Noam Chomsky published an essay on his web site a few years ago: Science, Mind, and Limits of Understanding. Chomsky's thesis is that there are areas of reality that science is simply incapable of understanding. He uses as his principle example, the case of Isaac Newton's understanding of gravity. Chomsky acknowledges that this is a … Continue reading The mechanical philosophy and mysterianism
A question that has come up in a couple of recent conversations: Is there any hope within a scientific or philosophical view of reality for immortality, something like an afterlife that is typically promised in the major religions? The most popular hope these days is the Technological Singularity, the idea that sometime soon we will … Continue reading Scientific and philosophical possibilities for immortality
James Wilson has an article up at Aeon, looking at the trolley problem and other ethical and philosophical thought experiments. One of the things he discusses is the notion that many philosophers have, along with many fans of particular thought experiments, that they're sort of like a scientific experiment. It's not that unusual for someone … Continue reading The problem with philosophical thought experiments
From an evolutionary standpoint, why does pain exist? The first naive answer most people reach for is that pain exists to make us take action to prevent damage. If we touch a hot stove, pain makes us pull our hand back. But that's not right. When we touch a hot surface, nociceptors in our hand … Continue reading Pain is information, but what is information?
Philosopher Wilfrid Sellars had a term for the world as it appears, the "manifest image." This is the world as we perceive it. In it, an apple is an apple, something red or green with a certain shape, a range of sizes, a thing that we can eat, or throw. The manifest image can be … Continue reading Is the ultimate nature of reality mental?
On occasion, I've been accused of being closed-minded. (Shocking, I know.) Frequently the reason is not seriously considering non-physical propositions, a perception of rigid physicalism. However, as I've noted before, I'm actually not entirely comfortable with the "physicalist" label (or "materialist", or other synonyms or near synonyms). While it's fairly accurate as to my working … Continue reading Platonism and the non-physical
Philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel has an interesting post up criticizing the arguments of illusionists, those who have concluded that phenomenal consciousness is an illusion. Here's a way to deny the existence of things of Type X. Assume that things of Type X must have Property A, and then argue that nothing has Property A. If that … Continue reading Inflate and explode, or deflate and preserve?
In the discussion on the last post on measurement, the definition of knowledge came up a few times. That's dredged up long standing thoughts I have about knowledge, which I've discussed with some of you before, but that I don't think I've ever actually put in a post. The ancient classic definition of knowledge is … Continue reading What is knowledge?
It's a mantra for many scientists, not to mention many business managers, that if you can't measure it, it's not real. On the other hand, I've been told by a lot of people, mostly non-scientists, and occasionally humanistic scholars including philosophers, that not everything knowable is measurable. But what exactly is a measurement? My intuitive understanding … Continue reading Are there things that are knowable but not measurable?
One of the things that's exciting about learning new things, is that often a new understanding in one area sheds light on what might seem like a completely separate topic. For me, information about how the brain works appears to have shed new light on a question in the philosophy of of science, where there has long … Continue reading What do scientific theories actually tell us about the world?