Underdetermination and Redundancy
Each idea depends on many others
From thinkers like Willard VO Quine and Wittgenstein and many other 20th century thinkers we have this idea of a web of meaning. That is, everything meaningful is emmeshed in a web of other meaningful things that mutually define each other. Sounds complicated, but it's an old idea really. It's that the idea of black is meaningless unless we also have the idea of white. What Quine and Wittgenstein pointed out is just how radical that idea is in a context where people were try to figure out how a word or anything is intrinsically meaningful. What is it in the word that makes it meaningful? Is it some sort of logical relation between the word and reality? Must be it seemed. But no link was ever made. Instead, we stumbled upon the web of meaning.
For a simple example - consider the sub-atomic particles; electrons protons and neutrons. There is a fundamental question about what those particles actually are. But how they interact is well known - they do this that and the other thing. It's not that THEY are defined by their interaction - it's that OUR understanding of them is defined by how they interact. That is, for us, electrons and protons and neutrons are defined by how we perceive them to interact - by how we explain the interaction that we perceive.
Quine realized that there are potentially very many explanations for the interactions we perceive. If different explanations present internally consistent explanations for perceived events how do we choose which explanation is right? This is the problem of underdetermination - the explanations in themselves don't provide enough information to allow choice among them.
It's actually a very common problem. We experience it viscerally when we argue with other people. And it's probably at the root of how hard it is to persuade anybody of anything. How can you be persuasive when other ways of thinking yield the same results?
Ahh - but there's the rub - do they really yield the same results? How can we tell?
We've encountered the idea that perception depends on interaction.
For instance - if you just place an object in somebody's palm it is very hard for them to perceive it's shape - they have to be able to move the object over their skin.
Another example would be trompe l'oile painting - hyper realistic to the point you are convinced if you have the right point of view that the nail really is sticking out of the picture. But if you move your head just a bit you see it's just paint on a surface. Which goes right back to another point we looked at a few weeks ago - the role of redundancy in error detection. We need the redundancy of multiple experiences of something to know what it is because any one experience is ambiguous.
See the link to underdetermination? Underdetermination is the problem of not being able to tell which of competing explanations is the actual explanation. If redundancy of experience helps us learn much better about what is causing our experience, might redundancy help us with the problem of underdetermination?
We've seen that happen in physics. Even now lots of people are offering up their own versions of physics. These are whole webs of meaning that are internally consistent. People devote their lives to these webs. They are known in science as cranks. And that's because they have evolved their perspective alone without the redundancy of experience of thousands and millions of fellow researchers.
It's easy to dismiss cranks.
But what about when millions of people share a web of meaning that competes with other webs of meaning? For instance we see that happening now in Ukraine. Ukrainians have one version history. Russians have another version. How can redundancy help them decide which version is correct? Perhaps it would work if they looked a little to the south to see what happens when civil war erupts.
What do you think?