Popper vs. Impressive, Incomprehensible Writing

Popper is quoted in Relativism and the Social Sciences, by Ernest Gellner, ch. 1, p. 5.:

Many years ago I used to warn my students against the widespread idea that one goes to university in order to learn how to talk, and to write, impressively and incomprehensibly. At the time many students came to university with this ridiculous aim in mind, especially in Germany ... most of those ... who ... enter into an intellectual climate which accepts this kind of valuation ... are lost.

Thus arose the cult of un-understandability, the cult of impressive and high-sounding language ... I suggest that in some of the more ambitious social sciences and philosophies, especially in Germany, the traditional game, which has largely become the unconscious and unquestioned standard, is to state the utmost trivialities in high-sounding languages.

Some of the famous leaders of German sociology ... are ... simply talking trivialities in high-sounding language ... They teach this to their students ... who do the same ... the genuine and general feeling of dissatisfaction which is manifest in their hostility to the society in which they live is, I think, a reflection of their unconscious dissatisfaction with the sterility of their own activities.

The source is given as:

The Positivist Dispute in German Sociology, by T. W. Adorno, Hans Albert, Ralf Dahrendorf, Jürgen Habermas, Harald Pilot and Karl Popper, London, 1976, pp. 294 and 296.

I think it's a misquote or incorrect citation in some way because it skips a page but never has ellipses to skip one or more paragraphs. The only time text is skipped it's within a paragraph. (It could be correct if there's a paragraph that's over a page long, I guess.)

I like the quote and I noticed its similar to Ayn Rand's view.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)

David Miller Doesn't Want To Discuss

I contacted Critical Rationalist philosopher David Miller about my improvement on Critical Rationalism. I sent him this material explaining it. His entire reply was:

May invite you to look at §4 of Chapter 5 of my Out of Error?

I replied:

Sure, but I'm unclear on why. I don't see that it replies to me or refutes something I said. And you intentionally omit discussion of the case involving "comparisons of verisimilitude", which is important to this discussion. You also focus on scientific testing and deduction, whereas I deal with thinking in general. And in ch. 4.1, you write:

Indeed, [science] may also allow falsified hypotheses to be retained, provided that there is some weight of negative evidence that would eventually cause them to be banished.

So my criticism does apply to your position, since you think arguments can have an amount of weight. Similarly:

In Critical Rationalism: A Restatement and Defence you write (ch. 10.1):

A minimal objective theory of truthlikeness does indeed seem to be possible. Whether an objective theory of scientific progress can be built on its back I do not know.

The truthlikeness approach is an example of an amount of goodness approach. This attempt to evaluate an epistemological amount, like the amount of weight of arguments mentioned above, contrasts with my refuted or non-refuted approach. Because criticisms are decisive or false, and there's no medium strength or weight arguments, there's no way to differentiate ideas on a truthlikeness continuum – there's no way to get an idea to any of the middle positions via argument (rather than arbitrarily) because arguments either put ideas to the very bottom (refuted) or don't move them at all.

Scientific progress (and non-scientific progress) is saved, however, by the binary approach I explain in my Yes or No Philosophy. (In case you missed the link at the bottom of the essay with further info: http://fallibleideas.com/essays/yes-no-argument If price is a problem, name your price, including free, and I'll send you a code.)

PS in Out of Error ch. 5.4 you bring up O'Hear on induction. You may be interested in my criticism of his position:


David Miller's full reply was:

Thank you for replying.

So I asked:

Does that mean you aren't interested?

Do you know anyone who would be interested in discussing an improvement to Critical Rationalism?

His entire reply was:

Truth to tell, I am not at present interested in entering into any more discussions. You could join the critical rationalism Facebook group https://en-gb.facebook.com/groups/criticalrationalism/.

So, he initially tried to hide it, but he doesn't want to discuss philosophy and doesn't know anyone who does. (That Facebook group is low quality, as I think he already knows. I've tried discussing there already. Miller didn't have a good recommendation to give, such as the name of even one person who would want a serious discussion of my philosophical breakthrough.)

Miller isn't interested in a way to improve the philosophy his books are about. He's not interested in criticism of his beliefs, even when it comes with an already-developed solution. He's not interested in thinking, learning, progress or truth-seeking. And he doesn't know of anyone who would be interested. Very sad!

I share this as important evidence about what the world is like. People think there are smart, serious intellectuals out there somewhere having great discussions, figuring important stuff out. But I've contacted many of them and consistently find they don't want to think and don't know anyone who does. (Excepting David Deutsch and Thomas Szasz.)

I wrote back to say:

But then, if you're mistaken, how will the error get corrected?

Miller didn't reply.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (47)

10 Robert Spillane Replies

Robert Spillane's latest email didn't directly reply to what I said previously. Here it is with my new comments which attempt to get discussion back on track:

1. '3 am in the morning' is a pleonasm and thus necessarily true.

2. '3 am in the afternoon' is an oxymoron and thus necessarily false.

We need to conclude our discussion of whether 1+1=2 is a necessary truth before opening a new, similar topic. My answer to the 3am issue is similar to my answer to 1+1=2, which is the easier case to discuss and which I already wrote an explanation of. I await your next reply about that.

If I end up conceding the point about 1+1=2, I expect I'll also concede about the 3am issue without any additional arguments. And if you concede about 1+1=2, then I think your reasoning will be relevant to the 3am case and make it easier.

3. 'Induction exists' cannot be falsified.

Why? My position (which is also Popper's) is that induction has never had any set of followable instructions (steps) with the properties claimed by inductivists. So no one has ever done induction since inductivists have never defined any set of possible steps someone could do that would constitute doing induction. There are also arguments for why no such set of steps could be invented in the future. This is why I've asked questions about how to do induction (what the steps are).

4. 'Inductive logic' can be rejected if one argues that 'inductive logic' is an oxymoron. But since you don't accept oxymora, you have to argue that you reject 'inductive logic' on empirical grounds. How do you do that without distorting the meaning of 'empirical'?

I can use logical arguments. There's nothing wrong with logic. I just said the laws of logic are based on the laws of computation which are based on the laws of physics, and physics is an empirical science.

5. If you can't reject it on empirical grounds, all that is left to you are your feelings - and they are irrelevant since one cannot argue with feelings.

I agree that feelings are irrelevant. I haven't brought them up.

6. It is a truism that inference from experience is not deductive. A proposition may imply another proposition, but an experience cannot imply another experience. But you deny that there can ever be an inference from experience? That is untenable. What do you think 'inference' means?

Inference means "a conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reasoning."

Induction refers to some specific ways of learning using experience. CR says those are poorly defined and actually impossible to do, and there are other ways to learn from experience which work instead (conjectures and refutations – evolution).

7. If Popper rejected induction, he has to be a deductivist - what else could a philosopher who calls himself a (critical) rationalist be?

A person who thinks most arguments are neither inductive nor deductive. Both induction and deduction are pretty specific categories which most arguments don't fit into. More on this below. BTW this has been noticed by a lot of people – e.g. it's the issue "abduction" is intended to address.

8. In his Unended Quest (Fontana, 1977, p.79) Popper writes: '...I could apply my results concerning the method of trial and error in such a way as to replace the whole inductive methodology by a deductive one. The falsification or refutation of theories through the falsification or refutation of their deductive consequences was, clearly, a deductive inference (modus tollens)...

That doesn't say Popper could or did replace the whole of thinking or arguing with deduction. Popper is just saying that if you accept basic (observation) statements then you can deduce to reject theories which they contradict.

9. You repeatedly claim that I do not engage with your position. But what exactly is the position of a person who rejects necessary truths and falsehoods, rejects induction and yet claims not to be a deductivist?

Why don't you quote what I write and reply to quotes more? I have asked you direct questions – e.g. the two about induction – and you haven't replied in this email. I also asked, again, for criticism of my position regarding 1+1=2 not being a necessary truth, and you didn't reply to that.

I take specific things you say and reply directly to them. But you mostly don't use that method when you respond to me.

I attempted to explain my position about non-deductive, non-inductive arguments with the price controls and socialism example. You didn't discuss it. I tried again by commenting on your argument about "mental illness" which you claimed was deductive, and you stopped discussing that too. If you will continue discussing one of the issues – especially if you quote what I say and reply directly to it – then I think we could make progress. I don't think it's a good idea to open another, new attempt to discuss the matter instead of continuing one of the discussions we were already having.

10. Where do your conjectures come from, since you deny they come from experience? And how do you refute them if not by deduction?

Brainstorming involves generating random variants of existing ideas. This is like genetic evolution which generates random variants of existing genes.

Many ideas are interpretations of experience. Interpreting experience is different than being guided by experience. Observations are passive data which can't tell us what to think. Instead we think for ourselves and some of our reasoning references observations, e.g. by critically pointing out that an idea contradicts an observation, or more mundanely e.g. by saying "I'm not going to go that way because I saw a cliff over there and I don't want to fall."

Ideas are refuted (in the context of a particular CR-problem) by criticism. A criticism is an explanation of why an idea doesn't solve a CR-problem(s). A "CR-problem" is very broad and refers to any type of achieving a goal or purpose, answering a question, etc – accomplishing anything you'd want an idea to succeed at. (I prefixed the word "problem" because it's Popper's terminology, I don't know a better word, but you objected to it previously so I don't want CR-problems to be mixed up with "problems" in your terminology.)

Explanation is a key part of thinking and arguing which is covered by neither deduction nor induction. Explanations discuss why and how. Statements following a "because" are generally explanations.

If you carefully analyze the arguments from most thinkers, including Szasz and your own books, you'll find many of them don't follow the rules of deduction or induction, and involve explaining why some idea fails to solve a CR-problem(s).

This would involve carefully defining what qualifies as both induction and deduction. I've asked you questions about this regarding induction.

Regarding deduction, it's CR-problematic too. Deutsch discusses that some in FoR ch. 10, the chapter I referred you to previously. In short, people don't actually agree about what the rules of deduction are, and it's a very hard CR-problem to address. You may define "deduction" as only Aristotle's syllogisms, but then you'll find you can't prove much and you won't be able to classify very many arguments as deductive. If you want a broader deductive system, you'll have to specify it and address issues like Godel's incompleteness theorem.

You'll also have to face the CR-problem that you won't be able to rely on deduction to argue for your deductive system against rival deductive systems, or criticisms of why it's a poor system, or that'd be circular. My solution to that issue is that arguments about which deductive system is correct are regular critical arguments, just as people usually use. But since deduction and induction are your only tools, you will have a harder time figuring out how to make arguments regarding deduction itself without circularity.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Analysis of Robert Spillane Quoting Roger Kimball

Rather than spend time constructing new sentences to respond to your questions and comments, I quote Roger Kimball (who made Americans aware of David Stove's essays).

'At the center of Popper's thinking about the philosophy of science is a profound skepticism, derived from David Hume, about the rationality of inductive reasoning...

This is incorrect. With Popper, I hold there is no inductive reasoning. Induction is a myth. No one has ever induced a conclusion. Since inductive reasoning doesn't exist, judging it as rational or irrational is beside the point. (This is why I try to ask questions about instructions for doing induction, or about which ideas to induce in a given situation. Without answers to these questions, then induction can't be done and can't reach any conclusion at all, rational or not.)

So the quote you're giving doesn't engage with the position I'm advocating.

Like the young Hume, Popper concluded from the fact that inductive reasoning was not logically valid - that inductive evidence does not yield absolute certainty - that it was therefore incapable of furnishing compelling reasons for belief.

This assumes one has induced some conclusion(s) and the issue is to debate whether we should accept those conclusions are rational, valid, practical, partially certain, etc.

But, as above, that isn't the issue. So this isn't engaging with the position I'm advocating.

Popper was a deductivist. He dreamt of constructing a philosophy of science based solely on the resources of logic.

No he didn't. Quote? Source? Conjecture – which played a huge role in Popper's epistemology – isn't deduction. Popper also emphasized explanation and problem solving, which aren't deduction.

He was also an empiricist: he admitted no source of knowledge beyond experience. As Stove shows, the combination of empiricism and deductivism - in Hume as well as in Popper - is a prescription for irrationalism and cognitive impotence. An empiricist says that no propositions other than propositions about the observed can be a reason to believe a contingent proposition about the unobserved; an empiricist who is also a deductivist is forced to conclude that there can be no reasons at all to believe any contingent proposition about the unobserved.

Popper explained what we can do instead of having positive reasons: we can make unjustified conjectures. We can then use criticism to improve our ideas and make progress. Error elimination, not justification, is the key to epistemology.

Whether Popper (and I) are correct or incorrect about this view, the quote isn't discussing it. The quote isn't a reply to us.

Hume himself, in his posthumously publishedDialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ridiculed this "pretended skepticism" as a juvenile affectation...

'Popper resuscitated Hume's brand of skepticism, dressing it up in a new vocabulary. In Popper's philosophy of science, we find the curious thought that falsifiability, not verifiability, is the distinguishing mark of scientific theories; this means that, for Popper, only theories that are disprovable are genuinely scientific...

What's wrong with that? And how can theories be verified? The quote doesn't say.

Popper denied that we can ever legitimately infer the unknown from the known;

Yes, but Popper says we can know about the unknown by methods other than inference. This quote doesn't discuss that.

audacity, not caution, was for him the essence in science; far from being certain, the conclusions of science, he said, were never more than guesswork...;

Right. What's wrong with that? Do you claim we can be certain – meaning we can have infallible knowledge? How?

and since for Popper "there are no such things as good positive reasons" to believe a scientific theory, no theory can ever be more probable than another; indeed, he says that the truth of any scientific proposition is exactly as improbable as the truth of a self-contradictory proposition - or, "in plain English", as Stove puts it, "it is impossible".

The quote isn't providing a criticism of Popper's view. It also, so far, hasn't said anything about the two questions I asked.

'...What was novel [about Popper's doctrine] was the amazing thought that positive instances do not - in principle cannot - act to confirm a proposition or theory. For Popper, if every raven anyone has ever seen is black, that fact gives no rational support for the belief that all ravens, in fact, are black.

Correct: if you want to argue that all ravens are black, you'll need a different argument that doesn't have a logical hole in it. This quote isn't stating what the logical problems with positive support are that Popper explained, nor answering Popper's arguments.

Scientific laws, he says, "can never be supported, or corroborated, or confirmed by empirical evidence". He goes even further: of two hypotheses "the one which can be better corroborated, is always less probable." Whatever else these statements may be, they are breathtakingly irrationalist...

Rather than provide a criticism of Popper's view, the author states the view then calls Popper irrationalist (without defining it).

What am I supposed to learn from this?

'It would be difficult to overstate the radical implications of Popper's irrationalist view of science. Popper was apparently found of referring to "the soaring edifice of science". But in fact his philosophy of science robbed that edifice of its foundation. Refracted through the lens of Popper's theories, the history of modern science is transformed from a dazzling string of successes into a series of "problems" or ... "conjectures and refutations". On the traditional view, scientific knowledge can be said to be cumulative: we know more now than we did in 1899, more then than in 1699. Popper's theory, which demotes scientific laws to mere guesses, denies this: in one of his most famous phrases, he speaks of science as "conjectural knowledge", an oxymoronic gem that, as Stove remarks, makes as much sense as "a drawn game that was won." (This paragraph contradicts your statement that Popper supports a cumulative view of science).

Overall, the quote is full of conclusion claims instead of arguments. It also doesn't speak to the two questions I asked.

(Roger Kimball, Against the Idols of the Age, Transaction, 1999, pp. xxi-xxiii).

I have answered your questions #1 and #2 directly and indirectly.

To repeat: in The Rationality of Induction, Stove has answered your questions.

I have the book but you didn't tell me which pages you believe answer the question. When you provide the page numbers which you claim answer me, then I'll read them.

Needless to say, I agree with him.

Specifically, Stove reduces inductive inferences to the inference from proportions in a population. As mathematician, James Franklin, writes: 'It is a purely mathematical fact that the great majority of large samples of a population are close to the population in composition'. In cases such as political polling the observed, if based on a large enough sample, is probably a fair sample of the unobserved. 'This applies equally in the case where the sample is of past observation, and the population includes future ones. The sample is probably still a fair one, and one can make a probable inference (unless, of course, one has further reason not to: probable inferences are always relative to the evidence at hand).' (J. Franklin, Corrupting the Youth: A History of Philosophy in Australia, 2003, p. 338).

For any finite set of data, there are multiple ways to infer from proportions in the population which contradict each other. So which inferences from which proportions is one to find (by what means?) and then accept?

Note that this is the same two questions I asked in my previous email. The questions were about (1) which ideas do you induce and (2) how much inductive support do they have (so, if there's more than one, which is accepted over the others for having more support?)?

Also, related, the future always resembles the past in some ways and not other ways. So how do you approach the issue of which proportions of populations will hold in the future and which won't?

If Stove answers this, simply provide a reference (page numbers) where I can find the answer.

A quick look at 'The Analytic-Synthetic Distinction' on Wikipedia gives a list of those philosophers who have, quite rightly, rejected Quine's criticism. Quine is routinely quoted by philosophers and psychologists who, I suspect, have never read Ayer, Quine or Strawson. I say this because they rarely, if ever, make clear exactly what Quine's arguments were.

I don't care about lists of people who took some position, I care about arguments.

Admittedly, your short rejection is not Quine's but the criticisms of Quine can be applied to you.

Which criticisms?

You will never convince me that the following two propositions are logically and empirically the same: 'All tall men are tall' and 'All tall men are blond'. By rejecting the a-s dichotomy, you deny the possibility of necessary truths. Do you accept, then, necessary falsity?

No I don't accept necessary falsity. It's the same issue. To judge if 1+1=3 you still have to sum 1 and 1 and compare the sum to 3. The arguments I gave about 1+1=2 apply to this too.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (8)

Anthony O'Hear on Popper

Quotes are from the book Karl Popper, by Anthony O'Hear (AOH). It's in "The Arguments of the Philosophers" series edited by Ted Honderich. (Be careful, AOH has two other books with titles beginning with "Karl Popper".)

AOH says:

Popper's attempt to dispense with induction is unsuccessful. [ch. 4, p. 57]

AOH says his reason, which he'll attempt to show, is:

any coherent conceptualization of the experience requires the assumption of a stable order in the world. [ch. 4, p. 58, emphasis added]

Previously, AOH wrote:

But, argues Popper, we can see on logical grounds that there is no such thing as a perfect repetition of any event. Similarity in all respects would mean that the two events were really identical, and so there would actually be only one event. So the repetitions we experience are only approximate. But this means that some features of repetition B of event A will be different from some features of A. Thus B is to be seen as a repetition of A only to the extent that we discount those features in which B differs from A. [ch. 2, p. 13]

So AOH ought to address the question: "Stable in which respects?" He ought to know that the world is stable in some respects and not others, just as the future resembles the past in some ways and not others, and any two observations are similar to each other in some ways and not others.

Saying the world is "stable" means just as little as saying two observations are "similar". Claiming a stable world means claiming some things stay the same over time (or at least only change a small amount, according to some suitable measure). Of course not all things stay the same over time.

So AOH needs to say what type of stability he's talking about for his claim to mean anything.

One of the standard problems with inductivists is their routine failure to understand this general problem (that when we compare non-identical things they're always both similar and different, and you have to specify what sort of comparison you're doing). What does AOH do about this issue? Nothing. After the "stable" claim I quoted, he immediately changes the subject to solipsism. He's apparently unaware of this issue, even though he discussed it earlier in the book.

AOH proceeds (p. 59) to talk about regularities and patterns of experience without talking about which ones. Of course there are some regularities and some non-regularities in the world. AOH's approach to epistemology is basically "We live in a stable world, so recognize regularities and project them into the future." This is standard inductivist, and misses the point in the standard ways, such as the issue of which regularities to project into the future and how to find them (how does thinking work? AOH just takes for granted that we find these regularities somehow – that is, his epistemology presupposes intelligent thought and fails to explain how thinking actually works. He starts in the middle.) Then:

Our notion of an objective world, then, is reflected by the degree of continuing order and regularity that is to be found within our perceptions. [ch. 4, p. 59]

But Popper already explained the problem with this, and AOH already included that in this book. There is no such thing as "order" or "regularity" out of context. You have to first say which things you want to be the same which you'll count as being orderly or regular. Different aspects of the world are always similar (orderly, regular) in some ways and different in other ways. AOH doesn't address this.

I also found this bizarre statement:

That a belief in induction is not something which can be dropped without substantial alterations elsewhere in our conceptual scheme is why the failure of Popper to develop a truly non-inductive science is not a chance result, but one with deep roots. [ch 4, p. 60]

But Popper was aware of this issue, and wrote about it, and did develop substantial alterations in our conceptual scheme. I would understand if someone thought Popper's substantial alterations were mistaken, or if someone was unfamiliar with Popper's writing. But AOH has studied Popper a lot, and then is apparently unaware this substantial alterations even exist. AOH even quotes and discusses some of them, but apparently(?) doesn't recognize their meaning and importance. This is just like the similar in which respects issue, where AOH quoted Popper about it and discussed it – but then later on he writes as if he was unaware of it (which I take to mean he doesn't fully understand it).

the assumption that the world is not going to [suddenly become chaotic] [ch 4. p. 61]

The world is already chaotic in some ways and not others. So what does this mean? AOH doesn't say.

Does it mean the world won't suddenly become chaotic in all respects? But what would a world that is chaotic in all respects even mean? AOH doesn't address the issue and it's highly problematic.

One fairly technical way to approach the matter is via the theory of computation: consider whether there exist long bitstrings which can't be compressed by any compression algorithm (or, equivalently, can't be the output of any computer program, in any language, which is much shorter than the bitstring). Such a bitstring would be chaotic in all respects. But the answer is no, such a bitstring doesn't exist.

AOH might imagine that, all of a sudden, all the ways the world is stable stop working, and some new ones take their place. But that doesn't make sense, because no matter what happens, you can always retrospectively find regularities in the bigger picture including both before and after the so-called descent into chaos. All that's happened is this: from the infinitely many regularities compatible with the data you have, you favored some (why those? how were they chosen?), and found out those favored regularities were mistaken. (Meanwhile this so-called descent into chaos is fully compatible with some of the other data-compatible claims about regularities you could have made before it happened.)

So the assumption of the world's stability really means assuming your favored theories are correct. Why did you favor them over other theories, compatible with the same data, which make different predictions about the future? From the perspective of those rival theories, the future you predict is a descent into chaos. So when you say the world won't descend into chaos, you just mean the future will happen as you expect and not as your rivals expect – you mean the world will descend into chaos for the people who disagree with you, just not for yourself.

Thus, I am not simply saying that our ability to distinguish between true experience and illusions depends on our once having experienced an orderly world, but that it depends on the continuance of whatever order we had previously recognized. But to assume this is just what, according to Popper, is deeply irrational, and which should be eliminated from our conceptual scheme. [ch 4. p. 61]

Yes, it is irrational. Because it consists of assuming you're right.

What does "whatever order we had previously recognized" refer to? There are infinitely many theories compatible with the data you've observed previously. To recognize some order means to choose some of those of those theories (why those? why not others?) to provide order to your thinking. Then to assume the continuance of that order means to assume that your choice of which theories to prefer won't turn out to be mistaken in the future.

The solution to all this is what Popper said: critical and explanatory thinking (which is literally evolution). We can only conjecture which of the infinite regularities (or, preferably, explanatory theories) compatible with our data are correct. And we can correct errors with criticism, which is how progress is made. (Part of this is explained by AOH, pp. 171-177)

AOH also objects to Popper's corroboration, and I agree that corroboration is a mistake. I have fixed that aspect of Critical Rationalism. You can find my solution here. For a quick overview, I also offer a free short argument.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Product Release: Yes or No Philosophy

My new philosophy education product is ready!

Yes or No Philosophy

The link explains everything, has screenshots, etc. In short, it's about how to judge ideas, in particular by using yes or no judgements. It has a criticism of Critical Rationalism and a big improvement. (The same criticism also applies to standard philosophies of knowledge.) This is an epistemology breakthrough.

I put a short argument from the product online. It gives an idea of what I'm saying. The overall product is more focused on explaining things and helping people learn, rather than arguing, but I do include quotes from Karl Popper, David Deutsch and others along with criticism.

I put a lot of work into this and I'm really happy with it. It's going to help people learn more about philosophy! Especially if you've been interested in philosophy but find it difficult to get into, then this could help get you unstuck. I put a lot of effort into making it accessible.

Mac software used in this project:

  • Screenflow
  • Keynote
  • Final Cut Pro X
  • Compressor
  • Ulysses
  • Lightpaper
  • Textmate
  • Affinity Designer
  • Numbers
  • Adobe Acrobat
  • KindleGen

Feel free to ask questions about Yes or No Philosophy in the comments below.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Pro-Authority Pledge

Alan blogged criticizing a "pro-truth pledge" which is actually a pro-authority pledge:

Defer: recognize the opinions of experts as more likely to be accurate when the facts are dispute

which experts? how much more likely? what about when, as usual, some experts disagree with each other? should we believe the more numerous or more famous experts, as the Global Warming lobby recommends?

as a philosophy expert, should everyone defer to me about everything? my field deals with how to think, reason, judge ideas, evaluate conclusions, etc. so i have expertise on whether, for example, a global warming expert is reasoning correctly about climate science, or not.

as a philosopher of science, do my claims trump the claims of all scientists? i've studied the scientific method itself and can evaluate whether they used it correctly or not.

please no. i don't trust my fellow philosophers to make wise kings ;)

saying to defer to experts changes the debate from

1) the debate about the actual issues


2) the debate about which people are experts, how much of an expert they are, and which type of expertise has priority in this case.

But it's way more productive to talk about (1), not (2)!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)

Discussing Necessary Truths and Induction with Spillane

You often ask me for information/arguments that I have already given you

We're partially misunderstanding each other because communication is hard and we have different ways of thinking. I'm trying to be patient, and I hope you will too.

Please address these two questions about induction. Answering with page numbers from a book would be fine if they directly address it.

I've read lots of inductivist explanations and found they consistently don't address these questions in a clear, specific way, with actual instructions one could follow to do induction if one didn't already know how. I've found that sometimes accounts of induction give vague answers, but not actionable details, and sometimes they give specifics unconnected to philosophy. Neither of those are adequate.

1) Which general laws, propositions, or explanations should one consider? How are they chosen or found? (And whatever method you answer, how does it differ from CR's brainstorming and conjecturing?)

2) When and why is one idea estimated to have a higher weight of observational evidence in favor of it than another idea? Given the situation that neither idea is contradicted by any of the evidence.

These are crucial questions to what your theory of induction says. The claimed specifics of induction vary substantially even among people who would agree with the same dictionary definition of "induction".

I've read everything you wrote to me, and a lot more in references, and I don't yet know what your answers are. I don't mind that. Discussion is hard. I think they are key questions for making progress on the issue, so I'm trying again.

As a fallibilist, you acknowledge that the 'real world' is a contingent one and there are no necessary truths. But is not 1+1=2 a necessary truth? Is not 'All tall men are men' a necessary truth since its negation is self-contradictory?

I'll focus on the math question because it's the easier case to discuss first. If we agree on it, then I'll address the A is A issue.

I take it you also think the solution to 237489 * 879234 + 8920343 is a necessary truth, as well as much more complex math. If instead you think that's actually a different case than 1+1, please let me know.

OK, so, how do you know 1+1=2? You have to figure out what 1+1 sums to. You have to calculate it. You have to perform addition.

The only means you have to calculate sums involve physical objects which obey the laws of physics.

You can count on your fingers, with an abacus, or with marbles. You can use a Mac or iPhone calculator. Or you can use your brain to do the calculation.

Your knowledge of arithmetic sums depends on the properties of the objects involved in doing the addition. You believe those objects, when used in certain ways, perform addition correctly. I agree. If the objects had different properties, then they'd have to be used in different ways to perform addition, or might be incapable of it. (For example, imagine an iPhone had the same physical properties as an iPhone-shaped rock. Then the sequences of touches the currently sum 1 and 1 on an iPhone would no longer work.)

Your brain, your fingers, computers, marbles, etc, are all physical objects. The properties of those objects are specified by the laws of physics. The objects have to be used in certain ways, and not other ways, to add 1+1 successfully. What ways work depends on the laws of physics which say that, e.g., marbles don't duplicate themselves or disappear when arranged in piles.

So I don’t think 1+1=2 is a truth independent of the laws of physics. If there's a major, surprising breakthrough in physics and it turns out we're mistaken about the properties of the physical objects used to perform addition, then 1+1=2 might have to be reconsidered because all our ways of knowing it depended on the old physics, and we have to reconsider it using the new physics. So observations which are relevant to physics are also relevant to determining that 1+1=2.

This is explained in "The Nature of Mathematics", which is chapter 10 of The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch. If you know of any refutation of Deutsch's explanation, by yourself or others, please let me know. Or if you know of a view on this topic which contradicts Deutsch's, but which his critical arguments don't apply to, then please let me know.

I believe that Einstein is closer to the truth of what you call the real world than was Aristotle. So when I'm told by this type of fallibilist that we don't know anymore today than we did 400 years ago, I demur.

Neither Popper nor I believe that "we don't know anymore today than we did 400 years ago".

Given your comments on LSD and the a-s dichotomy, after reading this I conclude that you are a fan of late Popper (LP) and I prefer early Popper (EP).


You think EP is wrong, and I think LP is right, so I don't see the point of talking about EP.

(I disagree with your interpretation of EP, but that's just a historical issue with no bearing on which philosophy of knowledge ideas are correct. So I'm willing to concede the point for the purpose of discussion.)

Gellner argued that Popper is a positivist in the logical positivist rather than the Comtean positivist sense. His discussion proceeded from the contrasting of positivists and Hegelians and so he put (early) Popper in the positivist camp - Popper was certainly no Hegelian. Of course, Popper never tired of reminding us that he destroyed the positivism of the Vienna Circle and went to great pains to declare himself opposed to neo-positivism. For example, he says that he warmly embraces various metaphysical views which hard positivists would dismiss as meaningless. Moderate positivists, however, accept metaphysical views but deny them scientific status. Does not Popper do this too, even if some of these views may one day achieve scientific status?

Yes: (Late) Popper accepts metaphysical and philosophical views, but doesn't consider them part of science.

CR (late-CR) says non-science has to be addressed with non-observational criticisms, instead of what we do in science, which is a mix of observational and non-observational criticism.

If by fallibilism you mean searching for evidence to support or falsify a theory, I'm a fallibilist. If, however, you mean embracing Popper's view of 'conjectural knowledge' and the inability, even in principle, or arriving at the truth, then I'm not. I believe, against Popper, Kuhn and Feyerabend, that the history of science is cumulative.

No, fallibilism means that (A) there are no guarantees against error. People are capable of making mistakes and there's no way around that. There's no way to know for 100% sure that a proposition is true.

CR adds that (B) errors are common.

Many philosophers accept (A) as technically true on logical grounds they can't refute, but they don't like it, and they deny (B) and largely ignore fallibilism.

I bring this up because, like many definitions of knowing, yours was ambiguous about whether infallibility is a requirement of knowing. So I'm looking for a clear answer about your conception of knowing.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Justin Kalef vs. Paths Forward

Philosopher Justin Kalef joined FI list, then quickly left. I emailed him about leaving:

I see that you decided to leave without offering a criticism of any point, sharing any of your positions, or attempting discussion once. Sad. I take it you disagreed with some things I said and changed your mind about your supposed interest in open discussion. Presumably you mentally categorized your disagreements as something other than disagreement (e.g. you judged me unserious, ignorant, arrogant, or whatever). And somehow that let you think there was no need to allow the possibility of counter-arguments or clarifications-of-misunderstandings regarding your your negative judgements.

Since you won't argue your case (including by linking anything prewritten), do you know anyone who will discuss and could represent your views? If not, aren't you shutting down rational enquiry regarding your views? If you care about the truth, how can you simply silently refuse to argue your side by any means (including link or proxy)?

If you don't know how to fit discussion into a busy schedule, there are methods which I can explain to you. That's a solvable problem, not a reason one has to give up. Or if there was some other problem, you could have stated it briefly in case there was a misunderstanding or solution.

He replied 5 weeks later:

Hi, Elliot. Apologies for taking so long in getting back to you: I'm in transit this summer and had many administrative issues to deal with, also.

The main reason I decided to leave the group was that I am very busy and need to be highly selective with how I spend my free time. I occasionally participate in online discussions, but usually I do this on widely read blogs where I think a point needs to be made to stop large-scale consensus from shifting uncritically in a certain direction, or where I expect that the other participants in the conversation are likely to offer arguments, information, and ideas that will be particularly useful to me in the pursuit of my (admittedly quite narrow) range of interests.

I appreciate what you're trying to do, but a) my inbox is already too full, and it was filling up with more and more posts from your website; and b) frankly, I think the questions your group was discussing were not in general being addressed very helpfully. For instance, there was (as I recall) a discussion on artificial intelligence. There is a wealth of important material to digest on that subject. If this were a conversation in which some genuine experts on robotics, logic, computer languages, etc. were taking part, I could see some optimism for helping to resolve it: but as it stood, it seemed that the crowd was trying to tackle some a posteriori issues from the armchair. That's just one example.

I don't agree that, by my leaving the group, I am shutting down rational enquiry regarding my views. I am far from the only person in the world who could explain the problems with many of Ayn Rand's ideas; and even if I were the only one, you could pursue these conversations on your own without me. I have in no way prohibited you from having your own conversations. Surely, what I do with my own time is my business, particularly when I have the sorts of constraints on my time that I do. Do you really think that, if a thousand groups wanted me to participate and talk about my ideas, I would be doing about my ideas, I would be morally obligated to participate in all of them?

That being said, I would be willing to address one of Rand's arguments that I disagree with. If you like, please send me a number of her conclusions: your choice. If any of them are both interesting and dubious to me, I will ask you to reproduce a summary of her argument for the conclusion (with short quotes if you like). I find that Randroids tend to refer excensively to her novels. That's okay, but a novel is not an argument. If you can extract from her novels a coherent argument for an interesting view, I will address that argument (again, if the conclusion is interesting and if I find the argument dubious).

I replied:

OK, Rand conclusions:

VoS ch. 4:

there are no conflicts of interests among rational men

RotP, The “Inexplicable Personal Alchemy”:

nobody builds sanctuaries for the best of the human species

VoS ch. 8:

One must never fail to pronounce moral judgment.

CUI ch. 14:

  1. In any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent one who wins.

  2. In any collaboration between two men (or two groups) who hold different basic principles, it is the more evil or irrational one who wins.

  3. When opposite basic principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side.


money is the root of all good

(all italics omitted)

Regarding being busy and discussion: I think, if you wish to be a serious, rational, public intellectual with an opinion on Ayn Rand, who is very busy, then you ought to have a website (or equivalent) where you've posted your position on Ayn Rand (references are fine for unoriginal points). Otherwise your view of Ayn Rand is inaccessible which prevents both learning from it and criticizing it.

You say there are other critics. Sure. But you haven't chosen specific criticisms which you will take responsibility for. Just pointing in the general direction of a bunch of arguments – many of which contradict each other – isn't a meaningful take on the matter.

If you choose to focus on other matters, that's fine. I and others can pursue the matter without you. In that case, I'd say that you should not make claims about the matter you've chosen to stay out of.

It's interesting that you bring up the scenario of 1000 forum invitations. When we first met, I asked if you knew of a single good forum meeting certain criteria. You said that you didn't know of any, so I invited you to FI. There is a shortage of invitations to worthwhile forums, not a surplus! In this context, you shouldn't give up on a forum so fast. You should instead write a public criticism and see if there's any answer or misunderstanding – especially a criticism of a way in which FI fails to meet the criteria we'd discussed (which I understood you to think were good criteria).

Regarding AI: If lack of expertise caused any mistakes, you could point them out rather than comment on the credentials of the speakers. Especially when you don't know, and didn't ask, anyone's credentials. (A lot of the discussion participants do have expertise relating to computation).

It's also generally a difficult and debatable problem to judge which credentials matter – e.g. for AI discussion, is it more important to be good at programming or good at epistemology? And which credentials shall we defer to for that meta-debate? That's another reason to focus on the issues, not credentials.

Which Rand conclusions would you have used? Share them in the comments below!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Bitstring Compressibility

a Charles H Bennett paper mentioned (search for "simple counting argument". it's on page 3) that there's a counting argument that most strings can't be compressed, or can only be compressed a little bit. Something like that (from memory). He didn't explain it.

So I thought about what it is.

Consider a bitstring of length 50. What does compressing it mean? It means you have some shorter bitstring which maps to it.

Suppose you were going to compress it to a length 40 bitstring. Could you compress each length 50 bitstring to a length 40 bitstring to save 10 bits of space? No because there are 1024 times more length 50 bitstrings than length 40 bitstrings. So each length 40 bitstring has to, on average, be mapped to 1024 length 50 bitstrings. So by removing 10 bits you're also losing 10 bits of information (you're specifying the target with 1/1024 ambiguity). Given a 40 bit string, you don't know WHICH 50 bit string it's shorthand for b/c there are 1024 it could be shorthand for, if you use a method to compress ALL the 50 bit strings uniformly (for example, by simply cutting off the last 10 bits. or you could cut off the first 10 bits or some other selection of 10 bits that don't even have to be in a row).

so at most we could compress 1/1024th of all 50-bit strings to 40-bit strings. that's a theoretical limit otherwise you have multiple 50-bit strings that you're trying to compress to the same 40-bit string.

you can take a 40-bit string, compress 2 50-bit strings to it, and then add an extra bit saying which one of the multiple mapped strings you mean. like dealing with hash table collisions with a linked list. but that's stupid in this case. it makes more sense to just compress to a 41-bit string. (maybe in some more complex approach it's useful? but it won't fundamentally change the conclusions.)

so what if we were to set up a compression algorithm which uses ALL smaller strings to compress to? we can compress to a 1 bit string, a 2 bit string, etc, all the way up to 49 bits.

well there's half as many 49 bit strings as 50 bit, and there's a quarter as many 48bit strings as 50bit, and an eighth as many 47 bit strings as 50bit, etc. so 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 ... = 1. so ALL the prior bitstrings have exactly the right number of possibilities. roughly. but not quite:

a 2-bit string has 4 possibilities. a 1-bit string has 2 possibilities. not enough. even if we count 1 more for a 0-bit string we're still 1 short.

so at least 1 (2 if we can't use a 0bit string) of the 50bit strings can't be compressed.

also, how many can be compressed a lot? well half of them are only getting compressed 1 bit. 1/4 are getting compressed 2 bits. so if we define "a lot" as more than N bits, then it's only 2^-N which get compressed a lot. like if you want 5+ bits of compression, then it's only 1 out of 32 bitstrings that can be compressed that much.

so significant compression is sparse/rare. this is important b/c the field defines random by the content (uncompressible) rather than by the source (how you generated the data). which is interesting b/c it's a "content not source" thing like Critical Rationalism cares about, and it's also not how common sense thinks of random data. common sense says if you flip a coin a bunch, whatever you get is random. but computation theory stuff says if you get 50 tails and that's it, that sequence isn't random. but MOST sequences of randomly generated coinflips will be random (mostly uncompressible) sequences because that's how most sequences are as i was just proving (e.g. at best only 1 in 32 sequences is compressible by 5+ bits).

there's another issue i think is interesting. what if you make 1024 different compression algorithms? each one could compress a different 1/1024th of all the 50bit strings to 40bit strings. however, the overhead for specifying which of the 1024 compression algorithms a particular 40-bit number was encoded with would be 10 bits b/c you need to specify a number from 1-1024 to say which compression algorithm it was. so you don't gain anything. this kinda of overhead is an important issue which gets in the way of attempts to cheat.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bitcoin Sucks

There are two reasons bitcoin is worth money. Neither is because it's so wonderfully libertarian.

1) Bitcoin facilitates crime. it's really helpful for paying for illegal goods and services, money laundering, etc

2) Bitcoin is a ponzi scheme. It's like amway where the people who get in first get money from the people who get in later.

PS both bitcoin and etherium are absolute and total shit on technical grounds. here's one example from a few days ago. i've read many, many more. issues with bitcoin include limits on transactions, transaction fees, and the ridiculous problem that when someone pays you, you both have to wait and see if the payment actually happens or not, and you can be pretty confident the payment will be permanent after like an hour (but you're still not actually 100% sure).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (28)

Destroy The Rainforest, or Capitalism!

Richard Hammond's Jungle Quest is a documentary where he visits the Amazon rainforest and takes photographs. He doesn't really know what he's doing. There's other people there to make things work out OK, he doesn't have to be responsible or competent, he just has to be charismatic and popular. So it's pretty silly.

He says he wants to inspire people to save the rainforest and that something like 20% of it has been destroyed over the last 30 years. (I forget the exact numbers.) I recommend the South Park episode about the rainforest.

What the documentary doesn't say a word about is why the rainforest is being destroyed. What's the upside of destroying the rainforest? What's the downside of preserving it?

People destroy the rainforest on purpose. And it's not because it simply never occurred to them to save it...

People destroy the rainforest because they want land to live on and farm on. They want to be less god damn poor. They want their lives to suck less. They clear areas of forest to make space for humanity and to improve their lives. "Save the rainforest" means making human lives worse.

There is, of course, a way to save the rainforest without screwing anyone over. But it's not what environmentalists have in mind. The win/win solution goes like this: dramatically reduce building regulations in the U.S. (so there can be way more homes), make the U.S. dramatically more capitalist (so there can be way more jobs), dramatically reduce welfare in the U.S. (so immigrants won't be a drain on the current American taxpayers), and then, after doing all of those, let in immigrants who want a better life and are willing to assimilate. A lot of people would rather assimilate to be Americans than work hard to clear the rainforest to make their lives slightly less miserable. Low paying American jobs pay way more (are way more economically productive) than lots of the reasons people clear the rainforest.

There's no need for there to be a shortage of productive jobs in America. That's caused by destructive government actions.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)

More Robert Spillane Discussion

This reply to Robert Spillane follows up on this previous discussion. Here's a full list of posts related to Spillane.

Thank you for your respectful reply. I think we are making progress.

It has been helpful to have you clarify which parts of Popper you accept.


I am reminded of an interesting chapter in Ernest Gellner's bookRelativism and the Social Sciences, (1985, Ch. 1: 'Positivism and Hegelianism), where he discusses early versus late Popper, supports the former against the latter, and concludes that Popper is (a sort of) positivist. It is an interesting chapter and one I would happily discuss with you.

Like Gellner, I am sympathetic to Popper's 'positivism' but cannot accept his rejection of inductive reasoning. Like you (and Szasz), I reject his 3 Worlds model.

Popper was an opponent of the standard meaning of positivism. I mean something like this dictionary definition: "a philosophical system that holds that every rationally justifiable assertion can be scientifically verified or is capable of logical or mathematical proof, and that therefore rejects metaphysics and theism."

So what sort of "positivism" are you attributing to Popper?

I've ordered the book.

Re your favourite philosophers: you might read Szasz's critical comments on Rand, Branden, Mises, Hayek, Rothbard and Nozick in Faith in Freedom: Libertarian Principles and Psychiatric Practices, (Transaction Publishers, 2004). Even though I received the Thomas Szasz Award in 2006, I told Tom that I could not commit myself to (economic) libertarianism in the way that he did and you appear to do. I accept the primacy of personal freedom but do not accept the economic freedom favoured by libertarians. Indeed, I would have thought that by now, in the age of huge corporations, neo-liberalism is on its last legs. I respect your position, however.

Yes, I'm fully in favor of capitalism.

Yeah, I discussed Faith in Freedom with Szasz, but I don't have permission to share the discussion. One thing Szasz did in the book was use some criticism of Rand from Rothbard. I could tell you criticism of Rothbard's arguments if you wanted, though I think he's best ignored. I do not consider Rothbard or Justin Raimondo to be decent human beings, let alone reliable narrators regarding Rand. I was also unimpressed by Szasz's criticisms of Rand's personal life in the book, and would prefer to focus on her ideas. And I think Szasz made a mistake by quoting Whittaker Chambers' ridiculous slanders.

FYI I only like Rand and Mises from the list of people you mention, and I agree with Szasz that they were mistaken regarding psychiatry. (Rand didn't say much on psychiatry, and some of it good, as Szasz discusses. But e.g. she got civil commitment partly wrong.)

You may be interested to know that Rand spoke very critically of libertarians, especially Hayek and Friedman (who both sympathized with socialism, as did Popper). She thought libertarians were harming the causes of liberty and capitalism with their unprincipled, bad philosophy. I agree with her.

Rand did appreciate Mises because he was substantially different than the others: he was an anti-anarchy classical liberal, a consistent opponent of socialism, and he was very good at economics.

We have criticisms of many libertarian ideas from the right.

Let me mention that I'm not an orthodox Objectivist. I do not like the current Objectivist leadership like Peikoff, Binswanger, and the Ayn Rand Institute. I am banned from the main Objectivist forum for dissenting regarding epistemology (especially induction, fallibilism and perception). I also dissented regarding psychiatry, but discussion of psychiatry was banned before much was said.

If you're interested, I wrote about what the disagreements were and the decision to ban me. I pointed out various ways my views and actions are in line with Ayn Rand's philosophy and theirs aren't. It clarifies some of my philosophy positions:


There was no reply, no counter-argument. I am aware that they will hold a grudge for life because I wrote that.

I also made a public record of what I said in my discussions with them:


Warning: my comments are book length.

I have spent my career in the space between neo-positivism (Hume, Stove) and a critical existentialism (Sartre, Szasz). You might see inconsistencies here but I have always agreed with Kolakowski who wrote in his excellent book Positivist Philosophy, (pp. 242-3):

'The majority of positivists tend to follow Wittgenstein's more radical rule: they do not simply reject the claims of metaphysics to knowledge, they refuse it any recognition whatever. The second, more moderate version is also represented, however, and according to it a metaphysics that makes no scientific claims is legitimate. Philosophers who, like Jaspers, do not look upon philosophy as a type of knowledge but only as an attempt to elucidate Existenz, or even as an appeal to others to make such an attempt, do not violate the positivist code. This attitude is nearly universal in present-day existential phenomenology. Awareness of fundamental differences between 'investigation' and 'meditation', between scientific 'accuracy' and philosophic 'precision', between 'problems' and 'questioning' or 'mystery' is expressed by all existential philosophers...'

I broadly disagree with attempts to separate some thinking or knowledge from reality.

As an aside: I asked Tom Szasz that since he has been appropriated by some existentialists, whether he accepted that label. He thought about it for an hour and said: 'Yes, I'm happy to be included among the existentialists. However, if Victor Frankl is an existentialist, I'm not!' Frankl, despite his reputation as a humanist/existentialist boasted of having authorised many and conducted a few lobotomies on people without their consent.

Your criticism of the analytic/synthetic dichotomy reminds me of Quine but expressed differently. I disagree with you (and Quine) and agree with Hume, Stove and Szasz (and many others) on this issue. I am confident that had Szasz lived for another 50 years, you would not have convinced him that all propositions are synthetic and therefore are either true or false. He and I believe that the only necessities (i.e necessary truths) in the world are those expressed as analytic propositions and these tell us nothing about the world of (empirical) facts.

I don't believe necessary truths like that exist. I think people mistake features of reality (the actual reality they live in) for necessary truths. In our world, logic works a particular way, but it didn't necessarily have to. People fail to imagine how some things could be otherwise because they are used to the laws of physics we live with.

If you have a specific criticism of my view, I'll be happy to consider it.

I think I would have persuaded Szasz in much less than 50 years, if I'm right. Or else Szasz would have persuaded me. I don't think it would have stayed unresolved.

I found Szasz extraordinarily rational and open to criticism, more so than anyone else I've ever discussed with.

I'm delighted that you do not buy into Dawkins' nonsense about 'memes' even if you use 'ideas' as if they are things. Stove on Dawkins hits the mark.

There may be a misunderstanding here. I do buy into David Deutsch's views about memes! I accept memes exist and matter. But I think memes are popularly misunderstood and don't lead to the conclusions others have said they do.

I know that Szasz disagreed with me about memes. He did not, however, provide detailed arguments regarding evolution.

'Knowledge' and 'idea' are abstract nouns and therefore, as a nominalist, I'm bound to say they don't exist, except as names.

I consider them the names of either physical objects (like chairs) or attributes of physical objects (like the color red). As a computer hard drive can contain a file, a brain can contain an idea.

I encourage my students to rely less on nouns and more on verbs (from which most nouns originated). You asked for two definitions:

To 'know' means 'to perceive or understand as fact or truth' (Macquarie Dictionary, p.978). Therefore 'conjectural knowledge' is oxymoronic.

This is ambiguous about whether the understanding may be fallible or not.

Do you need a guarantee of truth to have knowledge, or just an educated guess which is correct according to your current best-efforts at understanding?

Why can't one conjecturally (fallibly) understand something to be a fact?

Induction: 'the process of discovering explanations for a set of particular facts, by estimating the weight of observational evidence in favour of a proposition which asserts something about the entire class of facts (MD, p.904).

Induction: 'a method of reasoning by which a general law or principle is inferred from observed particular instances...The term is employed to cover all arguments in which the truth of the premise, or premises, while not entailing the truth of the conclusion, or conclusions, nevertheless purports to constitute good reasons for accepting it, or them... With the growth of natural science philosophers became increasingly aware that a deductive argument can only bring out what is already implicit in its premises, and hence inclined to insist that all new knowledge must come from some form of induction. (A Dictionary of Philosophy, Pan Books, 1979, pp.171-2).

I agree that those are typical statements of induction. How do you address questions like:

Which general laws, propositions, or explanations should one consider? How are they chosen or found? (And whatever method you answer, how does it differ from CR's brainstorming and conjecturing?)

When and why is one idea estimated to have a higher weight of observational evidence in favor of it than another idea? Given the situation that neither idea is contradicted by any of the evidence.

I think these issues are very important to our disagreement, and to CR's criticism of induction.

You say that 'inborn theories are not a priori'. But a priori means prior to sense experience and so anything 'inborn'must be a priori be definition.

A priori means "relating to or denoting reasoning or knowledge that proceeds from theoretical deduction rather than from observation or experience" (New Oxford American Dictionary)

Inborn theories, which come from genes, don't come from theoretical deduction, nor from observation. Their source is evolution. This definition offers a false dichotomy.

Another definition (OED):

"A phrase used to characterize reasoning or arguing from causes to effects, from abstract notions to their conditions or consequences, from propositions or assumed axioms (and not from experience); deductive; deductively."

that doesn't describe inborn theories from genes.

inborn theories are like the software which comes pre-installed on your computer, which you can replace with other software if you prefer.

inborn theories don't control your life, it's just that thinking needs a starting point. similar to how your life has a starting time and place, which does matter, but doesn't control your fate.

these inborn theories are nothing like analytical ideas or necessary truths. they're just regular ideas, e.g. we might have inborn ideas about the danger of snakes (the details of which ideas are inborn is largely unknown) which were created because of actual encounters with snakes before we were born. but that's still not created by observation or experience, because genes and evolution can neither observe nor experience.

Spillane wrote previously:

Here is Szasz's logic:

  • Illness affects the human body (by definition);
  • The 'mind' is not a bodily organ;
  • Therefore, the mind cannot be or become ill;
  • Therefore mental illness is a myth.
  • If 'mind' is really the brain or a brain process;
  • Then mental illnesses are brain illnesses.
  • Since brain illnesses are diagnosed by objective medical signs,
  • And mental illnesses are diagnosed by subjective moral criteria;
  • Mental illnesses are not literal illnesses
  • And mental illness is still a myth.

If this is not deductive reasoning, then what is?

I denied that this is deduction, and I pointed out that "myth" is introduced for the first time in a conclusion statement, so it doesn't follow the rules of deduction. Spillane now says:

If the example of Szasz's logic is not deductive - the truth of the conclusion is implicit in the premise - what sort of argument is it? If you remove #4, would you accept it as a deductive argument?

I think it deviates from deduction in dozens of ways, so removing #4 won't help. For example, the terms "objective", "subjective" and "literal" are introduced towards the end without using previous premises and syllogisms to establish anything about them. I also consider it incomplete in dozens of ways (as all complex arguments always are). You could try to write it as formal (deductive) logic, but I think you'd either omit most of the content or fail.

I don't think the truth of the conclusion is implicit in the premises. I think many philosophers have massively overestimated what they could translate to equivalent formal deductions. So I regard it simply as an "argument", just like most other arguments which don't fall into the categories non-Popperian philosophers are so concerned with.

And even if some arguments could be rewritten as strict deductions, people usually don't do that, and they can still learn and make progress anyway.

Rather than worrying about what category an argument falls into, CR is concerned with whether you have a criticism of it – that is, an argument for why it's false.

I don't think pointing out "that isn't deduction" is a criticism, because being non-deductive is compatible with being true. (The same comment applies to induction.)

I also don't think that pointing out an idea is incomplete is a criticism without further elaboration. What matters is if the idea can succeed at it's purpose, e.g. solve a problem, answer a question, explain an issue. An idea may do that despite being incomplete in some way because the incompleteness may be

My epistemological position should be clear from what I have said above - it is consistent with a moderate form of neo-positivism.

That Popper's fallibilism is ill-concealed skepticism has been argued at length, by many Popper scholars, e.g. Anthony O'Hear. It was even argued in the book review mentioned.

I don't care how many people argued something at what length. I only care if there are specific arguments which are correct.

Are you denying that you are fallible (capable of making mistakes)? Do you think you sometimes have 100% guarantees against error?

Or do you just deny the second part of Popper's fallibilism? His claim that, in the world today, mistakes are common even when people feel certain they're right.

If it's neither of those, then I don't know what your issue with fallibilism is.

I have already given you (in a long quote) examples of inductively-derived propositions that are 'reasonable'. Now they may not be reasonable to a deductivist, but that only shows that deductivists have a rigid definition of 'rational', 'reasonable' and 'logical'. Given that a very large number of observations of ravens has found that they are black without exception, I have no good reason to believe the next one will be yellow, even though it is possible. That the next raven may be yellow is a trivial truth since it is a tautology. Accordingly, I have a good reason to believe that the raven in the next room is black.

OK I'll address this topic after you answer my two questions about induction above.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

David Deutsch = Footnotes to Popper

David Deutsch tweeted, twice, that his epistemology work is footnotes to Popper. (I think he's exaggerating.)

Aug 1, 2016


@DavidDeutschOxf having a debate: are you Jesus to Popper's John the Baptist, or St Paul to Popper's Jesus? :)

.@Sunsidhe Neither. Footnotes to Popper.

Feb 9, 2016


@cccalum Follow-up for @DavidDeutschOxf: in your view, has there been ANY progress at all in understanding creativity needed for AGI?

@SheaBigs84 @cccalum Not since Popper. Unless you count my tiny footnotes to Popper in The Beginning of Infinity or http://arxiv.org/abs/1508.02048

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Reply to Robert Spillane

I'm not trying to make ad hominem remarks. I put effort into avoiding them. It is nevertheless possible that an argument targets idea X, but CR was saying Y, not X. It's also possible that CR makes a statement in its own terminology which is misread by substituting some word meanings with those favored by a rival philosophy. I don't see anything against-the-person about bringing up these issues.

I reject Popper's three worlds. I think there's one world, the physical world. I think minds and ideas have physical existence in that one world, just like running computer software and computer data physically exist. More broadly, the laws of physics say that information exists and specify rules for it (the rules of computation); ideas are a type of information.

I've never selected philosophy ideas by nationality, and never found pragmatism appealing. Nor am I getting material from Quine. And I don't accept the blame for Feyerabend, who made his own bad choices. Here's a list of philosophers I consider especially important: Karl Popper, David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises, William Godwin, Edmund Burke, Thomas Szasz, and some ancient Greeks.

All propositions are synthetic because the laws of logic and math depend on the laws of computation (including information processing) which depend on the laws of physics. Our understanding of physics involves observation, and the particular laws of physics we have are contingent. Epistemology and evolution depend on physics too, via logic and computation, and also because thinking and evolving are physical processes.

Of course I agree with you that the goal is to find truth, not power or bullying or popularity.

Stove on Paley didn't answer my questions, but gave me some indication of some of your concerns, so:

I do not accept any kind of genetic or biological determinism, nor Darwinian "survival of the fittest" morality. Men have free will and are not controlled by a mixture of "influences" like genes, memes, culture, etc. By "influences" I include claims like "that personality trait is under 60% genetic control" – in that way genes are claimed to partially influence, but not fully control, some human behavior.

I have read some of the studies in this field and their quality is terrible. I could tell you how to refute some of their twin studies, heritability claims, etc, but I'm guessing you already know it.

I think "influences" may play a significant role in two ways:

1) A man may like and agree with an "influence", and pursue it intentionally. E.g. his culture praises soldiers, and he finds the profession appealing and chooses to become a soldier. Here the "influence" is actually just an option or piece of information which the man judges.


2) "Influences" matter more when a man is irresponsible and passive. If you don't take responsibility for your life, someone or something else may partially fill the void. If you don't actively control your life, then there's room for external control. A man who chooses to play the role of a puppet, and lets "influences" control him, may partially succeed.

Regarding Miller: by your terminology, I'm also a critic of Popper.

When two philosophers cannot agree on basic definitions,

could you give definitions of knowledge and induction? for clarity, i'll be happy to call my different concepts by other words such as CR-knowledge.

You state that 'I disagree with and deny the whole approach of a priori knowledge and the analytic/synthetic dichotomy.' But Popper, as a rationalist, relies on a priori knowledge, i.e. primitive theories which are progressively modified by trial and error elimination.

Inborn theories aren't a priori, they were created by genetic evolution. (They provide a starting point but DO NOT determine people's fate.)

when I try to argue with you, and you disagree with my mode of arguing, which is widely accepted in philosophical circles, it is difficult to know how to respond to your questions.

i think this is important. I have views which disagree with what is, i agree with you, "widely accepted in philosophical circles". it is difficult to understand different frameworks than the standard one, but necessary if you want to e.g. evaluate CR.

For example, with respect to Szasz you write that he 'doesn't write deductions, formal logic and syllogisms'. True, he doesn't use symbolic logic but his life's work was based on the following logic (see Szasz Under Fire, pp.321-2 where he relies on the analytic-synthetic distinction):

"When I [Szasz] assert that (mis)behaviors are not diseases I assert an analytic truth, similar to asserting that bachelors are not married...InThe Myth of Mental Illness, I argued that mental illness does not exist not because no one has yet found such a disease, but because no one can find such a disease: the only kind of disease medical researchers can find is literal, bodily disease."

I acknowledge that I disagree with Szasz about analytic/synthetic. Unfortunately he died before we got to resolve the matter.

However, I think Szasz's main point is that no observations of "patients" could refute him. I agree. Facts about "patients" can't challenge logical arguments.

However, as I explained above, I don't think logic itself is analytic. I think observations which led to a new understanding of physics could theoretically (I don't expect it) play a role in challenging Szasz's logical arguments.

Here is Szasz's logic:

  • Illness affects the human body (by definition);
  • The 'mind' is not a bodily organ;
  • Therefore, the mind cannot be or become ill;
  • Therefore mental illness is a myth.
  • If 'mind' is really the brain or a brain process;
  • Then mental illnesses are brain illnesses.
  • Since brain illnesses are diagnosed by objective medical signs,
  • And mental illnesses are diagnosed by subjective moral criteria;
  • Mental illnesses are not literal illnesses
  • And mental illness is still a myth.

If this is not deductive reasoning, then what is?

That isn't even close to a deductive argument. For example, look how "myth" is used in a conclusion statement (begins with "therefore"), without being introduced previously. You couldn't translate this into symbolic logic and make it work. Deduction has very strict rules, which you haven't followed.

As to what is deductive reasoning: no one does complex, interesting philosophy arguments using only deduction. Deduction is fine but limited.

I do appreciate the argument you present. I think it's well done, valuable, and rational. It's just not pure deduction (nor a combination of deduction and induction).

I would normally just call it an "argument". CR doesn't have some special name for what type of reasoning it is. We could call it a CR-argument or CR-reasoning if you like. You ask what's left for reasoning besides induction and deduction, and I'd point to your example and say that's just the kind of thing I think is a typical argument. (Your argument is written to appear to resemble deduction more than is typical, so the style is a bit uncommon, but the actual way it works is typical.)

'The basic point here is to judge an idea by what it says..." Quite so. But how do you do that?

By arguments like the "mental illness" example you provided, and the socialism and price controls example I provided previously. By using arguments to criticize mistakes in ideas. etc.

You write: 'The claim [Stove's and mine] that "there are good reasons to believe inductively-derived propositions" doesn't address Popper's arguments that inductively-derived propositions don't exist.' This follows more than half a page of reasons why they do exist. And, contrary to your claim, I gave you an example of a good (i.e reasonable, practical, useful) reason to believe an inductively-derived proposition. What more can I say?

You write: 'This is typical. I had an objection to the first sentence following "Inductivists do have answer for you." It made an assumption I consider false. It then proceeds to build on that assumption rather than answer me.' That obnoxious sentence is 'Stove has argued, correctly in my view, that there are good reasons to believe inductively-derived propositions.' What is the assumption you consider false? I then proceed to provide Stove's arguments. Is not this what critical rationalists encourage us to do with their platitudes about fallibility, willingness to argue a point of view? Those arguments, whether valid or invalid, do provide reasons why one might reject Popper's authoritarian pronouncement that inductively-derived propositions don't exist. Of course, they exist, even if Popper does not grant them legitimacy.

We're talking about too many things at once. If you think this is particularly important, I could answer it. I do attempt to continue the discussion of induction below.

You write: 'But as usual with everyone, so far nothing RS has said gives even a hint of raising an anti-CR argument which I don't have a pre-existing answer for.' Well, then future argument is pointless because your 'fallibilism' is specious. If you have already decided in favour of CR, I doubt there are any critical arguments which you will consider. You appear to have developed your personal version of CR and immunised yourself against criticism, a vice which Popper in theory, if not in practice, warned against.

I'm open to changing my mind.

I have discussed these issues in the past and made judgements about some ideas. To change my mind, you'll have to say something new to me. I expect the same the other way around: if I don't have anything to say that you haven't heard before, then I won't change your mind.

I have a lot of previous familiarity with these issues. So far you haven't come near the edges of my pre-existing knowledge. You haven't said something about epistemology which is surprising or new for me (nor has Stove in what I read). Minor details differ, but not main points.

That's OK, I would expect it to take more discussion than we've done so far to get to get beyond people's already-known arguments.

It's right and proper that we each have initial (level 1) responses ready which cover many issues a critic could raise. And when he responds to one of them, we again have level 2 responses ready for many things he may say next. Very educated, experienced persons may have a dozen levels of responses that they already know. So to change their minds, one has to either say something surprising early on (that they didn't hear or think of previously, so they don't have a pre-existing answer) or else go through the levels and then argue with some of their ideas near the limits of their knowledge.

So far your comments regarding induction have been typical of other inductivists I've spoken with.

A reviewer of Popper's work was published in 1982 in The New York Review (Nov.18 (pp.67-68) and Dec.2 (pp.51-56). I could not express my reservations better than this:

'Popper's philosophy of science is profoundly ambiguous: it is, he says, "empirical", but it is left unclear why scientists should consult experience.

The reason for consulting experience is to criticize ideas which contradict experience (because we want ideas which match reality). That is not "left unclear", it's stated clearly by Popper.

It is called "fallibilism", in which we learn from our mistakes", but it is really an ill-concealed form of skepticism.

The skepticism accusation is an assertion, not an argument.

It claims to surrender the quest for certainty, but it is precisely the standards of this quest - that if one is not certain of a proposition, one can never be rationally justified in claiming it to be true - that underlie Popper's rejection of induction (and the numerous doctrines that stem from this rejection).

Popper did NOT reject induction for being fallible or imperfect, he rejected it for reasons like:

1) Any finite set of data is compatible with infinitely many generalizations, so by what method does induction select which generalizations to induce from those infinite possibilities?

2) How much support does X give Y, in general? And what difference does that make?

Induction fails to meet these challenges, and without answers to those issues induction can't be used at all. These aren't "it's imperfect" type issues, they are things that must be addressed to use induction at all for anything.

There have been some attempts to meet these challenges, but I don't think any succeeded, and Popper pointed out flaws in some of them. If you can answer the questions, or give page numbers where Stove does, I will comment.

If you wish to address (2), note that "in general" includes non-mathematical issues, e.g. the beauty of a piece of music or flower. (And if you think induction can't address those beauty issues, then I'm curious what you propose instead. Deduction? Some third thing which will, on examination, turn out to have a lot in common with CR?)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)