Puzzles for Physicalists

by jessicata8 min read12th Mar 202015 comments

44

PhilosophyAnthropics
Frontpage

The following is a list of puzzles that are hard to answer within a broadly-physicalist, objective paradigm. I believe critical agentialism can answer these better than competing frameworks; indeed, I developed it through contemplation on these puzzles, among others. This post will focus on the questions, though, rather than the answers. (Some of the answers can be found in the linked post)

In a sense what I have done is located "anomalies" relative to standard accounts, and concentrated more attention on these anomalies, attempting to produce a theory that explains them, without ruling out its ability to explain those things the standard account already explains well.

Indexicality

(This section would be philosophical plagiarism if I didn't cite On the Origin of Objects.)

Indexicals are phrases whose interpretation depends on the speaker's standpoint, such as "my phone" or "the dog over there". It is often normal to treat indexicals as a kind of shorthand: "my phone" is shorthand for "the phone belonging to Jessica Taylor", and "the dog over there" is shorthand for "the dog existing at coordinates 37.856570, -122.284176". This expansion allows indexicals to be accounted for within an objective, standpoint-independent frame.

However, even these expanded references aren't universally unique. In a very large universe, there may be a twin Earth which also has a dog at coordinates 37.856570, -122.284176. As computer scientists will find obvious, specifying spacial coordinates requires a number of bits logarithmic in the amount of space addressed. These globally unique identifiers get more and more unwieldy the more space is addressed.

Since we don't expand out references enough to be sure they're globally unique, our use of them couldn't depend on such global uniqueness. An accounting of how we refer to things, therefore, cannot posit any causally-effective standpoint-independent frame that assigns semantics.

Indeed, the trouble of globally unique references can also be seen by studying physics itself. Physical causality is spacially local; a particle affects nearby particles, and there's a speed-of-light limitation. For spacial references to be effective (e.g. to connect to observation and action), they have to themselves "move through" local space-and-time.

This is a bit like the problem of having a computer refer to itself. A computer may address computers by IP address. The IP address "127.0.0.1" always refers to this computer. These references can be resolved even without an Internet connection. It would be totally unnecessary and unwieldy for a computer to refer to itself (e.g. for the purpose of accessing files) through a globally-unique IP address, resolved through Internet routing.

Studying enough examples like these (real and hypothetical) leads to the conclusion that indexicality (and more specifically, deixis) are fundamental, and that even spacial references that appear to be globally unique are resolved deictically.

How does this relate to physics? It means references to "the objective world" or "the physical world" must also be resolved indexically, from some standpoint. Paying attention to how these references are resolved is critical.

The experimental results you see are the ones in front of you. You can't see experimental results that don't, through spacio-temporal information flows, make it to you. Thus, references to the physical which go through discussing "the thing causing experimental predictions" or "the things experiments failed to falsify" are resolved in a standpoint-dependent way.

It could be argued that physical law is standpoint-independent, because it is, symmetrically, true at each point in space-time. However, this excludes virtual standpoints (e.g. existing in a computer simulation), and additionally, this only means the laws are standpoint-independent, not the contents of the world, the things described by the laws.

Pre-reduction references

(For previous work, see "Reductive Refrerence".)

Indexicality by itself undermines view-from-nowhere mythology, but perhaps not physicalism itself. What presents a greater challenge for physicalism is the problem of pre-reduced references (which are themselves deictic).

Let's go back to the twin Earth thought experiment. Suppose we are in pre-chemistry times. We still know about water. We know water through our interactions with it. Later, chemistry will find that water has a particular chemical formula.

In pre-chemistry times, it cannot be known whether the formula is H2O, XYZ, etc, and these formulae are barely symbolically meaningful. If we discover that water is H2O, we will, after-the-fact, define "water" to mean H2O; if we discover that water is XYZ, we will, after-the-fact, define "water" to mean XYZ.

Looking back, it's clear that "water" has to be H2O, but this couldn't have been clear at the time. Pre-chemistry, "water" doesn't yet have a physical definition; a physical definition is assigned later, which rationalizes previous use of the word "water" into a physicalist paradigm.

A philosophical account of reductionism needs to be able to discuss how this happens. To do this, it needs to be able to discuss the ontological status of entities such as "water" (pre-chemistry) that do not yet have a physical definition. In this intermediate state, the philosophy is talking about two entities, pre-reduced entities and physics, and considering various bridgings between them. So the intermediate state needs to contain entities that are not yet conceptualized physically.

A possible physicalist objection is that, while it may be a provisional truth that water is definitionally the common drinkable liquid found in rivers and so on, it is ultimately true that water is H20, and so physicalism is ultimately true. (This is very similar to the two truths doctrine in Buddhism).

Now, expanding out this account needs to provide an account of the relation between provisional and ultimate truth. Even if such an account could be provided, it would appear that, in our current state, we must accept it as provisionally true that some mental entities (e.g. imagination) do not have physical definitions, since a good-enough account has not yet been provided. And we must have a philosophy that can grapple with this provisional state of affairs, and judge possible bridgings as fitting/unfitting.

Moreover, there has never been a time without provisional definition. So this idea of ultimate truth functions as a sort of utopia, which is either never achieved, or is only achieved after very great advances in philosophy, science, and so on. The journey is, then, more important than the destination, and to even approach the destination, we need an ontology that can describe and usably function within the journeying process; this ontology will contain provisional definitions.

The broader point here is that, even if we have the idea of "ultimate truth", that idea isn't meaningful (in terms of observations, actions, imaginations, etc) to a provisional perspective, unless somehow the provisional perspective can conceptualize the relation between itself and the ultimate truth. And, if the ultimate truth contains all provisional truths (as is true if forgetting is not epistemically normative), the ultimate truth needs to conceptualize this as well.

Epistemic status of physics

Consider the question: "Why should I believe in physics?". The conventional answer is: "Because it predicts experimental results." Someone who can observe these experimental results can, thus, have epistemic justification for belief in physics.

This justificatory chain implies that there are cognitive actors (such as persons or social processes) that can do experiments and see observations. These actors are therefore, in a sense, agents.

A physicalist philosophical paradigm should be able to account for epistemic justifications of physics, else fails to self-ratify. So the paradigm needs to account for observers (and perhaps specifically active observers), who are the ones having epistemic justification for belief in physics.

Believing in observers leads to the typical mind-body problems. Disbelieving in observers fails to self-ratify. (Whenever a physicalist says "an observation is X physical entity", it can be asked why X counts as an observation of the sort that is epistemically compelling; the answer to this question must bridge the mental and the physical, e.g. by saying the brain is where epistemic cognition happens. And saying "you know your observations are the things processed in this brain region because of physics" is circular.)

What mind-body problems? There are plenty.

Anthropics

The anthropic principle states, roughly, that epistemic agents must believe that the universe contains epistemic agents. Else, they would believe themselves not to exist.

The language of physics, on its own, doesn't have the machinery to say what an observer is. Hence, anthropics is a philosophical problem.

The standard way of thinking about anthropics (e.g. SSA/SIA) is to consider the universe from a view-from-nowhere, and then assume that "my" body is in some way sampled "randomly" from this viewed-from-nowhere universe, such that I proceed to get observations (e.g. visual) from this body.

This is already pretty wonky. Indexicality makes the view-from-nowhere problematic. And the idea that "I" am "randomly" placed into a body is a rather strange metaphysics (when and where does this event happen?).

But perhaps the most critical issue is that the physicalist anthropic paradigm assumes it's possible to take a physical description of the universe (e.g. as an equation) and locate observers in it.

There are multiple ways of considering doing so, and perhaps the best is functionalism, which will be discussed later. However, I'll note that a subjectivist paradigm can easily find at least one observer: I'm right here right now.

This requires some explaining. Say you're lost in an amusement park. There are about two ways of thinking about this:

  1. You don't know where you are, but you know where the entrance is.
  2. You don't know where the entrance is, but you know where you are.

Relatively speaking, 1 is an "objective" (relatively standpoint-independent) answer, and 2 is a "subjective" (relatively standpoint-dependent) answer.

2 has the intuitive advantage that you can point to yourself, but not to the entrance. This is because pointing is deictic.

Even while being lost, you can still find your way around locally. You might know where the Ferris wheel is, or the food stand, or your backpack. And so you can make a local map, which has not been placed relative to the entrance. This map is usable despite its disconnection from a global reference frame.

Anthropics seems to be saying something similar to (1). The idea is that I, initially, don't know "where I am" in the universe. But, the deictic critique applies to anthropics as it applies to the amusement park case. I know where I am, I'm right here. I know where the Earth is, it's under me. And so on.

This way of locating (at least one) observer works independent of ability to pick out observers given a physical description of the universe. Rather than finding myself relative to physics, I find physics relative to me.

Of course, the subjectivist framework has its own problems, such as difficulty finding other observers. So there is a puzzle here.

Tool use and functionalism

Functionalism is perhaps the current best answer as to how to locate observers in physics. Before discussing functionalism, though, I'll discuss tools.

What's a hammer? It's a thing you can swing to apply lots of force to something at once. Hammers can be made of many physical materials, such as stone, iron, or wood. It's about the function, not the substance.

The definition I gave refers to a "you" who can swing the hammer. Who is the "you"? Well, that's standpoint-dependent. Someone without arms can't use a conventional hammer to apply lots of force. The definition relativizes to the potential user. (Yes, a person without arms may say conventional hammers are hammers due to social convention, but this social convention is there because conventional hammers work for most people, so it still relativizes to a population.)

Let's talk about functionalism now. Functionalism is based on the idea of multiple realizability: that a mind can be implemented on many different substrates. A mind is defined by its functions rather than its substrate. This idea is very familiar to computer programmers, who can hide implementation details behind an interface, and don't need to care about hardware architecture for the most part.

This brings us back to tools. The definition I gave of "hammer" is an interface: it says how it can be used (and what effects it should create upon being used).

What sort of functions does a mind have? Observation, prediction, planning, modeling, acting, and so on. Now, the million-dollar question: Who is (actually or potentially) using it for these functions?

There are about three different answers to this:

  1. The mind itself. I use my mind for functions including planning and observation. It functions as a mind as long as I can use it this way.
  2. Someone or something else. A corporation, a boss, a customer, the government. Someone or something who wants to use another mind for some purpose.
  3. It's objective. Things have functions or not independent of the standpoint.

I'll note that 1 and 2 are both standpoint-dependent, thus subjectivist. They can't be used to locate minds in physics; there would have to be some starting point, of having someone/something intending to use a mind for something.

3 is interesting. However, we now have a disanalogy from the hammer case, where we could identify some potential user. It's also rather theological, in saying the world has an observer-independent telos. I find the theological implications of functionalism to be quite interesting and even inspiring, but that still doesn't help physicalism, because physicalist ontology doesn't contain standpoint-independent telos. We could, perhaps, say that physicalism plus theism yields objective functionalism. And this requires adding a component beyond the physical equation of the universe, if we wish to find observers in it.

Causality versus logic

Causality contains the idea that things "could" go one way or another. Else, causal claims reduce to claims about state; there wouldn't be a difference between "if X, then Y" and "X causes Y".

Pearlian causality makes this explicit; causal relations are defined in terms of interventions, which come from outside the causal network itself.

The ontology of physics itself is causal. It is asserted, not just that some state will definitely follow some previous state, but that there are dynamics that push previous states to new states, in a necessary way. (This is clear in the case of dynamical systems)

Indeed, since experiments may be thought of as interventions, it is entirely sensible that a physical theory that predicts the results of these interventions must be causal.

These "coulds" have a difficult status in relation to logic. Someone who already knows the initial state of a system can logically deduce its eventual state. To them, there is inevitability, and no logically possible alternative.

It appears that, while "could"s exist from the standpoint of an experimenter, they do not exist from the standpoint of someone capable of predicting the experimenter, such as Laplace's demon.

This is not much of a problem if we've already accepted fundamental deixis and rejected the view-from-nowhere. But it is a problem for those who haven't.

Trying to derive decision-theoretic causality from physical causality results in causal decision theory, which is known to have a number of bugs, due to its reliance on hypothetical extra-physical interventions.

An alternative is to try to develop a theory of "logical causality", by which some logical facts (such as "the output of my decision process", assuming you know your source code) can cause others. However, this is oxymoronic, because logic does not contain the affordance for intervention. Logic contains the affordance for constructing and checking proofs. It does not contain the affordance for causing 3+4 to equal 8. A sufficiently good reasoner can immediately see that "3+4=8" runs into contradiction; there is no way to construct a possible world in which 3+4=8.

Hence, it is hard to say that "coulds" exist in a standpoint-independent way. We may, then, accept standpoint-dependence of causation (as I do), or reject causation entirely.

Conclusion

My claim isn't that physicalism is false, or that there don't exist physicalist answers to these puzzles. My claim, rather, is that these puzzles are at least somewhat difficult, and that sufficient contemplation on them will destabilize many forms of physicalism. The current way I answer these puzzles is through a critical agential framework, but other ways of answering them are possible as well.

44

16 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 3:43 AM
New Comment

Yeah, I spent a lot of last year struggling with the reference thing. In the end I decided that reference was not fundamental even within the human-centered picture, and that reference was just a special case of communication (in the sense of Quine, Grice, et al.: I do a communicative act because I model you as modeling why I do it.)

Figuring this out made me a bit upset with academic philosophy, because I'd been looking through the recent literature fruitlessly before I found Quine basically solving the problem 50 years before. This is the opposite of the problem I usually pin on philosophy, that it's too backward-looking. In this case, it's more like the people talking about reference within the last 20 years are all self-selected for not caring about Quine much at all.

Whether or not you find this useful may depend on a certain mental maneuver of taking something you were asking a question about, and breaking it into pieces rather than answering the question. In this case, "How are the semantics of a sentence determined?" is a question, but rather than answering it I'm advocating getting rid of this high-level-of-abstraction word "semantics" by working in a more concrete level of description where there are humans with models of each other. And of course I've framed this in a very palatable way, but I think whether this maneuver feels good or not is a big dividing line - if you have the unshakeable feeling that I have missed something vital by not answering the original question, then you fall on the other side of the line - though perhaps one can still be lured over with practical applications.

in the sense of Quine, Grice, et al.

What's a good starting point for reading?

Anyway, I don't think this changes the picture much. If we replace "is X true" with "is saying X a useful communicative act" then the questions in the post still apply. Useful communicative acts are standpoint-dependent; useful communicative acts use words that don't have physical definitions; useful communicative acts can't go through a view-from-nowhere; etc.

Well, I was skimming through Word and Object when I "became enlightened," but it may have mostly been a catalyst. Still recommended though?

I don't think l was very clear about what problem I was solving, and I don't think you managed to read my mind, so let me try again.

The problem I was interested in was: how does reference work? How can I point at or verbally indicate some thingie, and actually be indicating the thingie in question? And could I program that into an AI?

In your post, you connect this to indexicals, which I've interpreted as a question like "how does reference work? How can I point at or verbally indicate some thingie, and actually be indicating that thingie, in a way that you could explain to a microscopic physics simulation?"

One of the key parts of the solution is that words don't have inherent "aboutness" attached to them. Reference doesn't make any sense if you just focus on the speaker and try to define the aboutness in their statements. It needs to be interpreted as communication, which uses some notion of a functional audience you're constructing a message for.

So that question of "How do I verbally indicate the thing and really indicate it?" has to be left unanswered to the extent that we have false beliefs about our ability to "really indicate" things. Instead, I advocate breaking it down into questions about how you model other people and choose communicative acts.

So I am absolutely not saying we should replace "is x true?" with "is x a communicatively useful act?". The closest thing I'm saying would be that we can cash out "what is the referent of sentence x?" into "what is the modeled audience getting pointed at by the act of saying sentence x?".

I'm not sure how you're interpreting physicalism here. But if we single out the notion that there should be some kind of "physics shorthand" for human concepts and references - like H2O is for water, or like the toy model of reference as passing numerical coordinates - then yeah, there is no physics shorthand. Where there is something like it, it is humans that have done the work to accomodate physics, not vice versa.

Imagine there's a Game of Life world with a society of evolved intelligent creatures inside it, and you're observing the world from the outside. The creatures communicate with each other, "refer" to things in their environment, introspect on their internal state, consider counterfactuals, make decisions, etc. You from the outside can understand all these cognitive processes fully mechanistically, as tools that don't require any ontologically fundamental special sauce to work. When they refer to things, it's "just" some mechanism for constructing models of their environment and sharing information about it between each other or something, and you can understand that mechanism without ever being compelled to think that "fundamental deixis" or something is involved. You will even observe some of the more introspective agents formulate theories about how explaining their experience seems to require positing fundamental deixis, or fundamental free will, or fundamental qualia, but you'll be able to tell from the outside that they're confused, and everything about them is fully explicable without any of that stuff.

Right?

Then the obvious question is: should I think I'm different from the Game of Life creatures? Should I think that I need ontologically fundamental special sauce to do things that they seem to be able do without it?

This isn't really a tight argument, but I'd like to see how your views deal with thought experiments of this general kind.

Suppose we run the GOL simulation. What we have ontological access to is the state at each time, as a Boolean grid. We do not, yet, have ontological access to: agents in the world, references made by these agents, the agents' cognitive processes, etc.

To find these things in the world, we need to do some philosophical work that bridges between GOL state-by-state data and these concepts (such as "references") that we are familiar with through use, and are actually using in the course of studying GOL-world.

Our notion of things like "imagination" has to start without a physical definition, and is based on our familiarity. We can consider mappings between this non-physical concept and the state-by-state ontology, and judge them by how well-fitting they are.

Now to the question of whether I'm "ontologically special" compared to GOL agents. Since I'm taking a relativistic perspective, the answer is "yes" in a tautological way, in that my ontology is my ontology. That is, I'm here and now, and GOL agents aren't here and now. I have access to my vision directly, and access to the vision of GOL agents through a complex process of running computer simulations, doing reductionist philosophy, and so on.

However, I could also (after doing reductionist philosophy) take the perspective of the GOL agents, and see that, if they adopt a similar philosophy, they must consider themselves ontologically special, and me as some agent they can access in only a very indirect manner.

At this point I (and they) may want semantics for a joint ontology, that can faithfully represent both of our perspectives, in a neutral way that respects the symmetry (and uses it for compression). This is a worthy goal, but it requires at least each of us understanding our own initial perspective. (I wrote previously about this sort of Copernican move here)

Even after I've done this, my world model will treat myself as special in the sense that the data used to build it directly comes from my senses (not the GOL agent's). But there will be a mental symmetry represented. And there will be semantics for a joint model that includes what is common between our perspectives.

I do not make any assertion that this neutral joint map will treat anyone as ontologically special compared to anyone else. It really shouldn't unless there is some important asymmetry.

I think counterfactuals only make sense when talking about a part of a system from the perspective of another part. Maybe probabilities as well. Similar to how in quantum mechanics, a system of two qubits can be in a pure state, but from the perspective of the first qubit, the second is in a mixed state.

In this view, causality/counterfactuals don't have to be physically fundamental. For example, you can have a Game of Life world where "all causal claims reduce to claims about state" as you say: "if X then Y" where X and Y are successive states. Yet it makes perfect sense for an AI in that world to use probabilities or counterfactuals over another, demarcated part of the world.

There is of course a tension between that and logical decision theories, but maybe that's ok?

Studying enough examples like these (real and hypothetical) leads to the conclusion that indexicality (and more specifically, deixis) are fundamental

Usual problem: "fundamental" means more than one thing.

It could be argued that physical law is standpoint-independent, because it is, symmetrically, true at each point in space-time. However, this excludes virtual standpoints (e.g. existing in a computer simulation), and additionally, this only means the laws are standpoint-independent, not the contents of the world, the things described by the laws.

It is not enough to say that physics does not show that fundamental entities are standpoint-independent, you need a positive reason to assert that they are standpoint dependent. In this article, as in all your others, you argue that indexicality or standpoint-dependence is fundamental or basic in some unspecified sense ... and then go on to treat them as fundamental or basic in a specifically ontological sense. Since "fundamental" means more than one thing, you need to show that standpoints are ontologically fundamental, not just epistemically or semantically.

Now, expanding out this account needs to provide an account of the relation between provisional and ultimate truth. Even if such an account could be provided, it would appear that, in our current state, we must accept it as provisionally true that some mental entities (e.g. imagination) do not have physical definitions, since a good-enough account has not yet been provided.

I don't see why imagination would be any harder than visual qualia, but anyway...

What you say above is only a problem if reductionism is regarded as some kind of universal truth. That is the way it is regarded around here...

"Also referred to as “the LEGO principle;” the idea that things are made of parts, and that a correct and thorough understanding of the parts and their inter- actions is equivalent to an understanding of the whole. Metaphorically speaking, if one has explained the trees, shrubs, and fauna in all of their relevant detail, one has explained the forest; there is no ephemeral “missing” property that is forest-ness." (CFAR handbook)

.. but not in the mainstream. In the mainstream, reductionism is seen as as a methodology that sometimes works, or a falsifiable hypothesis. Meaning, that it is already granted that it could fail.

Incidentally, function is an uncontentious exception to reductionism. Money is whatever performs the function of money, not something with specific physical characteristics. Money can be gold coins, cowrie shells, coded numbers, etc.

A philosophical account of reductionism needs to be able to discuss how this happens. To do this, it needs to be able to discuss the ontological status of entities such as “water” (pre-chemistry) that do not yet have a physical definition.

"Water" in quotes has the ontological status: word. For the physicalist, "water" always referred to H2O, even before it was known that water was H2O. This requires a theory of , as it were, unintentional reference, which might be a problem, but, if so, it is a problem of semantics, not reductionism.

Believing in observers leads to the typical mind-body problems.

It depends how strongly you believe in them. For most purposes, physics can be done with automatic recording devices. OTOH, conscious observers exist.

This is already pretty wonky. Indexicality makes the view-from-nowhere problematic.

Remember, you have only established that indexicality is needed for reference, ie. semantic, not that it applies to entities in themselves.

And the idea that “I” am “randomly” placed into a body is a rather strange metaphysics (when and where does this event happen?).

Well, it's rather dualistic metaphysics. If you are your body, then there is no coincidence, because identity is not coincidence.

What sort of functions does a mind have? Observation, prediction, planning, modeling, acting, and so on. Now, the million-dollar question: Who is (actually or potentially) using it for these functions?

You are treating two different definitions of "function" -- "performed on another's behalf" and "multiply realisable" -- as equivalent.

This is not much of a problem if we’ve already accepted fundamental deixis and rejected the view-from-nowhere. But it is a problem for those who haven’t.

You seem to be using "could" to refer to what other people mean by "counterfactual". Counterfactuals are mainly a problem to those who accept determinism.

Hence, it is hard to say that “coulds” exist in a standpoint-independent way.

No, it's easy: standpoint-independence plus indeterminism.

you need a positive reason to assert that they are standpoint dependent

"Fundamental entity" is a reference and references are deictic.

In the mainstream, reductionism is seen as as a methodology that sometimes works, or a falsifiable hypothesis. Meaning, that it is already granted that it could fail.

I am certainly not intending to argue against this methodological reductionism, rather only physicalism as "universal truth".

For most purposes, physics can be done with automatic recording devices.

Still needs an account of what is a recording device, in physicalist terms. Which things do the theory-building thingies try to explain? Rocks could be said to be "automatic recording devices" but they don't provide the data fed into theory-building processes (unless another recording device is observing the rock). This perhaps isn't the same as consciousness per se but has similar problems.

Remember, you have only established that indexicality is needed for reference, ie. semantic, not that it applies to entities in themselves.

Is "entities in themselves" a reference or not? If so then indexicality applies. If not then what is it? As Wittgenstein noted, "That whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent."

You are treating two different definitions of “function”—“performed on another’s behalf” and “multiply realisable”—as equivalent.

Paradigmatic functions are performed on someone's behalf, so an account of functions not performed on anyone's behalf needs to add detail on top of the "function" analogy. I am not positively asserting that no such account exist, just that it isn't obvious. (I believe in multiple realizability)

No, it’s easy: standpoint-independence plus indeterminism.

I agree my argument doesn't apply under indeterminism (there would be no such Laplace's demon).

“Fundamental entity” is a reference and references are deictic

You haven't shown that every reference is deictic. In particular ,you haven't shown that references to classes are deictic.

Still needs an account of what is a recording device, in physicalist terms

I don't see why that would be a major problem.

Paradigmatic functions

Thats gainsaying my point. I say that "function" has several barely related meanings ,you say there is a single "paradigmatic" meaning.

I consider references to be about agents, not about the world. You could have humans using references like "this planet" while aliens use "planet code 1538906..." to refer to the planet they are standing on. (Maybe the aliens travel interplanetary, and need the recordings to make sense later.)

Suppose there was a big scientific debate between the H2O model and the XYZ model, we both know that one is true, but don't know which. It would be meaningful to say, "If the H2O model is true, the H2O will be in the test tube, but if the XYZ model is true, the XYZ will have boiled off." It is conveying partial information, allowing several possibilities, but excluding others. It is equally meaningful to say "If the XYZ model is true, that bottle contains XYZ, if the H2O model is true, that bottle contains H20." but it is quicker to say "that bottle contains water"

Note that "the world" is either a reference, or it doesn't mean anything. So the question of how it is a reference is critical for determining what it means to say there is a world. As Wittgenstein noted, "That whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent."

Regarding water, your description moves the question to what it means for the H20 model to be true. True of what? Of water. It doesn't make sense to say the model is true without reference to whatever phenomenon/entity/etc is being described by the model.

From a pre-chemistry perspective, models that don't explain pre-chemistry phenomena are effectively talking about a fictional world (non-overlapping with observations, objects, etc), not the real one.

Note that “the world” is either a reference, or it doesn’t mean anything

That is false. Neither "vampire" nor "werewolf" refer successfully to anything,but they still mean (Sinn, sense) different things.

Regarding water, your description moves the question to what it means for the H20 model to be true. True of what? Of water

True of our pretheoretic notion of water. Fortunately,we don't have to obtain omniscient knowledge of the way things really are in order to be able to communicate at all.

From a pre-chemistry perspective, models that don’t explain pre-chemistry phenomena are effectively talking about a fictional world (non-overlapping with observations, objects, etc), not the real one

There's an important difference between wrong theory and no theory. People could ask for water at times when there was no theory.

either “vampire” nor “werewolf” refer successfully to anything

In the sense I'm talking about, references need not have referents, hence "the nearest vampire" may be a valid reference.

Anyway, in this case it would be generally taken to be the case that the world exists, so there isn't a problem with failure to refer.

True of our pretheoretic notion of water.

Yes, which doesn't have a physicalist definition. I don't think we're disagreeing about the need for a philosophy that can ontologize both phenomena that do and don't have physical definitions, and bridge between them. Donald Hobson seemed to be saying that the uncertainty can be expressed using a physicalist ontology.

People could ask for water at times when there was no theory.

I agree with this, my point is that it isn't meaningful to say H20 theory is true independent of the theory's connections with already-known-about phenomena such as pre-chemistry water.

it isn’t meaningful to say H20 theory is true independent of the theory’s connections with already-known-about phenomena such as pre-chemistry water.

I don't know who you are think is doing that.

[+][comment deleted]8mo 1