July 31, 2020

My views on science and relativism

by Neil Rickert

When I posted a review of “Science and Relativism” last week, I indicated that I would follow up with my own views on that topic.  So here it is.

When Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” came out, I thought it painted a somewhat better picture of science than what has been traditionally presented.  I didn’t agree with everything that Kuhn said, but I did like that he was challenging the traditional picture.

When, many years later, I read Feyerabend’s “Against Method”, I thought it a pretty good read.  I took Feyerabend to be poking fun at traditional philosophy of science, and I saw that as a good thing.  When he suggested that voodoo might work as well as science, I was not sure whether he was serious — and I’m still not sure.  In any case, I did not see him as a threat to science.

Where philosophy goes wrong

In my opinion, much of what people see as criticisms of science are really a reaction to the idea (from epistemology) that knowledge is justified true belief.  As best I can tell, most scientists and most mathematicians see knowledge as distinct from belief.

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July 23, 2020

Science and Relativism

by Neil Rickert

I have been procrastinating on posting this.  I want to say more about truth and how it is actually used.  So I’ll start with a review of the book “Science and Relativism” by Larry Laudan.

I’ll note that the book was published in 1990.  I purchased it, maybe 15 or more years ago.  I recently returned to it for a second reading.

The author, Larry Laudan, is a philosopher of science.  I assume that he is semi-retired by now, but that’s just a guess.

In this post, I shall mainly refrain from expressing my view of the issues.  I plan a followup post where I present that.

What is relativism?

Broadly, relativism if the position that something is relative to something else.  And cultural relativism is that something is relative to culture and cultural traditions.  Most commonly, we hear of moral relativism.  However, when discussing science the issue typically has to do with scientific conclusions and scientific truth.

I’ll quote Laudan from his preface:

But it can be defined, to a first order of approximation, as the thesis that the natural world and such evidence as we have about that world do little or nothing to constrain our beliefs.  In a phrase, the relativists’ slogan is “The way we take things to be is quite independent of the way things are.”

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April 29, 2020

The scientific and manifest images

by Neil Rickert

As a followup to my previous post, I’ll note that Dan Kaufman has posted a second round in his proposals for metaphysics:

As background, I’ll note that I am sitting at my desk.  According to the manifest image, my desktop is solid wood.  According to the scientific image, my desktop is mostly empty space surrounding a sparse array of atoms.

The scientific image is how physics sees the world.  The manifest image is closer to how we see the world.  But sciences vary.  Biologists are concerned about individual organisms.  And those belong in the manifest image, rather than in the scientific image.  Likewise, most of the concerns of psychology fit better with the manifest image.

In my view, philosophy (by which I mean academic philosophy) is mainly oriented toward the scientific image.  And, in my opinion, it should be more oriented toward the manifest image.  I think that’s also how Dan Kaufman sees it, but perhaps I am misreading him.  Please go read his post to see what he says.

Where I come in

A little background about myself.  I started studying learning (or how humans learn) in the 1980s.  And I quickly found myself disagreeing with philosophers.  I imagined myself to be a solitary animal or organism on some planet, with little or know innate knowledge of the planet.  And I had to work out ways of learning about that planet.

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April 25, 2020

Thoughts about metaphysics

by Neil Rickert

Hmm, it’s been quite a while since I last posted anything to this blog.

Dan Kaufman is rethinking metaphysics, as indicated in a recent post:

Judging by the relatively small number of comments, I don’t think there’s a lot of enthusiasm among readers.  But I will be looking forward for continued posts on this topic.

In agreement with Dan, I do want to see some rethinking.  And that’s why I started this blog.

I’ll use this post to give some of my own ideas on the topic.  I expect that some of them are very different from Dan’s ideas.

Basic realism

I am assuming some sort of basic realism.  That is to say, I assume that there is a reality which is human independent.  And we interact with that reality.

I’m calling this an assumption, because I see no possibility of proof.  But it does make clear that I reject Berkeley’s idealism.  I don’t think anything important depends on this assumption.

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August 2, 2019

The FBI and me

by Neil Rickert

Well, okay, the title of this post is misleading and I’m having a little fun in using that title.

Yesterday, I saw a blog post by William Dembski, where he used the acronym “FBI” as shorthand for a Fundamentalist Belief Inventory.  So no, in this case “FBI” does not stand for “Federal Bureau of Investigation”.

The inventory consists of 40 pairs of statements.  In each case you are supposed to pick the one that fits best.  And it is a forced choice — you are not allowed to select “none of the above”.  I suggest you follow the link above to Dembski’s post and read the questions.  It will give you an idea as to what fundamentalists believe.

Testing myself

Directly testing myself would not be much fun.  I would probably score a zero on the fundamentalist scale.  So, instead, I tried to answer them as I probably would have answered them back at age 20 — around 3 years before I left Christianity.

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May 31, 2019

Knowledge of nuomena

by Neil Rickert

A comment to my previous post asked an interesting question:

Do you yourself think that the noumenal world (The world “in itself”) is unknowable to humans?

This brings up issues which deserve a full post responding to the question.  In particular, it brings up questions such as:

  • what do we mean by knowledge?
  • what is the relation between the nuomenal world and the wolrd of our experience (the phenomenal world)?

Some background

Let me state, at the outset, that I am not a professional philosopher.  My background is primarily in mathematics and computer science.  So you should take this post as mostly reflecting my personal opinion.  I like to think that opinion is informed by my study of cognition and consciousness.  As best I can tell, nobody else is studying consciousness in quite the same way.

For background on the meaning of “nuomena”, I suggest the Wikipedia article.  Apparently, Plato used the term to refer to his ideal forms.  But, more recently, the term has been used for what Kant described as the thing in itself.  I take that to be a reference to the world undistorted by human ideas and concepts.  I should note that “nuomena” is plural, with “nuomenon” as the corresponding singular.  And I shall use the expression “nuomenal world” for the world of nuomena.

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May 8, 2019

Nuomena and phenomena

by Neil Rickert

Kant made a distinction between the world in itself (the nuomenal world) and the world of our experience (the phenomenal world).  This was the topic of discussion between Dan Kaufman (or “DK”) and Crispin Sartwell (or “CS”) in a video presented at Electric Agora.  I found it an interesting discussion.  In this post, I plan to comment on a small portion of what was discussed.

DK and CS disagree, in a friendly way, throughout the discussion.  That’s good, because it brings different viewpoints to our attention.

In earlier posts here, I have argued that there isn’t a way that the world is.  From the linked discussion, DK seems to agree while CS seems to disagree.  My own views don’t coincide with either, though perhaps they are a bit closer to DK.

At around 16:45 in the video, DK says “We shouldn’t think of the object of investigation as the world independent of anyone’s experience.”  I’m inclined to disagree with DK on that point.  It seems to me that we do investigate the nuomenal world.  And, yes, we investigate it by means of our experience.  But we create that experience by means of the ways that we interact with the world.  It doesn’t quite seem right to say that we only investigate the world of our experience, when we generate our own experience in order to investigate the unknown nuomenal world.

In some sense, the goal of our investigation is to find ways of satisfying our biological needs and urges.  But, to achieve that, we investigate the world looking for opportunities to meet those needs and urges.  And our investigation is unavoidably biased by our biology and perhaps by our culture.

Objects

DK goes on to suggest that trees are not nuomenal objects.  And CS disagrees, saying that they are nuomenal objects.  My view is somewhere between the two.  That is to say, I see trees as part of the nuomenal world, but not as nuomenal objects.  I don’t think there is anything in the nuomenal world to decide what is an object.  It is up to us to decide what to count as an object.

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February 21, 2019

The hard problem of consciousness

by Neil Rickert

It has been a while since my last post.  And that’s because I have been struggling with a hard problem.

No, not the Chalmers hard problem.  I have my own hard problem.

The easy problem of consciousness:

The easy problem, for me, has been in understanding consciousness.  When I say “easy”, I do not mean trivially easy.  It has been difficult at times.

The hard problem of consciousness:

For me, the hard problem of consciousness has been attempting to communicate my understanding to others.  And, thus far, I have not found a successful way of doing that.

On truth

In a recent post at the the PeacefulScience forum, I wrote:

What it really boils down to, is that there is no such thing as metaphysical truth. There is only conventional truth. And different social groups will disagree over their social conventions.

Most people find this hard to swallow.  They probably see it as obviously wrong.  But they don’t point out where I went wrong, probably because they are unable to determine that.

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September 5, 2018

On my philosophy of science

by Neil Rickert

I haven’t posted for a few weeks.  Some of the ideas that I have been discussing and want to discuss, are difficult to present.

In the meantime, I posted something at an online forum that seems to have been received well.  And it does have to do with my philosophy of science.

So I’ll start by quoting that post.  For reference and context, the original post is here:

So here’s that post:

Eddie: Would the same physicists all say that “the standard model is a true, or approximately true, depiction of nature?”

I don’t know about physicists.

As I see it, the standard model is neither true nor false as a depiction of nature. Our concept of “true” does not allow us to make such a judgment of the standard model.

Here’s the problem:

There is nothing at all that can be said directly about nature. In order to say something, we need words and we need a standard way of attaching those words to nature. Until we have the words and the standards, there is no basis for saying anything.

The role of the standard model is to provide us with those words and standards which would allow us to say things about nature. So the standard model, or some suitable replacement, is a prerequisite to being able to have true or approximately true depictions of nature.

I look at the cosmology of Genesis 1 in about the same way. In its time, it provided a vocabulary and a set of standards on how to have true depictions of nature. So I tend to see that cosmology as neither true nor false, but as setting the stage to be able to make true depictions. But, of course, it has been superseded by newer and better cosmologies. Continue reading

August 9, 2018

Consciousness — thinking

by Neil Rickert

Today’s post is about thinking, and about what thinking really is.

People broadly agree that we think about ideas, and somehow we make decisions about those ideas.  But, beyond that, there does not seem to be a consensus on what thinking really amounts to.

I will be discussing my own view on that.  I don’t doubt that some people will disagree with my view.

What is thinking?

I see thinking as rehearsal of behavior or rehearsal of possible behavior.

The idea that it is rehearsal of behavior is not original with me.  I read that recently, but I don’t remember where.  I had previously been thinking of it as a simulation of possible behavior, which is a similar idea.  But I really like the term “rehearsal” here, as it better captures my ideas.

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