Why do scientific representations work?

What defines a scientific representation? These representations are designed to work at predicting certain other representations (eventually, resulting in manifest representations via our sensory apparati). The network of these models refers to what we think constitutes the “physical universe.”

The nature of the representations, then, is to work to predict. In this sense, they are essentially ‘causal’, but we could instead just say ‘sequential’. Not much rests on the word ’cause’ in an ontological sense, here.

So, why do scientific representations work? If they are essentially abstract, quantitative representations, what about this allows them to work?

The reason that the representations work is that they correspond to things (or ‘states of affairs’) in the universe. That is, they are placeholders that in some sense correspond to things. In what way do they correspond?

That is where things become difficult. Reductive science tends to posit that the ‘smaller’ things are the ‘real’ things. Yet consider: a leaf in my subjective experience can have a correlate. Yet the leaf is not independent. My experience is not a ‘mere’ conglomeration of leaf experiences. Rather, there is an experience, and the leaf is in some sense a part of it.

Our instinct in reductive science is to ‘get rid of’ higher-level entities, if we can model them successfully in terms of more abstract, ‘lower’ level entities. We say: the higher-level entity was an illusion, what there really is, is these lower-level entities. (More carefully, we should say: our higher-level representation did not give us as accurate of ontological type correlates – i.e., placeholders – as we could have, and the lower-level representation is better in this sense.)

How does this work with subjective experience? The problem is that there are parts and wholes. Subjective experience isn’t reducible to its components (a ‘mere’ conglomeration). Rather, there is a whole, and we can analyze it into parts.

This would only be reflected in scientific representation if this whole-part relationship affected what is reflected in the sequential predictions of ‘physical’ representations. That is, the whole-part relationship will only turn up in science if it makes a causal difference.

It probably does make a causal difference, as it seems that what occurs in a subjective experience makes a difference. For example, I can reflect on it and say “It is united.” This is an effect, and so, that it is united seems to be causally important. Yet, it seems conceivable that it might not be causally important. Science can look for its effects by looking for phenomena that are unified but have parts. A concept like a ‘field’ in physics, for example, might reflect this state of affairs. (In this case, something like a ‘field’ would be the representation, the subjective experience would be the things.)

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