Tuesday, June 06, 2006

What is "Natural Regularity"?

Pauls Nelson's view:
It is synonymous with "physical regularity" and the following are genuine physical regularities:
-- the principle of superposition in stratigraphy
-- Newton’s second law
-- the speed of light in a vacuum
-- Maxwell’s equations
And so on. Physical regularities can be described in equations or simple relations.

I found this quotation from Michael Ruse which seems to agree...
"Science is an attempt to understand the physical world, primarily through law, that is, through unbroken natural regularity." (Montagu, pg. 328)

Also from this page:
http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~alatus/phil1200/CT4Fallacies.html

In discussing the following argument:
As scientists have shown us, the world is a well regulated place. They have discovered many laws of physics (such as the law of mass conservation). But everyone knows that you cannot have laws without a lawmaker. There must therefore be a Supreme Lawmaker. In spite of their anti-religious tendencies, then, scientists have actually helped to prove the existence of God.

The author says:
This argument commits the fallacy of equivocation. In the second sentence, law means something like 'natural regularity'. In the third sentence, it means something like 'a command made by a governing body or person'

This fits with the above senses of the phrase.

25 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This definition of "natural regularity" is ludicrously restrictive. Can the behaviour of any mammal "be described in equations or simple relations"? No!

They are, of course explainable through more complex scientific theories, but then so is human intelligence.

Nelson's definition appears to exclude all scientific fields beyond physics and chemistry (and probably excludes some chunks of those as well).

Natural intelligence is a "natural regularity" (by any meaningful definition of this term).

Paul Nelson's lying (in stating quite clearly that Miller did not accept that a thief was involved, when Miller equally clearly did accept this) was simply an attempt to distract attention from the sheer inanity of his own position.

12:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As scientists have shown us, the world is a well regulated place. They have discovered many laws of physics (such as the law of mass conservation). But everyone knows that you cannot have laws without a lawmaker. There must therefore be a Supreme Lawmaker."

Natural laws mean, at a heavily simplified level, that what happened yesterday will also happen tomorrow (Sun will rise, apples will fall from trees, water will boil if you heat it, etc). Please explain to me how this requires the interference of a Supreme Lawmaker?

You appear to be playing rhetorical games around different definitions of the word "law". A very cheap shot!

12:38 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Anonymous,

You have misunderstood the purpose of that quotation. I did not insert it because I agree with it. (Actually I agree with the authour who attacked it on the original website where I found it) I inserted it as a piece of evidence about the meaning of the term "natural regularity". So it was not a cheap shot nor am I playing rhetorical games.

Please note the words in which I framed that quote.

12:43 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Anonymous,

Just out of interest... do you believe that you have any ultimate control over the patterns of neurones firing in your brain?

In other words is your thought/emotions/will reducible to patterns of neurones firing & synapses being made or removed?

Do you believe yourself to be a very complex bit of computer software?

In this post I was trying to get at the meaning of the term "natural regularity". Do you believe that it is synonymous with "natural law"

Do you believe that the term natural regularity is just a term to describe anything that happens in nature? ie Everything that can happen in nature = a natural regularity.

1:07 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Natural intelligence is a "natural regularity"

Is every instance of human thought feeling and action a natural regularity?

It seems to me that Paul Nelson was complaining about the elasticity of Keith Millers usage of the term...

What I would like to know is whether there is a standard philosophical usage of the term.

1:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Just out of interest... do you believe that you have any ultimate control over the patterns of neurones firing in your brain?"

I believe that the question is meaningless. Our neurons firing are how we control our brains. At this level, we are our neurons firing.

You appear to be indulging in the same form of meaningless handwaving that Nelson is guilty of.

Is the behaviour of mammals a "natural regularity"?

If so, how can this "be described in equations or simple relations"?

Also, how can this be shown to be qualitatively different (as opposed to simply more complex than) from human behaviour?

1:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Is every instance of human thought feeling and action a natural regularity?"

Yes, in that they can, at least potentially, be described by the fields of neurology and psychology.

To believe otherwise is to attempt to reintroduce a belief in some form of Cartesian dualism (a viewpoint that no longer has much acceptance in philosophy, and even less in science).

1:42 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

"Is every instance of human thought feeling and action a natural regularity?"

Yes, in that they can, at least potentially, be described by the fields of neurology and psychology.

How do you know ...

Just because 21st century science and philosophy reject a view ...does that make it wrong?

1:48 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Anonymous,
"Our neurons firing are how we control our brains. At this level, we are our neurons firing."


Prove it. Peer reviewed and conclusive data please.

1:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"How do you know ..."

Because thoughts are simply neuron firing. The study of how brains work, including how neurons fire, is part of the field of neurology. So I therefore have every reason to assume that all thoughts are explainable.

You have presented no evidence why I should believe otherwise. You are simply playing the "God of the gaps" card - which has zero philosophic or scientific credibility.

2:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Prove it. Peer reviewed and conclusive data please."

Why should I prove it? You asked a question. I ventured an opinion that it was a particularly silly question. I do not need to provide "peer reviewed and conclusive data" in order to hold such an opinion, particularly when the question presumed, as an implicit assumption, a long-discredited philosophic viewpoint.

I would further point out that you have cited no evidence that Nelson's inane and inadequate definition has any acceptance in the field of Philosophy of Science.

Further, I would point out that you have repeatedly ducked the subject of the obvious shortcomings of Nelson's definition, even when asked direct questions on the subject.

2:15 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

thoughts are simply neuron firing..

Likewise, emotions, choices, imagination, complex logic????

Again I say ... prove it.

I am convinced you need pre-existing intelligence to fill the gaps ... you are convinced that nature has no gaps....which conviction is more reasonable at this stage in history? At present the gaps are really there and any sensible neurologist will tell you that they are huge.

2:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Again I say ... prove it."

Andrew, if you want it explained to you why Cartesian dualism (the viewpoint that underlies all your inane questions, and demands for proof) has been discredited, then take a course in Philosophy of Mind. I do not comment on your blog to relieve your general ignorance, but to point out holes in your specific positions, in this case Nelson's inane and inadequate definition.

If you are unwilling to discuss the shortcomings of this definition, then why did you blog on the topic?

To be bluntly honest, I cannot see many Philosophers of Science or Philosophers of Mind accepting Nelson's "Natural Regularity"/Intelligence mutual exclusivity, or his underlying definition.

2:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Likewise, emotions, choices, imagination, complex logic????"

Animals have been shown to possess emotions (most clearly with great apes). Animals clearly make choices. Experiments on chimps have shown them capable of imagining the likely response of other chimps, and modifying their strategies accordingly. "Complex logic" is cleary merely a more complicated form of simple logic, which animals (such as the chimps cited above) do display. In any case, it is often unclear whether many humans are capable of complex logic.

If animals exhibit these features, then how can they not be considered "natural regularities"?

And no, I can't be bothered tracking down citations for any of the above. None of my above claims are particularly controversial, so I see little reason to waste time on documenting them.

2:50 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Anonymous,

I am genuinely interested in researching the standard and accepted meaning of the term and that is why I blogged on it. I did a 30min or so search of the web for usage examples and gave the two that I found most helpful.

Presumably you have some philosophical training... would you care to point me in the direction of the best text for getting me up to speed on what a natural regularity is... or are you aware of some web pages that would help me?

I am sorry that I appear generally ignorant and full of inane questions but I do feel strongly that the nub of the argument is whether we classify human intelligence as a natural regularity or not and I am very interested in the historic and standard usage of the term.

Feel free to ignore my "prove its" I just do that when I think some one is confidently advocating a position which I reckon is weak on real data.

2:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew, I haven't studied Philosophy of Mind in over ten years, so my ability to make specific recommendations is limited (the one philosopher that does stick in my mind, Wittgenstein, I found highly irritating in writing style, and occasionally obviously wrong in content).

Dualism (whose biggest post-Classical proponent was Descartes) has largely been superceded by various forms of Monism (such as Behaviorism, Identity theory, Functionalism, Nonreductive physicalism & Eliminative materialism) in Philosophy. Functionalism seems to be the current dominant view, names worth looking at are Hilary Putnam, D. M. Armstrong, Daniel Dennett & (subject to above reservations) Wittgenstein.

You might also wish to take a look at the Compatabilist rejection of the concept of free will of the likes of David Hume and Daniel Dennett.

I haven't read any of Nelson's writings, but the quotes from him that have been floating about due to the Nelson/Miller issue seem to indicate that his viewpoint is very reminiscent of dualism (which, if true, would put him well outside the modern philosophic mainstream).

5:01 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Anonymous,

Do you view changes in Philosophical views in the same way as scientific progress?

I suspect that Paul Nelson and myself see Orthodox Christianity as committed to some form of dualism.. I suspect that Keith Miller is also a dualist.

10:21 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dualism may still be accepted in Theological circles, but I rather doubt if it has much credibility left in Philosophy of Mind, and even less in Philosophy of Science.

11:01 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wittgenstein's work quite clearly outlines the flaws in Cartesian Dualism, as annoying as it may be to read.

I suggest you read it, or a summary of it, as it led to the entire school of modern Post-Cartesian philosophy, and was one of the greater turning points in the subject.

Bear in mind, of course, that his work was the first tentative step into that realm, and his ideas have been refined since.

You would be hard-pressed to find a professor of philosophy with any interest or belief in Cartesian philosophy these days.

-A different Anonymous.

12:23 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

I am convinced you need pre-existing intelligence to fill the gaps

So human brains exhibit intelligence because there's some structure (the soul?) out there that already has intelligence? Isn't this a bit circular?

Or are you happy with the idea that intelligence can arise from complex structures and it's just the human brain that you feel is inadequate?

12:59 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Anonymous and a different Anonymous,

Do you believe that Post Cartesian Philosophy is true or is it just the current popular fashion? Ie has dualism been demonstrated to be untrue... or just unpopular amongst the current philosophical bigwigs?

4:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cannot speak for "different Anonymous", but speaking for myself, I believe that the post-Cartesian Philosophies are a distinct improvement on Cartesian dualism, but that they still exhibit imperfections. I would also point out that dualism has been "unpopular amongst the current philosophical bigwigs" for a century or more -- I do not expect this to change any time in the near (or even not so near) future.

As I mentioned before, dualism experienced its last major florish with Descartes, who appears to have found it a problematic proposition at best. When I studied Philosophy of Mind it was taught from a purely historical perspective -- as an early stage in the development of the field.

5:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is little fashion involved in philosophy, beyond trivialities.

Yes. Cartesian philosophy was very much demolished by Wittgenstein. He showed that no line can be drawn between mind and matter, and thus dualism is a useless viewpoint.

Much like many other discoveries, it was obvious once someone pointed it out.

-Anonymous Two

1:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The following blog-post discusses some issues that are applicable to " "What is "Natural Regularity"?" and some of the history behind the development of Philosophy's current position on the subject: http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/06/singer_and_tele.html

3:25 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[Mutter]

Previous post omitted the "_and_tele.html at the end of "...singer".

This is the link.

3:33 am  

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