Pharyngula

David Berlinski: très creepy

There’s a bizarre “interview” with David Berlinski at one of the ID blogs. What’s bizarre about it, and the reason I have to put “interview” in quotes, is that the interviewer and interviewee are both David Berlinski. It is nothing more than a pompous exercise in preening his ego; he arrogantly babbles on, saying nothing much except to sneer at anyone who has pricked that colossal ego.

I’m pleased to say that I’m one of them, and again find myself in good company.

… With all due respect, Mr. Berlinski, there are times reading what you have written when it seems that you are right down there in the gutter with the best of them. You did, after all, refer to Richard Dawkins as — and I quote — “a remarkably reptilian character” ….

DB: Did I? Well, mine has been an exercise in defensive slumming.

… I see. What really accounts for your hostility to figures such as Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins? …

DB: In the case of Daniel Dennett, I think contempt might be a better word than hostility, and indifference a better word still. There are, of course, lots more where he came from — P.Z. Myers, for example, or Eugenie Scott, or Jason Rosenhouse. Throw in Steven Weinberg, just to reach an even number ….

… The Nobel Laureate? …

DB: None other.

… But Dawkins …

DB: An interesting case, very louche — fascinating and repellant. Fascinating because like Noam Chomsky he has the strange power effortlessly to command attention. Just possibly both men are descended from a line of simian carnival barkers, great apes who adventitiously found employment at a circus.

It goes on at far too great a length in the same vein. Otherwise, though, it’s a lot of ho-hum puffery from an unhinged individual. That it is entirely a conversation with himself makes it an unsettling example of public psychopathology.

Get help, Mr Berlinski. You’ve got a bad case of delusional narcissism.

Comments

  1. #1 dbpitt
    March 7, 2006

    Wow. I wish I could stroke my own ego like that.

  2. #2 PZ Myers
    March 7, 2006

    YOU’LL GO BLIND IF YOU DO THAT.

  3. #3 GrrlScientist
    March 7, 2006

    hrm. you’re not insane if you talk to yourself, but you are insane if you answer back.

  4. #4 Rosie
    March 7, 2006

    Am I missing something? It says “The interviewer is a Jewish agnostic living in Paris.”

  5. #5 Craig Pennington
    March 7, 2006

    YOU’LL GO BLIND IF YOU DO THAT.

    That kind of ego stroking is not the going-blind or growing-hair-on-your-palms sort. Berlinski is obviously a dog.

  6. #6 PZ Myers
    March 7, 2006

    How many Jewish agnostics living in Paris who care about ID and Berlinski do you know?

    It’s Berlinski. It has his slimy fingerprints all over it.

  7. #7 Zeno
    March 7, 2006

    David Berlinski is his own greatest admirer. The lucky man is living in Paris with someone he loves deeply.

  8. #8 Chris Ho-Stuart
    March 7, 2006

    Berlinksi currently resides in Paris, to the best of my knowledge. His background is jewish; he gives his present religious position as agnostic.

  9. #9 Zeno
    March 7, 2006

    There is no argument against religion that is not also an argument against mathematics. Mathematicians are capable of grasping a world of objects that lies beyond space and time.

    Hoo, boy! I love it when Berlinski speaks on behalf of all of us who trained in mathematics. No doubt he means to imply that all serious mathematicians must either embrace religion or regard their professions as merely playing pretend. That’s how he dismisses Bertrand Russell, describing Russell’s unbelief as simply a ploy to charm the babes. Anyone care to venture a guess where Berlinski will rank relative to Russell in the annals of mathematics? Perhaps David is just jealous that Bertie was so much more successful with the babes.

  10. #10 idlemind
    March 7, 2006

    In Berlinski’s case the blindness, though metaphorical, has already taken place.

  11. #11 CCP
    March 7, 2006

    Note well:
    it’s “Part One”
    …!

  12. #12 rrt
    March 7, 2006

    I wonder if “Part Two” might feature a further “debate” with a “Professor Zed.”

    I kinda hope it does, but he’ll regret it if he tries…

  13. #13 Dennis
    March 7, 2006

    I’ve been reading a creationist blog for about a week. I had not done this before, I didn’t think it was necessary to understand them that well. But darn this guy is twisting himself in knots. It’s obviously painful to try to fit evidence to a pet theory. He really tries though. Most creationists I know fall into the category of sheep. If the minister told them the earth was 4.5 billion years old and formed from the dust ring araund a star, they would believe it and never ever think about it again, never read, research, or analyze the information.

    This dude is actually reading books! Reinterpreting the data! And, going insane!

    It made me wonder if anyone has studied the long term effects of cognitive dissonance. Is it psychologically damaging? Could ID psychologically damage Kids? And, I mean beyond making them stupid. It certainly makes adults stupid and crazy, but were they always that way? Hmmm!

  14. #14 Torbjorn Larsson
    March 7, 2006

    “Dawkins is that depressingly familiar figure – the intellectual fanatic. What is it that he has said? “It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)”. Substitute ‘Allah’ for ‘evolution,’ and these words might have been uttered by some fanatical Mullah just itching to get busy with a little head-chopping.”

    Right. Fact theories and faith theories have the same epistomological value.

    But wait, it gets better…

    “But why should we take seriously religious beliefs that are lacking in evidence?

    DB: We shouldn’t.”

    No, we shouldn’t. So why did you just say that they where as good as evidential theories?

    I find it hard to believe this guy is a philosopher.

  15. #15 Great White Wonder
    March 7, 2006

    Holy crap that is bloviating at its highest/lowest.

    The gauntlet has been thrown down and poor Joe Carter must be crapping his pants.

    Can the amateur Liar for Jesus out-bogus the fake Jew?

    I’ll just sit back and watch this miserable clown dance, with a bottle of single malt in one hand and a loaded revolver in the other.

  16. #16 Torbjorn Larsson
    March 7, 2006

    I can’t believe he is a science writer or mathematician either.

    “Where science has a method, it is trivial – look carefully, cut the cards, weigh the evidence, don’t let yourself be fooled, do an experiment if you can.”

    His description of scientific method is pitiful. Where are the theory building, where are the predictions, where are the validations/falsifications?

    “Nonetheless we are in some sense able to grasp the number by a faculty of our minds. Mathematical intuition is utterly mysterious. So for that matter is the fact that mathematical objects such as a Lie Group or a differentiable manifold have the power to interact with elementary particles or accelerating forces.”

    And this is just bizarre. Lie groups seldom spells with a large G. And does he believe for real that mathematical theoretical objects interact with nature instead of modelling it, or is he merely a very bad author?

  17. #17 David
    March 7, 2006

    Wow! Zeno’s dig about relative success with the babes is brutal when you consider Russell’s personal history. I wonder whether Berlinski will get it.

  18. #18 Great White Wonder
    March 7, 2006

    Actually, Torbjorn, I beg to differ with you on Berlinski’s description of the scientific method:

    “Where science has a method, it is trivial – look carefully, cut the cards, weigh the evidence, don’t let yourself be fooled, do an experiment if you can.”

    As a definition it’s sorta cheezy. But I agree with Berlinski: the scientific method IS trivial. It’s banal. It’s ordinary. It’s part of everybody’s fucking everyday life. It is used in “kennel management,” as Berlinski says, and it’s used to find food and water by human beings — and some animals — every fucking day. Even the fundies — hypocrites that they are — use the scientific method every minute of their goddamn deluded lives.

    And that is why fundies and shitheads like Berlinski are so goddamn vile. They insist that they have some sort of civil right, simply by virtue of their ability to voice an “opinion,” to have their “opinion” or “belief” on the history of the earth and the things that have lived on it to be treated with respect.

    Horseshit, baby.

    The evolution of life on earth isn’t a fact because science is “special” and really really smart people have cleverly exploited this “special” tool to come to a counterintuitive conclusion that is being foisted on rubes everywhere.

    Evolution is a fact and reasonable people know it to be so because it is trivially obvious based on readily available mountains of evidence.

    Sure, we can go back 150 years and put ourselves in Darwin’s place and maybe it’s not so trivial.

    But for the love of Ploink Ploink it’s fucking trivial in 2006. It’s beyond fucking trivial.

    And that’s why Berlinski and his fundie fellow travellers are either deluded morons or bottom-feeding liars.

  19. #19 Torbjorn Larsson
    March 7, 2006

    Great,
    I agree that it isn’t so complicated so that no one can use it, or part of it, in the daily life if it’s necessary.

    But science didn’t really get off ground before people understood to predict and verify. If you don’t do that, your theories are mostly “common sense” descriptions of what you have already observed.

    Much better than pure philosophy without too much observation of what’s really happening; but not more than much too fallible “common sense”. Science isn’t quite that trivial in this sense; attempted verification weeds out wrong theories early and helps to pin down the boundaries of the current theory.

  20. #20 Torbjorn Larsson
    March 7, 2006

    And, I forgot, the most important is perhaps that a theory typically predicts completely different new types of observations to do, which greatly increases knowledge and speed of learning.

  21. #21 Zeno
    March 7, 2006

    I just posted some comments on Berlinski on my site. Click here to check it out. It contains some excerpts from Berlinski’s performance in the famous 1997 Firing Line debate on evolution vs. creationism and my observations on his tendency to twist mathematics in support of his spurious anti-evolution arguments.

  22. #22 Great White Wonder
    March 7, 2006

    Torbjorn

    But science didn’t really get off ground before people understood to predict and verify. If you don’t do that, your theories are mostly “common sense” descriptions of what you have already observed.

    Huh? My theory is that the freshest water in my office continues to come from the little faucet in the kitchen and not from my penis.

    Call it “common sense” if you want. I call it the Theory of My Urine Doesn’t Taste that Great.

    This is the so-called “scientific method” at work and YES it is trivial. It is essential for survival unless you want to live as a yogi up in the Himalayas in which case all you need to remember is to sit still like an idiot and wait for someone to bring you food.

    If fundies and ID peddlers were consistent, they would spend more time sampling each others piss because HEY the Bible doesn’t preach against that and someday that urine might just taste like honey and it might just cure every form of cancer alive.

    Teach the fucking controversy. That is how inane this Berlisnki dillwad really is.

  23. #23 Great White Wonder
    March 7, 2006

    Great article Zeno!

    Please never let me lapse into behavior like his! And the bullies who beat the snot out of him in school have a lot to answer for.

    Indeed. They forgot to kick his teeth out.

  24. #24 Great White Wonder
    March 7, 2006

    From Zeno’s transcript of Berlinski’s 2 hour puke on Firing Line:

    BERLINSKI: Could I ask you to give us your best estimate of the number of changes required to take a dog-like mammal to a sea-going whale?

    Just out of curiosity, did the Great Mathematician Berlinski have an answer to this question?

    I wonder if Mr. Physics Luvvah could tell us how many “changes” are required to turn a room with him in it into a room with only his stale farts in it — “in theory” of course (we know Berlinski has way too much class to break wind).

  25. #25 Torbjorn Larsson
    March 7, 2006

    “the Theory of My Urine Doesn’t Taste that Great”

    Great. Now lets make a scientific theory of that. By sampling other sources of urine (I will let you do that :-) we can probably see that a good theory is that All Urine Doesn’t Taste that Great.

    Which means that now you don’t have to taste my urine too to tell me how it taste; I have no idea and I’m not going to try to find out. ;-)

    I confess that in this case little is gained; it had been more fruitful to explore the question of when faucet water tastes greater than urine. It will not always be true, you know, contrary to “common sense”, and it would be good to know how to prevent such calamities.

  26. #26 Glen Davidson
    March 7, 2006

    Unfortunately, some of Berlinski’s meaningful (but generally wrong) statements could have come from Ruse’s complaints about “Darwinism”. As if every controversial scientific concept doesn’t have its fanatic defenders and fanatic foes. Has there ever been a reason to categorically distinguish between the concepts espoused by fairly unknowing fanatical proponents and the same concept which is knowingly defended by those who do not wish for pseudoscience to take over? Attitude and psychology make up much of the difference, while scientific theory remains largely unchanged by the fanatics.

    And btw, why is it that scientific journals from time to time write editorials pointing out that evolution is still being opposed by the ignorant, like DB? Most scientists do not care overmuch about the political controversy, rather they’re doing the science. It doesn’t mean that they don’t care at all about assaults on science, but they’re rather busily doing science, including evolutionary science.

    Of course most of the “interview” is nothing other than ad hominems. It appears that he doesn’t know much about fallacies, for one having degrees in philosophy. For myself, I wouldn’t especially defend Dawkins on religion, rather I agree with Ruse’s complaint that neither Dennett nor Dawkins actually bother to engage properly with religion–not even in order to oppose religion with greater intellectual ammunition. Even so, both Dennett and Dawkins know rather more about religion than Berlinski evidences knowledge of science.

    Like your average IDist (though he claims not to be one), Berlinski makes analogies without seeming to comprehend how to produce useful analogies, and without recognizing the need to truly back up their analogical claims with meaningful evidence whenever their analogies are used for more than merely illustrative purposes. So of course “Darwinism is like Marxism”, without a whiff of evidence to show that it is.

    The real fact of the matter is that Marxism is decidedly unlike “Darwinism”, both in origins and in its understanding of how evidence is used (to be fair, Marx did some good economic and historical (essentially scientific) analyses, however the dialectical stuff was nothing other than Romanticism–primarily out of Feuerbach and Hegel). Indeed, Darwin avoided the use of the term “evolution”, at least in his first book, in order to remain rhetorically separate from Romantic notions of the “rolling out” (evolution) of the cosmos and being.

    Anyone who knows the history of philosophy with any competence recognizes the vast differences between German Romantic “science” (such as Hegelian philosophy claimed to be) and the British Empiricism which informed Darwin’s work. I suppose that a British subject might indeed be capable of pulling off a Romantic philosophy of origins (there were the English Romantic poets, after all), but one would have to actually do the work (like no more than a handful of anti-evolutionists would even attempt) to demonstrate that he did something of that kind, if one expected to be taken seriously.

    I realize that I have been arguing above against his cavils against “Darwinism” as if “Darwinism” and “Darwin’s theory” are the same thing, however that is because they sensibly are. Knowledge and fanaticism vary among pro-evolutionist folk, but for the most part we are discussing exactly the same thing.

    Notwithstanding my remarks separating Marxism and “Darwinism”, I also do not think that Marxism is so very useless or essentially religionistic as Berlinski’s prejudiceses insist. While I am clearly no fan of dialectic, from Plato on to Marx, Karl’s non-empirically based philosophical framework led to productive observations and intellectual developments which unashamedly exist today within political theory and historical understanding. Clearly many Marxists were embarrassing believers in Marx’s teachings, yet I am not sure that they were any more wrong than their fanatical capitalist counterparts. What remains the really embarrassing fact, however is that Berlinski pretends that his analogy of Marxism and “Darwinism” are equivalent, based upon no sound data (very little fake data, even) whatsoever.

    Now I’m going to comment on some specific things written by DB:

    ?Can you say a little bit more by what you mean by an ideological system?…

    DB: Marxism is an ideological system, or was, and Darwinism is like Marxism. Darwinism, I must stress, the sibilant distinguishing the man from his message.

    Yes, yes, so you say. From my own philosophical viewpoint (continental, with emphasis on Nietzsche) there is nothing that categorically distinguishes ideology from scientific theory. Both are constructions, neither is “true”, and both may provoke (in context) varying degrees of psychological commitment. Scientific theories merely are what can be agreed upon by people who wish for perception to lead “inter-subjective scientific assent”, rather than allowing a priori assent to guide mode and selectivity of perception.

    So this fact, or “fact” (and I really think it is the better way of understanding these matters), means that from the perspective of a scholastic or some other sort of uninformed philosopher, there is no difference between ideology and scientific theory–since there is no “categorical difference” (for instance, in the Kantian sense of “category”) between the two, while there remains a huge difference in the prevention of overwhelming prejudgement between sheer ideology and scientific theory. Epistemics differ hugely between evolutionary theory and Marx’s dialectical pronouncements.

    Thus Berlinski equivocates, not only by pretending that there is a categorical difference between “Darwinism” and “Darwin’s theory”, but also by utilizing the fact that by many philosophical accounts there is no categorical difference between scientific theory and ideology (so it appears to me, at least). Therefore, in his mind people defending science can be lumped together with people who defend anti-science. And yet it is extremely apparent to us on the science side that “Darwinism” is not a “worldview” for any but a small number of weird little believers in scientism. And even for them there is no reasonable call to action by Darwinism, beyond defending science and the particular aspect of science sometimes called “evolutionary biology”.

    By itself, Darwin’s theory of random variation and natural selection would simply be a hopelessly premature 19th century thought experiment, vastly less important than Clerk Maxwell’s theory of the electromagnetic field, which was completed at roughly the same time.

    It’s absurd to claim that one or the other theory is “more important”. And if Darwin’s theory was “hopelessly premature”, why do its main elements remain current today, though somewhat changed to fit new data? Why has Darwin’s ideas been so productive, iow?

    But like confined quarks (or any number of quacks), Darwin’s theory never appears by itself in contemporary thought …

    Another bald assertion, though it happens to be largely true, no thanks to DB. Darwin’s theory is unavoidably understood by science in relation to further data, and other mechanisms of evolution which he did not mention.

    Yes DB, we are contextual thinkers. If you were also you would not write such silly nonsense as you do.

    ? Let me interrupt you. Can you be a little clearer on the difference, as you see it, between Darwin’s theory and Darwinism? ?

    DB: It is a matter of attitude and sentiment, Look, for thousands of intellectuals, becoming a Marxist was an experience of disturbing intensity. The decision having been made, the world became simpler, brighter, cleaner, clearer.

    And for many intellectuals it did not, one reason why Marxism has rarely been mistaken for a scientific theory by anyone who understood the philosophy of science. In fact Popper formalized the falsification criterion (which I do not think does real justice to the complexities of scientific thought, while still being a good rule of thumb) in order to distinguish between ideologies like Marxism and supposed scientific theories like “Freudianism”, from demonstrably scientific notions.

    Scientific theories, like Maxwell’s, generally lead to a clearer view of the world to those who understand them. The great thing is that ideas like evolutionary theory and electromagnetic theory continue to clarify the world even as Freudianism and Marxism fall out of fashion.

    A number of contemporary intellectuals react in the same way when it comes to the Old Boy, Darwin, I mean.

    And you swoon over Maxwell’s theories over their exquisite mathematization, as if precision mathematics were what made one idea better than another. You need to get out more, DB.

    Having renounced Freud and all his wiles, the literary critic Frederick Crews ? a man of some taste and sophistication ? has recently reported seeing in random variations and natural selection the same light he once saw in castration anxiety or penis envy. He has accordingly immersed himself in the emollient of his own enthusiasm. Every now and then he contributes an essay to The New York Review of Books revealing that his ignorance of any conceivable scientific issue has not been an impediment to his satisfaction.

    Too bad you know this instead of what journals discuss regarding evolution.

    Another example? I’ve got hundreds. Daniel Dennett has in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea written about natural selection as the single greatest idea in human intellectual history. Anyone reading Dennett understands, of course, that his acquaintance with great ideas has been remarkably fastidious. Mais, je divague ?

    I agree there. Natural selection is one of many excellent theories, and not one to be placed above theories of physics, chemistry, and mathematics.

    In the case of both Crews and Dennett, it’s that God-awful eagerness to explain everything that is the give-away. The eagerness is entirely academic or even literary.

    Whatever. Read the scientists for once.

    But, you know, what sociologists call prole-drift is present even in a world without proles. Look at Christopher Hitchens, very bright, very able. Just recently he felt compelled to release his views on evolution to a public not known eagerly to be waiting for them. What does he have to say? Pretty much that he doesn’t know anything about art but he knows what he likes. The truth of the matter, however, is that he pretty much likes what he knows, and what he knows is what he has heard smart scientists say. Were smart scientists to say that a form of yeast is intermediate between the great apes and human beings, Hitchens would, no doubt, conceive an increased respect for yeast. But that’s a journalist for you: all zeal and no content. No, no, not you, of course. You’re not like the others.

    Again the focus is upon non-scientists. It is a shame that many have been more eager for Hitchens’ views on evolution than your average competent scientist’s opinion, but there you are, that’s the only reason you have an audience, DB. For what it’s worth, Hitchens does well to defer to the experts where he is not well-educated.

    ? Thank you, I’m sure. I am still not sure what you are getting at when you refer to Darwinism as an ideological system? Many biologists such as Paul Gross simply reject the term altogether ?

    DB: Yes, I know. The term ? Darwinism, I mean, has been a long standing banana peel for poor Gross. No matter how often he swears not to slip, he can inevitably be spotted straddling that banana and about to slip-up all over again. Ah, there he goes ? vawhoomp. I have a service that lets me know every time Gross topples.

    Again a mere literary quibble serves for Berlinski’s “analysis”. “Darwinism” clearly has become less useful scientifically as dolts and ignoramuses continues to use the construction containing “-ism” to suggest that a scientific theory is in fact an ideology. The non-categorical difference between the two is obvious to scientists and even to many non-scientits, but clearly not to all philosophers.

    But enough about Gross. Let?s get back to me.

    Why? Is it because you don’t know how to competently deal with issues, and must always resort to the ad hominem fallacy?

    It?s not that easy to say what Darwinism amounts to,

    That’s because you’re insisting that “Darwinism” is an ideology, and not a crucial guiding theory of biological science.

    but then again, it was never easy to say what Marxism amounted to either.

    No, it isn’t all that hard to say what Marxism amounted to, though it takes considerable time. It does not reduce down to the triteness that DB demands of science and of philosophy.

    If you look at Marxists journals from the 1930s, the party line shifted all the time, so much so that in the 1940s, Stalin had to sit down and write an account of the principles of socialism.

    Right, Stalin the philosopher was responding to a need to explicate Marxism. I wonder why poor ol’ Oppenheimer resorted to reading Lenin instead of Stalin’s wise sayings.

    The truth is, and competent philosophers know this, Marxism has several defining elements, notably the dialectics and the concept that societies all undergo nearly the same sort of evolutionary developments. Romantic notions of what humans “really are” pervade Marx’s writings, and their failure to model humanity at all well are one of the greatest failings of Marxism.

    Many French philosophers held onto a fairly unwavering Marxist core, even as they attempted to correlate it with the non-Marxist world we live in. It is the latter that shifted and changed, mainly because Marxism is really bad psychology, for the most part. It doesn’t mean that DB’s faulty accounts of both Marxism and of science would not be rightly criticized as bourgeois claptrap by most knowledgeable Marxists.

    It reads very much like a high-school textbook in biology, a very sophisticated high-school textbook, of course. The real mark of an ideological system is its presumptuousness. There is nothing it cannot explain by means of a few trite ideas. Why is romantic love a sign of bourgeois decadence, Comrade? Because, Comrade, it represents a form of false consciousness. In Darwinism, natural selection has displaced such old standbys as false consciousness or the class struggle, Comrade. You don’t mind if I call you Comrade? It’s the least I can do ?.

    Why yes, enduring science has replaced faulty ideological beliefs in many formerly Marxist minds (partly thanks to Nietzsche’s recognition of power as being more important than economics per se). And meaningful sociology and anthropology are being used by former Marxists as well. DB wants simply to smear “Darwinism” as some kind of ideological replacement of Marxism, and refuses to even attempt a legitimization of his assertions.

    ? But ?

    DB: Take the short essay in a most recent issue of The London Review by Thomas Jones, one of the review’s editors, no dope, by the way. ‘Since we use our brains to make up stories, and to make sense of the stories of others,’ Jones says, it is hard to disagree with the idea that the capacity for storytelling is the result of evolution.

    I actually have little patience for Jones’s statement. In the barest sense it is surely true enough, yet there is probably at least as much reason to suppose that story-telling is a development out of one of the things we do best with words, gossip. Which is a kind of story-telling, no doubt….

    As usual, though, DB quote-mines non-scientists.

    And here’s something Stephen Pinker said, it’s even better …

    But look, someone like Jones is simply stating the obvious, like everything else, literature must be understood in evolutionary terms. What other terms are there?

    Again I have some sympathy with DB’s criticism. To be sure, the basics of human behavior do relate to evolutionarily selected drives and perceptions, yet the blanket statement written above (which I know may be shorn of crucial context–but I do not now know this to be so, so will treat it as I see it) is so far from recognizing the important cultural forms through which evolutionary drives are expressed that it seems to me to have little content altogether. Sure, note the evolutionary perspective where this stands as a basic drive or need, but always within the context of culture, environment, and the peculiarities of each individual.

    DB: Why must literature be understood in any terms beyond the literary?

    DB sounds like Derrida here, which doesn’t surprise me. Of course the reason to understand literature in terms beyond the literary is because literature comes from human experience and relates to it as well. Literature does not write itself, no matter how many times Derrida and DB imply that it did.

    Just recently someone named David Barash, an evolutionary psychologist, it goes without saying, published a book together with his wife called Madame Bovary’s Ovaries. Her ovaries? Look, set aside the appalling vulgarity of the book and its title, its almost unfathomable literary and intellectual crudeness. To talk about Madame Bovary’s ovaries is a little like looking at one of Rembrandt’s late self-portraits of his face and wondering whether the man suffered from bunions. What we know of the man is right there on the canvass. Nothing else. To imagine that somehow there is a real woman to be found in Flaubert’s nacreous masterpiece is to regard art

    Hardly matters what Barash says, of course.

    I’m not surprised that nuance and causation are lost upon DB’s view of art, even if the “bunion stuff” is typically reductionistic to the extreme. We do not simply see “a man” when we view Rembrandt’s portrait, we see a man who is quite deliberately portrayed as having aged and likely to have suffered, possibly even from bunions as well as from other causes.

    On another matter, it’s apparently not DB’s problem how the brain arose. Implicit in this is his dismissal of scientific investigation, plus any concept of the fact that better people do know that how the brain arose is “their problem”. It is simply for DB to cavil and carp about literary conceptions of Darwinism, and not to deal with science, competent philosophy of science, and the proper use of correlation and evidence that not only science uses. Let ignorance reign is DB’s credo, and let the ad hominems rain down upon anyone who seeks and finds something better.

    Well, it keeps the money coming from the DI. Nearly anything with the potential to destroy knowledge in our society is their weapon, and what is more, incompetence and ad hominems serve to protect DB from any doubts about his own capacities to rule on that which he does not understand. This is what we learned to expect from unthinking Marxists, btw, which suggests that the real analogy with unthinking Marxism can be found in ID and other anti-evolutionist spinners.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  27. #27 Glen Davidson
    March 7, 2006

    One more note. We have been finding nerves which “count” perceptual data. There is every reason to suppose that these rather basic mathematical abilities, along with conceptualization of schemata, do underlie our rather paltry innate mathematical abilities, and thus also our sophisticated learned mathematical abilities. Mathematics has all of the earmarks of an ability that we evolved in order to deal reductively and rationally with our world, and it does not rely upon any invocation of the known or unknown from the Great Beyond.

    DB is rather behind the times. His view appears to be relatively Platonic, while Kant relieved us from supposing that our capacities tell us the “truth” about the world in some naive realist perception of the “real reality.” Even more importantly, Kant, following Hume, showed that we cannot know that number, or even what we think of as “reality”, can be known to give us the “truth” about an “outside reality”. Kant assumes that there are things in themselves, but number and form are certainly not demonstrably among the “things in themselves” for Kant. We have no capacity for demonstrating such a belief, since we know “reality” through the a prioris of number, mathematics, and logic (among other forms of knowing).

    Thinking beyond Kant, we have understood that our capacities make the best sense if they evolved under the pressure of selection (thus we understand them as correlative with our notions of “truth” about the world in a way that Kant could not). That is to say, of course “four” did not exist at some time. Mathematical relationships existed prior to our construction of numbers, in a manner of speaking, but numbers themselves did not (except under some overly broad definitions).

    In any case, it is for DB to demonstrate that “four” has always existed, even if one ignored what philosophy tells us about the impossibility of knowing this to be so. That he utterly fails to understand even the need to back up his claims demonstrates his deficits in both philosophy and in science.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  28. #28 Caledonian
    March 7, 2006

    There is no argument against religion that is not also an argument against mathematics. Mathematicians are capable of grasping a world of objects that lies beyond space and time.

    No, they’re not. What they ARE capable of grasping is empirical evidence regarding the outcomes of problems in symbolic logic — and they do the grasping with cognitive systems that are entirely within space and time.

  29. #29 Adam Ierymenko
    March 8, 2006

    “There is no argument against religion that is not also an argument against mathematics. Mathematicians are capable of grasping a world of objects that lies beyond space and time.”

    Someone please build a time machine, go back, and kill Plato. Please.

    Mathematics is a language for writing down abstractions about our world. When I say F=m*a (force = mass times acceleration), I am writing down an idea. That idea is valid only insofar that it describes something. Likewise, words written on a page are valid (in the empirical sense) only insofar as they are useful and describe something. Writing about unicorns might be fun just as writing equations that do neat things is fun, but until or unless some use is found for what you write you’re just playing language games.

    What is it about math that somehow gives it this strange mystical quality. It’s just a language!

    Oh Plato… accursed father of inane dichotomies…

  30. #30 Adam Ierymenko
    March 8, 2006

    “Well, it keeps the money coming from the DI. Nearly anything with the potential to destroy knowledge in our society is their weapon, and what is more, incompetence and ad hominems serve to protect DB from any doubts about his own capacities to rule on that which he does not understand. This is what we learned to expect from unthinking Marxists, btw, which suggests that the real analogy with unthinking Marxism can be found in ID and other anti-evolutionist spinners.”

    The DI is sort-of a neocon spinoff, and the neocons are basically disillusioned Marxists.

    I personally think we’re seeing a totally new intellectual phenomenon here with the neocons and some of their fundamentalist allies. They certainly are not conservatives in the classical sense.

    The most fascinating specimens (Dembski, Irving Kristol, Karl Rove, etc.) in this milieu have a really bizarre cognitive style especially in relation to matters of religion and epistemology. I finally came up with a basic framework for them after reading one of Dembski’s rants about political strategy and religious apologetics. I now call them “Nietzchean fundamentalists.”

    These guys don’t really believe in God in the sense that a true mystic does. They do not believe that “there is a truth and a reality, and the ultimate nature of it is God.” Rather, they believe that nothing is true or real and therefore God and Christianity are true.

    Huh? you might ask. That’s a jarring, bizarre, surreal part. “Nothing is true, so I am right.” “Nothing is true, so Jesus is Lord.”

    It is true because of *will*. (To really get this, you have to *feel* it. When you read *will*, scream it… chant it… *feel* it! Will! Will! Will!) They use the term “faith,” but if you look at their cognitive style it seems like they mean something closer to Nietzchean “will” than mystical faith. Faith to them is the “will to God,” not the spiritual link to a personal God of the mystic.

    I think we have a new creature here. These guys are not your father’s religious fundamentalists.

  31. #31 guthrie
    March 8, 2006

    I’ve thought for quite a while now that you cannot be a real “Conservative” and also a supporter of free markets, since such markets are the agents of massive change that negates most attempts to conserve anything.

    (Of course, things change and peopel change things and all the rest of it, but free markets do a damn good job of making things change more, faster.)

    (He said, being Scottish and knowing the massive changes that have occured in the country in the lat 250 years.)

  32. #32 wamba
    March 8, 2006

    DB: No, perhaps not. But to everyone else. Consider the latest Pew poll. �Two-thirds of Americans,� the New York Times reported, �say that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools.� But even among those quite persuaded of Darwin�s theory, �18 percent said that evolution was �guided by a supreme being.�� Now these are astonishing figures.

    Sure they are. But no less astonishing than the percentage of Americans who cannot locate the USA on a globe, or meet any number of other seemingly basic intellectual challenges.
    .
    .
    Just a reminder that Berlinski is on the record with his lack of endorsement of ID.

    David Berlinski, a mathematician and senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and a sharp critic of neo-Darwinism, also signed the statement of dissent. But in an e-mail message, Berlinski declared, “I have never endorsed intelligent design.”

    I’m guessing that he laughs at the Disco Institute every time he cashes one of their checks.

  33. #33 lt.kizhe
    March 8, 2006

    Mathematicians are capable of grasping a world of objects that lies beyond space and time.
    I find that ironic, since the lesson I took away from A Tour of the Calculus was that mathematics is entirely a product of the human mind — no Ideal Realms necessary; thank you Mr. Plato, but your services are not required at this time. Some famous mathematician (whose name I can’t be bothered to Google for just now) is supposed to have said: “God invented the integers; all else is the work of man”. I agree, with the quibble that even that gives too much credit to the Almighty.

  34. #34 TikiHead
    March 8, 2006

    I Googled Jonathan Witt — he’s a Fellow at the Discovery Institute… Still, that’s almost like Berlinski interviewing himself.

    http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=97&isFellow=true

  35. #35 Jonathan Badger
    March 8, 2006

    Tikihead,

    But Jonathan Witt doesn’t live in Paris — nor is he an “agnostic jew” — he’s a Moonie. I think Witt was just there on the credits as an editor or something.

  36. #36 Dave S.
    March 8, 2006

    No, it’s Jonathan Wells that’s the Moonie. At least he was. Don’t know his current status.

    Jonathan Witt appears to be a regular Christian, afaict. Presumably he lives in Seattle.

  37. #37 Jonathan Badger
    March 8, 2006

    Yes, Wells and Witt are different people — I had merged them in my mind by mistake. Neither seems to fit the description of Berlinski’s “interviewer” though.

  38. #38 minimalist
    March 8, 2006

    Makes a nice companion to your post about Fred Hutchison’s back-patting.

    Ah, creationists: 2 seconds to think of a half-assed idea, ten years of self-congratulations. Presumably this is what ID’ers mean by “peer review”: who could possibly be more qualified to judge the work of these geniuses, but they themselves?

    This really smacks of desperation. They’re up against the wall, and they certainly have no evidence to thump, so what else to do but bluff and bluster?

  39. #39 Torbjorn Larsson
    March 8, 2006

    I hesitate to argue with someone who made such a good (and long! :-) job of Berlinski’s argument. But there are things here I don’t understand.

    “From my own philosophical viewpoint (continental, with emphasis on Nietzsche) there is nothing that categorically distinguishes ideology from scientific theory. Both are constructions, neither is “true”, and both may provoke (in context) varying degrees of psychological commitment. Scientific theories merely are what can be agreed upon by people who wish for perception to lead “inter-subjective scientific assent”, rather than allowing a priori assent to guide mode and selectivity of perception.”

    I think there are a large difference, in principle and practise, between faith theories and fact theories. Ideologies wants to connect with observations (not merely perceptions) to various degree, but only those who makes studious use of that practise at every step (like science) succeeds to become fact theories. Ideologies that doesn’t are very hard to connect with observations aposteriori.

    If philosophies can’t make this essential distinction that seems (to me) easy to observe, what use are they? Ie do they want to be in the faith or fact camp?

    “It’s absurd to claim that one or the other theory is “more important”.”

    I’m not sure about that, but I’m sure it is hard to answer the question. More important to whom? Biology, other sciencies, science itself, technology, society at large, specific communities, …?

  40. #40 Torbjorn Larsson
    March 8, 2006

    Ouch! An aggressive commentary, even though it wasn’t meant to be one.

    Anyway, to clarify, the importance with fact theories are that they are reliable in regards to observations, ie they predict many observations well, and then they don’t, they often tell you so beforehand.

  41. #41 jre
    March 8, 2006

    Silly man, PZ!
    As David Berlinski himself could tell you, your misplaced skepticism is simply the result of your moon being in the Seventh House!

  42. #42 Keith Douglas
    March 8, 2006

    lt.kizhe, IIRC, Kronecker. (About the integers.)

  43. #43 Glen Davidson
    March 8, 2006

    I think there are a large difference, in principle and practise, between faith theories and fact theories. Ideologies wants to connect with observations (not merely perceptions) to various degree, but only those who makes studious use of that practise at every step (like science) succeeds to become fact theories. Ideologies that doesn’t are very hard to connect with observations aposteriori.

    The word “categorical” is an important insertion into what I had written, at least to my mind. Indeed, I think that there are considerable differences between “faith theories” and “fact theories” in practice, and one is probably safe to say in principle as well, depending on what is meant by “principle”. The commitment of science, and of proper jurisprudence, to following the principles developed for establishing the “facts” of a situation makes a great difference between, say, IDist theology and evolutionary science, and there is no strain created in calling it a “principled difference” between science and theoloogy.

    The issue is one of philosophy, indeed. It goes back roughly to Kant, who, in the short version, showed how categories (his, anyway) are human mental abilities, not factors inhering “in the world”–or perhaps in some ideal realm. This was a break from most of what past thinkers had believed, as they observed the world and thought that number and form came to us via observation. What Kant does in philosophy, however, is to suggest that everything is a construction out of our cognitive faculties (this also goes too far, imo). If there is no categorical difference between scientific theory on the one hand, and theology and ideology on the other, then what makes the one “better” (in select, but meaningful, aspects) than the other?

    Well, nothing like “Truth” makes scientific theory better than ideology and theology. And this incapacity of philosophy to distinguish science from theology on such an important traditional philosophical measurement as “Truth” means that many philosophers have tended to see little or no difference between scientific theory and theology/ideology. By their thinking, we’re simply using our a priori categories in either pursuit, never reaching “Truth” through science or through theology, and mightn’t we just choose whichever one that we prefer–or deconstruct into meaninglessness both endeavors?

    Well, no. From my own perspective, the real problem is with thinking that “categorical difference” has much meaning at all. And although I went along with Kant for the most part in earlier posts (one cannot discuss everything), this criticism includes the Kantian categories, several of which seem to be mostly cultural constructs themselves. What we do seem to effect in our minds is the production of categories of objects, peoples, and conceptions, few, if any, of which stand up to rigorous philosophical analysis (not that the “categories” created might not relate probabilistically to the data, however “categorical difference” does not mean merely that one has a good chance of being right when one places persons and objects in categories).

    This is much of what continental philosophy does, strafe the categories into the ground. Thus the real differences between science and theology (differences recognized by the saner continental types) are not seen as categorical differences. This is important to the empirical investigations into how it is that we think, since we accept that largely the same types of thinking go into ideology as are used for scientific thought. In my view, the main difference is that science, like jurisprudence, has seriously and devotedly followed questions of evidence and its implications, thereby formalizing proper investigation into productive guidelines used by all competent scientists. The issue is not that science does something entirely different than religious thinking does (particularly past religious thinking, which had not yet retreated mostly beyond the realm of investigation), rather it is that science is able to evolve out of a more chaotic and varied set of thoughts/dreams/illusions to become highly competent at using methods which establish, at reasonable confidence levels, human knowledge.

    How else could science arise? Could it actually be categorically different from the other types of human thought, or must it be an evolution and refinement of a subset of those thoughts? Naturally it evolved through the use of epistemologically-based principles, which is why I mentioned the philosophical “categories” (at one point I identified such categories as more or less Kantian types), which evidently trip up some writers like DB.

    Getting back to the fact that traditional categories are essentially meaningless for philosophically distinguishing between scientific theory and theology, this seems to me to be part of what is behind DB’s simplistic analogy between the scientific theory of evolution and the largely unscientific core of Marxist thought. Analytic philosophy often deals with categories which continental philosophy spurns as prejudicial, and yet analytic philosophy still cannot come up with a meaningful categorical difference between scientific theory and theology/ideology–at least I do not recognize them.

    After all, like I previously noted, Marx’s writings do have some good hard-hitting economic and historical analyses, which makes his writings neither consistently scientific, nor consistently unscientific. Nothing categorical exists to prevent Marx from using both scientific and unscientific reasoning, and he readily utilizes both. This does not make for a satisfying model of society, yet philosophical categories are not capable of guiding either Marx or ourselves into a more empirically consistent approach.

    Many analytic philosophers do think in terms of categories, and when they do not find categorical differences between “Darwinism” and Marxism, they may simplistically equate the two (this seems to be what the continental Derrida did in the bulk of his writing, also, but I criticize analytic philosophy more because this appears to be DB’s kind of philosophy). I suspect DB of doing this. Well, clearly he illegitimately equates the two, and what I suspect is that this is partly because he would want a categorical difference to distinguish between “Darwinism” and Marxism, while it remains to good evolved empirical standards to differentiate between ideology and scientific theory. My complaint is that DB seems to be using the wrong criteria (as well as simplistic analogizing) to pick science out from other sorts of organized thought, thus he fails to recognize science where it exists. DB seems to believe in categories like the “literary category”, and when he is using these sorts of category prejudices he cannot hope to properly distinguish between scientific theory and ideology (forget his red herring of the “Darwinism” which he wishes to categorize separately from “Darwin’s theory”). Some indeed would place scientific theory and theology/ideology into separate categories, which is convenient, yet which belies the fact that scientific thought is a subset of total human thought, thus not categorically differing from ideology/theology in the Kantian sense.

    The problem of these guys comes down to issues that continue to afflict philosophy, or at least portions of philosophy. DB, and even Ruse, want to place a kind of “Darwinism” into one category, while I believe that such splitting fictionalizes the range of defenses of evolution and reactions against anti-evolutionists which in fact exist. In fact I probably am crediting DB too much when I suggest that he made a category mistake in presupposing that both “Darwinism” and Marxism are simply ideologies, for I really doubt that he thought much before he labeled “Darwinism” an ideology (he appears to be doing little more than name-calling). Nevertheless, the continued belief in categories among many analytic philosophers predisposes them toward either illegitimate splitting, or illegitimate conjoining, of ideas, based upon categories which are mostly meaningless. I am disinclined to splitting, thus I allow that categorically we would not really distinguish between Marxism and “Darwinism”, while of course we have ample non-categorical criteria for distinguishing between the two. I did write this immediately following what you quoted:

    So this fact, or “fact” (and I really think it is the better way of understanding these matters), means that from the perspective of a scholastic or some other sort of uninformed philosopher, there is no difference between ideology and scientific theory–since there is no “categorical difference” (for instance, in the Kantian sense of “category”) between the two, while there remains a huge difference in the prevention of overwhelming prejudgement between sheer ideology and scientific theory. Epistemics differ hugely between evolutionary theory and Marx’s dialectical pronouncements.

    On to this:

    If philosophies can’t make this essential distinction that seems (to me) easy to observe, what use are they? Ie do they want to be in the faith or fact camp?

    Certainly philosophy can make the distinction (though perhaps not without an assist from empiricism), but not in the categorical manner that seems to be what DB supposes he can effect in his discussions. Indeed, this is one of the crucial reasons for determining from whence categories come, so that we might not suppose that scientific theory is or needs to be categorically divorced from theological/ideological sorts of thinking. Instead we have to show how science has refined and formalized certain kinds of thought into a set of guidelines which usually prevent ideology/theology from being mistaken for science. IDists are some of the few who make these mistakes, and few of these are scientists beyond the practitioner level.

    This is one of the points of philosophy, to prevent faulty categorical thinking from confusing discussions of ideology and of science. It is arguable that philosophy does not so much decide these issues, rather it clears away the rubbish of categorical prejudices, critiquing the mistakes of IDists and other cranks. On the plus side, analytic philosophy formalizes much of the logic and induction of science, though it is probably science that really determines the use of both induction and of logic.

    Some say that philosophy is really about language today, important to keeping scientific discussions honest, but not really having the means to philosophically determine what is science and what is not. It imports and formalizes the criteria that set science off as a subset of the totality of human cognition, but I do not think that, by itself, it determines the differences between science and ideology. Empiricism rules, and it is not something which can be entirely systematized or turned into philosophy. Philosophy can help to sort through claims about empiricism, including the supposedly “found categories” assumed by ancient philosophy and Kantian philosophy, since it can show, for an example, that DB’s notions of “mathematical truth” existing apart from the human brain, are nonsense.

    Ideologies wants to connect with observations (not merely perceptions) to various degree,

    Back to this. How do you determine the “difference” between observation and perception? This is another use of categorical reasoning that most of us with continental philosophy backgrounds find to be philosophicall (though not conventionally) meaningless. I don’t in the least complain when science speaks of “observation”, since the latter is simply a term which has to be understood according to context and via what is known about our “perceptual reality”. The trouble with suggesting that we do not rely upon “perception”, but rather upon “observation”, is that when the two are contrasted we philosophers have to scientifically and philosophically demur that “observations” do not fundamentally differ from “perceptions”. The data that we take in “from the world” are indeed known merely as perceptions, while we develop more sophisticated concepts out of manipulating perceptual data.

    Many would like to categorically differentiate between observation and perception because they know that perceptions can provide us with a faulty view of the world, and they would like to think that we have a direct line of access to the world that can bypass the vagaries of perception. Well, we don’t have any direct route like that. The only thing that we can do to check the veracity of perceptions is to compare and contrast perceptions against one another, and thus determine at least many of the illusions through which we receive data from the world.

    Conveniently, we do tend to call our reified perceptual capabilities “observations” in order to set these off from “mere perception”. There is nothing wrong with this. However, unless we recognize that we merely have perceptions of “the world”, and not a direct avenue to accurately knowing “the world,” we are left with a faulty conception of how we conduct “observations”.

    Roughly, Husserlian phenomenology means to bring us back to the understanding of “scientific observation” as a construct out of our perceptions and rationalistic capabilities. If it is quite likely that Husserl was wrong in many of his own “observations”, his project of showing how we must build up science and other organized thought out of our perceptions (and data processing capabilities) is a worthy one–apart from his mistake in ignoring the a priori manner in which the “world” is represented in our minds, a fatal mistake for his development of phenomenology.

    If I had been writing a post in response to a scientist I might very well have written “observation” where I wrote “perception”. DB, though, claims to be doing philosophy, which is why I opted for the more phenomenological, or one might say, Nietzschean, language regarding the most common source of the mind’s contents. We rest all of science and normal interaction with “our world” upon our perceptual abilities and our ability to check perceptions against each other. In philosophy it is important to keep this fact straight, while scientifically one may largely ignore the problems perception causes by following good scientific practices which embody our reification of perception into sound conventionalized “observation”.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  44. #44 Glen Davidson
    March 8, 2006

    Just a little correction. I shouldn’t have written “category mistake” below:

    In fact I probably am crediting DB too much when I suggest that he made a category mistake in presupposing that both “Darwinism” and Marxism are simply ideologies, for I really doubt that he thought much before he labeled “Darwinism” an ideology (he appears to be doing little more than name-calling).

    In the way that I view the world, it is indeed a kind of “category mistake” because he lumps both science and an ideology into a category which I do not recognize as being anything but conventional. However, that is not what is usually meant by “category mistake”, which typically refers to an incorrect placement of things within categories (conventionally useful, but philosophically suspect), which in fact is not my claim. That he does not consider the crucial empirical differences between ideology and science is my complaint, while his “category mistake” is his presupposition of the philosophical meaningfulness of categories.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  45. #45 Phila
    March 8, 2006

    It’s interesting that DB seems to be slamming Chomsky, considering his former reverence for the man. His book “Black Mischief” fawned on him at great length. Perhaps Chomsky failed to measure up to his standards, too.

    This is really a pretty shocking performance, all in all…not so much because of what DB says, but because of his apparent belief that his touch is deft and witty. A man who sees this kind of studied, terminally vain gaucherie as worthwhile is the last person I want to have lecture me on reality.

    Even when he’s right – e.g., on some of the problems with Dennett – more sensible people have expressed those points far more clearly (and without all this tin-eared, polyglot boorishness…DB comes across like Ben Stein trying to channel G.K. Chesterton in order to defend school vouchers).

    I don’t know what’s wrong with him. I used to think he pictured himself as Errol Flynn dueling elegantly with a dozen stock villians at once; at least there was a certain liveliness to that sort of arrogance. Now, he just sounds like the sort of dime-a-dozen crank you see in the wee small hours at Kinko’s, gluing together some pamphlet on the universe as perpetual motion machine. Pretty sad.

  46. #46 Dave M
    March 8, 2006

    Adam I., interesting comment. I’m not sure I understand your idea of “Nietzschean fundamentalism.” You say that “[t]hese guys don’t really believe in God in the sense that a true mystic does. They do not believe that ‘there is a truth and a reality, and the ultimate nature of it is God.’ Rather, they believe that nothing is true or real and therefore God and Christianity are true.” Can you say more? (Oh, and I’m not really concerned with what I think is an unfair attribution of nihilism/skepticism to Nietzsche in particular – the name isn’t important.)

    Or maybe I just want to know why you think Dembski is one of these people. I remember reading something by him (in “Unapologetic Apologetics”?) that made him sound like the most table-pounding (“precritical,” for you Kantians out there) realist. Where does he say what you say he says?

    Oh, and let’s not go killing Plato, please. Yes, contemporary platonism is annoying, but Plato himself was a titan (and on some readings not a “platonist,” in the superficial sense, at all). Anyway, who says we wouldn’t have “platonism” if Plato had never existed? It’s a perfectly natural mistake, and without the platonists of the past we wouldn’t know the extent and nature of its consequences (which are not all bad in any case).

  47. #47 Torbjorn Larsson
    March 8, 2006

    Glen,
    Thank’s for the response! I learn a lot from this; for several reasons I’m currently forming a new “philosophy” for myself and my world, so you can make some direct or indirect impact. On the other hand I must confess I feel somewhat at a disadvantage to discuss philosophy with a philosopher without either background or tools of the trade. Nevertheless, onwards!

    “This is much of what continental philosophy does, strafe the categories into the ground.”

    I will take that as part of an implicit definition of your continental stance.

    For myself, I have a background in physics, which makes me tend to the mainstream scientific ‘absolutist’ (? ;-) (not quite a wholesale realist, but close) and moral relativist stance of physicists. I have also found that the first philosophical text I am reading, apart from snips in Wikipedia, of Keith Douglas minimalist stance in neuroscience, makes some sense to me on that basis. I tend to use “useful” a lot, since I find it a useful concept. :-)

    “The issue is one of philosophy, indeed. It goes back roughly to Kant, who, in the short version, showed how categories (his, anyway) are human mental abilities, not factors inhering “in the world”–or perhaps in some ideal realm.”

    I was admittedly not sure what you meant by categories, which is why I offered up my own view of how I think that science as prototypical fact theory obviously qualitatively differs from faith theories; they are reliable regards observations.

    “Instead we have to show how science has refined and formalized certain kinds of thought into a set of guidelines which usually prevent ideology/theology from being mistaken for science.”

    It’s not a categorical difference then, not a principled difference, not a result of a guideline, but a qualitative difference. It clearly separates them in the (for me) only meaningful way; if they usefully, ie reliably, manages and predicts facts from observations, or not.

    “we philosophers have to scientifically and philosophically demur that “observations” do not fundamentally differ from “perceptions”. The data that we take in “from the world” are indeed known merely as perceptions, while we develop more sophisticated concepts out of manipulating perceptual data.”

    In science, observations are (context or rather theory laden) measurements, which is what we need best here to discuss facts and make the distinction between reliable fact theories and unreliable faith theories.

    Perceptions are something neuroscience is trying to get a handle on. It’s a really long way from some of our experimental observations to our own perceptions, which is why I think the casual attitude of scientists to the philosophers troubles with this old concept makes sense.

    It’s also again a matter of qualitative difference. Observations of facts are theory dependent and reliable regards theories, perceptions are human dependent and non-reliable. Ie observations are possible to be well predicted by theories, perceptions are not easy to predict.

    Perhaps I’m lucky in that Douglas text contains a treatment on the philosophy of perception ( http://prime.gushi.org/~kd/Professional%20Web%20page/papers/neuro.PDF ,sec 1d, pp 20-24). Here he explains by a simple example why the philosopher of perception “prescientific concepts of perception are inadequate” (pp 20-22).

    As you can clearly see, my knowledge in these matters, at least with respect to the philosophy, are very thin. Alas, all starts are humble.

    But I do have an idea of how mostly formal theories like logic, quantum logic, mathematics, parts of philosophy and frequentist probability places to my criteria. They do well.

    It’s in my mind because they start with axioms and definitions that corresponds well to abstractions of observations, and continue to connect when they are applied. The formal structure takes care of such theories between their rare and indirect interactions with observed facts. But what do I know. :-)

  48. #48 Glen Davidson
    March 8, 2006

    Oh, and let’s not go killing Plato, please. Yes, contemporary platonism is annoying, but Plato himself was a titan (and on some readings not a “platonist,” in the superficial sense, at all). Anyway, who says we wouldn’t have “platonism” if Plato had never existed? It’s a perfectly natural mistake, and without the platonists of the past we wouldn’t know the extent and nature of its consequences (which are not all bad in any case).

    Plato certainly did not invent all of the elements of Platonism, and was known in his time for being something of a Pythagorean (says Aristotle). The Pythagorean observation of the correlation between acoustical harmonies and number seemed to have a profound effect on their thinking, presumably leading to their belief in number as the basis of reality. Plato was a late Pythagorean, and considered Form as well as Number to be the basis for reality.

    To be sure, the third man problem arose during his lifetime, and unlike many who do not compromise, Plato discussed this and other problems of his own concept.

    For this openness (it may have been more or less forced upon him, yet he dealt reasonably well with problems) I agree with the “don’t kill Plato” notion. It’s certainly not Plato’s fault that DB seems not to have learned philosophy beyond Plato’s metaphysics, when Plato himself discussed some of the problems. Also, the separation of number from observed reality in Plato’s thought may have happened to assist in partially desacralizing and demystifying the world, since he saw number as coming from the outside.

    In a sense this is our understanding today, with number “coming from outside” of the environment” in a way (from our heads–which are not truly outside of the environment, but which are nevertheless quantitatively and qualitatively different from the inanimate environment), and modeling the world.

    I should add that I think “kill Plato” expresses exasperation with DB and others rather more than a comment aimed squarely at Plato.

    I had thought of addressing Adam l’s statements regarding “Nietzschean fundamentalists”, but thought it far too involved to address it meaningfully. But now I’ll add that Dembski et al seem to present a rather hard version of nihilism (yes, never mind that Nietzsche opposed the likes of Dembski precisely because their religion leads to nihilistic thoughts), yet I think that this is more a measure of their confusion than a demonstration of their overall viewpoint.

    They seem to be reacting against nihilism and valuelessness that they believe afflicts society. Their problem is that they have no clue about how to deal with the especially devastating meaninglessness caused by their adherance to ideas which are incompatible with the modern world. So they use nihilistic concepts to “fight materialism” and create a new God in their technological imaginations–the Engineer God–all in the hopes of vanquishing the meaninglessness which afflicts them.

    In one sense they succeed, mainly because their battles seem to bring meaning to their vacuous concepts (it’s not entirely about money, though I don’t retract my previous remarks about Berlinski’s monetary rewards), in their own minds. There’s nothing odd in this, of course. Humans have often found “meaning” in the struggle against reputed foes, and if we can be demonized by DB and the others, their own lack of cogent arguments and their lack of any significant traction within the scientific community can be ignored or lead to further projection onto the “other”. They are fighting for their egos as these are projected onto the wider screen of history, and however megamaniacal they may become, surely it is easier to live with their apocalyptic fantasies rather than admit that their “meaningful statements” were in fact nothing.

    As Nietzsche noted, just about any suffering may be endured for a meaningful purpose (I doubt this is true of extended torture, but that wasn’t really what Nietzsche was talking about anyhow), which observation is not affected by the meaninglessness of their purposes to others. IDists have placed great value and any reputation they might have into meaningless metaphysical tales, and if they are not fighting about science in any sensible manner, they are fighting for the values that they placed upon the struggle itself. We see this in Berlinski’s post, with a great deal of concern over battling all sorts of enemies (it doesn’t even occur to DB that he should be concerned about the science, not literary treatments of the concepts), trying to denigrate them through supercilious and pompous (and ungrounded) assertions, along with an attempted self-flattery of his own amazing ability to take on such despicable foes. He sounds more than a little desperate to me, but perhaps he is narcissistic enough to think everyone else wrong while he persists on his benighted pathway.

    Notably, the IDists by and large never did invest much value into science as a productive method. This may not be as true within their particular specialties (Behe probably does not invoke miracles in biochemical reactions–except for the ones occurring long ago and out of reach of investigation), but virtually none of them understands science according to an integrated philosophical or scientific viewpoint. Their values have been placed into the struggle against science and its methods in peculiarly restricted regions of the intellectual universe, and they fight for their values, not at all for the values of science and of coherent thought.

    Behe appears to have thought that his nihilistic testimony at Dover really was brilliant and meaningful. Why? Because he has no connection with the universal values of science, while he has religious and egoistic reasons for defending the turf upon which his values have been planted. IDists will not give up on the one thing that gives them value–their struggle against a supposedly valueless “materialism”, something that they do not comprehend within their own nihilistic minds. The one thing they know is that they don’t like nihilism, and they know this because nihilism is so close to (within) themselves.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  49. #49 Paul W.
    March 8, 2006

    Glen D,

    I don’t really want to weigh in on this discussion, but I think it would be useful if you were a lot clearer about what you mean by “categories,” which is a tremendously overloaded term with many distinct meanings, and about what it means for people not to believe in them.

    For example, IIRC, Kant talked about Categories with a capital C—or K or something in the original—which were not at all the same thing as common-or-garden small-c categories. Some of them, at least, were mostly implicit in the structure of thought, rather than explicitly represented, even subconsciously. For example, we might not consciously think about space and time, or conceptualize them innately as things, but we implicitly think in terms of space and time when we do something as simple as perceiving objects as moving or stationary. We might then think about our perceptions, and tease out the ideas of space and time as explicit concepts.

    I may be wrong about the specific example, but I think there’s some distinction like that going on. (It may be even more basic, with the architecture of the mind imposing a tendency at least to think of objects with properties, and grasp things like basic logical quantification.)

    At any rate, I think Kant’s concept of Categories is a special thing that should not simply be conflated with common-or-garden “categories” that we learn in the usual ways. They are highly constrained, but highly generative, and provide the basic framework for learning and reasoning about various normal categories and their relations to the world, as well as for reasoning about the Categories themselves, and their relations to the world.

    (As I understand it, this was a starting point for Husserl’s phenomenology—introspecting to gather examples of thoughts and patterns of thought, then stepping back from that and viewing it as data to be reasoned about more objectively, rather than as subjectively-experienced truth.)

    At any rate, it seems to me that essentially all philosophers believe in categories, in some sense, even if they don’t think that those categories are mutually exclusive, simply known a priori, hard-edged, or defined by clear necessary or sufficient conditions. Categories, in the general sense, can be overlapping and/or fuzzy and/or primarily referential rather than “defined” in the classical or verificationist sense.

    So, to bring this around to evolution, one of Darwin’s great philosophical contributions was to clearly demonstrate that categories do not work the way classical philosophy says they do.

    For example, there are no necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be “a crustacean” or “a cat”—at least not in the obvious classical way. What makes them the kinds of things they are is not some list of properties that they must have or not have, like fur, warm-bloodedness, or a scavenging lifestyle.

    For thousands of years, people referred to “cats” and more or less successfully used the word “cat” (or an equivalent in another language) to refer to cats, without having a definition of what cats are. They just had some examples of cats, and cats are just whatever things are like those, in whatever sense turns out to be important for explaining those cats. As it turns out, what’s important about cats is mosttly that they are more closely related to each other, genetically, than they are to (say) dogs or crustaceans. What makes them “a kind” of thing is that other less-closely related things died, leaving gaps between cats and other kinds of less-closely-related things.

    So what makes cats cats turns out not to be analytic—it can’t simply be defined. It is primarily referential—the pre-scientific and/or “unfinished” scientific “definitions” of “cat” are not definitions at all in the classical sense. They are rough descriptions that pick out some examples of things in the world, and implicitly refer to unknown things in the world, i.e., whatever it turns out cats really have in common. “Cat” is a natural kind of thing, and the definition is really whatever cats turn out to actually be.

    As it turns out, there is no sharp-edged timeless, Idealistic definition of “cat,” in light of Darwin. What makes cats cats is ineliminably a historical distinction.

    Most modern “analytic” philosophers know this sort of thing. They are not Analytic philosophers in the pre-1950 Anglo-American Positivist or verificationist sense. They pay lots of attention to categories, but not because they naively assume that categories are classically defined, sharp-edged, or ahistorical. They take categories very seriously because they understand how tricky categories are.

    (For example, you often have to make distinctions between classical definitions, operational definitions, and referential or natural kind concepts; the latter three aren’t actually definitions at all in the classical sense. And you have to understand that some concepts are fuzzy in certain dimensions, but not others, and so on. And all of that matters to deciding whether you think a “kind” is real or arbitrary and subjective…)

    Sometimes, from the broad things you write, it sounds like you consider Anglo-American “analytic” philosophers to be a bunch of pre-1950 Analytic philosophers, or even logical positivists. If that’s not true, you need to be more careful not make it sound that way, or you will be misunderstood.

    In particular, if you go bashing “analytic” philosophers’ use of “categories,” and praising “continental” philosophers, and your main examples are Kant and Nietzche, a lot of people familiar with modern “analytic” philosophy are going to wonder why you never mention Quine, Kripke, or Putnam. (Or the many philosophers who absorbed their concepts of “causal” theories of reference, natural kind terms, etc.) It sounds like you’re beating a straw man and need to learn more about what you’re bashing.

  50. #50 Glen Davidson
    March 8, 2006

    Well the need for honesty never seems to occur to you, Paul. You just bash away with your falsehoods about my position, faulting me for the sorts of flagrant dishonesty that you spew forth.

    I framed my statements about “categories”, though a lot of good it did to your paltry capacity for reading. I gave my position as a continental position (and we do not care for “categories” in philosophy) like so:

    Yes, yes, so you say. From my own philosophical viewpoint (continental, with emphasis on Nietzsche) there is nothing that categorically distinguishes ideology from scientific theory. Both are constructions, neither is “true”, and both may provoke (in context) varying degrees of psychological commitment. Scientific theories merely are what can be agreed upon by people who wish for perception to lead “inter-subjective scientific assent”, rather than allowing a priori assent to guide mode and selectivity of perception.

    So this fact, or “fact” (and I really think it is the better way of understanding these matters), means that from the perspective of a scholastic or some other sort of uninformed philosopher, there is no difference between ideology and scientific theory–since there is no “categorical difference” (for instance, in the Kantian sense of “category”) between the two, while there remains a huge difference in the prevention of overwhelming prejudgement between sheer ideology and scientific theory. Epistemics differ hugely between evolutionary theory and Marx’s dialectical pronouncements.

    I mentioned Kant, Nietzsche, and Marx, which is plenty of context for someone who understands philosophy to understand what I meant by “categories”. Of course I know that categories can be meant in the non-philosophical sense, or in the lesser categorical sense used for logical statements, but I was clearly discussing the Kantian, Nietzschean version of categories. It’s too bad that you can’t gather meaning from context at all well.

    So blah blah, you preach away about banal facts that I dealt with when I gave my position. Apparently you don’t like my position, so you demand that I deal with categories in a manner in which I prefer not to do. It’s not like my posts weren’t already long enough, you insist that I cater to your ignorance.

    At any rate, I think Kant’s concept of Categories is a special thing that should not simply be conflated with common-or-garden “categories” that we learn in the usual ways. They are highly constrained, but highly generative, and provide the basic framework for learning and reasoning about various normal categories and their relations to the world, as well as for reasoning about the Categories themselves, and their relations to the world.

    So why can’t you get the distinction? I didn’t mention Nietzsche and Kant for no reason, and I was responding to what I think is DB’s lack of distinction between “Darwinism” and Marxism due to a perception that I think he has that there is no obvious Categorical difference between the two. You missed that, naturally, and prefer to attack with your misrepresentations and misunderstandings of what context provides. So you drone on and on in your pedantic “understanding” of philosophy, pointing out the obvious, except of course the fact that a number of continentals do not in fact accept categories in philosophy (yes, they may use the vernacular term “category”, but they use a lot of terms that they think are essentially meaningless in philosophy).

    Anyhow, I didn’t say that categories don’t exist, I said that from my perspective they are meaningless, and since there is no “categorical difference” (for instance, in the Kantian sense of “category”) between the two. I write the careful caveats, you blunder on without even acknowledging the care I took in broaching the subject of “categories”. You simply attack without rhyme or reason, apparently making this personal because you do not understand the apersonal nature of my own writing.

    Most modern “analytic” philosophers know this sort of thing. They are not Analytic philosophers in the pre-1950 Anglo-American Positivist or verificationist sense. They pay lots of attention to categories, but not because they naively assume that categories are classically defined, sharp-edged, or ahistorical. They take categories very seriously because they understand how tricky categories are.

    (For example, you often have to make distinctions between classical definitions, operational definitions, and referential or natural kind concepts; the latter three aren’t actually definitions at all in the classical sense. And you have to understand that some concepts are fuzzy in certain dimensions, but not others, and so on. And all of that matters to deciding whether you think a “kind” is real or arbitrary and subjective…)

    The largely realist outlook of analytic philosophy tends to keep “categories” as used by that sort of philosophy much closer to the traditional realist notions of what “category” means. To us they’re little more than fictions. Btw, if I ever included all analytic philosophers in what you ill-describe as “bashing, let me know. I am more than a little aware that I carefully used adjectives to keep from including all of analytic philosophy within the kinds of criticisms that Kripke’s philosophy deserves, but once again your inabity, either to read well, or to consider what I wrote with an open mind, strikes, and you write as if I had bashed analytic philosophy altogether.

    What am I supposed to do when I disagree with an analytic philospher like DB, not bring up the aspects of analytic philosophy which I think are inadequate, while using the careful qualifiers to which you are oblivious? You seem to dislike any disagreement I have with any of the analytic philosophers.

    Sometimes, from the broad things you write, it sounds like you consider Anglo-American “analytic” philosophers to be a bunch of pre-1950 Analytic philosophers, or even logical positivists. If that’s not true, you need to be more careful not make it sound that way, or you will be misunderstood.

    Learn what qualifiers mean. I am careful, it’s just that all of my care is wasted in the event that you read what I write.

    In particular, if you go bashing “analytic” philosophers’ use of “categories,” and praising “continental” philosophers, and your main examples are Kant and Nietzche, a lot of people familiar with modern “analytic” philosophy are going to wonder why you never mention Quine, Kripke, or Putnam. (Or the many philosophers who absorbed their concepts of “causal” theories of reference, natural kind terms, etc.) It sounds like you’re beating a straw man and need to learn more about what you’re bashing.

    It seems that your inability to track qualifiers gives to your mind carte blanche to make untrue assertions about me and what I’ve written. I don’t know Putnam, but I do have reasonable acquaintances with Quine, Kripke, and Peirce. Why would I mention them, though? I had enough of them to both appreciate that many analytic philosophers have a good understanding of epistemology, and that I still don’t think that someone like Quine goes far enough. Kripke is coming under more attack lately (at least in the UK, from my sampling of literary opinions), since there is little to his nomological certitude (yes, I don’t actually know the terms used by Kripke any more, and am too tired of writing to look them up).

    Besides, I have granted the value of analytic philosophy in certain areas several times. Of course you missed this in your bad faith reading of my posts.

    I have brought up Quine several times on PT and on ARN, generally favorably. There was no call to do so in this instance, except to ward off unfair attacks from you, Paul. I guess I’ll have to remember that you will make false assertions about my knowledge based purely on what you think I should say about analytic philosophy, and not about the carefully qualified attack on certain segments of which I do indeed not think very highly (Kripke especially).

    That’s the risk of posting on a forum, there are always people with axes to grind who will miss the qualifiers and caveats placed to guide understanding.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  51. #51 Keith Douglas
    March 9, 2006

    Torbjorn Larsson: I’m flattered that you cite me. Thank you.

    Paul W. is quite correct, too. There’s a lot of work being done on categories and categorization these days, both descriptively/psychologically and more normatively. Quite interesting stuff, though I can’t say I know much about these developments. This, like many areas, illustrates quite nicely that there is no dividing line between a science oriented philosophy and science proper.

    And of course Kant was using category with a capital letter. All German nouns are capitalized. :) (Actually, to be fair, I don’t know if that was true then.)

  52. #52 Glen Davidson
    March 9, 2006

    Well the need for honesty never seems to occur to you, Paul. You just bash away with your falsehoods about my position, faulting me for the sorts of flagrant dishonesty that you spew forth.

    You really don’t get it, Glen. I wasn’t accusing you of dishonesty, or even of being wrong. Just unclear.

    Never mind.

    Once again your poor reading ability leaves your response rather lacking, Paul. Of course this, “It sounds like you’re beating a straw man and need to learn more about what you’re bashing., is a false accusation of dishonest discussion, of using the “straw man” fallacy. Of course you couldn’t and didn’t back it up.

    I know the, “It sounds like” phrase might be used to pretend that it wasn’t an accusation per se (which it was, though slightly veiled with a kind of transparent deniability), but what I wrote doesn’t even “sound like” I was beating up on a straw man, except to someone who repeatedly fails to read properly.

    I’m always stunned at how much you miss, how you really don’t get it. Had you read with comprehension in the first place you’d have noted that I recognize the creation of categories, “What we do seem to effect in our minds is the production of categories of objects, peoples, and conceptions, few, if any, of which stand up to rigorous philosophical analysis (not that the “categories” created might not relate probabilistically to the data” and the obvious fact that “Many analytic philosophers do think in terms of categories“.

    One of the problems I have with Quine is that he still thinks in categorical terms that I and many others would simply discard. He considers “ontological questions to be on a par with questions of natural science.” I fail to recognize much value in his term “natural”, and I especially doubt that any real meaning can be given to the word “ontological” (except as part of the history of philosophy). Why hang onto metaphysical terms, even though one moves away from their traditional meanings?

    Quine discusses logic well, in any event.

    You also would have noticed that I “bashed” a good deal of continental philosophy. In fact I think I tend to criticize the two, well, “categories of philosophy” about equally, generally being careful not to universally criticize either one.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  53. #53 Paul W.
    March 9, 2006

    Wow, Glen.

    Sorry, but it is my honest opinion that what you write is often much less clear than you think it is, and that it often sounds like you’re beating a straw man, unintentionally.

    When I “drone on and on,” “pedantically,” it’s generally because I don’t understand you. Maybe that makes me stupid, or philosophically illiterate. So be it. I still don’t understand you.

    For example, I gather that you’re not a big fan of analytic philosophy in general, and it has something to do with analytic philosophers being in some sense overly attached to categories in some sense, and being overly “realist” and “metaphysical” in some sense.

    So I pedantically spelled out some things I know about categories, partly to give you a chance to say “yes, that’s fine” or “no, not that” in some sense I could understand.

    For example, I mentioned Kant’s Categories and a couple of plain old categories, like “cat.”

    On one hand, you condescendingly said you’d made it clear that you were talking about big-C Categories, but on the other hand you talked about continental philosophers who don’t like small-c categories, either, or something like that. Or so I thought. And along the way, you dissed realism, as you do “metaphysics.”

    So we’re back to square one. There’s something fairly general about categories you don’t like. But what?

    You also don’t seem to like “realism” or “metaphysics.” But it’s not clear what you mean by “realism,” or that you use the term “metaphysics” as analytic philosophers do.

    Perhaps I’m a naive, category-bound scientific realist who’s overly influenced by the “metaphysics” in analytic philosophy. Whatever all that really means.

    That doesn’t make me want to go back and read your ramblings about Marx and Nietzsche more carefully. It makes me want to get a little more concrete, to disambiguate my (mis-)understanding of what you seem to be saying—to my paltry little mind with its woefully limited reading ability. So I lay some things out, and give a couple of examples we could work with.

    Your response is to say I should already understand you. Well, I don’t. Get used to it. And I’m sure most people here don’t, really, either. (Probably even the ones who think they do, given the weirdness of the subject and the terminology.) Get used to that, too.

    I don’t know how much of an antirealist you are.

    For example, do you have a problem with the category of cats, or regarding it realistically? Is being the usual sort of realist about catness okay with you, or not? Honestly, that is not clear to me. I sincerely don’t know how thoroughgoing or deep your antirealism and aversion to categories are.

    I, myself, think it’s true (not just “true”) that my friends cats are cats, and that
    lions are cats, too, but my dog is not a cat. I think those are about as true as statements can be. I think that there’s a real thing in the world that the concept of cats refers to, and many things it doesn’t. It isn’t just a conventional distinction.

    You seem to think this is a generic philosophy blog. It is not. It’s an evolutionary biology, godlessness, and liberalism blog. You should expect to run into people who think that cats and catness are real things, and be prepared to explain things in more or less their terms. When you talk about categories, expect them to think of phylogeny right off—not Marx. And when you connect categories to realism, expect them to be, in some sense, “realists” about phyla.

    If you’re not criticizing realism about things like phyla, you should say so, and give a good example or two of bad realism and/or bad categories—and exactly why they’re bade. If you are criticizing normal realism about things like phyla, you should say that, and explain.

    You shouldn’t expect to be understood here if you pontificate about “analytic” vs. “continental” philosophy, or “metaphysics,” or categories, or realism, and you don’t give examples that people you’re talking to can grasp.

  54. #54 Glen Davidson
    March 9, 2006

    I already wrote a fairly lengthy response last evening to your latest post on this thread, Torbjorn. When I clicked on “Post”, a message that it would be delayed appeared. I assumed that it would be posted, and perhaps it will be yet, but it’s been many hours since then and still no sign of it. So I’m going to write another one.

    Snip

    For myself, I have a background in physics, which makes me tend to the mainstream scientific ‘absolutist’ (? ;-) (not quite a wholesale realist, but close) and moral relativist stance of physicists.

    I’m no physicist, though I’ve had a few courses in it (I have many science credits to my name), and tend to see it as a kind of pinnacle of science. From my readings in science it seems to me that a number of physicists aren’t really “absolutists”, but have a variety of philosophical notions about constructs, phenomena, and interpretation. Several readings I had in the Philosophy of Science were from physicists with a distinctively “non-realist” approach to physics.

    I have also found that the first philosophical text I am reading, apart from snips in Wikipedia, of Keith Douglas minimalist stance in neuroscience, makes some sense to me on that basis. I tend to use “useful” a lot, since I find it a useful concept. :-)

    He looks to be quite reasonable. The more deadwood of the philosophy of mind that he can clear out, the better.

    Snip

    “we philosophers have to scientifically and philosophically demur that “observations” do not fundamentally differ from “perceptions”. The data that we take in “from the world” are indeed known merely as perceptions, while we develop more sophisticated concepts out of manipulating perceptual data.”

    In science, observations are (context or rather theory laden) measurements, which is what we need best here to discuss facts and make the distinction between reliable fact theories and unreliable faith theories.

    “Faith theories” have facts as well, and the faith’s “observations” may certainly be “context or rather theory laden.” This is a reason why the issue of getting to the point where we can produce reliable theories out of our perceptions and cognition is so important.

    Galileo produced theories out of perceptions which were at most little “theory-laden”.

    Perceptions are something neuroscience is trying to get a handle on. It’s a really long way from some of our experimental observations to our own perceptions,

    Unfortunately you are viewing the issue backwards. Instead of discussing the epistemological problems inherent in our efforts to know the world through our perceptions, through empiricism, you’ve shifted entirely out of the epistemological issues I raised and write about the efforts to scientifically understand perception. The two are about as different as anything in science can be, or perhaps more importantly, one is science and the other is more typically considered to be philosophy.

    which is why I think the casual attitude of scientists to the philosophers troubles with this old concept makes sense.

    Great scientists are not casual regarding epistemology. Douglas and others, including myself, have little regard for the “philosophy of perception”, however the crucial matter of understanding the world through the “givenness” of perception occupied many intelligent scientists, as well as philosophers. You are going to have to learn to distinguish between the “philosophy of perception” and epistemological questions of how to translate perceptions into conceptions reliably and accurately.

    Einstein was certainly interested in the issues I’ve raised, as were most of the other quantum theorists. Einstein liked Hume, and was obviously influenced by Kant. To create new theories in science means dealing with the questions of how to translate perceptions accurately into models, especially perceptions which are not already guided by reliable theories.

    It’s also again a matter of qualitative difference. Observations of facts are theory dependent and reliable regards theories, perceptions are human dependent and non-reliable.

    Were observations theory dependent throughout science there would be no possibility of having meaningful science. What you’ve described is a vicious cycle, as if facts are dependent upon theories, theories upon facts (for verification). No, theories are dependent upon facts and cognitive manipulation of facts and concepts. Early theories are not based upon theory-laden facts, as there once were no theories to use to guide the process of fact gathering.

    Perceptions may indeed be reliable in many cases. Galileo found this to be the case, as have any number of people who played with ballistic-type objects. Indeed, billiards and the like develop the skills of humans to accurately predict, using their perceptions, where moving objects will go. No theory is necessary to learn this skill, though it may help.

  55. #55 Glen Davidson
    March 9, 2006

    continued:

    You seem to have a notion that via theory we are capable of avoiding the issues of human perception, as if there were some metaphysical or magical route to facts which bypasses the problems inherent in perception. What philosophers and many scientists learn is how we can work through the vagaries of perception to develop reliable science and theory, which then often can help to guide further perceptions of phenomena.

    Ie observations are possible to be well predicted by theories, perceptions are not easy to predict.

    Perceptions are easy to predict in many cases. Phoronomy was based upon a naive realism and essentially no theory, while it guided fact gathering and the creation of science out of the non-scientific past. Galileo theorized and mathematically modeled motions by conducting experiments, not by relying upon theory. It seems that the origins of the first theories is not something that you have considered.

    Perhaps I’m lucky in that Douglas text contains a treatment on the philosophy of perception ( http://prime.gushi.org/~kd/Professional%20Web%20page/papers/neuro.PDF ,sec 1d, pp 20-24).

    Why are you lucky with that? Is it because you suppose that it has more than a glancing relationshiop with what I was discussing? It doesn’t. I was discussing epistemology, not “philosophy of perception”.

    I mostly concur with Douglas’ paper, however. I like to seeing someone take on the kind of nonsense found in the “philosophy of mind”. I used to, but then I realized that most of the people on those sorts of forums are oblivious to any legitimate criticisms of the presumptions found in the “philosophy of mind”, or “philosophy of perception” if you insist. I argued for reliance on neuroscience and physics, and the poor reception received for actual science made me realize that ID and creationism aren’t the only pseudosciences.

    If you understood Douglas better you’d realize that he recognizes the considerable differences between epistemology and the philosophy of perception. He mentions the role that he believes that neuroscience can play in giving new directions to epistemology, and he clearly implies that he relies on epistemology.

    I would not write as he writes, understand, since “minimalism” is hardly a clear “stance” to take, ontology is suspect altogether, plus I have never credited “philosophy of mind” enough to take seriously computationalism, eliminativism, functionalism, and connectionism. Not that computationalism and connectionism could not be used to consider issues in neuroscience, but I’m inclined to stick with neuroscience sans the various cognitive models. I see what I think is the analytic nature of Douglas’ philosophy in the paper, IOW, and while I mostly agree with his conclusions, I would discard several of the terms as essentially meaningless, and would be unlikely to address “philosophy of perception” in the first place (note that “philosophy of perception” is definitely dominated by analytic philosophers, which I am not).

  56. #56 Glen Davidson
    March 9, 2006

    The thing is, Paul, that I spent little enough time on philosophical issues in my response to Berlinski, partly because I know that it would take a great deal of time to actually explain my position. This is not a philosophy forum, as you note. However, I cannot in good conscience claim that “Darwinism” and Marxism are “categorically different”, due to the philosophy I prefer, which meant that I couldn’t fault him on that score. That’s why I mentioned my position, and made an argument that I wish I had left out.

    Skepticism over the meaning of categories, coupled with the sense that they are constructs, is at the heart of the frequent rejection of categories, at least by name, in continental philosophy (as I said I really don’t think much of Kant’s categories, either). This implies nothing about the use of categories as useful conventions in the excellent work that many analytic philosophers do with logic and and language. Without really getting far too deep into philosophical matters that do not and should not matter to most people, I think that’s probably about the best I can do.

    I went on to what are probably more important and certainly more clear matters very soon after bringing up “categories”. I think I will move on once again.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  57. #57 Torbjorn Larsson
    March 10, 2006

    I’m very grateful to you all for the discussion! As I already said I learn a lot. You are all very good to keep focus and qualify what you say, so I can digest it. (Or so I like to believe.)

    Unfortunately, the display of eloquence and my on-and-off lack of time will slow things down from my side. I will also need to know how to frame an eventual answer from reading your posts. (For example, if ‘different categories’ (not ‘different Categories’) can or should be used instead of ‘qualitative difference’.) I caught up the material halfway during this first session – it’s very interesting, and I see some of it is directly concerning my commentaries. Thanks for your efforts!

  58. #58 Keith Douglas
    March 10, 2006

    What parts of my paper do you think involved meaningless terms, Glen D.? (I’m just curious.)

  59. #59 Glen Davidson
    March 10, 2006

    Thanks for the further comments, Torbjorn.

    To Keith Douglas:

    When I wrote that “I would discard several of the terms as essentially meaningless” I should have emphasized “I”.

    I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with what you wrote, particularly from the viewpoint you are presenting, but from my perspective “materialism” means nothing, nor does “ontology” (or at most, these are meaningful as inherited terms that need to either be divested of their force or discarded), so the combination “ontology of materialism” is also non-referential. I believe you also wrote of “levels of reality”, and my (should I write my?) problems with a phrase like that begin (but not end) with the word “reality”. I could find others, but these illustrate the differences involved.

    I had one professor, whose background is mainly analytic, who was telling me that continental philosophers barely care about isssues of “reality”, while for him and many other American philosophers it was one of their main concerns. The only odd thing about that to me was the revelation that he, as a philosopher, did care about it, since it had (nearly) ceased to be a relevant notion to me before I took a philosophy course.

    Discussions can obviously go seriously off-track. In passing, I indicated my lack of regard for “realism” in one post, and Paul W asked questions about it which seem very foreign to my way of thinking. Not that I haven’t encountered them when studying analytic philosophers (under Richard McClelland–a very good teacher of analytic philosophy), but the whole set of linguistic/conceptual issues raised in continental philosophy call into question the use of the word “real” in based upon the status that words and concepts have in our view. This doesn’t mean that competent worldviews cannot be constructed as “realism”, it’s just that we fail to see the need for dealing with “what is real” (aside from the psychological, cognitive, and perceptual processes behind the sense of “reality”) in the first place.

    I was attempting, though perhaps not succeeding well, to point out that I don’t think the differences in language used really prevent agreement with regard to conclusions, at least not in relation to the subject you were discussing in the paper. What is more, your terms are the kinds of terms that people believing in the “philosophy of perception” would virtually insist must be used to critique their claims, so it is almost certainly a good thing that you used such words. You may well see how I am thinking of words like “reality”, as culturally important (certainly in the culture of “philosophy of perception”), while being philosophically expendable.

  60. #60 Glen Davidson
    March 10, 2006

    continuing:

    I do think that this points once again to the differences between continental and analytic philosophies, none of which are absolute or unbridgeable, yet which tend to be real enough to cause problems for communication. We mean to discard a number of words coming from theistic thinking, not because we dislike those ages so much, but because we must think differently without god and spirits than we did with them. God vouches the truth of nothing today, not reality, not ontos and ontology, and certainly not “material” (and if one means “physicalism” when one writes of “materialism”, as I assume you do, we still have problems with the notion that we’re really referring to a Ding an Sich (thing in itself) when we speak of energy, although I do not in the least deny that we do refer to perceived effects “of energy”).

    Actually, I tend to be surprised at the differences in the philosophies that exist up to this time, despite Quine’s Two Dogmas…. However I do think that one may do well using analytic philosophy, especially in working through logic issues and languages that are deliberately honed to be precise. And though I would not use the terms you have, I know very well that in answering the mistakes made in the “philosophy of perception”, one does well to use that vocabulary.

  61. #61 Glen Davidson
    March 10, 2006

    continuing:

    When I criticize their claims it means nothing to them, for they typically think I don’t use their terms because I don’t know them–and they wouldn’t begin to understand why I reject them. I’m glad you wrote a good critique in a language they understand and will accept.

    Btw, I used the laws of thermodynamics similarly to the argument in your paper, in a response to Berlinski about a year ago in Commentary (http://tinyurl.com/l2tmu, pp. 16-17). His response to my letter (pp. 20-21) includes this: “but if the mind and the brain prove in the end to be hopelessly distinct, then plainly thermodynamic considerations will play less of a role than he conjectures.” Well, yes, but that’s a distinctly anti-scientific attitude, and seems inconsistent with his sometime praise for physics (especially by contrast with evolution).

  62. #62 Glen Davidson
    March 10, 2006

    continuing:

    Which is to say that it is not strange or surprising for continental and analytic types to agree on the science, while an analytic philosopher may very well disagree with a fellow analytic philosopher whose predelictions cause him to deny the likely conclusions of science.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  63. #63 Keith Douglas
    March 11, 2006

    Glen D, physics has shown quite conclusively that energy is a property, not a thing. That aside, I certainly distinguish between physicalism and materialism. Or rather, I make use of the different words to indicate different concepts. Physicalism is the thesis that there are only physical properties, hence only physical events. In other words, a thesis of extreme reductionism as well as monism. I deny the reductionism and hence am some variety of a materialism since I am also a monist in the same way. Many species of idealism (and all in the strict sense) are also monistic, just asserting that some sort of “mental stuff” is primary. (Cf. Hegel, Berkeley, Plato for different sorts.)

    And I am not an analytic philosopher. I am not sure what Quine’s paper is doing being mentioned here, but … IMO, at present, Quine’s Two Dogma’s paper is overrated. (I do not deny its historical importance.) You can get a lot of work out of a better and more finely tuned distinction, starting with the formal/factual distinction and other matters. It is also a very interesting question how we do change our logic (which can and does happen). Quine (or some of his followers) make the mistake of thinking that because is revisable it must be “about” experience. (Whence the “physicalist” viewpoint in the philosophy of mathematics.) This, IMO, is a confusion between the content of mathematics (or logic proper) and how it is known – a semanticometaphysical problem being conflated with an epistemological one. You seem to be in danger of doing the same yourself, when you claim to ignore metaphysics or not understand what it is for in a day of non-theism. Quite simply one needs a discipline that studies the general features of the world. (Including that very notion.) Moreover, one has to distinguish it from how we know about the world. Even a complete subjectivist has to make the distinction even to deny it.

  64. #64 Jay Matthews
    March 11, 2006

    Adam Lermenko wrote” “Mathematics is a language for writing down abstractions about our world.”

    Will Adam or someone please prove Euclid’s Fifth Postulate? This would illustrate in what sense mathematics are “about our world” generally.

  65. #65 Emanuel Goldstein
    March 12, 2006

    I was amused by the number of references to Berlinksi being Jewish.

    You people always manage to get back to the Jews, don’t you?

  66. #66 Paul W.
    March 12, 2006

    I was amused by the number of references to Berlinksi being Jewish.

    And, as usual, you miss the crucial context and meaning. Berlinksi’s and the “interviewer’s” Jewishness is interesting because (1) they start out talking about it, (2) it’s so rare to find Jews supporting ID, (3) it apparently isn’t even two Jews supporting ID, but one pretending to be two.

    Yes, that is amusing; your spin on our discussion is funnier still:

    You people always manage to get back to the Jews, don’t you?

    If we don’t, I’m sure we can count on a paranoid Jewishness- and atheism- obsessed faux-Jew like “Emanuel Goldstein” to drag us back to The Jewish Question. (And maybe tell us how Hitler was an atheist… that was really humorous.)

    BTW, one of my Jewish buddies confirms that Berlinkski and the interviewer must be the same person; everybody knows that “if you have two Jews arguing, you get three opinions.”

  67. #67 Jason Ward
    March 14, 2006

    I liked it. It was funny. It had some salient points.

    I’ve a PhD in mol. biol., specialising in the endosymbiont hypothesis, and recently been studying philosophy. And I know I’ve just made an appeal to authority, but so what.
    And I thought some of what he said was spot on. Especially with regards the scientific method, which, if you’ve followed the development of the philosophy of science in the past 100 years, you have to agree with him, is a) methodologically changing all the time and b) all based on your prior assumptions.
    To that extent, yes, faith and ‘fact’ as one person put it, are epistimologically the same. The ‘facts’ are based on prior assumptions (I can see properly, I can apprehend my sense data correctly, the microscope works, etc.) which frankly require a degree of ‘faith’.

    I’m not a big fan of ID, so that’s not where I’m going. I just remember our class being given the first lecture in origins of life, learning about RNA magically binding to clay in the midst of a hostile mud pool, and then making a cell within the next few minutes, months, millenia.
    All I know is, evolution is a theory with a million big holes in it which is used to explain everything going from the origins of life to car design.
    It is an total ideology, and not a great one. Maybe it will become a great one. It isn’t one yet.

  68. #68 DON CAMERON
    January 15, 2007

    WHY IS THE “UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN” GROUP GIVEN A FREE PASS IN OUR SCHOOLS?

  69. #69 Gene
    February 13, 2008

    Dr. Myers:

    Your ignorance is showing. It’s neither creepy nor dishonest for a person to “interview” himself. Try reading some Kierkegaard sometime. Would you say the same thing of him?

  70. #70 Judith M.
    June 14, 2008

    ROTFLMAO! David Berlinski is the funniest man alive!

  71. #71 Mike Treat
    July 8, 2008

    I’m not too concerned about whether Berlinski is interviewing himself. The content stands on its own. And I agree with him. His main point is that Darwinism is like a religion — and not a particularly well-thought out religion at that. Darwinists “believe” things they cannot prove (just like those that express faith in a higher power). Unless I’m missing something, Darwinism has NOTHING to say regarding the origin of life. It has NOTHING to say regarding how DNA and the first self-replicating system arose from mud (it certainly didn’t evolve because you have to have a DNA-like system to allow for evolution in the first place). It’s a bit of a chicken or egg conundrum. It has ZERO evidence proving that anything specifically complex can (or has) happened by accident. Just a bunch of “what if” stories. In spite of all that, its proponents go right along “believing” in it as fact and then proceed to act like religious nuts anytime someone raises their hand with a question or a competing idea. Sounds like fundamentalism to me. If you’ve seen Expelled!, you know that Dawkins made a complete fool of himself. He basically accepted the possibility that life is designed and that it may even be possible to detect design — but by golly he KNOWS that “God” had nothing to do with it. How does he KNOW this? He doesn’t. He would just really prefer it not be that way. This isn’t about God vs. Darwinism. This is about pointing out how un-scientific Darwinism really is — no matter what competing theory you prefer (little green men, theistic evolution, etc.). Keep on keepin’ on, Mr. Berlinski!

  72. #72 Rick
    December 31, 2009

    Amusingly enough, the blog post is an ad hominem attack. When I was taught logic, this was regarded as a logical fallacy. Perhaps the more scientific types have transcended logic.

    Given that Dr. Berlinski’s main claim seems to be that that a lot of what passes as science is simply ideology, your post kind of verifies his point does it not? His ideas are really too scarey to really think about.

    Personally, given people’s inability to even grasp basic logic, I don’t know how anyone anyone can believe in intelligent design.

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