Things that succeed teach us little beyond the fact that they have been successful; things that fail provide incontrovertible evidence that the limits of design have been exceeded. Emulating success risks failure; studying failure increases our chances of success. The simple principle that is seldom explicitly stated is that the most successful designs are based on the best and most complete assumptions about failure. (Henry Petroski, Success Through Failure)
Archive for October, 2011|Monthly archive page
I mistrust all systematizers and I avoid them. The will to a system is a lack of integrity. (Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols)
Nietzsche, the aphorist par excellence, put the problem most succinctly: constructing a framework is worthwhile only insofar as someone is willing to throw it away. It is the inevitable urge of any intellectual to extend their framework until it touches upon all aspects of life, becoming a world-view that explains all. Most intellectuals believe that the gap between the the world-view and the world can be crossed, and known to have been crossed, if we are diligent and wise; however, the will to a system forgets that a world-view can never be mapped one-to-one to the world.
If one holds on to their world-view, they are committed to its authority; they are a slave to the world-view. If one is willing to give up on their world-view, they are free.
When Kuhn says that the “most fundamental aspect of … incommensurability” is “the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds” (Structure, 150) or that a scientific revolution is “a displacement of the conceptual network through which scientists view the world (ibid., 102), it is difficult to understand Kuhn as saying anything other than that incommensurability implies incomparability. With the incomparability of two theories, then theory choice is necessarily irrational, commitment to a paradigm or lexicon follows, and so on.
The assumption that theories are incommensurable can lead to, in this most radical version, parroted by post-modernist college kids all across the globe, ‘conversation-stoppers’, modes of speech that deny the very possibility of an assumption’s falsity, and are self-reinforcing enough that the most committed individual can defend the assumption come what may. In short, it’s far too convenient for anyone to claim that they do not understand the meaning of a sentence.
As one begins most murder mysteries, a victim is found dead in a room. A detective finds a security camera that shows only John Doe entering and leaving the room at the time of the murder. The forensics lab then calls to tell the detective that John Doe’s DNA was found on the rim of a glass in the room.
Q: In light of the DNA on the glass, should the detective now give more credence to the hypothesis that John Doe is the murderer?
Tyler Wunder on Why Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology Fails [.mp3, 99.7 MB]
In It’s Not Easy Being Grue, I argued for skepticism — or at least incredulity — towards any inductive inference made solely by appealing to a posteriori evidence. Two hypotheses, as long as they have a logical content greater than the evidence and are not yet refuted are, as a matter of following the rules of logic, necessarily equally favored by the evidence. Even if one should appeal to one of the two hypotheses having a natural property, this problem still stands, since it cannot be uncovered through a posteriori investigation. Of course, more than two hypotheses fit this criteria — any number of empirically adequate hypotheses with greater logical content than the evidence may be constructed. In sum, favoring one hypothesis over another, even with an a prior warrant, cannot be determined from a posteriori evidence at all.
prove their worth
by fighting back. (Piet Hein)
Sometimes I cannot tell if someone is intentionally creating a parody of an outlandish position.
Sometimes I cannot tell if someone is intentionally parodying the entire cognitive framework — the ad hoc adjustments, the refusal to listen to criticism, any arguments that can be mustered, any defense possible — used in the defense of this position.
One solution to Goodman’s new riddle of induction, as proposed by David Lewis and WVO Quine, is that certain languages describe natural properties, which have a special metaphysical status. All things being equal, the evidence will favor the hypothesis that uses languages that have natural properties over any other language in all cases. The problem of choosing between hypotheses that will be favored by the evidence and hypotheses that will not is solved by choosing a hypothesis expressed in a language that uses natural properties. There is, however, a problem with this solution: how can a scientist decide whether a language is using a natural property?
The imagination has made more discoveries than the eye. (Joseph Joubert)
We make a conjecture, a guess. We make tentative proposals, and then see how they work. If they don’t withstand criticism, we try again, either making an iteration on the initial theory, or making a drastic revision that explains why the initial theory was mistaken. If they withstand criticism, this says nothing about their truth or falsity. What happens, though, before the criticism?
Anaximander, the first scientist, said the Earth was unsupported in space. From the modern point of view, we do not understand that at the time this was a highly controversial supposition, one that went against the firm foundation of the senses. It is obvious (and I rarely use the word, for very few things are truly obvious) that this was something Anaximander could not possibly have observed. Here we have one of the most revolutionary conjectures, for while it happened to be true (or at least approximately true), it is the first known case of an individual going against the assumption that the senses were the final arbiters of the truth.
Anaximander deduced that if the Earth was supported on pillars, or the back of a turtle, or four elephants, or water, that the pillars, turtle, elephants, or water would themselves require some support. And this new support would require a support as well, and so on, in an infinite regress of supports. So Anaximander did away with the whole notion of support entirely and said that the Earth did not rest on anything.
The eye and the ear are notoriously unreliable, but more importantly, they do not give us any interesting theories. Cosmology does not come from the senses; cosmology is created from the mind. Here we have the first scientist acting — unwittingly, and centuries before the 18th century — as a Kantian, not an empiricist. Science began without empiricism, for empiricism in science is unnecessary and possibly unproductive.