Tuesday, August 31, 2010

This makes no sense in physical theory?

So, here is how Adams and I informally introduce the C-C fallacy in a recent paper:
In our view, the coupling arguments are fallacious.   They commit what we call the “coupling-constitution fallacy.”  We can see that it is in fact a fallacy by consideration of some examples.  Consider the bi-metallic strip in an ordinary thermostat.  The expansion and contraction of this strip is closely coupled to the ambient temperature of a room and the air conditioning apparatus for that room.  Nevertheless, this gives us no reason to say that the expansion and contraction of the strip extends beyond the limits of the strip and into the room or air conditioner.  (Adams & Aizawa, 2009, p. 81).
Of the many things that Adams and I have written, this would seem to me to be pretty tame and unproblematic.  But, not so to Ross and Ladyman,
Unfortunately, Adams and Aizawa's discussions of constitution appear to be wholly based on naive objectification of everyday containment metaphors. Their leading example appeals to intuitions denying that the processes by which the bimetallic strip of a thermostat expands and contracts in correlation with states of room temperature and the activation of the air conditioning system "extend beyond the limits of the strip and into the room or air conditioner" (Adams and Aizawa 2008a,b). But neither the sentence "The expansion and contraction occur inside the strip" nor "The room is not the smallest container inside which the expansion and contraction are contained" admits of any possible translation into the terms of physical theory; the claims are irreducibly metaphorical. (Ross & Ladyman, 2010, p. 161.)
So, neither of the sentences can be translated into the terms of physical theory.  But, so what?  Those sentences seem to be mere bad initial takes on what we are saying.  Reminds me of Mark Twain's own translation of a speech he delivered in German to the Vienna Press Club:
I am indeed the truest friend of the German language-and not only now, but from long since-yes, before twenty years already ....  I would only some changes effect. I would only the language
method-the luxurious, elaborate construction compress, the eternal parenthesis suppress, do away with, annihilate; the introduction of more than thirteen subjects in one sentence forbid; the verb so far to the front pull that one it without a telescope discover can. With one word, my gentlemen, I would your beloved language simplify so that, my gentlemen, when you her for prayer need, One her yonder-up understands.
(From Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct, p. 61)

But, more seriously, there is really no way to make sense of the fact that when the bimetallic strip gets warmer it expands, but the room does not?  I don't know the rules of Ross and Ladyman's translation game, but if you can't make sense of our first paragraph by those rules, it might be time to check the rules.

Why the Mind is Still in the Head. (with Fred Adams) (2009).  In Robbins, P., and Aydede, M. (Eds.). Cambridge Handbook on Situated Cognition.  New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.  (pp. 78-95) .

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