with a Philosophical Model
Science has become an incredibly important social tool for knowledge and technological growth in the world today, and as a result of its success, especially the technological breadth of its success, people have come to enshrine it as the most important of tools for understanding the world and our place in it. However, the education and the understanding of science and what it is and what it’s limitations are have led to a great deal of misinformation. Knowing what we are talking about when we reference science has not only become important to how we are going to continue to interact and grow in our knowledge as a society, but it has become necessary so that we are able to see beyond the limitations that have settled as a result of certain misunderstandings in regard to what we are doing with science and what it is for.
Most people confuse science with philosophical materialism without realizing that what people think they are referring to when they reference ‘science’ is in fact generally a form of ‘materialism’ which is an assumed model:
Modelling refers to the process of generating a model as a conceptual representation of some phenomenon. Typically a model will refer only to some aspects of the phenomenon in question, and two models of the same phenomenon may be essentially different, that is to say that the differences between them comprise more than just a simple renaming of components.
Such differences may be due to differing requirements of the model’s end users, or to conceptual or aesthetic differences among the modellers and to contingent decisions made during the modelling process. Considerations that may influence the structure of a model might be the modeller’s preference for a reduced ontology, preferences regarding statistical models versus deterministic models, discrete versus continuous time, etc. In any case, users of a model need to understand the assumptions made that are pertinent to its validity for a given use.
Building a model requires abstraction. Assumptions are used in modelling in order to specify the domain of application of the model. For example, the special theory of relativity assumes an inertial frame of reference. This assumption was contextualized and further explained by the general theory of relativity. A model makes accurate predictions when its assumptions are valid, and might well not make accurate predictions when its assumptions do not hold. Such assumptions are often the point with which older theories are succeeded by new ones (the general theory of relativity works in non-inertial reference frames as well). Scientific Modelling
The assumption of a model as is stated in the above quote in this case relates directly to a very narrow range of ideas about reality that are generally reductivist and in the case of the modern ‘concept’ of science as materialism relies on the universe being composed of ‘stuff’ that we call matter:
Materialism belongs to the class of monist ontology. As such, it is different from ontological theories based on dualism or pluralism. For singular explanations of the phenomenal reality, materialism would be in contrast to idealism, neutral monism, and spiritualism.
Despite the large number of philosophical schools and subtle nuances between many, all philosophies are said to fall into one of two primary categories, which are defined in contrast to each other: Idealism, and materialism.[a] The basic proposition of these two categories pertains to the nature of reality, and the primary distinction between them is the way they answer two fundamental questions: “what does reality consist of?” and “how does it originate?” To idealists, spirit or mind or the objects of mind (ideas) are primary, and matter secondary. To materialists, matter is primary, and mind or spirit or ideas are secondary, the product of matter acting upon matter.
The materialist view is perhaps best understood in its opposition to the doctrines of immaterial substance applied to the mind historically, famously by René Descartes. However, by itself materialism says nothing about how material substance should be characterized. In practice, it is frequently assimilated to one variety of physicalism or another.
Materialism is often associated with reductionism, according to which the objects or phenomena individuated at one level of description, if they are genuine, must be explicable in terms of the objects or phenomena at some other level of description — typically, at a more reduced level. Non-reductive materialism explicitly rejects this notion, however, taking the material constitution of all particulars to be consistent with the existence of real objects, properties, or phenomena not explicable in the terms canonically used for the basic material constituents. Jerry Fodor influentially argues this view, according to which empirical laws and explanations in “special sciences” like psychology or geology are invisible from the perspective of basic physics. A lot of vigorous literature has grown up around the relation between these views.
Modern philosophical materialists extend the definition of other scientifically observable entities such as energy, forces, and the curvature of space. However philosophers such as Mary Midgley suggest that the concept of “matter” is elusive and poorly defined.
Materialism typically contrasts with dualism, phenomenalism, idealism, vitalism, and dual-aspect monism. Its materiality can, in some ways, be linked to the concept of Determinism, as espoused by Enlightenment thinkers. Scientific Materialism
The concept of “matter” itself is poorly defined, as mentioned in the quote. Matter, energy and information are all considered equivalent with each other in varying ways, and a lot of modern physics works with a concept called field theory which suggests there aren’t things at all but rather fields that are interacting in varying relationships with each other. We have quantum mechanics bending the concept of “matter” nearly to the breaking point of conception and a lot of confusion about concepts of space and time. In any case, the experimental evidence of scientific materialism is easily called into question and can be experimentally proven to be false, as it relies on the premise that everything is matter. The mind itself is not accepted in the model, and so consciousness remains a huge problem, called the hard problem of consciousness. Anything, outside of the accepted realm of materialism falsifies it as a model, and this has happened time and time again.
As a result you have a poorly assumed model that is the accepted understanding of ‘science’ but is not science itself but a confusion of it. Materialism is the approved lens of perception in which a consensus has been arrived at on how the general public views the world based on the acceptance of the authority of our ‘experts’, and how we create a biased map for the continued exploration of our reality, based on this highly inadequate philosophical model.
A great quote from the author Michael Crichton which I found from the wonderful blog Rune Soup and continued explanation by the blog’s author, Gordon White:
“I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.” – Michael Crichton
Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What are relevant are reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period. – Gordon White [Rune Soup]
As was mentioned in the above quote referencing the philosophical model of materialism, there are a number of ontological theories, in which materialism is one particular kind of ontological monism, the contrast to it being philosophical idealism. Beyond ontological monism you have other models that represent dualism as well as pluralism. Dualism having been made popular by the philosopher Renee Descarte, which later came to be defined by the mind/body(matter) argument. The phenomenal/sensory world was divided into two basic components: Mind and matter, or subject and object. Dualism and monism.
Dualism maintains that mind and matter are different essences operating under different laws. There are three basic kinds of dualism. Epiphenomenalism suggests that matter is the real substance of the world and mind is a by product; subject to the motion of matter. Animism suggests that every material motion has an invisible spiritual cause and matter is subordinate to mind. Interactionalism proposes that mind and matter mutually influence one another.
Monism maintains that there is really only one kind of ‘stuff’ or essence in the universe. There are basically also three kinds of monism. Materialism in which this article has concerned itself suggests matter is all there is, mind is one of matter’s possible attributes having no special status, mind is simply a particular mechanical motion of matter. Materialism itself can be broken down even further into two basic areas. The first is reductive materialism which believes that virtually any mechanical motion results in some kind of ‘inner experience,’ it is a way of thinking which is willing to believe everything has an ‘inner’ life, but it’s concept of aliveness is a purely mechanical process. The second is emergent materialism which also believes that consciousness is a wholly mechanical property of matter, but that only complex systems containing special mechanisms have the capacity to possess it, which leads to the speculation of machines which can be built that reflect this process. As such we have the current popularity behind the idea of artificial intelligence in computation.
Idealism is on the other side of the spectrum of monism which posits that mind is the fundamental substance of the world and the existence of a material world is inferred from evidence presented to our sense organs. This has been the popularly understood and held model of reality to a large extent until modern history. But it is by no means archaic or without very real merit in its considerations, evidence or its proponents. Philosophically having been hugely influential through Hume, Bishop Berkeley and Kant with his transcendental idealism. More recently it has been held as a model by some of our most prominent scientists: Including Erwin Shrodinger, David Bohm and Max Planck who himself said “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness” – 1931.
Neutral Monism is a philosophical model which tries to strike a balance between the extremes of materialism and idealism. Neutral monism sees matter and mind as interdependent, but suggests that a purely physical account of the world must be factually wrong with regard to consciousness.
Given a better understanding of the philosophical models at work in regards to science it becomes clear that philosophical materialism is not ‘science’ but a particular model of how it is expressed and worked with. Science is a method of inquiry issuing certain tools of investigation, largely based on inductive reasoning and empirical data focused on measuring observable results. It is also a limited method as all of these tools have been shown to have deep flaws in their methodology, none of which are particularly new in our understanding.
Inductive reasoning has been shown to be deeply flawed as far back as the eighteenth century by David Hume, in an essay which outlined how the justification for the inductive method, was not in fact justified at all by reason, famously become known as Hume’s fork. This investigation has been furthered and improved upon by the modern philosopher Nelson Goodman and his “grue-paradox.” Both of which can be looked into further for better understanding as it doesn’t fit the scope of this article to do it justice. For further reading check out the Problems of Induction.
There is also a well acknowledged problem with sensory data being biased from the preset, in some respects reflecting the model approach we have already acknowledged, but also regarding established psychological predispositions of thinking and believing. Models are themselves inherently loaded with particular proscriptions of reality which will naturally lead to asking questions of a narrow range relating to the model itself as we generally don’t see beyond the model we are working within. A great article to further understanding of this problem can be found in How scientists fool themselves – and how they can stop.
Because models will get the results that you set out to find based on the model you began with, the philosophy of science has developed well established understandings of the limitations of science as a tool of knowledge to better continue with the work and understanding of science. Science needs to move beyond the popular conception of the current model of discipline which emerged from logical positivism and american philosophical pragmatism. This model emerged at a time when they understood these problems but chose to ignore it and move forward regardless. It’s been ignored so long now, it’s just become an entrenched assumption of truth which does a disservice to the discipline and hampers us in growing beyond the current limitations which hamper us.