Friday, April 4, 2014

Induction, naturalness and physicalism

Something is grue provided that it is now before the year 3000 and it is green or it's the year 3000 or later and it's blue. From:

  1. All observed emeralds were grue
we should not infer that all emeralds will be grue. But from
  1. All observed emeralds were green
we should infer that all emeralds will be green. A standard thought (e.g., Sider in his Book book) is that the relevant difference between (1) and (2) is that "green" carves reality more at the joints, is more natural, than "grue".

Suppose that we understand naturalness in a Lewisian way: a concept is more unnatural the longer its expression in a language whose bits refer to perfectly natural stuff. And suppose we think that among the sciences only the terms of fundamental physics refer to perfectly natural stuff. Now consider:

  1. All observed electrons were nesitively charged
where an object is nesitively charged provided it's negatively charged and it's before the year 3000 or it's positively charged and it's 3000 or later. We had better not infer that all electrons will be nesitively charged. But "nesitively charged" is an order of magnitude more natural than "green". Consider this beginning of an account of "green":
  1. in electromagnetic radiation of the 484-789 THz range, reflecting or transmitting primarily that in the 526-606 THz range.
And this account is not finished. To make this be in terms of the perfectly natural stuff, we'd need to specify the units (terahertz) in microphysical terms, presumably in terms of Planck times or something like that, and we'll get quite messy numbers. Moreover, we need an account of reflection and transmission. I suspect that we can more easily give an account of nesitive charge: "positive" and "negative charge" seem to already be perfectly natural or close to it; the year 3000 is a bit tricky, but we can count it (or maybe just some other "neater" date) in Planck times from the Big Bang.

If naturalness then correlates with brevity of microphysical expression, "green" is not more natural, and probably is less natural, than "nesitive charge". And so we had better not base induction on naturalness.

I think the lesson of this is that we either shouldn't think of degrees of unnaturalness as distance from the perfectly natural, or we shouldn't limit the perfectly natural (even in the concrete realm) to the microphysical. The latter gives us reason to accept some kind of antireductionism about the special sciences and ordinary language.

No comments: