Category Archives: Philosophy of Science

Autopoiesis and Kant’s Theory of Time

Kant had a pretty trippy and extremely fascinating view of time.  (The Hstorical Dictionary of Kant and Kantianism says “innovative,” which I gladly grant.)  For Kant, time is a “pure form of sensible intuition” (Critique of Pure Reason, N. K. Smith trans., 2003, pg. 75), and “[t]ime is nothing but the form of internal sense, that is, of the intuition of ourselves and of our inner senses.  It cannot be a determination of outer appearances; it has to do neither with shape nor position, but with the relation of representations in our inner state” (ibid. pg. 77).  Continue reading

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Filed under History of Science, Kantian Philosophy, Philosophy, Philosophy of Physics, Physics, Pure Philosophy

A “Meillassouxian” Approach to Kant’s First Antinomy of Pure Reason and the Big Bang

This is a paper I am preparing for a graduate conference at Duquesne, whose theme is “physis and nomos.”  The paper is to be sent in on December 1, 2012, so any comments before then are especially welcome, but comments afterword are also welcome.

Click here for pdf of the paper: A “MEILLASSOUXIAN” APPROACH TO KANT’S FIRST ANTINOMY OF PURE REASON AND THE BIG BANG

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Filed under Cosmology, Kantian Philosophy, Philosophy, Philosophy of Physics, Philosophy of Science, Physics, Popular Science

A Primer on Virtuality and Contingency

In one of Slavoj Žižek’s numerous talks, he discusses the notion of “virtuality” in a very insightful way, paraphrasing something Donald Rumsfeld said: “There are known knowns.  These are things we know that we know.  There are known unknowns.  That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know.  But there are also unknown unknowns.  There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”  It’s an unlikely source for an explication of a philosophical idea, but it does the job and well.  However, Žižek was talking about epistemic virtuality, which, even if not by name, is familiar to everyone.  Continue reading

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Filed under Philosophy, Philosophy of Science, Pure Philosophy

On Whether We Should Fund String Theory Research

In my more ignorant days, that is, my early days as an undergraduate student of physics, I would say that string theory doesn’t deserve to be funded.  In fact, I would have said it wasn’t really physics, or at least that nobody have proved that string theory was physics to me.  That has changed.  No, my actual view of string theory vis-à-vis physics has not changed; but what has, is my view of the relationship between all of the human endeavors to understand the world, or, more broadly, “what is the case” —even what might be the case.  This change has come about as a direct result of my studies of philosophy and, really, my understanding of how the human condition, in its healthiest state, is heavily embedded in the process called the “liberal arts.” Continue reading

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Filed under Philosophy, Philosophy of Physics, Philosophy of Science, Physics, Popular Science

Not-So-Faster-Than-Light Particles and the GZK Cutoff: Philosophical Considerations of Wayward Travels

As promised, I am posting some of my philosophy of physics ideas that aren’t as well formulated.  Click here.  The idea in the attached paper is that there are a number of large-scale phenomena that might suggest that the notion of “travelling” might not be so well defined.  In the time to come, I will be blogging about Wesley Salmon’s “at-at” theory, which has been universally embraced by nearly all philosophers and, almost assuredly, every physicist holding a university position.  This paper, “Not-So-Faster-Than-Light Particles and the GZK Cutoff: Philosophical Considerations of Wayward Travels,” is really a shot in that direction, contra “at-at” theory.  The “at-at” theory says that an object moving from point A and B occupies each spatial point, xi (i = 1, 2,…,n), at some corresponding point in time, tj (j = 1, 2,…,n), satisfying the following two criteria: 1) i=j, 2) the object occupies each contiguous location en route to the final point, and 3) this set, the set of contiguous locations, is the unique set such that distance is minimized between point A and B.  Continue reading

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October 20, 2012 · 6:48 pm

Why Are Narratives So Moral?

This question’s answer seems very, very obvious and without a doubt, for me at least: Why are narratives so moral?  The question was posed to me in an e-mail, which served as a call for responses to be presented at IU Bloomington’s conference, a conference that is thematically in line with our “Themester.”  Fall 2012’s theme is “Good Behavior, Bad Behavior: Molecules to Morality.”  The “molecules to morality” part is the part I don’t like about the theme’s title, primarily because I think the proposal of an ought from an is is silly.  There is some limited sense in which I think an ought can come from an is, but that is beyond the scope of this post. Anyway, my answer to the above posed question is —surprise!  surprise!— Kantian in flavor.  If you are in cognitive science, psychology, or neuroscience, and actually know a thing or two about the philosophical founding of your science, then this will, on the contrary, not surprise you. Continue reading

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Filed under Kantian Philosophy, Literature, Philosophy, Philosophy of Science

Addendum to Conceptual Anachronism Post

I need to go a bit further than what I did in my blog post on conceptual anachronism.  It is the worst nightmare of the historian, mostly because his or her craft is centrally about context.  For them, there is a wrong answer, when looking at history unfairly with a modern lens.  Philosophers make this mistake, too, but they tend to do it with style and blissful ignorance like you’ve never seen.  The problem with philosophers doing it is double: 1) The philosopher’s project is often (only!) ostensibly lacking in investment in historical accuracy; but the truth is that this false impression makes it more difficult to pick up on his or her error —and this, in my opinion, means partial exculpation for the indicted philosopher.  2) The creative fashion in which conceptual anachronisms are employed is so unclear that the error may seem debatable.  I have a particular instance in mind.  It arose this past week, in a seminar I am taking under Jordi Cat, called “Unity of Science.”  Continue reading

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Filed under Philosophy, Philosophy of Science, Physics

The Time Traveller’s Instantaneous Cube

I offer for consideration a very interesting dialogue from the opening of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (Pocket Books, 2004, page 5).  The protagonist begins:

“You know of course that a mathematical line, a line of thickness nil, has no real existence.  They taught you that?  Neither has a mathematical plane.  These things are mere abstractions.”

            “That’s all right,” said the Psychologist.

            “Nor having only length, breadth, and thickness, can a cube have a real existence.”

            “There I object,” said Filby.  “Of course a solid body may exist.  All real things —”

            “So most people think.  But wait a moment.  Can an instantaneous cube exist?”

            “Don’t follow,” said Filby.

            Can a cube that does not last for any time at all, have a real existence?”

            Filby became pensive.

            “Clearly,” the Time Traveller proceeded, “any real body must have extension in four directions, it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and —Duration.”

The dialogue points to what is, in my experience, a much overlooked idea: that there is an interesting constraint applied to time by the first three spatial dimensions.  When we look around, we don’t see triangles, we see things that look like triangles.  This is the sort of thinking that led Plato to the idea of universal forms and the allegory of the Cave.  The dialogue points out an interesting question: Supposing that one can obtain, say, a platonic solid, what if it exists only for an instant —that is, no duration at all?  I don’t see this question come up often in the more academic forums; maybe it does and I am just missing it.  Continue reading

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Filed under History of Science, Literature, Philosophy, Philosophy of Physics, Philosophy of Science, Physics, Pure Philosophy

Kahneman, Kusch, and Hacking: Formal Reasoning Systems as a Subset of Styles of Reasoning

There is an interesting fact about science, one that probably Kuhn was first to note:  When we perform experiments and enter into a study, the scientist will do his or her best to jam any result into the box, and be completely satisfied with that.  End of story.  The scientist proved what they thought was or might be the case.  This extends well beyond the natural sciences, and is much easier in some of the other empirical sciences, as will be seen in this bog post primarily on economics.  I bring all of this up because of a paper I recently came across that deeply bothered me.  Continue reading

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Filed under Economic Philosophy, Philosophy, Philosophy of Science

A Problem with Popular Physics/Science Books: The Problem of Authorship

It should be common knowledge that it isn’t wise to accept, without air of caution, someone’s opinion on a matter as absolute fact, if that person is not an expert in the given field.  Consider popular physics, for the moment.  What field is it that a physicist (or, as will be the case in the blog post, a mathematician) is expert of?  That’s one question.  Another is: What does the composition of works in popular physics entail?  If the answer to the former is not the answer to the latter, then there is something wrong.  I believe something is. Continue reading

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Filed under Literature, Philosophy, Philosophy of Physics, Philosophy of Science, Physics, Popular Science