Science is Easy!

scientist (mad)No doubt those who regard quantum physics or Einstein’s relativity or even just trigonometry as an impenetrable thicket of unknowable terms and ideas have a hard time believing science could be easy. The lingo alone seems to create an exclusive “members only” club.

The trick is: easy (or difficult) compared to what? Many scientists now disdain philosophy (apparently forgetting what we now call science was once called natural philosophy). They point to the advances of science in the last 500 (or whatever) years and then say that philosophy hasn’t been nearly as successful in 2000 years.

But that’s because science is easy. It’s philosophy that’s hard!

JFK Rice speech

“…not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”

Indeed, science has proven its effectiveness time and time again. John Kennedy’s famous “not because they are easy” speech — the one that sent us grasping for the moon — was in September of 1962.

In July of 1969 — less than seven years later — Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made that small step onto the lunar surface. How hard could it have been?

It took at least 10 years (possibly up to 20) to build the Great Pyramid of Giza, and that was just playing with rocks.

The Chinese were shooting off fireworks rockets in the seventh century. We just built a really big one, strapped three guys to it, and sent it to the moon, Alice. Straight to the moon!


To the moon, Alice!

Yes, I jest; getting to the moon wasn’t easy. It took a lot of science and a lot of dedicated people to accomplish. It was a shining achievement!

Science is a process. Fundamentally, it’s the process of looking around, wondering about what you see, and trying to come up with an idea about why you see what you see (and then testing your idea). It’s been called many things by many people. I call it: Observation, Analysis, Synthesis (and Testing).

Some 400 years ago (give or take), Galileo Galilei rolled different sized steel balls down a wooden ramp and timed them using dripping water as a stopwatch. We’ve revered Galileo’s balls ever since.

CERN-1Today, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN do something that isn’t extraordinarily different. They send little “balls” of matter zipping around and around at very high speed to see what happens when they bang into each other. (So far, no Earth-consuming black holes.)

While the “wooden ramp” at CERN is a a highly sophisticated circular double-tube of ultra-high vacuum 27 km around, and the clocks are astonishingly more precise than Galileo’s dripping water, the difference really is a matter of degree.

Math starts with 1+1=2 and builds on that. The roots of science are as simple as wondering why apples fall out of trees, but the moon just sits up there in the sky. Or why some stars wander around the sky in interesting patterns, but most of them never, ever change.


27 km laps!

Science is easy. It starts with, “Huh!” proceeds to “Why?” and then to the idea of, “Maybe because this! (Let’s test it!)” Science involves the world we inhabit every day. It involves what we can measure and test and — ultimately — prove (or at least demonstrate).

Philosophy, on the other hand, is hard. It’s a different kind of science (and it is a science despite its differences).

It does begin with our observation and analysis. And it proceeds to synthesis of theories intended to explain. The kicker comes from two sources:

Firstly, philosophy deals with the abstraction of reality. It asks questions like: “What does it mean to be real? What is knowledge? Can we get from is to ought?” These turn out to be extremely tough questions.

small step

Small steps; giant leaps.

Secondly, there is the matter of testing, of proof. As with mathematics, often the only proof available in philosophy is logic. Worse than math, sometimes the best one can do philosophically is make a coherent — but not necessarily conclusive — argument.

We can make a compelling argument that reality really is real, but there’s no test we can make that demonstrates it beyond all doubt. And we can make compelling arguments for justice or morality, but ultimately they end up being things we made up.

This drives some scientist types to disdain philosophy as unworthy or unnecessary (which I think is a huge mistake). They often point to the unresolved questions of philosophy (which, admittedly, is most of them) compared to all that science “knows.”

Karl Popper

Inventor of The Theory!

Let’s ignore that said knowledge is actually philosophically based in terms of epistemology and per philosopher Karl Popper‘s definition of the process of science (that theories must be falsifiable).

Instead consider that philosophy is a much narrower, but far deeper, examination of reality. In the realm of science, I like to point out that, despite the concept of atoms (indivisible particles) going back to the ancient Greeks (doesn’t everything?), we still don’t know what an electron actually is.

Nor can we reconcile the two most explored, most accurately tested theories in science: Quantum Field Theory and General Relativity. We also don’t understand two things every human experiences every waking moment: time and consciousness.

moustache and robotSo maybe scientists shouldn’t be thinking science is all that over philosophy. Both fields have been struggling with fundamental areas of our experience for over two millennia.

Albert Einstein famously wrote: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” I think replacing the word “religion” with “philosophy” keeps faith with the sentiment.

In fact, The Great Al also wrote: “Science without epistemology is — insofar as it is thinkable at all — primitive and muddled.” (Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge.)

In an effort to create shorter posts, I’m going to stop writing now. Besides, there is this bright shiny thing in the sky today. I haven’t seen it in over a week — I think it’s called the “sum” or “son” or something? It’s been so long, I can’t quite remember.

Plus the sky itself is this… color! It reminds me of robin’s eggs or certain cheeses. I don’t care if it’s 19 (point 7) degrees out; I’m going for a walk!

2014-12-17 sunny

Blue skies and sunshine! Oh, how I’ve missed you!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

54 responses to “Science is Easy!

  • siriusbizinus

    I would just like to echo the sentiments expressed here. Also, I think mad science is the easiest of the sciences. All one needs is a cadaver, some lightning, and some fancy looking equipment. From there, one can plumb the depths of philososcience with ease, conducting experiments to obtain knowledge humanity never ought to have learned in the first place.

    Or something like that.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Oh, it’s you. I was wondering where that echo was coming from! 🙂

      Mad scientists also need a faithful Igor! (Who do you think goes and gets those cadavers?) And don’t forget to practice cackling and shrieking, “It LIVES!”

  • reocochran

    I am so glad you had a sunny day and really nice to see a small amount of snow in your photograph. Beautiful homes and nice area to walk around.
    Hey, you know I love science yet am sometimes intimidated by it, too. I never fully paid attention to my Dad’s knowledge until I was in my 30’s… I agree that there are various answers to problems, many ways of thinking and researching. It is a lot of thinking outside the box. In philosophy, it is similar in its approach, many answers possible and definitely, the quality of thinking outside the box, helps. When people have opinions, they sometimes wrap them up in a box, calling their opinions ‘philosophy.’ I just know you would enjoy the movie, “The Theory of Everything,” about Stephen Hawking. I am also dismayed at how many people did NOT know who he was, along with when I would compare his knowledge to Thomas Nash, in “A Beautiful Mind, they had never seen this movie nor even heard of him either. Maybe I need to look up his name? Am I not remembering it correctly? Oh well, I am a little tired so will go check on the post I am sending off into the blogosphere, and leave earlier than expected. I am hoping to hear Middle School Mixed Chorus students. My granddaughter, Lara, included to perk my mood up and prepare me for Christmas. We live in a smaller town that has in the recent past, continued to allow holiday songs. Take care, hope you had fun in the sun, W.S.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yes, that is true: people often call their opinions “philosophy” (as in, “My philosophy in life is…”). That’s actually a misuse of the term. It’s like of like how people often say, “I have this theory that…” when all they really mean is they have some idea about something. Then they go on to use that casual definition to call, for example evolution or climate change, “just a theory.”

      You’re close! John Nash is the mathematician from A Beautiful Mind. I did see that movie, and I’ll probably eventually see The Theory of Everything, but I’m actually not much a fan of Hawking, and his struggles in life don’t interest me as dramatic fare — just not my cup of tea.

      Enjoy your Christmas Chorus! I bum out over the commercial buy-buy-buy business at Christmas (I loath Target’s new “What did you get” commercials), but I love the music! I have a Christmas playlist on my iPod just for this time of the year!

    • reocochran

      Oh, thanks, W.S. I didn’t have a chance to go and check it. Also when writing comments didn’t realize until recently, that you can’t just look up something and come back to post your comment… slow learner, me! I loved your musical choices and your fun posts. Merry Christmas and hope you get to have a fun visit with your sister or friends…. smiles, Robin

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Does the computer you use allow you to open a new tab in the browser or even a whole new window? (I’ll tell you a secret: I often keep windows or tabs open on Google or Wikipedia just so I can look up words or things when I need to.)

        And Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year to you and your, Robin!!

  • Doobster418

    “We’ve revered Galileo’s balls ever since.” Great line that had me laughing out loud, something I needed today. Excellent post, Wyrd. Provocative, as always.

    I am looking forward to that thing up in the sky that brightens up the world to show itself around these parts sooner later and for skies the same color as the sky in your picture at the bottom of the post.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’m glad I could lighten your day! I’m sure that bright shiny thing will get there eventually (it’s not like you live in Seattle or something). It certainly seemed headed your way as the day here wore on…

  • Hariod Brawn

    “. . . two things every human experiences every waking moment: time and consciousness.”

    Are you sure you ‘experience’ time? ❓

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Ask me again in ten minutes… ❗

      • Hariod Brawn

        What do you experience when you put your hand in a bucket of water?

      • Hariod Brawn

        That is the wrong answer.

        You cannot experience wetness.

        You experience pressure and temperature changes.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I don’t think so. My nervous system reports pressure and temperature changes, I experience wetness.

      • Hariod Brawn

        You haven’t actually tested your hypothesis.

        Get back to me when you have.

        And you still haven’t told me how you ‘experience time’.

        Philosophy is practical too.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Actually today is laundry day and I have. Definitely wetness. Also experienced when jumping in a pool.

        I would say the experience of the passage of time is so self-evident the onus is on you to refute it.

      • Hariod Brawn

        I cannot refute your suppositions with words. Experience refutes these statements of yours. You think you experience something you call ‘wetness’, but that is a perceptual overlay, a psychical superimposition – it is not the actual experience of putting your hand in the bucket of water. You have to test this scientifically, unloaded with these presumptions of yours. If you do so, you will change your mind. The same goes for time, which you cannot experience, but only infer.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        What you’re calling “perceptual overlay, a psychical superimposition” is what I call to experience wetness. The “overlay” is not separable from the incoming data. Or even from aspects of that data — the whole comprises the experience.

      • Hariod Brawn

        It doesn’t matter what you ‘call’ experience. You are failing to distinguish between what actually happens when your hand dips into the water and what your mind a moment later constructs and thinks happens in a later representation of the former. And the overly of the superimposition is separable, or rather it is not merged in the first place; it is a distinct phenomenon – one is percept, the other a felt sense. The two oscillate sequentially in their appearance; the overlay is not concurrent with the felt sense but is a meta-representation, something labelled as ‘wetness’ and which represents a complex of other sensory phenomena i.e. it is an overlay. Unless you try this for yourself, and in so doing pay exquisite and concentrated attention, then you will always continue to believe what you have stated. Who said ‘science is easy’?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        A ‘fail’ with ‘the wrong answer.’ Yep. That’s me, sure enough.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        More hurt by the wording. You say I fail to distinguish something I did distinguish four comments ago, so we don’t seem on the same wavelength here.

      • Hariod Brawn

        Look my friend, anyone would be ‘failing to distinguish’ the elements of what we are discussing here when going about everyday activities in the normal manner (re: your comment about the laundry and the pool). I am saying that if we slow the whole thing down and look at it microscopically, then it really isn’t what it appears to be otherwise at normal running speed. Everyone answers ‘wetness’ to that question because our awareness and memory are conditioned to lend a primacy bias to representational percepts over against direct sensory data; and also because ‘wetness’ is shorthand for processes that are complex and to which we pay little or no attention. This is what visual artists bang on about about when they say “don’t paint what you think you see, paint what you actually see.” I am not trying to get one over on you or prove you wrong to gain some satisfaction; I value our relationship too much to jeopardise it in that way – and besides, who cares? What I am doing is picking you up on the theme of this article, and more specifically on a comment you made within it. You know a million things more than me; and are much smarter than me; all I know about is what happens when you, I and every other human animal puts their hand in a bucket of water. It’s my, er, ‘specialism’.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yes, and I’ve been with you from the very start on the bucket of water when I wrote, “My nervous system reports pressure and temperature changes, I experience wetness.” I know from previous conversations that you draw more of a distinction between these than I do.

        Going to the canonical example of consciousness and perception, photons of a certain frequency — about 440 THz (which always makes me think of musical “A”) — enter my eye and interact in electrochemical ways with cells in my retina. That causes a chain of physical changes starting in the retina and leading through my visual cortex. None of this is, in any way I know, perceptible to me. What I experience is redness.

        Now an interesting question might be to ask what I experience if you ask me to imagine redness (without seeing it). I strongly suspect that any such imagination is, in fact, a memory of the experience of redness. Would a blind person be able to imagine redness?

        (Are you familiar with “Mary” who was raised in a black and white room, has never seen color, but has studied and knows intellectually everything there is know about light and the human response to it. The thought experiment goes on to ask what Mary experiences when she leaves her room and sees color for the first time. Here I would just ask about Mary’s ability to “imagine redness” prior to that first colorful experience.)

        Yes, absolutely, no question, sensory data is scientifically separable from our conscious experience, but I am not a temperature or pressure gauge. I’m a conscious human, and what I experience is wetness. I may, or may not in the case of redness, be able to break that down into perceptions related to the underlying sensations, but I think there remains something irreducible about wetness.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        We started with the assertion of experiencing the passage of time. I think that’s a more fundamental experience than anything related to physical sensation. Imagine a mind isolated from any connection to the physical world. If that mind sings a song to itself, doesn’t that demonstrate the passage of time? Even counting, or just thinking thoughts, seems to take place in time. Hence my claim that it seems very self-evident.

        Physicist John Archibald Wheeler (and not, as often reported, Woody Allen) quoted what he claimed was a men’s room graffiti: “Time is nature’s way to keep everything from happening all at once.” 🙂

      • Hariod Brawn

        When you say “my nervous system reports (etc.)” do these ‘reports’ appear in awareness or are you claiming that they are hidden, meaning they are not apprehended by the body itself in any way? If it is the latter, then you are in effect saying that pressure and temperature are only experienced when mediated by perception/representation, is that right?

        You are saying that the ‘I’ of the experiencer, which we can take to mean no more than qualia generated largely in the brain, produces something you and others claim to be ‘wetness’. Can you say this ‘wetness’ is anything other than what amounts to the sensations of pressure and temperature? Can you identify the quality of ‘wetness’ outside of these parameters?

        Taking now your point about visual data: I would say there are, as it were, two levels at which data is made conscious – one is immediate/direct (for arguments sake) and one is re-presentation which makes the data more distinct (as fully conscious qualia). In like manner, a thought becomes more distinct once verbalised internally; it does not proceed from nowhere, or appear ex-nihilo, it forms from a shadowy ‘seed’ which itself has complex hidden causes.

        ‘Redness’ is of course a construct – a representation that can be recalled in memory, or ‘painted’ in imagination. Here though, you are diverting the discussion away from time and wetness of course. To turn Mary on her head (and yes, I know this thought experiment), what would she report in dipping her hand into the bucket of water had she never come across the concept of ‘wetness’? [Like all of us, she does not have ‘wetness’ receptors in her hands; she is ‘wet blind’] Would she ‘report’ anything other than pressure and temperature? If so, what would it be?

        “Would a blind person be able to imagine redness?” Here, we come back to what I said above about there being, as it were, two levels at which data is made conscious: the indistinct initial impression and the more explicit re-presentation (your qualia). The blind man has access to neither. He has no stored percept of the qualia known as ‘redness’ and nor does he have any initial impression of colour. By this measure, his situation does not endorse your claim that only via the experience of qualia can any impression of colour occur.

        On your further comment in which you come back to time: Time is inferred from discrete objects/percepts that occur in awareness, without them nothing “seems to take place in time”. [A telling expression in itself] So, one might say that the apparent experience of time is synonymous with change and experience itself. Viewed as such, then we could say that time is only known to us conceptually via inference, and never as directly presented. Its presentation is dependant upon objects which convey a sense of it to us. We must then ask whether there is any such thing as awareness without objects and percepts, to which my answer will be ‘yes’ and your will be ‘no’ (I think).

        I love Woody Allen quotes, even if they’re not Woody’s. And of course I know the one you cite. Just to lighten the mood here a little, and to get back to failed relationships, I love this one:

        “A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.” 😄

      • Wyrd Smythe

        In some cases (such as with what goes on in the visual system), the sensory chain is below my level of perception. In other cases, such as wetness, there are distinct qualia that can be teased out. One can sense the pressure of water (albeit not accurately) or the temperature (a bit more accurately).

        I think Tina did a good job of noting other qualia associated with wetness. None of those things alone constitutes wetness, but combined they do. If you want to break this down in some way that is sensible to you, that’s fine. But isn’t there, ultimately, an irreducible experience of wetness distinct from other experiences?

        If I follow your three paragraphs about redness (and I’m not at all sure I do), I don’t think I agree. What is this first level you refer to which is apparently beneath or before qualia? Are you saying I have any access to this? I would say that the initial experience of redness is the qualia — isn’t that what the word, qualia, means? Redness is not a construct; redness is an experience.

        Can you imagine the intention of redness without imagining some extension of it? I don’t think you can. Isn’t that why a blind person can’t imagine red? They have no experience of any extension to provide the intention of the word.

        Re Mary experiencing water for the first time. In the thought experiment, Mary knows all there is to know about water and how the body perceives it (but has never experienced it herself). When she does, she says, “Ah! So that is what wetness feels like.”

        Re time depending on discrete objects. Do objects of the mind alone qualify? What about the isolated mind aware only of itself? When it counts to itself, doesn’t that indicate the passage of time?

        To take this back to the very beginning, your question: “Are you sure you ‘experience’ time?”

        Yes. I am. Distinctions about “experience” don’t seem relevant to the ultimate experience of time. Plus, if we accept the world as real, we have the “arrow of time” which is as effectively real as anything gets.

        I do completely agree about relationship sharks! 😀

  • dianasschwenk

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts here Smitty. I like how you always strive to find balance. I hope you enjoyed your walk and the sunshine!
    Diana xo

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Balance?? Who, me?! o_O

      That big shiny thing in the sky is gone again, and the sky is all greyish, and there’s little tiny white things falling out of it. 😦 … Oh, wait a minute… That means: White Christmas! 🙂

  • rung2diotimasladder

    Excellent post! I love your writing style. And of course, as a philosopher and someone who’s not good at science, I agree. 🙂

    The line about Galileo’s balls—spot on. So too the picture: “I have both mustache and robot. Your argument is invalid.” Love it.

    I don’t know how the conversation turned to the experience of wetness, but I found myself wanting to jump in here. So suppose we touch some substance that has the same pressure and temperature as water but is not water. Suppose further that we can’t see it. Would we experience wetness?

    I’m inclined to think we would mistake the sensation as wetness. Just the other day I got into the car and felt something on my leg which I assumed to be wet, but it turned out to be a cold piece of metal or something. (I believe it was the seat belt). On the other hand, the mistake itself was part of the experience…on further inspection (touching my thigh to see what remained on my fingers, etc.) I realized that I was only experiencing temperature—not wetness. So can wetness be reduced to these two? I don’t think so. I touched my thigh to explore what this sensation was and saw that my fingers were dry. Had they not been dry I would have wanted to know what I was touching. I knew that water would transfer to my fingers in the certain way that water does (this excludes other substances such as Coke and slime and oil). I knew that if I rubbed my fingers together, the water would heat up to my temperature at a certain rate (don’t ask me what rate), evaporate and wouldn’t leave an icky stickiness. So all of this must be taken into account.

    We’re also leaving off the visual element of water, and the fluidity, so to speak, of the experience. Being mistaken is being mistaken, and the mistake is usually detectable when we realize we’re only experiencing one or two aspects of water, but not everything. We have to ask whether it’s fair to leave off these things. I can imagine the visual element of water being deceiving (for instance, those little droplets of plastic they put on fake flowers get me every time, then I touch them and realize they’re fake). But I can’t think of anything that exactly matches the full experience of water, especially when considering the way it transfers and the tactile sensation of it. Maybe someone else can think of an example?

    If we are to break down wetness into parts, I’d say there are different kinds depending on the substance. Then if we consider just water, there’s temperature and pressure, to be sure, but also the visual aspect (which would require a whole new discussion), the tactile impression that distinguishes water from other fluids, the way water transfers from one thing to another, the way it disappears (I shouldn’t have said “evaporate” earlier as that conjures up doing science) unlike other liquids, and probably other things that I’m not aware of yet.

    I love this conversation. This is the sort of thing I think scientists would find ridiculous and pedantic. I can hear them saying, “It’s H2O, fool.”

    • Hariod Brawn

      Lovely Tina. I introduced the ‘wetness’ thing above as an example of something, along with time, that whilst we think we can experience it directly [i.e. not by inference, syllogism, deduction etc.] in fact (I maintain) we cannot.

      The experiment, which is not to be done in thought but with a real bucket of water, is done with one’s eyes closed and without listening. One then attends exquisitely to what presents. Much of what you have added about visual clues and subsequent reactions are what infers or deduces that our experience was one of ‘wetness’, or not, as the case may be.

      However, (I say) that we cannot see ‘wetness’, and neither can we know ‘wetness’ by means other than inference/deduction etc. such as you write of when establishing that it was not water that caused you to think you were experiencing ‘wetness’. You ask whether it’s fair to leave off these things. Well, if we are claiming that we ‘experience wetness’, then this is something that happens in real-time in awareness. Much of the stuff you talk about is outside the apparent experience of wetness. And the question remains ‘can we experience wetness?’

      • Wyrd Smythe

        It may be that, for some definition of “direct” and “experience,” you can argue that we don’t “directly” “experience” wetness (and per your definitions, I would probably agree), but… okay, so what?

        Ultimately we do (again for some definition of those words) “directly” “experience” wetness. There is something it is like to experience wetness. Given that there are qualia that can — at least initially — trick you into thinking you’re experiencing wetness, doesn’t that argue for the experience, the something it is like?

        For discussion sake, if I accept your definitions, what is the value or purpose or application of the distinction you are making?

      • rung2diotimasladder

        Oh, I missed the part about the eyes closed. Well that explains a lot. I was wondering why you guys were talking about this blind girl!

        That said, I’m not sure there’s any deduction/induction involved, not unless you mean to say that “wetness” is just a word to describe something we don’t often think about or experience in depth. The word glosses over so much and leaves behind a lot that we do experience, but don’t notice consciously. I think most of the time we don’t really think about wetness, and take for granted that we know it, but I do believe we can come back to the experience and think about what we are experiencing in a much fuller way.

        After I wrote that last comment I decided to take a bath. 🙂 I sat there in the tub getting blown away by all the qualities of water I had never noticed before. I realized I could write a whole lot about water, such as how it takes various colors, but that would bore the hell out of everyone.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, that’s no attitude for a writer to take! You’re supposed to weave magic with words to fascinate and enthrall us! (It says so on page 88.) Again, I agree and can’t add anything to that, so I will.

        There’s Something About Mary is a canonical thought experiment for those who ponder theories of consciousness (something that fascinates both Hariod and me). She lives her life until now in a room with no color (black, white, greys only) and sees the world only through B&W television monitors. She has never seen color.

        Further, she is an expert scientist who knows all there is to know about light, color and how the human nervous system and brain process color. She fully understands — intellectually — how a human outside can truthfully state, “The sky is blue.”

        The experiment asks, what happens when Mary steps outside for the first time? What does she experience?

      • rung2diotimasladder

        I wonder how color would be described to her? I can’t imagine a description that would work without relating to other colors.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        She has experience with light and understands photons, so one understanding of red she has is that it consists of photons with a frequency around 440 THz (Terahertz — 1,000,000,000,000 cycles per second). Each color has a distinct frequency. A color light detector could tune across the “color band” exactly as a radio tunes across the radio band. (In point of fact, exactly like, since radio waves are photons, too. Which actually is a great point: you understand the idea of radio waves and different stations, but you’ve never seen radio waves or experienced them directly in any way. You do directly experience light waves.)

        If you look at a TV “color chart” in B&W, the color swatches do present as different shades of grey. In fact, pure red is 30% of white light, pure green is 59%, and pure blue is only 11%. The secondaries are combinations; yellow (red+green), for instance, is 89% of white light, which is why some fire engines these days are yellow: they’re bright.

        Mary understands the human color system — the cones that detect colored light and the retina and visual cortex — so she understands the process and can make some comparison to her own experiences with uncolored light. She understands that red light would activate specific areas of the brain. She understands a person would experience that activation in a fashion that allows them to (truthfully) report, “I see red.”

      • rung2diotimasladder

        I would think that none of these would be enough to describe red. That’s not to say that nothing can be sufficiently described, but color? I can’t imagine how anyone could get the experience from this.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Exactly! That’s what the thought experiment is trying to illustrate: Despite an intellectual understanding of color vision, Mary has no experience of seeing the color red. Until she walks outside (or switches to a color TV).

      • Hariod Brawn

        Replying to comment of W.S. timed 1.29 p.m.

        The distinction of ‘experience’ was initially made by yourself W.S. in the original article: “. . . two things every human experiences every waking moment: time and consciousness.” I take ‘experience’ to mean awareness of phenomena as they happen in real time and originally – as against a memory of the same, which is also a real time experience in awareness of course, but is more or less an echo of the original (for arguments sake).

        You ask “so what?” about whether or not we can ‘experience’ time and wetness of themselves. I think it’s very interesting to tease apart what we take life and experience to be, to see if they really are what we think they are, or whether much of it is a fabrication. Just look at all this discussion we’re having about the simple notion of ‘wetness’. We’ve even got a philosopher in here who isn’t too sure; and you and I definitely had opposing ideas for the most part; although you do seem now to be accepting my position with qualifiers.

        Continuing with this theme, you ask what the purpose is of knowing the difference is between actual phenomena and their ‘about-ness’. The ‘something it is like’ of wetness is pressure and temperature changes impinging upon the skin’s surface in a very particular way. Once we reflectively infer or deduce (as Tina did) following the impingement, we confirm or reject our initial perception; again, as Tina did in seeing it was the seatbelt and not any water or wetness as she first thought. It is clearly useful to know this difference as we all like to think that we can place trust in our senses. We do rely upon them after all! To be able to put aside ingrained assumptions leads to a richer engagement with everything I have found. Even the simplest of bodily actions like reaching out and rotating a door handle can be exquisitely beautiful to experience fully, away from the fog of ideas and our imagined certainty.

        So, I think the whole exchange has been a decent stab at mixing a little science with philosophy; and we’ve only been talking about ‘wetness’, without unpacking ‘time’ at all. Friends can disagree, as we have just here, and I feel I want to excuse myself for my rather brutal tone at times. It isn’t that I want to beat you to death with my ideas; it’s just that this seems to be the only way I can get the thoughts out half-way succinctly in this limited commenting medium (and in the effing snow!). I am always happy to be proven wrong because of course that carries an upside – we learn.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I think we’re mostly in sync. One dissonance: not what I meant by ‘distinction.’ The quoted part isn’t a distinction (to me), but an assertion that all humans experience both time and consciousness. I’m not distinguishing between them. I do consider both self-evident. (That last point is in contention?)

        The ‘distinction’ I was seeking is from your Dec 17 6:26 pm comment:

        You are failing to distinguish between what actually happens when your hand dips into the water and what your mind a moment later constructs and thinks happens in a later representation of the former. And the overly of the superimposition is separable, or rather it is not merged in the first place; it is a distinct phenomenon – one is percept, the other a felt sense. The two oscillate sequentially in their appearance; the overlay is not concurrent with the felt sense but is a meta-representation, something labelled as ‘wetness’ and which represents a complex of other sensory phenomena i.e. it is an overlay.

        The underlined part: perhaps like one of those optical illusions where you see either the faces or the vase (or the one where you see the old hag or the young girl)? ❓

        I think we agree wetness is a complex sensation — a bundle of qualia? I think we agree the parts of wetness are, individually, necessary but insufficient of wetness? ❓

        Whether it even qualifies as a qualia is a fair question — I’m comfortable with it as a second-level construct. I think it’s probably more complex than just pressure and temperature:

        ¶ Water blankets your skin — covering or filling your pores. Your skin breathes, and thus it reacts differently covered with water. The hairs on your skin would also act differently when coated with water.

        ¶ Water is a very good heat sink. If it’s cooler than your body, it sucks heat from it. Warmer: vice versa. This is different from just sensing a temperature. Your body reacts to heat gain or loss — surface blood vessels may contract or dilate.

        ¶ Water is solvent (a rather good one — consider the Grand Canyon), and it carries away dirt and oil from your skin. This, too, may be part of the experience of wetness — a sensation of being cleaned. (Don’t you feel different coming out of the shower or bath than going in? People describe “feeling clean!”)

        ¶ Water has different electrical and acoustic properties. I have no idea how, or even if, that might be a factor, but it could be. We know these things affect fish. We used to be fish. It’s certainly possible.

        At least some of those things seem “subliminal” to me. We’re not aware of them anymore than we are the underlying processing done by the visual system. But the bundle comprises an irreducible sense of wetness. ❓

        We started with your question: “Are you sure you ‘experience’ time?”

        In a direct way, as I experience redness or pressure? No. Neither can I (directly) experience microwaves. But I can experience their effect on me. Is the basic difference here that I say I ‘experience’ fundamental qualia and conscious constructions, whereas you do not apply ‘experience’ to the latter?

      • Hariod Brawn

        Replying to comment of W.S. timed 3.06 a.m. Dec. 19th.

        Apologies for the tardy response; I have been down in the West Country delivering gifts to my granddaughters. Rather than copy and paste bits of your comment I’ll go through them in sequence and hope you can follow:

        No, not an illusion of perspective, but a serial stream of discrete phenomena. The felt sense a direct apprehending, the meta-representation a derived construct.

        I do not agree that wetness is a ‘sensation’. This is my point. Our hands do not possess ‘wetness receptors’. Wetness is a meta-representation formed in the mind partially from raw sense data (pressure and temperature changes), partially in assumption (Tina’s example), and partially from sonic and aural inference or deduction. What you would call an ‘experience of wetness’ I would call an experience of a concept.

        Is wetness more complex than just pressure and temperature? This, I have just answered by giving my definition of what (I say) it actually is i.e. a concept or meta-representation.

        Your four bullet points are fair enough in themselves. The discussion however, is about what we ‘experience’ as wetness. My case is simple; in a carefully controlled experiment, all we ‘experience’ is pressure and temperature changes. These two phenomena appear in awareness, the phenomena you cite do not present in awareness as wetness per se. ‘Feeling clean’ has nothing to do with wetness other than being a possible after effect of wet activities.

        I do not believe there is any such thing as an “irreducible sense of wetness”. I say that we can come to see that it is a put up job which, for the most part, is a useful one.

        Time: okay, so you now agree that it is not possible to ‘experience’ time. What we ‘experience’ and think of as ‘time’ is none other than Hume’s ‘bundle of perceptions’. Percepts are not time; they appear serially and discretely in awareness thereby giving the appearance that they are experienced along with time. They are not.

        “Is the basic difference here that I say I ‘experience’ fundamental qualia and conscious constructions, whereas you do not apply ‘experience’ to the latter?” Of course we ‘experience’ conscious constructions. We ‘experience’ hallucinations, dreams and illusions and all are extant phenomena appearing in awareness. If I dream that I meet a unicorn, it does not mean that any such unicorn exists in actuality as it appears to. What is ‘experienced’ is a dream about a unicorn. The unicorn is a put up job, as is wetness; neither have any objective referent; they are both what I have been calling ‘meta-representations’: a construct of some otherness alone.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “What you would call an ‘experience of wetness’ I would call an experience of a concept.”

        What is the name of that concept?

        Percepts are not time; they appear serially and discretely in awareness thereby giving the appearance that they are experienced along with time.”

        As written the sentence suggests precepts appear “along with [the experience of] time”. As you deny we experience time, is the appearance of time more properly along with the appearance of precepts?

        Yet, isn’t anything appearing “serially and discretely in awareness” exactly what we mean when we say we ‘experience time’?

      • Hariod Brawn

        The point is that it is a concept W.S. – not what we might name that concept.

        I agree, the sentence as constructed is a little ambiguous. Let me re-word it and answer your final(?) point too:

        Percepts are not synonymous with time, which has different origins; they (percepts) appear serially and discretely in awareness thereby giving the appearance that they are experienced along also with ‘time’, which of itself is not actually experienced and yet which we think of as being capable of such. No scientific explanation for ‘time’ speaks of it as constituting ‘perceptual streams’. People think that they experience something called ‘time’ in every waking moment, yet the experience is never of this ‘time’ itself, it is always instead some percept or other. In the same way, people think that they experience gravity. In both cases, neither object of ‘time’ or ‘gravity’ is experienced; they remain concepts alone in so far as they are outside the remit of our sentience. Instead, phenomena attributable as effects of what remain these concepts are experienced. If we say that experiencing a stream of discrete phenomena is to experience something called ‘time’, then we are not describing the situation at all accurately; we are conflating a concept we hold with actualities experienced phenomenally. Of course, in the consensus reality, we speak of experiencing time and gravity and wetness, and we all understand and share in these illusions; they are useful ones to hold; yet they are not accurate and true to actuality.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “The point is that it is a concept W.S. – not what we might name that concept.”

        How can the name of the central object of all this conversation not be the point? I don’t think any of us have denied it’s a concept — I certainly haven’t! If you don’t care to name it, I will: its name is wetness.

        If you agree we experience a concept, and if that concept is labeled wetness, then how can you deny we experience wetness? Do you deny the label of that concept is wetness?

        Let me ask it this way: the parts of the bundle that can be teased out; are any of them individually sufficient to give rise to an experience of that concept? They are all necessary, but is any one of them sufficient?

        “In both cases, neither object of ‘time’ or ‘gravity’ is experienced;… Of course, in the consensus reality, we speak of experiencing time and gravity and wetness, and we all understand and share in these illusions; they are useful ones to hold; yet they are not accurate and true to actuality.”

        That sounds a lot like Kant saying we can never experience the thing-in-itself. Which is certainly true, and I don’t think there is here any claim we can. Given that all we have is what you call “illusions” — and that they are all we can communicate — that is what is meant when we say we ‘experience’ them.

        You say things can appear “serially and discretely in awareness” but don’t consider serial awareness an ‘experience’ of time. There’s no claim about the precepts; it’s the serial awareness itself that’s the experience of time.

        A better comparison for gravity (than to time) would be to magnetism or x-rays. We don’t experience those in any direct way, but only through their effects. A sense of time might compare to a sense of space… Let me ask this: do we ‘experience’ space?

        Is it only direct physical phenomena you label ‘experience’?

      • Hariod Brawn

        You leave me no option but to boil my cabbage twice W.S. – perhaps thrice even. Now of course, once we put a label on something (i.e. name it) we have immediately conceptualised it. All I have said is that there is no experience of something called ‘wetness’ outside of changes in pressure and temperature. You however, claim that this ‘wetness’ has special qualities beyond my claim, whilst remaining unable to demonstrate them, either to yourself, or to me.

        When you ‘experience a concept’ (say, of ‘wetness’), what is being presented in awareness is an idea about something. That idea may or may not be true to actuality. It remains a reality of itself, as it is an extant presentation in awareness. In the same way, my dream of the unicorn is a reality. Similarly, whilst there is no actual unicorn in reality, there are no ‘special qualities’ outside of pressure and temperature changes in what you believe to be an experience of wetness. Tina provided a timely example to prove the point. But again, I invite you to test this rigorously for yourself. Perhaps you are different to the rest of humanity and your hands do have ‘wetness receptors’ after all.

        You then move on to ‘time’ and ask “the parts of the bundle that can be teased out; are any of them individually sufficient to give rise to an experience of that concept?” The only experience of the concept of time is in stating the word ‘time’. One can imagine one experiences time as a result of either a single percept arising in awareness (“I experienced a moment of time”), or a series of percepts (“I experienced the flow of time”). What actually happened was nothing beyond the appearance of percept(s). There is no experienceable ‘moment of time’ and there is no experienceable ‘flow of time’. We hold a concept of time which we believe has an experienceable referent. Whilst there is indeed a referent, it is not experienceable.

        You go on to say: “Given that all we have is what you call “illusions” — and that they are all we can communicate — that is what is meant when we say we ‘experience’ them.” Okay, so go ahead and experience your illusion of wetness, of time and of gravity. Go ahead and imagine you experience some ‘special qualities’ that constitute your ‘wetness’. You keep asking me to provide further and further definition, yet it is not me who is claiming that there are any such special qualities which of themselves are ‘experienceable’. I have dismissed what you claim to be properties of ‘wetness’ as outside of what we think of as the experience itself – ‘feeling clean’, ‘we used to be fish’, ‘blood vessels may contract or dilate’, ‘your skin breathes’.

        Once again you come ’round to agreeing with me whilst objecting that you do so at the same time: “it’s the serial awareness itself that’s the experience of time.” That is the same as saying what I have, other than for the addition of two words: “it’s the serial awareness itself that’s mistaken for the experience of time.”

        “Is it only direct physical phenomena you label ‘experience’?” No, I have already stated that we ‘experience’ hallucinations, illusions, dreams, concepts etc. That does not make their content true to referents in actuality. All perceptual awareness is in some sense ‘experience’. Our task is to clarify which have meaning and which do not, or else to live in our concepts (etc.).

        It is only right that you have the last word W.S.

        Happy Christmas my friend – I will see you in the New Year.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Sí, mi Amigo! Not only reboiled here, but elsewhere more than once. And honestly, Hariod, I am trying to unpack what you assert but find it challenging. Unlike when we talk about sound recording or many other topics. Even when we do see a point differently, it’s clear to me why. In this case, it’s not.

        You don’t disagree we ‘experience’ time or wetness — rather that we do experience them, but as illusions or mistakes that don’t refer a real thing (I hope I have stated that fairly).

        That’s fine. We agree humans experience something we label ‘time’ or ‘wetness’ or ‘unicorn’. All I have said is that those exist in our awareness — their source is a separate (and always interesting) question.

        Anyone touching water has an awareness of something they legitimately label wetness. The temperature and pressure they directly experience are not mistaken for roughness or air movement (which also reduce to pressure and temperature).

        Each is a unique concept supervening on specific kinds of pressures and temperature. (A few of such kinds: soapy washcloth, cat’s tongue, dog’s tongue, warm marble stone, cool brass. Or Braille — pressure only — which places the world literally at ones fingertips.)

        We agree (do we not?) that these concepts appear in our awareness.

        Would we also agree there are two aspects to this: the intension of wetness or unicorn, and their myriad extensions. We’re born tabula rasa, so these are learned. Intensions are abstractions — models of reality — we refine over time by experiencing concrete extensions identified with a given intension.

        The goal of the model is to truthfully (that is, accurately) distinguish between, say, wet and not-wet (or unicorn and not-unicorn).

        We learn what unicorn means by seeing examples of things called “unicorns.” As a defined concept, they are “as real as the rules of baseball.”

        Hariod, I think we agree on all this?

        The point of disagreement seems to hinge on the idea of “mistaken for” and yes, we do disagree. I don’t consider them mistakes or even illusions. Unicorns and baseball (and wetness) are as real as Santa Claus!

        AND ON which note: Feliz Navidad y Buenas Año Nuevo, mi Amigo!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I agree with everything you said here. In fact, I really can’t add anything, so I’ll just say thanks for joining in (and thanks for the compliment)!

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Most of the scientists who dismiss philosophy wholesale know little about it. (Actually I’ve found that most people who dismiss wholesale any widely accepted academic field know little about what they’re dismissing.)

    That said, while I understand what you’re saying with the “science is easy” phrase, I feel compelled to point out that doing science in practice is often very hard. Gathering data, the lifeblood of science, often involves doing dangerous work, or visiting remote or dangerous locations. Biologists often have to crawl through the mud to get their samples. Archaeologists often have to work in politically unstable countries. Even scientists working in laboratories often have to follow arduous procedures, and some have died from laboratory experiments gone bad. Learning by looking at the world is hard work.

    Given that, I can understand the disdain scientists feel for some philosophers who tell them that they’re doing it wrong, or for philosophers who ignore the science relevant to their discussions. Of course, this tension also exists between experimental scientists and purely theoretical ones (who are often much closer to philosophers than they care to admit).

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Right! The subtext isn’t that science is easy — it clearly isn’t. Science and philosophy is an apples and tennis balls comparison — there are apparent similarities, but they’re quite different. And further, that they complement each other and form a synergistic whole.

      Tension. Ah, yes, tension! Guaranteed to exist anytime two different groups don’t make an effort to understand each other. :\ It would be nice to think we’ll someday learn to get out of our own way. o_O

  • Steve Morris

    I think that perhaps the reason science is (relatively) easy and philosophy is (relatively) hard is the type of questions we ask. Why doesn’t the moon fall out of the sky? is the kind of question we can actually answer, through an exploration of forces and motion, especially if we start by rolling some balls. On the other hand, What is knowledge? is a much harder one to answer.

    Science asks similarly difficult questions, such as What happened before the BIg Bang, but these are hard questions, not easy ones.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yep, exactly so. Philosophy focuses on a small number of extremely hard questions, whereas science is a vast and broad undertaking that asks questions about everything from rocks to plants to people to deep space. Most of the easy ones have been answered to our satisfaction, and many of the hard ones that remain are just as thorny as those of philosophy (what is time? what is an electron? what is human consciousness?).

      And some of those really hard science questions almost verge on philosophic questions (which is just one more reason why science and philosophy are so important).

      • Steve Morris

        Early scientists asked impossible questions such as “What is the principle of life?” No progress was possible on this until simpler questions were answered. I expect that many philosophical questions will remain unanswered until we have answered all the easy questions first. Then the answers may become obvious, or it may be realized that the questions were not well-posed.

        For example, Einstein’s theories already tell us more about the nature of time than we previously knew. Quantum theory tells us more about causality than early philosophers ever guessed at.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yes, certainly the foundation needs to be built before you can erect a structure on it. I think there’s more to it than that, though. Philosophy is a branch of science (which was itself once called “natural philosophy”), so comparing “philosophy” to “science” is a bit of an apples and apple orchard comparison. Plus the domain of philosophy is intrinsically hard. One might compare it to the study of human consciousness — a problem we’ve been chewing on at least since Descartes and Locke in the 1600s.

        There is also that science generally involves the physical world (which is what makes it “easier”), whereas philosophy involves the abstract world of mental constructs. Such things are difficult to test, so philosophers with different points of view can assert opposing views that are hard to resolve factually.

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