Archive for November 6th, 2010

November 6, 2010

The camera analogy(2) – acquiring knowledge (learning)

by Neil Rickert

This continues the series that I began with “The camera analogy(1) – introduction“.  In this post, I wish to use the analogy to discuss the question of knowledge, and how we acquire it.

Typical discussions of knowledge acquisition and philosophy of science take for granted that there are many facts that we can readily pick up by observation.  They concentrate on the question of how we acquire more facts that are not so easy to find.  Let’s refer to those not-so-easy facts as “enhanced facts.”  These enhanced facts are often said to be derived by inductive inference from the easier facts, as in “All the many crows I have seen are black; therefore all crows are black.”  There is also a long history of skepticism with regard to the use of induction, though I won’t be discussing that here.  The behaviorists from psychology often describe learning in terms of conditioning.  And since conditioning is said to result from repetition and reinforcement, that is similar to the use of induction.

Using our camera analogy, the easy to find facts are like the photographs that we take with our camera.  Inductive inference is then about the same as taking a large collection of photographs, and searching them to try to find patterns that are common to many of the pictures.  Any patterns found could be said to be found by pattern induction, and would be counted as enhanced facts.

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