Brains Are Computers

Adding 5+5 is an example of a computation. Why? By definition. "Computation" is a word which refers to calculating stuff like sums, matrix multiplication, binary logic operations, derivatives, etc.

Are all computations math? Sorta. Consider this computation:

(concatenate "cat" "dog")

Which outputs: "catdog"

The format I used is: (function data-1 data-2). That's the best format programmers have invented so far. There can be any number of pieces of data including zero. Quotes indicate a string. And for data you can also put a function which returns data. That's nesting, e.g:

(concatenate "meow" (concatenate "cat" "dog"))

Which outputs: "meowcatdog"

Is that math? It can be done by math. E.g. you can assign each letter a number and manipulate lists of numbers, which is what a Mac or PC would do to deal with this. If you're interested in this topic, you might like reading Godel, Escher, Bach which discusses numeric representations.

But a human might calculate string concatenation in a different way, e.g. by writing each string on a piece of paper and then computing concatenations by taping pieces of paper together.

Humans have a lot of ways to do sums too. E.g. you can compute 5+5 using groups of marbles. If you want to know more about this, you should read David Deutsch's discussion of roman numerals in The Beginning of Infinity, as well as the rest of his books.

Moving on, computation is sorta like math but not exactly. You can think of computation as math or stuff that could be done with math.

A computer is a physical objection which can do computations.

We can see that human intelligence involves computation because I can ask you "what is 5+5?" and you can tell me without even using a tool like a calculator. You can do it mentally. So either brains are computers or brains contain computers plus something else. There has to be a computer there somewhere because anything that can add 5+5 is a computer.

But we don't really care about an object which can add 5+5 but which can't compute anything else.

We're interested in computers which can do many different computations. Add lots of different numbers, multiply any matrices, find primes, and even do whatever math or math-equivalent it takes to write and send emails!

We want a general purpose computer. And human intelligence has that too. Humans can mentally compute all sorts of stuff like integrals, factoring, finding the area of shapes, or logic operations like AND, NOT, OR, XOR.

When we say "computer" we normally refer to general purpose computers. Specifically, universal classical computers.

A universal computer is a computer than can compute anything that can be computed. "Classical" refers to computers which don't use quantum physics. Quantum physics allows some additional computations if you build a special quantum computer.

A universal computer sounds really amazing and difficult to create. It sounds really special. But there's something really interesting. All general purpose computers are universal. It only takes a tiny bit of basic functionality to reach universality.

Every iPhone, Android phone, Mac, or PC is a universal computer. Even microwaves and dishwashers use universal computers to control them. The computer in a microwave can do any computation that a $100,000 supercomputer can do. (The microwave computer would take longer and you'd have to plug in extra disks periodically for computations that deal with a lot of data.)

All it takes to be a universal computer is being able to compute one single function: NAND. NAND takes two inputs, each of which is a 1 or 0, and it computes one output, a 1 or 0. NAND stands for "not and" and the rule is: return a 1 if not both inputs are 1.

That's it. You can use NAND to do addition, matrix multiplication, and send emails. You just have to build up the complexity step by step.

There are many other ways to achieve universality. For example, a computer which can compute AND and NOT, individually, is also universal. Being able to do NOT and OR also works. (Again these are simple functions which only have 1's and 0's as inputs and outputs.) If you want to see how they work, there are "truth tables" here which show lists of what the outputs are for all possible inputs: Wikipedia Link.

We can see that the computer aspect of humans is universal because humans can mentally compute NAND, AND and NOT. That's more than enough to indicate universal computation.

To make this more concrete, you can ask me what (AND 1 1) is and I can tell you 1. You can ask me (NOT 0) and I can tell you 1. You can ask me (NAND 1 1) and I can tell you 0. I can do that in my head, no problem. You could too (at least if you learned how). You're capable.

So human thinking works by either:

  1. Universal classical computation; or

  2. Universal classical computation as well as something else.

I don't think there's a something else because there's nothing humans do, think, say, etc, which requires something else to explain how it's possible. And because no one has proposed any something else that makes sense. I don't believe in magical souls, and I'm certainly not going to start believing in them in order to say, "Humans have a universal classical computer plus a soul, which lets them do exactly the same things a universal classical computer with no soul can do.". That'd be silly. And I don't think an iPhone has a soul in the silicon.

The brains of dogs, cats, parrots and monkeys are also universal classical computers. Remember, that's a low bar. It's actually really hard to make a computer do much of anything without making it universal. You can read about Universal Cellular Automata and how little it takes to get universality if you're interested. How easy universality is to achieve, and how there's an abrupt jump to it (rather than there being half-universal computers) is also explained in The Beginning of Infinity.

I won't go into arguing that cat brains are universal computers here. What I will say, briefly, is in what way humans are different than cats. It's kinda like how a PC is different than an iPhone. It has a different operating system and different apps. That's the basic difference between a person and a cat: different software. The hardware is different too, but the hardware fundamentally has the same capabilities, just like iPhones and PCs have different hardware with the same fundamental capabilities: they can do exactly the same computations. Humans have intelligence software of some sort – software which does intelligent thinking. Cats don't.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Praise for Yes or No Philosophy

Feedback on my new philosophy education product, Yes or No Philosophy, is positive so far.

Kate Sams in Fallible Ideas discussion:

“yes-or-no philosophy” is great →

big thanks to Elliot for creating it!

so far i’ve only finished the ~2.5 hour video part, yet have spent over 10 hours thinking and taking notes on the material in the video. there’s a lot of content just in the video itself.

similar to lots of objectivist ideas, yes-or-no philosophy is very applicable to the lives of regular people (i.e. non-professional philosophers) who want to improve at thinking and making choices. so far, it’s just what i hoped it would be.

one thing i’m looking forward to is getting more practice at using the ideas consistently in my daily life. the decision chart idea is terrific. i’ve used it a few times already and it worked great.

i think yes-or-no’s emphasis on clarity and precision (both on the purpose or problem side of things and the candidate ideas side of things) is huge.

it can help you catch when your purpose is flawed, e.g. you are pursuing a bad value.

it can help you catch rationalizations and bias.

it can help you not ignore stray ideas which are hanging around on the periphery of your awareness which you should be considering and which deserve a clear, explicit refutation if you aren’t going to act on them.

it can help you then act with confidence on your judgment. if you are used to acting on fudged approximations, then i think it's easier to just passively drift along. but if you have clear, precise thinking which cuts to the heart of the matter resulting in one clear, nonrefuted idea to act on, then it’s easier to act decisively and confidently on it.

decisively ruling out ideas with clear thinking sets you up to be able to act decisively and direct your life better.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (15)

Is FI Discussion Mean?

People coming to FI need to recognize they are learning about different ideas and dealing with people who don’t share all their assumptions, culture, and expectations. They must therefore be patient and tolerant. They must expect clashes, misunderstandings, conflict, disagreement, and problems. They must have some strength and tolerance to deal with the Other, to challenge themselves, to move past some minor quibbles, to discuss instead of give up when faced with some major conflict, etc.

People who find FI too mean are simply intolerant of people with a different style than them. They are expecting all discussion of bold new ideas to follow their existing ideas about what patterns of discussion are acceptable or unacceptable. But FI proposes that criticism is crucial to learning, and a helpful gift, rather than mean. If people want to deal with something which is grand, special and different, they can’t also expect it to perfectly fit into their existing life with little effort to understand a different world than what they're used to.

People also need to use judgement. FI discussion isn't a guided tour of the key ideas. Not every reply you receive, from every participant, will be great. It's an open place where anyone can join and talk without gatekeepers trying to decide who is worthy. That lets you in the door and it also lets others who aren't all amazing thinkers or even, necessarily, kind people. So what? Judge which responses have value and respond productively to those. Guide your own discussion by having some goals in mind and pursuing them, rather than getting distracted by whatever happens to come up and offended or disappointed that your aimless discussion hasn't achieved a great aim. And if you don't know how to guide your own activities, or what some good goals would be, ask. If you aren't even willing to talk about problems and ask for help, then you should expect to fail.

Making requests is a good strategy. If you want something, ask for it instead of expecting it by default. Do you want replies to you to be written in a particular style you consider "nice", and not to include some types of statements you find "mean"? Tell us what you want instead of expecting us to read your mind. If you can't figure out and write down what you consider nice or mean, you can't very well expect us to accurately guess it. You are used to dealing with people very similar to you in a tiny social circle who have lots of the same poorly-considered assumptions about life that you do. If you want to be exposed to the broader world, you'll have to think about and communicate your ideas more instead of just taking them for granted.

If you think something's mean, instead of getting offended, quote it and say what you think the problem is. You could be right. Perhaps the author could learn from you. Don't assume they are doing it on purpose out of malice. Ignorance and error are common. And misunderstandings are common. Maybe they were trying to say something else that's different than your interpretation. Maybe they'll apologize, admit they were in a bad mood, and try to do better. Maybe they'll point out and challenge some of your philosophical assumptions that you didn't think about. Find out what happens when you discuss a problem instead of thinking your conclusions (e.g. that something is mean and bad) go without saying.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (9)

Book Review: Who Killed Homer?

Who Killed Homer?: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom

by Victor Davis Hanson, John Heath

this is a good book.

it has some great material about why the Greeks matter and how Western civilization is built on their ideas.

it has a long section about the play Antigone (which is just one detailed example – he says you could do a similar thing with many other works) where it points out how the background assumptions of the play (not the main plot) are full of ideas important to our civilization. it has a bunch of sections with a clear thesis (section heading) statement in italics and then a couple pages explaining the point in detail. it's very good, high quality argument and explanation with good organizational structure.

it has a long section about how the people in the field of Classics have been destroying their own profession that gives tons of quotes that are kinda like reading Real Peer Review on twitter. postmodernist feminist marxists writing academic papers... :( it's great to see them using plenty of highly relevant quotes to make their point. unlike in most books, these authors are good at sharing their knowledge.

the authors aren't great on capitalism. they are no Objectivists. a bit moderate. not 100% super fully pro progress and technology. they concede some stuff to the left that i wouldn't – and then point out how the Greeks anticipated this. but they're decent people. this doesn't ruin the book.

it has good info about how broken our universities are and how the field of classics has been destroyed by people who want to teach fewer classes and get more grants and who write inaccessible impressive PC trendy shit instead of saying why the Greeks matter to people's lives and the world. the field of classics is dying in a major way, with there being fewer teachers, fewer students, etc, and when the book came out (~20 years ago) they say basically it's already too late, the destruction is already too far gone. the only solutions are basically some kinda future rebirth or for some non-academics to take an interest in the classics and do some good work that interests more people in it.

the suggestions for fixing universities are bad. they are authoritarian dictates about How Things Should Be. they are sweeping changes, not "here is the smallest change to fix this, and an easy way to fix that". they are more about restoring how universities worked in the past then moving them into the internet age. lots of the criticisms of problems are good points, but i take issue with the style of the solutions.

this book is important. lots of people know the universities are broken and tons of people are indoctrinated in school and come out of school dumb and ignorant. and that's one of the reasons politics is hard – because you're trying to explain ideas to people who are bad at thinking. this book provides actual details about that for an especially important and old/established/traditional field.

the book offers a middle ground. it's not as broad and abstract as general philosophy principles. it offers concretes. but it's much more deep and important than arguing the latest politics from cable news. it gets at the heart of the problem way more than most discourse.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

More Induction Discussion With Robert Spillane

Robert Spillane thought this was particularly important and requested a direct answer. Here it is:

1. Two simple answers to #1 and #2 will suffice - yes or no.

2. 1+1=2 is a necessary truth; '1 pint of water + 1 pint of alcohol = 2 pints of the mixture' is not. Can you not see the difference between the two?

They have many differences and many similarities.

By "the" difference, I guess you mean: that "1+1=2" is a "necessary truth", while the other statement isn't. I don't agree with that because I don't think anything is a necessary truth.

Regarding induction, I've asked several times about a set of instructions someone could follow to do induction. I've been unable to get answers which address basic issues like telling you which ideas to induce and how much inductive support they have. Here's another failure to address the issue, and my comments. This is extremely typical of inductivists. They don't have answers to these questions and wouldn't be inductivists if they understood the questions.

You asked me for details about Stove's Rationality of Induction. Here is a very brief summary (pp. 3-5, 22) which addresses your concerns:

(1) 'That all the many observed ravens have been black is not a completely conclusive reason to believe that all ravens are black' is true and not contingent, even though it mentions two propositions which are contingent:

(2) 'All the many observed ravens have been black.'


(3) 'All ravens are black.'

But (1) is not contingent since it is enough to entail the truth of (1) that it is logically possible that (2) be true and (3) false, whereas something's being logically possible is not enough to entail the truth of any contingent proposition. Therefore, (1), being true and not contingent, is a necessary truth.

Another way of saying (1) is:

(4) 'The inference from (2) to (3) is fallible' and this is also a necessary truth.

The inference from (2) to (3) is an inductive one. So there is at least one inductive inference of which it is necessarily true that it is fallible.

This doesn't answer my question about how (2) and (3) were selected from the infinity of propositions which do not contradict the observation data under consideration. Why those statements instead of some other statements?

I asked about which statements to induce and for instructions someone could follow to do induction, but this description doesn't provide instructions for how to select or create statements (2) and (3) in the first place.

What are the rules of induction? Could one write any statements at all in place of (2) and (3), or what? (I'm familiar with many proposed rules of induction, but none of them work. You apparently think you know of some rules of induction that do work, so I'm asking what they are.)

(5) 'That all the many observed ravens have been black is a reason to believe that all ravens are black' is like (1) in that it is true but not contingent. Like (1) it mentions two contingent propositions, but it does not assert either of them. Its truth, therefore, does not depend on what their truth values happen to be.

Another way of saying (5) is:

(6) 'The inference from (2) to (3) is rational' and this, also, is a necessary truth (pp. 3-5).

Since induction is necessarily fallible, the validity of induction is a subject easily exhausted. 'And as to the truth of the conclusion of an induction, or whether the conclusion of an induction with true premises is true, or whether more of such conclusions are true than are false: well, these of course are all contingent matters, with which philosophers have nothing to do. The success rate among inductions is as little the concern of philosophers as the blackness rate among ravens. Hume, in particular, was as little concerned as the next philosopher with what the long-run success rate of induction might be, and of course he said nothing about this subject; and a fortiori, he said nothing discouraging about it. Yet there are philosophers who do not shrink from the absurdity of implying that in order to 'answer' what Hume said about induction, we would need to establish something encouraging about the long-run success rate of induction. Some people just like to make rope neckties for themselves. But, in general, it is scarcely possible to exaggerate the harm that has been done to the philosophy of induction by philosophers who drift from the success of induction to the rationality of induction, and back again, and all over the place. Squalor rules, OK?' (p. 22).

Now, you will probably reply that this is irrelevant to your concerns since it assumes induction and engages in arguments for and against its rationality. You, on the other hand, insist that induction is a myth. If by 'myth' you mean 'the presentation of facts belonging to one category in the idioms appropriate to another' (Ryle), this means that you accept that there are inductive arguments - from the observed to the unobserved - but believe they are inevitably invalid because the conclusions are not contained within the premises.

But this is not your position. You claim that by 'induction is a myth' you mean that there are NO inductive arguments - that there cannot be (and never have been) arguments from the observed to the unobserved. This is a much stronger claim than 'inductive arguments are invalid'. It is also a claim that is so obviously false that further argument should be unnecessary.

My position that induction is a "myth", in the sense I've described (no one has ever induced anything), is from Popper. Do you know that's Popper's published view and know his reasoning? You are calling Popper's position "so obviously false that further argument should be unnecessary".

I (following Popper again – see e.g. his discussion of manifest truth) don't think that's a reasonable thing to say about anyone's position. The truth isn't obvious, and argument is necessary for dealing with disagreements.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

David Deutsch Interview Undermines His Philosophy

David Deutsch (DD) did an interview on The Christian Transhumanist Podcast.

What is DD’s audience and what is he trying to say to them?

Typical people will understand very little of what DD says. Way too advanced and based on already understanding FoR/BoI. But for me the interview is pretty basic. It’s not really designed to add on to DD’s books with new info nor to help people learn the books. So who is it for?

I think it’s for impressing people who don’t understand it, not for rational learning. I think that’s a typical kind of guest on interviews on this type. Most of what DD is saying happens to be true, but that won’t stop people from treating it just like the next impressive-sounding set of comments (which are false and people find entertaining).

Is DD super popular? No. Why not? Well, are DD’s interview comments very good for impressing people who don’t understand? They’re OK at that but not great. DD doesn’t focus on offering memorable sound bytes people can quote to impress their friends. Nor does he focus on making what he says repeatable for lots of audience members without much fear of contradiction. DD says some stuff that your friends would argue with instead of be impressed by. DD also has a handicap compared to other interview guests, like he discusses in BoI about static memes: making his comments true gets in the way of socially optimizing them. E.g. if you can say false things, it’s easier to say stuff that sounds deep/impressive and also which fits with common sense well enough for lots of listeners to think they kinda partly understand it immediately – DD by contrast said lots of true stuff that will be more clear to listeners that they don’t understand it.

Undermining BoI’s Meaning

The interview as a whole has a tone like: DD is smart and has some sophisticated ideas which could be valuable to some intellectuals.

The interview does not have the following messages coming across:

  • The world is burning and the fate of the world depends on DD’s ideas getting attention. They aren’t getting this attention and this is an urgent the-sky-is-falling problem.
  • DD’s philosophy would make a massive, practical difference in the lives of lay people. People desperately need to learn it, not leave it to the experts.
  • DD is being largely ignored by “intellectuals”, “academics”, and “experts” and there’s a huge problem to solve there. The audience is not safe in thinking smart people are already doing whatever ought to be done about DD’s smart ideas.
  • DD’s philosophy implies people are treating their children immorally and destroying their children’s minds, that most scientists are wasting their careers, that the standard approach to global warming will kill us all, and a lot more.

DD is undermining the implications of his own philosophy by acting as if they don’t exist. A reasonable person hearing the interview would think I’m being ridiculous when I make these claims. Why? Because if that’s what DD’s message was, why didn’t he say it? He chose to talk about other things that matter way less. And he didn’t even protest the lack of attention he’s getting. As a contrasting example, Aubrey de Grey does protest the lack of funding he gets for SENS and does make public claims that he needs lots of money ASAP and it’s a very important life-or-death issue.

Putting On An Act

What’s the structure of the interview? A guy who doesn’t understand much about DD’s work asks DD questions which aren’t chosen very well but which are intended to help bridge the gap between DD and the audience. The host tries to guide DD to say things the audience will care about. DD could do that better without the host existing. DD knows better than the host what to bring up.

The interview also has a dialog/discussion format, but it’s fake because DD is just saying his own stuff and the host isn’t meaningfully contributing ideas.

What determines how the host treats DD? The social expectations of the host role and his deference to DD as someone much smarter than himself. (Whether the host is actually impressed by DD or not, he has to act the part, or else why did he even bring DD on the show?)

It’s somewhat similar to the situation DD would be in teaching a university class. The social situation prevents him from being challenged and designs the interactions so he’s deferred to.

And what does DD do? Give the other people roughly what they expect. DD doesn’t rock the boat. He doesn’t have real power. He’s just playing the role of the important person who gets to speak important truths and be listened to, but then actually he's being careful to say innocuous things. So DD is helping with a cultural ritual which pretends that some smart people get the opportunity to say important things, and DD participates in that but pulls his punches. So people can listen to dozens of such interviews and think they are open-minded, truth is being vigorously pursued, etc, and actually, all the while, every interview guest is dishonest (either like DD they try to avoid rocking the boat, or more commonly they’re actually faking being smart and knowledgeable at all).

It’s kinda like our society chooses one smart person per day and says “ok, today you can speak truth to power, we’re listening with open minds and trying to be objective and rational” and then, every day, each smart person says “our society is wonderful” even though they don’t believe it. and so plenty of people eventually hear hundreds or even thousands of times that everything is fine and wonderful and there’s nothing to worry about or fix. and DD participated in that disgraceful ritual and helped lie to the public and keep them complacent.

DD believes, correctly or not, that if he didn’t play along then he wouldn’t be invited back. And he tells himself he’s at least sharing some good ideas and also building up the popularity, reputation and status to enable him to share even more ideas in the future. And he doesn’t reread The Fountainhead and think about Gail Wynand or other ideas from Ayn Rand like this (The Virtue of Selfishness, ch. 7):

The excuse, given in all such cases, is that the “compromise” is only temporary and that one will reclaim one’s integrity at some indeterminate future date. But one cannot correct a husband’s or wife’s irrationality by giving in to it and encouraging it to grow. One cannot achieve the victory of one’s ideas by helping to propagate their opposite. One cannot offer a literary masterpiece, “when one has become rich and famous,” to a following one has acquired by writing trash. If one found it difficult to maintain one’s loyalty to one’s own convictions at the start, a succession of betrayals—which helped to augment the power of the evil one lacked the courage to fight—will not make it easier at a later date, but will make it virtually impossible.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

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: 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

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)