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Feb 26 2013

I can defend both Lawrence Krauss and philosophy!

Philosophers are still grumbling about Lawrence Krauss, who openly dissed philosophy (word to the philosophers reading this: he recanted, so you can put down the thumbscrews and hot irons for now). This is one of those areas where I’m very much a middle-of-the-road person: I am not a philosopher, at least I’m definitely not as committed to the discipline as someone like Massimo Pigliucci, but I do think philosophy is an essential part of our intellectual toolkit — you can only dismiss it if you haven’t thought much about it, i.e., aren’t using philosophy at all.

So I’m pretty much in agreement with this post about the complementarity of philosophy and science. In fact, I’ll emphatically agree with this bit:

Scientists and mathematicians are really doing philosophy. It’s just that they’ve specialised in a particular branch, and they’re employing the carefully honed tools of their specific shard just for that particular job. So specialised, and so established is that toolkit, that they don’t consider them philosophers any more.

I’ll also agree with the flip side, where he defines philosophy:

Philosophy’s method is bounded only by the finite capacities of human thought. To the extent that something can be reckoned, philosophy can get there. As such, philosophy will never stop asking “why”.

But then I start to quibble (oh, no! I must be infected with philosophy!).

So what this is really saying is that science is a bounded domain of philosophy, while philosophy is unlimited, which sounds like philosophy has the better deal. But I’d argue otherwise: what’s missing in philosophy is that anvil of reality — that something to push against that allows us to test our conclusions against something other than internal consistency. It means philosophy is excellent at solving imaginary problems (which may be essential for understanding more mundane concerns), while science is excellent at solving the narrower domain of real problems. Science has something philosophy lacks: a solid foundation in empiricism. That’s a strength, not a weakness.

I think that’s where philosophers begin to annoy us, when they try to pass judgment using inappropriate referents — which is also how scientists like Krauss can annoy philosophers. And philosophers are so good at rationalizing disagreement away while carping on others. For instance…

Because scientists have a rather poor track record when it comes to doing philosophy.

Sam Harris’s attempt to provide a scientific basis for morality springs to mind, where he poo poos metaethics only to tread squarely in a metaethical dilemma. Or Richard Dawkins and his dismissal of religion as a false belief system, meanwhile dismissing the rather significant psychological and cultural functional roles it has played throughout human history, and may still play today.

Or Krauss, who without a hint of irony, suggests that good philosophers are really just bad scientists, when in fact he’s a good scientist doing philosophy badly. His definition of “nothing” comes not from within science, but is a grope in the dark for a definition that conforms with his particular theoretical predilections. That’s not how one defines things in polite (philosophical) circles, as David Albert pointed out.

After stating that scientists are philosophers and that science is a branch of philosophy, we’re now told that scientists do philosophy poorly. So is he saying that scientists must do science poorly? I know who’s not going to get invited to my next cotillion, that’s for sure.

Rather, scientists do their brand of philosophy very, very well — philosophers seem to be playing a two-faced game here of wanting to claim science as one of their own when they like what it accomplishes, but washing their hands of it when they don’t like it. Nuh-uh, people, you want to call us philosophers, you have to live with the stinking chemicals and the high energy discharges and the reeking cadavers now too.

His examples aren’t persuasive. I’ll skip over Harris, I’m not particularly fond of his efforts to explain morality, but the Dawkins complaint is weird. He does not disregard the immense psychological and cultural roles of religion: in fact, those are reasons why he and I both detest religion, because we’re aware of all the harm it does and has done. That we think the physical and psychological harm is enough that we should change it is not a sign that we’re doing bad philosophy at all; it’s a sign that we scientifical philosophers consider reality and empiricism to be extremely important factors in our thinking…apparently to a greater degree than many non-scientifical philosophers.

As for Krauss, I thought the Albert review was awful — typical unbounded philosophy with no anchor to the truth. Krauss’s definition of “nothing” was not just a grope in the dark. It was a definition built on empirical and theoretical knowledge of what “nothing” is like. Krauss is describing the nothing we have, Albert is describing the nothing he thinks we ought to have. Krauss is being the scientist, Albert is being the philosopher, and the conflict is driven because the philosopher is unable to recognize the prerequisites to doing science well.

I think that appreciating the boundaries of both disciplines as well as their strengths is important for getting along. Krauss may not have appreciated what philosophy has to offer, but a substantial reason for the friction is the smugness of philosophers who disrespect the functional constraints required for doing good science. Scientists don’t get to be “bounded only by the finite capacities of human thought”. We also have to honor the physical nature of reality.

In my head I have the capacity to flap my arms and fly. In the real working world…not so much.

208 comments

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  1. 1
    anteprepro

    I would quote something for truth, but I think it would be ineffective to copy and paste the entire article right below where it was written. So, I simply say *applause*

  2. 2
    jmckaskle

    When Bacon laid the foundations of the scientific method, he was also explicitly rejecting philosophy as a means of aquiring knowledge about the natural world. Calling science a branch of philosophy is to dillute the meaning of philosphy so as to be meaningless. More importantlt, when a philosopher calls science a philosophy, it is only to diminish science and create a false since of gravits for philosophy by association with science. This is the same rhetorical technique creationists use in calling atheism and evolution a religion. By calling science a philosophy, ie. empiricism, methodological naturalism, the philosopher then just handwaves the conclusions of science on dubious philosophical grounds and substitutes his or her philosophical (and especially religious) beliefs.

    Philosophy is no more science than astrology is astronomy, alchemy is chemistry, or shamanism is medicine.

  3. 3
    raven

    Or Richard Dawkins and his dismissal of religion as a false belief system, meanwhile dismissing the rather significant psychological and cultural functional roles it has played throughout human history, and may still play today.

    This makes no sense.

    You could say the same thing about the “rather significant psychological and cultural functional roles played through history” of…

    1. War

    2. Genocide

    3. Slavery

    4. Tribalism

    5. Racism

    6. Religion.

    Doesn’t mean their role is positive or anything except to put behind us and move on from.

  4. 4
    raven

    Or Richard Dawkins and his dismissal of religion as a false belief system, meanwhile dismissing the rather significant psychological and cultural functional roles it has played throughout human history, and may still play today.

    This is gibberish.

    1. Dawkins knows all about religion. That is why he is a militant atheist.

    2. This is why philosophy gets a bad reputation. There is some good philosophy mixed in with a huge amount of rubbish like this.

    Any field where you spend most of your time looking for the former and avoiding the latter is going to have a small audience. It’s a big world and we all have other things to do.

  5. 5
    logicpriest

    @jmkaskle

    Bacon was rejecting Rationalism, not all of philosophy. Rationalism is the school of thought claiming that all of reality can be deduced. Bacon was a founding philosopher of Natural Philosophy. Philosophy is a very, very broad field encompassing pretty much any systemized thought.

  6. 6
    logicpriest

    In fact, there seems to be a lot of conflation of philosophy as a whole with Rationalism.

  7. 7
    pedz

    I would agree that science is a subset of philosophy. I think the essential difference is that when we call something a science what we have in mind is what Thomas Kuhn, in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, called a mature science, that is one in which there is a settled pardigm accepted by most of the practitioners in the field. It seems to me that philosophy is the rational consideration of all subjects (including those laws of reason that we call rational) and that only when a subject acheives a generally accepted paradigm does it become a science. This leaves many subjects for philosophy to consider outside of science.
    Also note that we can have implicit rules for how to conduct science that lead to a generally accepted paradigms without without having quite the same agreement on the rules that permit it. Thomas Kuhn’s ideas on paradigms and paradigm shifts, as well as Karl Poppers ideas on falsifiability and Divid Deutsch’s on the fabric of reality would seem to be examples of this sort of thing. Even more basic to science than the ideas mentioned above are the ideas of the Enlightenment. Enlightenment ideas about the dominance of evidence over dogma and the right of every person to contribute to the conversation and the right of free speech in order to be able to do this are essential to to science.
    At present ideas about free will, consciousness, and exactly what constitutes the individual (the mind, the soul, the spirit, etc.) are still outside the realm of science though science suggests some answers. When scientists debate issues of morality and free will they are outside of science because at present there is no consensis paradigm on these issues. The thing that attracts me to movement atheists is that generally they are not about atheism per se, but about the Enlightenment ideas of the sunordination of dogma to reason. I would say that this explains why most movement atheists have little use for Republicans in their present incarnation.

  8. 8
    nomadiq

    Krauss is describing the nothing we have, Albert is describing the nothing he thinks we ought to have. Krauss is being the scientist, Albert is being the philosopher, and the conflict is driven because the philosopher is unable to recognize the prerequisites to doing science well.

    This is extremely well put and this is probably Krauss’s position on this conflict as well. At least that is what I distill from Krauss’s words. To me, philosophy likes the change the rules and definitions when it comes to this debate about nothingness and it probably does so very innocently as it explores the subject matter. I also think philosophers changes their rules and definitions cynically to maintain their egos. This is possible because philosophy (and hence philosophers) don’t have to so routinely bash their heads up against reality. I for one like my philosophy to be dashes regularly against the rocks of reality. I guess thats why I am a scientist.

  9. 9
    Matt Penfold

    I can recall Daniel Fincke taking issue with Jerry Coyne over the latter’s criticism of a Templeton grant for a philosopher to play let’s pretend God exists, and work out what that would mean. Coyne argued that unless you checked with reality, then any results from assuming God exists would be meaningless. Fincke and others tool issue with Coyne, saying that you might learn something useful anyway.

    I got taken to task by Finke and others for asking how you would know if you had learnt something useful if you did not check your results against reality. Of course in science it can be useful to pretend a hypothesis is true and see what the consequences of that assumption would be. Indeed, this a key part of testing a hypothesis. But their argument seemed to be that no such checks with reality were needed. I still don’t understand how they could know if anything useful had been discovered from the work done under the grant.

  10. 10
    silomowbray, sans frottage pour la douche

    With all of this delightful philosopher-bashing going on, I’ll go against the current a bit and mention Stephen Law, a philosopher whom I find to be both brilliant and not ego-driven.

  11. 11
    cervantes

    Yep, the comment about Dawkins is ridiculous. I just got done re-reading The God Delusion, and the bulk of the book is discussion of the significant psychological and cultural role religion has played throughout history. Hardly dismissive!

  12. 12
    Matt Penfold

    A philosopher I like is AC Grayling. I doubt it is coincidence that he has been critical of philosophers who do not engage with people or reality.

  13. 13
    Bronze Dog

    I agree that science is a branch of philosophy. I’d argue it’s the most successful branch of epistemology by a huge margin. Other branches are worth studying for varying reasons. Ethical philosophy is important for us to get along with each other. Even “failed” branches can be worth studying because they’ve had influence on the ways people think, and can help us understand the people who still operate under those ideas.

    Krauss is describing the nothing we have, Albert is describing the nothing he thinks we ought to have. Krauss is being the scientist, Albert is being the philosopher, and the conflict is driven because the philosopher is unable to recognize the prerequisites to doing science well.

    I think this shows one problem with philosophers who don’t take science to heart, as well as with many faith-based thinkers. They want to define things as if divorced from the universe, like they were designing it from the outside. You can define things all you want, however you want, but if you’re not guided by reality, what use is your definition? Defining something does not create an eidolon to enforce that definition onto reality. Without a real world reference, it’s like arguing over fanfiction, only worse; there’s no author to decree which fan theory is or is not canon.

  14. 14
    llbguy

    You can’t really define philosophy without doing philosophy. But a fairly broad definition could be second-order thinking. There will always be room for that. You wouldn’t have gotten science off the ground if it wasn’t for vigorous defences of the scientific method against prevailing “metaphysics.” And there is still a lot done in analytic philosophy that strives for conceptual clarity, like “what does ‘what does it mean’ mean?”.

    It’s all very interesting. I think much of the resentment of scientists is that much of what they see written is a bit of a wank. Although philosophy is also a heavily combative and tightly guarded arena, you do get people who just dream up something and publish it. But it’s a very human activity. By the same stroke, I think many people can shrug a strident indifference at much of what is written in science, like the lives and trials of newfound multicellular organisms that we still don’t give a damn about. At least poor arguments can be entertaining.

    One of my favourite definitions of philosophy I got from a professor is that it’s main purpose is to critique the self-image of the age. Thus when science has flourished, and we are reaping its rewards, you need some reasoning to keep things fresh and prevent the denigrating distribution of dusty dogmatism. I have that spark of hope that, whatever new and exciting things science learns, and even if we someday reach the limits of explanation, people will still ask “why” and be inspired by that question. That’s the love of it. The philos of it. But it all thrives on pushback. If you speak to philosophers, many of them will be quite welcome to the antagonism.

  15. 15
    barfy

    In studying the history and progress of the 20th century, it can be reasonably surmised that science/math is inextricably linked to philosophy.
    When looking at the real world relationship of Bertrand Russell and Wittgenstein, for instance, or the work of Godel or the advancements in geometry, what has been discovered, in my opinion, is that math/science are MODELS based upon predictability, and as such, are subject to wholesale revision. This has been incorporated into the ‘scientific method’.
    Therefore, what we call, “the real world” is observationally pretty damn predictable by the use of math/science – although not absolutely so – on this level and in this framework of existence.
    The problem lies with our shortcuts.
    We tend to make mental shortcuts that have real world consequences. When someone says that, “math is the universal language,” all s/he is really saying is that math is the most predictable framework for solving certain problems as far as we can tell – and it seems to be internally consistent, except for those damn paradoxes.
    Not very sexy.
    Not wholly universal and not transcendental (whatever that means.)
    What we can say, is that any future model will have to incorporate certain aspects of current math/science.
    So, are scientists also philosophers?
    Yup.
    They are philosophers whose work is specifically narrowed to a range of existence whereby a theory can be developed whose attributes include predictability.
    Sometimes, scientists work on ‘real world’ issues of predictability that are very specific and limited to paragraph D, subsection 13, codicile ALPHA of evo/devo of biology and its application to zebrafish – and sometimes they work on broader topics. The narrow and specific work being necessary, in that its observations can lead to wholesale changes in theory.
    What needs to desperately change in the scientific community, is the concept that the “real working world” is somehow a separate, and often inferred, superior context to the work of philosophers.
    Math/science is a subset of philosophy.

  16. 16
    Kagehi

    You could say the same thing about the “rather significant psychological and cultural functional roles played through history” of…

    1. War

    2. Genocide

    3. Slavery

    4. Tribalism

    5. Racism

    6. Religion.

    I have been reading Sex At Dawn: How We Mate, Why…. (long title… lol). It makes what I think is a not too bad argument that nearly all of those things arise out of “agriculture”, i.e., property ownership. The author even describes cases, like the, apparently “standard reading” in anthropology courses, about one tribe, where a research assistant remained, after the author of the study left, and reached the conclusion that, “The warfare he saw among the tribes where a result of a) breach of taboos, by the author (they have a taboo against speaking the names of the dead, and he wanted to find out people’s genealogy), b) amplification of dislikes and anger into violence (he decided to “get” his genealogical data by finding people in the neighboring tribes that didn’t like someone he wanted to get information on, then coaxing them into giving up the information, which then, others found out about, and passed on to the party that was already annoyed with them, and c) showed up with various “presents”, like steal machetes, which he handed out, probably to the people he was coaxing information from, creating a previously non-existent scarcity of a commodity (think – The God’s Must be Crazy, and the stupid glass bottle). He then completely ignored his own contribution to the mess, and concluded that warfare was “normal” even in hunter-gatherer tribes.

    Sex at Dawn’s author has a fairly long list of this sort of “misinterpretations”, including the tendency of researchers to lump just about bloody every possible temporary housing arrangement, including ones where someone hangs up their hammock in the same building as someone they want to sleep with, then just take it down, and go someplace else, if they decide they don’t want to be there any more, as “marriages”. He points out that even in the Middles East, some countries invent idiotic ideas like, “temporary marriage”, as an excuse to visit women they are not married to (i.e., prostitution, just without the name), and where such things are “permitted”, where more casual contact, or actually hanging a sign out that says, “Will trade sex for money”, will get you stoned to death. Everything we do, he suggests, runs in near total contradiction to how hunter-gatherers live(d), deal with each other, and even the basic facts about “life spans” are mangled beyond all sense, because its “average” life spans, and some methods of bone dating rank everything older then 35 and simply 35+, so that, if you have a massive infant mortality rate, and the bones are not fully dated, you get, “Everyone died before they where 40.”, while, if you date them properly, and ask, “How old was the oldest?”, you get, “90s, possibly 100s, with fewer signs of disease.”, other than presumably tooth decay.. His point being – If you don’t own anything, since everything you have you have to carry, and you don’t own land, animals, or anything else at all of value, why the heck do you need war?

    Someone got the idea of planting crops. Maybe, for them, somehow, this was a huge, initial benefit. Maybe the one that did it invented a religion to tack on, or something. Soon after, we got hit with famines, rapid increases of population, in an escalating mess of, “More people, so we need more food, so we need more people to produce the food.”, and with it came animal husbandry, larger scale cross-species disease (most of the ones we get, including the flu, house themselves “in” our domestic stock, when not passing from person to person), etc. And, of course, someone, somewhere along the line, had to have gotten the idea, “You know, we could use the land those other people are on, and while we are at it.. why not just force them to work for us too…”

    Stripped of the “bias” of assumptions about human violence, and that we are somehow more like chimpanzees, than Bonobo (the first of which may have shown their violence, ironically, due to Goodall having “enticed” them to stay around, and compete, for the limited resource of free bananas, and the later of which has only been observed to very rarely hunt some other lesser primates, and do so with almost no success at all), he makes a fairly good argument that if any “fall” took place, it was a result of being stupid enough to set down permanent structures, and start farming, and that prior to that, nearly every assumption about our violent natures, our sexual views and attitudes, etc., had more in common with 1960s hippies than with what we define as “normal” today.

    This is a major problem with starting with existing data, and trying to build a framework around it, without first being sure the data is right. Science can fall for it, obviously, but self corrects. General philosophy.. has a problem though. Its purpose isn’t to test its own premises, but the invent premises, and explore the possible outcomes, by stating, “Starting with assumption, unfounded or otherwise, that our starting point is valid, what sort of Rube Goldberg logic can we apply to this?” Trying to get useful data out of the result runs the same risks as if you asked an expert on Esoteric programing languages to build an OS, or Esther had been asked to draw a blueprint for a new building, using, as their basis, not “sound, known, workable solutions”, but their “field of expertise”.

  17. 17
    =8)-DX

    Facepalm at Albert’s:

    But the laws have no bearing whatsoever on questions of where the elementary stuff came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular elementary stuff it does, as opposed to something else, or to nothing at all.

    When scientists found explanations for how atoms could be created (or specifically larger atomic number atoms) – in the bodies of exploding stars, science wasn’t answering a “where x comes from” question, or “why x and not y” question. Right.

    This is a complete misrepresentation – science doesn’t claim to answer questions it doesn’t have answers to yet, but it is a gross mistake to say science hasn’t answered why and how questions about the existence of our most fundamental particles. Just because the lowest and most fundamental have not been fully explained as of yet, this doesn’t allow you to say “science can’t tell us where relativistic quantum field theories come from”.

    In other words science answering questions and leading to more questions is an achievement of science not it’s failing. Without science you couldn’t even give any meaning to “relativistic quantum field theories”.

  18. 18
    Ariel

    Scientists and mathematicians are really doing philosophy.

    What’s the point of using the term “philosophy” in such a broad way? I know the term was used in this manner in the distant past, but why should we resurrect this old usage?

    Just something from a paper I read a long time ago. I don’t remember the author’s name, but it was some guy doing both math and philosophy. And he said something like (it’s not an exact quote, only my rendering): “when I have a question which I would like to answer, I ask myself whether I’m competent enough to answer it. I never ask whether it’s a philosophical or a mathematical issue. Let the librarians decide.”

    I sympathize with this perspective. In my own work I collaborate with philosophers, mathematicians and computer scientists. We give joint seminars, we organize joint conferences and workshops. As long as we talk about problems interesting to all of us, nobody cares at which department you work. The division, if any, begins not on a theoretical but on a practical level (libraries, databases, funding). Of course this is only a rather special subgroup of philosophers, doing formal stuff. But … so what? Philosophy departments contain a motley collection of such “special subgroups” (some of them pretty crazy, this I can admit), put there by tradition which didn’t care a shit about preserving standards of some imaginary ‘philosophical purity’. Why not accept it for a fact? What’s the point of criticizing or praising “the only 100 percent pure philosophy”? I don’t know, you tell me.

  19. 19
    kosk11348

    To paraphrase Einstein, I believe that science without philosophy is lame, while philosophy without science is blind.

    That is, philosophy sets out the rules. It governs how we think about things, what we should count as evidence, what counts as knowledge, etc. It’s what allows us to give shape and meaning to a pile of facts. Science is what informs our philosophy, though. It’s the tool that illuminates reality, that adds the numbers into our formulas. Science turns possibilities into probabilities.

    Both depend upon and inform one another.

  20. 20
    unclefrogy

    “were run down
    by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality” Howl

    most of what I hear from philosophy sounds more like a discussion of esthetics and the nature of “beauty” without a reference to a single work of art what ever. We can discus Matisse or Oldenburg or Jimi Hendrix and their place in the development of art and their place in history but what we find appealing in the end is personal and not some ultimate truth outside of our own taste. While the discussion or argument may be entertaining it is kind of so what.
    There may be some interesting questions involved with the subject of philosophy itself it’s history and effects upon our history. If it is not grounded in reality as it is known it sounds like the babbling of someone high on reefer to me and just as incomprehensible and full of esoteric jargon which since I am not inside anyone head but my own I have no idea what they are talking about or why I should take the trouble to find out
    it seems to me that philosophy and philosophers take their point of few their own thoughts which are based on the appearances of things for reality itself, while science asks a much simpler question what is actually real and then tries to test to find out.
    The “Marvel Universe” may be fun but we do not live their.

    uncle frogy

  21. 21
    notsont

    To paraphrase Einstein, I believe that science without philosophy is lame, while philosophy without science is blind.

    I get what your saying and probably don’t disagree but that’s a made up quote Einstein never said it especially not replacing philosophy with religion.

  22. 22
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    My issue with philosophy is where is doesn’t discuss things that are real and concrete and map to reality… how do you tell “good” philosophy from “bad” philosophy from someone just doing “cargo cult” philosophy? The whole enterprise seems to value “clever” over “correct” in a lot of ways, which makes me distrust it on a pretty fundamental level. That, and it seems too easy to abuse big words and citations and convoluted arguments to justify attitudes that lead to other indefensible actions and outcomes.

  23. 23
    =8)-DX

    @unclefrogy
    Dunno, but from the few bits of philosophy I’ve read, they were almost always on some level dealing with actual facts and life experiences. Dang even theology wouldn’t be completely abstract if kosk11348′s “pile of facts” they use weren’t so-called “facts” from the Bible and what other theologians came up with later.

    what I hear from philosophy sounds more like a discussion of esthetics and the nature of “beauty” without a reference to a single work of art what ever. We can discus Matisse or Oldenburg or Jimi Hendrix and their place in the development of art and their place in history but what we find appealing in the end is personal and not some ultimate truth outside of our own taste.

    And here is where I’d strongly disagree, having read Proust’s Search, which albeit not a directly philosophical book, manages to treat both “beauty” and “time” with reference to specific works of art (described), situations, experiences while creating something definitely not just personal. Such discussions can be of a generally useful and informing nature to others, because they describe experiential realities that we (can) all share.
    I just think you’re dividing things all the wrong way. There is a philosophy of art and there are general principles of aesthetics and you can’t think or talk about a whole host of subjects without employing philosophical thinking yourself, including scientific ones. I think it’s much more accurate to say that what was previously “pure” philosophy has branched in to all kinds of disciplines, many now within strong empirical constraints, so that a “pure” philosopher nowadays has only the mind, experience and existance to deal with.

  24. 24
    Sastra

    Philosophy’s method is bounded only by the finite capacities of human thought. To the extent that something can be reckoned, philosophy can get there. As such, philosophy will never stop asking “why.”

    That’s pretty much how I learned it as well: philosophy is the general pursuit and “love of knowledge” and science evolved off of empirical philosophy. So yes, science is a subset of philosophy.

    What really makes this interesting though is the relationship now between religion and philosophy. On this reading religion is also a subset — it has particular claims, methods, ethics, and so forth which identify it as a kind or branch of philosophy. A BAD branch. You can use better philosophy to debunk it just as you can use science to debunk pseudoscience.

    A little while ago I think it was Bill O’Reilly who argued that Christianity wasn’t a religion — it was a philosophy. I pointed out that this was stupid even if you granted that religion falls under the broad category of ‘philosophy.’ Unless you’re going to totally humanize it, take God out and turn it into poetry, then Christianity is obviously a religious philosophy and religious philosophy = religion.

    Or Richard Dawkins and his dismissal of religion as a false belief system, meanwhile dismissing the rather significant psychological and cultural functional roles it has played throughout human history, and may still play today.

    So what is this critic saying? Is he saying that yes, sure, religion is a false belief system but just look at all the other stuff which tags along with it and may have some value for its own sake? Or is he saying that no, religion is NOT a false belief system because it involves art, emotion, and community and so it’s not fair or relevant to go into whether it’s true or not?

    Look, once the truth claims which are unique to religion — which define it specifically as religion and not just a life philosophy or personal therapy or communal tradition — are dismissed then religion has been dismissed. As Greta Christina says, the most important point atheists need to get across to believers is that religion is a hypothesis. It involves claims about the nature of reality, of the existence and relationship between the supernatural and the natural. Remove it from being true and you’re not really dealing with finding value IN religion anymore. If anything is still good, it’s obviously good despite the religious involvement.

  25. 25
    Ichthyic

    science, bounded, moves slowly but gives us answers that work.
    philosophy, unbounded, moves swiftly but gives us an infinite number of answers.

  26. 26
    alkisvonidas

    Krauss’s definition of “nothing” was not just a grope in the dark. It was a definition built on empirical and theoretical knowledge of what “nothing” is like. Krauss is describing the nothing we have, Albert is describing the nothing he thinks we ought to have.

    I’m a physicist, not a philosopher, so once again let me ask: what is the “nothing we have”, other than a contradiction in terms? And why call it “nothing” when “vacuum” is a perfectly acceptable term? The only reason I can think of is, in order to deceive non-experts — or oneself.

    You cannot answer empirically the question of why reality is, fundamentally, what it is, simply because you have experience of only this one world. The only question you can answer empirically is how the past transformed into the present. The question of the origin of natural laws is beyond all methods of research I have been taught as a scientist. But then, I might just be ignorant, please enlighten me.

    Sure, chemistry has “deduced” the existence of elements and physics the existence of elementary particles and forces, and we now have much better mathematical tools than 3 centuries ago. We no longer have to check every odd hypothesis or mathematical possibility, we can “rule out the impossible”. But that is because we have been investigating the case for so long, we now know the suspects and victims inside and out. It does not mean the murder had to happen of necessity. It doesn’t mean the murder weapon had to be a knife. It’s just that things happen to be this way, and given that, the rest of necessity follows.

  27. 27
    Ichthyic

    You cannot answer empirically the question of why reality is, fundamentally, what it is, simply because you have experience of only this one world.

    but then one has to ask…

    what is the value of the question?

  28. 28
    alkisvonidas

    but then one has to ask…

    what is the value of the question?

    I can only tell you, I cannot help but wonder if the universe could have been different, or not exist at all. Maybe the question is meaningless. In any case, I know it’s way over my head.

  29. 29
    unclefrogy

    “”I just think you’re dividing things all the wrong way. There is a philosophy of art and there are general principles of aesthetics and you can’t think or talk about a whole host of subjects without employing philosophical thinking yourself, including scientific ones””
    sure that can be very interesting and sometimes even fun and I ca derive some “truth” out of but it is completely personal experience even emotional one but it will not change anything it only can describe what I experience and while it may have relevance to what others experience it is anecdotal isn’t it, just one data point? I do not mean that philosophy has not any significance it does but just the same as religion it is historical and sociological.
    Reality is very interesting while I find the discussions of reality as done by philosophers and philosophy as boring as I usually find the abstract discussions of the nature of art as practiced by some ”Art Critics”.
    my own personal taste you understand does not change reality or descried it it is just my experience others may even agree or not.
    uncle frogy

  30. 30
    markd555

    One of the last things a philosopher deals with is if something is true or not. And when they get to that point, then they try and dismiss the existence of true, redefine it, or make it subjective.

    Bunch of mental masturbation.

    Philosophy can be a great source of new ideas and inspiration; much like brainstorming. But after you brainstorm, you wipe the whiteboard clean of the bunkus and take only the good ideas. With Philosophy you publish the bad and silly ideas.

  31. 31
    cjcolucci

    Why is there something rather than nothing? Beats me; I know nothing about nothing. I know something about many varieties of something, and have observed many somethings turning into other somethings — ashes, dust, and what-not — but I’ve never observed nothing, or something becoming nothing. I have no idea what properties, if any, nothing might have. People tell me that something can’t come from nothing as if it were a basic truth of logic, but I don’t know that. Since there manifestly is something now, either it can come from nothing, or, if it can’t, there never was nothing. So why is it that something, which we observe constantly and somewhat understand, has to be explained, while nothing, which we’ve never observed and know nothing about, is treated as some kind of assumed default position that doesn’t require explaining?
    And while we’re at it, where do the laws of physics come from? That one’s easy — they come from physicists. Reality does what it does. We observe, categorize, and rationalize, and, when the physicists have played around enough, they formulate “laws” as a shorthand for what reality does. Why does reality do what it does? Beats me, but it has to do something, and we’ve gotten a fair handle on it. What else is there?

  32. 32
    Sastra

    PZ wrote:

    I can defend both Lawrence Krauss and philosophy!

    Accomodationist.

  33. 33
    llbguy

    With Philosophy you publish the bad and silly ideas.

    okay, find the published philosophy paper that is “bad and silly.”I think you might find many jargon-laden ones, but none that are just farces (except for the Sokal hoax, which was satirizing postmodernism).

    Scientists say silly things like theorizing about spontaneous generation, and get corrected. Same happens in philosophy, it’s the same academic peer-reviewed process of “minds at work.” philosophy gets a little more short shrift because much of its insights are not useful, and cannot be applied in marketable ways. But without political philosophy, for example, you may not have free societies where knowledge can even be honestly pursued. Just get to know some philosophers and make them real to you.

  34. 34
    geraldostdiek

    Argh – - – I mostly tell myself not engage with this, but… See, I’m a long time lurker, and have occasionally posted here under another name. But I’m no longer a phl grad student (phl of sci, that is), now i is a lowly phlassisprof. And it’s late, the lady friend is sleeping and guess I’ll toss in: Rubbish. Science is not a “specialized branch of philosophy” and while individual philosophers may share certain goals with individual scientists (such as getting a beer after work or increasing human knowledge), they don’t to the same thing at all. Neither is subordinate to the other, they do different things.

    Part of being human means having some mental picture or *map* of what-is. Scientists methodologically check such *maps* against facts, to see if some particular notion of what-is actually is. Philosophers (and remember that I am a card carrying member of the guild) don’t do this. We (at least the better ones) rely on scientists here (or else we bone up and try to do it ourselves – though we generally aren’t as good as the professionals). What philosophers do is quite different, we methodologically check ideas against ideas, we want to see how well mental maps work as maps – if they suffer from symbolic incoherence or are otherwise unreadable. This is why we spend so much time defining things such as *nothing* or *maps* (which, as I hope we can all remember, “are not the territory”). This practice is most often opposed by folks who claim some sort of preternatural knowledge (“oh come one, we all know what is is) such as creationists, or naive realists (which is the technical term for people who think that they can just ‘look and see’, no falsification, theoretical construction or methodological doubt needed). Sometimes, these people are religious, sometimes they are scientifous, but seldom are they working scientists (who, I have found, often have a healthy respect for what philosophers do). More, in every epoch scientists have tried their hand at philosophy, often with mixed results. But in some instances, they have had far greater success than philosophers have had at science. (I’ve long had a soft spot for Bronowski, for example.)

    Just as science is (for all practical purposes) never finished, neither is philosophy. It should be apparent that I am arguing that the two disciplines work best when they work together – but this only happens when 1) Philosophy is cleanly divorced from religious apologetics (look, every discipline has its dark side – re: The Mismeasure of Man), and philosophy still suffers from fucktards who simply cannot get over their metaphysical gobbldygook: and 2) Science pulls that stick out of its ass and recognizes the fact that it simply has no metric by which it can asses the relative valuation of actual minding events (mental “mapping”), but that this is sometimes a necessary thing to do, and that there is a distinct but complementary field (philosophy) that does exactly this.

    Finally, I want to poke at one last bugbear – Dennett, who, as a general rule, is acclaimed ‘the greatest philosopher eveh’ by folks who have never read any philosophy except a little by Dennett. He isn’t, ok? He has his moments (I love his work on zombies), but he neither epitomizes, nor ends, philosophy. If his oft tortured claim that philosophy is ‘over’ has any meaning, it is simply as an echo of Fukuyama’s claim of the same for History, which, for those of you taking notes, is over. Ok, tak, a na schledanou

  35. 35
    Argle Bargle

    okay, find the published philosophy paper that is “bad and silly.

    Alvin Plantinga’s Evolution vs. Naturalism paper where he uses his misunderstanding of both evolution and statistics to attempt to shoot holes in materialism.

  36. 36
    lostintime

    I can’t comment on how philosophy contributes to the advancement of science, which seems to be Lawrence Krauss’s main complaint, but on a personal level it has improved my thinking about a whole range of political issues. I don’t recognise the complaint in a number of posts that philosophy is just a shouting match or that it isn’t grounded empirically. Two ways in which philosophy has changed my world view, and in a way that science without an examination of values probably could not have done, is the status of animals and our obligations towards the global poor. I think that anything that makes us more self-critical or challenges the way we think about familiar subjects has got to be worthwhile.

  37. 37
    strange gods before me ॐ

    geraldostdiek,

    philosophy still suffers from fucktards

    Like using permutations of dyke or gay or queer as insults, this is hurtful to innocent bystanders.

  38. 38
    Lowpro

    Sounds like a mistake of the Anthropic Principle -.-

  39. 39
    consciousness razor

    But I’d argue otherwise: what’s missing in philosophy is that anvil of reality — that something to push against that allows us to test our conclusions against something other than internal consistency.

    It’s not “missing” scientific methods. Philosophers certainly can take that (or “reality” to use your loaded term) into account and still not be doing “science” in the strict sense. It just isn’t needed for everything philosophers do.

    Science has something philosophy lacks: a solid foundation in empiricism. That’s a strength, not a weakness.

    Philosophy doesn’t lack that as a solid foundation. Some (non-empiricist) philosophy does, but you shouldn’t confuse that with philosophy itself.

    After stating that scientists are philosophers and that science is a branch of philosophy, we’re now told that scientists do philosophy poorly. So is he saying that scientists must do science poorly?

    No, he’s saying that not all “real” problems are scientific ones, so if you try to approach them that way by using scientific methods (which are philosophical), you’re using the wrong kind of philosophical method, even if scientifically the work is impeccable. That’s what the whole ‘science is a branch of philosophy’ bit was about, in case you forgot that you had just agreed with that.

    As for Krauss, I thought the Albert review was awful — typical unbounded philosophy with no anchor to the truth. Krauss’s definition of “nothing” was not just a grope in the dark. It was a definition built on empirical and theoretical knowledge of what “nothing” is like.

    Don’t be absurd. He defined nothing “empirically” as a kind of something, so that he could answer questions about that kind of something. That’s fine. But when philosophers say he’s not answering their questions about their version of ‘nothing’ which isn’t a kind of something, what are we to do? Did Krauss go out and observe the philosophers’ ‘nothingness’ somehow? No? Then I think it’s reasonable to conclude, without even understanding their issues with the concept in depth, that he can’t very well say much about it. His definition isn’t anchored to some unvarnished truth about what the concept means, so his empirical and theoretical knowledge, as useful as it is, isn’t useful for concluding what that must be.

    Krauss is describing the nothing we have, Albert is describing the nothing he thinks we ought to have.

    Ridiculous. Where exactly did Albert describe what we ought to have? He’s saying that whatever merits Krauss’ empirical approach has, it doesn’t address all of the philosophical issues. Perhaps some other empirical approach can do that in whole or in part, so that in principle it’s strictly a scientific matter; but there’s no reason to think Krauss has given the solution which explains it all, so that the matter is effectively settled and empirically-minded philosophers like Albert can go to work on something else. Krauss didn’t even want to explain it all, nor did he, so let’s just give him credit for what he actually did.

    Krauss is being the scientist, Albert is being the philosopher, and the conflict is driven because the philosopher is unable to recognize the prerequisites to doing science well.

    Ask yourself whether one of the prerequisites of doing philosophy well is doing science well. If you can do philosophy which isn’t science, then there are philosophical issues for which science isn’t adapted. Perhaps the non-scientific part is all bullshit, so it doesn’t matter that science isn’t adapted for it, but if that’s your view, you could at least not confuse those two very different claims.

  40. 40
    raven

    okay, find the published philosophy paper that is “bad and silly.”I think you might find many jargon-laden ones, but none that are just farces (except for the Sokal hoax, which was satirizing postmodernism).

    This is an attempt at humor right?

    Just about any philosophy paper chosen at random is trash.

    But do try to limit it to famous trash.

    As already mentioned above, Alvin Plantinga has murdered many a tree to produce nothing but garbage. WL Craig at least managed to inject his own brand of vile evil in as well.

    Add in Josh McDowell, Strobel, all the Postmodernists, any philosophy work that attacks evolution, and probably many others. I don’t keep too close a track on what is setting the pace on bad and silly philosophy. My hobbies and interests are a lot more worthwhile.

  41. 41
    Azuma Hazuki

    @35/Ulysses and 40/Raven

    Ohhh, gods yes. It’s taken a lot of self control not to just throw up my hands and say “fuck philosophy!” because of people like this. Plantinga actually made me wonder if I were schizophrenic for a short while, because the EAAN was so utterly full of shit and easy to refute I wondered if my brain were broken and I were missing something obvious and self-evident that would make the argument work. Because after all, no respected and highly-paid philosopher would be anything but scrupulously honest and well-read, right?

    And then there are the presuppositionalists. These are the people who exemplify Luther’s “reason is a whore.” And she is, but in an enlightened society we punish the pimps and the johns, and these are the worst of them. I have never hated anyone so much as these people, except maybe corporate criminals and war profiteers, and for much the same reasons. Craig may be vile but at least he makes some token effort to interface with reality.

    I propose a new theorem, Azuma’s Law: All apologetics eventually devolves into presuppositionalism.

  42. 42
    Ichthyic

    He’s saying that whatever merits Krauss’ empirical approach has, it doesn’t address all of the philosophical issues.

    again, I ask the same question as earlier:

    what is the value of the issues addressed outside of an empirical approach?

    demonstrate with examples.

    trace the history.

  43. 43
    Marcus Ranum

    One branch of philosophy, epistemology (the study of knowledge) encompasses the scientific method since it is a method of achieving knowledge. Science is an application of philosophy as is skepticism – which is a foundation of the scientific method.

    Philosophy has a built-in bad name with scientists as a result of how science applications leapt out of the enlightenment and have powered civilization ever since. The enlightenment battlefield that many scientists participated in had suffered a several hundred years-long (but culminating in the mid 1700s) scorched-earth epistemological war in which extreme skepticism (pyrronism) was used as a sort of weapon of mass destruction between the predominant religious factions in Europe. Both the catholics and the protestants resorted to pyrronist skeptical tropes to obliterate eachother’s foundational claims to know anything about the truth-claims they relied on. If they hadn’t been so deadly serious, it would have been pretty good fun – but they were and it wasn’t. In consequence you had the scientists and science-minded thinkers of the day (Voltaire, D’Alembert, De Chatelet, Leibniz, Descartes, Bayle) and the science-minded political thinkers of the day reject epistemological warfare as pointless. When Hume fired the coup de grace through the epistemology wars mainstream science had already moved on and was blasting toward the horizon and discovered that you could do technology and change the human experience, without having an answer to epistemological mutual slapping sessions. Epistemology and skepticism have done a tremendous amount to discredit philosophy with practical-minded people since the time of Socrates: it started out annoying and achieved great heights of annoying.

  44. 44
    Ichthyic

    Perhaps the non-scientific part is all bullshit, so it doesn’t matter that science isn’t adapted for it, but if that’s your view, you could at least not confuse those two very different claims.

    well, you leave that there as if it’s not relevant to your entire argument.

    to me, this is the ONLY relevant and interesting issue to answer.

    IS the non-scientific part of philosophy all bullshit? How can we tell?

  45. 45
    Ichthyic

    If they hadn’t been so deadly serious, it would have been pretty good fun

    and therein lies the rub. I studied philosophy for over 10 years, across many disciplines. My conclusion was that indeed, it’s a great mental exercise, and fun, but should never be taken seriously.

  46. 46
    Marcus Ranum

    PS – There is no higher “go buy and read this book” recommendation I can give than Popkin’s “History of skepticism, from Savanarola to Bayle” If you’re interested in an absolutely fascinating overview of how skepticism in some of its more extreme forms like pyrronism interacted with religion and science during the enlightenment, it’s a brilliant brilliant book. I know you’re used to reading book reviews that say “awesome” and stuff like that, so you’re probably inured to superlatives, but – really – this is a great book. It is extremely relevant to all the issues surrounding skepticism and the purposes for which it is used today.

  47. 47
    Marcus Ranum

    Ichthyic @#45:
    My conclusion was that indeed, it’s a great mental exercise, and fun, but should never be taken seriously.

    I felt that way for a long time and laughed off philosophy until a decade or so ago when I started reviewing the classics (and was fortunate enough to start with “Story of Philosophy” by Will Durant, and then Popkin) After a couple years of reading I agreed with Popkin that philosophical challenges to claims of knowledge (AKA: jerking off) played a tremendous role in refining and improving scientific thinking. It certainly improved mine some much-appreciated smidgeon. I don’t know about schools nowadays but I hearken back to my high school philosophy classes and I remember how bored I was when learning about logical fallacies and the various types.*

    If you think back over the various things you thought about when you were studying philosophy, can you honestly say it was wasted effort? Or perhaps did you find as I did that studying philosophy materially improved how you think?

    (*I was really lucky that our school chaplain, who taught philosophy, was an impeccably honest thinker. As he said, that came from his study of philosophical classes and not from divinity school. Thank you Rev. Leighton wherever you are!)

  48. 48
    consciousness razor

    again, I ask the same question as earlier:

    what is the value of the issues addressed outside of an empirical approach?

    demonstrate with examples.

    Understanding what we mean by “existence,” for example. Understanding what’s necessary and what isn’t, along with how we can know that. If you don’t value trying to understand that sort of thing, I don’t see I why I should care.

    trace the history.

    The history of what? The history of the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” Why should I attempt that in a comment, when Krauss didn’t in a whole book which purports to give a solution?

    well, you leave that there as if it’s not relevant to your entire argument.

    My entire argument? What do you think that is? Part of my argument is that PZ misinterpreted (or intentionally distorted) what the article’s argument is, as well as Albert’s (and Krauss’, for that matter). It’s not relevant to that, since if philosophy’s all bullshit, he didn’t interpret it correctly; and if it isn’t all bullshit, he still didn’t interpret it correctly.

    IS the non-scientific part of philosophy all bullshit? How can we tell?

    I don’t know. That’s your claim. You tell me.

  49. 49
    Azuma Hazuki

    How does one defend against bad philosophy? It seems like it’s a discipline or a mental martial art, being able to look over arguments and pick them apart…I’m frankly tired of it, but I have to do it, as do we all.

  50. 50
    llbguy

    Just about any philosophy paper chosen at random is trash.

    But do try to limit it to famous trash.

    As already mentioned above, Alvin Plantinga has murdered many a tree to produce nothing but garbage. WL Craig at least managed to inject his own brand of vile evil in as well.

    Add in Josh McDowell, Strobel, all the Postmodernists, any philosophy work that attacks evolution, and probably many others. I don’t keep too close a track on what is setting the pace on bad and silly philosophy. My hobbies and interests are a lot more worthwhile.

    I mean from credible academic journals, And before you go all “Scotsman” on me, I will say the sword slices both ways. Want me to dredge up some Christian “Science”?

  51. 51
    Marcus Ranum

    How does one defend against bad philosophy?

    Understand that it’s the same weapon you’re using when you “reason” and make it your weapon?

    Longer form: the way to defeat philosophical arguments is with other philosophical arguments. That’s why you see so many tedious references in most philosophy books – it’s the philosopher’s way of saying, in effect, “Yes, I thought about the problem so-and-so posed and that’s what is under consideration now.” It tends to make philosophy books very cross-referenced. But just recognize that that’s the same thing as citations in the back of a science paper: if you’re trying to argue that you’ve conclusively demolished the Euthyphro dilemma, you start by referencing the first source and then the relevant attempts that you’re saying didn’t work so that you can explain how you build upon them. This is exactly what a scientist does as well! Let’s say you’re arguing that Alzheimer’s is a prion (I am making this example up, deliberately choosing something I don’t know much about!) you’d start by explaining the state of knowledge, then supply citations to how you established that base of knowledge, then move to some of the other arguments that have been made regarding the topic (and some citations on prions) and then you’d argue against some theories and cite evidence contradicting those theories and build on all that by explaining your theory and then introducing and expounding on your argument with citations to supporting evidence. Scientists pull the references out of line and include them at the end of their papers but philosophers do them in-line. That’s about the only difference!! For those who think science and philosophy are different things somehow – consider how you construct a theory, cite contradictory or supporting evidence, expound on it, and finish by defending your conclusion – that is how philosophers argue. Where do you think scientists learned it from? (“Aristotle” might be a good answer!)

    So the problem with philosophy is not the method, it’s having the backing knowledge to support your position or refute someone else’s. When you see some philosopher say “you beg the question here” and then discard a piece of work what you’re seeing is that they’re relying on a body of established methods (just like a scientist does!) without having to refer to the exhaustive details. Just as a biology professor is within their rights to assume that a graduate-level biologist knows what a prion is, a philosophy professor assumes anyone claiming to be doing philosophy understands what begging the question is. There are also clues you can drop in your discussion – for example, regarding begging the question, I might say “they should understand circular reasoning” (thereby indicating that I know what begging the question is – but it’ll sail right by you if you don’t) or a biologist referring to prions might refer to them a second time as (I don’t actually know enough about prions, I just picked that, so I won’t embarrass myself by trying)

    Philosophers seem to be making inside and obscure arguments when they flip out phrases like “the is/ought chasm” but you can think of that as a function call that invokes a whole bunch of arguments from Hume, by reference, so it’s not necessary to refer to the problem of moral induction in detail. (see what I did there?) The only way to play in that kind of scene is to have the necessary backing knowledge. Just as the only way I could play with PhDs in biology who are talking about prions would be to be pretty darned up-to-date about the current state of knowledge in that sub-field.

    Philosophy gets a bad reputation for being dismissive of its victims, but that only happens if you don’t have the backing knowledge to tussle with your opponent. (And knowing the basic holds and throws is a good idea, too!) But if you understand how to reason scientifically, you’re already doing philosophy of a most profound and interesting kind!

  52. 52
    Marcus Ranum

    How does one defend against bad philosophy?

    Oh, yeah, one more thing. You occasionally encounter philosophy that is ridiculous to many other philosophers. Post-modernism, for one example; the idea that our cultural filters so deeply affect our reality that we can argue that because Marcus is a white cis male, he literally lives in a different universe than Ian Cromwell* There are a lot of philosophers whose reaction to post-modernism is similar to a physicist’s reaction to Velikovsky’s planetary hijinks: they roll their eyes, mutter something about “bullshit” and remember that they had to be someplace else, talk to you later, yadda yadda.

    (*I love Crommunist’s blog and would be pretty pissed off if someone said I couldn’t understand it because I am from a different universe! But that’s just an example.)

  53. 53
    Azuma Hazuki

    @51

    Very interesting…you described my thought process, especially the part about thinking of certain philosophical gambits as function calls (though I’d say more like “commands to stored data passed through tar or unzip).

    Seems like philosophy requires the ability to hold a ridiculous amount of information in the mind and in storage at once.

  54. 54
    raven

    I will say the sword slices both ways. Want me to dredge up some Christian “Science”?

    Your imaginary sword isn’t going to do much.

    Because you are obviously blatantly wrong.

    1. How much of philosophy is trash requires someone to weigh it. And who the hell cares? This is garbage we are talking about here, after all.

    I’d guess about 80-90%. But I have a finite lifespan and lots to do and weighing someone else’s garbage isn’t how I spend my time.

    I can’t think of many fields with that low a risk to reward ratio.

    2. And libguy strikes with his sword and finds out it was designed by a philosopher and only exists in Plato’s realm.

    BTW, what is that smear about Christian science. This is an atheist blog you idiot.

    I’ll assume you just meant science and were temporarily confused as to where you were. Sure science has produced garbage.

    The proportion is rather small and it gets taken out regularly.

    Science is self correcting. There is a trash removal procedure.

    Garbage removal services are highly recommended and essential for a civilized society.

    And now explain how philosophy gets rid of its trash.

    With no means of empirical verification, there is no real way to sort through and tell the good from the bad. The trash just builds up and keeps getting recycled. To take one example, Intelligent Design predates xianity, having been thought up by the Greeks. 2+ millennia later, it is still a leading religious creationist idea.

  55. 55
    Marcus Ranum

    especially the part about thinking of certain philosophical gambits as function calls (though I’d say more like “commands to stored data passed through tar or unzip).

    I’m an old C programmer from the 80s and nearly wrote
    #include
    but since I was about to trash postmodernism for being obscure, I thought it would be a bad move. ;)

    Seems like philosophy requires the ability to hold a ridiculous amount of information in the mind and in storage at once.

    Kinda like evolutionary biology, rocket engine design, and economics? Yeah.

    There are basic methods and there are details. You can’t get anywhere with just the details because then you don’t know how to use the methods (again, just like science: imagine a biologist who knew a mountain of details about clade trees but didn’t understand natural selection!) You need both but without the fundamentals, you’re helpless.

    Since I’m holding forth, let me ramble more (because: free speech!) in my earlier comment I said that skepticism is one of the core methods of science. What I meant is that the idea of “refuting” an argument, or falsifying it, is exactly the same as the process used in science. So, let me illustrate an example of the basic tools of philosophy in action! Someone earlier mentioned William Lane Craig. He’s a good pinata for this example. Let’s say we’re talking about Craig. I’d say, “He’s a presuppositionalist.” And then I’d be surprised if you still wanted to talk about Craig because, when I dismissed him as a presuppositionalist, I did:
    #include
    and was calling upon the assumption that you knew a few of the arguments against presuppositionalism. Now, if you didn’t and you said “what?” then a more patient person might explain why presuppositionalism relies on circular reasoning and false equivalency. Or you might look up presuppositionalism on wikipedia (the arguments against it that are presented there are pretty good, but a bit overcomplicated for my taste) Right? It’s a basic scientific research process!

    I remember when room temperature fusion (Fleischmann and Pons) was big news and I asked one of my friends who was an experimental physicist and he said, “we’ll know in a couple days!” and I said “why?” and he replied, “oh, because if the experimenters show signs that they’re dying of radiation poisoning then maybe they actually did produce some fusion.” So what my friend Daniel did right there was reference a humongous body of established physics that would argue for or against F&P’s apparent result in a rather incontrovertible way. It’s like when an evolutionary biologist says “all you have to do to disprove evolution would be to find a fossilized rabbit in carboniferous period shale.” Again – referencing a huge body of knowledge with a simple sentence or two. This is why I see no practical difference between good philosophy and good science: the methods used to argue them are the same, it’s the underlying knowledge that’s depended on which is different.

  56. 56
    consciousness razor

    How much of philosophy is trash requires someone to weigh it. And who the hell cares? This is garbage we are talking about here, after all.

    You are talking garbage, it’s true.

    BTW, what is that smear about Christian science. This is an atheist blog you idiot.

    I’ll assume you just meant science and were temporarily confused as to where you were. Sure science has produced garbage.

    So at first you don’t get what that was about, then you clearly do with your last statement. It’s a good excuse to call someone an “idiot,” I guess, so why not? It’s pure garbage and isn’t the least bit interesting to see you pretend to struggle through a concept you had no problem understanding, but do what you will. Whatever you’re doing, it’s not science, that’s for sure. And if it’s not Scottish science, it’s crap, am I right?

    And now explain how philosophy gets rid of its trash.

    With no means of empirical verification, there is no real way to sort through and tell the good from the bad.

    Sorry, run that by me again. When you think about what a concept means and whether that concept jives with others, what sort of “empirical verification” do you expect someone to do? And what would be the fucking reason for expecting that?

    The trash just builds up and keeps getting recycled. To take one example, Intelligent Design predates xianity, having been thought up by the Greeks. 2+ millennia later, it is still a leading religious creationist idea.

    Give a single non-religious example of philosophy. Do that not because you want to show you’ve wasted lots of your time learning all about it, but to demonstrate that you have even a shred of clue what the fuck you’re talking about.

  57. 57
    Ichthyic

    I don’t know. That’s your claim. You tell me.

    weaselly weasel is weasling.

  58. 58
    Marcus Ranum

    now explain how philosophy gets rid of its trash.

    The same way science does: by refuting it. Instead of using experiment, using argument. Here’s an example of some philosophical trash that has wound up on the scrap heap: virtually everything Saint Augustine wrote. Augustine thought he was making philosophical arguments and, dare I say, no educated philosopher takes Augustine’s arguments as convincing – they’re historically interesting in the same way that phlogiston and N-rays are interesting to physicists. There are huge parts of Aristotle that are of historical interest but have been conclusively rejected, i.e.: trashed. It’s probably safe to say that most of Descartes has been trashed. We still learn about the “cogito” argument because it’s a good way to teach a student about the difficulty of bridging a very serious gap in establishing knowledge – and we trash Descartes by pointing out that “cogito, ergo sum” is a great big unsupported assumption. Spinoza’s system of the universe is probably trashed (if anyone even bothers to understand it well enough to trash it, anymore) and there are countless others.

    Imagine a scientist who writes 5 theories in his life. One is so good, well-supported, and ground-breaking that they win a Nobel prize for it. The other 4 get shredded pretty quickly. Because we shred the 4, that doesn’t invalidate the one. That’s why (for example) Epicurus’ cosmology is only regarded as of historical interest – the philosophical equivalent of N-rays – but some of his other arguments are are brilliant and hard to refute today as they were when he cooked them up. Just like scientists, philosophers pick through the pieces and keep the pieces they can’t demolish, saving the rest as being of interest to the historian (but, like N-rays, a worthwhile example of how you can get things wrong and something you need to avoid).

    If I was being argumentative I’d point out that religion is a form of philosophical world-view and that philosophy has pretty thoroughly rejected and trashed it, because it rests on some very obvious and unsupported assumptions. (Trash Saint Augustine and you do a lot of collateral damage to theology, to which I say, “good riddance”)

  59. 59
    Ichthyic

    Want me to dredge up some Christian “Science”?

    what the buggering fuck?

    if you meant “Christian Science”, that is a religion.

    if you mean “Christian” science it doesn’t exist.

    if you mean Christians doing science, the science is compartmentalizable from the Christian part.

  60. 60
    Ichthyic

    The same way science does: by refuting it

    refuting it… logically.

    I can make perfectly logical statements that are entirely rhetorically sound, and still they would be considered to be trash.

    you can too, it’s not hard at all.

    so, I’m not sure you’re getting what is being asked here.

    but some of his other arguments are are brilliant and hard to refute today as they were when he cooked them up.

    brilliant… how, exactly. what makes them brilliant? why haven’t they been refuted? HOW would you personally go about refuting them?

  61. 61
    Marcus Ranum

    Give a single non-religious example of philosophy.

    John Rawls.

  62. 62
    consciousness razor
    I don’t know. That’s your claim. You tell me.

    weaselly weasel is weasling.

    Is that so? Give me a little more than cryptic one-liners, and I’ll start to take what you say seriously.

    Maybe I wasn’t clear. I claimed that if that’s PZ’s view (that it’s all bullshit) — not if it actually is all bullshit, but if that is his view — then he could distinguish that view from the one in which there is no such thing as philosophy which is consistent with science yet isn’t itself science (it’s just philosophy). If that isn’t supposed to be implied by some of his statements (when he’s ostensibly “defending” philosophy, which you haven’t really addressed), then I don’t know how I’m supposed to understand PZ’s view at all.

    He could make that distinction, couldn’t he? He could say “yes, this is consistent with science, but the rest of it which isn’t science is bullshit” or “I still don’t think it’s valuable or useful” or whatever. I’m not sure how you could work that into a “defense” of philosophy, but if PZ feels like calling it that, I guess it doesn’t really matter at that point.

  63. 63
    Marcus Ranum

    Ichthyic writes:
    what makes them brilliant? why haven’t they been refuted? HOW would you personally go about refuting them?

    Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

    What makes it brilliant? Well, it’s one hell of a dilemma for anyone who’s arguing that god is good. It’s left a trail of broken theologians a mile wide in its path for thousands of years.

    How would I go about refuting it? I wouldn’t. If I imagine I was on the other “side” in that discussion I’d probably try to nitpick about Epicurus’ reifying evil. Or if I was a dishonest true believer I might try to shrug it all off as some kind of ineffability.

    Now, bear in mind that I only introduced Epicurus into this discussion as an example; you’re welcome to quibble with the examples until hell freezes over but if you misunderstood the point I was trying to make perhaps I can explain it better. Or perhaps you’re just choosing not to understand?

    Since I don’t think this is really about Epicurus I’d rather not derail into it, but you might enjoy this: http://www.epicurus.net/en/principal.html

  64. 64
    cplcam

    “If there’s no God then why doesn’t the universe conform to my fevered imagination’s conception of what a universe without a creator might very well look like (and, no, I’m not interested in hearing about what the universe actually looks like, what does that have to do with anything?)” Lol, thanks for the contribution philosophy.

  65. 65
    Stacy

    But when philosophers say he’s not answering their questions about their version of ‘nothing’ which isn’t a kind of something, what are we to do?

    Krauss could have avoided all this confusion by simply saying, “something did not come from nothing. There never was nothing. Our cognitive bias is to assume that at one point there must have been nothing, but that intuition is incorrect. True nothingness would be an unstable state; something is more basic than nothing.”

    Maybe a philosopher could have helped him translate the idea.

  66. 66
    Ichthyic

    Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

    and the subject of that was?

    and do you know how many philosophers since have addressed the problem of evil for any given specific religious sect?

    see, the way to address it is simply to redefine it.

    How would I go about refuting it? I wouldn’t.

    oh, how very helpful.

    . Or perhaps you’re just choosing not to understand?

    If I responded with: “Project much?” that would be too trite, wouldn’t it.

  67. 67
    Ichthyic

    Maybe a philosopher could have helped him translate the idea.

    Unnecessary, since Hawking already has.

  68. 68
    Ichthyic

    I claimed that if that’s PZ’s view (that it’s all bullshit) — not if it actually is all bullshit, but if that is his view

    this sentence rhetorically allows for it to be bullshit.

    either you accept it, or you reject it.

    which, of course, is exactly why I’m using a specific small furry animal as a label for your argument.

  69. 69
    Ichthyic

    I guess what I’m asking from you is to do far better than you have to defend the opposition to:

    Non empirical philosophy is bullshit.

    I’ve seen it attempted before, but I have yet to be convinced otherwise.

    I can’t climb into the mind of PZ, but I rather think given his history on this issue, even this current response is more political than reflective. This sentence being the exemplar:

    I think that appreciating the boundaries of both disciplines as well as their strengths is important for getting along.

    *shrug*

  70. 70
    Marcus Ranum

    see, the way to address it is simply to redefine it.

    Wait, are you arguing in favor of the position that philosophy amounts to trading in bullshit, or against it? Because that’s a conversation-stopper; choosing to endlessly bog the discussion down in debate about definitions is the very epitome of philosophical wanking.

    oh, how very helpful.

    Well, I don’t know how. It’s a well-constructed dilemma and it’s aimed at someone who’s taking a position that I don’t hold or think is particularly defensible. It’s an argument I happen to find convincing, so of course I don’t know how to overthrow it (except by wanking about definitions) It’s sort of like if I asked you to offer me a good argument against evolution and then busted your chops for not being able to defend it very well.

    But, do you see what we’re doing here? We’re arguing about the relative merits of various lines of reasoning and whether they’re easily defended or not – just like scientists do. Granted, philosophy’s squishier but clearly it’s possible and it works.

    If I responded with: “Project much?” that would be too trite, wouldn’t it.

    Well, then I’d have to ask you for evidence that I’m being intellectually dishonest. I don’t think I am being.

    When I try to explain something and someone doesn’t understand it, my first assumption is that I didn’t explain it very well (which is why I said first that it’s possible that I didn’t explain it very well) and otherwise I wonder if the other person is adopting a posture of incomprehension. Do you see me doing that?

  71. 71
    Ichthyic

    Wait, are you arguing in favor of the position that philosophy amounts to trading in bullshit, or against it?

    let’s see.

    I can simply redefine what I mean by god to make the problem of evil disappear.

    Since I can do that, yes. I find philosophy a great bit of mental exercise, like going for laps in the pool. That’s about all.

    Well, I don’t know how.

    OK, then don’t. don’t even try.

    what is the point of continuing this conversation?

  72. 72
    Kagehi

    Scientists methodologically check such *maps* against facts, to see if some particular notion of what-is actually is. Philosophers (and remember that I am a card carrying member of the guild) don’t do this. We (at least the better ones) rely on scientists here (or else we bone up and try to do it ourselves – though we generally aren’t as good as the professionals). What philosophers do is quite different, we methodologically check ideas against ideas, we want to see how well mental maps work as maps

    And yet, you could arguably make scientific observations of maps, record which makes work, and which do not, qualify and quantify the factors that make such maps plausible to the human mind, and why, based on known biological factors, other sorts of maps are less function, or even apparently nonsensical. And, you can manage to do this, yes, by comparing ideas to ideas, but by taking those ideas apart, down to their clearest details, parsing out the variables, and making predictions, that much be based, not on some new, mysterious, 3rd, 4th, 45th, or 34,235,425th map, created to “examine” such things, but based on clear, empirical, understandings of what it is possible to do in the first place. I rather suspect that this is why, as stated, scientists often do philosophy better than philosophers. Its pretty dang hard to compare ningleplubs with xavernics, if you can’t bloody define either one of them sensibly, especially if you insist that they are both like niglinams, but different than filimorgs, but say that a ningleplub is a type of fruit, or even better, an apple, and we are actually getting some place, because then you can start testing the details against some sort of reality. Comparing a map of two entirely fictional places, trying to work out which is better, is pure bloody gibberish. The same, logically, must be the case when comparing two “ideas” that are divorced from all plausible reality.

    The its next to impossible to actually come up with two such ideas, doesn’t save philosophy either, since its still possible to construct the absurd, and compare it to another absurdity, without generating any information, which might led to anything except another comparison, with yet another of the same sort of ideas. It less resembles a search for truth, than an attempt to try to write coherent logic for a fantasy novel, or a video game. Coherency required, actual basis in anything like reality, neither wanted, nor intended.

  73. 73
    Ichthyic

    what is the point of continuing this conversation?

    …to be clear, I don’t mean this to be of offense. It is not meant as a personal attack. I just have had this conversation many, many times over the last 25 years.

    sorry if I seem abrupt, but I probably shouldn’t have bothered.

  74. 74
    consciousness razor

    Maybe a philosopher could have helped him translate the idea.

    I agree with that much.

    I’m not sure it makes sense to talk about “true nothingness” being unstable. Unless some physical law is necessary, there wouldn’t need to be one governing its stability, so he’d be talking about his quantum vacuum version of nothing (which is something that has the potential for another something like stability), not literally nothing with no laws or anything else.

    I’d say we’re biased to assume that there must be some law or principle or god or whatever, in order to make something exist from nothing. Suppose there was absolutely nothing with no physical laws of any kind. Given that, what’s supposed to be impossible about something existing? There’s no law telling you (or the nothingness, rather) that something can’t exist, or that there must be a law to make its existence possible.

    And it’s not clear, based on the evidence we have now, that there never was nothing. There could’ve been. So Krauss was being “empirical,” if you’ll just kindly ignore all of the non-empirical assumptions he’s made, because we have a lot of counter-apologetics to get through, which is much more important and more useful than intellectual honesty. He gets to define a word however he wants, and suddenly the whole issue is settled? Is that seriously how to do science? Even if you thought there was never a state of nothing existing, and about all of the empirical observation he uses to support his ideas, why would anyone believe he’s strictly being scientific and not doing any philosophy at all (or handwaving past the parts where he would’ve done some philosophy but neglected to)?

  75. 75
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Instead of using experiment, using argument.

    That doesn’t make sense if argument ignores experiment….Which is the problem with philosophy…

  76. 76
    Marcus Ranum

    I can simply redefine what I mean by god to make the problem of evil disappear.

    Since I can do that, yes. I find philosophy a great bit of mental exercise, like going for laps in the pool. That’s about all.

    Well, then don’t complain that philosophy is all wanking because you argue like a wanker. By the way, deliberately turning a discussion into a quagmire about definitions really is arguing in bad faith. You can do exactly the same thing talking about philosophy or anything else, if you want.

    sorry if I seem abrupt, but I probably shouldn’t have bothered.

    That’s OK with me.

  77. 77
    zhuge, le homme blanc qui ne sait rien mais voudrait

    “Your imaginary sword isn’t going to do much.

    Because you are obviously blatantly wrong.

    1. How much of philosophy is trash requires someone to weigh it. And who the hell cares? This is garbage we are talking about here, after all.

    I’d guess about 80-90%. But I have a finite lifespan and lots to do and weighing someone else’s garbage isn’t how I spend my time.”

    I think this is hardly fair, mostly because at the end of the day 80-90 percent of everything eventually gets junked. The good news is that there are people who go through these things professionally and pick out some of the best parts. Now, that doesn’t mean you should just take everything a professional philosophy professor says on faith(that would be absurd) but a course or a discussion or even a look at a website would be really helpful to figuring out what is and is not worth reading.

    (I find Ayer, Hume and Parfit to be good reads).

    “2. And libguy strikes with his sword and finds out it was designed by a philosopher and only exists in Plato’s realm.

    BTW, what is that smear about Christian science. This is an atheist blog you idiot.

    I’ll assume you just meant science and were temporarily confused as to where you were. Sure science has produced garbage.”

    I read that as: “Secular philosophy makes up the majority of current academic philosophy, and is the mainstream. People doing apologetics and the like aren’t fair representations(say WLC), and it would be as generous of me to bring up say “Islamic Embryology” as it would be for you to bring up some of the most unrepresenative parts of philosophy.” At least that was my interpretation. The christian part wasn’t a smear against you, it was more an acknowledgement that Christianity is in fact bullshit.

    The proportion is rather small and it gets taken out regularly.

    Science is self correcting. There is a trash removal procedure.

    Garbage removal services are highly recommended and essential for a civilized society.

    And now explain how philosophy gets rid of its trash.

    With no means of empirical verification, there is no real way to sort through and tell the good from the bad. The trash just builds up and keeps getting recycled. To take one example, Intelligent Design predates xianity, having been thought up by the Greeks. 2+ millennia later, it is still a leading religious creationist idea.””

    Well, yes. It is a big creationist idea, but it doesn’t hold water with reputable academic philosophers. (The flaws in the belief were pointed out at least as early as Hume, and it wouldn’t suprise me for it to have gone before them, but it must be admitted that it was rather difficult for people to figure out how they were made before the evolutionary explanation. There is no doubt that this led to the acceptance of absurd arguments in the earlier periods of philosophy.)

    What’s more, though, there are empirical claims made at least in some parts of philosophy(mostly that which involves cognitive science). I would also make the claim that much of 20th century philosophy, which deals so terribly much in trying to clearly define words, is about something akin to empirical definitions. “What are words and what do they actually do?” I think makes up much of 20th century discourse. This sounds silly, I imagine, but I found it tremendously useful to study because it helps clear up a lot of bad arguments by helping to cut through wordcraft. Though it can be interesting to think about what it means for something to be a theory, or scientific, I should doubt if this is terribly helpful to scientists. But I find it very helpful in everyday life, as it helps me figure out what I mean to say, and avoid rather awful arguments. This especially helps in politics and ethical discussions, where empirical fact can only go so far in swaying views. (Consider that while philosophy is as an academic field filled with racist, sexist, etc. issues, it is a major way in which we inform and argue for and against major political issues. How can I argue simultaneously that everyone has the right to free speech but that there is absolutely no right to own weapons in the united states even though both are guarenteed by the constitution? Should I care if people do have those rights? Do rights exist at all? (I don’t mean that as, there are obviously incompatible in any sense, but rather it requires the picking apart of what is meant by a “right” and whether or not I should give a damn about them.)

    I am a scientist, but I majored in philosophy as an undergraduate. I think there is plenty of bad arguing in philosophy, there is no doubt. (For a bullshit argument look up “a counterexample to modus ponens”.) But I think it unfair to say there is no use to philosophy, because in some ways the most important issues in our lives aren’t empirical. I can’t do a measurement to discover whether or not the draft is wrong, whether or not punishing criminals is just, or if some of the split brain experiments/thought experiments should affect my thinking on these matters. I think training in seeing what types of bullshit there is can also be useful, and can be very helpful in fomenting skepticism, into issues such as free will, metaethics, God, or any of those things we might be stuck too if we don’t take a detached view and consider them rationally and aloofly. (Which is not to go all Fincke and say that therefore you can’t be rational and passionate or even mean, but that sometimes it is hard to be when our own cherished beliefs are being threatened. For some reason Dawkins and Shermer come to mind…)

    Now at the end of the day, philosophy proceedes by making arguments via reason, empirical facts, (and crucially different from science) a use of thought experiments or intuition. It is in this last place where philosophy can, I think, most distinguish itself, by posing us with moral challenges that force us to reconsider our own moral beliefs, or perhaps metaphysical challenges(though these are rarer, mostly personal identity comes to mind.) Intuition is, of course, also where philosophy can collapse the hardest. Descartes’ intuitively saw that he existed, and the same of God. That was nonsense. It’s at this point where I think personal beliefs and taste come in to figure out what is valuable, in effect. There are some who believe that induction ought to be taken as true and not need proof(since no proof could ever occur and we yet we want science to entail knowledge.) Some people believe the same is true of ethical knowledge, that if there isn’t proof or evidence against we ought to be justified in believing in ethical knowledge. I disagree, personally, I imagine because my intuitions are different. I don’t mean this in a post-modern sense, exactly, that whether or not we are justified in believing depends on our intuitions, but at this point philosophy fails as a method. But even at these extremes it can lead to self-knowledge.

    Of course, I can’t say for sure if philosophy is “useful” or “good” or not. But I found studying it tremendously useful and uplifting. It helped me hold a mirror to myself and challenge my views, and having that as practice made it easier to become a feminist, anti-racist atheist. Getting rid of the notion of rights on metaphysical grounds(after having it praised all throughout my school years) made it much easier for me to become a democratic socialist instead of some jackass libertarian. Now I suppose it is easy to say that that shouldn’t have been the case, but it was for me.

    Perhaps at the end of the day philosophy is just a particular type of arguing, no different from the types we have everywhere else, just with very specialized rules that keep it rather bloodless in most cases. This can be harmful in many cases(have I mentioned the racist/sexist/etc. biases in the field?) but I found it very useful for developing as a person.

    So I guess that would be my apology for philosophy. It gets you thinking, hopefully. Where it intersects with reality, it can be tested and inappopriate beliefs shut out (If a soul particle were discovered, say, that guaranteed immortal life after death, I imagine the consequences on philosophy would be extreme.(And it does intersect moreso than one might give it credit for, philosophy of language, mind, science, and ethics all take empirical evidence in their claims. I find no other way of interpreting Language Truth and Logic as anything more than saying “When we think and use words, we use them to predict sense experience if they are propositional.” Which seems very empirical to me, at least.)

  78. 78
    zhuge, le homme blanc qui ne sait rien mais voudrait

    “That doesn’t make sense if argument ignores experiment….Which is the problem with philosophy…”

    Of course! Ignoring experiment would be irrational. But good philosophers don’t ignore experiment(I don’t say “true” here, just good). Rather they let experiment inform their knowledge, and from there consider cases of things more abstract from our experience. I would argue the teletransporter, split brain, and many arguments involving ethics are deeply related to experience and experiment. (The teletransporter problem just isn’t a bother if our minds aren’t somehow related to physical brains.)

  79. 79
    notsont

    (I find Ayer, Hume and Parfit to be good reads)

    I’m not a philosopher and all the deepities here are probably beyond me, but it seems to me if you can choose what philosophers to believe or not then whats the point? Is it like preferring Stephen King over Koontz?

    I don’t know where I got this from, but I always thought philosophy was an exercise in how to argue and how to think, not a way in and of itself to get actual answers to anything.

  80. 80
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Ignoring experiment would be irrational.

    Then talk to Plantinga, who ignored whole volumes of evolution in a 700 page piece of idiocy trying to prove his imaginary deity, and showing this gave a 1300+ post thread on Sciblogs. Ignoring reality happens all the time. Theologians never let reality get in the way of their drivel. Clean up philosophy by not publishing drivel, get real with error correction, then get back to us scientists as having something worthwhile to say.

  81. 81
    Stacy

    And it’s not clear, based on the evidence we have now, that there never was nothing.

    Perhaps you are right. My (very limited) understanding, from Vic Stenger, is that in fact “nothing” is unlikely. But the reason why this is so is far beyond my ken.

    On the other hand, modern cosmology suggests that the universe was not created, that it is eternal in time

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victor-stenger/did-the-universe-come-fro_b_739909.html

  82. 82
    zhuge, le homme blanc qui ne sait rien mais voudrait

    Platigna is a bad philosopher, no question. (I’m a scientist too, by the way! Like an actual graduate student in the hard sciences doing experiments and stuff :) ) But we don’t hold history to this same standard, I think? Just because there are bad historians doesn’t mean we dismiss the whole field, right? I think if philosophers are claiming that they can make accurate predictions and are doing the same thing as scientists then they are wrong and can fuck off, but I just don’t feel like it’s fair to say that because there are some bad philosophers out there, we can’t do anything about it.(Pluswhich he’s faculty at Notre Dame, I mean the best way to get Platigna out would be to stop funding the Catholic Church.)


    I’m not a philosopher and all the deepities here are probably beyond me, but it seems to me if you can choose what philosophers to believe or not then whats the point? Is it like preferring Stephen King over Koontz?

    I don’t know where I got this from, but I always thought philosophy was an exercise in how to argue and how to think, not a way in and of itself to get actual answers to anything.”

    I would agree that getting answers is probably a mistaken way at looking at philosophy, it teaches how to think and that can help lead us to answers. But you can’t really read a book of philosophy and at the end just read a cliffnotes and find “Oh! The soul doesn’t exist, the present is the only time that exists, and it is wrong to kill one person to save ten others.” Rather you appraise the arguments and they sort of work with your preexisting feelings(intuitions) and beliefs, often challenging them heavily. It is much like literature in that sense, I suppose, in that it is a way of thinking. (I think the relationship between philosophy and science fiction is pretty much impossible to avoid, to say nothing of literature writ large.)

  83. 83
    zhuge, le homme blanc qui ne sait rien mais voudrait


    I’m not a philosopher and all the deepities here are probably beyond me, but it seems to me if you can choose what philosophers to believe or not then whats the point? Is it like preferring Stephen King over Koontz?”

    Sorry, I didn’t actually answer this! I don’t think it’s choosing what philosophers to believe exactly. I mean I don’t sit around and say “Oh, Ayer said this so it must be true.” Or “How dare you believe in the external world, have you read Hume?”. “You aren’t a consequentialist like Parfit says? Heathen! “Rather I find the quality of their writing and their arguments are somewhat stronger or more interesting and eye opening. I feel like it would be more akin to preferring say The Gospel According to Jesus Christ to The Last Temptation of Christ. Both works of literature dealing with Christ, but in different ways and with different meanings. Or perhaps The Brothers Karmazov and The Flies, which present rather different views on religion writ large in a more persona way. It’s not about entertainment exactly(sometimes it can be, of course) so much as the message and quality of the arguments.

  84. 84
    zhuge, le homme blanc qui ne sait rien mais voudrait

    Ack, in my comment 82 I meant to say “we can’t do anything with it” instead of “about it” when it comes to Platigna.

    I really just don’t get why Platigna is the go to here though. I mean David Barton exist and he’s a twit, but I can still read Team of Rivals or American Lion and learn some history about American presidents. Similarly Platigna makes silly arguments about God, but I don’t think that means we should ignore Hume or Ayer or Parfit’s philosophies which are a lot more interesting and less, well, obtuse.

  85. 85
    Marcus Ranum

    Then talk to Plantinga, who ignored whole volumes of evolution in a 700 page piece of idiocy trying to prove his imaginary deity, and showing this gave a 1300+ post thread on Sciblogs. Ignoring reality happens all the time. Theologians never let reality get in the way of their drivel. Clean up philosophy by not publishing drivel, get real with error correction, then get back to us scientists as having something worthwhile to say.

    That’s akin to blaming physicists for not cleaning up homeopathy. Or casting Michael Behe as representative of mainstream biology.

    As in science, there is not always complete agreement – that’s how dialectic works. There are plenty of people who think Plantinga’s a fool (raises one hand) and there are others who withhold judgement because they stopped reading part way through and some who find Plantinga’s arguments pleasantly mesh with their preconceptions. I don’t think it’s unfair to characterize Plantinga as a fringe thinker – especially since there has been plenty of time for other philosophers to do the heavy lifting of slogging through his work and pointing out the mistakes (again: a process much like science) (where do you think scientists learned this process?) He’s not quite so ridiculous as to qualify as a straw philosopher, but I suspect he gets closer all the time.

    I wonder which will dry up and blow away first, the string theorists or the presuppositionalists? Speaking of cleaning house…

  86. 86
    Azuma Hazuki

    @85/Marcus

    Oh, please, let it be the godsdamned presuppositionalists.

  87. 87
    Marcus Ranum

    Here’s something to ponder: is skepticism science or philosophy?

  88. 88
    Marcus Ranum

    Oh, please, let it be the godsdamned presuppositionalists.

    I agree. They’ve been stinking up the joint a lot longer, in their various forms.

  89. 89
    yubal

    Scientists and mathematicians are really doing philosophy. It’s just that they’ve specialised in a particular branch, and they’re employing the carefully honed tools of their specific shard just for that particular job. So specialised, and so established is that toolkit, that they don’t consider them philosophers any more.

    Hegel all over again? Yawn.

  90. 90
    llbguy

    I read that as: “Secular philosophy makes up the majority of current academic philosophy, and is the mainstream. People doing apologetics and the like aren’t fair representations(say WLC), and it would be as generous of me to bring up say “Islamic Embryology” as it would be for you to bring up some of the most unrepresenative parts of philosophy.” At least that was my interpretation. The christian part wasn’t a smear against you, it was more an acknowledgement that Christianity is in fact bullshit.

    correct

    Krauss could have avoided all this confusion by simply saying, “something did not come from nothing. There never was nothing.

    Well then that just wouldn’t be a novel idea. I’m not sure, but fairly certain that the idea of the necessity of a first cause came after the supposition that everything has always existed (ie, there was never a nothing). And you still don’t get around the question of why is there something and not nothing. If you say things emerged from quantum fields, then why are there quantum fields and not nothing? Does he know there never was nothing?

    I don’t think there is any confusion. Just bristling about the implications of this. Can anyone actually say this has moved us closer to a godless universe? Nope. God of the gaps…he’s always there, ya know

  91. 91
    Great American Satan

    Krauss’s definition of “nothing” was not just a grope in the dark.

    This philosophy stuff is too wordy to handle for me at this juncture in life. When you build a comment section out of wall-o-texts, ya can’t be surprised at the teal dears that pop up.

    Anyhow, this line reminded me of my bullshit-ass philosophy class from my art school days. The professor wanted to be called “doctor,” because of his nice degree. OK, whatever man.

    So he introduced Descartes’ ontological argument by saying it cannot be logically refuted. I practically fell out of my fucking chair and thought of three or four different refutations on the spot. As the years went by since then, I’ve seen some of those arguments I came up with that day, coming from other people. It’s obvious stuff.

    But one I haven’t heard anywhere else is this:
    Define “perfect.” Do you mean “without flaws”? OK. And you say that not existing would be a flaw, therefore etc. etc.? I beg to differ.

    The Universe has a whole lot of nothing in it. Existing things (aside from empty space) are the impurities in the cosmos we find ourselves in. Therefore a truly perfect portion of space is one with nothing in it. Not existing is the truest form of perfection.

    Drop that into the ontological argument and it proves god doesn’t exist. Which is silly because that can’t be proven either, but the ontological argument was pretty fucked from square one.

  92. 92
    Great American Satan

    There’s my totally OT contribution to the wall o’ text. Enjoy!

  93. 93
    Disagreeable Me

    I probably do view science as a subdiscipline of philosophy. This does not elevate philosophy or denigrate science, because philosophy also includes a lot of stuff that’s frankly useless nonsense. Science and mathematics are those fields of philosophy which are most trustworthy.

    The distinction between science and what we normally think of as philosophy is far from clear. Consider Darwin.

    Evolution itself is a falsifiable fact which has been empirically verified. Evolution was known about and believed by many people before Darwin. Darwin did not discover or even prove evolution, what he did was propose a plausible mechanism: natural selection.

    However I think that natural selection is not falsifiable, because no predictions that it makes can distinguish between it and other unfalsifiable hypotheses consistent with the facts, e.g. intelligent design by an intelligence that deliberately adapts organisms to their environments by incremental tweaking (perhaps without any grand plan or else we would need to explain such bad design as the giraffe’s neck nerve thing).

    However we believe in NS and reject ID because the former explains more, assumes less and is more logical. These are philosophical criteria, not empirical ones.

    So if you define science in terms of empiricism, then I feel that a lot of what we consider science is probably more properly considered to be philosophy. Alternatively, maybe it’s too narrow to consider science to be all about empiricism.

  94. 94
    hypocee

    “I refute it thus.”

  95. 95
    Daniel Martin

    But I’d argue otherwise: what’s missing in philosophy is that anvil of reality — that something to push against that allows us to test our conclusions against something other than internal consistency.

    So where does that leave mathematics, and mathematicians? They certainly behave in some respects much more like philosophers than scientists (it’s rare to have an upper-level undergraduate math class with a lab section, for example) and certainly their highest goal is internal consistency (to the limits that that’s possible at all). And yet, they seem to have some of the same issues with non-scientist philosophers that scientists do: remember that the Sokal/Social Text hoax slipped in a reference to the Axiom of Choice (*) and it was accepted as just as valid as all the other wild appropriations in that paper. Have you seen the hash that philosophers routinely make of Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem?

    So what is it about mathematics that makes mathematicians split from philosophers? It isn’t the anvil of reality, at least not in the sense of observable experiments that test theories or measure constants. And yet, there is something else separating the mathematician population from the general philosopher population.

    Maybe there’s somewhere a sociologist or anthropologist who can tackle that one.

    (*) I really thought Sokal was overplaying his hand there, in that some of the other wild misinterpretations and misapplications he used had precedents in the post-modernist literature he was parodying, but that howler he invented of whole cloth just to underline how much garbage he could get away with.

  96. 96
    hypocee

    @28 alkisvonidas
    Well, good news; we’re thinking up ways to test whether other physically different universes exist and are presumably being born everywhere now and forever. The first tentative test is B-mode polarization of the CMB, whose first results are due from the Planck satellite in a month or so. My current understanding grabbed from The Edge of Physics, which is fun and fluent, and had good explanations of things I already understood.

  97. 97
    esmith4102

    I can’t help thinking philosophy is a useless tool of discovery long ago replaced by science. Philosophy may be a useful adjunct to explain the “why” in science knowledge, but only after the fact of discovery and the speculative “ought” will never replace the empirical “is”. Philosophy’s most potent contribution, however, to discourse in the modern era is through the domain of logic, which it, while full of potential, has failed to communicate to the American general public at large.

  98. 98
    Disagreeable Me

    @esmith4102

    You’re probably right that philosophy is more about the why than the is.

    So, going back to my point about natural selection, is that philosophy or science, since what it is answering is a “why” question rather than an “is” question?

  99. 99
    Disagreeable Me

    @Daniel Martin
    I’m not sure there’s anything fundamental separating mathematics from philosophy. I think that mathematics is just philosophy applied to rigorously defined abstract concepts rather than the real world or morality or what have you.

  100. 100
    Kagehi

    Hmm. I think Evolution is one of those questions you can redefine as either why, or is. This is, in fact, precisely the problem with much of philosophy as well. You can say, “What is the mechanism?”, or, “How does it work?”, and be asking a reasonable thing. You can, however, ask, “Why are things they way they are?”, and then wander off into all sorts of nonsense, except… the actual question being asked is one, or both, of the first two, while framing it was “why”, implies a whole bloody lot of secondary questions that are either useless, unanswerable, or just flat out meaningless. Just what exactly do you mean by
    “why”, in the context? Because, if its anything like what science spends its time looking at, then you asked the wrong question in the first place. If you really did mean “why”, in the broadest sense possible, then the only answer you can present is, “Its not answerable, or even, possibly, sensible. There is no why. But, we can say, what, how, when, where, etc.”

  101. 101
    Disagreeable Me

    @Kagehi

    I think Evolution is one of those questions you can redefine as either why, or is.”

    I want to distinguish between evolution and natural selection. Evolution is empirical. It happens, we can see it happening. The mechanism of it is not empirical, it has to be inferred.

    Just what exactly do you mean by “why”, in the context?

    So, my contention is that we cannot test that natural selection is the mechanism of evolution. We can only infer it from a very compelling (even tautological, i.e. necessarily correct) philosophical argument.

    Evolution is science, natural selection is philosophy. Alternatively, science can include knowledge which cannot be empirically verified but proven by argument.

  102. 102
    markholcombe

    As a philosopher I agree, mostly, with PZ’s analysis. I find one thing odd, the absence of Daniel Dennett in this discussion. Dennett is an excellent example of a philosopher and an excellent scientist. Another example is the Churchlands. Many graduate programs in Philosophy now require dual degrees in another field relevant to one’s area of specialization.

    I would characterize the main difference between Philosophy and Science as Philosophy by its nature is interdisciplinary. That is not to say science is not interdisciplinary; of course it is. For example, I taught a course on the foundations of religious beliefs and practices (how religious beliefs arise and the role of religious practices). The course used cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology, early childhood and developmental psychology, history, game theory, etc.

    Also, I authored an applied empirical ethics textbook that used empirical data as one factor in formulating moral arguments and making (informed) moral decisions. (The textbook was originally due out this past January. I sent PZ a sample.) The empirical data ranged from biology (relevant to abortion and animal rights) to poverty data, data on rape, and other social empirical data.

  103. 103
    Kagehi

    So, my contention is that we cannot test that natural selection is the mechanism of evolution. We can only infer it from a very compelling (even tautological, i.e. necessarily correct) philosophical argument.

    Umm. Sorry, what? By that sort of weird definition, we can’t therefor test anything, since all we have for how anything at all happened was a logical conclusion, based on the parsimony of certain things happening, and the end result seeming to be derived from it, including your own words appearing on the bloody screen as you type. And, if you are actually going to go that direction in making claims about whether or not something is a “mechanism” to something else (assuming you just don’t know the evidence for selection, for example), then, I have found, there is little point in continuing to discuss the issue, since such a definition of, “cause and effect as uncertainties”, in any context, other than perhaps quantum mechanics, and even it seems to have rules, rendered agreement on just what, if any, level of evidence, or connection actually qualifies as cause and effect in the first place.

  104. 104
    Disagreeable Me

    @Kagehi

    Umm. Sorry, what? By that sort of weird definition, we can’t therefor test anything, since all we have for how anything at all happened was a logical conclusion, based on the parsimony of certain things happening, and the end result seeming to be derived from it, including your own words appearing on the bloody screen as you type.

    Right, so maybe the definition of science as being only about what you can verify empirically is a little narrow, or at least incomplete.

    So I’m drawing a distinction between evolution – which we can verify given the standard modest empirical assumptions about trusting the direct evidence we can perceive in the world around us, that there is a world around us, that we are capable of reason and so on – and natural selection, which we cannot verify based on evidence but by argument.

    I suppose I should clarify that I’m coming to this conversation with an agenda. I believe in the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis on philosophical grounds – for me it seems that there is an inescapable argument which proves that it must be true. Let’s take this as a given for now.

    Unfortunately it’s unfalsifiable, so a lot of people sneer at it and are not interested in engaging in conversation about it.

    I’m basically defending the position that it is reasonable to believe some things on philosophical grounds given a sufficiently rigorous argument even when those beliefs are unfalsifiable. I am using natural selection as an example of such a widely held belief in the scientific community, while really being interested in defending the possibility of belief in more fringe positions such as the MUH.

  105. 105
    Disagreeable Me

    Just to explain what I mean about the distinction between evolution and natural selection.

    If we treated evolution like we treated gravity, say, we might be satisfied with the following laws of evolution.

    “Over generations, organisms tend to gradually change so as to become more adapted to their environment.”

    This would be analogous to the law of gravitation.

    “Objects are attracted to each other by a force which is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.”

    Both statements are descriptive of reality and empirically falsifiable/verifiable. Neither statement posits any mechanisms or explanations.

    To believe that evolution happens because of natural selection is not falsifiable because we can’t distinguish empirically between this explanation and any other that matches the observations, such as that God is responsible for the change, or that it’s all happening by chance, or that organisms harbour an unconscious desire to improve themselves, etc.

    But belief is perfectly justifiable on the grounds of parsimony, consistency, logic, etc. So it seems that it is reasonable to believe certain things because they are philosophically sound. So, maybe philosophy is not useless.

  106. 106
    consciousness razor

    I am using natural selection as an example of such a widely held belief in the scientific community, while really being interested in defending the possibility of belief in more fringe positions such as the MUH.

    First, where did you get the idea that natural selection isn’t verifiable? You say it isn’t known by evidence but by argument. Are you just not aware of the evidence we do have of differential survival and reproduction based on the presence of heritable traits? If that’s not what natural selection is (biologists, please elaborate on that if necessary), then what is it that you don’t think we have evidence for?

    Second, instead of shoehorning in MUH by raising all these vague doubts about verifiability or epistemology itself (which is doomed to go nowhere fast), why don’t you give a solid, direct argument for it? I mean, the best you could really hope for if people accepted this line of reasoning is that it’s agreed there are some unverifiable things which we can know with some certainty. But that wouldn’t imply your specific, fringey unverifiable thing (a-god-of the-gaps, if you will) suddenly gets special treatment so that any argument for it, no matter how unconvincing, ought to be accepted.

    Third, I doubt anyone feels like disputing “the possibility of belief” in it. You believe in it, don’t you? If so, then we already know it’s possible. Big deal. That gets us nowhere, so don’t bother defending that. The plausibility or probability of it being true (rather than of you believing it’s true), sure. Is anyone stopping you from putting forward an argument?

  107. 107
    markholcombe

    @Kagehi and @Disagreeable Me

    It seems the question for you two is regarding knowledge and strict empiricism. Science is limited to empirical data. No disagreement there. Philosophy is not, sort of. Look at the history of science and philosophy. Take Kant as an example. Kant is honored as being the first cognitive psychologist because he figured out through an a priori methodology that humans must have certain innate cognitive processes in order to posses empirical knowledge. He offered a list where some items turned out to be true and others not. More items have been added to the list thanks to neurology. Other animals posses some of the same items; other items have different items. For example one item on his list is 3D space. The mind itself provides knowledge in terms of how it functions. It organizes “raw data” detected by the eyes into a 3D mental image. Neurology now explains the mechanism. Kant, in the 18th Century, figured out this cognitive process through strict self-reflection. Kant concluded, correctly, that these innate cognitive processes limit human knowledge. Even Dawkins agrees.

    Hume’s a priori analysis of causation still has not been solved by either scientists or philosophers.

  108. 108
    consciousness razor

    To believe that evolution happens because of natural selection is not falsifiable because we can’t distinguish empirically between this explanation and any other that matches the observations, such as that God is responsible for the change, or that it’s all happening by chance, or that organisms harbour an unconscious desire to improve themselves, etc.

    We can observe the genes which are responsible. Unless by “gods” you’re referring to genes, then we do in fact know gods aren’t responsible (or replace “gods” with whatever other bullshit), because we know they’re not consistent with the observations we actually have. That’d be one very easy way to empirically distinguish them. I guess you could call them tiny little gods if you want, but that’s not relevant.

  109. 109
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    such as that God is responsible for the change,

    But then you must prove god exists and drives the selection process. Or you have nothing but imaginary run rampant. Which is the problem many of us have with philosophy. No reality checks.

    Are you one of those who thinks if something is selected, something must make the selection? And can’t acknowledge there is no selector other than survival?

  110. 110
    Disagreeable Me

    @consciousness razor
    Some good points.

    where did you get the idea that natural selection isn’t verifiable

    I’m not particularly committed to this view, I’m just throwing it out there to see what you make of it. You make some good points and perhaps the view isn’t defensible.

    To attempt to answer your argument, I would say that while differential survival and reproduction based on heritable traits is observable, it’s a (correct) logical inference rather than a direct observation that states that this can lead to the kind of drastic changes we see over time in the fossil record. This inference is unfalsifiable. Like any philosophical argument, we can only believe it if we trust the reasoning behind it.

    instead of shoehorning in MUH

    The MUH is just an example of a belief one might hold for philosophical reasons. The point I am making is that beliefs on philosophical grounds are justifiable.

    raising all these vague doubts about verifiability or epistemology itself

    That’s not my intention. I believe in empiricism and verifiabilty as great tools in gaining knowledge. My aim is not to raise doubts about empirical belief but to justify the rationality of holding certain unfalsifiable beliefs.

    why don’t you give a solid, direct argument for it?

    Because it would derail the conversation away from the subject, which pertains to the merits of philosophy. I’m only using the MUH as an example. I would love to argue for it at a future date or in another forum but I am first attempting to justify even the attempt to argue for an unfalsifiable position, because if we can’t agree to that there’s no point.

    But that wouldn’t imply your specific, fringey unverifiable thing (a-god-of the-gaps, if you will) suddenly gets special treatment so that any argument for it, no matter how unconvincing, ought to be accepted.

    Not asking for special treatment. Just seeking to establish that unfalsifiable beliefs are not necessarily irrational.

    Third, I doubt anyone feels like disputing “the possibility of belief” in it.

    True, I should have said the “rationality/justifiability/defensibility of belief” in it.

  111. 111
    Disagreeable Me

    @markholcombe
    Thanks, that was interesting.

    @consciousness razor

    We can observe the genes which are responsible.

    Hmm, kinda? Again, I sort of agree with you, but to play devil’s advocate, we could cast doubt on whether our inferences about how they drive evolution over a long time are valid. The point is that we can’t actually observe them causing evolution directly, we can only infer this. We might still see genes even if God is interfering with evolution towards the goal of evolving humanity, for example.

    @Nerd of Redhead

    But then you must prove god exists and drives the selection process

    I can’t, because it’s unfalsifiable. Like natural selection! My point is that there are other, poorer explanations for evolution, not that any specific one is correct. The way we identify NS as the correct explanation is through philosophical argument.

    Are you one of those who thinks if something is selected, something must make the selection? And can’t acknowledge there is no selector other than survival?

    No, you misunderstand me completely. I am disputing that natural selection is empirical precisely because it is so obviously true. I am holding it up as a perfect example of an undeniable truth which we believe on philosophical grounds.

  112. 112
    consciousness razor

    But then you must prove god exists and drives the selection process. Or you have nothing but imaginary run rampant. Which is the problem many of us have with philosophy. No reality checks.

    Here’s a reality check for you, Nerd: your problem is that you have no idea what you’re talking about when it comes to philosophy, which wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t talk about it as if you do. Find a new script.

    ———

    I’m not particularly committed to this view, I’m just throwing it out there to see what you make of it.

    Not intended to be a factual statement. Got it. Maybe if you check the polls later on, things will swing your way in some of the key demographics.

    To attempt to answer your argument, I would say that while differential survival and reproduction based on heritable traits is observable, it’s a (correct) logical inference rather than a direct observation that states that this can lead to the kind of drastic changes we see over time in the fossil record. This inference is unfalsifiable. Like any philosophical argument, we can only believe it if we trust the reasoning behind it.

    What I’m getting from this is that any inference is “unfalsifiable,” according to you. I honestly don’t know what to make of that. It’s news to me.

    The point I am making is that beliefs on philosophical grounds are justifiable.

    You haven’t made any such point. You’ve alluded to it, but that’s as convincing as me alluding to a unicorn.

    Because it would derail the conversation away from the subject, which pertains to the merits of philosophy.

    Then you could make that point in the Thunderdome, where it will be duly torn to shreds if necessary. Try not to cross the streams with joey or StevoR. That would probably be bad.

  113. 113
    Disagreeable Me

    It might be helpful if I mentioned some other unfalsifiable beliefs I hold on philosophical grounds.

    Consciousness is computational in nature (Strong AI).
    God does not exist (apart from lack of evidence, the concept is inconsistent or ill-defined).
    The universe is governed by physical laws – the supernatural does not exist (naturalism).
    Mathematical objects exist (in a sense) and are independent of human thought (mathematical Platonism).

    If you believe in any of these, then you probably agree with me that it is justifiable to believe some unfalsifiable positions.

  114. 114
    Disagreeable Me

    @consciousness razor

    What I’m getting from this is that any inference is “unfalsifiable,” according to you. I honestly don’t know what to make of that. It’s news to me.

    Certain inferences you can check. I can infer from the theory of gravitation that if I drop a pen it will accelerate downwards. “The pen will fall down when I let go of it” is falsifiable, as is the theory of gravitation in general.

    However, I can also infer that the pen fell downwards because of gravity. This is unfalsifiable, because it is also possible that the pen just so happened to propel itself downwards under its own volition. “The pen fell down because of gravity” is not falsifiable, however please don’t construe this as my casting doubt on it.

    You haven’t made any such point. You’ve alluded to it, but that’s as convincing as me alluding to a unicorn.

    How do you make a point other than alluding to it and asserting to it and attempting to back it up with argument? That’s what I think I’ve been doing.

    I concede that perhaps I haven’t been very convincing, but please at least allow me to insist that this is the point I am attempting to make.

  115. 115
    Disagreeable Me

    One sentence summary:

    Predictions (evolution) are falsifiable, but explanations (natural selection) – are unfalsifiable.

  116. 116
    markholcombe

    Philosophy especially of late is in an identity crisis. What does Philosophy offer that the specialized disciplines do not? Most promotional materials on the benefits of Philosophy convey the message “Philosophy is better than any other discipline at teaching critical thinking skills” even though it is rarely written so bluntly. Standardized test scores are offered as the empirical evidence.

    Philosophy has always been experimental as well. Descartes performed dissections (in a most unethical manner). Judith Jarvis Thomas did extensive work with the trolley problems. I’ve already mentioned Dennett who came up with the intentional stance and designed multiple experiments on how to empirically test for it. I’ve also already mentioned the Churchlands who do work in free will and epistemology relying heavily on neurology and MRI scans. Ethics has now taken a strong experimental path that has lead to a resurgence of Emotivism but in a very different form (see Jesse Prinz) and killed psychology and ethical egoism (or should have killed it) and killed (or should have) cultural relativism.

  117. 117
    Pierce R. Butler

    Maybe some of y’all more knowledgeable philosophizers can set me straight on this.

    The old Greeks developed a craving for understanding, and called their efforts in this cause “love of wisdom”. Their project included what we now call mathematics (Euclid, Pythagoras, et al), cosmology (Democritus, Heraclitus, Plato, et al), ethics (Socrates & Co), natural science (Aristotle), and technology (Archimedes).

    Then the Macedonians, Romans, & other troublemakers swarmed in, and the last torch was extinguished in Alexandria. A few embers glowed on in the greater Mesopotamian region, were carried around by early Islam, and were sort-of rekindled in Europe as theology.

    Eventually the project split apart, with mathematics the first to become a discipline of its own. Building on that, and on the parallel field of logic, science emerged. Theology itself was born/ejected to go its own way (good riddance!). What remains under the label of “philosophy” consists basically of epistemology (the bulk of the discussion above) and ethics.

    The latter we all (except perhaps some libertarians and most sociopaths) concede is both necessary and severely lacking in our contemporary society. The former is also vital and under-developed, at least according to everyone bewailing the deficiency of “critical thinking” in contemporary education and culture.

    While I have some doubts that ethics & epistemology are so closely related as to be usefully considered as one thing (and ethics, in particular, seems to be declaring independence as a distinct entity), the usefulness/necessity of both seem beyond (practical) argument.

    My question(s), then: what have I left out or gotten wrong? What else remains to philosophy besides e&e?

  118. 118
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Predictions (evolution) are falsifiable, but explanations (natural selection) – are unfalsifiable.

    Still no seeing your presupposition. But then, evidence not wanking, is what I look at…

  119. 119
    Disagreeable Me

    @Pierce R Butler
    Metaphysics is probably the most important, asking questions like what is reality, what is consciousness, what other ways could the universe have been and what is the status of those counterfactual possible worlds, etc.

    There’s also axiology, which asks questions about values and aesthetics (although ethics is a sub-branch of this).

    There’s also lots of “Philosophy of X” subfields which are all about the implications and meanings of concepts in various fields such as science, language, music etc.

  120. 120
    Marcus Ranum

    Predictions (evolution) are falsifiable, but explanations (natural selection) – are unfalsifiable.

    That doesn’t make sense, because the prediction comes from the explanation* not the other way around!

    Further, natural selection is falsifiable. All you have to do is find a situation in which we can observe differential survival and change over time without something “unnatural”** doing the selecting. Lenski’s done that with his citrate-eating E Coli bacteria: no survival pressure was being applied other than food supply. You could observe the same thing happening anywhere there’s a species having trouble because of a change in its environment. Once you’ve properly parsed the “natural” part out of “natural selection” then you’re left with selection – differential survival and change over time, both of which are trivially falsifiable. Natural selection is also falsifiable by observing differential survival and change over time.

    (Differential survival: some living things out of a collection of living things survive longer than others. An assumption here is that that affects the probability they will reproduce.)
    (*Explanation: description of a mechanism of action, its properties, and its behavior.)
    (**Natural: presumably do you want to somehow hold humans as separate from “nature”? Excuse that giggling sound you hear… Were early human farmers who domesticated wheat “natural” until they understood what they were doing?)

  121. 121
    Nick Gotts

    However, I can also infer that the pen fell downwards because of gravity. This is unfalsifiable, because it is also possible that the pen just so happened to propel itself downwards under its own volition. – Disagreeable Me

    Evidently you have not the slightest idea what “falsifiable” means. How on earth do you suppose that the logical possibility of an alternative explanation makes something unfalsifiable?

  122. 122
    Disagreeable Me

    @Marcus Ranum
    Thanks for your thoughtful response.

    That doesn’t make sense, because the prediction comes from the explanation* not the other way around!

    Perhaps we have different definitions of explanations. I don’t mean a description, I mean an explanation of the reasons certain things occur. In the case of evolution, we observe organisms changing over time, both in the lab and in the fossil record. From this we can predict that they will continue to change. We don’t need an explanation such as natural selection to make this prediction.

    Further, natural selection is falsifiable. All you have to do is find a situation in which we can observe differential survival and change over time without something “unnatural”** doing the selecting.

    How do you know that something unnatural (e.g. God) is not selecting? How do you know that selection even has anything to do with it? How do you know that the organisms are not intentionally mutating in order to better survive?

    All of these hypotheses are ridiculous. I’m only using them to demonstrate a point.

    Natural: presumably do you want to somehow hold humans as separate from “nature”? Excuse that giggling sound you hear… Were early human farmers who domesticated wheat “natural” until they understood what they were doing?

    Probably no need for giggling as I’m not a creationist and am on board with much of what you’re saying, natural selection in particular. I’m only trying to defend belief in certain unfalsifiable philosophical positions such as natural selection, Strong AI, non-existence of God, MUH.

  123. 123
    What a Maroon, oblivious

    However, I can also infer that the pen fell downwards because of gravity. This is unfalsifiable, because it is also possible that the pen just so happened to propel itself downwards under its own volition. “The pen fell down because of gravity” is not falsifiable, however please don’t construe this as my casting doubt on it.

    Forgive an interjection from a non-philosopher, non-scientist, but it strikes me that the issue is that your phrasing your claim unscientifically. The scientific claim would be something like “The motion of the pen is consistent with the laws of gravity as we understand them, taking into account other forces acting on the pen.” Phrased that way, the statement is falsifiable. If you find that the pen doesn’t fall, or doesn’t accelerate as the laws of gravity, and you cannot find other forces to account for that behavior, then you’d have to consider the possibility that gravity wasn’t acting on the pen. Find enough of those cases, and you have to begin to question the very existence of gravity. But in the absence of such cases, it’s reasonable to conclude that any particular case of a pen falling was caused by gravity, and even to phrase the conclusion as a certainty.

    Your competing theory of volitional falling doesn’t work that way, because whatever the pen does, you can claim that that’s what it wanted. (Maybe you could even construct a whole theory of penchology which claims that the mere fact of a pen falling proves that at some level it really wanted to fall, even if it was not conscious of that desire and in fact expressed a strong desire not to fall.)

  124. 124
    Disagreeable Me

    @Nick Gotts

    Evidently you have not the slightest idea what “falsifiable” means. How on earth do you suppose that the logical possibility of an alternative explanation makes something unfalsifiable?

    If no evidence can never distinguish between one explanation and another, then it can never be shown that that explanation is correct. Therefore it is unfalsifiable.

    Predictions, on the other hand, either come true or they don’t. Theories which make predictions are falsifiable because it is conceivable that the predictions they make will not come true.

    However, given an observed fact, such as that evolution occurs, the assertion of any particular explanation for those facts which does not make any new predictions is unfalsifiable.

    Natural selection is perhaps not the best example after all because it probably does make new predictions that were not anticipated before Darwin. However, if we propose alternative explanations that also account for the same data and make the same predictions as natural selection, the proposition that “natural selection is true and all other explanations are false” is unfalsifiable.

  125. 125
    Disagreeable Me

    @What a Maroon, el papa ateo

    I agree with everything you said. Gravitation is a far better explanation after all. I’m not holding up the volitional theory as equivalently plausible, I’m saying that we can’t in principle tell which is the accurate explanation.

    And I agree that your rephrasing of my sentence is falsifiable.

    Now, the question remains: is it reasonable to believe not only that the pen’s trajectory is consistent with gravity, but that gravity is the reason for its fall?

    You are right that this probably would not be a scientific belief. I am arguing that it is nevertheless a rational, justified, defensible belief.

  126. 126
    What a Maroon, oblivious

    You are right that this probably would not be a scientific belief. I am arguing that it is nevertheless a rational, justified, defensible belief.

    No, I’m not saying that it’s an unscientific belief, I’m just saying that scientists, when they’re trying to be scientifically precise, wouldn’t phrase that belief as a simple statement of fact.

    Now, the question remains: is it reasonable to believe not only that the pen’s trajectory is consistent with gravity, but that gravity is the reason for its fall?

    In the absence of any mechanism which is consistent with all the evidence we have, and which is also falsifiable, yes, that’s reasonable.

    But again, you’re claiming that it’s an unfalsifiable belief. I suppose if you think of it only on the level of belief, you’re right but only in the sense that you can cover your ears and shout “nyah nyah I’m not listening” if someone provides counter-evidence. But the existence of gravity itself as a force that acts in a predictable manner is falsifiable, and so the statement “The pen fell because of gravity” is falsifiable as well. Just as the statement that paper burns because it’s rich in phlogiston is falsifiable.

  127. 127
    Disagreeable Me

    @What a Maroon, el papa ateo

    the existence of gravity itself as a force that acts in a predictable manner is falsifiable, and so the statement “The pen fell because of gravity” is falsifiable as well. Just as the statement that paper burns because it’s rich in phlogiston is falsifiable.

    I still don’t see why “The pen fell because of gravity” is falsifiable. Yes, the predictions of gravitational theory in general are falsifiable, but I don’t see how you could falsify that gravity was the reason for the pen’s motion in a specific case.

    “Paper burns because it’s rich in phlogiston” might be falsifiable if we can show that phlogiston does not exist, but we can only do that if the existence of phlogiston makes predictions which we can verify, such as seeing phlogiston particles under a microscope. If phlogiston theory made identical predictions to standard chemistry, I’m not sure how you could assert falsifiably which of the two explanations were true. It seems to me you’d have to make a philosophical argument in favour of standard chemistry on the basis of predictive power, consistency and parsimony, etc.

  128. 128
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Disagreeable Me: I don’t think you understand what falsifiable means. It does not mean “can be demonstrated with certainty to be false” so much as it means “entails some observations and precludes others”. Precluded observations are falsifiers. The observation of a falsifier by itself does not allow one to conclude that a hypothesis is false, simply because that is not what falsification means.

    Now, the question remains: is it reasonable to believe not only that the pen’s trajectory is consistent with gravity, but that gravity is the reason for its fall?

    The hypothesis that the pens trajectory is caused by a gravitational force could of course be falsified if the hypothesized gravitational field were altered without a corresponding change in the pen’s trajectory.

    I think you should also be aware that hypotheses in the Popperian sense are universal statements. They explain bodies of independent facts rather than an article of fact. So a hypothesis doesn’t really only explain the movement of one pen. It is easier to see how a system could be experimentally manipulated to test a universal statement.

  129. 129
    Disagreeable Me

    I think I need to revise my position somewhat in light of the feedback I’ve got on this thread.

    The predictions made by natural selection are falsifiable, so we could in principle show that natural selection is not true if its predictions were found to be false.

    The belief that natural selection is the correct explanation of evolution among all those (crappy) explanations that would make the same predictions is not falsifiable.

    This is a subtle distinction and I’m not particularly confident that I’ve articulated it very well. I’m quite open to the possibility that natural selection just isn’t a very good example of what I was looking for.

  130. 130
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    I might could add to my above comment, because it seems rather terse.

    Popper advocated the use of explanatory power as a criterion for preferring hypotheses (and I suppose holding beliefs). A hypothesis that is the least falsified* is also the one that explains the most.

    *For which the fewest number of falsifiers have been observed.

  131. 131
    Pierce R. Butler

    Disagreeable Me @ # 119: Metaphysics …

    By my way of categorization, a part of epistemology: “How do we know …”

    … axiology, … about values and aesthetics …

    Arguably another subset of “How do we know…” (perhaps a stretch, though I also fit ontology (“who is it that knows…”) into the same basket).

    … “Philosophy of X” subfields … about the implications and meanings of concepts in various fields such as science, language, music etc.

    You’re playing the splitting game, I’m playing the lumping game – but the taxonomy of concepts, played either way, still fits into the epistemology hole. No?

  132. 132
    Disagreeable Me

    @Antiochus Epiphanes

    Disagreeable Me: I don’t think you understand what falsifiable means.

    You could well be right!

    It does not mean “can be demonstrated with certainty to be false” so much as it means “entails some observations and precludes others”.

    But I think this is consistent with what I was saying. If natural selection and some concocted teleological account of evolution both make the same predictions, then the proposition that natural selection is the correct choice of the two does not entail or preclude any observations that are not entailed or precluded by the falsifiable predictions of the theory of evolution.

    The hypothesis that the pens trajectory is caused by a gravitational force could of course be falsified if the hypothesized gravitational field were altered without a corresponding change in the pen’s trajectory.

    But now the pen has already fallen. You’d need a time machine to go back and try again. I was talking about one specific case of a pen falling. The proposition that the pen fell because of gravity on this specific occasion remains true but unfalsifiable.

    I think you should also be aware that hypotheses in the Popperian sense are universal statements. They explain bodies of independent facts rather than an article of fact.

    I think you may be onto something here. I have possibly been misapplying the term falsifiable in at least some of my examples. I may need to reconsider!

  133. 133
    Disagreeable Me

    @Pierce R Butler
    Metaphysics is not part of epistemology. It’s not about how we know things, it’s about what is the nature of mind, the universe, stuff, existence etc, which are different questions. Ontology is part of metaphysics, and it’s not about who knows but about the nature of existence.

    Axiology is not epistemology. Rather, you should lump ethics into axiology.

    You are probably correct that most of the “Philosophy of X” subfields could be lumped into one of the larger groups, but there may be some of them that are trickier or that straddle multiple groups.

  134. 134
    Marcus Ranum

    I don’t mean a description, I mean an explanation of the reasons certain things occur.

    That’s a circular definition. “reasons things occur” is an explanation. So, yes, explanations explain.
    You seem to have ignored my attempt to define what I meant by an “explanation” as:
    (*Explanation: description of a mechanism of action, its properties, and its behavior.

    If you want to engage in language nihilism, you’re welcome to but it’s a discussion-killer for me because there’s no point in conversing with someone with whom I do not share a language and vocabulary. If you want to introduce your own definitions for “explain” then I will likewise be unable to communicate with you.

    How do you know that something unnatural (e.g. God) is not selecting

    That’s simple: if someone wants to believe that something unnatural is doing the selecting, it’s their responsibility to make that argument – not mine.

    How do you know that selection even has anything to do with it?

    That’s why I used the term “differential survival” – I can observe that some live and some die. That’s differential survival. And, since “selection” means differential survival in a way that affects reproduction I can observe that some survive to breed and others don’t. That’s all I need.

    I don’t think you’re arguing in good faith, though. You made a claim that was pretty stupid and a bunch of us promptly dissected it and now you’re heading towards turning the discussion into an epistemological quagmire. If you refer to philosophy as “useless nonsense” like you did in your initial comment, why are you apparently engaging in “useless nonsense” yourself? If you don’t like philosophical wanking, don’t try to wank philosophically and maybe the problem will go away.

  135. 135
    twas brillig (stevem)

    re “falsifiability”:
    Just to jump in for a minute, maybe out-of-context… I dunno, maybe.

    To say “the pen fell because of gravity” is, itself, not really falsifiable, since it did fall, in the past, it already happened… “Falsifiable”, to me, applies to the _general_ concept of something; i.e. “gravity causes things to fall at specific rate x”, is falsifiable by looking for a case when something falls at a rate different than x. When one looks at many different things falling and _none_ fall at a different rate, then and only then, can one say, “We’ll ASSIGN that rate of fall to a force we’ll CALL gravity”. Exactly WHY the objects fall (and HOW) is still really unknown; all we _know_ is what we can _measure_; the rate of fall. We just CALL it a name: “Gravity”.

    I doubt myself that I’m being at all clear about my distinction, but just to ramble a bit farther off-track, what I said above is somewhat my personal view of the difference between Philosophy and Science. Philosophy is how we reason about Science; Science is how we reason about Reality. Philosophy is thinking about Thinking itself; Science is how we think about physical stuff. Maybe this has already been said, dunno. Maybe I should read the whole thread and not just the most recent few. Sorry to interject, so boldly. Just carry on, I’ll just read some more. toodles…

  136. 136
    Nick Gotts

    If no evidence can never distinguish between one explanation and another, then it can never be shown that that explanation is correct. Therefore it is unfalsifiable.

    Utter tosh – you merely confirm your ignorance. Falsifiability is principally applied to theories – that is, scientific explanations, not to predictions. It does not require that the explanation concerned be capable of being shown to be correct, but that it be capable of being shown to be wrong. In general, a scientific explanation of a fact (such as a pen falling to earth) will make predictions about other discoverable facts; in the case of a theory of gravity, both that other things will fall to earth, how their fall will accelerate, and how planets will move around the sun.

  137. 137
    What a Maroon, oblivious

    “Paper burns because it’s rich in phlogiston” might be falsifiable if we can show that phlogiston does not exist, but we can only do that if the existence of phlogiston makes predictions which we can verify, such as seeing phlogiston particles under a microscope.

    You do realize that Lavoisier falsified phlogiston theory, right? And in doing so, showed that any statement to the effect that “X burns because it’s rich in phlogiston” is wrong?

    If phlogiston theory made identical predictions to standard chemistry,

    it would effectively be the same theory. But it didn’t, and some of its predictions were shown to be false. Which is one hallmark of a good theory, I might add.

  138. 138
    Disagreeable Me

    @Marcus Ranum

    That’s a circular definition. “reasons things occur” is an explanation. So, yes, explanations explain.

    That’s not a circular definition, it’s a definition.

    I was contrasting it to your definition of explanation, which was a description of properties and behaviour. I think my interpretation of explanation is perfectly mainstream (which is why you felt it was circular) where as yours is more specific and perhaps less usual.

    In any case, when I introduced the concept of “explanation” to the discussion, it was the usual “reasons things occur” meaning which I had in mind rather than “descriptions of what occurs” so I think it is you who’s playing semantic games.

    I don’t think you’re arguing in good faith, though.

    Well, yes and no. I don’t necessarily believe that natural selection is not science nor that it’s unfalsifiable, but I am honestly seeking to learn why it is considered science and not philosophy. I’m doing so by arguing the unpopular position so I can see what arguments you can propose against it.

    If you refer to philosophy as “useless nonsense” like you did in your initial comment, why are you apparently engaging in “useless nonsense” yourself?

    Some philosophy is useless nonsense. Not all.

  139. 139
    Disagreeable Me

    @stevem

    To say “the pen fell because of gravity” is, itself, not really falsifiable, since it did fall, in the past, it already happened… “Falsifiable”, to me, applies to the _general_ concept of something; i.e. “gravity causes things to fall at specific rate x”, is falsifiable by looking for a case when something falls at a rate different than x.

    Yeah, I think I may have been wrong on this example for the reasons you mentioned.

  140. 140
    Disagreeable Me

    @Nick Gotts

    Falsifiability is principally applied to theories – that is, scientific explanations, not to predictions.

    I wouldn’t necessarily call a scientific theory an explanation, at least not in the way I intended. A scientific theory is a collection of laws that make predictions. An explanation is a “narrative” about why something happens. You falsify a theory by showing that the predictions of its laws are not correct, no?

    Perhaps my statement “Predictions are falsifiable; explanations are not” was too glib. It’s not clearly true unless you spend a bit of time defining terms.

    It does not require that the explanation concerned be capable of being shown to be correct, but that it be capable of being shown to be wrong.

    I think I’ve been clear enough on this point. To show natural selection to be an incorrect explanation of the observed evidence for evolution, for example, you’d have to show that some prediction it makes is false while still having all the same evidence that evolution happens. I was kind of assuming (probably unreasonably) that natural selection does not predict anything beyond the fact that stuff evolves, so with that (unreasonable) assumption it seems to be unfalsifiable according to your definition.

  141. 141
    Disagreeable Me

    @What a Maroon, el papa ateo

    You do realize that Lavoisier falsified phlogiston theory, right? And in doing so, showed that any statement to the effect that “X burns because it’s rich in phlogiston” is wrong?

    Which was why I qualified what I was saying to state “if it made all the same predictions”. Clearly it doesn’t make all the same predictions or Lavoisier couldn’t have falsified it. You could imagine some hypothetical refomulation of phlogiston theory which is not falsifiable because it makes the same predictions as standard chemistry.

    I didn’t bring up phlogiston after all. If phlogiston made the same predictions as standard chemistry, then I suppose you’re right: it would be the same theory. This means that phlogiston is not a good example.

    But I was contrasting something like natural selection with something like teleology or intelligent design, which would be pretty indistinguishable looking at the raw evidence. If God or aliens were interfering with evolution by semi-competent incremental tinkering, then it’s not clear to me how the evidence would look any different from what we see. As such, I’m not sure how it is falsifiable to claim that natural selection is the mechanism of evolution any more than it is falsifiable to say that intelligent design is.

  142. 142
    Disagreeable Me

    Ok, let’s start with a new question.

    Forget that I asserted that Natural Selection was not falsifiable.

    The evidence for evolution was present long before Darwin, and people such as Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck were aware that organisms changed over time, generation by generation. Let’s say the Theory of Evolution (ToE) is the proposition that this actually happens.

    The ToE is falsifiable because it makes predictions about what we should observe in the fossil record and in the lab. We should see transitional forms, we should expect closely related organisms to exhibit genetic similarity, we should expect to be able to arrange organisms in a tree of life.

    Natural Selection (NS) asserts that this change happens because of random mutations and differential abilities of organisms to survive and reproduce.

    What falsifiable predictions does NS make in addition to those made by the ToE? How could we falsify NS as an explanation for ToE?

    Genuine question, not rhetorical, by the way.

  143. 143
    Disagreeable Me

    To answer myself, I think I’ve got one.

    “The earth is very very very old”.

    This was not known at the time of the Origin, so at the time this would have been a falsifiable prediction, since validated by geology.

    Anything else?

  144. 144
    John Morales

    [meta]

    Disagreeable Me:

    You could imagine some hypothetical refomulation of phlogiston theory which is not falsifiable because it makes the same predictions as standard chemistry.

    You clearly have no idea whereof you speak.

    But I was contrasting something like natural selection with something like teleology or intelligent design, which would be pretty indistinguishable looking at the raw evidence.

    What a ridiculous contention.

  145. 145
    Disagreeable Me

    @John Morales

    What a ridiculous contention.

    Well, perhaps. Would you care to elaborate? How could you tell, looking at the evidence for evolution, that this had happened by natural selection rather than some other more directed force?

  146. 146
    glodson

    Natural Selection (NS) asserts that this change happens because of random mutations and differential abilities of organisms to survive and reproduce.

    Been observed directly.

  147. 147
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    How could you tell, looking at the evidence for evolution, that this had happened by natural selection rather than some other more directed force?

    What directed force? None has been scientifically hypothesized to date, or evidence for one seen. Ergo, your claim is moot. As it will continue to be until another scientific hypotheis is on the table. Imaginary things and flights of fancy don’t count. You can believe what you want. Scientists will stick to reality.

  148. 148
    Marcus Ranum

    Some philosophy is useless nonsense. Not all.

    Yours is indistinguishable from the useless nonsense.

  149. 149
    Disagreeable Me

    @glodson
    Your link isn’t working for me right now, but I can tell from the URL that it seems to be a story about bacteria evolving in the lab.

    Evolution has been observed directly, yes.

    Again, I’m not denying evolution, not even natural selection.

    How can you be sure that the changes observed in the lab were caused by natural selection or not by some stupid, implausible, illogical but otherwise consistent-with-the-facts explanation such as intelligent design?

  150. 150
    John Morales

    Disagreeable Me:

    How could you tell, looking at the evidence for evolution, that this had happened by natural selection rather than some other more directed force?

    How did Charles Darwin manage the feat?

    (How did scientists know where to look for Tiktaalik?

  151. 151
    Disagreeable Me

    @John Morales
    Charles Darwin managed the feat by constructing an ingenious argument that is obviously correct. Once you truly understand it and the beautiful power of it, his conclusion is inescapable.

    This is why I am convinced that it is true. Because Darwin’s argument is philosophically sound. Which is my point.

    With regard to Tiktaalik, that prediction hinged on the ToE not NS, right?

  152. 152
    Disagreeable Me

    @Nerd of Redhead

    What directed force? None has been scientifically hypothesized to date, or evidence for one seen. Ergo, your claim is moot.

    What claim? I’m not claiming there is a directed force. I’m just asking you how NS as an explanation for the ToE might be falsified, not making a positive claim.

    And I don’t have to provide an alternative explanation. If you want to assert that NS is correct (a statement I happen to agree with), then the burden of proof is on you to show it is so.

  153. 153
  154. 154
    glodson

    Damnit, sorry, I didn’t close the tag for my link. Sorry.

  155. 155
    Disagreeable Me

    @glodson

    if the experiment I cited didn’t show any change in the bacteria over a period of time, this would falsify the idea of Natural Selection.

    I think it would have falsified the Theory of Evolution as a whole, right? If you want to show that Natural Selection is the correct explanation of the Theory of Evolution, you need to find something more specific: something that does not falsify evolution but does show that natural selection could not be the correct explanation.

    What would falsify the concept of intelligent design?

    If anything, ID is even more unfalsifiable than NS. I’m not saying ID is science, I’m saying that NS and ID are both philosophical arguments. And when those philosophical arguments compete, NS whups ID’s ass.

  156. 156
    ChasCPeterson

    How can you be sure etc.

    Depends what you mean by ‘sure’.
    In the case of the Lenski experiment to which Morales linked, the evidence is very strong. They know the genes involved and their functions. They know the precise mutations and when they occured and what functional effects they had, if any. They know how fast each mutation spread within their populations. They know the aspects of the environment that selected for certain mutations. They measured fitness in terms of population growth and competitive ability vs. other strains in various environmental conditions. etc. All in replicated, statistically and methodologically rigorous experimental protocols.
    It’s documented in great detail and every detail is consistent with the predictions of evolution by random mutation and natural selection. It’s very strong evidence indeed, in that case, being fully sufficient to explain all the data, and doing so parsimoniously.

    But yeah, there’s chance of some kind, intellectually wank speaking, that it was all foreseen and manipulated by some kozmik energy intelligence being of ungrokkable omniscience and -potence. So what? We don’t need that hypothesis.

  157. 157
    glodson

    You know that other mechanisms work in Evolution, right? Like Genetic Drift and Sexual Selection. While Natural Selection isn’t the only element of Evolution, it is testable.

    Just look and see if a species changes over time due to mutations which allow for the species to better survive as an environment changes. There are other studies. There is physical proof that Natural Selection happens.

    If we run an experiment, or make an observation, that falsifies an element of Evolution, like Natural Selection, we would have to rewrite or outright reject the theory. Doing away with Natural Selection would be a blow to Evolution, but Evolution is about how speciation happens. If we show that speciation cannot happen, that would end Evolution completely. We see speciation through the fossil record.

    Now we need to establish how it happens. We can make a prediction based on the ideas of Natural Selection, for example, and see if they pan out. If they don’t, we either need tor rethink the idea or reject it.

    In a way, science doesn’t say that something is true. We don’t do it like that. We use experiment to eliminate the possibilities until we are left with the truth. Evolution evolves as such. As we gain a greater understanding of how it functions. And Natural Selection is but one way in which it functions.

    So I am not understanding why you don’t consider Natural Selection science, or even how you are making the leap that it is equivalent to Intelligent Design in any way. It is science. We can show that Natural Selection cannot happen by means of experiment and data. I showed one such study.

  158. 158
    John Morales

    Disagreeable Me:

    With regard to Tiktaalik, that prediction hinged on the ToE not NS, right?

    You are very confused.

    In the theory of evolution, natural selection is the process by which genetic changes become affixed within populations.

    to glodson:

    If anything, ID is even more unfalsifiable than NS. I’m not saying ID is science, I’m saying that NS and ID are both philosophical arguments.

    Bullshit, except in the utterly trivial sense that all arguments are philosophical.

    Here: Natural selection vs. Intelligent design.

    Or:

    Natural selection is the gradual, non-random process by which biological traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of differential reproduction of their bearers. It is a key mechanism of evolution. The term “natural selection” was popularized by Charles Darwin who intended it to be compared with artificial selection, what we now call selective breeding.

    vs

    Intelligent design (ID) is a form of creationism promulgated by the Discovery Institute, a politically conservative think tank. The Institute defines it as the proposition that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

  159. 159
    Disagreeable Me

    @ChasCPeterson

    I accept everything you said. I have no doubt whatsoever that NS is correct, and the details you provided do seem to provide very good evidence.

    I accept wholeheartedly that any other explanation in terms of a “kozmik energy intelligence” is a useless and ridiculous hypothesis.

    So the reason we believe NS rather than this crappy hypothesis even though they both agree with the evidence is because it is much more intellectually rigorous.

    So, given sufficient intelllectual reasons to believe something, it is reasonable to do so.

    Which is my point.

  160. 160
    glodson

    @John Morales

    To me? Am I missing something here? Sorry, a bit confused.

  161. 161
    John Morales

    [meta]

    Chas,

    In the case of the Lenski experiment to which Morales linked

    Ahem. Not I.

    glodson, editing error. It was obviously Dis Me to you I was quoting.

  162. 162
    glodson

    That’s what I thought, but I wanted to make sure. I know how easy it can be to mistaken who said what. But I didn’t want to just assume. Sorry if I came off like a jackass.

  163. 163
    Disagreeable Me

    @glodson
    I am aware of and agree with pretty much all of that.

    The key part of your post is this:

    In a way, science doesn’t say that something is true. We don’t do it like that. We use experiment to eliminate the possibilities until we are left with the truth.

    This is almost exactly right.

    What you’re saying is a bit like Sherlock Holmes’s “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

    That’s fallacious insofar as you can never be sure that you have eliminated all the possible explanations. There may be a possibility you have not considered.

    But you are right to say “Science doesn’t say something is true”. So if you believe that natural selection is true, I am arguing that you don’t believe it for scientific but for philosophical reasons.

    I also want to be clear that I don’t put NS and ID in the same conceptual category at all. While I might argue that both are philosophical arguments, NS is a tautological, necessarily valid, clearly true, beautiful philosophical argument, while ID is nonsense.

  164. 164
  165. 165
    Disagreeable Me

    @John Morales

    You are very confused.

    In the theory of evolution, natural selection is the process by which genetic changes become affixed within populations.

    I’m not actually. If you read my earlier comments, you would see that for the purposes of this discussion I’m drawing a distinction between the fact that organisms change over time (which I will refer to as the Theory of Evolution) and the fact that natural selection is the explanation for why this happens (The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, or just Natural Selection).

    To quote myself:

    The evidence for evolution was present long before Darwin, and people such as Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck were aware that organisms changed over time, generation by generation. Let’s say the Theory of Evolution (ToE) is the proposition that this actually happens.

    I am attempting to argue that evolution itself is falsifiable even if the explanation provided by Darwin is not (though I certainly believe it to be true).

    Perhaps it would be more helpful if I called it the Evolution Hypothesis or something else to distinguish it from the stronger Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.

    Bullshit, except in the utterly trivial sense that all arguments are philosophical.

    Well, you could be right. It might reduce to that.

  166. 166
    John Morales

    Disagreeable Me:

    I also want to be clear that I don’t put NS and ID in the same conceptual category at all. While I might argue that both are philosophical arguments, NS is a tautological, necessarily valid, clearly true, beautiful philosophical argument, while ID is nonsense.

    What a load of bollocks*.

    Natural selection is a process which is observable (and replicable as artificial selection) whereas ID is the same as “goddiddit” and nowise replicable.

    (Sheesh)

    * Does any description of a physical process seem like a “beautiful philosophical argument” to you?

  167. 167
    glodson

    I would thank you for not putting words in my mouth.

    I didn’t say that our current understanding of Evolution was the truth, or that Natural Selection has reached its final form. What I’m saying is that Natural Selection is science because it is falsifiable. It has all the hallmarks of science.

    If we didn’t observe a species adapting through random mutation in a response to a change in the species environment, we would have to reject the idea of Natural Selection. It isn’t that we have eliminated all possibilities. There might be some idea that we’ve not considered yet.

    Intelligent Design tries to be science. It fails. Not for lack of evidence, but for a lack of a mechanism off which I can experiment with.

    Right now, I hold that Natural Selection is true. Just as right now, I hold that the Standard Model is true. This is based on evidence I have right now. Could this change? Only if there’s evidence that falsifies one of these. Absent that, I hold them to be true for the time being.

  168. 168
    glodson

    Paper showing how NS can select and stabilize the DNA sequence.

    This is the second study to show that Natural Selection can be experimented with and could have possibly been shown to be false.

  169. 169
    What a Maroon, oblivious

    So the reason we believe NS rather than this crappy hypothesis even though they both agree with the evidence is because it is much more intellectually rigorous.

    I gave the example of phlogiston above because it’s an example of a theory that agreed with the evidence then available and made specific, testable predictions. And when one of those predictions was found to be wrong, the theory was abandoned.

    Now, imagine an experiment in which you take two strains of bacteria, identical in all traits except one: strain A has a mutation that makes it tolerant of high concentrations of sulfur, while strain B lacks that mutation. Take those two strains and put them in a high sulfur environment: what prediction would NS make? What prediction would ID make? (Hint: that’s a trick question. ID makes no prediction, because the D can do what it wants.)

  170. 170
    Disagreeable Me

    @Nerd of Redhead
    Yeah, that would probably constitute evidence of natural selection to any reasonable person.

    Again though, I’m not sure it constitutes a refutation of my argument. It’s always possible that the effects seen in the study were caused by some other process such as God messing with things.

    But listen, I recognise my position is weak, and I’m admitting that I’m not sure I have a good argument. I remind you that I never doubted natural selection – I just have some questions about how narrative explanations such as “survival of the fittest” of an observed process such as evolution can be considered falsifiable.

    Perhaps the situation in the modern era where we can closely monitor genetics and generations over time is a little different. I imagine myself in the position of a contemporary of Darwin, perhaps a naturalist who had long been aware of the evidence for evolution but had not been able to imagine an explanation or mechanism for it.

    Given Darwin’s explanation, would I have believed he was right? I believe I would, not because of falsifiable predictions, but because this explanation was so obviously a sound, necessarily true explanation of the evidence which had long bemused me.

    Would I have been right to believe him? I think so.

  171. 171
    Disagreeable Me

    @What a Maroon, el papa ateo
    That’s a pretty good, clear, simple argument.

    So, to attempt to refute it (because it is my nature – I enjoy the challenge of picking apart arguments too much to leave it alone).

    Your experiment would show that favourable mutations are selected for, at least in laboratory conditions. It does not show that the diversity we see in the fossil record arose through the same process of random variation and natural selection. It could still be that God had driven the process of evolution throughout prehistory.

    But I have to say, I consider myself (almost) talked around. It was great to hear some convincing opposing viewpoints to my argument.

  172. 172
    John Morales

    Disagreeable Me:

    [1] I am attempting to argue that evolution itself is falsifiable even if the explanation provided by Darwin is not (though I certainly believe it to be true).

    [2] Perhaps it would be more helpful if I called it the Evolution Hypothesis or something else to distinguish it from the stronger Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.

    1. The explanation is the theory!

    2. No. There is no such distinction.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Origin_of_Species

  173. 173
    Disagreeable Me

    I would thank you for not putting words in my mouth.

    Well, in fairness, you did say “until we are left with the truth”. We seem to both agree that this is not strictly true.

    Right now, I hold that Natural Selection is true. Just as right now, I hold that the Standard Model is true. This is based on evidence I have right now. Could this change? Only if there’s evidence that falsifies one of these. Absent that, I hold them to be true for the time being.

    Ok, so we both hold that NS is true.

    I suppose the difference is that I can’t imagine this changing in my case, because the argument in favour of NS seems irrefutable, even without the evidence. Even if it turned out that God had been responsible for evolution on earth, the principles behind NS would still work when evolving computer code, or evolving organisms on other planets. NS seems more like a theorem to me than an empirical observation. Even while I argue that it is not falsifiable, this is in a sense because I am even more certain that it is true that strict empiricism would allow.

  174. 174
    Disagreeable Me

    @John Morales
    In contrast to appearances, I’m not completely ignorant.

    I’m probably not being as rigorous in my usage of terms as I should be.

    I just want to point out that there are two separate propositions to consider.

    [1]Organisms evolve incrementally over time, generation by generation. New species arise from ancestral species. The evolution tends to be adaptive, so that over time, species become suited to their environments.

    [2]The reason that [1] happens is because there is random heritable variation in every population which confers differential ability to reproduce. Those individuals which happen to be best adapted to their environments will necessarily have better chances of reproducing. Over time, beneficial variants will tend to proliferate whereas detrimental ones will become less common. Given sufficient time, the change in variation will be great enough that we consider a new species to have arisen.

    Now, [1] was known by many before Darwin. [2] is his contribution.

    So, I need labels to give to [1] and [2]. I chose ToE and NS. This was probably a poor choice. What labels would you prefer?

  175. 175
    John Morales

    [meta]

    Disagreeable Me:

    NS seems more like a theorem to me than an empirical observation.

    You don’t grok that something can belong to more than one category?

    (Your ontology is weak)

  176. 176
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Even if it turned out that God had been responsible for evolution on earth,

    God doesn’t exist, so your statement is irrelevant. That is the problem with your argument. You go for imaginary things not reality. And you will be ignored by scientists who know better. They don’t need your permission/approval/philosophy to do their work.

  177. 177
    John Morales

    [OT]

    Disagreeable Me:

    [1]Organisms evolve incrementally over time, generation by generation. New species arise from ancestral species. The evolution tends to be adaptive, so that over time, species become suited to their environments.[...]
    Now, [1] was known by many before Darwin

    I doubt your claim.

    (Is not knowledge “justified true belief”?)

  178. 178
    Disagreeable Me

    @John Morales

    On theorems vs observations:

    I don’t mean to say it can’t be both. All theorems should after all confirm to empirical observations. If I measure the sides of a right angle triangle, I would expect to confirm Pythagoras.

    On my claim that evolution was known before Darwin:

    Point taken. “Known” is perhaps too strong. I mean people like Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck. In any case, the point is that we could in principle know the truth of [1] from looking at the fossil record, embryology, genetics etc without anyone having stumbled upon explanation [2].

  179. 179
    Disagreeable Me

    @Nerd of Redhead
    “God doesn’t exist”

    I couldn’t agree more!

    The point is how do you justify this claim? Do you have empirical proof that this is not the case?

    I suspect not. But you recognise for philosophical reaasons that he doesn’t. There’s no evidence, it doesn’t ultimately explain anything, and the idea of a God is probably inconsistent.

    Ok I’m going to sleep now. Ciao!

  180. 180
    John Morales

    [meta]

    Disagreeable Me:

    All theorems should after all confirm to empirical observations.

    Did you not so dismiss philosophy, you’d likely not be so blithe with your universals.

    Hell, you might even put a scope on your domain of discourse.

    (Can you empirically observe a hypercube?)

  181. 181
    Pierce R. Butler

    Disagreeable Me @ # 143: “The earth is very very very old”. ¶ This was not known at the time of the Origin…

    Darwin started his career as a naturalist working in geology in Scotland, so got in on the ground floor of contemplating “many millions of years” well before his peers studying living organisms. (See Loren Eiseley’s Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X for a well-written exposition on this.)

    (And I’m abandoning, maybe even conceding, our previous discussion, as (a) you make good points and (b) further argument would probably deteriorate into semantics.)

  182. 182
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    The point is how do you justify this claim?

    Show me any evidence for a deity. Physical evidence that would pass muster with scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers as being of divine, and not natural (scientifically explained), origin. DUH. Are you really as unintelligent as you pretend to be?

  183. 183
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Oh, and if you can’t provide any evidence, the Null Hypothesis is non-existence. That saves wear and tear on the possibilities bullshit. The Null Hypothesis doesn’t seem to be used properly by mental wankers for some reason. Like it might inhibit their imaginary things….

  184. 184
    What a Maroon, oblivious

    Your experiment would show that favourable mutations are selected for, at least in laboratory conditions. It does not show that the diversity we see in the fossil record arose through the same process of random variation and natural selection. It could still be that God had driven the process of evolution throughout prehistory.

    The point of the experiment is not that it would show that natural selection is responsible for all the diversity we see, but rather that it has the potential to falsify natural selection. If the sulfur-tolerant bacteria don’t do better than the non-tolerant bacteria, that’s a strike against natural selection.

    There’s no experiment you could design that would falsify goddidit, because god can do whatever it wants.

  185. 185
    Kagehi

    It seems the question for you two is regarding knowledge and strict empiricism. Science is limited to empirical data. No disagreement there. Philosophy is not, sort of.

    I would say that, from a practical standpoint, something doesn’t become “knowledge”, in any practical sense until/unless you can put it into a model, and test it. You can model and test the impossible, in say, a computer game, and thus have “knowledge” of it, but this isn’t going to help you much in the real world, unless you take from the game things like player behavior, and extrapolate a model, for the real world, and actually test it.

    It gets you no where to build a model, then test the models against other models. Its like asking, “Who drew the better werewolf?”, when the only thing you plan to do with the pictures is write a paper arguing which one was better, then burn the pictures, or even sillier, go looking for more pictures, to make sure you didn’t fail to notice Martian werewolves, or ocean werewolves, or invisible werewolves. Where precisely, in this strange process of comparison is ‘knowledge’ actually produced, until/unless you find some context in which it can be applied empirically?

    There’s also lots of “Philosophy of X” subfields which are all about the implications and meanings of concepts in various fields such as science, language, music etc.

    Yeah, because the neuroscientist that mapped tonal patterns and showed how the brain only reacts to specific patterns, on a mathematical precise pattern, result in “positive” reactions, while tones that de-syncronize from that are heard as dissonance (gah.. hate not being able to find the article… But, basically, it stated that if two notes drift more than a specific amount from each other, they become dissonant, and the pattern that results follows a very clear, and precise pattern), has so much less to contribute to the implications and concepts of “music” than a philosopher, who no doubt has a **much* better explanation for it… Same goes for language, and anything else you might come up with. I’ve heard some of the nonsense these people come up with, and the only thing the arguments invariably have in common is a complete lack of understanding of “current” science on the subjects.

    Making things up, and then wondering about them, without being able to test them at all, becomes, as someone else said, a “god of the gaps” type thing, more and more. Odds are fairly high that any argument you might be making is already refuted, or explained, or sometimes even confirmed, if you just know where to look, not among “philosophy”, but in the sciences. And, its only getting worse for philosophers.

  186. 186
    David Marjanović

    Science theory is a branch of philosophy; science is the application of science theory, just like how medicine and engineering are applications of science.

    When scientists debate issues of morality and free will they are outside of science because at present there is no consensis paradigm on these issues.

    I think you have it backwards: once the scientific method (you know, falsification and parsimony) yields results, scientists accept them, which means there’s a consensus. Science isn’t defined by that consensus, it just emerges pretty much automatically – “there are no sects in geometry” or any other field where ideas are testable.

    You wouldn’t have gotten science off the ground if it wasn’t for vigorous defences of the scientific method against prevailing “metaphysics.” And there is still a lot done in analytic philosophy that strives for conceptual clarity, like “what does ‘what does it mean’ mean?”.

    Metametaphysics! Note how this article mentions science. :-)

    and even the basic facts about “life spans” are mangled beyond all sense, because its “average” life spans

    Not even. It’s average life expectancy at birth.

    other than presumably tooth decay

    Now, tooth decay is the one thing that obviously comes from agriculture and the steady starch supply it provides.

    Someone got the idea of planting crops. Maybe, for them, somehow, this was a huge, initial benefit.

    Yeah, survival after the gazelles had been overhunted and the acorns overharvested. “What happens if I grind grass seeds instead of acorns?” The rest is history.

    But when philosophers say he’s not answering their questions about their version of ‘nothing’ which isn’t a kind of something, what are we to do?

    How about dismissing the question as meaningless because their version of “nothing” doesn’t exist outside of their skulls?

    His definition isn’t anchored to some unvarnished truth about what the concept means, so his empirical and theoretical knowledge, as useful as it is, isn’t useful for concluding what that must be.

    I think you’re trying to make this about language – not about reality.

    I mean from credible academic journals, And before you go all “Scotsman” on me, I will say the sword slices both ways. Want me to dredge up some Christian “Science”?

    Tsk, tsk. Science has a definition (see above), and what you’re thinking of when you say “Christian ‘Science’” fails it. With philosophy that’s more difficult.

    There are a lot of philosophers whose reaction to post-modernism is similar to a physicist’s reaction to Velikovsky’s planetary hijinks: they roll their eyes, mutter something about “bullshit” and remember that they had to be someplace else, talk to you later, yadda yadda.

    The difference is that a physicist who feels like wasting the time can explain why they roll their eyes and mutter about bullshit: it’s because, due to the gravity and kinetic energy involved, planets can’t collide like billiard balls. Any such collision melts the entire fucking surface of the bigger one and makes the smaller one look like the fully armed and opedational Death Star had fired on it – it’s not difficult to do the math (within reasonable error margins).

    You can’t get anywhere with just the details because then you don’t know how to use the methods (again, just like science: imagine a biologist who knew a mountain of details about clade trees but didn’t understand natural selection!)

    Frankly, for what I’m doing these days, I’d hardly need to understand natural selection at all…

    “What are words and what do they actually do?”

    That sounds like a question for the science of linguistics…

    However I think that natural selection is not falsifiable, because no predictions that it makes can distinguish between it and other unfalsifiable hypotheses consistent with the facts, e.g. intelligent design by an intelligence that deliberately adapts organisms to their environments by incremental tweaking (perhaps without any grand plan or else we would need to explain such bad design as the giraffe’s neck nerve thing).

    I have seen evolution by mutation and natural selection with my own eyes, and so has everyone else who had to take lab course I B for molecular biologists.

    Each one of us let a lawn of Escherichia coli grow on a petri dish, then added a virus (I think it was T7), let that stand overnight, and then came and looked. As expected, the lawn had turned into a blur – except for (in my case) three little colonies that had grown as if nothing had happened. By chance, three individual bacteria happened to have mutations that made them immune to the virus, and their descendants had become numerous enough that I was able to see them. These mutations had been, in other words, selected for, and their lack selected against. The selection was done by the environment, meaning the presence of the virus.

    And keep in mind that science isn’t falsification alone, it’s falsification and parsimony. Indeed, there’s a lot of parsimony hidden within falsification.

    So, going back to my point about natural selection, is that philosophy or science, since what it is answering is a “why” question rather than an “is” question?

    Oh no. “Everything is the way it is because it got that way” (J. B. S. “Three Mysterious Initials” Haldane). All “why” questions have, thus, already been answered – they’ve turned into “how” and “what” questions: what happened, how did it happen, what factors influenced it in which ways.

    However, I can also infer that the pen fell downwards because of gravity. This is unfalsifiable, because it is also possible that the pen just so happened to propel itself downwards under its own volition.

    When two hypotheses really do make the exact same set of predictions, parsimony kicks in.

    How do you know that the organisms are not intentionally mutating in order to better survive?

    Why would their success rate not be any better than random, then? Because it isn’t any better than random. Natural selection does not cause any particular kind of mutations. Mutation is random, it’s empirically indistinguishable from random, and selection acts on the phenotypes that result.

    I was contrasting it to your definition of explanation, which was a description of properties and behaviour. I think my interpretation of explanation is perfectly mainstream (which is why you felt it was circular) where as yours is more specific and perhaps less usual.

    I think you managed to overlook the “mechanism” part. Marcus Ranum defined “explanation” as the description of a mechanism, of the causes of the observed facts.

    A scientific theory is a collection of laws that make predictions.

    No. A list of laws isn’t a theory. A theory explains laws, it explains which processes cause the behavior that’s described by the laws.

    Darwin started his career as a naturalist working in geology in Scotland

    And on the Beagle, Darwin read Charles Lyell’s work on geology, which famously commented on the age of the Earth that there’s “no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end”.

  187. 187
    Draco Benden

    @ Marcus Ranum #58
    So where do I find the equivalent to a science book for philosophy? When I look in a bookstore, I typically find “philosophical ramblings of X” which I’ve found to be pretty useless. (The rest seems to be fluff pieces, but “philosophy” is an overused/abused word.) After reading a few, I came to the conclusion that philosophers talk past each other so there’s no established set of reasonable claims/sound arguments that everyone (good) agrees on, so they do it this way to let readers decide for themselves (something I have no interest in–I have better things to do with my time than read junk arguments). You seem to be saying otherwise: that there is a set of ideas around which there is consensus. Where are these ideas collected together (or, more likely, a subset/survey by topic)? Finding such science books is easy. Perhaps I’ve overlooked the philosophy equivalent…?

  188. 188
    consciousness razor

    Fuck, it sure is a good thing Disagreeable Me didn’t derail the whole thread with a load of garbage about the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis. It’s much better that it was derailed with his confused garbage about natural selection and falsification.

  189. 189
    consciousness razor
    But when philosophers say he’s not answering their questions about their version of ‘nothing’ which isn’t a kind of something, what are we to do?

    How about dismissing the question as meaningless because their version of “nothing” doesn’t exist outside of their skulls?

    Well, how about it, David? Do you know there was never a state in which there was nothing at all? If so, how do you know that?

    And even if that were the case, why would you assume something which doesn’t exist outside a person’s skull is “meaningless” anyway? Or if you don’t assume it, what’s your evidence for that? Do you just use “meaningless” as a sort of insult, or do you mean it literally?

    I think you’re trying to make this about language – not about reality.

    I was responding to PZ’s total misunderstanding of what the issue is. If you want to address that, do it, but you’ll have to be a little more specific than simply referring to “reality” and expecting me to know what you’re talking about.

  190. 190
    David Marjanović

    Important definitions I forgot to mention: evolution is descent with heritable modification and is explained by the theory of evolution by mutation, selection, and drift.

    Well, how about it, David? Do you know there was never a state in which there was nothing at all?

    No, why? It’s just not a parsimonious assumption as far as I can tell.

    why would you assume something which doesn’t exist outside a person’s skull is “meaningless” anyway?

    When the entire idea is to find out what’s outside of our skulls, arguing about what’s only inside doesn’t help.

    Do you just use “meaningless” as a sort of insult, or do you mean it literally?

    The latter.

    you’ll have to be a little more specific than simply referring to “reality” and expecting me to know what you’re talking about

    Sorry. I mean that in which the argumentum ad lapidem isn’t a logical fallacy. It may all be māyā or the Matrix or whatever, but it’s consistent enough for science to work in it.

    Also, I didn’t cite this because it’s been too long since I last read it; I found it very interesting, though.

  191. 191
    consciousness razor

    No, why? It’s just not a parsimonious assumption as far as I can tell.

    What isn’t a parsimonious assumption? Something could have come from nothing, right? You wouldn’t need to assume or claim there was nothing or that it’s necessary that something came from nothing. You seemed to be ruling that out with some extra hidden assumption, which may or may not be parsimonious, but either way I have no idea what it’s supposed to be.

    If you don’t claim to know, what’s the point of this talk of sticking to “what’s outside of our skulls”? You’re admitting you don’t know if it’s included in that or not, aren’t you? I’m not saying you should be able to “prove” it: just use parsimony or whatever and explain why you know-but-don’t-know that the philosophical issue isn’t likely to pertain to anything real or be relevant in any way, so that I can pay attention to that and ignore all the handwaving, fallacies, vague assertions, and the inane chest-thumping about how awful philosophy is.

    When the entire idea is to find out what’s outside of our skulls, arguing about what’s only inside doesn’t help.

    I agree, but even if it’s not helpful, that wouldn’t entail it’s literally meaningless. Meanings and concepts are all inside our heads, whether or not there’s a referent outside them.

    Putting that aside, my concern was that there’s apparently some confusion about what the issue is. Yes, I objected to the language PZ used and his sleight of hand with the two different concepts of “nothing,” but I’m certainly not trying to make this all about language or concepts. You (or PZ or Krauss) can’t just bulldoze over the problem — which is about reality, not language — by coming up with some other concept which doesn’t even address the issue, and then pretend that it’s the “real” version of the same concept (New and Improved, Now with Empiricism™) when it isn’t the same concept. We do at least need to be working with approximately the same concepts, even if we all agreed one is totally wrong or impossible or incoherent, or else there’s no point in trying to discuss it. Just take it seriously enough for one moment that you actually address what it’s about; otherwise, don’t bother and don’t confuse people by bringing up all sorts of other stuff.

    [By "reality,"] I mean that in which the argumentum ad lapidem isn’t a logical fallacy.

    Heh, that’s an odd thing to say. If it’s not a fallacy in reality, then where would it be a fallacy? Or is not a fallacy?

  192. 192
    Kagehi
    Someone got the idea of planting crops. Maybe, for them, somehow, this was a huge, initial benefit.

    Yeah, survival after the gazelles had been overhunted and the acorns overharvested. “What happens if I grind grass seeds instead of acorns?” The rest is history.

    Except.. we didn’t see a population explosion until *after* we started agriculture. Before that we where dealing with small, mobile, groups. You might make a fair claim that the global crisis that seems to have reduced our numbers to a much smaller number (a few thousand) at one point caused “some” of them to consider an alternative means to produce food, rather than wandering around looking for it, in an environment that likely had drastically reduced resources. However, not everyone “stuck with” that solution. The ones that did ran fowl of a whole host of problems, including overhunting, overharvesting, etc., due to the explosion in population numbers, and the fact that they could no longer just move someplace else to get more food (how do you move your mud hut, like you would a teepee, or a simple to construct stick, grass, and what ever else, hut?).

    So, yeah, I get why someone came up with it. That’s not the point. The point is how much of a disaster it created, until we reached a point where, now, we can “almost” overcome many of the problems that resulted, via technology, while, quite possibly, stuck with some damn stupid conflicting situations, between what we are, and how we think we are supposed to be, due to all of social ambiguities, rules, and taboos we invented, to support the resulting systems. Not that any of those things “had” to happen. We could have gone communal hippie when we invented agriculture, and stuck with that. Instead, we seem to have discovered the same thing the chimpanzees did, when confronted with free, but not unlimited, bananas – greed, avarice, and war.

  193. 193
    Disagreeable Me

    @John Morales
    “Can you empirically observe a hypercube?”
    I was rushing my initial comment because I needed to get to bed so I accidentally wrote “confirm” instead of “conform”.

    What I meant is that we should expect empirical observations not to contradict theorems, not that we should expect to empirically confirm all theorems.

  194. 194
    Disagreeable Me

    @Nerd of Redhead
    “Show me any evidence for a deity.”
    Why? I have said I’m an atheist. My point is that you have made a positive claim that God does not exist. You can’t empirically confirm this, so if you believe this you do not believe it for empirical reasons. You believe it for philosophical reasons.

    This belief is justified, which was my point.

    “if you can’t provide any evidence, the Null Hypothesis is non-existence”
    True, but you don’t typically make a positive claim that the null hypothesis is true just because you can’t show a significant effect of some other hypothesis.

    “Are you really as unintelligent as you pretend to be?”
    I honestly think you’re just misunderstanding me.

  195. 195
    Disagreeable Me

    @Kagehi
    “I’ve heard some of the nonsense these people come up with, and the only thing the arguments invariably have in common is a complete lack of understanding of “current” science on the subjects.”

    Agreed, a lot of this stuff is nonsense, but I’m not sure you’re justified in saying it’s all crap. Some of the most worthwhile philosophy is the stuff that deals with stuff that is not empirical in nature. For example in music, you might want to ask questions like whether someone can “own” a piece of music, etc.

    Where philosophy makes empirical claims, I would argue that this is identical to the scientific process of forming hypotheses. It’s best to test them if possible before you believe in them (although I think there is sometimes good reason to believe as yet unverified claims on the basis of logical argument).

  196. 196
    Disagreeable Me

    Of those who are still listening to this thread, how many of you think it is justifiable to believe something on philosophical grounds?

    There’s a couple of distinctions to be made:

    between falsifiable beliefs (heliocentrism) and unfalsifiable beliefs (there are other universes which are completely undetectable)

    between existential/factual beliefs (embryos lack developed nervous systems) and value/ethical beliefs (abortion is permissable).

    I think that in some cases, belief in any of these types of propositions can be justified by sufficiently rigorous philosophical argument.

    Examples of falsifiable beliefs I hold for philosophical reasons:
    Evolution occurs because of natural selection. Survival of the fittest.
    [Insert religious doomsday prediction here] is incorrect.
    Roger Penrose and Stuart Hammeroff are wrong about micro-tubules being critical for human intelligence.
    My wife loves me.
    Some of my falsifiable beliefs will be falsified.

    Examples of unfalsifiable beliefs I hold for philosophical reasons:
    The world is not an illusion, dream, simulation etc.
    There are many universes.
    More specifically, there are infinite universes.
    More specifically, all possible universes exist.
    More specifically the MUH is true.
    Consciousness is computational and we might some day build a conscious AI (Strong AI).
    Other people are conscious just as I am.
    (Some) animals suffer and are conscious much as we are.
    It is sometimes justifiable to believe things for philosophical reasons.
    All of my value judgements and ethics.

    So, without getting into specifics of the precise reasons one might believe these things or others, are these kinds of beliefs supportable by argument in some cases? Where would you draw the line between the kinds of beliefs that can be justified by armchair reasoning and the kind that can’t?

  197. 197
    David Marjanović

    What isn’t a parsimonious assumption?

    Sorry for ignoring your comment for the moment. I’m tired now, just not too tired to respond to Disagreeable Me… oh, and Kagehi:

    Except.. we didn’t see a population explosion until *after* we started agriculture. Before that we where dealing with small, mobile, groups.

    It’s not that simple. Start here.

    You might make a fair claim that the global crisis that seems to have reduced our numbers to a much smaller number (a few thousand) at one point caused “some” of them to consider an alternative means to produce food, rather than wandering around looking for it, in an environment that likely had drastically reduced resources.

    Uh, that was seventy thousand years ago, not ten.

    Of those who are still listening to this thread, how many of you think it is justifiable to believe something on philosophical grounds?

    Keep the strength of your belief proportional to the evidence.

    For instance, given the current lack of evidence, I don’t have an opinion on the existence of other universes. AFAIK, a project to look for evidence in the cosmic microwave background is underway.

    value/ethical beliefs (abortion is permissable)

    That’s not an is, it’s an ought. Ethics is something we do, it’s not inbuilt in the universe the way physics is.

    Examples of falsifiable beliefs I hold for philosophical reasons:
    Evolution occurs because of natural selection. Survival of the fittest.

    Was comment 186 too long for you, then?

    Also, “survival of the fittest” is an extreme oversimplification. It’s not about survival, it’s about reproduction; and it’s not about “the fittest”, it’s about all that are fit enough – what that means depends on the environment and therefore changes a lot.

    [Insert religious doomsday prediction here] is incorrect.

    I agree because none of them demonstrates a mechanism. Indeed, none even assume a halfway parsimonious mechanism.

    Roger Penrose and Stuart Hammeroff are wrong about micro-tubules being critical for human intelligence.

    They are, because microtubules are way too large and too warm for quantum superpositions to exist for any useful amount of time.

    (Why “human”? All eukaryotes, AFAIK, have microtubules. They’re part of the cytoskeleton.)

    My wife loves me.

    I bet you have plenty of evidence that she does: I bet she behaves accordingly. Sure, it could all be an incredibly elaborate act – but that’s an extremely unparsimonious idea, am I right?

    Some of my falsifiable beliefs will be falsified.

    If you want to call stochastics “philosophy”…

    Examples of unfalsifiable beliefs I hold for philosophical reasons:
    The world is not an illusion, dream, simulation etc.

    I’d count that under parsimony.

    There are many universes.

    That may actually be falsifiable.

    More specifically the MUH is true.

    Now, all I’ve ever read about it is this. My first reaction is to withhold judgment – apathetic agnosticism: “I don’t know, and I don’t care” – because the whole thing looks untestable. However, it seems that 1) Tegmark’s responses to criticisms always consist of adding restrictions to his hypothesis; 2) Vilenkin sounds right to me (most numbers are very, very, very, very, very, very large); 3) I don’t understand why Tegmark compares the MUH favorably to string theory – it all sounds like nothing but tu quoque; 4) last and least, I so far agree with the idea that mathematics is an abstraction of how the universe behaves, rather than this behavior being an application of Platonic ideas; likewise, logic is an abstraction of how mathematics behaves.

    Other people are conscious just as I am.
    (Some) animals suffer and are conscious much as we are.

    Parsimony.

    All of my value judgements and ethics.

    Empathy and long-term self-interest. If you want to call that philosophy, fine.

  198. 198
    Disagreeable Me

    @David Marjanovic

    Was comment 186 too long for you, then?

    Actually, yes!

    You only started replying to me quite a few paragraphs in so I thought that was a post on an earlier conversation I hadn’t been following. Sorry for ignoring it.

    You made a lot of good points there but I’m probably not going to answer any of them directly now because the conversation has moved on (unless you would like me to).

    Keep the strength of your belief proportional to the evidence.

    Hmm. Not a bad heuristic on the face of it, but I think you also need to take the strength or plausibility of the argument into account.

    I suppose this feeds into Bayesian analysis. Plausible and strong arguments have the effect of raising prior probabilities, thereby weakening the standard of required evidence. Is this reasonable?

    You then go on to address many of my examples. While I enjoy discussing these matters I suppose I’m looking for more general rules of thumb on what justifies belief. Your criteria of falsifiability and parsimony are good, however I suppose I am arguging that falsifiability is not always necessary.

    On to your comments on the examples:

    I now accept that my assertion that natural selection is unfalsifiable was not fair. That’s why I listed it under falsifiable. However, I believe it for philosophical reasons (even though there is evidence) because I have not done the experiments myself and I would believe in it even if there wasn’t such a wealth of evidence (for example if I lived in Darwin’s time).

    “survival of the fittest” is an extreme oversimplification.

    I know, but I don’t want to have to explain the whole thing every time I want to refer to it.

    That’s not an is, it’s an ought. Ethics is something we do, it’s not inbuilt in the universe the way physics is.

    Agreed, that’s why I was careful to draw the distinction.

    If you want to call stochastics “philosophy”…

    I would actually. For the purposes of this discussion I would consider all “armchair” thinking to be philosophy, including mathematics, scientific hypothesis forming, etc.

    There are many universes

    That may actually be falsifiable.

    I disagree. While we might some day show that some other universes exist, we could never show that no other universes exist, especially if they are causally disconnected. A universe that is completely undetectable is, like the invisible pink unicorn, completely unfalsifiable.

    Even if we could somehow show that our universe is the only one in our multiverse, how could you know there wasn’t some sort of hypermultiverse beyond that?

    My first reaction is to withhold judgment – apathetic agnosticism: “I don’t know, and I don’t care” – because the whole thing looks untestable.

    With respect, this is exactly the attitude I want to oppose. I agree it is fundamentally untestable, but I think it is still worth discussing because it may be the most parsimonious explanation of reality if you really examine the argument. It also does away with the last God of the gaps.

    1) Tegmark’s responses to criticisms always consist of adding restrictions to his hypothesis;

    I came up with the MUH independently of Tegmark (and many years later), and while I admire much of what he has said and agree with him on most topics, there are aspects of how he treats the MUH that I disagree with.

    In particular he treats it as just a possible explanation of reality, without offering much in the way of argument for why it must be so.

    I’m not sure I agree with his handling of the criticisms from Godel, or with his insistence that it is testable (well it is, but only in a very weak sense – to falsify it you would have to find something supernatural).

    Vilenkin’s argument is the only good one I have seen against the MUH. I agree that it poses a challenge, however for me the logic of an argument leading to the MUH is stronger. It seems to me that there must be an explanation of Vilenkin’s argument, and I have some ideas along those lines. Tegmark’s solution as mentioned by Wikipedia in that article seems arbitrary and silly, I agree. However, since I don’t intend to turn this thread into a discussion of the MUH itself, I’m not going to explain my ideas about this.

    last and least, I so far agree with the idea that mathematics is an abstraction of how the universe behaves, rather than this behavior being an application of Platonic ideas;

    That seems to be a philosophical belief?

    Most of your comments were to the effect that beliefs are justified primarily by parsimony. So, if I outlined an argument for the MUH which explained why I thought it was the most parsimonious explanation of existence, would that be reason to believe it?

  199. 199
    John Morales

    Disagreeable Me:

    So, if I outlined an argument for the MUH which explained why I thought it was the most parsimonious explanation of existence, would that be reason to believe it?

    Bah. It’s parsimonious in the way ‘goddiddit’ is parsimonious.

    (And how is it falsifiable?)

    More to the point, abduction is weaker than induction or deduction, and Occam’s Razor but a heuristic.

  200. 200
    Disagreeable Me

    @John Morales

    Bah. It’s parsimonious in the way ‘goddiddit’ is parsimonious.

    Not in my opinion. Goddidit is not parsimonious because it assumes the existence of some infinite perfect being just to explain the existence of the universe.

    The MUH just seems not to be parsimonious because at the moment it’s an assertion without an argument backing it up. The question is whether belief in it could be justified if there was a good argument for its parsimony. I’m not going to try to prove that here, but just defend that there is some point in discussing these things even if they are untestable.

    (And how is it falsifiable?)

    It isn’t. The whole discussion arises because of this. I’m justifying the defensibility of holding certain unfalsifiable beliefs. That’s the whole point of the discussion.

    More to the point, abduction is weaker than induction or deduction, and Occam’s Razor but a heuristic.

    The argument for the MUH would be deductive. If you don’t think that parsimony justifies belief (which in and of itself it probably doesn’t), then what does? Are there no unfalsifiable beliefs that you hold yourself? Where would you draw the line?

  201. 201
    John Morales

    Disagreeable Me:

    [1] The argument for the MUH would be deductive. [2] If you don’t think that parsimony justifies belief (which in and of itself it probably doesn’t), then what does? [3] Are there no unfalsifiable beliefs that you hold yourself? [4] Where would you draw the line?

    1. Care to adumbrate how?

    2. Warrant — which includes utility.

    3. I don’t claim they’re justified.

    4. What line?

    I have no problem holding provisional beliefs with varying degrees of certitude, when such a belief has utility.

  202. 202
    Disagreeable Me

    1. Maybe not right now? It is a major derailment and should probably happen in the thunderdome or some other future thread. I’m not sure the argument is quite as ready as it needs to be yet. Basically, I think it follows from the assumptions of naturalism and Strong AI and demonstrates that the MUH is far more parsimonious than the alternative.
    2. Ok, so utility I understand, not sure what you mean by warrant. I would have thought a warranted belief meant much the same thing as a justified belief?
    3. It appears we distinguish between justified beliefs and warranted beliefs. So you have some unjustified beliefs. Does this imply that you might actually be willing to entertain a philosophical argument for a belief? You might after all add the conclusion to your unjustified beliefs.
    4. The line between unfalsifiable beliefs it is reasonable/rational/defensible/justifiable(warranted?) to believe and those it is not.

    I have no problem holding provisional beliefs with varying degrees of certitude, when such a belief has utility.

    So you wouldn’t dismiss a philosophical argument out of hand, because it might influence your degree of certitude?

    Finally, could you clarify how utility influences how much you believe something? Seems reminiscent of Pascal’s wager to me, but perhaps I misunderstand you.

  203. 203
    John Morales

    Disagreeable Me: 1. Fair enough, though I fear for your argument.

    2. Ok, so utility I understand, not sure what you mean by warrant. I would have thought a warranted belief meant much the same thing as a justified belief?

    The reason why I should believe it; that which separates it from equally plausible yet different beliefs.

    3. It appears we distinguish between justified beliefs and warranted beliefs. So you have some unjustified beliefs. Does this imply that you might actually be willing to entertain a philosophical argument for a belief? You might after all add the conclusion to your unjustified beliefs.

    I’ve already referred to domains of discourse; when expounding about the nature of reality (cf. Marcus Ranum @58) purely philosophical arguments are useless.

    (When expounding on the whichness of the why, it’s a different matter)

    So you wouldn’t dismiss a philosophical argument out of hand, because it might influence your degree of certitude?

    Well, that depends. When you come up with such an ontologically-problematic argument, you sure need to be persuasive that the map really is the territory.

    Finally, could you clarify how utility influences how much you believe something? Seems reminiscent of Pascal’s wager to me, but perhaps I misunderstand you.

    Depends on the discursive domain ;)

    When it comes to beliefs about reality, I do well enough to keep up with science.

    I put it to you that the MUH is a metaphysical claim, not a scientific one.

  204. 204
    Disagreeable Me

    @John Morales

    when expounding about the nature of reality (cf. Marcus Ranum @58) purely philosophical arguments are useless.

    Well, it depends on what you mean by “the nature of reality”. If you’re talking about empirical claims about the laws of nature and what happens in our universe, then I agree.

    If you’re talking about what reality is, and what distinguishes the real from the unreal, then you’re talking metaphysics. For example, what would it mean to assert the reality of another universe which we cannot in principle detect? For me, that’s a metaphysical question and can only be approached from a philosophical angle.

    When you come up with such an ontologically-problematic argument, you sure need to be persuasive that the map really is the territory.

    Yeah, it needs to be persuasive, granted. But as long as we are agreed that the discussion isn’t futile before we even begin, then that’s all I’m trying to establish for now.

    I put it to you that the MUH is a metaphysical claim, not a scientific one.

    I agree (Max Tegmark wouldn’t). That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s worthless, however, nor even that it has no utility (if I understand what you mean by that). Strong AI is another such metaphysical claim, but I would argue it has moral implications for how we might treat artificially intelligent entities.

  205. 205
    John Morales

    [meta]

    Disagreeable Me:

    For example, what would it mean to assert the reality of another universe which we cannot in principle detect?

    Not excluding the possibility ≠ asserting the reality.

    For me, that’s a metaphysical question and can only be approached from a philosophical angle.

    As in, it may or may not have something to do with reality?

    (Perhaps, and perhaps not)

    I agree (Max Tegmark wouldn’t). That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s worthless, however, nor even that it has no utility (if I understand what you mean by that). Strong AI is another such metaphysical claim, but I would argue it has moral implications for how we might treat artificially intelligent entities.

    Yes, yes… very philosophical.

    Apparently, just as it takes science to dispute science, it takes philosophy to dispute philosophy.

  206. 206
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    just as it takes science to dispute science

    Correct, science is only refuted by more science, which requires EVIDENCE. Mental wanking is irrelevant and refuted by EVIDENCE.

  207. 207
    Kagehi

    Agreed, a lot of this stuff is nonsense, but I’m not sure you’re justified in saying it’s all crap. Some of the most worthwhile philosophy is the stuff that deals with stuff that is not empirical in nature. For example in music, you might want to ask questions like whether someone can “own” a piece of music, etc.

    With respect, that isn’t an “philosophical” argument at all, its a legal one. Technically, “own” is an expansion of the concept “possess”. You obviously can’t “possess” something you are not holding on to at the time, but we have creates a whole complex set of legal definitions, punishments, and artificial consequences, for violating to attempt to “possess” something someone else “owns”, having set it down on the ground, and taken their hands off it.

    The question is incoherent, for the simple reason that its asking the absurd. Its not asking, “Is music like the clothing I currently have on my own back?” Its asking, “Is music, under the artificial construct of a legal model something you can ‘own’, in the same way you ‘possess’ the shirt that is currently on your back.” Talk about bloody category errors… Or, what was it the book on the housing bubble I am reading called it.. out of reference.. out of frame.. Oh, right “Out of Domain”. I.e., not within the same defined set of reference, and thus not being possible to compare. In the case of the bubble this meant that they where attempting to compare a new form of commodity, with unknown factors, unknown risks, and even unknown unknowns, to “existing” ones, using the same models, instead of taking care to make sure they had the data to construct a real model, just for those types of investments, to start with.

    This is, colloquially, called “comparing apples and oranges”, but.. in reality, it might be closer to comparing apples and Yorkshire terriers. Wrong category, wrong domain, wrong question, since, in reality, anything you are not holding in your hands, right now, is only “owned” in the sense that someone will, under what ever rules define that ownership, so long as someone else is willing to follow those rules, and jail the person that picked it up. And, things like music only make things worse, since, in principle, someone with musical talent, might be able to replicate them, without picking up the original (or if its digital, well. things just get more of a mess too, but then so does **everything** you can make digital, including the schematics to your car, house, cell phone, etc.)

    I don’t see much “philosophy” involved with the question, at least in the sense that its being argued. Wrong domain, wrong questions.

  208. 208
    Disagreeable Me

    @Kagehi
    Legal questions are often routed in philosophical questions. Real legal questions revolve around what the law is, whereas philosophical questions might deal with what the law should be.

    As for whether this particular question is incoherent, you might be right. It was only an example of the kind of non-empirical question you might ask.

    For more:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_music

    As you will see, a lot of the questions are not empirical in nature (although some are), so your psycho-acoustic example isn’t illustrative of the field as a whole, I’d say.

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