Posts tagged ‘theory’

February 5, 2016

Denton: “Evolution: still a theory in crisis” — a review

by Neil Rickert

Michael Denton has a new book, “Evolution: still a theory in crisis“.  So I picked up a copy, and will review it in this post.  I actually purchased the Kindle version of the book.

Structuralism vs functionalism

Denton outlines the main gist of his argument in chapter 1, where he explains that he is a structuralist rather than a functionalist.  He expands on that in later chapters.

Denton seems to be using “functionalism” to describe what I would call “pan-selectionism” or “pan-adaptationism”.  So he would see Dawkins, and probably Jerry Coyne, as functionalists.  Denton himself prefers structuralism, which is an emphasis on the forms or body plans (he uses the term “bauplan”) of organisms (or groups or organisms).

I’m inclined to say “a pox on both of their houses”.  I am not a pan-selectionist.  I usually say that I am not a Darwinist, for I see Darwinism as an over-emphasis on natural selection.  To me, Denton’s preference for structuralism seems strange.  Surely the structural features are their because of their functional role.

In section 1.1, Denton writes:

It is hard to imagine two scientific frameworks as diametrically opposed as structuralism and functionalism.  Whereas functionalism  suggests that function is prior and determines structure, structuralism suggests that structure is prior and constrains function.

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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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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.

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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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December 9, 2012

Perception – direct vs. representational

by Neil Rickert

The two most important theories of perception are representationalism on the one hand, and direct perception on the other.  There are probably many versions of each of those, and there are some other theories which I see as less important.  By far, the dominant theory — the one most widely accepted — is representationalism.  However, as mentioned in the previous post in this series on perception, I happen to prefer the idea of direct perception.

In this post, I plan to do to things:

  • I will briefly describe both representationalism and direct perception, and their disagreements;
  • I shall try to address some of the misconceptions about direct perception that seem to crop up.

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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 17, 2012

Reason, truth, history

by Neil Rickert

As mentioned in an earlier post, I have been engaged in a discussion of the correspondence theory of truth.  The discussion took place on the Quick Philosophy yahoo group, where we started looking at Putnam’s book “Reason, Truth and History.”  The full discussion began on Aug. 20, 2012.

Here, I will give some links into the discussion.  I may say more on my own views of the topic in future posts.

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August 30, 2012

Answering V.J. Torley’s questions

by Neil Rickert

Over at the Uncommon Descent blog, poster vjtorley has posed “Ten Questions for Professor Coyne.”  I am not a spokesman for Jerry Coyne, and I disagree with some of what he writes.  But I thought I would try giving my own answers to those questions.  I’m pretty sure that Jerry Coyne would disagree with me on some of the answers.

Question 1 – Is science the only road to knowledge?

I’ll note that there is some ambiguity on what is meant by “knowledge.”  For myself, I would never claim that science is the only way to all knowledge, though it is an excellent way to knowledge about the natural world.  In any case, vjtorley breaks this question into several parts.

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August 26, 2012

On metaphysics

by Neil Rickert

In an earlier post, I hinted that I would discuss the two essays by Massimo Pigliucci on naturalized metaphysics.  So that will be the goal of this post.  For convenience, I shall refer to those two essays as NM1 and NM2.

The goal

It is not my aim here to argue that Pigliucci is wrong.  Rather, the aim is to present how I look at the questions he is discussing.  Partly, this is because I have rather non-typical views, and am sometimes asked to explain them.  Partly, it is because I have indicated my dislike for metaphysics, and some have suggested that we cannot actually do without metaphysics.  So perhaps the discussion here will help my readers better understand my viewpoint.

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