X-Message-Number: 14868
Date: Tue, 07 Nov 2000 10:49:18 +0100
From: Henri Kluytmans <>
Subject: The scientific approach : If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

David Pizer wrote :

>Descartes proved in his First Meditations, that one can know one exists
>because in the very act of doubting one's existence, one must exist to be
>able to do the doubting.  I like to think of this as certain and direct
>knowledge. This may be the only direct knowledge one can have.  

OK, yes, I agree with this example, but this kind of direct knowledge is 
not exactly very useful knowledge.

I wrote :

>>That mathematics is a good way to gather (indirect) knowledge about the 
>>world has been proven by the tremendous success of the scientific approach 
>>during the last couple of centuries.

David replied :

>There is no success of the scientific approach in knowing anything for
>certain.  Each past scientific theory was/is doomed to be replaced or
>refined by another in the future.  
>However, the scientific approach may be a good way (probably is 
>the best present way), to predict some things with some accuracy.  

The scientific approach is the BEST way to understand ANY thing 
in an *objective* way. Do we have to know everything with 100% 
accuracy, I think that a certain limited accuracy and probability 
(depending on the situation, for example 99,999% ) is sufficient.

>The scientific approach is good for predicting and describing some things,
>it does not help us to describe what *feeling* is in any way that a person
>without feeling could understand.  If one could figure how to describe
>feeling to a being that did not have feeling, that would be, I'm pretty
>sure, a good description.

I see no problems in using the scientific approach to understand 
feelings (or any other thing) in an *objective* way.

However to feel a feeling (the subjective way) you will indeed 
need to feel it. 

Feeling a feeling is subjective, and it is indeed impossible to 
explaining things in subjective way using an objective method... :)

>To talk about mathamatical relative positions of atoms in the brain is
>gibberish in describing what consciousness or awareness *feels* like.

The "recording the positions of atoms" example was only meant as the 
first step in a line of reasoning. This example scenario was used to 
make it very clear that, in a deanimated (frozen) state we equal 
information only. 

The next example I would have given (succesively deanimating and 
deanimating a person) should then make it clear that in an animated 
state we are an information process.

>The scientific approach has proved nothing that can be known for sure.
>(Please don't misinterpret this to mean that I have said it is not useful,
>I have not said that.  It has not produced certain knowledge.  
>We may be getting off the track here, because certain knowledge may be
>unknowable beyond "cogito ergo sum"  

Exactly, ... we are getting off track.

>and if we can't have certain knowledge for most things then: (1) 
>present scientific predictability may be enough someday, 

I can't imagine a better tool for gaining objective understanding 
of our world.

>(2) we may develope a new language that allows us to describe
>things like "feeling" "consciousness" and "selfhood" is a more 
>accurate way.

I.e. : "A new method to objectively and rationally describe things 
in a more accurate way ..." - this again implies a better method 
than the scientific approach. And this seems unlikely at the least.

>So far as we know there is *NO BETTER WAY* to gather (indirect) knowledge 
>about our world. Our whole current detailed understanding of the world 
>and our technological civilisation is based on the scientific method.

>I am a materialist. I think the brain is made of mindless atoms. 


And if you don't assume the existance of any new and unknown 
chemical processes, that take place in a body frozen at a very 
low temperature (for example at 1 degree Kelvin), then you should 
also agree that a frozen mind is only information.

>I think the mind is the brain.  But, I stand by my original 
>conclusion that we need a different way to talk about what 
>consciousness and selfhood are, other then mathamatical 
>relations, if we want to be able to describe the problems.  

A different objective method ?

I dont know any better *objective* method than the scientific 

Which method do you have in mind ?


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