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View Full Version : Is there a name for this philosophical concept?


Lumpy
02-24-2010, 07:33 PM
The idea that science is in essence an illusion, that over the centuries the "laws of nature" were unwittingly built rather than discovered, by a sort of hyper-observer effect. It's not solipsism, since it doesn't insist nothing exists outside the mind. Nor does it insist that physical reality is an illusion, although this principle fits in with those philosophies. It's also not to be confused with the deconstructionist idea that science is simply another cultural value, none of which are absolutely "true". It's the idea that the main premise of the scientific method- that a fixed objective reality remains unchanged by our interaction with it- isn't strictly true. Whatever you call it, it's an idea I've seen both in fiction and in the more far-out speculative theories such as "morphic resonance".

Der Trihs
02-24-2010, 08:01 PM
I've heard one variation on it called the "Twenty Questions Universe". Named after a variant of the Twenty Questions game, where instead of discovering what object a person is thinking of by asking questions, the item in question isn't defined when the game starts, but is "found" by the questions narrowing down the possibilities.

Ace309
02-24-2010, 08:02 PM
This sounds a lot like epistemological constructivism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructivist_epistemology). Is that useful for you, Lumpy?

njtt
02-24-2010, 08:14 PM
The idea that scientific concepts are built rather than discovered is called social constructivism (a form of relativism).

However, I think you may be intending to suggest something rather different, namely that our beliefs, our thoughts or what we say, can affect the nature of the physical world, such that scientific laws or principles were not true of the natural world before they were proposed, but that, once proposed, the natural world somehow changed so that they became true.

That is called magic (and the belief that it could happen would be called magical thinking).

Lumpy
02-24-2010, 08:30 PM
This sounds a lot like epistemological constructivism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructivist_epistemology). Is that useful for you, Lumpy?Not quite; if I understand the linked article correctly, it's focus is on the mental constructs we build in our heads, not anything external.

<snip>However, I think you may be intending to suggest something rather different, namely that our beliefs, our thoughts or what we say, can affect the nature of the physical world, such that scientific laws or principles were not true of the natural world before they were proposed, but that, once proposed, the natural world somehow changed so that they became true.

That is called magic (and the belief that it could happen would be called magical thinking).This is closer, although the term "magic" is so loaded (and has been used to mean so many different things) that I hesitate to use it.

Sage Rat
02-24-2010, 08:32 PM
Doubtful. It only takes a moment's consideration to realize that when people go to determine the set-up of the universe, several different ideas are all proposed at the same time. If they were all true, no one idea would win out.

J Cubed
02-24-2010, 09:00 PM
Doubtful. It only takes a moment's consideration to realize that when people go to determine the set-up of the universe, several different ideas are all proposed at the same time. If they were all true, no one idea would win out.

It's more like the act of experimenting limits the future options. To use Der Trihs's metaphor, the major experiments, like the first time they split up two atomic clocks and reunited them, are the questions of 20 Questions that limit any future understanding of the set-up. And of course, that is indistinguishable from how we currently understand the universe. Or, a new experiment to dig a little deeper into physics accidentally changes the way that level works and it starts spreading.

If you like this kind of stuff, I highly recommend reading everything by Greg Egan.

njtt
02-24-2010, 09:14 PM
This is closer, although the term "magic" is so loaded (and has been used to mean so many different things) that I hesitate to use it.

Loading intended.

And apart from conjuring tricks (i.e., fake magic), I do not agree that "magic" means many different things. It means the production of physical effects through symbolic actions (and, of course, it does not really happen).

Blake
02-24-2010, 09:30 PM
....I do not agree that "magic" means many different things. It means the production of physical effects through symbolic actions....

So according to you most voodoo, necromancy and so forth isn't magic, since it produces purely spiritual, mental, and verbal effects and nothing physical (eg a spirit possessing a human and then causing them to spout prophecy, speak in tongues etc). Yet for most people this sort of thing is the archetype of black magic, despite there being no physical effects.

Now I suppose you might argue that a tongue moving is a physical effects, but nobody says that it is being moved by anything other than the mental pocesses of the talker, simply that those mental processes have been altered by the possessing spirit.

Similarly, things like mind control, mind reading etc have no obvious physical effect, yet they are commonly referred to as magic and used in stage magicians' acts the world over.

I tend to agree with Lumpy on this one. Magic means many different things to many people, and without defining it very clearly the use of the term obscures the point.

njtt
02-24-2010, 10:01 PM
So according to you most voodoo, necromancy and so forth isn't magic, since it produces purely spiritual, mental, and verbal effects and nothing physical (eg a spirit possessing a human and then causing them to spout prophecy, speak in tongues etc). Yet for most people this sort of thing is the archetype of black magic, despite there being no physical effects.

Now I suppose you might argue that a tongue moving is a physical effects, but nobody says that it is being moved by anything other than the mental pocesses of the talker, simply that those mental processes have been altered by the possessing spirit.

Yes, a tongue moving, air moving, limbs moving etc. are all unequivocally physical effects, so none of the things you mention are counterexamples to my definition.

It is true, however, that normal cases of people's actions being caused by their thoughts, desires, etc. does, on the face of it, seem to be a case of physical effects being produced by symbolic acts (acts of thinking). How to explain this without appealing to magical notions such as immaterial spirits that can move things without violating energy conservation is one of the great unsolved problems of philosophy: the mind-body problem. We are working on it. A common working assumption is that you cannot change someone's mental processes without physically changing something in their brain. (You cannot do it because that would be magic, and magic is not real.)

However, it is not necessary to get into the morass of the mind-body problem in order to answer Lumpy's question: If the mere conception or articulation of scientific laws, theories or principles actually changed the way the universe functions, that would be magic.

cjepson
02-25-2010, 10:08 AM
"Consensus reality"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consensus_reality