Friday, August 27, 2010

Ladyman & Ross on the Metaphysics of Domestication

Elsewhere (Ladyman and Ross 2007) we argue against what we call the metaphysics of domestication, which consists of attempts to render pieces of contemporary science-and, more often, stylized or mythical interpretations of contemporary science-into terms that can be made sense of by reference to the containment metaphor. Domesticating metaphysicians seek to account for the world as "made of" myriad "little things" in roughly the way that (some) walls are made of bricks. Unlike bricks in walls, however, the little things are often held to be in motion. Their causal powers are usually understood as manifest in the effects they have on each other when they collide. Thus the causal structure of the world is imagined to be based on emergent or reducible consequences of reverberating networks of what we call "microbangings"-the types of ultimate causal relations that prevail among the basic types of little things, whatever exactly those turn out to be. Metaphysicians, especially recently, are heavily preoccupied with the search for "genuine causal oomph," particularly in relation to what they perceive to be the competition between different levels of reality.
     This picture, familiar as it is, finds absolutely no corresponding image in contemporary fundamental physics. The types of particles which physical theory describes do not have spatiotemporal boundaries in anything like what common sense takes for granted in conceptualizing everyday objects, and in that respect are not classical individuals-the philosopher's little things (French and Krause 2006). There are nothing like microbangings in fundamental physics; indeed whether there is causation in any sense that doesn't stretch the meaning of the word to the point of obscurantism is often disputed (Norton 2007; Ross and Spurrett 2007; Ladyman and Ross 2007, chap. 5).
Ok.  So, the metaphysics of domestication mischaracterizes fundamental physics.  So be it.  How does the metaphysics of domestication fare for contemporary psychology or neuroscience?  I'm thinking that the contact forces model of causation may well fail to characterize causation in contemporary psychology and neuroscience, but there are other theories of causation out there.  I'm thinking that synaptic vesicles contain neurotransmitters.

I'm thinking that contemporary "immature" (if you will) cognitive science includes drawing a distinction between what causes a cognitive process and what is a cognitive process, so that ignoring this would be a case of failing to be true to actual cognitive science.

**From the opening reception for Heron Preston's new book, The Young & The Banging.  Downloaded from

1 comment:

  1. There are mysteries to me of what garners readers, but this one has twice as many page views as any other post on Ross and Ladyman.