Dawkins and Instrumental Unreason

Instrumental unreason is when you say "I can't prove x, but I'm going to believe it anyway so that I can do y." The question of whether you actually need x to do y is a separate question, but it seems to me that this is an important concept to deal with in the great atheist debates of the late 2000s. Why? Well because Atheists use it just as religious people do and accordingly it's one of the few arguments that religious people make that Dawkins doesn't just demolish. As I always do when talking about this, let me say that I'm a secular atheist but not a militant atheist. I like Dawkins, am ambivalent toward Dennet (he gets credit by association from Hofstadter), and hate Hitchens and Harris with little restraint.

What is x for atheists? There are possibly a few examples, but it seems to me the most obvious one is something like the "problem of induction." That is to say, is there any principle by which we know that the floor will be there when we wake up tomorrow? Or that the Grue-Bleeners aren't right? There isn't. So why do we assume it, and why is the problem of induction really meaningless? I presume it's because we are willing to make the small leap (and it's important to stress "small") that in practice the problem of induction is only a problem of sample size and not theory. I fully embrace this, and in so doing I say "I can't prove that the floor will be there tomorrow when I get out of bed, but I'm going to believe it anyway so that I don't wake up every day scared, carefully prodding the whole floor for weak-spots using a stick." Everyone agree with this?

Well so let's take a look at a similar religious use: "If I didn't believe in God then I'd know I could never see my dead son again and I doubt I could go on living." If you say that Dawkins, he'll say two things:

1. Wanting it to be true doesn't make it true. Your desire doesn't prove anything.

2. Atheists deal with tragedies all of the time, and there is much meaning to be found in the beauty of rational life.

Did I miss anything? I think those are the two Dawkins responses, and I've listened to a lot of Dawkins. Always "that doesn't prove anything" and "There is meaning to life in a secular worldview." Well on the first point Dawkins is of course correct but he's either misunderstanding what's meant or just providing a caveat. That question doesn't say "I want to see my dead son therefore religion is true", it says "I'm willing to have an irrational belief to ease the pain from Life's tragedies." As for point 2, this is also true but the simply fact that you or I or Dawkins find consolation in secular rationalism doesn't mean that someone else will. Point two can only be an appeal to alternatives rather than some disproof. Suppose that our questioner doesn't find consolation in the secular worldview. What then?

It seems to me that we're dealing with two questions of the same type. One says "I'll believe in induction even though I can't prove it so I can continue building and admiring this tremendous edifice of science" and the other says "I'll believe in God even though I can't prove it because I want to have meaning in my life." They are both examples of Instrumental unreason. What distinguishes them then, aside from what I've already covered? It seems to me that the two major differencres are as follows:

1. Differences of goal: Is the ability to not spend 4 hours crossing 1 street because you can't be sure if you aren't stepping on illusory pavement this time superior to "finding meaning in one's life?" Possibly; I happen to think that "finding meaning" thing is rather overblown, though if not it's arguable.

2. Differences of reasonableness: This is the meat of it- is the jump from "it's EXTREMELY likely that the floor is there" to "it's true that the floor is there" much of a jump? No, especially when compared to the jump from "there probably isn't a bearded man in the sky who watches me and takes my soul to heaven" to "there is."

Okay, so it's a problem of reasonableness but... that's subjective and hard to pin down. So how do we make the distinction? I'd love to hear some thoughts. As for me, the best I have is "if possible one shouldn't have irrational beliefs." It seems to me that trying to eliminate induction from my life is not possible and yet finding meaning in my life without god is. Therefore I'm a secular atheist. However, I recognize that as a personal assessment that may be different for other people. That's why I'm tolerant of religious moderates. I'm not interested in defending religion from the militant atheist movement; I'm interested in defending pluralism.

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a couple differences

1. Induction can be very reliable, and the details of how to perform statistical syllogisms that yield true results have been worked out in quite a lot of detail--see, e.g., John Pollock, _Nomic Probability and the Foundations of Induction_. There's nothing comparable for religion, and the track record for induction as a method of yielding accurate results is much better than religion's.

2. Everybody uses induction, even the religious. Even if induction is on the same footing as religion, the atheist has one fewer sort of unsupported belief.

reliability

On point one, I agree and that's basically the point I was trying to make with "differences of reasonableness." I mean, David Hume would respond that your point about "the track record" for induction is circular since the very problem of induction is one of whether "track record" is any guide to truth or not. A response like that would be correct, but as I was saying it seems deeply unreasonable (and Hume seemed to agree.)

On point 2, you are of course correct. Religious people don't reject induction- certainly we shouldn't tolerate the problem of induction being used as an argument against atheism for one second. However it is instrumental in producing humility in us and making us remember that we have irrational beliefs that we can't live without, too. (Religious people have one extra one, true, but it's not as if we've rid ourselves of instrumental unreason.)

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circularity

The kind of circularity involved in using induction to demonstrate the reliability of induction (and that the future will continue to resemble the past) is unavoidable, and it infects a lot more than induction. The same problem exists for sense perception and memory. But it's not a vicious circularity to use sense perception and memory to study sense perception and memory or induction to verify induction. There's no foregone conclusion that we'll get a positive result, and the results we get provide an *explanation* for why we get a positive result. We can understand the mechanisms of perception and memory, and see where we get it right and wrong.

Some (most notably William Alston, in his book _Perceiving God_) have tried to apply the same kind of Thomas Reid-style reasoning about sense perception in support of theism, but the attempt is severely hampered by the failure to come up with anything at all resembling the support for sensory organs in support of the existence of a sensus divinitatis. Those who claim to have God-experiences do not demonstrate reliability or validity of their experiences--they disagree with each other and are often not even internally consistent in their claims.

I think you're right that there's an underlying unprovability here and that this should prompt some humility on our part, but I don't think it offers any real support for religion.

Induction? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, no.

Sorry Polarized and John Jim I don't use induction in my life at all. Nor does good science. It's a mistake to believe that science is based on induction.

Empirically, induction has been shown not to work. Strong induction is a falsifiable theory about the world and it has been falsified. Weak induction is not falsifiable so is not useful in the real world. There is no way to know when weak induction will work or not. It is therefore useless.

Remember strong induction is the claim that if you see some observation N times then on the N + 1 observation you are guaranteed see the same observation. Weak induction says something similar. It says that if you see an observation N times then you are more likely to see it again on the N+1 th time given a larger N.

Both kinds of induction can be true but it is totally incidental to the reasoning involved. I've found for instance that when I add one to a number that I observe that the resulting number is always greater. One can prove mathematically that this is true and that strong induction would work in this case. That's not the issue however. We know why it works and can completely discard the induction as an sort of explanation and not be diminished in any way. Furthermore we have cases where strong induction doesn't work and also know why and again not due to the theory of strong induction.

Likewise weak induction will fail. Suppose I want to know if the theory "No numbers are divisible by the 10 to the millionth consecutive prime". Suppose I go about it in an empircial fashion just testing numbers randomly. Well, the fact of the matter is the probablity of this statement being true is zero, because it is false. However, weak induction says that if I test more and more numbers the probablity goes up. I'd have to test a hell of a lot of numbers by random to hit on the number that exposes the falsity of the statement (in fact I probably would never actually find one empirically this way before I died).

Science doesn't use induction because science doesn't prove anything in the logical sense.

BTW, I've had the experience of getting out of bed and not having the floor where I'd expected it. I don't know for sure the sun will rise tomorrow, after all there might just be some set of events in play I am not aware of. Neither of these facts causes me much concern nor do they make me feel any need for induction (or faith for that matter).

Instrumental unreason is

Instrumental unreason is when you say "I can't prove x, but I'm going to believe it anyway so that I can do y."

Pretty broad definition. Seems to cover every possible belief real or imagined. See I don't think you can prove anything in the logical sense of the word. I think the the definition is so broad as to be meaningless as a separate concept from merely acting.

Now if you mean to use the word "prove" as in "to test" then the sentence becomes, "I can't test x, but I'm going to believe it anyway so that I can do y." So my question would be "Why to you believe that believing in x will allow y if there is no possible way you can test x".

I don't think your floor example works if this was your meaning because every morning you test whether the floor is there. It's is testable. In fact you can test it when you get up in the morning, every morning, just look down. If you see it and you don't believe your eyes then you can proceed with further tests like gently lowering your foot to press against it.

deductively awesome

One thing for everyone to consider in their responses, especially if they're trying to reject induction:
A religious person may well say that their test of the religion being true is what happens when they die. That's a falsifiable belief, and much of the good argument against religion comes from such common sense ideas of induction (i.e. God is very unlikely but you can't prove he doesn't exist. Induction vs. deduction.) In a way, induction is one of the best arguments against religion altogether and we'd be silly to give it up.

Jim Lippard:

You are correct that it doesn't really offer support for religion. I think you are right that the problem of circularity infect a lot of issue- it's difficult to find a solid frame on which to support (talk to any philosopher from the last 2500 years.)

Sorry Polarized and John I don't use induction in my life at all. Nor does good science. It's a mistake to believe that science is based on induction.

Who's this John character? Have you been reading my blog...

Empirically, induction has been shown not to work. Strong induction is a falsifiable theory about the world and it has been falsified. Weak induction is not falsifiable so is not useful in the real world. There is no way to know when weak induction will work or not. It is therefore useless.

Ah, a popper fan. I generally like his theory of falsifiability, but I don't think it really touches induction. I'm not sure I'd really disagree with the points in this paragraph, but would only say instead that this is along the lines of my point. You use induction all of the time and it's impossible not to, and yet when you come down to it there's no deep grounding.

However, weak induction says that if I test more and more numbers the probablity goes up. I'd have to test a hell of a lot of numbers by random to hit on the number that exposes the falsity of the statement (in fact I probably would never actually find one empirically this way before I died).

I agree with these counterproofs- they are problematic. I should note (just to make sure we're on the same page) that I'm acknowledging the problem of induction as deeply problematic. I'm just saying that induction is necessary and unquestionable in a practical sense.

Science doesn't use induction because science doesn't prove anything in the logical sense.

I think this is untrue (Peter Singer debunked this I think) but it's not neccesary for my argument. I'm talking about our day-to-day life and here I'll use to arguments.

1. Hume's problem (and you could create infinite examples of these.) "Why do you think that the things you eat will taste and good and nourish you next time you eat them?" If you really don't think that past experience makes future events ANY more likely, then why don't you tentatively touch the street before you walk to make sure it's still solid. There are literally millions examples of times when you assume unfailingly that certain things will work roughly the way they did before.

2. Is your belief in Blue no more strong than someone's belief in Grue (a color blue that changes magically to green on Jan 1st 2020)? Their belief is falsifiable, after all. Furthermore, what do you say when they express their complete surprise when, on Jan 1st 2020 all things that are Grue suddenly change to blue?

I don't know for sure the sun will rise tomorrow, after all there might just be some set of events in play I am not aware of. Neither of these facts causes me much concern nor do they make me feel any need for induction (or faith for that matter).

It doesn't cause you concern because you don't even bother questioning it. If you seriously thought that your girlfriend was just as likely to kill you as to kiss you right now, or that this glass of water will burn you to death from the inside out or any number of other absurdities there would be MUCH concern. Of course you don't think that.


Pretty broad definition. Seems to cover every possible belief real or imagined. See I don't think you can prove anything in the logical sense of the word. I think the the definition is so broad as to be meaningless as a separate concept from merely acting.

That's not a bad point at all (though I think something like "i think therefore I am" is probably defensible.) I agree with you that the burden of proof in a deep sense is quite serious.

Now if you mean to use the word "prove" as in "to test" then the sentence becomes, "I can't test x, but I'm going to believe it anyway so that I can do y." So my question would be "Why to you believe that believing in x will allow y if there is no possible way you can test x".

There are things you can test but you don't- the floor being there tomorrow. An Alligator not suddenly appearing under your bed to kill you when you step off, etc. The point isn't that you CAN'T test them, it's that you don't bother.

I don't think your floor example works if this was your meaning because every morning you test whether the floor is there. It's is testable. In fact you can test it when you get up in the morning, every morning, just look down.

You COULD look down every morning. I know I don't. Even if you do though- what about the snakes under you bed... shouldn't we check for them too? So again, you make good points but my argument isn't about testability in this sense.

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The afterlife is not falsifiable

A religious person may well say that their test of the religion being true is what happens when they die. That's a falsifiable belief, ..."
The theory that there is an afterlife is not falsifiable. If it is false then you cannot possibly know it's false and neither can anyone else. The theory that there is no afterlife is falsifiable only after you die and only to the dead. It's not a falsifiable theory with regards to the living.

Jim is John

"Who's this John character?"
A friend of mine John called in the middle of that and I wrote the wrong name.

Induction

Look I was playing your game to a certain extent because I don't have time to explain this in so much detail. Induction is an issue of universals. It's about knowing something like "All swans are black". It's not precisely the same issue as whether a particular object will retain the same shape, size, or even continue to exist. Whether objects retain their attributes or not isn't about induction.

Every morning when you get up and use the floor you are testing it whether that is your intention or not. You are operation on an assumption but you are not using induction. That assumption is based on a prior chain of experience sure but that is not induction. No one really believes the floor will always be there and never change.

For the blue/grue/bleen problem please order David Kelly's book "The Evidence of the Senses". Unless I've misremembered I believe he covers it in there. I don't want to repeat it, and I don't feel like going to find the book. Buy it, read the argument and then go, "Duh".

"I'm just saying that induction is necessary and unquestionable in a practical sense."
I'm saying I don't use any sort of induction. It's not a reliable method. I do not believe the floor in my room will be there forever just because it was there the last ten times I checked and I don't think it is more likely to be there in the future as time progresses just because I have got more examples.

I don't use a bastardization of strong induction. I do not believe the car has to be in my driveway in the morning.

Nor do I use a bastardization of weak induction. I don't say, you know, the first time I bought my car an parked it in the driveway I wasn't really sure it would be there the next time I looked. Now that I've parked it there one thousand times it's much more likely to be there in the morning that it was the first day I got it.

What I do is different. I build up models of how I think things work. I then expect those things to pretty much follow those models. If they fail to follow the models then I adjust those models in ways that seem appropriate.

My current model of how floors work is that they continue to act has they have in the past unless they are acted upon by some outside force, or just plain rot away. My model has all sorts of details like the fact that floors without any mechanisms to move don't just walk away or disappear in some fashion. I use this model because it is the best one I have and I have no reason to doubt it. It works.

Now it's entirely possible that someone might come in and transfer me to another bed, perhaps a the top level of a bunk bed while I'm sleeping. Well in that case I may get out of bed fully expecting the floor to be there approximately 2 feet below the surface of the bed when it is not. In that case I fall on my ass.

In no case have I proven that the floor will always be there. Evil clowns may come in and cut a hole just where I get out of bed. It's certainly a possibility.

So I don't know where you get this idea that I have to use induction. I'm not doing it. I never do it.

"1. Hume's problem (and you could create infinite examples of these.) "Why do you think that the things you eat will taste and good and nourish you next time you eat them?"
Because I have a whole bunch of theories that I hold tentatively. One is that my eyes work. Another is that I'm good at recognizing vegetables. Yet another is that similar objects behave in similar ways. Yet another is that given the same set of circumstances and actions I can expect pretty much the same outcome. So on and so forth. I also operate tentatively using certain algorithms that seem to work for me.

So when I grab the celery to bite into it I'm using all these theories and I assume everything will work out but I do not know they will. The celery may be rotten. It might be poisoned. There might be a thousand other things but if I have no reason to suspect any of them then why on earth would I bother even considering them?

"If you really don't think that past experience makes future events ANY more likely, then why don't you tentatively touch the street before you walk to make sure it's still solid."
I'm not expecting it to be more likely to be solid. I'm expecting it to be just as likely to be solid. Why on earth should I expect it to be less solid ? It's almost like you believe that default position should be a kind of reverse induction.

"There are literally millions examples of times when you assume unfailingly that certain things will work roughly the way they did before."
No kidding. That's not induction. That's believing in your theories of how the world works. Some of these theories are prewired into you by evolution, but guess what, those theories have also gone through a process of being tested over and over.

I'm going to stress this again. You are constantly testing and adjusting your theories of the world. This happens whether you want to do it or not. Just stepping out of bed and using the floor is a test of it. You don't need to do any other independent testing unless you have some reason to do more, like if you saw some termites. If your theories are still so immature that you think floors generally self vaporize without causing your bed to fall then please feel free to look down to make sure th floor is there, and perhaps even touch, or if you feel the need to lick it.

Even when you've touched the floor you have not "proven" that it's there in the sense of a logical proof that has been derived from some set of axioms. Your senses themselves are themselves theory filled. There really isn't any way to ground your belief that the "floor is there" in any sort of philosophical proof.

One can always spin in the direction of "how am I sure". Q: How am I sure there are no alligator under the bed? A: Well, I looked. Q: Well, how am I sure my eyes aren't deceiving me? A: Well, you were able to spot your slippers. Q: Well how do I know they work for alligators? A: Didn't you see alligators at the zoo? Q: Well what if this is an invisible alligator? ....

You can't approach it from the other direction either. It's been tried and everyone has failed. There is no set of axioms you can start with to "prove" that the alligator is not there.

So not only science but every day life is not about proving things in the sense of "absolute truth".

These are my views that I hold tentatively until someone can show me how I'm wrong. I will modify as needed.

trying to condense


The theory that there is an afterlife is not falsifiable. If it is false then you cannot possibly know it's false and neither can anyone else. The theory that there is no afterlife is falsifiable only after you die and only to the dead. It's not a falsifiable theory with regards to the living.

Now suddenyl we have a new standard of falsifiable? Either definition begs the question, because if you restrict it to "while living" and assume that the physically dead don't have living cognizant souls then you're simply assuming the alternate argument out of existence. (An argument I find silly, btw, but is best contended with by not simply assuming it away.)

Look I was playing your game to a certain extent because I don't have time to explain this in so much detail. Induction is an issue of universals. It's about knowing something like "All swans are black". It's not precisely the same issue as whether a particular object will retain the same shape, size, or even continue to exist. Whether objects retain their attributes or not isn't about induction.

Look guy, don't "play my game." I've read "enquiry concerning human understanding", Kant, and some Popper. You needn't tone it down.

However, you're certainly wrong about "what it's about." If you don't think that the question of whther I thing will retain it's attributes in the future has nothing to do with induction, then I might do well to ask exactly why you assume it's true. Is there some principle that tells you that what's hot this year will be hot in the year 2008? I mean aside form the obvious which is induction? Of course not.

Every morning when you get up and use the floor you are testing it whether that is your intention or not. You are operation on an assumption but you are not using induction. That assumption is based on a prior chain of experience sure but that is not induction. No one really believes the floor will always be there and never change.

But we believe that the change will be according to our prior experience, i.e. it won't simply disappear tomorrow. You can't just keep saying "that's no induction"- why isn't it? How in the hell can I make that "assumption" otherwise? Without the inductive principle that "the future will behave according to the same principles that it did in the past" you might wonder why we don't assume that "the internet will turn into werewolf" tomorrow instead.

For the blue/grue/bleen problem please order David Kelly's book "The Evidence of the Senses". Unless I've misremembered I believe he covers it in there. I don't want to repeat it, and I don't feel like going to find the book. Buy it, read the argument and then go, "Duh".

For my response, please decode every 5th letter of Phenomenology of Spirit as a number (where a=1, b=2 etc.) add them together and divide by the 400th digit of Pi (make sure you personally hand-derive it) re-encode the numbers a letters and run them through Douglas Hofstadter 5th Mu game from Godel, Escher, bach. Then read the argument and go "duh."

I do not believe the floor in my room will be there forever just because it was there the last ten times I checked and I don't think it is more likely to be there in the future as time progresses just because I have got more examples.

That's not what I wrote, brosef. I said "when you wake up tomorrow." Do you or do you not believe it will be there? Why or why not? If you're going to lie and say that think it's only as likely as the floor having turned into a pile of Snake Eyes GI Joes, then I'd ask why you don't cautiously peek over the edge (in case the floor is made of king cobras) then tentatively touch the ground (in case the floor has turned into an illusion of a floor below which is a pit) etc, etc. See we can go all day with this, because you are actually claiming that you've solved the infamously unsolvable problem of induction and all I have to do is cite Hume.

I don't use a bastardization of strong induction. I do not believe the car has to be in my driveway in the morning.

Again not the question. Do you believe it is, or that it will be, or that it probably will be?

I build up models of how I think things work. I then expect those things to pretty much follow those models. If they fail to follow the models then I adjust those models in ways that seem appropriate.

Why do you expect the future to resemble the present in such a manner? On what do you base the models of what things work? Certainly not the past performance of the things, right? What about things they can't even explain in physics like the problem of how water flows to your tap- I suppose you don't bother turning on faucets since you can't explain why the faucet does what it does (which means you can have no expectation for what will happen)... Tough life.

My current model of how floors work is that they continue to act has they have in the past unless they are acted upon by some outside force, or just plain rot away.

And of course that's roughly my model too.

My model has all sorts of details like the fact that floors without any mechanisms to move don't just walk away or disappear in some fashion. I use this model because it is the best one I have and I have no reason to doubt it. It works.

So you're basically describing inductive truth right now. What makes you think that floors don't get up and walk away? Because floors aren't the sorts of things that do that... and how do you know that? Anyway, it doesn't take a genius to say that all of this stuff comes down to the fact you're generalizing about past experience and assuming it will hold true about the future even though you can't prove it.

Because I have a whole bunch of theories that I hold tentatively.

Which is of course what induction is. You wouldn't have to use it if you could experience the totality of time and experience at one time. Then you would know whether things radically change tomorrow or not. Of course everyone holds inductive theories "tentatively" in the philosophical sense- if faced with concrete evidence of a black swan you don't get the induction crown going back to what they wrote about only seeing white swans before.

I'm not expecting it to be more likely to be solid. I'm expecting it to be just as likely to be solid. Why on earth should I expect it to be less solid ? It's almost like you believe that default position should be a kind of reverse induction.

less likely only because there are more than 2 states of being and of course we can't discount the infinite other unexperienced possibilities that we likely can't even conceive of.

That's believing in your theories of how the world works. Some of these theories are prewired into you by evolution, but guess what, those theories have also gone through a process of being tested over and over.

huh... What should we name that process of "testing over and over" that you like so much? My vote is "induction."

One can always spin in the direction of "how am I sure". Q: How am I sure there are no alligator under the bed? A: Well, I looked. Q: Well, how am I sure my eyes aren't deceiving me? A: Well, you were able to spot your slippers. Q: Well how do I know they work for alligators? A: Didn't you see alligators at the zoo? Q: Well what if this is an invisible alligator?

Yes, thank you. These are exactly the sorts of unsolvable problems you must face without induction. I completely agree.

There is no set of axioms you can start with to "prove" that the alligator is not there.

right, hence the infamous "problem of induction." Perhaps you've heard of it?

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Induction - One last try

So you've read Hume, Kant, and some Popper. Considering Hume died in 1776 that brings you up to date somewhere around to just prior to the American Revolution. Kant died maybe a decade later. You also have read some Popper. On this authority you make the claim, "See we can go all day with this, because you are actually claiming that you've solved the infamously unsolvable problem of induction and all I have to do is cite Hume." This is laughable because it was Hume who solved the philosophical problem of induction.
Infamously unsolvable? Well I suppose if you travel back in time and catch Hume midway in his life. I'll get to that later you're really not going to like the answer, which is that "it" has been solved. Actually, you get that wrong too. I should say "they" have been solved. You see there are multiple problems.
You are aware that there are different kinds of induction right? There's mathematical induction which is a form of deduction, now if that's not confusing enough, their's philosophical induction both strong and weak. Finally there is psychological induction.
The only kind of induction I believe in and use is mathematical induction. I gave you an example of that in a prior post. I claimed it was not based on philosophical induction, but some other unmentioned method. That was the logically deductive method called mathematical induction. I used that example as a inside joke between me and myself.
You were claiming that I use induction in my day to day life. Which I don't, thank you very much. You weren't aware of it but you were claiming I use psychological induction.
Here's the kicker. It was Hume who proposed and solved the problem of philosophical induction. Hume also proposed the position you espouse on psychological induction. It was Popper who solved the problem of psychological induction. He solved it by showing that Hume was wrong in one of his assumptions.
You said you read some Popper but apparently not enough. From “The Problem of Induction (1953, 1974):”

”I agree with Hume's opinion that induction is invalid and in no sense justified. Consequently neither Hume nor I can accept the traditional formulations which uncritically ask for the justification of induction; such a request is uncritical because it is blind to the possibility that induction is invalid in every sense, and therefore unjustifiable.
I disagree with Hume's opinion (the opinion incidentally of almost all philosophers) that induction is a fact and in any case needed. I hold that neither animals nor men use any procedure like induction, or any argument based on the repetition of instances. The belief that we use induction is simply a mistake. It is a kind of optical illusion.
What we do use is a method of trial and the examination of error; however misleadingly this method may look like induction, its logical structure, if we examine it closely, totally differs from that of induction. Moreover, it is a method which does not give rise to any of the difficulties connected with the problem of induction.
Thus it is not because induction can manage without justification that I am opposed to the traditional problem; on the contrary, it would urgently need justification. But the need cannot be satisfied. [Psychological] Induction simply does not exist, and the opposite view is a straightforward mistake.
There are many ways to present my own non-inductivist point of view. Perhaps the simplest is this. I will try to show that the whole apparatus of induction becomes unnecessary once we admit the general fallibility of human knowledge or, as I like to call it, the conjectural character of human knowledge.
Let me point this out first for the best kind of human knowledge we have; that is, for scientific knowledge. I assert that scientific knowledge is essentially conjectural or hypothetical.”

Thus the solution to psychological induction is that it’s a mistaken theory about the algorithm that humans actually use. We can’t use it precisely because it doesn’t work.

”Hume's two problems of induction -- the logical problem and the psychological problem -- can best be presented, I think, against the background of the commonsense theory of induction. This theory is very simple. Since all knowledge is supposed to be the result of past observation, so especially is all expectational knowledge such as that the sun will rise tomorrow, or that all men are bound to die, or that bread nourishes. All this has to be the result of past observation.
It is to Hume's undying credit that he dared to challenge the commonsense view of induction, even though he never doubted that it must be largely true. He believed that induction by repetition was logically untenable - that rationally, or logically, no amount of observed instances can have the slightest bearing upon unobserved instances. This is Hume's negative solution of the problem of induction, a solution which I fully endorse.
But Hume held, at the same time, that although induction was rationally invalid, it was a psychological fact, and that we all rely on it.
Thus Hume's two problems of induction were:
(1) The logical problem: Are we rationally justified in reasoning from repeated instances of which we have had experience to instances of which we have had no experience?
Hume's unrelenting answer was: No, we are not justified, however great the number of repetitions may be. And he added that it did not make the slightest difference if, in this problem, we ask for the justification not of certain belief, but of probable belief. Instances of which we have had experience do not allow us to reason or argue about the probability of instances of which we have had no experience, any more than to the certainty of such instances.
(2) The following psychological question: How is it that nevertheless all reasonable people expect and believe that instances of which they have had no experience will conform to those of which they have had experience? Or in other words, why do we all have expectations, and why do we hold on to them with such great confidence, or such strong belief?
Hume's answer to this psychological problem of induction was: Because of 'custom or habit'; or in other words, because of the irrational but irresistible power of the law of association. We are conditioned by repetition; a conditioning mechanism without which, Hume says, we could hardly survive.
My own view is that Hume's answer to the logical problem is right and that his answer to the psychological problem is, in spite of its persuasiveness, quite mistaken.
The answers given by Hume to the logical and psychological problems of induction lead immediately to an irrationalist conclusion. According to Hume, all our knowledge, especially all our scientific knowledge, is just irrational habit or custom, and it is rationally totally indefensible.
Hume himself thought of this as a form of scepticism; but it was rather, as Bertrand Russell pointed out, an unintended surrender to irrationalism. It is an amazing fact that a peerless critical genius, one of the most rational minds of all ages, not only came to disbelieve in reason, but became a champion of unreason, of irrationalism.

I suggest you read the entire article.
Philosopher Peter Singer claims to have shown that Popper has played a trick here by concealing the induction in the step of falsification. That is he thinks that falsification is only definitive through the assumption of deduction. This however is a mistake on Singers part. Popper doesn’t hold psychological falsification as definitive at all and he stated so in the paper. He does think philosophical falsification is definitive but Singer is not attacking that. In fact, I think Singers mistake was in not understanding the difference. He fails to properly follow the context.
Popper in the section on philosophical induction states:

[Philosophical] Induction is logically invalid; but refutation or [philosophical] falsification is a logically valid way of arguing from a single [philosophical] counterinstance to - or, rather, against - the corresponding law.”

Italics are mine added to make explicit the context.
Later he is discussion psychological induction and the real world and he states:

”This logical situation is completely independent of any question of whether we would, in practice, accept a single [psychological] counterinstance - for example, a solitary black swan - in refutation of a so far highly successful law. I do not suggest that we would necessarily be so easily satisfied; we might well suspect that the black specimen before us was not a swan. And in practice, anyway, we would be most reluctant to accept an isolated counterinstance. But this is a different question [see section Iv of selection 10 below].”

Popper never holds that any of this is definitive. After all he thinks all knowledge is conjectural.
Most anybody realizes that induction doesn’t work and isn’t useful. Just because the solid floor was there yesterday that does not mean it will provably be there in the future if only because of termites. That’s what a valid theory of philosophical induction would imply if applied to the real world. Of course it would also imply that nothing could ever change. It’s good that Hume proved it false. It’s unfortunate that he thought we use in the real world anyway and that lead to his spiral into militant irrationalism.
If you read the article Popper also covers epistemology, the theory of knowledge, he holds that all our knowledge consists of guesses that have been tested by attempts at refutation. This is a radical and I think correct view. He is an Einstein of our times.

I would further point out, which he doesn’t, that biological evolution is also a process of trial and error so even our senses were built on a process of guess (mutation) and falsification. Thus our senses and inborn knowledge are based on the same thing.
It’s turtles all the way down.

Now I'd hope you would refrain from telling me what psychological methods I use to navigate the world. I'd say I'm the authority on the subject of my internal states and processes. Do you disagree?

Lamarckian induction

I would further point out, which he doesn’t, that biological evolution is also a process of trial and error so even our senses were built on a process of guess (mutation) and falsification. Thus our senses and inborn knowledge are based on the same thing.

Continuing this analogy, Lamarckian evolution looks like induction. In Lamarckian evolution the parent is changed by his environment and those changes are passed on to his child. The change of the parent by the environment is analogous to the observation of certain features of the environment (the ones that induced the change), and passing the change on to one's child is analogous to the belief that the observed features will persist.

Just as Lamarckian evolution was a once-held but now-discarded explanation of evolution, so might induction be a once-held but now-discarded explanation of discovery.

Two additional points.

  1. Observation itself (upon which induction is supposedly based) works by some method and this method may very well involve some conjecture and falsification about the immediate environment. For instance, the "necker cube" which flips back and forth seems to point to a conjecture-and-falsification mechanism of perception. There are two conjectures which fail to be falsified by the necker cube, and the mind can flip back and forth between them. Significantly, neither one is proved by the Necker cube - hence the possibility of flipping back and forth between them. They merely each one stand unrefuted.

  • An observation can sometimes contain within itself, logically, the seeds of a (seeming) "induction". For instance, if I see a series of 1000 numbers and look carefully at its beginning, I may realize that the first twenty numbers form the start of a Fibonacci series. But significantly, the very idea of a Fibonacci series is infinite and therefore contains within itself the idea of a continuation past the twenty numbers that I looked at carefully, so the very idea already brings to mind the possibility that the whole series of 1000 numbers, including the numbers not yet examined carefully, form the first 1000 numbers of the Fibonacci series.
  • In fact, recall that the very method of observation may be by conjecture and testing. But why must the conjecture be only about the twenty numbers we look at carefully? The conjecture could just as easily be about the entire series of 1000 numbers. We can then test this conjecture by looking at the first twenty numbers in the series. But the conjecture remains about the entire series. There is no need for any "induction", because the tested (though still, of course, fallible) conjecture is already about the whole series.

    Interesting - you have a source for that?

    Interesting, I didn't think of it that way. That from a book that I could read or did you come up with that yourself?

    Book not written yet :-)

    Sorry - actually I was sort of hoping for a reality check. If I was saying something insane I wanted to know.

    Humean after all

    Consider dropping this whole "My patience in trying to impart my superior wisdom is deep and full but infinite" tone of your posts, but otherwise I'm glad to see the nod toward civility.


    So you've read Hume, Kant, and some
    Popper. Considering Hume died in 1776 that brings you up to date
    somewhere around to just prior to the American Revolution. Kant died
    maybe a decade later. You also have read some Popper.

    Oh come now. And since I'm adopting the consensus argument from modern day philosophy I guess I win since you're still stuck on Popper from half a century before. We don't need to discuss the merits of positivism here, but I happen to think that if Popper had actually spent some more time on Hume he wouldn't have pretended his important contributions to the theories of science had anything to do with the problem of induction.

    One could could be forgivien for instance, for thinking that Popper must've missed this line from Hume:

    "A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence."

    Given that Popper seems to do nothing but riff on that line and pretend it's his own in the Induction discussion.

    Infamously unsolvable? Well I suppose if you travel back in time and
    catch Hume midway in his life. I'll get to that later you're really not
    going to like the answer, which is that "it" has been solved. Actually,
    you get that wrong too. I should say "they" have been solved. You see
    there are multiple problems.

    What was I saying about civility? Nevermind.


    You are aware that there are different kinds of induction right?
    There's mathematical induction which is a form of deduction, now if
    that's not confusing enough, their's philosophical induction both
    strong and weak. Finally there is psychological induction.
    The only kind of induction I believe in and use is mathematical
    induction.

    The "problem of induction" is a familiar one- known to Popper for instance who also calls it "Hume's problem." A person who would assume that "the problem of induction" referred to mathematical induction is either a fool or a debater on his last legs trying to score a cheap point or both. I'll refrain from giving my opinion as to which one applies here.


    I suggest you read the entire article.

    Oh wow. Consider the response to the next italicized line a response too.

    When a person sides with a great thinker and doesn't understand what he's siding with, it's not uncommon for him (the person, not the great thinker) to simply post large quoted screeds in lieu of making the case himself. I've already called this the iron man fallacy, but in many cases it's something deeper. When a person understands an idea he doesn't bandy about his understanding as social proof and he needn't quote at length unless the stuff is perfectly on target and is a settled philosophical issue. I don't think anybody thinks that induction is a settled philosophical issue- if you're interested, check out the stanford encylcopedia of philosophy which spends a little time clearing up Popper's confusions before ultimately siding with Hume's ultimate solution (which is only natural since Hume nailed the problem up and down.)


    Philosopher Peter Singer claims to have shown that Popper has played a
    trick here by concealing the induction in the step of falsification.
    That is he thinks that falsification is only definitive through the
    assumption of deduction. This however is a mistake on Singers part.
    Popper doesn’t hold psychological falsification as definitive at all
    and he stated so in the paper. He does think philosophical
    falsification is definitive but Singer is not attacking that. In fact,
    I think Singers mistake was in not understanding the difference.

    Here's why you should drop the tone. Everyone makes a mistake every now and then, but it's difficult not to take joy in deflating someone who sets their ideas up with so much pretense. Based on the Popper response you quote, it appears you're actually referring not to Singer's point but to Kuhn's point about theory modification and specificity. Singer actually makes the note in the paper that Popper does, in fact, have something to say on the issue and comes down on the side of something like "procedural care in hypothesis-making." This part has to do withthe philosophy of science but almost nothing to do with the real deep problem of induction. I'll explain in a bit.


    Now I'd hope you would refrain from telling me what psychological
    methods I use to navigate the world. I'd say I'm the authority on the
    subject of my internal states and processes. Do you disagree?

    That's a pretty weak point for your conclusion. Should we cease talking about reasoning methods since everyone is technically the expert on their own? By your logic noone has any business in this conversation in the first place. "Hey doc, why don't you shut your face about my methods of insulin production since it's MY goddamn pancreas!"

    I'll quote Peter Singer's point both because he expresses the induction rebuttal far more eloquently than I could, and it should provide some clarity on B. Mack's assertions about what Singer is actually saying and mutatis mutandis the applicability of the "refutation."

    Here's the Peter Singer quote:


    "Popper wants to say that it is possible to
    avoid assuming that the future will, or probably will, be like the past,
    and this is why he has claimed to have solved the problem of induction.
    We do not have to make the assumption, he tells us, if we proceed by
    formulating conjectures and attempting to falsify them.


    Unfortunately, we still have to act. If I did not
    assume that because water has come out of my tap in the past when I
    turned the handle the same will happen today. I might equally sensibly
    hold my glass under the electric light."


    He says that, as a basis for action, we should prefer "the
    best-tested theory." This can only mean the theory that has
    survived refutation in the past; but why, since Popper says that past
    corroboration has nothing to do with future performance, is it rational
    to prefer this? 

    Yes- "we still have to act." That's, of course, why you didn't respond to my example about what you do about the floor when you get out of bed in the morning and instead tryed to reroute the discussion into analytic a priori truths. That's also, of course, the manner in which you use induction all of the time- when you act. Try as we might, falsifiability cannot get <i>underneath</i> the problem of induction.

     

    Matt

    notes and errata:

    The short and very readable debunking of some of Popper's more outlandish claims is here, by Peter Singer.

     

    Here's a tidy little summary of Popper's problem, that's pretty fair:

    "In his book Objective Knowledge, Karl Popper writes, “I may be
    mistaken; but I think that I have solved a major philosophical problem:
    the problem of induction.”6 Popper is
    indeed mistaken — at least, he is if we take him to be referring
    here to the problem as set out above. It transpires that Popper actually
    concedes Hume’s position on the problem.7
    The solution he offers pertains to a different problem, one that
    asks whether past experience can ever justify attributing a truth value
    (i.e., either ‘true’ or ‘false’) to a scientific theory. Popper argues,
    rightly, that a scientific theory (involving predictions about future
    instances) can indeed be shown to be false by present or past
    observations. Yet Popper’s arguments here provide no reason for thinking
    that scientific theories can be shown to be true (or probably
    true) by present or past observations. Indeed, Popper believes that no
    such reason can be given — and thus he supplies no comfort to the
    scientist who has been left wondering, after Hume, whether she can ever
    conclude that her empirically based theories are likely to be
    true."

     

    That was the last attempt

    I think you've wasted enough of my time on this. I believe the floor is there in the morning because of this theory of mine that floors don't disappear without a reason. It's a tentative theory but so far it works for me.

    cut and run

    interesting... And so what, praytell do you do when you have to decide between that theory and the competing theory that "floors do disappear without a reason"? Do you rely on the "best-tested theory" (as Popper- and I- say you should)? Because doing so would require the inductive assumption that "generalizations about the past are applicable to the future" and, well, I'd hate for you to use the same inductive reasoning that every other person wh's ever lived uses, minutely.

    I think Keynes nailed it with regard to Hume: "Hitherto Hume has been master, only to be refuted in the manner of
    Diogenes and Dr.Johnson." A more coarse way of putting it is that Induction is baseless and unreliable... that is, until one actually must do something.

     

    aaaathatsfiveas.blogspot.com

    How we learn

    We do not necessarily remember specific past events (obviously we do sometimes especially in adulthood, but I am talking about the general case when we learn - keep in mind that we have virtually no episodic memory from our infancy though we retain the lessons learned in our infancy, suggesting that the learning of infants does not involve the retention and comparison of episodic memory). Therefore, we do not necessarily have any memory of specific past events. Therefore, we do not necessarily reason as follows:

    Since X has occurred always in the past, therefore X will continue to occur.

    In contrast, we do have demonstrable habitual beliefs - beliefs that we habitually demonstrate that we have. One such belief might be that the floor will be there in the morning. By jumping off the bed and onto the floor without first gingerly feeling for the floor, the person waking up demonstrates that he believes the floor will be there. He does not demonstrate anything about how it is that he has this belief and not some other belief - all he demonstrates is the belief itself.

    It may be that all he has in his head is this belief itself. He may not have any particular memory of any past time when the floor was there. His head may only have in it, at that time, the belief that the floor will be there now, as he gets off the bed.

    The conjecture/falsification account is consistent with this possibility. The induction account is inconsistent with it.

    The induction account requires that he perform an inductive inference at some point based on particular past occurrences. But he may not be performing that inference now, and he may never have performed that inference. He may have in his head no inference from past to present, but only a belief about the present.

    But the conjecture/falsification account does not require that he perform any inference based on particular past occurrences. On this account he can have developed the conjecture that there will be a floor. This idea can be a habitual idea - something that he habitually believes every morning. This idea can survive through failure to be falsified. No inference is necessary to the survival of the idea - it simply survives through neural stubbornness. If he discovers there is no floor, he effectively applies the inference, "If P (general idea) then Q (specific consequence), not Q (observation), therefore not P (inference)".

    I'll consider one possible objection to my above account. One possible objection is that even if a person does not specifically remember past events and does not at any point explicitly make the following inference:

    Since X has occurred always in the past, therefore X will continue to occur.

    nevertheless his belief that there is currently a floor under him constitutes an implicit inductive inference from the past behavior of the floor.

    Specifically, he may feel the floor one day for the first time. This may give rise to a weak habitual expectation that there is a floor. Over time this habitual expectation may be reinforced by the persistence of the floor. This, one might argue, amounts to induction without any explicit inference being performed, and no episodic memory necessary.

    My answer is to point out the problems of induction. For example, the same event could be described in any number of ways. How does one select from among the innumerable ways to describe the same initial event? Each possible description yields a different generalization from the specific event.

    One cannot know ahead of time which possible generalization will succeed. There is therefore only one way to proceed: one comes up with a tentative generalization (or several simultaneously), and then tests it (them), discarding and replacing as necessary. Over time, only one generalization (or a few) survives further testing. But I have just described the method of conjecture and refutation. If induction works at all, then it works by conjecture and refutation.

    I will consider another possible objection, addressing my response. Maybe the person keeps a record of events in his head, and then comes up with a generalization that fits with all the records.

    My first response is to point out that this makes an assumption about how the brain works which I have pointed out may not be generally true - that we remember specific past events.

    My second response is to wonder how one finds a generalization that fits all the records other than by trial and error! That is, other than by conjecture and refutation. Thus even this account seems to point to the method of conjecture and refutation as the mechanism of learning.

    quick note

    I'll respond more in a bit, but all of this dodging and weaving is mere chicanery without answering the major question:

    Do you believe that the possibility that you will awake tomorrow and find that the floor is made of werewolves is as likely as finding the floor largely unchanged?

    If you really, truly, believe that they are equally likely events (i.e. that even though you have a well-tested theory, you can't say that it's more or less likely to apply to future events) then we can talk about the obvious truth that you don't ACT like they are equally likely events. That may be an interesting question, but it would only side-step the issue unless you and Mack-truck are willing to honestly say that you think the floor is just as likely to be made of werewolves tomorrow.

    aaaathatsfiveas.blogspot.com

    Floors made of werewolves

    Do you believe that the possibility that you will awake tomorrow and find that the floor is made of werewolves is as likely as finding the floor largely unchanged?

    I firmly believe the floor will not be made of werewolves. I would be shocked if it were. The question is not whether I believe this, but how it came to be that I believe this. The question is whether this is the conclusion of an act of inductive reasoning.

    Suppose for a moment that the belief in the solidity of floors is in fact largely innate. Then it is the product of natural selection. But natural selection is much closer to conjecture and refutation than it is to inductive reasoning. Mutations are like conjectures, and differential reproduction is the refutation of most of the conjectures (i.e. most mutations are bad).

    Aside: If you want to make it fun for other people to respond to you, I suggest cutting out the accusations of "dodging and weaving" and "chicanery", and references like "Mack-truck". Most people don't like to be called names most of the time, regardless of how you meant it. However, if you want to wear people down to increase the probability that you're the last one standing in a war of attrition, go ahead and crank it up. Or if you think that I have been disrespectful to you in some way in this exchange, then I suppose some retaliation is justified.

    More Fun With Names

    Suggested New nomes-de-guerre

    Polararoid: Polarization describes the direction of oscillation in the plane perpendicular to the direction of travel. Also name of an obsolete camera.

    Macker the Knife: “A cement bag is dropping on down
    You know that cement is for the weight dear
    You can make a large bet Mackies back in town.”

    Constipant see Google: Did you mean Constant? No Constipant.

    Have fun.

    OMW

    No! Why in the name of werewolves would I say that? There, I've answered your "major" question.

    um, thanks

    You'd say that if you didn't use inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning allows you to use the "best tested theory" (as you claim you do, and as Popper says you should) on the assumption that events that have occurred in the past are suggestive of future events. That is to say by proposing that you think it's more likely that the floor is solid you're, in fact, proposing that an event is more likely to happen in the future because it has happened in the past. That is to say, you're using induction.

    aaaathatsfiveas.blogspot.com

    Now this is paragraph is to narrow to read.

    Actually, when I get up in the morning 99% I don't even think about the floor. I certainly don't stop to consider all my past observations about floors even when I do think about the floor. Induction doesn't even remotely resemble the algorithm I use in the morning.

    Think about what you are saying. Do you really think with all the billions of separate pieces of information my brain deals with every day that it operates on the basis of induction? Do you really think my brain weights the possibility that every single individual cell in my body might turn into a werewolf at any second of the day and then decides well the probablity is 0.00000001% that it won't happen today so I can ignore it. I'm quite aware of the fact that my body discards hundreds of thosands of dead skin cells each day. Each of which potentially, according to you, might just turn into a lion, tiger or bear. How come I'm not aware of all this background computation going on in my brain?

    Why do you think so simple an act as walking across a floor requires induction. Hell a wind up toy can do that with no cognitive abilities whatsoever.

    I certainly don't think about or consider the possibility that the sun might just stop in the sky my every waking moment. Most things I never considered at all, like is Eddie Albert still alive or has he turned into a zombie. When I do stop to think about the Sun it isn't with the simpleminded algorithm of induction, once there and therefore always there. I realize for instance that it will burn out some day. I don't expect that stupid squirrel that chewed through my gas fired grill to be there this morning just because I saw him the past two days. I have a much more complex model of squirrels than than.

    In fact that is how I think, in terms of models. Most of these models I have of how things work were not built up intellectually at all. I touched a hot stove and it burnt me. I didn't need to make additional observations to figure that out.

    Tell me how long did it take you to "induce" the fact that you like pussy, if you do? The first time did you worry that your girlfriend (or victim) might just turn into a werewolf? After all you had no prior observation from which to draw experience on such matters, and thus no way to induce anything. In fact most of our experience is pretty unique and not even amenable to "solution by induction". Each time I get out of bed it's at a slightly different angle yet I manage just fine with each brand new experience.

    Do you think that sorting machines on factory lines work by induction? That is do you think that the programmer had to actually program and induction algorithm into the system to get it to work? Seems to me there is no need for any of that. If I want it to sort green from red apples I just make the machine open a trap door when it senses green. Plop the apple goes away. I don't need to actually build anything into the system to worry about whether the apples turn into werewolves to get it to work. Thus this whole notion that we cannot act unless we use induction is quite a hilarious idea to me.

    I never induced the idea that similar things behave the same. As far as I know that's something that is inborn. Same with my notion of the position of things. If I see it on the right then that is where it will be. Now by your thinking it's just as plausible that it should be on the left and that I used the method of induction to figure this out intellectually. That's total nonsense. Nor did I use induction to figure out that when I stuck my right hand on the burning and it hurt that it wasn't my left hand that actually was injured. I knew right away without further observation. In fact my reflexes pulled my hand away without any thought whatsoever.

    All these models of the world are pre-wired.

    As far as I can tell this whole psychological induction theory of the mind is a very simplistic and inaccurate description of how our brains actually work.

    You know when I was a kid I used to love ants. At first the only kind of ants I saw were inside. They were brown and small. Later when I was outside I came across big black ants. I immediately knew that they were a different kind of ant and it never crossed my mind to be shocked that my inductive conclusions had been violated. I had obviously never decided that all ants were brown and small in the first place. If I was using induction I should have been utterly surprised and even perhaps distrustful that perhaps my eyes were playing tricks on me.

    So tell me when you see an ant go by how do you know it's not a duck? After all according to you a duck could take the outwards appearance of an ant at any moment? What I think you've done is reverse the act of recognition and somehow assumed that it's a process of induction. If I see the sun on day one, then see it again on day two, what I'm doing is recognizing something, not inducing. It just so happens that I live in a universe where things don't magically change.

    Therefore I don't need any computational equipment to adjust for it. Just like a wind up toy intended for flat surfaces. It works just fine on flat table tops. Well I work just fine in this universe where things are regular and don't magically transform into what they are not. I don't expect that would be true for every universe.

    Recognition, classification, modeling of objects, etc. are not induction. They certainly depend on a regular universe but that doesn't mean they were arrived at by some inductive intellectual process. They were arrived at by trial and error.

    One of you guys start a new post!

    We're working on the narrow paragraphs but it won't be fixed for another couple of weeks.

    Jonathan! Help me! I'm

    Jonathan! Help me! I'm being squeezed to death!

    R-2!

    Hurry!

    Hurry!

    1(a le af fa ll s) one l ines

    1(a

    le
    af
    fa
    ll

    s)
    one
    l

    iness

    No, it's my strategy for ending this

    I'm hoping this will be impossible to continue much longer.

    Perfectly appropriate

    This is an entirely fit manifestation of the narrowness of the discussion.

    Induction and "trial and error" are not the same

    Inductive reasoning allows you to use the "best tested theory" (as you claim you do, and as Popper says you should) on the assumption that events that have occurred in the past are suggestive of future events.

    You just don't get it, do you? That is not induction. Have you ever heard the phrase that evolution is blind. It's perfectly possible for the trial and error process of evolution to go down a blind alley. In such a case the creature is operating on it's own "best tested theory". The problem is that the environment changed to drastically for it to adjust to the new conditions. At least trial and error can adjust to less dramatic changes. The process of induction has no such fail safe. It's directly off the cliff on the first error.

    What I use to live my daily life is much more akin to "trial and error" than induction. Both "trial and error" and induction share the feature of being fallible strategies. The only problem is that induction is just plan stupid. It's like the difference between one of those wind up toys that sense the edge of the table and correct their direction, verses one that blindly goes off the edge.

    Any algorithm to deal with the world is going to be based on past events. That however does not mean that every algorithm is an inductive one. Again I didn't say I could prove that my floor wouldn't turn to werewolves tomorrow. What I said is that I don't use induction to come to that conclusion. I have a hardwired mental model of how objects behave, which I has been tuned by trial and error to deal with hardwood floors, and also by my scientific understanding of the world.

    Induction

    "You just don't get it, do you? That is not induction."

    No, Brian, Popperians use a strawman version of induction to knock down. That certainly is induction -- see the writings of, for instance, Bacon and Boyle. In fact, it has been widely recognized that falsification requires induction, which is why essentially no one in the professional philosophy of science is a Popperian today. Popper made a good try, but he has been thoroughly "falsified." That doesn't phase the Popperian cultists, however.

    Constant Comment

    I firmly believe the floor will not be made of werewolves. I would be shocked if it were. The question is not whether I believe this, but how it came to be that I believe this. The question is whether this the conclusion of an act of inductive reasoning.

    That's more or less true, but for clarity I should say that the problem of induction is equally applicable to the argument that "it's extremely unlikely that the floor will be made of werewolves."

    Suppose for a moment that the belief in the solidity of floors is in fact largely innate. Then it is the product of natural selection. But natural selection is much closer to conjecture and refutation than it is to inductive reasoning. Mutations are like conjectures, and differential reproduction is the refutation of most of the conjectures (i.e. most mutations are bad).

    Do you know Alvin Plantinga's "evolution + naturalism= defeater" argument? You might like it since your thinking RE: evolution seems often to hover around issues like the ones he raises. I'll throw you a link if you're interested. Anyway though, whether this floor thing is innate or not, we can't see. To me it seems pretty far fetched, but once we start talking about light switches (to pick one example from infinite applicable ones) it really gets obvious. You flip a light switch and the light burns out. You flip it a few more times and then tomorrow you wake up and consider the light. Is it more likely burnt out or just fine? Probably burnt out, right? But you didn't evolve that capacity to reason.

    Even if we have some immediate evolutionary mechanism that produces such judgments, we're left with some hard questions:

    1. Are you really compelled to step on the floor/turn on the light by some unseen evolutionary force? That is to say, when you're in bed thinking about stepping on the floor you're mistaken because you actually have no choice in the matter? That is to say, you don't have free will?

    2. Doesn't this "evolutionary mechanism" seem an awful lot like induction, given that- as we can see- it reacts to new a novel situations by seeming to generalize from past experience? That is to say, if there was such a mechanism, wouldn't it be basically using induction? And for non-novel situations (which could at least slightly more plausibly be simply adaptive mechanisms) doesn't it seem that what's "adaptive" seems to perfectly mirror psychological induction?

    3. Supposing you still want to argue that you are compelled to act by evolutionary forces outside your control what of your judgment? Does it not seem to you still that the floor being there is more likely true than not, regardless of whether that fact does or does not compel your actions?

    One last thing to consider vis a vis your evolutionary suggestion: if you were raised in a land of illusory floors or floors that were replaced with spikes or what have you do you think you would behave differently? My guess is that you and I both would.

    If you want to make it fun for other people to respond to you, I suggest cutting out the accusations of "dodging and weaving" and "chicanery", and references like "Mack-truck".

    My bad. On the first two you are correct- I was in a rush in that last post and shouldn't have said those offhand things. I was trying to get at the fact that it seems like the opposing position seems not to take as its goal an accurate description of how humans behave, but rather to create a hypothetically plausible version of how humans COULD behave if they were trying to avoid induction. My impression is not an argument though, and trying to assert that with those two digs is clumsy at best. I'm actually enjoying this discussion, and while I should say that I've found late-stage discussions with you to be an acquired taste (meaning I almost always enjoy the points you raise near the beginning of discussion, as much as I may disagree) I am coming around. The nicknames are meant to be fun and not insulting though- if you don't like them I'll stop, but they're genuinely meant in good fun (Constant comment is my favorite type of tea for instance, hardly ad hominem fodder.)

    Matt

    Free will and innate belief

    1. Are you really compelled to step on the floor/turn on the light by some unseen evolutionary force? That is to say, when you're in bed thinking about stepping on the floor you're mistaken because you actually have no choice in the matter? That is to say, you don't have free will?

    It's often harder to choose what to believe than it is to choose what to do. The inability to choose a belief doesn't mean a person has no free will, it only means that the scope of his free will is limited to his action.

    2. Doesn't this "evolutionary mechanism" seem an awful lot like induction, given that- as we can see- it reacts to new a novel situations by seeming to generalize from past experience? That is to say, if there was such a mechanism, wouldn't it be basically using induction? And for non-novel situations (which could at least slightly more plausibly be simply adaptive mechanisms) doesn't it seem that what's "adaptive" seems to perfectly mirror psychological induction?

    But it seems here as though you are just trying to interpret a phenomenon according to your favored interpretive scheme. Even though there isn't anybody there who is actually making the inductive assumption that "generalizations about the past are applicable to the future", you want to interpret the mechanism of evolution itself as somehow making that assumption.

    If you try to treat the mechanism of evolution as using induction, it makes for an uncomfortable fit. What would constitute the "observation"? What would constitute the "inductive inference"? I can attempt an analogy but it doesn't look pretty.

    There are two things: mutation and survival/reproduction. Differential survival is natural selection. Survival and reproduction are the only thing that carries any lessons learned into the future, so "survival/reproduction" maps to "inductive inference".

    What about "observation"? Mutation is random, so it is not observation. Natural selection (differential reproduction) is not random and it depends on the environment, and so it is much closer to being "observation". However, natural selection is nothing without the raw material of mutation as its "canvas" or "photographic plate". So "observation" maps to "mutation and natural selection" taken together.

    But reproduction is part of differential reproduction, which is natural selection, which is part of mutation-and-natural-selection. So reproduction is part of mutation-and-natural-selection.

    But induction is not part of observation. It is a separate step. First you observe. And then you apply the the inductive assumption and draw conclusions about the future. Two steps, one after the other. Not one inside of the other. So it's not a comfortable fit.

    3. Supposing you still want to argue that you are compelled to act by evolutionary forces outside your control what of your judgment? Does it not seem to you still that the floor being there is more likely true than not, regardless of whether that fact does or does not compel your actions?

    My judgment is a function of what I am, and I am a product of my past. This by itself says nothing about how it is that I came to be what I am.

    One last thing to consider vis a vis your evolutionary suggestion: if you were raised in a land of illusory floors or floors that were replaced with spikes or what have you do you think you would behave differently? My guess is that you and I both would.

    You seem to be arguing against the hypothesis that the belief in the hardness of floors is innate. But I never said otherwise. I said "suppose for a moment". I was merely using that particular belief, since it was being tossed back and forth as an example, to make a general point. While the hardness of floors may not be innate, other aspects of our beliefs surely are. The commonality and stubbornness of many cognitive illusions lends itself to an explanation in terms of inheritance. Psychologists have been gradually working out the sometimes-faulty assumptions hidden in our mental machinery.

    Brains in Vats

    It's often harder to choose what to believe than it is to choose what to do.

    That's pretty misleading- you can't choose what you believe largely because one tends to believe in those things that "seem true" to them. That's the best standard of truth we've got (I mean how else do you know that 1+1=2 is true, or that the logical proofs that you think underlie that equation are true, etc.) Saying or implying that merely seems true and that you have no choice in accepting really isn't disputing my position at all, but rather discussion a different one.

    <>The inability to choose a belief doesn't mean a person has no free will, it only means that the scope of his free will is limited to his action.

    Okay, and supposing one has free will for one's actions, then on what basis do you choose to act? Why do you choose to act on a "belief" that may not have any validity? I mean, I take back my seeming apology for accusing you of "dodging and weaving" since you're basically admitting to it here- "I didn't say it was true I merely said "suppose that." Don't pretend like there's some value of clarity in trying to reduce arguments in this way all the while backing off and claiming your posts were only "suggestions" and then criticizing this discussion for being "overly narrow."

    But it seems here as though you are just trying to interpret a phenomenon according to your favored interpretive scheme. Even though there isn't anybody there who is actually making the inductive assumption that "generalizations about the past are applicable to the future", you want to interpret the mechanism of evolution itself as somehow making that assumption.

    Quite the opposite in fact- your reaction to induction was to posit some highly speculative preposterous evolutionary mechanism by which decisions are made that produce results exactly like those inductive ones I'm describing. Maybe I shouldn't have taken that argument seriously to begin with, but since it bore a passing resemblance to Hume's solution I thought I'd simply redirect it.

    Of course, I notice you didn't respond to my light bulb example and other simple ideas that make your claim implausible.

    Matt: Supposing you still want to argue that you are compelled to act by evolutionary forces outside your control what of your judgment? Does it not seem to you still that the floor being there is more likely true than not, regardless of whether that fact does or does not compel your actions?

    Constant: My judgment is a function of what I am, and I am a product of my past. This by itself says nothing about how it is that I came to be what I am.

    Shall we exchange opaque platitudes? I mean, why bother having any discussion at all, ever, if our judgments are irreconcilable since they are simply "functions of what we are and therefore products of the past." I'm sorry but this is nonsense on stilts.

    You seem to be arguing against the hypothesis that the belief in the hardness of floors is innate. But I never said otherwise.

    Huh? I'm arguing against a hypothesis and you never said otherwise? Try again, guy.

    I said "suppose for a moment". I was merely using that particular belief, since it was being tossed back and forth as an example, to make a general point. While the hardness of floors may not be innate, other aspects of our beliefs surely are.

    Well, in your mind pretend I said "suppose that" before every sentence I ever write okay, so if you ever manage to prove me wrong I can always go and hide behind it.

    Ultimately the way to think about your arguments is to ask whether they'd apply equally well for deductively true assumptions and arguments. I mean, could it be that we have some vague unproven evolutionary adaptation that causes us to act as if the things which would be deductively true are in fact true and we never actually confront deduction. Sure- maybe we're a brain in a vat too. Ultimately your argument is general philosophical skepticism and could be used to try and undermine any other belief, judgment, action etc. If you think that induction is valid only in the same manner that every other perceived truth and judgment in the world (save for perhaps the cogito) then I'm fine with that. Certainly my point here isn't to provide induction with a defense against GPS.

    aaaathatsfiveas.blogspot.com

    Some distinctions

    Let me start by distinguishing between some things. Take this as a rough draft.

    Here are two contrasting theories. First theory:

    1. Induction works.

  • I believe that induction works.
  • I have no good justification for this belief, other than a circular justification (induction has worked).
  • I engage in induction.
  • I engage in induction because I believe that it works.
  • Second theory:

    1. Conjecture and refutation works.

  • I believe that it works.
  • This belief is itself a conjecture. (A surviving one.)
  • I engage in conjecture and refutation.
  • I may engage in some conjecture an refutation consciously as a result of my belief that it works, but
  • I was engaging in conjecture and refutation long before I started reflecting on what I was doing. The habit of performing conjecture and refutation is a product of evolution. It arose and was fixed in me as a result of evolution. It arose and was fixed in me because it works - because the habit made me more "fit" than a creature whose mind did not engage in it. Therefore the cause (not justification, but cause) of my engagement in conjecture and refutation is ultimately the fact that it works. This claim, however, is itself a conjecture about my own evolutionary history. It may also be an objective fact. However, I am not in a position to say for certain whether it is.
  • Here is the general idea:

    1. There is the possible fact that process X over time produces result Y. This is an objective fact (if it is a fact at all), and its truth does not depend on our knowledge of it (and it may be unknown and it may be unknowable). Process X might be induction, or process X might be conjecture and refutation, where result Y is the discovery of true or approximately true generalizations about the world.

  • There is the possible belief that that (1) is indeed a fact about the world. If X is induction, then (2) is a belief that induction works, that the world is induction-friendly. If X is conjecture and refutation, then perhaps (2) is Popper's philosophy. I'm not sure exactly what Popper thought about this particular point, so I don't know whether (2) was his philosophy.
  • There is the possible source or cause or justification of belief (2). For example, if people believe that induction works, then on what basis do they believe this? How do they justify it? Why do they believe it? (3) is the answers to those questions - whatever that answer may be.
  • There is the possible fact that people engage in process X.
  • There is the possible role that belief (2) plays in causing (4). That is, if people have belief (2) in the truth of fact (1), and if they desire result Y, then they may engage in process X.
  • There is an alternative explanation for (4).
  • That's pretty misleading- you can't choose what you believe largely because one tends to believe in those things that "seem true" to them.

    That's a tautology. What you believe and what seems true to you are two ways of describing the same thing. And I don't get what your point is in making it.

    Okay, and supposing one has free will for one's actions, then on what basis do you choose to act? Why do you choose to act on a "belief" that may not have any validity?

    I act on my beliefs because I believe them. That's the nature of belief. The interesting question isn't why I act on my beliefs, but how it is that I get my beliefs in the first place.

    If you are asking how it is that I get my beliefs, I can give you a psychological explanation: my mind is built to generate beliefs, in large part, I think, by a process of conjecture and refutation. If you want to know why my mind is built that way, my explanation is that I descend from ancestors who, because of mutation, had minds built that way, and who were more "fit" than competitors whose minds were built a different way, and who therefore survived to eventually produce me.

    I mean, I take back my seeming apology for accusing you of "dodging and weaving" since you're basically admitting to it here- "I didn't say it was true I merely said "suppose that."

    You obviously didn't understand what point I was making. My point is that it is possible for a belief to arise as a result of natural selection. The possibility of such a manner of coming to have a belief refutes the claim that beliefs are necessarily the product of inductive inference. Essentially I was performing a disproof by counterexample - the counterexample was hypothetical but that is sufficient. Mathematicians use this method all the time, and all their entities are hypothetical. Possibility of X refutes necessity of not-X. I was showing that induction was not a necessary explanation. That by itself is not a proof that induction was not nevertheless the explanation. However, there are two hurdles that must be jumped. First you need to accept the possibility of some basis or mechanism of general belief other than induction. You need to be freed of the idea that induction is necessarily the mechanism. That's an important hurdle. That's what the hypothetical was for. Once you have accepted that, then we can move on to the question of whether induction is in fact employed, freed of the idea that it has to be induction.

    Quite the opposite in fact- your reaction to induction was to posit some highly speculative preposterous evolutionary mechanism by which decisions are made that produce results exactly like those inductive ones I'm describing.

    On the contrary, I took for granted - mistakenly - that you were quite well aware that the "tabula rasa" theory of the mind is long-gone. And that therefore my thought experiment was far from being "preposterous". There is, people now think, a great deal of the detail in the mind that is innate. Humans pile learning on top of genetic inheritance so it rather hard to separate the two. In animals it is easier to see what parts of their minds are innate and what parts a result of individual learning.

    Of course, I notice you didn't respond to my light bulb example and other simple ideas that make your claim implausible.

    I didn't respond to it because I could not make heads or tails of what you were trying to get at. Go look at it again. Your description was extremely telegraphic.

    Shall we exchange opaque platitudes? I mean, why bother having any discussion at all, ever, if our judgments are irreconcilable since they are simply "functions of what we are and therefore products of the past." I'm sorry but this is nonsense on stilts.

    You ought to look to your own statements if you don't like the opacity of the discussion. I won't elaborate but I will point to Brian Macker's complaints about your comments, some of which complaints did resonate with me. In any case my point was simply a repeat of an earlier point that I had made and that you had already acknowledged, where I wrote, "The question is not whether I believe this, but how it came to be that I believe this. The question is whether this the conclusion of an act of inductive reasoning." My point was that you were looking in the wrong place in trying to distinguish between our respective positions. You were doing this again here and I was reminding you of my earlier point - one you had acknowledged.

    Well, in your mind pretend I said "suppose that" before every sentence I ever write okay, so if you ever manage to prove me wrong I can always go and hide behind it.

    Actually "suppose" clearly marks off something as a hypothetical to explore a possibility and not as an assertion about what is. It is not my fault that you do not understand that. And no, I do not mark off everything I write with a "suppose" to defend it from being proven wrong. I do often bring up hypothetical scenarios but any amount of exposure to serious discussion should prepare you for that and prepare you to take hypothetical scenarios, thought experiments, for what they are, and not mistake them for assertions.

    before you go writing the final draft

    Points 3 + 4 under induction are the only points I'm really trying to make here. Your problem of course is that "conjecture and refutation" is not distinct from induction, as you'd like it to be. That's exactly the point the standford dictionary of philosophy, Peter Singer, me, and thousands of other epistemologists hope you understand. The point isn't "my theory is a better description than your theory" but rather "you theory uses and relies on induction." Think about it a little bit, and i think you'll find that you aren't producing a distinct body of thought.

    What you believe and what seems true to you are two ways of describing the same thing. And I don't get what your point is in making it.

    We need not have a semantic argument here. My point was simply that if you're saying that we can't know anything or decide anything then you really have no quarrel with me. After all, I'm not claiming that induction is the one verifiable truth, but rather that insofar as we use any reasoning methods to decide things we use induction. If you're promoting skepticism arguments (which you obviously are) there's no point- why not go after people who argue for deductive logic, free will, naturalism, the modus tollens, personal responsibility, etc.

    I act on my beliefs because I believe them. That's the nature of belief. The interesting question isn't why I act on my beliefs, but how it is that I get my beliefs in the first place.

    That may be interesting to you, though it's perhaps a Samson-like endeavor as I'll explain in a bit. Anyway, since you posited that you have free will for your actions you have a little explaining to do. You now seem to be claiming that you have no choice in your belief and you also have no choice in acting on your belief which would seem to undermine the very free will you claimed to have.

    You obviously didn't understand what point I was making. My point is that it is possible for a belief to arise as a result of natural selection. The possibility of such a manner of coming to have a belief refutes the claim that beliefs are necessarily the product of inductive inference.

    step back for a minute. My claim is that you rely on inductive reasoning for certain judgments and behaviors, not that you do so for EVERY judgment and behavior. Had that been my point it might be sufficient for you to "refute" me with some half-baked assertion about a handful of beliefs being the direct product of natural selection (which seems highly contrary to any real understanding of evolutionary theory and of human rationality.) Mainly though, I only seek to put induction on the same level of all other human reason. If you think deterministic arguments render moot concepts like reason, judgment, responsibility etc. then you need not continue. After all, as I say above, there's no reason to select induction as a special target for this argument. You may well choose anything else someone thinks is "true."

    On the contrary, I took for granted - mistakenly - that you were quite well aware that the "tabula rasa" theory of the mind is long-gone.

    You must be really mad. I've never seen you make such such long leaps as "the mind isn't a tabula rasa therefore my specific and unproven model of how a brain functions is correct" before. Suddenly the act of questioning your own "Planet Constant" ideas of how a brain functions is tantamount to going back to behaviorist models of cognition eh? Well gee, then let me just here and now that by responding to this you're implicitly denying right and wrong.

    And that therefore my thought experiment was far from being "preposterous". There is, people now think, a great deal of the detail in the mind that is innate.

    Oh tell me more. Breakthroughs in linguistics... is that what finally put the nail in the coffin? What about emerging fields of cognitive-innativist ethics which I have frequently and vocally announced myself a proponent of? I bet there's a lot to learn...

    I didn't respond to it because I could not make heads or tails of what you were trying to get at. Go look at it again. Your description was extremely telegraphic.

    Typical. You don't respond because you aren't sure of what you'll be giving away with your answer. I've seen this sort of thing before. My point- obviously- was the discuss reasoning about a thing which is novel to our environment rendering it therefore implausible that we would have an evolved belief about it.

    You ought to look to your own statements if you don't like the opacity of the discussion. I won't elaborate but I will point to Brian Macker's complaints about your comments, some of which complaints did resonate with me.

    Please do point to them. I'm not sure what you mean. I'm using examples and descriptions and questions. Those are the tools of clarity.

    "The question is not whether I believe this, but how it came to be that I believe this. The question is whether this the conclusion of an act of inductive reasoning." My point was that you were looking in the wrong place in trying to distinguish between our respective positions.

    I fail to see how this is so. You are still couching your increasingly strident points about evolutionary determinism in language which suggests you think that it's a good response to specific points about induction. A general epistemological point about human reason in general will not do here, because those have rather separate bullets to bite.

    Let me close with a few simple questions for you:

    1. What would you say to a child who repeatedly asks you to check and check and check again if there is a monster under the bed? Sharing your well-tested theory will do nothing unless you believe that it's more likely than not to apply to the future.

    2. Do you not feel that you position undermines itself? I.e. if you think that reason doesn't exist and is merely the deterministics workings out of evolutionary mechanisms, what in God's name makes you think that evolution is true? That is to say, are you not sawing away at the latter beneath your very feet by denying that things are true and false?

    Whatever

    You must be really mad. I've never seen you make such such long leaps as "the mind isn't a tabula rasa therefore my specific and unproven model of how a brain functions is correct" before.

    It's not even clear what you're talking about. You thought I was making a specific claim about beliefs about floors. It's not even clear to me whether the "specific and unproven model" that you're referring to is that or what I was actually saying.

    All that I was alluding to was the idea that some knowledge possessed by animals (including humans) may very well be innate. I didn't invent that idea. It's not a "planet Constant" idea. I assumed that this was a shared point, a point on which we could agree, and then I pointed out something about innate knowledge - I pointed out that innate knowledge is developed by natural selection.

    Anyway, as I pointed out, your attitude makes it extremely unpleasant to have any kind of serious discussion with you. You display this attitude towards me, and towards Brian Macker - and we're pretty much the only two people you're talking to. Your arrogance gets in the way of understanding what other people are saying. You jump to bizarre conclusions about what Brian means and about what I mean, and then when we point out to you where you've gone wrong you use that as another opportunity to attack. Brian hasn't kept his cool with you but considering your behavior with me I suspect Brian is reacting to your own offensive writing rather than the other way around.

    Maybe you're just kidding around, but there's no way of knowing. You come off as an arrogant moron.

    Points 3 + 4 under induction are the only points I'm really trying to make here. Your problem of course is that "conjecture and refutation" is not distinct from induction, as you'd like it to be. That's exactly the point the standford dictionary of philosophy, Peter Singer, me, and thousands of other epistemologists hope you understand. The point isn't "my theory is a better description than your theory" but rather "you theory uses and relies on induction." Think about it a little bit, and i think you'll find that you aren't producing a distinct body of thought.

    That's not helpful. That amounts to argument from authority and argument from popularity and nothing besides. It's not even clear from this what your position is, or what you think my position is. My guess is that you have in your mind some moronic straw man version of what my position is.

    playing nice

    I extended the olive branch to both you and Brian
    to no effect. Both of your next responses were as hostile as ever without so much as a nod toward the civil stuff.

    It's not even clear what you're talking about. You thought I was making a specific claim about beliefs about floors. It's not even clear to me whether the "specific and unproven model" that you're referring to is that or what I was actually saying.

    Before you said "suppose" you said this "The question is not whether I believe this, but how it came to be that I believe this." You were certainly presupposing there a deterministic account of belief, as far as I could tell. To imagine that your analysis of the truth or falsehood of a given proposition is solely a matter of researching the history rather than explaining the reasons was a pretty big tip off.

    All that I was alluding to was the idea that some knowledge possessed by animals (including humans) may very well be innate. I didn't invent that idea. I assumed that this was a shared point, a point on which we could agree, and then I pointed out something about innate knowledge - I pointed out that innate knowledge is developed by natural selection.

    Hey look- it's the way you pointed this stuff out. It certainly is a shared point, and with the right pleasantries this could turn immediately into a symbiotic discussion. I'm of the opinion that Human reason was likely a side-effect of evolutionarily adaptable traits. I happen to find this stuff pretty interesting, but as I've been trying to get at I think it's a pretty broad swath away from my major point. To wit: assuming a deterministic view of beliefs sweeps away everything including induction and so there's no reason to discuss induction as a special case. Even on non-deterministic assumptions, questions about the validity of our beliefs in light of evolutionary history is broad enough to call into question all of our reasoning and not just induction. On this induction may be an especially interesting case, but for obvious reasons we need to make this clear because as it stands now you're making it look (intentionally or no) like my argument is really contingent a defense against skepticism which it's not.

    If I had to guess, I think you're someone who grasps onto that which interests you and rather ignores the rest. On a blog where I'm advancing proposition x and you're really trying to discuss some new proposition y (and often an interesting one) we get into difficult situations when you don't make it clear that you're trying only to advance argument y and discuss it, and not to oppose argument x. Anyway, I'm going to try and make it through the rest being polite.

    You display this attitude towards me, and towards Brian Macker - and we're pretty much the only two people you're talking to.

    I was nice to Jim.

    Your arrogance gets in the way of understanding what other people are saying.

    Boy, I picked a great stretch to start being nice.

    Brian hasn't kept his cool with you but considering your behavior with me I suspect Brian is reacting to your own offensive writing rather than the other way around.

    Well you could simply look at the history. Go look at my post "deductively awesome" in which I practically tiptoe around trying be nice and complimentary, only to have this followed up with "Look I was playing your game to a certain extent because I don't have time to explain this in so much detail." That language I simply can't tolerate "I was playing your game because I'm such a genius on a short schedule that explaining concepts to you barely makes the cut."

    Maybe you're just kidding around, but there's no way of knowing. You come off as an arrogant moron.

    I'm not kidding around mostly. I'd probably be rude here if i thought you actually meant it and weren't simply trying to be insulting because you feel I've been rude to you (and i think that's fair- we've both been loose with the elbows.)

    That's not helpful. That amounts to argument from authority and argument from popularity and nothing besides.

    Look if that was all I said you might have a case. Simply mentioning that this is a notoriously unsolvable problem is probably worthwhile given that you guys are acting like you've suddenly made up solutions. Talking to a couple of people who claim to have invented a perpetual motion machine, it might be reasonable to mention how that's regarded.

    "Can't we all just get ..."

    I didn't acknowledge your purported olive branch because it didn't seem sincere to me because in a prior post you wrote as if initiated the incivility. If I recall correctly there were two posts that followed one another that lead me to believe you were just playing games with me.

    On June 19 you wrote, "One could uncharitably interpret your rhetoric ...", then made just such an interpretation.
    On June 20th
    "I'm going to start responding to every other Macker post, i think. Too fun to pass up."

    Furthermore, had I pointed this out I fully expected you to start arguing with me about exactly who initiated the incivility. So it would be just another pointless argument to keep up with. I'm certainly not going to accept an olive branch that's covered in blame shifting sap.

    If you go back and look at your posts you'll see that you were being much less civil than I was. Plus a couple of these posts are hitting some of my hot buttons. I don't like the misuse of the term "militant atheist". It especially irks me when someone claims I've said or believe something I haven't said or believe. I don't like being called a bigot for no good reason. No point in toning things down when it's quite apparent you are just going to continue on with these tactics.

    'm also getting impatient with you because you've taken the tone of me being ignorant on the subject and you being some kind of tutor. So I posted a reply that turned that around on you. You don't even understand your opposition at this point and you're acting like you know more than me. It's your position that is quite common and easy to understand as it's consistent with layman folk psychology.

    I don't really care if you are nasty every so often and call me names just so long as you get my position correct. If you do that then you'll soon see that the universal statement you made at the beginning that triggered all this will start to look a whole lot less tenable. It's quite clear to me that you still haven't read and understood Popper.

    You'll also notice that my post after your "olive branch" was matter of fact and without any sort of baiting. Problem is you baited me again in another post so I figured you called off your truce.

    Putting words in my mouth like saying I've personally claimed to have been the first to have solved the problem of induction isn't going to put you on my good side. Those are pretty much fighting words to me. I've claimed it's solved but did not claim to be the first to have solved it. You may thing the distinction is unimportant but I don't since it makes me out to look like a liar.

    please don't read

    Analysis of who said what hurtful thing always amounts to uninteresting navel-gazing for anyone but the parties in involved (at best.) I urge everyone not to read this stuff.

    I didn't acknowledge your purported olive branch because it didn't seem sincere to me because in a prior post you wrote as if initiated the incivility.

    The "you started it" defense. Hey, that's fine with me. I proactively offered a fresh start- I have no control over what you choose to do with it. As we'll see below, you certainly didn't respond in kind.

    On June 19 you wrote, "One could uncharitably interpret your rhetoric ...", then made just such an interpretation.

    As I wrote at the time "I think if you reread you'll find that I was asking a genuine question. I wasn't interpreting uncharitably so much as asking for clarification."

    Lines (from the initial post that you took offense to) like: "I hope that's not what you mean" and "After all, the things you actually wrote weren't the worst examples of the "they" problem I've ever seen- but the tone seemed suggestive of it" might be charitably evaluated in light of my subsequent comments.


    "I'm going to start responding to every other Macker post, i think. Too fun to pass up."

    Fun because we disagree and you like to talk about topics that interest me as well. As I've said before "you're obviously a smart guy"- I'm not someone who tried to find "fish in a barrel" arguments and defeat them. I'm here because some of the most articulate defenders of capitalism I've run across are here (guys like Micha, Scott, Wilde, etc.) I'll go to the anti-idiotarian rottweiller if I'm looking for straw men.

    Furthermore, had I pointed this out I fully expected you to start arguing with me about exactly who initiated the incivility. So it would be just another pointless argument to keep up with.

    And that's how these things always go.... see: now. ibid.

    I don't like being called a bigot for no good reason.

    Again, this stems from a misunderstanding of what I was asking, and one that immediately clarified at the time.

    'm also getting impatient with you because you've taken the tone of me being ignorant on the subject and you being some kind of tutor.

    I know your thinking isn't representative of some fringe group or something- I immediately recognized you as a Popperite. I've said before that I'm rather a fan of Popper, but he was simply foolish for assuming that his important distinctions between science and psuedoscience had anything whatsoever to do with the problem of induction. As you know as a fan, that's not at all surprising given Popper's penchant for considering his great ideas as landmark/revolutionary/world-changing ones.

    It's quite clear to me that you still haven't read and understood Popper.

    Ah, the courtier's reply.

    You'll also notice that my post after your "olive branch" was matter of fact and without any sort of baiting.

    Let's check your post for any matter-of-factness and "evidence of baiting", shall we?

    You along with your hero Scott Altran fail to recognize the fact that one can create taboos that give your own group an unfair advantage.

    Oh my hero, eh? That sounds pretty matter-of-fact.

    Their not even close and to consider them equivalent shows a profound lack of moral judgement.

    a "profound lack of moral judgment" huh?

    aaaathatsfiveas.blogspot.com

    Oh the irony

    Interesting that you should choose to accuse Brian of "the courtier's reply" when the bulk of your argument with him amounts to an elaborate treatise on the fine imaginary garments and assorted intricacies of "the problem of induction" that, apparently, Popper was "foolish" enough to misunderstand. Your claim that inductive reasoning is inescapable is an assertion Popper refuted fairly convincingly, as explained by Brian above. Well it was convincing to some of us at least: it appears that finer minds, such as yours and Peter Singer's, are able to detect subtle refinements* that elude us lesser mortals.

    * Such as the notion that the definition of "induction" can be broadened to include every bit of knowledge to date.

    oh sure

    And of course in turn i could say it's ironic that you would think it's ironic since you attempted a defense of Popper's intricate clothes when in fact he's naked. If you're willing to make such a stretch as to pretend that 'asserting that the famous problem of induction is still problematic' is like dressing up an emperor, then certainly you would embrace the subjective infinite regress of "'your position is like a naked emperor' vs. 'no your position is like a naked emperor.'"

    I mentioned the courtier's reply because it seemed classic: rather than give a defense (which as much as you like the guy, he hasn't provided anything like a consistent account of why he would get on a plane given that he doesn't think that the past is a guide to the future) he's now stooped to simply implying that I'm dumb for not having the read the master at sufficient depth. That's- you guessed it- the classic courtier's reply. Of course, I responded to his quote of Popper whereas Macker simply sighed and tried to duck out when I cited (much more concise) refutations.

    Interested in serious discussion

    I extended the olive branch to both you and Brian
    to no effect. Both of your next responses were as hostile as ever without so much as a nod toward the civil stuff.

    This supposed melodrama, in which I am supposedly brimming with hostility towards people who disagree with me on this topic, is in your head, and in your comments. I am interested in having a serious discussion, and so I explained as clearly and dispassionately as I could some posts back that I wanted to have a serious discussion without invective, and I mentioned examples of what I didn't want to have to deal with. When you responded in a way that seemed to promise no more insults (your "olive branch"), I took you at your word and proceeded to engage in what I thought was a serious discussion free of invective. But that lasted a very short time, because very quickly you returned to your old habits and even retracted your apology. I ignored the invective for as long as I could but that wasn't for very long.

    However, now I can understand why your comments are so full of invective, and that is that, for some reason, you believe that my own comments are full of hostility towards you. And so, presumably as a result of this misperception on your part, you resume the hostilities. Which of course makes your own false assumptions into self-fulfilling prophecies. That is, you mistakenly perceive hostility on my part, and so you resume the invective, which causes me to become hostile.

    Apart from this, you have so much difficulty understanding what I am saying that it is almost impossible to have a discussion with you, with or without invective. I think the reason for this is that you jump to conclusions about what I think. For example:

    Before you said "suppose" you said this "The question is not whether I believe this, but how it came to be that I believe this." You were certainly presupposing there a deterministic account of belief, as far as I could tell.

    Well, no. I was saying extremely little with that remark. I was simply trying to outline the arena in which I think the answers sit - that is, in order to understand how it is that things came to be, we can look at the history of it. This does not amount to a theory. Elsewhere I wrote:

    Constant: My judgment is a function of what I am, and I am a product of my past. This by itself says nothing about how it is that I came to be what I am.

    There I explicitly pointed out that it "says nothing". I am making explicit just how little I am asserting here. But look at your response:

    why bother having any discussion at all, ever, if our judgments are irreconcilable since they are simply "functions of what we are and therefore products of the past."

    You jumped to a false conclusion based on what I wrote - your conclusion was that my statement implied that we could not come to an agreement. Which is trivially false. After all, if you make a statement and I hear it, then your having made the statement and my having heard it immediately becomes part of my past. So saying that my judgment is a product of my past perfectly well allows you to influence my judgment. This is trivial. It should be immediately obvious. But you got it wrong, and because you got it wrong, you jumped to a wildly erroneous conclusion about the implications of what I was saying. I could go through your replies to me and cite case after case where you jump to wildly wrong conclusions about what I mean. The result is that, as I mentioned before, it is very difficult to have a serious discussion with you, even without the invective.

    Kuhn

    in which I am supposedly brimming with hostility towards people who disagree with me on this topic, is in your head, and in your comments.

    Yeah, maybe you should start a religion of peace with lines like "You come off as an arrogant moron" as your gospel.

    I am interested in having a serious discussion, and so I explained as clearly and dispassionately as I could some posts back that I wanted to have a serious discussion without invective,

    You are doing much to improve your reputation as a humorist among me and my friends; your clear and dispassionate response included that line above about "You come off as an arrogant moron." ha.

    Also, as to your titular "interest in serious discussion"... I suppose that's why you chose to continue this thread of he said/she said rather than respond to my concise, serious post at the bottom of the page in which this stuff is dropped like so much chaff in the wind.

    When you responded in a way that seemed to promise no more insults (your "olive branch"), I took you at your word and proceeded to engage in what I thought was a serious discussion free of invective.

    You ignored it, just like you ignored it last time. We had a discussion on Catallarchy in which you didn't respond as well later claiming that "it would mean admitting you lost" or some such nonsense. Now- this time- I guess I'm supposed to interpret this lack of response as agreement? Here's a thought: when someone offers rhetorical compromise after you say "My guess is that you have in your mind some moronic straw man version of what my position is" maybe if not praising them for their saintliness you could at least make a verbal commitment to tone things down, eh?

    Me: Before you said "suppose" you said this "The question is not whether I believe this, but how it came to be that I believe this." You were certainly presupposing there a deterministic account of belief, as far as I could tell.

    Constant: I was saying extremely little with that remark. I was simply trying to outline the arena in which I think the answers sit - that is, in order to understand how it is that things came to be, we can look at the history of it. This does not amount to a theory.

    Exactly. You think that the "arena in which the answer sits" is solely a matter of bio-historical origins, which is exactly what I claimed you thought (a more logically correct way to put this is that you thought the explanation excluded discussions of free judgment, underlying reason, logical defense, etc.) Whereas standard epistemology takes for granted that one discusses the 'reasons upon which beliefs depend', 'judgments upon which freely held assessments stand', or even the evaluative basis on which people act. As I said, we can explore your ideas about determinism but you are choosing to forgo the debate about 'induction being irrational but necessary' for a debate about 'every judgment being non-rational and determined. As I've said before, induction need not be discussed as a special case, any more than I would get on a thread of yours about abortion and act like the "brains in vats" skeptical argument refuted your specific claims of abortion. Such discussion misleading at best.

    Constant: My judgment is a function of what I am, and I am a product of my past. This by itself says nothing about how it is that I came to be what I am.

    later constant: There I explicitly pointed out that it "says nothing".

    If you're going to lie outright, why quote the source material so everyone can see it? Is "the bible says nothing about air hockey" = to "the bible says nothing"?

    So saying that my judgment is a product of my past perfectly well allows you to influence my judgment. This is trivial

    It might've been more obvious without context, but check out the direct question that you were responding to: "Does it not seem to you still that the floor being there is more likely true than not, regardless of whether that fact does or does not compel your actions?" Interested parties may note that Constant line cited above was the sole and complete response to that obvious direct question. If you won't answer a simple question about what seems true to you without redirecting the question to the historical origins of the seeming then my conclusion more or less follows straightforwardly.

    Now let's see how bland and urbane Constant is when he thinks he's scored a debate point:

    This is trivial. It should be immediately obvious. But you got it wrong, and because you got it wrong, you jumped to a wildly erroneous conclusion about the implications of what I was saying.it is very difficult to have a serious discussion with you, even without the invective

    Nice.

    1. this is a good place for a classic tension-breaking joke from Scott (I threw the word "titular" in there for ya.)
    2. Are you not a Kuhn guy? It seems like you should've been all over this falsifiability nonsense given who Kuhn showed that that's exactly not the way science works, whatever it's other logical failings.

    I-Mack

    Have you ever heard the phrase that evolution is blind.

    I like how you're switching to Constant's argument now. I'm not saying that it's a bad move- general philosophical scepticism is a pretty strong position all things considered- but it's funny nonetheless.

    In such a case the creature is operating on it's own "best tested theory". The problem is that the environment changed to drastically for it to adjust to the new conditions. At least trial and error can adjust to less dramatic changes. The process of induction has no such fail safe. It's directly off the cliff on the first error.

    Two things:

    1. If you're actually interested in discussing the point, go back and discuss the examples were talking about before. As I said you use induction all of time. My point wasn't that induction is "good" but only that you have no alternative.

    2. You don't want to go down this road as an atheist. You are adopting the false premises of the evolutionary argument against naturalism to try and pretend you've managed to live your life avoiding one of most basic and infamously unsolvable problems of human reason.

    What I use to live my daily life is much more akin to "trial and error" than induction.

    And yet I just don't think you're seeing that this relies on induction as well. Why does "trial" help guide you in future actions? It doesn't unless you assume that the past is some guide to the future. As I've said time and time again that's simple induction, by definition. .

    Again I didn't say I could prove that my floor wouldn't turn to werewolves tomorrow.

    And I didn't either. What I said is that you, me and every other sane person believes, assumes, and acts as if that possibility is extremely unlikely. One could only act/believe that way if the thought that the future resembled the past. Again, that's by almost perfect definition, induction.

    Evolution

    Me:" Have you ever heard the phrase that evolution is blind."
    You:"I like how you're switching to Constant's argument now. I'm not saying that it's a bad move- general philosophical scepticism is a pretty strong position all things considered- but it's funny nonetheless."

    That's rich. If you were paying attention you'd realize that it was my position all along. It was in that Popper article you poo-pooed. Evolution is not forward thinking. Science isn't really either, to anthropomorphize, she has no foreknowledge of what new theories will be successful. I have no idea at this moment what beliefs I hold that I will need to change in the future due to new evidence. I believe it highly likely that none of my beliefs approach the needed accuracy to say they are true under every circumstance. Popper holds similar beliefs.

    BTW, you have been misinterpreting almost every other paragraph Constant writes. I thought he was pretty clear too. Yet you keep misinterpreting his claims which leads me to believe you don't understand the positions he's taking.

    "My point wasn't that induction is "good" but only that you have no alternative."
    Why would I use an algorithm that isn't any good? I can't help it if you lack the imagination to come up with alternatives, and it puts no constraints on me.

    "You don't want to go down this road as an atheist. You are adopting the false premises of the evolutionary argument against naturalism to try and pretend you've managed to live your life avoiding one of most basic and infamously unsolvable problems of human reason."

    You are quoting the erroneous though of Alvin Plantinga to try and convince me of something? This guy and C.S. Lewis have no credibility. He's and intellegent designe advocate for one thing. He doesn't understand probability for another. The theory you linked to is full of holes like swiss cheese. There are a bunch pointed out by other philosophers in that wiki article. In addition to those it is easy to point out others.

    For instance the article claims, "Plantinga distinguishes the various theories of mind-body interaction into four jointly exhaustive categories". It then lists the four categories. Problem is that they are not exhaustive. Poppers beliefs fall into none of the categories. Same goes for Daniel Dennett, and Hayek. My beliefs don't fall into any of his categories either. Plantinga is a hack who can't get even the simple task of making an exhaustive list correct.

    This C.S.Lewis quote at the link is laughable, "If Nature, when fully known, seems to teach us (that is, if the sciences teach us) that our own minds are chance arrangements of atoms, then the sciences themselves would be chance arrangements of atoms and we should have no reason for believing them." Please don't waste my time with third rate thinkers like this. Evolution does not claim that organisms are chance arrangements. That's just idiotic.

    Are you a creationist or something?

    That you've slathered on yet another baseless claim about what, why or how I believe doesn't surprise me.

    wow

    I'll hit the rest of your assertions later on, but I love how you devoted 60% of your post to refuting an article that I was accusing you of unknowingly supporting. As was crystal clear from my citation I was implying that you were adopting the erroneous arguments in EAaN, and accordingly you try to shoot holes in theory (which, unsurprisingly, you did not do- choosing instead to simply accuse it of being "full of holes like swiss cheese" which of course was my point) just makes my point stronger.

    In a post largely devoted to accusations of who is misunderstanding what, and me not understanding Constant's posts, etc. watching you spend most of your time lambasting an article I unflatteringly compared to your position is like watching a guy take a big swing at a softball only to hit himself in the face with the bat.

    aaaathatsfiveas.blogspot.com

    I'm not arguing either side of EAAN

    Well you are going to have to spell out for me what you "think" my position is because it's not EAAN and it's not any of the positions that EAAN claims to defeat. Is it surprising I didn't get your drift? I have still have no clue what you are on about.

    I'm glad we're in agreement about one thing, EAAN is garbage, although I'm mystified why you are now defending it against my claim it's full of holes. Seems like you think it's a erroneous argument and a valid one. So what the heck is that about?

    I still don't think you understood Popper because you claimed I was taking up Constants argument, but I wasn't since it was my position all along. Yet you claim familiarity with Popper and don't understand this.

    where'd Joe go? Can we get Joe in here?

    The article you linked from Popper doesn't even feature the word evolution, I should say. Constant was making (at times) an evolutionary determinism argument and you responded to my point that "Inductive reasoning allows you to use the "best tested theory" (as you claim you do, and as Popper says you should) on the assumption that events that have occurred in the past are suggestive of future events" with the claim that evolution is blind implying that the "best tested theory" defense was actually a reference to deep beliefs as the product of evolution.

    This would be mistranslating the phrase "best tested theory" as being metaphorical rather than literal (which seems pretty specious.) If you believe that all of our beliefs have no underlying truth value that can be assessed reasonably (again remember that the conversation about epistemology is one of underlying justification) and that therefore all of your "beliefs" are so inextricably tied to the evolutionary processes that gave rise to them that you can't even assess them... It would seem you've created a rather narrow space in which to dodge Plantinga's clumsy haymaker.

    I should say that we deserve a pat on the back- all 3 of us- for being the only people in all of the tubes of the internet that are currently having a "booya in your face"-style argument about non-theistic theoretical epistemology.

    o/

    PS- If you disagree with my assessment of your position you have a couple of choices:

    1. Make a ranting post about how I just don't understand your tortured brilliance. This has been done several times here (not by you necessarily) and it's no fun as then we go back into navel-gazing mode where we have to consider the logical implications of your previous statements and the consistency thereof.

    2. Simply state your points concisely, ideally in response to my "so much for that post."