Archive for ‘science’

April 7, 2012

Science and scientific theories

by Neil Rickert

This is partly a comment on “The Knight’s Song, or What is a [scientific] theory?” and partly a post on my own view of science and how it differs from what philosophers of science say.

If we follow the Shannon-Weaver theory of communication, then

  • we start with semantic information (the natural world, as studied by science);
  • we encode that in a symbolic form (syntactic information, Shannon information, linguistic representation);
  • that syntactic information can then be transmitted or recorded;
  • a final receiver of the syntactic information can decode it to recover the semantic information.

With science, the method we use for symbolically encoding nature is what we call “measurement”.  This process of encoding produces the data on which science very much depends.  I also discussed this way of looking at measurement in an earlier post.

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March 14, 2012

Can epistemology be justified

by Neil Rickert

A recent post at Jerry Coyne’s site, “How can we justify science?: Sokal and Lynch debate epistemology“, points us to a New York Times debate about whether epistemology is justified.  The actual title of the debate is “Defending Science: An Exchange“.

There is some ambiguity in those titles, as to whether the debate is about justifying science or about justifying epistemology.  So I will discuss both in my typically heretical style.  I’ll start with epistemology.

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March 4, 2012

What do we do next?

by Neil Rickert

In a recent post “Free will: what do we do next?“, Jerry Coyne wonders:

Given that we all agree on these issues, what comes next?

Well, it is really quite simple.  Nothing much comes next.  Given that it is all an illusion, you might as well set back and watch the illusion as it unfolds.  And, if we are unable to choose otherwise, then that is obviously what we shall do.

When thinking about this yesterday, …

Well you weren’t really thinking about it.  After all, thinking is that aspect of our lives where we consider ideas and make choices about them.  But if making choices is an illusion, as your view of “free will” asserts, then that thinking must also be an illusion.

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March 4, 2012

In the beginning …

by Neil Rickert


Genesis 1:1 – In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

That seems to provide the basis for science, the study of the heaven (cosmology, physics) and the earth (geology, physics, chemistry, biology), the study of material things.

John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And that seems to provide for philosophy and theology, the study of abstract propositions and logic, the study of immaterial things, the basis for dualism.

February 12, 2012

About measurement

by Neil Rickert

Having suggested that cognition is measurement, it is time to say a little about what measurement is.

The most common view seems to be that we passively receive data at sensory cells, and then use logic or computation as applied to that data.  When data is received from a sensory cell, I shall call that sensing (for want of a better term).  My aim will be to draw a distinction between measurement and sensing, though in ordinary language usage the two overlap somewhat.

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February 9, 2012

Yes, Newton was the greatest scientist ever

by Neil Rickert

According to Larry Moran, Darwin was the greatest scientist ever.

Most of us know that Charles Darwin was the greatest scientist who ever lived but one still finds the occasional misguided physicist/mathematician who thinks that the honor should go to an eighteenth century Englishman named Isaac Newton (1642-1727).

I agree that Darwin was a great scientist.  But I will stick with Newton as the greatest ever, even though Larry thinks that misguided.

Yes, Newton had some weird religious ideas.  And parts of Newton’s science have since been displaced by relativity and QM.  But it is not Newton’s laws themselves that make him great.  Rather, it is his involvement in the transformation of how we do science.

For sure, that transformation was the work of a number of people.  Copernicus was important, and Galileo was very important.  Others, such as Boyle and Hooke were important.  But the greatest credit must go to Newton, for why science today is so different from what it was at, say, the time of Aristotle.

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February 4, 2012

An interesting take on biology

by Neil Rickert

Elizabeth Liddle recently posted an interesting video link in a comment at UD.  In that video, Denis Noble discusses his view of biology, which he refers to as “Systems Biology.”  It is far closer to my own view of biology than is the Dawkins “Selfish Gene” model.  Perhaps that’s why I liked that lecture.  It emphasizes the organism as a whole, rather than the genome.

I suppose it might be controversial, though I’m not sure why it would be.  I have always thought of biology that way, with the DNA as being only part of the story.  I am mentioning it here, because I thing it is something people should at least think about.