[ExI] Bad Epistemology?

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Wed Jul 18 17:15:41 UTC 2007

When I began this thread, I wrote some (unfortunately) rather confused
thoughts about basic ontology/epistemology in an effort to see if anyone
would or could see problems with what I suppose to be the rather
basic realist view.  I wrote

> Is my epistemology really screwed up at a fundamental level?
> If so, it's got to be pretty subtle, and I would appreciate any
> help from anyone:  professional philosopher or armchair
> amateur alike.
> An extremely thorough and carefully written book I'm reading
> encompasses the most modern and sophisticated physical
> theories impinges on epistemology. ("How is Quantum Field
> Theory Possible?", by Auyang.)
> First, let me lay out how I, as a loyal, reverent, and steadfast
> realist, understand the world, i.e., what my epistemology is.

There were several helpful replies, and I'll comment on one from
Bryan and his friend Kurtis.  First, here are the five points that I

> 1. There is a real world "out there" composed of all manner
>    of real things. We have names for these things, e.g., electron,
>    quark, photon, gluon, and so forth. We even have names for 
>    conglomerations of these things, e.g. "table", "star", "desk",
>    "atom", and "galaxy".

I guess that no one had a problem with that.

> 2.  These real things *affect* each other, even though they're
>     really all comprised solely of quantum fields according to
>     our best and awesome and outstanding theories. These fields
>     not only pervade space, but space in the absence of these
>     fields is not even conceivable (according to the doctrines
>    of quantum field theory (QFT)).  [All is plenum; Newton
>    was wrong; nature indeed abhors a void; the doctrine of
>    substantivalism is--or should be--dead.]

Again, maybe I was still on-track here, and maybe not. The next
two items I wrote in reaction to a book I'm reading "How is
Quantum Field Theory Possible", by a Dr. Sunny Auyang,
who teaches (or taught) at M.I.T.  Bryan actually requested
that I say more about this book, and today I'll begin doing
that in another thread.

> 3. Loosely speaking, we erroneously call such real noumena,
>    that is, the ding-an-sich, the things in themselves "objects".
>    (We get away with this in everyday speech because it has
>    no untoward consequences. In actuality, in QFT, an
>    object is a theoretical construct: Kant was right.)

This shows the influence of Kant, as explained by the author
of that book.  The next point, point 4, is where I suspect that
I wander off into incomprehensibility (but see below):

> 4. Objects as such---strictly speaking---do not reside in the
>    mind. Nor do they reside in 3-space, any more than the
>    number 6 resides in our minds or in space. Theories and 
>    ideas and other patterns exist really and Platonically
>    whether or not people, or cameras, or quarks, or space,
>    or time, or any other things happen to exist

It turns out that according to Auyang, I was failing to discriminate
between her two different uses of the word "object". There is
a narrower sense---a part of an abstract philosophical Kantian
type analysis, and a broader sense, "the Empirical Object",
which is what I gather we ordinarily talk about, and which
I think can perhaps be regarded as equivalent to "thing".

Anyway, Bryan's friend Kurtis wrote

> > I find number 4 a little bit baffling.  Again, maybe this is my own
> > misunderstanding.  But how can you, on the one hand in 1 declare that the
> > universe is made of real things, in 2 declare that space in the absence of
> > fields has no meaning, and then on the other hand in 4 declare that objects
> > do not exist in 3 space?  Is the distinction that when he says objects he
> > really means "chair" and not "*a* chair," or "*that* chair?"  From reading
> > 5, I don't think this is the case.

He's probably right.  What I wrote was a bit of a mess.  But then
just after reading that, I happened to run across an entire section
in Auyang's book entitled "The Extended Object".  In my next
post I'll present that section, which may serve several excellent
purposes, and then later perhaps return to clarify the above.


More information about the extropy-chat mailing list