Citizenschallenge's Review of Hoffman's "Case Against Reality"

Here the link to citizenchallenge’s review.

You will have to read it first to follow along.

I suspect the title against reality is a reaction to Weinberg’s against philosophy. I would agree with Weinberg that the use of philosophers to physics is mostly to argue against the bad ideas of other philosophers. I’m not so sure however that it applies to the less reducible sciences such as biology.

What I mean by reducible is the ability to isolate parts of a system study them and apply what you have learned in a more general way. One of the key practices of science is what has been called a controlled environment. In physics I would offer the Large Hadron Collider as an example of a controlled environment. The same process is applicable to biology. To study how an organism functions we break it down into its component parts and study them in a controlled environment. I offer DNA sequencing as an example. The argument that philosophy may be applicable is more complicated.

The work of Darwin is a possible example of how philosophy is useful to biology. Darwin was not a lab coat experimenter for the most part. He did do experimentation. To test his theories, Darwin bred pigeons, dissected orchids, and skeletonized rabbits.

How to Experiment Like Darwin | AMNH

The key point here is that he used simple observational tools. I would even argue that his field observations were more critical to the “proof” of evolution than his experiments. I would even agree with this statement. “Darwin’s theological studies at Cambridge were crucial for his development as a naturalistic thinker”. “the theology taught at Cambridge was so rational and secular that it served as an excellent preparation for his later scientific work”

What is missing from that article is that what they called rational and secular involved a lot of training in philosophy. How to think if you like. How to break through the logical inconsistencies that plague us all due to the environment we are raised in.

The point I’m trying to make is why we should even consider something as strange as against reality. It has become a popular topic even in science with with statements such as we live in a mathematical universe. I think that is a good place to start this discussion.

We shouldn’t. Working somewhat from my memory, reality corresponds with truth.
Truth, correspondence theory of - Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Reality then rests on empirical evidence. This gets further into definitions but I think builds a barrier from the type of imaginative ideas of what is real that Hoffman gets into.

A principle challenge, on the other hand, is to understand the nature of the connection. There are metaphysical and epistemological worries. On the metaphysical side, there is the worry that a correspondence relation is intolerably mysterious. Correspondence is not analysable in terms of familiar physical relations, like distance or force. So what is correspondence? Some philosophers worry that by analysing truth as correspondence you exchange the mystery of truth for a greater mystery. On the epistemology side, there is the worry that you could never know whether a proposition corresponds with things beyond your head, since you can’t get outside your head to see things as they are. The worry here is that you cannot know whether any proposition is true if truth requires correspondence.

The problem as I have pointed out before is that languages, all languages, including the languages of math and logic are abstract. As in not to be confused with the thing itself. What we end up having with empirical observations are an estimate, a reduced in complexity, model of reality. You could call it simplification for clarification. Nothing wrong with that if you are aware of it.

And this shows the evolutionary distinction between observing “natural selection” and performing “artificial selection”.

Yes. I know. I call it being human. We don’t have the observational viewpoint to see the thing we refer to as reality. It’s disturbing when you first grasp that, but i wouldn’t call it a “worry”. What would worrying about it accomplish?

Maybe someone will come up with a way to see beyond our current limits. We come up with new tools, new extrapolations, but we keep using basically the same methods of gathering evidence and drawing conclusions based on it.

My earlier comments had a point. You don’t need the word artificial. Just call it selection.

The reason why it is important is to avoid the kind of “dualism” that citizenschallenge refers to when he talks about the “Mind ~ Physical/biological reality”. To put it simply the idea that nothing is outside of physical reality. At least from a scientific perspective. My purpose is slightly different because of swarm intelligence etc. Perhaps we will get there but for now some point of agreement to work from seems important. lausten seems to be on board.

What I want to know is if we are all working with the same philosophy of science. Then we can move on to critiquing Hoffman’s philosophy of science. For example is Hoffman saying that science is of little use to philosophy? I will try to explain how I see it.

A philosopher is examining a question and says I have mastered mathematics and logic so I can answer the question by proposing question that logically arise from the original question. A scientist is examining a question and says it is too complex for simple observation so I will use the tools of logic and mathematics to reduce it to something comprehensible. The point of intersection is the new questions that always arise from the observations. Science has the advantage that the new questions need not be logically consistent with previous observations. Philosophers get stuck in a logic loop from which there is no escape. Science can take advantage of “random” “discoveries” that at first may seem logically inconsistent with the official narrative. The order of things becomes important. First the observations then the logical explanations follow. I will share again the wisdom that an old Native America shared with me. If you have imagination you will see things that are not there but without imagination you will not see what is there.

In any case I hope we are not getting off the topic too far which is citzenschallenge’s critique of the “The Case Against Reality”.

P.S. I’m sorry for my spelling and grammar. I have a lot of distractions at the moment. Real life gets in my way and I hurry too much. I’m not making excuses I just feel bad about the quality of my responses.

They are time tested methods after all and abandoning them is out of the question. The problem here is if Hoffman has actually abandoned them or is just saying that science doesn’t inform philosophy all that much? Perhaps something else but we will have to see as we explore it more.

I see a distinct difference between “natural selection” and “artificial selection”.

One is genetically probabilistic, usually over long time periods and for survival abilities, the other is genetically deterministic over a few generations for human utility.

Just saying “selection” does not make that distinction.

Example: the Poodle (Pudel) used to be a full-sized working breed, especially for retrieving water-fowl.

Today’s toy poodles are lap-dogs that don’t shed, but are useless in the field.
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Yes that is right. The problem stems from the placement of humans outside the natural order of things creating a kind of dualism between nature and humans. It is only relevant here because citizenschallenge is, as I understand, objecting to that dualism. I agree with him.

We can guess why Darwin choose the word artificial. My guess is because of his worry that evolutionary theory would lead to the devaluation of human life. It is a way of making humans special or separate from the rest of nature. citizenchallenge is trying to create a moral foundation in which human are not special in my opinion. Maybe he will respond and we can get this show on the road.

In this case of humans involving themselves in the selection of mating pairs, what would you call it? It’s not what would happen “naturally” if humans weren’t there. From an alien’s perspective, observing all of earth as one “nature”, they might call us intervening in the breeding dogs “natural”. But we aren’t aliens. Seems like we need some different word.

Selection, as in animal husbandry? We are not the only animals in the world that engage in the care of “livestock”.

Now you are going to say no selection by the ants is involved, that it is a case of natural selection. I would argue that until recently the animals we choose to domesticate were also a result of natural selection. Genetic engineering changes that somewhat.

I honestly do not care if people use the term artificial selection because its meaning is clear. It may even remind people of the potential dangers of genetic engineering. The same is true of artificial intelligence, a lot of very bright people are really worried about it. It would seem however that cultural evolution is as hard to reverse as physical evolution. I think it is very unlikely we are going to get rid of nuclear weapons, stop genetic engineering or artificial intelligence. The important point here is that we are not separate from nature. Cultural and physical evolution are unavoidably linked.

“not natural or spontaneous” If you are a determinist I would argue that nothing is spontaneous from that view point . Another reason you may just want to say selection and leave off the artificial part. Try selective breeding for traditional animal husbandry.

Is that it?

I think “artificial” is perfectly suitable and in context of all other uses of the term, placing humans in a special category as compared to other living organisms.


  1. made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, especially as a copy of something natural.
    “her skin glowed in the artificial light”
  2. (of a person or their behavior) insincere or affected.
    “an artificial smile”
    Oxford Languages and Google - English | Oxford Languages

I don’t think it has anything to do with dualism

a. : a doctrine that the universe is under the dominion of two opposing principles one of which is good and the other evil. b. : a view of human beings as constituted of two irreducible elements (such as matter and spirit)

Dualism Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster

I agree on both points. I don’t know what the purpose of this thread is. I haven’t heard much about Hoffman, or CC’s response to the book. I don’t see how the discussion of “artificial” relates to the topic, or why we are working on defining it.

Same for science, philosophy, language. All of these concepts keep coming up with wolfhnd, and they do more to impede conversation than enhance it.

Philosophy to some extend has moved away from the “big questions”. I’m not saying that ethics and morality are not proper topics for philosophy but I would say because of consequences they have to take on a scientific out look. It is my opinion that philosophy independent of science has the proper role of mathematics and logic. Those are areas that can be helpful to science.

It is a carrier over from another thread.

I already answered your question. I wanted to start with a bit of clarification on what citizenchallenge meant by “Mind ~ Physical/biological reality”.

As I said to write4u the discussion of “artificial” is related to that topic as I understand what citizenchallenge is saying. We can just wait and see what he has to say about that, there is no hurry.

I don’t understand this sentence. Philosophy independent of science is pseudo-science. Philosophy grounded in science is how science advances, asking the next questions, challenging the past conclusions.

You seem to be missing the point. What you just did was equivocate science and philosophy.

I was tempted to do the same for obvious reasons but this topic is in the philosophy section. If you were to move it to the science section it would be a different discussion. Since the two sections exist I have to assume that whoever set up the forum thought that there was a valid distinction.

The value of tautological systems can be illustrated by mathematics. Science as we understand it is the study of “nature” which in some sense is irreducible. An open system of interrelationships. Mathematics is a closed logic system, by definition a tautological system. It is a great tool for science but it isn’t technically science or at least not natural science. (I may argue against that in a way later but the devil is in the details) The point is there are no ones or twos or zeros in nature. Tautologies are a kind of sin in natural science. Mathematics and logic however depend on them. What we could call artificial internal consistency. (I thought you would get a kick out of me using the word artificial :slight_smile: )

Philosophy is also a logic system that traditionally mainly deals with spoken languages but it has become more mathematical over time. I happen to think that is a step in the right direction but who knows. I’m not a professional philosopher, I may be an armchair philosopher but everyone is in some sense.

No one is bound by that arbitrary distinction. We are all free to have opinions on what things are.

But what we have come to call “one” is based on nature. You have been talking about this since you arrived, but you never get anywhere. Why is it important to say that?

I can tell you why I think it’s important to base “one” on something that we observe in nature. I have tried. I never claimed that “one” exists in nature though, so why do you keep repeating that? If it’s “the point”, then what’s the point?