Wilfrid Sellars framed the conflict between common sense and science, that arouse since the flourishing of the natural sciences, with the concepts of the manifest and the scientific image of man in the world. The manifest image is our common sense image, which includes colors, chairs, institutions etc. The scientific image is what the natural sciences tell us the world is like. These images can sometimes contradict each other.
For me, the aim of philosophy is threefold: 1) We should try to critically accompany the sciences and try to connect different parts of our scientific image. (Which means also parts in the scientific image can be in tension.) 2) We should connect the scientific image and the manifest image as far as we can. (How is it possible to connect folk psychology and neurophysiology?) 3) We should inspect the manifest image. What is worth having in our manifest image (folk psychology, for me at least) and what not (racism for example).
So philosophy is wedded to the scientific image as well as to the manifest image. Both images have their own problems and both have their own merits. A lot is written about our scientific image. But actually not so much explicitly about our manifest image. I will try to examine some traits of our manifest image in some posts to follow.
Let’s make a start. We hold often some beliefs of our common sense ontology that seem so obviously right that we do not even question them. At least, until someone comes with a crazy, astonishing experiment. For example, I think it is natural to think that the sound a balloon produces when he gets popped is to a large degree an internal property of the balloon. If you pop a balloon it is just loud. But watch this video, which shows what happens if you pop a balloon in an anechoic chamber:
An anechoic chamber is a room that is designed to completely absorb reflections of sound. And if you pop a balloon in one of these chambers it produces barely any sound at all. So the loud sound of a popping balloon is not an internal property of the balloon. What makes the sound so loud are the properties of the surroundings.
So you can see that some beliefs of our common sense are just mistaken. Of course that does not mean that they are not useful. Under normal circumstances popping a balloon produces a loud sound but that is actually not the balloons fault.
You may have realized that I did not write much here lately. Other than that I am working for the planning of my PhD thesis I was writing an article for the Grasped in Thought blog. There I try to draw some connections between the american pragmatist tradition and the form of liberal naturalism that I have in mind.
If you are interested in logic and where it comes from, this is for you. Kant thought the logic he knew and learned from Aristotle is all there is to know. But actually logic has a significant history of changes nowadays.
There is a debate if serious science can do without evidence. Mostly, because there are some physicists who say that there is no evidence for String Theory to have and that is not a problem for physics. Here is a debate between Massimo Pigliucci, Tara Shears and Rupert Sheldrake.
By the way, Sheldrake is complaining about, that researchers who do investigate telepathy do not get any funding anymore. Maybe that is not because the scientific community is dogmatic and ignorant about the subject, but because research that was done in that field was showing that telepathy is not a thing?! Just guessing so…
Since September Google uses a new engine for their translation tool. It is running a neural network instead of a classical translation table. Here I have a test for you. I got a German part of Popper and Eccles’ The Self and its Brain. One of the following English quotes is the English original and one is the Google translation. Guess which is which!
Here is the German original:
“Menschliche Wesen sind unersetzlich; und dadurch unterscheiden sie sich deutlich von Maschinen. Menschen können das Leben genießen; sie können leiden und sie können dem Tod bewusst ins Auge sehen. Sie haben Bewusstsein, sie haben ein Ich, eine Seele. Eine Person ist Zweck, nicht Mittel zum Zweck, wie Kant betont.”
Here are the translations. First:
“Human beings are irreplaceable; And thus they differ significantly from machines.
People can enjoy life; They can suffer and they can consciously face death. They have consciousness, they have an ego, a soul. A person is purpose, not means to the purpose, as Kant emphasizes.”
“Human beings are irreplaceable; and in being irreplaceable they are clearly very different from machines. They are capable of enjoying life, and they are capable of suffering, and of facing death consciously. They are selves; they are ends in themselves, as Kant said.”
Displaying a neural network of the new engine. Taken from the article of the Google research blog.
And did you get which one is which? Actually the first one is the Google translation. The second one the English original. I did some more tests, where I translated English passages into German. And Google Translate is doing very well. Even getting some points in style. Try it for yourself and have some fun with the new engine. I think it is really astonishing how well it works.
For some technical details check out this article at the Google research blog.
Every year Edge poses a question to some of the most important scientists in the world. The question and the answers should help to popularise scientific concepts. This years question is: What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?
I really like the introduction of John Brockman. He emphasis, that often sciences is only understood as the hard natural sciences, like physics, chemistry and molecular biology. This happens because people think science is only where experiments are made. But you cannot do experiments in every branch of science.
He, therefore, tries to sketch a broader view of science. As Massimo Pigliucci he mentions the latin word “scientia” which means knowledge. Knowledge acquisition is different for different sciences. In physics you can do experiments and mathematical modelling. In the social sciences often you cannot do any experiments that are similar in reliability to these of physics.
So we should adopt a broader view of science. A view that endorses all reliable ways of knowledge acquisition. That includes psychology, social sciences, history and maybe even philosophy. By the way, that is also the reason why I think naturalists should abandon epistemological naturalism. First, that sounds paradoxical but if you have to adopt such a broad view of science, including other sciences than only the natural sciences, where is the “natural” in “naturalism” gone, when it does not refer to the natural sciences? So I propose: As a naturalist. we should be liberal scientists, not epistemological naturalists.
I will read the contributions to the question and maybe make some further posts about the answers.
As a philosopher it is always hard to make people understand what this business is all about. Why are we doing philosophy? What is it good for? If you can at least convince someone that it is not a total waste of time, it is hard to suggest a reading that is understandable and introduces into philosophy the right way. Here are some tips for first readings by Patrick Stokes:
As talking of physics: Should physicists abandon the hope for first principles that explain everything? The author of this post suggest physicists should take seriously that they cannot explain why the physics in our universe is exactly as it is.
There is a theory of gravity that does not take gravity as a fundamental force but as a emerging epiphenomenon. Verlinde’s new theory passed now the first test. The advantage of the theory: no crazy Dark Matter needed to explain gravity.