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Whats funny is when Scientists see something that contradicts their preffered models, they often disparrage the champions of new ideas as quacks, even when their process is highly scientific. Richard Dawkins dances on the verge of being such a prig, but look at Aubrey de Grey and how he's been recieved by the scientific community, and you see this in action.

I think this probably applies to the game design community as well.

It's a very human thing, premature certainty. Kuhn argues that the scientific community could not operate without this commitment to "knowing how things are", and he may have a point.

As for the games industry, yes, the parallel is rather too apposite. :)

Science evolves as scientists refine their perspectives, but this refinement is an adaptation to new conditions of knowledge, and not an inevitable march towards perfection.

Hear hear. And less fit theories - eventually - become extinct. But that can take thousands of years, especially as the fitness function includes some aspect of "appealing to humans" in it. Belief in a flat earth is not extinct because the idea appeals to some.

There's an element of circularity in this statement of position, since by implication you are saying that there is no objective truth (and I know this to be your opinion), and so how can you dismiss anything as not being true if you have no grounds for comparative judgement?

zenBen: I have never said there is no objective truth - only that we are incapable of establishing it. We can dismiss things as being 'not true' relative to a particular set of propositions, but only in such a relative state of affairs. This, however, is more than sufficient for science to function.

Chris, in reference to our earlier exchange I will just add that it is often also the practicing "technologist" who starts to find "gaps and discrepancies" in the predictions provided by theoretical scientist - the practioners may be a lot less enthusiastic about the "state of truth" than the "theorists" (a.k.a "professors").

with regard to "textbooks" and "scientific education" I couldn't agree more with your view - I find "textbook teachings" (or is "preachings" more adequate here ;) very often failing to stress that the experiment (even if it were only a thought experiment) must have priority over the stating or derivation of "laws".

on the scientific community's belief in the "progress towards truth" I'd add another important point you seem to be neglecting (what does Kuhn ahve to say about it?):

ever since at least the invention of calculus (if not since the time of Euclid) the "progress" in development, refinement and extension of mathematics has played a crucial role in the development or creation of "world-views" that seem acceptable to the incubent gate keepers of scientifc process and interpretation (the "authorities" of the field) - and this seems to have become even more important if you consider the leading position of "mathematical physicist" for the last 150 years starting with Maxwell, Gibbs, Boltzmann and Poincare, the obvious "Einstein-Schrödinger-Dirac" group over to von Neumann, Feynmann and so forth - it seems to me that it is here in the supposedly "universal language" of mathematics that the "post-modern" scientist seeks his last ressort when talking of "objective truth"

It seems that by placing "inverted commas" around key words, we can express our "disagreement" with some position, without actually elaborating any reason why this position may be "wrong".

zenBen: snarky, but not necessarily helpful. ;) translucy seems to have picked out more terms than perhaps was strictly necessary, but I didn't find the meaning obfuscated, personally. I don't think the intent was disagree without stating objections: in fact, if you read translucy's comment and ignore the quote marks, it seems perfectly complete.

translucy: I would love to see a collection of interviews with technologists, and their attitude to scientific theory - I feel that could be quite illuminating! Increasingly, I feel that while the experiment may be the exemplar of the scientific tradition, it is technology which is the final validation of any theoretical framework. In fact, those scientific fields (evolutionary biology in particular) farthest from producing technology seem to be the areas most prone to devolve into metaphysics.

As for the universal language of mathematics as a means to objective truth - there is some validity to this claim, in so much as the formalism of mathematics and logic is in fact the only sure way of expressing true and false. Of course, being able to express such matters in mathematics doesn't give us purchase on application to the world around us. In fact, it is effectively a kind of retreat from that world.

As for the validity of appointing mathematics as "a universal language" - there is at least one sense in which this claim is valid, namely that mathematics - being a formal system - has the potential to be understood by any species. If we were to meet an alien race, it would presumably be easier to communicate mathematically than linguistically, at least at first.

Coupled with this, however, is the acknowledgement that mathematics is not a universal language in the sense of being able to use it to communicate with anyone - since only the minority are fluent in its formalisms. Similarly, as a language mathematics is severely limited: it is, strictly speaking, meaningless - without meaning - since meaning as a conscious phenomena is entirely inexpressible in mathematical terms, something no conventional language might claim or want to claim for itself.

Best wishes!

Well I just thought translucy's choices of which words to "inverted comma", and which not, were quite arbitrary. E.g. - (the "authorities" of the field) - why not "field"? Are these "authorities" not really authorities, but they do work in a real field? Why? If the field exists, in a very real sense it is only because there are authorities in it. It's a confusing comment, and seems to be going further than just saying some of the terms have ambiguous interpretations, but without real definition as to what it is saying.

As to language...our personal experience of the world, I see as a quite fuzzy but mutually clear and comprehensible model of the world. Scientific experiment, is a precise snapshot of the world, a facsimile model but only for the case of the measurement. Scientific theory, (ideally) a generalisation of (several of) these experimental measurements, is a close to precise model. And mathematics is an overly precise model, since the world itself seems to become a little fuzzy when you get down far enough.

So we're always dealing in error margins. There is no objective truth...well, I would say there isn't even any 'objective', so why not assume that the model that allows the clearest communication is the truth?

I don't know whether the fact that translucy's first language is German figured into this at all. We'll have to wait for comment from the source. :)

"I would say there isn't even any 'objective', so why not assume that the model that allows the clearest communication is the truth?"

The clearest communication between who and whom, exactly? And why should communication and truth be comparable categories?

Chris: points well taken, thank you for adding your perspective on mathematics as language to the above post. I do find it quite important though for understanding the original post. (And I do happen to agree with what you say, for all it is worth :)

zenBen: in my view your emphasis on modeling the inference process itself based on multiple and multi-contextual measurements goes to the heart of the matter - you do seem to offer a view that I find to be common among the scientists and technologists I work with. On reading my above comment a second time I can see why the amount of "inverted commas" must seem excessive to you - let's see if I can do "better" next time ;) For this time simply delete all >"< while reading ;)

"The clearest communication between who and whom, exactly? And why should communication and truth be comparable categories?"

Whoever and whomever - two individuals, groups, what you will. The comparability comes if you strictly disallow assumption of shared frames of reference between sentiences. You and I both live within our skulls, looking out on the world, and believe that we see (almost!) the same world because our models have some level of precision and have been communicated between us (mostly by proxy through similar basic education). So here, as I use it, truth relates to communication in an inverse manner to noise. I'm composing these definitions on the fly, so that ironically the 'truth' of what I'm saying (my point of view) may be obfuscated by careless language.

It's funny... now I understand what you're saying, but have lost how it connects to the wider conversation. :) I have a feeling we finished our discussion a while back, and now we are just mutually scribbling in the margins. :)

Thanks for the great article, what an interesting read!

Just discovered your blog today and I find it to be quite good. I don't know Kuhn, but I've spent a fair bit of time with Cassirer. Have you read him? His Philosophy of Symbolic Forms and Essay on Man (and Myth of the State...but now I'm giving too many book suggestions!) have something to say about this. Particularly in that there are always elements of myth making their way into the other symbolic forms (art, language, science, etc). A tension is always existing between these forms, so that, to take them as wholly separate and unaffected, is itself already supposing a myth. (perhaps it might be said that I am saying that from a mythical presupposition-exactly. You can't get out of it, only, maybe, become aware of it)

Anyway, if you haven't, check Cassirer out!


Hi Jb00m, and welcome to the Game!

I haven't read any Cassirer but he does sound right up my street. My reading list is absolutely booked solid right now, but I'll certainly start looking for his books as I scour the shelves of second hand book stores for philosophical oddities. :)

I'll have a look over his entry in my Encyclopaedia of Philosophy if I get a chance this afternoon.

All the best!

Jb00m: I picked up a copy of Cassirer's "Language and Myth", which has been absolutely fantastic! Right up my street, and incredible to think it was written in 1925. Many many thanks for the tip in this regard!

Awesome! I find myself being blown away by what he says, when he said it, quite a bit too. Good stuff! Also, congratulations on the birth of your son. Pretty momentous.

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