“Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosophy

Discussions on the philosophical foundations, assumptions, and implications of science, including the natural sciences.

“Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosophy

Postby Natural ChemE on May 8th, 2013, 5:43 pm 

There’s been some confusion over Hawking’s claim, “Philosophy is dead.”

Philosophy as defined in Wikipedia includes Science, so we could call everyone a philosopher. But a word which applies to everyone is pretty useless, so we don’t use it like that.

Instead, philosophers who can do Science are scientists, while the ones who can’t are just philosophers. Likewise, Philosophy with technical content is Science, while everything else is just Philosophy.

Philosophers – this is, those without a technical background – are fundamentally unable to make insightful comments on many topics such as existence, space, time, mass, etc. The problem is that such concepts are merely parts of physical models, and we’re beyond the point where those without technical knowledge can contribute to our models.

Since Philosophy as considered here is defined by its inability to contribute, it may be considered a dead field.

Which, I believe, was Hawking’s point.
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Forest_Dump on May 8th, 2013, 6:27 pm 

To be honest, I have considerable difficulty agreeing with a number of components in your philosophy (a different definition than you use here). For example, an awful lot of science without philosophy is simply technology and those who do it are merely technicians even if they do have a Ph.D. (i.e., are Doctors of Philosophy). In fact, it certainly takes a very specific philosophical stance to care about Hawking's work because only certain specific philosophies would care about anything out there that they will ever see (and thereby scientifically validate for themselves). Hawking's models, for example, are simply that - relatively simplistic abstractions of what might be reasonably close to reality based on simplified versions of the current knowledge we (well, a small number of people) have.

Philosophy is often defined as simply a love of knowledge. Science certainly gives us some kinds of knowledge but not everyone has an interest in the same kinds of knowledge nor is all kinds of knowledge of the same benefit to everyone (all the more so since our all important economic, political and social philosophies preclude everyone from being able to benefit equally). But not everyone loves knowledge so I would certainly also agree that not all those who may love scientific knowledge have any interest in other kinds of knowledge so perhaps they are best not called scientists either - perhaps it is best to call these people technicians. But then, I also take pride in calling myself a technician in addition to being a scientist and somewhat of a philosopher and I do not want disparage other technicians, so maybe this term will not do either.

But then there are many who do call themselves scientists that I do not necessarily agree with: Creation science scientists, oil industry (read those who continue to argue against global warming or adverse effects from pollution) scientists, tobacco industry scientists, etc. Even Darwin made it clear he didn't want to be called a scientist and I would be honoured to be included in his company. Granted I can't really call myself a naturalist or natural philosopher as he was and, since I scientifically study people, although generally using techniques most closely allied with geologists and biologists (well to a lesser degree) I end being a social scientist. Seems appropriate - I did get a Master of Science degree before (I could even go on to) my Doctorate of Philosophy. So maybe I will go with the "tribe" of philosophy and "clan" of science, subfamily of "social". Seems the best I can do.
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Marshall on May 8th, 2013, 11:44 pm 

Forest sounds like you don't agree with the picture presented by Chem, so see how this sounds.

1. It's naive to suppose that Philosophy and Physics refer to fixed essences. Philosophy is what philosophers do and that changes from generation to generation. Sometimes physicists will need what Philosophy has to offer and sometimes they will not. You can't permanently resolve the issue of whether they need it because their needs change and what Philosophy is changes.

2. Still I can try to make some general statements and one I'll offer you is that both philosophers and mathematicians are involved in the evolution of LANGUAGE. They invent words, or take old words and give them new meanings and then sit around practicing using these new words in their correct new senses.

It's more than that. They discover a NEED for a new word. Something interesting you can't think or talk about without defining and learning to use a new concept. So the evolution of language actually grows the human ability to think.

3. When physicists see no need for philosophy and make dismissive remarks it could be that they think they have all the fundamental concepts they need and that they can continue getting new physics by repeating earlier successful procedures---build bigger machines, crunch more data, find statistical novelty indicating new particles.

4. But occasionally you get a generation of physicists who act like they are excited by philosophical questions, and they invent concepts, or take concepts from other fields, and expand their language (and their mathematics).

So the picture I guess is physics has a VARYING TEMPERATURE. It goes thru times when it is philosophically hot, and again thru times when it is philosophically cold.

I'm not an historian so I can't make a strong case for this with historical examples, but just put the idea out to see if you or Chem want to respond.

BTW I think you are right about the impossibility of pigeonholing people as either this or that. Some physicists double as philosophers (bohr, galileo, einstein, newton...) some philosophers double as physicists (leibniz, descartes...) I'm not sure how to classify them actually. Some mathematicians double as physicists (gauss, hilbert, von neumann...) To some extent it is language and its need to evolve that drives the growth of human thought, not academic specialities imagined as fixed entities. Just my two sense :-D
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Forest_Dump on May 9th, 2013, 8:26 am 

It certainly seems to me that we are living in times of conflicting extremes and I think this topic reflects another example of this. Note that I do believe that Natural ChemE did us a service by posting this topic because I think it is one that we all need to be aware of and think about a great deal more.

Also note that although I had a great deal of respect for Hawking in his first popular book and how much he has done to popularize physics and bring awareness to people with disabilities, etc., in the case of his "contributions" to philosophy, I think he has jumped the shark. But then again, in this he had simply followed that path of many others who have skated too far outside their areas of competence such as Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Fred Hoyle, etc. (I was tempted to include the authors of a "test tube" popularization of human evolution I recently read but didn't want to get into that now.)

This does come at a time when some of the scientific community in Canada has been reacting to the results of the dominant political philosophy. This has been manifested in a wide variety of ways ranging from cuts in education funding with more emphasis on money from tuition, which has had a number of consequences that are not necessarily very good, to various cuts in research funding across the board. Note for example, this is the party whose Prime Minister recently said this is not the time to commit sociology (i.e., he is not interested in knowing about the causes but merely treating the symptoms of terrorism). Additionally, this government has also cancelled the experimental lakes project (since picked up by provincial and municipal governments though) which is/was studying things like the effects of forestry, etc., on northern lakes. Note this is in an area now being eyed for intensive mining (i.e., the "Ring of Fire" which is also traditional First Nations territory but the additional goal of course is also to get those former land owners separated from their land and get them to work as cheap labour and tax payers - ooops sorry my own political philosophy creeping in). This government is also changing federal funding for research and science and moving it more under the domain of the business community who will decide both how the money is administered and what it will be used for - in other words, "research" will be directed more towards product development and the "science" of business administration, etc., NOT simply learning about new things for the sake of expansion of knowledge but instead science for commerce.

I suppose, though, all science is equal and science directed towards mining, energy production, weapon systems or a better marketing strategy for tobacco is as good as any other science isn't it?
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Natural ChemE on May 10th, 2013, 8:47 pm 

Forest_Dump,

Just to get on the same page, I’d like to ask for your perspective on Harvard’s current crop of Philosophy dissertations.

I see a bunch of folks easily confused by trivial problems. And they’re spending years trying. That they’re so ineptly pursuing such simple questions makes me very curious about how they tick.

What do you see? Is it any different in your eyes?
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby JohnD on May 10th, 2013, 9:50 pm 

I see a young and vibrant crop of philosophers that in future years will contribute much to our debates.
They have obviously recently acquired knowledge however wisdom will take a little longer, sometimes it can take a lifetime.
My own humble opinion is that we are all philosophers to some degree and for anyone to say that philosophy is dead is to say that we are all dead.
Philosophy is about questioning what otherwise wouldn't be questioned. It is about being analytical of everything that is said or written to the extent of evaluating every word and the context of its use. And yes that means every now-and-then creating new words as old ones don't suffice. Whether it be a question that has been answered before is irrelevant, there is always the possibility of a new aspect to the answer with every new perspective.
Science isn't so much about innovation rather it's about supplying the grounding to philosophical ideas no matter what the qualifications of the philosopher. Philosophers may not have all the qualifications and industry knowledge of scientists but then philosophers are required to be more open in their views with the capacity to think laterally across many different fields whereas scientists can be much more specific.
The problem I see is when scientists who have spent time being very specific in their field join the fray of philosophy and make such statements as 'Philosophy is dead'.
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Natural ChemE on May 10th, 2013, 9:58 pm 

JohnD,

We are all philosophers. That’s the point of the title of this thread: that “Philosophy is dead” isn’t against the most general definition of Philosophy that would include all of us.

Heck, that’d be silly, given that the guy who wrote it’s obsessed with philosophy.

I have to ask, though, do the questions that they’re asking not strike you as simple? This is, would you be unable to answer those questions yourself, given a few minutes?
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby JohnD on May 10th, 2013, 10:10 pm 

Yes I would and probably say a lot more however my point on it is to give them the benefit of youth. As they mature wisdom will step in and hopefully life will enlighten them.
It's nice to see that they have taken it seriously instead of being enveloped in some soap opera.
Don't you think that with age their questions will become more complex as they move on with other subjects for their debate?
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Natural ChemE on May 10th, 2013, 10:40 pm 

JohnD,

They’re probably all older than me.

You know, I’m just going to have to contact some of these folks and ask them directly.

I’ll try to let you guys know what I learn.
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby yadayada on May 10th, 2013, 11:47 pm 

Natural ChemE wrote: perspective on Harvard’s current crop of Philosophy dissertations.
I see a bunch of folks easily confused by trivial problems. And they’re spending years trying. That they’re so ineptly pursuing such simple questions makes me very curious about how they tick.

Impressive observation. Yet, I would guess that other faculties have similar afflictions, but their dissertations have the advantage of keywords that might be meaningful to a specialist.

The problem is inherent to college and graduate education. The professors only teach what they know how to teach, and the students can only do dissertations that are approved by their professors. It's a vicious circle.

Take a look at their course offerings:
by ancient philosophy they mean "an emphasis on Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Topics include: the nature of reality, and how we come to know it; the nature and value of wisdom and virtue, and how we might come to attain them; and the good life for human beings, with special attention to the place of justice and friendship in it."

ouch.
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Whut on May 11th, 2013, 5:13 am 

Im happy to let the relevence of such philosophy rest in peace so long as very soft sciences, such as positive psychology, are given a fair chance to be created and developed. We might want to develop one that investigates what a fair chance actually is though. Or is that as obvious as how a ball will fall when dropped off a plane?
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby JohnD on May 11th, 2013, 6:36 am 

Does it really matter that much what the course content is? Sure it be great if it included something or someone more relevant to current topics however isn't the point of education learning to be analytical in the quest for answers rather than giving the answers? The one thing that irks me is when someone is able to name and even quote a number of other philosophers but when asked for their own opinion they don't seem to have one. It's as if the only point of philosophy is to review what others have said and to have an armoury of names to quote.
I always took it that education is to stimulate the mind in order to have the next generation think for themselves. If not then I fail to see the worth of any form of education other than to create robots. Of course they should be reading as much as they can it's in their interest to do so however it should be because they are passionate about it not to get marks. This is especially so when it is remembered that anything read for the purpose of a course exam is soon forgotten when the course finishes. I remember being at school and muddling through a lot of difficult equations however when I joined the workforce and I didn't need the math...
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby xcthulhu on May 11th, 2013, 11:06 am 

yadayada wrote:
Natural ChemE wrote: perspective on Harvard’s current crop of Philosophy dissertations.
I see a bunch of folks easily confused by trivial problems. And they’re spending years trying. That they’re so ineptly pursuing such simple questions makes me very curious about how they tick.

Impressive observation. Yet, I would guess that other faculties have similar afflictions, but their dissertations have the advantage of keywords that might be meaningful to a specialist.


I'm not sure about this.

I'd argue that we respect other fields more, because they promise tangible results, even if those promises are empty.

I know people in the astronomy department who spend their days looking for evidence of planets hundreds of light years in Kepler data; even though nobody any of use will ever know will ever be able to go to those places. Not like we'd want to - all known exoplanets discovered are either supermassive or incredibly close to their respective suns. But we are tempted to say it isn't pointless - all of this effort will lead to someone, someday, finding a planet with life on it (maybe). Hope springs eternal.

People defend pure mathematics the same way. A defender might say "Well, nobody saw the point of Fermat's little theorem for centuries, but now it's at the heart of internet cryptography". Honestly - the dissertations in Harvard's math department are as pointless as its philosophy department. Alternate Compactifications of Hurwitz spaces? Neither Hurwitz space nor compactifications will ever help you build a bridge or cure cancer. But it certainly sounds impressive, and I'm sure that dude is considered pretty clever by his peers.

yadayada wrote:The problem is inherent to college and graduate education. The professors only teach what they know how to teach, and the students can only do dissertations that are approved by their professors. It's a vicious circle.


It's hard to say what the problem is, really. What is important is defined socially in academia. I think it is often group madness. The difference in the disciplines in the degree of madness.
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Forest_Dump on May 11th, 2013, 11:28 am 

Natural ChemE wrote:Just to get on the same page, I’d like to ask for your perspective on Harvard’s current crop of Philosophy dissertations.

I see a bunch of folks easily confused by trivial problems. And they’re spending years trying. That they’re so ineptly pursuing such simple questions makes me very curious about how they tick.

What do you see? Is it any different in your eyes?


There are a bunch of related questions here and I think one of the first might need to be along the lines of questioning the role of a university and university education. In my years of asking different people about this kind of question, the answers vary broadly from getting an education (i.e., very broad-based exposure to a lot of disciplines, critical thinking, reading the "canon", writing, learning different languages, etc.) to highly skilled training in a very specific field with perhaps minimal or no creative thinking, exposure to actual science, etc. (business, medicine, etc. - I would expand this list considerably but I think that will become apparent).

As an undergrad, I remember being exposed to variants of these questions within anthropology at weekly, informal faculty debates over the impact of ideas of the world economic system, globalization, etc. At the time (and still), anthropology departments were dominated by social-cultural anthropologists who were, in theory, going out to study "traditional" peoples living in the remnants of a pristine state. But by the 80s it was becoming accepted that there were no more pristine people and that the departments were becoming ersatz sociologists, political scientists, etc., and these kinds of folk now dominate anthropology departments where I would have thought that subdiscipline should be reduced to a smaller number of "keepers of the traditional knowledge". But nobody wants to give up their empires.

I would note that this was at a time when archaeologists had been finishing up a two-decade introspective debate on whether archaeology was a distinct discipline, based on technique, or a technique to be used by different disciplines such as anthropology, history, classical studies and, to some degree, geology. (I subscribe to the latter, by the way).

But I too certainly wondered at some of the post-modernist trends emerging in the 80s. There was a couple of highly influential books (Shanks and Tilley) arguing that archaeology was naive, that empirical knowledge was meaningless and even non-existent and that archaeology could not really uncover truth about the past. One of the authors was a grad student and we all chuckled when his supervisor then said he couldn't have a viable topic and he was bounced from the department (he did eventually get his Ph.D.). (Philosophically, of course, I disagree with the nihilistic hyper-relativism in post-modernism but there are a lot of very good cautionary tales to be learned from this stuff that need to be thought about in the future.)

While of course I was definitely thinking about the problems on the more artsy side of university education, I was also paying attention to the more technical subjects. My first exposure was even earlier than the theoretical and philosophical questions in anthropology, it was literally in my first year when I happened to ask my calculus T.A. about his education. I was literally astounded to hear he was doing a Ph.D. in math!!! (Actually when I got my own Ph.D., I found the majority of other Ph.D.'s at the convocation were also in math.) I had to ask what could be left to be learned in math that was worthy of a Ph.D. Blithely and a little (admittedly lamely) I had to ask if all the numbers hadn't already been discovered. I have now asked about 30-40 Ph.D. students in math what they are studying and I am not sure any of the answers have been any less trivial than Ph.D. topics in Shakespeare or those Harvard Ph.D.'s in philosophy.

But this does mirror many other similar kinds of questions we could ask. Why is accounting, medicine, business administration or engineering taught in universities? Aren't most of these simply highly skilled vocational training or apprenticeship programs? Most people who go through these kinds of training aren't being exposed to any broad-based education but simply immersed in the technical learning of their fields with little or not expose to any kind of theoretical question. Are these that much different than learning plumbing or blacksmithing?

Again, I was thinking about these things when there was a kind of education revolution (neo-con in political philosophy) in Ontario. In particular, a polytech college wanted to be able to confer more "degrees" (they already were granting degrees in fine art like dance and various kinds of art like photography and computer animation). The debate centered on the number of Ph.D.s in the faculty so a large number of the instructors bought quickie on-line Ph.D.'s and called themselves professors. That school and a number of others (including right wing religious colleges) then became universities over night. Are they? But then, taking this thread, I had to ask an accounting professor how they can confer degrees when there are almost no Ph.D.'s in accounting? Engineers managed to invent their own doctorate degree in engineering so why not accountants, plumbers or sculptors?

IMHO, there are a lot of important topics that I think need to be addressed here. Can we justify granting Ph.D.'s still on Shakespeare or Bruce Springsteen? What kind of contribution to knowledge to we get from a dissertation in computer science? Business administration? or dare I say, most Ph.D.'s in chemistry? of how much is simply accreditation for highly skilled vocational training that perhaps should be done "on the job" rather than being subsidized by the educational system? I would argue that archaeology, my discipline, has been confronted by these debates since the 60s and it has been good for the discipline in many ways. But I won't spend time now on my answers but suggest we do need to think a lot more about the questions.
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Forest_Dump on May 11th, 2013, 11:31 am 

Obviously xcthulhu and I are hitting on some similar themes.
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby mtbturtle on May 12th, 2013, 9:25 am 

The Role of Philosophy Programs in Higher Education
The American Philosophical Association
THE ROLE OF PHILOSOPHY PROGRAMS
IN HIGHER EDUCATION
THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL ASSOCIATION

Prepared originally under the title “The Role of Philosophy Programs in Higher Education” by the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status and Future of the Profession. Approved by the APA Board of Officers, October 1979. Revised in 2007-2008 by the Committee on the Status and Future of the Profession. Approved by the APA Board of Officers, November, 2008.

The following statement attempts to present a concise yet compelling vision of the role of philosophy in higher education. This statement is not intended to be exhaustive, and many of its points will apply more to some institutions than to others. But most of the points have important bearing on any institution of higher learning, and some of them speak directly to current concerns about the preparation of undergraduates both for suitable employment and for responsible participation in a democratic society.

Higher education in America frequently undergoes reassessment, external and internal, formal and informal. Colleges and universities review their programs;the officials who determine the budgets scrutinize costs and benefits; students and potential students compare institutions for quality and relevance to their degree goals. This intensive reassessment can be due to changing demographics, rising costs, and in many institutions, a growing concern by students with the likelihood that their courses will help them to find rewarding employment. Internal reassessment can be a sign of responsible self-analysis, and – even apart from exercises carried out for purposes of accreditation – is frequently mandated periodically by policies set in place by institutions themselves. Occasions like these provide an opportunity for philosophers and philosophy programs to state or restate the case for their centrality and indispensability to their institutions’ mission. We believe that this statement can be helpful in making that case. We also believe that this statement can be of use to admissions offices, deans’ offices, and development offices, in furtherance of the tasks of student recruitment and donor development.

The following remarks are divided into six major sections. We begin by discussing (1) a philosophy program’s fundamental contributions to education. We then turn to (2) its contributions to an institution’s core curriculum. After that we comment on (3) philosophy’s relations to other areas of inquiry. We describe in section (4) the contributions that philosophers can make beyond the curriculum. After briefly discussing (5) different levels of philosophy programs, we conclude with some remarks on (6) how one might go about measuring the success of philosophy programs.


http://www.apaonline.org/APAOnline/Publications/Informational_Booklets_Pamphlets_HomePage/The_Role_of_Philosophy_Programs_in_Higher_Education.aspx
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Zin5ki on May 12th, 2013, 3:05 pm 

Natural ChemE wrote:I have to ask, though, do the questions that [the Harvard PhD candidates] are asking not strike you as simple? This is, would you be unable to answer those questions yourself, given a few minutes?

That is quite an extreme suggestion. To contend that one of those topics may seem immediately soluble is to overlook the content within the works the candidates have cited. Any such simplicity will prove deceptive, I believe, once such sources are viewed in reflective equilibrium. To dwell on a singular example, take the following dissertation topic from one of the Harvard candidates: Conceptualism and Objectivity in Locke's Account of Natural Kinds. It seems straightforward, does it not? We let Locke's theory of ideas and his primary/secondary quality distinction do the hard work by explicating the notion of natural kinds, and of the means of classifying these, in a fashion that is, at some level, underwritten by the world itself. Such naive parsimony proves misguided upon reading the abstract however, upon which we learn that the candidate is worrying about a contemporary problem that has arisen from Lockean exegesis, and which presumably rests on disagreements between experts within such a field.

I admit that seeing the point of an area of philosophical enquiry can be difficult to someone not already engrossed within it. My own main field of interest—the nature of aesthetic evaluations—was something I once believed to be fully explicable by means of common-or-garden concepts and terms, and something upon which we could all easily agree. Only upon descending into the works of modern aestheticians did I discover that there were too many seemingly reasonable arguments against my original views for me to attempt to say the final word on the matter. (As it happens, I'll soon be starting my dissertation to try and stake my claim in a more mature way than I previously thought necessary.)
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Natural ChemE on May 13th, 2013, 7:39 pm 

Zin5ki,

From a social perspective, I’m fascinated by the condition that makes folks think that stuff like Harvard’s Philosophy dissertations are anything but trivial. So, if you’d indulge me, I’d like to try to poke around and see what your thoughts are.

Before going on, I’d like to note the preference that we avoid topics that require having followed a particular author, whether that author’s John Locke or George Lucas.

Let’s start with the first dissertation:
“The Marriage of Rationalism and Empiricism: A New Approach to the Access Problem”, Sharon Berry wrote:If mathematics is about abstract objects like numbers or sets, how could material creatures like us have managed to learn so much about it? Given the impossibility of causal contact with mathematical objects, it can seem quite miraculous that there should be any relationship at all between our beliefs about mathematics and mathematical truth. Existing modal structuralis, approaches, such as Hellman's account, attempt to solve this problem by reducing mathematics to some notion of logico-mathematical possibility but suer from an access problem of their own as well as a problematic dependence on second order logic, metaphysical possibility or other strong philosophical notions. I address these concerns by introducing a special kind of logico-mathematical possibility strong enough to capture the (non-first order) truth conditions for mathematical claims which I call combinatorial possibility. As a modal notion combinatorial possibility has the important feature that one can infer possibility from actuality. As a type of possibility, any fact about combinatorial possibility will constrain how any concrete objects can behave with regard to any relations, e.g., the claim that there are at most 8 objects which differ in how they satisfy 3 properties constrains the number of sundaes that can be made with 3 toppings as well as the number of people who can wear distinct combinations of 3 pieces of clothing. I argue that these properties allow experiences with concrete objects to explain our access to good (but incomplete) methods of reasoning about combinatorial possibility. The inference from actuality to possibility discourages the adoption of overly restrictive conclusions about combinatorial possibility while the need to elegantly explain regularities about many dierent kinds of objects and relations, like the example above, discourages the adoption of overly permissive conclusions about combinatorial possibility. Taken together, I argue, these considerations favor the adoption of correct methods of reasoning about combinatorial possibility and thereby explain our (partial) access to mathematical truth.
Here Berry starts with the “access problem”: the impossibility that material creatures like us can have casual contact with mathematical objects.

I’ll make my own comments on this issue, but my interest is in how you see things. What are your initial thoughts?
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Natural ChemE on May 13th, 2013, 8:34 pm 

Forest_Dump,

In your explanation above, you’d talked about how different fields granted Ph.D.’s, but had some qualitative differences. I think that you’re contrasting some yet unnamed quality that makes a Ph.D. what it is against other types of learning, like how to perform a technical skill.

If I’m reading you correctly, then would you say that there’s some type of learning to be had in a field like Philosophy that wouldn’t be encountered in fields like Engineering, Physics, or Business?
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Forest_Dump on May 13th, 2013, 10:19 pm 

Natural ChemE wrote:If I’m reading you correctly, then would you say that there’s some type of learning to be had in a field like Philosophy that wouldn’t be encountered in fields like Engineering, Physics, or Business?


Yes of course with every bit as much confidence as I would say that there are things to be learned in engineering, physics or business that can't be learned in philosophy. The question is what?

I will try to be a bit briefer here and give one example in the form of an example of a rhetorical question posed by another older archaeologist. He asked why it seemed to be that people doing Ph.D.s in paleolithic stone tools, where they only have a couple hundred things at most to look at, end up talking about world systems theory while people doing Roman archaeology tend to get stuck in systematics of ewer lids?

Now I do have some passing acquaintance with people who have done Ph.D.s in (bio)chemistry (at a big university) and it always struck me when they described their work that they were tackling what could be construed as perhaps an interesting little puzzle but parochial at best. More of a technical exercise to demonstrate proficiency than anything world changing. But thats the nature of the beast, isn't it? commerce and industry needs a certain number of highly skilled and trained chemists and lots of kids know that a Ph.D. in chemistry is a ticket to a good job so universities bridge that gap. So many chemistry topics are designed to demonstrate technical competence with some promise for future commercial product. Do you see anything as scientifically revolutionary in chemistry as the chemistry of 100 years ago or perhaps the physics of today?
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby yadayada on May 13th, 2013, 10:25 pm 

The abstract suggests a contribution to the distinction between 'Platonic' and 'combinatorial' derivations of mathematical truths. As a rough introduction to the issues, the following might be helpful to anyone interested in the philosophy of mathematics:
http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/3190/1/7_brown.pdf

Plato separated the two changeable metaphysical worlds of the senses from the two timeless worlds of mathematical relations and Ideals (Ideas, Forms). In the Parmenides, Plato admits that the two pairs cannot have any causal connection with each other, either way. Aristotle picked up on that critique.

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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Zin5ki on May 14th, 2013, 6:21 pm 

Natural ChemE wrote:Here Berry starts with the “access problem”: the impossibility that material creatures like us can have casual contact with mathematical objects.

I’ll make my own comments on this issue, but my interest is in how you see things. What are your initial thoughts?

I believe there is a non-trivial problem. I am willing to grant prima facie that mathematical objects are unable to have causal effects at a spaciotemporal level and that, because we are perceptual agents, it cannot be by any causally-receptive faculty (such as a faculty of sense) through which we have access to mathematical objects. Game and set to the traditional rationalist, you may say.
There is also a substantive solution on the cards. The author attempts to prevent us from having to grant humans an elusive epistemic faculty for accessing Platonic entities, thus counteracting any swift attack against empiricism, whilst also avoiding scepticism of mathematical knowledge. (Hence the presumed 'marriage' to which the author alludes.) yadayada appears far more knowledgeable than I am about the combinatorial solution this involves.

Since you have requested to avoid discussing topics that require a familiarity with a particular author, I must incidentally warn you that any philosophical paper explicitly focussing upon rationalism versus empiricism is likely to revolve around an implicit awareness of certain historical figures.
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby yadayada on May 15th, 2013, 8:46 pm 

Zin5ki wrote: yadayada appears far more knowledgeable than I am about the combinatorial solution this involves.

You're too kind, Zin5ki. Berry's abstract does not give enough detail about what she calls "a special kind of logico-mathematical possibility ... which I call combinatorial possibility. As a modal notion combinatorial possibility has the important feature that one can infer possibility from actuality".

I was referring to two general classes of mathematical proof which I take to be mentioned in Brown's article. The first class, which may be called 'Platonic', or Pythagorean, is intuitive. It proves a priori propositions through amazingly simple intuitive leaps that makes us say aha! when they're complete.

The second, 'combinatorial' class of proofs is an exhaustive listing of all possibilities at each step of the solution. Computer generated proofs reached in lengthy computational iterations may be of this type. This method does not inform the human understanding. However, it has a completeness about it, which permits logical reasoning beyond what is possible with a spotty, intuitive approach.

What is bothersome is Berry's reference to "If mathematics is about abstract objects like numbers or sets, how could material creatures like us have managed to learn so much about it? Given the impossibility of causal contact with mathematical objects, it can seem quite miraculous that there should be any relationship at all between our beliefs about mathematics and mathematical truth."

This is a separate, external metaphysical issue, the one that is mentioned in Plato's Parmenides. This problem supervenes on the internal issue of mathematical possibilities. It arises from Plato's fourfold metaphysical superstructure, that is thoroughly confounded both by Aristotle, and by the modern community, to create a conundrum.

Plato, Timaeus, 29c,d wrote:As being is to becoming, so is truth to belief. If then, Socrates, amid the many opinions about the gods and the generation of the universe, we are not able to give notions which are altogether and in every respect exact and consistent with one another, do not be surprised. Enough, if we adduce probabilities as likely as any others

Mathematics and its (Ideal) objects are each unchanging metaphysical possible worlds. So are the applied mathematical theories of physics. The question is To what extent can these be applicable to either of Plato's two sensible, changeable worlds? For theories of History, Plato suggests an answer above: probabilities in a rough, ancient, prophetic sense.

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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Whut on May 16th, 2013, 6:42 am 

Numbers exist in the same way the face on the moon does. Ufologists see a face on mars. Mathematicians see numbers. The number 2 is a concept that refers to a type of pattern. Patterns themselves don't exist "out there". Any ideal version of 2 is only a concept. Materialist --reductionist-- mathematicians who accept Platonism about numbers commit a special kind of irony.
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby xcthulhu on May 16th, 2013, 9:30 am 

@ NaturalChemE: My heros in philosophy have never been pure philosophers. Bertrand Russell's mathematical contributions, while usually slighted by the observation "He took 100 pages to prove 1+1=2", include inventing the theory of types - the theory of types he developed laid the foundation for programming languages like in Haskell, OCaml/D, or Scala. Hilary Putnam (of Harvard) worked with the late Julia Robinson to resolve Hilbert's Tenth Problem, and developed a few algorithms used by Intel for verifying the correctness of computer circuitry. The philosopher/computer scientist Judae Pearl is responsible for inventing Baye's Nets, and is considered one of the founding fathers of modern machine learning.

This stuff isn't taught so often, especially because in engineering it's not very popular to dwell on history, let alone acknowledge basic philosophical principles. Anyway, there really are a few of these generational figures in philosophy that have ideas extend far outside of their field. You could not identify these transcendent intellects by their dissertations:

1. Russell, "An Essay on the Foundations of Geometry" (1896)
2. Putnam "The Meaning of the Concept of Probability in Application to Finite Sequences" (1957)
3. Pearl "Vortex Theory of Superconductive Memories" (1965)

(Pearl's PhD was in Electrical Engineering - in philosophy his work is often slighted since he is both very technical and an outsider.)

But as I've said, most PhD's, in whatever field, rarely change the world. In whatever the field, people's dissertations are rarely a good indicator of their future contributions. Tit for tat, you could find a pointless EE dissertation for every pointless philosophy dissertation you can drum up.
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Natural ChemE on May 21st, 2013, 4:12 pm 

Zin5ki, yadayada,

Hypothetically, say that we are material creatures and that Math is a way of describing physical phenomena within us.

If this were true, would studying the access problem still make sense?
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby MattH on May 29th, 2013, 5:03 am 

Philosophy blatantly takes a different point of view and solves different problems than science, which nevertheless relate to the understanding of ourselves and our world and everything in it... Scientists have different skills and sensibilities than other people, and maybe their disacceptance of other fields is part of that. I do not think that the clarification of the epistemological or ontological nature of, say, mathematics is of no relevance or interest to the human species as a whole, even if the unquestioning application of it may yield to some results, or not, or up to a point, within a context...
Since there are no fixed solutions which cannot be viewed from another perspective or formulated differently, and because the very attempt to define any problems or fields within strict limitations is somewhat artifical, the study of philosophy can be seen as primarily a skill rather than accumulation of "facts". It is interdisciplinary by nature and can therefore help in problems which due to their complexity or multi-dimensionality are not covered by a predetermined method of an established field (itself often merely concerned with applying a set of previous solutions and tools to new contexts, whcih can hardly be called fundamental new insights, although it may gradually grow towards these), or the criticism of accepted assumptions and methods.

Since you mentioned our hypothetical materiality, which implied some unacknowledged uncertainty about specifying the problem of said materiality, and applying mathematics, it would be an important starting point for anyone trying to do so to have some understanding of the difference of biological systems to any other physical one, which can be termed as an "ontological" difference, and the explication of which, within mathematics or whatever, would basically be of a philosophical nature.
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby edy420 on May 29th, 2013, 7:06 am 

Where would we be without philosophy?

I imagine the world would be a very different place.
More primitive, less advanced.
Poor structure, politically, socially, ethically... ummm, everythingcally. :p
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Zin5ki on May 30th, 2013, 3:38 pm 

Natural ChemE wrote:Hypothetically, say that we are material creatures and that Math is a way of describing physical phenomena within us.

If this were true, would studying the access problem still make sense?

If we are to grant those suppositions, the latter of which being admittedly quite contentious, I would still say so. If mathematical knowledge amounts to knowledge of certain internal human capacities, then the access problem would fall under the general remit of the study of self-knowledge. To wit, here is an estimation of how we could motivate the problem in accordance with the anti-realism you stipulate:
We can possess mathematical knowledge without also possessing knowledge of the inner workings of the brain, as school-level curricula demonstrate. Given, then, that humans are not obviously perceptually aware of these relevant neurological operations that constitute the ontological basis of mathematics, must we posit that humans not only possess mathematical brain faculties but also the additional ability to 'intuit' the operations of such faculties in order to be able to hold true beliefs about mathematics? On first glance, such a faculty seems quite remarkable, given the justificatory role it would have to provide.
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Re: “Philosophy is dead” wasn’t against Wikipedia’s Philosop

Postby Natural ChemE on May 30th, 2013, 7:43 pm 

Zin5ki,

Computers can do math because of physical phenomena within them. Getting a physical system to do Math is as easy as getting it to reproduce the steps that are Math, in one way or another. i.e., your computer uses logic gates in a CPU.

It doesn’t matter what kind of computer we’re talking about. It doesn’t matter if it’s from the distant future, constructed entirely from a yet undiscovered type of exotic matter, designed by aliens, or made out of organic parts like membranes, proteins, or DNA. No matter what that computer is, if it can do Math, it can do so because, in some way, by some mechanism, it reproduces the steps.

From this perspective, it’s quite strange that someone would assume that there must be a purely abstract plane, then get confused by the contradictions that their assumption leads to, then spend a few years writing about it.

[Tangential] The idea that Math takes place purely in an abstract world is a very useful model that shouldn’t be abandoned just because more complete descriptions exist. Like Newtonian physics, the idea that Math exists in a purely abstract world is still a great starting place and often suffices in practice. People can learn to map that allegedly purely abstract world to physical reality later if they ever need to, i.e. they’re designing a new computational mechanism. [/Tangential]
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