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The Logical Leap by David Harriman


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Travis Norsen, professional Physicist and Objectivist, offers his view on Harriman's new book. It is a mixed review, with emphasis on the negative aspects:

The review is actually extensive and thorough.

The omissions prof. Norsen points out can be successfully addressed, but they really should have been covered in the book. As it is, the book is an Introduction to Induction. The topics covered and omitted make sense for the format of Dr. Peikoff's lecture series, but not for a book where there is the space and time to afford covering technical issues.

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I must say, I am pretty much obsessed with the dynamic and topics that surrounds this book.Particularly the differences philosophically between Harriman and Norsen,the way they both evaluate modern physical theories and the different personalities that attach to either side. For instance Kolkers response on amazon:

Robert J. Kolker says:

Norsen is almost always on point.

And his comments here:

http://groups.google.com/group/humanities.philosophy.objectivism/browse_thread/thread/262d29829972ba2e/76f6b3a5e6bd9d25?#76f6b3a5e6bd9d25

"All of the above missed quantum physics, which is the basis of our

current industrial technology. Classical physics is totally unequal to

the task of dealing with the world of the very, very small. Leonard

Peikoff is a science and mathematics ignoramus of the first magnitude.

Anything he says on such matters can be ignored. Where he is right, he

is unoriginal and where he is original he is dead wrong. "

Most of all the role of ones view of induction and its effect on the special sciences.

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I must say, I am pretty much obsessed with the dynamic and topics that surrounds this book. Particularly the differences philosophically between Harriman and Norsen,the way they both evaluate modern physical theories and the different personalities that attach to either side. For instance Kolkers response on amazon:

I get the impression there is enough discussion to keep you busy, but I don't see much discussion at all. I checked out the usenet groups since you linked to one, they are still as completely useless as when the Web and AOL first came to the internet and destroyed them. I went to Micheal Stuart Kelly's site and found the people there are just too good at being Objectivists to be bothered with reading the book.

The last post in that thread is from 2008. There is nothing there in response to the book.

If you find any substantive give and take between people who have read the book, please link to it.

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I get the impression there is enough discussion to keep you busy, but I don't see much discussion at all. I checked out the usenet groups since you linked to one, they are still as completely useless as when the Web and AOL first came to the internet and destroyed them. I went to Micheal Stuart Kelly's site and found the people there are just too good at being Objectivists to be bothered with reading the book.

The last post in that thread is from 2008. There is nothing there in response to the book.

If you find any substantive give and take between people who have read the book, please link to it.

There isnt much discussion. My comment refers to my own thought trail and analysis of the topic and personalities surrounding the book,induction in general, and the relation to the special sciences. Ive been on this trail for a long while. The effect of ones epistemology on ones views in physics and cosmology in particular.

If I find any I will link... :thumbsup:

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There isnt much discussion. My comment refers to my own thought trail and analysis of the topic and personalities surrounding the book,induction in general, and the relation to the special sciences. Ive been on this trail for a long while. The effect of ones epistemology on ones views in physics and cosmology in particular.

If I find any I will link... :thumbsup:

edit:There's discussion over at the TEW group from the past from Harriman and Norsen , as well as here and in their lectures. Bobs comments on this site and others etc..Most of what I'm talking about is implicit in the manifestations of folks psycho-epistemology..

Edited by Plasmatic
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I haven't read David Harriman's book yet either, but maybe I can clarify a few things about causality from an inductive approach. In Objectivism, most fundamentally speaking, the entity is the cause and its action is the effect. So that when a boy kicks a ball and it rolls, most fundamentally one has to grasp that the ball rolls because it is round, not because the boy kicked it. This graps, that roundness leads to rolling, it what has to be grasped to make the causal connection between an entity and its action. In other words, the term "causality" is an abstraction from the abstraction of "identity." A ball has certain characteristics that makes it possible for it to roll -- i.e. it is round. If the boy kicked a brick or kicked a piece of paper, they wouldn't roll.

The important thing to keep in mind is that the first-level grasps of causality is that the nature of the entity and the specific aspect of identifying why it does something must be perceptually self-evident. And in the case of the ball, it is perceptually self-evident that it is round and that it rolls when kicked. Inductively, it is obvious that the ball is round and that it rolls (one can observe it), so by kicking many things and observing what they do, one can form the concept of rolling (versus other actions) and because it was observed that the entity being observed doing a specific action, the connection is ready made in the human mind -- identity to action , each conceptualized according to ITOE.

My understanding of the logical leap is being able to move from "some" to "all" in forming a generalization. So, the boy would have to kick several balls whithin a range in order to grasp that balls roll when kicked. Say he kicks a baseball, a basketball, a golf ball, etc. and he directly observes that they all roll when kicked. Once he grasps that they roll because they are round, he is on his way to making an causal inductive generalization, one that applies to all balls because all balls are round. If he has already conceptualized the term "ball" (as say small round objects he can hold in his hands) and then grasps that they roll because they are round, then he already has a basis for saying all balls roll when kicked because the causal element of the balls (being round) has already been conceptualized in the first grasp of what it is to be a ball. The range of balls must follow ITOE in general, and once he grasps the cause for these balls he actually observes, he can conclude, based on the similarity of all balls (being round) that the causal action of rolling applies to all balls -- even the ones he has not yet observed as rolling when kicked. This is the logical lead as I understand it.

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I induce that the rest of this book will be as the first half has been: disappointing, all too disappointing. What exactly is Harriman's solution? Does anyone know? Can anyone jot down what the solution to the problem is, and how it applies to Physics? And wait, did I say Physics? I actually just meant physics pre-20th century. There is 0 time spent on modern physics, which has borne more fruit than any other era of science. This, for me, isn't something we can neglect in talking about physics.

This book has taught me nothing new; moreover, the claims it makes and Peikoff has made for it border on absurdity. Groundbreaking? It's not even a concise solution from what I've seen thus far. Sorry for the harsh words, but this book has really fallen flat for me already.

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I am still working through my first reading of the book, so I don’t have a final conclusion about the book yet. I don’t yet understand the argument (or scope) of the book so I don’t know what is the overall impact of the following error.

On p. 143 Harriman states (in answer to the question ‘How did scientists manage to arrive at universal laws without making any illogical leaps’, in particular in the development of laws of planetary motion and the problem of accounting for the sun’s influence on planets) that:

A large part of the answer lies in the objectivity of the concepts themselves. When the concept “force” was expanded to include pushes and pulls exerted across a distance by imperceptible means, this was not done arbitrarily; it was necessitated by of electric and magnetic phenomena. Similarly, there was nothing arbitrary about the expansion of the concept “acceleration” to include changes in a body’s direction as well as its speed...

The particular error is the statement that a concept can be expanded. The implication is that a given concept can change over time (that is what “expand” means).

In light of the very prominent role of the Objectivist theory of concepts in explaining induction, it is important that all of the components of the explanation be correct. In Objectivist epistemology, concepts are stable over time, thus concepts do not expand or contract, because they do not depend on time. Rand states (ITOE p. 257) that “the omission of psychological time-measurements, for both normal concepts and axiomatic concepts, refers to the fact that concepts are independent of the time of your awareness”. Following this, OPAR (p. 103) states that “A concept is an integration of units, which are what they are regardless of anyone’s knowledge; it stands for existents, not for the changing content of consciousness.”

An important logical element of Tara Smith’s article “Why Originalism Won’t Die”, demonstrating the non-objectivity of Originalist theories of law despite the appearance of objectivity is the observation that concepts are time-invariant. Thus she states (p. 185):

When I use the concept “men,” for instance, that term refers not only to the finite list of particular men that I have encountered or even that I imagine I might encounter in the future. It refers to all men that exist, or have existed, or some day will exist, imagined or unimagined by me.

Similarly p. 186, regarding the concept “shopping”:

...because the essential activity is the same in these and in a wide variety of other circumstances (namely, seeking to acquire goods through economic exchange), we understand him to be shopping in each of them. A man is shopping whenever he is engaged in that activity, even if he is shopping for things (such as cell phones or automobiles) or in ways (by placing phone orders or online) that were not available to earlier generations of shoppers.

and to sum it up (p. 193) “Law must be interpreted according to the correct criteria of concepts’ meaning rather than by time-bound criteria”. In short, concepts do not expand, nor do they contract, because they are time-independent.

One important aspect of a concept can change over time, namely the definition. ITOE (p. 47) states:

When he moves into a wider field of action and thought, when new evidence confronts him, he has to expand his definitions according to the evidence, if they are to be objectively valid.

Smith states (p. 201):

A concept designates actually existing things rather than a given person’s or group’s beliefs or current knowledge of those things. A definition, by contrast, at any given time, reflects knowledge
at
that time of the distinguishing characteristics of the referents identified.

According to my reading so far, Harriman does not discuss the mental integration of two or more units that is the concept “force” in the pre-Keplerian, Keplerian or post-Keplerian development of science, but my own (admittedly weak) understanding of the concept in older eras of philosophy is that the concept is quite simple and stable over time, thus the definition of force has not even changed over time.

What has changed is man’s awareness of the existents that, in fact, are force. As Smith states (p. 200) “The criteria for class inclusion are firm, even while the catalog of a concept’s referents may grow (or contract)". Given that scientific theories change over time and do so on a rational basis, I believe that a proper understanding of this process must emphasize the time-invariance of concepts. At this point in my reading, I do not know how this fact integrates with Harriman’s overall logic (I am not implying that this error vitiates his argument), but I do know that accuracy in foundational concepts is very important.

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David: it sounds like poor wording on his part. Things like gravitation and magnetism *should* be considered forces (given our current evidence), however it took time and research to reach that conclusion. So the concept of "force" was not expanded to include gravitation, but rather the referents for the concept of "gravitation" were seen to also be referents for the concept of "force".

It would be like if people suddenly decided to start sitting on their hats. The concept of "furniture" would not be expanding to include hats, but rather the referents for the concept of "hat" would be seen as referents for the concept of "furniture". The two concepts would be connected in one's conceptual hierarchy.

Edited by brian0918
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I induce that the rest of this book will be as the first half has been: disappointing, all too disappointing. What exactly is Harriman's solution? Does anyone know? Can anyone jot down what the solution to the problem is, and how it applies to Physics? And wait, did I say Physics? I actually just meant physics pre-20th century. There is 0 time spent on modern physics, which has borne more fruit than any other era of science. This, for me, isn't something we can neglect in talking about physics.

The book is not about physics, it is about induction i.e. epistemology. Dr. Peikoff claims elsewhere that Aristotle's Organon was only possible because Aristotle had the example of a major organized exhibition of pure logic in detailed application from which the method could be abstracted from the subject matter. Pre-Euclidean geometry was that subject. The agenda of Harriman's book is to abstract induction from the example of physics. (Which is not to say that this book accomplishes its goal as well as the Organon.)

Harriman specifically explains his choice of examples:

I have deliberately chosen uncontroversial, proven theories. A philosopher of science who is attempting to identify principles of method must do this for the same reason that the physicist must eliminate confounding factors in his experiments. Just as the physicist cannot identify a cause when an experiment involves several relevant but uncontrolled variables, the philosopher cannot identify the principles of proper method by examining the development of a theory that has an unknown relationship to reality.

Once a proper method is found, it will be valid for all subjects at all scales just as the principle of noncontradiction is. There is no particular need to review quantum physics, it is not a different universe where identity does not apply.

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Actually the intro by Peikoff claims that it is about induction as applied to physics. It's claimed to not be a work of philosophy, but of philosophy applied to a subject. This is not a book that claims it is only a discussion of epistemology, and if it was, it would still be a failure.

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I haven't read David Harriman's book yet either, but maybe I can clarify a few things about causality from an inductive approach. In Objectivism, most fundamentally speaking, the entity is the cause and its action is the effect.

I think you have misstated the Objectivist view of causality in a grave way. It isn't that an entity is the cause of its own actions, but that the identity of the entity includes such actions. The actions of an entity are an expression of its nature. The effects an entity's actions have on another entity are caused by the first entity, specifically in the respect that it acts as it did. That is, the causal actions of an entity are aspects of the entity.

One can't have an entity as the cause of its own actions, can't have it be both cause and effect.

In the case of living organisms, which, I think, offers a real possibility of confusion about a thing being a cause of effects on itself, the many self-sustaining actions taken are the result of the differentiation and organization of cells, tissues, organs, etc. So, while it is true that the kidneys purify the blood of the same organism, that is, the organism cleans its own blood, both the causes and the effects are specific to sub-systems of the organism. Thus, it would be merely nominal to say an organism is at once a cause and its effect.

So that when a boy kicks a ball and it rolls, most fundamentally one has to grasp that the ball rolls because it is round, not because the boy kicked it.

This is contrary to how the same example is used in the book. There, it is the pushing that is responsible for the ball's rolling.

Also, there is an inconsistency in saying the ball rolls because it is round. It is always round, whether rolling or not.

Note: In The Ayn Rand Lexicon, the first entry under "causality" includes the statement, "All actions are caused by entities. The nature of an action is caused and determned by the nature of the entities that act..." It is possible to take these statements, as meaning that entities are the causes of their own actions. The proper understanding is that causes are all actions of entities, and thus expressions of those entities' identity.

Mindy

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Actually the intro by Peikoff claims that it is about induction as applied to physics. It's claimed to not be a work of philosophy, but of philosophy applied to a subject. This is not a book that claims it is only a discussion of epistemology, and if it was, it would still be a failure.

The book is an application of Ayn Rand's epistemology to a field other than philosophy, and the result is more philosophy in the form of a theory of induction and a demonstration that epistemology itself is an inductive science (see Intro. pg xi). Those are successes. Yes you can ask for more but the absence of those elements don't make the book a failure. You just sound bitter from grand expectations being let down because the theory sounds obvious if you already know Rand's epistemology. It may sound obvious, but Rand herself didn't formulate it so it is not quite as obvious as it may seem.

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The book is an application of Ayn Rand's epistemology to a field other than philosophy, and the result is more philosophy in the form of a theory of induction and a demonstration that epistemology itself is an inductive science (see Intro. pg xi). Those are successes. Yes you can ask for more but the absence of those elements don't make the book a failure. You just sound bitter from grand expectations being let down because the theory sounds obvious if you already know Rand's epistemology. It may sound obvious, but Rand herself didn't formulate it so it is not quite as obvious as it may seem.

A theory of induction is huge. The point is that the book fails to produce a viable theory of induction.

What can it mean, this first major application of epistemology to a field other than philosophy...epistemology IS philosophy, it consists of generalizations over perception, and other forms of cognition of the world at large. It is especially sensitive to odd situations of cognition...could never be limited to philosophy itself...what is the claim being made here?

Mindy

Edited by Mindy
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A theory of induction is huge. The point is that the book fails to produce a viable theory of induction.

Huge indeed. If one doesn't HAVE AN EXPLICIT UNDERSTANDING OF INDUCTION THEIR WHOLE PHILOSOPHY IS AT STAKE.

Can you point out said "failures" in particular?

What can it mean, this first major application of epistemology to a field other than philosophy...epistemology IS philosophy, it consists of generalizations over perception, and other forms of cognition of the world at large. It is especially sensitive to odd situations of cognition...could never be limited to philosophy itself...what is the claim being made here?

Mindy

It means that it is a claim to be the first attempt at an explicit application of the general science of philosophy , specifically induction, to the special/specific science of physics. Seems obvious at least what the claim is regardless if you disagree with the succes or method employed. Re-inducing the steps that lead to said scientific discoveries. One could have called it "The Epistemic Method of Scientific Discovery: The Implicit Method Employed by Some of Physics Greatest Minds".

Harriman didn't cover modern physics because he sees its method and concepts filled with "red lights" and bad foundations.[i'm drawing on comments made in lectures made by him].

Edited by Plasmatic
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Huge indeed. If one doesn't HAVE AN EXPLICIT UNDERSTANDING OF INDUCTION THEIR WHOLE PHILOSOPHY IS AT STAKE.

I have been.

It means that it is a claim to be the first attempt at an explicit application of the general science of philosophy , specifically induction, to the special/specific science of physics.

Do you mean Mills methods weren't a theory of induction? That no one before this book has theorized about induction?

Mindy

Edited by Mindy
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Do you mean Mills methods weren't a theory of induction? That no one before this book has theorized about induction?

Mindy

Sorry, restated then:

"It means that it is a claim to be the first attempt at an explicit application of the general science of philosophy [With Oism as the philosophy], specifically induction, to the special/specific science of physics.

I made one of my many typos below:

"Im glad to see other Oist discussing the relationship of going "from some to all", to contextual absolutes. Im referring to Prof. Norsen's discussion on Amazon.

Edited by Plasmatic
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Sorry, restated then:

"It means that it is a claim to be the first attempt at an explicit application of the general science of philosophy [With Oism as the philosophy], specifically induction, to the special/specific science of physics.

The whole history of philosophy of science seems to do that. Do you mean it is only the name, Objectivism, that makes this special?

Mindy

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I induce that the rest of this book will be as the first half has been: disappointing, all too disappointing. What exactly is Harriman's solution? Does anyone know? Can anyone jot down what the solution to the problem is, and how it applies to Physics?

First, I would ask what you believe the problem was that this book was trying to tackle. My understanding was that it was attempting to validate induction, by showing its effective use in physics.

I am also halfway through the book. From what I have read, he offers up Rand's theory of concept formation, explains the role of induction in making causal connections and generalizations, and then provides successful examples of the use of induction throughout history.

And wait, did I say Physics? I actually just meant physics pre-20th century. There is 0 time spent on modern physics, which has borne more fruit than any other era of science.

This is similar to the complaint I read on the ObjectivistLiving forum - that the book doesn't have enough equations to be considered relevant to physics. In reality, modern physics is simply an extension of classical physics, using the same basic methods that he repeatedly describes for Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, etc. To go into modern physics would be redundant, unless you are just interested in the history of it.

It makes the most sense (for a philosophy book) to cover what he has, since it shows the historical transition from merely describing observations to determining causal laws, and the development of mathematics for describing the physical world.

I do have a feeling that I am going to be let down by a lack of detail on how he believes modern physics has hit a dead end. Will he compare string theory to the epicycles of Ptolemy? We'll see...

Edited by brian0918
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