Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

April 13, 2011

Oops! Apparently WordPress was hacked

by Neil Rickert

It seems that there was a break in to the wordpress site.  Oh, well, I guess that happens to lots of sites.  Fortunately, I use a random password and I create a new password for each site.  No, I don’t remember them all, but I do keep my password list in an encrypted file.

On a related security matter, I must say that wordpress does a great job of spam filtering.  The statistics show that I have been hit with 588 spams.  All but one of those was automatically detected by the wordpress software.  Moreover, there have been no false positives that I know of.  Well, I suppose that I can’t be sure, since spam to sufficiently old posts is just auto-deleted and I am only shown spam to recent posts.  Still, the accuracy on the ones I have seen is pretty good.

The latest spam begins “It is very interesting for me to read the post.”  If the spammers were a little more creative, and actually showed evidence of having read the post they are commenting on, maybe a few would sneak through.

Back to the hacking.  It seems not too serious, if we can trust what wordpress says about it.  In any case, it is only a blog – it isn’t real life.  I heard about the hacking at the dslreports forum, which I frequent.

January 2, 2011

2010 in review

by Neil Rickert

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,700 times in 2010. That’s about 4 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 44 new posts, not bad for the first year!

The busiest day of the year was November 2nd with 136 views. The most popular post that day was On machine-information metaphors.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for heretical philosopher, uncommondescentdissent, uncommon descent dissent, camera analogy, and “the camera analogy”.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


On machine-information metaphors October 2010


Information, consciousness and all that October 2010


Uncommon Dissent November 2010


About July 2010


The camera analogy(2) – acquiring knowledge (learning) November 2010


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