In the scientific realism vs instrumentalism debate, realism is the position that the elements of a scientific theory represent reality. So when general relativity talks about space warping, space really is warping. Instrumentalism, or anti-realism, is the stance that scientific theories are just prediction mechanisms, with no guarantee that they represent reality. Under instrumentalism, general … Continue reading Structural realism, a way to be a scientific realist?
Ethan Siegel addresses a question on whether spacetime is real. But there’s more to the Universe than the objects within it. There’s also the fabric of spacetime, which has its own set of rules that it plays by: General Relativity. The fabric of spacetime is curved by the presence of matter and energy, and curved … Continue reading The causal criteria for being real
Those of you who've known me a while may remember that I dislike accepting philosophical labels. For example, although the labels "materialist" or "physicalist" are more or less accurate descriptions of what I think, they often seem to imply an ideological rigidity I'm not comfortable with. My attitude toward these labels somewhat resonates with Neil … Continue reading Scientific theories and prescriptive vs descriptive instrumentalism
Philip Ball has an article up at Aeon: Life with purpose, which resonates in theme with the one a few weeks ago by Michael Levin and Dan Dennett on purpose in nature. Like Levin and Dennett, Ball argues that we shouldn't be shy about discussing purpose in biology, or feel obliged to put quotes around … Continue reading Agency, consciousness, and purpose
I'm always interested in new takes on the demarcation between science and non-science, so after seeing the New Yorker write up on Michael Strevens' new book, The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science, it seemed like something I needed to read. Strevens begins by examining the two leading theories of science: Karl Popper's falsifiability … Continue reading The iron rule of science?
Michael Levin and Daniel Dennett have an interesting article up at Aeon, on the right way to talk about purpose and cognition in biology, particularly in simple organisms and lower level mechanisms. The core thesis is that an organism, at any level, all the way down to a single cell, is an agent, with its … Continue reading The beginnings of purpose
There's an interesting article in Psyche: How to foster ‘shoshin’. "Shoshin" is a Japanese Zen word referring to a "beginner's mind." The idea is that when we take ourselves to be a beginner in a subject, or at least still a student of it, we're more open to possibilities. But as we begin to think … Continue reading Fostering an open mind
A preprint came up a few times in my feeds, titled: Falsification and consciousness. The paper argues that all the major scientific theories of consciousness are either already falsified or unfalsifiable. One neuroscientist, Ryota Kanai, calls it a mathematical proof of the hard problem. Based on that description, it was hard to resist looking at … Continue reading The substitution argument
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
This is part of an ongoing series inspired by my reading of Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. A while back, I discussed the discovery of discovery, the historical development of the idea that there were things to discover in the world, things the ancients didn't already know. Harari flips this around, … Continue reading The crucial knowledge of ignorance