Joel Davis

Against Platonic Forms

by Joel Davis and Curt Doolittle

As I understand it, adherents to belief in Platonic Forms believe they literally exist, in some form or another, as if there’s some extra portion of reality beyond verifiable observation in which they exist.

[ Moreover they are unable to articulate their ideas by reference to existential reality, such as when we refer to the invisible forces of the universe, then to the constant relations between them; or when we refer to a unicorn as a mythical character consisting of a conflation of horse, eagle, and antlers; or when we say that the numbers refer to positional names. ]

I see Empiricism as a practical method – it gives us a process of verification and testing to follow which we can demonstrate via its’ success at informing successfully predictive conceptions of the operation of the reality which we mutually observe.

I don’t believe empiricism describes some truth about the universe, I don’t claim our mutually verifiable observations are necessarily objective truth, I merely claim that we seem to have psychological motivations to pursue/avoid specific consequences from our interaction with the sensation of our mutually verifiable observations, and that methods which enable us to conceptualize it with less ignorance, error, and bias improve our capacity for developing successful strategies in pursuing consequences we desire.

So in this sense, when discussing the “reality” of our mutually verifiable observations, empiricism has demonstrated it’s superior capacity to extract useful “truth” from our perception, whereas platonic forms have no verifiable basis in observations, they can have no observable source but imagination, so essentially they’re just people guessing, and even if they are correct, they would be correct by accident.

I don’t find it ridiculous for someone to make a conceptual claim about my experience, then demonstrate the success of the concept in predicting my observations of transformations of states.

But, I do find it ridiculous when people attempt to pass off our imaginary constructs as “truth” without demonstrated evidence. Why?

Because…
0) imaginary constructs may in some senses be testable for internal consistency.
1) And in some cases, one might demonstrate external correspondence.
But…
2) One simply demonstrates a lack of understanding of CAUSALITY.
3) And lacking observability, one cannot testify to CAUSALITY.
4) Ergo we can convey MEANING between constant relations by speaking platonically, just as we convey MEANING between inconstant relations by literature. But we cannot convey causality, and therefore cannot warranty causality, and as we are unable to warranty causality, we are unable to warranty to the truthfulness of our statements.

This is why mathematicians can ‘get away with’ speaking platonically: they test only for internal consistency, not causality. And that lack of understanding of causality – is why there is such confusion and ignorance over the foundations of mathematics.

When one talks about math in platonic terms he demonstrates he does not understand its construction, and cannot testify to it. Therefore he never claims truth full correspondence but proof – mere internal consistency.

Why is this important? Not because mathematicians do not understand the very simple technique that they employ by specializing in tests of internal consistency of constant relations. They don’t. They understand its success in describing the physical world.

The success of mathematics in the physical sciences (and failure in social sciences) is caused by the fact that the universe consists of constant relations, and we do not know yet their first causes. So internal consistency and external correspondence assist us in describing with increasing precision those constant relations until such point as we can guess those first causes.

However in human actions, we do not possess constant relations, only constant patterns (symmetries) of relations. And In human thought, we do not possess many boundaries at all – or rather, we lack the means of testing those boundaries of imagination. So the problem is much harder than mathematics is able to solve by tests of constant relations – math can only assist us in taking measurements whereby we attempt to identify constant intermediary patterns, despite the kaleidic distributions of our outcomes.

What we seek is causality. Because we seek to permit man to act to take advantage of the current state of the universe, and acting such that we outwit the current deterministic path of some part of it and capture the energy for our use.

Moreover, since actions are expensive, and humans engage in error, bias, wishful thinking, and deceit, we must conserve our energy as well as evade parasitism by others, and to do so requires we test enough dimensions of reality against ignorance, error, bias, wishful thinking and deceit, to preserve our accumulated interceptions of changes in state of reality.

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