Announcing: Answers To Top 10 Questions About The Brain

David Longley David at
Thu Jul 10 02:36:20 EST 2003

In article <beiq0c$48a$1 at>, Mr Michael Bibby
<s4032484 at> writes
>I thought I might seize upon this because I consider it core essential to our
>>So you reckon scientists just "construct" their data do you? Dangerous
>Yes, that is what I am saying. All the way from data gathering efforts and
>logico-mathematical statistical analysis of the observational data right through
>to theory formulation and selection. For example, I need only direct your
>attention towards the fundamental problem of incommensurability of the construct
>validity of operational definitions of ‘commensurate’ (observable) entities and
>to the problem of ‘underdetermination of theory by the observational data’ as
>physicists like to call it. A fact is only a fact in a given theoretical
>framework. Empirical meaning is fixed not by some extralinguistic reality but
>instead is fixed by casting theoretical terms in an empirical mould (through
>operational definitions and constructs): all this means that the observational
>language, which we cloth ‘facts’ in, cannot be considered ‘theory neutral’ as
>positivism maintains (i.e., positivism, most strongly associated with Comte,
>states that all theoretical terms must be clothed in observational/’empirical’
>terms; this reflects the positivists distinction between ‘theory-neutral
>observation terms’ [‘facts’] and ‘theory’).

What about as modern, Quinean proposes? How about "if you put a
thermometer in a pan of water and heat the water up, ceteris paribus the
water will boil at 100 degrees C". Is that true or false?

Or how about, "if I train a rat on a CRF it will complete extinction in
a sorter number of responses and time than if I train it on a partial
Reinforcement Schedule" is that true or false?

>Like I love to say; ‘facts’ are like artefacts, they are built by us for our
>unique purposes, they are the ‘free creations of the human mind’, human-specific
>constructs, like Vico said “God is the artificer of nature and man the God of
>artefacts”. Facts are anthropomorphically defined entities that exist in a
>human-cultural-space: a thing is what it is not because of anything intrinsic or
>essential to it, but by virtue of what we make it: ‘man is the measure of all
>things’, as Plato put it

Very Romantic.

Did you see the Eurovision Song Contest this year - The Austrian entry.
Check it out.

>; ‘The true is the made’ (Vico). To put it another way
>“the content of our knowledge must be considered the free creation of our
>culture. It resembles a traditional myth.” (Fleck). But this presents us with
>one lasting problem; human culture is just as inscrutable as the physical
>environement, neither of them present us with a legible face leaving us only to
>develop the methodological tools and language to decipher them. 

So, we generate our own sciences - how could it be otherwise. We create
the categories, measurement systems etc etc. So what? What's important
is how well these work, and any reputable scientists in any field is
usually able to tell other people what is and is not the best contender,
or contenders. 

>Saying that theory selection is solely determined by the observational data is
>like saying that there is only one true interpretation of the bible;
>observations (whether in the physical domain or the cultural domain) are like
>texts: “writing is read, and ‘in the last analysis’ does not give rise to
>hermeneutic deciphering, to the decoding of a meaning or truth”- Derrida. 

Don't start quoting Derrida - one doesn't need to "decode" meaning - we
don't need meaning analysis at all in fact, at least not in science. And
as to truth - keep it simple as I say above.
>Further to all this, even when we use the ‘same’ observational language, we may
>be using it in fundamentally incommensurable ways; this is closely related to
>Quine’s inscrutability/indeterminacy of references thesis; again, empirical
>meaning is not fixed by some 'extralinguistic reality' it is fixed by us as we
>apply empirical terms to our own experiences. 

Yes, we have to train people how to use specialist languages. This is
what's happening to you at university. Your there to learn. Along the
way, you'll get some feedback as to how well you're doing. In the end,
faculty members and an external examiner will decide what degree of
understanding you deserve. Or do you tell them, as you tried to tell me,
that what you believe is not open to discussion?

>Dangerous talk you say, I say, It is nothing more than a pious hope to think
>that we are discovering ontic reality and penetrating into the internal
>constitution of things, unveiling the inner workings of nature. the word
>'Discovery' is a rhetorical device we use to authoratize our truth claims and
>displace responcibility; it is a relative term and is not the polar opposite of
>‘invent’ as many seem to believe i.e., if I ‘discover’ (or invent for that
>matter, ‘discover’ does not carry much weight here) a problem and ‘find’ (come
>across, formulate, stumble upon etc) a solution does that mean to say that I
>have ‘discovered’ the solution? or,  ‘Discovered’ A solution?

I think most of the above is just nonsense - try "inventing" your lab
data and see what happens. It appears to me that you don't understand
what terms like "inscrutability of reference" and "indeterminacy of
translation" (nb), or what "underdetermination of evidence" really refer
to. These are NOT excuses to go off and bury oneself in the lunacies of
methodological solipsism or worse still, epistemological anarchism.

>I choose my words carefully, to convey what I properly mean in order that I be
>understood. If you want to engage any of these criticisms feel free to do so, I
>would enjoy taking the opportunity to explore these and other issues further,
>but the last thing I want to do is get lost in semantic debates! 

I think you are already lost in a semantic debate, albeit all on your

Note, I'm endeavouring to be helpful here, not just dismissive.

Have a look at:

and try to appreciate why it was written (see other papers at the site).

David Longley

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