October 9, 2015

Love, pain and chemistry

by Neil Rickert

We sometimes hear people saying that love is just chemistry.  Apparently Zach Weinersmith, the SMBC cartoonist, doesn’t agree.  He gives his ironic reaction in one of his cartoons.  I agree with the cartoonist, though I would not react in the suggested way.

Jerry Coyne thinks the cartoonist is profoundly misguided.  So I’ll have to disagree with Coyne.

Computation as an analogy

I’ll use computation as an analogy, to illustrate why I disagree with Coyne.

If you see somebody doing computation, you may see them making pencil marks on paper.  But it would be a serious mistake to say that computation is just making pencil marks on paper.

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October 5, 2015

My appendectomy

by Neil Rickert

I haven’t posted for a while.  I was thinking of some more topics, when reality intruded.  This post is related to how I have been spending my time over the last week or so.


Let’s start at the beginning.  Almost 2 months ago, I had what was supposed to be a routine colonoscopy.  That’s where they push a camera up one’s rear, and look around.

For the most part, a colonoscopy isn’t too bad, if only because you are under an anesthetic for most of the time.  The really unpleasant part is the “bowel prep” on the previous day.  That’s when you take some heavy laxatives to clean yourself out and make room for the equipment.

The colonoscopy itself came out okay.  There were three small polyps, which were removed and biopsied.  The test showed that they were not cancerous.

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September 12, 2015

Recommending a podcast

by Neil Rickert

I follow the blog “Godless in Dixie”.  This morning there was a post about a podcast with the blog author on Aron Ra’s podcast site.

I rarely listen to atheist or religious podcasts.  When I do, too often they are the same old arguments.  But this one was different.  It gave me an insight in the mind of the YEC (young earth creationist).  So I’m recommending it.

Here’s a paragraph from the associated post:

We discussed how faith can make you accept intellectual defeat while thinking through doubts and questions, and we also covered how people can rationalize irrational things in order to preserve the beliefs they were taught to embrace (Hint: It has to do with inheriting a very low view of human nature).

I’ll note that when I check a short while ago, this episode did not show in the podcast index.  However, the youtube video on the linked blog post does work.

September 1, 2015

The “Random Genetic Drift” Fallacy — a review

by Neil Rickert

I often see suggestions that random genetic drift drives speciation.  I’m a bit skeptical of that idea.  In any case, a discussion developed elsewhere, and Will Provine’s recent book on the topic was suggested as reading.  I found the book interesting, though perhaps not decisive on the issues.  So I am still at the same point of skepticism as where I started.  But I at least have a better grasp of some of the issues.

I should add that I am not a biologist, though I have taken an interest in evolutionary biology.

What is random drift?

Let’s start by looking at the main issue.  The proponents of random drift seem to be suggesting that

  • there are near neutral mutations (neither benefiicial nor deleterious)
  • by random chance, some of those neutral mutations take over the population (the new genes become fixed).

That is the sort of drift that Provine is discussing.

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July 19, 2015

Five years of blogging

by Neil Rickert

WordPress notified me, earlier today, that it five years since I started this blog.  I wasn’t sure that I would keep it up that long.

My blogging rate has slowed.  At the beginning it was a bit more than one post per week.  Now it is closer to one per two weeks.

My thanks and appreciation to those who have been reading this blog.

July 1, 2015

Two recent supreme court cases

by Neil Rickert

I’m perhaps a bit late here.  I have been discussing these case in other forums, so  I thought I would summarize my view here.

I’ll start by reminding the reader that I am not a lawyer.  But I am a citizen of the USA, and that should be enough to entitle me to express an opinion.

Obamacare (King v. Burwell)

While this was an important case, it is difficult to understand why there was a case at all.  This was the case where some people took a very literalist view of the ACA legislation, and claimed that it excluded subsidies to people in states with federally run exchanges.

In my opinion, this was a completely bogus issue from the start.  It was clear enough what was intended by those who drew up the legislation.

The Supreme Court had little choice in taking up the issue, because a lower court had ruled in favor of that bogus reading of the law.  And, thankfully, the supreme court reached the sensible decision.

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June 18, 2015

Making sense of a strange world

by Neil Rickert

In my prior post, I suggested that the role of perception was to allow an organism to make sense of the strange world where it finds itself.

We actually know something about how to do this.  We have examples from history to guide us.


Perhaps the best examples are explorers.  They go into unfamiliar territory, and attempt to make it more familiar, more understandable.  And perhaps their most important way of doing this is by making maps.

Their map may start as little more than a blank sheet of paper.  As they explore, they look for major features such as mountains and rivers.  And then enter those onto the map in the appropriate relation to one another.  As then add features, the map begins to take shape and the structure of the territory begins to emerge.

Later another explorer, or perhaps the original explorer, may reenter the territory.  And, as they spot the major features, then can orient their location to what is shown on the map.  They can now add minor features to help further flesh out what we can know about the territory that they are exploring.

June 11, 2015

An alternative to design thinking

by Neil Rickert

In the previous post, I criticized Searle’s design thinking.  Today I want to suggest an alternative.

The trouble with design thinking

Design thinking seems to be common in philosophy and in AI.  The problem is that we end up attempting to design ourselves.  We look at ourselves as the intended finished product.  And we want what we design to have the same concepts, the same beliefs, the same ideas of truth.

There is a lot of talk about autonomous agents.  But can an agent be truly autonomous if we require it to have our own concepts and our own beliefs?  This, I think, is why we often have the intuition that an AI system won’t really be making decisions — it will, instead, be a mechanization of the designer’s intended decision making.

An alternative

The alternative is to try to understand the problem than an organism or a perceptual system is attempting to solve.  And then, once we understand the problem, we can look into ways of solving that problem.

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June 3, 2015

Searle’s design thinking

by Neil Rickert

While reading Searle’s perception book, I came across this passage:

Think of the problem from a designer point of view. Suppose you are God or evolution and you are designing organisms capable of coping with their environment in spectacularly successful ways. First, you create an environment that has objects with shapes, sizes, movements, etc. Furthermore, you create an environment with differential light reflectances. Then you create organisms with spectacularly rich visual capacities. Within certain limits, the whole world is open to their visual awareness. But now you need to create a specific set of perceptual organizations where specific visual experiences are internally tied to specific features of the world, such that being those features involves the capacity to produce those sorts of experiences. Reality is not dependent on experience, but conversely. The concept of the reality in question already involves the causal capacity to produce certain sorts of experiences. So the reason that these experiences present red objects is that the very fact of being a red object involves a capacity to produce this sort of experience. Being a straight line involves the capacity to produce this other sort of experience. The upshot is that organisms cannot have these experiences without it seeming to them that they are seeing a red object or a straight line, and that “”seeming to them”” marks the intrinsic intentionality of the perceptual experience. (page 129)

I’m not surprised by that kind of design thinking.  I have long thought that such design thinking is the background to much of philosophy.  It is, however, a little strange to be calling on evolution as a designer and as having a designer point of view.  Even worse is the idea of evolution wanting to “create organisms with spectacularly rich visual capacities.”

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May 27, 2015

Searle on direct realism

by Neil Rickert

As I hinted in my previous post, I want to discuss some aspects of Searle’s theory of perception.

Searle makes a good start with:

I believe the worst mistake of all is the cluster of views known as Dualism, Materialism, Monism, Functionalism, Behaviorism, Idealism, the Identity Theory, etc. The idea these theories all have in common is that there is some special problem about the relation of the mind to the body, consciousness to the brain, and in their fixation on the illusion that there is a problem, philosophers have fastened onto different solutions to the problem. (page 10).

I agree that those are mostly mistakes.  Searle continues with:

A mistake of nearly as great a magnitude overwhelmed our tradition in the seventeenth century and after, and it is the mistake of supposing that we never directly perceive objects and states of affairs in the world, but directly perceive only our subjective experiences.

That is Searle’s statement about his direct realism.  I do support the view that perception is direct, but I avoid the term “direct realism” because the word “realism” seems to carry some unnecessary metaphysical baggage.

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