Re: [pcp-discuss:] Comments please: beta release of paper on thepurpose of formal systems

From: John J Kineman (
Date: Thu Sep 28 2000 - 21:56:59 BST

  • Next message: Norman K. McPhail: "[pcp-discuss:] [Fwd: Scientific Modeling]"

    Interesting note. I argue something close to this philosophy, although
    tempered with the realization (from Rosen) that models do not capture
    nature in a complete sense, but can capture one among many real (and
    simultaneous) aspects of nature. So, I would agree that models are
    attempts to identify real aspects of nature, and that they always end up
    being incomplete because no simulable or modelable aspect of reality is
    itself a complete representation. So they can be true in a relative
    sense, but not in an absolute one.

    I think this has been pretty much the position of many "relative
    realists" for quite some time. I have often cited Rohrlich, F. 1989.
    From Paradox to Reality: Our Basic Concepts of the Physical World.
    Cambridge, UK: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge. This was
    written at a time when "instrumentalism" ("...mere statistical models of
    regularities in empirical observations..") were in fashion, especially
    in ecology (Peters, "A Critique for Ecology"). Instrumentalism became an
    extreme view that denied any underlying laws and thus allowed arbitrary
    theories to co-exist as a "family." Realism is the opposite extreme that
    expects nature to conform to precise causal laws, which it apparently
    does not. The truth (nature) seems to exist inbetween: We can discern
    laws that are valid within a certain domain, or perspective; i.e., a
    "relative realism."

    The idea of critical realism seems very similar, focusing on the
    importance of pusuing a relative realism in a rigorous and critical
    manner. That is, to have a means for deciding between competing theories
    that would otherwise exist arbitrarily in an instrumentalist family. I
    think this is very important in science, otherwise it doesn't have a
    directional influence. The infinite variety of instrumental views, when
    taken together, constitutes everything and therefore is nothing.
    Knowledge needs to make distinctions, even if they are relative ones.
    The underlying realities we "discover" are relative to a given worldview
    and set of questions. Science moves like a spotlight searching an
    infinite domain, occasionally widening and narrowing the beam but
    attempting to retain the pathways to where it passed before. When
    someone moves the spotlight to a completely new part of the domain, the
    connection with the prior area is lost and the new view seems
    disconnected and hard or impossible to evaluate. Sometimes the path can
    be retraced back, thereby showing the connection with prior knowledge.
    Add to that the fact that the nature of the domain itself changes
    depending on which parts are illuminated. So knowledge is based on our
    relative foothold in this domain, and that shifts.

    "PRof. Gary Boyd" wrote:
    > Bruce and colleagues;
    > on a first quick read your analysis, and criteria for identifying spurious
    > formalisation ventures are
    > very plausible, indeed are impressive.
    > One area worth more work is I think your brief paragraph on Constructivist
    > versus Realist approaches.
    > It seems to me you might enjoy and the whole field could benefit
    > from your engaging with the contemporary school of
    > "Critical Realists" Notably led by Roy Bhaskar.
    > The critical realists argue that the work of science is to construct models
    > of the underlying `real' generative mechanisms which
    > give rise to various experiences and observations, but which certainly are
    > not mere statistical models of regularities in empirical observations.
    > See for example the website for Critical Realism:
    > <>
    > Gary Boyd.
    > At 12:15 28/09/2000 +0100, you wrote:
    > >Please can I have comments upon the following paper?
    > >
    > >
    > > The Purpose and Place of Formal Systems in the
    > > Development of Science
    > >
    > >CPM Report No.: 00-75
    > >By: Bruce Edmonds
    > >Date: 28th Septmeber 2000
    > Professor Gary Boyd, Education (Educational Technology Graduate Programme)
    > Concordia University,
    > 1455 DeMaisonneuve West, Montreal, Quebec Canada H3G 1M8.
    > <> tel.(514)848-3459, fax(514)848-4520.
    > homepage < >
    > ---------------------------------------------------------------------
    > Toward Eco-CO-cultural conviviality, through
    > participative cybersystemic modelling, and
    > Grace & grudge networking.
    > ---------------------------------------------------------------------
    > ========================================
    > Posting to from "PRof. Gary Boyd" <>

    Posting to from "John J Kineman" <>

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