Monday, June 30, 2008
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Friday, June 27, 2008
I have reserved several of these depraved things for the sundry half-wits I have run into today. Why is it that every moment I spend not locked up in my apartment with a book, my patience and sanity depend on the competence of my fellow human beings? Every dough-brained Pez-dispenser that seems able to invade my consciousness to interfere with my temper seems completely bent on doing so.
From the migraine fields--
Thursday, June 26, 2008
This happens pretty much every time I get what is considered a healthy amount of sleep. I think maybe I'm Dracula. The sun does frighten me. Although, I love garlic. But I do hate the crucifix. Huh.
Ghouls & slugs--
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Alright, I can’t avoid it much longer. I wanted to wait until the empty-headed Pez-dispenser séances that pass for the Republican and Democratic National Conventions before I did any commentary on the election because…I just can’t stomach it. I thought Bush/Kerry was a political Sophie’s choice, but McCain/Obama is fury-inspiring in a way I can’t fully express.
Briefly, here is what I think of the two candidates:
Obama is a half-witted, collectivist bromide-fountain. McCain is an ignorant, statist appeaser.
Obama is clearly a modern socialist. Of course, actually calling yourself a socialist as a presidential candidate is political suicide. So he clouds what he really is with political bromide. That doesn’t hide it very well, but Obama doesn’t seem too bright. Judging by his stance on several issues, he is clearly ignorant of basic economics and foreign policy. He supports such nonsense as “say on pay”, he defends FDR New Deal social welfare programs, he has equated privatizing social security with “social Darwinism”.
He blithely and belligerently spews out nonsense like a demand for a 35% reduction in fuel consumption, the BioFuels Security Act, cap-and-trade policies (or fuel rationing, do let’s be honest). He supports universal health care (socialized medicine, again, let’s not BS ourselves), net neutrality and affirmative action. He supports a policy of appeasement with Iran and he is a convert of the doom-saying global warming dogma.
There are also his constant demands for sacrifice, a la his commencement speech at Wesleyan.
Obama is old-school leftist evil. Easy to identify, easy to combat, easy to destroy intellectually.
McCain has done nothing worthy of praise in his term as senator. He’s responsible for the despicable McCain-Feingold Act and the Climate Stewardship Acts (with that other fool Lieberman). He admits ignorance on the science of climate change, but that hasn’t stopped him from caving to the green agenda.
He has a near-complete disdain for the individual and individual rights and is the “national glory” brand of collectivist-statist. He also admits an ignorance of economics. But that doesn’t stop him from presuming to lay the blame for the subprime crisis squarely on lenders.
He believes the United States was founded on Christian principles and the U.S. is today a Christian nation. I don’t know how seriously he is considering Huckabee (who is an explicit religious socialist) for VP, but if we end up with a McCain-Huckabee presidency, I would be very worried.
McCain is opposed to drilling in ANWR and voted to steal money from tax-payers for alternative fuel subsidies (“funding” my ass, it’s a subsidy—let’s call a spade a spade, kids).
This is a fairly stream of consciousness post, I realize. I simply am too disgusted by the upcoming election to spend a good deal of time thinking about and editing, re-editing and organizing an article about it. I simply want to get my point across and move on.
All that being said, and though I consider him an extremely bad candidate, a scoundrel and a fool and I disagree with pretty much every one of his positions, I will be voting for Obama.
I hate Obama. Don’t think I’m voting for him for any reason other than I think he is too foolish and weak to accomplish as much evil as he promises. McCain is more evil. He is more evil because he is doing what all conservatives seem to be doing: trying to pass off his tyranny as freedom. I also happen to agree with Leonard Peikoff: I will in no way support a Republican candidate, even as a lesser of two evils, until the party disassociates itself from the religious crazies. Due simply to inertia, the country will continue to move towards statism (discounting for the moment, a philosophical revolution). The left wants what the old-style socialists want, but they aren’t as impassioned. They have to argue with buzzwords and bromide, because they have no deeper ideology. The increasingly religious right has a deeper philosophy, but an evil one. As Dr. Peikoff put it, in a choice between “a rotten, enfeebled, despairing killer” and “a rotten, ever stronger and ambitious killer”, it would be immoral to do anything other than what would topple the latter from power.
There. That’s where on stand on the election. I’m going to go take some Tums now.
Ghouls and slugs--
With that in mind, these are just some musings on the thought of the Princeton philosopher of science and developer of "constructive empiricism" Bas van Fraassen and one his most vocal critics, the prominent student of Karl Popper, Alan Musgrave.
* * * * *
In his piece entitled “Arguments concerning Scientific Realism”, Bas van Fraassen argues for an alternative to scientific realism that he calls “constructive empiricism”. Van Fraassen holds that the realist position is generally naïve. His interpretation of the realist view runs thusly: “Science aims to give us . . . a literally true story of what the world is like; and acceptance of a scientific theory involves the belief that it is true.”
Generally, antirealist theories, of which van Fraassen’s constructive empiricism is a strain, hold that science does not offer theories that are true in the literal sense or that one need not believe a theory is true to accept it (or both). Van Fraassen’s antirealism holds that theories can be literally construed, but a theory’s truth is not a requisite of it being a good theory. Van Fraassen is also somewhat of a literalist: whatever a theory says, implies or entails then that is what the theory says, implies or entails.
Van Fraassen proposes that science “aims to give us theories which are empirically adequate…” An "empirically adequate" theory “saves the phenomena”. Presumably, that is when what a theory says about observables is true. So, to accept a theory is not to hold the theory to be true, but to hold that what the theory says about the observable world is true.
So, what of the non-observable? Van Fraassen’s position can best be described as agnosticism. One must suspend judgment and withhold belief about the theoretical, the unobservable. A good theory is a theory that is true when discussing observables—if it says anything about unobservable phenomena, the theory (or at least the part of the theory that addresses the “theoretical”) is flippantly dismissed in the typical agnostic fashion: "Who knows?"
This leads right into van Fraassen’s treatment of the observable/theoretical distinction, which is largely a polemic against realist arguments such as those of Grover Maxwell. Given that van Fraassen’s constructive empiricism would require him to at least refrain from dismissing with such a distinction since holding that accepting a theory merely means holding that the theory is “empirically adequate” presumes that one can discern observable from unobservable phenomena.
Van Fraassen points to what he believes is a clear case of an unobservable object. His example involves charged microparticles traversing a cloud chamber leaving behind them a visible condensed-vapor trail. Though the trail is visible, van Fraassen argues, the particles themselves are not visible. Although an observable trail is seen, the particles themselves cannot be said to be observed—one observes only its purported effect, the particle is merely “detected”. It therefore follows, van Fraassen claims, that there are unobservables about which one can be an antirealist (that is, agnostic about the existence of that which one has not observed directly).
Another challenge to van Fraassen’s antirealist constructive empiricism is what is commonly called the inference to the best explanation rule. Briefly, this rule states that given some evidence and two (or more) alternative theories (hypotheses), let’s say A and B, we would do best to infer that B is the correct theory if B does a better job than A of explaining the evidence. The example van Fraassen uses is: given my missing cheese, the scratching noises I hear at night and the hole in my floorboard, I infer the existence of a mouse in the walls of my house. The argument is that if one has good reason to believe B, then one has good reason to believe that any existents entailed in B actually exist, even if they are unobserved.
The realist argument, using the inference to the best explanation rule as a premise, is that we generally follow the rule on such a widespread scale of instances that we must commit to the belief in the unobservable. Van Fraassen argues that the widespread utilization of any such pattern of inference does not prove anything. One can combat such a notion by proposing an alternate pattern that also fits the example. Van Fraassen believes that one will always believe what best explains the empirically adequate.
Hilary Putnam offers another challenge: the “miracle argument” (or “ultimate argument” as van Fraassen calls it). Putnam’s claim is that the only explanation for the continuing success of scientific theories is scientific realism. Otherwise, since we don’t actually believe in the truth of our theories, their continued predictive success can only be attributable to a long line of miracles.
Van Fraassen answer is Darwinian in its structure: many theories struggle to survive and, invariably, those not adapted to their environment die off. Of course, for van Fraassen, the adapted theories are empirically adequate. Empirically inadequate theories don’t survive. He concludes that, as species evolution is not miracle, neither is the death or survival of theories.
Van Fraassen’s attack on scientific realism in his The Scientific Image (from which “Arguments Concerning Scientific Realism” is taken) has garnered quite a lot of criticism of its own. Notably, the book Images of Science contains Alan Musgrave’s critique in the article “Realism Versus Constructive Empiricism”. The article contains critiques of several points of van Fraassen’s constructive empiricism, but I will focus on two in particular: van Fraassen’s account of the connection between truth and empirical adequacy and his account of the observational/theoretical distinction.
The constructive empiricist recommends that we accept an empirically adequate theory about unobservables, but not believe it. This is because, the constructive empiricist holds, all we can know about a theory is whether the aspects of it relating to observable phenomena are judged true. Any parts dealing with unobservables can’t be judged true or false and so any empirically adequate theory that entails unobservables is to be accepted but not believed as to take the realist position that one can believe a theory about unobservables is true is unnecessarily riskier.
Musgrave argues however, that these worries apply also to the constructive empiricism. He argues that an empirically adequate theory must “save” (that is, explain) all observed phenomena past, present and future. Therefore, judging a theory to be empirically adequate requires more knowledge then we can have at any given time.
Another issue Musgrave confronts van Fraassen on is his account of the observational-theoretical distinction. Though van Fraassen does not defend the observational-theoretical distinction (he believes that “observable” is too vague a predicate to demonstrate that there is a distinction between cases where it applies and cases where it doesn’t) he refuses to acknowledge that a seamless transition from observation to detection is harmful to the dichotomy. Observing microbes under a microscope and observing the trails of microparticles in a cloud chamber are fundamentally different to van Fraassen: the latter are not observed but detected. Van Fraassen holds that the limitations on what is observable are what “a final physics and biology” tell us are our limitations as humans. Musgrave argues that such limitations vary from person to person and are species-specific and, therefore, cannot be granted special significance.
Unfortunately, the best arguments against van Fraassen’s brand of scientific antirealism can be found in the writings of Hilary Putnam. I say "unfortunately" because they do not address van Fraassen on a fundamental level and show why he is wrong. Most other philosophers, either addressing van Fraassen directly or being the object of van Fraassen’s polemics, though they may be well-intentioned in trying to dismantle antirealism, often fail…horribly. This includes Musgrave. Van Fraassen, however, doesn’t escape Putnam’s “miracle argument”. His answer of evolving theories is almost a non-sequitar.
More unfortunately, and more fundamentally, the entire field of philosophy of science (and the philosophy of mind and several others while we’re at it) appears to be suffering from a kind of Rationalism (ideas divorced from reality). That is, the philosophers in the field seem so divorced from reality and the need to tie their theories to the facts of reality that philosophical debate almost invariably devolves into nit-picking highly specialized pet theories with no references to the real world.
In regard to van Fraassen in particular: that his work is taken as seriously as it is, is ominous. Without risk, science stagnates. Every advance, every great leap in a new, unexpected direction, every new enlightenment came with risk. Lavoisier’s work in chemistry provided more proof for the atomic theory of matter than any work in any field before him. Atoms were still “unobservables”, but do we ignore the evidence? Do we sit in the agnostic limbo, throw up our hands and say “Well, who can say for sure?” Faraday’s work united the fields of electricity and magnetism, forces which worked largely as “unobservables”. Should the world have ignored his work? What could be empirically verified is empirically verified, but what then? We accept the non-empirical portion of these theories but if they aren’t true or false, and we couldn’t know anyway, what does it matter?
We can’t see black holes. We know they are there by the effects they have on their surroundings. Often the proof that something exists is not actually seeing it, but seeing what it, and only it, can do. What else explains the vapor trails in the cloud chamber? And if we’re wrong, we adjust and fix it. Reality is reality, everything has an identity, causality exists. Mistakes in knowledge are not disasters, a philosophy which evades reality in order to make truth or falsehood superfluous, is.
Scientists and philosophers (and, it seems, almost every scientist-philosopher) so often make the mistake of believing that scientific theories have philosophical implications. This inverts the relationship between science and philosophy. Philosophy is the fundamental discipline. It comes first. The Uncertainty Principle didn’t have an enormous effect on metaphysics or epistemology: Heisenberg’s bizarre personal philosophy lead him to a bizarre interpretation of his research.
One hears talk of the end of physics. This may be prophetic, though not for the reasons the prophets believe. Everyone, even scientists, has a philosophy. It may be implicit and unstated, swallowed dogmatically and unquestioningly, but it is there. It guides everything we do. With the state of modern philosophy, with philosophy nearly being on its deathbed since Kant, is it any surprise that the sciences are crumbling?
Ghouls & slugs--Matt
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Monday, June 16, 2008
Sunday, June 8, 2008
This is why people think I’m a bit off. This is what I did today:
I woke up obscenely early for me and power smoked a pack of Camels while watching the second half of the episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 during which I fell asleep the night before. When the episode ended I left my room and went into the kitchen to make breakfast: a quesadilla and coffee. With my food prepared, I settled into the old beat up recliner that sits in the living room of the apartment and cracked open Among the Gently Mad by Nicholas A. Basbanes, which is about bibliomania and book-hunting.
Since I was already half-way through this book from the day before, I finished it at about three o’clock. I made some tomato soup, grabbed my laptop and spent the next seven or so hours alternately watching television (when something good came on, like a documentary on the Gospel of Judas, or a program about the search for the true heirs of the Romanovs) or John Waters interviews on my laptop. All of this time was not entirely unproductive, however, as I simultaneously did some sketching (which I am wont to do from time to time), spent some time studying chess strategy (specifically: Sicilian defense opening and the Queen’s Gambit Accepted opening, as well as how to force a win from the Lucena position), and, after that, took some notes on an article in a the new Philosophical Quarterly by Lionel Shapiro called “Naïve Truth-Conditions and Meaning” and a couple of articles in the new Monist entitled “Consciousness as Knowingness” by Colin McGinn and “The Interdependence of Phenomenology and Intentionality” by Adam Pautz. I hated them all, if you’re curious.
I finished just in time for some dark comedy: 30 minutes of Pat Robertson on CBN.
I have to be working on several things at once (and I’m usually reading more than one book at a time) or I feel lazy and get bored. I know a lot of people hate doing that, but I get along just fine.
It’s coming up on eleven o’clock and I’m sitting on the little patio area in front of my apartment with a spiral notebook, a flask of absinthe and a pack of Djarum Blacks. In a minute I’m going in to read the first book of Neal Stephenson’s “Baroque Cycle”, Quicksilver, until the crowd thins out over at House of Pies (about 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning). I will eat their wonderful turkey, bacon and swiss sandwich and drink coffee for several hours while I do some light research.
A typical day. I should probably sleep more, but today was enjoyable enough. At least I am not pissed off…yet.
Long live the new flesh--