This is a podcast largely about the work of David Deutsch and his books ”The Beginning of Infinity” and ”The Fabric of Reality”.
Ep 165: Knowledge and Ignorance Part 5
51:41Here we delve more deeply into the ways our senses and our reason might go wrong in the creation of knowledge. There are no authoritative inerrant sources of knowledge and yet we can nonetheless come to knowledge...by creating it. Unusually for ToKCast we take a left turn into visual arts as Popper refers to some art history and remarks by the British landscape artist John Constable. Constable makes the claim his paintings are like scientific experiments. How? We get through parts 11 and 12 of Popper's lecture and provide further critique of the linguistic approach to philosophy and why this cannot help with the solving of problems either in philosophy or science.
Ep 164: Knowledge and Ignorance Part4
45:53John Locke, Voltaire, John Stuart Mill and Bertrand Russell are herein credited with advancing the cause of tolerance. Popper makes the case for tolerance following Voltaire who argued from fallibility that we should stand ready to forgive others around us - and therefore be tolerant for humans make errors. We discuss what "interpretation" meant to Bacon (it is quite the opposite to what it means today to most people most of the time) as he speaks of interpreting nature. So does this make him an early Popperian? Socrates "maieutic" (the "Socratic method" - his means of elucidating knowledge by the asking of careful questions) seems to come in two versions: that designed to uncover absolute truth and that with more of an emphasis on correcting errors. In this fourth part we are really getting a deep lesson in philosophy from Karl Popper himself through his summaries and analysis of the greats in the Greek and British/European philosophical traditions.
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Ep 163: David Deutsch’s ”The Fabric of Reality” Chapter 8 ”The Significance of Life” Part 2
1:11:06Here we cover the cosmic significance of life and thought. I begin with some discussion of Stephen Jay Gould's view of aspects of evolution by natural selection - specifically with some analysis of his paper "The Spandrel's of San Marco" which is available here: https://faculty.washington.edu/lynnhank/GouldLewontin.pdf
Ep 162: Steven Pinker’s ”Rationality” Chapter 7 ”Hits and False Alarms” Part 1
56:46Here we consider whether when collecting data we are able to distinguish between the signal (hits) and noise (false alarms). I make the case the author early on is doing a good job of explaining "random error" when conducting experiments. However, broadly speaking this is an issue of increasing precision in our measurements. No mention seems to be made, crucially, in understanding the possibility of systematic error (a problem for accuracy). How do precision and accuracy differ? Why won't repeating our experiments and collecting more data help guard against certain kinds of errors? All this and more discussed in this episode.
Ep 161: David Deutsch’s ”The Fabric of Reality” Chapter 8 ”The Significance of Life”.
55:34This chapter is about just what you get in the title: the significance of life. Is it true we are just a chemical scum? Much of "The Beginning of Infinity" worldview is contained here, in an earlier form, in this chapter. In this, the first part, we primarily consider the question of what life itself is. We conclude that it is best thought of as a kind of resilient information. And that is knowledge.
Ep 160: Knowledge and Ignorance Part 3
41:15How can we perceive the truth? Was it naive for the ancients to think it was "the Muses" or some such who guaranteed the truth was the truth? Was Descartes way off base to think the Christian God guaranteed what we thought of as certain as indeed...certainly true? Today people still endorse ideas about "not possibly being mistaken" - but what is their basis for thinking this if not "the divine guarantor"? Here Popper continues his masterclass in the history of epistemology explaining how we have arrived at the place we are at today. He explains how knowledge creation is a process of sifting the true from the false - but how does that work? In a wonderful example Popper does this before our eyes with epistemology itself - sifting the true and false, better and worse, good and bad ideas from the ancients and classics into his own epistemology: a refined optimism of how knowledge is possible and we can all learn whatever it is anyone else can learn. It's a matter of conjecturing and correcting errors. There is no room left for someone feeling pessimistic that they cannot possibly learn a thing.
Ep 159: Knowledge and Ignorance Part 2
49:04In this I take things a little slower - but it's well worth the journey through Plato - even Plato's uncle "Critias" makes an appearance - and the great defender of liberalism John Milton who was one of the first to argue against censorship. Milton was one of the first to argue "truth will out" in a battle against falsehood. Popper disagreed - but agreed with Milton that censorship was never good. So what was the disagreement and how was it resolved? We learn Plato endorsed a "blood and soil" fallacy that tyrants (and not so tyrants) have used to exploit racial divisions for political reasons through to today. Popper criticises not merely the low-hanging fruit of racism but also of the origins of liberal ideas and how they can also lead to tyranny if not looked at under the brighter light of fallibilism - which as I have argued before is like an acid that is able to dissolve through dogmatism and relativism alike. Popper uses the idea that truth is NOT manifest to explain how we can better build a tolerant society by just appreciating that we can all be in error.
Ep 158: Knowledge and Ignorance Part 1
48:42Part 1 of a new short series where I am commenting on Karl Popper's lecture "On the sources of knowledge and of ignorance". This paper sets the scene for the link between objective knowledge and fallibilism - refuting, as it does so, the empiricism of the classic British tradition and the rationalism of the Continental Tradition. I make the case at one point that most modern intellectuals (I mention the Americans in particular - perhaps unfairly) blend both classic philosophies into an epistemology of "certainly true knowledge" which is evidence based ("empirical") and inerrant (because it is "rational"). In all cases these are "the truth is manifest" crowd and that can lead to authoritarianism. The Popperian tradition is to take both the virtues of empiricism and rationalism - and thus by the light of both evidence and reason come to objective knowledge: knowledge that solves a problem but could possibly be wrong.
Ep 157: (Preview) Popper vs Other Philosophers
12:15This is a preview of a series where I will be commenting on Popper's "On the sources of knowledge and of ignorance". In this part I remark on my own experience encountering Popper as a university student who took some philosophy subjects - how Popper was presented. How he compares to his contemporaries - like Wittgenstein. Popper's style of writing and as I keep emphasising on ToKCast - Popper's tendency to go to science - to ideas there in science and how it works set him apart. He does not invent "examples in the abstract" - thought experiments are barely a thing for Popper (while they are almost everything for Wittgenstein). Popper speaks about concretes - what was actually done, why and how. So I do this because I need a break from critiquing all those other philosophers and philosophies I have been - the contrast is stark between Popper and almost all others. Wittgenstein may be "the philosopher's philosopher". He can keep the title. Popper is "the anti-philosopher philosopher" - and a hero for being so.
Ep 156: Induction under Objectivist Epistemology - Part 2
1:26:52This is part 2 of a deep dive into the role of induction in objectivist epistemology as interpreted by an objectivist scholar of Ayn Rand. Thomas Miovas Jr operates a website about Objectivism here: https://www.appliedphilosophyonline.com. The relevant paper can be found here: https://www.appliedphilosophyonline.com/induction-in-philosophy-and-the-special-sciences.html?fbclid=IwAR2cNLVGxyguM5R2TXaYe3OVclhw34lAdIKN0Mp13zTLK-J8dPMmnfNVlOs It is the above paper I am analysing. In this episode I discuss more about induction as it is used by Thomas and his invocation of some science - physics in particular and the broader objectivist usage of the term "induction" and Thomas Miovas attempts to salvage the word despite noticing issues with it as it is typically formulated. This leads to a comparison between Rand's style of philosophy - especially epistemology and it's tendency towards abstractions and Karl Popper's far more practical and concrete problem centred approach. Herein I look at how theory-laden any observation is - like simply observing how the sky can be blue. What does "The sky is blue" mean? Is there a sky? Is the air blue? What is scattering? Popper's vision of how knowledge is constructed accounts for this complex notion of our minds coming to solve such problems: Rand's on the other hand is left grappling with why we do not "observe the facts of reality" as she, and other objectivists such as Thomas Miovas, claim we can.