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Is Idealism Unfalsifiable?

  1. Apr 3, 2004 #1
    Is there any way of falsifying idealism?
     
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  3. Apr 3, 2004 #2

    selfAdjoint

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    Formally, I don't think so.

    Empirically, it seems to be the case that schools of idealistic philosophy don't go beyond three generations. Of course new ones are always being formed, but any individual idealistic doctrine seems to peter out among the students of the students.
     
  4. Apr 3, 2004 #3

    Eh

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    No, there is no way of falsifying any metaphysics that make no specific statements about the observable universe. Since ontological idealism says nothing specific about how the observable world should be, it cannot be falsified.
     
  5. Apr 3, 2004 #4

    Les Sleeth

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    The only way I can imagine exposes my pragmatist leanings. I'd ask the idealist to agree to subject himself to, or be part of, everything he proposes to be true, and not to propose anything with which he cannot do that.

    With that approach, although we'd never convince a room full of idealists that a reality outside their minds exists (because there is no way to do that), at least we'd get rid of an idealist when reality smashes him for ignoring it ( :biggrin: . . . Greg, we need an evil smile).
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2004
  6. Apr 4, 2004 #5
    I didn't mean to start arguing but .. is there any evidence for this? Most 'western' philosophers have been idealists, and Buddhism, Taoism etc seem to have kept going ok.
     
  7. Apr 4, 2004 #6
    That isn't quite true. If idealism is unfalsifiable then we can predict that science will be unable to account for consciousness, as seems to be the case.
     
  8. Apr 4, 2004 #7
    Idealists do not argue that the universe does not exist, merely that it is epiphenomenal.
     
  9. Apr 4, 2004 #8

    selfAdjoint

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    But the classical objection to epiphenomenon is that is has no causal results. But the universe, seen from inside, does have causal results inside. If I see a stone hurling toward my face, I can reliably expect to suffer pain.
     
  10. Apr 4, 2004 #9
    That isn't quite right. 'Epihenominalism' only raises causality issues when consciousness is assumed to be epiphenomenal. I mean epiphenomenal in the same sense that steam is epiphenomenal from a whistle, and steam is causal.
     
  11. Apr 4, 2004 #10

    Les Sleeth

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    I must not understand what you mean. I thought you meant, in general, the belief that reality is what takes place in our minds, along the lines of Berkeley's concept (and in contrast to, say, Mill's phenomenalism), and so in this empirical age is criticized for failing to give proper due to aspects of reality existing outside the mind (thus my little joke, but I suppose I was really talking about a solipsist). In some ways I've thought of most philosophy as solipsist in the sense that philosophers have been notorious for thinking they are going to understand reality through rationalization alone. I wonder, would you say I am an idealist if I am a monist?

    Getting back to what are you asking, your statement "If idealism is unfalsifiable then we can predict that science will be unable to account for consciousness . . ." is interesting but I think I need to understand why seeing consciousness as epiphenomenal makes one an idealist.
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2004
  12. Apr 4, 2004 #11

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    Hardly. I think you're confusing ontological idealism with epistemological idealism. It's a very bad idea to use the terms interchangeably since they have different meanings.
    No. Ontological idealism claims that the world is mental. That means that no matter what observation we make, idealists will claim it is just a mental experience. Thus there is absolutely no observation we could make that would ever disprove this concept.

    Science is limited to making predictions about observable phenomena. It is not ontology, and so your remark about science being unable to account for consciousness is vacuous. As well, claiming we won't be able to explain something is not a testible prediction, because only falsification can close the matter. Consider an ontological idea from which I can predict that particle X will never be found. At no time can this ever be confirmed. After all, particle X hasn't been found today, but there is always the possibility of it being discovered in the future. A prediction that can falsified, can be settled as soon as the experiment is performed. Either the prediction is conclusively falsified, or it passes. Only a prediction that can be do so actually amounts to something testible.
     
  13. Apr 4, 2004 #12

    Les Sleeth

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    You are correct to say that the actual practice of science is not ontological, but there is a science philosophy many empirical-minded derive from science ideals and discoveries that is fully ontological -- one might call it empirical physicalism (i.e., physicalistic theory based strictly on empirical evidence). What does that have to do with consciousness . . . more below.

    When it comes to consciousness, much of the debate is now about if consciousness is purely physical or if there is something more basic which is interacting with the body. This brings into question the role of scientific investigation and what it is capable of revealing about existence.

    Using your example, you might not be able to tell anying about the predicted particle X, but if science consistently fails to produce an answer about something, how do we interpret that? If there are areas where you are content to say "it's beyond the realm of scientific investigation" then there's no ontological implications in that. In that statement one acknowledges the possibility that science cannot reveal everything that exists. But if one concludes, as is the case with empirical physicalistic philosophy, that only what science indicates is to be used in consciousness models, then built into that is an ontological assumption.
     
  14. Apr 4, 2004 #13

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    Indeed, there are philosophies that claim to be based on empirical data alone. Just as long as physicalism is not confused with actual science, then I don't have a problem with it. However, I would argue that physicalism is actually based on more assumptions than empirical evidence. That is just because empirical knowledge is limited to the observable (IOW the experienced) world alone. To say anything additional is just an assumption that can never be tested.
    Science could very well solve the scientific problem of consciousness (how the brain functions) while we are still left with the old philosophical questions (ie. how the hell do those processes in the brain translate into qualia?) intact. Science can never go beyond observable phenomena, so the ontological questions are off limits.
    We interpret that to mean particle X has never been detected, nothing more. However, a model that makes good predictions will predict a situation or specific experiment where we should expect to find said particle X. If we don't, then the model is falsified. Keep in mind that particle X or other phenomena itself can never be falsified - only the models that predict their existence can.
    As I said, ontology is mere assumptions when you go beyond the experienced world. While this means physicalism is founded on assumption, ontological idealism is as well. It is one thing to claim we can only know mental states, and another (and unfounded) entirely to claim that the mental is all that exists.
     
  15. Apr 4, 2004 #14

    Les Sleeth

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    It might be that ontology is entirely beyond the reach of science, but not necessarily experience. Here's a hypothetical.

    What if I said I'd developed the ability to experience the "essence" of my own consciousness? I report that while in this ground state experience, it appears that my individual consciousness is derived from a general, undifferentiated universal pool of consciousness. Also while in that experience, it appears what the brain is doing is individualizing me from the generality of the universal pool of ground state consciousness.

    Now, that is an experience which you cannot test empirically, but you could learn what I learned and try it yourself. If it turned out to match what I reported, then there would be two people reporting the same thing. Still, the millions of empiricists around the world need more than that. So we teach them all how to experience the ground state of their own consciousness, and now millions agree!

    I'm kidding some, but I am serious too. Part of this problem with ontology is the generally accepted standard to externalize the verification process. We say, if it's "out there" it can be verified experientially because we can all get at it. That's true, but it might also be true there is an experience we can only reach individually, inside us, yet which also would be an experience we could all agree reveals certain things. In fact, the idea of experience is exactly like that in the sense that we cannot tell what another person's experience is. That is why at least one variety of idealism (the one you've cited) is impossible to prove or disprove.

    As you know, there really are people who've claimed they have mastered experiencing a "ground state" as I call it, and who really do say consciousness is part of a larger, preexistant realm. Obviously my solution for having everybody taught how to experience that has the problem of getting people to learn it. It is not yet an ideal of humanity. If so, and if experience is the standard for verification (as we both agree), then IMO right now there isn't much hope of convincing empiricists of anything ontological that's non-physical.
     
  16. Apr 4, 2004 #15
    There are a few variations on Idealism but basically it is the view that consciousness is more fundamental than matter, or that only minds and mental representations exist.

    Solipsism is the view that only 'I' (in your case you) exist. I'm not sure what that's got to do with rationalisation. Whether being a monist makes you an idealist depends on what sort of monism your talking about. (E.g. Taoism is idealist but not monist).

    I didn't suggest that seeing consciousness as epiphenomenal makes one an idealist, that's the opposite of the truth. If you think consciousness is epiphenomenal then you are a materialist.

    BTW I agree with what you just said about experience. It is perfectly possible to empirically verify facts which lie beyond science or logic, and this is well known from philosophy and mathematics. The argument is only over the importance of those kinds of facts.
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2004
  17. Apr 4, 2004 #16
    Please explain. I've never heard of epistemilogical idealism.

    Well yes, that's what I said. If Idealism is unfalsifiable we can predict that we cannot prove that consciousness arises from brain, and never will. But it's a big 'if'.

    Why is it vacuous? What do you mean 'it is not ontology'? I don't understand what you're saying here.

    You miss the point here I think. If Idealism is provably unfalsifiable in principle then we cannot falsify it, i.e. no observation, experiment or logical analysis can falsify it. There is no parallel with the 'particle X' situation.
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2004
  18. Apr 4, 2004 #17

    Eh

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    Well here's the crux of it. You can certainly have the experience you're talking about, but you can never know the source of it. In other words, you can't be sure of what outside world (if any) is actually involved in the process, which in this case would be a "universal pool of ground state consciousness". There is always a countless number of possible explanations for any given experience. Take the sight of an object like a tree for example. The experience leads us to believe there really is a tree outside reflecting light which strikes the retina which in turn is converted into an electric signal and processed in the brain as an image. Is this really the case? Would the experience be any different if we were just brains in a vat?
    They do, and I'd say they certainly have the experience, but there is no justification in claiming this experience is a result of any "larger, preexistent relam". That simply cannot be known.
     
  19. Apr 4, 2004 #18

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    The simplest way to describe is as follows: Metaphysical idealism asserts the ideality of reality; epistemological idealism holds that in the knowledge process the mind can grasp only its own contents

    IOW, the outside world, if it exists, is not knowable. Different shades of this kind of idealism show up in the works of various philosophers, and they are often labeled as an idealist. However, this is not metaphysical idealism. As such, I would like to know where you get the claim that most western philosphers have been metaphysical idealists.
    Idealism is unfalsifiable because it merely states that the world is mental. Since we only experience the mental world, no experience could ever contradict this form of idealism. There is no if here. Yes, from that obvious conclusion we can also conclude that science cannot deal with the metaphysics of consciousness. That however is not a testible prediction as I explained with the example above in the thread.
    Science is not ontology, that's why. Saying that science cannot solve a metaphysical question is meaningless, because metaphysics is completely irrelevant to science. Science will only account for observable phenomena, ie. events experienced through the senses. Observers cannot observe themselves.
    The particle X example is quite relevant because you've attempted to argue that the fact that idealism cannot be falsified somehow makes a testible prediction about the observable world. In response to my statement that idealism makes no specific claims about the observable world, you wrote: That isn't quite true. If idealism is unfalsifiable then we can predict that science will be unable to account for consciousness, as seems to be the case.

    That is incorrect, because as I demonstrated, a prediction about what we won't find is not a testible prediction. I should have been more clear on that point - a specific prediction needs to be testible to be of any use. And to clarify, only a prediction that can be falsified is testible. In other words, a test is subjecting a prediction to an experiment that it will either pass or fail. If it passes, it has been successfully tested. If it fails, it has been falsified. If there is never the chance of failure, there is never a chance of passing either.
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2004
  20. Apr 5, 2004 #19
    Ah, I've never heard that called epistemilogical idealism, thanks. Its both of these I'm refering to. (Underneath the detail they are pretty inseperable. If E-Idealism were not true then M-Idealism wouldn't be unfalsifiable).

    I think it's fairly clear. For instance.

    “This impregnability to disproof, plus its philosophical advantages, has attracted many philosophers to idealism. Indeed, nearly every significant philosopher from the late 18th century to the early 20th century has been a paid up idealist.” (David Papineau and Howard Selina ‘Introducing Consciousness’ Icon Books 2000)

    They note that that among the most eminent have been Georg Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Edmund Husserl, Henri Bergson, John Stuart Mill, and Bertrand Russell.) There are numerous others, Spinoza, Heidegger, Sartre ....

    But if Idealism is unfalsifiable, as you say, then my prediction doesn't have to tested. It's a logically deducible fact.

    I think I know what you mean, but it is not true except in an idealised sort of way. Science is derived from metaphysics and inextricably tangled up with it.

    Agreed.

    It does not have to tested. If idealism is unfalsifiable then this has logical consequences. No experiments are necessary to prove the truth of mathematical theorems, and my prediciton was mathematical in character, reached by mathematical/logical induction. I think you mistook my reference to 'prediction' as if it were a scientific prediction, a hypothesis to be tested. No testing is required. If Idealism is unfasifiable then we can predict with complete confidence that science will never explain consciousness scientifically. (BTW I didn't start this thread to have this argument, it was just a straighforward question).

    You're talking about a specific type of prediction. Look at it this way. If idealism is unfalsifiable then the inability of science to explain consciousness is logically entailed and provable. From this we can predict that it won't ever succeed in doing so. This sort of prediction does not have to be testable. If 2+2=4 we can predict that 2x2 will never equal five (within the same system) That isn't testable either. A logical entailment is a prediction, but not the same kind as a scientific prediction.

    I agree. It's a tautology.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2004
  21. Apr 5, 2004 #20

    Les Sleeth

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    No, you are right, there would be no way to tell which is the case. However, what's interesting about that, which you just made me realize, is that for me inside my brain, I am the constant. Yes you can manipulate how information reaches me, but I am experiencing exactly the same thing. If we were to be accurate about what I experience with either the EM pattern reflecting from a tree, or that same EM pattern created by some device, we would say my experience is that of a particular EM pattern.

    This leads to an interesting conclusion about consciousness. An empirical argument I often hear is about the unreliability of subjectiveness. The truth is, the most internal aspect of subjectiveness, experience, is what is the most constant and the most reliable because every bit of the objective world can be manipulated. My intellect can be wrong, my emotions can be toyed with :frown:, but my experiential nature cannot be other than what it is. It experiences and has no other skill than that.

    But see, we can say that about everything we experience, as you just pointed out. Yes, we can call into question every bit it, but it seems pointless to constantly question the experiential system we rely on everyday. Our solution is to accept as real those experiences which we can repeat. With repeatability we reach a point where we say we are certain, we are convinced, we know.

    You seem to say . . . well, if it's experience from information reaching me from the "outside," and I can get others to agree it's there, then I am willing to allow the label "known" to be applied. But if it's an experience originating "inside," which only the individual can verify, then it must be stamped "unknowable." Why must that be so?

    So I fall back on the repeatability issue. If I can repeatedly experience the ground state of my own consciousness, and if it repeatedly reveals itself to be connected to a vast ground state continuum, why must your statement "That simply cannot be known" necessarily be true?
     
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