Archive for January, 2018

January 30, 2018

Dennett’s book “From Bacteria to Bach and Back”

by Neil Rickert

This post will be mostly rambling notes, rather than a review.

The subtitle of the book is “The Evolution of Minds” and that perhaps better describes what Dennett is trying to do in this book.  I started reading this book almost a year ago.  And then I put it down to take a break.  I have recently resumed reading, starting again from the beginning.

I mostly disagree with Dennett.  Yet I see this as an important book, particularly for people with an interest in minds and consciousness.

Dennett is, himself, some sort of heretic.  He disagrees with conventional view of the mind.  But his disagreement is not enough for me, nor is it is a direction that fits my views.

Cartesian thinking

Dennett is critical of the dualism coming from Rene Descartes.  This is not particularly surprising.  Many philosophers and scientists have rejected dualism.  Descartes argued that the mind could not work in the mechanistic way that we see with human inventions (such as clocks, for example).  So he idea was that minds were constituted of an immaterial substance.

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January 22, 2018

Avoiding free will discussion

by Neil Rickert

Jerry Coyne has posted a question on his blog site:

I’ll comment here, because I think I am banned from posting comments to Coyne’s site.

People avoid these discussions because they know, perhaps from experience, that such discussions produce a lot of heat but very little light.

Here’s the problem:

  • There cannot be any credible evidence against free will.  For any such evidence would already demonstrate that the evidence was not freely obtained.  And if the evidence was not freely obtained, then it cannot make a credible case against free will.
  • There cannot be any credible evidence for free will.  For we cannot rule out the possibility of hidden variables, so that what looks free is really determined.

And that leaves arguments at an impasse.

In my experience, arguments about free will are pretty much disagreements over the meaning of “free will”.

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January 18, 2018

Generalization in science

by Neil Rickert

According to most treatments of philosophy of science, or at least most of those that I have looked at, science advances by means of inductive generalizations. Inductive generalizations are often assumed to be the basis for scientific laws (such as laws of physics).

To me, that seems wrong.  I do not see the evidence that science is using induction.

I can agree that there are generalizations in science.  But it does not seem to me that they are inductive generalizations.

Induction

First an example of induction, to illustrate what is meant by the term.

All the many crows that I have seen are black.  Therefore all crows are black.

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January 16, 2018

Quote of the day

by Neil Rickert

From a post on Frank Schaeffer’s blog:

White evangelicals take note: If Trump is president because of “God’s will,” then your God must be a white trash, philandering, money-laundering, Putin-stooge, hate-filled, racist liar, too.

Well, no, I am not planning to have a daily “quote of the day” feature.  But this stood out as worth repeating.

January 16, 2018

Generalization in mathematics

by Neil Rickert

Generalization is an important part of mathematics, and I shall discuss that here.  My discussion will mostly consist of examples with commentary on those examples.

I’m planning a future post on generalization in science.

Numbers

The simplest example has to do with numbers.  And our use of numbers presumably started with counting.  By assigning names, from a fixed sequence (1,2,3, …), we could count objects.  And then we could compare the results from counts of different collections of objects. This turned out to be useful for keeping track of quantities.

Rules were developed to deal with counting of groups of objects.  If we knew the counts of each of two groups, we could combine those with addition rules, to get the combined count.  And if we has several groups of the same count, we could combine those with multiplication rules.

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January 9, 2018

How I became a heretic

by Neil Rickert

It was somewhere around 1988.  For various reasons, I became interested in trying to understand learning.  I already new from my own experience at growing up, that human children can be excellent learners.  And my experience as an educator (university professor) supported this view.

I also knew, as a practicing computer scientist, that machine learning did not work at all well.  The kind of machine learning that worked best was reinforcement learning.  But the difficulty was you had to give a direction to the learning system, and come up with a reward system for the reinforcement.  So it was hard to judge how much of the learning was due to the programmer, rather than to the software.

My starting assumptions

When I started this project, I did not expect to succeed.  I knew it was a difficult problem.  I did better than I had expected.  And that is probably because of my starting assumptions.  However, my starting assumptions were apparently quite different from those of epistemology (the branch of philosophy that studies knowledge).  So I guess my starting assumptions were the start of my philosophical heresy.

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January 3, 2018

Re-introducing this blog

by Neil Rickert

I haven’t posted much recently.  But I’m about to try becoming more active.

I originally started this blog to discuss some of my ideas, many of them being related to human cognition.  I have found, mostly before I started this blog, that it is difficult to communicate my ideas to others.  It seems that I am looking at the various questions in ways that are very different from how most philosophers look at them.  And by “philosophers”, I really mean humans.  We all philosophize to some extent.

That I am looking at things very differently is the basis for the name I have given the blog.

I’ll be attempting to get back to a rate of around one post per week.  But I won’t be pushing myself to meet that rate.

And a note on comments.  I currently have configured the blog so that commenting on a post is closed after 30 days.  That’s mainly to reduce the amount of spamming.