Meeting 1.4 – “Objectivism” a la Schrodinger


Schrodinger, Erwin. “Mind and Matter” (1944). Chapters 3-4. [Still]

Papineau, David. “Naturalism.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta. Spring 2009, 2009.


Summary:  Lucas Mix presented a more detailed summary of Schrodinger’s arguments.


Context:  I am interested in questions of defining life.  In this context, I want to know what constitutes a scientific definition of life and what constitutes a non-scientific definition of life.

Argument A (chapter 4):

1)    If the model is in your head and your head is in the model, you run the risk of infinite regress.

  1. Not really a problem with set theory and any number of other stops.
  2. But when you clean the picture up do you leave a mind at the top or a model?
  3. Schrodinger argues that the observer has subjective experience (qualia) and constructs the model, so we have direst access to mind and only secondary access to “the objective world.”  Therefore, reality at the top level is subjective mind, not physical material.

Argument B (chapter 3):

1)    There exists a set of scientific justifications (for truth claims), which are a subset of all justifications and which have certain differentiae.

2)    A necessary, but not sufficient differentia of scientific justifications is their reliance upon data.

3)    A datum is a bivalent claim about an object or event external to the observer (a.k.a. an objective claim).

  1.  A datum is a claim about a repeatable common observable phenomenon.

4)    Science frequently makes claims about non-observables – for example quarks (theoretical entities) – but claims about non-observables can only be justified by an appeal to data.

5)    The statement “I observe x” is not a datum.  It makes a claim about an uncommon (individual) experience (a.k.a. a subjective claim).

  1. “x” is the datum.  It is arrived at through observation.

6)    There are no data on observers qua observers.

7)    From a scientific perspective, the existence of the observer must be treated as a claim about a theoretical, rather than an observed entity.

  1. Human bodies are observed entities.  Observers are theoretical entities associated with human bodies.
  2. We frequently speak of non-observant human bodies and non-human observers, suggesting that the two entities are not identical, though there may be considerable overlap.

8)    Causal explanations invoke the observer as an intermediary between environmental stimuli and behavioral responses.

  1. Bodies report observing.
  2. We subjectively experience a link between stimulus and bodily action through the mediation of observation.
  3. By analogy, we project observer status onto other bodies.

9)    Physical causal efficacy requires physical instantiation (causal closure).  Other observers are physical.

  1. The observer is part, or some organization of parts of, the body.
  2. The observer might transcend the body, but if it did, it is unclear how such a claim could be scientifically justified.  ~
  3. Other observers are solely physical.

10) By analogy, my observer is solely physical.

11) A physical observer necessarily changes both itself and its object in the act of observing.

  1. This voids the externality criterion in 3.
  2. Observations are time and observer specific, voiding criterion 3a.



Discussion focused on questions of justification inside and outside science.


Lucas and John presented the idea that science has some methodological constraints, and wanted to identify exactly what they are. Lucas suggested science as an epistemology for generating confidence.


Can knowledge by justified by science? Supported?  Are there other means to justify knowledge?  What are the bounds?


Alex suggested math as a common example of borderline science.


Are mathematical truths discovered (like science), synthesized (like logic), or crafted (like rhetoric)?  Is there another option.


Alex argued for a phenomenological approach to science as what scientists do, which does not appear to have strong boundaries.


We digressed on what constitutes knowledge.  Lucas argued the science produces no knowledge in the enlightenment sense.  Alex responded that there is a common sense definition of knowledge and it would be silly to say there is no scientific knowledge.


Lucas and John defended the idea that scientific knowledge is always prospective relative to an experiment or observation; it makes a prediction.  The counter example was proposed of something that was known from observation and experiment, but the opportunity for no future experiments arose.  Lucas argued this would not be scientific knowledge, but only knowledge from authority (with an aside the historical and observational sciences predict observations, even when they are only new observations of past events).


We ended on the question of teleology and whether that is allowed in science.


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