Author Topic: Statism and the Null Hypothesis (from Fail Quotes)  (Read 23057 times)

MrBogosity

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Re: Statism and the Null Hypothesis (from Fail Quotes)
« Reply #30 on: November 30, 2010, 05:37:38 PM »
Peer review works by attempting to falsify the finding, by trying to find as many errors as possible. It's "verification" only in the sense that they couldn't find anything wrong with it. It's a filter--an important filter, to be sure, but nothing more than a filter.

Ex_Nihil0

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Re: Statism and the Null Hypothesis (from Fail Quotes)
« Reply #31 on: December 01, 2010, 03:56:30 AM »
Why don't we hear it from Popper himself: "In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable; and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality."

I think it should be obvious that a statement that does not speak about reality should not even be considered as valid. So, as a vital part of validating one's concept, one must show how that concept could, at least in theory, be falsified. If you haven't done that, then you cannot be said to have validated anything.

That quote was written in 1933 when Karl Popper was just beginning to criticize the Logical Positivists.  Back then, he was friends with some members of the Vienna Circle but was never invited in because his views alienated him, so he never joined.  Clearly, this statement reflects their influence on him at the time, as this was not long at all since he earned his Ph.D.
The quote itself is from a letter to the editor first plblished in Erkenntnis.  You will not find it in the main body of text in any of his works, nor should it be considered a reflection on his mature philosophy later on in his career.  In fact, his preface to the actual letter says:

"This explains why, as soon as I heard of the Circle’s new verifiability criterion of meaning, I contrasted this with my falsifiability criterion—a criterion of demarcation, designed to demarcate systems of scientific statements from perfectly meaningful systems of metaphysical statements. (As to meaningless nonsense, I do not pretend that my criterion is applicable to it.)"

Clearly, Popper thinks his Falsification contrast to verification, saying that does not consern meaning, like verification, but demarcation.  That is, his criterion for falsifiability is used to determine what is and isn't a scientific statement.  This has nothing to do with the statements truthfulness.

If you read the full quote from the book, not just the part you gave me, you'll se that he's paraphrasing Einstein as one might characterize empirical science:

"Varying and generalizing a well-known remark of Einstein’s,4 one might therefore characterize the empirical sciences as follows: In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable: and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality."

Cleary, Popper was not speaking for himself when he wrote this.  In fact, the book "Logic of Scientific Discovery" privides a footnote for the actual quote of Einstein that was referenced:

"4 Einstein, Geometrie und Erfahrung, 1921, pp. 3f. *Added 1957: Einstein said: ‘In so far as the statements of mathematics speak about reality, they are not certain, and in so far as they are certain, they do not speak about reality.’"  

This can only mean that you mined this quote, and probably found it by googleing web pages that contain scientific quotes from great thinkers, not fully realizing its context.  But as if that wasn't damning enough, in that very same letter, Popper writes:

"In this way, the recognition of unilaterally decidable statements allows us to solve not only the problem of induction (note that there is only one type of argument which proceeds in an inductive direction: the deductive modus tollens), but also the more fundamental problem of demarcation, a problem which has given rise to almost all the other problems of epistemology. For our criterion of falsifiability distinguishes
with sufficient precision the theoretical systems of the empirical sciences from those of metaphysics (and from conventionalist and tautological systems), without asserting the meaninglessness of metaphysics (which from a historical point of view can be seen to be the source from which the theories of the  empirical sciences spring)."

As I stated above, and you tried to shoot down with your quote mine, Popper saw the value of metaphysics to inspire falsifiable ideas that could further science.  It's all right here in black and white.

But lets consider Popper's paraphrase of Einstein further.  "In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable: and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality."

In order to conclude that what is falsifiable speaks of reality and what is not falsifiable does not speak of reality, reality must already be known.  But knowledge of reality would be knowledge of truth with certainty.  This makes the statement absurd, because if reality is already known, why bother practicing science?  

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No, as I just quoted, it means that statements that cannot be falsified are not speaking about reality.

Certainly, you can see the absurdity of your statement that was already based on an out of context quote.  Taking this at face value to is logical and ridiculous end, any statement made that was not falsifiable at the time it was made, but later becomes falsifiable, remains not part of reality.  This means that atoms, evolution and the big bang aren't real, because when those ideas were first conceptualized by the Greeks, they were not falsifiable.  If these concepts suddenly become real once they become falsifiable, then the permanence of being would be contradicted.  

I will go further and say that the quote you provided, in the context that it was given, is in complete contradiction to every summary on the works of Karl Popper I have ever read.  

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If you don't understand the difference between facts and opinions, then perhaps you should go back to grade school. My daughter just covered it in third grade; maybe she can help you.

Getting snide, are we?  That's not very gentlemanly of you.  I thought we were here for a debate to better understand the philosophy of science, not belittle one another.   I would ask that you refrain from abandoning your usual high standards of professionalism and not break the gentlemen's code.

That said, take a look at: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/#ProDem as I will base my next few paragraphs on it.

You say that I lack a distinction between fact and opinion.  I see them as distinct only based on the thoroughness of scrutiny they have faced.  What it appears to me is that there is a disconnect between your understanding between fact and reality (or Truth with a capital T) and Popper is not the authority on what reality is, so I suspect you are taking what he said out of context in some way since it is in conflict with every summary of his ideas I have ever read.  Every fact we know is an assumption at its core, and there is no denying this.  It could not be more evident by the fact that Popper apparently favored the Humean view of induction at least according to the Standford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and rejected the Baconian/Newtonian primacy of scientific observation because every observation carries with it theoretical baggage and is selective in nature, which is kind of interesting that you bring up the quote that you do, because Hume argued that there was no way we could ever know if reality even exists, because everything we know is based on perception.  This is it total conflict with the quote that you presented in the context in which you presented it.

That, to me at least, means every fact is an opinion of sorts, though some opinions may be of such high standard that they appear as if truth, which I believe leads to dogmatism in science (scientists are certainly immune to dogma).  If scientific progress had nothing to do with opinion, then Kuhn's observation that progress happens in science when the older, more conservative scientists die out and are replaced with more open minded younger scientists was not true.  I would not ever concede that Popper is the authority on scientific conduct even though much of his ideas are very satisfying to me, because up until this point, I did not know we were arguing on the specifics of Popper and not what good scientific conduct should be.  Indeed, in the demarcation section I linked to above, it states that "In this way he destabilises the traditional view that science can be distinguished from non-science on the basis of its inductive methodology; in contradistinction to this, Popper holds that there is no unique methodology specific to science. Science, like virtually every other human, and indeed organic, activity, Popper believes, consists largely of problem-solving."

It states further, "Popper, then, repudiates induction, and rejects the view that it is the characteristic method of scientific investigation and inference, and substitutes falsifiability in its place. It is easy, he argues, to obtain evidence in favour of virtually any theory, and he consequently holds that such ‘corroboration’, as he terms it, should count scientifically only if it is the positive result of a genuinely ‘risky’ prediction, which might conceivably have been false. For Popper, a theory is scientific only if it is refutable by a conceivable event. Every genuine test of a scientific theory, then, is a logical attempt to refute or to falsify it, and one genuine counter-instance falsifies the whole theory. In a critical sense, Popper's theory of demarcation is based upon his perception of the logical asymmetry which holds between verification and falsification: it is logically impossible to conclusively verify a universal proposition by reference to experience (as Hume saw clearly), but a single counter-instance conclusively falsifies the corresponding universal law. In a word, an exception, far from ‘proving’ a rule, conclusively refutes it."

That said, I will offer you the counter criticism that you make no distinction between fact and reality, a common mistake I feel is universal problem to all logical positivist thinkers and those who pretend their brand of skepticism isn't logical positivism repackaged.   The way I can tell is that you seem to consistently put empirical evidence on the same level as reality when everything we think we know about reality is based on perceptions, biases, paradigms and currently accepted theories.  Facts are colored by these things, truth is not.

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Which is EXACTLY why the verification principle is false!

I'm glad you agree with me on this, because it the falsity of verification brings me back to my earlier point that Universal Preferable Behavior is an argument castrated because verification is its founding principle.  

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Then you understand it incorrectly. Negationism can lead to things like holocaust denial, while Popperian falsification would tell you why the holocaust deniers do not speak of reality (since many of their statements are not falsifiable, and of the ones that are, they have been falsified).

As I pointed out above, Popperian falsification does not say that non-falsifiable statements do not speak of reality.  Falsification is not a criterion for distinguishing fantasy from reality.  It is a criterion for what is scientific and what is not.  Holocaust deniers do not operate in the realm of science.  Some of their non-falsifiable statements may turn out to be true at some point, but there is no way you could determine the probability that any one of them is true or false because those determinations aren't possible.   That said, it is perfectly acceptable to dismiss a Holocaust denier's claims, not to say that their claims are false, but on the basis that it is a scientific dead end, at least for the time being.  

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Without induction, there is no science, reason, or progress. "All swans are white" is perfectly falsifiable: find a black swan, or a red or purple one for that matter. The act of falsification causes the theory to be modified to better fit reality.



Not all science is based on inductive observation and is clearly not the foundation of all science and scientific progress, as Popper explains.  Science is not induction, it is problem solving in general.  However many ways their are to solve a problem are the number of ways one can be said to practice science.  To say that all of science is based on induction is to ignore that paleontology, evolutionary science, archeology and history all deal with abductive reasoning.  Abductive arguments take empirical evidence and use their implications to determine what happened in the past by their implication.

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Your concept would also negate, for example, Euclid's proof of infinite primes, since infinite primes cannot be observed. But Euclid did it by falsifying finite primes.

Why are you invoking mathematics?  Falsifiability is a demarcation criterion, not a criterion for what is or isn't real.  It has nothing to do with mathmatical proofs whatsoever.   In fact, mathematical proofs only work because they are internally consistent regarding their own rules.   This isn't possible in science because mathematics is a purely rational discipline, while science is discipline based on empirical data and all the uncertainties that come with it.  This is clearly moving the goal post.

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No, that's EXACTLY it: the statement [all swans are white] was falsified, and therefore revised. But if all we ever saw were white swans, and you were to say, "A black swan exists somewhere," how could that statement be falsified? It could only be verified--but since the statement verified was not falsifiable, it doesn't tell us anything about reality anyway.

The statement "Somewhere a black swan exists." is not a falsifiable statement and, according to your logic above, does not speak of reality.  Actually, you can't say the statement is true or false because it isn't scientific, so you have to remain black swan agnostic until you actually see one.  This, however, is not verification in the Logical Positivist sense.  If it were, black swans wouldn't exist until you saw them, which would mean that the more ridiculous conclusions of Hegelian philosophy are at least partly right.

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As a matter of scientific conduct, you go with what is falsifiable, because that's all you have to work with.
No, it's because all other concepts are useless or even meaningless.

Nonsensical statements aside, the usefulness of a statement has absolutely nothing to do with its truth value.  Falsifiability, as I stated above, is a criterion for being scientific, not a determination for what is real and what isn't real.

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Unfalsifiable claims aren't a bad thing, either.  The ancient Greeks had metaphysical ideas concerning the atom, the big bang and evolution, yet they later reemerged thousands of years later as highly sophisticated and rigorously tested theories.
And what does that say about the Greeks, other than the fact that they were lucky? It's also cherry-picking, as you are required to ignore other things like Humorism which have been completely discredited.

Luck had nothing to do with the cleverness and insightfulness of found in classical Greece.  I don't see how ignoring their failures is cherry picking, either.  Failure of certain Greek ideas does not violate the law of non-contradiction, nor is my point that the Greeks were wonderful people, but to make the point that just because a theory isn't falsifiable doesn't mean that it isn't true or that it doesn't speak of reality.  The fact that metaphysical statements can become falsifiable in the future should be more than enough evidence of their value.   As I quoted Popper above: "For our criterion of falsifiability distinguishes with sufficient precision the theoretical systems of the empirical sciences from those of metaphysics (and from conventionalist and tautological systems), without asserting the meaninglessness of metaphysics (which from a historical point of view can be seen to be the source from which the theories of the  empirical sciences spring)."

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The problem with neopragmatism is that it ignores the distinction between doubt and rejection.

I don't see why this is a problem.  Empirically based rejection is more than sufficient reason to cause doubt in a fact.  Anti-skepticism need not be in conflict with Popper's falsificationism.  I think they go together like PB and J.  Its delicious and you should try some.


Ex_Nihil0

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Re: Statism and the Null Hypothesis (from Fail Quotes)
« Reply #32 on: December 01, 2010, 04:06:34 AM »
Shane, I'm confused.
Does this mean that peer review is a part of the verification principle, and that because the verification principle is false, peer review is invalid?

Idealistically: Peer review is where a bunch of scientists discuss their theories and ideas, while exchanging data and comparing notes in an attempt to collectively arrive at valid and sound theory that, over time, can be improved to be "less bad".  

Cynically: Peer review is where a bunch of scientists try to heartlessly debunk each other's ideas using falsification to decrease their rival's chances of getting their grants renewed in the hopes of improving their own chance.

How peer review actually works is somewhere in between to varying degrees.  Scientists aren't immune to ape politics and territorial battles.
« Last Edit: December 01, 2010, 04:59:00 AM by Ex_Nihil0 »

MrBogosity

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Re: Statism and the Null Hypothesis (from Fail Quotes)
« Reply #33 on: December 01, 2010, 07:06:02 AM »
As I stated above, and you tried to shoot down with your quote mine, Popper saw the value of metaphysics to inspire falsifiable ideas that could further science.  It's all right here in black and white.

Yes, it is, but what you think it has to do with this discussion is a complete mystery to me.

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Taking this at face value to is logical and ridiculous end, any statement made that was not falsifiable at the time it was made, but later becomes falsifiable, remains not part of reality.  This means that atoms, evolution and the big bang aren't real, because when those ideas were first conceptualized by the Greeks, they were not falsifiable.

Those ideas AS CONCEPTUALIZED BY THE GREEKS were WRONG. Science just used the terms because they discovered something kinda-sorta similar.

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You say that I lack a distinction between fact and opinion.  I see them as distinct only based on the thoroughness of scrutiny they have faced.

Then you need to go back to grade school. Statements of fact can NEVER be statements of opinion, and vice-versa.

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It states further, "Popper, then, repudiates induction, and rejects the view that it is the characteristic method of scientific investigation and inference, and substitutes falsifiability in its place.

Anyone who says that hasn't actually read Popper. Popper posited falsification as a SOLUTION to the problem of induction. We conclude that the sun rises every morning because of induction: since it always has, we conclude that it always will. This idea could be falsified if one day the sun does not rise. But until that happens, there is no reason to reject the assumption. As long as it is potentially falsifiable, the continued failure to do so makes acceptance rational.

On the other hand, the assumption that the sun will stop rising one day is NOT falsifiable, as no matter how many times the sun rises once could always say that the day is not here yet.

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The way I can tell is that you seem to consistently put empirical evidence on the same level as reality when everything we think we know about reality is based on perceptions, biases, paradigms and currently accepted theories.

That ignores the point I made above about the sunrise, as well as the fact that we have a convergence of such perceptions from multiple independent lines of inquiry. The more you do that, the more closely the idea can be considered to match reality.

You may dispute the shape of the Earth all you want, in that there is uncertainty of precisely how oblate the spheroid is; but it will never, ever EVER be a cube.

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Falsification is not a criterion for distinguishing fantasy from reality.

No, it very much is! For the refusal to make a falsifiable statement is the hallmark of fantasy.

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Some of their non-falsifiable statements may turn out to be true at some point,

How could you EVER find out if a non-falsifiable statement is true?

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Not all science is based on inductive observation and is clearly not the foundation of all science and scientific progress, as Popper explains.

Maybe you should actually READ Popper, and not what other people have written about him. You have a very distorted view of what he said. Again, falsification is the very thing that gives inductive reasoning its validity. So he only rejected inductive reasoning with regards to verification. And I think if you look back at your claims objectively, you'll see that you've run afoul of this.

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To say that all of science is based on induction is to ignore that paleontology, evolutionary science, archeology and history all deal with abductive reasoning.  Abductive arguments take empirical evidence and use their implications to determine what happened in the past by their implication.

There's no contradiction between that an induction--and they all use inductive reasoning in that they make the (falsifiable!) assumption that the more consistently they find something, the more likely it was to be the case in general.

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Why are you invoking mathematics?

Is there any reason why I shouldn't?

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It has nothing to do with mathmatical proofs whatsoever.

Bullshit. As I just pointed out, the concept of falsification works VERY well there. Just ask Euclid.

Or look for the proof that the square root of 2 is irrational for another example.

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Luck had nothing to do with the cleverness and insightfulness of found in classical Greece.

No, it had a great deal to do with it! Look at how they viewed atoms vs. how they really are. We call them atoms not because we verified their existence, but because we found something kinda sorta similar and decided to use the same word.

If you do physics experiments using the Greek concept of the atom, you're going to become very confused very quickly.

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I don't see how ignoring their failures is cherry picking, either.

That's the DEFINITION of cherry-picking!

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Peer review is where a bunch of scientists discuss their theories and ideas, while exchanging data and comparing notes in an attempt to collectively arrive at valid and sound theory that, over time, can be improved to be "less bad".

No, peer review is a formal process of finding the mistakes in a scientific finding. It's like grading a paper, only much moreso.

Travis Retriever

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Re: Statism and the Null Hypothesis (from Fail Quotes)
« Reply #34 on: December 01, 2010, 10:24:22 AM »
You want a citation that UPB is based on Verification?  Here you go:

Its the basic thesis of his argument and you can see it 26 seconds into the video above.  "All theories must be logically consistent and conform to available evidence..." is a statement that does not meet its own standard of evidence, thus it is invalid by its own standard of evidence.

But that standard you quoted is how scientific theories work.
That this, in order to be accepted, they must be logically consistent (no contradictions!) and conform to all available evidence.
Yet you said science is based on falsification which is valid.
Ergo, UPB is still valid.

Just something I wanted to point out and to add to what Shane has stated on the subject of science, verification, falsification, etc.
« Last Edit: December 01, 2010, 09:29:38 PM by surhotchaperchlorome »
"When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world—'No. You move.'"
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Travis Retriever

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Re: Statism and the Null Hypothesis (from Fail Quotes)
« Reply #35 on: December 01, 2010, 11:31:22 AM »
FlowCell:  As I stated above, and you tried to shoot down with your quote mine, Popper saw the value of metaphysics to inspire falsifiable ideas that could further science.  It's all right here in black and white.
Shane:  Yes, it is, but what you think it has to do with this discussion is a complete mystery to me.

So how exactly did Shane quote mine?
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Ex_Nihil0

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Re: Statism and the Null Hypothesis (from Fail Quotes)
« Reply #36 on: December 01, 2010, 02:48:29 PM »
So how exactly did Shane quote mine?

Its a quote mine because Popper was paraphrasing Einstein to characterize the common view of empirical science at the time.  It could not be more apparent that Popper was not giving his opinion about what he thought science was because if that were the case, he would be contradicting other statements he made in the same letter.  Shane used the quote the make it look like Popper was an authority on the subject of what was reality actually was.  The actual quote is from note 1 in Appendix *i in his book Logic of Scientific Discovery.  Its an obvious paraphrase because he actually gives the citation of the actual quote from Einstein.  I give the full quote above and if you wish to actually read the full letter, a PDF of the book should be easy to find on Google if you wish to check it for yourself.

Shane is also focusing on what Popper called a "minor problem" of science, that being the problem of induction.  In the very same letter I cite, Popper says that the greater problem of science is the problem of demarcation.  Shane is interpreting this to mean how we determine what is or isn't real when, in fact, demarcation is the determination of what is or isn't science.  Science isn't reality, science is a perception of it.  Therefore, all theories are either wrong or partially wrong.  No theory has ever been created that perfectly matches all observations.  Some are better then others, but none are perfect.  Never mind the fact that new theories and observations are themselves distorted by the prevailing theories and paradigms of the day as the work of Kuhn will point out.

MrBogosity

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Re: Statism and the Null Hypothesis (from Fail Quotes)
« Reply #37 on: December 01, 2010, 03:37:57 PM »
Shane is also focusing on what Popper called a "minor problem" of science, that being the problem of induction.

YOU'RE the one who brought up induction.

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Re: Statism and the Null Hypothesis (from Fail Quotes)
« Reply #38 on: December 01, 2010, 09:38:27 PM »
You're misunderstanding what science is doing, and switching the meaning of falsification. You've been arguing for falsification in the negationist sense, while science uses falsification in the Popperian sense. The Null Hypothesis is very much a part of Popperian falsification--and of modern science.

Though I haven't finished reading UPB yet (it's on my To-Do list), I wouldn't be surprised if it could easily use (or does use) falsification in the Popperian sense, as Stefan pretty much based the theory on how science and scientific theories work.
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Re: Statism and the Null Hypothesis (from Fail Quotes)
« Reply #39 on: December 01, 2010, 09:44:26 PM »
@Shane: I recall a while back on the comments to one of your videos (can't remember which one) you said that you "just recognize philosophy for the bullshit that it is." (paraphrased).
After the discussions I've been having for over 2 weeks with FlowCell on the subjects of Verification vs. Falsification and Statism & the Null Hypothesis, I can't really say I blame you.
And, as I said in the comments to your videos and to Lord T Hawkeye via AIM, The closest things the 'philosophers' that I have a shred of respect for would be John Locke and Stefan Molyneux.
"When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world—'No. You move.'"
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Virgil0211

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Re: Statism and the Null Hypothesis (from Fail Quotes)
« Reply #40 on: December 01, 2010, 11:38:07 PM »
@Shane: I recall a while back on the comments to one of your videos (can't remember which one) you said that you "just recognize philosophy for the bullshit that it is." (paraphrased).
After the discussions I've been having for over 2 weeks with FlowCell on the subjects of Verification vs. Falsification and Statism & the Null Hypothesis, I can't really say I blame you.
And, as I said in the comments to your videos and to Lord T Hawkeye via AIM, The closest things the 'philosophers' that I have a shred of respect for would be John Locke and Stefan Molyneux.

I wouldn't necessarily call it bullshit. It's a means to an end, not an end unto itself.

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Re: Statism and the Null Hypothesis (from Fail Quotes)
« Reply #41 on: December 01, 2010, 11:39:24 PM »
I wouldn't necessarily call it bullshit. It's a means to an end, not an end unto itself.
I never said it was. :P
Only that I could understand where he was coming from.
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Re: Statism and the Null Hypothesis (from Fail Quotes)
« Reply #42 on: December 02, 2010, 12:04:53 AM »
I never said it was. :P
Only that I could understand where he was coming from.

Never said you said it was. Just what I would say it was. =P

I guess I'm a little bit unsettled because one of the best teachers/classes I ever had was a philosophy teacher/class. I learned more from him than just about anyone else, and he influenced me a great deal. Got me out of my tryst with sophism, something that'd been a significant aspect of my personal philosophy for about 4 years at the time. And he beat it with a rectangle. :-P

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Re: Statism and the Null Hypothesis (from Fail Quotes)
« Reply #43 on: December 02, 2010, 12:13:10 AM »
Never said you said it was. Just what I would say it was. =P
Yet it was a quote to me, which is generally considered the same as a reply to the post quoted. :3

I guess I'm a little bit unsettled because one of the best teachers/classes I ever had was a philosophy teacher/class. I learned more from him than just about anyone else, and he influenced me a great deal. Got me out of my tryst with sophism, something that'd been a significant aspect of my personal philosophy for about 4 years at the time. And he beat it with a rectangle. :-P
I've seen you mention the word sophism many times now.  What do you mean by that in this context?

And don't get me wrong, I do like philosophy, I wouldn't be participating in this debates/discussions if I didn't.
It's just that it can get a bit frustrating at times when listening to guys like FlowCell when they start to blather on about stuff they either clearly don't understand.
If he did he would be able to explain it easier and with less free passes, special pleading, etc.
"When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world—'No. You move.'"
-Captain America, Amazing Spider-Man 537

Virgil0211

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Re: Statism and the Null Hypothesis (from Fail Quotes)
« Reply #44 on: December 02, 2010, 12:25:57 AM »
Yet it was a quote to me, which is generally considered the same as a reply to the post quoted. :3
I've seen you mention the word sophism many times now.  What do you mean by that in this context?

And don't get me wrong, I do like philosophy, I wouldn't be participating in this debates/discussions if I didn't.
It's just that it can get a bit frustrating at times when listening to guys like FlowCell when they start to blather on about stuff they either clearly don't understand.
If he did he would be able to explain it easier and with less free passes, special pleading, etc.

As far as I understand it (And I make room for being wrong), it's the focus on rhetoric and deceptive debating tactics rather than logical reasoning and evidence. It matters more whether or not you win the argument rather than focusing on finding truth. The use of the term is related to the sophists of ancient Greece, who developed a bit of a reputation for using deceptive language and rhetorical sleight of hand, in large part due to Plato's depiction of them in his writings. My grounding in this realm of thought developed from a few conversations with my brother, where we'd chat about this sort of thing over games of chess (No, we weren't very good, and we rarely finished a game.). The topics eventually covered the subject of 'what is real', 'what is truth', and so forth. We concluded at one point that reality was relative, as everyone defines and interprets things their own way (Green to one may be 'lime green' to another, and may be something completely different to someone who's colorblind). This eventually led to the idea that you couldn't be 100% sure whether or not reality was real, or semi-real, etc. That, combined with a bit of an adolescent obsession with finding conflict, led to the focus on arguing and rhetorical methods.

I hope that helps a bit.