VS: Instrumentalism versus realism?

[eetu pikkarainen 2017-02-26]

Good essay, Martin, as usual! I just want to do shortly some further amplifications.

Those extreme stances could be called (epistemological) idealism and naive realism. (Note that this is an epistemological dimension, which is partially independent of the ontological doctrines.) The latter is older and according to it the objects of our knowledge (whatever they are) produce that knowledge, immediately and typically by perception. This natural way of thinking caused, however, the problem of skepticism because we seemingly perceive objects in different ways (e.g. from different angles and distances) and often find that we have mistaken. One solution was (as often) to develop the extremely opposite doctrine, according to which knowing subjects themselves produce their knowledge and external objects have no role at all (esp. Berkeley). Kant is regarded the first who tried to systematically overcome that contradiction and build a mediating doctrine and he was thus also the first constructivist. Today we have different kind of constructivisms from more idealist to more realist. One of the most important reason for me to get enthusiastic on PCT was the it explains quite concretely how both subject and object have their own roles in knowing � and that this is based on the need of the subject to act on those objects!

But what I meant in my earlier message with (scientific) instrumentalism and scientific realism was a nearly related problem in a different level, namely in the methodological level of sciences, or philosophy of science. They both are consequences of constructivism (even though instrumentalism typically can be nearer to idealism). The difference is what they see as the task of the theory i.e. the aim of scientific research. They both see that in a theory (/ knowledge) there are something which is based on empirical perceptions of the environment AND something which is our own constructs. The previous could be called empirical concepts and the latter theoretical concepts. For instrumentalist the theory with its theoretical concepts is an instrument for to account systematically the empirical phenomena and explain them by other empirical concepts and perhaps use those theories for some practical needs like predicting and affecting the empirical phenomena. Instead scientific realism sees that the task of science is to broaden and deepen our knowledge about the reality. This means that it is trying to know also such things about the world which are not plain empirical facts. This means that the aim of developing theories is that they would tell some truths which are not � at least yet � empirically perceived, so that at least some of the theoretical concepts would refer to something in the word.

For PCT these alternatives would mean (note that these are coarse simplificationsa):

1) Instrumentalism tries to find empirically perceivable and definable phenomena of control, which are cases where some measurable variables are affected by the subject in a way that their values remain stable in spite of the disturbances caused by the researcher. These phenomena are found, collected, analyzed and possibly used in explaining, predicting or affecting other these kind of phenomena. Instrumentalist avoids doing anything else, like being interested how these phenomena are connected to unperceivable structures in the environment of the studied subject or inside that subject itself.

2) (Scientific) realism can in practice do much the same as previous but its aims are different. It tries to develop coherent theories about what kind of things in the unperceived reality - in the environment and inside the subject - could explain the perceived control phenomena. One aim of these theoretical constructs is to offer better (indirect) empirical and conceptual methods to test the present theories and to interpret the present data in new ways.

(Hopefully this was not too long, I can�t even defend myself by the accuracy like Martin�)



L�hett�j�: Martin Taylor <mmt-csg@mmtaylor.net>
L�hetetty: 25. helmikuuta 2017 19:00
Vastaanottaja: csgnet@lists.illinois.edu
Aihe: Instrumentalism versus realism?

[Martin Taylor 2017.]

This diverges so far from the original thread title (CSG authorship
2017) that I though a new subject line without the "was" to be appropriate.

[Chad Green (2017.23.02.1045 EST)]


On 2/9/2017 Eetu mentioned that there may be a double bind between Rick and Martin who reflect two competing schools of thought: instrumentalism and realism. If true, then I think it would be fascinating if we found someone who could serve as a mediator of sorts by leveraging both perspectives to show how they are relational (e.g., the self and environment as fundamentally bound together).

Funny. I appear to be repeating myself.

I think you are simply repeating PCT. I believe PCT is the mediator you
are seeking. PCT demands that both realism and instrumentalism are
correct. They are not in opposition except in their extreme, exclusive,
forms where one is only correct if the other is wrong. In the light of
PCT, the opposition is between their proponents, not their concepts.

Why? Assuming there is a real world and this message is not a
solipsistic exercise, enough organisms of a type must survive in it long
enough to propagate their genes to descendants. Looking backwards in
time, our own personal ancestors have succeeded in doing so for some 3
or 4 billion years, in really existing environments that have changed
greatly over that time. Anyone reading this has personally survived in
the real world long enough to be able to read it, despite having been
exposed many times to situations in which they might not have done (and
many like them did not) if chance had gone the other way.

One of Powers's insights was the concept of "reorganization".
Reorganization does two things. One is to improve control of existing
perceptions so that by controlling them the intrinsic variables are kept
in the organism's "survival zone". the other is the arrange so that the
control of multiple perceptions minimally interfere with each other --
in other words to "orthogonalize" our controls. I concentrate here on

As Powers demonstrated in his "Arm" demo in LCS III Chapter 8,
reorganization can orthogonalize the output degrees of freedom for
control of several indeepndent perceptions (the arm with 14 different
joint motions in the Demo). To "orthogonalize" them means to make them
independent in the sense that changing one does not influence the
others. In the actual demo, the perceptual functions are initialized to
be orthogonal; changing one joint angle does not affect perception of
the others. In the real world we are not guaranteed to be so lucky.
Perceptual functions have to be developed through evolution or
individual reorganization to operate together in ways that do not
conflict, and at the same time work with the environment in ways that
keep our intrinsic variables in good condition.

Look around you. Regardless of what actually is in the real world, what
do you see? I think it is not edges, corners, and patches of colout, but
books, chairs, walls, and at this moment a display screen, among other
things. Are they in your environment? Perhaps not, if you just observe.
But PCT says you can test, by acting to control something about them.
Maybe you can take a book off the shelf and put it back. A whole lot of
edges and colour patches moved in your visual field while kinaesthetic
and touch sensations joined them in your (probably unconscious) set of
perceptions. But you perceived an object, a book, moving with very
little effect on the edges and colour patches of other objects you could

Your perception of the book was almost orthogonal to your perception of
the rest of your world. The effects of your actions on the book had very
little effect on the rest of your perceptual world. Evolution and
reorganization have constructed perceptual functions and output
hierarchies that work on the world as though there are really lots of
touchable things that move coherently without affecting other objects
(unless they bang into them).

Evolution and reorganization have made it so because when it is so, your
ancestors' intrinsic variables (and yours) have been kept in survivable
limits while you act in and are acted on by the real environment. We may
not perceive the environment as it really is, and we are subject to
illusions, but if we act as though the world is the way we perceive it
to be, things usually work out better than if we act as though
everything is illusion, and better than they would if we separately
controlled every property of every perceived object and relationship.

Whereas the perceptual field is capable of containing many independent
objects and their relationships and configurations at the same time, so
is fairly easily reorganized into a reasonably orthogonal system, the
output system is more constrained. In order to be able to control all
those perceptions without much mutual interference between the
individual perceptual controls, reorganization has to find another way
to orthogonalize control. In engineering practice, this is solved by
controlling one thing and then another (time multiplexing). In the
Powers hierarchy, evolution and reorganization have (according to
Powers) created a control level called "sequence control" that performs
not only the orthogonalization, but also arranges that the effects of
controlling one perception and then another make the inevitable
carry-over effects of the earlier beneficial to the later, rather than
impeding the later one.

Seen across time, the sequential level of control has the same effect on
reducing internal conflict as does the control of an object property as
compared to the independent control of the same property across the
different parts of the object. If one want to move a chair, it's easier
to move the whole chair than it is to move each leg, the seat, and the
back separately and hope that they all fit together again to make a
chair in the new place. Likewise, if one wants to, say, perceive a
shelter in the forest, it is easier to gather branches then arrange them
as a supporting structure and then cover them with leaves than it is to
put up the leaves and hope they stay up while you gather the branches.
To perceive and control the sequence is a way at worst to orthogonalize
(preventing you from trying to wash the bathroom floor while you are
vacuuming the living room) and at best to ease the control of the parts
of the sequence.

Is the perceived sequence in the environment? Its reference value is
not, but I could (at this moment) argue for either answer to the
question. On the one hand, the relationships among the properties of
different objects that determine the mutual influences important to the
sequence clearly are in the environment, while on the other one might
say that what is in the environment at this instant is not extended in
time, so the sequence cannot be in the environment at any instant during
its execution. The same might be said of any kind of time-binding. A
velocity is a measure of rate of change, and you can't have a change at
a single instant. The same ambiguity arises for an event such as a car
crash. The crash unfolds over time, or at least its perception does. And
one perceives the crash as happening in the external environment. It has
real-world consequences such as the death of an organism.

As I said, I don't have a personal answer to this one, though I lean
toward an extended perception of "now" that covers at least the loop
transport lag time of the perception being controlled. With that
proviso, one can at any instant perceive the whole sequence, but it
occurs in the real environment extended over time.

The take-away point of this message is that we cannot know to what
extent our perceptions of the environment are constructed arbitrarily by
our evolved and reorganized sensory and perceptual structure or are
predetermined by what is really out there. Nevertheless, PCT provides an
answer that both realism and constructivism (instrumentalism) are
correct in part. I suppose that makes PCT a precise form of enactivism.

PS. Vyv, I'm sorry this is another essay. It's hard to balance accuracy
and concision.