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I appreciate (and try to follow) Popper's comment that although it may not be possible to have a *rational* conversation about a metaphysical topic, it should nevertheless be possible to have a *reasonable* conversation about that topic. I apologise for the inevitable misquote as I'm at work and away from my own reference books!

Surprised you didn't mention anything about "The Open Society and Its Enemies". Some of it sits with me as another useful metaphorical boundary.

Intellectual entrenchment always reminds me of watching insects fighting over small patches of the garden...

I like the idea that there are no true boundaries between different domains of thought, such as science and metaphysics, or science and fashion, or metaphysics and sex. After all, isn't metaphysics just a way to try to get off with the universe (usually by pushing a wank cycle with seretonin and dopamine receptors)?

For instance, Bayes' theorem lines up Popper's whole worldview nicely as a special case of probabilities in general. You only need falsificationism for cases where the probabilities are really skewed, such as finding the white sock in the black sock drawer. The odds are 1,000,000,000,000,000:1 against, so Bayesian math isn't going to yeild a useful judgement criteria. Evolution is probably the same way, since its crucial moments depend on similarly infintesimal odds.

So you can falsify evolution, but you can't falsify creationism, or intelligent design, therefore they shouldn't even be in the same room together. Or, in a broader bayesian frame, you could say its possible theres an entity external to this universe that did indeed opt for one of the latter two (though it seems far more efficient to just evolve everything) - but the key is, there isn't enough information available to reasonably assing a probability to the existence of this exterior entity. The problem with religious people, and the precise technical reason why faith is contrary to rational thought, is that they believe God exists with a 100% probability, and assigning absolute certianty to any proposition breaks the zeroth rule of bayesian rationality.

Agnostics on the other hand, rather than being passive evaders of the whole debate, actively appreciate the need for more information in order to make rational judgements on matters from the huge (God et al.) to the mundane (invest in this company? will working on this project help my career?).

Ah yes, Bayes. I like the following pair of ideas:

"What's the probability of intelligent life evolving in this Universe? Infinitesimal, therefore there must have been a Creator."

"What's the probability of intelligent life evolving in this Universe, given that there is life in this Universe sufficiently intelligent to ask the question? Unity."

But note the following:

"What's the probability of a Creator existing, given that I speak with Him on a daily basis and see evidence for His wonderful creation all around me?"

The first statement draws a causation from a correlation, just because it seems more likely that an intelligent agent is at work doesn't imply that this is indeed so. And when you take autopoiesis into consideration the odds aren't so infintesimal.

The second statement is a circular concept, perhaps a paradox, similar to the Liar's paradox (this statement is false) or the Epimenides paradox (the following statement is false; the previous statement is true). Bayesian reasoning is of a different form.

The third statement assumes a 100% prior probability, so yeah, you're going to get a big posterior probability from that. But a more realistic question is what is the probability that my daily conversations with god aren't just me talking to myself? You still need more information, which cognitive science has already made some strides towards, but which needs more study to make any meaningful distinctions. For instance, what if the Penrose hypothesis is true in a weak sense and quantum non-locality affects cognition, putting us in a subtle yet significant dialogue with "god" at nearly all times? Then we could draw a meaningful distinction between verbal conversations (which is probably just reinforcing psychological processes at a high level) and intuition (which may be a real quantum-guided cognitive phenomena at a low level). I'm just spitting conjecture here, not founding a religion or philosophy, and thats the point.

But, more importantly... How does someone who is Austrian-born, get to become "British"?

Or is that like a philosophical driver's licence? Proving that you can think out of and around the box...?

"Yeah, he's a real philosphical-type dude, look at his passport!"

Peter: if you can find that quote, I'd love to hear it!

Tide: I haven't actually read The Open Society yet - there are so many books to read and so little time! :) I felt that I should read Plato's Republic before The Open Society and Its Enemies (since it opposes it), but I have no great desire to read Republic since Plato's political philosophy seems so chilling... It leaves Popper's other work in a netherworld for me.

Now it may seem odd that someone so interested in philosophy has not read the "Greek classics", but I found in my own philosophical investigations that the Greek classics are all somewhat pointless when one is dealing with the problems of modern philosophy! :) Besides, I can't avoid absorbing much of the content of these early works from the work of other philosophers that reference it.

I'd love to hear what you gained from reading The Open Society though, if you have the time and the inclination.

ZenBen: Yes, I know what you mean. The behaviour of insects we are not likely to affect; I hope the same is not the case for entrenched intellectuals! :)

Peter/Patrick: the issue of God never reaches the domain of probability since one generally accepts or rejects the idea as an a priori assumption, as is implied here. :) As for Penrose, although I doubt his mechanism I find the idea of non-local consciousness to have enormous explanatory potential... of course, one can make the same claim about God. :)

Neil: Through the magic of immigration, naturally! (Or is that the magic of naturalisation, immigrantly?) :) Popper fled the Nazi regime to New Zealand and then came to Britain where our generous immigration policy granted him citizenship. :D I've got to get one of those special philosopher passports, though - very handy! :)

From Karl Popper "The Logic of Scientific Discovery" chapter 1 (on page 15 of the Routledge paperback I have):

"My criterion of demarcation will accordingly have to be regarded as a /proposal for an agreement or convention/. As to the suitability of any such convention opinions may differ; and a reasonable discussion of these questions is only possible between paties having some purpose in common. The choice of that purpose must, of course, be ultimately a matter of decision, going beyond rational argument.*5

"*5 I believe that a reasonable discussion is always possible between parties interested in truth and ready to pay attention to each other.

Thanks Peter! That quote reassures me that I haven't got my Popper mixed up, as well as putting forward the idea that reasonable discussion should always be possible provided there is a common purpose.

I gave my copy of 'The Logic of Scientific Discovery' to the husband of a work colleague when I was in London who once said to me that the Greeks had done all the important philosophy and that nothing worthwhile had happened in the field since then. :)

It's interesting to watch the evolution of that particular view, as the footnote was added by Popper some decades after the original text.

"to pay attention to each other" (especially during a debate of any importance) doesn't seem to be a strength in western europe, as far as i can see. Maybe Popper had the same impression...

I get that feeling, unfortunately.


I have always regarded Kuhn as sociology, not philosophy. Kuhn's observations on the *behavior* of *scientists* have no bearing on how science *ought* to be conducted or how truth should be sought.

Many, even most, disciplines exhibit distinct differences between theoretically correct approaches and actual practice, of which game design is a familiar example.

But such deontic issues as how things 'ought to be conducted' are not the sole concern of philosophy, of course. Kuhn may have been published as sociology but it's been sucked into the philosophy of science canon (anything can become philosophy, after all, given the right spin!) Personally, I'm enjoying having it there! :)

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