September 13, 2014
This morning, I came across a blog comment which is a good example of where I see metaphysics leading us astray. I replied to that comment, and this post will mainly be quoting my reply.
Here’s what I wrote, starting with a quote from the comment to which I was responding:
Kantian Naturalist: More precisely, the point of the act/potency distinction (energeia and dunamis, respectively) is to characterize how the world must be in order for there to be modally robust empirical generalizations.
As a piece of metaphysics — indeed, a fundamental position in what might be called “transcendental realism” — it strikes as perfectly right that we should ask “how must the world be in order for science to be possible?” as well as the Kantian question, “how must the mind be in order for science to be possible?” And in answering the former question, it seems perfectly right to say that the world must have modal structure, otherwise there is nothing to make our counterfactuals correct or incorrect. (This is different from the epistemological question of how to explain our conceptual grasp of modality.)
To me, this reads like philosophy’s version of “Adam and Eve.” That is to say, it comes across to me as the origins myth that is the founding belief of philosophy seen as religion.
I prefer the alternative: it is obvious that science is possible, so let’s investigate how does it actually work. Let’s not start with a dubious a priori assumption, that it works by generalization (induction).
September 11, 2014
I’ve occasionally suggested that I don’t do metaphysics. One of the comments to my previous post took me to task over that, saying that it was an example of doing metaphysics and that I was therefore contradicting myself.
Such literalism. This kind of quibbling is part of why many scientists are dismissive of philosophy. Here, I’ll try to clear up that confusion.
What I’m against
Of course, every thinking person will do some thinking about metaphysical questions, self-included. We can’t help it. We are confronted with these questions, posed by others. They may be questions that have no answers. But we will think about them anyway.
What I oppose, is using metaphysical assumptions as a basis for other reasoning, such as reasoning about knowledge.
I’ll illustrate the point with mathematics. There, I avoid platonist assumptions. I usually consider myself a fictionalists (mathematical entities are useful fictions). And I suppose that, technically, fictionalism is considered a metaphysical position. But the point of fictionalism is to avoid making assumptions about the existence of mathematical entities by treating them as fictions.
September 1, 2014
In a recent post over at Scientia Salon
Mark O’Brien asks a question and gives his own answer with:
Could a computer ever be conscious? I think so, at least in principle.
As O’Brien says, people have very different intuitions on this question. My own intuition disagrees with that of O’Brien.
After a short introduction, O’Brien presents two starting assumptions that he makes, and that he will use to support his intuition on the question.
Empirical assumption 1: I assume naturalism. If your objection to computationalism comes from a belief that you have a supernatural soul anchored to your brain, this discussion is simply not for you.
Personally, I do not assume naturalism. However, I also do not believe that I have a supernatural soul. I don’t assume naturalism, because I have never been clear on what such an assumption entails. I guess it is too much metaphysics for me.
August 30, 2014
In a recent post at his web site, Jerry Coyne reports that he has received a request from an assistant to Deepak Chopra:
I have not received my own copy of this request, nor do I expect one. But I will comment anyway.
You can read the full document at by following the link above. I’ll quote parts and respond to those.
We are concerned, however, that the old scientific paradigm is not adequate to provide answers to either question. The old paradigm, under which we were trained, along with every working scientist, reduces difficult problems to smaller, more manageable parts. Experiments are conducted, data is collected, and findings are reached. In this way objective knowledge emerges that a consensus can accept, whether it concerns the behavior of moving bodies in Newton’s time or the existence of the Higgs boson in ours.
No, this so-called “old paradigm” is not how science works, though it might be close to how some philosophers of science say that it works. You need only look to Kuhn’s book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (1962, 1970, University of Chicago Press) to see an analysis of where science fails to fit that description.
August 20, 2014
In my last post, I hinted that I might comment on the videos that John Wilkins has posted. Here, I will be commenting on John’s video on scientific realism. That’s the second video HERE.
This post isn’t really a response to John. I shall also be referencing the Wikipedia page and the SEP page on scientific realism. I am puzzled by the discussions of scientific realism, so I’ll be illustrating that puzzlement.
The Wikipedia page begins with:
Scientific realism is, at the most general level, the view that the world described by science is the real world, as it is, independent of what we might take it to be.
That sounds about right to me. And, with that as a definition, I could call myself a scientific realist. But, as I read further in that Wiki page, I begin to run into statements with which I cannot agree. In discussion on other internet sites, I have had philosophers suggest that I am anti-realist, though that seems wrong to me. So perhaps you can see that I might find it all a bit puzzling.
August 17, 2014
John Wilkins has recently posted a short series of videos, where he talks on topics related to philosophy of science. Here are links to the posts where he presented the videos:
I found these worth watching. I am tentatively planning a future post where I comment on some of the videos.
What I liked about these videos, is that they give a better picture of what John Wilkins thinks about the issues he mentions. Take, for example, his video on “Frequentism vs. Bayesianism.” I have seen John mention Bayesian methods in earlier blog posts, and they left me a bit puzzled as to John’s position. In the video, he makes it clear that he is very uncertain about these views (which I see as a respectable position). I found that clarifying.
August 12, 2014
This will mostly be a copy of what I recently posted in a Yahoo groups discussion. And, incidentally, Yahoo badly mangled that post (stripped out most of the formatting).
As background, I’ll note that in an earlier Yahoo groups post, I had indicated that I was opposed to the view that perception is passive. This seemed to puzzle some participants in the discussion. So my post — the one I am quoting — was intended to explain what I mean when I say that perception is active.
The quoted post
You guys need to get out more. You are trapped in a world of logic, and unable to think outside that box.
You both seem committed to God’s eye view thinking, though you may be in denial over that. So you see perception as a system to report to you what is seen by the hypothetical God. But how could that ever work?
August 7, 2014
I’m posting this as humor.
There’s a truly bizarre post at Uncommon Descent, by johnnyb:
Yes, that title is already weird.
In that post, johnnyb asks a series of questions. I shall list the questions and give my own answers. Johnnyb did ask that we write down our answers immediately, before reading the entire post. I will be giving what were my immediate answers, though I did not actually write them down.
Quick question – do you think that women are closer to apes than men? Do you think that Darwinian evolution (i.e. common ancestry by happenstance mutation and selection) is consistent or inconsistent with your answer?
My answers are “no” and “yes”.
If you are a Darwinist, you think that humans and chimps evolved from a common ancestor, correct?
July 20, 2014
No, I have not suddenly become religious. I am just reacting to a recent post by PZ Myers:
When asked, I have usually said that I am not religious. I don’t take offense when people say that I am atheist, but it is never a term that I have asserted for my own position.
Yet so many people just make that statement, and then argue that there are no antecedents and no consequences of atheism — a revolutionary idea for which people have been executed, which is in opposition to the premises used to establish many of the powerful institutions in our culture, which directly contradicts what many people consider the basis of all morality in society, is treated as casually and cavalierly as the statement, “I don’t much care for Justin Bieber’s music”.
Sorry, PZ, but “I don’t much care for Justin Bieber’s music” is pretty close to how I look at the God question. I suppose that makes me closer to being an agnostic or an ignostic or an apatheist. But those terms seem too technical, so I’ll stay with “not religious.”
I was a serious theist, mostly during my teenage years. But I never rebelled. Rather, I just walked away. It did take serious thought for me to recognize that religion is entirely man-made. And that was why I could easily walk away. But I never did conclude that there is no god. As best I can tell, there is no evidence either way.
July 17, 2014
In a post earlier today at his new site, Massimo Pigliucci compares analytic philosophy with continental philosophy:
I found it an interesting post, and I suggest you read it. Most of the philosophy that I have read has been in the analytic tradition, so I did learn something about continental philosophy.
The starting point
By way of distinguishing between the two traditions, Pigliucci describes analytic philosophy this way:
Analytic philosophy refers to a style of doing philosophy characteristic of the contemporary British empiricists, like G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell, with an emphasis on argument, logical analysis, and language, and it is what one finds practiced in many (though by no means all) philosophy departments in the United States and the UK. Michael Dummett  famously said that the “characteristic tenet [of analytic philosophy] is that the philosophy of language is the foundation for all the rest of philosophy … [that] the goal of philosophy is the analysis of the structure of thought [and that] the only proper method for analysing thought consists in the analysis of language.”
And, right there, you see where I disagree. The analytic tradition starts with language, and wants to make that the foundation for all philosophy. I want to start far earlier.