(In the previous post on Human Freedom, we argued that for Freedom to exist, “the possible must not shrink too tightly around the actual”. There must be a “looseness” in the world even if it is based in a Person’s Limited Nature and abilities. In the current post, Number 13 in the series, we will contrast Our Limits with the Ideal Limitlessness of Science! Finite Structures like a coin toss and a dog “can” do things — like come up Heads, or bark — but do not always do so. These options exist only to us ordinary humans (Thank Goodness!) and not for an Ideal Science. Persons have the ability to do something different the next time they are faced with a similar, but not the exact same, situation. First published 5/12/2019)
When the Dog Barks
I have limited knowledge of the behavior of my dog. I cannot predict every time she will bark, or in my case, howl — a beagle. This is why we say, a dog “can” bark: it does not always bark, and maybe does not even “have to” bark ever, and when its does bark we may not know why. When the one option does happen, the dog barks for example, we are confirmed that it “can”, and “can” investigate
and determine the causes why it did then. If we are highly successful, it will be a step in the direction of making that dog less autonomous, less distinct from its environment than previously. We “can” say, “Under those circumstances, the dog will bark, always!” Our world is determined, in that way.
It is even conceivable to take a coin flip that came up “heads” and ideally reconstruct the scenario that caused its occurrence. But this is where the difficulties start of multiply for us. These difficulties, maybe, are a good thing because for an intelligence far superior to ours no coin toss, horse race or Power Ball Lottery outcome would ever be unknown and unpredictable! This far superior intelligence would be something like a Super Scientist.
Science relies on an ideal perspective.
A controlled environment allows the scientist to alter the independent variable and then observe its effect on the dependent variable. That Controlled Environment is an artificial situation; it is “seen” as a closed causal system, from outside, in its totality, with all pertinent causal forces known and accurately measured. This works fabulously in many, many, particular settings. It tells us why the dog barked, but even with the coin coming up heads, there are difficulties.
In real life, difficulties exist in controlling the environment, and then accurately knowing and measuring the forces and factors involved. What makes every toss unpredictable to us is the large number of factors involved and then their “looseness”. Each toss is thrown a different height, different rotation, different wind, humidity, landing surface, coin … Dennett cites physicists reporting on the limitations of accurate measurement: Even in a pin ball game, the ball bouncing numerous times off two or three bumpers, each bounce with slightly different angles and speeds, all in a split second or two, presents a formidable challenge to precise measurement and prediction. Any inaccuracy in measurement is amplified as the chain of reactions lengthens. Often the
act of measuring, itself, introduce variance in the process.
It can be argued that these are only practical problems and capable of resolution. The practice of science is sound and this has been clearly indicated by the very character of our modern achievements. Ideally, it often seems this science-vision of the world can be expanded into the most reasonable world view, but when we do, the practical problems only worsen.
The measuring problems increase. Over very large systems, all the necessary measurements cannot be made at once. Any imprecision would ramify massively.
And who does the measuring? In the ideal image of science, “the knowing mind” is outside the system to be known. Traditionally, it has therefore been thought of as the “objective” point of view in contrast to more “subjective” visions. That is accurate, in the sense that it presents a world without subjects: ‘Things’ that are observers, thinkers, communicators; ‘things’ that have feelings, perceptions, and — in general — any ‘thing’ that ‘experiences’. This image of the world has no place for The Doing of Science, only the results of the ‘hard’ sciences. It lacks “the logical space for reasons”,
says Dennett following noted philosopher of science, Wilfred Sellars. Scientists must consider evidence on logical ground, decide among options, reason, and ponder the possible. This Absolutist Vision of Science is, therefore, very Im-Practical. There is no place in it for the Practice of science or the Doing of any particular thing in any terms other than causation. Pushes and shoves, pulls and attractions, electrical currents, chemical reactions, all “can” and do happen, but this is not Thinking, Reasoning or Acting. It is the Structure of human society that facilitates the structure of Persons that Do these things that are then associated with their physical causes. This is the argument against ‘hard’ determinism; it is “greedy reductionism” and is incoherent when it discusses language, reasoning, and belief as if they are only physical causes. It is incoherent because these very reductionists use language and reasoning to try to Convince Us, not cause us, to Rightly Change our Beliefs and Actions.
In the following post, The Character of Structures 3, a structure’s ability to mediate causal forces, without Supernatural abilities but only physical organizational powers, will be clarified. Structure allows new things into our causally driven world, and turns the place into A Grand Series of Amazing, and sometimes amazingly horrifying, Events. It’s not all just dominoes and dominoes falling!