Haggling about the price

Anonymous: Trying again with Weinberg and “Third Thoughts”. Into chapter on so-called Symmetry, and on Higgs. For the life of me I can’t believe they are on about anything real — anything that has thingness, rather than just counters in a language with arcane rules and words whose meanings are dependent only on the rules of their use and relationships with each other. Yet I accept that through some long chain of reasoning within that language, at some point there are “observations” which, by a long chain of derivations and dependencies are of something presumably real. And I accept that these people are way smarter than I and are not trying to fool people. This does little to shove a stable reality under their ideas, but just leaves me indifferent to particle physics. Did people feel like that about Newton  or Galileo?

Individuals (my apple, “Charlie”) are categories that are grounded directly in my sensorimotor experience (though it requires an act of inductive faith, bolstered by the biologically inbuilt feeling I have that “Charlie” is the same “thing” across time – which is already an abstraction). 

There’s your thinginess; as concrete as things ever get.

“Charlie” is red, which, too, is still a direct sensorimotor category, but already more of an abstraction from my direct experience, more of a leap of faith. “Colored” and “color” (and other “universals”) still moreso. 

The moon and all of its properties too.

“True” and “truth” are likewise way out there, no longer directly sensorimotor, but a verbal combination of properties (likewise named categories) ultimately grounded in sensorimotor ones.

Begins to feel like the kind of faith we feel for the theorems we prove in maths and algebra, far from the axioms we began with, but based on a faith (though not much immediate memory) in the rules of derivation that we learned, that make sense locally but become a blur when they become a long chain we hardly remember.

So aren’t electrons, or quarks, or superstrings, or chirality or superposition just still more of the usual leaps of faith that all categorization and abstraction entail? Far from the inbuilt sense of “things” that Darwin helpfully underwrites in our perception – but no different from most of the other things we feel we know and understand across time.

So in the end it boils down not to the reality of things but, as usual, the “hard problem” of why anything feels like anything at all…

(Or just the usual (Shavian?) quip, about having established our profession, just haggling about the price…)

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