Popper Is Wrong on Induction
Popper is famous for declaring that theories can never be
confirmed, only falsified. It seems to me he is wrong about
this, and his error turns on viewing falsification and confirmation
as all or nothing affairs.
are not. As pointed out by Duhem, Quine, Lakatos, Feyerabend,
and others – others sometimes including Popper! no theory
is ever so thoroughly falsified that there is no way to rehabilitate
it. The Duhem-Quine thesis notes that, given an experimental
result that apparently refutes a theory, one can always change
an auxiliary hypothesis instead of the central tenet of the
theory, and so rescue the theory. For example, Copernicus did
not regard the absence of observed parallax
in the stars, a very damning piece of evidence "falsifying"
Copernicanism, and the chief reason heliocentrism was rejected
by many leading astronomers of the sixteenth century, as refuting
his heliocentric theory. Copernicus handled that problem in
a distinctly un-Popperian fashion: he generated an entirely
ad hoc hypothesis, not called for by any other part of
his theory, and declared that the sphere of the stars was ten
times farther from the earth than had previously been believed.
Not only was the hypothesis ad hoc, it was also unfalsifiable:
there were no instruments available at the time to measure a
parallax as small as the new distance implied. (The fact that
several centuries later such instruments would become available
does not help the Popperian, for it implies that it is not until
that time that heliocentrism became scientific!) And if a geocentric
astronomer had developed a device capable of measuring such
a slight change in observed position, Copernicus could (and
plausibly would) have simply moved the stellar sphere
ten times farther away still.
it is for confirmation. It is true that no theory is ever completely
confirmed. But each piece of evidence supporting the theory
raises the degree to which it is confirmed. Let's look at a
hypothetical example from historiography to see how the Popperian
view fails to capture the true state of our knowledge of the
world. Imagine that two historians present you with two theories:
One of them tells you that Caesar crossed the Rubicon in a deliberate
act of defiance of the Roman Senate and constitution. The second
says that King Arthur took on a dozen wives in order to cement
diplomatic relationships with neighbouring kingdoms.
Popperian point of view, we have no cause to consider either
theory more or less confirmed than the other. Confirmation is
impossible. All we can say is that neither theory has been falsified.
But this is clearly absurd: there is abundant, indeed, overwhelming
evidence that leads us to believe the first historian's theory,
while no one is even sure if King Arthur was a real person.
(And, not knowing if he ever existed, we certainly cannot falsify
a theory that says he had a dozen wives as of yet.)
not be a naïve or even a strict Bayesian to suspect that
Bayesians are on the right track in holding that hypotheses
are more or less confirmed, and that positive evidence
rightly up our degree of belief in them. Scientists may not
really formulate numerical estimates of the prior probability
of different hypotheses. It is enough, as noted by Paul Horwich,
that we can use an idealized model of how they might do so to
dispel certain common errors, such as the failure to recognize
that different hypotheses are held with different degrees
of belief, that those degrees are not merely a psychological
fact but are scientifically founded, and that different pieces
of evidence do offer varying degrees of confirmation
for a theory. Per Horwich, if Bayesianism can help in that process,
it simply does not matter if it offers a complete, or even a
very realistic, account of how scientists operate. Furthermore,
if other models can also help to clear away the fog, there is
no reason not to supplement Bayesianism with such models.
– and has – been objected that the above ignores the "situational
logic" by which Popper supposedly demolished inductivism.
But Popper’s logical analysis relies on a mistaken view of the
role induction plays in the physical sciences. The regularity
of physical events, and therefore the ability to induce causes
from effects, is not a conclusion of the physical sciences,
but, rather, a premise of them. But logic can never be
employed to "refute" premises: it can only refute
the conclusions drawn from them. Once inductivism is recognized
as postulated, and not concluded, by the physical sciences,
the Popperian case against confirmation is utterly dissolved.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
rented and watched the
above-named movie. It is a great film. I once thought very
little of Jim Carrey, who plays the lead in the film, but I've
come to believe he is an excellent actor when a director keeps
him sufficiently under control. (See The
Truman Show for another example of my contention.)
Langer was, in my opinion, one of the most under-rated philosophers
of the 20th century and probably the greatest philosopher of
aesthetics. She held that each major art form had its own, distinct
primary effect, although works could also generate secondary
effects characteristic of a different form. For instance, the
primary effect of literature is to create "virtual memory" –
a novel exhibits the same form as do our recollections
of past events. Paintings create "virtual spaces," and pieces
of music create "virtual time." Movies, she said, create "virtual
dreams." If anyone wants to understand what she meant by
that, I can't think of a better movie to watch than Eternal
recommended: The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. It
just premiered on HBO in the US, so it should be on DVD in a
few months. It’s often quite painful to watch, but it’s worth
the discomfort you will feel.
my blog post about the police
looking for the Colindale station, my friend Jasmine El-Mulki
sent me the following story, which I share with her permission:
reminded of a phonecall I received when I was working for a
Swiss insurance company this summer. A policeman from the Federal
Traffic Office called me one day, giving me a plate number from
Bern, wanting me to check the corresponding car for insurance,
a routine request. I couldn't find any customer of my company
with that plate number, so I apologised to the officer. He then
asked me if it was possible for me to check among all
Swiss insurance companies.
I need to call the Federal Traffic Office to do that? And isn't
that where you are calling from?'
said, he was fairly new on the job and had forgotten that point.
Oakeshott: An Introduction
an excellent new book by Paul Franco with the above title. Since
I am commissioned to review it, and I can't say too much about
it here, but I'd like to share a few choice passages:
Oakeshott's philosophical influences, Franco mentions F.H. Bradley.
He says that Bradley "lived a fairly reclusive life in Oxford,
never teaching, but occasionally coming out at night to shoot
cats in the college precincts."
suppose everyone needs a hobby!
A bit later,
he quotes Richard Rorty:
the anti-empiricism and the anti-foundationalism on which analytic
philosophers now pride themselves was taken for granted by nineteenth-century
Anglophone philosophers such as T.H. Green and Bernard Bosanquet,
one might be tempted to say that analytic philosophy was a century-long
waste of time."
Goldberg Shows Off His Erudition
looked in at any neocon sites see updates of how "well" the
war in Iraq was going in some time, so I stopped by a site I
used to write for, National Review Online. There, I found Jonah
method, which has been part of our culture for more than a century,
systematically roots out flaws and seeks new insights."
four centuries ago – the time of Bacon, Galileo, and Kepler
– is certainly more than a century ago! And four centuries is
really a rather conservative timeframe for science entering
our culture. One could plausibly argue that science dates to
Aristotle, Archimedes, Galen, Ptolemy, and so on making
the correct figure over two millennia. Of course, that's more
than a century as well, isn't it?
on the News
In an interview
with an American officer in Iraq I quote from memory, but
the one word that really caught my ear I'm sure I recall correctly:
"We found a cachet of arms, including chemical weapons, in a
house used by the resistance in Fallujah."
that the resistance is using such distinctive, high quality
with a "terrorism expert" again, from memory: "The likelihood
of a nuclear terror attack is more likely than not."
now know that it is probable that there is some measure of the
probability of such an attack. Now, I wish he'd tell us what
that probability is.
Playing Occupying Power Does to People
what's happening to US soldiers in Iraq.
"WASHINGTON Fueled by fierce fighting in Fallujah and insurgents' counterattacks
elsewhere in Iraq, the U.S. military death toll for November
is approaching the highest for any month of the war."
a war in Iraq? A war? Didn't the US win
that war like a year-and-a-half ago? Then how could it still
be going on?
doctor was on the news this morning, complaining that the government
has not been helping her enough with her duty to harass smokers.
She said that it has been "too lenient" on them.
is legal in the UK. What does it mean when someone says the
State is being "too lenient" on people who are not breaking
the law? I believe she thinks that everything a person does
is subject to government meddling, whatever the law happens
James Park and Buckingham Palace
and shrub border in St. James Park.
birdman of London.
across the water in the park.
Palace and the Queen Victoria Memorial, from the entrance to
I Saw Inside the UFO
I was at
an academic conference sitting with a friend, who commented
to me that "I'm tired of hearing Professor X" – who had
addressed the conference earlier that day – "talk on conservatism.
Can't they come up with a new topic?"
of months ago, about a year after that conference, I happened
to sit next to Professor X during a dinner. While we were eating,
he remarked to me, "I just recently went to country Y, where
they had asked me to present a talk on conservatism. I wish
they would ask me to talk on something else, as I'm so tired
of talking about conservatism.