Posts tagged ‘science’

June 2, 2013

Consciousness 4: Knowledge

by Neil Rickert

In an earlier post in this series, I wrote:

In short, it is the problem of knowledge that needs to be explained, rather than the problem of experience.

So today I will begin discussing the question of knowledge.

Empiricism

My starting point is a kind of empiricism.  That is to say, I take the view that we acquire knowledge through experience.  Or, said differently, knowledge is not inherited.  The empiricism of John Locke seems in about the right direction, though of course Locke left much unexplained.  Locke talked about ideas, and I take that to be about the same as what we mean when we talk of concepts.  The question of knowledge, for Locke appears to be one of how we acquire our ideas or concepts.

By the time we get to Hume, the discussion has changed.  Empiricism, to Hume, seems to be a question of how we decide which statements are true.  Now that’s a huge change.  You cannot even have a statement until you have the necessary concepts.  So an account of how we decide which statements are true will fall far short of explaining how we acquire concepts.  My version of empiricism is closer to that of Locke than to that of Hume.

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May 5, 2013

Is science a religion?

by Neil Rickert

The answer, of course, is no.  However, others often claim that it is.  Take, for example, this quote, which I am copying from a recent post at the Don Hartness blog:

Another reason that scientists are so prone to throw the baby out with the bath water is that science itself, as I have suggested, is a religion.

Those words are not from Don Hartness himself.  He quotes them for a book, and is not completely clear on whether he agrees with them.

To be fair, the author apparently uses “religion” to refer to a world view.  That makes it hard to know what he means.  I don’t much like this talk of “world view.”  As best I can tell, the “world view” language is something that theists use to delude themselves that their rejection of a lot of evidence is okay because others do it too.

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April 14, 2013

The intelligibility of the world

by Neil Rickert

As I recently mentioned, I intend taking some quotes from Nagel and presenting my position.  I’ll start with a comment on intelligibility:

The intelligibility of the world is no accident. Mind, in this view, is doubly related to the natural order. Nature is such as to give rise to conscious beings with minds; and it is such as to be comprehensible to such beings. Ultimately, therefore, such beings should be comprehensible to themselves. And these are fundamental features of the universe, not byproducts of contingent developments whose true explanation is given in terms that do not make reference to mind. (p. 17 of “Mind and Cosmos”).

When I look at that quote in my Kindle software, I see a note that 94 readers have highlighted that particular text.  So this is not merely Nagel’s opinion.  It is a view that is enthusiastically shared by a number of readers.

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January 28, 2013

HSW – Kepler’s laws are false

by Neil Rickert

While my title line might seem dramatic, I want to be clear that this post is not intended as a criticism of Kepler, or of Kepler’s laws.  Rather, it is critical of the view that scientific laws are true descriptions of the world.  This post is intended as part of my series on how science works.  My aim is to describe my own understanding of Kepler’s laws.

The basis of Kepler’s laws

In case some of my readers are not familiar with them, Kepler’s laws are an attempt to account for the motion of the planets in our solar system.  Kepler’s laws were preceded by the Ptolemaic idea that the planets moved in cycles and epicycles.  Galileo argued, instead for the idea of Copernicus, that the planets traveled in circular paths around the sun.  I presume that Kepler was looking for something a little more precise than the Copernican circles.

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January 13, 2013

On belief and trust

by Neil Rickert

Over at the “Triangulations” blog, Sabio Lantz has a new post “Believing Mind vs. Religious Mind” on why he now thinks that “believing mind” is the better of the two terms.  In explaining his preference, Sabio writes:

Believing without evidence is our default mode. Well, I shouldn’t call it “without evidence” because believing something because someone in authority said it or because it intuitively makes sense to us, is indeed a sort of evidence — though it is a very low level of evidence.

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January 4, 2013

Connecting science with perception

by Neil Rickert

I have two ongoing series of posts, one on perception and the other on how science works.  These are very much connected, as I will explain in this post.

My interest in the main topics of this blog led me to study the question of how humans learn.  I understood, all along, that the increase in scientific knowledge is closely related to learning.  Or, as I think Quine puts it, science is learning writ large.  Thus I used the growth of scientific knowledge as a publicly observable instance of learning.

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January 1, 2013

HSW – about induction

by Neil Rickert

I have long been a critic of induction.  The trouble with the word “induction” is that it is used in many different ways.  As part of my continuing series on how science works, I want to explain here what I am criticizing, and what I am not criticizing.

Baconian induction

Sir Francis Bacon suggested used the term “induction” in his recommendations on investigating the natural world.  As described by Wikipedia, his method called for:

procedures for isolating and further investigating the form nature, or cause, of a phenomenon, including the method of agreement, method of difference, and method of concomitant variation.

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December 2, 2012

HSW2 – How I see Newton’s mechanics

by Neil Rickert

This continues my discussion of how science works, a topic that I introduced in a recent post.  The “HSW” in the title of this post is intended to indicate that.  My plan, for this post, is to describe how I look at Newton’s laws.  I won’t be discussing his law of gravity here, mostly to keep this post reasonably short.  I might post on that at a future time.

A note on history

I am not an historian.  My primary concern is with how the science works, rather than with how it was discovered.  If you think that I have said something about history, then you have misunderstood.  Some of what I am discussing here might actually be due to Galileo or to other scientists.

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November 25, 2012

How does science work?

by Neil Rickert

For the moment, I am presenting this as a question.  It is a question for which I believe I have the answer.  But I will postpone discussing that until future posts.

I am currently watching (for the second time), a TED talk by David Deutsch:

In that video, Deutsch is puzzling about what changed at the time of the scientific revolution.  He correctly points out that people have been making observations and coming up with explanations for thousands of years.  We often describe their explanations as myths.  Something must have changed in what we are doing, that made science possible.

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November 20, 2012

Book review – “Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics

by Neil Rickert

I recently received a copy of “Broken Words” (by Jonathan Dudley).  I have learned a lot from reading this book.  It is a book about the disputes that underlie the cultural wars that have been poisoning American political discourse over the last 30 years or so.

The main topics discussed are the disputes over abortion, over sexuality (particularly gay, lesbian and similar issues), the disputes over global warming and the disputes over biological evolution.  However, this is not a book about political intrigue in Washington.  It is more about the shifting sands of the theology of conservative evangelical Christianity.  That theology could change so much is remarkable, given the claims of evangelical Christianity that their theology is derived from the timeless word of God.

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