02 December 2011

Scientific Realism (Response to Professor Anton)

After watching my video “Attack of the Relativists” Professor Anton made a response:

His first point is that he didn’t like my video, going on to say that I reduced complex areas into various false dichotomies. I do however feel that the false dichotomy occurs with the suggestion that objective truth and relativism are linear terms. I have previously said that labels are required to objectively understand the world around us. As such umbrella terms allow us to correlate knowledge into areas of understanding. Throughout the video Anton continues to revert to this dualistic idea of my philosophical views by suggesting that the mere mention of an idea of objective or relative truth is simplistic. However, this is not a position I align with because objective knowledge is not a single entity within the world, but many different, and often completely separate, truths.

Fundamental to this is scientific realism. The natural world is an independent setting that exists outside of the mind of the observer. I am not suggesting, nor have I ever suggested, that this reality is a linear entity, and in my video I actually state that Plato’s divided line is a simplistic idea of the world by modern standards. Anton goes on in his video to use the word pluralism. This is a multifaceted label that has several meanings for different schools of thought, but in the context of the scientific method it stipulates that reality is made up of many explanations that come together to objectively explain the natural world – what I believe it.

To suggest that I feel that objective and relative truth is a dualistic dichotomy is false because both fields have numerous subgroups, and reality itself is a plethora of objectively definable entities. Therefore I do not subscribe to what Anton suggests about my understanding of objective truth.

Anton goes on to use a similar example to the classic question of whether a tree falling in the woods would make a sound if you weren’t there. The answer to this is, of course, yes. Scientific realism tells us that this is the case given that reality is independent of observers. The example Anton himself gives is one based on a rainbow. He claims that if I believe that the rainbow exists independent of observers that “I am not based in science”. I agree with Anton that observing the rainbow is dependent on angle, though this is due to the nature of the electromagnetic spectrum, not some relative idea of what a rainbow is, based on angle.

Anton then states that because there are a number of things, like moisture and the sun, that make up the composition of the rainbow, and that the observer has an integral part to play in the rainbow’s existence. This is untrue because the observer is only integral to “seeing” the rainbow – it is still there regardless of one’s observation of the rainbow. So like a tree falling in the woods when no one is around, the conditions to create a rainbow are independent, just like the sound a falling tree makes when it hits the ground. Why? Because the human senses are not required for actions to occur in an independent reality – they occur in spite of our presence and our observation. This is a critical basis for the natural world.

In light of what I just said I would hope that no one would strawman me by creating some sort of scenario where a person interacts with an object, stating that in this case the person is integral to a process. Just in case I will state that once the person physically interacts with an object (like picking it up or pushing it) the laws of physics state that the kinetic energy you put into this action directly affects the object. Anton’s rainbow example though is similar to suggesting that an observer watching a vase fall when another person pushes it is fundamental to the object moving. This is incorrect because the object will fall whether the observer watches it fall or not.

The next important issue that Anton brings up is my explanation about mathematics in my video. I don’t however feel that Anton fully dealt with what I was saying. I focus on Archimedes, not Leibniz or Newton, because I demonstrate that Archimedes made mathematical discoveries involving calculus long before they ever did. What’s more these discoveries were completely independent because Archimedes’ work was lost for over two thousand years, only recently being discovered. Therefore Archimedes was laying down the framework of calculus way before great minds like Newton and Leibniz ever did, and totally independently of their mathematical discoveries.

How could this possibly happen if mathematics were mired by perspective? It couldn’t! What’s more, how could mathematics help us create rockets to the moon, or even catapults in the era of Archimedes, if mathematics weren’t objectively sound in a scientific sense? The truth is that mathematics proves itself because we reap the rewards of its success everyday through the likes of architecture and engineering, so mathematics is integral to the objective and successful process of the scientific method. Denying this is dubious at best.

Regarding Anton’s request for me to deal with justice and objective truth I’m not going to go into this here because I think it is a side issue (which I have addressed before in blogs and videos). Besides, I don’t address morals in my video above, though I am happy to talk about this again in the future. What I am going to do is talk about this:

This video is important because it really highlights a key point when dealing with the type of questions I am faced with on my channel by those opposed to scientific realism. On his video Anton puts some shapes on the screen and starts off with a few questions, asking viewers to describe what they see. By the end of the video Anton provides us with ambiguous questions to define the shapes, therefore suggesting that, due to the lack of clarity, that our concepts are limited. One example is Anton’s question “How many items are out of alignment?” Anton would need to expand upon the word item given that it is a category that would mislead people without adequate information. This sums up the difference between Anton and myself given that I argue that objective information is the key to conceptualisation.

Let’s use the shape of the world as an example. When people felt that the world was flat was it still round? Of course! In spite of our perception of the world as flat it made no difference to the fact that the world is round. This perfectly highlights the philosophy of scientific realism – reality exists outside of the perceptions of the observer, and can be uncovered with the correct approach. Over time information was presented to humanity that allowed people to transcend the perception of a flat world, and understand the world is round. Then we asked the question of why we can stay on a round earth, as opposed to hurtling into space, if a country is on the side of the planet or even right at the bottom, in the case of Antarctica. The answer is of course the force of gravity.

Did gravity as a force exist before it was named and discovered? Of course! We also discovered that the planets revolve around the sun. Was this untrue before it was discovered? No! In the 20th Century people were able to observe the earth from space, but even before this people knew the earth was round through objective reasoning and empirical evidence.

Therefore using language as a prerequisite to restrict the fact that information can help us transcend the limits of human perception is a red herring. It has been proven incorrect time and again given that science proves itself through results. What I’ll end on is the point that Anton made regarding relativism and power. He directly addresses my point about right wing religious evangelism being a means to control objective truth. Religious people use relative ideas to create absolute truths, like God being unprovable, yet still the source of absolute truth – a logically inconsistent conclusion.

To also conclude that objective truth is impossible due to perspective, and therefore absolute truths are relative, is an absolute conclusion, and therefore logically inconsistent yet again (just in a different order to the religious example). Objective truth belongs to no one, whether we choose to act on the availability of knowledge or not. But once you go down the road of using esoteric arguments to suggest that nothing can be proven due to the limits of human understanding, then people can make you believe that up is down, and down is up, not unlike Winston being tortured over the question of 2+2 in 1984. Who decides the answer? Why the torturer!

This is RockingMrE – over and out!


  1. Cogently argued Mr E. I loath relativism as the empty, platitutude spewing pile of bilge that it is, and only hypocrites and ignoramuses could possibly subscribe to its doctrine

  2. Lol. Thanks. I'll need the support of people like you online because relativist whackos are really coming out of the woodwork with all sorts of bizarre arguments. Usually when they're exposed though the ad homs come fast and hard.