Sunday Reverie

A banana as banana and not an apple – Empirical thoughts and our thinking

This was a question that arose suddenly, as “empirical thoughts and how it’s related to our thinking?”. A question which repeated in me for a week long. This led to understand learn about empirical thoughts. Also, it was able to answer few of the queries related to our thinking. The basic underlying question is always “Why we think, the way we think?“.Before getting into empirical thoughts, we need to know a little detail about “Empiricism“. It is a theory that states, that knowledge is only through sensory experience.

Empiricism emphasizes the role of empirical evidence in the formation of ideas. It’s also argued that any tradition or custom or rituals is due to the earlier sense experience. Empirical evidence means the information is received by the senses. This happens by observation and documentation of patterns, behavior through experimentation. particularly by observation and documentation of patterns and behavior through experimentation.

Blank Slate

The concept associated with empiricism historically is called as “blank slate” concept. This is similar to the blank slate. As a kid, we learn to write on a blank slate and get to capture the numerics, alphabets, the pattern to write and the representation. Once we are able to register those, we start to create words and the relativeness. The same way, in empiricism it is believed that, human when born are like a blank slate. They develop their thoughts only through experience.

The blank slate concept and its growth can be attributed to John Locke. Account to him, the human mind is a blank slate. In the words of Locke, it’s a “white paper”. A white paper on which the various experiences of the person derived from sense impressions are written. When viewed from this concept, the ideas are only by two sources – Sensation and Reflection. Though the ideas can be simple or complex, a clear distinction can be made between them.

Though, empirical thoughts through experience is simple to understand from a high level, the complexity increases as we delve deep into the qualities of thought or idea origination. Between the simple and complex ideas, the simple can be broken down into two main qualities – The primary and secondary qualities. Primary qualities are the essential things for the object to be as what it is. The primary qualities becomes the base for us to understand the object as it is. Without primary qualities, the object can not be what it is and does not exist to be as what it is.

Banana as Banana

Let’s taken an example of banana. The banana is banana because of the arrangement of atoms, the atomic structure. When the atomic structure of banana is different, for example something similar to apple, then it would not be a banana. Instead it would be an apple. Then we come to the secondary qualities. Secondary qualities are all the related sensory information that comes out of the primary qualities. This helps us to perceive the banana as banana even though there are variations in the secondary qualities. For example, a banana can be of different sizes, different colors like yellow, red etc, texture. Yet we identify it as banana and probably by the secondary qualities, we might infer a different tag for the same banana. Thus the secondary qualities can be called as the attributes of the object, while the primary qualities defines what the object essentially is.

A combination of simple ideas which can be divided into substances, modes and relations are the complex ones. The complex ideas. Thus, when we relate the object primary and secondary qualities from the time of our first understanding till now, we can easily understand it’s a perception. Thus our knowledge of the things around us is a perception. A perception of the ideas that are in coherence and in accordance or non-coherent and in discordance with each other.

Though the existence of almighty or nature in the creation of these objects shall be taken in a different blog. Thus, when we look into our learning, we can clearly understand that most of the objects and their relativeness is by our perception. A perception, which was perceived to be so from the early age as a kid. The perception that was taught to us generation by generation. Thus, this leads to early sapiens, how would they have perceived a banana as banana and not apple? Why they had perceived that way?

Banana and not apple

Thus when such a question arose, Scottish philosopher David Hume made an argument not from a philosophical approach but referencing a scientific way. Where in he said, it would have been by proof. Which means, the banana is considered as banana and not as apple, just by recording the banana at various use case scenarios before it got formalized as banana by our grand sapiens.

Hume took empiricism to a whole new level of skepticism. He argued that the all knowledge are derived from sensory experiences, but also gave a new point of view. He wrote for example,

“Locke divides all arguments into demonstrative and probable. On this view, we must say that it is only probable that all men must die or that the sun will rise to-morrow, because neither of these can be demonstrated. But to conform our language more to common use, we ought to divide arguments into demonstrations, proofs, and probabilities—by ‘proofs’ meaning arguments from experience that leave no room for doubt or opposition.”

As we look into this view of Hume’s perspective, from the proof and probabilities, the question that arises is there might be a reasoning behind to arrive at the approach to call for a proof or a probability. Thus we need to go back again to the banana example. What would have made our grand sapiens to think in such a way. Probably, this can be their initial days of reasoning. A reasoning approach to understand why this specific object (banana) is different from the other object (apple). Can we elucidate from here, that reasoning is the cause for an original idea?

Proofs and probabilities

When the original idea is the object identification as banana by its primary and secondary qualities, then the reasoning to make this argument of banana to be as banana, can never be considered an original idea. For the simple reason, its an experience, and the experience can never lead us to conclusion. Because, for an object of existence itself is an experience, more than the quality. And that quality need not exist either at the initial stage, the very beginning of existence.

When we approach, with the object identification by primary and secondary qualities, and being established by proofs and probabilities, the interesting factor of conviction comes by its associated reasoning. To make it simple, let’s look at Sun. The moment we hear Sun, the first thing that comes to our mind is a circular ball of fire. The associated secondary qualities are its brightness, can be seen by naked eyes, rises in east and settles in west, summer is very hot etc. Hume, makes a startling argument here. For an instance, we cannot know with certainty that the sun will continue to rise in the east. Instead, we expect it to do so, just because Sun has repeatedly done so in the past by rising in the east. The reasoning which we give to an object just because of its repetition pattern.

“No one has the right to destroy another person’s belief by demanding empirical evidence.”

Ann Landers

As look from the eyes of Hume, we can understand that our beliefs are results of our own accumulated habits. These habits got developed in response to accumulated sense experiences. Thus the general truth in the Sun’s example is that Sun will rise tomorrow in the east. This is arrived by our own experiences and observations, including what we learned from our surroundings and others to come with a general truth. This is called as inductive reasoning. However, Hume conclusion towards the inductive reasoning is that there is no certainty that the future will resemble the past.

When we have such experiences with inductive reasoning, how banana still remains as banana and not an apple? The reasoning for this can be approached as

  • The object of knowledge are real things.
  • The properties of real things do not depend on our perceptions of them. They are intrinsic to them,
  • Thus one who has sufficient experience of real things will agree on the truth about them.

The above three points where conceived and became the basis of the empirically based scientific method. The credit goes to Peirce, who added a new concept of abductive reasoning to this. It starts with an observation or set of observations and then seeks to find the simplest and most likely conclusion from the observations.

Our thinking

When we relate the empiricism, we can get a glimpse of our thinking process. Any inference is dependent upon the habits we have developed. The habits that have been built by various experiences either direct or inferences but not arranged for any logical purposes. When our grand mom says “it will rain tomorrow”. We as a kid would have asked “why do say so?”. Grand mom replies stating that “Sky is dark and low as the sunsets”. We asked “how do you say so?”…Grand mom would explain “It generally rains in such cases after a sunset, but I don’t know why?”

Thus in this above cited example, Grand mom did not perceive any connection for the rain or the sky being dark. Also, it is not factual based upon certain principles or any laws. However, from a repetition of frequently recurring events, has led to think that a dark lower sky during sunset leads to rain. This is by association of one with the other. When our grand sapiens were living under the open sky, this pattern recognition and the relativeness to one another were framed. In order to communicate the same, from the language of symbols, to proverbs to traditional folklore cam into place. Thus, when there was no understanding as to why certain events occur during those times, or how the relativeness between events can be correlated were considered as foresight gift for few. There it was completely empirical.

When we understand this and relate to our thinking, we can elucidate that most of our thinking is also empirical. From the reasoning with a sore throat, one can get cold to mathematical deduction of numbers are all empirical patterns developed by our grand sapiens. We developed ourselves in that system and 90% of our actions are one way or the other is empirical. Because we started as “blank slate”. Yet we have instincts. We can sometimes foresee the future. Are these because the objects are nothing but atoms with a primary quality, we are also atoms. Atoms, that carry the empirical prints in them carried over generations. Giving base to this assumptions proves empiricism is strong in all of us. Our thoughts are modelled by empiricism.

If this is scenario, is it good to conclude the one who came in the legacy of hitler is alway power hungry while the one who came in the legacy of Gandhi is a non-violent. This never turns out to so, because, as per Hume, there is no certainty that the future shall resemble the past.

“The grand aim of all science is to cover the greatest number of empirical facts by logical deduction from the smallest number of hypotheses or axioms.”

Thus the scientific analysis plays an important role. The scientific analysis is not to produce certain conclusions, but to detect and correct the errors, thus lead us to truth.

When it is empirical, why suddenly we have some random thoughts? Why we are most of the times, not able to relate to any original occurrence? If so, how & If not, why.

“This note was by curiosity. Curiosity that led to progress to understand empirical thoughts. Empirical thoughts by its means doesn’t drive progress. “