« Philosophize This!

Episode #039 ... The Limits of Empiricism

2014-10-08 | 🔗

On this episode of the podcast, we explore the idea of reality and how our senses prevent us from perceiving its true nature. First, we launch a smear campaign against human eyes and their limitations. Next, we discuss the difference between deductive reasoning (the kind you see on CSI) and inductive reasoning (the kind you see on Bill Nye the Science Guy). Finally, we touch on Locke’s theory of primary and secondary qualities and end with Berkeley's teaser for next week’s episode: “To be is to be perceived.” All this and more on the latest episode of Philosophize This!

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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goes back to the show. It may just be a click for you, but every little bit adds up. Thank you for wanting to know more today than you did yesterday, and I hope you have a show may be the best place to start. The show today is to talk about this really confusing moment in time that we ve been talking about for about the last seven or eight episodes in all of these thinkers that are living relatively at about the same time period as each other. Descartes Spinoza, walk limits, these philosophers and all the humans for that matter that were in the no at the time. We're living in a very weird place. That's really the best way to put it at this time. There was a giant change in the way that these thinkers viewed themselves as humans in the natural world and that fact created a level of weirdness that was just unpressed
and the reason why it was unprecedented is because it was being driven forth by a couple different invention suggest before these guys were alive, they just didn't exist. Yet one of those inventions was the telescope with the telescope. During this time period for the first time in history were looking out into the vast expanses of space, imagine how that must have been and the more we looked out there and the more sophisticated these telescopes God. The more information we got and that information categorically reinforced the fact that earth was very, very small, practically a speck of dust in this.
Giant c o, and not only is it not big, it's far from the center of the universe, it the universe, even has a centre. The point is, as we use these telescopes to just gaze deeper and deeper into space, slowly realizing the absolute enormity of it all. We started realizing that this tiny blue speck that we call earth might not be a significant as what we initially thought. It was now the other inventions. Really driving this weirdness home was the microscope. The thinking was look. We may be an incredibly small little speck in the grand scheme of things, but we do have some things on this planet and let's magnify it one hundred times and see if we can get some insight into what reality is truly made out of and what these thinkers were finding is they're putting the stuff under the microscope
is that entire worlds existed, underneath what we could see with the naked eye, the deeper and deeper they went into these micro world say realised that micro worlds existed inside of micro worlds and they started to realize how strange this reality is that before we had no idea existed before our very eyes, but, as will find out over the course of this episode, that really is the problem. Isn't it our eyes? Personally, I can. I have mixed feelings about eyes, grew so great, and yet so terrible. At the same time, look I like you guys, are gonna. Think I'm railing against eyes. This episode, I feel like I need to balance it up equal time to the pro I side of things in the anti I side of things on one hand. Eyes are pretty amazing things right. They are. These completely unique jelly filled spheres
that absorb the light around you and send signals to your brain that creates this incredible map of the world around is that you can walk around in it safely, absolutely incredible, I mean. Why do we have eyes? If not for this reason, and if you think about it, yes, do that thankless job pretty darn? Well I mean you can see perfectly well enough to do anything that you need to do to survive on this planet like as your walking through the woods your eyes work more than well enough to determine whether this is a poisonous mushroom or a harmless mushroom. You know you can see more than well enough to determine whether there is any threats around you know, you're not gonna, get trampled by a buffalo. Your eyes work well enough to make that happen you can even see well enough to determine whether members of your species are attractive or not. This is what were designed for, and they do it pretty well now, on the other hand,
That's not the only thing we use our eyes for is it, for example, if we wanted to say, for instance, understand the nature of matter itself better or gain certainty of the fabric of reality, if we only have our eyes to do that? Well, they're, not so incredible anymore. Are they yeah they're great at knowing whether a buffalo is right in front of you, but when it comes to understanding the fabric of reality, that's just not what they were designed to do. They have so limitations well, these very real limitations of our senses plagued the seventeenth century. Philosophers tremendously we're going to talk a lot more about why, but before we go deeper into that, I want to ask a question: that's going to set the stage and help us understand what they were feeling like. This is a very big question. What is reality? It almost sounds like I'm trolling, you guys
like how do you even answer that question its honestly such a weird question that most people, when you ask them if they usually look at you like your little crazy, but one common theory would be reality is what is real. Right reality is what's right in front of me. It's when I can see smell touch me after all, when you something, that's not reality. You're thinking of somebody daydreaming about a fantasy world right, you're, thinking of people playing video games, a thing about movies and tv shows, maybe somebody on some sort of hallucinogenic drug- that's not reality. Reality is not fleeting in and out of existence. Right, for example, I'm looking at my arm right now, My arm is not a fleeting thing: it's not coming and going out of my awareness. I see it right there. I can touch it. Therefore, this person would say my arm is real, but you see the glaring problem here right
you are perceiving reality through your eyes. These eyes were designed to create a map of the world accurate enough for you to eat sleep reproducing survive as long as past these eyes, work designed to see what reality truly is. This is something we are all familiar with a mean We all know the world is made up of trillions of these little tiny particles called atoms and are constantly moving around. But when you look at a table in your room, or a tree outside, or even your arm. For that matter, you don't see those Adams moving around. Do you really? Why should you what's going on at an atomic level, is just not that important here being a to see those atoms moving is not going to me. You more or less capable of eating, sleeping reproducing or surviving
Why would your eyes be designed to see that my would your eyes evolved to see that, but then again in reality, they are moving it just to illustrate how extreme this can get. Each of those items that's constantly moving around are made up of ninety nine point. Nine percent empty space just consider for a second, the world you're walking around the world. Your are telling. You was made up of entirely stationary, complete solid objects. Is actually made up at the micro level of ninety nine point: nine percent empty space and that point one percent is constantly moving again. The point is, human eyes create a map of the world that is accurate enough, but far from actual reality, So what do we do to make up for this? If we want to truly understand what reality is, while we use special tools and instruments like the microscope or
telescope to augment are since experiences to be able to get a more accurate view of that actual reality. But what is that actual reality? That's the question right do our senses being so flawed, prevent us from ever truly experiencing it. This is the weird place that these thinkers, like Decart block and limits, found themselves in just think about the task these guys had ahead of them before their time period. We used to do something very different to arrive at certainty about what caused things to happen in the natural world. We thought we had it all figured. We talked about it before we grew complacent turns out. Aristotle may not have known everything after all turns out some dude in a sand. Dune channeling gone through wasn't the best way to arrive at absolute certainty about things. So when these new thinkers were faced with the task of finding a science,
They could arrive at understanding about causes in the natural world with certainty. They really took the task seriously. They were willing to just compromise here. They didn't want to end up where we were before they didn't know if it was possible, but they wanted to to find some system that we could use to arrive at absolute certainty about things and one of the biggest problems they were running into his. What we're talking about right now, no matter how flawless the system that they came up with was, it was still ultimately going to have to be implemented by humans, humans that are biased and they make us eggs but more importantly, humans that are looking at the results of the experiments through very flawed senses from the get go it's funny. If you about the modern religion versus science debate. That's going on you think about. It is like a play then really common recurring, characterised the person that says where's the evidence about stuff where's. The evidence
fact is. There are a lot of people in modern times that highly value empirical data right and on one hand it totally makes sense. I mean a lot of the bs that people pedal has to do with some sort of magical force that you can't really see or hear or touch, or anything like that. But it's also funny to think about the fact, the hypocrisy that, like when some ostensibly crazy person and gives one of their transcendent religious experiences. You know someone says I was sitting in my front room and Jesus came down through the ceiling, and he told me that he is the Son of God that I need to stop being so mean to my neighbors and that I need to start going to church and get ten percent of my income. You know that guy makes the giant claims, and these people hook him up to an MRI machine and a polygraph test, and it shows that he truly believes
but he's saying he believes that it happened now, there's a certain type of evidence based thinker in today's world. That would say no. I don't think that actually happened. Obviously his brain was malfunctioning. His eyes were messing up. Maybe he drank some pine sal right before that happened, and his senses were playing tricks on him. It's funny, because if you ask that same person, why they don't believe in God they would say well, where is he I've never seen the guy? If he just came down and talked to me or told me that he exists or I could see him or touch him, then I know for sure that he exists it's kind of funny to think about. My overall point is: let's have some respect for the task that these thinkers put themselves through all right. These people in the seventeenth century, weren't satisfied with the way that science is being done and in many ways they've.
Would it be satisfied with the way that science has done today after all sciences? It's not perfect right. Look, don't get me wrong, I'm not railing against science. Here it. It certainly may be better than blindly believing something that seems reasonable to you and then trying to find good reasons to believe it. But science is far from perfect if you're trying to be absolutely certain about things right now, we're going to talk about some of the inherent flaws with what we call science today, but I want to be sure we understand the fact that these thinkers didn't know whether it was possible to be certain they didn't know whether they would ever arrive at certainty, but they were trying to access. True reality, whenever that matter or physical reality or spiritual reality, is that, on the other side of this crude map of the world that our eyes create, this reality was where
we're looking too for certainty, because it was obviously very different in reality, then how we perceive it and they wanted to access that reality. This problem is commonly referred to in philosophy. As the veil of perception. We can't get past this veil between how we perceive the world and how it actually is never gonna come back to that. But first, let's talk about some of these inherent problems at these thinkers were addressing when trying to use science to arrive at certainty aright Maybe the best place to start as, let's, what's think back to the earliest of humans are right. Imagine yourself being one of these early early humans. They found themselves existing within this natural world right they looked around them and they saw stuff happening now. Lightning comes down from the clouds. What does that happen? You're female counterparts spontaneously sponsa baby? Why did that up? You know you see old, meet, lay on the ground in the eat it and then for two weeks,
afterwards. You feel terrible. Why does that happen? Stuff is happening all the time all around them and standing what causes those things to happen can give you a ride. Ledge when it comes to survival. So this is something humans wanted desperately go back far enough, and humans were almost entirely ignorant of what caused things to happen in the next. at your world and they wanted to find some way to organise this stuff with some level of confidence that they were correct. Now, when we do science, this is basically what we're doing
to do we're just much further along at it than the earlier humans were we're ultimately trying to arrive at certain truth to make sense of this natural world. But how do we arrive at truth? Well, let's talk about a couple different ways that humans throughout history have commonly tried to arrive at truth, or at least tried to convince people that something was true or not. Let's talk about induction versus deduction deduction, or I guess I could just say deduction. I don't know why I got to say it enunciate it like that. What we refer to as deduction is the process of starting with something that you think is true, and then you apply that truth to some individual specific case that individual case reinforces it and something is deemed to be true because of it. For example, a police officer shows up at a traffic accident and he sees certain things
He sees glass on the ground over here. He sees the positioning of the cars after the accident. He sees skid marks, leading up to this section of the road. He sees the person lying in a bloody heap over here from the scene of the accident and certain truths that he holds after a long career of seeing accident scenes and figuring out what happened he deduce is what happened. There may be an effective way of finding out what happened. A crime scene, but it runs into problems when trying to arrive at certainty. We can understand that now the other way of doing things is called induction. Induction is what we use in modern science. Induction is inferring a general truth based on individual experiments or cases or pay.
If you see established general truths, for example, if you want to do a rise at the truth about the them the moisture present in dogs noses. Do all dogs have went noses, for example? How would we go about finding that out? Well, I could start with one experiment myself right here in this house. I could go to my dog Charlie. I could touch his nose and I can realise its bits, wet job so far all dogs have wet noses to me. I could spend years of my life theoretically going door to door conducting thing thousands of experiments checking to see if every dog in the city of Seattle has a wet nose, and let's say they all do just for the sake of our example. Can we conclude at that point for certain that all dogs have wet noses? Now? No one has the time or the patience or the lack of a social life to go around and check every single dog in the world to see if it has a wet nose, but even if we did, and even if every dog did have a wet nose, I could
we use induction and say now that all dogs have wet noses as a rule. What, in modern science, we would, I mean, for all intents and purposes, work. Pretty sure all dogs have went noses at that point, but are we certain of that. How do we know the same laws of nature apply on Mars or Jupiter with some other distant planet? Were dogs? Don't have what knows it's right? How we be sure that the next dog born on planet earth is not going to be the exception to the rule, and it's going to throw a monkey wrench and everything. Oh, we can't know now to us listening to this podcast. This may not be a big deal. Look there's a lot of useful stuff that you can derive from the fact that every dog Planet earth has wet noses and barring that super unlikely chance. It is proven wrong. One day we do that, but to someone trying to develop a system to arrive at absolute certainty. This is a huge problem,
the way we do science now can never be trusted to arrive at certainty about something because were limited to the things we have on this planet to experiment on these thinkers work doubting whether this way of doing things might eventually led us to things that were true. This all the time they didn't doubt whether this way is much better than any other way. We ve done it in the past or it's the best thing we have going. But let's call a spade us. It's far from certainty about things and that's what they were aiming for. The only way you're able to have constant scientific progress, which is great, is if earlier things that you thought were true are disproving the way I like to think about this age of empiricism
as they call it. Is that no matter how good a system is, we are ultimately limited because its executed by humans existing on planet earth during this time period right. Those are huge handicaps when it comes to arriving at absolute truth, certainty about things again, the eyes and ears and knows, are great at doing what they were designed to do But they're absolutely terrible tools if you're trying to understand the nature of reality with any certainty, they just aren't the right tools for the job really look. If you were given a wrench and someone wants you to tighten up some bolts with it, it's going to work perfectly, but they ask you to use the wrench to saw through he's a wood? It's gonna get ugly real fast right, you you might able to do it eventually, but it's gonna
longer much less clean process than if you had a saw, for example. That's all these people are saying is that these tools that we were given work designed to do what we're trying to do with the limitations caused by our senses when it comes to arriving at certainty about things with something that deeply concerned all of these thinkers and seventeenth century? This is why lightness and his ideas of truce, of necessity and truths of fact that's why they were so awesome. Science helps us arrive at truths of fact, but those are far from certain is certainty possible when we talk about truths of necessity, where the terms themselves make specific qualities. Certain remember all bachelors are unmarried right. Can that said to be something that we know for certain, then the point is these thinkers were all really interested in these problems and they all came up with different approaches to try to address them. One of these approaches that became very important in philosophy we
by Mr John Locke himself. In case we have an already realised this. He was an absolute genius, not only laid the foundations for the constitution, his whole tabular, rasa or blank slate theory, but also something that we touched on very briefly before was his idea of primary versus secondary qualities of things, and this is incredibly important when talking about this issue of empiricism. What he's trying to address here is what lies beyond that veil of perception that we were talking about whenever we use these flogged senses that we have to look out into the world, and we we see something or we smell something, or we hear something whenever that thing is that we're looking at walk, says that it has both primary and secondary qualities. Let me give an example sitting here at my desk right now and I'm looking at an Iphone sitting on my desk. It's my wife's Iphone its encased in a green Iphone case
Because you all know, right before I started recording this, I went feverishly through my wife's emails to see if she was cheating on me, because I'm an insecure, damaged person just kidding. I don't actually know why it's in here. You know, I just realized that that thing rings, while I'm recording this I'm going to be very off put. Let me hurry When I look at the Iphone sitting on the table in front of me, there are certain things that John Locke would say. I can think I know about it. Based on what my senses are telling me, there seems to be only one iphone there right, there's but two or three Iphone. It seems to be sitting still it's not moving around. It seems to be smooth sleek on the sides- glossy, maybe not rough, like concrete or something like that. That's the distinction, smooth verses rough. It seems to be about the thickness and size of a cheque book. And it seems to be rectangular now all those things to John Locke would be considered primary qualities of the Iphone
on the other hand, me looking at the Iphone in saying that its green or me picking up the Iphone and smelling it or my hearing the Iphone ring at me, or I guess hopefully not me eating the Iphone and describing to you guys what it tastes like the the subtle notes of carnal inside of the Iphone. These can be seen as what John Locke calls secondary qualities that this is a really good question to ask yourself when you look at something in it has color. You know when you see a green, I phone sitting on the table. What is that greenness? Does that greenness exist inside of the matter at some level that makes up the Iphone? Is there something in the matter itself that is green or is greenness created. We,
their eye looks at that Iphone and it's perceiving some interaction between light and some specific arrangement of what matter is underneath the veil of perception now to these thinkers in the seventeenth century. This was a big big question and it had huge implications about what that actual reality was underneath it and to talk about the primary and secondary qualities. Just finish talking about that, as we talked about before, Lock was a huge proponent of boil. Remember in his idea is that the real fabric of react are these tiny colorless tasteless soundless odorless core muscles. He called them of matter and the arrangement of these core muscles explain the primary qualities of something I see the Iphone as rectangular, because there is some rectangular arrangement of these core puzzles and that actual reality. Now, on the other hand, when I experience it being green, this isn't because the court
muscles themselves are green. It's because of some arrangement of them, interacting with light in my eyes and Lock said that, because all these secondary qualities are explainable, only by referring to the primary qualities secondary qualities, can't be said to be part of that reality. Behind the veil of perception now, this is confusing. On the surface, John Locke gives an incredible example: absolutely genius what if we had a knife that was made out of steel now summit, comes up to you with that knife and a stab in the chest with it, and you feel pain what you wouldn't say? that pain was somehow cooped up inside of the knife and when they stabbed you, what came out of the knife know you'd say that the knife, the physical primary qualities of that knife, stabbed and so
But if you and your senses are interacting with it will all this brings us to the question that Barkley famously offered a solution to by the way Barkley now this is kind of an embarrassing admission of mine, but I guess a kind of showcase That's how I do philosophy personally. Have you guys ever read something in a book like a word and you've? Read it a hundred times and you just kind of assume that it's pronounced one way, but then you hear somebody say it in it's pronounced a completely different way. For the longest time. I just knew that the school Berkeley was named after this guy George Barkley. And I assumed that his name was pronounced. Berkley and I've said on this podcast multiple times, Berkeley, Berkeley, Berkeley and I was talking to someone this week, and they said no, it's Barkley, I said, not know its Berkeley there. That's the schools named after him, and he said no, it's it's Barkley, that's how is pronounced with people. Dont know what you're talkin about I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise for my egg
so can I be lying? If I didn't say that I learned a lot every time, I did one of these episodes, but his name is Barkley George Barkley. In fact he was made into a bishop, so we sometimes referred to as Bishop Barkley and he's a lot like live minutes because he's a religious guy and his face with the problem of reconciling this new mechanistic way of viewing the universe with the notion of God he's also very concerned with that, as Leibnitz was now. This whole situation is so ridiculous to me, it's it's. It's obviously like a court, A big corporation calls in corporate downsizers like a team of downsizers that come in and they look at how everything operates and they look at how everyone does their job and they check to see who's important in the office, because, eventually, they're looking for people to eliminate to cut costs
and this whole situation is kind of like Barkley Enliven, it's our people that are just trying to convince these corporate downsizes that God really is important around the workplace, keep em around. I promise you We need him around here. Barkley really wants God to be required in his view of the universe right. So he starts from this premise. And he arrives at an idea that would spark a chain of ideas that would change the philosophical world. Incredibly, influential This idea, when you first hear it may not seem revolutionary, but trust me it. It really shakes things up and since we spent the entire show today talking about empiricism and the problems that come up when trying to arrive at certainty, you guys more than most people that study philosophy are going to understand fully. Why
Barkley arrives at this conclusion. The extended explanation of this is going to have to wait until next episode, but let me give you the basic idea so that you have something awesome to think about throughout the week. If we have this pesky veil of perception that we have to deal with all the time. If there is this world, that's it truly is underneath this flawed map of reality. No, this idea in our minds of what reality is created by our senses, than we never actually directly experience that true reality. Underneath doing now. All we ever experience is that idea of reality. So, instead of trying to explain and get a hold of
what lies beneath those ideas, Barkley asked: why do we even need to assume that something exists underneath the ideas we perceive look? Isn't it more reasonable to conclude that only the ideas themselves exist? I mean really. That's the only thing we have any kind of interaction with. Is it reasonable to conclude that to be is to be perceived look forward to getting deep into this next time? On philosophize, this have a good week: populism. You can follow me on twitter at I am Stephen West. You can join in the discussion on Facebook. We find me dilemmas within the Popular NEWS of the week and ask questions about it. You can find out at Facebook, dot com, slash philosophize. This show if you like philosophize this and want to make sure you never miss an episode. Please consider signing up for email notifications, what It is is whenever new episode is released,
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Transcript generated on 2020-09-30.