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Earlier today in this diary, several Kossacks and I had a good discussion on reason, science, and logic, versus spiritual faith.

In the comments I repeatedly referenced a written argument for empiricism, which I present here to any who are interested. I apologize if it is difficult to follow in its current format, I am having some difficulty getting the outline to tab properly. I would appreciate if a Kossack with experience in that matter could help me clean it up. :)

My argument differs significantly from traditional logical arguments for materialism, and therefore I will label it empiricism instead. Many of my terms and analogies will be borrowed from myriad sources. If you want a specific definition or further information on a particular point feel free to ask, I can almost certainly provide a reference.

- - -


The fundamentals of my argument will be based on logical inference. The reader should assume that all laws of Aristotelian logic apply. My argument in simplest terms is that we, as minds, can only understand reality based on observation, and inference from that observation. All other forms of knowledge are invalid. This includes concepts like divine revelation, connection to an undefined spiritual plane, and blind faith.

A primary difference between this argument, and the arguments for materialism, is that mine does not assume that the physical sciences in their present state could understand all of reality. However, it will conclude that whatever is true will by definition be natural, subject to logic, and understandable through the scientific method.


  1.  Minds are able to observe -

(a) The conscious human mind experiences two forms of activity:

(i) Response to external stimuli. The mind processes information from sensory organs, categorizes and interprets it. We will call this observation.

(ii) Generation of internal stimuli. The mind synthesizes information by combining, altering, or analyzing recalled external stimuli. We will call this conception.

(b) The difference between the two forms is fundamental:

(i) A healthy mind can, without resorting to inference, identify which form of activity it has experienced. It does not need to analyze the content of its memory to know which sections represent observation or conception.

(ii) Observation displays consistency. Each time an external stimulus is observed is the same, except in cases where the observer's mind is altered or impaired.

(iii) Conception displays inconsistency. Thoughts, hunches, feelings, emotions, and dreams are not reliably repeatable. Regardless of the situation, that which is conceptual is never forced to conform to any standard.

(iv) Inconsistency can be a valuable property of conception. Thoughts can change to reflect whatever is observed. When and how these thoughts change is subject to the proper inference of the mind entertaining them. We call this logic.


  1.    Observation is shared -

(a) Observation leads to the recognition of other observers:

(i) As demonstrated by the Theory of Mind, observation alone can lead to the recognition of a self-similar consciousness.

(ii) Through further observation (as shown in 2.b.ii) we can recognize the consistency of others' observation, and the inconsistency of their conception. Further yet, we can identify a consistency between our own observation, and the observations of others.

(b) Multiple minds can share observation through communication:

(i) Due to the mind's ability to inherently differentiate between observation and conception, one mind can produce observable stimuli that another mind can understand. We call this communication.

(ii) On the grounds that observation is consistent and universal between multiple minds, an observer can verify any claim about external reality it hears. When one mind claims to have observed something, another mind can attempt to observe it also. If the claim is verified repeatedly, by multiple observers, this demonstrates that the observation reflects some degree of objective reality.

(A) This allows for independent confirmation that observation is universal. Multiple observers can, for example, confirm the observable properties of a clove of garlic. Among normally functioning minds agreement should be unanimous. However, if there were disagreement, it would be unresolvable until the number of observers exceeded two.

(B) The inconsistency of the conceptual means that two minds cannot be expected to regularly agree on internal experiences, unless they point directly to observed experiences. Multiple observers will have a wide range of internal responses to the garlic. They may find its scent pleasant, unpleasant, too strong, or too weak, and true agreement would be extremely rare.


  1.    This observation is reliable and useful for understanding reality -

(a) It makes communication valuable:

(i) The properties of observation allow us to communicate with other minds. The concepts in two different minds can only be made to agree be pointing them directly to observations. Thus, in order to communicate thoughts effectively one must supply examples and evidence from observation.

(ii) Concepts which are shown to be strongly supported by evidence are eventually considered "laws". The mind's ability to recall, recognize, and verify any observation, means that once something is proven reliable it becomes principal to thought. This is called "common sense", or "reason".

(b) It produces useful concepts:

(i) The laws of logic, physics, and mathematics (based on logic) are observable realities. These things are so solidly confirmed by observation that (as in 3.a.ii) they become integral to our ways of thinking.

(ii) These things in turn, build greater foundations for thought and communication, and permit cooperation and understanding in the fields of science, philosophy, and mathematics.

(c) It identifies useless concepts:

(i) Concepts like a feeling toward the scent of garlic, that cannot point to observable experience, are shown to be not useful. They do not connect to universal observation in any way. They are constructed of the mind, and only applicable to themselves.

(ii) Concepts such as divinity, and spirituality that are not based on verifiable observation, are only applicable in the mind that conceives of them. They have no method of confirmation, and to consider them a part of reality because of faith, or a feeling of "spiritual connection to the universe", is invalid. They exist only in the mind, and are imaginary.



I assert that the above argument demonstrates that reality must be determined with observation. In order for any concept to be considered valid or true, it must point to evidence of external, observable facts. This is what I would call empiricism.

Ultimately, this does come very close to materialistic naturalism because of how observation is defined. Reality will be determined with evidence collected from the external world, and because we only have five sensory tools for observing that world, true knowledge must necessarily come from the material.

- - -

Please feel free to crack open any flaws you see in this argument, I would love to discuss it with anyone who is willing. Also, help with the outline would be great!

Live long, and prosper.

Originally posted to Chicagoa on Tue May 05, 2009 at 02:41 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Obligatory tip jar. (9+ / 0-)

    Although what I'm really looking for is some good discussion. :)

    We have weapons of mass destruction we have to address here at home. Poverty and homelessness are weapons of mass destruction. - Denny K

    by Chicagoa on Tue May 05, 2009 at 02:43:41 AM PDT

    •  This Cannot Be True (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama

      "However, it will conclude that whatever is true will by definition be natural, subject to logic, and understandable through the scientific method."

      Science is built on some first principle (e.g. Newton's second law), which cannot be understood with investigations invoking the scientific method based on these first principles. Now that does not mean that science cannot be extended to attempt to understand some first principle. (For instance, Newton's second law was explained by quantum mechanics.) But that in itself require the construction of new first principles (e.g. collapse). There will never be a first principle which can be explained by the use of the scientific method utilizing the first principle itself.

      •  See my reply to Lee... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        pHunbalanced, csquared

        ... downthread. We discuss the origins of concepts, and you're actually on shaky ground with regards to the laws of physics, but he got me on mathematics, which can be derived from an entirely internal time consciousness.

        We have weapons of mass destruction we have to address here at home. Poverty and homelessness are weapons of mass destruction. - Denny K

        by Chicagoa on Tue May 05, 2009 at 04:25:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  What Do You Mean? (0+ / 0-)

          Physics is not science?

          •  No. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I mean that human understanding of the laws of physics is derived from experience.

            My argument is about how observation is the only way to inform a mind about objective reality. That's true of the laws of physics, the only way to ascertain them in through observation.

            Mathematics, on the other hand, could be derived entirely from time-consciousness in a mind devoid of sensory input.

            We have weapons of mass destruction we have to address here at home. Poverty and homelessness are weapons of mass destruction. - Denny K

            by Chicagoa on Tue May 05, 2009 at 04:29:22 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  If you think this is long, read some of my (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    radarlady, Chicagoa, NCrissieB


    I'll read in the morning.  I've got to be up in 3 hours and 2 minutes, at this moment.

    -5.38, -5.90 Deus mihi iustitiam dabit.

    by cjallen on Tue May 05, 2009 at 02:58:14 AM PDT

  •  The problem with your argument (7+ / 0-)

    The consistency of observations are predicated on the inconsistency of concepts.

    For example, the law of identity is not an observation. Rather it is an internally generated concept. Your scheme has no room for self-evident truths such as the principle of identity or the law of non-contradiction.

    For that matter, the whole concept of inference is an internally generated concept. Which is another problem with your scheme, you've effectively eliminated any possibility of uniting concepts with observations.

    Also, your system also has a problem with historical events which also cannot be observed in principle. We cannot observe the battle of the bulge. This seems to put it on the same level as divine revelation in your system.

    Lastly, the terms `materialism' and `empiricism' have long histories. You seem to be aware that materialism has such a history but your presentation of it is all wrong. That is to say, I don't see how it differs from any of the traditional arguments for materialism. As for empiricism, you may want to read a bit of Hume or Locke, or even Popper.

    •  I've read Hume and Locke. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      radarlady, NCrissieB

      Not so familiar with Popper.

      However you missed a key point in my argument. The law of identity is only a concept that comes to our minds because is conforms to observation.

      From the time we are infants we experience a reality in which (X = X) and (X != !X). That is how we arrive at our innate understanding of the concept.

      The final sections of my argument, in particular 3.b.1 and 3.b.ii, illustrate how consistent observation can show us reliable tools for understanding reality. We are aware of the laws of logic because we observe a universe in which they apply. If the laws of logic were different, if (X = !X), we would have an understanding of different fundamental laws.

      This is how we can examine historical data and reach an informed conclusion about the events.

      Will we ever be certain? No.

      But we can use logic (the process of proper inference) to analyze the documentary evidence of a historical event and determine what likely occurred.

      We have weapons of mass destruction we have to address here at home. Poverty and homelessness are weapons of mass destruction. - Denny K

      by Chicagoa on Tue May 05, 2009 at 03:16:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You certainly haven't read Kant (5+ / 0-)

        The law of identity does not come to mind because we experience. Rather it is one of the conditions for experience. Without the concept of how to separate one thing from another, we could not have experience of any thing.

        Now you can claim that this knowledge arises through experience. But to do so begs the question. You have not demonstrated that this knowledge arises through experience.

        •  Not quite. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          The law of identity is a condition for experience as we know it. Our only introduction to these concepts is through observation.

          You are denying the antecedent in this case, assuming that all experiences of reality are dependent upon a law identifiable in our current experience.

          We have weapons of mass destruction we have to address here at home. Poverty and homelessness are weapons of mass destruction. - Denny K

          by Chicagoa on Tue May 05, 2009 at 03:44:02 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The difference is ... (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            pHunbalanced, Wee Mama, sanglug, NCrissieB

            ... I'm not claiming that I've proven anything.

            If you want to claim you've proven your system by begging the very question in dispute, be my guest.

            But let's perform a thought experiment. Let's assume a paralyzed person with no sensory input. This person has no sense of touch, smell, sight, or hearing. But their brain is otherwise healthy.

            Such a person will still have consciousness of time. This is not an external experience, but something entirely internal. According to your division, it can only be inconsistent. But having the internal experience of time allows for the concept of succession to arrive, and consequently all of mathematics.

            •  A very good point. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Let me consider its implications, I'm going to be speculating here so I'm not going to make any specific claims.

              However, it is an interesting idea, and it makes me wonder if traveling through time is in fact an external experience. The person in interacting with a dimension of objective reality, traveling through time with noticeable effect.

              It isn't a sensory experience, but it may qualify as an external stimulus. What do you think?

              And do you have any ideas for incorporating such experiences into the framework of my argument?

              We have weapons of mass destruction we have to address here at home. Poverty and homelessness are weapons of mass destruction. - Denny K

              by Chicagoa on Tue May 05, 2009 at 04:03:21 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I think it is a defeater to your argument (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                pHunbalanced, Wee Mama, Chicagoa, sanglug

                If you concede that time consciousness is entirely an internal event, you now have to concede that some internal concepts have within themselves the consistency which you claim no internal experiences have.

                If you reject that time consciousness is entirely internal, then you have to explain how it is that something which we do not sense by external means is actually indicative of something external. The problem with this, however, is that we aren't talking about clock time but time consciousness. The connection between internal time consciousness and external clock time is questionable at best. Good luck with that. I'm sure someone has covered the territory before so if you have access to the Philosopher's Index on EBSCO or access to JSTOR, you can probably find some sort of treatment.

                But to me, it seems to fairly convincingly demonstrate that there can be a priori truths which are independent of experience of the outside world. This view is also confirmed by the way that most scientific theories arise. If you've read how Einstein formulated most of his theories  through thought experiments, its clear that the concepts came first and were consistent and eventually empirically proven.

                What I think this points to is a false dichotomy where consistency is determined by whether an experience is internal or external. This introduces a essential criterion into consistency which is actually accidental. As such, it leads to accidental rather than necessary conclusions.

                •  Potentially (0+ / 0-)

                  I'll work on it some.

                  Thanks for your comments.

                  We have weapons of mass destruction we have to address here at home. Poverty and homelessness are weapons of mass destruction. - Denny K

                  by Chicagoa on Tue May 05, 2009 at 04:23:39 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  A couple of additional thoughts (0+ / 0-)

                    I was pondering this a bit at the tail end of my morning run and some stray thoughts bubbled up to the top of the heap.

                    The first is that I think it's possible that you underrate inconsistency. Inconsistency is what allows for us to have knowledge. If things sometimes happen one way but sometimes happen another way, it presents the occasion for identifying the underlying principle that causes such behavior. Further, if everything is totally consistent, then we can't help but believe what we believe. Our thoughts aren't caused in the rational sense of the word but in the materialistic deterministic sense of the word and, consequently, there is no ground to believe that they are true.

                    The second is a quandary that arrives if one discounts time consciousness as a form of inner consciousness. If it is an external sense of some sort, then it opens the door for other types of consciousness, say divine revelation, to also be external senses of some sort. Time consciousness has no apparent connection to the outside world. So if there can be one sense that is tied to the outside world through a connection that isn't apparent, then there might be more.

          •  If you watch the developing consciousness of (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            an infant, you will find that the concept of a particular thing as one thing that is connected across time in different manifestations (in the shade, in the light, visible from the front or the back) is not a simple percept but a conceptual integration of many percepts. Thus even observation depends upon the interior ability to reflect and form concepts.

    •  An internally generated concept? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chicagoa, NCrissieB

      For example, the law of identity is not an observation. Rather it is an internally generated concept. Your scheme has no room for self-evident truths such as the principle of identity or the law of non-contradiction.

      Right, self-evident truth. So you are saying that if we were born with no eyes, no ears, no tastebuds, no nose, no feeling fingers, that we could still be in possession of knowledge? That it would still be known to us that that is that, and that cannot be that because it isn't that? All I can say is "Get Real".

      As if things could get worse without getting better.

      by A Voice on Tue May 05, 2009 at 03:38:26 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Here's to empiricism. (6+ / 0-)

    There is a reason we have two words, "knowledge" and "belief". If you are saying that we can't know anything in any other way but empirically, I agree. But there is room for belief, and in fact without belief, there would significantly less knowledge. Most knowledge arising from investigation starts out as a belief that something was true and setting about to observe it.

    The key issue is that beliefs should be checked against knowledge before acting upon them or treating them as truth. If a belief does not jive with what we already know, and it is being treated as truth, it should be publically challenged.

    The reason most people have trouble with empiricism is that it discounts knowing anything about the future. In fact, all we can be sure about is in the past. This is very bothersome for most people.

    "I don't want knowledge. I want certainty." ~D.Bowie

    Humans have an even bigger fear than the fear of the unknown. That is the fear of the unknowable. There will always be people who see Belief as more powerful than Knowledge. It is the only way to maintain their delusions of grandeur in a universe mostly hidden from our observation.

    As if things could get worse without getting better.

    by A Voice on Tue May 05, 2009 at 03:28:32 AM PDT

    •  Thanks for the comment. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      radarlady, csquared, NCrissieB

      I definitely agree with you.

      I suppose the thing I'm primarily arguing against is the idea of spiritual knowledge, or revelation, or any other kind of divine understanding.

      The only way to approach objective reality is through observation. I think we're in agreement. :)

      We have weapons of mass destruction we have to address here at home. Poverty and homelessness are weapons of mass destruction. - Denny K

      by Chicagoa on Tue May 05, 2009 at 03:32:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Actually, if someone claimed Divine Revelation (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        radarlady, NCrissieB

        and it made sense, I wouldn't have a problem with it. When what is revealed is a new way for the preacher to make some more cash, it is maddening. When it is used to mal-educate children and keep people in ignorance of the truth, it is saddening.

        As if things could get worse without getting better.

        by A Voice on Tue May 05, 2009 at 03:43:32 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I added the teaching tag (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    radarlady, Chicagoa, sanglug, NCrissieB

    so this will be part of Daily Kos University, which opens every Saturday at 9 AM Eastern, but stays open all week.

    No fees, no tests, no grades ... just learning

  •  Some good thoughts here (6+ / 0-)

    to which I'll add a couple of comments.

    [1] Science is both empirical and theoretical (of the internal mind). It is empirical in that it collects observations of reality (which have their own measurement biases, but that's a different topic altogether). It is of the mind in that the human mind (in the collective) is pattern-seeking and intuitive: it looks for, and seeks to provide, explanations for observed phenomena. The mark of a good scientific theory is that it predicts, correctly, future observations in the physical world. This is precisely why evolution is true as a scientific theory: it predicts future development of species, given specific physical conditions.

    [2] Religion is of the mind only (you discuss this, above). It springs from the same place in our psyches as scientific theorizing: that desire to find patterns and meaning in what we experience. I know people will object to this, so let me explain. I'm not making a statement about the VALUE or VALIDITY of religion, and I mean any religion, here. For instance, every single major religion deals with the question of human suffering, in one form or another, and they all propose different answers. Yet, even with all these answers, all these proposed solutions, human suffering still continues. Christianity tells us to wait until after death and it'll all be made right. Hamlet covered the usefulness, in this life, of that one when he discussed the "Undiscovered Country." Buddhism says it's all a state of mind (there you go...). Religious explanations can't be put to the test, as science can, and should, be.

    Radarlady, who has three scientific projects demanding her attentions, and should get off to some paying work...

    •  Your thoughts are greatly appreciated. :) NT (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      radarlady, csquared, NCrissieB

      We have weapons of mass destruction we have to address here at home. Poverty and homelessness are weapons of mass destruction. - Denny K

      by Chicagoa on Tue May 05, 2009 at 03:47:44 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  prediction ≠ prophesy / science v. relig (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc -7.25 -8.15

      by mydailydrunk on Tue May 05, 2009 at 03:56:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Prophecy relies on interpretation (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        pHunbalanced, Wee Mama, NCrissieB

        which puts it in squarely in the "state of mind" category. Take (choosing an non-controversial example), for instance, the answer(s) the Delphic Oracle gave the Athenians -- after an initial prediction that they were all going to die, full stop -- about how to save themselves from the approaching Persians: defend themselves with a wall of wood. The city was evacuated, save for some defenders who built a wooden wall around the Acropolis. They were slaughtered by the over-running Persian army. The rest of the Athenians had retreated to the island of Salamis, where they were defended by the "wall of wood" of the Athenian triremes. Thanks to superior knowledge of the tides and the terrain, the Greeks won a resounding naval victory and were saved. So which "wall of wood" was the Pythia (and Apollo's priests) predicting?


        •  Prophecy doesn't quite/always mean that. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pHunbalanced, Wee Mama, radarlady, marykk

          First it's important to distinguish what we mean by "prophecy."  The general meaning is predicting the future, but that's not the only meaning.  In many traditions a "prophet" is simply one who speaks truth to power: "We're doing something wrong and if we don't stop doing it, we're going to suffer for it."

          But given that distinction, you're referring to the colloquial meaning of prophecy, which can be aptly (if rather caustically) stated in a simple formula:

          Prophecy = Ambiguity + Postdiction

          That is, say something ambiguous enough that someone can assert the accuracy of the "prediction" ... after the events occur.  That's not "prediction."  That's "postdiction."

          •  In the example I cited (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            pHunbalanced, NCrissieB

            it's very much postdiction. But, then, you know your Herodotus, so you know that.

            Even so, prophecy still relies on interpretation, even in the "truth to power" sense. The quintessential "truth to power" prophet from the Old Testament is Amos: the evil hearts of the people of the northern kingdom of Israel would cause it to disappear forever. Later, the Assyrians conquered the northern tribes and hauled them all off to exile. Was it because they were evil, or because they sat on valuable crossroads territory and the Assyrians were a huge political power, for the time, with an army to match?

            A genuine scientific theory, OTOH, predicts effects that can be quantified. Take special relativity as an example. The equations Einstein worked out about time dilation have been verified empirically by internal (and completely independent) timing devices inside satellites orbiting the earth, relative (magic word) to clocks here on the earth. It's an effect so commonly recognized in the GPS community (to name one) it's routinely taken into account by satellite ground station operations.

            Again, I'm not disparaging religion here: I agree with Gould's non-overlapping Magisteria approach to the science/religion question.

            Radarlady, who has been known to invoke Athena rather more often than she would like to admit...

            •  Agreed. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              And sometimes you can't quantify things with scientific precision, but you can still address them with rigor.  That happens in law often.  For example, to prove guilt in a criminal case, the prosecution must "prove each element of the offense(s) charged, beyond and to the exclusion of any reasonable doubt, with evidence lawfully obtained and lawfully presented to the finder of fact."

              There are a lot of non-quantifiable words in that definition - and in the language of most criminal statutes, rules of evidence, etc. - but we can and do still apply criminal law rigorously.  What we can't do, in most cases, is replay a video of the crime in progress to see whether the jury got it "right."  We know we're having to make a decision in the absence of conclusive, quantifiable evidence, but we have to make some decision regardless.

              As to Amos-type prophecy, there the key is to not argue a proof from the outcome.  The question is not whether Amos was "right" that Israel would be destroyed if she did not change her ways; in the very long term that outcome was certain anyway, as sooner or later the sun will burn out and we'll all die.

              Rather, the question is whether Amos was "right" in arguing that Israel needed to change her ways because she was committing/permitting immoral behaviors.  If she was, then Amos was "right," and it doesn't matter whether it was the Assyrians or the sun's eventual burn-out that caused Israel's demise.  If she wasn't, then Amos was "wrong," and again the outcome doesn't change that.

  •  This statement (5+ / 0-)

    (ii) Observation displays consistency. Each time an external stimulus is observed is the same, except in cases where the observer's mind is altered or impaired.

    is both incorrect and begs itself.

    It is incorrect ... external stimuli are NEVER the same, not exactly.  If I look at my wife (for instance) she does not look exactly the same as yesterday (much less 30 years ago); her hair is a bit different (right now, quite a lot different, as she just woke up), she has different clothes on, and so on.  

    If stimuli were always the same, the problem of how we recognize things would be much simpler.

    It also begs itself, as our minds are ALWAYS changing and always impaired (to a greater or lesser degree).

    So, our minds (which are constantly changing) look at a world and stimuli (that are constantly changing) and make sense out of it.  

    THAT is cool.

    •  This is true. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      radarlady, plf515, csquared, NCrissieB

      However, while the consistency isn't perfect when experienced multiple times by the same person, the key is that two different minds can experience something and corroborate what they observe.

      Even more, we can indeed recognize the variations between repeated observation and another mind's observations.

      How? Through observation. :)

      We have weapons of mass destruction we have to address here at home. Poverty and homelessness are weapons of mass destruction. - Denny K

      by Chicagoa on Tue May 05, 2009 at 04:08:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Regarding formatting (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chicagoa, csquared, NCrissieB

    if you use the tt tag then you can make things line up  the way you want.

    that is
    < tt >   before the text and
    </ tt>  after the text

    (without the spaces)

    let's you do things like

    This line is not indented
     This line is indented.
          This line is more indented

  •  I'm skeptical. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, NCrissieB

    I don't think there's a completely empirical way to distinguish observation from conception.  You seem to sneak that in by specifying "in a healthy mind..."

    (i'm an amateur so i expect that the professionals could easily run circles around everything that follows)

    But, as one of my patients said of his delusions, "it's impossible to prove," one way or the other because the proof I offered could just be another hallucination, I could be God trying to trick him in some way beyond his understanding and, even if I wasn't, how could I be sure that I myself wasn't just like him?

    Now, empiricism and materialism make perfect sense to me to the extent that I've never observed anything that seemed (to my mind) inconsistent with the claim that they provide the most reliable, accurate ways of thinking about reality.  But it's not because "it cannot/is not any other way" but because I haven't encountered anything I see as a compelling counterexample.  OTOH, I don't see any reason to be 100% convinced that a compelling counterexample doesn't exist (and I just haven't observed and accurately conceived it).

    like i said earlier, i would not be surprised if i'm making some amateurish mistakes ...

    They tortured people to get false confessions to dupe us into invading Iraq.

    by chicago jeff on Tue May 05, 2009 at 04:09:25 AM PDT

  •  The essential flaw: (5+ / 0-)

    Yours is an inescapably egocentric argument.  If you can't (or don't) experience it, and it can't be explained by means of the only cognitive tool you understand and accept - empiricism - then it's not part of "reality."  That is to say, you reject it not only for yourself, but then claim to speak for the universe itself.  Thus the entire universe consists of only what you experience and what can be explained to you by the one cognitive tool you understand and accept.

    I don't say this to insult you - though I'm sure it seems so - but to suggest how completely you've positioned your own understanding as circumscribing "reality" itself.

    I've faced this issue several times in my life, when (usually) well-meaning friends kept asking me to explain my experience of being lesbian in terms they could "understand."  I've reached the point where I no longer try to explain that.  They can "understand" it intuitively, accept it without "understanding," or reject it.  But I don't waste my time trying to make them "understand."

    At some point, we all have to wrap ourselves around the notion that we cannot understand everything in our own experience, let alone everyone else's.  The words "I don't know" or "I can't speak to that" are not admissions of failure.  They recognize the inescapable limits of individual experience and understanding.

    •  I don't mind not knowing. (0+ / 0-)

      However, there is no reason why any of us should not be able to know.

      Also, please follow the link to the Theory of Mind, it demonstrates how we can recognize similar a similar consciousness.

      This is key because I'm not just talking about my understanding of reality, but yours as well. The consistency of observation makes it useful to both of us, because it gives us some information about objective reality.

      Contrary to popular fiction, it is not some special wisdom to assume that the universe is too big and mysterious for one mind to comprehend.

      We have weapons of mass destruction we have to address here at home. Poverty and homelessness are weapons of mass destruction. - Denny K

      by Chicagoa on Tue May 05, 2009 at 04:21:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Again, the egocentrism: (4+ / 0-)

        This is key because I'm not just talking about my understanding of reality, but yours as well.

        Actually you're not talking about my understanding of reality.  You're talking about an understanding of reality that you understand and accept and assume must be universally true for everyone else, if only they'll recognize it.

        As to "objective reality," that itself is an unprovable construct.  We can talk about intersubjective experience - subjective observers agreeing on descriptions and predictions of experience - but that does not get us to "objective reality."  We cannot escape our subjectivity.  We can't prove "objective reality" exists by strict logic.  Those who believe in it believe in it as a matter of faith, and not because its existence can be empirically proven.

        •  I like your comment (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pHunbalanced, Wee Mama, cjallen, NCrissieB

          You might be interested in the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty.  He speaks of "embodiment" - in other words, we can never escape the fact that we perceive everything through the senses of our body.  Thus, everything is perception, including "empiric truth".

          People's minds are changed by observation, not by argument - Will Rogers

          by rdestrada on Tue May 05, 2009 at 05:20:58 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Argument? (0+ / 0-)

    That's all well and good but all you've given are a set of dubious theses. You have given no argument. In so doing you have, at best, merely replaced one metaphysical faith with another.

    •  Strange. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      You assume I am claiming this argument as universal truth. I simply made an assertion, and I am attempting to formulate a good argument.

      Upthread a commenter found a key flaw, and I appreciated it. You should check it out, we had a good discussion.

      We have weapons of mass destruction we have to address here at home. Poverty and homelessness are weapons of mass destruction. - Denny K

      by Chicagoa on Tue May 05, 2009 at 08:43:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  limits of empiricism. (0+ / 0-)

    I'm an observable world/science guy myself. The problem is, so much of human reality is not amenable to empirical methods or quantitative observation. I'm thinking categories like culture, politics and art. For me here we have to use different intellectual traditions. The traditional humanities- history philosophy and literature have worked out some pretty good ones. I have little or no confidence in so-called social science; having been trained in that area.

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