The issue *
The strategic hypothesis *
Refereeing report on the paper: The Direct Contextual Realism Theory of Perception *
Part 1: Consideration of the paper within norms and expectations of modern philosophy *
Part 2: Consideration of the problems with the system of modern philosophy as evidenced by the paper *
The need for better strategic thinking *
The need for better judgment criteria *
The need for improved conceptual processes *
Overall recommendation *
The Paper reviewed: The Direct Contextual Realism Theory of Perception *
Real Objects and Veridical Perception *
Direct Contextual Realism *
All or nothing *
This paper is on philosophical method. In particular on the emerging aspect of method I call strategic thinking. I first encountered the issue as I grappled with resolving the issue of a general theory of psychology; I found I could not do so without simultaneously dealing with issues of a general theory of cause and of knowledge. These considerations are reviewed in several of the papers on the site. I then quite recently attended the Australian Association of Philosophy Conference. There I was struck quite forcibly with the issue of strategy and its importance, first as a comment by a participant, which gave rise to my penning the appendix ‘All or nothing’, and then upon reflection, the issue of strategy emerged increasingly as crucial factor in method. For example, the impression I gained of the conference of people conversing in ‘rooms’, each disparate and isolated is the social consequence of the lack of strategic analysis. During this process, which is quite recent, I was also invited to referee a paper for the American Philosophical Quarterly. There, again the issue emerged, and on scanning other papers, found the issue again and again and…
I have sought to sum the issue in the following hypothesis. It is not possible to analyse a philosophical issue and achieve sound conclusions without relating the issue and the analysis to the broader strategic considerations of philosophy, within which the issue is only ever a detail. The relationship of any detail to broader considerations is what I call ‘strategic thinking’. So in short, one cannot conduct philosophical enquiry that will be in any way meaningful unless that enquiry embraces adequate strategic thinking and review. I have not drafted a special paper, other than this, and rely on the elaboration of the hypothesis on the following papers and those at the site generally.
It is almost certainly not typical practice to publish a paper given to one for refereeing. If any offence is taken I apologise in advance for none is intended, but somehow, sometime, and somewhere the issues here need reviewed and opened for discussion. And I felt that the issue warranted illustration and so I have included it. Only two people know the author of the paper, the author, and the editor of the journal. Again, if I hope no offence taken, I believe the issues important for the advancement of philosophy, and my only intent is to stimulate review of issues I see as contributing to the advancement of understanding. Unfortunately, I also know that advance in thinking never occurs without someone becoming upset over the examples used or the changes proposed or the demands being made. I merely request the analysis is accepted in the spirit given, aiming for better understanding of how philosophy and philosophical considerations can best serve human kind as it searches for truth, peace and contentment.
This report is in two parts. Part 1 assesses the paper within what is perceived as the norms and paradigms of current international philosophy. From this perspective the paper is recommended for publication with revision. Part 2 assesses the paper from a more personal perspective, perhaps idiosyncratic, nonetheless with comment of sufficient force as to bear some consideration. From this perspective the paper is also recommended for publication with revision, with the added proviso that efforts be made to present the criticisms of the paradigms and norms and stimulate discussion on the issues identified with a view to facilitating change. This approach is done to isolate criticism of the author from criticisms of the system wherein the author acted with reasonable integrity. In part 1, the author must assume accountability for both strengths and weaknesses of the paper. However the paper was written within a tradition and set of current expectations, criticism of these is not criticism of the author, and if anything it is these criticisms I perceive as being the greater weakness of the paper. But this can be no reflection on the author. To expect the author to act in defiance of tradition and of current expectations and norms of modern philosophy – the authors adopted profession – is to expect the author to be entrepreneur in a tradition not used to or encouraging of such efforts, and where the parallels of business processes simply do not allow such defiant behavior. Expectation of entrepreneurial activity under such restrictive systems and norms is beyond that which can be expected of a reasonable person, demanding quite unreasonable behavior. Hence the two parts to the report.
Part 1: Consideration of the paper within norms and expectations of modern philosophy
I have done a significant amount of work on perception it is the foundation of my theory of knowledge (www.grlphilosophy.co.nz). This work is not mentioned, I am cautious at pressing my own work, but believe it contains views and argument of sufficient power to be worthy of consideration. I am no great supporter of scholarship, however it has two crucial functions: first to ensure one is aware of what has gone before and second that fair and reasonable recognition is accorded prior work. Beyond this, scholarship is frequently no more than a history lesson. My work was bought to the attention of some 1000 international universities, psychology departments, philosophy departments, and theoretical physics departments. If the author’s university was not on this list, then there remains some excuse. If it was, then the ignoring of work that argued even more forcefully that which is offered in this paper is an act of professional oversight bordering negligence.
That the paper is worth publication provided the following.
The author refer and consider that others have covered the same ground in greater detail, and that this (www.grlphilosophy.co.nz) work be integrated into the paper.
The title be changed to reflect the fact there is and will only be one theory of perception, at that point perception will not be ‘philosophy’, and will be ‘science’ (see the note on judgment and letting go, part 2 below)
That greater consideration is given the reader as regards abbreviations.
Modern philosophy is a system of behavioral norms, editorial policy, teaching policy and cognitive processes that have the combined affect of shaping the behavior of those in the system. As such, modern philosophy is similar to an organization, and while it is an informal organization, it still retains the core features of a paradigm and processes that dominate conduct. Commercial organizations are dominated by a blend of commercial paradigm, relating to the market and product etc, authority and power, and business processes. Often the system only makes sense from the inside, and only effectively challenged from the outside. It is this approach and understanding of commercial organizations that I have bought to bear on modern philosophy, both as philosopher who has wrestled with the ‘product’, namely the problems of philosophy, and as a ‘participant’ who has sought to get work published within the system (and failed). There are three main criticisms, all evident in the paper: inadequate strategic thinking; weak judgment criteria, and inadequate conceptual processes.
The need for better strategic thinking
There are two crucial aspects of strategic thinking.
The decision on direction.
Relating what I do today to where I want to get to tomorrow.
The strategic map of philosophy is quite clear. It is the range of problems and issues that remain unresolved: theory of knowledge, theory of perception, theory of psychology, interpretation of quantum electro dynamics and so on. Problems are then selected from opportunity and interest, and these can be quite personal decisions. From there, what is actually done needs bear some relationship with the overall strategic target, whether or not one is seeking to solve the overall issue, or resolve some detail within it. So if I work on ‘properties of things’, this must relate in some manner to problems of psychology, problems of perception, and problems of knowledge.
Variously through this paper these links are either ignored, or treated lightly, more lightly than they deserve. The result is that the paper overall is contributing to nothing, and has nothing to say except to those initiated who are doing the same thing in the same field. This results in a fragmented, walled strategic map where those within each of the walled rooms converse, and are politely attended to by those in different rooms.
The persuasive assumption underlying this position, and put to me indirectly at the Australasian Association of Philosophy Conference in Auckland, December 2001, ‘that I was looking to create a theory of everything’, the assumption is that it is possible to hold some things constant while working on others. Now in chemistry, the discipline in which I was trained, this holds. Temperature, acidity etc, held constant while something else varied. In philosophy this is simply not so, and cannot be done with any degree of certainty. This point is pursued more fully in the appendix, this to be posted at my web site by the end of February 2002.
The need for better judgment criteria
This is touched on above, where the author refers to what must be the only rational position then fails to follow through on it.
What should be done where, say perception is discussed without reference to photons?
What should be done where perception is discussed with no reference to interpretation and hence no reference to psychology?
What should be done where no matter the tradition, no matter the history, no matter opinion of vested interests, work is patently nonsense? Should journals forge better judgment policies? Does peer review really work in philosophy, which lacks the discipline that empiricism presses so firmly on science?
How is the judgment to be made? At my web site I explore the role and question of truth, and outline how judgment in science needs a breadth of input, this view pressing far beyond narrow and inadequate perspectives of empiricism, verifications, or falsification. But what of philosophy? What factors need be used to forge judgments? I have not the answers, but the issues are crucial to the development of philosophy and reinstating it to the role of intellectual inquisitor with the respect it deserves.
At root here is the issue of ‘letting go’. Philosophy is not a subject it is a process. So it cannot be ‘taught’ as a subject, to do so is to only ever teach the history of philosophy. I assert myself as a ‘philosopher’ in this context. My role is to be intellectual inquisitor, knowing that if effective, that which is currently ‘philosophy’ will become science, or living guidelines to people. For me, philosophy is an act of identifying assumptions and questions in current thought, bringing them forth for their resolution, often not by me. To those ‘in the system’, such a philosophy offers many threats, loss of funds, students, and kudos. But vested interest must be helped and resisted all at once.
In part also, the issue of conceptual and reasoning process, this considered below.
Is the process of this paper adequate?
Does it really make clear the issues?
Does it draw the boundaries of one domain of thought, say psychology, and others, say perception and knowledge? Should we expect this, and should we demand that this is the standard required?
The need for improved conceptual processes
The process used through the paper is a deconstruction of the arguments and
then review of those arguments. It is a process based on logical and deductive
argument. It is the only process used in this paper.
The process is likely appropriate for much philosophy, but where the topic is in fact a conceptual topic, not a linguistic argued topic, where it is effectively a scientific topic being considered, I suggest the process fails. The process has several problematic flaws.
There is not a natural way whereby the issues of one domain of thought, such as perception, impinge another, such as psychology.
There is no inherent pressure to follow where the conceptualization leads. It follows where the argument leads, so if the argument starts in the wrong place, this process will do nothing to alter the direction.
There is not the clear, simple and precise end result of a conceptual structure that parallels the process under review.
The process, because it is not conceptual will not naturally lead the thinker to questions like:
What is it I am thinking about? What is the variable? What is a photon? How do I understand these things?
These types of issues imply deeper questions: like what is the author trying
to achieve, what is the strategic intent here? If it is clarity of the process
of perception, then what is the conceptual structure of the process and what
changes are hereby proposed? These types of issues are where strategic intent
of the paper influences the choice of the thinking and conceptual processes
adopted, and also the judgment criteria adopted.
While there has been much written on thinking processes and scientific method, much has barely got beyond the position inherent in the work of Descartes. His rules of method seem to implicitly permeate much of the processes adopted, seeking to identify the simplest underlying structures, essential by a process of divide and rule. In a nutshell I do not think it works. We conceptualize, laying templates over the universe to order and catalogue it, then relating the changes into systems of thought enabling prediction. It bears no relation to what Descartes argued. That is because Descartes, genius as he was, did not have the benefit of several hundred years of effort by great minds on how we, as a species, work. This is where scholarship goes mad, we need be rid of such simplistic nonsense, acknowledging the founding fathers but pressing well beyond anything they could hope to achieve.
Imagine for example there was the clear strategy to conceptualize the universe, building and clarifying the conceptual structures that modeled the mechanisms of the universe. Given this as the inherent strategy, then this author could not possibly fail to follow through on clear founding statements that perception is a natural process etc (Point 3, part 1). Likely, others before had already specified this start point, then the tradition within which this paper was written would have been very different resulting in a much more effective contribution to our thinking and to the progress of that thinking. Following this, where philosophy is the intellectual inquisitor, the founding conceptual structure is first specified, then the assumptions assessed and reviewed, leading to revised concepts or to a completely new start point. This is a certain view of the role philosophical enquiry. Studies of any kind over what some other philosopher said, that being the only strategic purpose, is a work in the history of philosophy, and is not practicing philosophy. Within this philosophy of philosophy, science seeks to build conceptual models of the universe, while philosophical enquiry is to explore the explicit or implicit assumptions including the start points, and to reflect on methods and conceptual structure used in the endeavors of science.
At www.grlphilosophy.co.nz I discuss and develop a systematic method for achieving systematic conceptual structures aimed at providing models of the universe. This work is based on the work of W. Ross Ashby, extending his work and developing a theory of knowledge based on it, leading to the conceptual tools as outlined at the web site.
Within this perspective, within the philosophy of philosophy as outlined, the paper is marginal. In addition to the recommendations of part 1, it needs rewritten in the following ways
Strategy: Where does this paper fit and relate to issues in psychology and knowledge? What is the relevance of the paper to larger issues in philosophy? What exactly is this paper trying to achieve?
What is the conceptual base of the theory of perception under consideration? How does it account for perception, role of photon in sight perception, and the state of quantum electro dynamics in describing the photon and its proposed properties? How do the properties of the photon then relate and help account for sight perception?
Judgment: What criteria of judgment are to be used to assess whether or not we have achieved the goal, or made progress?
Method: Relative to point 1 and 2, what seems the best method? Why this one? How does method relate to the output and result? What will be the form of the output?
That this paper and the commentary be used to stimulate discussion of the issues raised with the intent of developing the sharpening the effectiveness and relevance of philosophy.
Direct contextual realism is not a familiar position nor often discussed. This paper develops this approach to perception by motivating the need to reconsider direct realism in the face of a typical argument against it. A carefully planned form of this attack is presented by John Foster’s The Nature of Perception. Foster defends idealism by mounting an epistemological attack against direct and representationalist theories of perception. The main argument Foster gives for direct realism’s inability to explain veridical perception is analyzed and criticized for containing a contradiction. Because this contradiction cannot be easily repaired but instead arises from Foster’s underlying assumptions, two conclusions follow. First, Foster’s ambitions for establishing idealism must be put on hold until a better argument against direct realism is developed. Second, the nature of Foster’s assumptions suggests the consideration of another type of direct realism that Foster ignores: direct contextual realism. Direct contextual realism holds that perception is a natural process of experience which contains a portion of the perceived object within that process. This kind of realism, clearly distinguished from naïve realism, is immune from the sort of epistemological argument offered by Foster, and deserves further examination before either representationalism or idealism can prevail.
Direct realist theories of perception do not receive much consideration today,
aside from cursory refutations that have appeared in the literature for decades.1
This paper develops one sophisticated type of direct realist theory, the "direct
contextual realism" theory of perception. The strategy for motivating the
need to give this theory due consideration first examines a typical attack on
direct realism to expose its self-contradiction, and second shows how to avoid
this contradiction through contextualizing perception. This contextualization
can support direct realism, and the metaphysical and epistemological principles
necessary for maintaining direct contextual realism are delineated. Direct contextual
realism may be vulnerable to other problems not considered here, but the literature
on perception has failed to deal with this significant and viable alternative.2
One notable example of how an otherwise careful treatment of perception ignores direct contextual realism is John Foster’s latest defense of idealism in The Nature of Perception.3 Foster takes an epistemological route to eliminating idealism’s competition. He argues that neither direct realism nor representational realism can satisfactorily explain some essential and uncontroversial facts about perception’s ability to convey knowledge. Foster then concludes that only the idealistic account of perception remains. Foster carefully defines two specific versions of realism, Strong Direct Realism (SDR) and Broad Representative Theory (BRT), so that they together exhaust the realist’s possibilities for explaining perception. His masterful elaboration of these alternatives and their failures indeed appears to leave the realist no other option but to contemplate, with Foster, how the physical objects perceived by the senses are dependent on the experiencing mind. However, Foster does not consider one legitimate type of realism, and its manner of accounting for perception of the natural world, and so his argument for idealism is incomplete. The neglected realism is contextual realism and its alternative account of perception shall be termed here the direct contextual realism theory of perception.
The nature of contextual realism itself will be deferred to the latter portions of this paper because it is not a widely familiar metaphysical position, and its definition can be best established by first developing direct contextual realism (DCR) in the process of criticizing Foster’s views. DCR holds that perception is a natural process of experience which contains a portion of the perceived object (typically its surface) within that process. So defined, DCR is a type of direct realism as Foster understands that option.
Because DCR holds that objects when perceived are within experience, it has similarities with the older form of direct realism called naïve realism most notably developed by Ralph B. Perry and his allies. Naïve realism, and all forms of direct realism, are perpetually accused of being already dangerously close to abandoning the field to idealism without much struggle. Realistic representationalists, by locating the perceived object beyond experience, often do regard their theory of perception as the only sensible version of realism that can fend off idealism. From the standpoint of direct realism, it is rather the representationalist who from the outset surrenders too much and must eventually collapse into idealism. Foster’s sophisticated attacks against BRT, requiring by my count around 150 pages, do deserve careful study; whether those attacks succeed are not my concern at present. Only the 40 pages or so which develop Foster’s best arguments against SDR are relevant to whether those arguments also defeat DCR. They do not, largely because Foster’s arguments require some assumptions about physical objects and perception which direct contextual realism rejects because of its alliance with contextual naturalism’s understanding of a natural process such as experience. Contextual naturalism and DCR are right to reject them. The first part of the paper demonstrates that two of Foster’s assumptions in particular lead to a contradiction: that we know some of the real qualities of perceivable objects, and that we can never know the real qualities of perceivable objects. The second part develops DCR’s avoidance of this contradiction, its legitimacy as a variety of direct realism which Foster ignores, and its dependence on contextual naturalism.
Foster’s reliance on a particular conception of the physical object can be exposed by examining his argument against the presentationalist type of SDR (pp. 60-70). This view holds that in perception, the phenomenal content’s qualities originate only in the "concrete external situation" (Foster’s phrase) which is available from the perception’s perspective on reality. Like any type of SDR, presentationalism (hereafter PSDR) holds that perception is not psychologically mediated in any way (in opposition to the mediation required by the representationalism of BRT). Were PSDR to fail to fully account for perception, Foster concludes that the SDR theorist must admit that in perception the phenomenal content’s qualities originate only in the internal mental conditions of the perceiver. The success of this line of argument towards internalism would be a major victory for Foster, since his plan is to next show that any internalist variety of SDR is compelled on pain of incoherence to abandon SDR in favor of BRT (pp. 72-91), and the arguments directed against BRT can then proceed. Because PSDR is the theory of perception discussed in Foster’s book most similar to direct contextual realism, and because DCR rejects the internalist option and BRT, a DCR theorist should take great interest in the argument Foster offers against presentationalism. The argument has the following outline:
According to PSDR, in every case of perception its qualitative content originates solely in the concrete external situation. (p. 60)
In a case of non-veridical perception, its qualitative content cannot originate solely in the concrete external situation. (pp. 61-64)
Any case of a veridical perception can be construed as a limiting case of a series of decreasingly non-veridical perceptions. (pp. 67-69)
There is no sufficient reason to suppose that in any case of putatively veridical perception the perceiver is really having a veridical perception instead of a nearby very similar non-veridical perception in the series. (pp. 69-70)
Hence, there is no sufficient reason to suppose that any perception is genuinely veridical.
Thus, to the best of our knowledge, every case of perception is a case of non-veridical perception.
Therefore, PSDR is completely false: in no case of perception can its qualitative content originate in the concrete external situation. (From 2 and 6)
While steps 3-6 are ingenious, and Foster’s moves here are quite revealing and will receive attention in due course, they should not be the DCR theorist’s primary focus. Rather, his argument for premise 2 ought to be inspected first. This appears to be Foster’s argument for premise 2:
An exploration of the direct realist’s options should involve retaining NV instead of immediately accepting the skepticism of NVP without good reason. If a theory of perception retains NV, that requires an acceptance of the conceptual apparatus involved: qualities of a perception’s content C, and a set R of real relevant qualities of the object against which the qualities of C may be compared. Furthermore, NV requires that both C and R be available to the perceiver in actual cases of perception, so that the perceiver may perform the act of comparison and pass judgment on whether a perception is veridical or not. Such judgment is hardly infallible or perfect all the time for all people; NV only commits the direct realist to explaining our actual (imperfect) capacities for deciding some cases of veridical/non-veridical perception where we succeed in doing so.
An object O that could be an object of attempted veridical perception has a determinate set R of relevant qualities. (VQ)
If a perceiver’s attempt to perceive O results in perception containing no qualities which are in R, then (by NV) that perception is non-veridical.
A perception which fails to perceive an object veridically fails to perceive any part of the object.
If an attempted perception fails to perceive any part of the object, then the object is not within the perceiver’s experience.
Therefore, DCR realism is false, since in a case of non-veridical perception no part of the object is within experience. (From 3 and 4)
The force of this argument could be evaded if direct contextual realism were to simply define "perception" as "veridical perception" but this would hardly be helpful for the philosophical enterprise of understanding perception in all of its complexity. The DCR theorist should instead challenge premise 3. Premise 3 is closely similar in spirit to premise 2d from Foster’s argument. Both take their plausibility from the root idea that if one of a perception’s qualities is not among the object’s determinate relevant qualities, then to that extent the perception cannot be of the object, but of something else. If none of a perception’s qualities are among the object’s determinate relevant qualities, then that perception is entirely of something other than the object. As we have seen, PSDR may well be forced into accepting this root idea. But why should direct contextual realism? DCR’s allegiance to the notion of non-knowing experience already means that even if a perception is a non-knowing experience, that perception can still be of an object’s part and not of something else entirely. DCR’s approach to non-veridical experience should likewise take the stand that such a perception can still be of a perceived object and not something else. This approach in essence seeks some middle ground between the all-or-nothing epistemological stance that either a perception of an object is completely accurate, or else that perception cannot really be of that object at all. This middle ground would provide for the possibility of partially accurate perception, in two senses: first, in the sense that some qualities of a perception perfectly match the object’s determinate qualities while others do not, and second, that the qualities of a perception, while not perfectly matching the object’s determinate qualities, do approximate those qualities to some degree.
But can DCR so easily reject premise 3? Consider the following argument for 3 which proceeds from OS. Again, let O be an object that could be the target of an attempted veridical perception.
3a. The set R of real relevant qualities of object O exhaust the concrete external situation for a perception. (OS) 3b. If a perception fails to perceive an object veridically in all relevant respects, then (by NV) that perception does not contain among its qualities any of R.
3c. If a perception fails to perceive an object veridically in all relevant respects, then that perception is not of the concrete external situation. (From 3a and 3b)
3d. If a perception is not of the concrete external situation, then that perception fails to perceive any part of an object.
3. Therefore, a perception which fails to perceive an object veridically fails to perceive any part of that object. (From 3c and 3d)
DCR should, like any direct realism, accept the spirit of premise 3d (even if
quibbling over its precise wording could be instructive). Instead, there is an
opportunity to pursue DCR’s protest against the excessive privileging of "real"
qualities by rejecting 3a (OS). Why should OS be accepted? It is curious that
Foster makes an (unconscious?) slide in phrasing from first describing the aim
of perception broadly as the "concrete external situation" (p. 60),
then as "the external item or situation" (p. 61), and finally as "the
item’s actual character" (p. 64). Be that as it may, Foster’s argument clearly
requires OS even though he does not justify it, and direct realism just as clearly
should reject it, as DCR does. But what exactly would an alternative to OS look
like? What else could a direct perception aim at, if not the actually existing
qualities of the perception’s intended object?
There are many possible ways of pursuing an alternative to OS. The inspiration underlying OS is, I think, that direct perception can only aim at what actually exists in the world, regardless of the degree to which any perception succeeds. Other non-direct theories of perception can add mediating "mental" factors, but Foster takes it that any such mediating factors must be extraneous to objective reality. Therefore, the rejection of OS is an opportunity raise the metaphysical question, which Foster ignores, of what precisely exists in the world to be perceived. The DCR theorist should pursue an alternative to OS which reinforces DCR’s commitments to the reality of non-knowing experience and to the idea that objects may have additional qualities in addition to those specified for the purpose of determining veridical perception. One of the best ways to provide reinforcement is to ground DCR on a type of naturalism which does not reduce the situation of perception to just those qualities or properties (hereafter used synonymously) deemed suitable for knowledge possessed by individual objects.
Consider this expansive way of understanding natural properties: contextual naturalism (CN). CN holds that an object’s properties exist dependently on some or all of the properties of other objects in the environment which are interacting with that object. CN is incompatible with conceiving any of an object’s properties as intrinsic or essential properties whose existence is not dependent on or relative to any property of anything else. There are less aggressive naturalisms that permit some kinds of essential properties, and DCR could be compatible with a mixed-mode naturalism that only says that any perceivable properties must be contextually dependent, while other non-perceivable properties are intrinsic. However, the vexed question of the relation between an object’s essential and contextual properties would have to then be answered. A DCR theorist is therefore well-advised to champion CN until sufficient reasons are forthcoming to accept essential properties or some similarly account of non-dependent properties. Such sufficient reasons may already have been provided (e.g. in philosophy of science), but a survey of this vast literature cannot be undertaken here.
The relationship between CN and DCR to explain perception can take one of three forms. If the perceiver is taken to be one of the interacting natural objects upon which a perceived object’s property P depends, then the "concrete external situation" perceived consists of the entire natural environment sustaining P. For example, if locating the nature of color in either the external world (such as in the surface spectral reflectance) or in the internal perceiver (such as in a particular type of brain process) proves to be too problematic, CN would recommend locating the color’s nature (for the type of color produced by reflectance) in the ambient light–reflectant object–sensitive perceiver interacting natural system.5 On the other hand, there could be good reason, for some particular perceivable property, to not take the perceiver as an interacting object that is partially responsible for a perceived object’s property. The shape of a wave on a lake is dependent on many surrounding environmental conditions from the force of gravity to the wind, but it is likely not dependent on a distant perceiver. The third possible case is the perception of an object’s property which is related and dependent only on the perceiver. It is difficult to conceive of an actual case of this type, but it is logically possible.
"You are looking to create a theory of everything?" Robert Nola,
Auckland University, December 2001, AAP conference presentation discussion.
The statement, as a question expressed concern with a hint of disbelief. Similar sentiments from a young philosopher from Cambridge, England who suggested, though without complete conviction, that by holding some issues constant other issues were then best handled one at a time.
My experience is that this simply does not work. First, at the core of all social science there is but one actor, people in their environment. Divisions past this point are arbitrary, conveniences to aid understanding, and while these aids should meet certain criteria of process, design and systematisation they are and remain conveniences. They are our conceptual designs placed on the world and do not necessarily come to us from the world. Which means they are interrelated. This much seemingly agreed even by the young man from Cambridge.
So the question of all or nothing reduces to the issue of whether or not, in the absence of understanding, can assumptions be made on some issues enabling other issues to be resolved individually? The answer is ‘yes, provided the answers arising from work on the isolated issues will not be influenced by any future work on the issues assumed or held constant". For example, in the absence of any agreed general theory of psychology, is it possible to determine upon questions of the nature and status of knowledge, how it comes to be, what it can and cannot tell us, etc?
To assume constancy of some items and then isolate and seek to resolve others depend on the issues assumed constant if resolved and understood, not then influencing the issues isolated and resolved within that isolation. For example, to seek solutions to questions on the nature of knowledge, in the absence of a general theory of psychology assumes that the development of a general theory of psychology will not influence understanding of knowledge and so will not influence the answers to the questions on knowledge developed in the absence of such a theory. The options seem to be first, that a general theory of psychology will tell us nothing of knowledge, this seems extreme, given that knowledge is created by people and as yet we have located no species that creates conceptual knowledge and shares it as we (no species yet located has university libraries or the equivalent). If it is then conceded that a general theory of psychology will influence answers on the issues of the nature and structure of knowledge, then to seek to isolate knowledge and answer the issues pertaining to knowledge requires that psychology be ignored, or assumptions made as to the nature of psychology and its relation to knowledge. In either of the latter, any answers to the issues of knowledge must be predicated on the future research that will develop a theory of psychology and the influence of that research on the understanding of knowledge. In short, in the absence of a general theory of psychology one can guess and play with knowledge, but not do work of certain value since the potential impact of a theory of psychology when finally created will always diminish the standing of the work.
Cause becomes embroiled in similar complexity. To seek the cause is to seek necessary antecedents. What can or do we know of any and all antecedents? All that we do and can know is through our knowledge of them. No matter how we examine things, no matter what we try or use, knowledge exists between the universe and us. Then is cause independent of our knowledge? Likely, but is our understanding of cause independent of our knowledge? No, it is not. If we fully understood knowledge, would this influence our understanding of cause? If our understanding of cause is knowledge, and if we properly and fully understood knowledge, then understanding of cause would and must be influenced by that understanding of knowledge. To claim otherwise is to claim that our understanding of cause is not knowledge, or that our understanding of cause does not depend on any future understanding of knowledge. Both situations seem to me to be untenable, though doubtless there are those who will pursue such devious argument.
What we know of cause can only be knowledge, what we know of knowledge can only be knowledge, therefore what we know of knowledge must influence how we perceive and understand knowledge and cause. Discussion of cause in the absence of a general theory of knowledge must proceed predicated on the potential impact of development of such a theory on our understanding of cause, that is understanding of variable, constant conjunction, antecedent, and so on.
We now have a general theory of cause, general theory of psychology, and general theory of knowledge linked in an interactive complexity, impossible to keep two constant and deal with one, for answers to any one will influence the answers and understanding of the third.
The only process able to deal with this complexity being iterative, with any potential solution to one issue being carried around the loop to explain and understand the other two. If a theory of one does not flow and unravel into understanding of the other two then that theory must be held in most cautious regard.
If a conceptual system were developed that offered explanation of the three, what would then be also explained?
Physics is knowledge, therefore the relation physics theories make with the universe, can only be specific examples of the general issue of the relation all knowledge makes to the universe. It follows that any interpretation of quantum electro dynamics, in the absence of a general theory of knowledge is no more than guess work and speculation. Within physics, mathematics is generally used as the tool to lead the conceptualisation process (E=mc² was written long before it was discovered). Why is this so, why should any aspect of knowledge be able to so parallel the universe? Is it intrinsic to the universe, or to our knowledge of it? We only know the universe via our knowledge of it; therefore the question has validity, resolving all three will impact this question and our understanding of it.
What are the antecedents of consciousness, and of our psychology? What can we know of human behaviour and what can we ever predict? All these issues embedded in the complexity.
If we unravel understanding of knowledge within the framework of the complexity, such that cause and psychology are also understood, then this system is likely to offer direction as to what exists; this on the basis that knowledge arises partly from our psychology, and partly from the fundamental structure of the universe. To argue otherwise is to argue that the universe has no influence on our creation of knowledge. This to me seems unlikely, at very least it must be conceded that the universe influences our knowledge of it, this influence necessarily being defined and at least partly resolved within any adequate general theory of knowledge. Thus there is the real potential that resolving the complexity will resolve issues of ontology, and if so, then address fundamental issues on how and in what manner time exists and whether or not there is a thing called space-time.
Cause, knowledge, psychology, consciousness, quantum mechanics, time, and conceptualisation all impacted, all influenced, and all partly necessarily unravelled by resolving the complexity of a general theory of psychology, cause and knowledge.
I see little choice that the issues will be and can only be resolved together. Separately, the interrelatedness will constantly undermine any work that isolates any variable, for to isolate one-issue forces assumptions as to the others, and those assumptions will always be suspect and uncertain awaiting the development of the theory offering understanding beyond the assumptions. There will always be the nagging doubt ‘but what if the assumptions be wrong’, and there will always be counter assumptions that lead in different directions, and in the absence of understanding judgment is left the loser.
We either create a theory of everything or speculate and build towers on sand.