Science and philosophy? Or philosophy and science?


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Marsha,

Good to "see" you, too.

A few years ago, I asked David Kelley about his use of Gibson's theory of visual perception (and the raft of empirical studies that have been done to test it) in The Evidence of the Senses. Didn't all of this go to show how the philosophy of perception is dependent on the psychology of perception? David's response was quite Peikovian--he drew a distinction between extracting some high-level principles out of a psychological theory and getting involved with actual experiments or data collection. (The obvious problem with this demarcation: if the experiments turned out a different way, it might become necessary to modify or reject one or more of those high-level principles.)

This of course may not be David's view today...

In 2000, not long after we came out with the first issue of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Will Thomas reviewed it in the TOC Navigator. Will did not try to defend the Peikovian or latter-day Randian position; he was comfortable with two-way communication between science and philosophy.

Robert

PS. I discuss Rand's reference to sensory-deprivation studies in my article--she actually cited a chapter by pioneering cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner.

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I read physics papers too. I don't read very much psychology, which I consider a pseudo science. Ba'al Chatzaf

L W,

If Peikoff believes (and it looks to me as though he does) that Objectivism is not just a closed system, but an adequate, complete, and 100% correct closed system, he is treating Rand's writings as holy scripture.

My response to the "closed system" invocation (which unfortunately has some basis in the claims that Rand made for her ideas and the demands she put on her followers) runs as follows:

If Objectivism is a closed system, then it is demonstrably inadequate, incomplete, and less than 100% correct--as is generally characteristic of bodies of knowledge that are unable to grow. In which case, why should anyone be an Objectivist?

Robert Campbell

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I'm really sorry if anything I said appeared to be criticizing you and your study of neuroscience. I didn't mean to at all! I'm just interested in exploring the philosophy of science as it applies to consciousness and neuroscience.

I didn't take your words as lambasting neuroscience... I was trying to explain the background. If I can make things clearer, or if you have a question, I can try to answer. I am, also, in the process of learning. Which is why I enjoyed the discussion; I was learning how to explain things.

As for Peikoff: While I am zooming away on my studies of both science and humanities, I fear that those who strive to engage in forward thinking and evolving ideas will leave him in their dust. But, that is his choice, and in all his philosophical wisdom, he will deal with reality as everyone does. :D

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PS. I discuss Rand's reference to sensory-deprivation studies in my article--she actually cited a chapter by pioneering cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner.

Did she cite other cognitive psychologists? I think that citing one is okay, but most of my books strive to cite at least 10. Also, I'd warn that just by citing one person-- leading or not-- may not mean anything. If I only cited Daniel Dennett, I could be missing out on Michael Gazzaniga, Francis Crick, etc. It could be selective citing, or not. In any case, the best bet is to cite a lot of sources with multiple persepectives, so that the author can discuss both sides of the issue in order to come to a balanced and wise conclusion. Those are the books I most enjoy. Also, Rand cited within her time and although time does not erase works, time adds new theories and ideas and knowledge and wisdom. So therefore, to be "updated" on current context, current scholars citing current (w/in last 5-10 years) studies on neuroscience would of course be more accurate.

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This is an interesting thread. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding, but my first, simple question is: where does science "begin"? If I'm a caveman, and I've never seen fire before, where does philosophy get me without having to undergo a painful experiment in order to find out it's hot. What is the difference, fundamentally, between this and a scientist at Fermilab using a particle accelerator to discover the reality of the top-quark? We sometimes need a complex series of experiments and very specialised knowledge to understand reality at a certain dimension(so to speak, given the quark example), but this does not fundamentally differ from our aquiring of even the simplest truths about reality. Where does science begin?

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Thanks for the answer Robert,

.................................................

Jody, I like your question and hopefully there will be some good responses to it because it immediately made me start thinking exactly where would we as a group in general consider or agree(if possible) on such a basic premise.

I also took the liberty of looking up a definition of Science and posting the one I believe may fit in the right context of how you mean it, since making sure we are all in agreement with meaning is essential I think. If this is not a good definition for you please post your own.

1. study of physical world: the study of the physical and natural world and phenomena, especially by using systematic observation and experiment ( often used before a noun )

L W

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Marsha,

Wow, I try to do some taxes and lab work and next thing I know I am a dozen comments behind on the Science thread!

Thanks for joining me in the laugh. It really only seems funny to those of us who still think about reality, rather than just the theory of a dogma, that science and philosophy have a substantial working relationship. It probably also means that one has to have a sufficient self-esteem to be able to cope with knowing that you do not know all you need to know. Some people simply cannot live with uncertainty, so they pretend they have none. Somehow it does not seem frightening to me. It is just a consequence of living in a very richly complicated universe and leaves so many interesting quests for us.

There are people who feel very nervous walking at night, even in areas with no crime. I have always thought that it was both peaceful and often has its own beauty. There are simply different proclivities for fear and different capabilities for handling the uncertainty that comes with a lowered visibility. Similarly, some people have to have a dogma that answers all questions. Strangely enough, they often know that the questions are not all answered and yet they pretend they are. How does that help? This is something I do not understand.

By the way, your picture is very elegant and becoming.

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Jody,

I think your observation on fire is a very good one. There is a lot of science connected with the practical handling of fire. What is combustible, how do you handle fire to preserve it, how does it provide warmth and distribute that warmth, how do you avoid carbon monoxide poisioning in the cave, how do you use it to cook food, and how do you prevent uncontrolled fires, etc. Did the use of fire tend to push men out of caves into other dwellings designed to hold the warmth of the fire while supplying adequate oxygen and eliminating toxic fumes? Did people gather about in bigger groups because they had fire and exchange more ideas? Because people had a need to teach each other how to use fire, did they learn more about communicating. Did they find that sharing ideas was more useful? Did this sitting around a fire and sharing ideas start them on the road to discussing the earliest ideas of philosophy? Did they argue about the nature of fire and techniques for using it and then have to discuss how they knew anything about it?

It sure appears to be a theoretician's delight to try to do philosophy without science and testing it against reality. The distance between a purely theoretical philosophy and arguing about how many angels are dancing on the head of a needle never seems very great to me. There are just too many ways to go wrong. So earlier, I said that science plays a crucial role in selecting the issues that philosophy will address. It also plays a critical role in testing a philosophy for its application to life as the philosophy develops. It helps to seal off mistaken pathways of thought.

There is a tendency for the abstract-bound (the opposite of the concrete-bound) to oversimplify our past as well as our present. For instance, when thinking about benevolence and tolerance, you cannot underestimate the debt we owe to others for their prior and present contributions of thought. If we do value that little, then we can value the virtues of benevolence and tolerance little, but one should then also be willing to start life without fire and the wheel and face the trials of developing an understanding of both alone.

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Hello all:

What I call general science begins with each individual. Observe a normal infant just starting to crawl. Any object within his grasp, he will usually pop into his mouth. That's a rudimentary science experiment. As our infant mind begins to organize the data provided by our senses, we instinctively define our physical world through experimentation and observation. A wooden toy block is too hard to eat, but a rubber ball is excellent for teething. When we mature and go to school, we gain access to the acumulated knowledge of mankind. The parameters of general science apply to everyone. Gravity affects all men equally.

I like to think of philosophy as a personal science. The science of me. It answers the questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life? Questions general science can't answer. I'm delighted to say that Objectivism has helped answer those questions.

That's just my two cents.

Joseph

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Computer software is immaterial [...]

I don't understand. How is computer software "immaterial"?

Ellen

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The same reason money is immaterial, or Homer's Oddysey is

immaterial. It's information. It is communicated through a material

means, but as the means changes, the information does not.

-- Mike Hardy

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Mike,

Er... is it possible to consider an individual human conscousness to be information? Being so, do you think it would be possible one day to change the material means for the same information when the means in use wears out?

(Don't mind me... just dreaming of immortality...)

Michael

Maybe, but not this year. -- Mike Hardy

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Mike Hardy:

How is computer software "immaterial"?

The same reason money is immaterial' date=' or Homer's Oddysey is

immaterial. It's information. It is communicated through a material

means, but as the means changes, the information does not.[/quote']

I was afraid of that. I suspect you're conflating two different meanings of "information" -- and thus, ultimately, assuming the existence of mind as a means of explaining mind. Definition of "information" please.

OK. I broke down and posted. But the point being touched on here is one which continues to trouble me. How is a program, from a computer's "perspective" (properly speaking, a computer doesn't have a perspective), analogous to money from a human cognizer's perspective? The program, from the computer's "view," is just electrical impulse on/offs (or whatever). Money is an idea which has meaning. "Money" assumes an entity that operates in terms of meaning. To call both of these "information" seems to me a play on words that elides past exactly what needs to be explained.

Ellen

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Jenna,

What makes Rand's citation of Jerry Bruner stand out is her practice of hardly ever citing anyone. I wish she had cited 10 of the cognitive psychologists of her day--come to think of it, 4 or 5 would have been nice. Her orthodox followers like to talk about the "crow epistemology" but have no idea that the crow story was a psychology professor's way of illustrating the ideas of George Miller. They don't know because she didn't bother to tell them.

Although Rand got away with this kind of thing surprisingly often, she is a poor model to emulate.

You are of course right that some of the cognitive psych that Rand did know about has become dated--she learned little about psychology after 1968, began declining intellectually in the mid-1970s, and died in 1982. In her day, though, she was actually ahead of the mainstream in cognitive psychology on some issues--for instance, she was promoting what came to be called "psychological essentialism" more than a decade before researchers like Frank Keil picked it up.

Robert Campbell

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Mike H and Ellen,

What constitutes information (for whom, or for what) is a topic of fundamental importance, in both psychology and epistemology.

I've been reading Robert Wright's book Non-Zero, which I think has quite a few good points. But whenever he starts talking about information he equivocates all over the place, and it drives me buggy! It's not because Wright is a journalist, either; he is doing exactly the same thing that many professionals in phil and psych do.

But I'll have to come back to this issue--it's not the kind of thing that can be resolved in one or two posts.

Robert

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I read an introduction to computers once in Brazil by a company called Itautec in the 80's. It was illustrated by all kinds of funny cartoons.

In the beginning of the book, it discussed information, Piaget and other stuff where I do not yet have deep familiarity. If I remember correctly, the definition of information was knowledge that can be transmitted from one human being to another.

The cartoon illustrating it showed one man punching another man in the nose. He said: "Did you understand that?"

Information apparently does come in many different forms...

Michael

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What makes Rand's citation of Jerry Bruner stand out is her practice of hardly ever citing anyone. I wish she had cited 10 of the cognitive psychologists of her day--come to think of it, 4 or 5 would have been nice.  Her orthodox followers like to talk about the "crow epistemology" but have no idea that the crow story was a psychology professor's way of illustrating the ideas of George Miller.  They don't know because she didn't bother to tell them.

This is where the critical thinking comes in. Thinking does not entiail just swallowing whatever book you've read; for me, I've got marks all over my ITOE and I am on the 4th chapter. Fundamentally, I am very wary now of books that do not cite anything or books that do not cite multiple perspectives (if it is non-fiction).

Although Rand got away with this kind of thing surprisingly often, she is a poor model to emulate.

I have even read philosophical papers and they cite stuff. The only other books that do not cite anything is my Bertrand Russell Basic Writings book. That's fine, but he is one who also said: "I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn't wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine."

I believe Rand said the same exact thing.

You are of course right that some of the cognitive psych that Rand did know about has become dated--she learned little about psychology after 1968, began declining intellectually in the mid-1970s, and died in 1982.  In her day, though, she was actually ahead of the mainstream in cognitive psychology on some issues--for instance, she was promoting what came to be called "psychological essentialism" more than a decade before researchers like Frank Keil picked it up.

It would have been interesting to see what direction she would have taken it if she picked it up and ran with it. I'm not sure what psychological essentialism is, but since her time there has been a lot of work done in both psychology, psychiatry, cognition, neuroscience, and the related. Which is why hearing of Peikoff's closing off of Objectivism seems rather odd in light of scientific progress; I hesitate to think that he really meant to close off philosophy completely so that it cannot be added to by outside sources. No one can be that dumb. For instance, I think philosophy asks very good questions for science that scientists can work with. First of all was "What is consciousness?"

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There is a time to cite other sources. Certainly if one is engaged in academia and publishing in a refereed journal, citing sources is expected and part of the game.

While Ayn Rand should have offered more credit to those whose ideas she used, she was generally an integrater of others ideas and she borrowed what fit consistently into her system of thought. She was primarily interested in constructing a broad ranging framework for thought and communicating that to people who were not specialists in various fields. I cannot find her greatly at fault for not immersing herself or her readers in neuroscience within the context of what she was trying to accomplish.

But, given that she has provided a largely useful framework of thought, it is a great thing for specialists to examine her statements in each field and either further buttress them or correct them. In the process, I am sure that much will be added to Objectivism and some mistakes will be corrected.

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But, given that she has provided a largely useful framework of thought, it is a great thing for specialists to examine her statements in each field and either further buttress them or correct them.  In the process, I am sure that much will be added to Objectivism and some mistakes will be corrected.

I definitely don't expect Rand to know neuroscience, or physics, or anthropology, or media theory, or heavyweight math. She has her context and she did write some really great things that inspire many people. I have a collection of favorite Rand quotes.

I'm more questioning the people who are alive today-- who *do* have access to current knowledge, especially through the internet-- who wish to close off this system of thought from new knowledge, while misunderstanding the nature of the evolving and development of ideas. If *we as humans* have evolved, and are probably still in the midst of evolving, shouldn't ideas-- the stuff that come out of our evolving minds-- evolve too? I think that particular thing is what I have contention with, the closing off of new knowledge. For a person who loves to learn, seek new knowledge, and progress forward, I find that "closed" kind of approach stifling. Of course, I think I'd actually have to read the "closed system" manifesto somewhere to really understand... can anyone point me to a particular article stating this decree?

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OK. I broke down and posted. But the point being touched on here is one which continues to trouble me. How is a program, from a computer's "perspective" (properly speaking, a computer doesn't have a perspective), analogous to money from a human cognizer's perspective? The program, from the computer's "view," is just electrical impulse on/offs (or whatever). Money is an idea which has meaning. "Money" assumes an entity that operates in terms of meaning. To call both of these "information" seems to me a play on words that elides past exactly what needs to be explained.

Not at all. The program has a meaning from our perspective, and that is what counts. It's the same as those different levels of abstraction that are always bugging you: it is a description according to our view of the system, not how a system looks at itself. A system may have an intention without being aware of it. The intention of a thermostat is to keep the temperature within a certain range, the intention of the chess computer is to win a chess match, the intention of the wasp is to sting you (if you're annoying him). Now we humans are of course exceptional while we can think about our intentions, we can deliberate (do I really want that, why do I want that, are there other possibilities, etc.), project different courses of action we can take to realize our intentions, etc. Our ability of rational thinking makes us much more versatile, so we may tend to look down at those more primitive organisms and mechanisms and say that they have no real intentions. But in my opionion the essence of an intention is that the system has a purpose and that it can act to attain that purpose, whether it has a consciousness that makes it aware of that purpose or not, and there is no doubt that living beings, no matter how primitive, and machines do have a purpose.

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Dragonfly,

While I agree with you that 1. living things are goal-directed and conscious living things have purpose and 2. man-made objects like thermostats have functions designed by humans to achieve human purposes, I don't think non-conscious things can have intentions.

I think the word 'Intention' specifically means being aware of goals.

intention

n 1: an anticipated outcome that is intended or that guides your planned actions; "his intent was to provide a new translation"; "good intentions are not enough"; "it was created with the conscious aim of answering immediate needs"; "he made no secret of his designs" [syn: purpose, intent, aim, design] 2: (usually plural) the goal with respect to a marriage proposal; "his intentions are entirely honorable" 3: an act of intending; a volition that you intend to carry out; "my intention changed once I saw her"

Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University

Machines don't have awareness, so I don't think they have intentions, but their actions do fulfill goals set by their human designers.

It is interesting to think about the difference in meaning between 'purpose' and 'intention' - they're used synonmously sometimes, but I think 'purpose' puts more emphasis on the aim of the action and 'intention' on the awareness of the aim.

All this is even more confusing because people often use the words 'goal' and 'purpose' interchangeably - while the mechanists deny that *any* non-conscious living thing has goals!

Aristotle speaks of goals as 'the end for which' an action is taken. The mechanists' problem is that they can't conceive of how a non-conscious living thing can act towards an end. I say - we might not know how, but it's obvious that they do; it's one of the fundamental things that distinguishes living action from non-living. So deal with it! We'll figure it out eventually, especially if the scientists don't think in the mechanist box about it.

Marsha

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Ellen,

Well, I'm glad you broke down!

Wouldn't you say that the program is the set of ideas symbolized by the written code which, which is embodied in the series of actions taken in electrical and mechanical work of the computer to follow the program? In that way, the program is immaterial but, of course, its physical embodiment is not.

I sure as heck don't know what "information" is - it is a word that is used in so many ways, such as the ideas in books, a computer program or DNA code (in the latter, its not even referring to a set of ideas!) The word captures something important, but I can't seem to describe it in terms of anything else.

I've long wondered if, consequently, its an axiomatic concept - or something close.

Marsha

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Jody,

Great point. I think science is the *systematic* observation of nature: yes, humans have observed nature and accommodated their actions in response to what they found since time immemorial (at least the ones paying attention!). However, we didn't have science until people like Aristotle discovered the principles by which to systematically observe and interact with nature to be able to discover consistent, accurate conclusions.

And the Renaissance work on the principles of experimentation then really stoked the fire of discovery.

Marsha

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