Information-Theoretic Structural Realism

In document Reducing Uncertainty: Understanding the Information-Theoretic Origins of Consciousness (Page 131-134)

Ladyman et al. (2007) argues for a conjunction of OSR and what they call Rainforest Realism (RR)62, the conjunction of these two theses results in their naturalistic metaphysics – Information-

Theoretic Structural Realism (ITSR). Rainforest realism is just meant to capture the “scale relativity of ontology” (Ladyman et al., 2007, p. 252) in that there are a number of scales at which scientific investigations take place across the special sciences, biology at the scale of organisms or populations

62 Rainforest Realism comes from Ross et al. (2000) as the name they give Dennett’s brand of realism, Ladyman et al.

(2007) adopt it because as they say “[o]urs is thus a realism of lush and leafy spaces rather than deserts, with science regularly revealing new thickets of canopy. Anyone is welcome to go on sharing Quine’s aesthetic appreciation of deserts, but we think the facts now suggest that we must reconcile ourselves to life in the rainforest.” (Ladyman et al., 2007, p. 234)

therein, neuroscience at the scale of our nervous system, psychology at the scales of our behavior, etc., and those are no more less or greater, ontologically speaking, than the scale of physics. ISTR is meant to capture that (1) our best scientific theories and explanations reveal the structural features of nature and that (2) the various scales at which our investigations take place are all as ontologically “real” in the sense that they pick out real patterns of reality. Real patterns (Dennett, 1989, pp. 38–42) are meant to be patterns that exist out there in the world which we pick up from our observation and investigations of the natural world from which will always involve our intentional stance towards those observables. Dennett writes, “I claim that the intentional stance provides a vantage point for discerning similarly useful patterns. These patterns are objective – they are out there to be detected – but from our point of view they are not out there entirely independent of us, since they are patterns composed partly of our own “subjective” reactions to what is out there; they are the patterns made to order for our own narcissistic concerns” (Dennett, 1989, p. 39). To connect this up to how Ladyman et al. understand real patterns in the context of ITSR, Ladyman et al. say “Special sciences are free to hypothesize any real patterns consistent with the measurements they accumulate as long as these do not contradict what physics agrees on”(Ladyman et al., 2007, p. 252). This falls in line with their view of RR since those real patterns are ‘real’ in so far as they (1) make predictions that conform to the evidence available and (2) do not conflict with what physics agrees on.

As Ladyman et al. (2007) write of ITSR,

“According to ITSR, tables and chairs are real patterns – they just do not have fundamental counterparts. At the fundamental level, where all proper talk about entities whose status fueled the twentieth-century scientific realism debate goes on, reliance on the notional-world idea of cohesive things is just completely misleading.” (Ladyman et al., 2007, p. 252)

And furthermore,

“ITSR explains why parochial causal concepts are robust in special sciences, but also why nothing stronger than the thin notion of flow or process unifies them.” (Ladyman et al., 2007, p. 279)

Turning back to the central focus of this dissertation, that is the question of phenomenal experience. Our desideratum is an ontological and metaphysical framework that accommodates (1) the lessons we’ve gleaned from investigating phenomenal experience from an information-theoretic perspective (chapters 1-4), (2) that our causal framework is deflationary about “causes” being a thing out there in the world distinct from our investigations of that world (chapter 2), and (3) that we should have a more nuanced understanding of structural-dynamical properties/processes/relations (chapter 4), ITSR is compatible with all of this. To comment first on the second quote above, the work in chapter two argued for a deflationary view of causation from a broadly manipulationist-interventionist causal framework, that we gain information from our investigations by perturbing well-defined variables in a target system. The important thing isn’t that this tells us that there are “causes” out there making things do what they do, but that it gives us a picture of the structures of reality, namely how various things relate to one-another, what the flow and process of the furniture of reality is as described by their information-theoretic relationships. We’ve also gained a picture that tells us that the most interesting features of systems are not the “cohesive things,” as Ladyman et al. puts it, but the push and pull of a systems information-theoretic properties and processes. For instance, for the question of how individual neurons generate the qualitative character of experience, it’s not the individual components or things, but how they relate to each other and the information-structure they compose (chapter 3). Chapter four gave us a picture that even the structural and dynamical properties we encounter in our investigations of reality may have interesting differences in their properties, distinct from the ‘things’ or ‘objects’ which are involved in those structures.

There is, however, an important difference between ITSR as Ladyman et al. advocates it and the picture I am trying to draw for Information-Theoretic Neutral-Structuralism (ITNS). Namely that ITSR gives us a “weak unification” metaphysically given the empirical evidence we have. As Ladyman et al write,

“The metaphysics of ITSR is so compatible. It doesn’t imply that the universe is asymmetrical in a way that would explain the utility of the heuristics, but it explains why sciences that gather measurements from specific perspectives would use individuals and causal processes as locators. Such weak, but non-trivial, unification is the metaphysic that empirical evidence currently justifies. Nothing stronger has any naturalistically acceptable justification at all.” (Ladyman et al., 2007, p. 290)

I, however, want to push the information-theoretic ontology to its bearable limits, by also combining it with an information-theoretic neutral monism, that is a metaphysical position that posits a neutral ontological category as the nature of the furniture of reality. I agree that ITSR has this limitation, in and of itself, and should settle for the “weak unification” it has metaphysically. However, I think as far as a more speculative foray into metaphysics is concerned, I’m justified in abductively making the argument that the basic furniture of reality is information-theoretic, understood as neutral and structural.

With an explanation of the motivations for developing a neutral monism (§1 & §2), specifically an information-theoretic neutral monism, and an explanation of structural realism and ITSR (§3 & §4), its benefits and limitations, we are now in a position to evaluate the thesis proposed at the beginning of this essay – Information-Theoretic Neutral-Structuralism.

In document Reducing Uncertainty: Understanding the Information-Theoretic Origins of Consciousness (Page 131-134)