Archive for ‘My Philosophy’

July 31, 2020

My views on science and relativism

by Neil Rickert

When I posted a review of “Science and Relativism” last week, I indicated that I would follow up with my own views on that topic.  So here it is.

When Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” came out, I thought it painted a somewhat better picture of science than what has been traditionally presented.  I didn’t agree with everything that Kuhn said, but I did like that he was challenging the traditional picture.

When, many years later, I read Feyerabend’s “Against Method”, I thought it a pretty good read.  I took Feyerabend to be poking fun at traditional philosophy of science, and I saw that as a good thing.  When he suggested that voodoo might work as well as science, I was not sure whether he was serious — and I’m still not sure.  In any case, I did not see him as a threat to science.

Where philosophy goes wrong

In my opinion, much of what people see as criticisms of science are really a reaction to the idea (from epistemology) that knowledge is justified true belief.  As best I can tell, most scientists and most mathematicians see knowledge as distinct from belief.

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April 29, 2020

The scientific and manifest images

by Neil Rickert

As a followup to my previous post, I’ll note that Dan Kaufman has posted a second round in his proposals for metaphysics:

As background, I’ll note that I am sitting at my desk.  According to the manifest image, my desktop is solid wood.  According to the scientific image, my desktop is mostly empty space surrounding a sparse array of atoms.

The scientific image is how physics sees the world.  The manifest image is closer to how we see the world.  But sciences vary.  Biologists are concerned about individual organisms.  And those belong in the manifest image, rather than in the scientific image.  Likewise, most of the concerns of psychology fit better with the manifest image.

In my view, philosophy (by which I mean academic philosophy) is mainly oriented toward the scientific image.  And, in my opinion, it should be more oriented toward the manifest image.  I think that’s also how Dan Kaufman sees it, but perhaps I am misreading him.  Please go read his post to see what he says.

Where I come in

A little background about myself.  I started studying learning (or how humans learn) in the 1980s.  And I quickly found myself disagreeing with philosophers.  I imagined myself to be a solitary animal or organism on some planet, with little or know innate knowledge of the planet.  And I had to work out ways of learning about that planet.

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April 25, 2020

Thoughts about metaphysics

by Neil Rickert

Hmm, it’s been quite a while since I last posted anything to this blog.

Dan Kaufman is rethinking metaphysics, as indicated in a recent post:

Judging by the relatively small number of comments, I don’t think there’s a lot of enthusiasm among readers.  But I will be looking forward for continued posts on this topic.

In agreement with Dan, I do want to see some rethinking.  And that’s why I started this blog.

I’ll use this post to give some of my own ideas on the topic.  I expect that some of them are very different from Dan’s ideas.

Basic realism

I am assuming some sort of basic realism.  That is to say, I assume that there is a reality which is human independent.  And we interact with that reality.

I’m calling this an assumption, because I see no possibility of proof.  But it does make clear that I reject Berkeley’s idealism.  I don’t think anything important depends on this assumption.

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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 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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November 26, 2016

Conventionalism

by Neil Rickert

A while back, I indicated that I would start posting about my own ideas on philosophy.  But I have not posted much since then.  This is an attempt to resume that effort.

My own philosophy appears to be a variety of conventionalism.

I have previously stated that I am a behaviorist.  That does not change.  I see social conventions as, primarily, behavioral conventions.  A simple example is the convention that we should drive on the right side of the road.  This is a convention about behavior.

What is conventionalism?

According to Wikipedia:

Conventionalism is the philosophical attitude that fundamental principles of a certain kind are grounded on (explicit or implicit) agreements in society, rather than on external reality.

Conventionalism appears to be controversial within philosophy.  There is fairly broad acceptance that language is conventional, though there are disagreements about that, too.  Henri Poincaré was conventionalist about geometry, which seems right to me.  Some have argued that mathematics is conventional.  That is more controversial, and many philosophers believe that Quine refuted that position in his “Truth by convention”.  I’ll not that I disagree with Quine, and perhaps I’ll discuss that in a future post.

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May 16, 2016

Information systems

by Neil Rickert

As suggested in the previous post, I think of a cognitive system as an information system.  In this post, I want to look at a particular information system, namely a video camera.

Let me be very clear here.  I do not think that a cognitive system is very much like a video camera.  Rather, I see them as very different.  However, by looking at a video camera, we can examine some basic principles that seem to be common to all information systems, including human cognitive systems.

In particular, we want to look at:

  • the input phase, where data is gathered;
  • the organization phase, where the data is assembled together;
  • the output stream — the final output information.

The input phase

For the video camera, the data is gathered into a pixel map.  I am going to describe this as categorization.  That might seem a strange term to use for generating a pixel map, so I should first explain why I am using that term.

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May 15, 2016

Cognition and information

by Neil Rickert

As cognitive agents, we inform ourselves about the world and we use that information to control our behavior.  We also report information to others, as I am doing in this blog post.  This post is part of a series on my own philosophy.  It will mainly be about the meaning of the word “information” as I use it when discussing cognition.

Shannon information

I shall be using “information” to refer to what is often called Shannon Information, after the work of Claude Shannon.  The term “Shannon Information” has come to mean information in the form of a structured sequence of symbols, such as a natural language sentence or a data transmission stream on the Internet.  Shannon’s own research was not limited to the use of transmission in discrete units (such as words or bits), but its main use is with discrete units.

Shannon information is often criticized as being an entirely syntactic view of information.  Shannon was concerned with communication, with getting the stream of discrete symbols from the source to the destination.  His theory is not concerned with issues of meaning or semantics.

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