Constraints on the development of the Scientific Image, “looks”, and the relevance of value judgements.

March 9, 2015

While the more straightforward instances of “looks” talk seem to be on the cusp of being encapsulated in a mechanistic description of how they function, there remains work to be done on the inferential relations between the conceptual dimensions of thought, perceptual “looks”, and how these function in respect to any normative defeasibility. This is because, according to the Sellarsian reading, “looks” talk, with respect to the propositional statement, “this looks red to me”, can be broken down to “X looks red to Y under standard conditions”[1], where a complete description of standard conditions considers the scientific explication of the entire process of the physical system between the light bounced from object X and its sensory processing and cognitive recognition by Y. Consider the recent furor over the blue and black dress that recently became a meme on the internet: For some people, the image of this dress was interpreted as white and gold based upon how their brains balanced the visual cues in the photograph, which lead them to perceive the image as either white/gold or blue/black. The final reported perception might be explained in regards to the invariance of the cognitive subsystems which regulate the process of white-balancing the image. A this time we lack a full neurobiological/scientific description of this process, but we are closer to describing certain sub-functions of cognition than higher level processes. (While pragmatically, we can proceed in the face of the necessary incompleteness of the scientific image, it is worth noting this problem, especially as it becomes more pronounced in complex systems of cognition. I will try and pick this point up again later.)

However, this picture becomes more complicated as “looks” engage with the inferential nexus of language and the abductive capacities of intelligence. In so far as we also want to be able to say that these capacities are capable of being explicated by the same type of functional descriptions which describe the more straightforward perceptual mechanisms (without being reduced to them) we must admit the relevance of scientific description upon the conceptual functions of intelligent subjects. However, each subject has its own individuated conceptual economy, in so far as the coherent structure of concepts which I hold may be distinct from the coherence of various concepts that you hold. While, in principle, the function of intelligence and the normative structure of language allows us to achieve similar conceptual structures, in fact material constraints impede a universal coherence and lead to a subjective structural nominalism. Furthermore, while structure does not determine the function of intelligence, it does constrain its advancement over time. Thus, the problem of the indeterminacy of interpretation. These issues are not objectively decidable under the terms of the scientific image, barring a postulated completed scientific image which could pronounce on the determinate states of these various conceptual structures. But, since the completed scientific image would essentially require the invocation of apocalyptic end-point, or the end-of-time, this remains outside the function of intelligence.

The mapping of our normative conception of the world always remains necessarily incomplete. Our scientific conception of the world is bootstrapped on top of our manifest capacities, in so far as it is reliant on the technology of language for its further construction, and is therefore also materially constrained. Our functional mechanistic descriptions are not one to one mappings of the world, or evidence of the world impressing its categorical giveness [2] upon us, but rather the relation of certain propositional-conceptual structures with the uniformities of nature, and are therefore necessarily compressed and incomplete. This is not to say that they are not-defeasible in respect to certain matter-of-factual problems, but they are only defeasible under certain contextual conditions which are isomorphic with the given descriptions of the process. However, as a model reaches its limit conditions — the space in which it must necessarily compress global problems beyond its local perspective, certain issues become undecidable within its frame of reference. Nonetheless, claims beyond this limit condition are capable of being adjudicated from additional perspectives, which may uncover homologous functions, and decide the issue under another context.

However, claims made regarding the interpretation of concepts not of matter-of-factual dispute, such as value judgements, since they are relative to the entire economy of conceptual interpretation of a community, which is indeterminate in the terms I have discussed above, can not be adjudicated in this same manner – they are subject to historical context, but also the intentional agenda of that community, and so remain in dispute. Yet, we still want to say that we can make these value judgements by regarding the relevance of certain claims of individuals in relation to their relevance to the community as a whole.

To return to our initial concern with “looks” talk – consider Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist” — we might see that this painting is blue, and say that it “looks blue to me”, but in doing so, we also translate this statement to proposition terms. Where, in principle, the demarcation between our sensory impression of “blue” is decidable and descriptable in the mechanistic terms also sketched above, the translation to language also deploys inferential associations which are not captured by that same mechanistic description. So, in the same moment we have apprehended “blue” as the proper signifier for our impression, we might also infer “sadness” as a related concept. Most people would regard this as a relevant inference, given the related imagery depicted in the context of the painting — but what if our viewer had also driven a blue car to see the painting, and upon seeing the painting made an inference to their car? Would we say that this inference also bears relevance upon their interpretation of the painting? And should the community also consider this meaningful to the aesthetic value of the painting?

1. William A. deVries & Tom Triplett, Knowledge, Mind, and the Given: Reading Wilfrid Sellar’s “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind”, pg. 21-23
2. Peter Wolfendale, Is there a TV in my head?