Posts tagged ‘science’

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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September 11, 2014

Metaphysics — what I am against

by Neil Rickert

I’ve occasionally suggested that I don’t do metaphysics.  One of the comments to my previous post took me to task over that, saying that it was an example of doing metaphysics and that I was therefore contradicting myself.

Such literalism.  This kind of quibbling is part of why many scientists are dismissive of philosophy.  Here, I’ll try to clear up that confusion.

What I’m against

Of course, every thinking person will do some thinking about metaphysical questions, self-included.  We can’t help it.  We are confronted with these questions, posed by others.  They may be questions that have no answers.  But we will think about them anyway.

What I oppose, is using metaphysical assumptions as a basis for other reasoning, such as reasoning about knowledge.


I’ll illustrate the point with mathematics.  There, I avoid platonist assumptions.  I usually consider myself a fictionalists (mathematical entities are useful fictions).  And I suppose that, technically, fictionalism is considered a metaphysical position.  But the point of fictionalism is to avoid making assumptions about the existence of mathematical entities by treating them as fictions.

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 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.

March 23, 2014

On vjtorley on ways of knowing

by Neil Rickert

Recently, in a post at the Uncommon Descent blog, vjtorley made a post critical of Jason Rosenhouse:

Here, I shall comment on part of vjtorley’s post.

I’m actually a bit puzzled by the whole post.  I read Jason’s blog often enough to doubt that he is claiming that science is the only way of knowing.  I guess I’m also a bit troubled by the expression “ways of knowing” which seems a bit too vague.

Torley begins with:

People who hold the view that “there is a non-scientific source of knowledge about the natural world, such as divine revelation or the historical teachings of a church, that trumps all other claims to knowledge,” are a menace to science. That’s the claim made by mathematician Jason Rosenhouse, in his latest post over at his Evolution Blog.

As I see it, the significant part is “that trumps all other claims to knowledge.”  I don’t see Jason as saying that science is the only way of knowing about the the natural world.  I only see him as denying that what comes from religion can trump science.

January 16, 2014

Eye view philosophy

by Neil Rickert

I recently made a blog comment where I mentioned “God’s eye view philosophy,” which I contrasted with “Organism’s eye view philosophy.”  Here, I want to expand on that comment.

Roughly speaking, the idea of a God’s eye view philosophy, is that we should attempt to look at the world as we might presume that a God might see it.  It is important to note that one need not be religious to hold a God’s eye view philosophy.  It suffices to think of a metaphorical all-seeing God.  There need be no commitment as to whether such a God is possible.  One could be an atheist, and still hold to a God’s eye view philosophy.

With an organism’s eye view, we instead try to look at the world as it might appear to a biological organism.  So what we call “a bird’s eye view” would be a particular case of that, where the organism is a bird.  We humans are, of course, biological organisms.  So, in some sense, it must be that we really are taking an organism’s eye view.

November 13, 2013

Convention (7) – Relativism

by Neil Rickert

When I mention my ideas about the role of conventions in science, I am often accused of being a relativist or a social constructionist or a post-modernist.  Those seem to all be related.  I am not any of those.  Today’s post will look at why my ideas about conventions do not have any relativist implication.

What am I

I’ve just said that I am  not a relativist or a social constructivist or a post-modernist.  So perhaps I should say something about what I am.  It’s not easy to say what I am, because my views don’t fit any of the standard labels.

In his book “Science and Relativism“, Larry Laudan presents a discussion between four philosophers of science, whom he labels as a positivist, a realist, a pragmatist and a relativist.  I disagree with all four of them.  For each of them, there are places where I agree with what they say.  But, overall, I do not see science the way that any of them see it.