Divine Neutrality, Blog. Science, Philosophy

Domains of Conception

March 19th, 2016

The Borders of Understanding

door
My molecular biologist friend, Barry Bowman, brewed up this stimulating thought: One can understand much about nature without mathematics. Can one understand quantum mechanics only through its arcane mathematics?  Can one not comprehend quantum physics other than through its mathematical expression?

To explore the thought some agreement is needed on the meaning of understanding! I offer, for our data bank of shared images of nature, the following on mathematical understanding.

There exists counting because thingness is a property of nature; there are things in the world; in particular there are things that can be classified by sameness. You can count them. Eventually counting became indispensible for the pursuit of everyday affairs. Six shells for those two axe heads.

An understanding of integers derived from the needs of human interaction; of commerce. Those same needs brought about the notion of addition. Two shells plus four shells make up the six I need. The interesting thing about addition is that it always works; you add two numbers and you get another number.

The exigencies of business produced subtraction. It is the inverse of addition. If the merchant had six and two are removed he has four left. The remainder is four because adding two to four yields six. The addition is inverted. The remarkable thing about subtraction was this: It didn’t always work. Four minus six did not produce another number! It produced a meaningless thing. By ‘number’ was meant what we now call a positive integer. At the start of mathematics nothing else was known.

Imagine the brilliance of the man who gave meaning to a meaningless notion; to 4 minus 6! He said, “Let us accept ‘minus 2′ as a form of number – like 2 itself”. He invented negative numbers. So the practice of counting gave rise to a new kind of thing. Negative numbers acquired physical meaning: the number lacking. A feature of nature took mathematical expression.
(more…)

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Meaning from Data

February 13th, 2016

Intelligence: Artificial vs. Real


Here is the problem David Cope solved many years ago.

Given the enormous musical library of compositions left to us by the venerable Johann Sebastian Bach, can new compositions be manufactured as if his signature were upon them? As if they were long lost Bach musical manuscripts only recently discovered?

Cope reincarnated Bach by giving us compositions Bach didn’t produce but very well might have produced. Here are links to two of these remarkable works:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PczDLl92vlc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Nb1s-o7dVg

Now consider the problem every baby must solve in learning to talk. Baby Kate is presented with an enormous data base of words  that she hears over, perhaps, two years. They come at her in various combinations – statements. And from this library she constructs her own word statements. Her elders can understand them. But Kate’s words are original creations manufactured from the library at her disposal in her memory.

The parallel is evident. It is not precisely known how Baby Kate does this. But it is, in fact, done on digital computers. Perhaps there are elements in the way computers are programmed to do it that hint at how the brain might do it. (more…)

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Judgement’s Penalty

January 3rd, 2016

Value judgements impede understanding

laughing walrus
In medieval times and in primitive societies an explanation for events was a matter of morality; of good and evil, right or wrong. A death, say by tuberculosis, was explained as the action of evil forces. Witches maybe. Or perhaps the death was explained as good; justice – retribution for a wrong done. They didn’t understand natural cause as an explanation for affliction. So they suffered the afflictions until natural cause became philosophy.

A philosophy of natural cause – science – directs one to examine the world without a value judgement. No question of justice or morality governs the weather, the stars, bird migrations … We seek the cause of illness in the workings of nature independent of any moral stance. We find that tuberculosis is not a moral reprimand to the afflicted but rather a phenomenon of nature that can, in fact, be conquered. As long as a philosophy of moral cause reigned no progress in dealing with afflictions could be made.

Value judgements – like or dislike, good or bad – are a formidable hindrance to understanding. This is the idea explored at Notions of Justice Hinder Understanding

For taking action value judgements are essential; precisely value judgements govern what action to take. But for understanding the world, value judgements are lethal.

Action and understanding can be at odds. The exigencies of action can strangle understanding. In the waging of war understanding is deliberately suppressed in the interest of maintaining morale for battle. You are proscribed from examining the justice your opponents see in their cause.

Scholarship is concerned with understanding – rather than with action. The principle of keeping ones prejudices – one’s likes and dislikes – out of scholarly discourse is some 500 years old. But there exists current literature in the medieval style! The pollution of understanding by value judgement is still with us. As an example I cite the book called ‘Sapiens’ (2015) by Yuval Noah Harari. My good nephew, Zeb, gave me a copy as a gift.  A ‘Brief History of Humankind’ is the book’s subtitle. It is a mockery of historical scholarship. Hopefully the author meant it to be that; a mockery. Whether meant or not it is comedy; a book interpreting history in terms of parochial prejudices; judging it through personal values.
(more…)

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Facebook
  • Twitter