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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August 1, 2018

Interacting with the world

by Neil Rickert

Here’s something to try:

With your eyes closed, touch the tip of your nose with your finger.  You will probably find that you are fairly good at it.  Not perfect, but still pretty good.

Or try to touch your ear lobe, again with your eyes closed.  Or try to touch your eyebrows with your eyes closed.

Monitoring your actions

What is happening there, is that your brain is tracking your finger even when you cannot see it.  And your brain is also tracking your nose, eyebrows and ear lobes.  The brain is monitoring your activity.  And a good part of your abilities to interact depend on this monitoring.

While walking, you step on a banana peel, or something else that is slippery.  Maybe you will fall.  But, most of the time you are able to recover your balance without falling.  And that’s because of the monitoring that your brain is doing.  As you begin to transfer weight to that foot, the brain detects a problem and you are able to react before you have fully transferred weight to that foot.

Proprioception

Much of this has to do with proprioception, which is that part of our perceptual system that handles such monitoring.

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July 18, 2018

On ontology and materialism

by Neil Rickert

Recently Dan Kaufman and Massimo Pigliucci had a discussion about ontology, materialism and related topics.

Here’s Massimo’s blog post, where he introduces the video.  And you can find the discussion video on that page:

Ontology is part of metaphysics.  And I have never seriously studied metaphysics.  So I watched the video all of the way through to see what I could make of it.

Generally speaking, I’m a skeptic of metaphysics and of ontology.  After watching the video, I am still a skeptic.  But I did enjoy the discussion.

Some comments

I’ll add some of my own comments on what was discussed in the video.  I’m calling them comments, because this is not an attempt to review the video or to make serious arguments about what is discussed there.  It is just comments or reactions to what I am seeing and hearing.

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July 16, 2018

Alternative math

by Neil Rickert

Jerry Coyne posted this video at his blog:

Presumably Coyne was making a point about alternative truths.  The video clip is quite exaggerated.  I don’t expect anything like that to actually happen.   But, of course, exaggeration is often a good way of making a point.

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July 11, 2018

Patterns and lumps

by Neil Rickert

Many people, both philosophers and AI proponents, talk about patterns.  They typically suggest that we start by finding patterns in the world.  We then build up perception and knowledge based on the patterns that we find.

Sometimes people talk of “regularities” rather than of “patterns”.  The term “regularity” implies some sort of rule following.  And that fits with our ordinary idea of pattern.

So let’s examine the idea of starting with patterns or regularities

Patterns

What’s a pattern?

I’m stumped already.

I know what’s a pattern in mathematics.  I know what’s a pattern in a drawing.  But I don’t know what’s a pattern in the world.

We often find patterns in representations, whether those representations be descriptions or pictures.

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