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StrictlyLogical

"Epistemological" Possibility versus Metaphysical Potentialities

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In the context of something which has classical potentialities and possibilities, (i.e. putting aside the manmade/free-will, and putting aside quantum mechanical systems) there seems to be a strange dichotomy between an epistemological aspect and a metaphysical which upon reflection disappears entirely.

When speaking of "possibility" one often hears of it in the context of an absence of knowledge.  If I and my partner sleep in, upon waking I turn and say "It's possibly a wonderfully nice day today".  What do I mean by "possible" here?  Strictly speaking, it means "I don't know" what the weather IS.  As a rigorous thinker, of course I know that the weather IS something definite, my not knowing it does not confer a state of uncertainty to the weather itself, the only uncertainty is my knowledge.  Of course in order for me to be uncertain about the weather, the implication is that metaphysically "the weather" is not static or predetermined.  So "possible" here is used to characterize two things, 1. metaphysically weather can change, and 2. in the particular instance I do not know specifically how it has changed.

Another use of possibility in common parlance is an attempt to characterize things in terms of their metaphysical potentialities.  If, prior to going to bed, I look at the sky and say to my partner, "it's possible tomorrow could turn out to be a wonderfully nice day".  What do I imply by "possible" here?  That the nature of the weather, the clouds, the atmosphere, the biosphere, the bodies of water and the sun all might interact, such that metaphysically we have a "wonderfully nice day".  I'm really trying to characterize the potentialities of the system, they could produce many things, one of which is a "wonderfully nice day".

At first blush there seems to be a sort of dichotomy here with the concept or use of language, in the one case, there is metaphysical certainty, the present IS, but complete absence of knowledge.  The other case seems to be a recognition that the metaphysical reality of the future, is but a potentiality, and given our knowledge of the system, those potentialities can be identified and talked about.

Observe that the metaphysical potentialities variant (for a classical system) reduces to the "epistemological" variant upon closer consideration, and in a sense the "line" between the two hinges upon the level of knowledge one has.  Assuming that there is no metaphysical indeterminism or causal indeterminism in classical systems (which I think is consistent with the Objectivist view of classical systems), a classical system will be and act in accordance with its nature in a one to one fashion.  There is no epicurean swerve and no way could the classical system have chosen otherwise... single-outcome causation implies a determinism - the metaphysical potential is not multivariate but singular.  In the state of the weather, prior to bed time, the potentiality of the system, inherent in the nature of all of its subportions, their configuration, current states, etc. IS what the weather will be tomorrow.  The potentiality is present in the same way the potentially of a ball falling through a pyramid of pegs, has a particular destination due to its starting trajectory/spin etc. and in the same way an apple falling from the tree will hit the ground.  No matter how complex, the system is finite, and the ENTIRETY of it IS.

Back to knowledge, the weather system of earth is NOT infinitely complex, and having sufficient knowledge of that finitude of complexity, would allow one to say with certainty  "tomorrow will be a wonderfully nice day... see?"

Now if one, for example didn't have the time to think about that immense complexity, or one only had the ability to gather 99% of the required knowledge, one would then be forced to say again "it's possible tomorrow could turn out to be a wonderfully nice day".  With the implicit knowledge that the classical system's potentiality IS SINGULAR, the statement now is simply an admission of incomplete knowledge (along with the knowledge that the nice day is still consistent with the nature of the system).

So when the machine drops the ball into a pyramid of pegs the system does not have the metaphysical potentiality for the ball to land in any slot other than the one which the machine is configured to drop it in.  This is trivial, if one considers the state, configuration, motion, temperature, light impinging on it, i.e. the ENTIRETY of the system, IS the system, not some subset which is "known".

 

When dealing with a classical system in which there is no metaphysical or causal indeterminacy, all references to "possibility" refer to the lack of knowledge, and the greater the lack of knowledge the greater the number and variety of possibilities.

 

Any thoughts about the Objectivist perspective on the above?

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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I don't know about a specific Objectivist perspective/response, but one that that strikes me in your analysis is your avoidance in using the word "probability" in your analysis.

My question was first worded as "Why aren't you using the concept "probability"?"  and I realized, that I see is used, but I wonder if you do.

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42 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

I don't know about a specific Objectivist perspective/response, but one that that strikes me in your analysis is your avoidance in using the word "probability" in your analysis.

My question was first worded as "Why aren't you using the concept "probability"?"  and I realized, that I see is used, but I wonder if you do.

You have my attention, but in all honesty I did not purposefully avoid the concept of "probability". 

Why does this "strike you"?

I was just dealing with the concept or common use of the word to describe something "could be true" when one does not know the truth, and the use of the word to designate that something "can happen" later.  Two slightly different uses of the concept/word "possible", and was not actually thinking about the concept of probability or likelihood of each outcome.  Although now that you mention it, my allusion to the level of ignorance increasing the number and variety of what one would call "possibilities", could also extend to increasing "likelihoods" of those particular possibilities.  Perhaps my analysis applies not only the number and variety of particular outcomes, but also to a measure of "likelihood" (according to what standard?) of each of those outcomes.  Here this new concept of "likelihood" likely should be analyzed anew, although it may fall victim to something similar to what I have presented.  I had not really thought about it.

Maybe this parallel is of more interest to you, or presents some other aspect which can add to the discussion?  Perhaps it is more complicated and should be tackled later, after we deal with the simple case?

 

Interested in what you think.

 

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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1 hour ago, StrictlyLogical said:

I was just dealing with the concept or common use of the word to describe something "could be true" when one does not know the truth, and the use of the word to designate that something "can happen" later.


It could be that I am biased in thinking of "could be true" as primarily referring to the future.

As far as why it strikes me, I am sensitive to this issue because it has implication in the field of psychology that I don't know if I should go into deeply right now. Meanwhile, I have suspected (gut feel) that Peikoff avoids it. I superficially theorized that he avoids the concept "probability" because it is at the heart of Skeptics, and any focus or endorsement of "probability" may give them ammunition to beat Objectivists over the head with. (even though he has a chapter on the subject in OPAR, but in his normal usage I get that feeling that he avoids)

Back to your analysis, the reason I can't separate it from the concept of probability/likelihood is the emotional aspect.

"It's possibly a wonderfully nice day today" ... are you and your partner going to smile when you say that? Won't that statement fill you with some pleasure/joy?

Why? The answer is because you think it is likely! Not because you think it is possible.

Isn't it true that when you said "It's possibly a wonderfully nice day today" that it was also possible that it would be an awful day too? If you were fully aware of that fact, your emotional reaction should be blah. No judgment at all, maybe it will be nice and maybe not. You might as well say "The weather exists, go back to sleep".

"When speaking of "possibility" one often hears of it in the context of an absence of knowledge." Same with probability, but if one says "it is probably a nice day" it can come across like "it is going to be a nice day". But the lack of certainty is there too.

"As a rigorous thinker, of course, I know that the weather IS something definite, my not knowing it does not confer a state of uncertainty to the weather itself, the only uncertainty is my knowledge." again applies to probability too. But with probability when someone says there is 70 percent chance that it will rain, it comes across like "you might as well KNOW that it will rain. Also, as a rigorous thinker, you can also conclude that there is 100 percent chance that weather will have a state.

You divide it into "Epistemological" Possibility versus Metaphysical Potentialities. Epistemologically, you can identify "could be true". That can only be when you don't have to make a decision (it is Visible as an observation). But when you have to choose, a (could be true), becomes a "true" or "false". 71.52 percent chance that it will rain means get the umbrella out. You chose, you decided THAT IT WILL RAIN. "It will rain" became the truth (epistemologically).

Now metaphysically there are all these potentialities, but you I and everyone will only see one truth, (one possibility) in the path ahead the one we chose and are taking (as the best possible path(that could be true)).


 

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