Topic: metaphysics and epistemology

topics > Group: philosophy

meaning and truth
relationship between brain and behavior

discrete vs. continuous
empirical truth
equal simplicity
knowledge representation
necessary truth
problems with analytic truth
problems with empirical truth
private language argument for skepticism about meaning
scientific method
skepticism about knowledge
vitalism, the soul
what is a computer
what is truth


Metaphysics concerns the nature of things, what things exist and how can they be related. Epistemology concerns how we can know things and what forms can our knowledge take. These are the broadest concerns of philosophy. They provide the foundation for our understanding the world and ourselves.

Descartes attacked these problems head on. Given the possibility of an evil God, how can there be anything real? Clearly the fact that I think can not be denied. Hence by a causal chain to God, i.e., the ultimate cause, must exist, must be perfect, and can't be a deceiver. From there the reality of the world is assured.

Descartes then separates the indivisible, God given, mind from the divisible, changeable world. Error and deception come from acting without thought, but by thinking clearly about the world, its true nature is revealed. This separation of mind from body allows the scientific pursuit of objective knowledge while maintaining the absolute perfection of God in the religious, spiritual domain.

Newton saw reality as the result of simple causes. That the diverse phenomena of daily life has a unified explanation. This approach has been immensely successful.

But perhaps Euripides is right. Though we have a perfect God and a unified Reality, perhaps the truth is accident. The world is as it is only because that is the only world we have access to. Somewhat similar is the Indian idea of dharma, i.e., primitive interactions.

Computers have given these questions practical importance. When we build computer systems, we build a model of reality; we incorporate our world view into the system. We should take care about what world view we use. Can it survive the test of time? (cbb 5/94)

Subtopic: reality up

Quote: everything is what is and not another thing
Quote: reality is vital to logic; should not allow Hamlet as another kind of reality
Quote: reality is closer to one true religion because there exists a global reality that subsumes all local views [»wegnP10_1986]
Quote: Newtonian physics assumes the existence of a real universe; relativity and quantum mechanics are based on observability [»wegnP10_1986]
Quote: reality is not separate from our understanding of reality; reality makes our sentences true or false [»daviD11_1974]
Quote: if the same force and nature abide everywhere, there are other worlds with other races of people and other kinds of animals in other places [»lucr_55]

Subtopic: nature is not chaos up

Quote: nothing can be made of nothing; otherwise any breed could be born from any other; people would pop out of the sea
Quote: the elements are of eternal stuff, linked with bonds of different strengths; unless a strong enough force encounters it, a thing stays safely as it was [»lucr_55]
Quote: atoms, the void, and the universe last forever; atoms are utterly solid, the void has nothing to do wih blows, and the universe has no place beyond [»lucr_55]
Quote: nothing turns to nothing; all things decompose back to the elemental particles from which they arose
Quote: fire comes from lightning or from the rubbing together of trunks and branches [»lucr_55]
Quote: our universe is not chaos; we perceive and name beings and objects that have stable structures [»thomR_1975]
Quote: unlike AI, perhaps nature is graceful all the way down
Quote: it is improbable that the lower animals are mere machines; such opinions are against the order of things [»leibGW_1679]
Quote: suppose there were 60 billion chemical elements uniformly distributed; there would be no science and perhaps no thought and life; every pebble would be new

Subtopic: nature as random up

Quote: Euripides--does random careless chance and change, alone control the world? [»euri_425]
Quote: the elements are not ordered by their intellect; by trial and error they fell into their present form [»lucr_55]
Quote: this world is the product of Nature, the seeds of things colliding into each other by pure chance [»lucr_55]
Quote: atoms, by trying each movement and combination, hit upon the building blocks of the earth, sky, sea, and living beings; without using design or intent [»lucr_55]
Quote: a single molecule of water receives 10^14 collisions per second; over a hundredth of a second the collisions are effectively random [»feynRP_1963]

Subtopic: trial, error, intellect up

Quote: by trial and error, and probing, restless intellect, people have learned seamanship, agriculture, law, fortifications, weaponry, clothing, roads [»lucr_55]
Quote: accepting an innovation depends on ease of use, relative advantage, compatibility, trialability, and observability [»heckP_1984]
Quote: programming is a trial and error craft [»parnDL12_1985]
Quote: the elements are not ordered by their intellect; by trial and error they fell into their present form [»lucr_55]

Subtopic: nature as decay up

Quote: the sun, moon, and stars emit light and decay; even rocks and shrines decay [»lucr_55]
Quote: what kind of deity would create such complex and fancy worm food [»beckE_1973]
Quote: the organs require the body; a hand, or eye, or nose, if separate and free, would melt with decay [»lucr_55]
Quote: categories and indices decay; over time, they decline in relevance; e.g., Dewey Decimal system [»nelsTH_1967]
Quote: statistically significant evidence for code decay; a change requires 20% more effort than a similar change a year before [»gravTL5_2001]
Quote: modularity decays; in 1989, the change history clearly separated two clusters of modules; by 1996, these clusters had broken down [»eickSG1_2001]

Subtopic: the void up

Quote: lighter things contain more void; void is tangled up with things, and must exist [»lucr_55]
Quote: nature's resistance to a void is part of what holds a solid together [»galiG_1638]

Subtopic: nature as food up

Quote: food is what sustains everything; atoms are drawn to like until decay, blows, and lack of food brings all to ruin [»lucr_55]

Subtopic: nature as language up

Quote: how atoms are arranged makes all the difference; the same atoms make the heavens, the sea, the land, the sun, crops, trees, animals; like letters of the alphabet [»lucr_55]

Subtopic: nature is not intelligent nor design up

Quote: the elements are not ordered by their intellect; by trial and error they fell into their present form [»lucr_55]
Quote: nothing is born for our use; rather, that which is borne creates its own use; the tongue predates the word [»lucr_55]

Subtopic: ultimate source up

Quote: the end of every movement must be one of the divine bodies moving in the sky; no other ultimate source for movement; no infinite regress [»aris_322a]
Quote: every cause of an event is itself an event or occurrence; thus an absolute beginning is impossible in the sensible world [»kantI_1781, OK]
Quote: the certitude and perfect reason of contingent truths is known only to God, who grasps the infinite with one intuition

Subtopic: understanding at a distance up

Quote: can understand some properties of things whether they are near or far; e.g., learned the roundness of the moon before the earth
Quote: objects at all distances increase at the same ratio, whether seen through a telescope or not; e.g., consider rods at varying distances and sizes whose ends line up [»galiG_1623]

Subtopic: causality up

Quote: "When we know the present precisely, we can predict the future" is not the conclusion but the assumption; observation is a selection that limits what is possible; quantum mechanics establishes the final failure of causality
Quote: physics should only describe the correlation of observations; there is no real world with causality [»heisW_1927]
Quote: Newton's first rule--admit only true and sufficient causes; Nature is pleased with simplicity, and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes [»newtI_1685, OK]
Quote: Newton's second rule--assign the same causes to the same natural effects; e.g., respiration in man and beast, the light of a fire and the sun [»newtI_1685, OK]
Quote: rudimentary organs appear frequently and have no value; must be due to natural law; species are not independent of pre-existings species [»wallAR9_1855]
Quote: Esterel's formal semantics is based on constructive causality [»benvA1_2003]
Quote: the natural law that everything has a cause and that all events are empirically determined lies at the foundation of a connected system of appearances; i.e., nature [»kantI_1781, OK]
Quote: knowledge of the existence of the cause of all possible effects is both indispensable and unknowable [»kantI_1781, OK]
Quote: neither the rule of human nor the rule of divine will exists as an independent cause of natural events
Quote: an individual is the direct source of another individual; there are no general explanatory factors; may share a common formula [»aris_322a]
Quote: the cause of an effect must have at least as much reality or perfection as the effect [»descR_1641]
Quote: freedom of will and causality are idealizations; both concern the relation between subject and object which forms the core of the problem of knowledge [»bohrN_1934]
Quote: light travels faster than sound so we see the lightening before hearing the thunder, despite both having the same cause [»lucr_55]

Subtopic: movement up

Quote: things are continuous which move together and cannot do otherwise; constitute a unit; still more when they cannot be bent; e.g., thigh vs. leg [»aris_322a]
Quote: any movement involves an agent, a thing moved, a start-point, and a culmination [»aris_322a]
Quote: perception is not of itself; what moves is prior in nature to what is moved [»aris_322a]
Quote: the forms or places into which things are moved, are themselves unmoved; e.g., knowing and heating vs. knowledge and heat
Quote: sensible objects, ideas, numbers, and contraries do not explain movement or the eternal; there must be something else
Quote: a thing that moves must have distinctive features
Quote: a soul's being is in motion; a number can not provide the movement
Quote: perceptions arise from the final causes of good and evil, while external phenomena arise from the efficient causes of motions [»leibGW_1714]

Subtopic: reason as practical up

Quote: any canon for employing the faculty of pure reason will relate to the practical use of reason and not to its speculative use [»kantI_1781, OK]
Quote: Ockham's razor--plurality [of reasons] is not to be posited without necessity
Quote: equal simplicity shows difference between template, compass, and ellipsograph [»bernN_1935]

Subtopic: excluded middle up

Quote: it is impossible for anything to be and not to be; the most certain of principles [»aris_322a]
Quote: if contradictories coexist then all things are one, mixed together, and nothing would truly belong to anything [»aris_322a]
Quote: law of excluded middle; must either assert or deny; true or false [»aris_322a]
Quote: necessary truths are those that reduce to identity; impossibles are those that lead to contradiction [»leibGW_1686]
Quote: to argue, every word must indicate one definite thing, a necessary connection; opposite statements are impossible [»aris_322a]

Subtopic: essential property up

Quote: male and female is not an essential difference; the same seed may produce either depending on circumstances [»aris_322a]
Quote: a type separates the incidental details about the implementation of an object from the essential properties for using an object [»stroB_1991]
Quote: the science of philosophy studies the attributes and contraries of being as being; a single common reference [»aris_322a]
Quote: changes, agents, and movers may be accidental, internal/partial, or essential [»aris_322a]
Quote: can represent a set by its essential properties or by a prototypical example [»liebH11_1986]
Quote: the essential properties of an object do not need to be those properties used to identify it [»kripSA_1980]
Quote: things are united when they do not differ in a form that is indistinguishable to sense; e.g., wine and water [»aris_322a]
Quote: size, shape, place, adjacency, quantity, and speed are fundamental properties of material substance [»galiG_1623]
Quote: tastes, odors, colors are mere names as far material objects are concerned; they are only excitations of living animals; same as tickling and armpits

Subtopic: emergent properties up

Quote: feelings and intelligence arise from combinations of particles that are themselves devoid of all sensation
Quote: the world is fresh and newborn; ships were recently improved; this book itself is new [»lucr_55]
Quote: the emergent phenomena in our brains is a kind of Strange Loop where the top level both influences and is defined by the bottom level [»hofsDR_1979]
Quote: collective, computational properties can arise from a network of simple neurons and little structure [»hopfJJ4_1982]
Quote: brains must be made from a proliferation of simple, well-defined circuits [»hopfJJ4_1982]
Quote: consciousness is an emergent property of the brain just like solidarity or liquidity of water; both mental and physical [»searJR_1992]
Quote: Hopfield's model differs from Perceptrons by strong back-coupling, emergent computational properties, and asynchronous operation [»hopfJJ4_1982]
Quote: large complex structures are built up step-by-step from simpler structures using discoverable natural laws; includes linguistic structures [»rossDT_1963]
Quote: if the natural laws of complex structures can be formulated mechanically, then the grand complexity will arise naturally and of itself
Quote: the stages of skill acquisition go from a novice recognizing relevant facts and rules to an expert performing without deliberation [»hallH_1992]

Subtopic: problems with emergence up

Quote: nothing can be made of nothing; otherwise any breed could be born from any other; people would pop out of the sea
Quote: nothing turns to nothing; all things decompose back to the elemental particles from which they arose
Quote: freewill must arise from something other than collisions of atoms; it is not bowed by necessity; nothing can emerge from nothingness [»lucr_55]
Quote: system is an emergent property of language; opposite to normal view [»cbb_1990, OK]
Quote: even though a program may appear graceful, it looks like a Rube Goldberg machine when executed by hand [»dennDC_1978a]
Quote: we attach meaning to perceived structures in the meaningless bits of computer memory and the meaningless traces of computer programs [»dijkEW2_1971]
Quote: just as waving a bar magnet doesn't generate visible light, small-scale symbol manipulation does not produce semantic phenomena

Subtopic: everything is fire up

Quote: to claim that everything is fire does not make sense

Subtopic: AI and philosophy up

Quote: artificial intelligence requires a representation of the world; relates to traditional problems of philosophy [»mccaJ_1969]

Subtopic: anthropic principle up

Quote: the weak anthropic principle is that the observable Universe must be consistent with our own evolution and present existence

Related Topics up

Group: meaning and truth   (18 topics, 634 quotes)
Group: relationship between brain and behavior   (9 topics, 332 quotes)

Topic: abstraction (62 items)
Topic: classification (65 items)
Topic: discrete vs. continuous (47 items)
Topic: empirical truth (47 items)
Topic: elements (22 items)
Topic: entities (20 items)
Topic: equal simplicity (15 items)
Topic: existence (29 items)
Topic: knowledge representation (41 items)
Topic: necessary truth (25 items)
Topic: phenomenology (37 items)
Topic: problems with analytic truth (20 items)
Topic: problems with empirical truth (21 items)
Topic: private language argument for skepticism about meaning (34 items)
Topic: reductionism (51 items)
Topic: religion (50 items)
Topic: scientific method (42 items)
Topic: skepticism about knowledge (34 items)
Topic: vitalism, the soul (73 items)
Topic: what is a computer (62 items)
Topic: what is truth
(67 items)

Updated barberCB 7/05
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