Being committed to truth means admitting the limitations of what we can know

Michela Massimi has a long article at Aeon defending scientific realism.

The time for a defence of truth in science has come. It begins with a commitment to get things right, which is at the heart of the realist programme, despite mounting Kuhnian challenges from the history of science, considerations about modelling, and values in contemporary scientific practice. In the simple-minded sense, getting things right means that things are as the relevant scientific theory says that they are.

…We should expect science to tell us the truth because, by realist lights, this is what science ought to do. Truth – understood as getting things right – is not the aim of science, because it is not what science (or, better, scientists) should aspire to (assuming one has realist leanings). Instead, it is what science ought to do by realist lights. Thus, to judge a scientific theory or model as true is to judge it as one that ‘commands our assent’. Truth, ultimately, is not an aspiration; a desirable (but maybe unachievable) goal; a figment in the mind of the working scientist; or, worse, an insupportable and dispensable burden in scientific research. Truth is a normative commitment inherent in scientific knowledge.

Scientific realism is the belief that scientific theories describe the real world.  For a realist, when general relativity talks about space being warped, there is actually a thing out there being warped.  When particle physics talk about an electron, it is referring to a real thing out there that definitely exists.

The main alternative to scientific realism is instrumentalism, which holds that scientific theories are frameworks, tools, for predicting observations, with no particular guarantee that they describe reality.  Specifically, the reality of any statements the theory makes beyond predictions that can be tested, are suspect.  Often the testable predictions arise from the theory’s mathematics whereas the non-testable ones arise from the accompanying language narrative, but there can be non-testable mathematical predictions and testable narrative ones.

I’ve written before that I actually find this distinction invalid, because our understanding of reality is itself just another mental model.  Our brains build models of the world, the accuracy of which we can only measure by how well they predict future experiences.  I can see no other measure of truth.  (If you can think of another one, please let me know in the comments.)

Emotionally I am a scientific realist.  I try to maintain a commitment to truth and do see science as the pursuit of truth.  Indeed, I think it’s the best tool we have for learning about the truth.  But part of being faithful to truth means acknowledging the limitations of what we can know about it.  And my questioning of the distinction between realism and instrumentalism makes me, to a hard realist, a non-realist.

So, intellectually, I’m an instrumentalist.  All we ever get are conscious experiences.  A successful scientific theory predicts future experiences.  All statements about objective reality are theoretical.  But the nature of that reality beyond what can be tested about our theories, are unknown.

Which brings me to this statement in Massimi’s article:

Constructive empiricists, instrumentalists, Jamesian pragmatists, relativists and constructivists do not share the same commitment. They do not share with the realist a suitable notion of ‘rightness’.

As an instrumentalist, I say baloney!  Massimi mischaracterizes all alternatives to realism as accepting arbitrary notions.  While there are details about James’ pragmatic theory of truth I’m unsure about, I find the overall idea sound.  What is true is what works, what enhances our ability to make accurate predictions.

A commitment to this standard is just as much a commitment to “getting it right,” but with the added benefit that adherence to it can be tested.  Ultimately instrumentalism, and similar philosophies, are simply epistemic humility, which I think is crucial for actually getting it right.

Unless of course I’m missing something?

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50 Responses to Being committed to truth means admitting the limitations of what we can know

  1. paultorek says:

    Firstly, kudos to you for questioning the validity of a philosophical divide. Lots of “opposing” views turn out to be merely verbal variants – like the “debate” between some forms of “eternalism” and “presentism” in the philosophy of time. As long as you’re careful with verb tenses, I don’t think it’s possible to state what the disagreement is supposed to be. I wonder if Chinese philosophers have an easier go of it, thanks to their tenseless verbs.

    But in this case, I think there’s a real divide. It can be got at by asking if there is any scientific relevance in hypotheses about what happens, for example, when a spaceship sails beyond our cosmological horizon. Or any other event that is, as far as we know, forever beyond our verification. Ah, but there’s the rub! What’s “unverifiable” today may become evidenced or counterevidenced tomorrow. Carl Hempel and Rudolf Carnap strove mightily to delimit the frontiers of verifiability, and wound up with egg-decorated faces. I see no reason to think the Demarcation Problem soluble, at least in any compact (useful) way.

    Which is why we have to let physics run ahead of epistemology. In other words, let it focus on reality. We humans were never much good at psychology (which basically contains epistemology as a sub-field) anyway, what with our outer-directed, evolution-honed senses.


    • Thanks Paul.

      Certainly what isn’t testable today might be testable tomorrow, or in future centuries. Still, that to me doesn’t change the basic issue. Until we can test it, we can’t know whether it’s true, no matter how well the other parts of the theory have been tested. Parts of well established theories have been overturned before.

      I have no problem with theoretical physics running ahead of experimentation, as long as we understand the epistemic status of those theories. Particle physics in particular in the last few years has received a stark reality check. Many theories that physicists had built careers on appear to have gone up in smoke with the LHC runs.

      How many physics theories weren’t explored over the last few decades because they contradicted things like supersymmetry? If the field had kept in mind SUSYs speculative nature, it might be further along than it is now.

      Liked by 1 person

      • paultorek says:

        Of course I agree that “Until we can test it, we can’t know whether it’s true.” I don’t think any scientific realist ever doubted it. The questions are (a) is there a truth out there (thank you, Agent Mulder) anyway?, and (b) does it help to aim at it, without always aiming explicitly at predicting a particular experience? The answer to (b) is yes, which is a hint that the answer to (a) is also yes.


        • “I don’t think any scientific realist ever doubted it.”

          Oh, I’ve talked with a few who did. Often the subject is an untested side effect of a theory which they feel is inevitable and that holding its untested nature against it as unreasonable skepticism.


          • paultorek says:

            If a theory has been tested and supported, and the theory has other logical consequences, then I would view those consequences as supported by (indirect) testing too. That’s just good Bayesianism.


          • I think that’s where the realist and the instrumentalist typically diverge. As an instrumentalist, my attitude is that the consequence would be a candidate for reality, but I think it’d be a mistake to view it as settled. It’s essentially counting your chicks before they’ve hatched.

            The logical consequence might be Neptune, whose existence was predicted by Newtonian theory, or it might be Vulcan, a predicted planet inside the orbit of Mercury according to the same theory.


  2. keithnoback says:

    We have a tendency to say “true” and “merely reliable”. The reverse is more – reliable.
    But it is all a little off, this external objective versus experiential reality thing.
    How true, or reliable, should we consider a representation which tells us that our representations are not true?


    • In the end, I think it comes down to prediction. If accepting a theory that tells us our representations are false nevertheless accurately predicts future representations, then for pragmatic purposes, it’s true, or at least has some relationship to the truth.


      • keithnoback says:

        That’s the road to coherence, and I think scientific realism is just a version of correspondence theory.
        That’s lovely, but it does not address the issue which is: Is correspondence all we mean when we speak of truth?
        I think it leaves too much on the table, much of which other commenters have mentioned.

        Liked by 1 person

      • keithnoback says:

        I’ll double down here, ’cause I think there may be a good analogy available.
        Scientific theories are about data (they are maps of a sort), but theories are not the data. In fact there can’t be a theory that simply states the data, any more than there can be a theory of truth.


        • Maybe another way of putting it is that a theory is a structure, a proposed relationship between the observations. There can be no theory without observation. Of course, all observation is also theory laden, heavily influenced by what we expect to see and how we put it in context, which makes the whole thing a large feedback loop (when it works well).


          • keithnoback says:

            Sure, observations are all secondary. By the time you are making them, you have already given up on the truth and are after reliability.
            You want them to be theory-laden, and therefore relevant.
            That’s OK because, as I’ve maintained before, truth doesn’t do much.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Mike. Let me join Paul with the kudos. And let me add I’m with you, but there’s this one nit over here …..

    A successful scientific theory predicts future experiences.

    This is a little reminiscent of your recent post. Is truth in the eye of the beholder? Is truth an empty concept without beholders? Is truth different from a fact of the matter?



    • Thanks James,

      I think truth has more substance behind it in the sense that it’s not just about our intuitions. If I ignore advice about exercise and eating right, statistical outliers aside, it will have predictive consequences. If I simply decree a “truth” that exercise and fruits and vegetables aren’t really healthy, that’s a choice I can make, but the actual truth will eventually catch up with me.


  4. Lee Roetcisoender says:

    “Our brains build models of the world, the accuracy of which we can only measure by how well they predict future experiences. I can see no other measure of truth.” This is too narrow…

    Our brains do not “just” build models, initially and foremost, they recognize patterns. Slowly, over time, an infant will soon make the connection between the complex correlation of patterns it finds itself in, the differences between patterns, then correlations between the differences, and then repetitive patterns of the correlations. But it is not until the infant is several months old that it is capable of using the discrete, binary system of rationality to make sense of the enormously complex correlation of sensations, boundaries, and desires called an “object” to be able to reach for one. The power of reasoning “expressed” through the discrete binary system of rationality gave the infant its first taste of control. The object, now firmly clasp in its hand is “not” the primary experience. It will be a “relationship” to the complex correlations of repetitive patterns derived from the experience that gives the infant its first connection to a patterned world and a sense of control. It is at this threshold where patterns and control become the universe of distinguishable things thereby establishing the solipsistic self-model.


    • Certainly those models are built on a lifetime of sensory information and learning how our actions affect it. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.

      Although it is striking how much innate knowledge infants possess. They seem to have an inborn appreciation for the importance of faces. And even very young infants are surprised when presented with what appear to be physically impossible scenarios, such as an object apparently not falling when in mid air. All all primates appear to have an innate fear of snake-like forms.


  5. Hi, Mike — I agree with you 100% on this post. Although the truth is an admirable target to aim for, being the “perfect” assertion about objective reality, the perfect has often been the enemy of the “good enough”. The scientific method has always adopted humility (and rightly so) with respect to its hypotheses, admitting that we start from a position of ignorance and attempting to frame testable or verifiable theories to whittle down that block of ignorance, and knowing full well that another better theory may come along the next day to replace it. I remember reading somewhere that there are two possible measures of a good theory: (1) that it predicts an observable phenomenon better than any previous theory or (2) that it explains more observable phenomena in a consistent way than any previous theory. Please don’t misconstrue my statement about the humility of the scientific method. In my humble opinion, the scientific method is the best method I know to arrive at an approximation of the objective truth about reality. Just my two cents.


    • Thanks Mike. Good point with (2) that there are often multiple theories that account for observations, and we’re often faced with a choice. Occam’s razor generally leads us to the one with the fewest assumptions beyond observations. It’s a useful heuristic that is right most of the time.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Katiedash says:

    Very interesting take on the whole subject thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Fizan says:

    Agree with your thoughts on this one mostly.
    A problem for me in declaring truth or reality is that it’s based on inductive reasoning.
    The best we can do is assign a probability to statements which works in general.
    There is a problem there as well, if I were to say there is a 99 % probability the next observation will be ‘heads’ this would be based on a previous trial of observations. Now, ‘in reality’ it may be that the previous 1000 observations you did (990 of which were ‘heads’) were part of a grander pattern according to which the next 1000 observations were going to be 50% heads and the next at 1% heads. Basically, once you learn of the new pattern you will update your theory but there was no way before hand to know what the probability was going to be like. And even
    In other words probabilty itself is inductive reasoning.


    • Thanks Fizan.

      On probabilities, with the possible exception of quantum mechanics, they are always from the perspective of a particular observer, always in terms of what we know and don’t know, that is, the known knowns and known unknowns, but not the unknown unknowns. (I hate that those terms have become hopelessly associated with Donald Rumsfeld.) We might say there is a high probability, approaching near 100%, that the sun will rise tomorrow, but we might not know about an approaching vacuum decay expanding at the speed of light that will destroy both the earth and sun before morning.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Lee Roetcisoender says:

    I agree that abstractions such as “truth” cannot be verified by the scientific method of deductive reasoning, and induction itself is even more problematic. The meta-problem is literally rationality itself. Rationality is a closed loop, discrete binary system where the sensibilities of our perceptions and imaginations make up the binaries which are contrasted against each other to give meaning of some kind. And those imaginations, perceptions and sensibilities are in themselves radically indeterminate. There is no way to know what anything means outside of the exclusive circle of mutual definition and agreement.

    Unless or until one is willing to address the discrete binary system of rationality nothing will change. The problem remains that nobody, including the scientific and academic communities know what it “means” for rationality to be a discrete binary system, and that’s a non-starter…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Lee,
      I have to admit I don’t know what it means 🙂


    • Fizan says:

      Hi Lee,

      I’ve read your explanation of rationality being a closed loop discrete binary system a few times now in the comment sections. I’m kind of intrigued by it. I seem to get what you mean by this but perhaps not fully. Would you be able to elaborate further so that more of us can understand?

      And one thought that does arise is if there is any better tool we have at our disposal or would this simply imply experience which is ‘linear’ is unexplorable by rationality? in which case I would wonder how we came to the conclusion of it being linear if not through rationality in the first place?



  9. Wyrd Smythe says:

    FWIW, I’m not fond of the worth “truth” here, because I’ve always viewed “truth” as being at least somewhat subjective. It’s a handy short word, and I’m okay with using it here given a caveat that we mean a ‘factual understanding of reality’ and not ‘personal truths.’

    I also think “truth” for me is much more about honesty (or the lack thereof). Quite frankly, I’ve never seen science as the pursuit for what I call “truth.” (Other than in philosophy, maybe.)

    But this is just semantics. I know what is meant.

    “I’ve written before that I actually find this distinction invalid, because our understanding of reality is itself just another mental model.”

    Interesting point, I can see it. This is a bit like that ‘artificial’ mind thing. In a large context, the word does seem inappropriate (like “false hopes”), but in the specific context it’s meant, it just differentiates naturally-grown organism from human-constructed machine.

    I suppose this one, too, is philosophical hair-splitting. I take it that instrumentalists won’t make statements about the nature of reality beyond their tests, whereas scientific realists are kinda all about that reality. Maybe that’s just my own take on it, though.

    “Emotionally I am a scientific realist. I try to maintain a commitment to truth and do see science as the pursuit of truth.”

    Very much likewise (with the caveat I’d replace “truth” with “understanding.”)

    “I can see no other measure of truth.”

    How do you feel about a priori mathematical truths? (Or what Kant thought about the a priori nature of time and space?)

    To what extent do you feel myriad experiences by many over time converge on a valid model of external reality? To what extent can we really believe that an “electron” (whatever it actually is) actually is a something?

    Or do we never really reach that point?

    “And my questioning of the distinction between realism and instrumentalism makes me, to a hard realist, a non-realist.”

    Most astute; yes, it does, but I’ve long known you’re an instrumentalist. 🙂

    “As an instrumentalist, I say baloney!”

    The very idea. I never sausage a thing!

    “Ultimately instrumentalism, and similar philosophies, are simply epistemic humility, which I think is crucial for actually getting it right.”

    I’d go along with that.

    The kicker might lie in a given instrumentalist’s focus only on tests to the exclusion of ontology, whereas a scientific realist might be more focused on the ontology.

    Certainly that’s where my interests lie, and I have run into instrumentalists who have been disdainful of that pursuit. I think it’s what science is all about.

    I want to know what’s going on. I want to understand! 😀


    • I’ve always thought the idea of “personal truths” was bogus, an abuse of the word “true”, a way for philosophers and theologians to make statements that sound ontological, but using definitions that allow them, when challenged, to retreat to opinion. But I’m a soulless skeptic 🙂

      Some people would say that the whole distinction between realists and instrumentalists is hair splitting. Although usually if you talk with them enough, a preference for one of the other usually emerges.

      I wondered if anyone would ask about a priori knowledge. (Thank you!) I see it all built on either innate intuitions or empirical observations and validated by observation. I’m a mathematical and logical empiricist, which is to say that I think the foundations of both are built on experience or genetic instinct (inherited experience).

      “To what extent can we really believe that an “electron” (whatever it actually is) actually is a something?”

      That’s the question. We never actually observe an electron. We only infer its existence base on what we do observe. And all the quantum stuff which posits that electrons are smeared around in orbitals until they’re not, just confounds the whole issue. In the end, I think we believe in them because that belief is useful. But if there’s something that might someday require us to revise our beliefs, this seems like a good candidate, at least to me.

      “The very idea. I never sausage a thing!”


      “Certainly that’s where my interests lie, and I have run into instrumentalists who have been disdainful of that pursuit. I think it’s what science is all about.”

      I agree. It’s why I actually resisted thinking of myself as an instrumentalist for a long time. Too many of them wrap themselves in it to outright deny any ontology but what they want to be true. It’s a philosophy that attracts a lot of people who see it as a way to undermine scientific conclusions.

      My version is more about avoiding over committing to an ontology.

      “I want to know what’s going on. I want to understand!”



      • Wyrd Smythe says:

        “My version is more about avoiding over committing to an ontology”

        Yeah, we’re completely on the same page in that sense. One of my favorite tease/digs at physics is that, despite our using them (and depending on them!) for so long, no one can tell me what an electron actually is! 😛

        And as you say, the more you drill down on getting to really know electrons, the weirder it gets. Lamb shifts and virtual photons and orbitals and all that quantum. There’s clearly something there. It’s hysterical (to me) we can’t figure exactly what it is.

        “I’m a mathematical and logical empiricist,”

        I can appreciate the view, and we’ve touched on it before. I might be a little more of a Platonist on this, maybe. I’ve always been very taken by that “eerie effectiveness” thing.

        “Some people would say that the whole distinction between realists and instrumentalists is hair splitting.”

        I agree there’s a fuzzy line between scientific realism and instrumentalists. For me it’s based on the degree of realist belief. There’s very little daylight, I think, between your basic science realist and an open-minded skeptic instrumentalist.

        “[Truth as] a way for philosophers and theologians to make statements that sound ontological,”

        LOL! I don’t mean anything so grandiose by it. I just mean, for example, that to me Häagen-Dazs is the best ice cream, bar none. There are other truths about the best ice cream that are just as true.

        There is also the logical sense, true or false, and the honesty sense, and then the original sense of meaning “straight” (the arrow flew true). It’s one of those human words with a lot of freight, so I just feel weird when people say science delivers “truth.”

        Just not how I see it.


        • “no one can tell me what an electron actually is!”

          And no one can tell us what energy actually is either, despite all the mathematical accounting we have of it.

          Ah, we have touched on the math issue before. Thanks! I was a little less willing to say “mathematical empiricist” back then, often stumbling on phrases like semi-empiricist and the like. I do like what I said back then about fundamental theories, if I do say so myself 🙂 (Actually I think I stole that idea from Graham Priest.)

          “There’s very little daylight, I think, between your basic science realist and an open-minded skeptic instrumentalist.”

          Good point.

          I get you on “truth”. And this discussion highlights one of its chief liabilities. People mean different things by it. In that sense it’s similar to “consciousness”, “God”, “free will”, and many other concepts. Often times our meanings are sharper if we choose more technical and focused terms.


  10. Lee Roetcisoender says:

    “How do you feel about a priori mathematical truths? (Or what Kant thought about the a priori nature of time and space?)”

    Being a realist Wyrd, I am surprised to see that you referenced Kant because the targeted objective of Kant’s ontology was to dismantle the prevailing paradigm of “realism”. And yes: How are synthetic a priori judgements possible, synthetic a priori judgements which are clearly demonstrated by the science of mathematics? It’ a question that demands an answer and is a “matter of life and death” to metaphysics and to human reason.


    • Wyrd Smythe says:

      If nothing else, Kant is useful as a standard of discourse. I do to like Kant, despite perhaps I might be more of a realist, but it’s not clear he denied external reality. He certainly said we’ll never get our hands on it. 🙂

      As you suggest, I’m not sure I quite agree with Kant that mathematics is a priori analytic. The post I linked to above is sort of a discussion of the synthesis of mathematics. A bit like Kant found time and space to be intuitions, my Plato-leaning mind wonders about the intuitions of math and geometry.


  11. Lee Roetcisoender says:

    I think Parmenides summed it up the best in his Proem when he was shown by a goddess the way of “truth”. Script10 1.28b-30:

    “…. And it is necessary for you to learn all things, Both the still heart of persuasive reality and the opinions of mortals, in which there is no genuine reliability.”

    Reality is characterized as “what-is” on the grounds that it is completely trustworthy and persuasive. In contrast, the goddess warns Parmenides of the alternate route which posits “what-is-not and necessarily cannot be”. “What-is-not” reflects the opinions of men which are not at all trustworthy in any way. What can be summarized after reading the Reality section of the Proem (C. 2-C 8.49) is that what is certain about Reality, (whatever the subject and/or scope of this reality is supposed to be), is that there is purportedly at least one thing that possesses all of the qualitative properties of “what-is”, in contrast to “what-is-not”. And this one thing is separate from appearance and opinion. It stands alone as distinct, separate from any appearance one might assign to it and separate from any opinion one might have of it.

    The still heart of persuasive reality is a stirringly profound concept, one that corresponds to the linear, continuous system of reasoning, but unfortunately, it does not correspond to the discrete binary system of rationality. Rationality is the meta-problem of both causality and consciousness.


    • Thanks Lee. But I’m still not sure what the “still heart of persuasive reality” actually refers to. I can see multiple possible interpretations, from empiricism, to noumenonalism / objective reality, to platonic forms.


      • Lee Roetcisoender says:

        “I don’t know” is the correct answer Mike. The “still heart of persuasive reality” is the “objective reality” of the unknown, in Kantian terms it’s noumena… Face the music, the “objective reality” of the unknown is the elephant in the room.

        But how does one establish and utilize the unknown as a point of reference when the unknown has no meaning? Unfortunately, that is the built in paradox of Kant’s ontology. “The Immortal Principle: A Point of Reference” overcomes the Kantian Problematic…

        nuff said

        Liked by 1 person

  12. J.S. Pailly says:

    I hadn’t heard there was a realist vs instrumentalist distinction to be made. I guess I have a more instrumentalist attitude about science. All we really know about the universe is what our instruments tells us, or rather what our senses tell us our instruments tell us. But the way we interpret and communicate our data is also really important, even if that process is inherently subjective. I’ll have to think about this more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s definitely not a distinction that occurs to most people. Just to be clear, “instrumentalism” doesn’t refer to technical equipment such as telescopes, microscopes, etc, but to whether scientific theories are themselves just an instrument, a tool for predicting observations, or a statement of truth.

      In practice, I actually think they’re both a predictive instrument and a statement of provisional truth. It’s the provisional part that many realists sometimes forget.

      Liked by 1 person

      • J.S. Pailly says:

        Oh okay, then I definitely lean toward instrumentalism. A lot of my thinking about scientific models was influenced by “The Relativity of Wrong” by Isaac Asimov, which was about how every scientific model is wrong on some level. The best we can do is try to make each new model less wrong than the ones that came before.


        • Wow, I’d heard the Asimov’s famous quote related to that, but I didn’t realize there was an essay and a book attached to it. Thanks!

          My answer to him was, “John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

          The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that “right” and “wrong” are absolute; that everything that isn’t perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong.

          However, I don’t think that’s so. It seems to me that right and wrong are fuzzy concepts, and I will devote this essay to an explanation of why I think so.

          Liked by 1 person

          • J.S. Pailly says:

            It’s a brilliant piece of writing. And the idea that right and wrong are absolutes, and that there are no grey areas between them, is I think behind a lot of the problems and misunderstandings we have in our society today.

            Liked by 1 person

    • In your deliberations J.S., consider my own general assessment of the situation here:

      Philosophy is an institution with formal study at least back into the ancient Greeks around two and a half millennia ago. But unlike the similarly ancient exploration of mathematics, a respected community of specialists did not gain any generally accepted understandings until about four centuries ago. These modern philosophers came to be known as “scientists”, and unleashed a truly monumental age of human power through their understandings. But there was still a realm of exploration that remained without communally accepted answers, and this became the domain of modern philosophy. Formally this is metaphysics (literally what comes before physics), epistemology (or principles upon which understandings become achieved), and axiology (or its value branch that’s composed of aesthetics and ethics).

      I believe that this realism/ instrumentalism debate is mandated by our continued inability to develop a community of respected professionals with accepted principles of epistemology (not to mention the rest). Apparently “hard science” has been able to do reasonably well without such founding principles, though our mental and behavioral sciences have been quite vulnerable. Then compounding this problem is that modern bearers of the philosophy title widely reject the need for any generally accepted understandings regarding their domain. Apparently they perceive themselves as a threatened animal which is under the siege of science. The general defense I see is to decide that their domain is actually more of a humanistic art to potentially appreciate rather than reach any consensus understandings about.

      Since a dysfunctional formal relationship exists here today, it’s up to outsiders like us to calmly observe this situation and make our criticism known. As we’ve discussed before, we need to help the rising tide of human progression, or something that the fault of a temporary status quo cannot hold back.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Lee Roetcisoender says:

    @Fizan… “Would you be able to elaborate further so that more of us can understand?”

    There’s no short answer to your question. I was first introduced to the idea forty years ago and was obsessed with understanding the notion. I only recently got succinct clarity on the matter. The architecture of a discrete binary system can be apprehended easily enough, but to fully comprehend the meaning of the architecture in the context of rationality requires personal experience.

    “…one thought that does arise is if there is any better tool we have at our disposal or would this simply imply experience which is ‘linear’ is unexplorable by rationality?”

    The short answer to your first inquiry is yes, we do have a better tool at our disposal and that tool is reasoning. The short answer to your second inquiry is also yes. A discrete system will not and cannot accommodate a linear system of any kind, nevertheless, a linear system can accommodate both a discrete and linear system. There is an otological distinction dividing reasoning from rationality and that distinction needs to be established and rigorously maintained. Reasoning is not rationality, reasoning is a linear, continuous system. Let’s be clear, as a continuous linear system, reasoning is “power” and the discrete binary system of rationality is the expression of that power. Power is the wild card of consciousness, and in all of the theories on consciousness that have been postulated, the notion of power has never been addressed.

    All of this information is in my book, so I hope this short response helps or at least stimulates more consideration…


  14. Michael says:

    Hi Mike,

    First, I wanted to note I’ve enjoyed most all your posts lately. I haven’t always commented, but sometimes I think my replies would get us quickly into territories we’ve already covered. We see the world so differently, that even when our conclusions are similar we often have different reasons for getting there that are also dear. Ha!

    Anyway, in this case I wanted to respond to the notion that instrumentalism was a sort of humility. I think that in a certain sense this is accurate, but in another sense it is not. I don’t think the instrumentalist view is humble, for instance, when it reaches the point of suggesting that there is no actual truth or reality out there, or when it goes so far as to suggest we’re not developing, or can’t develop, a better understanding of what is really so. That is the point where instrumentalism oversteps I think.

    This may well be one of our fundamental points of distinction, but I do think there is a difference between choosing to be in relationship with the subject of our study–which is reality presumably–of having an encounter with it in a sense, or an exchange; and objectifying or commoditizing it. And I do think there’s a way in which science commoditizes thought about reality. The currency of that system is of course predictability, which is all well and good, but when it reaches the point of suggesting those who think some other brands of inquiry have merit, then I wouldn’t say it was humble at all. There are times, in other words, when instrumentalists might like to suggest that only those things can be known which an instrumentalist says can be known, which is not humility at all. It is simply one of several possible hypotheses on the subject, but nothing more.



    • Thanks Michael! Glad you’re enjoying the posts.

      Certainly if someone is making statements that there is no objective reality, that’s not humble. But I wouldn’t really consider that person an instrumentalist, more of a stronger anti-realist. Saying there is no objective reality is itself an ontological statement, and a pretty sweeping one at that. An instrumentalist, I think, remains agnostic on ultimate reality.

      I have noticed that some people really struggle with the distinction between an epistemic strategy, which is what instrumentalism is, and ontological commitments, which careful instrumentalists avoid until there are observations demonstrating the utility of those commitments.

      “There are times, in other words, when instrumentalists might like to suggest that only those things can be known which an instrumentalist says can be known,”

      Here our views might be pretty different. I do think if we can’t make testable predictions about it, that we can’t really know it. We can, of course, make predictions we can’t test, now or perhaps ever in principle. And many people will assert that those predictions are knowledge. As you know, I’m a skeptic, so that last category doesn’t really work for me. But then you’d probably be surprised if I didn’t take that position 🙂

      We do see the world very differently, but I’m grateful for your willingness to keep having discussions. I’m often surprised by how much we do agree on!


  15. @ Lee Roetcisoender,

    I am happy and excited to read all your comments here and almost completely agree with what you wrote. I myself think and have been thinking on the same lines since many years.

    Do you think that ‘noumena’ or as I prefer to call it ‘reality in itself’ can be known by reasoning?


    • Lee Roetcisoender says:


      Absolutely! Reasoning is a continuous linear system which is more that capable of accommodating the continuum of “reality-in-itself”. What’s your take?


  16. Kant seems to say in his ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ that thing-in-itself is unknowable to human mind. I wonder what do you think made him say that.

    As far as my thinking is concerned at the present time I am undecided on whether thing-in-itself by which I mean reality-in-itself is knowable or not.

    But I do think that this is a very important question. I hope we are talking about the same subject. What do you think?


    • Lee Roetcisoender says:

      We are talking about the same thing. Kant, just like the rest of us did not have a “meaningful” relationship with the unknown. Therein lies the paradox. Make no mistake, reality-in-itself is a “real” as it gets and we each have a relationship with that reality whether we like it or not. That relationship is defined as either a chronic relationship or an acute relationship; that is our primary experience. (enter neurosis and psychosis)

      The next evolutionary, ontological level of experience is a “meaningful” relationship with the unknown, and that relationship can only be experienced directly by forsaking the discrete, binary system of rationality and listening to the still heart of persuasive reality, and then being persuaded by that reality.

      Unfortunately, homo sapiens in early infancy become addicted to rationality because of the control it imparts. The sole, targeted objective of rationality is control, and if not literal control, then a “sense” of control. A sense of control is a deep seated, primordial feeling; a sense of control and a sense of self are coextensive as one, and without at least a sense of control, there is no sense of self. Control is a painfully elusive, yet powerfully dynamic abstraction; control is the ghost of rationality. Control is absolutely necessary if one is going to survive, let alone thrive in our primary experience; not with standing, control is not the paradigm that will lead one to the next evolutionary, ontological level of experience.

      It is what it is…


  17. Hi Lee Roetcisoender,

    ” reality-in-itself is as “real” as it gets and we each have a relationship with that reality whether we like it or not.”

    Certainly. how could it have been otherwise. I tend to agree with the substance of the rest of your reply also although some of your concepts are not quite clear to me. I have many questions to you and many things to tell you.

    I would like you to read my post.” ” and post a comment there on my blog critiquing my post. I suggest to let us shift our conversation there unless you have a blog of your own in which case that is also an option.


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