Thoughts on Philosophy

Check back here for some articles related to historical philosophies and other esoteric ideas.


2/7/2019

I found myself cleaning up the archives again. Lately, I also have found myself exploring some deeper philosophical ideas on forums like Twitter and Quora. I’ve curated my feed to provide some awesome results, but I have to always use my time wisely.

It is most interesting to see how ideas age with time. Here is what I consider to be an A+ essay, floating around in my archives (and also on CourseHero).


How to Evaluate Scientific Methodologies

by Chad Ambrose

Philosophy of science uses experimental evidence and theoretical knowledge through the history of the developments of science to find a definitive method of science. To determine a true method of science, the philosophy used must show the ability to separate science from non-science, have coalescence between what science does and should do, and persevere scientific revolutions throughout history, while consistently describing scientific theories correctly. This paper examines each of these requirements to determine which philosophy successfully fits the requirement of a scientific method.

The problem of demarcation between science and pseudo-science is a relevant consequence of the true method of science. When it comes to knowledge, science is the most reliable source. Because of its reliability, science must be distinguishable from other similar pseudo-sciences. The pseudo-sciences share similar outward characteristics with science in attempting to explain various phenomena, behaviors, and trends. However a method of science is necessary in order to define and differentiate reliable science and un-reliable pseudo-science.

To exemplify the need for the differentiation, look at healthcare. Healthcare that involves the accepted practices of medical science have backing of efficiency. Modern surgery and the use of prescription medication are accepted and efficient because a method of science determines them to be reliable. Pseudo-sciences like the use psychosis and hypnotism for treating illness indeed may have successes from time to time. However, these successes do not stem from a definite methodology like accepted science.

Clearly there is a need for a definitive method of science in order to solve the demarcation problem between science and pseudo-science. Many philosophers have attempted to define the method of science, each using different grounds and explanations for their view. Before explaining actual proposed scientific methods, philosophy of science dictates that an understanding of what science does and what science should do is necessary.

The term for what science does is known as descriptive methodology of science whereas what science should do is prescriptive methodology of science. Descriptive methodology describes what science does. If a person had never heard of science before, and was told to explain science, they would be using a descriptive methodology. For the true method of science, accepted practices should be in harmony with both descriptive and prescriptive accounts.

Prescriptive methodology more-or-less sets up the rules for how science should work. Because of the vast variation in science, this is an enormously difficult task. If the prescription for science is too vague, anomalies may be more likely to occur. Also, if it is defined loosely, some pseudo-sciences may actually be viewed as actual science. On the contrary, if the methodology of science is defined strictly, some scientific developments may be viewed as non-scientific because it is too difficult to meet the specified definition.

Different philosophers have different ways of describing science. I will discuss specific cases of this in more detail but in short, some believe science can be described as a cumulative process over time. Others believe the development of science develops during periods of normal science and changes with shifting world-views. To describe science, it must be commensurable with the view of its development; those that believe science developed in a certain way will also describe science in the same way.

Prescriptive methodology essentially should be the same regardless of ones personal view of science. The goal of science is to gain a greater understanding of the world and how things work. Philosophers of science largely agree on what science should do. Descriptive methodology changes vastly from one view to another. In the end, accepted science comes down to the view that is able to gain the most followers and the most support from the present scientific community.

Two important philosophies of science to consider when determining a scientific method are those views of the philosopher Thomas Kuhn and also the views of philosophers of falsificationism. Both views have certain strengths and weakness that are exposed when trying to make a commensuration between their prescriptive and descriptive methodologies.

Kuhn’s philosophy of science depends on changing worldviews and paradigm shifts. He believes science develops as a consequence of scientific revolutions. Accepted scientific knowledge develops from theories created under a specific paradigm. The paradigm holds the rules and guidelines for creating theories. The paradigm is similar to the prescriptive methodology described earlier.

When anomalies in science arise within a theory under Kuhn’s view, the theory must be altered under the same rules of the paradigm in order to maintain the theory. If after time the anomalies continue to arise and are unable to be resolved under the paradigm, a crisis occurs resulting in a change in the paradigm. The paradigm shift no longer allows for accumulation of science from past paradigms as described in Kuhn’s incommensurability thesis. This results in a shift in worldview and thus a scientific revolution. Also, because science is no longer accumulated between past theories and new theories, this view is described as non-cumulative. It is important to note that during a paradigm, or normal view of science, the scientific knowledge is cumulative.

Falsificationists view the development of science in a much different fashion from Kuhn. To maintain a theory under this philosophy, the theory must be both falsifiable and unfalsified. To be falsifiable, a theory must have the potential to be proven wrong. Statistics play a large role in this philosophy because one theory is determined to be stronger than another by analyzing and comparing empirical evidence.

Experiments are used rigorously to test theories. As more and more experiments are performed showing that a theory appears to be true, the more support that theory gains. If a theory has a negative test or an experiment that does not support expectations, then the theory must be reformulated or discarded. If a theory is not testable, like most theories of pseudo-sciences, that theory is discarded under this philosophy. Unlike Kuhn’s view, even if a theory is discarded, the knowledge gained from the theory is maintained. Falsificationists use evidence to show what science is not in order to see what actually is science.

The philosophies I described, alone, are unable to confirm with certainty any theory. Falsificationists can never confirm a theory because for a theory to hold true under their view, the theory must have potential to fail. If there is potential of failure, it cannot be held true and absolute. Falsification does, however, do a great job at differentiating science and pseudo-science. Accepted science must be testable and possibly false. Pseudo-sciences may be testable but they allow for variances of interpretations of results so that the theories and experiments always appear true. This makes falsificationism very important when determining a true scientific method.

Kuhn’s view also cannot definitively confirm a theory because it lacks a common thread through history of science. Because of paradigm shifts and scientific revolutions, if a theory is confirmed prior to a scientific revolution, that confirmation will be lost. Therefore, each time a theory would be confirmed under Kuhn’s view, history would show doubt that the theory actually will hold and be confirmed for eternity.

A true method of science must be able to differentiate science and pseudo-science, must maintain agreement between prescriptive and descriptive science, and must have a cumulative history of confirming a theory. I believe that the true method of science is a blend of Kuhn’s view and falsificationism as described by philosopher of science, Lakatos’, research programs.

Lakatos uses research programs in order to reject Kuhn’s incommensurability thesis thus allowing for a cumulative history between theories while maintain periods of normal science and scientific revolutions. Lakatos also follows the Duhem-Quine thesis where one cannot conclusively falsify a scientific law. This allows that once a scientific law is made, it cannot be falsified.

Lakatos is the best method of science because it combines the benefits of falsificationism to distinguish science and non-science, with Kuhn’s view of the development of science over time, which is very accurate and allows for changes in scientific views. Kuhn’s use of paradigms benefits the need for descriptive and prescriptive science to be in harmony. Using the research programs that can be compared directly regardless of ‘paradigm’ a scientific method exists that fulfills what science is, what science does, and what science should do.

Science relies on followers. Each philosophy of science has supporters and dissenters. The philosophy that maintains the most supporters, as statistics would suggest, becomes the accepted form of science. Many factors play into why one view should be accepted over another. Various forms of rhetoric often attribute to the acceptance or rejection of science. Language barriers or the lack there-of in history affect the acceptance of science. Data manipulation also plays a significant role. Despite rhetoric and debates, a method of science can be determined by combining logic, experiments, and knowledge. Philosophies have different benefits to understanding science, some better than others. The combination of the best benefits, allows for the strongest philosophy and thus the best scientific method as described by the philosopher Lakatos who combined the work of Thomas Kuhn with the logical philosophy of falsificationism. Lakatos’ work separates science and pseudo-science, coalesces prescriptive and descriptive methodology, and survives scientific developments and revolutions throughout history.

 


6/12/2018

Philosophy of Learning

The process of learning is certainly not as straightforward as it seems from its definition. Dictionary.com leads us to three interpretations.

Learning:

  1. knowledge acquired by systematic study in any field of scholarly application.
  2. the act or process of acquiring knowledge or skill.
  3. Psychologythe modification of behavior through practice, training, or experience.

Learning is the process of acquiring knowledge in a scholarly field. Learning is acquiring skills. Learning is a systematic approach for understanding our desires. However, learning is open ended. It has no bounds. Scholarly fields have bounds. Human skills have physical bounds. What are we learning when operate outside the bounds of the scholarly? Can we learn anything that is outside of our physical boundaries? And is it a bad thing for humans to be curious? Who places the bounds on curiosity? Is there an ideal human behavior? Where does learning end and wisdom begin?

Here’s what I think of these questions:

As learning approaches higher levels and scholarly works, it allows an individual to sort information according to accepted research. This is where philosophy and information collide. The collision creates the nebulous outline for the paradigm of scholarly research. Learning the bounds of scholarly paradigm is the nexus of philosophical study. Implicit in reaching the bounds of a paradigm is a passionate desire to go where no man has gone before. I don’t know that I’ll ever have a doctoral degree of any sort, but I do intend to go where no man has gone before. My curiosity sometimes leads me towards religion and other times towards chess, but through and through, its brought me onto a path where I can be of service to other humans. In this enlightened age -2018- so many paths are illuminated as ideal and its up to you to ensure your path stays illuminated as a symbol for others. This is where wisdom begins. Leave a trail of breadcrumbs for the next curious learner.

Wisdom:

  1. the quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.
  2. scholarly knowledge or learning.
  3. wise sayings or teachings; precepts.

I hope this introduction to my mindset helps you learn about questions you have not asked yet. I hope I help you learn. I hope you find your burning desire. Go where no one has ever been.

Check out some of the following essays which led me toward my previous line of thinking.

At age 18, I worked at McDonalds, attended my senior year of high school, and enrolled in additional college courses. My strongest skill sets were math and science, and – in retrospect – these skills gave me the validation to pursue the study of chemistry and other physical sciences in college. In college, curiosity ultimately got the best of me. Without strong guidance, a learner like myself easily finds himself lost in the sea of knowledge. As I attempted to balance 4 hour chemistry labs with english literature and philosophy courses, I soon found that I spread myself far too thin. I was more passionate about philosophy and pulling meaning out of poetry than I was about measuring chemicals and using microscopes. I should have followed my passions. Instead, I compromised my desires and found hope within Environmental Science. I don’t have regret about the path I have taken. I am here, today, still on a path toward my ideal self. However, as you’ll learn through my writings, self validating ideas like (I’ll be successful if I do what other successful people did) have so much power that they must be handled wisely. Wisdom seldom shows its full self early in life; wait for your path to arrive. Patience is a virtue. These hold true and these give the greatest benefit to a youthful learner. If I were to give advice to someone in similar shoes as I had been in, it wouldn’t apply in the same way because I am now able to see how the world is constantly shifting and sliding. However, an 18 year old working at McDonalds in their senior year of high school with strong math and science skills likely have a far superior opportunity to understand computer science and reach scholarly bounds earliest. That’s a good path to start towards for the sprinting learner. And for the marathon learner, start reading. And don’t stop. Find a library and move in. Enjoy your espresso in moderation.

Cheers til next time!

P.S.

Check out my reflection on a philosophical reasoning course below:

Logic in the words we say and ideas we express is taken for granted but when studied and examined, logic is not nearly as intuitive as it should seem.  Both inductive and deductive reasoning are present in all of our thoughts whether we realize it or not. Now that I realize it, I may sometimes stop to think twice about what has been said during discussion and actually assess it with some sort of intellectual process.

The tools used in logic are very similar to those used in math. This course essentially opened my eyes to the connection logic pulls between language and math. Both language and math are subject to the rules of logic and therefore similar properties can be applied towards both. It makes me see why ancient philosophers were known as masters of many domains because all of the different domains are indeed connected.

However, today we seem to pull apart and differentiate all these domains because we see them as known and deciphered. It is when all the pieces are put together that we see the truth in the world and how the world really exists. Our education of the sciences is based upon a vast amount of knowledge deciphered inductively and collected endlessly. We accept the truth of this vast amount of knowledge because we have these logical systems that assure as that these are true. Logic is the check and balance system for science and our brains are preprogrammed to use this system with only some minor tweaks and upgrades along the way.

Inductive logic is our way of taking a ton of information, plugging it into an equation and assessing the answer. This is the same thing we do for math; we just use different symbols. In math we take numbers (which are symbolizing some other statistic or piece of information) and plug them into an equation and assess the result that the specific equation renders. This course has taught me the proper way to use the symbols towards arguments and what the symbols mean and how they can lead to conclusions.

Deductive logic is the way to assess logical relationships and the truth of the relationships. Knowledge is not gained nor lost in deductive reasoning, it is only found valid or invalid depending on the form of the argument and the truth contained in the original premises and conclusions.

Similarly to inductive logic, deductive reasoning uses symbols and specific forms with specified rules to assign truth-values to statements. Deductive arguments are simplified and generalized with symbols so that the content of the sentence does not confuse the analysis. The content of the sentence is irrelevant because the truth will remain when the original content is substituted back in. The truth is irrelevant if the form of the argument is not valid or is subject to a fallacy.

Overall, the complexity of the concepts discussed in this course oftentimes lead to vague discussions about mechanics. Philosophical reasoning is a vague subject matter in general, but I absolutely learned new ideas about the value of symbolization to represent ideas, simplify arguments and avoid redundant information.