Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas and a happy new year

by Neil Rickert

I’m posting a bit early this week, so as to be in time for Christmas. And I’m already late, because Christmas day is under way in some parts of the world (Australia, New Zealand and some Pacific islands).

Best wishes to all.

November 8, 2021

Realism, truth and all that

by Neil Rickert

A comment to my last post raised some questions about my views on realism and on truth. This post will be an attempt to respond to those questions.


First, some background. I’m a mathematician and I have spent time doing computer science. I have no doubt that my experience in mathematics and computer science have greatly influenced my thinking on many topics.

Around 1990, or perhaps a year earlier, I asked myself the question of “how does learning work?” This arose, in part, out of pedagogical concerns. It seemed to me that the dominant ways of teaching mathematics did not work well with how we actually learn.

That started me in a project of attempting to understand human cognition. In some ways, this has been very successful. I believe I do have a reasonably good, if imperfect, understanding. But, in other ways, it has been a failure. Much of what I now understand about cognition goes against the conventional wisdom. And that makes it hard to explain to others.

I bring up this background, because I might occasionally mention what was my view before 1990. And by that, I mean what was my view before I started that investigation into cognition.


The comment to which I am responding begins with:

I’m curious to know what you mean when you say that you are a realist.

For many scientists, “realist” and “pragmatist” are almost interchangeable. I guess that’s a good starting point for my own views on realism.

People seem to use the word “real” as if it has a meaning that comes directly from God. But it can only mean what we take it to mean. I like Wittgenstein’s “meaning is use”. I don’t see how “real” can mean anything beyond what the conventional wisdom takes to be real. There isn’t any magic that gets us to some pure meaning that is independent from how people use the word.

I contrast realism with Berkeley’s idealism. Perhaps I should say that for me, realism is a denial of Berkeley’s realism and a denial of Kant’s transcendental idealism.

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December 25, 2017

Happy holidays

by Neil Rickert

Merry Christmas, everyone.  Or happy holidays, or whatever.

I haven’t been posting much lately.  But I’m still here.

Best wishes to all.

December 29, 2014

2014 in review

by Neil Rickert

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

May 12, 2014

Jonny S. on Atheism

by Neil Rickert

Jonny Scaramanga has a wonderful new post:

I guess that I like it, because it is very similar to my own view.  So I suggest that you read it.  And maybe browse through some of Jonny’s other posts while you are there.


March 27, 2014

Contrasting direct and representationalist (indirect) perception

by Neil Rickert

In a discussion at another site, I am noticing some misunderstanding of what is meant by direct perception.  I’m seeing comments similar to “vision uses photons, so is indirect.”  Those who favor direct perception have never denied that vision uses photons, retinal receptors and neurons.  The usually prefer saying that visual perception is mediated by photons, neurons, etc.  What they disagree with, is the idea that first a representation is formed inside the head, and then we perceive that representation.

Apparently this distinction is confusing.  So I plan a short series of posts where I contrast direct perception and representationalist perception.  This post is the introduction to that series.  The subsequent posts in this series are:

Illustrating with science

It is sometimes said that scientific discovery is learning written big, and scientific data acquisition is perception written big.  The problems that science must solve to acquire useful data are similar to the problems that a perceptual system must solve to gather information about the world.  I shall use that analogy between perception and science, to illustrate what is meant by direct perception.

My next post in this series will give a representationalist account of getting temperature data.  I’ll follow that with a post on a direct way of getting temperature data.  And then, in one more post, I will attempt to point out the important distinctions.


February 19, 2014

On Jerry Coyne on free will

by Neil Rickert

Jerry Coyne has yet another post on the topic of free will, which he thinks we do not have.

There are some points in that post that warrant a reply, so this will be my response.

Am I banned?

Normally, I would respond by posting a comment at Coyne’s site.  However, my last few attempts to comment there have failed.  It sure looks as if Coyne has banned me from commenting, though I have no idea why.  Yes, I have disagreed with Coyne in the past, but I have never been belligerent or excessively argumentative in that disagreement.  It is Coyne’s site, so within his rights to ban me.  But it seems surprising.

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December 31, 2013

2013 in review

by Neil Rickert

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

July 20, 2013

“What They Really Need. . .”

by Neil Rickert

I’m reblogging this, because it is so eloquent. I’ll add a comment shortly.

Itinerant Lurker

I heard something in church the other day that’s been bothering me ever since.  That’s not exactly right actually, it’s something that’s always bothered me – even when I was a Christian – but this brought it to the forefront of my thoughts.

Yes, I’m an atheist who goes to church.  I’m even on a first name basis with my pastor.  I even call him “my pastor”.  It’s weird, but I have a family who are all of them Christians, so compromise is kind of the order of the day.  Typically I don’t mind – but this service was different.


There was a team talking about a missions trip they’d recently returned from (a “missions trip” is when a small group of people raise money from a church to go do some sort of mission work in another country for a few weeks) to South America.  They’d worked with families…

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May 26, 2013

Consciousness 3: Qualia

by Neil Rickert

I don’t much like the word “qualia”.  I don’t find it useful.  People who use that word (and its singular form “quale”) hope to be able to discuss questions about conscious experience.  In this post, I’ll try to address those topics without the assumptions that seem to be built into use of “qualia.”

I’ll start with a review of earlier posts in this series.

  • Experience: I have identified this with internal activity of homeostatic processes, such as are commonly found in biological systems.  In particular, I have identified “experience” (with the scare quotes) with internal event to which the system reacts, so can be said to be reactively aware.  How we become conscious, and not merely reactively aware, I take to be related to our ability to have thoughts.  I expect to discuss thought in a future post.
  • Information: I have suggested that an organism acquires information about the world, and represents this information as internal events of which the organism is reactively aware.  This reactive awareness of represented information mediates the organisms awareness or consciousness of the external world.  Perhaps one could think of information as being represented by biochemical events or by neural events.  I prefer to not be that specific, because I am discussing principles rather than implementation details.  AI proponents will want to consider whether computational events could be used instead of neural events.
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