Posts tagged ‘philosophy’

August 10, 2014

On positivism

by James Thorniley

An entertaining rage from a well known philosopher:

The controversial question whether philosophy exists, or has any right to exist, is almost as old as philosophy itself. Time and again an entirely new philosophical movement arises which finally unmasks the old philosophical problems as pseudo-problems, and which confronts the wicked nonsense of philosophy with the good sense of meaningful, positive, empirical, science. And time and again do the despised defenders of “traditional philosophy” try to explain to the leaders of the latest positivistic assault that the main problem of philosophy is the critical analysis of the appeal to the authority of “experience” – precisely that “experience” which every latest discoverer of positivism is, as ever, artlessly taking for granted. To such objections, however, the positivist only replies with a shrug: they mean nothing to him, since they do not belong to empirical science, which alone is meaningful. “Experience” for him is a programme, not a problem (unless it is studied by empirical psychology)

(Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, English version published 1959)

See also, countless much more recent “science wars” articles, Brian Cox and Robin Ince, David Colquhoun, and my personal favourite science wars piece.

December 2, 2011

What isn’t a computer!?!

by Lucas Wilkins

Carrying on the great jellymatter tradition of expressing a similar opinion under a contrary title, here’s my response to James’ post about brains and computers.


Before I begin, here’s the etymology of the word computer from

1640s, “one who calculates,” agent noun from compute. Meaning “calculating machine” (of any type) is from 1897; in modern use, “programmable digital electronic computer” (1945; theoretical from 1937, as Turing machine). ENIAC (1946) usually is considered the first. Computer literacy is recorded from 1970; an attempt to establish computerate (adj., on model of literate) in this sense in the early 1980s didn’t catch on. Computerese “the jargon of programmers” is from 1960, as are computerize and computerization.

June 4, 2011

The Projected Mind

by Lucas Wilkins

This is a post about the “Projected Mind Fallacy”, as named by Edwin Jaynes. Roughly, the projected mind fallacy is the mistaking of uncertainty about the world for a property of the world itself. In other words, thinking that God plays dice. Unfortunately though, it’s not as simple as this and I feel that it’s interpretation deserves some discussion. It is not obvious exactly what should count ‘the world itself’/the non dice playing God/reality, the rest of this post is about how I think this question should be answered (and some other stuff).

Mind projection fallacies can often be spotted by their absurdity: If I had a bag of snooker balls it would be ridiculous to think that the balls exist in some kind of mixture of colours until I pick them out an look at them. Surely the balls are objectively some colour whether or not I decide to look at them. It is (if one accepts the mind projection fallacy) fallacious to say that that the balls that have an indeterminant colour, when in fact, it is just me who doesn’t know which one I will pick out. It is often stated as the confusion of ontology with epistemology, but these words don’t really help anyone understand it.

April 17, 2011

A scientist modelling a scientist modelling science

by Lucas Wilkins

The is a follow up from Nathaniel’s post. One of the ways that the probabilities of probabilities can be used is in asking what experiments would be best for a scientist to do. We can do this because scientists would like to have a logically consistent system that describes the world but make measurements which are not completely certain – the interpretation of probability as uncertain logic is justified.

Lets make a probabilist model of scientific inquiry. To do this, the first component we need is a model of “what science knows”, or equally, “what the literature says”. For the purposes here, I will only consider what science knows about one statement: “The literature says X is true”. I’ll write this as p(X|L) and its negation as p(\bar{X}|L) = 1 - p(X|L). This is a really minimal example.

March 17, 2011

Learning to reason under uncertainty

by Nathaniel Virgo

I think kids should learn Bayesian probability theory in school.  Here’s why:

This is kind of a follow-up to Lucas’ previous post on the communication of science.  In that post, Lucas argued that part of the problem in communicating science to non-scientists comes from a failure to teach philosophy.  I completely agree with this.

One of the most useful parts of philosophy, from an educational point of view, is logic. I mean the really basic, “if Socrates is a man, and all men are mortal, then Socrates is mortal” stuff.  Learning this is an important part of learning to assess arguments, and thus learning to think for ones self.

March 17, 2011

Science, the Media and Philosophy

by Lucas Wilkins

Yesterday, I went to a science communication conference thing at the University of Brighton. Here is what I learned…

So the first thing to say is that it was quite comforting to hear the science editor for The Observer saying that the medias reporting on genetic modification and the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine were real failures of science reporting. He even described the reporting on MMR as “a deep burning shame”. Less favorable was the media representatives description of their roles. Both of them said that their job was not to educate, but rather to either entertain or to “hold our masters to account”. Education, if it occurs, is a side effect. I find this slightly worrying – but less so than other people I have talked to. I will not dwell as I have a different point to make.


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