October 31, 2014

The cultural scene

by Neil Rickert

A few posts worth reading:

Some choice quotes:

In evangelical home schools by the millions science is treated as toxic. Meanwhile in the secular public schools education has been mugged by corporate utilitarianism.

and

If the British had reacted to Hitler’s bombing of London the way we overacted to 9/11 the entire city of London would be one vast memorial…

You can count me as siding with Kaci Hickox on this.

I’m not sure that I agree with Coyne’s diagnosis, though I agree that there is a decline.

I frequently receive email from the NY Times, asking me to subscribe.  But I probably read less than one article per day, on average, so I’m not inclined to answer their ads.  I get much of my news from NPR, and I do contribute to my local NPR station.  If the NY Times, the Washington Post and several other newspapers could get together in a consortium, and offer a subscription that would give on-line browsing access to all of those papers, I might sign up for that.  I won’t subscribe to the NY Times only, because I don’t like the idea of a single source.

October 30, 2014

Please vote on Tuesday Nov 4th

by Neil Rickert

If you are a registered voter in the USA, then please vote on Tuesday.

I won’t tell you how to vote.  I suggest you study the candidates and decide that for yourself.  But I will tell you how I plan to vote for the most important positions.

For Illinois governor, my vote will be for Patrick Quinn.  I don’t actually like Quinn, so this is more a case of voting against his Republican opponent (Bruce Rauner).

For US Senate, I’ll be voting for Dick Durbin.  In my opinion, he has been a pretty good senator.  His opponent, Jim Oberweis, should have stayed out of politics — he isn’t very good at it.

For congress, I’ll probably vote for the Democrat, but it will be a wasted vote.  The 14th congressional district is a safe Republican seat.  I hate that.  I hated it just as much at a previous residence, where I was in a safe Democrat seat.  Competitive elections are better.

And then there’s a bunch of other positions.  Our ballot is too long.

We need better candidates

Yes, the choice of candidates is often poor.  But vote anyway.  If you don’t vote, then the politicians will take you for granted, and things won’t get better.

October 26, 2014

Dembski’s “Being as Communion” — a review

by Neil Rickert

I’ve had a copy of Dembski’s new book for a little more than a week.  That has been enough time for me to read it in preparation for this review.

The title itself is strange, at least to me.  It is a title that suggests that this is a book on religion.  It isn’t, though it does not completely avoid religious ideas.  The more complete title is “Being as Communion; A Metaphysics of Information.”  And that suggests that it is a book about information.  To some extent it is, though it also comes across as a diatribe against materialist metaphysics.

Dembski begins this book with:

What does the world look like if the fundamental stuff of reality is not matter but information?  That is the question animating this book.  We live in an information age.  Yet we also live in an overwhelmingly materialist age in which the things that seem to us most solid and inspire the most confidence are material.  Information itself therefore tends to be conceived in material terms, as a property of matter.  But what if information cannot be reduced to matter?  To turn the tables even more sharply, what if matter itself is an expression of information?

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October 19, 2014

Physicalism, materialism and all that

by Neil Rickert

I have previously posted about why I am not a materialist.  In this post I’ll say a little more on that topic.  This clarification is partly related to my current reading of Dembski’s new book.  Dembski seems to think that materialists are missing something important.  He says, parenthetically, “intelligent design being, frankly, incredible within the materialistic metaphysics that dominates so much of contemporary intellectual life.”  Given that I am not a materialist, it must be something else that leaves me unpersuaded by Dembski’s argument.  However, I presume that Dembski will conclude that I am a materialist in spite of my denial.

For starters, here are two relevant posts by John Wilkins:

John does seem to consider himself a physicalist.

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October 17, 2014

I’ve been neglecting this blog

by Neil Rickert

It’s been a little over a month since my last post.  I took a few days of travel, but never got back to posting on my return.

Mostly, I have been engaged in similar philosophical discussions at The Skeptical Zone, where I continue to see people look at things with a “God’s eye view” philosophy that cannot work (in my opinion).

Now reading

I am currently reading Dembski’s new book “Being as Communion” and will probably post on that when I have finished.  I won’t say that the book is disappointing, because I started with low expectations.

In the meantime, I’ll try to get back to posting around once per week.

September 13, 2014

Metaphysics — an example of what I criticize

by Neil Rickert

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.)

Wow!

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).

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September 11, 2014

Metaphysics — what I am against

by Neil Rickert

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.

Mathematics

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.

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September 1, 2014

The simulation argument

by Neil Rickert

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.

Assumptions

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.

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August 30, 2014

A response to Deepak Chopra

by Neil Rickert

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.

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August 20, 2014

On scientific realism

by Neil Rickert

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.

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