[ExI] Increasing coherence over increasing context? Or Truth?

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Thu May 21 08:45:13 UTC 2009

Jef Allbright wrote:

> On Mon, May 18, 2009 at 10:23 PM, Lee Corbin <lcorbin at rawbw.com> wrote:
>> But still, it is absolutely important to
>> be able to embrace the realization "planets
>> circle the sun"---and to embrace it as
>> correct, without any beating around the
>> bush.
> My point is that it's /not/ "absolutely" important (from who's
> perspective, able to judge relative importance as if outside the
> system?),

I say that it's important to embrace that
understanding if you want to design spacecraft
or vote on appropriations for them, just to
say the first example that's come to mind.

> but like nature building soap bubbles, it happens however it
> does, and we as embedded observers construct theories of "reality"
> tending toward increasing coherence, adapting to increasing context of
> observations.
> Some people reading this will think "okay, but it's splitting hairs,
> debating angels on the head of a pin, of no practical consequence", so
> this seems a good place for an assurance that the increased
> sophistication I'm aiming for is of extremely practical importance

I guess that's what you may have to focus
on in the future. I.e., exactly how the
increased sophistication makes any difference.
You may be speaking of memes, you may be
speaking of verbal habits. Whatever it is,
you may need to detail lots of examples
where the more sophisticated verbiage really
would have made a difference (outside of
religion, say).

> and in any case we'll get there (or not) with a great deal of unnecessary
> suffering (or not) assuming that our evolutionary branch continues.
>>> Or mightn't you agree with me that
>>> his theory was more *coherent* within
>>> the broader context of observations
>>> of his time?
>> No offense, but to me that's an unnecessarily
>> obscure way of describing him and his theories.
>> He was way off track about how the solar system
>> basically works, even though his approximations
>> for the sake of predictions were praiseworthy.
>> So, to answer your question: no.
> So you say "his approximations for the sake of prediction were
> praiseworthy" but to you that doesn't mean his new theory, compared to
> the popular prior, wasn't more coherent within the broader context?
> Can you explain to me what "coherent" means to you?

Okay, without looking it up, to me it means
"holding together" or "clear" and in this
context even "consistent". Now was Ptolemy's
theory more of these than were his predecessors'?

Perhaps I was a bit harsh to say a flat "no",
but some flavor of "no" seems appropriate.
His theory was different from theirs in that
there were more epicycles. I'm not sure that
adds anything to "clear", "holding together",
or "consistent", but now I feel like I'm the
one splitting hairs.

I'll retract my "no", and instead about your

 >>> Or mightn't you agree with me that
 >>> his theory was more *coherent* within
 >>> the broader context of observations
 >>> of his time?

say that that's an odd way of describing what
happened, as you no doubt have discovered
from others besides me. It baffles me what
could be the practical consequences of
preferring your description to the relatively
simple "Ptolemy pushed a wrong theory to
increasing usefulness by ad hoc reasoning,
but so useful to navigators et. al. that
it wasn't supplanted for a long time."

Let's see what the web has to say. Here is
the wikipedia entry on Ptolemy:

Ptolemy was an astronomer, mathematician and geographer. He codified the Greek geocentric view of the universe, and rationalized the 
apparent motions of the planets as they were known in his time. Ptolemy synthesized and extended Hipparchus's system of epicycles 
and eccentric circles to explain his geocentric theory of the solar system. Ptolemy's system involved at least 80 epicycles to 
explain the motions of the Sun, the Moon, and the five planets known in his time. The circle was considered as the ideal orbit even 
if Hipparchus proposed an eccentric motion. It was only Kepler who finally showed that the planet orbits are elliptic and not 
spherical [sic].

Heh, I really like their word "rationalized" :)
Yes, exactly. But of course, I vastly admire
their summary sentence "Kepler finally showed...
[a fact]", though the word "finally" leads me
back to Eternal Truth #2. Still, I don't doubt
that the Earth circles the sun rather than
vice-versa---and neither do you.

> The point is not whether scientific progress does or doesn't tend to
> move toward an improving model of reality.  I think we can both agree
> that it makes sense to assume it does.

Thank God for small miracles. I hope that I haven't
for the most part been arguing against a straw dog.

But next, I suppose, we'll argue about what "model" means :)

> The point is that from any particular point of view in this evolving
> system, i.e., at any *particular* location we may presently inhabit on
> the path of evolutionary contingincies, there is no way to know
> whether we are moving closer or farther from Truth (what actually
> works in the bigger picture, were we to know it), nor how long we may
> have been moving so.  To do so would require a context greater than
> that available to us.


> From ***Ptolomey's point of view***, was he moving closer to absolute
> Truth?  With sufficient sophistication, he'd have known that he had no
> way to tell, nor did it matter,  but he could indeed demonstrate that
> his new improved model of celestial mechanics was more coherent within
> the greater context of observations available to him at that time,
> with the pragmatic benefits that entailed. That same principle applies
> here and now.

Er, he could show that he could make better
predictions seems to me to put the matter
more simply and economically, with no loss.

>> To me, a term such as "the increasingly probable"
>> hides more than it makes clear. Something is
>> probable?  Probably what?  Probably so?  True?  Oh.
> Probable in the sense of more likely to be observed, to exert an
> influence, to be detected, to make a difference in the structure of
> its surroundings.  Evidence of a likelihood function, not a statement
> of Truth.

I wonder how much of this viewpoint you are
pushing you have actually internalized.
Do you remember yourself understanding "it
is increasingly probable that my observations
of that man crossing the street will be
consistent with my future observations of
him getting to the other side, within the
broader context of me sitting here in this
situation", or do you remember yourself
understanding something more like "he's
crossing the street"?

I don't know how many people appreciate
your circumlocutions, but you'll have to
keep trying till they do, I reckon.

Oh, you address this here:

> And to the extent we are dealing with the regularities of daily life,
> then we do well to exploit the fast and frugal heuristics of our
> evolutionary heritage.


> But the local effectiveness of heuristics comes
> at the expense of reduced context.

That sentence completely floors me. But it's very
good that it came up. Are you perhaps trying to
make your sentences less assailable by arranging
for them to apply to as broadly as possible? I.e.,
to contexts as broad as possible?

> Thus we have the effectiveness of
> belief in authority, the cohesiveness
 > of the in-group and its codes
> (religion, cults)... and belief
 > in an absolute Truth.

If I'm following you, then you trace these
unfortunate developments to people failing
to verbally recognize and include in their
statements broader contexts.

But you did say earlier that we had built
up evolutionarily a lot of useful shortcuts.
Apparently, I can't say it any better than
you just did:

     > And to the extent we are dealing
     > with the regularities of daily life,
     > then we do well to exploit the fast
     > and frugal heuristics of our
     > evolutionary heritage.

> [Was the Truth describing the nature and existence of Rush Limbaugh
> present in the early phases of our Universe?  Is that conceivable from
> an information-theoretic point of view?  I know, it's hard to conceive
> even now...]

An intriguing question!? Did the dust swirls of ten
billion years ago contain in their essence a certain
predestined gasbag? Actually, there is a clear
answer of Yes from the MWI perspective. He had
to happen. So did we all. In short there was an
amplitude for a Rush and for an anti-Rush, the
universe split, and all possibilities emerged
with some measure or other. I'd just, of course,
stay away from capitalized Truth because of the
way it's been so mishandled by religions (and
probably by certain non-religious philosophers

> But to the extent that we are trying to make effective predictions
> about an increasingly uncertain future, then there is a moral
> imperative to strive for increasing coherence, within increasing
> context--applicable to knowledge of our present but evolving values,
> and to our present but evolving instrumental (scientific) methods for
> their promotion.
> It's the best we can do.  That's why it matters.  That's why I keep
> pressing the point.

Well, good luck with that. You can't be happy
with my translation: "The future's always been
uncertain to the wise, but we ought to strive
for more knowledge, even moral "knowledge" in
the sense of more prosperity granting us the
luxury of being nicer, with more scientific
knowledge greatly helping too."


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