Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

September 12, 2012

by Neil Rickert

Here’s a good explanation of Bayes theorem, and its limitations. It isn’t a magic explanation, it is a limited tool to be used in assocation with an appropriate probability model.

Irreducible Complexity

This post follows from the previous review of Richard Carrier’s “Proving History”, which attempts to use Bayes’s Theorem to prove Jesus didn’t exist. In my review I point out a selection of the mathematical problems with that book, even though I quite enjoyed it. This post is designed to explain what Bayes’s Theorem actually does, and show why it isn’t particularly useful outside of specific domains. It is a journey through basic probability theory, for folks who aren’t into math (though I’ll assume high-school math). It is designed to be simple, and therefore is rather long. I will update it and clarify it from time to time. [Edit: There is also a new post on errors, which follows on from this].

Let’s think about the birth of Christianity. How did it happen? We don’t know, which is to say there are a lot of different things that could…

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May 27, 2012

by Neil Rickert

This poem expresses very well how I see what is going on in politics.

Rebecca Rose Poetry

Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee

Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee
Were voted in by you and me.
Each one argued different sides,
Then hammered out a compromise.
And afterwards they’d have a drink,
And talk and argue; reason, think.
And just because they disagreed
Neither one once felt the need
To call one side “unpatriotic.”
(A charge that’s clearly idiotic!)

Now, Tweedle Dee felt passionately
That all should have equality.
And so he fought for civil rights:
Equal treatment: blacks and whites!
Equal treatment: straight and gay!
For everyone! In every way!

But Tweedle Dum cried, “Lower taxes!”
And “Government, get off our backses!”
(Which really doesn’t make much sense
Since Tweedle Dum’s constituents
Walk around with hands outstretched
For monthly governmental checks.
Where’d they think the money’s from?
From taxes, people! Don’t be dumb!)
You’d think they’d give Dum second looks –
They vote against their pocketbooks!


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January 1, 2012

2011 in review

by Neil Rickert

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,900 times in 2011. 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.

December 30, 2011

A thought experiment on consciousness

by Neil Rickert

Here’s a thought experiment.  I would appreciate reader comments on their reactions.

Let’s use the expression “real universe” for the one where we live.  Let’s imagine that there is another universe, which we will call the “alternative universe”.  In many ways, this alternative universe is like the real universe.  In fact, the alternative universe is such that all of the molecules, quarks, etc, are in the same relative place as are the molecules, quarks, etc on earth.  And there is some “force” which has the effect that when any physical event occurs in the real universe, then the corresponding physical event occurs in the alternative universe.

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December 26, 2011

Gender roles

by Neil Rickert

This is a bit off the beaten path of what I usually post here. I thought it might be interesting to add perspective to a recent blog post by Jason Thibeault.

I was shopping waiting in line at the checkout cashier of Toys R Us.  This was many years ago, so I do not even know whether that particular store (in Melrose Park, IL) still exists.

Not far from the cashier lines, there was a large basket of balloons.  And, at that basket there was a boy at around 4 years of age with a young woman whom I presumed to be his mother.  I probably would not have noticed, except that the boy was beginning a tantrum.  He pointed to a balloon.

“I want that one,” he yelled.

“You can’t have that one,” said his mother.  “You can have this one (and she pointed to a different balloon).”

“No, I want that one,” yelled the boy.

“Pink balloons are for girls,” said the mother.  “I’ll buy you a blue balloon.”

The boy’s tantrum got worse, as he continued to insist that he wanted the pink balloon.

“You can have a blue balloon.  You can have a green balloon.  You can have a red balloon.  You cannot have a pink balloon,” said the mother.

Fortunately, our waiting line reached the cashier where I could pay for the items I was purchasing, and leave the store.  So I don’t know how that eventually turned out.  But I doubt that it turned out well.

I would never have considered insisting on balloon colors for my children.  The mother’s reaction seemed way over the top.

I guess training for gender roles begins early, and parents are some of those who promote such roles.

Note:  according to some linguists, I should have titled this post “sex roles.”  They tell me that “gender” is a grammatical classification.  But then other linguists tell me that words get their meaning from the way we use them, in which case my title seems correct.

December 2, 2011

Is data theory laden?

by Neil Rickert

To say that data is theory laden is to say that what is observed (what data is acquired) is influenced by the scientific theory being assumed while making those observations.  There is a discussion of theory ladeness of data in the SEP article on observation, and in a web page on N. Hanson and his ideas on the issue.  It is also mentioned in the Wikipedia page on philosophy of science.

To me, it seems obvious that much scientific data is theory laden.  However, it turns out that the idea of theory ladeness of data is controversial.  When I look at the web page that I linked above, I can see why it is considered controversial.  Apparently, philosophers tend to look at theory ladeness of data as an example of cognitive bias that might cast doubt on the science.  I see that as a mistaken way of looking at it.  In this post, I plan to discuss why theory ladeness is to be expected, based on the way that science works.

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November 24, 2011

Theist, Deist, Atheist, Agnostic, Accomodationist – Yawn!

by Neil Rickert

I guess Jennifer Hecht started it with “Down with Agnosticism.”  John Wilkin disagreed in “Positivism about agnosticism.”  And the Larry Moran added his two cents, with “Trying to Understand Agnostics.”  This post is mainly a response to Larry, partly because he expresses his view (with which I disagree) with clarity.

Firstly, for the curious and partly based on the title of this post, I’ll say that I am a yawner.  Of the more standard terms, I’m inclined to think that “agnostic” is the best fit.  But I am not going to be upset with Larry, if he prefers to say that I am atheist.  At least Larry expresses that in a more temperate manner than does Jennifer Hecht.  That I won’t be upset with Larry, is because I don’t find the distinction between deist, atheist, agnostic to be very interesting.  And that’s why I am a yawner.

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November 23, 2011

In memory of Lynn Margulis, 1938-2011

by Neil Rickert

It is being reported that Lynn Margulis died yesterday, following a recent stroke.

Margulis is particularly known for her important ideas on endosymbiosis, though she has been pushing these a bit too far.

June 9, 2011

A mathematician’s take on phenomena

by Neil Rickert

This is, in part, a response to the recent John Wilkins blog post “More on phenomena.”  It is based on my ideas on human cognition and human perception.  Unavoidably, this will be a tad mathematical.  However, I will avoid getting into technical terminology to the extent that I can, though I’ll give enough as hints to the mathematical literature for those who want to pursue the underlying mathematics.

Think of the world as a topological space, call it W.  (For the mathematicians, I am taking W to be a normal Hausdorff space).  Because W is a topological space, we can think about continuous functions over that space.  So for a point x in W, and a continuous function f, there is a value f(x) for that function at that point.  For technical reasons, mathematicians usually take their continuous functions to have values that are complex numbers.  However, I suggest thinking about them as functions with values that are real numbers.

If we look at this in terms of science, then we can think of the function f as a method of measuring, and we can think of the value f(x) as an actual measurement (or as a datum).

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May 30, 2011

Heretical Scientific Realism

by Neil Rickert

I have disagreed with parts of traditional epistemology in some of my earlier posts.  So it will surely be no surprise that I have disagreements with scientific epistemology.  In this post, I will discuss some of those disagreements in the context of scientific realism.

For a quick review of the traditional view on scientific realism, I suggest the Wikipedia entry and the Stanford Encyclopedia entry.  As the Stanford Encyclopedia says, “Debates about scientific realism are centrally connected to almost everything else in the philosophy of science, for they concern the very nature of scientific knowledge.”  I shall be contrasting my view (which I am describing as heretical) with some of the positions expressed in a more traditional view.

The Wikipedia entry opens 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.

I agree with that.  Of course, the actual descriptions provided by science might be imperfect, as most philosophers of science would agree.  The important point is that, imperfect as they may be, it is the real world that is being described.  The Wikipedia entry continues with:

Within philosophy of science, it is often framed as an answer to the question “how is the success of science to be explained?”

I also agree there, that accounting for the success of science is an important part of philosophy of science.  Beyond that point, I find myself disagreeing with much of the traditional view.

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