How Do You Spot a Crank?

I confess that I have a recurring nightmare. In it, I realize that everything I’ve ever written about economics is wrong. Neoclassical economics is not, as I’ve repeatedly claimed, a pile of bullshit. In this nightmare, neoclassical economics is correct. And as a strident critic of neoclassical theory, I realize the horrible truth. I’m a crank!

I wake up in a cold sweat, wondering if I’m wasting my life. Then, as rational thought returns, my fears ebb away. I think about everything I know about neoclassical economics — its flaws, its absurdities. I reassure myself that I’ve made the right choice. I’m not a crank. I’m a rational critic of an absurd theory.

The crank identification problem

Now that I’ve told you about my nightmare, I’ll assure you that this post is not about my late-night fears. Instead, my nightmare got me thinking about an age-old problem in science. How do you tell if someone is a crank?

It would be nice if there was a simple algorithm that could identify a crank. I can see the click-bait now:

Take this survey to tell if your colleague is crank. Get an answer in 10 minutes!

If I saw this link, I’d be tempted to click it, even though I know the crank survey can’t possibly work. There is no universal algorithm for identifying a crank. The closest we have is the motto of the Royal Society: nullius in verba. It means ‘on the word of no one’.

Science is founded on the principle that there are no authorities. The only way to judge if someone is a crank is to think rationally for yourself. You must become knowledgeable in the subject matter. You must immerse yourself in the crank’s arguments, and in the counterarguments. You must study the evidence, and if needed, run your own tests. In short, to identify a ‘crank’ you must become a scientist yourself.

You likely see the problem with this approach. Few people have the time to become experts in one subject. And no one has the time to become an expert in every subject. So the best way to identify a crank (do science for yourself) is out of most people’s reach.

As a non-expert, what are you to do? How do you tell if your favourite internet commentator is a crank?

First, I’ll tell you what you shouldn’t do. Then I’ll give you a few tools (which are by no means foolproof) for distinguishing between cranks, on the one hand, and critics you should take seriously.

What you shouldn’t do to identify a crank

1. Don’t rely on credentials

Yes, credentials are the currency of academia. The academic hierarchy is based on little else. But credentials are a poor indicator of scientific truth. Most neoclassical economists, for instance, are impeccably credentialed. But their theory is still garbage.

The truth is that anyone can do good science, no matter their credentials. The corollary is that anyone can do bad science, no matter their credentials.

Yes, the importance of credentials is ingrained in us from grade-school on. But ideally, credentials should have no currency in science. So don’t judge a crank by their credentials (or lack thereof).

2. Don’t appeal to majority rules

It’s tempting to identify a crank by doing a headcount. Count the number of people who side with the ‘crank’. Then count the number of people who think the ‘crank’ is crazy. If the crank’s opponents outnumber the crank’s supporters, then you’ve found a crank!

Except you haven’t.

The truth is that all scientific theories are initially believed by only one person. It can’t be any other way. Scientific progress requires that new ideas beat out old ones. This means that new theories always start with few proponents. If the new theory is supported by evidence, the number of proponents should grow (if science works as intended).

So appealing to ‘majority rules’ is a bad way to identify a crank. It means that Galileo was a ‘crank’. During his life, the heliocentric view of the solar system was a minority position. Majority rules also means that Einstein was a crank. Before Einstein, no one thought that time and space were relative.

Sadly, majority rules (like the appeal to credentials) is alive and well in academia. It’s alive because the surest way to get citations is to adopt a popular idea and write about it prolifically. But just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you should too. So don’t label someone a crank because they advocate a minority position. They may be a future Galileo or Einstein.

3. Don’t listen to ad homenem attacks

When you think someone’s a crank, it’s tempting to search the internet for a vitriolic attack on the person’s character. The internet, being what it is, will surely give you what you want.

The problem is that scientific truth has nothing to do with the character — good or bad — of the theorist. Some excellent scientists are assholes. Some terrible scientists are nice people.

Judging a theory by the character of the theorist is a very human thing to do. We are social animals that thrive on (maybe even require) gossip. Unfortunately, these social instincts aren’t helpful for doing science. Science is about the rational appeal to evidence. So forget about the vitriol you see on the internet. It won’t help you tell if someone’s a crank.

What you should do to spot a crank

Having admitted that there is no universal algorithm for identifying a crank, I’ll give you some methods that I find helpful. Obviously these methods aren’t foolproof. So be forewarned: break any of these rules sooner than conclude anything outright barbarous. [1]

1. Look for assumptions that are untestable

Science works by appealing to evidence. A scientific theory, in other words, must be vulnerable to being wrong.

Here’s an example. The laws of thermodynamics predict that all isolated systems will evolve towards an equilibrium. At equilibrium, any temperature differences that once existed will disappear. It’s clear that this prediction could be proved wrong. Just create an isolated system in the lab and show that it never reaches equilibrium. The fact that no experiment has every shown this puts the laws of thermodynamics on sound footing.

The flip side occurs when a theory is immune to evidence. Often this happens when core assumptions are untestable. Let’s use neoclassical economics as an example. Neoclassical theory assumes that humans are utility maximizers. This means that any human decision can, in principle, be chalked up to utility maximization — the quantitative pursuit of pleasure.

The problem is that utility is unobservable. We can observe a person’s actions. But we can’t see their mental calculus. So we can never know if a person has actually maximized their utility. Conversely, we can never know if they haven’t maximized their utility.

So if a suspected ‘crank’ calls bullshit on a theory by saying that its assumptions are untestable, you’d best listen. It doesn’t mean the ‘crank’ is correct. But it means, at the very least, that their critique deserves attention.

2. Look for assumptions that have been falsified

Another way to tell if a ‘crank’ is onto something is if they highlight evidence that contradicts a theory’s assumptions.

Let’s return to neoclassical economics. I just told you that one of its core assumptions — utility maximization — is untestable. But there are variants of this assumption that are testable. If people maximize utility, it’s plausible that they also maximize external payoffs.

The problem is that people don’t seem to do this. A classic experiment in behavioral economics showed that people don’t maximize external pay offs. In other words, when utility maximization is put in a testable form, it gets falsified.

What’s odd is that this experiment didn’t put a dent in neoclassical economics. In fact, if you go through the 20th century literature, you’ll find study after study that contradicts neoclassical theory. And yet the neoclassical juggernaut chugs on, unbothered by the real world. To neoclassical economists, this ‘evidence’ is inadmissible. It’s the work of cranks.

The lesson is that when a ‘crank’ tells you that a theory’s assumptions are violated by real-world evidence, you’d best listen.

3. Check if the discipline is insular

Good science is open. This means that it’s open to new ideas, new methods, and new people. What science shouldn’t be is insular. Insularity signals the death of science and the growth of theism (belief for its own sake).

Neoclassical economics, for instance, is an extremely insular discipline. Nicholas Loubere has found that about 70% of economists in the ‘top 10’ economics departments got their degrees from within these departments. Economists are also less likely to cite work from other disciplines. And they only value the research published in five select journals. This insularity is a sign that science isn’t working.

So if you want to identify a ‘crank’, see if the discipline they’re criticizing is insular. If it is, the ‘crank’ may be onto something.

4. Check if other fields criticize the discipline

The dream of science is the unification of knowledge. In this dream, different disciplines become different branches of the tree of knowledge. Each branch has its own insights, but they’re all connected by the unifying trunk. Biologist E.O. Wilson calls this ‘consilience’.

A sure sign that the dream of consilience hasn’t been realized is when different disciplines disagree with one another. You see this all the time in the social sciences. I once spoke with a sociologist who said that half of sociology consists of disagreeing with economics. (This made me laugh outloud.)

It’s not just sociologists who think economics is bullshit. I’d guess that a majority of anthropologists do too. And a growing number of biologists (like David Sloane Wilson) are adding their voices to the criticism. Neoclassical economics has many critics from many different disciplines. Its defenders, in contrast, come mostly from within the discipline.

So if you think someone’s a crank, see if their critique is shared by more than one discipline. If it is, the ‘crank’ may be onto something.

5. Locate the discipline in the hierarchy of knowledge

If someone tells you that everything in physics is bullshit, they’re probably a crank. Why? It’s not that everything in physics is correct — it isn’t. Instead, the person is probably a crank because physics is our most secure knowledge. The foundations of physics aren’t unassailable. But they’re pretty secure.

This security has nothing to do with physicists themselves. They’re not better scientists than the rest of us. No, the foundations of physics are secure because physicists study the simplest systems.

Here’s an example of this simplicity. If you studied high-school physics, you probably learned the equations of motion on an inclined plane. Maybe you even tested these equations yourself. If you did, you surely found that they were correct.

These equations — derived from Newton’s laws — are secure because they describe an exquisitely simple system. It’s a system so simple that anyone can set it up and test the equations for themselves. Millions of people have verified the results, making the knowledge secure.

But as we move to more complex systems, theory becomes more difficult to test. And for that reason, knowledge becomes less secure. Chemistry is more complex than physics, and so less secure knowledge. Biology is more complex than chemistry, and so less secure still. And the social sciences? They study impossibly complex systems. So knowledge in the social sciences is orders of magnitude less secure than in the natural sciences.

There’s a cruel tyranny that operates here. The more complex the system, the more data you need to test your theory. The tyranny is that the more complex the system, the harder it is to get data! Physicists who study simple systems can generate reams of data. But social psychologists who study complex human behavior struggle to get 100 data points.

So what does this hierarchy of knowledge tell us about cranks? Well, if someone tells you that everything in physics is wrong, they’re almost certainly a crank. The foundations of physics are just too secure to make this probable. But if someone tells you that everything in a social-science discipline (say economics) is wrong, they could be right. Social science is based on pretty flimsy foundations. So it’s a good bet that much of it is wrong.

The demarcation problem

Philosophers of science have thought for a long time about the ‘crank identification problem’. But they don’t call it this, of course. They call it the ‘demarcation problem’.

The demarcation problem is about how to distinguish between ‘science’ and ‘non-science’. It’s a problem that has kept many philosophers up at night. Karl Popper thought he had the solution with ‘falsifiability’. Scientific theories, Popper proposed, make falsifiable predictions. Pseudoscience, in contrast, does not.

Many scientists (including me) still think that falsifiability is the bare-bones standard of a good theory. But the truth is that falsification is never cut and dry. Take Newton’s theory of gravity. When an object’s orbit doesn’t agree with Newton’s theory, does this mean the theory is wrong? Maybe. Or maybe there’s just hidden mass that we can’t see.

This thinking isn’t just a historical curiosity. We currently live in the golden age of ‘dark matter’. The fact is that Newton’s theory of gravity fails spectacularly when applied to the motion of stars in galaxies. Stars rotate far faster than Newton’s theory predicts. In response to this failure, a majority of physicists have agreed that galaxies are awash in invisible ‘dark matter’.

But this isn’t the only possibility. Some scientists see dark matter as a fudge factor. It’s inserted, they say, everywhere that Newton’s theory fails. These fringe thinkers (like Mordehai Milgrom) propose that Newton’s theory needs to be modified at low acceleration. If you’re interested in this topic, I recommend reading Stacey McGaugh’s blog. [2] He writes eloquently about these issues. And although McGaugh writes about astronomy, the human dimension has parallels in all areas of science.

Back to the crank problem. The uncomfortable truth is that what is accepted as ‘fact’ in science often has more to do with popularity than with the objective appeal to evidence. Humans are social animals, and we’re all too susceptible to groupthink.

Yes, cranks abound — on the internet and in peer-reviewed literature. But sometimes the ‘cranks’ are right. When they are, we ignore them at our own peril.

Notes

[1] I’m paraphrasing George Orwell here. In Politics and the English Language, Orwell gave six rules for clear writing. The last rule was this: “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

[2] Also check out Stacey McGaugh’s
MOND Pages. They’re a treasure trove of information about dark matter and modified gravity. And while you’re at it, read this excellent paper by David Merritt called Cosmology and Convention.

Cover image: Ryan McGuire


Support this blog

Economics from the Top Down is where I share my ideas for how to create a better economics. If you liked this post, please consider becoming a patron. You’ll help me continue my research, and continue to share it with readers like you.

patron_button


Stay updated

Sign up to get email updates from this blog.


70 comments

  1. nice writeup – thanks very much

    Casey Jennings 617 901 8966

    On Wed, Feb 5, 2020 at 10:43 AM Economics from the Top Down wrote:

    > Blair Fix posted: ” I confess that I have a recurring nightmare. In it, I > realize that everything I’ve ever written about economics is wrong. > Neoclassical economics is not, as I’ve repeatedly claimed, a pile of > bullshit. In this nightmare, neoclassical economics is correc” >

    Like

  2. As an engineer I BELIEVE only that which can be defined & measured (& the degree of belief is proportional to the precision of their definition & measurement). That’s why I see our economy best defined by NGDP & why I feel comfortable in describing our economy as:

    GDP is the measure of our productive economy. GDP is the sum of household, business and government spending (and likewise the income of those sectors equals that spending because all spending is another’s income). Our economy depends on household spending (2/3 of GDP). That spending is limited by household income (which comes only from those three sectors). Business provides that income to the extent demand (business opportunity) exists, and government provides the rest (by way of bookkeeping entries to household bank accounts). All that’s important to the economy is maintaining this flow, and with a fiat currency (whose value, by definition, depends ONLY on currency-users perception), there are no limits other than that perception.

    That describes our PRODUCTIVE economy as defined by BEA & measured by NGDP. The NON-PRODUCTIVE economy (largely the financial industry, aka, the big casino) cannot be (& need not be, IMO) defined & measured given our use of a fiat currency & the fact that the productive-economy’s earnings statement (ie, GDP/GDI) yields no net profit (ie, GDP=GDI).

    Like

    • How can nominal GDP describe “our productive economy” when price changes can easily distort the “value” of production?

      Let me put it this way. According to your argument, Venezuela’s economy became massively productive in the last few years because prices denominated in bolivars went through the roof (ie. hyperinflation can always make you seem “productive” by your standard).

      And when you try to adjust for inflation to get “real” GDP, you hit a million aggregation problems.

      I (largely) agree your statement about the importance of being able to measure things, but prices cannot be aggregated to tell you anything about productivity.

      Like

  3. I agree that majority rule and credentials are problematic heuristics. The truth-value of specific claims often cannot be inferred from them. But I don’t think this is always the case. What about “97% of climate experts agree humans are causing global warming”? I think plenty of people think it’s reasonable to conclude from it that anthropogenic global warming is a reality. One way to modify your tip is to say that one may rely on scientific consensus if and only if the best possible explanation for it is truth or authentic knowledge (here’s one philosophical argument in this vein: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11229-012-0225-5#Sec11).

    Credentials are a still weaker basis for any conclusions. But at times it can serve as an antidote against quick dismissals of dissidents. I’m pretty sure that missile defense scientist Theodore Postol would be long dismissed (after making provocative claims about the Iron Dome missile defense system and about the chemical attacks in Syria) if he didn’t have the right credentials (I should add that he also has plenty of technical arguments, but these are probably not easy to follow for most laypersons).

    Finally, there are two additional heuristics which I think are worth mentioning: one is confronting the crank with an expert on the opposite end of the debate and seeing who first runs out of argumentative ammunition. The other heuristic is track record (i.e. past record of true statements on the subject, if such is available).

    Like

    • “Finally, there are two additional heuristics which I think are worth mentioning: one is confronting the crank with an expert on the opposite end of the debate and seeing who first runs out of argumentative ammunition. The other heuristic is track record (i.e. past record of true statements on the subject, if such is available).”

      Do you honestly think this is how it works? Liberal fantasies about rational persuasion and public discourse never cease to amaze. You sound like a Jurgen Habermas with no imagination.

      Let me give you a prominent example of a crank: Robert Solow, a guy who won the Nobel Prize for an utterly useless theory of growth based on identity equations and circular logic. Anwar Shaikh called him out on his BS, the two went back and forth for a few years, and Solow finally stopped responding. This is a canonical example of your first heuristic in the statement above. And what was the result of it? Did the economics profession suddenly stop using Cobb-Douglas “production functions”? Of course not. These debates are not settled by who’s “right or wrong.” They’re settled by who has power, institutional and otherwise. Economists need people to believe that prices can serve as a proxy for universal units behind concepts like utility and productivity, which can apparently be aggregated in the same way that physicists aggregate mass using kilograms or energy using joules. With this ruse at hand, it’s much easier to justify the power hierarchies and class structures of capitalism.

      Now, every once in a while, something close to “the truth” does win out, if by that we mean that it becomes exposed to some critical mass of society, which then rejects the previous falsehood. But it’s always a hard slog and it always requires a fight. It’s always embedded in the unstable currents of politics and social conflict. The Nazis rejected relativity because Einstein was Jewish. It took a world war to finally see the triumph of relativity in the public imagination. And none of this is to say that general relativity is true in a deep, fundamental sense. After all, physicists are hard at work trying to replace it with a theory of quantum gravity. But it was sure as hell much better than what it replaced. I think this is the best that can be done: try and make incremental progress in a world filled with nonsense, until some kind of major historical event pushes previously marginalized views to the front of the pack.

      Like

      • I do think it’s a reasonable heuristic, assuming it’s not being used mindlessly and out of context. You’ve interpreted “run out of argumentative ammunition” very literally as saying “stopped responding.” But this is not what I had in mind. If you bothered looking at the paper I linked you’d get a better sense of it. To apply this heuristic (which you could call “dialectical superiority”) you’d have to actually track the specific points being raised and seeing if they get addressed or not. It’s not enough that someone simply stops responding. In addition, I’ve mentioned in my exchange with Blair that as far as I’m concerned the discipline of economics has been disqualified precisely on such dialectical grounds, by people like Blair, Bichler and Nitzan, Steve Keen and others.

        Like

      • “I do think it’s a reasonable heuristic, assuming it’s not being used mindlessly and out of context.”

        Reasonable for what end? To decide the “truth value” of a claim in front of an impartial audience? Sure, that sounds plausible.

        Or reasonable to identify who the cranks are? It’s this second part that’s more of a problem, because cranks aren’t generally identified based on whether they’re right or wrong according to “dialectical superiority.” They’re identified based on where their views fit into existing paradigms and institutional structures. Alfred Wegener was originally a crank, then we discovered that the continental plates were actually moving around, and suddenly he wasn’t a crank anymore. Being right at first did not prevent him from being identified as a crank, because the ontological veracity is not the only issue at stake here. “Crankhood” is a function of social relations and hierarchies just as much as it’s a function of ontological validity or accuracy.

        “In addition, I’ve mentioned in my exchange with Blair that as far as I’m concerned the discipline of economics has been disqualified precisely on such dialectical grounds, by people like Blair, Bichler and Nitzan, Steve Keen and others.”

        Agreed, but many professional economists would label them “cranks” (and in fact some have done exactly that!) because they do not accept the neoclassical paradigm. You see, the way these economists spot a crank is by looking at where the person’s views stand in relation to the views of their own field (personal views are factored in as well). Understand what’s at stake here, so you don’t run around in circles: we both agree it makes sense, or can make sense, to talk about objective truth. The Sun is more massive than the Earth. Cheetahs are faster than turtles. But who is and is not considered a crank is not simply a matter of who has discovered “objective truth.” It’s also a function of complex social dynamics.

        Like

      • There are two separate questions: 1. how can a reasonable/rational, truth-seeking, layperson identify a crank 2. how is the term “crank” commonly applied in academic disciplines. I read Blair’s post as trying to get at (1), and offered the said heuristic in that context. Whereas you’re talking about (2). Thus, you’re attacking a straw man, because I’ve never disputed that people often get classified as cranks without rational justification.

        Like

    • Blair writes at the end of the blog:

      “Back to the crank problem. The uncomfortable truth is that what is accepted as ‘fact’ in science often has more to do with popularity than with the objective appeal to evidence. Humans are social animals, and we’re all too susceptible to groupthink.”

      I take Blair as writing about both issues in this piece. He’s also getting at some of the same issues in your exchanges below.

      You have a highly idealized conception of human rationality. My point is that you can never fully separate this idealization from the social relations that constrain it.

      Like

      • “You have a highly idealized conception of human rationality”. Perhaps, but you have to offer reasons for thinking so, not straw men. Let me help you. Had I elided the distinction between experts and laypersons and claimed everyone has equal cognitive access to all realms of knowledge, your charge would have merit. But I said no such thing. The aforementioned heuristic rests precisely on the unequal cognitive access of experts and laypersons to a given realm of knowledge.

        Like

    • So one reason for “thinking so” is that a “reasonable/rational, truth-seeking, layperson” is an abstraction. It’s not something that exists. All of us have personal, cultural, and social biases of one extent or another, and these affect how we implement any “heuristic” for distinguishing one crank from another. That doesn’t mean all of our thoughts or ideas are equally valid or equally correct. Some guesses and opinions are better than others. A person says New York is 4,000 miles from San Francisco. Another says it’s 50,000 miles away. They’re both wrong, but one is way off.

      What this does mean is that your abstractions and idealizations are not as useful as you think. To plagiarize Hume a little, our reasons are often elaborate justifications for our emotions. Take credentials, which is one of the heuristics at play. Who you think has greater credentials on a certain subject will depend on many factors (including preconceptions and pre-existing biases). And so, offering heuristics as a way of identifying cranks is mostly a pointless exercise, because any heuristic you come up with will be bent and shaped to fit a pre-existing conceptual framework (or narrative or whatever you want to call it).

      Like

      • The question of whether rational, truth-seeking, laypersons exist seems to me to be an empirical question. I don’t think you’ve adduced any evidence which refutes their existence. True, I also did not offer any evidence to substantiate their existence. However, I doubt this blog, the CasP framework, Steve Keen’s “Debunking Economics” and other popularization-minded heterodox work would make much sense if the authors did not assume the existence of a lay audience which is susceptible to rational argument. Sure, we all have biases, but I don’t think they’re absolutely insurmountable in our attempts of conceive of the world. Even your paraphrase of Hume’s idea has the word “often” in it, as opposed to “always”. As it happens, the existence/non-existence of rational laypersons is not merely a question for cognitive science, but also a question for political economy. Being a rational layperson is not simply a state of mind, it’s a function of leisure/time and appropriate institutions/social conditions. Political Economist Thomas Ferguson (following Downs) has created a whole research program based on the assumption that different groups in society have unequal opportunities to invest in political awareness, often resulting in the exclusion of the general population from political decision-making (in favor of big business). The exception to the rule are cases in which there is a mass mobilization which helps the public share the costs of political awareness. It is in this context that I’m thinking of the aforementioned heuristics. If we can use them to adjudicate between expert knowledge claims which impinge on our political awareness, then we may be able to reduce the costs of political awareness, ease political organizing and envision future, more directly democratic, institutions, which do not involve blind deference to experts (including experts we intuitively like). Beyond that, I don’t see how laypersons can convincingly defend their worldviews in front of other laypersons if all they have at their disposal is their emotions and biases. There needs to be a rational and accessible way to argue, in front of laypersons, why my reliance on Nitzan and Bichler is preferable to someone else’s reliance on Milton Friedman. How many laypersons do you think you’re going to convince by pointing out that reason is the slave of the passions or something along these lines?

        Like

    • “The question of whether rational, truth-seeking, laypersons exist seems to me to be an empirical question. I don’t think you’ve adduced any evidence which refutes their existence. True, I also did not offer any evidence to substantiate their existence. However, I doubt this blog, the CasP framework, Steve Keen’s “Debunking Economics” and other popularization-minded heterodox work would make much sense if the authors did not assume the existence of a lay audience which is susceptible to rational argument.”

      I would say that what exists are people interested in learning more and improving themselves. If you want to call this “rational and truth-seeking,” then fine. I think the problem boils down to what you want to consider as “the truth.” Do you think of rationality in the Platonic sense, where the mind has an inherent affinity for some eternal concepts existing in a separate plane of reality? Or do you think of of rationality, as I do, more in a Deleuzean sense, where the mind is simply creating new patterns and variations on older concepts? Of course, these are not the only the options. You can talk about other forms of social and political rationality. But in the deepest metaphysical sense, this is one of the basic divisions. So I deny the Platonic sense of “rational and truth-seeking” laypersons. What people are doing in the act of thinking is repeating and integrating patterns over time. Of course, this process is mediated by external factors (something must give rise to the conditions for pattern-seeking), but these factors are themselves embedded in other processes of change. What’s the point of all this? That truth cannot simply be a naive correspondence between concepts or statements on the one hand and external reality on the other. There’s a complex process of internal coherence, where the mind tries to stabilize and integrate everything it has learned. But this process of stabilization is never-ending and receives a lot of chaotic inputs from different parts of the mind, including memories of facts, experiences, etc.

      “Beyond that, I don’t see how laypersons can convincingly defend their worldviews in front of other laypersons if all they have at their disposal is their emotions and biases. There needs to be a rational and accessible way to argue, in front of laypersons, why my reliance on Nitzan and Bichler is preferable to someone else’s reliance on Milton Friedman. How many laypersons do you think you’re going to convince by pointing out that reason is the slave of the passions or something along these lines?”

      But that’s not what I’m arguing, so this is a red herring. Reason and emotion exist as an integrated duality. Neither is the slave of the other. They both affect the other and cannot be understood apart from each other. Emotion helps inform us which reasons matter, which ones are worth bringing up in conversation. And reason helps constrain our emotions (there’s a lot of work on this in neuroscience, about the interactions between the pre-frontal cortex and the more ancient subcortical regions of the brain). The way people will convince each other is by adopting, consciously or unconsciously, certain more or less arbitrary standards for how to proceed in the debate. These standards cannot be infinitely justified (Agrippa’s Trilemma and all that). They themselves are an expression of the creativity of the human mind. But once people adopt certain baselines, regardless of how arbitrary they may be, then they can proceed to “compare notes” relative to those baselines. It’s in this context that it makes sense to say this worldview is preferable to that one, or that this statement is more accurate than that one. But the mistake is to assume that this procedure has revealed some ultimate Platonic truth, which it hasn’t at all. It has just revealed different modes of thinking and being under different circumstances.

      Like

      • What I mean by “rational laypersons” are laypersons who make up their minds about reality based on the best available evidence. Since laypersons, by definition, don’t have cognitive access to expert realms of knowledge, their best available evidence is second-order evidence, of the kind captured by the aforementioned heuristics. Needless to say, I don’t see truth as a matter of internal coherence and I don’t think I follow your argument about arbitrary standards (and I don’t think a separate Platonic plane of reality follows from this). You say you don’t argue that reason is the slave of the passions. Fine, I guess I took your reference to Hume a little too seriously. But, whatever your philosophical anthropology is, I don’t see how “arbitrary standards” and “internal coherence” can account for evidence-based beliefs about reality. This sounds like a recipe for arbitrary and insular beliefs about reality. But I could be wrong.

        Like

    • “What I mean by “rational laypersons” are laypersons who make up their minds about reality based on the best available evidence. Since laypersons, by definition, don’t have cognitive access to expert realms of knowledge, their best available evidence is second-order evidence, of the kind captured by the aforementioned heuristics.”

      This is a variation of the strategy tried by logical positivism, and it fails for the same basic reason. You can come up with all the criteria and heuristics to judge the “best empirical evidence,” but you can’t justify the heuristics themselves through that evidence. I’m sure picking credibility as one of the heuristics has nothing to do with humans being social animals who are influenced by authority figures. That’s one issue. The other is about the evidence itself: what is the “best” empirical evidence? How do you decide? You’ll come up with heuristics here too, none of which you can justify through the evidence itself. The limits of classical empiricism were a big deal in 20th century philosophy, with Quine, Duhem, and a lot of other people getting in on the action, even though these issues were all recognized by the ancients: the attempt to justify any kind of formal knowledge will always end in circular logic, infinite regression, or a foundational assumption that is (in effect) declared to be unquestionable (aka an arbitrary cutoff). This doesn’t bother me because it doesn’t mean that truth and knowledge cannot exist. They certainly can, but we cannot completely justify them. The point is that truth does exist, but as I’m about to show, you and I probably disagree on what precisely truth even means.

      “But, whatever your philosophical anthropology is, I don’t see how “arbitrary standards” and “internal coherence” can account for evidence-based beliefs about reality. This sounds like a recipe for arbitrary and insular beliefs about reality. But I could be wrong.”

      You can view truth, like most philosophers did in the past, as a relation of correspondence. A statement is true if it corresponds to some external state of affairs. “Paris is the capital of France” would be true if and only if Paris is actually the capital of France. The problem with the correspondence theory is not that it’s wrong or ridiculous, but just that it’s incomplete. It’s difficult to settle on the truth of logical and mathematical statements using the same kind of analogy I made about Paris. What external state of affairs does a Euclidean triangle having internal angles that add up to 180 degrees correspond to? There is no such thing as a perfect triangle in nature, or at least we haven’t found one. Take color for a more famous example. Is color something that exists “out there” in the external world? Or is it produced by the human mind as it interacts with the external world? This used to be a controversial question in philosophy, but modern neuroscience has settled the issue decisively: color vision emerges from the differential stimulation of photoreceptors followed by the differential excitation of neural clusters connected to those receptors. Color is produced by the mind. And because we have all have different neurological configurations, we all perceive colors a little bit differently. We suppress these differences and complications when we talk to each other. We suppress difference in favor of stability. We speak of an ideal “redness” or “blueness” when there are in fact thousands of variations of red and blue. A typical human can recognize millions of different hues, but we don’t have millions of names for colors. We group and categorize to simplify the world, and these categories depend profoundly on social relations. The Himba people in Namibia and Angola have many names for different shades of green. Their minds are capable of distinguishing subtle shades of green that most people around the world cannot identify. Here is why coherence is important: because information is never dispassionately absorbed and regurgitated by the human mind. It’s filtered and integrated through memories and experiences. Thinking too is a part of being, and therefore a part of the evidence base through which we examine any claims about knowledge. When we interact with the world to collect evidence, we are continuously updating our memories and feelings. These memories and feelings then affect how we interpret and classify evidence. But our internal states are updated all the time: when we laugh, cry, go to the movies. All of these memories and experiences can chaotically affect how we perceive and filter information.

      So you have here two dominant ways of looking at truth. You have the Platonic version in which truth is a process of representation, a process of matching some pre-existing ideal model. Plato himself brilliantly attacked this theory in the dialogue Parmenides, but then he recoiled and defended the Forms on the basis that the world wouldn’t make sense without them. “What is to become of philosophy?” asks a desperate Parmenides after having trashed the Forms. He’s expressing the same basic fear as you are: how can we ever be sure we know what’s true unless truth already exists, just laying around and waiting to be found by daring minds? Needless to say there are a million problems with Platonism (or variants of it) and most philosophers are skeptical of it, even in the philosophy of mathematics.

      Then you have the Deleuzean version in which truth is a process of creation. This is what I subscribe to: that truth is a process of natural expression through the repetition of differential relations. This is truth in the most absolute and objective sense: the eternally unfolding “origami cosmos.” Deleuze argued that difference comes prior to being. Difference underlies all identities, difference is creative and productive. Differences in atmospheric pressure create winds. Differences in temperature create heat flows. Differences in voltage create electric currents. Differences in neural excitations create colors, memories, feelings, and once they combine with other differences they create what we call “human identity” itself. As a form of knowledge among people, truth is created and constructed on the basis of similar or shared standards that arise when people suppress complex differences. But that basis is inherently unstable; it can always change and shift around. So the way you and I both know that “Paris is the capital of France” is because we’re both making a lot of presuppositions that are taking us to a similar target. You wouldn’t respond to me with something like “No, Paris is a small town in Kansas. It can’t be the capital of France.” We both know what I mean, but we know this through shared experiences. We’ve both heard of Paris, and we know I’m talking about Paris, France when I say Paris, not Paris, Kansas. In other words, once we come to a shared or overlapping basis of communication, we can proceed to “compare notes” and see where somebody went wrong. In reality, we’re never going to come to the exact same basis on everything, which is why I threw “overlapping” in there. Even if we agree that there’s an objective reality existing independently of human beings (the starting point), our subjective constructs and personal experiences will disagree on the empirical and philosophical content of that reality. The only way to proceed at that point is to come up with heuristics that we can hopefully agree on, then test our ideas based on those heuristics. But understand that the results will be just as much a function of our heuristics as they will be of “objective reality.” Correspondence and coherence become an integrated duality; they both affect the other.

      The word “arbitrary” has been thrown around, but again we have a difference in how we understand it. For me, once claims and beliefs are compared relative to a common baseline, it makes sense to say that those claims are objectively right or wrong. For example, it’s objectively right to say that “matter and energy bend spacetime” in the context of general relativity. But this doesn’t mean that the baseline itself is rock solid. Everyone and their mother has a pet theory about the physical structure of spacetime, and so no one agrees on just what precisely is curving and bending. This is a big problem in quantum gravity: trying to figure out the microscopic fabric of space. In any case, a claim can be seen as both objective and arbitrary provided you’re clear about what you mean.

      What rubbed me the wrong way about your original post is the phrase “the truth-value of specific claims.” If you’re ok with arbitrary heuristics providing provisional answers, then we’re done. But don’t pretend that you’ve discovered the ideal model behind the claim, because that’s impossible.

      Like

      • It’s true that heuristics and methods are not self-justifying and that the evidence they yield cannot justify them on its own. But so what? It doesn’t follow from this that they’re all based on caprice and blind deference to authority. It’s not like people go about scientific work by questioning the whole of science in every instance. You question some things, while holding other things constant. True, there’s no explicit algorithm for deciding what’s the best evidence in every case. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an unknown implicit algorithm. My understanding is that Peirce’s notion of “abduction” was trying to get at something like that. He argued you cannot explain the fast progress of science (as well as near-simultaneous independent discoveries) unless you assume some built-in cognitive operation for eliminating trillions of inadmissible hypotheses. To my knowledge, with the exception of generative linguistics and a branch of moral psychology, we don’t have a scientific theory of abduction. So I see no reason why we should prejudge the question of how we decide what’s the best evidence. It’s an open scientific question. However, I don’t see how the sciences would progress (or how its technological byproducts would do what the theories predict), if their operative notion of good evidence — whatever it is — didn’t capture some facets of the mind-independent world (though certainly not all of them).

        I also don’t dispute that we have mental structures which shape our perceptions of the world (be it geometrical concepts or such complex concepts as “Paris” or “capital”), but there’s also a world out there which you cannot wish away and which interacts with our mental structures. Surely, I wouldn’t argue that such things as triangles exist “out there.” They’re features of our minds. Nor would I argue that “Paris” or “Capital” are features of the extra-mental world. Chomsky has pointed out many times that such concepts do not actually refer to anything out there (it’s enough to picture a change in the municipal boundaries or to play around with apocalyptic scenarios to see that Paris is neither a simply matter of geography nor a matter of the architecture). There’s a reason why the core sciences develop special, artificial, concepts which do have correspondence built into them (as opposed to normal human language), i.e. if you’re doing science you want to know you’re referring to this specific electron, and yes, that other scientists know exactly what you’re referring to. However, artificial is not arbitrary. And when I say arbitrary I mean something like wishing aspects of reality in and out of existence.

        Regarding “truth” and whether it preexists belief formation, I don’t really want to split hairs. If I wanted to be really pedantic about how I use the word “truth” I would say that truth is the honorific term which we confer on beliefs we think capture really existing things. These latter things are the ones which preexist belief formation and knowledge. But I wasn’t going for such a level of pedantry, so I may have used “truth” and “reality” interchangeably. Notice, not talking here about any ideal models, which I think is a straw man.

        Like

    • “It’s true that heuristics and methods are not self-justifying and that the evidence they yield cannot justify them on its own. But so what? It doesn’t follow from this that they’re all based on caprice and blind deference to authority. It’s not like people go about scientific work by questioning the whole of science in every instance. You question some things, while holding other things constant. True, there’s no explicit algorithm for deciding what’s the best evidence in every case. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an unknown implicit algorithm. My understanding is that Peirce’s notion of “abduction” was trying to get at something like that. He argued you cannot explain the fast progress of science (as well as near-simultaneous independent discoveries) unless you assume some built-in cognitive operation for eliminating trillions of inadmissible hypotheses. To my knowledge, with the exception of generative linguistics and a branch of moral psychology, we don’t have a scientific theory of abduction. So I see no reason why we should prejudge the question of how we decide what’s the best evidence.”

      I am not arguing that all subjective heuristics are based on caprice or blind authority. I gave an example about one potential issue with credibility and you turned it into an unwarranted generality. For someone who loves to overuse the term “straw man” you should do better to recognize it in your own comments. In this context, my argument is that social factors can affect the construction of the heuristics and their subsequent interpretation. You will never get a “background-independent” empirical take on the world. Abduction is a controversial concept; philosophers don’t agree on what Peirce meant by it because he himself never fully pinned it down. But your take is actually not that different from mine, once you flesh it out. I would say that science makes progress by finding new patterns and variations. In what sense are these new patterns better than the older ones? In the sense that they can explain more details or get us to see something that was previously hidden. How do we know whether they explain more details? By deciding on heuristics and criteria for evaluation, by affirming the problems that are worth solving through our social interactions. In chess, there is something called “chunking,” which just means quickly recognizing patterns you’ve seen on the board before and using that information to make faster decisions, as opposed to sitting there and trying to evaluate every piece independently. Your use of abduction seems similar to this, and I’m on board with that. But I disagree about the “implicit algorithm.” Here you are sounding more Platonic, after disavowing it at the end of your post. I can’t really say because you’re not being very clear here. Is the implicit algorithm just subconscious neurological filtering that allows for our sense of abduction? Even if it is, it’s not independent from all these other aspects of the world. Our subconscious states very much depend on our social experiences. Our filters are themselves being filtered.

      “I also don’t dispute that we have mental structures which shape our perceptions of the world (be it geometrical concepts or such complex concepts as “Paris” or “capital”), but there’s also a world out there which you cannot wish away and which interacts with our mental structures. Surely, I wouldn’t argue that such things as triangles exist “out there.” They’re features of our minds. Nor would I argue that “Paris” or “Capital” are features of the extra-mental world. Chomsky has pointed out many times that such concepts do not actually refer to anything out there (it’s enough to picture a change in the municipal boundaries or to play around with apocalyptic scenarios to see that Paris is neither a simply matter of geography nor a matter of the architecture). There’s a reason why the core sciences develop special, artificial, concepts which do have correspondence built into them (as opposed to normal human language), i.e. if you’re doing science you want to know you’re referring to this specific electron, and yes, that other scientists know exactly what you’re referring to.”

      We seem to be both realists in the sense that we believe there’s an actual world out there independently of human beings. Planet Earth existed before humans walked on it, and the Moon still exists even though no one is looking at it. No one is wishing the world away. The disagreements revolve around how certain we can be of our knowledge about this external reality. This is obviously an ancient debate in philosophy that will never be settled. I’m more of a critical realist in the tradition of Sellars and Kant (if one can use such a term for him). Yeah reality exists, and yeah we can know some things about it, but the things we know will always be tentative and provisional because they’re so heavily filtered by our memories and feelings. This is especially true on fundamental questions, in science or in philosophy. You argue that science isn’t all on trial for every single question, but all small questions in science ultimately depend on the bigger ones. And it’s not just that our “mental structures” filter what we receive. Those structures also help move us to change certain features of the external world itself, and that activity in the process (that “dasein” to get Heideggerian) also changes our mental structures. It’s a highly dynamic process. I’ll explain what I mean through a personal story. When I first learned about physics, I thought matter was just “stuff” and atoms were tiny particles, like miniature billiard balls. That was my preconception, how I filtered knowledge about those subjects. Fast forward a few years and I have a different sense of things. Now I know that the majority of a proton’s mass comes the dynamics between gluons and quarks (ie. quantum fluctuations). All material things are effectively states of motion and energy. Now I see matter more as a dynamic and creative process of natural expression. It’s an entirely different conceptual filter, and getting there required lots of reading and talking to a bunch of people. For reasons I cited before, I think I have a better filter, but I don’t pretend like it’s the last one I’ll have. I don’t pretend to have found the “implicit algorithm” or the “ideal model.”

      “However, artificial is not arbitrary. And when I say arbitrary I mean something like wishing aspects of reality in and out of existence.”

      Ok then we are using the word arbitrary in different ways in this debate. I don’t think anything can be “wished out of existence” because the mere act of thinking and wishing about something presupposes the existence of that thing in your mind (at the very least; it could also exist out there), either as a well-honed concept or as something else that’s just minor neurological activity. You keep bringing up examples that I think are skirting the underlying disagreement. I don’t dispute that there’s an electron here or there. The dispute is what really existing features of this electron actually correspond to our philosophical or mathematical conceptions of it. Is the electron just a particle with no substructure? Is the electron a low-energy excitation of a quantum field? Is every electron (as I think Wigner suggested) just a different manifestation of only one universal electron? To borrow your word, this is not to be pedantic. It’s what critical realism is about: injecting humility (lots of it) into any claims about fundamental knowledge.

      “Regarding “truth” and whether it preexists belief formation, I don’t really want to split hairs. If I wanted to be really pedantic about how I use the word “truth” I would say that truth is the honorific term which we confer on beliefs we think capture really existing things. These latter things are the ones which preexist belief formation and knowledge. But I wasn’t going for such a level of pedantry, so I may have used “truth” and “reality” interchangeably. Notice, not talking here about any ideal models, which I think is a straw man.”

      Are beliefs themselves really existing things? After all, can’t we have beliefs about beliefs? But if so, we can only have these higher-order beliefs assuming the lower ones actually exist.

      What do you even mean by “really existing things”? For example, are numbers really existing things? How about love or beauty?

      One problem I see with your worldview is that you have a highly static picture in which there’s a real world out there and there’s an inner world in here, in me. The fact that these two worlds interact in highly dynamic and chaotic ways seems to be no big deal at all for you. In fact, you mostly brush over that pesky inconvenience, and in the process you hope to stabilize the “formal representations” of human thought. Very Platonic indeed, just without the supernatural fluff.

      Like

      • Since you claim I’m being unclear, a few clarifications follow. By “implicit algorithm” I mean something analogous to generative grammar, only in the realm of our science-forming faculty (whatever that would look like). I subscribe to Chomsky’s interpretation of Peirce’s notion of abduction, which I think has a lot of textual support. Importantly, I don’t think we can claim to know how our science-forming faculty works in the absence of scientific research into it. But I don’t think it presupposes your notion of “Platonic,” because the said algorithm will not be up to the task of theorizing all aspects of reality (due to biological limitations), so in some cases no model would arise (surely not an ideal one). Nor did I dispute the fallibility of our knowledge and beliefs in anything I said. To conclude this section of my response, I explicitly mentioned the interaction between mental structures and the extra-mental world — so it’s not an inconvenience for me, but an organic part of my worldview.

        As to your questions: numbers, on my view, are mental objects. They ARE “really existing things” (a term I believe I borrowed from Bhaskar), albeit really existing mental things (I would say the same about love and beauty, albeit at a higher level of complexity), just as the structures of the extra-mental world are really existing things (electrons included). And sure, the various structures interact.

        Now to some of your points: your story about initially thinking of electrons as billiard balls and then moving on to expressing your understanding in terms of theoretical entities seems to conflate conceiving of the world and conceiving of theories about the world (an important distinction I also borrow from Chomsky). The artificial correspondence I spoke of earlier applies only in the latter case. It’s a correspondence between an intentionally human-made concept and something out there which is not conceivable to us. I guess it’s kind of like saying “that thing over there about which I have nothing tangible/anthropomorphic to say besides the features specified by the formalism (e.g. the four quantum numbers)”

        I also accept beliefs are really existing things, but I don’t understand why you say that you can only have second-order beliefs. Why can’t we have both first-order and second-order beliefs?

        Finally, if we agree that there is a world out there which cannot be wished away, and that this world causally impinges, however imperfectly, on our belief-formation and knowledge, then there’s really no disagreement. Not all of your formulations seemed to me consistent with this proposition. Indeed, even now I find myself agreeing that explanatory power or “explaining more details” is a reasonable criterion for preferring a theory, but then you claim that explanatory power is a function of the social affirmation of problems. Don’t get me wrong, I think science is a deeply social process, both in choosing the problems, in exchanging ideas and in making agential interventions in the closed systems under examination, but I think the evaluation of explanatory power, given an agreement on what the facts/details are, has a certain cognitive compulsion to it, which leaves no space for what Bhaskar called judgmental relativism.

        Like

    • I think there’s more that we agree on than we disagree on. We agree about the frequent fallibility of human knowledge and about the dangers of trying to represent idealized abstract models. These points of convergence outweigh the things we disagree on in terms of importance, in my mind anyway.

      “By “implicit algorithm” I mean something analogous to generative grammar, only in the realm of our science-forming faculty (whatever that would look like).”

      I’m not as familiar with generative grammar as I’d like to be, but I know it’s controversial as hell in linguistics. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong or useless, of course, but it does make me wary about analogizing with such a concept for other areas (like science). There are many complex dimensions of how we develop scientific knowledge. That’s partly what this debate is about. Does science develop through a standard cookbook or does it develop more socially and chaotically? The answer is probably a blend of both, but the tricky part is disentangling the influence of these factors and analyzing them in isolation. To me it’s an almost impossible task. But now that you’ve given me some more information here, I don’t think what you’re suggesting is Platonic. That’s because generative grammar is an immanent process within nature, not a transcendental duality in which a superior element brings an inferior element into existence (or makes it intelligible somehow). That doesn’t mean I agree with this analogy, as I said before, but there are different levels of wrong, and Platonism is at the highest point. So at least there’s that. I still retain all my doubts about any formal heuristics to judge scientific knowledge. You haven’t even demarcated science from other realms of knowledge (a major problem in its own right, and one that you have to overcome before declaring that you have a generative grammar for science specifically).

      “Now to some of your points: your story about initially thinking of electrons as billiard balls and then moving on to expressing your understanding in terms of theoretical entities seems to conflate conceiving of the world and conceiving of theories about the world (an important distinction I also borrow from Chomsky). The artificial correspondence I spoke of earlier applies only in the latter case. It’s a correspondence between an intentionally human-made concept and something out there which is not conceivable to us. I guess it’s kind of like saying “that thing over there about which I have nothing tangible/anthropomorphic to say besides the features specified by the formalism (e.g. the four quantum numbers)” ”

      My point that you referenced was about matter and atoms more broadly, not just electrons. I also don’t think my current understanding of matter has any more theoretical layers than the original understanding. After all, do particles even exist, or is everything just ultimately field fluctuations (as in quantum field theory)? In any case, I strongly doubt you can separate your theories of the world from conceptions of the world. The two are highly integrated. But you didn’t offer any sense of what conception means to you. This is a huge minefield in philosophy. I would be shocked if more than two philosophers could agree on what it means to conceive of something. Certainly none of the major figures in recent times who have written about it do (Chalmers, Yablo, Van Inwagen).

      “I also accept beliefs are really existing things, but I don’t understand why you say that you can only have second-order beliefs. Why can’t we have both first-order and second-order beliefs?”

      I didn’t say that at all. I explicitly talked about “higher-order” beliefs, so the chain could keep going (though in most practical cases it doesn’t). But that’s all beside the point, which is this: if truth is a belief that captures really existing things (your definition), and if beliefs are also really existing things, then the implication is that truth can be a belief that captures something about beliefs. Suppose I believe that Earth is a planet orbiting around the Sun. Great. Would it make sense to have a higher-order belief that says this original belief is stupid? Doesn’t seem like it. The hierarchy of beliefs has to harmonize somehow. So even your definition of truth leaves room for coherence. That harmonization process is partly social, partly other things.

      “Don’t get me wrong, I think science is a deeply social process, both in choosing the problems, in exchanging ideas and in making agential interventions in the closed systems under examination, but I think the evaluation of explanatory power, given an agreement on what the facts/details are, has a certain cognitive compulsion to it, which leaves no space for what Bhaskar called judgmental relativism.”

      I think we agree and disagree. We agree that it makes sense to come up with criteria and heuristics for helping to evaluate scientific progress, and some of our heuristics might even be the same (indeed are based on what I read in your other posts). Where we disagree is that the cognitive compulsion of which you speak can be influenced by many factors, including the evaluation heuristics. I think the heuristics are important but not decisive. To you they seem to be decisive (but how do we even judge what’s decisive?). To me what’s really important is the mental creativity and social resources that go along with those heuristics. The heuristics are simply one of the inputs into the scientific process, which is altogether highly complex and unpredictable. “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” as a certain physicist once said.

      Like

      • I’ll restrict myself only to the outstanding disagreements which I think can be settled. Apologies for saying “electrons” when you were talking about “atoms” more generally, it was late and I think I missed it because it’s immaterial to the point I was making. You see, once your conception of the world makes you think of a particle — a scientific/theoretical concept — as though it was an intuitively or pre-theoretically/pre-scientifically familiar object (e.g. a billiard ball), you’re committing the fallacy of trying to accommodate entities postulated by scientific theories in your intuitive conception of the world. Why is it a fallacy? On my limited knowledge of the history of science, before Newton’s discoveries, it made sense to think that the the task of understanding the world must involve scientific explanations in terms of our contact mechanical intuitions. This aspiration has collapsed with Newton, who regarded his own discovery of action at a distance as an absurdity, and sought to explain it away for the remainder of his life. I think Hume made an important point about this in his History of England, arguing that Newton has restored nature to its eternal obscurity (or something along these lines). What this meant was that scientists failed to understand the world in terms of their contact mechanical intuitions (which are apparently how, pre-scientifically, humans in general see the world). However, Newton’s discovery was understandable at the theoretical level, which basically means that his principles could be formalized mathematically and worked out into predictions that are susceptible to observation. Since then, scientists have arguably given up on trying to understand the world in terms of their contact-mechanical intuitions, and instead switched it to trying to work out understandable *theories* of the world. And it is in this sense that I think (intuitive) conceptions of the world differ from scientific theories (certainly not only in this sense). And, as we’ve already agreed I believe, science’s success is measured by its ability to explain larger and larger chunks of the world, however counter-intuitive the entities postulated by the scientific theories happen to be. For this reason, I don’t think the question of whether particles really exist makes much sense. They are tentatively taken to exist as long as, at least for some purposes, they offer more explanatory power than some alternative. To sum up, what makes your more recent take on physics more theoretical than the conception of billiard balls is that it seems to make no use of intuitively accessible concepts (again, in the contact-mechanical sense). As you said: “Now I know that the majority of a proton’s mass comes the dynamics between gluons and quarks (ie. quantum fluctuations).”

        Now to the business of higher order beliefs. Again, sorry I said “second-order” instead of “higher-order”, but I think this is also immaterial. I don’t see any philosophical issue with having beliefs about beliefs. The question of whether I possess a certain belief is a factual one. If I do possess it, my belief that I possess the said belief is true, otherwise it’s false. In this case, coherence is a legitimate test for the applicability of the label “truth” to my higher-order belief, but that’s simply because the object of the higher-order belief in question is another belief (the first-order belief). If the object of my belief is extra-mental, coherence will be insufficient in and of itself to establish the truth of a belief.

        Finally, I should say that abduction in the sense I’m using it — if it is a defensible notion — cuts across different cognitive faculties. There’s evidence it obtains in our linguistic judgments and in our moral judgments. Chomsky has argued it is also at play in how we form scientific theories and in how we get by in the world more generally (i.e. understanding social interactions). What all of this has in common is that the data we receive from the world is always too impoverished to account for the moral, linguistic, scientific and social knowledge we end up having, which suggests that some kind of automatic elimination of inadmissible hypotheses/beliefs/grammars must be involved. But abduction does not necessitate a cookbook, if by a cookbook you mean an explicit set of operations. To know where abduction ends and other factors (e.g. social factors) enter into our theory-formation, we’d have to know how abduction works. But we don’t, at present. It’s an open question. I know that people (especially some sociologists of scientific knowledge) used to pretend that if we cannot provide a cookbook of science, then it’s social all the way down (including in its conclusions), but I think it’s a non-sequitur until and unless we can account for the work that abduction (or call it the science-forming faculty) does in theory-formation. So I don’t accept the disjucntion between “cookbook vs. social”, for one, because logical positivism has failed in producing such a cookbook and there’s no evidence that an explicit thorough-going cookbook of science is possible, and second, because we know virtually nothing about the implicit cognitive process underlying theory-formation.

        Like

    • “You see, once your conception of the world makes you think of a particle — a scientific/theoretical concept — as though it was an intuitively or pre-theoretically/pre-scientifically familiar object (e.g. a billiard ball), you’re committing the fallacy of trying to accommodate entities postulated by scientific theories in your intuitive conception of the world.”

      Let’s pause right here. Nothing about the “objective world” can be understood without the filters of our subjective constructs. This goes back to what I said earlier: you can’t have a background-independent understanding of the world, or of the things in it. But this problem is universal to all human knowledge. After all, try to conceive of any microscopic particle that you can’t see with your eyes. You’re going to have to use metaphors and analogies from your “manifest imagine” (billiard balls, etc), from the realm of things that are visible and apparent to you. There’s just nothing else you can do because ontology and epistemology are united by an essential bond. Our ontological constructs are informed by our epistemological heuristics. To call this state of affairs we find ourselves in a “fallacy” seems like the wrong use of that word.

      “On my limited knowledge of the history of science, before Newton’s discoveries, it made sense to think that the the task of understanding the world must involve scientific explanations in terms of our contact mechanical intuitions. This aspiration has collapsed with Newton, who regarded his own discovery of action at a distance as an absurdity, and sought to explain it away for the remainder of his life. I think Hume made an important point about this in his History of England, arguing that Newton has restored nature to its eternal obscurity (or something along these lines). What this meant was that scientists failed to understand the world in terms of their contact mechanical intuitions (which are apparently how, pre-scientifically, humans in general see the world). However, Newton’s discovery was understandable at the theoretical level, which basically means that his principles could be formalized mathematically and worked out into predictions that are susceptible to observation. Since then, scientists have arguably given up on trying to understand the world in terms of their contact-mechanical intuitions, and instead switched it to trying to work out understandable *theories* of the world.”

      I dispute a lot of your historical interpretation here. Let’s begin with the claim about how things worked before Newton. Perhaps the biggest question in ancient Greek philosophy was this: how much can we rely on the senses to learn about the world? There were those who supported something like your “contact mechanical intuitions,” such as Epicurus. They thought the senses were the most reliable guide to the truth. But even with the Epicureans, you could argue about how much faith they placed in “contact mechanical intuitions.” After all, these people were positing things like invisible atoms, spatial minima, the void. Highly theoretical stuff. And then there were the Platonists and those other groups. They thought that senses and intuitions were absolutely unreliable, and could not reveal to us any good explanations about how things worked. Only the soul could do that: the highest faculties of the rational scouring the deepest horizons of truth. You can take a wild guess what they thought about your standard for explaining the world.

      After Newton’s faux pas about action-at-a-distance, physicists came up with fields to resolve the previous theoretical challenges, and this line of research has proven to be very fruitful (in electromagnetism, gravitation, quantum field theory, etc). Again, I know you’re trying to push this distinction between our conceptions of things and the theoretical constructs, but what I’m telling you is that your distinction is completely hollow and meaningless.

      “I don’t see any philosophical issue with having beliefs about beliefs. The question of whether I possess a certain belief is a factual one. If I do possess it, my belief that I possess the said belief is true, otherwise it’s false. In this case, coherence is a legitimate test for the applicability of the label “truth” to my higher-order belief, but that’s simply because the object of the higher-order belief in question is another belief (the first-order belief). If the object of my belief is extra-mental, coherence will be insufficient in and of itself to establish the truth of a belief.”

      The philosophical issue comes in with that last sentence. Your beliefs about “extra-mental” objects are constrained by the higher-order beliefs in question. In other words, the higher-order beliefs will affect and modify how you understand the extra-mental stuff. At the risk of overly repeating myself in what’s becoming a boring cycle, you can’t have a background-independent view of the world. You can’t have a belief about an extra-mental object that somehow exists independently of all these higher-order beliefs. It’s all integrated. And so the “truth-value” of a claim between a first-order belief and extra-mental object will always be meaningless in some fundamental sense, because what you’re actually testing are a whole set of beliefs (NOT just one) against some external state of affairs. So correspondence and coherence will come together to this dance, and separating the two will be all but impossible.

      “Finally, I should say that abduction in the sense I’m using it — if it is a defensible notion — cuts across different cognitive faculties. There’s evidence it obtains in our linguistic judgments and in our moral judgments. Chomsky has argued it is also at play in how we form scientific theories and in how we get by in the world more generally (i.e. understanding social interactions). What all of this has in common is that the data we receive from the world is always too impoverished to account for the moral, linguistic, scientific and social knowledge we end up having, which suggests that some kind of automatic elimination of inadmissible hypotheses/beliefs/grammars must be involved. But abduction does not necessitate a cookbook, if by a cookbook you mean an explicit set of operations. To know where abduction ends and other factors (e.g. social factors) enter into our theory-formation, we’d have to know how abduction works. But we don’t, at present. It’s an open question.”

      Well, this is basically a cop out. “I have a concept here. I don’t know anything about how it works. But I’m going to pretend that it’s the engine behind scientific development.” We actually do know something about it.

      The automatic elimination of which you speak has been partially explained in neuroscience. One aspect of it is synaptic pruning, where the brain gets rid of useless neural connections over time and reinforces others (plasticity). The other neurobiological basis for elimination is the excitation and inhibition of neural clusters. This happens very rapidly and is the phenomenon primarily responsible for that “inner sense” of what things mean. What the brain is doing in both cases is reinforcing learned patterns and habits.

      But your paragraph here missed my point entirely. The point is that it doesn’t matter, for the most part, what heuristics you come up with. There will always be other inputs to the scientific process that, in many cases, dwarf the significance of the heuristics and the rules. There will be individual creativity, funding sources, science politics, and a million other factors that will come into it. The scientific process is organized chaos, like pretty much everything else.

      Like

      • “After all, try to conceive of any microscopic particle that you can’t see with your eyes. You’re going to have to use metaphors and analogies from your “manifest imagine” (billiard balls, etc), from the realm of things that are visible and apparent to you.”

        I see no evidence that you “have to” use these metaphors and analogies. It’s pure assertion. You may use them for heuristic or pedagogic purposes, but if you possess the theoretical concepts you can do science without recourse of any intuitively familiar entities.

        “I dispute a lot of your historical interpretation here. Let’s begin with the claim about how things worked before Newton.Perhaps the biggest question in ancient Greek philosophy was this: how much can we rely on the senses to learn about the world? ”

        Feel free to. It’s not my interpretation. I’ve taken it from Chomsky, who has convincingly defended it on more than one occasion (including in the face of objections). More importantly, “before Newton” in this account referred to developments following the 17th century scientific revolution. Wasn’t talking about the Greeks. The explanatory aspirations of people like Galileo and Descartes, to my knowledge, were contact mechanical.

        “After Newton’s faux pas about action-at-a-distance, physicists came up with fields to resolve the previous theoretical challenges, and this line of research has proven to be very fruitful (in electromagnetism, gravitation, quantum field theory, etc). Again, I know you’re trying to push this distinction between our conceptions of things and the theoretical constructs, but what I’m telling you is that your distinction is completely hollow and meaningless.”

        The challenge I mentioned was not a theoretical challenge within physics. But an epistemological realization in the immediate post-Newtonian period to the effect that there are mysteries for humans, of which we can have theories but no contact mechanical/intuitive understandings. The fact that physics has theoretically progressed since Newton doesn’t change that.

        ‘So correspondence and coherence will come together to this dance, and separating the two will be all but impossible.”

        I think I clearly said that “coherence” *alone* can’t settle questions of veracity. You seem to agree, while making gestures of disagreeing.

        “Well, this is basically a cop out. “I have a concept here. I don’t know anything about how it works. But I’m going to pretend that it’s the engine behind scientific development.” ”

        There’s a difference between not knowing how it works, and not having any reason to believe abduction exists. I think there are solid reasons to believe it exists, which both Peirce and Chomsky have discussed. And until it’s investigated you cannot make bold claims about the factors implicated in theory-formation.

        “We actually do know something about it.The automatic elimination of which you speak has been partially explained in neuroscience…What the brain is doing in both cases is reinforcing learned patterns and habits.”

        I think you’re using a very idiosyncratic notion of “explain” here. I follow Chomsky, and he’s well aware of work in neuroscience. His position is that cognitive science has made zero progress in its study of the science-forming faculty. Of course he could be wrong, but I’m suspicious for two reasons: 1. The explanatory successes of generative linguistics and the aforementioned branch of moral psychology have not been primarily at the neuro-physiological level, but at the level of abstract mathematical/algorithmic theorizing of human judgments 2. I’ve never seen even the beginnings of something analogous in theorizing the science-forming faculty 3. Conceiving of such massive leaps from data to knowledge as occur in science, as “habits” seems to me like behaviorist hand-waving.

        ” The point is that it doesn’t matter, for the most part, what heuristics you come up with. There will always be other inputs to the scientific process that, in many cases, dwarf the significance of the heuristics and the rules.There will be individual creativity, funding sources, science politics, and a million other factors that will come into it. ”

        “dwarf the significance” in what sense? If you’re saying that these influences determine the course of science, as in what’s going to be researched, I’ll agree. But if you’re saying these influences determine the results of science or that this is inevitable, then I’ll say you’re expressing a belief in the power of social factors to create out of whole-cloth the objects of scientific discoveries, just like those sociologists of scientific knowledge, whose views I reject.

        Like

      • “I see no evidence that you “have to” use these metaphors and analogies. It’s pure assertion. You may use them for heuristic or pedagogic purposes, but if you possess the theoretical concepts you can do science without recourse of any intuitively familiar entities”

        I see. And where did the theoretical concepts ultimately come from? Did Santa Claus hand them out for Christmas? They came from empirical reality — or more precisely, from the brain’s reconstruction of empirical reality. All of our theoretical constructs consist of empirical content. Take Bohr’s model of the hydrogen atom as a miniature Solar System or wave-particle duality in quantum mechanics. They’re all doing the same basic thing: trying to represent microscopic reality through macroscopic properties, because that’s all we can do.

        “It’s pure assertion.”

        Your empty bombast and stale propaganda are getting tiresome.

        “Feel free to. It’s not my interpretation. I’ve taken it from Chomsky, who has convincingly defended it on more than one occasion (including in the face of objections). More importantly, “before Newton” in this account referred to developments following the 17th century scientific revolution. Wasn’t talking about the Greeks. The explanatory aspirations of people like Galileo and Descartes, to my knowledge, were contact mechanical.”

        I have great respect for Chomsky, but if that’s his interpretation, then he’s flat out wrong. If anything, the opposite is true: Newton ushered in our mechanistic understanding of reality, replacing much of the mumbo jumbo that came before. Of course, he had a problem with gravity acting a distance, which he himself recognized and decided to “feign no hypothesis.” In any case, saying “contact mechanical” like a broken record doesn’t sever the bond between ontology and epistemology, because understanding what that means will always require a complex fusion of empirical and theoretical entities (ie. just more complex empirical entities).

        “The challenge I mentioned was not a theoretical challenge within physics. But an epistemological realization in the immediate post-Newtonian period to the effect that there are mysteries for humans, of which we can have theories but no contact mechanical/intuitive understandings.”

        So you claim, but it’s just “pure assertion,” to quote some random person online who likes to waste time trolling other people. It’s impossible to have theories without intuitive comprehension, because the intuitive “units” of that comprehension are the content that builds up the theories in the first place. Even Newton’s action at a distance relied on a million other more intuitive concepts, which are suppressed as part of the rationalist hoax to pretend that something new has emerged (on display vividly here from you).

        “I think I clearly said that “coherence” *alone* can’t settle questions of veracity. You seem to agree, while making gestures of disagreeing.”

        That’s a funny accusation coming from you, because that’s been your strategy in this entire debate. When you have no substance, try obfuscation. What did Steve Bannon say? “Flood the zone with this shit.”

        “There’s a difference between not knowing how it works, and not having any reason to believe abduction exists. I think there are solid reasons to believe it exists, which both Peirce and Chomsky have discussed. And until it’s investigated you cannot make bold claims about the factors implicated in theory-formation.”

        But if you don’t know how it works, you can’t claim it’s responsible for scientific progress, because that would require you to explain the causal steps in which it impacts that progress. That’s the issue at stake here.

        “I think you’re using a very idiosyncratic notion of “explain” here. I follow Chomsky, and he’s well aware of work in neuroscience. His position is that cognitive science has made zero progress in its study of the science-forming faculty. Of course he could be wrong, but I’m suspicious for two reasons: 1. The explanatory successes of generative linguistics and the aforementioned branch of moral psychology have not been primarily at the neuro-physiological level, but at the level of abstract mathematical/algorithmic theorizing of human judgments 2. I’ve never seen even the beginnings of something analogous in theorizing the science-forming faculty 3. Conceiving of such massive leaps from data to knowledge as occur in science, as “habits” seems to me like behaviorist hand-waving.”

        I know I know. I’m using a “very idiosyncratic” notion, but you following Chomsky on everything means you’re using the correct interpretation. It’s like debating a Marxist who just read all three volumes of Capital and forgot about everything else in the world. Obviously Chomsky is wrong. The point is that his silly notion of a “science-forming faculty” is a silly abstraction, because there’s no such thing in the brain. Our scientific sense is influenced by memories, feelings, and experiences interacting in highly complicated ways. This has been the basic finding of neuroscience (I could cite Seth, Friston, Tononi, and a million others).

        Generative linguistics has had precisely zero “explanatory success.” Most linguists correctly think it’s pseudoscience.

        Habits don’t refer to the way we act here. Patterns and habits are the reinforced neural networks and collective interactions happening in the brain. That’s roughly what I mean by those terms.

        “If you’re saying that these influences determine the course of science, as in what’s going to be researched, I’ll agree. But if you’re saying these influences determine the results of science or that this is inevitable, then I’ll say you’re expressing a belief in the power of social factors to create out of whole-cloth the objects of scientific discoveries, just like those sociologists of scientific knowledge, whose views I reject.”

        I’m saying that these influences constrain the research programs of science, and they also partially constrain the results, but not entirely. I have no problem acknowledging that the results are constrained by many complex factors, including the heuristics we adopt (but again, which we can’t actually justify). I’m not a Kuhnian. I don’t believe science is all about rivalry and warfare until the other side dies out, and then a new theory triumphs. I do believe in some loose sense of objective progress, as I explained in our earlier discussion (ie. progress relative to accepted overlapping baselines).

        Like

      • You’re confusing the question of where the theoretical concepts came from (which, beyond everyday impressions, can be anything from intuitions to dreams and down to hallucinations) with the very different question of whether these theoretical concepts, once created, can be used in scientific practice without recourse to any intuitive/contact mechanical notions.

        You’re also confusing blind deference with dialectical grounds for trusting Chomsky, by which I’m not surprised given how this exchange began. But you could not have failed to notice that I’ve acknowledged he could be wrong and provided independent grounds for questioning you and trusting Chomsky on a specific question (actually three such reasons, which you’ve both quoted and ignored — sorry, I mistakenly wrote “two”).

        Finally, you can, and Peirce did, argue that abduction explains scientific progress, without specifying how the mechanism works in detail. He could be wrong of course, but he provided reasons for thinking that some such mechanism is a precondition of the remarkable pace of scientific progress.

        PS: It’s also curious how you moved from saying you don’t know much about generative grammar to judging that generative linguistics has “zero explanatory success” and that it’s “correctly” is viewed as pseudoscience. I guess you’re just a very fast learner.

        Like

      • “You’re confusing the question of where the theoretical concepts came from (which, beyond everyday impressions, can be anything from intuitions to dreams and down to hallucinations) with the very different question of whether these theoretical concepts, once created, can be used in scientific practice without recourse to any intuitive/contact mechanical notions.”

        Rest assured I am confusing nothing. I understand what you’re saying, and I disagree with it. All theoretical constructs are deeply embedded with their initial conditions of formation, and their continuing conditions of evolution. It’s impossible to separate these highly integrated domains. There is always intuition behind any deep theory. If you’re going to argue for strong emergence here, you better have a good causal model, otherwise you’ll just get eye rolls.

        “Finally, you can, and Peirce did, argue that abduction explains scientific progress, without specifying how the mechanism works in detail. He could be wrong of course, but he provided reasons for thinking that some such mechanism is a precondition of the remarkable pace of scientific progress.”

        He is most certainly wrong. The fact that such a mechanism must be a precondition for scientific progress does not explain the unfolding of that progress, just like mass being a precondition for a book does not explain what a book is or why it has certain content. You have a quixotic understanding of what it takes to explain something. Not surprising coming from a diehard Chomskyist.

        “PS: It’s also curious how you moved from saying you don’t know much about generative grammar to judging that generative linguistics has “zero explanatory success” and that it’s “correctly” is viewed as pseudoscience. I guess you’re just a very fast learner.”

        I’m actually more slow and methodical. I take apart ideas brick by brick and figure out where the BS is coming from.

        Like

    • And I’m putting in an addendum to my first paragraph above:

      Our subjective constructs will even influence our understanding of things that are part of our manifest imagine (balls, books, chairs, etc). To echo Anil Seth, the mind functions as a controlled hallucination. This should be evident, among other reasons, from the fact that the brain constructs our sense of color.

      Like

      • “You’re confusing the question of where the theoretical concepts came from (which, beyond everyday impressions, can be anything from intuitions to dreams and down to hallucinations) with the very different question of whether these theoretical concepts, once created, can be used in scientific practice without recourse to any intuitive/contact mechanical notions.”

        Rest assured I am confusing nothing. I understand what you’re saying, and I disagree with it. All theoretical constructs are deeply embedded with their initial conditions of formation, and their continuing conditions of evolution. It’s impossible to separate these highly integrated domains. There is always intuition behind any deep theory. If you’re going to argue for strong emergence here, you better have a good causal model, otherwise you’ll just get eye rolls.

        “Finally, you can, and Peirce did, argue that abduction explains scientific progress, without specifying how the mechanism works in detail. He could be wrong of course, but he provided reasons for thinking that some such mechanism is a precondition of the remarkable pace of scientific progress.”

        He is most certainly wrong. The fact that such a mechanism must be a precondition for scientific progress does not explain the unfolding of that progress, just like mass being a precondition for a book does not explain what a book is or why it has certain content. You have a quixotic understanding of what it takes to explain something. Not surprising coming from a diehard Chomskyist.

        “PS: It’s also curious how you moved from saying you don’t know much about generative grammar to judging that generative linguistics has “zero explanatory success” and that it’s “correctly” is viewed as pseudoscience. I guess you’re just a very fast learner.”

        I’m actually more slow and methodical. I take apart ideas brick by brick and figure out where the BS is coming from.

        Like

      • You claimed that to conceive of particles you’d “have to” make use of metaphors and analogies to intuitively familiar things like billiard balls. When I asked for evidence, you told me that concepts like particles would not have arisen without someone, somewhere, sometime intuitively entertaining things like billiard balls (or some other intuitively accessible analogue). Even if I accept the latter claim, the former claim plainly does not follow. Not every link in the etiological chain of a concept’s evolution partakes in its present scientific uses. Since you have a position on Kuhn, and thus presumably know Fleck’s work, there’s no necessity for mentioning the changing and often contradictory meanings that concepts acquire throughout their evolution, before they come acquire their modern scientific meanings. And if they can have contradictory meanings at different times, there’s no guarantee that their origins are reflected in their present scientific uses.

        Peirce did not claim that abduction is a precondition for each and every detail of scientific progress. Just for one important aspect of it, which I mentioned. Again, he claimed it was the precondition for science’s remarkably fast pace (and near-simultaneity) of making discoveries after only a few instances of trial and error, without going over the trillion possible alternative hypotheses.

        Finally, I congratulate you on your ability to slowly and methodically familiarize yourself with a theory you virtually knew nothing about until yesterday and then proceed to dismiss it — in a matter of a single day. Impressive.

        Like

      • “You claimed that to conceive of particles you’d “have to” make use of metaphors and analogies to intuitively familiar things like billiard balls. When I asked for evidence, you told me that concepts like particles would not have arisen without someone, somewhere, sometime intuitively entertaining things like billiard balls (or some other intuitively accessible analogue). Even if I accept the latter claim, the former claim plainly does not follow. Not every link in the etiological chain of a concept’s evolution partakes in its present scientific uses. Since you have a position on Kuhn, and thus presumably know Fleck’s work, there’s no necessity for mentioning the changing and often contradictory meanings that concepts acquire throughout their evolution, before they come acquire their modern scientific meanings. And if they can have contradictory meanings at different times, there’s no guarantee that their origins are reflected in their present scientific uses.”

        The claim is that all theoretical constructs are cyclical accumulations of empirical content. It is not possible to think separately from some kind of experience in the world. Modern scientific meanings are themselves often contradictory and complex. Energy has dozens of uses in physics depending on what theory you’re looking at, and in some cases cannot even be coherently identified (like in GR, where the issue of energy conservation is notoriously controversial, largely because it’s not well understood. And it’s not well understood because GR is incomplete and we don’t have a theory of quantum gravity). The pure rationalism on display here is precisely the kind of nonsense that makes so much of philosophy lazy and boring.

        “Peirce did not claim that abduction is a precondition for each and every detail of scientific progress. Just for one important aspect of it, which I mentioned. Again, he claimed it was the precondition for science’s remarkably fast pace (and near-simultaneity) of making discoveries after only a few instances of trial and error, without going over the trillion possible alternative hypotheses.”

        And again, I thoroughly disagree that abduction by itself can explain that fast pace. It’s an important component of it, but so are a million other factors. Social dynamics, economics, politics — all of these things constrain the rapid (or slow) evolution of scientific development. And these things cannot be decoupled from each other. One cannot know where abduction begins and all these other things end.

        “Finally, I congratulate you on your ability to slowly and methodically familiarize yourself with a theory you virtually knew nothing about until yesterday and then proceed to dismiss it — in a matter of a single day. Impressive.”

        It doesn’t take much to dismiss a terrible theory.

        Like

      • “The claim is that all theoretical constructs are cyclical accumulations of empirical content. It is not possible to think separately from some kind of experience in the world. Modern scientific meanings are themselves often contradictory and complex.”

        Sounds like a different point to me. You have to show that it’s impossible to think of an existing theoretical concept without reference to something intuitively accessible.

        Like

      • “Sounds like a different point to me.”

        No it’s the same basic point I’ve been making all along: ontology and epistemology are inextricably united. They form an integrated duality that cannot be rationally and logically separated, the way you’re trying to do. Pay attention.

        “You have to show that it’s impossible to think of an existing theoretical concept without reference to something intuitively accessible.”

        Absolutely not. This is a ridiculous standard that you’ve imposed for no reason whatsoever. The only important point here is that no theoretical construct can exist apart from experience.

        Like

      • My standard originates in the following quote from you:

        “After all, try to conceive of any microscopic particle that you can’t see with your eyes. You’re going to have to use metaphors and analogies from your “manifest imagine” (billiard balls, etc), from the realm of things that are visible and apparent to you”

        “try to conceive of any microscopic particle”, “You’re going to have to”, “use”, “billiard balls”. Clear as day. Why are you denying your own claim?

        Like

      • Not denying anything. I fully stand by that claim, you just don’t seem to understand what I mean by it. Intuitions constrain our theoretical constructs in highly complex and chaotic ways. Whether you’re talking about wave functions or quantum fields (or something else), the empirical notions underlying those concepts will affect how we understand the electron.

        But keep trolling. It suits you well.

        Like

      • Even if intuitions constrain our theoretical concepts, and even if our understanding of them is affected by empirical notions, the act of thinking about theoretical concepts need not make recourse to any *everyday* human experience (i.e. billiard balls and the like). As I said, you’re on a different point.

        Like

      • Oh and while you’re trolling here, you might try and answer your own challenge: give me a concrete example of any theoretical construct that’s totally independent of empirical content.

        This will be a hilarious waste of time, like this entire debate.

        Like

      • I’ve never argued for a “theoretical construct that’s totally independent of empirical content.” I began this line of argument by giving a specific example what I (or rather Newton and his immediate followers) had in mind when I(/they) spoke of something as inconceivable (i.e. action at a distance). But any of the concepts you mentioned match my original argument, be it particles or quantum fields, or curved spacetime for that matter. I don’t think any of these things has a recognizable likeness to anything familiar from everyday human experience (a la billiard balls). And thus one can use these theoretical concepts in scientific work, without invoking any (extra-scientific) everyday experience.

        Like

      • “Even if intuitions constrain our theoretical concepts, and even if our understanding of them is affected by empirical notions, the act of thinking about theoretical concepts need not make recourse to any *everyday* human experience”

        What does constrain mean to you? Because to me it’s related to causality. And so when multiple constraints accumulate together, they bring about a specific result. The act of thinking in theoretical constructs is only meaningful because of recourse to empirical content.

        Like

      • Yes, constraints are causal. Yes, theoretical concepts get their meaning from empirical content (not sure about “only”, but let’s grant it). However, neither causality nor recourse to empirical content equal recourse to extra-scientific, intuitively accessible, everyday experiences.

        Like

      • “But any of the concepts you mentioned match my original argument, be it particles or quantum fields, or curved spacetime for that matter. I don’t think any of these things has a recognizable likeness to anything familiar from everyday human experience”

        Realize how laughably wrong you are. Think of GR and the bowling ball with the trampoline example, which is ubiquitous in not just supporting our theoretical notion of spacetime curvature, but also critical in showing why spacetime is capable of curving in the first place (because it has the right microscopic substructure, justblike a trampoline can bend in the presence of a bowling ball because it has the right physical structure; notice how a block of steel won’t care).

        The dominant theoretical and mathematical frameworks for quantum fields are centered on what little analogy? Care to guess?

        Springs. That’s right. The same toys used by little kids led to the study of the harmonic oscillator, which eventually led to the quantum harmonic oscillator, which was used to model quantum fields as things that vibrate like tiny compressed springs with quantum effects.

        But set all this aside. Don’t hide behind nonsense like “recognizable likeness.” Aren’t all theoretical concepts expressed in symbols and signs of one kind or another (words, letters, numbers, equations, etc.)? How did anyone acquire knowledge of these things? Through experience. They learned about them at some point in the past. And everyone who learns anything new makes recourse to things they’ve learned in the past to better understand what they’re learning in the present. Then they keep adapting and modifying the new concept with new information, or by integrating older information (ie previous intuitions and empirical content) so that it looks like something totally different has emerge. In a sense it has. The concept has become more complex. But it can never be independent from the empirical notions that make it meaningful.

        Like

      • Let me ask you a question. Is it your contention that the mental image of a bowling ball with the trampoline offers an understanding of the curvature of spacetime which is the same as (or epistemologically equivalent to) a physicist’s knowledge of GR?

        Like

      • “However, neither causality nor recourse to empirical content equal recourse to extra-scientific, intuitively accessible, everyday experiences.”

        That’s not really my claim, so I don’t know why you keep repeating it. I also don’t know what you mean by “recourse.” This seems to have become your latest mot du jour. If by recourse you mean “help pin down the meaning of,” clearly I would disagree. But then we’d have to get into what meaning is and why things mean anything to us.

        Like

      • Don’t obfuscate. The argument started from you calming it’s impossible to think of a theoretical concept without thinking about or invoking everyday entities like billiard balls. I’ve shown you that even after granting all of your assumptions, your original claim doesn’t follow.

        Like

      • “Don’t obfuscate. The argument started from you calming it’s impossible to think of a theoretical concept without thinking about or invoking everyday entities like billiard balls. I’ve shown you that even after granting all of your assumptions, your original claim doesn’t follow.”

        Don’t patronize me troll. I’ve explained my argument thoroughly and you refuse to grapple with any term more complex than “billiard balls.” It’s not my problem that you’ve made little effort to understand what I’m saying.

        Do you have anything else you’d like to waste my time with?

        Like

      • “Let me ask you a question. Is it your contention that the mental image of a bowling ball with the trampoline offers an understanding of the curvature of spacetime which is the same as (or epistemologically equivalent to) a physicist’s knowledge of GR?”

        No, but that’s not my claim. Knowledge of GR involves knowing how to handle many complex ideas and equations, and all of that knowledge came and was nurtured over time through intuitions and empirical content.

        Like

      • Thanks. So then it would seem to follow that you deem it possible to use concepts from GR (including the curvature of spacetime) without thinking of bowling balls with trampolines. QED. Regarding the etiology of GR, there was no dispute.

        Like

      • “I think I’ve read enough non-sequiturs and heckling. Thanks.”

        You’re welcome. Have a great day wasting someone else’s time!

        Like

      • “Thanks. So then it would seem to follow that you deem it possible to use concepts from GR (including the curvature of spacetime) without thinking of bowling balls with trampolines. QED. Regarding the etiology of GR, there was no dispute.”

        No troll, because that’s not the only option. GR contains thousands of implicit and explicit analogies, intuitions, and metaphors, which are used for various purposes (to understand parallel transport, time dilation, tensors, etc). Put all of them together and any possible theoretical understanding of GR is just the accumulated effect of these empirical contents.

        So you haven’t shown anything. Nice try.

        Like

      • Let’s try this one last time, this time zeroing in on the relevant analogy: is the specific GR concept for the curvature of spacetime epistemologically equivalent to (i.e. confers the same understanding as) the mental image of bowling balls with trampolines?

        Like

      • “Let’s try this one last time, this time zeroing in on the relevant analogy: is the specific GR concept for the curvature of spacetime epistemologically equivalent to (i.e. confers the same understanding as) the mental image of bowling balls with trampolines?”

        The fact that you ask this question shows that you don’t really understand what the issue even is. The “curvature of spacetime” can be understood and described in MANY ways (linguistically, mathematically, combination of these and other techniques), but it doesn’t matter which way you choose (which theoretical construct). Because all of them mean something, and can ONLY mean something, through the integration of empirical content.

        So Einstein famously made his breakthroughs in SR and GR through analogies with trains and elevators. Then he turned to hard math (especially for GR). To make progress there he had to make more analogies (in fact he got a correct result in GR despite Levi Civita’s denial by using basic intuition). At every step of the way it was empirical notions guiding his progress. You can call them theoretical constructs, but just be clear about what’s actually going on: theory never exists apart from empirical reality. The use of every theoretical construct is the use of complex intuitions and empirical contents combined together into a seamless whole.

        But I don’t expect you to understand, now or ever, because you’ve swallowed the Chomsky propaganda that what science does is discover “the truth,” even though you have no idea what that means.

        Like

      • You have obviously evaded the question, and I know why. Your obfuscation about the “many ways” in which the curvature of spacetime can be described is a transparent irrelevancy. We were clearly talking about a physicist’s concept of the curvature of spacetime as part of GR (not all possible ways it can be thought of) and whether it is equivalent (in the understanding it confers) to the ubiquitous mental image of bowling balls and trampolines. Your usual song and dance about the etiology of a theory and the analogies its development involved is equally irrelevant to the question of whether to think of one thing (e.g. curvature of spacetime) necessarily entails thinking of the other (e.g. bowling balls and trampolines).

        Like

      • “You have obviously evaded the question, and I know why. Your obfuscation about the “many ways” in which the curvature of spacetime can be described is a transparent irrelevancy. We were clearly talking about a physicist’s concept of the curvature of spacetime as part of GR (not all possible ways it can be thought of) and whether it is equivalent (in the understanding it confers) to the ubiquitous mental image of bowling balls and trampolines. Your usual song and dance about the etiology of a theory and the analogies its development involved is equally irrelevant to the question of whether to think of one thing (e.g. curvature of spacetime) necessarily entails thinking of the other (e.g. bowling balls and trampolines).”

        I’m not obfuscating. You’re just not understanding my point: that there is no hard static duality between theory and intuition of the kind you support. And whenever you think a theoretical concept, you’re necessarily thinking of intuitions and empirical information stitched together into a complex whole. Etiology is very important because it constrains all future uses of a theoretical concept.

        Do you have any other nonsense you’d like to share?

        Like

      • I didn’t defend such a static duality and I didn’t say etiology was unimportant per se or that it doesn’t constrain the future uses of a theoretical concept. What you had to show, and didn’t, was that any future uses of theoretical concepts are equivalent (in the understanding they confer) to intuitively experiencing the world. Thus, you failed to invalidate Chomsky’s distinction between an intelligible/conceivable world and intelligible/conceivable theories.

        Like

      • “I didn’t defend such a static duality and I didn’t say etiology was unimportant per se or that it doesn’t constrain the future uses of a theoretical concept. What you had to show, and didn’t, was that any future uses of theoretical concepts are equivalent (in the understanding they confer) to intuitively experiencing the world. Thus, you failed to invalidate Chomsky’s distinction between an intelligible/conceivable world and intelligible/conceivable theories.”

        Of course you’re defending a static duality. You’re trying to say that theoretical constructs are irreducible to their empirical notions and impressions (intuitions broadly understood). That’s a duality. I’ve shown convincingly that such a duality cannot be maintained, hence falsifying Chomsky.

        But go on. Try and impress us with more of your “dialectical” charm.

        Don’t kid yourself dude. You’re just a lightweight, a fanboy who tosses around terms like “generative grammar” and “science-forming faculty” while pretending to know what you’re talking about. Find something better to do with your time. You’re an embarrassment to the idea of intellectual conversation.

        Like

      • I wonder if you can quote me “trying to say that theoretical constructs are irreducible to their empirical notions.” Never said anything like it to the best of my recollection. I’ve never denied that I’m a lightweight, nor am I too proud to acknowledge your immense erudition. But you’re making elementary errors of logic, rush to judgments about things you admittedly know nothing about and, well, your style of communication speaks for itself.

        Like

      • “I wonder if you can quote me “trying to say that theoretical constructs are irreducible to their empirical notions.” Never said anything like it to the best of my recollection. I’ve never denied that I’m a lightweight, nor am I too proud to acknowledge your immense erudition. But you’re making elementary errors of logic, rush to judgments about things you admittedly know nothing about and, well, your style of communication speaks for itself.”

        Your first request is silly because your argument effectively boils down to that position. That you haven’t said that verbatim is irrelevant.

        This debate has been a supreme waste of time. But what’s even more amazing is your totalitarian obsession to elevate your pathetic heuristics as a universal and “objective” panacea for the world’s disagreements, when in reality you’re just some point along the spectrum lashing out at all the other points.

        Like

      • Unsurprisingly, so far your reading of my views has zero textual evidence to support it. But feel free to quote anything which indirectly entails what you’ve attributed to me (no need for “verbatim”). Until you do, I afraid you might be perceived as a rather erudite purveyor of straw-men and non-sequiturs.

        Like

      • “Unsurprisingly, so far your reading of my views has zero textual evidence to support it. But feel free to quote anything which indirectly entails what you’ve attributed to me (no need for “verbatim”). Until you do, I afraid you might be perceived as a rather erudite purveyor of straw-men and non-sequiturs.”

        I’ve refuted your exact points and arguments multiple times. This entire debate has been you making an embarrassment out of yourself.

        It’s funny. Now I know that you’re an empty shell with no substance. You’re continuing your charade purely as a way of manifesting your “dialectical supremacy.” You really are something.

        Like

      • I recommend you read Difference and Repetition by Gilles Deleuze. It will disabuse you of the rationalist garbage flowing through your veins.

        Like

    • “I see no evidence that you “have to” use these metaphors and analogies. It’s pure assertion. You may use them for heuristic or pedagogic purposes, but if you possess the theoretical concepts you can do science without recourse of any intuitively familiar entities”

      I see. And where did the theoretical concepts ultimately come from? Did Santa Claus hand them out for Christmas? They came from empirical reality — or more precisely, from the brain’s reconstruction of empirical reality. All of our theoretical constructs consist of empirical content. Take Bohr’s model of the hydrogen atom as a miniature Solar System or wave-particle duality in quantum mechanics. They’re all doing the same basic thing: trying to represent microscopic reality through macroscopic properties, because that’s all we can do.

      “It’s pure assertion.”

      Your empty bombast and stale propaganda are getting tiresome.

      “Feel free to. It’s not my interpretation. I’ve taken it from Chomsky, who has convincingly defended it on more than one occasion (including in the face of objections). More importantly, “before Newton” in this account referred to developments following the 17th century scientific revolution. Wasn’t talking about the Greeks. The explanatory aspirations of people like Galileo and Descartes, to my knowledge, were contact mechanical.”

      I have great respect for Chomsky, but if that’s his interpretation, then he’s flat out wrong. If anything, the opposite is true: Newton ushered in our mechanistic understanding of reality, replacing much of the mumbo jumbo that came before. Of course, he had a problem with gravity acting a distance, which he himself recognized and decided to “feign no hypothesis.” In any case, saying “contact mechanical” like a broken record doesn’t sever the bond between ontology and epistemology, because understanding what that means will always require a complex fusion of empirical and theoretical entities (ie. just more complex empirical entities).

      “The challenge I mentioned was not a theoretical challenge within physics. But an epistemological realization in the immediate post-Newtonian period to the effect that there are mysteries for humans, of which we can have theories but no contact mechanical/intuitive understandings.”

      So you claim, but it’s just “pure assertion,” to quote some random person online who likes to waste time trolling other people. It’s impossible to have theories without intuitive comprehension, because the intuitive “units” of that comprehension are the content that builds up the theories in the first place. Even Newton’s action at a distance relied on a million other more intuitive concepts, which are suppressed as part of the rationalist hoax to pretend that something new has emerged (on display vividly here from you).

      “I think I clearly said that “coherence” *alone* can’t settle questions of veracity. You seem to agree, while making gestures of disagreeing.”

      That’s a funny accusation coming from you, because that’s been your strategy in this entire debate. When you have no substance, try obfuscation. What did Steve Bannon say? “Flood the zone with this shit.”

      “There’s a difference between not knowing how it works, and not having any reason to believe abduction exists. I think there are solid reasons to believe it exists, which both Peirce and Chomsky have discussed. And until it’s investigated you cannot make bold claims about the factors implicated in theory-formation.”

      But if you don’t know how it works, you can’t claim it’s responsible for scientific progress, because that would require you to explain the causal steps in which it impacts that progress. That’s the issue at stake here.

      “I think you’re using a very idiosyncratic notion of “explain” here. I follow Chomsky, and he’s well aware of work in neuroscience. His position is that cognitive science has made zero progress in its study of the science-forming faculty. Of course he could be wrong, but I’m suspicious for two reasons: 1. The explanatory successes of generative linguistics and the aforementioned branch of moral psychology have not been primarily at the neuro-physiological level, but at the level of abstract mathematical/algorithmic theorizing of human judgments 2. I’ve never seen even the beginnings of something analogous in theorizing the science-forming faculty 3. Conceiving of such massive leaps from data to knowledge as occur in science, as “habits” seems to me like behaviorist hand-waving.”

      I know I know. I’m using a “very idiosyncratic” notion, but you following Chomsky on everything means you’re using the correct interpretation. It’s like debating a Marxist who just read all three volumes of Capital and forgot about everything else in the world. Obviously Chomsky is wrong. The point is that his silly notion of a “science-forming faculty” is a silly abstraction, because there’s no such thing in the brain. Our scientific sense is influenced by memories, feelings, and experiences interacting in highly complicated ways. This has been the basic finding of neuroscience (I could cite Seth, Friston, Tononi, and a million others).

      Generative linguistics has had precisely zero “explanatory success.” Most linguists correctly think it’s pseudoscience.

      Habits don’t refer to the way we act here. Patterns and habits are the reinforced neural networks and collective interactions happening in the brain. That’s roughly what I mean by those terms.

      “If you’re saying that these influences determine the course of science, as in what’s going to be researched, I’ll agree. But if you’re saying these influences determine the results of science or that this is inevitable, then I’ll say you’re expressing a belief in the power of social factors to create out of whole-cloth the objects of scientific discoveries, just like those sociologists of scientific knowledge, whose views I reject.”

      I’m saying that these influences constrain the research programs of science, and they also partially constrain the results, but not entirely. I have no problem acknowledging that the results are constrained by many complex factors, including the heuristics we adopt (but again, which we can’t actually justify). I’m not a Kuhnian. I don’t believe science is all about rivalry and warfare until the other side dies out, and then a new theory triumphs. I do believe in some loose sense of objective progress, as I explained in our earlier discussion (ie. progress relative to accepted overlapping baselines).

      Like

      • You’re confusing the question of where the theoretical concepts came from (which, beyond everyday impressions, can be anything from intuitions to dreams and down to hallucinations) with the very different question of whether these theoretical concepts, once created, can be used in scientific practice without recourse to any intuitive/contact mechanical notions.

        You’re also confusing blind deference with dialectical grounds for trusting Chomsky, by which I’m not surprised given how this exchange began. But you could not have failed to notice that I’ve acknowledged he could be wrong and provided independent grounds for questioning you and trusting Chomsky on a specific question (actually three such reasons, which you’ve both quoted and ignored — sorry, I mistakenly wrote “two”).

        Finally, you can, and Peirce did, argue that abduction explains scientific progress, without specifying how the mechanism works in detail. He could be wrong of course, but he provided reasons for thinking that some such mechanism is a precondition of the remarkable pace of scientific progress.

        PS: It’s also curious how you moved from saying you don’t know much about generative grammar to judging that generative linguistics has “zero explanatory success” and that it’s “correctly” viewed as pseudoscience. I guess you’re just a very fast learner.

        Like

  4. Hi Yigal,

    I know that the climate-consensus argument gets thrown around a lot. But I still don’t think consensus is a good great heuristic. It’s useful sometimes, but can go horribly wrong.

    Now, in the case of the climate consensus, we’re talking about agreement on pretty basic science. Yes, climate is variable, and the exact amount that C02 will force warming is up for debate. But the basic science of the greenhouse effect is pretty secure.

    How do I know this? Well, I have a physics background and everything about the greenhouse effect agrees with everything else I know about physics. This is the consilience argument.

    Back to consensus. This all comes down to trust. You have to believe that the experts know the truth. When it comes to climate change, this is a reasonable assumption given that we are talking about the most secure type of knowledge (physics).

    But what about the neoclassical consensus? At the high point of neoclassical economics, if you surveyed an economist about ‘human nature’, you’d probably find close to a consensus on the ‘fact’ that humans were rational utility maximizers.

    There are countless other examples where groups have arrived at a consensus that is false.

    Now, in many ways I agree with you. When we lack expertise, we have no choice but to trust people who are ‘experts’. So the more ‘experts’ agree on something, the more we should probably believe what they say. This is a reasonable heuristic. But we should be aware that it can go horribly wrong.

    Like

    • Thanks, Blair. I think the consensus in neoclassical economics has a different epistemological status than the consensus in established science. You and others have provided laypersons with accessible reasons to seriously doubt the status of neoclassical economics as a science. Thus, the consensus in neoclassical economics should be meaningless to a rational layperson. But laypersons have no comparable reasons to doubt climate science. If you ask me qua layperson why don’t I believe, say, Denis Rancourt, a former physics professor, when he makes skeptical arguments about global warming, I’ll say two things: 1) I don’t follow his reasoning clearly enough to buy into his skepticism 2) There is an overwhelming consensus among established scientists.

      If Rancourt could discredit climate science as clearly as you discredit neoclassical economics, my belief-formation process would’ve been different. But I fail to see this in Rancourt’s arguments.

      So I think trust/distrust play a role here, but it’s not blind trust/distrust.

      Like

      • Good points, Yigal.

        Appealing to consensus is the easy way out. It’s a persuasion technique, not a rational argument. Admittedly it can be very persuasive.

        When lay people are confronted with alternative theories (for climate change, for instance) how do you know what to decide?

        There’s an important part for scientists here to communicate their theories so that the lay person can understand. But this is hard work, both for the scientist and the lay person. No matter how well it’s laid out, you (the lay person) have to think. You have to think about evidence, about mechanisms (and so on).

        There’s kind of a Catch-22 here. If you know enough about the subject and have a receptive audience, you can spend the time needed to debunk crank theories. But if you don’t know much about the subject and if you’re audience wants quick answers, then there’s little alternative but to appeal to scientific consensus.

        I guess everything comes down to my original point that there are no authorities in science. It’s a process of rationally weighting evidence. So the only true way to identify crank theories is to do science yourself.

        Obviously this is an unattainable ideal. So we use heuristics and rely on the judgment of other people. That’s often fine. But every now and then it leads to a giant dead end.

        Myself, I prefer to take no one’s word for it.

        Like

  5. “When lay people are confronted with alternative theories (for climate change, for instance) how do you know

    what to decide?”

    Let’s assume for the sake of argument that there is no consensus on the topic among established scientists,

    and/or that I have serious doubts about the discipline’s credibility. And now I need to decide between conflicting

    theories.

    In that case, one may set up a dialectical confrontation between the two ends of the spectrum in this debate. You

    try to find experts who seem to have a command of the technical details but offer opposite

    conclusions, and then you observe their (maximally unconstrained) exchange closely, to see which of them runs

    out of relevant responses first. Sure enough, most laypersons would probably not be in a position to judge the

    actual arguments, but they can judge dialectical performance. While one can try to fake good dialectical

    performance by, for instance, responding in a non-topical manner (e.g. diverting the discussion or simply

    heckling), laypersons can actually detect such tricks. Laypersons can often see if a point is being addressed (or

    not) even if they don’t understand the reasoning behind the argument (which is not always the case). And then

    you repeat the same procedure as frequently as possible by intentionally seeking out counterarguments to the

    victorious expert’s claims, until you can’t find any more counterargument experts.

    Something along these lines is one of Philosopher Alvin Goldman’s heuristics for the behavior of rational

    laypersons confronted with conflicting expert opinions (I may have linked this

    before):

    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1933-1592.2001.tb00093.x

    I certainly don’t think Goldman has this fully worked out, but since it’s impossible for everyone to be experts in

    everything, some attempt to institutionalize such dialectical confrontations throughout society might be a

    necessary transition in trying to bring about more thoroughly democratic social structures. As long as this hasn’t

    been institutionalized, laypersons — who have the time — can often create the likeness of such dialectical

    confrontations by surfing the internet to try to exhaustively reconstruct all of the arguments and

    counterarguments on a topic, which exist in the public domain (until a dead-end is reached). You might argue

    that if you’re going to invest all this time in looking for arguments and counterarguments, you might as well learn

    the science. However, working from the assumption we can’t become experts in everything, including in subjects

    crucial for our survival, this seems like a reasonable and not entirely gullible shortcut. It takes a lot of work, but

    not as much work as becoming an expert in several sciences would take.

    Modern societies and media systems have a vague notion that dialectical confrontations can help promote public

    knowledge (e.g. journalistic impartiality, televised debates), but the actual debates laypersons see are often

    highly constrained and the experts are chosen without any epistemological forethought. Often one of the

    “experts” chosen for the debate does not have even the technical knowledge which is necessary to understand

    what their interlocutor is saying, and at other times the experts share major tacit assumptions which should

    actually be open to question. In addition, editors/journalists arbitrarily decide how many of each side’s claims

    they’re going to share with the public.

    But this flawed execution of publicly observable dialectical confrontations between experts is merely a contingent

    fact about modern society. We can think of better ways to carry them out (in fact, debates in academia — with all

    of their flaws — are often much more thoughtfully constructed than debates accessible to laypersons). And I don’t

    think that judging such dialectical confrontations is equivalent to taking someone’s word for it, though it certainly

    falls short of becoming an expert oneself. I think you’ve mentioned in the post on tribalism that trust is

    prevalent in science. But I don’t think that’s blind trust.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s