**Lancelot Fletcher** (*lance.fletcher@freelance-academy.org*)

*Tue, 21 Sep 1999 02:31:42 -0500*

**Messages sorted by:**[ date ] [ thread ] [ subject ] [ author ]**Next message:**Stephen P. King: "[time 797] Re: [time 796] Pratt's Paper"**Previous message:**Stephen P. King: "[time 795] Re: [time 793] Re: Falsifiability"**In reply to:**Lancelot Fletcher: "[time 793] RE: [time 784] Re: [time 781] RE: [time 779] Re: [time 778] Re: Noumenon and Phenomenon => Mind-Body problem."**Next in thread:**Stephen P. King: "[time 797] Re: [time 796] Pratt's Paper"

Responding to my request that he cite at least one falsifiable proposition

contained in Pratt's paper, Stephen replied:

*> I must be able to
*

*> back up my claims. The
*

*> > difficulty is that within the specific context of Pratt's paper, it is
*

*> > difficult to "cite at least one falsifiable proposition". I would
*

*> > tanatively propose this statement as being falsifiable:
*

*> > "Identifying and adjoining are canonically
*

*> denotational tasks that
*

*> > mathematicians are accustomed to performing on their spaces,
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*> groups, and
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*> > other algebraic objects. This is the realm of the physical.
*

*> > Copying and deleting are canonically operational tasks
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*> that logicians
*

*> > and computer scientists are accustomed to performing on their proofs,
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*> > spreadsheets, and other symbolic objects. This is the realm of the
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*> > mental." page 4-5<<<
*

Since it is not self-evident that this is a single statement, or that any

or all of it is falsifiable, I responded:

*> Please
*

*> > describe an observation which you, or Pratt, would accept as
*

*> demonstrating
*

*> > that this collection of statements (or any part thereof) is false.
*

Stephen now responds:

*>
*

*> Well, let us see. Is it observationally true that
*

*> a) Identifying and adjoining are canonically denotational tasks that
*

*> mathematicians are accustomed to performing on their spaces, groups, and
*

*> other algebraic objects.
*

*>
*

*> b) Copying and deleting are canonically operational tasks that logicians
*

*> and computer scientists are accustomed to performing on their proofs,
*

*> spreadsheets, and other symbolic objects.
*

*>
*

*> These seem trivially true... Is the problem in the
*

*> definition of the
*

*> words used?
*

To which I now respond:

No, Stephen. The problem at this point is that you have not satisfied my

request. I requested that you describe an observation which you, or Pratt,

would accept as demonstrating that this collection of statements, or any

part thereof, is false. Instead, you have offered your opinion that two of

the four sentences you originally quoted are "observationally true."

Remember that the issue is whether or not Pratt's paper contains

"falsifiable" propositions. What does it mean to say that a proposition is

falsifiable? It means (or so it appears to me) that there must be some

condition or possible observation whose truth would lead you to conclude

that the proposition in question is false. If I assert that "All men have

brown eyes" is a falsifiable proposition and somebody asks me to describe

an observation which I would accept as demonstrating that this proposition

is false, I would say that a valid observation of a man with blue eyes

would demonstrate the falsity of my proposition.

This may look like a trivial matter, but in fact constructing genuinely

falsifiable statements is more difficult than it may appear, but I think it

is a useful intellectual discipline, especially if you claim -- as you have

done -- that a particular theory has the virtue of falsifiability. The

fact that you believe a statement to be true, even the fact that you can

cite what you take to be confirming observational evidence for its truth,

does not prove that the statement is falsifiable. The only way you can

demonstrate the falsifiability of a statement is to specify a condition or

observation which, if true, you would accept as proving your assertion

false.

Having said that, let's look again at the set of statements which you cited

in response to my demand that you show me a falsifiable statement in

Pratt's paper:

* >>"Identifying and adjoining are canonically denotational tasks that
*

mathematicians are accustomed to performing on their spaces, groups, and

other algebraic objects. This is the realm of the physical.

Copying and deleting are canonically operational tasks that logicians

and computer scientists are accustomed to performing on their proofs,

spreadsheets, and other symbolic objects. This is the realm of the

mental." page 4-5<<<

If you read these statements carefully -- and especially if you read them

in their context -- I think you will have to agree that they cannot

possibly be falsified. Why? Because these are not intended to be factual

statements. The function of these statements is essentially taxonomic:

What Pratt is doing is defining classes or categories of things. It's as

if he were saying, "I am going to call things like this fruits and things

like that nuts."

If you had any doubt that this is a taxonomic exercise, the giveaway is

Pratt's use of the word "canonically." Canonical means "as specified by

some authoritative rule;" the word is derived from the legal vocabulary of

the Catholic Church.

I think one could fairly paraphrase Pratt's statements as follows:

I am about to say what I mean by the "the realm of the physical" and "the

realm of the mental." I will define these two realms by identifying each of

them with one of the two sets of tasks which I am about to distinguish. The

two sets of tasks are (1) denotational tasks and (2) operational tasks. By

definition, the fundamental denotational tasks are what I call identifying

and adjoining, by which I am referring to the tasks that mathematicians

perform on spaces, groups and other algebraic objects. By definintion, the

fundamental operational tasks are copying and deleting, by which I am

referring to the tasks that logicians and computer scientists perform on

proofs, spreadsheets and other symbolic objects.

In paraphrasing Pratt I have emphasized the stipulative or nominal

character of his statements. But I do not think I have violated his

meaning. Taxonomic statements necessarily contain empirically descriptive

content to the extent that they are intended to classify observable things.

If I say that vertebrates are animals with internal skeletons featuring a

segmented bony or cartilaginous spinal column, I presuppose that my reader

has some experience of skeletons, bones and spines. But my definition of

vertebrates is not a factual assertion. It might be a bad definition, but

it cannot possibly be a false statement because it simply announces how I

intend to use a certain group of words.

Likewise, I submit that it would not be possible to specify an any

observational statement which, if true, would demonstrate that any of the

statements quoted from Pratt is false, because those statements simply

announce how Pratt intends to use certain words.

Therefore, I conclude that, so far, Pratt's paper has not been shown to

contain any falsifiable statements.

*>
*

*> Lance, I think that we are getting sidetracked here! Pratt
*

*> et al, are
*

*> offering us an alternative way of, at least, thinking about the
*

*> mind-body problem and also time and causality. Just because the writting
*

*> does not conform to the "standards" of people like Spinoza, etc. is not
*

*> a reason to dismiss it! The fact that it is hard if not impossible to
*

*> understand it is an indication of the difference in the paradigms
*

*> involved.
*

Stephen, in the foregoing paragraph, it looks as if you are attributing to

me the following two assertions: (1) That I have dismissed Pratt's paper

because it does not conform to the standards of people like Spinoza, and

(2) that I object to Pratt's paper because it is hard to understand. If

that is what you meant to say, let me be clear: I have never made either of

those assertions, nor would I since they do not reflect what I think.

My quotation from Spinoza in one of my private messages to you was

tangential to my main point, as I so stated, prefacing my quotation with,

"Here, incidentally, is what Spinoza had to say about this..."

In fact I do not find Pratt's paper especially hard to understand. Or,

rather, as I said in my private message, the difficulty it presents

resembles the difficulty of reading papers by mediocre undergraduates which

are typically so full of ignorant mistakes and incoherence that it is

difficult to figure out what they are trying to say, even though what they

are trying to say is not at all profound. In section I of Pratt's paper he

is discussing material that I am much more familiar with than he is, and it

is clear to me that, with regard to Descartes and mind-body dualism, Pratt

simply doesn't know what he is talking about. The later sections of the

paper are at first a bit daunting because of the references to some

unfamiliar mathematical terms. But when I began to work through these

sections carefully, what I discovered was that Pratt's math doesn't really

do any work. That is to say, Pratt seems to use references to arcane

mathematical structures as images or metaphors, possibly useful analogies,

but whenever he begins to try to connect this material, his references,

like bad poetry, are extremely vague or questionably ambiguous (as, for

example, his distinction between "algebraic objects" and "symbolic objects"

or between mathematicians, on the one hand, and logicians and computer

scientists, on the other. Finally, Pratt's conclusions seem grandiose and

utterly unsubstantiated. Consider the following paragraph entitled

"Essence of Quantum Mechanics:"

"We claim that quantum mechanics has not previously been reduced to lay

terms by physicists, who have been content to leave the subject as a

mysterious jumble of properties of Hilbert space that a working physicist

can become acclimatized to and even confident with after sufficient

exposure. Mind-body duality and interaction explains respectively

complementarity and the inner product in relatively elementary terms making

a clear connection with other structures such as the above model of

computation and the following foundation for mathematics. The central role

of the mental plane in this account of quantum mechanics makes it a

rational mechanics."

Pratt's paper reminds me of a famous passage in Schopenhauer's "Criticism

of the Kantian Philosophy" in which, after expressing great respect for

Kant's achievement, he writes, "...the most injurious result of Kant's

occasionally obsure language is that it acted as exemplar vitiis imitabile;

indeed, it was misconstrued as a pernicious authorization. The public was

compelled to see that what is obscure is not always without significance;

consequently, what was without significance took refuge behind obscure

language."

It seems to me that a similar caution is warranted with respect to the use

of mathematics in writing about the philosophical foundations of physics.

The educated public has been taught that mathematical representation is not

merely convenient, but is essential to the power of modern physics, such

that modern physics cannot be presented without distortion except by using

mathematical concepts that are virtually unknown to all but trained

physicists and mathematicians. I believe, however, that this respect for

the power of obscure mathematics has led to an unfortunate and uncritical

tolerance for what amounts to mathematical obscurantism. Just because one

uses mathematical terminology, it does not follow that one's reasoning is

guaranteed to be rigorous, nor is it the case that the use of mathematics

protects one from being trapped by unconscious presuppositions. For this

reason I think it is a salutary practice to demand, especially in

discussions about the foundations of physics where the boundary between

physics and philosophy is indistinct, that mathematical arguments be

translated into non-mathematical terms or, if that is not possible, that

the fundamental terms be explained as clearly and non-mathematically as

possible.

One of the points that first attracted me to Hitoshi's work some years ago

was his recognition that the problem of time in modern physics is

essentially a philosophical problem, and that, therefore, it is not likely

to be susceptible to a merely technical solution.

Now, to finish with Pratt, let me say this to Stephen:

I have concluded that Pratt's paper is too incompetently written to be

worth discussing directly. I understand that you believe it contains some

brilliant and possibly important and original insights. That may be true.

It's also possible that you have had some important and original insights

of your own while you were reading Pratt's paper which were not actually

Pratt's insights but yours. It doesn't really matter whose insights they

are. If you can express them more clearly and rigorously than Pratt has

done, I will be very happy to listen to you.

Lance Fletcher, President

The Free Lance Academy Foundation

http://www.freelance-academy.org

lance@interactive.net

**Next message:**Stephen P. King: "[time 797] Re: [time 796] Pratt's Paper"**Previous message:**Stephen P. King: "[time 795] Re: [time 793] Re: Falsifiability"**In reply to:**Lancelot Fletcher: "[time 793] RE: [time 784] Re: [time 781] RE: [time 779] Re: [time 778] Re: Noumenon and Phenomenon => Mind-Body problem."**Next in thread:**Stephen P. King: "[time 797] Re: [time 796] Pratt's Paper"

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