Archive for April, 2012

April 29, 2012

On falsificationism

by Neil Rickert

Jerry Coyne asks, “Is falsifiability a good criterion for a scientific theory?”  My short answer is “No”, but I’ll try to flesh that out.  Coyne writes:

The “theory” of evolution, for example, could be disproven if we regularly found well-dated fossils out of the proper order (like mammals in the Devonian, for instance), if species didn’t have genetic variation to respond to selection, or if we often found “adaptations” in member of one species that were useful only for another species (e.g., a special nipple on a female mole that was only used for suckling mice).

April 26, 2012

Philosophy and science (part 2)

by Neil Rickert

David Weinberger discusses Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in a recent article at the Chronicle of Higher Education.  I want to discuss that here, because it illustrates where I disagree with much of what is written as philosophy of science.

By far the most consistently attacked idea was what Kuhn referred to as incommensurability, a term taken from geometry, where it refers to the lack of a shared measurement. In SSR it means something like the inability to understand one paradigm from within another. In the book, Kuhn borders on putting incommensurability in its strongest imaginable form: A new paradigm causes scientists to “see the world of their researcher-engagement differently. In so far as their only recourse to that world is through what they see and do, we may want to say that after a revolution scientists are responding to a different world.”

April 26, 2012

Philosophy and science (part 1)

by Neil Rickert

In a recent post at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Ruse asks, “How can philosophy be done like a science?”  And that’s the question I shall address in this post.

In raising that question, Ruse is expressing some admiration for science.  He goes on to say, “I think science whatever its nature is our best way of knowing, so I wanted to be like a scientist (or as we say in the trade, I wanted to take a naturalistic approach).”  However, when all is boiled down, I don’t think Ruse really does want philosophy to be all that much more like science.  In a more recent post, he states “I respect and admire science. But I am not a scientist. I am a philosopher. And I am and always have been proud to be one.”

April 26, 2012

Taxing the rich

by Neil Rickert

A recent post at Confessions of a Former Conservative begins with a quote from facebook on grade sharing:

Support Grade Sharing !

This new rule will only affect students with over a 3.8 GPA.
what it will do, is take a percentage of their grade and it will be applied to the students with a lower grade .

Share this with your kids, students, and liberal friends and watch the sparks fly !!!

This apparently comes from an argument on taxation, though I don’t have a facebook account so I haven’t tried to track down the details.

April 18, 2012

Mind, syntax, semantics

by Neil Rickert

While thinking about the implications of a recent post it occurred to me that philosophy is almost an entirely syntactic enterprise, and pays little more than lip service to semantics.  To me, this was a surprising realization.  No doubt it explains why my own ideas are very different from those expressed by philosophers.  For I have long considered semantics to be the primary concern.

April 13, 2012

More entertainment at the free will rodeo

by Neil Rickert

I was watching a fight over on the blogosphere, when all of a sudden, a discussion of free will broke out.

In the left corner, it is Jerry Coyne.  In the right corner, we find John Horgan.  Coyne accuses Horgan of a nasty and mean-spirited attack on Sam Harris.  And he suggests that Horgan gives his psychological motivations at the outset.

I don’t know how others see this.  But I see Horgan’s “mean-spirited attack” and list of “psychological motivations” as an attempt at self-deprecating humor.  Admittedly, humor often doesn’t carry very well in Internet postings, and perhaps John Horgan isn’t all that good at humor.  Still, I think Coyne might have considered the possibility that it was not intended to be a “mean-spirited attack.”

According to one way of describing history, at a time past a glob of molecules that went by the name “Jerry Coyne” made some completely involuntary tics, that resulted in meaningless ink marks on paper.  The first few of those meaningless ink marks looked a little like this:

Why Evolution is True

According to a different way of describing history, the biologist Jerry Coyne wrote an interesting book titled “Why Evolution is True”, a book filled with meaningful ideas.

Horgan seems to favor that second way of describing history.  Because of that Jerry Coyne accuses Horgan of being a dualist.

If I go by blind faith in the inerrancy of a highly literalistic reading of scientific laws, that favors Coyne’s position.  If I go by the evidence, that seems to support Horgan’s position.

I think I will go by the evidence.

April 7, 2012

Science and scientific theories

by Neil Rickert

This is partly a comment on “The Knight’s Song, or What is a [scientific] theory?” and partly a post on my own view of science and how it differs from what philosophers of science say.

If we follow the Shannon-Weaver theory of communication, then

  • we start with semantic information (the natural world, as studied by science);
  • we encode that in a symbolic form (syntactic information, Shannon information, linguistic representation);
  • that syntactic information can then be transmitted or recorded;
  • a final receiver of the syntactic information can decode it to recover the semantic information.

With science, the method we use for symbolically encoding nature is what we call “measurement”.  This process of encoding produces the data on which science very much depends.  I also discussed this way of looking at measurement in an earlier post.

April 5, 2012

How I see logic

by Neil Rickert

I think it was in 4th grade elementary school, that I first heard of logic.  The teacher introduced it, with some examples to illustrate the use of logic.  I recall that it seemed rather easy to do logic.  All that I had to do was use clear thinking.  So I never did actually try to learn the rules of logic.  I just went by clear thinking, as appropriate.

I am posting this as one of the posts on my own views of philosophical topics.  No doubt my view of logic is partly shaped by the fact that I am a mathematician.  And, as a mathematician, I of course use a lot of logic.  But my basic view is still much the same as in 4th grade.  That is, I see logic as clear thinking.  It is a formalized or formalizable view of clear thinking, but it is nevertheless something that comes from clear thinking.