Tuesday, December 24, 2013

On Hypothesis and Questioning

I want to discuss 'hypothesis', and this will be my attempt to set out some thoughts concerning it.  I want this to expand how I think of science, while still keeping it in close contact with how I think of philosophy, and particularly, metaphysics (as the study of the Being of beings).
Hypothesis is often used in terms of a prediction we make, and then test through experiment.  I don't know how recently this came to be the standard usage, and I am not interested in rejecting it but understanding why it has become natural for us to think of things as predictable.  I am going back to some usage I have seen in Kant and Plato which inspired me, and seeing if I can get better insight into my own thought about both science, and my work in metaphysics.
Hypo-thesis has a nice etymology: under-placing.  In this way you could imagine a hypothesis as a foundation for a building - something that one allows something else to stand.  I would like to emphasize this under-placing through a different image so that I can avail myself of certain language that I think will be helpful to develop other thoughts I have related to the subject.
Imagine a completely white space, brightly lit, so that you cannot see any differentiation in the field of view.  You are looking forward as a black backdrop is lowered some distance behind you.  As this happens, you see a number of all white objects that were in the field of view that were hitherto invisible (due to their non-contrasting with the environment) have now become visible.  I would like to consider the black backdrop here, which allows the white objects to stand out (exist, presence themselves), as illustrating hypothesis.
hypotheses allow things to show themselves.  A scientific hypothesis, taken in this sense, is a way of constraining the environment in advance in order to see something that stands out.  I do not want to consider hypotheses as physical equipment used to reveal things (so the black backdrop is only a metaphor): a light switch is not a hypothesis.  A hypothesis is rather a way of thinking of our environment in advance in a planned way - a way of constraining the environment in order that it seems different to us while we operate under the hypothesis.
In Plato's Meno, Socrates and Meno are unable to decide what virtue is, but Meno still persuades Socrates to answer if virtue can be taught.  Socrates advises that they continue as a geometer by operating under a hypothesis.  They agree to suppose that knowledge considered valuable, and teachable, will be taught, so that if virtue is both valuable and teachable then we should discover it being taught.  But it is not taught, and good men have bad sons.  If we agree or disagree with the hypothesis does not matter here.  What I am interested in is how something is used to reduce the field of inquiry to just those things which are being taught, and upon looking at this reduced field not finding virtue there, the conclusion that virtue cannot be taught is decided.
For complicated reasons (which I do not understand) we say that if a certain statistical regularity shows itself (through data gathered in a graph that reveals a bump or cluster), then we have reason to suppose that there is a higgs-boson particle.  This is a hypothesis.  This data is not gathered at random, but depends on many other hypothesis that have constrained the environment so precisely that, at CERN, we have built a particle accelerator on these hypotheses.  Presently, we have no other way of hunting around for the higgs-boson, and this particle accelerator served the need to to let the particle stand out, and in a way, first exist.  All of these scientific operations clearly suppose the regularity of nature, but nature is not regular - no events ever repeat.  We do not hold to hypotheses because nature operates in a regular manner: only by holding to a hypothesis can beings become predictable and regular.  If we forget this we risk forgetting how science works.
For many of us, in our school days, we measured the volume of things by seeing the displacement of something in water.  Perhaps we remember Archimedes' eurika story, as well.  In our experiment we already knew in advance that a displacement in water signified the amount of space that an object takes up.  Having this understanding in advance allowed us to operate in our environment in a certain way to provide answers to questions we were given to ask.  For Archimedes, who had a lingering problem that he was trying to solve, his own displacing of water in a bath tub led him to realize that he had found the answer.  Such fortunate accidents do not just happen, but with Archimedes, as with the story of Newton, our own questioning state of mind leads to such dawning consciousness.  Our own questioning operates on the environment in order to reveal in a way that a hypothesis does, but without knowing in advance what such an answer will look like, and so different from us in our classroom experiments.
Kant says that no hypotheses are allowed in his critical enterprise.  What does this tell us about his approach?  While operating under no pre-consideration of things, he is yet asking.  He is not trying to constrain the field of beings in order to simply let some beings appear, or for them to appear in a special way - he just wants things to be as they are.  However, as soon as he begins to provide his interpretation of what emerges in this space, he sticks to one part of beings - the immediate presence to intuition (sense) - as a guide.  This can distort, for his readers, the original view that he had towards the Being of beings, a view also required for him to write the second and third critiques.  (The third seeming to approach most closely to a pure interpretation of presencing with the judgment of taste.)  This may help illustrate how I think the basic difference between a special science and the general science of metaphysics (or ontology).
Special sciences, already operate in advance with an understanding of their hypothesis, and constrain the view to let certain beings appear.  Metaphysics, on the other hand, does not hold hypotheses, but asks concerning the Being of beings.  Sometimes this asking is just in regard to the Being of beings in a certain discipline (what is it to be a being of mathematical physics?), while sometimes it is with regard to a pure view to beings as such.  But even with our most pure view to beings, they are already in advance something that is able to be taken up by us into our asking, and so already we can see that they have a character that is able to be questioned (a questionable character).  This tells us about the pure Being of beings, and also about us and how we emerge in relation to the Being of beings as thinkers.
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