James Heaps-Nelson

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Everything posted by James Heaps-Nelson

  1. Yuck! I didn't recognize Atlas Shrugged in there at all. There's a strange virus that attacks Hollyweird types. Anything they say is OK as long as it's edgy. Jim
  2. OK, everybody. Carry on with the QM discussion. I just had one of my attacks of wetblanketitis. I commend Michael for his interest in this topic. Jim
  3. Robert Campbell Robert, Do these left-wing columnists feel the need to argue for their positions or do they just play cool columnist and string together inchoate opinions for public consumption? Jim
  4. I should say something about the above post. My contention is not that people shouldn't find quantum mechanics wonderful and interesting, even at a beginner level. I'm saying that a basic knowledge of statistics and probability is much more important in dealing with uncertainty philosophically. However, those subjects aren't "cool", they don't have an interesting cat conundrum, and our educational system underteaches them and overteaches continuous function mathematics. Jim
  5. Michael, I think the philosophical importance of quantum mechanics is next to nil. The uncertainty is interesting and metaphysical, but it is much more interesting when talking about practical problems like semiconductor device physics, synchroton radiation which provides collimated x-rays etc. Part of the reason I think its philosophical importance is negligible is that the uncertainty is Gaussian (can be strictly accounted for by normal distribution statistics). Some Objectivists cling to a world that is absolutely knowable, well the philosophical problem there is their religious belief. The salient point is that in quantum mechanics we know more than enough to make very accurate predictions. That should be a satisfying result. I would think that chaos and indeterminable systems with wild nongaussian instability would be more troubling to Objectivists. Here again, we can make lots of progress, including delimiting certain physical systems and fields of endeavor as being fundamentally unpredictable. We should be happy to acknowledge the world as we find it, not blinkered and insistent on a world that conforms to a preconceived notion of what it "should be". Jim
  6. Thank you, Jerry. This crystallizes some things for me :-). Jim
  7. As an aside, Einsteinian regimes aren't the only limiting factors to Newton's theory of gravitation. This wasn't known until sometime in the 1970's, but there even limits with respect to being able to use Newtonian mechanics as an orbital body passes through an L1 Lagrange point. The fact is that we cannot predict the behavior of such an orbital body. Jim
  8. Peter, It is true that Newton's second law of motion F=ma is a limiting case of the more general case of Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity. It is Einstein's General Theory of Relativity which encompasses his conception of gravity which is completely divorced from Newton's law of gravitation. It is outgrowth of Maxwell's Theories of Electrodynamics and is encompassed by several field equations which represent gravitation in terms of tensorial mathematics. Jim
  9. One smart parrot does not disprove that most parrots are bird brains. Parrots have very little brain mass. Whatever else is true, it takes a lot of brain mass to produce a conceptual mind. That is why homo sapiens are by and large, the smart concept driven primate. We have the brain mass for it, particularly the kind of brain tissue that makes the cerebral cortex. We have more of that white wrinkled brain tissue per gram of body weight than any other mammal. Ba'al Chatzaf Brain mass is one critical factor. Cortical organization is another. Primates have a six-layer neocortex whereas dolphins and whales have a 3-layer neocortex. This suggests that humans are capable of a higher level of conceptual organization. Also, in humans sensory and motor functions are integrated into the cortex so that thinking patterns more readily connect to sense data and body maps in a more global way. Jim
  10. I strongly disagree. That book's being reviewed in science publications would serve to confirm the prevailing opinion amongst scientists that Objectivism is a crackpot cult. How many of these scientists have actually read Rand for themselves? Relatively few, I would wager. The notion that Objectivism is a "crackpot cult" -- not only the Peikovian branch but Objectivism in general -- has been around ever since Rand became popular. Moral philosophers have said that about her ethical theory, political philosophers about her political philosophy, and so forth, so your "scientists" -- who are probably far more ignorant about philosophy than most Objectivists are about science -- are scarcely unique. Legitimate criticisms can be made of Harriman's book, but it is not the work of a "crackpot." Ghs George, The criticisms that you would get from most scientists would likely be more strident than the terrifically cogent criticisms John McCaskey and Travis Norsen have offered. The reason is that their experience of the process of scientific discovery is likely largely different than what is described by Harriman. If I wanted to write a book on scientific discovery and how it occurs, I would interview top living scientists themselves across a range of fields and look for patterns in how they do science. Other approaches seem second best. Jim I doubt if more than a relative handful of practicing scientists have given much thought to the history of science. And among the most esteemed historians of science, one will find a broad range of interpretations about what the "scientific method" is (or even if there is one) and how it has been employed by various scientific greats throughout history. These interpretations range from the fairly rationalistic accounts of historians like I. Bernard Cohen (Harriman cites his excellent book The Birth of a New Physics on at least one occasion) to what might be described as the "lucky guess approach," or methodological anarchism, of Paul Feyerabend. Somewhere in between these extremes fall the "Conjectures and Refutations" of Karl Popper, the "Sleepwalkers" of Arthur Koestler (whom Harriman cites on numerous occasions), the "paradigm shifts" of Thomas Kuhn, the anti-Kuhnian evolutionary approach of Stephen Toulmin (my favorite historian of science overall), and the "research programs" of Imre Lakatos. My point here is that Harriman's approach does not fall outside this broad spectrum of respectable interpretations. Rather, it falls on the rationalistic wing, which was the more-or-less standard approach before Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions took the historical world by storm in 1962. I think that Harriman's approach could have been defended in a less dogmatic way, e.g., by maintaining that there is an implicit logic in the process of discovery that generally operates independently of what the beliefs of particular scientists may be. (Harriman's contention that certain explicit concepts were necessary preconditions of key scientific discoveries is untenable in some instances. As I recall, this was one of McCaskey's criticisms.) In any case, a major theme of Harriman's book -- one that I think deserves serious consideration -- is the rejection of the common claim that the process of discovery is irrelevant to the logic of validation. (See p. 8.)I have never been entirely happy with this dichotomy, which goes back to the 19th century; it is far too simplistic for my tastes. But it is precisely this distinction that has led Karl Popper and other historians of science to reject induction (which they regard as a process of discovery, not validation) as irrelevant to the scientific method per se. I think Harriman presents a credible, if not totally compelling, case that induction cannot be dismissed in such a cavalier manner. My honest opinion is that some of the flak by O'ist types over Harriman's book is owing to the fact that it is essentially a Peikovian interpretation, and that negative reactions are owing largely to an anti-Peikoff bias. I am not a fan of Peikoff, by any means, but I try not to let my personal bias (i.e., my dislike of Peikoff) affect my objectivity in assessing a book. Ghs George, I agree with you that there can be a strong link between discovery and validation. Scientists/mathematicians frequently spend a majority of their time steeped in preexisting theory's mathematical framework before being able to come up with something new. However, the clue is often experimental in physics which can cause a whole new framework to be drawn up. So in some ways, induction in physics takes on a different character than say philosophy, because scientists today look at different experimental data than scientists of yesteryear, whereas a philosopher in ethics today has the same data that a philosopher 2000 years ago had. Einstein's theory of gravity is completely different than Newton's and more precisely fits today's available data. However, questions of egoism vs. altruism are the same today as 2000 years ago. A philosopher can come up with a new system, but it is a system based on much the same data set as existed before. A philosophical inquiry is much more likely to yield gradual and incremental change based on the same premises, but a physics theory can be completely revised or overturned based on new data. Jim
  11. I am saying that I would not find it surprising to find top scientists using something akin to pragmatic or dialectical methods in addition to empirical or analytical methods in developing theories as well as a wide variety of image or pattern modalities. As long as a given formulation can be validated, it does not matter what method was used in conceiving it. If the issue is actual method, I doubt pragmatism or dialectical method or any explicit school of methodology matters so much as their advocates might think. What I expect happens is hypothesizing followed by testing. Hypothesizing is the product more of the subconscious chewing on an idea - I.e., brainstorming and sleeping on it - while testing might be anything from actual experiments or thought experiments to seek out contradictions in or implications of one's ideas. My charitable understanding of the good parts of Harriman is that he is offering a description of the process after the fact more than a set of rules to follow. Harriman's criticisms of Einstein strike me as silly and ex post facto. Harriman misunderstands relativity, and so seeks for grounds on which to declare it invalid before he even understands it. Einstein seems to have accepted the recent concepts of Maxwell, etc., and to have, by analysis of the concepts, seen what the implications were. That is a perfectly valid method and will reach valid results if the concepts he starts with are valid. The proof of the validity of the ideas and his analysis lay in the predictions Einstein made, which were mathematically coherent and empirically verified. Harriman's complaint seems to be that Einstein didn't start with experiments - but the necessary experiments had already been done - they were just waiting analyisis. Ted, Perfect summary! I would also venture to say method in thinking is more a matter of personal cognitive style than an issue of philosophical training. That's why I think that a distinction has to be made between a philosophical system that holds together and has a sound method and thinking styles that involve certain operations on information or questions on premises. If you're troubleshooting a car, do you isolate each component one at a time or do you tackle everything at once etc. Jim
  12. You were the one who used the phrase "scientific induction", which implies that it is a special kind of induction. I was just wondering what you meant by it, and if you thought it was a separate concept, what you thought normal induction was, and what you thought the boundary between the two types was. So if you think "scientific induction" is just plain human induction, then why call it "scientific"? Shayne Shayne Sure. Induction is induction. Jim
  13. What exactly do you mean by "scientific induction"? How would you say it differs from "non-scientific induction"? Feynman was doing essentially what I said a top-scientist should do: don't (first) ask how someone else figured it out, figure it out for yourself. (If you can't figure it out for yourself then of course you might want to resort to seeing how they did it). Shayne Shayne, I'm assuming scientific induction means that you look at empirical data, use some method to integrate it so that it fits (equations etc.) and then verify it. Jim And it differs from ordinary human induction how? Shayne I didn't say it did. I'm not quite sure where this leading. Scientists develop a repertoire of concepts and images that they combine in different ways to get a result when they are making a discovery. Some of it is pattern recognition, diagnosis, recombination etc. Very little induction in the sense of taking empirical data and putting it together step by step in some organized procedure. Jim
  14. What exactly do you mean by "scientific induction"? How would you say it differs from "non-scientific induction"? Feynman was doing essentially what I said a top-scientist should do: don't (first) ask how someone else figured it out, figure it out for yourself. (If you can't figure it out for yourself then of course you might want to resort to seeing how they did it). Shayne Shayne, I'm assuming scientific induction means that you look at empirical data, use some method to integrate it so that it fits (equations etc.) and then verify it. Jim
  15. Jim, what is your purpose in wondering what top scientists do? Is it because you want to be one, or emulate them, or what? Here is what I think top scientists will do when studying previous scientists: They ask themselves how they could themselves have figured out what the top scientist did. They don't necessarily care whether the other top scientist used imagery or words or whatever. All that matters is that they understand how they themselves could come to learn some truth for the first time. Shayne My purpose is to confirm my strong suspicion that scientific induction is a method of validation, not a method of discovery. Scientists don't say: Gee, I'd like to induce a brilliant new theory today, I will follow steps 1-4. Of course each scientist has to create a conceptual edifice for themselves. There's a choice quote from Richard Feynman in his Lectures on Computation where he talks about how he went about problem solving, that he never wanted to look at someone else's solution until he had come up with his own. Jim
  16. The fact that as it has been formulated, Objectivist epistemology is primarily linguistic, rather than mathematical or imagery based, doesn't mean it won't work with ideas expressed in those forms. It just reflects Rand's characteristic form of thought as a polyglot and author, and to an extent, the limitations of the small minds that have followed her under Peikoff. Consider, for example, Kelley's seminal work. It goes beyond Rand, and is not tied down to the merely word based mind. I still believe Kelley's ouster had nothing to do with the political excuse that was given to justify it, and was solely based on professional jealousy. Ted, As you have mentioned and I have mentioned in different places, Objectivist epistemology does fit with the current best structural models of neocortical organization. Measurement omission is likely driven by invariant representation and pattern recognition within one neocortical layer and concept formation preserving that information with measurements omitted could be analagous to sending a signal through a columan to a higher neocortical layer. As you say, there is no reason that Objectivist epistemology could not be applied to visual and pattern imagery, but I'm not convinced that it is primary. My conjecture is that our preferences for particular modes for manipulating narratives of mental images (Damasio) are set in childhood when we begin to deal with visual, auditory and tactile stimuli and later with language. How each person develops neural connections and thinking patterns will depend in good measure on their brain structure, their chosen activities and their environment. Philosophical method or in the case of naturally developed thinking patterns, protophilosophy represents a kind of syntax for manipulating and creating narratives of mental images. This will vary widely from person to person. We can determine that the Objectivist epistemology is the best way to validate our concepts, but it doesn't follow that that is what is what is used in forming them. To say that scientists use one method of manipulating symbols and images over another is something that has to be demonstrated. Jim I am not exactly sure what you mean by saying that whether scientists use one method over another needs to be demonstrated. Surely they use every one they find convenient. The important thing is that the underlying reality is the same. Any given equation can be graphed, and any equation can be stated explicitly in the form of words alone. For example, the classic "If one train leaves Boston southbound at 11am going 50 mph and another leaves New York at noon going north at 60 miles an hour, at what time will they pass if the track is 150 miles long?" can be expressed in words, as a set of equations, or as a graph, each convertible into the other. Obviously the question is more easily solved using symbolic equations and the answer is directly apprehensible visually as the intersection of two sloping lines on a graph of time versus distance. Rand was apparently being tutored on such a level of math when she died. I think we both may be dismayed by the fact that there is no evidence Objectivist muckity mucks think in such terms. Indeed, is there any canonical Objectivist work that features diagrams? I am saying that I would not find it surprising to find top scientists using something akin to pragmatic or dialectical methods in addition to empirical or analytical methods in developing theories as well as a wide variety of image or pattern modalities. As long as a given formulation can be validated, it does not matter what method was used in conceiving it. Jim
  17. I strongly disagree. That book's being reviewed in science publications would serve to confirm the prevailing opinion amongst scientists that Objectivism is a crackpot cult. This is why I've dreaded for years the thought of the book's ever being finished and published. Since I'd heard the core lecture from Peikoff's "Induction in Physics and Philosophy" course and a set of lectures from prior to 1999 by Harriman, part of which discussed history of science issues, I anticipated what the book would say. I keep thinking of the ARI booth at the last two Heartland conferences, and of there being some hopeful signs of scientists in attendance becoming interested by the philosophy of free-market economics. If that book is displayed at the booth at the next conference and talked up by the ARI representatives...groan. Very wet blanket for any interest of scientists in looking further into what Objectivism might offer. Ellen Exactly. Imagine Harriman's conception of induction trying to deal with Feynman diagrams. The fact is that a lot of the scientific discovery process involves visual or pattern imagery and is not the kind of straightforward, logical or "rational" process that fits neatly into an Objectivist-friendly theory of induction. The validation is methodological and has an empirical and mathematically deductive form, but that process is secondary to the progress of science. Bob Kolker has detailed the origins of quantum theory starting with Planck, and Maxwell and Einstein's discoveries, as well as J.W. Gibbs' wholesale invention of the field of physical chemistry hardly fit into a neat inductive template. Jim The fact that as it has been formulated, Objectivist epistemology is primarily linguistic, rather than mathematical or imagery based, doesn't mean it won't work with ideas expressed in those forms. It just reflects Rand's characteristic form of thought as a polyglot and author, and to an extent, the limitations of the small minds that have followed her under Peikoff. Consider, for example, Kelley's seminal work. It goes beyond Rand, and is not tied down to the merely word based mind. I still believe Kelley's ouster had nothing to do with the political excuse that was given to justify it, and was solely based on professional jealousy. Ted, As you have mentioned and I have mentioned in different places, Objectivist epistemology does fit with the current best structural models of neocortical organization. Measurement omission is likely driven by invariant representation and pattern recognition within one neocortical layer and concept formation preserving that information with measurements omitted could be analagous to sending a signal through a columan to a higher neocortical layer. As you say, there is no reason that Objectivist epistemology could not be applied to visual and pattern imagery, but I'm not convinced that it is primary. My conjecture is that our preferences for particular modes for manipulating narratives of mental images (Damasio) are set in childhood when we begin to deal with visual, auditory and tactile stimuli and later with language. How each person develops neural connections and thinking patterns will depend in good measure on their brain structure, their chosen activities and their environment. Philosophical method or in the case of naturally developed thinking patterns, protophilosophy represents a kind of syntax for manipulating and creating narratives of mental images. This will vary widely from person to person. We can determine that the Objectivist epistemology is the best way to validate our concepts, but it doesn't follow that that is what is what is used in forming them. To say that scientists use one method of manipulating symbols and images over another is something that has to be demonstrated. Jim
  18. I strongly disagree. That book's being reviewed in science publications would serve to confirm the prevailing opinion amongst scientists that Objectivism is a crackpot cult. How many of these scientists have actually read Rand for themselves? Relatively few, I would wager. The notion that Objectivism is a "crackpot cult" -- not only the Peikovian branch but Objectivism in general -- has been around ever since Rand became popular. Moral philosophers have said that about her ethical theory, political philosophers about her political philosophy, and so forth, so your "scientists" -- who are probably far more ignorant about philosophy than most Objectivists are about science -- are scarcely unique. Legitimate criticisms can be made of Harriman's book, but it is not the work of a "crackpot." Ghs George, The criticisms that you would get from most scientists would likely be more strident than the terrifically cogent criticisms John McCaskey and Travis Norsen have offered. The reason is that their experience of the process of scientific discovery is likely largely different than what is described by Harriman. If I wanted to write a book on scientific discovery and how it occurs, I would interview top living scientists themselves across a range of fields and look for patterns in how they do science. Other approaches seem second best. Jim
  19. I strongly disagree. That book's being reviewed in science publications would serve to confirm the prevailing opinion amongst scientists that Objectivism is a crackpot cult. This is why I've dreaded for years the thought of the book's ever being finished and published. Since I'd heard the core lecture from Peikoff's "Induction in Physics and Philosophy" course and a set of lectures from prior to 1999 by Harriman, part of which discussed history of science issues, I anticipated what the book would say. I keep thinking of the ARI booth at the last two Heartland conferences, and of there being some hopeful signs of scientists in attendance becoming interested by the philosophy of free-market economics. If that book is displayed at the booth at the next conference and talked up by the ARI representatives...groan. Very wet blanket for any interest of scientists in looking further into what Objectivism might offer. Ellen Exactly. Imagine Harriman's conception of induction trying to deal with Feynman diagrams. The fact is that a lot of the scientific discovery process involves visual or pattern imagery and is not the kind of straightforward, logical or "rational" process that fits neatly into an Objectivist-friendly theory of induction. The validation is methodological and has an empirical and mathematically deductive form, but that process is secondary to the progress of science. Bob Kolker has detailed the origins of quantum theory starting with Planck, and Maxwell and Einstein's discoveries, as well as J.W. Gibbs' wholesale invention of the field of physical chemistry hardly fit into a neat inductive template. Jim
  20. That gives me some indication of what I could have doen with a doctorate :-). Thanks Ninth Doctor, that was really cool!! Jim
  21. Aw c'mon Brant. It's a tribute to Benoit Mandelbrot. Jim
  22. Jim, If you mean no reviews or criticisms will come from outside of the Ayn Rand Institute, I think you are mistaken. For instance, Harriman's book will be reviewed, and almost certainly further discussed, in the pages of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, where no ARIan presently dares to contribute and few will admit reading. But if you mean no reviews or criticisms will come from outside of Rand-land, you are obviously right. No history or philosophy of science journal is likely to review Harriman's opus. I wonder whether his publisher has bothered to send the review copies. David Harriman's book will draw no more attention outside of Rand-land than Jim Valliant's has. Robert Campbell Robert, Yes. I meant outside Rand-land. I look forward to any and all articles and reviews of the book in JARS, on Amazon and elsewhere. If Logical Leap at least serves as a foil to be argued against, having those arguments will mean progress in the Objectivist movement. Jim
  23. No, Starbuckle. I doubt that any reviews or criticisms will come from without. In scientific venues when you don't seek out and utilize peer review, you are completely marginalized. Jim