« The Harm In Astrology | Main | Religulous »

October 02, 2008


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I think I would disagree with the notion that we don't learn anything from case number 2. It would seem that we would at least learn something, failure doesn't always mean gaining no new information.

In fact, I recall Stephen Hawking saying something along the lines that if CERN's Large Hadron Collider fails at detecting what it is predicted to then it would be an even greater scientific advancement because something would be wrong with our existing models.

In most cases more is learned from failure than success.

Strictly speaking, the test of unfalsifiability can only be usefully applied to contingent truths.

Consider a very, very broad proposition you think everyone can agree upon, such as the proposition "something exists". It's true, but because it's necessarily true (there's no situation we can think of in which it might be false), it's also unfalsifiable.

I'd submit that Subjective Idealism is an idea that, if true, would be necessarily true and, if not, would be necessarily not true. As such, the criterion of falsifiability doesn't allow us to immediately discard it. Don't get me wrong: I'm as much a realist as the next guy. But I don't think your argument against idealism is convincing.

So wait, isn't a law that which is disprovable, but not disproven?

you can't just wake up one day and say "this is a law" just because you think it's true.

How many LAWS are there? not that many, really. Law of gravity, thermodynamics (the one that really pisses in everyone's cheerios) and a few others are what i can rattle off.

But even ELECTROMAGNETISM is still a THEORY. relativity is still a theory. Evolution is STILL a theory.

These huge technological and scientific breakthroughs that we couldn't live without, all STILL JUST THEORIES. not laws. And these freaking new age greedy pigs can just wake up one day and call some idea they had last night while shrooming to led zepplin is a freaking LAW?

they fought the law.
and the law won.

Generally, the term "law" is applied to a precise relationship which can be expressed in a concise mathematical form, whereas the term "theory" is used to refer to the explanatory framework in which laws are embedded. Electromagnetism is a theory which includes a number of laws in a wider explanatory framework. Scientific theories are not "just theories".

The thing about both subjective and objective idealism is that if they are truly unfalsifiable, they are therefore meaningless. If there is no way you could even hypothetically tell the difference, then there is no difference.

Personally, I think the whole argument is missing the point. There is subjective reality (reality as personally experienced by an individual) and objective reality (the actual real world, which we can't experience directly). The two frequently diverge, but if they come into serious conflict, objective reality wins. We all live in mental models of the world, but those models depend entirely on the objectively real, material world for their existence. Objective reality is hardware, subjective reality is software.

Dear Skeptico,
While I think its valuable to look at the provenance of this kind of thinking, I think it's also important to take "Coburn's" motivation into account. He wasn't really arguing for that position, rather he was just looking for an excuse to bash people, and that argument seemed to him to be the safest.

"Please note carefully here, that I am not insisting that any of this is so, merely that, as things currently stand, neither you nor anyone else can prove that it is not so. Your broadly demonstrated arrogance therefore is simply that; you abrogate to yourself, an absolute knowledge that you....simply do not...have."

1. None of the people he was accusing were claiming "absolute knowledge"; and

2. If he was serious about his own statements there, he would have attacked the only person who really WAS arrogant and stupid enough to claim irrefutable knowledge - that was Mora.

Instead, I think he was just trying to find a way to occupy the moral high ground so he could vent his anger, while hoping to avoid any kind of content-filled confrontation. As I see it, the only way you, Jimmy and others have been able to respond in such an intelligent and worthwhile manner, is by first defining his position as if he had some kind of integrity.

Not that I want to go all logical positivist on yo' ass, but I've always thought that the idealist/realist squabble was a bit of a non-question. A subjective universe looks and behaves in exactly the same way as an objective one, so why worry which it is?

I don't think believers in the Secret would have any more support from Berkeley than they have from quantum physicists. Berkeley's reality isn't any more hospitable than a materialist's reality is to the Law of Attraction just because it's grounded in the mind.

Berkeley merely argued that positing material substance was an error from the get-go. No one has ever or could ever observe or interact directly with material substance; we have only streams of subjective impressions to work with. In his view, the burden of proof was on the person claiming that something existed independent of his impressions, something which no one could possibly have any special awareness of. The whole mind-body problem was just a symptom of this misstep.

As you and other commenters have pointed out, to us this reality is effectively identical to a material reality. Berkeley simply thought that adding material substance to the picture was a superfluous and unnecessary step; we're better off without it.

The position of Subjective Idealism doesn't grant us any special influence over reality. Things are still governed by the same laws (though they require a divine source, which is where Berkeley loses me).

Like quantum physics it just sounds fuzzier and more ambiguous at first, so Secret believers get an inch and run with it.

The Secret's version of this could be easily refuted. Have three groups, those who wish to receive $10,000 today or this week, those who actively wish not to, and a third group that doesn't know what is being tested, and see how many in each get at least $1000 without working for it.

Classical idealism was already tested by Kepler. The theory predicted that planetary orbits would be perfect geometric shapes, perhaps all perfect circles, or, in Kepler views, each planet's a different shapes. What he found falsified the prediction.

Here is something that at least suggests a possible means of arguing against solipism. One of the early foes of the Fantastic Four was the Molecule Master, who had the power of disassembling and reassembling atoms into any shape he willed (I suppose Stan Lee thought his nom de guerre more threatening than the Atom Arranger). However, he explained, he could make a palace for himself, but not one with working bathrooms because he had no idea how plumbing actually worked. For the same reason he could not make living beings.Although I suppose it might be possible that I only imagine that the plumbing here works (as I've no idea how it does), or this computer, or many other things, its hard to see how I could imagine a language like French or Ancient Egyptian that I have some familiarity with but cannot read fluently, but that I can painstakingly work my way through and eventually I find out it always obeys logical rules and patterns and rules that I don't necessarily know but which I understand once someone else (or a grammar) explains them to me. In other words, the world is just too complex to be imagined by a single human mind, since no mind can begin to understand the whole thing, and the idea that it has no independent reality becomes more and more unlilkely as you approach the boundary between understanding and not understanding. you could still insist that all of that is imaginary, but it would be the same as saying that the speaker understands whatsoever about reality, and then what position would he be in to argue in favor of solipsim or any other position?


You seem sincere and well meaning, so please look up the scientific usage of Law and Theory on wikipedia. They have meanings quite different that you've been led to believe by popular culture.

Skeptico- I'm not sure your cases are correct. Or, they may be correct but incomplete. 1 and 2 are both fine as they describe naturalist reality, but 2 would only be correct for Idealists if they knew that they had made an error. If they thought they had done everything correctly, they would get the same results as 1. If we assume that 2 is correct and they know they erred, then there should be a 3rd case where they made an error and did not know it.

There may be some further problems with this from an Idealist perspective, but if its possible for an Idealist to fail at anything (I don't mean falsifiable here) then it must be possible to fail with the right calculations and succeed with the bad calculations - if its all in your head.

Should have read this post before I commented on the other one. It also shows why I don't comment much: Usually someone says it better than I can.

buford: maybe what you say proves "reality is real" and not just something made up by the mind: if they don't know they made a mistake, their minds will expect to get the data from mars,wouldn't that "force the output" of a good result in spite of the error in the calculations?. I mean, if they are convinced they did it right, why aren't they getting the data from mars?.
because it doesn't matter what their minds think because reality operates independently of their minds, they made a mistake in the calculations based on universal laws -> therefore they fail and the mars probe crashes or misses the planet.

Helena Constantine suggested:
"The Secret's version of this could be easily refuted. Have three groups, those who wish to receive $10,000 today or this week, those who actively wish not to, and a third group that doesn't know what is being tested, and see how many in each get at least $1000 without working for it."

That could be made even more realistic, using the case of David Schirmer, the guy from The Secret who told people to visualise money appearing in their mailbox.

Have one group pay Schirmer $10,000 with the understanding that he'll invest $5,000 for them and they'll get it back with 500% interest in 3 years. Have second group visualise getting $10,000 given to them without working, and have the third group act as lawyers for the first group, trying to determine if he really did invest it, and whether or not his promises are legally binding.

Then see who finishes up the richest.

Why doesn't Mr Shirmer put his money where his mouth is?

Why doesn't he publicly give away all his money and assets, knowing he can get it all back in short order with his magic mind?

I understand he's sold his house and is thinking of moving to the US to "start fresh". (And maybe to get away from the fraud squad who is investigating him.) Bob Proctor just won a court case to stop Schirmer from claiming any association with him, and Vitale is also distancing himself from him. Funny how they all seem to need lawyers to prevent themselves from attracting shit into their lives, isn't it.


Sounds like new age thinking, useless.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Search site