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

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: KCliffer@xxxxxxx
Date: Sat, 19 May 2007 16:40:18 EDT
Message-id: <beb.10f55a7b.3380bab2@xxxxxxx>
John - a few responses - essentially in agreement with you, but with an issue or two:
sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
I mostly agree with your comments, but I just wanted to add
a few clarifications:

> "Lebenswelt" is the set of mental models to which I've been
> referring - and thus is distinguished from the reality in the
> way I think John means.

Husserl was using the word 'Lebenswelt' for the perceived world,
which is based on one's percepts, which could be considered part
of one's mental models.  But I'd hesitate to identify them by
placing the word 'is' between 'Lebenswelt' and 'mental models'.
Okay - I wouldn't disagree with this, although I'm not sure whether the distinction is important (but maybe it is; see further discussion below). I was speaking somewhat loosely - perhaps it would have been better if I'd said "'Lebenswelt' is associated with the set of mental models ...". In any case, we generally act as though our perceived world is actually the reality. It is our perceived reality (by definition). It's only because the correspondence is largely rather good (true) between our perceived world (associated with our mental models, if not, in a sense a version of them) and reality that our actions work and our lives are functional. In fact, this must be the basis on which our capacity for such perceptions, with an adequate degree of truth, evolved.
This reminds me of an interesting classic experiment by George Stratton in the 1890s, in which he wore glasses that turned the visual world upside down. After four days, his perceptions adjusted to "flip" the world back over, so that his perceived world again corresponded more directly with the existing reality, allowing him again more directly to relate to it. (For a description and references, see http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/mar97/858984531.Ns.r.html ). I would note here that our perceptual reality shifts as we adapt to any situation or learn any skill. Something similar may be at work when dentists learn to do their work in a mirror, for example.

For two related German words, I'd suggest the title of an important
book by Jakob Johann von Uexküll, which was published in 1909:

    _Umwelt und Innenwelt der Tiere_

The word 'Umwelt' is the usual German word for 'environment',
but Uexküll used it in a sense that is sometimes translated as
'subjective universe' of humans and animals (Tiere, in German).

The word 'Innenwelt', literally 'inner world', would probably
be a better equivalent for "the set of mental models".  That
would enable a three-way distinction:

  1. The world as it actually is (i.e., reality).

  2. The world as perceived by any individual of any species
     (his, her, or its Lebenswelt or Umwelt).

  3. The world as modeled by any individual (the Innenwelt).
I'm not familiar with the work directly, but this question occurs to me: Would not the "Umwelt" be the perceived outer world, and the "Innenwelt" be the perceived inner world of thoughts, which would typically include thoughts about the world, or the "Umwelt", but removed from direct perception of that world, and also including any other thoughts? Would "Umwelt" or "Lebenswelt" mean the directly perceived world, in real time? Would "Innenwelt" mean the inner processing of any thoughts - an inner "imagined" world - which of necessity involves models of the outer world and relationships in it, and variations and created imagined entities based on it, and additional manipulations or ideas of that model, all entirely in thoughts? The direct perception, as you point out, is a form or part of one's mental model of the world. The thoughts about it become another level of mental models that we manipulate in our minds, including what we anticipate will happen and how we remember what we perceived in the past. I think there is a way in which the distinction between these (direct perception in real time and thoughts beyond that) is not entirely clear (i.e. one fades into the other), but it still is probably worth making.

> Rather than saying "scientifically God does not exist ...", I'd
> rather say that consideration of God is outside the realm of science.

I have two quibbles about that discussion:

  1. If you ask people who either believe in God or don't believe
     in God how they define the word 'God', you won't find any two
     who give exactly the same answer -- and usually the answers
     they give are so wildly different that it's almost impossible
     to find much, if any similarity.  (If you think the discussions
     about reality are confused, they are crystal clear in comparison
     to whatever definitions you'll find for the word 'God'.)
I don't see how this is a quibble; it's essentially what I was saying, I think. Perhaps I did not make my meaning adequately clear. Consideration of God is outside the realm of science partly because we can't easily agree on a clear definition of what "God" means - and agreement on the meaning of any subject of scientific inquiry is one of the steps required to seek agreement about the reality (existence) or nature of the subject of study.

  2. Given any definition whatever, I would hesitate to say that it
     is impossible to find any scientific evidence for or against
     the existence of anything matching such a description.  And some
     definitions are so vague (e.g., Einstein's) that it's almost
     impossible to deny that whatever they might refer to exists.
I would agree with this. But people who have a different definition of what God is than Einstein's, or than any given definition, probably couldn't even get to the point of agreement about the meaning or importance of testing the existence of the entity defined by THAT definition, when theirs is more important and true to them (due to their belief). Therefore, the entire endeavor of considering tests or proofs or evidence of whichever one we consider, at least as anything with the label of "God", would seem to be outside the realm of science. See above comment about needing to agree on what we're testing.
Another, more commonly cited reason it's outside the realm of science is that many definitions of God and stipulations of what would prove God's existence are not subject to the rational types of tests that scientific inquiry uses to seek agreement of the model with reality. That is, there is no conceivable test that could disprove the existence under that definition or model, so the existence is outside the realm of an endeavor designed to test the accuracy or truth of models of reality. This might be considered to be because of the all-encompassing nature of ideas of God, which makes them unable to be subject to tests within that all-encompassing field, which is what science does.
Someone who wants to deny the existence of God will either a) not accept a definition of God that makes it impossible to deny God's existence, or b) accept that a God with THAT definition exists, but not one with the deniable definition. Existence of God is still not directly a matter of scientific inquiry or proof, but rather is a matter of definition (however vague) and acceptance (belief).

Kenneth Cliffer, Ph.D.

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