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The Logical Leap: Induction In Physics

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the read-all-about-it dept.

Books 630

FrederickSeiler writes "When David Harriman, this book's author, was studying physics at Berkeley, he noticed an interesting contrast: 'In my physics lab course, I learned how to determine the atomic structure of crystals by means of x-ray diffraction and how to identify subatomic particles by analyzing bubble-chamber photographs. In my philosophy of science course, on the other hand, I was taught by a world-renowned professor (Paul Feyerabend) that there is no such thing as scientific method and that physicists have no better claim to knowledge than voodoo priests. I knew little about epistemology [the philosophy of knowledge] at the time, but I could not help noticing that it was the physicists, not the voodoo priests, who had made possible the life-promoting technology we enjoy today.' Harriman noticed the enormous gulf between science as it is successfully practiced and science as is it described by post-Kantian philosophers such as Feyerabend, who are totally unable to explain the spectacular achievements of modern science." Read on for the rest of Frederick's review.Logical Leap: Induction in Physics attempts to bridge this gap between philosophy and science by providing a philosophical explanation of how scientists actually discover things. A physicist and physics teacher by trade, he worked with philosopher Leonard Peikoff to understand the process of induction in physics, and this book is a result of their collaboration.

Induction is one of the two types of logical argument; the other type is deduction. First described by Aristotle, deduction covers arguments like the following: (1) All men are mortal. (2) Socrates is a man. (3) Therefore, Socrates is mortal. Deductive arguments start with generalizations ("All men are mortal.") and apply them to specific instances ("Socrates"). Deductive logic is well understood, but it relies on the truth of the generalizations in order to yield true conclusions.

So how do we make the correct generalizations? This is the subject of the other branch of logic induction and it is obviously much more difficult than deduction. How can we ever be justified in reasoning from a limited number of observations to a sweeping statement that refers to an unlimited number of objects? In answering this question Harriman presents an original theory of induction, and he shows how it is supported by key developments in the history of physics.

The first chapter presents the philosophical foundations of the theory, which builds directly on the theory of concepts developed by Ayn Rand. Unfortunately for the general reader, Harriman assumes familiarity with Rand's theory of knowledge, including her views of concepts as open-ended, knowledge as hierarchical, certainty as contextual, perceptions as self-evident, and arbitrary ideas as invalid. Those unfamiliar with these ideas may find this section to be confusing. But the good news is that those readers can then proceed to the following chapters, which flesh out the theory and show how it applies to key developments in the history of physics (and the related fields of astronomy and chemistry). These chapters do a wonderful job at bringing together the physics and the philosophy, clarifying both in the process.

Harriman argues that as concepts form a hierarchy, generalizations form a hierarchy as well; more abstract generalizations rest on simpler, more direct ones, relying ultimately on a rock-solid base of "first-level" generalizations which are directly, perceptually obvious, such as the toddler's grasp of the fact that "pushed balls roll." First-level generalizations are formed from our direct experiences, in which the open-ended nature of concepts leads to generalizations. Higher-level generalizations are formed based on lower-level ones, using Mill's Methods of Agreement and Difference to identify causal connections, while taking into account the entirety of one's context of knowledge.

Ayn Rand held that because of the hierarchical nature of our knowledge, it is possible to take any valid idea (no matter how advanced), and identify its hierarchical roots, i.e. the more primitive, lower-level ideas on which it rests, tracing these ideas all the way back to directly observable phenomena. Rand used the word "reduction" to refer to this process. In a particularly interesting discussion, Harriman shows how the process of reduction can be applied to the idea that "light travels in straight lines," identifying such earlier ideas as the concept "shadow" and finally the first-level generalization "walls resist hammering hands."

Harriman's discussion of the experimental method starts with a description of Galileo's experiments with pendulums. Galileo initially noticed that the period of a pendulum's swing seems to be the same for different swing amplitudes, so he decided to accurately measure this time period to see if it is really true. Concluding that the period is indeed constant, he then did further experiments. He selectively varied the weight and material of the pendulum's bob, and the length of the pendulum. This led him to the discovery that a pendulum's length is proportional to the square of its period. Harriman notes the experiments that Galileo did not perform: 'He saw no need to vary every known property of the pendulum and look for a possible effect on the period. For example, he did not systematically vary the color, temperature, or smell of the pendulum bob; he did not investigate whether it made a difference if the pendulum arm is made of cotton twine or silk thread. Based on everyday observation, he had a vast pre-scientific context of knowledge that was sufficient to eliminate such factors as irrelevant. To call such knowledge "pre-scientific" is not to cast doubt on its objectivity; such lower-level generalizations are acquired by the implicit use of the same methods that the scientist uses deliberately and systematically, and they are equally valid.' One powerful tool for avoiding nonproductive speculations in science is Ayn Rand's concept of the arbitrary, and Harriman brilliantly clarifies this idea in the section on Newton's optical experiments. An arbitrary idea is one for which there is no evidence; it is an idea put forth based solely on whim or faith. Rand held that an arbitrary idea cannot be valid even as a possibility; in order to say "it is possible," one needs to have evidence (which can consist of either direct observations or reasoning based on observations).

Newton began his research on colors with a wide range of observations, which led him to his famous and brilliant experiments with prisms. Harriman presents the chain of reasoning and experimentation which led Newton to conclude that white light consists of a mixture of all of the colors, which are separated by refraction.

Isaac Newton said that he "framed no hypotheses," and here he was referring to his rejection of the arbitrary. When Descartes claimed without any evidence that light consists of rotating particles with the speed of rotation determining the color; and when Robert Hooke claimed without any evidence that white light consists of a symmetrical wave pulse, which results in colors when the wave becomes distorted; these ideas were totally arbitrary, and they deserved to be thrown out without further consideration: "Newton understood that to accept an arbitrary idea even as a mere possibility that merits consideration undercuts all of one's knowledge. It is impossible to establish any truth if one regards as valid the procedure of manufacturing contrary 'possibilities' out of thin air." This rejection of the arbitrary may be expressed in a positive form: Scientists should be focused on reality, and only on reality.

After discussing the rise of experimentation in physics, Harriman turns to the Copernican revolution, the astronomical discoveries of Galileo and Kepler, and the grand synthesis of Newton's laws of motion and of universal gravitation. But this reviewer found the most historically interesting chapter to be the one about the atomic theory of matter; this chapter is a cautionary tale about the lack of objective standards for evaluating theories. This story then leads to Harriman proposing a set of specific criteria of proof for scientific theories.

The final, concluding chapter addresses several broader issues, including why mathematics is fundamental to the science of physics, how the science of philosophy is different than physics, and finally, how modern physics has gone down the wrong path due to the lack of a proper theory of induction.

So, with the publication of Logical Leap, has the age-old "problem of induction" now been solved? On this issue, the reader must judge for himself. What is clear to this reviewer is that Harriman has presented an insightful, thought-provoking and powerful new theory about how scientists discover the laws of nature.

You can purchase The Logical Leap: Induction In Physics from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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630 comments

Oh my (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34826710)

Objectivist Epistemology.. professional philosophers.. hands beating on walls..

It's all very moist! But I guess some people really get into reading this type of book. Not for me... I'm happy with saying "nothing can be 100% proven" and calling 2+2 a theory.

Re:Oh my (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34826744)

Plus it has a 9/10 rating! It's the trifecta!

Re:Oh my (5, Interesting)

durrr (1316311) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827076)

I recall the quote "Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornitology is to birds" being attributed to feynman. And i find it all too fitting for any discussion that tries to mix science and philosophy.

Re:Oh my (1)

melikamp (631205) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827122)

I'm happy with saying "nothing can be 100% proven" and calling 2+2 a theory.

2+2=4 is indeed a theory [wikipedia.org] in the language of arithmetic, and provably so.

Re:Oh my (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827208)

It's an axiom, not a theory.

Re:Oh my (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827306)

It's an axiom? In what theory?

Re:Oh my (1)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827262)

Not at all, 2+2=4 is a theorem specifically because it *can* be proven given the axioms of arithmetic.

Re:Oh my (1)

melikamp (631205) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827344)

2+2=4 is indeed a theorem of arithmetic, but it does not preclude it from being an axiom or the only member of a theory.

Re:Oh my (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827408)

And you would be 100% wrong. 2+2 is not a theory. 2+2 is *defined* as 1+1+1+1. 1+1 > 1. 1+1+1>1+1. 1+1+1+1>1+1+1. That is by definition. There is no "theory".

Math is not science. Mathematics is based on axioms that are unquestionably true, by definitions. Mathematicians prove something is correct.

Science is based on observation of the universe, be it a bacteria, H+ atom or our solar system. The observations are then generalized into a hypothesis that is tested. A well tested hypothesis is called a theory. A theory or hypothesis where counter-examples are found in the universe, is invalidated and is wrong. A new and improved hypothesis needs to be found that match the current set of observations. That is science.

This means that Science is about finding the axioms of nature. Math is about using made-up axioms. The 2 disciplines are burning different candles at opposite ends.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axiom

Math is a tool used by scientists to understand their observations and allow for generalizations.

People, through our own faults like greed and laziness and hubris, sometimes accidentally or consciously, will falsify their observations of the universe for their own gain. These frauds are the single most damaging part of science community as their "findings" waste valuable time and resources needlessly as people cannot test their findings. The most public examples would have to be the Cold Fusion debacle. The end result is people like yourself, not knowing the good science from some very shitty science and pseudo-science. Then you start calling math a theory........ oy.....

Philosophy... (5, Insightful)

Algorithmnast (1105517) | more than 3 years ago | (#34826736)

While the greek word philosophia literally means "friend of wisdom", the common-day philosopher tends to stare at their naval and wonder if they even exist more than they use anything which might resemble wisdom.

Meanwhile, the engineer is creating ways to save lives, feed millions, and travel to Mars.

I - personally - find it frustrating that we listen to the naval-staring philosopher, and forget what wisdom is in the same moment.

Re:Philosophy... (5, Interesting)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 3 years ago | (#34826846)

Yeah. I hear ya.

In my philosophy of science course, on the other hand, I was taught by a world-renowned professor (Paul Feyerabend) that there is no such thing as scientific method and that physicists have no better claim to knowledge than voodoo priests

I'd say he's a bit of a silly goose who needs to study the things he is dismantling before making claims against them. While inductive reasoning leaves itself open to be false, and there are times where inductive reasoning has proven to be false, it does not discredit the scientific method anywhere near enough to put it in the same ballpark as religious beliefs.

Like this review and this book no doubt mentions, science is an open process where anybody and everybody can study and contribute. To find a major flaw in the currently accepted and believed theories is considered a scientific breakthrough, not blasphemy or heathen. Given that those who embrace the scientific method are willing to accept criticism and increase their knowledge of the entire system instead of deny or rebel against it, I believe those people have far more claim to knowledge. If you don't believe what a physicist has come up with, just recreate the scenario yourself and see the results. I challenge any priest, voodoo or otherwise, to do the same without the aid of science or mathematics.

Re:Philosophy... (4, Insightful)

Homburg (213427) | more than 3 years ago | (#34826960)

I'd say he's a bit of a silly goose who needs to study the things he is dismantling before making claims against them.

So, tell me, how much of Feyerabend's philosphy of science have you studied?

Re:Philosophy... (5, Insightful)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827400)

So, tell me, how much of Feyerabend's philosphy of science have you studied?

None. But if he comes out with woo-woo shit like equating science to voodoo, that's already too much.

Re:Philosophy... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827320)

Except everything you have just said is false.

First of all, despite the popular view of religion you espouse, most religions and religious individuals are open to challenges to their faith. Admittedly this is a matter of degree, but to suggest that religions react to every challenge with "blasphemy!" and "you heathen!" is a gross mischaracterization.

Second, finding a major flaw in science is not accepted as a "breakthrough" often; new ideas that challenge old orders are met with considerable skepticism to say the least. If the new idea is actually more accurate, it may eventually win out, but scientists do not quickly accepts new ideas and theories (see Kuhn's Structures of Scientific Revolutions). Often, despite the data, scientists "deny" and "rebel against" ideas that challenge their world views.

Finally, science is not an "open" process where "anybody and everybody" is allowed to contribute. Most science as practiced today requires expensive equipment unavailable to those outside of the specific field being studied, and a considerable post-secondary science education is needed just to be able to understand the articles published in the majority of scientific journals today. On top of that, as "free" as I might be to recreate somebody's professional experiment, my results will never be taken seriously or published in a scientific journal unless I have particular credentials which are both difficult and often expensive to earn.

None of this is meant as a dig on science; there are some important things that separate science and religion. But these reasons you are citing are completely false.

Re:Philosophy... (2)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827450)

Second, finding a major flaw in science is not accepted as a "breakthrough" often; new ideas that challenge old orders are met with considerable skepticism to say the least.

Nobody got burnt at the stake for dissing phlogiston theory.

Re:Philosophy... (1)

Zencyde (850968) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827540)

No no no. There is no scientific method. It's just a silly thing they teach children in school to create a structure around science. But science is structureless as the process of developing science is the process of creating structure in and of itself. There is no structure to science because science is structure. Make sense?

Re:Philosophy... (1)

Anrego (830717) | more than 3 years ago | (#34826888)

Agreed.

Philosophy has gone from something generally valuable to the community, to something that's pretty much only important within it's own academic community.

Would be nice to find a way to put the philosopher mind back to work on real problems, rather than as you said, debating the reality of a bottle of water.

Re:Philosophy... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827014)

Just because you or others here don't care about certain questions that some philosophers deal with doesn't mean they are not important. It's sad to witness how putting down philosophy has become the norm.

Re:Philosophy... (2)

Captain Splendid (673276) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827366)

Well, that's engineers for you. To them, humans are at best dirt in the machine.

Re:Philosophy... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827444)

To them, humans are at best dirt in the machine.

That explains most of the "lol PEBKAC", "st00pid lusers", and "there should be a license to be on the internet" comments one finds here on Slashdot.

Re:Philosophy... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827550)

If philosophers shut the hell up and make themselves slightly more useful, like go out and dig a ditch, instead of sucking air, taking up office space at university buildings, and spewing out hot air (and CO2 ;-), it might help.

Re:Philosophy... (4, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827104)

Just because some scientists tend to bleat crude things about philosophy hardly means that it's some sort of an intellectual backwater. The truth is that a lot of scientists know next to nothing about philosophy of science, and thus denigrate that which they do not understand.

Re:Philosophy... (2)

chispito (1870390) | more than 3 years ago | (#34826970)

While the greek word philosophia literally means "friend of wisdom", the common-day philosopher tends to stare at their naval and wonder if they even exist more than they use anything which might resemble wisdom.

Meanwhile, the engineer is creating ways to save lives, feed millions, and travel to Mars.

I - personally - find it frustrating that we listen to the naval-staring philosopher, and forget what wisdom is in the same moment.

Not all philosophers are that paralyzed, and I think that it is a useful profession. It's just that supply vastly exceeds demand.

Re:Philosophy... (5, Funny)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827004)

While the greek word philosophia literally means "friend of wisdom", the common-day philosopher tends to stare at their naval

For a fleeting moment, I thought you were serious.

Re:Philosophy... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827132)

For a fleeting moment

I see what you did there.

Re:Philosophy... (2)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827028)

Meanwhile, the engineer is creating ways to save lives, feed millions, and travel to Mars.

Am I am that engineer! Can you even guess when I last had a day off?!

Re:Philosophy... (4, Informative)

xednieht (1117791) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827254)

"I - personally - find it frustrating that we listen to the naval-staring philosopher, and forget what wisdom is in the same moment."

I find it frustrating that people can't spell "NAVEL". I have stood next to friends of wisdom....

Naval - "of or pertaining to warships"
Navel - "umbilicus"

Re:Philosophy... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827520)

There are a great many people who like to stare at big boats with guns, and philosophize about how they should be used. And we'd all do well to pay even less attention to most of those people than we do to the ones who are fascinated with their oranges.

Re:Philosophy... (1, Insightful)

dcollins (135727) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827340)

Plus nukes, killer drones, and global warming.

Consider the members of the Manhattan Project who felt so bad about it afterward. Perhaps they could have used a bit more philosophy on the front end and not merely engineering-uber-alles?

Re:Philosophy... otis redding style (3, Insightful)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827342)

the common-day philosopher tends to stare at their naval

# watching all the ships come in, and then watching them go out again... /#

Re:Philosophy... (2)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827448)

While the greek word philosophia literally means "friend of wisdom", the common-day philosopher tends to stare at their naval

Maybe they're longing to be real pirates.

oy (5, Insightful)

nomadic (141991) | more than 3 years ago | (#34826770)

The first chapter presents the philosophical foundations of the theory, which builds directly on the theory of concepts developed by Ayn Rand. Unfortunately for the general reader, Harriman assumes familiarity with Rand's theory of knowledge, including her views of concepts as open-ended, knowledge as hierarchical, certainty as contextual, perceptions as self-evident, and arbitrary ideas as invalid. Those unfamiliar with these ideas may find this section to be confusing.

"Ayn Rand" and "philosophical foundations" should not be in the same sentence. If you like something Ayn Rand says, then I guarantee you can find another philosopher said it only in a far more intellectually rigorous manner.

Re:oy (4, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 3 years ago | (#34826956)

Ya I've never got all the Randroids out there. I'd never heard of Ayn Rand as a kid. Maybe in passing but never paid any attention, never read any of her work or anything. I was always interested in philosophy though and read a fair bit myself. In university, I took quite a few philosophy courses, and got taught on all the major philosophers and so on. Then, having heard some people going on about Ayn Rand I decided to investigate a bit. I read some of her philosophy and said "How is this news? It is all shit I've heard before, but better, with less logical problems, and less crazy."

As far as I can tell people who get obsessed with Rand as a genius are just people who have never read Karl Popper.

Obligatory (5, Funny)

the Atomic Rabbit (200041) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827284)

Ya I've never got all the Randroids out there.

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs. -- Kung Fu Monkey

Re:oy (3, Insightful)

rutter (1430885) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827134)

I'm a Philosophy student and I think I can speak with a certain degree of authority when I say that Ayn Rand isn't someone you seriously cite in academic philosophy. She just isn't credible - and I'm not talking in terms of political disagreement - her arguments on topics of philosophical import just aren't very good. I wasn't too happy with everything that was written before for Rand, such as your rather shallow evaluation of Feyerabend and your flippant remarks about epistemology which clearly demonstrate you have no idea what your are talking about, but second I hit "Ayn Rand" I just stopped reading.

Re:oy (4, Insightful)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827318)

I'm a Philosophy student and I think I can speak with a certain degree of authority when I say that Ayn Rand isn't someone you seriously cite in academic philosophy. She just isn't credible - and I'm not talking in terms of political disagreement - her arguments on topics of philosophical import just aren't very good. I wasn't too happy with everything that was written before for Rand, such as your rather shallow evaluation of Feyerabend and your flippant remarks about epistemology which clearly demonstrate you have no idea what your are talking about, but second I hit "Ayn Rand" I just stopped reading.

From Paul Krugman:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Re:oy (2)

wjousts (1529427) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827322)

but second I hit "Ayn Rand" I just stopped reading.

Me too, well actually I rolled my eyes first, then stopped reading.

Really? (1, Interesting)

marcus (1916) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827150)

How about some citations wise one?

Can you earn that "Informative" rating or just make arbitrary statements?

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827442)

nice, you goosed him good, when you pullout are you gonna spooge on his back too...ahah aha ah aha

Re:oy (5, Interesting)

radtea (464814) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827174)

If you like something Ayn Rand says, then I guarantee you can find another philosopher said it only in a far more intellectually rigorous manner.

Yeah, mostly Locke, Aristotle and--remarkably given her hostility toward the man and his work--Kant.

People interested in Rand's notion of concepts are well-advised to look at the work of Peter Abelard, too. Although he's famous for other reasons, his conceptualist "third way" between nominalism and idealism is actually viable, and quite close to what Rand was dreaming of.

From the sounds of this book it's nothing but a collection of just-so stories about the history of physics (Hey look, I'm writing a review of a review!) Science is a lot bigger than physics, and physics has a large number of special features that most sciences--biology, geology, astronomy, etc--don't have. As such, it's a lousy place to start when talking about science as such.

The critical piece that's missing from all discussions of induction I'm aware is the creative role of definition. Newton, for example, created definitions of mass, force, etc, such that he could build a consistent, albeit incomplete, mathematical description of phenomena. The concepts he created were not given: they are as much a product of the needs of the knowing subject as they are constrained by the facts. Constrained: not determined.

Unfortunately, philosophers are (still!) innumerate, and as such are not able to grasp the notion of a constraint: they think there must be either just one right way to conceptualize reality (idealism), or that any old way will do (nominalism).

Rand claimed on the one hand to reject these alternatives, but then argued strongly that there was exactly one correct way because "reality really is that way", which is obviously nonsense: even within physics there are frequently several equally correct ways of conceptualizing the same phenomena (Newtonian vs classical physics, for example, which give quite different accounts of the cause of motion, one based on force, one based on the principle of least action or similar.)

Re:oy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827206)

Well, Peikoff worked on the book so that should not come as a surprise.

Ah, stopped reading half way through (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34826778)

which builds directly on the theory of concepts developed by Ayn Rand.

Stopped reading right there.

Re:Ah, stopped reading half way through (1)

Elbereth (58257) | more than 3 years ago | (#34826842)

I think that is the mark at which one either turns away in disgust or eagerly adds the book to one's Amazon wishlist.

Re:Ah, stopped reading half way through (1)

I8TheWorm (645702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827506)

Why not finish it out regardless of your opinion on Rand?

I listen to Democracy Now every morning even though I agree with about 10% of the opinion Amy Goodman injects into her reports. It gives me perspective and once in a while enough actual information to form a different opinion.

How about magnetism/gravity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34826796)

Have we finally figured out they're the same thing? Or are we still flinging poop at each other?

Rand (3, Insightful)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#34826824)

If Rand was so good at evaluating theories for arbitrariness and fitness, then how could she ever have promoted something as unrealistic as leaving the fate of humanity to laissez-faire capitalism? Had she never met humans before?

Re:Rand (2)

Securityemo (1407943) | more than 3 years ago | (#34826982)

Most people espousing randian "no-holds-barred" capitalism seem to do so out of a general nihilism towards people ever working for anyone but themselves. That is, they seem to think people are egotistic and amoral, and any attempt at socialism in any form resulting in either oppression or parasitic stagnation or both. They don't seem evil as such, but it is a strange view, and I cannot wrap my head around it fully.

Re:Rand (4, Insightful)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827248)

But I guess my central point is that objectivism (which includes the laissez-faire botch) is at odds with her other big meme, enlightened self-interest, which requires doing good unto others and expecting it to benefit you.

Laissez-faire is a license to defraud. Human lives are finite, and the ability of a laissez-faire system to return one's evils back to oneself in time for them to overwhelm one's ill-gotten wealth is, evidently, minimal. If the system had a shorter feedback loop, or we lived long enough to be brought low by the results from this system, then laissez-faire would result in a competitive balance (albeit a tense one).

Given the subject of this book, and how Rand is the basis for much of it, you'd think she'd have understood that believing in laissez-faire was, if not arbitrary, then certainly not supported by the evidence. It's certainly true that all the evidence today points to the fact that loosening the brakes on wealth-accumulation is resulting in more pain for the human race overall and less for those who already got theirs. She even had a word for the sort of selfishness that dominates laissez-faire: "unenlightened self-interst". Blows my mind that she cocked it up that bad and promoted objectivism instead of pointing flashing neon arrows at it and saying "DON'T DO THIS".

Time to put the "enlightened self-interest" politics to work, and make sure people can distinguish them from the "unenlightened self-interest" practices that politics has been swinging towards for the past 30 years.

Re:Rand (1)

Securityemo (1407943) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827382)

I am not familiar with the specifics of Rand's works, I can see a problem here: trying to determine what constitutes "enlightened self interest" is in any case key. If we factor out shortsightedness, most people probably wouldn't be able to compete in todays society if they had to take full economic responsibility for themselves. No, it's clear that they can't. And then people spit on them and call them "white trash". Another problem is fundamentally, am I not expected to act morally unless it is in my self-interest to do so? That assumption is, in fact, sociopathic. Unless you count in "lack of empathic pain" as a part of self-interest, which I assume she may well have done if I read the tone of the discussions correctly.

Re:Rand (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827062)

Well, that didn't take long.

Re:Rand (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827114)

Don't know why, but I seem sometimes to have pre-publication access to /. articles. I read the entire article, parts of it twice, and looked up some Rand stuff online before posting. My Karma must be overflowing the buffer or something.

Re:Rand (2)

reedk (43097) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827168)

Better; she grew up in a decidedly non-lassiez-faire system and learned that reality all too well.

Re:Rand (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827268)

So she fell for the fallacy of the excluded middle.

I'm starting to think she didn't think so much as we think she thinked.

Re:Rand (2)

wjousts (1529427) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827348)

Yeah but going to the other extreme isn't any better. The most pragmatic solution lies somewhere in the middle. The difficulty is in finding exactly where it is.

Re:Rand (1)

I8TheWorm (645702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827544)

Therein lies the rub. While groups tend to either espouse the ideas of the far left or far right or be accused of such, most people tend to argue the few degrees of separation in the middle. The rest is sensationalism.

Re:Rand (1)

St.Creed (853824) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827292)

This sounds like a case of being able to prove anything, as long as your assumptions (you know, those unshakeable things every toddler knows) are in line with the things you'd like to prove. For Ayn Rand certain things were quite basic. I mean, for the ones who are on top in any given society, that society is "natural" or "divine". Those on the bottom may not subscribe to that philosophy.

As for induction, it's a pretty well understood concept in mathematics and in general use in computer science. I always considered it a practical tool after learning it in the "Logic and discrete mathematics" course (1st year course) and thought other sciences used it as well. It was the basis of many computerscience proofs. Generalizing it into a more generally applicable tool sounds like a good idea, but I'm not sure it hasn't been done already.

As for philosophy in general, there are a huge amount of problems in the field. Although the post-modernist have in some cases added quite usefull tools to the field (postmodernist dissection, to name one, which I think was a usefull tool in the arsenal of anyone who wants to criticize hidden assumptions) mainly they've only provided excuses for how the world has been run lately - fullfilling the same role the Catholic church has played in much of Western Europe's history, only not nearly as long-lived or as influential.

And about Paul Feyerabend: if he really equates priests with scientists, he's a fool. The counterargument would be: well, pray for your new bridge to hold - we'll use math to make *sure* it holds. Since he wouldn't be famous if he was as stupid as suggested, I'm going to climb out on a limb here and think that perhaps he's been used as a straw man in this review. Then again, there have been a lot of famous philosophers who *were* fools, and fools who were famous philosophers, so it may be true :)

yayyyyyy duhhhrrrrr bluh (1)

eyenot (102141) | more than 3 years ago | (#34826872)

I can imagine people like Einstein and Hawking standing around blowing flecks of spittle in each others' faces arguing, and like one Anon. commenter said, "hands slapping the walls" and just being total fucking retards until they pick this specific book up. Ahhhhhh! Scientists don't hafta be reeeeTARDIIIIIIIDD any MOOOOOOOOORE

Re:yayyyyyy duhhhrrrrr bluh (1)

dogsbreath (730413) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827198)

I can imagine people like Einstein and Hawking standing around blowing flecks of spittle in each others' faces arguing, and like one Anon. commenter said, "hands slapping the walls" and just being total fucking retards until they pick this specific book up. Ahhhhhh! Scientists don't hafta be reeeeTARDIIIIIIIDD any MOOOOOOOOORE

1. Please be more PC wrt "total fucking retards". "total fucking asswipes" is a much more acceptable phrase

2. Please reference Monty Python's coverage of Greece vs Germany at the 1972 Olympics in the sport of Philosopher's Football

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Philosophers'_Football_Match [wikipedia.org]

Re:yayyyyyy duhhhrrrrr bluh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827380)

1. Please be more PC wrt "total fucking retards".

Why? Is Sarah Palin gonna get her panties in a knot again?

Life-promoting technology we enjoy today (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34826924)

Voodoo priests and priests of other stripes performed the modern role of physicists when we first climbed down from the trees. The modern scientific method evolved from the religions of the past.

And as humans are involved, both religion and science are approximations of reality. Not reality itself.

As far as the here and now, I'll take the scientific method over religion, but I see this as a continuum, not an quantum thing.

Re:Life-promoting technology we enjoy today (1)

cosm (1072588) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827218)

Voodoo priests and priests of other stripes performed the modern role of physicists when we first climbed down from the trees. The modern scientific method evolved from the religions of the past.

Just...no. You are trolling, joking, or have been deluded (perhaps diluted to, depending on your IQ concentration). The modern scientific method evolved by breaking away from religions of the past, choosing to investigate rather than just take things at face value. I think you will find religion consistantly changing their outlook towards the universe as science progresses, and not the other way around. When was the last time a religious breakthrough shaped science? Perhaps you were referring to the dark-age witch-hunts, in which anybody with critical thinking was a co-conspirator to witches?

And as humans are involved, both religion and science are approximations of reality. Not reality itself.

You really can't just use those two words interchangeably. Religion is an approximation of reality in the same way that cults are collaborative, critical-thinkers, able to accept and reject presented notions at the behest of logic and reason.

As far as the here and now, I'll take the scientific method over religion, but I see this as a continuum, not an quantum thing.

I am glad that you will take science over religion, but it doesn't have to be an either or. You can be a through and through practitioner of theoretical physics, but still retain some spirituality. I draw a line between 'die-hard religionism' and spirituality, the two are not mutually inclusive. Just as science and spirituality doesn't have to be mutually exclusive. These modes thought course don't make good television, ergo the reason for such a rift between belief in the spiritual unknown vs. study of the physical unknown.

Re:Life-promoting technology we enjoy today (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827460)

Perhaps you were referring to the dark-age witch-hunts, in which anybody with critical thinking was a co-conspirator to witches?

Historians haven't used the term Dark Ages for decades now, emphasizing that late antiquity was much more complex and varied from one place to another. The Eastern Roman Empire, for example, kept on going for a thousand years and maintained a continuous literary tradition, nothing "Dark" about it. 2) Witch hunts were a product of the Late Medieval Era/Renaissance and not what used to be called the "Dark Ages". 3) Witch hunts were not a major phenomenon of this era. Current scholarship emphasizes just how few people were convicted by religious courts compared to popular belief.

Philosopher's Role (1)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 3 years ago | (#34826932)

I think the role of the philosopher is to question everything. Sometimes it's a rigorous questioning (because, you know, physicists are philosophers too). Other times it's more of a general questioning, less scientific and more...well...philosophical. Philosophical statements should all begin with something like "What if..." or "Suppose that..." or "I've been wondering..."

Philosophy is not about fact. Don't say that modern science is no better than island superstitions. There's lots of philosophical quotes that fit here.

Re:Philosopher's Role (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827216)

I think the role of the philosopher is to question everything.

The role of the philosopher may be to question everything, but the role of the scientist is to make sure that the philosopher's room is firmly locked and soundproofed and that the philosopher is shut inside it. And then get on with actual science.

It's science that has given the world its progress. Philosophers at best provide tangential reading, nothing more.

I think it's already been said better (1)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 3 years ago | (#34826992)

Re:I think it's already been said better (1)

bmuon (1814306) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827164)

Sokal's hoax has to do with the sociology of science. This book is about the philosophy of science. Of course, none should be ignored when making a complete analysis of the current state of science, but they are two very different approaches.

Re:I think it's already been said better (1)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827350)

I think you meant the sociology of the humanities. Science was never involved.

Re:I think it's already been said better (2)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827500)

When you get "I was taught by a world-renowned professor (Paul Feyerabend) that there is no such thing as scientific method and that physicists have no better claim to knowledge than voodoo priests", then Sokal is perfectly cromulent.

Re:I think it's already been said better (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827490)

Social Text was an obscure postmodernist journal that almost no one read and which had no peer review mechanism in place. The Sokal Affair says nothing about contemporary philosophy, which mainly goes on in journals like Philosopy or Philosophical Review.

"Paul Feyerabend" "that there is no such thing as (5, Insightful)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 3 years ago | (#34826994)

If only statements like this were problems of only philosophers. The real problem is that scientists are losing the sense of rigor in method as well.

The only litmus test for scientific method left nowadays is if you pass the review of your peers, that is couple of your colleagues from the same grant hunting boat.

It sounds like a very one sided view. (2)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827000)

Ayn Rand was an intelligent fruitcake, not a philosopher or a scientist. The basis of her ideas can be found in the sources quoted in Umberto Eco's The search for the perfect language, which is quite hard going but I think worth the effort.

Ayn Rand's concept of the arbitrary has its origins in the medieval ideas of substance and accident - the properties that define what something is versus things that don't (you wouldn't separate men into those with, and those without, spots on their bum and expect to deduce any real insights.)

So: sounds like rehashed old stuff from the mob who want to argue that there is no "physical reality".

finally, how modern physics has gone down the wrong path due to the lack of a proper theory of induction.

I await a better one with interest; the present one has been under investigation for hundreds of years, and the root problem remains the initially unprovable hypothesis (which will eventually be found to be . It doesn't go away with hand waving.

Incidentally, the Whipple Museum at Cambridge is stuffed with unreadable and largely unread books on induction in the philosophy of science. It tends to be a career graveyard subject: scientists are too busy to care, philosophers of science just categorise them by principal fallacies.

I am an idiot, sorry (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827042)

"the initially unprovable hypothesis (which will eventually be found to be insufficient and be replaced with a refinement)"

Re:It sounds like a very one sided view. (1)

Homburg (213427) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827118)

I await a better one with interest; the present one has been under investigation for hundreds of years, and the root problem remains the initially unprovable hypothesis (which will eventually be found to be .

The most interesting recent take on induction that I've seen is Quentin Meillassoux's in After Finitude. Meillassoux argues that the problem of induction as usually stated has it backwards. In fact, according to Meillassoux, the reason we cannot prove that nature is uniform is because nature isn't uniform, but instead totally arbitrary, and (this is the bizarre part), it is only because nature is totally arbitrary that scientific knowledge is possible.

No such thing as scientific method? Huh? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827046)

With all due respect to the esteemed professor, his claim that there is no such thing as scientific method is a glorified case of the perfect being an enemy of the good.

Without constructing a straw man (I hope), his reasoning seems to run as follows (my paraphrase, and I'll accept that it's probably not 100% rigorous):
- scientific method requires objectivity
- perfect objectivity is impossible, because any specificity in knowledge, or setting aside of knowledge as unrelated to the question being explored, is by definition exclusionary of other knowledge which is potentially capable of engaging with the question.
- because perfect objectivity is impossible, the scientific method is ultimately a question of knowledge excluding preferences.

As I have an English degree in addition to a BS in CS, I'll state that I understand the reasoning but don't accept it. Scientific method doesn't require perfect objectivity, though. Instead, it has to capture the data necessary to addressing the question at hand. So if I'm measuring the time to transfer a given volume of data between sites, I'll look at (way oversimplified) available bandwidth, latency, jitter, existing traffic load, projected load, type of traffic, et cetera. The color of my neighbor's toddler's Crocs doesn't enter into it, as it's low probability that such data will affect either the results themselves or my observations.

If I was measuring the incidence of dirty feet (actual dirt vs perceived dirtiness) in toddlers, the existence of the Crocs is a factor, but unless the data show that the actual volume of dirt is related to the color of the Crocs, it's *still* not a factor.

The claim that exclusion of irrelevant data is exclusive and biased is crazy, and makes modern philosophers look foolish. It also feeds conspiracy theories espoused by people who don't understand how science works....

Re:No such thing as scientific method? Huh? (4, Funny)

Securityemo (1407943) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827196)

Scientist: "I cannot do much, but I can bake you a reasonably tasty fruitcake if you want?"
Philosopher: "No, I want God."

FWIW (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827084)

Induction is also what happens in many varieties of machine learning, which "really work" to some degree.

Hume taught us that induction is impossible. I think it would be completely impossible in a random universe, but since the real world is full of biases, physicists, ML researchers, and others can get a leg up on a number of inductive problems.

science and scientists r 2 complex 4 simple rules (2)

cinnamon colbert (732724) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827130)

People like the articles' author seem to forget that "science" covers a lot of territory, and it is done by scientists - who are humans, with all the flaws and variation and abilities of humans. If you look at the diverse array of activities and people who do science, it is hard to believe that any single "theory" will accomodate all that

obligatory (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827146)

As noted philosopher Randall Munroe noted: "Science: it works, bitches."

Objectivism? (5, Informative)

pugugly (152978) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827166)

I have an inherent distrust of anyone that is basing inductive logic on the underpinnings of Ayn Rand's Objectivism, for the simple reason that I've never . . . *ever* . . . heard of Objectivism as being contributory to *any* philosophy of logic.

Quite the opposite in fact, I've seen logicians use her as examples of how people can be fooled by pseudo-logic which hides implicit assumptions under carefully concealed vagueness and frame shifting.

This smells more like an attempt to rehabilitate Ayn Rand as a genuine philosophical contribution than a book on logic.

Pug

Re:Objectivism? (1)

Empiric (675968) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827524)

There was the book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology...

That there was no further systematic explication beyond an "introduction", though, is telling.

Basically Rand is Aristotle, with the addition that by definition, her concepts are properly formed, and "proper epistemology" is essentially mirroring the entire content of her brain within yours for the "objective" scope and delimitation of each individual concept.

If you think I'm not serious, try The Passion of Ayn Rand, for examples of such objective declarations as which composers one is allowed to like, without being "irrational" as revealed by your preferences.

No Kindle edition... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827242)

Booo.

Have I lost my mind.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34827330)

or is the general Slashdot crowd getting progressively stupider? Karl Popper solved the problem of the "scientific method" nearly a century ago. It's simple.

The difference between science and non-science is that scientific theories are falsifiable, and non-scientific theories can not be falsified.

It's what separates astrology from physics; in that astrology, to make it blatantly obvious what falsifiability means, never puts its balls on the line.

Physics makes claims such that, if this theory is valid I don't care how many times you throw an apple into the air and it lands on the ground it still doesn't prove it right or correct or anything. I'm only interested if it ever DOESN'T fall to the ground as I predict it must.

How these theories come about, whether they are from observations, experiments, day-dreaming, drug-induced etc. it makes NO difference, as long as they can be falsified.

The end.

Related work (1)

sanchom (1681398) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827354)

Check out CBC's 24-part audio series: How to Think About Science [www.cbc.ca].

Especially related to this book is the first episode, in which Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer discuss their 1985 book, Leviathan and The Air Pump. It's an examination of exactly how science is done.

reminds me of... (4, Funny)

PJ6 (1151747) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827368)

This reminds me of a comic about an engineer at a philosopher conference [smbc-comics.com].

All the so-called great philosophy questions can be answered definitively if you allow for the terms to be properly defined. The profession of the philosopher is to refuse adequate definition to these questions, so that they are unanswerable by design; their work is no better or more useful than religions assertions.

Am I missing something? (4, Insightful)

overshoot (39700) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827402)

Scientific epistemology doesn't, at root, deal with "certainty." It doesn't deal with capital-T "Truth" either.

It does deal with "how confident are we that ______ can be used as a reliable model of reality?" On which point we have Bayes' Theorem and various less-than-precise fuzzy analogues such as the rubric we call "the scientific method."

So for those philosophers who worry about some sort of Ultimate Certainty Regarding Truth, I sometimes play the game but am not, in the end, worrying about whether it is Really True that my hands are typing on black keys with white lettering right now -- which is about the level you have to go to before "witch doctor truth" gets competitive with "quantum physics truth" for my attention.

Pushed balls (1)

Bromskloss (750445) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827416)

"first-level" generalizations which are directly, perceptually obvious, such as the toddler's grasp of the fact that "pushed balls roll."

Why is this a fundamental level? Isn't the observed situation a special case (particular ball, surface, pusher and so on) from which the toddler might use induction to conclude that all pushed balls roll?

What about Jaynes... (5, Informative)

rgbatduke (1231380) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827422)

The problem with books like this -- even by physicists -- is that they all too rarely study the right things physicists have done. Induction/inference in epistemology is put on a mathematically sound axiom-based foundation by Richard Cox and E. T. Jaynes. The former wrote a truly marvellous monograph entitled "The Algebra of Probable Inference" (readily available on Amazon). E. T. Jaynes arrived at a very similar result following instead from Shannon's Information Theory (which is a consequence of Cox's prior work, although this is not generally recognized) and later enthusiastically adopted Cox's axioms as the basis for his own opus major "Probability Theory, the Logic of Science". Both are available as a twofer on Amazon (or even as part of a threefer with Sivia's work on Bayesian Analysis).

They have one enormous redeeming value -- they don't refer to any work on philosophy including any by Ayn Rand. These are serious works on mathematics, logic, probability theory, and science, and they contain algebra, not handwaving. Absolutely amazing algebra, by the way. The sum total of philosophy in Cox is his highly restrained observation that his work seems to have solved Hume's basic problem -- deriving the theory of inference so it is on a sound mathematical footing.

Two other places where this general topic is reviewed: David Mackay's superb: "Information Theory, Pattern Recognition and Neural Networks" where he explores the consequences of Shannon's Theorem in cryptography and data compression and reliable storage, then moves on to argue quite persuasively that the human brain and neural networks in general function as a Bayesian inference engine; and my own book-in-writing "Axioms".

rgb

Extraordinary Claims (2)

SunSw0rd (1946218) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827502)

It has been said that "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" (Sagan) or that "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" (Truzzi). However, is not the assertion that something -- anything -- is extraordinary itself an "arbitrary claim"? After all, the claim is normally made to dismiss something else as extraordinary. But what is the basis of the claim itself claiming something else is extraordinary? The problem is that the history of science is littered with broken paradigms that asserted what whatever replaced the paradigm was "extraordinary" and therefore could be ignored.
I give a single example. Medicine ignored the concept that stomach ulcers could be caused by bacteria because "of course" bacteria could not survive in such a hostile environment as stomach acid. In this case orthodox medicine claimed that only "extraordinary evidence" could satisfy the assertion that ulcers were caused by bacteria. In point of fact, the evidence was not particularly extraordinary -- it was proven that Helicobacter pylori was the main cause by swallowing it, getting ulcers, then using antibiotics to kill the Helicobacter pylori. And since people with ulcers were very motivated to find a resolution, a cure for most stomach ulcers was distributed and a Nobel prize in Medicine was awarded.
I suggest that the assertion that something is "extraordinary" and therefore requires extraordinary evidence (or proof) is itself an arbitrary claim and should not be regarded. And that we should use the same standards of proof or evidence for everything.

Nothing is proven (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#34827514)

There's is no absolute certainty gravity will work 5 seconds from now. There's no certainty that anything we observe, or even how we perceive space and time is correct. There's no absolute proof reality even exists, that it might simply be in my mind - if I have a mind. Really the choice is between saying we know nothing and going with what our senses tell us to be true. And I will go with the latter not because I can prove it to be true, but because it's the only thing that can give me causality between action and reaction. If not I might as well jump off a cliff and instead of being plunged to my death I might be given eternal bliss because I took a leap of faith. Actually I wouldn't min if all the philosophers who doubt the world did.

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