Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Normative Grounding

At the end of the last post, I mentioned a normative definition of grounding: a concept is grounded in a system if the system captures everything worth capturing about the way we reason about that concept. Perhaps "grounding" isn't the best term for this, but whatever you call it, this is an important criteria. This principle should also cut the other way: if something is not worth capturing, it should not be in the system. At the end of the last post I listed a few ways in which the system fails the first test: things that we do (to our advantage) that the system doesn't capture. But the system also has problems in the other direction: it does things that it has no good reason to do.

The expanded notion of meaning that I've made such a big deal about, which allows concepts that are meaningful in terms of other concepts but not in terms of base-level data, seems like a normative stretch. So what if a concept would be useful if we knew it to be true/false? The fact remains that it is useless, since we cannot know one way or the other!

Yet, we silly humans seem to use such concepts. We are (it seems) even able to prove or disprove a few of them, so that we do know them to be true or false. How and why?

The arithmetical hierarchy is defined in terms of a base-level class of computable predicates. However, thanks to the halting problem, it is impossible to tell which predicates are computable and which aren't. So, we never know for certain which level a statement is on. In terms of the formalism I've described, I suppose this would reflect our ability to disprove some statements of the form "true(...)" or "implies(...,...)"; for example, if we can show that a statement is a logical contradiction, then we know that it is not a tautology. (Do I need to add that to the list of manipulation rules?? Is it somehow justifiable if the system defines "true(X)" as "there exists a proof of X"??) So, some proof-searches are provably nonhalting, without resorting to mathematical induction... meaning some of the higher-level statements that appear undecidable will turn out to be decidable, and some that appear un-limit-decidable will turn out to be limit-decidable after all. Since we can't tell which ones will do this ahead of time, there may be normative justification for keeping them all...

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