Archive for April, 2011

April 25, 2011

Knowledge and belief

by Neil Rickert

It should have been clear, from the time I started this blog, that I have some disagreements with analytic philosophy.  The name I have given the blog already reflects that.  Epistemology, a subfield of philosophy, is one of the places where I disagree.

Commonly, epistemologists define “knowledge” as justified true belief.  And there, I disagree.  To be sure, what most philosophers mean by “belief” is different from what theist’s mean by belief.  Moreover, I agree that there can be value in attempting to analyze what is required to be justified in having particular beliefs.  But it seems to me that it goes too far to identify that with knowledge.

As I see it, knowledge and belief are complementary to one another.  We sometimes use belief as a temporary aid until we acquire the knowledge.  John Searle has a good discussion of this with respect to learning to ski, at around page 150 of his book “Intentionality.”

The “justified true belief” characterization of knowledge attempts to account for all knowledge in terms of linguistic expression.  To me, that seems too narrow.  It would, in theory, be valid to just discuss linguistic expression, in isolation from everything else.  But in practice, linguistic expression cannot be easily isolated from intuition, common sense and other apparenly non-linguistic forms of knowledge.  So I see the “justified true belief” characterization as distorting our view of knowledge.

April 18, 2011

The Synthese flap – what’s the big deal?

by Neil Rickert

When the philosophy journal Synthese published a special issue critical of Intelligent Design, they included a disclaimer.  There has been a stink in the blogosphere, with accusations that Synthese editors have caved in to pressure from ID proponents.  And now there is a move afoot to boycott Synthese.

I am wondering why such a big deal.  Almost the entirety of philosophy is based on deeply entrenched ID thinking.  This is hardly surprising, given that the discipline of philosophy developed in an era where ID thinking was the norm.  Moreover, philosophy is respectful of those older traditions, unlike science which will quickly discard an old idea once it has a better replacement.

Epistemology is one of the core areas within philosophy.  It is a theory of knowledge that is derived from traditional ID thinking, as is philosophy of science (sometimes referred to as scientific epistemology).  This is why many scientists have little use for philosophy.  The philosophy of mind is mostly a theory of how to intelligently design a conscious mind.  It has made little progress, and some people now assert that consciousness does not exist, or is an illusion or is an epiphenomenon.  Personally, I think it is impossible to design a conscious mind – consciousness can only arise through evolution.

So now some philosophers, scholars in a tradition based on ID thinking, are criticizing one of their premier journals because it appears to be favoring ID.

This could be a fun food fight to watch.  Stock up on popcorn.

April 17, 2011

Gnome 3 – a review

by Neil Rickert

Gnome is software.  It is the component of some linux and unix systems that provides a graphical desktop environment.  It is one of several possible choices for a desktop GUI.  Version 3 is the latest version, and some demo CD isos were recently made available for testing it.

People use computers in different ways.  For some, the visual experience is all important.  Others use the computer for other kinds of tasks such as logging into remote systems, editing text files, maintaining blogs, etc.  If you are the “visual experience” kind of user, then this review is not for you.  That’s not my cup of tea, and I am not a good judge of what makes for a good visual experience.  So this review will be concerned mainly with usability for those who want a computer for tasks where there is considerable use of text.

April 16, 2011

Mathematical musings

by Neil Rickert

In this post, I mainly want to comment on what interested me in mathematics.

I was pretty good at math (i.e. basic arithmetic) in elementary school.  As best I can recall, I was attracted to it because of its perfection, compared to ordinary physical things which are inevitably imperfect.  I enjoyed the work with fractions.  But when we got into decimal fractions, that was far less attractive.  For, when doing decimal arithmetic, one is usually working with fractions and with rounding answers.  And once you round answers, the perfection is gone.  However, the infinite recurring decimals, as in 0.3333… for 1/3, was something I found very interesting.  Perhaps that was because it allowed perfection once again, or perhaps it was because of a curiosity about the infinite.

When I found out about using the symbol \pi (the greek letter pi in latex notation) that was exciting.  For it allowed me to have perfect (exact) answers, even though they could not be exactly expressed in a numeric form.

I sometimes wonder whether other people saw the same sense of perfection in mathematics.  It is perhaps part of what leads to mathematical platonism.  I may say more about that in future posts.

In mathematics, I rarely found it useful to memorize anything.  Yes, I did practice using multiplication tables, but that was only for efficiency.  I always wanted to know how things worked.  So I made sure that I understood the reasons for the carrying in addition, and the reasons for the multiplication rules.  It had to make sense to me, before I could use it.

When, in later life, I came upon the philosophers’ definition of knowledge as justified true belief, that just seemed wrong.  For me, mastering mathematics had never been a matter of acquiring beliefs.  And that view of knowledge has carried over to my ideas about knowledge other areas.

April 13, 2011

Oops! Apparently WordPress was hacked

by Neil Rickert

It seems that there was a break in to the wordpress site.  Oh, well, I guess that happens to lots of sites.  Fortunately, I use a random password and I create a new password for each site.  No, I don’t remember them all, but I do keep my password list in an encrypted file.

On a related security matter, I must say that wordpress does a great job of spam filtering.  The statistics show that I have been hit with 588 spams.  All but one of those was automatically detected by the wordpress software.  Moreover, there have been no false positives that I know of.  Well, I suppose that I can’t be sure, since spam to sufficiently old posts is just auto-deleted and I am only shown spam to recent posts.  Still, the accuracy on the ones I have seen is pretty good.

The latest spam begins “It is very interesting for me to read the post.”  If the spammers were a little more creative, and actually showed evidence of having read the post they are commenting on, maybe a few would sneak through.

Back to the hacking.  It seems not too serious, if we can trust what wordpress says about it.  In any case, it is only a blog – it isn’t real life.  I heard about the hacking at the dslreports forum, which I frequent.

April 6, 2011

Demonic possession

by Neil Rickert

Because the intellect, unlike the other powers of the mind such as sensation, imagination, etc, is entirely immaterial, a primary disorder of the intellect would be intrinsically immaterial, and might be thought of as a spiritual disorder of character, or a tendency to sin, or even demonic influence/possession.

That was part of the post “Ask the doctor: ID-friendly neurosurgeon talks about mental illness” at the Uncommon Descent blog.

This sort of thinking is part of why there is so much discrimination against people with mental illness.  It denies that mental illness is an actual illness, and instead stigmatizes it as due to sin or demon possession.

The posters at the Uncommon Descent blog wants us to believe that they are presenting a scientific case for intelligent design.  Yet they allow posts which put forth primitive ignorant beliefs.