Sunday, January 19, 2014

Epistemology and the Invisible Magical Saw

So, as I sporadically have arguments with apologists, yet again, we had someone scoffing at our basic capacity to understand the world.
Because of your materialistic thinking you try to reduce everything to material things. I know it's easier to judge everything on this level, but it's simplistic and wrong. Dumb.

Yes, I do utilize empirical reductionist materialism. It works. That's why I use it. All the technology that surrounds me was derived from knowledge from this process.

But it's not simple. Computer models that attempt to predict the behaviors of sky scrapers in hurricanes do reduce the building down into simplistic elements that are individually processed with simplistic rules... but the overall simulation is incomprehensibly complex. That's the point. Reductionism is an attempt to break complex nuanced aspects of reality into manageable chunks, so that we may better understand the whole.

Also, I wouldn't say that I try to "reduce everything to material things." What I would say, is that we only apparently have access to material things, and thus, can only study material things, and if you are attempting to assert that something manifests, we're going to use the best tools we've got to assess it.

... until we get better tools.

I tried to make this point, but he wasn't going for it.
No, you are doing that. Not every vibration is music. Not any color combination is art. You desperately try to reduce all things in life to material things, because only there you can use your trusted hammer.
In this conversation, we weren't talking about art, but rather existential things. I'd say though, that the appreciation of art is materialistic too - in the same sense that computer software processing data boils down to exchanges of electrons through a circuit. I don't see any issues there. It's materialistic in the sense that the rules to a baseball game manifest and exist in this world, and can be studied and tested. Perhaps his definition is too narrow.

Here's Wikipedia's explanation:
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that all things are composed of material, and that all emergent phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material properties and interactions. In other words, the theory claims that our reality consists entirely of physical matter that is the sole cause of every possible occurrence, including human thought, feeling, and action.
Of course, the variant I subscribe to is "methodological materialism", which isn't to say that nothing else but the material exists, but it's the one we have the ability to study, currently.

But yes... my trusted hammer. The one that demonstrably exists, and demonstrably works. Here in the conversation, we were circling this abyss of doom - the void of any epistemological ground he was advocating. Interested in getting to the bottom of this vacuous position of his, I asked:
I'll do what I usually do and extend an invitation.
If you think there's an alternative epistemology to empirical reductionist materialism, feel free to define it well, and demonstrate it works well. I'll then use it.
Until then, while I'm using my hammer to build a house, you appear to be upset that I'm not using your invisible magical saw that you can't demonstrate even exists, let alone works.
I've yet to have a theist take me up on this offer.
I'll readily agree, whole-heartedly, with him in that empirical reductionism is not the only way to assess what we call "reality". Richard Carrier is an interest because he represents a field of investigation that uses neither empiricism, nor reductionism (that I understand), nor materialism. (He may disagree)

He's a historian.

Carrier uses another methodology and standard of evidence to analyze textual evidence for historical records. These standards and methods are specially honed to maximize accuracy and efficacy. That's the point of standards.

So here's a whole different realm of study of "reality" that uses a set of tools that I don't utilize for assessing manifesting physical phenomenon.

... And that's just fine. This is what I'm asking the apologist for, however, and he didn't like me asking. I thought it's an eminently reasonable request. If you're bashing on my primary chosen epistemology, then I'm going to ask, "okay, what epistemological standard are you using?"
Yes, you always do that, you require improper evidence that is absurd from definition, from the start. Then you are proud that nobody was able to come with that evidence.
You analogy with the house is, again, false, because the discussion is in a completely different field.
Way to dodge a reasonable request, right? Given that he didn't have a clue what an Argument from Ignorance was, earlier in the discussion, I'd be surprised if he knew what the "e-word" meant.

My reply:
Yes, you always do that, you require improper evidence that is absurd from definition, from the start.
This makes zero sense unless there's an established functional epistemology to tie the supposed standards of evidence. The whole point is that I am asking for proper evidence.
Then you are proud that nobody was able to come with that evidence.
Thanks, it's been a few hours since a telepathic theist tried to read my mind. *waves my hand at the monitor* I'm getting that... you are scared that you can't come up with anything so you're desperately trying to deflect.
Do you or do you not have an alternative epistemological method that can be demonstrated to actually work?
We can't have an intelligible conversation about supposed alternative evidence, until this is accomplished. We'd be sitting around discussing topics that are indistinguishable from fantasy.
Am I off base here? Am I being unreasonable, or setting up some kind of trap, by asking people who are making claims adhere to some kind of standards that help ensure that what they're saying is actually true? I'm asking what those standards are that would validate and confirm what he's saying.

As far as I can tell, the objection is that I'm using reductionist materialism to assess non-materialistic claims.

I agree that's a problem, just like my trying to use empirical reductionist materialism to textual analysis would also be fruitless.

That's why I'm asking for an alternative "hammer" to get to work with - one that actually exists and actually works. This can't be a free-for-all where any claim, no matter how bats hit insane it sounds, would necessarily be accepted as true, because you can't stand the fact that we're going to hold you to actually demonstrating your claims.

How's that for mind-reading?

He never did take me up on my offer.

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