Archive for August, 2013

August 31, 2013

Stay out of Syria

by Neil Rickert

I rarely make political comments here, but it is time for an exception.  I was opposed to the invasion of Iraq, but I kept my view to myself.  This time, I will be more public.

There is no good reason for the USA to intervene in Syria.  There is no plausible good outcome.  We should stay out.

Some say that the use of chemical weapons must not go unpunished.  I agree that there is a plausible case for that argument.  But unless we are damned sure about which faction instigated the use of chemical weapons, we cannot use that as an excuse to intervene.

There’s an interesting analysis of the Syrian situation on Wolff’s blog.  I cannot vouch for its accuracy.  But it should remind us of how uncertain is our knowledge of the current situation.

August 28, 2013

The trouble with philosophy

by Neil Rickert

I’ve been clear that I look at things differently from the way many philosophers do.  In this post I’ll try to say something about that difference.

In my experience, if you say something critical of philosophy, then philosophers will come out of the woodwork to defend their discipline.  I want to be clear that I am not attacking philosophy.  Rather, I am explaining what I find unsatisfying about it.

I often see some sort of criticism of philosophy coming from scientists.  I do not claim to speak for all scientists, but perhaps what I find unsatisfying will at least hint at what some other critics don’t like.

The trouble with philosophy

is that philosophers do it so badly.  I don’t know of a good definition of “philosophy”, and I suppose that if we take “philosophy” to mean “that which philosophers do,” then it is pretty much impossible for them to do it badly.  However, I take philosophy to be dealing with a range of topics that are related to thought, reasoning, being human.  And it is in that sense that I find philosophy unsatisfying.  It seems too much driven by tradition, and it seems to avoid what I see as important.

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August 20, 2013

On Nagel at The Stone

by Neil Rickert

Thomas Nagel has a recent post up at The Stone (the New York Times opinion site), where he presents an outline of the major ideas of his book.  Having already discussed some of Nagel’s ideas (do a search for “Nagel” on the main blog page to find the relevant posts), I shall now look at some of what Nagel says in that post.

Nagel begins with these words:

The scientific revolution of the 17th century, which has given rise to such extraordinary progress in the understanding of nature, depended on a crucial limiting step at the start: It depended on subtracting from the physical world as an object of study everything mental – consciousness, meaning, intention or purpose.

I see that as a seriously mistaken view of science.  By way of example, scientists use a lot of mathematics.  And mathematics is very much an intentional activity.  Most mathematicians agree that mathematics is not about reality.  And then there is computer science, which studies ways of processing information.  Information is an intentional entity, not a physical entity.  The physical computer is an electro-magnetic device, but much of our study of computation is in terms of bits (binary digits) which exist only as an intentional interpretation of the electro-magnetic signals.  The claim that intention and purpose have been abolished does not fit the evidence of what we see coming from science.

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August 20, 2013

Why I started this blog

by Neil Rickert

I have not posted much lately, so perhaps the background that I shall try to present here will partially explain that.

During my own study of human learning, I have come to understand how the mind works.  I could be mistaken about that, of course, though my understanding continues to hold up rather well.  Readers of this blog will doubtless be skeptical, since I have never published an explanation of how the mind works.

I have made attempts to present an explanation.  But my attempts are not successful.  People react as if what I write is obviously wrong, yet they are never able to tell me what is wrong.  What becomes very clear, is that the way I am looking at the question is very different from the way that they are looking at the question.  And that observation is where I came up with the idea for the title of this blog.

There’s a message here, about thinking outside the box.  If you think too far outside the editor’s box, you won’t get published.

I started the blog, to have a place where I could present some of my ideas.  And I have been doing that, though with care to try and stay not too far from the terminology that is commonly used by others discussing the mind.  But it does become frustrating, after a while, to be unable to communicate what I see as important ideas.

My best guess is that I shall never succeed in presenting my understanding of the mind.  I am not allowing that to bother me, though I do occasionally need to take a break from thinking about the related issues.  Hence my recent lack of posting.

August 14, 2013

Sean Carroll on Scientism

by Neil Rickert

Hmm, long time, no post.

Sean Carroll has a blog post on scientism that is well worth reading:

I agree with the sentiment expressed in that title.  His main point is that the word is poorly defined, and causes confusion.  I agree.  No go read the full text of his post.