2

I am not talking about miracles, religious revelation, or artistic expression, but something more mundane. There is a lot of "empirical" evidence that the Riemann hypothesis is true, the scare quotes indicate that the source of the evidence is "mathematical intuition". In psychology there are mental states that no one sees, touches, hears, smells or tastes, qualia with their perceptual fullness that can not be conceptualized or directly communicated, and abilities/skills "know how" with the same problem. In linguistics Kripke's theory of reference relies on "modal intuitions" to decide the truth of counterfactuals. But an empirical counterfactual is an oxymoron, especially when it is embedded into an entire "possible world".

Freudian psychoanalysis and Husserlian phenomenology are attempts to deal with some of them systematically, but they are traditionally confined to the fringe of science at best. The mainstream approach is empirical second hand, but behaviorism in psychology and linguistics, and nominalism in mathematics were not very productive.

According to the naturalized epistemology there is no a priori "first philosophy" of science, methodology is subject to the "tribunal of experience" and revision, just as the science itself. Should it apply to non-empirical experience? Sense empiricism has served science well for centuries, and was fully embraced by Quine. Zammito takes him to task for it:"Cognitive science is an empirical science working to unearth the mechanisms through which natural language constitutes itself. That account has had to recognize the indispensability of mental states, of beliefs, if it is ever to become adequate to the problem... There is still too much "first philosophy" in Quine. We must rescue naturalized epistemology from its own founder". Note the use of "empirical" together with "mental states".

Questions: Does naturalized epistemology dictate that natural science should relax sense empiricism, and approach non-empirical phenomena partly first hand? If so, how can the scientific method be adapted to introspective/intuitive phenomena that are not readily reproducible, manipulable, measurable, and/or publicly accessible? What would play the selective role of empirical testing? Can there be non-empirical (more likely, not entirely empirical) natural science?

  • What ever do you mean by "naturalized" study of knowledge and "non-empirical phenomena"? The latter seems explicitic oxymoron. There is an epistemic limit to self-knowledge. It can be agreed when one states "I feel glad" or "my intuition tells me such and such" but there is no way for any other to empirically verify (read: know) these statements as corresponding to the case which they state. – Mr. Kennedy Dec 10 '16 at 1:20
  • Also, Scientific method is adapted to psychology yet the case remains that the conclusions from psychology are not confirmation of hypothesis and hence, psychology only "scientific" (a pseudo-science) in the same way all existing circles are only "circular" and not instantiations of all points two-dimensionally equidistant from a point (pace Euclid). – Mr. Kennedy Dec 10 '16 at 1:20
5

You've mixed a number of unrelated things together as "non-empirical phenomena", and the answers are different for each one, much like the answers would be different for how law deals with "non-larceny".

When it comes to mathematical proofs, you start off knowing that you can't know empirically whether the Riemann hypothesis is true. So you can gather evidence about where it holds, and reason or experiment or analyze data based on that. But it's just science at that point--it's going the wrong way, in a sense, from a more reliable way to know things (in a very limited domain) to a less reliable one.

Qualia are phenomena that require some sort of explanation, just as our ability to see blue does. Science can use normal evidence-based approaches (e.g. Popperian falsification). It's worked reasonably well for neuroscience so far, though we know that we don't know anywhere near enough about the workings of brains to nail down what qualia are and how they are caused. So there isn't anything to see there--but you can certainly do empirical studies to verify that the phenomenon (that people report qualia) is true!

Counterfactuals are different yet again, having to do more with the relationship between models of reality and reality than any particular empirical study. It's not clear to me that the interesting cognitive science thing about counterfactuals is that they don't correspond to reality because nothing needs to correspond to reality in the brain (what is remarkable is that many things do!). And so it's not clear to me that there is even a phenomenon there that you're studying.

The bottom line, though, is that there is no particularly good reason, either from first principles or empirically, that you can build a robust base of knowledge on top of non-reproducible, non-quantifiable phenomena. Even if we adopt the most radical interpretation of Feyerabend's "anything goes" approach to the philosophy of science, it was "anything goes that works", and we haven't any indication that it works.

So while I am not sufficiently familiar with the tenets of naturalized epistemology to be sure about what they say, the answer from those fields where naturalized epistemology is supposed to draw inspiration is "no".

  • They are related by their source in introspection/intuition, which present the methodological challenge. For example, neuroscience is not in a position to link behavior or cognition to physiology directly, and intermediate description relies on "theories" of folk psychology. They "work", but taking them at face value worked badly for neuroscience in the last decade.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24979469 It is they that have to be refined first, and that means dealing with introspection first hand. Anything does not go, but falsification does have to be diffused. The question is how? – Conifold Mar 8 '16 at 1:53
  • @Conifold - When has abandoning falsification--or something logically equivalent to falsification but with a more convenient methodology--been a key step in understanding a tremendously complex process? (Also, I don't take that paper very seriously--they make a large number of rhetorical points without even strong argument to back them up in many cases, e.g. that intention does not have an onset.) In everything from climate modeling to prey capture, it has been precisely the detailed tests against data that have led the way forward. So the natural epistemologist should reject the premise. – Rex Kerr Mar 8 '16 at 16:34
  • Oh--and I don't agree that the Riemann hypothesis is anything like the others unless you're doing meta-analysis: "when experts believe something is true, even if they can't prove it, it's probably true". Maybe? But now we're not studying the thing itself, but rather our attitude towards studied things for which there isn't yet a clear answer. I'm not sure there are any cases where studying the attitude, rather than the thing, can provide deep insight into the thing. (When attitude or impression is the thing under study, then it is different, of course!) – Rex Kerr Mar 8 '16 at 16:37
  • Falsification is at best a moral ideal even in physics, but it especially doesn't apply to sciences with limited access and control (psychology, sociology, economics, linguistics). Nor does it address the key issue, generation of reasonable hypotheses, on that Popper absurdly agrees with Feyerabend. Design and interpretational errors in Libet-type experiments are widely acknowledged, as is their source, home grown ideas about mind ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20572769. – Conifold Mar 10 '16 at 2:06
  • It's not that falsification isn't desirable if it can be had, but in vague settings, those involving introspection especially, shaping of hypotheses has to work with far less, so it better get more advice than anything goes. Popper's "idea" that we can only do science where falsification is available is what left neuroscientists stuck with folk psychology for hypotheses generator. Even psychoanalysis and phenomenology are an improvement on that. Another example of this effect is AI research, which embarrassingly had to turn to... Heidegger. leidlmair.at/doc/whyheideggerianaifailed.pdf – Conifold Mar 10 '16 at 2:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.