Archive for ‘philosophy’

September 5, 2018

On my philosophy of science

by Neil Rickert

I haven’t posted for a few weeks.  Some of the ideas that I have been discussing and want to discuss, are difficult to present.

In the meantime, I posted something at an online forum that seems to have been received well.  And it does have to do with my philosophy of science.

So I’ll start by quoting that post.  For reference and context, the original post is here:

So here’s that post:

Eddie: Would the same physicists all say that “the standard model is a true, or approximately true, depiction of nature?”

I don’t know about physicists.

As I see it, the standard model is neither true nor false as a depiction of nature. Our concept of “true” does not allow us to make such a judgment of the standard model.

Here’s the problem:

There is nothing at all that can be said directly about nature. In order to say something, we need words and we need a standard way of attaching those words to nature. Until we have the words and the standards, there is no basis for saying anything.

The role of the standard model is to provide us with those words and standards which would allow us to say things about nature. So the standard model, or some suitable replacement, is a prerequisite to being able to have true or approximately true depictions of nature.

I look at the cosmology of Genesis 1 in about the same way. In its time, it provided a vocabulary and a set of standards on how to have true depictions of nature. So I tend to see that cosmology as neither true nor false, but as setting the stage to be able to make true depictions. But, of course, it has been superseded by newer and better cosmologies.

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July 18, 2018

On ontology and materialism

by Neil Rickert

Recently Dan Kaufman and Massimo Pigliucci had a discussion about ontology, materialism and related topics.

Here’s Massimo’s blog post, where he introduces the video.  And you can find the discussion video on that page:

Ontology is part of metaphysics.  And I have never seriously studied metaphysics.  So I watched the video all of the way through to see what I could make of it.

Generally speaking, I’m a skeptic of metaphysics and of ontology.  After watching the video, I am still a skeptic.  But I did enjoy the discussion.

Some comments

I’ll add some of my own comments on what was discussed in the video.  I’m calling them comments, because this is not an attempt to review the video or to make serious arguments about what is discussed there.  It is just comments or reactions to what I am seeing and hearing.

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July 16, 2018

Alternative math

by Neil Rickert

Jerry Coyne posted this video at his blog:

Presumably Coyne was making a point about alternative truths.  The video clip is quite exaggerated.  I don’t expect anything like that to actually happen.   But, of course, exaggeration is often a good way of making a point.

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July 11, 2018

Patterns and lumps

by Neil Rickert

Many people, both philosophers and AI proponents, talk about patterns.  They typically suggest that we start by finding patterns in the world.  We then build up perception and knowledge based on the patterns that we find.

Sometimes people talk of “regularities” rather than of “patterns”.  The term “regularity” implies some sort of rule following.  And that fits with our ordinary idea of pattern.

So let’s examine the idea of starting with patterns or regularities

Patterns

What’s a pattern?

I’m stumped already.

I know what’s a pattern in mathematics.  I know what’s a pattern in a drawing.  But I don’t know what’s a pattern in the world.

We often find patterns in representations, whether those representations be descriptions or pictures.

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June 20, 2018

Crossword puzzles

by Neil Rickert

This post is not about how to solve a crossword puzzle.  It’s about what we can learn about truth by looking at those puzzles.

Let’s suppose that you have been working on a crossword puzzle.  And you think you have it solved.  So how can you tell whether you have the correct solution?  That is the question that I wish to examine.  And since “correct” is closely related to “true”, it is a question about truth.

Sudoku puzzles

Before looking more closely at crossword puzzles, let’s take a quick peek at Sudoku puzzles.  They make a good contrast with crossword puzzles.

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June 14, 2018

The scientific and manifest images

by Neil Rickert

In 1960, Wilfrid Sellars gave some lecturers on the Scientific Image of Man and the Manifest Image of man.  These were later published, and seem to be available on the net as a pdf file.  Roughly, the scientific image is how the world looks to science (particularly physics), while the manifest image is how it looks to us.

Right now, I am looking at a table (actually, my desk).  And it presents itself to me as a solid object with a smooth surface.  That solid object can be said to be part of the manifest image.  However, science describes it as mostly empty space, but with an array of atoms.  The atoms are separated by space.  To science (that is, to physics), there really isn’t a surface nor anything particularly smooth.  This array of separated atoms in space is part of the scientific image.

Why the difference?

I will mainly be looking at the differences between those images, and discussing why there is such a difference.

In recent posts, I have been discussing how we get information about the world by means of carving it up into parts.  The way that we carve up the world gives us the manifest image.  The way that science carves up the world gives us the scientific image.

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June 3, 2018

Truth and reference

by Neil Rickert

I recently posted this in a comment on another blog:

We cannot just take a sentence and ask if it is true. We first have to inquire about everything referenced by that sentence. If people don’t agree on the references, they won’t agree on the truth of the sentence.

It’s a rather obvious point.  Yet it is often overlooked.

Earlier this year, I proposed a modest theory of truth, in which I suggested that we judge the truth of a sentence based on whether it conforms with standards.  What I mainly had in mind, and what my example illustrated, were the standards that we follow for settling questions of reference.  Likewise, my posts about carving up the world are really all about how we go about finding ways to reference parts of the world.

Consciousness

In a way, the problems of consciousness are also closely connected with reference.  The so called “hard problem” arose because people thinking about AI (artificial intelligence) did not see how a computer could possibly be conscious.  Well, of course it cannot be conscious.  For to be conscious is to be conscious of something, to be conscious of a world.  Consciousness depends on reference.  Or, as philosophers usually say that, it depends on intentionality.

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May 17, 2018

The reasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences

by Neil Rickert

In 1969, Eugene Wigner wrote what has become a famous paper, titled “The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences.”  There’s a pretty good summary of the related issues in the Wikipedia article of the same  name.

As you might guess from the title of this blog post, I disagree with Wigner.  In my view, the effectiveness of mathematics is entirely reasonable.  And it has long seemed reasonable to me.  I thought about it either in high school or as a graduate student in mathematics (I’m not sure which), and came up with what I found to be a satisfactory explanation.

Perspective on mathematics

I’ll start with my broad perspective, which I have probably mentioned before on this blog.  I often say that mathematics is not about reality.  The mathematician Kronecker famously said “God gave us the natural numbers.  All else is the work of man.”  I almost agree, except that I think Kronecker gave God too much credit.  As I see it, the natural numbers are also the work of man.  That’s part of why I am a mathematical fictionalist.

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May 6, 2018

Carving up the world with science

by Neil Rickert

In previous posts, I have discussed how we carve up the world, and how that carving up is what allows us to express true statements about the world.  Science also expresses true statements about the world.  In this post I will discuss how that relates to carving up.

Yes, science also carves up the world in its own way.  And it does that in order to be able to make true statements about the world.  So the basic idea is the same.  But the method is very different.

Which science

Unsurprisingly, different sciences carve up the world in different ways.  Biology is concerned with living organisms.  So it wants to carve up the world into organisms, and then to further carve up those organisms into organs, cells, proteins, genes, etc.  At a larger scale, it wants to look at populations of organism.

In this post, I shall mainly be looking at how physics carves up the world.  That’s partly because the physics way of carving is most different from our ordinary way of carving.  And, additionally, all sciences borrow from physics, at least to some extent.

Measuring

Take a look at a ruler, such as we use for measuring length.  I have a ruler in front of me know, as I write this.

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April 27, 2018

Analysis and synthesis

by Neil Rickert

I’ll start with some definitions, from Dictionary.com:

  • synthesis: the combining of the constituent elements of separate material or abstract entities into a single or unified entity;
  • analysis: the separating of any material or abstract entity into its constituent elements.

In order to carry out a synthesis, you must start with the component parts.  Otherwise there is no way to proceed.

In order to perform analysis, you must start with some sort of methods for separating into parts.

In recent posts, I have been discussing the idea of carving up the world.  That more or less fits the definition of analysis.

My starting assumption, based on what I know about biology, is that an organism starts its life without much knowledge of what exists in the world, but with some innate abilities (methods).  So it would seem that analysis, rather than synthesis, should be the basis of learning how to cope in the world.

An example

As a child, maybe at around 12 years of age, I remember taking my bicycle completely apart.  And then I reassembled it.  That would be an example of analysis, followed by a synthesis.

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