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Re: [ontolog-forum] {Disarmed} Reality and Truth

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: KCliffer@xxxxxxx
Date: Sat, 19 May 2007 11:14:28 EDT
Message-id: <d29.a51dd9a.33806e54@xxxxxxx>
Responses embedded below.
paola.dimaio@xxxxxxxxx writes:
thanks for the clarifications below, which I had to read a couple of times  (..er)
Sorry. My sentences are often too convoluted. Please let me know if there are some specific ones that you'd like me to disentangle further, to be sure they're clear. Even re-reading some of them myself, I see how they can be hard to follow, even though I know and can retrieve what I meant, and it's clear to me.

Funny how when we acquire novel information we have to adjust our preexisting mental model, so that yes what we believe is true is a variable, and so is reality.  Reality is constantly changing, at least from the basic available observation of the known universe, as well as our perception of it..

I am sure we could slice up further what you say below and probe your proposed construct a bit more, but as JSowa would say, I have no fundamental qualms about what you say.

I think your statement however is particularly relevant to a prior disquisition on this thread about the existence of God, from a scientific viewpoint. Somebody seems to purport that 'scientifically God does not exist because it cannot be demonstrated'. My objection to that is that if God exists it may have a dimension that cannot be measured/grasped in its entirety by humans.
Rather than saying "scientifically God does not exist ...", I'd rather say that consideration of God is outside the realm of science. See my discussion below. In my view, science cannot say that God does not exist, any more than it can say that God does exist. It is simply not an issue in the realm of science, and thus should not be considered a scientific issue at all (at this point in history). Your last sentence above seems to me to be consistent with my view (but not representing it completely).

I would assume from what you say that, on the basis of your scientific reasoning, you admit that we cannot observe *everything that there is*,  we cannot exclude therefore other dimensions  and if beings in other dimensions have a way of existence that cannot be conceived according to our mental model
Yes. In fact one of the models that physics now has involves (if I understand and remember correctly) ten dimensions of reality. Physicists are coming up with ways to address this question. I don't know where it is going or will go (I'm not entirely up on the status of the field). These are still hard to conceive - it takes a level of abstract thought that is somewhat difficult to achieve, I think, and even then, it's not entirely clear what "conceiving" of so many dimensions means, much less beings or entities "in" them. Part of the theory may be that existence of everything is in all these dimensions. But it still could be that things are hidden from us, whether in other dimensions or in some other way - such as how electromagnetic waves were hidden from us until our mental models integrated observations in a way that we could conceive of them.

Please note that I do not want to bring up again the disturbing controversy about whether God exists or not, which I prefer to leave to personal sphere,  but rather the claim that scientific thinking would automatically means ruling out 'unfounded beliefs'
I'd be glad if you could comment on that
This may be more than you (or I) bargained for, but I'll comment: 
My view is that scientific thinking itself does not involve belief per se inherently IN its practice, although, as I'll explain below, it has a belief system that UNDERLIES its practice. Rather, in practice, it involves sound, logical thought that has demonstrable correlation with reality. The logical thought is associated with mental representation. The correlation with reality is demonstrated using observations, either of "raw" phenomena or of experimental results of manipulations, or both. It is therefore an approach to ascertaining truth (accurate correspondence of mental models with reality) that people can widely agree on. In fact, I think it is not a good practice to use the terminology of "belief" in a context of a scientific discussion. In work developing educational programs on scientific subjects, I generally use "think" instead of "believe" for what scientists do (as scientists), because it more accurately represents what I think the scientific endeavor is about. Therefore, my answer to your question is essentially that scientific thinking, in practice, not only rules out "unfounded beliefs" but that it does not deal directly with beliefs at all. (However, in a very different sense, one can do scientific study of beliefs - that is different from what I mean to say here.)
However, science itself is based on a mental framework - a set of beliefs, if you like, that become assumptions of the system of science - similar to what I have been attempting to present here, which is that reality can be viewed with observations and probed with experiments in such a way that people can form common mental models that have a relatively high degree of "truth" - correspondence to the reality they represent. These are expressed in the form of scientific and mathematical models, in words and symbols. Note that this is essentially a formalization of what people do anyway as they interact with each other to share what they know and learn - science in this sense is a natural human endeavor that we all do, and "science" is a formalized extension of it (as is math, a la Keith Devlin, as I previously mentioned).
In addition, scientists do typically believe in the truth of the scientific models that work, but the belief goes beyond the science. Within the science, they think the models are true, always reserving some measure of skepticism and allowing for a new mental model to demonstrate that it has a greater degree of truth for the same phenomena.
In this vein, I think that one of the most important things we need to realize with respect to "science" is that it is a human endeavor, done by whole human beings who have beliefs, including those at the foundation of their practice of science. Beliefs of scientists, including some extra-scientific beliefs beyond those at the foundation of the scientific endeavor, inevitably relate to the thoughts they have and test as scientists. Furthermore, their beliefs and values bear heavily on what they choose as subjects of their studies and on how they choose to approach their subjects. Even further beyond that, science in actual practice (as opposed to what I see as ideal) often is not so pure as I would like to represent it here. Scientists may often mix extra-scientific belief (not at the foundation of the endeavor) with scientific thought. Some of the greatest scientific discussions have raged around the tensions between beliefs and demonstrations of thoughts, including the question of what constitutes adequate demonstration to prove something (convince others of its truth - correspondence with reality).
Now, I'll address your point about "God" with the idea of not getting into a controversy about God's existence, as you also didn't intend. Rather, I'll express something about how I view the issue as an issue. As you know, discussions around tensions between beliefs and demonstrations of thoughts have extended into the theological realm to involve "proofs" of the existence of God. As I see it, such "discussions" can be viewed as attempts of one person or group to convince another that the first group's mental model is more "true" (corresponds better to reality) than others - a type of endeavor that is itself part of the foundation of scientific practice. It is remarkable here that many people's extra-scientific beliefs prevent them from acknowledging some things that mainstream scientists consider long since proven, such as the reality of evolution and the approximate ages of the Earth, solar system, and universe.
Beliefs shape thoughts and are themselves a foundation for mental models, being a kind of mental model themselves. In fact, one could say that a basis for controversies between scientific and extra-scientific ways of looking at the world has to do with the difference in beliefs at the foundation of science - the nature and types of evidence that are acceptable in demonstrating truth - and beliefs that are at the foundation of religious approaches - about the truth of certain texts and of statements of particular people, and their meanings. Mainstream scientists may have extra-scientific beliefs that they consider consistent with the beliefs at the foundation of science, even if not within the realm of their science and scientific practice, or they may maintain some reservations about what they themselves believe theologically. I have some elements of both. They (we) typically try to keep the two realms separate. 
In my opinion, the "existence of God" is a concept or idea that is fraught with the question of what the mental model is within which one has a concept or idea of God. In my opinion, what "God" means is the crux of the question. I have an idea of what that is for my own interpretation that allows me at least not to reject something that could mean "existence of God," while holding to the idea also that the very idea of such a concept is contradictory to its own meaning. "God" in my view represents such an integrated and total entity of reality that it must be beyond any meaningfully specific mental model - and yet I can imbue the concept/non-concept with a kind of meaning that has some sense for me. You see how easily and quickly this discussion becomes outside of the realm that I consider the venue of science or rational thought - ascertaining in a widely-agreed way a correspondence between concepts (mental models) of reality and the reality itself - except perhaps insofar as we can consider (can we?) what we mean by "God". I think it's differences in the meaning that engender much of the discussions.

Another  question that I am left with is: how much reality is there that I cannot even begin to think of?  Uh...
Well, that gets into what you mean by "think of" - if you can think of there being much beyond what you can think of, then are you thinking of it? - I agree with the "Uh...".
Kenneth Cliffer, Ph.D.

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