Between a metaphysical horned entity and an undulating patch of blue
The historically influential ideas in science I've described are all consonant with Empiricism. This notion has been a philosophical constant, even as different theories and justifications of science and scientific method arose, revolved around it, and fell away with new turns of history. The connection between science and empiricism has become identification - empiricism is spoken of as the methodology of science.
But from Hume's quite specific (and contingent) difficulty with causation, through to logical positivism's broad (and necessary?) demarcation of science, it's possible to separate the preoccupations of philosophers and those of scientists. The former have managed, despite the success of the latter, to put into doubt one or other part of the narrative (for want of a better word) of what constitutes science and its method. The difficulties have been negotiated rather than resolved. Which leaves the state of play where?
At a time when reinterpreting concepts like "causation" is seen as methodologically viable, then abolishing referents in favour of interpretations obtains legitimacy as a means of justification. But it also sets the stage for interpreting observational evidence, the basic raw material of science, with the focus on consistency with extant interpretations. The logic of some contemporary scientific explanations would not particularly disconcert ancient Greeks, who explained events in terms of the action of divers gods on obdurate matter.
If being seen to dabble with occult agencies is unacceptable to scientists, it may be thought that Anderson's option is viable - is it such a big deal for a scientist to hack up a bit of code? An ontology-free science would still be able to distinguishing itself from myths of sundry sorts, while demonstrating superior efficacy in practise.
Anderson's thesis of the "end of theory" is the logical consequence of letting philosophical Empiricism set the agenda for the "reflective practise" (to use a current buzz-word) of scientists. In effect it is not very different from the conclusion reached by Bishop Berkeley, Hume's philosophical predecessor, in regard to knowledge - things exist only as long as I am perceiving them.
Anderson has recognized that when instruments take the measurements for science, human perception is no longer relevant within the Berkelian epistemology. Cue Occam's razor. The novelty in Anderson's thesis is the assertion that technology has advanced to the point where the empiricist theory of knowledge can be executed as a practical program. Concerns about job security are the least of it. But then Anderson is not doing science, but metaphysics.
However, Anderson's identification of Google, everyone's favourite internet research tool, as his engine of choice for the destruction of science is not the only way forward. The alternative suggested here is to revisit the premises of the historical arguments - and reject empiricism as a metaphysical basis for science. Its disjunction of logic and experience as accounting fully for the sources of knowledge remains an open invitation to all-comers. Hume effectively knew it, and there is no stigma attached to citing Hume, as his rigour and subtlety as a philosopher continues to inspire even today.
So the irony is that science, having made its tribal lay with the philosophical school of empiricism over three centuries ago, and seemingly having derived sustenance from it, now has to kill it to go forward. The alternative for scientific theorising, if Anderson is correct, is to be killed by it - by it and Google.
Never has hard thinking been more required.®
Schrödinger's cat again
The Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment underlines the problem with a lot of the statements about "QM is wrong and GR is right" or reverse.
The statement that these 2 theories are in conflict is based on specific interpretations of the theories - not necessarily on the theories themselves.
To take the example of Schrödinger's cat, the comments above have given several definitions of what constitutes an "observer".
- a human
- an intelligent machine
- any mechanism that could be used by a human or an intelligent machine to observe the outcome.
What is obviously missing from this list is
- the cat
- the fleas on the cat
- the bacteria that live on the cat
So the interpretation of what this classical theoretical scenario means is open for debate.
Depending on which of these definitions of "an observer" you use, your interpretation of QM is very different.
So is the conflict between QM and GR a real conflict or a conflict based on interpretation?
Hmmmmm. Interesting theory, that science is dead. Likely there's something
wrong with the Platonic perfection required by this conclusion, which is regularly exceeded by reality.
Re: re QM, GR and consistency
"If A is inconsistent with B, and if A, then not-B. This is a theorem of logic,"
It's certainly a logical theorem, but is in not an accurate description of the relationship between QM and relativity and if your logic system only allows for the possibility of TRUE and FALSE, it's not going to be much use if you want to talk about QM. You need to allow for a superposition of states where the answer is a combination of both TRUE and FALSE - which neatly gets around the percieved inconsistency between the two theories.
"re "when instruments take the measurements for science, human perception is no longer relevant within the Berkelian epistemology." Steve writes "And who reads the instrument? That's right, a human." One paper by the (very pro-physics) logical positivist philosopher Carnap has an appendix in which he speculates on science being done by machines - it dates from the 1950's (I don't have the reference to hand), and post-dates Schrodinger's cat."
That's nice, I have papers by Iain M. Banks, Arthur C Clarke and others that deal with similar issues. For a machine to carry out scientific research, it would either need to be programmed to do so or it must be some form of AI that decided it was curious and started investigating on it's own. But, that just puts it in the position of the human in your quote. It has awareness of the experiment because of a change in a sensor which is part of the experiment causes a series of signals until we reach the point that the observer is conciously aware of the change. How is it different if the observer is an organic intelligence rather than a synthetic intelligence?
The second problem is that experiments with inteference patterns (Young's double slits) have shown that the result of an experiment can be determined by the amount of knowledge that the observer can gather about the situation. Light is released, one photon at a time, towards a barrier with two slits in it. The light can behave as a wave, pass through both and interfere or behave as a particle and just pass through one. If you put a sensor on one of slits, the photon always behaves as a particle. Turn it off, and the photon behaves like a wave. Turn it on after the photon has already left the source and passed through the slits and it will still cause the photon to behave like a particle. The existence of information that could reveal the route to an observer affects the route taken by the photon even though it should have passed through the slits (choosing wave or particle reality) before it "knew" whether the detector was on or off.
Also, since Berkeley maintained that sensible objects can only exist when being perceived, surely the human/AI observer's perceptions will always be relevant. Otherwise we just spread out into a big squishy, uncollapsed probability wave - and yes, "squishy" is a technical term.
"Your Room 101 would need to hold more than Anderson and Kurzweil."
The world has never been short of wide-eyed wankers.