January 22, 2018

Avoiding free will discussion

by Neil Rickert

Jerry Coyne has posted a question on his blog site:

I’ll comment here, because I think I am banned from posting comments to Coyne’s site.

People avoid these discussions because they know, perhaps from experience, that such discussions produce a lot of heat but very little light.

Here’s the problem:

  • There cannot be any credible evidence against free will.  For any such evidence would already demonstrate that the evidence was not freely obtained.  And if the evidence was not freely obtained, then it cannot make a credible case against free will.
  • There cannot be any credible evidence for free will.  For we cannot rule out the possibility of hidden variables, so that what looks free is really determined.

And that leaves arguments at an impasse.

In my experience, arguments about free will are pretty much disagreements over the meaning of “free will”.

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January 18, 2018

Generalization in science

by Neil Rickert

According to most treatments of philosophy of science, or at least most of those that I have looked at, science advances by means of inductive generalizations. Inductive generalizations are often assumed to be the basis for scientific laws (such as laws of physics).

To me, that seems wrong.  I do not see the evidence that science is using induction.

I can agree that there are generalizations in science.  But it does not seem to me that they are inductive generalizations.

Induction

First an example of induction, to illustrate what is meant by the term.

All the many crows that I have seen are black.  Therefore all crows are black.

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January 16, 2018

Quote of the day

by Neil Rickert

From a post on Frank Schaeffer’s blog:

White evangelicals take note: If Trump is president because of “God’s will,” then your God must be a white trash, philandering, money-laundering, Putin-stooge, hate-filled, racist liar, too.

Well, no, I am not planning to have a daily “quote of the day” feature.  But this stood out as worth repeating.

January 16, 2018

Generalization in mathematics

by Neil Rickert

Generalization is an important part of mathematics, and I shall discuss that here.  My discussion will mostly consist of examples with commentary on those examples.

I’m planning a future post on generalization in science.

Numbers

The simplest example has to do with numbers.  And our use of numbers presumably started with counting.  By assigning names, from a fixed sequence (1,2,3, …), we could count objects.  And then we could compare the results from counts of different collections of objects. This turned out to be useful for keeping track of quantities.

Rules were developed to deal with counting of groups of objects.  If we knew the counts of each of two groups, we could combine those with addition rules, to get the combined count.  And if we has several groups of the same count, we could combine those with multiplication rules.

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January 9, 2018

How I became a heretic

by Neil Rickert

It was somewhere around 1988.  For various reasons, I became interested in trying to understand learning.  I already new from my own experience at growing up, that human children can be excellent learners.  And my experience as an educator (university professor) supported this view.

I also knew, as a practicing computer scientist, that machine learning did not work at all well.  The kind of machine learning that worked best was reinforcement learning.  But the difficulty was you had to give a direction to the learning system, and come up with a reward system for the reinforcement.  So it was hard to judge how much of the learning was due to the programmer, rather than to the software.

My starting assumptions

When I started this project, I did not expect to succeed.  I knew it was a difficult problem.  I did better than I had expected.  And that is probably because of my starting assumptions.  However, my starting assumptions were apparently quite different from those of epistemology (the branch of philosophy that studies knowledge).  So I guess my starting assumptions were the start of my philosophical heresy.

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January 3, 2018

Re-introducing this blog

by Neil Rickert

I haven’t posted much recently.  But I’m about to try becoming more active.

I originally started this blog to discuss some of my ideas, many of them being related to human cognition.  I have found, mostly before I started this blog, that it is difficult to communicate my ideas to others.  It seems that I am looking at the various questions in ways that are very different from how most philosophers look at them.  And by “philosophers”, I really mean humans.  We all philosophize to some extent.

That I am looking at things very differently is the basis for the name I have given the blog.

I’ll be attempting to get back to a rate of around one post per week.  But I won’t be pushing myself to meet that rate.

And a note on comments.  I currently have configured the blog so that commenting on a post is closed after 30 days.  That’s mainly to reduce the amount of spamming.

December 25, 2017

Happy holidays

by Neil Rickert

Merry Christmas, everyone.  Or happy holidays, or whatever.

I haven’t been posting much lately.  But I’m still here.

Best wishes to all.

November 6, 2017

Popper upside down

by Neil Rickert

The idea for the title comes from a blog post by Sabine Hossenfelder:

Hossenfelder is herself a physicist.  She makes a good argument on the problems with the way that scientists use (or misuse) Popper’s idea of falsification.  It is well worth reading.

For myself, I slightly disagree.  I don’t think she should blame the problem on Popper alone.  The problem is bad philosophy of science.  And, unfortunately, there is a lot of bad philosophy of science.  Some of that bad philosophy comes from professional philosophers.  And some of it comes from scientists themselves.

[Yes, this was a very short post intended to reference Hossenfelder’s post.]

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October 1, 2017

Color blindness

by Neil Rickert

I am color blind.

Well, not really.  My color vision is fine, thank you.  However, my color vision is abnormal.  That doesn’t mean that it is bad.  It just means that it is different from what is typical.

I should note that I am posting this because I intend referring to it in a future post about human cognition and perception.

Growing up

As a child, I had no idea that there was anything unusual about my color vision.  The world looked the way that people described it, as best I could tell.  I developed an interest in electronics, and I never had any difficulty with the color coding of resistors and other components (giving the resistance as a series of color bands).  As far as I could tell, my vision was normal. Continue reading

September 25, 2017

On the EAAN

by Neil Rickert

The EAAN, or Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, is an argument by Plantinga.  The Wikipedia entry provides a reasonable summary.

In a recent post at the Uncommon Descent blog, Barry Arrington gives an argument based on the EAAN.  This will mostly be a response to Arrington.

What is the EAAN?

Here’s a short quote from the Wikipedia article.

The EAAN argues that the combined belief in both evolutionary theory and naturalism is epistemically self-defeating. The reason for this is that if both evolution and naturalism are true, then the probability of having reliable cognitive faculties are low.

Personally, I’m inclined to see the EAAN as a reductio ad absurdum of a traditional account of epistemology.  Traditionally, it is said that knowledge is justified true belief.  I’ve disagreed with that in the past, and I continue to disagree.

That Wikipedia quote talks of both evolution and naturalism as being true.  I have never subscribed to naturalism (nor to materialism), because I don’t know what it would mean to say that naturalism is true.  And evolution, as used in that quote, refers to the theory of evolution.  I tend to think of scientific theories as neither true nor false.  Rather, I see a theory as a set of pragmatic conventions that provide a guide to how we should talk about the world.  As such a framework, the theory sets standards, in this case for biology and related fields.  Those standards give as ways of coming up with factual (true) statements about reality.  But whether or not we see the theory as true does not seem important. Continue reading