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Everything is done within a model

  1. May 19, 2006 #1
    I think I have realised something fundalmental although simplistic as well.

    Anything we do is done within a model or system in the most general sense of the word. For example, we communicate with other people via a language which is a model. We describe nature in a quantitative way by using mathematics which is a model. Even our senses are capturing only a part of the universe. So what I am trying to say is that whenever we try to talk about what is real or fake in the absolute sense such as ontology and all that as if to claim what is really, really ... really true, independent of everytyhing else, is actually nonsense. What we can do is either define things within a model to be absolutely true (i.e. 1+1=2) or use models to describe and predict the world we live in such as measuring the speed of light and so on. But whatever model we use to measure these empirical quantities, we can never say what is really going on in nature because to do so would recquire a model and so you would be describing what is absolutely true in the model, not the empirical world. Even what I am writing now is done within a model but that does not matter its not like I have transended any model by stating this, its an intellectual observation although difficult to state and probably incomplete because I am restricted to the model I am using which is English although this model is general enough for me to talk about this.

    To sum up, any thinking is done in a model and you can't escape that. The type of model is arbitary, none is more special than another. One can only move from one model to another and so any claim is restricted to the model you are using. Any talk of transcendence, ultimate reality, God's thoughts, 'outside the model' etc. is communicated or thought about in a system such as English. This intrinsic feature rules out the plausibility of the above words.
    Last edited: May 19, 2006
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  3. May 19, 2006 #2


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    This is a good insight. Rather than saying "everything is done" through a model, you seem to be saying "everything is perceived" through a model.

    This goes to Kant's insight about the need for what he called an a priori in perception. His a priori (logical structure) is very much like your model. But it is much better to have realized this for yourself than to have learned it by reading about it.
  4. May 19, 2006 #3
    Yes I think that would be more accurate. I actually wanted to change the title after I posted it but couldn't.

    I haven't read about Kant but the first sentence on this site matches my idea to some extent.

    Although I have read about Wittgenstein. I got the idea for this topic from when W raised the (surprisingly difficult) issue about how we come to understand the meaning of a word in the Investigations.
    Last edited: May 19, 2006
  5. May 20, 2006 #4
    Something like knowing that you can only know what is in your model?

    You mean nonsense to other models but not within your model?

    Then it would not be attainable a unique model that describes what actually might be?

    Why do you think there is a limit on what your model can know and why could you not have a model to model models?

    So then your use of the word arbitrary is whimsical?

    Does this mean that models do not become more coherent even within other models?

    Would be interesting to fully understand your model.
  6. May 21, 2006 #5
    I can only know what my model allows. This may not all be obvious when
    dealing with such huge models like Enlgish or math. Although models does
    not have to be perfect nor complete for they are a product of the human
    mind as well. All our thoughts must operate or be contained in at least
    one model at all times.

    No. Whenever one talk about the metaphysical, one must do so within a model, any model (although some models may not allow for this type of thinking). This fact defeats their purpose.

    We can only approximate what actually might be with models. One model might approximate a situation better than another. For example, math is a better model to objectively describe nature than English.

    One can always refine and improve their models but they will always be
    a model. This is their limitation. You could have models that model models and so on. But in the end they are all models - this is their ultimate limit.

    All I am trying to say is that one can come up with any model they
    wish. So the point is that its not the case that there is a special finite
    number of models that can be used by people. Its not like all models have been fixed by God since the beginning of time, so to speak.

    Many good models can be coherent by themselves. Models have definitions contained in them and the user uses them in a coherent fashion when possible. But the key again is that the user must always remember that their thoughts are always within a model. Have you read Wittgenstein? In his Tractatus, he tried to write what he claimed was unwritable and nonsensical. I feel like I am doing something similar here because like him, I am bordering between what can and can't be thought about. Although I can use a model like English to approximate what can't be thought.

    I haven't created any models. The model I use to convey these thoughts is obviously English. I have to admit that my command of English is not all that great and so I too would like to understand English more.
    Last edited: May 21, 2006
  7. May 21, 2006 #6
    I got 2 bulletes and 2 his:cry:
    I don't think a question involving God could be answered by "yes"or"no".
    Maybe,it is a quiz on logic or language involving the word "God":biggrin:
  8. May 23, 2006 #7

    Are you sure you seem to be making sense. Although you are using a model in this case English to express an idea, there is a model inside your model which is a model of limitations on what can be known. The words and propositions inside this model each have there own model within a model “ad infinitum” It makes one wonder how anyone can know what anyone is really saying about anything, actually I am of the opinion that we do not know what anyone is really saying, we just think so because that is the way we model what they are saying.

    So is your model of limitations, what my model of its interpretation or is it correct what I said?
  9. May 24, 2006 #8
    I don't understand. please explain.
  10. May 24, 2006 #9
    I think that when we deal with models within a model and all that, it is not necessilary the case that later on models are approximations hence worse than the prior one. It could be the case that things become clearer within the 5th model for instance. Although the definition of a model may need clarifying here. That is why using a highly technical language could be advantangeous. The main point is all our thoughts must be contained in at least one model at a time. After that, i.e. models within models is pretty much the same thing in that its all models from then on.
  11. May 24, 2006 #10
    That might be the case when you’re talking in first person but I was not referring to that. From what you have answered, that is what precisely I was trying to tell you. No one knows what anyone else is really saying because they have no access to any of the meanings that are being set to words and prepositions outside of your own model. Your meaning = I, my or mine when talking in first tense.

    So then your model of limitations, was not my model of its interpretation and I was correct what I said, neither of us actually understands what the other models thoughts are.

    Yes, my definition is: Models are conceptual relationships of knowing about things. If you have a different one, we should decide on which one to use.

    Like math?, well what happens when one knows more symbols or has quicker memory or more years of study, we are back to the same dilemma, the model might be clearer in first person tense but what happens to the model that is so clear looking from outside the model. It seems that nothing can be known except what is in the modellers head.

    I have to be missing something here, what is it?

    What I am trying to convey to you in simple English is that neither you nor I fully understand each others model the way we know it in our own heads, we can only just think that we do by certain words and prepositions that appear to have a logical correlation to what we are discussing. I have been wanting to discuss this with someone for a long time and now that I have the chance I just realized that it is all in vein. I do not have any way of conveying what I want you to understand except my words and prepositions that have absolutely no meaning except however you wish to interpret them.
    Last edited: May 24, 2006
  12. May 25, 2006 #11
    Could you explain this sentence? What is model of limitations?

    Your definition of a model is like what I would give. It is a very general definition so why do you think models within models and so on is so important? I'd count english as one model, math another.
    Last edited: May 25, 2006
  13. May 25, 2006 #12
    You originally in your first post came up with a thought which was an idea. “Everything is done within a model”. You further said that, I think I have realised something fundamental although simplistic as well. I will agree with that. You further set out to explain how we model ideas as a function of thought. I added that we think in models and sometimes in models “ad infinitum” that is models within models. Your thought of thinking in a model is a limitation on what can be known. Words and strings of words and prepositions are made into models by our thoughts. Why because we set meaning to the words. The meaning that we set to the words sets the limitation to what can be known. As you said some models are better than others for specific purposes and the first line of models that we use like math might be a more precise and better way of describing the world we live in. Eventually there might be a model to describe epistemological events to a very high degree. Buttt….

    What I am trying to explain to you is that there is a limitation of my interpretation of what your thoughts are. I can never be sure of what you are really thinking nor can you be sure of what I am, we just think we understand each other. Can you comprehend the implications of what I am saying? We do not know anything escept what we think we know that we do not know. I am totally convinced of this because although I enjoy speaking my thoughts, it is even more appetizing to listen to another one thoughts. In effect we are a model of what is known through our thoughts. Each model is defective outside of other models. Why? because no one knows what is really thought outside of its own model.

    The importance lies in the fact that nothing can be known except in the model. No modeller seems to know anything except what it knows. What is known is increasing but what is that?
  14. May 26, 2006 #13

    That's something I've discovered a couple of times: that I 'invent' an idea, after reading a philosopher, only to discover that this philosopher was influenced by an older philosopher, who had the same idea as me.

    First time was after I had a course on Philosophy and Science, talking about the relative, contextual basis of theories, which inspired to talk about relative certainties and how to negotiate communication about our certainties with other parties. What I 'invented' ressembled part of Habermas' Theorie des Kommunicativen Handelns.

    Second time was quite similar to you: I was reading Ernst Gombrichs Art and Illusion, and this led me to a conceptual model of what I call 'analogies and differences', which I also found in Kant, and later, Plato. (I agree with Plato, not with Kant though.)

    I think it's interesting that such rediscoveries occur. I would be surprised if this were a coincidence.

    Anyway, On topic:

    -Kant indeed said that our thinking is based on the capacity of what we can experience, in the broad sense, that is, not only what we perceive through our senses, but also how our mind is able to logically link these experiences. For Kant, math was a mind's constructor of representations, which could then be linked to experience. (I don't know if I use the right English terms, Kant has a lot of terms and I haven't read him in English.)

    -However, Kant also said that the fact we have to jump outside our model to think about God, doesn't make it so that we shouldn't think about God. There's no certainty about it: believing in God or not, are in principle equal options in itself. However, Kant tried to show that believing in God enables you to make more sense of the world. I'm going to pass the cup of explaining that to someone else, as I'm an atheist Kant couldn't convince.
  15. May 26, 2006 #14
    As for the rest of the discussion between you two:

    this is not a standard argument, just my own but: surely, I think there's a difference between communicating with another person and communicating with the dead. The difference between the two is: feedback.

    The feedback of living interaction comes in two ways. One is: the feedback through the utterances of the other. Of course, there's no way you can tell for certain whether this person is lying or not. This is why people talk about the principle of charity: your first assumption should always be that the other person has no reason to lie to you (unless of course there's reason to suspect he/she does).

    Another source of feedback is the shared world. This is what Davidson talks about. When we both point to something red and say: red, then we at least know what we're pointing at. Subsequent experiments will help us understand whether we are talking about something red, or something with a certain shape, scent, stiffness, ...

    As you can see, both sources of feedback are not sources of necessary truth. I'm even reluctant to claim them sources of real, effective truth. But surely, they are some form of problematic truth, and because of the feedback, I think they're different from other forms, such as speaking to the dead.
  16. May 26, 2006 #15
    Cool I am not alone in the world.

    What would be your best hypothesis? What we are claiming is that something can be known "A priori".

    Also your statement is a fine example of what I am trying to define.

    So what could that possible mean, depends on who is interpreting it?

    A- You can speak with the dead.
    B- You can not speak to the dead.
    C- Everyone is lying.
    D- No one is lying.
    E- We all understand what we are talking about.
    F- No one understands anything we just think we do.

    Yet we seem to have an experience of knowing something before it is known only to discover we never discovered it.
  17. May 26, 2006 #16


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    Very interesting discussion! I have had this experience too, and I note the presence of multiple discoveries in mathematics (calculus by Newton and Leibniz, non-Euclidean geometry by Gauss, Lobatchevski, and Bolyai, for example). I was burned by this in grad school; my first thesis topic was published by somebody else, although I wouldn't have thought it was very obvious.

    It does look like "a prepared mind" can know things a priori. Preparation means learning the background facts first.
  18. May 27, 2006 #17

    So models within models come in when one is listening, reading, communicating etc with another? In that you use a model to communicate your thoughts to me and I need to use a model to understand what you are saying. Therefore I am modelling your model? This fact may lead me to misunderstand you.
  19. May 27, 2006 #18
    I have read over several times what you have said and with a 99.9% accuracy I would say using my model of interpretation of what your model of what my interpretation was is correct to a very high degree but we can never know for sure what each others interpretation of thoughts might be. I guess that is what it means when we say I understand you. So that is what I asked what is increasing? An interpretation of other thoughts?

    I have thought a lot about why we never understand each other when debating and this discussion has helped me to understand it a little deeper. I think the key is listening to other thoughts and looking for new interpretations. Although thoughts are not mine and in this case yours either because most likely someone has thought of all this before. Which leads us to what the post above states:

    Self Adjoint brought up that:

    Now as I go through my journey reading book after book and leaning new facts, I discover that WOW I thought that I thought that first, how can that be someone wrote it, before I thought it. As far as I can remember the only thing that I can really say about math is that when I was a teenager I discovered that the sum of the squares of the side A+B triangle equal C squared. Do you want to laugh; you know how you figure that out before you know anything about squares? You take the triangle apart any triangle lay it on the table and look at it, connect the ends of the lines and you will notice it is a strait line which when you compare it to a circle, is its diameter. Since I already new the fact that a circle is
    360º, all triangles had to be 180º. Nothing more, yet the more I read, the more I find that my personal thoughts are not confined to me, at least that is the interpretation of my model of there thoughts. I am not talking about math now but about history philosophy physics and metaphysics.

    So it seems that a mind can know something “a priori” that is an interpretation of knowing something that in effect seems to have been known already.

    I think SA may have found the answer a mathematician thinks with the facts of a mathematician. I think with the facts that I have learned. I have never got a sufficient answer to my question does a mathematician think in a way that is somehow distinct from say English. I understand that it is a more accurate way of describing nature say verses English. But what is that really suppose to mean? From my model of interpretation of Gödel, is that mathematics is fallible, just that to a very high degree, it is not. I have also asked this question of many Chinese friends of mine about there language of symbols and my model of interpretation of what they say is that: Our symbols are like your prepositions in other words one symbol can have many meanings and within each of there symbols which are prepositions are any number of models within models depending on how complex the interpretation of the symbol might be.

    So with all the ways that we know things, with all the ways that we know what we think we know that we do not know. It seems that we can only know what we know in our heads which is only an interpretation of thoughts. It would be intriguing to know what its like to know outside of a model outside of our head. How would you think outside of a model? :rolleyes:
  20. May 27, 2006 #19
    Well, this is something I keep thinking about. Try the following steps:

    1) How do we think about 4 dimensional worlds? We think of 3 dimensional worlds, and use 'n+1'-topology.
    Or: we project a 4-topologic world on a 3d-plane.

    2) In other words, we use analogies from within our models, to inductively predict something without our models, in the language from within our models.

    3) I still wonder if we can do something more than this. I think not. I fail to see how we can think about something that's without our models. Maybe by talking in a negative way? Like, do the following experiment:
    Imagine two concepts. These are two different things which you differ from each other. You can also imagine the relation between those two concepts. Now, next, you can imagine what is outside of this relation... this outside: I wonder if we could think about this...
  21. May 28, 2006 #20
    Thinking outside of a model would only make sense if the outside is another model in which your thoughts are contained. So any thinking is done inside a model. That was one of my main conclusions. Although would you call this a definition, tautology, propositition or what?

    With the interpretation issue, that was the question that first led me to the idea of this thread so its all tied together.

    I.e. How is it that we understand the meaning of a word that is elements in the model? I came to the conclusion (with Wittgenstein's influence) that the answer is deeply tied to our biological nature and training. We have sensations like ‘understanding’ and ‘knowing’. The first people had to create words to model such feelings. After them, we were taught to match specific feelings with each word. Our feelings such as ‘understanding’ change throughout life because we are biological animals but the (often vague) definitions of words in comparison won’t have changed as much. So it is the words that model our feelings or thoughts and order them in such a way that (biologically) 'normal' people who have gone through similar training can all reasonably agree on what has been said. That is how we come to understand the meaning of a word. It could be the case that new words induce new feelings in us that we have never had. As we become more accustomed to our model, we use it to order our thoughts to the extent that we rely on it.

    Back to the issue you raised about interpretation. Given that we all have received different training, experience and possess different brain states, the models we construct for our own thinking and our interpretations of other’s models will as a result be different. However, fortunately or is it because of it, the definitions of most words in a natural language such as English, is vague enough for people to orderly communicate and transfer ideas without much catastrophic misunderstanding.

    This is obviously a deep topic but what I have done is present a model of how we understand and interpret others.
    Last edited: May 28, 2006
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