I once declared this post, in which one of the Less Wrong rationalists pronounced philosophy to be an outdated collection of wrong ideas by old dead dudes which should be dropped from the college curriculum and replaced by training in mathematical logic, heuristics and biases, probability theory, and Bayesian rationality, to possibly be, pound for pound, the absolute stupidest thing I’d ever read on the web, which is saying a lot. I sent it to Arthur, seeking his input. He sent me a bill for a new keyboard, saying that it was my fault his old one was now covered in vomit. We commiserated over the overweening arrogance of rationalist ideologues and resolved to turn our attention to less depressing things.
While reading this excellent review of a book I’m now salivating over, I came across a couple sentences which reminded me of that earlier episode. This is a perfect articulation of how learning to truly think is more than simply being au courant with the latest soon-to-be-obsolete theories and cutting-edge research (to say nothing of the reductionist attitude that knowledge which can’t be expressed in mathematical formulae is nearly useless):
To understand a theory requires not just giving its latest formulation, but telling the story of its development, including the major false ideas held along the way, and how their refutation led to the more accurate and comprehensive theories held now. This model sees our understanding as expanding not through some single and final heroic act in which we rid ourselves of all perspectives, but through a gradual process in which we encompass more of them.
June 17, 2015 @ 7:40 pm
I love trying to figure out why smart people think stupid things; scientists and engineers ridiculing philosophy is such a classic case and the idea refutes itself: Is the usefulness/uselessness of philosophy measurable? If not, then the question is a philosophical one. Whoops, we shouln't be talking about this! Furthermore, are the standards used to determine usefulness of anything completely objective? You have a utility measuring device, or you rely on your own judgment? How do you know it's correct? Uh-oh! That kind of determination is not not called philosophy! Being rational means having a philosophy; having values is inescapable for humans. Scientists and engineers: please stop thinking the rightness of your ideas is self-evident. It's not, and your thinking so is not only unscientific, it is delusional.
Philosophers created the tools of science: rigorous, rational thought and language, logic, and mathematics. Scientists do a lot of great things with those tools. Philosophy is not one of them. Oh, and you're welcome.
June 17, 2015 @ 8:49 pm
Hey, what are you doing here? Aren't you usually off on a tropical island engaging in debauchery at this time of year? Still, very well said.
June 18, 2015 @ 2:38 am
Oh, the tropical island avec débauche was so last week. But I ain't hanging around in Houston the rest of the summer; that's for sure! (Comments may be infrequent, due to mountains in the way.)