Archive for ‘philosophy’

September 25, 2017

On the EAAN

by Neil Rickert

The EAAN, or Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, is an argument by Plantinga.  The Wikipedia entry provides a reasonable summary.

In a recent post at the Uncommon Descent blog, Barry Arrington gives an argument based on the EAAN.  This will mostly be a response to Arrington.

What is the EAAN?

Here’s a short quote from the Wikipedia article.

The EAAN argues that the combined belief in both evolutionary theory and naturalism is epistemically self-defeating. The reason for this is that if both evolution and naturalism are true, then the probability of having reliable cognitive faculties are low.

Personally, I’m inclined to see the EAAN as a reductio ad absurdum of a traditional account of epistemology.  Traditionally, it is said that knowledge is justified true belief.  I’ve disagreed with that in the past, and I continue to disagree.

That Wikipedia quote talks of both evolution and naturalism as being true.  I have never subscribed to naturalism (nor to materialism), because I don’t know what it would mean to say that naturalism is true.  And evolution, as used in that quote, refers to the theory of evolution.  I tend to think of scientific theories as neither true nor false.  Rather, I see a theory as a set of pragmatic conventions that provide a guide to how we should talk about the world.  As such a framework, the theory sets standards, in this case for biology and related fields.  Those standards give as ways of coming up with factual (true) statements about reality.  But whether or not we see the theory as true does not seem important.

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September 11, 2017

John Wilkins and heretical philosophy

by Neil Rickert

Wow!  Just Wow!

To be clear, I am not accusing Wilkins of heresy.  I’m the heretic.  However, John has new post where much of what he says is where I see philosophy as going wrong.

I’ll note that I haven’t posted much over the last few months.  That’s largely because I am frustrated at my difficulty in communicating my non-standard viewpoint.  Perhaps this will help me make a fresh start.

I’ll quote parts of John’s post where I disagree, then say a little about why I disagree.  I will probably say too little.  Filling in the details can come in future posts.

John uses “conceptual confusion” in the title.  I agree.  But I expect that where I see conceptual confusion is not where John sees it.

Sapir (a student of Boas’) and Whorf (Sapir’s student) proposed a thesis, known obviously as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, that our categories determine how we experience the world.

Hmm, that’s not how I understand Sapir-Whorf.

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August 3, 2017

Fundamental Ontology

by Neil Rickert

Coel has a post over at his blog:

I thought of posting a comment there.  But I then decided that it might be worth a full post.

Coel’s view

Coel quotes Feynman, as suggesting the atomic theory of matter as particularly important.  But Coel seems to disagree with this.  The trouble with atoms, is that they are made of subatomic particles.  In turn, quantum mechanics has something to say about those subatomic particles that makes them look less particle-like.

Coel delves down to a number of possibilities.  He even mentions Tegmark’s idea that everything is made of mathematics.  But Coel himself is not so certain that we can give a good answer at this, or perhaps ever.

I do recommend reading his post.

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April 27, 2017

Platonism, fictionalism and all that

by Neil Rickert

There was recently an interesting discussion of platonism and fictionalism as philosophies of mathematics.  This was at “The Electric Agora” blog.  I added a couple of comments myself.

Yesterday, I went back to take another look.  That was mostly to see if there were any additional comments.  And there were two, both by Robin Herbert.  But comments are now closed for that post.  So I’ll say something here.

First some links:

Both comments add to the discussion and are worth reading.

Is fictionalism true?

In his first comment, Robin says:

So the argument that fictionalism must be true because the axioms are only conventions appears to make the same mistake as saying the truth or falsity of “if A then B” depends on the truth or falsity of A.

To me, this seems weird.  I have said that I am a fictionalist.  I have never said that fictionalism is true.  I’m not at all sure that I know what it would even mean to say that fictionalism is true.

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May 31, 2016

The unexplained intellect — does it exist?

by Neil Rickert

This is my reaction to a post that I saw today at The Brains Blog:

(that post title is really in all caps, so I had to retype to make it look reasonable).

At first glance, that title looks good.  The statement that the mind is not a hoard of sentences fits with my repeated criticism of the idea that knowledge is justified true belief.  However, as I read further into that blog post, I realize that I still have a lot of disagreement with the author.

The blog post is written by Christopher Mole and, in part, it is saying something about Mole’s book “The Unexplained Intellect”.  I have not read the book itself.  It comes in at $54.95 for the Kindle edition, which is a bit pricey for me.

On minds

Here’s the second paragraph of that blog post:

We do not currently have a satisfactory account of how minds could be had by material creatures. If such an account is to be given then every mental phenomenon will need to find a place within it. Many will be accounted for by relating them to other things that are mental, but there must come a point at which we break out of the mental domain, and account for some things that are mental by reference to some that are not. It is unclear where this break out point will be. In that sense it is unclear which mental entities are, metaphysically speaking, the most fundamental.

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April 28, 2016

The way the world is

by Neil Rickert

Right now it is a cloudy, rainy April day.  And if that’s the kind of thing one means by “the way the world is” then I have no problem with that.  However, people often use that expression in a different sense.  Typically, they are talking about some metaphysical point, and they say “there’s a certain way that the world is”.  And they go on to ask questions such as whether our current science agrees with “that certain way that the world is” (whatever that is supposed to mean).

I’ll use the expression “the metaphysical way the world is” for that usage, though I’ll mostly abbreviate that as MWWI.

It seems that MWWI is supposed to refer to some presumed linguistic description of the world which is independent of personal and cultural viewpoints and is language independent.

I’m inclined to think that MWWI is incoherent.  I don’t think that there can be such a thing.  And that’s what this post is about.

Reality

Let’s start with reality.  When I deny that there could be a MWWI, some people take me as being something of an idealist.  That is, they take me to be denying that there is a human independent reality — that what we call reality is something that we make up in our heads.

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January 19, 2016

Understanding and the Chinese Room

by Neil Rickert

Coel has a recent post

about Searle’s “Chinese Room” argument.  My response is a bit long for a comment, so I’ll respond here.

Understanding

Here’s how Coel frames the issue:

You’ve just bought the latest in personal-assistant robots. You say to it: “Please put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, then hoover the lounge, and then take the dog for a walk”. The robot is equipped with a microphone, speech-recognition software, and extensive programming on how to do tasks. It responds to your speech by doing exactly as requested, and ends up taking hold of the dog’s leash and setting off out of the house. All of this is well within current technological capability.

Did the robot understand the instructions?

My answer would be “obviously not.”  So, according to Coel, that makes me a Searlite.  If I had agreed that the robot understood, then he would say that I’m a Dennettite.

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October 9, 2015

Love, pain and chemistry

by Neil Rickert

We sometimes hear people saying that love is just chemistry.  Apparently Zach Weinersmith, the SMBC cartoonist, doesn’t agree.  He gives his ironic reaction in one of his cartoons.  I agree with the cartoonist, though I would not react in the suggested way.

Jerry Coyne thinks the cartoonist is profoundly misguided.  So I’ll have to disagree with Coyne.

Computation as an analogy

I’ll use computation as an analogy, to illustrate why I disagree with Coyne.

If you see somebody doing computation, you may see them making pencil marks on paper.  But it would be a serious mistake to say that computation is just making pencil marks on paper.

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June 18, 2015

Making sense of a strange world

by Neil Rickert

In my prior post, I suggested that the role of perception was to allow an organism to make sense of the strange world where it finds itself.

We actually know something about how to do this.  We have examples from history to guide us.

Explorers

Perhaps the best examples are explorers.  They go into unfamiliar territory, and attempt to make it more familiar, more understandable.  And perhaps their most important way of doing this is by making maps.

Their map may start as little more than a blank sheet of paper.  As they explore, they look for major features such as mountains and rivers.  And then enter those onto the map in the appropriate relation to one another.  As then add features, the map begins to take shape and the structure of the territory begins to emerge.

Later another explorer, or perhaps the original explorer, may reenter the territory.  And, as they spot the major features, then can orient their location to what is shown on the map.  They can now add minor features to help further flesh out what we can know about the territory that they are exploring.

June 11, 2015

An alternative to design thinking

by Neil Rickert

In the previous post, I criticized Searle’s design thinking.  Today I want to suggest an alternative.

The trouble with design thinking

Design thinking seems to be common in philosophy and in AI.  The problem is that we end up attempting to design ourselves.  We look at ourselves as the intended finished product.  And we want what we design to have the same concepts, the same beliefs, the same ideas of truth.

There is a lot of talk about autonomous agents.  But can an agent be truly autonomous if we require it to have our own concepts and our own beliefs?  This, I think, is why we often have the intuition that an AI system won’t really be making decisions — it will, instead, be a mechanization of the designer’s intended decision making.

An alternative

The alternative is to try to understand the problem than an organism or a perceptual system is attempting to solve.  And then, once we understand the problem, we can look into ways of solving that problem.

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