Archive for ‘science and philosophy’

January 22, 2015

A heretic’s take on scientific realism

by Neil Rickert

Note that the “heretic” in the title refers to me, and comes from this blog’s title.

I have long considered myself a scientific realist.  At least, on some definitions, a scientific realist is one who believes that science provides the best available descriptions of the natural world.  And, in that sense, I surely am a scientific realist.

I’ve been noticing that some people have been suggesting that I am an instrumentalist or an anti-realist.  So they must be using a different notion of “scientific realism.”  There’s a post, today, at Scientia Salon which gets into such an account of scientific realism:

Here, I will discuss that post and where I have difficulty with the way that it looks at science.  My own view of science, and how it works, should be apparent from that discussion.  And I think it will be clear that my own view is non-standard (and, in that sense, heretical).

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August 30, 2014

A response to Deepak Chopra

by Neil Rickert

In a recent post at his web site, Jerry Coyne reports that he has received a request from an assistant to Deepak Chopra:

I have not received my own copy of this request, nor do I expect one.  But I will comment anyway.

You can read the full document at by following the link above.  I’ll quote parts and respond to those.

We are concerned, however, that the old scientific paradigm is not adequate to provide answers to either question. The old paradigm, under which we were trained, along with every working scientist, reduces difficult problems to smaller, more manageable parts. Experiments are conducted, data is collected, and findings are reached. In this way objective knowledge emerges that a consensus can accept, whether it concerns the behavior of moving bodies in Newton’s time or the existence of the Higgs boson in ours.

No, this so-called “old paradigm” is not how science works, though it might be close to how some philosophers of science say that it works.  You need only look to Kuhn’s book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (1962, 1970, University of Chicago Press) to see an analysis of where science fails to fit that description.

August 20, 2014

On scientific realism

by Neil Rickert

In my last post, I hinted that I might comment on the videos that John Wilkins has posted.  Here, I will be commenting on John’s video on scientific realism.  That’s the second video HERE.

This post isn’t really a response to John.  I shall also be referencing the Wikipedia page and the SEP page on scientific realism.  I am puzzled by the discussions of scientific realism, so I’ll be illustrating that puzzlement.

The Wikipedia page begins with:

Scientific realism is, at the most general level, the view that the world described by science is the real world, as it is, independent of what we might take it to be.

That sounds about right to me.  And, with that as a definition, I could call myself a scientific realist.  But, as I read further in that Wiki page, I begin to run into statements with which I cannot agree.  In discussion on other internet sites, I have had philosophers suggest that I am anti-realist, though that seems wrong to me.  So perhaps you can see that I might find it all a bit puzzling.

August 17, 2014

The Wilkins videos

by Neil Rickert

John Wilkins has recently posted a short series of videos, where he talks on topics related to philosophy of science.  Here are links to the posts where he presented the videos:

I found these worth watching.  I am tentatively planning a future post where I comment on some of the videos.

What I liked about these videos, is that they give a better picture of what John Wilkins thinks about the issues he mentions.  Take, for example, his video on “Frequentism vs. Bayesianism.”  I have seen John mention Bayesian methods in earlier blog posts, and they left me a bit puzzled as to John’s position.  In the video, he makes it clear that he is very uncertain about these views (which I see as a respectable position).  I found that clarifying.

August 12, 2014

Constrained invention

by Neil Rickert

This will mostly be a copy of what I recently posted in a Yahoo groups discussion.  And, incidentally, Yahoo badly mangled that post (stripped out most of the formatting).

As background, I’ll note that in an earlier Yahoo groups post, I had indicated that I was opposed to the view that perception is passive.  This seemed to puzzle some participants in the discussion.  So my post — the one I am quoting — was intended to explain what I mean when I say that perception is active.

The quoted post

You guys need to get out more. You are trapped in a world of logic, and unable to think outside that box.

You both seem committed to God’s eye view thinking, though you may be in denial over that. So you see perception as a system to report to you what is seen by the hypothetical God. But how could that ever work?

June 15, 2014

A note on the science/philosophy wars

by Neil Rickert

Further to my earlier post, there was a recent discussion of this topic at Blogging Heads TV, between Daniel Kaufman (Missouri State Univ.) and Massimo Pigluicci (CUNY) on this topic (h/t Brian Leiter at his blog).

It was a pretty good discussion, and worth the 57 minutes it took to watch and listen.  Or you could just listen, as the watching is of talking heads.

At around 4:40, Pigliucci says (as transcribed by me):

Philosophy of science, in particular, is a way to look at the doings
of science from the outside, specifically from the epistemic warrant
perspective. So we want to know, as philosophers, how science
works logically, what is it that scientists take to be sufficient
evidence for their theories, how they construct their theories.

My own criticism of philosophy of science, is that I see them as doing poorly what is mentioned in the second sentence of that quote.

Overall, I agree with these two philosophers on many of the points that they brought up.  I do recommend taking the time to listen.

June 6, 2014

The science – philosophy wars

by Neil Rickert

From time to time, scientists criticize philosophy.  And philosophers react.  For an example of this, see the relatively recent post by John Wilkins:

In that post, John quotes some physicists, and wonders why they criticize philosophy.  I am going to suggest that a lot of this is miscommunication.


To see the problem, let’s look at what John said in a comment to that post:

Philosophy, which is about the nature of knowledge at least in part, must attend to actual knowledge. Hence it cannot ignore science and just pull epistemic strictures out of its rear end. Hence, [good] philosophy must attend to science.

October 21, 2013

Macro level determinism is false

by Neil Rickert

In a recent post at his site, Jerry Coyne writes:

But physics does not have to be complete for us to accept determinism on a macro level.

Clearly, Coyne believes that there is determinism at the macro-level, which I take to be the level of ordinary objects such as we use in our everyday lives.  He is not alone in that belief in determinism.  It is a view I often hear.

That view is false.

The evidence from physics is clear.

January 28, 2013

HSW – Kepler’s laws are false

by Neil Rickert

While my title line might seem dramatic, I want to be clear that this post is not intended as a criticism of Kepler, or of Kepler’s laws.  Rather, it is critical of the view that scientific laws are true descriptions of the world.  This post is intended as part of my series on how science works.  My aim is to describe my own understanding of Kepler’s laws.

The basis of Kepler’s laws

In case some of my readers are not familiar with them, Kepler’s laws are an attempt to account for the motion of the planets in our solar system.  Kepler’s laws were preceded by the Ptolemaic idea that the planets moved in cycles and epicycles.  Galileo argued, instead for the idea of Copernicus, that the planets traveled in circular paths around the sun.  I presume that Kepler was looking for something a little more precise than the Copernican circles.

January 10, 2013

HSW – Against induction

by Neil Rickert

In this post, I shall argue against induction.  Specifically, I shall argue against what I referred to as “philosophic induction” in a recent post.  My earlier post — “All emeralds are green” — was intended to illustrate the view that I shall be presenting here.  I suggest you read that now, if you have not already done so.  Throughout this post, I shall assume familiarity with that story.

That emeralds are green has sometimes been used to illustrate the idea of induction.  Presumably, the argument would be:

  • All the many emeralds that I have seen were green;
  • Therefore all emeralds are green.

Interestingly, emeralds were also used by Nelson Goodman in his skeptical “grue” argument.