Wednesday, September 30, 2009

qualia: an epistemological obstacle for social science

all forms of social science ultimately can be reduced to the level of cognition. as you might know from the mind/body problem, there are two aspects: 1) cognition, which has been studied through science and an area in which significant progress has been made, and 2) qualia, defined as from the Latin for "what sort" or "what kind," is a term used in philosophy to describe the subjective quality of conscious experience. qualia remains an immense quagmire in philosophy of science, with philosophers still being at a loss for how to explain it and science being unable to contribute any meaning research of discoveries to help philosophers with the problem. here is an excerpt from a previous blog post:

so, it follows that science only cares about person x's internal metaphysics as being part of external metaphysical states, states that are considered to be compatible with universals. person x's internal metaphysics are only of secondary importance (i will explain this a bit later).


social science also cares about person x's internal metaphysics as being part of external metaphysical states, states that are considered to be compatible with universals, but the intentionality is different because whereas science allows person x to have an internal metaphysical state compatible with the external metaphysical state of secondary importance, social science compels person x to have an internal metaphysical state compatible with the external metaphysical state, both of primary importance.



now, i have already stated that social science ultimately can be reduced to testing cognition. however, in doing so, it is also affecting a person's qualia in consciousness. there are three fundamental problems with social science regarding qualia:

1) without having any sort of objective standards by which to measure qualia, social science is only testing part of the mental states of its subjects. social science often asks questions, such as inquiries into human nature, that go beyond the scope of what cognition covers. by not accounting for qualia, when asking questions outside of pure cognition, social science is asking untestable, and therefore unanswerable questions. forms of science, including all hard science and social science that do not ask questions that relate to qualia, are unaffected by the problem of qualia.

2) the second problem is regarding the excerpt from above. prior to ww2, positivism was the prevailing notion of science, simply regarding the experimenter as a neutral observer. however, after the atomic bomb and philosophical movements, ethical implications for science rendered the experimenter as anything but neutral. in addition to affecting what subject matter was deemed appropriate for science to study, a fundamental shift occurred in which the expected results or possible results of every experiment were considered as to their effects on every person in the world who was not a subject in the experiment, including the experimenter himself. here is the difference between hard science (and also soft non-social science, such as nutrition) and social science: other than extreme forms of research, which either have death implications (nuclear and/or other weapons) or socially-controversial implications (psychotropic drugs, etc.) and the ethical implications of research done on animals, the effects of a hard science experiment on society -- including the experimenter himself -- are usually deemed negligible, as in they will contribute to a larger knowledge base of science and possibly be implemented in technology that will be used by people in society. accordingly, the intentionality of an experimenter in matching the possible results of his experiment to his own and other people's qualia is not an issue of primary importance since it is assumed that there is very wide range of possible qualia that can be compatible with the effects of the experiment's results. now, contrast that with social science, in which once the experimenter has determined the experiment to pass the higher ethical standard than that of non-social science, the effects of a social science experiment on society -- including the experimenter himself -- are not deemed negligible. in fact, the intentionality of an experimenter in matching the possible results of his experiment to his own and other people's qualia is an issue of primary importance since the very study of subjects at least in part revolves around the state of their qualia, and in attempting to anticipate how his own and other people's qualia will be affected by the experiment, the experimenter has a much narrower range of possible qualia that can be compatible with the effects of the experiment's results. this presents an epistemological dilemma for social science: it can either have the experimenter, in trying to fulfill his intentionality for anticipating qualia for his subjects and himself and the rest of society, limit the scope of his research based on these expectations and increase the odds that the experiment's results will result in the qualia of his subjects, himself, and other people all being compatible with his initial intentionality, *or* the experimenter can ignore possible expectations for the effects of the experiment's results on his and other people's qualia and only focus on the possible qualia of his subjects. however, by employing this latter approach, the experimenter increases the odds that the results of the experiment will not be compatible with his and other people's qualia, with only the qualia of his subjects being more likely to be compatible with the experimenter's intentionality for attaining a desired qualia. therefore, both approaches are compromised: the former yields compatible results within a compromised, narrower epistemological framework, and the latter, while not sacrificing anything epistemological in a scientific framework, greatly increases the odds of an experiment's failure by having the qualia of the experimenter and others be more likely to not be compatible with the initially desired qualia established by experimenter's intentionality. either way, social science can be labelled as being more "limited", either in the scope of the questions it proposes or in its success rate for its experiments. furthermore, since both approaches are based on complete speculation on the part of the experimenter and the results are completely unknown, both due to the fact that there is no standard for measuring qualia, then ultimately social science, at least concerning the experiments in which qualia is a factor, can be reduced to defining what good intentions are since there is no way to prove the success of an experiment.

3) imagine that there is some kind of magical way we can determine a standard for qualia, and thus know what a desired qualia is. at this point, social science, for all intents and purposes, becomes an ethical debate, for experiments are determined based on an ethical framework that determines a scientific one, instead of as in non-social science, in which scientific frameworks -- again, not including extreme cases -- are of primary importance and ethical considerations follow as secondary. why do ethical considerations become primary if a standard for qualia can be determined? very easily -- consider the epistemological dilemma outlined in my second point above. ultimately, the goals of social science experiments would be to optimize the desired state of qualia, and debates would center around how to define the optimization of the desired state of qualia, with the two "scientific" frameworks following along the lines of the two positions in the aforementioned epistemological dilemma, with a sort of "middle road" probably evolving as a compromise between the two paths. however, in all cases, the fact remains that social science, given this imaginary scenario, will have become more limited than non-social science.


and now, to bring this full circle back to point 1. i mentioned that social science that does not involve qualia can be considered along the lines of hard and non-social science -- social science that exclusively focuses on cognition. since qualia is a fundamental aspect of consciousness, then it follows that only areas of social science that are not related to consciousness can be considered non-social science; only certain parts of cognitive psychology that test for unconscious processes really meet this qualification. for the rest of social science, qualia must be accounted for on every level: experiment, theory, and paradigm. qualia presents an insurmountable problem for social science defining itself as a science in every imaginable form: as being present but being willfully ignored as being present, as being intuitively accounted for but untestable, and as being testable. yes indeed, social science is stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the obstacle of qualia that prevents the discipline from attaining the same status as science.

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