Saturday, March 24, 2007

A weekend ramble: Popper, politics and Persians who attack

Another random ramble around the web for you this weekend morning, alighting on select morsels of delight and controversy along the way.
  • I've been hearing good things about the movie '300,' mostly from these two here, since I don't want to read too many "spoilers": "This film," says Joe Maurone, "is nothing less than a rallying cry to stand up and speak out for what's right." Says Aaron Bilger, "Not just imagery, not just presentation, but heroism and sense of life make this film awesome."

    This film dramatises, brilliantly by all accounts, what historian John Lewis calls “the single most important battles in all of Western History,” when Persian hordes invaded the Grek mainland intent on destruction, and the defence by the awesome heroes of the Greeks--the "greatest generation" of their day--of their freedom and their lives, and by so doing making made possible all that we consider civilised today. Sounds like my kind of film, made even more delicious since it's got Ahmedinejad himself riled up. I understand it opens in NZ April 5.

  • No link here, just a quote, from the bard "Anon":
    “The fact that climate change is so uncertain and so expensive is exactly why collectivists have swarmed to the cause. The scope of the problem can never be identified, its cost never quantified, and complete solutions will never be found. The perfect issue for people whose primary goal is the expansion of government control."
    Think about that when you hear about the UN's plans to step in to police the world's producers and to "plan" the world's energy markets, or read about local politicians plans to throttle producers, taxpayers and forest owners on the twin altars of "sustainability" and "carbon neutrality."

    Think about that too when you read about the $150 billion cost of Kyoto in the one year since it's introduction (for, supposedly, a prevention of warming by 0.0015 degrees C); when you read about the American Government’s expenditure to date of $18 billion plus on computer forecasting of climate change (and the computer- modellers are still unable even to predict the past except by fudging, i.e. making adjustments in the models in order to arrive at the answer they already know); or when you hear about the $180 billion of research money that has been spent on climate research since 1990, but still without any unambiguous anthropogenic (human) effect on global climate being proved.

  • Speaking of the world's most popular secular religion, if you haven't yet read Martin Durkin's more measured response to critics of his great film 'The Great Global Warming Swindle' (see it online here)-- I posted his more colourful response here last week -- then give it a going over now: "The global-warmers were bound to attack," he says, "but why are they so feeble?"

  • Nazi film-maker Leni Riefenstahl "was a slut." That's the view of Richard Schickel in reviewing a new book on the influential film-maker, director of 'Olympiad' and the Nazi celebration 'Triumph of the Will,' and he makes his point well. Influential she may have been, even to non-Nazis, but in placing her obvious talents at the service of last century's third-worst totalitarian, "She overlooked the evils and emphasized the romance of Nazi power."

  • Here's some sense on the smacking debate from Luke at Pacific Empire, explaining why he's going to be part of the march on Parliament on March 28. (See smackingback.blogspot.com for more details and other places that are organising marches.) A pity he doesn't see sense on other subjects.

  • "First we make out buildings," said Winston Churchill, "and then our buildings make us." What then to make of George W. Bush's house. Notes 'Corbusier' at the Architecture & Morality blog, Crawford, Texas ranch,
    As stories of Al Gore's profligate energy use for his mansion in Nashville have circulated, some bloggers have made mention of the environmentally friendly design of the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas.
    He follows up that opening with a post well worth reading, on (genuine) green design, organic architecture, and what the Bush's were like as clients.

  • I'm pleased to see that Labour hack Jordan Carter has come out against Labour renewed plans to confiscate people's assets before they're even proved to be guilty of anything: "they are trying to push it through again, so that people who have not been convicted of anything can have their assets stripped." This is wrong, says Jordan, and on that he's absolutely right.

  • How do you feel about plans for thirty-minute interviews with minor bureaucrats before you get a passport issued, or re-issued? In what some pundits are saying is a prelude to the introduction of nationwide ID cards, this is what is now being implemented in the UK, that one-time bastion of personal freedom.

  • Czech president Vaclav Klaus included in his recent trip to Washington to talk to the Senate Environment Committee a visit to address the Cato Institute (yep, the same series of hearing as Bjorn Lomborg and Al Gore were addressin). "This is not my first speech in CATO," he began.
    My today’s presentation here cannot be totally different, I am stubborn and conservative. Everyone has a list – mostly an implicit one – of issues, problems, challenges which he feels and considers – with his experiences, prejudices, sensitivities, preferences and priorities – to be crucial, topical, menacing, relevant. I will try to reveal at least some of the topics from my own list. All are – inevitably – related to something that was absent during most of my life in the communist era.

    What I have in mind is, of course, freedom... Where do I see now, at the beginning of the 21st century the main dangers (or threats) to freedom?
    Read on and find out.

  • This looks to be a fascinating lecture tomorrow afternoon at Auckland's Art Gallery, part of the Passion and Politics series: Romanticism, Awe, Terror and the Sublime in British Art. That's one I'm planning to get to.

  • "'I love you, and I am a socialist.' This is what I, via the wonders of television, watched being said to [UK Tory leader] David Cameron." Paul Marks at Samizdata thinks that's not entirely an endorsement of Cameron, on whom local Tory leader John Key models himself. How long before Key gets a wind turbine on his house, I wonder, instead of a pair of flip flops?

  • Why do intellectuals oppose capitalism? The anti-libertarian intellectual's favourite straw man, the late Robert Nozick tries to answer the question. He begins: "It is surprising that intellectuals oppose capitalism so." Really? See for yourself here why Nozick is both good and bad.

  • Stephen Hicks has spotted some goodies:
    First some good news: several striking photos of Africa from the air. Then the continuing bad news: Africa continues to stagnate while the rest of the world develops. For example, here’s an intriguing comment on colonialism’s legacy. But good ideas are available. Here, for example, is Enterprise Africa, a joint project of George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, The Free Market Foundation of South Africa, London’s Institute for Economic Affairs, and The Templeton Foundation.
    Incidentally, I owe Stephen a review of his insightful documentary, Nietzsche and the Nazis. (It's coming, Stephen, I promise.)

  • Two good press releases here from two good libertarians:

    Parents Must Be Allowed to Choose Qualifications
    "The news that several prominent schools are considering offering alternative international qualifications, in response to parental dissatisfaction with NCEA, was completely predictable" Libertarianz Education Spokesman Phil Howison said today. "Parents have good reasons to be concerned about NCEA - but the harsh response from the education bureaucracy suggests simple contempt for the rights of parents."... Libertarianz believes that parents have the right to make decisions for their own children. The state has no right to your children...

    Doctors May Stop Discounting Fees
    Libertarianz spokesman Richard McGrath today wondered whether his medical colleagues would shorten consultation times and cease discounting fees in response to the government's persecution of general practitioners who want to raise their charges...

  • Those same readers should also find much to savour, if not much on which to agree, in two related and masterful pieces: First, philosopher Karl Popper is often taken to be a pre-eminent defender of both science and liberty. In two articles, Nicholas Dykes shows that as a defender of either, Popper's thought is seriously deficient: 'Debunking Popper: A Critique of Karl Popper's Critical Rationalism,' [25-page PDF] and the much longer, 'A Tangled Web of Guesses: A Critical Assessment of the Philosophy of Karl Popper' [39-page PDF].

    Popper's whole notion that science consists of "conjecture and refutation" is shown by Dykes to be both internally contradictory and a position that opens the door wide to subjectivism, to "consensus science," and ultimately to the post-modern bullshit of Thomas Kuhn and his paradigm shifts; and Popper's idea that science may be distinguished from non-science primarily by the virtue of "falsifiability" is seen to be important, but on its own woefully insufficient as an an essential defining characteristic by which to winnow the bold from the bullshit.

    Popper is worth reading, says Dykes -- "full of valuable insights, astute observations, and stimulating, sometimes inspiring prose" -- but in the end the Philosopher's Stone of explaining and defending science eluded him. Dykes concludes by suggesting, albeit briefly, what Popper missed, and what might have made his project complete.

    Popperians offended by the demolition might at least take comfort in Diana Hsieh's point: "Of course, Dykes knock-down arguments don't just apply to Popper, but also to the similar ideas in Kant and Hume and others in the history of philosophy." (And they might also reflect, as Diana has, that Popper's flawed philosophical base makes him a less than worthwhile advocate for liberty.)

    The second piece, which I'd strongly recommend reading in conjunction with Dykes' piece, is David Harriman's account of Induction and Experimental Method. Harriman is both philosopher (in the Objectivist tradition) and a physicist at Caltech, so this is a topic on which he is eminently qualified to write. The piece is a chapter of his forthcoming book on the subject:
    [It] examines the key experiments involved in Galileo’s kinematics and Newton’s optics, identifies the essential methods by which these scientists achieved their discoveries, and illustrates the principle that induction is inherent in valid conceptualization.
    Modern science began with Galileo, he says, in particular with Galileo's methodology.
    The scientific revolution of the 17th century was made possible by the achievements of ancient Greece... The modern scientist views himself as an active investigator, but such an attitude was rare among the Greeks. This basic difference in mindset—contemplation versus investigation—is one of the great divides between the ancient and modern minds. Modern science began with the full development of its own distinctive method of investigation: experiment. Experimentation is “the method of establishing causal relationships by means of controlling variables.” The experimenter does not merely observe nature; he manipulates it by holding some factor(s) constant while varying others and measuring the results. He knows that the tree of knowledge will not simply drop its fruit into his open mind; the fruit must be cultivated and picked, often with the help of instruments designed for the purpose.
    Scientific investigation and philosophical induction, argues Harriman, are characterised not just by falsification (as Popper would have it), but by by a clear understanding of identity, causality (ie., identity in action), and above all of the importance of integration. It is these three that skeptics like Hume never understood, and would-be scientific defenders like Popper needed to learn.
    Cognitive integration is the very essence of human thought, from concept-formation (an integration of a limitless number of concretes into a whole designated by a word), to induction (an integration of a limitless number of causal sequences into a generalization), to deduction (the integration of premises into a conclusion). An item of knowledge is acquired and validated by means of grasping its relation to the whole of one’s knowledge. A thinker always seeks to relate, grasp hidden similarities, discover connections, unify. A conceptual consciousness is an integrating mechanism, and its product—knowledge—is an interconnected system, not a junk heap of isolated propositions. Galileo integrated his knowledge not only within the subject of physics but also between physics and the related science of astronomy...
    The precision necessary for scientific induction is mathematical, says Harriman.
    While discussing concept-formation, Ayn Rand explained that “perceptual awareness is the arithmetic, but conceptual awareness is the algebra of cognition.” She ended the discussion with a challenge to the skeptics: Those who deny the validity of concepts must first prove the invalidity of algebra... A concept can function as a green light to induction only if it is defined precisely—and, in physical science, the required precision is mathematical... The cognitive integration necessary to validate a high-level generalization in physics is made possible only because the discoveries and laws are formulated in quantitative terms. Thus progress requires that the key concepts be defined in terms susceptible to numerical measurement. Such measurement is both the primary concern of the mathematician and the primary activity of the experimentalist.

    Thus induction in physics is essentially dependent on two specialized methods. Experimentation provides the entrance into mathematics, and mathematics is the language of physical science.

    It's impossible to recommend this highly enough. (Unfortunately, the full paper is only available to subscribers to The Objective Standard -- which is partly why I've quoted here as much as copyright allows -- but as I've said before, subscription to this quarterly is worth every penny.)

    * * * * *

  • Now that should be more than enough weekend reading for any man or woman, but just to finish on a lighter note, Michael Newberry has three further online art tutorials released at the same time as his tutorial explaining how he integrated the Old Masters with the Impressionists in his painting Denouement: the first of these other three is, Exaltation in Art: Pleasing the Voices in Your Head, which loosely explains how an artist makes up his mind about their own work. The second explains the importance for both composition and for seeing the world of thumbnail sketches -- and rather than being banal, Newberry argues that thumbnail sketches are essential preparatory work for the excitement and spontaneity of major works; they are The Key to the Big Picture. And what of proportion? Much talked about, what exactly is it all about? Artist Newberry uses sculptor Polyclitus to explain why proportion is "math in art."
Enjoy.

UPDATE: I've changed the word "demolished" with reference to Nicholas Dykes' articles on Popper, and changed it for something more respectful. Diana's "a less than worthwhile advocate" for liberty and science is more appropriate. And I've removed the paragraph about the debate-which wasn't between Johnson and Hawking. My error for posting it in the first place. Sorry.

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35 Comments:

Anonymous Falafulu Fisi said...

The precision necessary for scientific induction is mathematical, says Harriman.

Yes, but Prof. Harriman had abandoned the objectivist view of causality in his support for the Theory of Elementary Waves and jumped ship to endorse the Copenhagen Interpretation, when the news of the Inssbruk experiment first came out, which is completely opposite to what he preaches.

So, I can't understand PC of why you quoted Harriman here enthusiastically while the man is flip-flopping his view?

3/24/2007 02:01:00 pm  
Blogger Berend de Boer said...

Your observations on the philosophy of science are spot on pc, and you quote them with such vigour that perhaps you have changed your mind on the subject a little since the last simplistic schema you posted?

But I wonder why Kuhn is put in with the post modernist. He was just concerned with what scientists actually do. He certainly didn't set out to prove that astrology and astronomy are equally worthy of our attention or equally scientific. He was concerned with science, so after such a statement, one wonders if one should continue to read such articles. Because what else would be wrong?

3/24/2007 02:18:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

Wow, thanks for all those PC. Will spend some time going through those links. One I am quite familiar is with the Dykes reference and I afraid it doesn't even come close to demolitioning Popper. Similarly for Harriman.

I wonder, PC, have you actually read Popper?

The last thing Popper opens the door to is "consensus science".

I haven't got time to reply properly right now; but I may through in some comments later.

3/24/2007 02:22:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

...that's "throw"

3/24/2007 02:32:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Oh, poor Fisi, alas twice wrong.

You're right that Harriman no longer endorses Lewis Little's Theory of Elementary Waves (TEW), because the Innsbruck experiment in his view was unable to be integrated with TEW.

But he has neither abandoned the Objectivist view of causality -- very from it -- nor has he endorsed the Copenhagen Interpretation.

Far from flip flopping, he is behaving as a scientist should: he's going with the evidence.

You can see his 2001 statement on this here.

3/24/2007 03:16:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

BEREND: Changed my mind? No, not at all. You see that schema as at odds with this view? I certainly don't.

Have a look, for instance, at how Harriman explains how Galileo used (in the terms of John Stuart Mill) the 'Method of Difference' and the 'Methods of Agreement' in all his experimentation, even to formulate his hypothesese.

On this latter point, briefly (and importantly): "The epistemological state of a scientist is not what a skeptics would have us a believe. When a scientist confronts some aspects of nature, he does not do so as a helpless newborn; he enters his investigation armed with a vast context of knowledge that precisely delimits the possibilities. A factor qualifies as relevant to his investigation only if there is some reason to suspect that it plays a causal role, a reason based on the generalizations that he has already reached, which are ultimately reducible to evidence given directly by the senses."

BRIAN S.: If you have time, I'd be interested to see how you think Popper survives? Yes, I have read him: every science student was once required to.

You say, "The last thing Popper opens the door to is "consensus science".

But as Dykes points out, not very clearly I admit, Poppoers neo-Kantianism betrays him here. Kant has, in Rand's summary, asserted that we are limited by our means of perception; that we are blind beacuse we have eyes, deaf becuase we have ears, and deluded because we have a mind. According to Kant, she maintained, "Reason's validity is then switched from the objective to the collective."

And Popper follows this same approach. "Objectivity," according to Popper, does not lie in regognbition of facts, instead it "lies in the fact that [scentific statements] can be inter-subjectively tested." [LSCD 44] AS Dykes notes, "[Popper] later stated this differently: "It is the public character of science ...which preserves the objectivity of science." [POH 155-6]

If you don't agree that this opens the door wide to "science by survey," to the whole "consensus science' nonsense, and to the "inter-subjectivity" of Kuhn, then you'd at least have to agree that it left a whole continent-wide gap for Kuhn to to drive through and exploit, which he did.

3/24/2007 03:45:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

Phew! Just got home after a late one doing a global website package drop.

Just a brief response, quoting from this article by Rafe Champion:

If Popper's views are identified as the source of the postmodernist silliness it should be possible to find some exponent of that silliness who attributes his or her stance to the influence of reading Popper, or who has taken on board Popper's ideas (if not directly from him) and consequently moved to adopt the irrationalist or social constructivist position.

I am not aware of any person who has taken that route. I cannot understand how a person who has understood Popper's ideas on critical rationalism and the critical method in science could possibly move in that direction. Unless of course they repudiate the logic of Popper's position, for good reasons or bad, in which case they can hardly be said to be acting under his influence.


Would you say that I, as a Popperian, have taken that route? Certainly not. Following Rafe, I challenge you to name one person who has

More later, but Rafe's critique of Stove covers some of the same ground that I would make in response to Dykes.

3/24/2007 06:26:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's something concrete for you. I don't know if Mr Newberry reads this... I have a 17yr old Samoan boy staying here each weekend. He is a tagger. A couple of weekends ago I bought him a sketch pad and paints. I also directed him to Newberry's tutorials via this blog. The boy loves Newberry's work, is trying to copy it and has been painting up a storm. And he is very good. So there you go. All 'at risk' or 'delinquent' youth need is a mentor - and the internet makes mentoring a lot easier.

In respect of the anti-smacking opposition, I think you would change your mind if you saw the reality rather than the abstract.

Speak to the kids. Listen to their thoughts on corporal punishment. It is not a parental right to smack.

3/24/2007 07:50:00 pm  
Anonymous Falafulu Fisi said...

Anon said...
I have a 17yr old Samoan boy staying here each weekend

But island kids need smacking as a way of correction & discipline. Watch out, for this kid further down the track, because , it is in the genes that make us including this boy behave in a way that needs smacking regularly in order to discipline. I can explain it further, since you do not experience the way island mentality is. For island culture, smacking is the only way to straighten kids to prevent them from falling trap in the bad ways.

3/24/2007 10:28:00 pm  
Blogger Mitch said...

Anonymous. I can't stand this "speak to the kids" nonsense! If kids know what is best for them (as you suggest by telling us to ask them what they think of smacking), then why do they even need parents? Perhaps we should ask them whether they should be allowed to consume alcohol, to drive cars, or whether they should have to go to school? Your stupidity is infuriating.

3/25/2007 12:51:00 am  
Anonymous Falafulu Fisi said...

PC said...
...nor has he (David Harriman) endorsed the Copenhagen Interpretation.

Here is a quote from Harriman's article that you linked to here.


The way out of this dilemma is to recognize that non-locality poses no threat to causality.

Now, you say that he doesn't endorse the Copenhagen Interpretation but he accepts Non-locality? It is the same thing. The 2 terms are one
and the same meaning and that is:

Copenhagen Interpretation = Non-locality

Harriman is carefully trying to use fuzzy logic in his wording so that he does appear not to abandon Causality?

How, can Causality be integrated with Non-locality and see no contradiction there. There is a huge contradiction there and here is a quote from an Objectivist & Randian proponent Betsy Speicher
from her article here , trying to refute Non-locality by Philosophical means.

In fact, "The law of causality," explained philosopher Ayn Rand, "is the law of identity applied to action." [_Atlas Shrugged, p.954] Actions must have identities, too, or they cannot be real. Actions must have FINITE MEASUREMENTS.

If someone is to accept The law of causality, then he must reject Non-locality, because Non-locality is instantaneous, where there is zero time between the cause and the effect. I noted that Betsy Speicher and her husband Stephen were quick
to criticize Harriman, when he dropped his support for TEW (Theory of Elementary Wave).

If Neil Bohr is still alive today, he would have awarded Harriman a medal for accepting Non-locality, which indirectly endorsing the Copenhagen Interpretation.

3/25/2007 05:07:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

"If Popper's views are identified as the source of the postmodernist silliness ..."

I would call this a straw man. It's not something I would say or have head anyone suggest.

What Dykes is merely suggesting, and I am making a bit plainer, is that Popper opens the door to the "inters-ubjectivity" of postmodermist nonsense by failing to properly defend objectivity, and in particular by suggesting that objectivity itself lies in "inter-subjectivity."

"Opening the door to" is not the same thing as being "the source," but it does make you culpable as a bad defender of your cause.

3/25/2007 04:09:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

FF, what Harriman accepts is what the Innsbruck experiment seems to show. That's neither "fuzzy logic" nor an acceptance of CI, it's an acceptance of reality.

3/25/2007 04:10:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Berend, you asked: "But I wonder why Kuhn is put in with the post modernist. He was just concerned with what scientists actually do."

What could be more postmodernist (and more destructive of confidence in science) than giving up on objectivity altogether in favour of anti-realism, social subjectivism and "consensus" -- and concluding by declaring that science is a socially-driven process of paradigm shifts?

In fact, that position is both nonsense, and a simple description of postmodernism as it applies to science, and also of Kuhn's position: perception, they say is reality, or as Kuhn might have it, agreement is reality. As Stephen Hicks points out in 'Explaining Postmodernism,' Thomas Kuhn’s insistence on the subjectivity of scientific paradigms, Feyerabend’s epistemological anarchism (“anything
goes”), and Rorty’s “philosophy as conversation” became rallying cries for the full-dress relativism of postmodernism.

This relativism or consensus worship is of course utter tosh. Reality is what it is, regardless of how many hand-wringers wish it were otherwise.

3/25/2007 05:55:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PC. You seem to be making a (admittedly common) mistake between descriptive and prescriptive notions of Science. Popper, Kuhn, et al, are not throwing ontology out the window but rather they are claiming that the processes that scientists go through produce science (as opposed to, say, the grand objectivity of Science proper), where science can be construed as the construction of knowledge based upon context (or something equally quasi-subjective). This is purely a descrptive claim, and one that is hard to disagree with (unless you want to say that Newton, et al, were not engaging in something akin to science). This is not to deny that there is something behind science (say, Science) although it can be construed as the claim that we might not have any epistemic access to this thing behind science (where a lot of the debate is currently centred).

--Morthos (sorry, but Blogger is playing up, verification wise)

3/25/2007 06:42:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

PC,

Harriman thinks that the Innsbruck experiment seems to show this:

In my judgment, violations of the Bell inequalities in "double-delayed-choice" (DDC) experiments have proven the existence of "non-local" interactions.

No. The Innsbruck experiment conclusively falsifies TEW, but it is an error to say that this proves non-locality. How can it when we have another explanation that does not require it? This explanation, of course, is the Many Worlds Explanation. So Harriman is doing nothing more than expressing a preference for non-locality.

But it is not a rational preference. Falufulu is quite right: To accept non-locality is to give up on causality. The one cannot be integrated with the other without massive contradictions.

3/26/2007 07:58:00 am  
Blogger Berend de Boer said...

pc, seeing how you quote Feyerabend, it seems you have never read one of his books. The anything goes has nothing to do with both astronomy and astrology are equally valid. Or faith-based bridge building is just as good as an engineer's approach.

Let me quote from the preface to "Against Method": Science must be protected from ideologies; and societies, especially democratic societies, must be protected from science. ... None of the ideas that underlie my argument is new. My interpretation of scientific knowledge, for example, was a trviality for physicists like Mach, Boltzmann, Einstein and Bohr. But the ideas of these great thinkers were distorted beyond recognition by the rodents of neopositivism.

His statement is that pushing for a single method, as you do, has not worked, and does not work in science. There should be no scientific method, as there is more to lose than gain if we have one.

3/26/2007 09:55:00 am  
Blogger Brian S said...

PC,

Popper is not claiming that objectivity lies in inter-subjectivity. That is thoroughly wrong and betrays a misunderstanding of Popper. Rather what Popper is saying that science needs to be subject to public scrutiny. This is essential because it is how errors are uncovered. Without this "public character" errors go undiscovered. Unequivocably, this is not consensus science.

So let's have a look at what Popper says science is and compare it to what you wrote.

You wrote:

Scientific investigation ..., argues Harriman, [is] characterised not just by falsification (as Popper would have it)

Popper would never maintain scientific investigation is characterised just by falsification. To claim he does puts the claimer near the Henry Root base-line of scholarship. Science, for Popper, is the pursuit of truth. Falsification is merely a method of eliminating error.

Experimentation is “the method of establishing causal relationships by means of controlling variables.”

This comes close to saying that science is not about explanation but about producing formulae to link inputs to outputs. Explanation, for Popper, is at the heart of science. The reason you have set up the experiment in the first place is to test an explanation. Without a prior conjectural explanation you have no idea what to control for and what to observe. You are just twiddling knobs. Now Popper wouldn't deny that knob-twiddling can sometimes lead to unexpected discoveries, but the knob-twiddling does not in itself give you an explanation. It merely sets up the problem situation.

The experimenter does not merely observe nature; he manipulates it by holding some factor(s) constant while varying others and measuring the results. He knows that the tree of knowledge will not simply drop its fruit into his open mind; the fruit must be cultivated and picked, often with the help of instruments designed for the purpose.

This is weak. Is the claim here that Popper thinks that conjectural explanations just "pop" into a scientist's mind? For Popper, all science arises from problem situations. Problems are hardly something that occur "in vacuo". They may, occur, for example, when an experiment reveals a deficiency in an existing theory. Out of this, conjectures to solve the problem are advanced.

Cognitive integration is the very essence of human thought, from concept-formation (an integration of a limitless number of concretes into a whole designated by a word),...

Yes, as per Popper, the philosophy of induction leads to endless quibbles about the definitions of words, rather than arguments about what is true.

... to induction (an integration of a limitless number of causal sequences into a generalization),

A generalized prediction is not an explanation.

A thinker always seeks to relate, grasp hidden similarities, discover connections, unify.

And what in this would Popper disagree with?

Enough for now. I find it bizarre that one who is a staunch defender of biological evolution rejects Popperian evolutionary epistemology.
A problem provides a habitat for new ideas. These ideas are then ruthlessly subject to critism and testing, which eliminates errors and in turn generates new ideas. No room for consensus here.

3/26/2007 10:04:00 am  
Blogger Owen McShane said...

Popper's great contribution to liberty was his powerful attack on Totalitarianism in The Open Society and its Enemies and in particular his insight that Totalitarian societies were simply Tribalism writ large. It seems clear to me that insite into Tribalism was a result of his stay at Christchurch where he fell out with the head of the Philosophy dept who was actually a cultural anthropologist who wanted to see Maori tribal structure preserved. Understanably he was offended by Poppers work and great international success. He committed suicide.

3/26/2007 12:08:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Owen, you're right about his contribution to liberty, and Dykes gives full credit for what deserves credit (this is a "knock down" assault, as one commenter has termed it, but it's by no means a "slash and burn" one):

"[Popper's] attacks in 'The Open Society and Its Enemies' on Platonic and Hegelian totalitarianism, and on more general evils such as tribalism (a.k.a. nationalism) are inspiring; [however] his esteem for Marx, and his advocacy of "piecemeal social engineering" are depressing."

And he allows:

"Popper may have done little to rehabilitate realism, objectivity or rationality, yet his resolute espousal of them as proper and fitting may well bring benefits in the long term. Similarly, while his ethical and political thought left much to be desired, if he did indeed contribute to the collapse of the Iron Curtain through samizdat circulation of 'Open Society,' then we are forever in his debt."

3/26/2007 03:21:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

BRIAN S. AND BEREND: You're both heading down sideroads that are well covered in Dykes' two related presentations, and in Harriman's full piece.

Rather than debating with me about what they might have said, or speculating about Dykes' scholarhip, or about what books I've read, why don't you first read and digest Dyke's arguments about Popper's claim to be a defender of scientific knowledge, and what Harriman says to concretise induction both historically and philsophically.

You might well find that your substantive questions and objections are answered therein.

MORTHOS: It's not enough to say what scientists do -- since that provides neither a defence of wht they do nor of the truth value of what they discover -- to defend scitific knowledge it's necessary to say what they should do, and why.

By the way, I would not charaterise contextual knowlege as in any way subjective, "quasi" or not -- outside of the non-existent "mind of God," that's all the knowledge we have.

However, to say "we might not have any epistemic access to this thing behind science" woud be to open the door to subjectivity, and to invite the subjectivist hordes to stampede inside.

3/26/2007 03:36:00 pm  
Blogger Berend de Boer said...

pc, it is exactly with that "what scientists should do" that Feyerabend argues. And demonstrates that with Galileo for example. With the approach you value, we never would have had a Galileo. And countless others.

PS: I'm indeed reading that valuable article, there's a lot in it that I agree with so far.

3/26/2007 09:32:00 pm  
Blogger That Morthos Stare said...

Kuhn, for one, is not defending science; he is explaining what the process of science is. Popper is also trying to explain what it is we call science (a really good book on this is David Chalmer's 'What is this thing we call Science?'). This descriptive enterprise is something in addition to the realist/anti-realist debate.

In re 'However, to say "we might not have any epistemic access to this thing behind science" woud be to open the door to subjectivity, and to invite the subjectivist hordes to stampede inside.' Well, if it is true that we have no epistemic access to what is really going on behind the scenes then that is a bullet we simply have to take. I'm unconvinced either way; I think we can show reductionism in the hard sciences to be true but then again, something akin to emergent phenomena seems to be true of the social sciences, which must, in some way, rest upon or come out of the hard sciences (unless you include vacuous entities like souls). If the latter claim, that we have emergent phenomena in the social realm, is true (and, I will admit, the jury is out; biologists have long been anti-reductionists but Alex Rosenberg's 'Darwinian Reductionism' presents a strong challenge to that thesis) then it is arguably the case that we have a much more diminished epistemic access to reality than we initially thought (and, if you can't force out the skeptical challenges to your basic claims then even the hard sciences are in trouble in re making basic claims about the world). It's all very nice to say 'It should be like this' but the literature indicates that such a view is contentious at best.

3/26/2007 11:27:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

PC,

Popper's views on social engineering changed over the course of his life, particularly as he took on board the ideas of his friend Hayek and also the full implications of his critical rationalism and evolutionary epistemology. It would be unfair to attempt to discredit Popper by referring to some of his earlier writings when his thinking later changed to move more markedly towards minimum state and libertarianism. Popper certainly did not hold Marx's ideas in esteem and one reason Popper is despised by the left is because of his scathing criticism of Marxism.

That said, Popper's personal opinions on X and Y have no bearing at all on the truth of critical rationalism. In fact it is one of the ironies of Popper that he never fully realized all the implications of his epistemology. This is often the case with new theories: the originators sometimes cling to remnants of the old worldview because even they do not realize how much the earth has shifted as a result of the new theory. So it is possible to find quotations from Popper that are at odds with his theory. Was Popper a whole-hearted defender of the libertarian position? In some instances, probably not. But that is a different question from whether critical rational and evolutionary epistemology are true. Once you have fully taken these ideas on board and worked out the ramifications (which Popper never fully worked out, as I said), you can be nothing less than a defender of freedom and liberty.

....

In my reply above, I have directed my ripostes at what you wrote. Far from heading down a side-road, I have addressed a main issue here: namely that critical rational and evolutionary epistemology are contradictory and open the door to subjectivity. It is in fact induction that opens this door. Inductivism and Kuhn's whole thesis are mutually self-supporting. Do you not see this as opening a door to consensual science:

"A concept can function as a green light to induction only if it is defined precisely"?

The insistence that definitions lie at the root of knowledge turns the quest for knowledge into a debate about the meaning of words rather than a search for truth. And it is from this that Kuhn can make out that there is something called "normal science".

Ayn Rand's inductivism undoes her in a way that Popper's critical rationalism does not undo him. That is because scientific induction is false, root and branch.

I will respond to Dykes when I have more time. Frankly I am sick of these kinds of misrepresentations of Popper.

3/27/2007 01:37:00 am  
Blogger Brian S said...

PC,

How's about I put up a post responding to Dykes? As I can't buy you a beer in person - not unless you are coming to London soon - I'll donate you the cost of a six-pack.

3/27/2007 02:13:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

Morthos, you said, "It's all very nice to say 'It should be like this' but the literature indicates that such a view is contentious at best."

Which is precisely the point of Harriman's piece: to demonstrate that science WHEN DONE RIGHT gives knowledge. That induction works. Talk about "the literature" all you like, but try and deal with what he says, which is a direct challenge to that "literature."

(And try, perhaps, to use real words -- your favourite floating abstractions tend to slide over arguments like grease over food. I know you've got a point to make, and if you made it clearer it would make the debate better, and your point more powerful.)

3/27/2007 10:09:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

BRIAN, you said, "How's about I put up a post responding to Dykes? As I can't buy you a beer in person - not unless you are coming to London soon - I'll donate you the cost of a six-pack."

Sounds good. Which reminds me, I think Berend still owes me ...

But you need to address Harriman's arguments re induction as well. [Email me, if you like.]

But I have to say that I don't think you've got to grips at all with either Dykes or with Harriman. For example, you say, "It would be unfair to attempt to discredit Popper by referring to some of his earlier writings when his thinking later changed to move more markedly towards minimum state and libertarianism." You don't seem to have noticed that Dykes addresses this specifically towards the end of 'Tangled Web.'

You're railing against definitions and against induction, when both Popper and Harriman (and Rand) specifically address your points -- and you're simply asserting the supposed errors of both definitions and induction, but without argument, and in terms already disposed of by Dykes.

If you do provide a rejoinder, it will have to be better than this.

As Dykes says, Popper advocated for criticisms to be directed at others, he warned of the 'spell' of Plato -- so too "an alarm needs to be raised over the 'spell' of Popper." I'm with Dykes that the spell needs to be broken.

3/27/2007 10:27:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

BEREND, you said, "With the approach you value, we never would have had a Galileo."

I'm struggling to understand how this could be so, since Harriman's very article uses Galileo's scientific method as a model of what I value...

3/27/2007 10:28:00 am  
Blogger Owen McShane said...

This is not a good time to be challenging Popper's major themes in "Conjectures and Refutations" and in "The Logic of Scientific Discovery." If more people understood his focus on refutation the Global Warming Alarmists would not have got off the ground.
He pointed out that one can always find evidence in support of a theory. "the globe is warming! Today is warmer than yesterday! That proves it." A sound theory is subject to refutation. Years ago I wrote "GLobal warming is now irrefutable - but was challenging the alarmists not supporting them." We have just had the coldest summer in thirty but no one has said that maybe this refutes the theory of "Global" warming. Had it been the hottest summer in thirty years we would never have head the end of global warming.
I also suspect that those writing today have no idea of the impact of Popper's writings AT THE TIME. I read most of his works in the early sixties and they were a revelation. I had been raised in a communist household and "THe Poverty of Historicism" destroyed the whole faith of Scientific Marxism in about fifty pages. And is still the other great defence against the climate alarmists and resource depletionists.

3/27/2007 10:42:00 am  
Blogger That Morthos Stare said...

To actually engage with Harriman's article would be to give it too much credence (and, frankly, a waste of my time); I'm sure some from the Academy will (or is, or has) done that job for me.

As for your slight against my use of terminology; well, sorry for using the terms and frames of reference in current use. I'll try and talk down to you in subsequent exchanges.

3/27/2007 11:41:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

Morthos, you can either be a pretentious twat, or you can make a valid point. Hard to do both, and you haven't. Just the first.

3/27/2007 12:24:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Owen, you said, "I also suspect that those writing today have no idea of the impact of Popper's writings AT THE TIME."

Not so. Dykes gives full credit for what Pope did say of value, and for what his arguments did achieve, but I strongly suspect he's been feted less for what he did say than for who he said it to. His time at LSE was enormously influential, but his ideas themselves and his reliance on falsification ON ITS OWN do not provide any foundation for objective knowledge.

Falsification WITHOUT integration or a recognition of causality is not knowledge. Lack of falsification for a notion is neither a proof nor a validation; for proof or validation of a notion, demonstrated causal connections are necessary (which AGW proponents have yet to do), and integration with all the knowledge already known is necessary (which AGW proponents are unable to do.)

Falsification is just one leg of the stool.

And why should Popper's fallibilism itself be exempt from criticism? As he said himself, "nothing is exempt from criticism... not even this principle of of the critical method itself."

Surely he would value Dykes' attention?

3/27/2007 12:35:00 pm  
Blogger That Morthos Stare said...

From one pretentious twat to another, I'll take that as a compliment.

3/27/2007 01:52:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

PC,

You wrote:

[Popper's] reliance on falsification ON ITS OWN do not provide any foundation for objective knowledge.

For the second time, critical rationalism and evolutionary epistemology are not just "falsification ON ITS OWN". You have missed Popper's whole emphasis on problem solving and explanation. Knowledge is about good explanations, explanations that have withstood criticism and attempts at falsification. When explanations fail because an experimental test has falsified it or because someone has pointed up a flaw in the logic, then you are forced to look for better explanations. Explanations are not arbitrary, and a good explanation will make lots of predictions that can be tested.

You seek a foundation for objective knowledge but although Popper believed in objective knowledge, he realized that it cannot be placed on a foundation. So he did not seek to do so. What Popper did was describe the process by which objective knowledge arises.

Why is the quest for foundations mistaken?

This is one reason:

Kurt Godel, the mathematician, showed that any sufficiently powerful system of axioms is either incomplete or inconsistent. This means the axioms either do not capture all the truths about the system of that they lead to contradiction. If mathematics cannot be placed on a foundation, neither can the rest of physical reality.

Truth is larger than any system of axioms. We have to take our truths as we find them.

Falsification WITHOUT integration or a recognition of causality is not knowledge.

Where does Popper claim that he does not recognize causality? Or the value of explanations that integrate knowledge?

Lack of falsification for a notion is neither a proof nor a validation

If you have an explanation that has survived testing and good criticism and all rival explanations currently known have failed, what more do you want?

"for proof or validation of a notion, demonstrated causal connections are necessary (which AGW proponents have yet to do), and integration with all the knowledge already known is necessary (which AGW proponents are unable to do.)"

Again, no mention of "problem solving" and "explanation". An explanation may be a proof from a system of axioms. It may not be. It doesn't have to be.

Here's a question:

If induction is so good, why have none of you inductivists been able to induce the truth about quantum mechanics, despite all the "limitless" experiments that have been done?

3/27/2007 10:01:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

PC,

You wrote:

You're railing against definitions and against induction, when both Popper and Harriman (and Rand) specifically address your points

Ahem, I think you mean Dykes, not Popper.

Anyway, a post will be in the email in a few weeks - once I get back from a holiday I am about to take!

3/28/2007 07:28:00 am  

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