Philosophy Roundup

first_imgPhilosophy of science is a broad discipline incorporating many sub-disciplines such as intellectual history, sociology, ethics, rhetoric, logic, demarcation of science from pseudoscience, classification, discovery, verification, explanation and more.  A dozen recent news stories discussed some of these topics.Medical ethics:  PhysOrg reproduced an AP story about medical research on humans in the US in the 1940s to 1960s.  The details are quite shocking and were “unusually unethical, even at the time.”  They included giving diseases to prisoners and the disabled.  The news media largely ignored these stories, the article said.  This entry touches on the need to set ethical limitations on scientific inquiry.Futurism, ethics, and health:  Should genetic interventions be used to create healthy babies?  This sensitive question, behind which lurks the ghost of positive eugenics, was discussed cheerfully in Science Magazine (25 February 2011: DOI: 10.1126/science.1204088) on the 10th anniversary of the Human Genome Project.    “Genetics is a way of thinking.  Genomics is a set of tools,” Mary-Claire King wrote, glossing over the potential for abuse of thinking and tools.  “If we think rigorously about genetics and use these tools well,” she said, “the resolution of inherited disorders on behalf of our patients will be bounded only by our imaginations.  One healthy infant at a time is not a bad way to begin.”    But how will babies born without genetic intervention be treated by society?  King assumed universal agreement on the meaning of well and spoke of rigor, good and bad as if bounded only by human imagination.  A quick look back at the 20th century shows some not-so-cheerful ways our predecessors applied their imaginations using thinking and tools.Philosophy of discovery:  A story on PhysOrg exemplified how, in the philosophy of science, discovery is distinct from explanation.  Some mathematicians at Emory University were on a nature hike when a “Eureka!” moment hit them.  “So what is an ‘aha’ moment?” the article asked.  “The way I see it, it’s not something that happens to you instantly,” said Ken Ono.  “It just happens to be the moment that you realize the fruits of all your hard work.”  Article includes a video clip of Ono telling his story on the trail.Paradigms and models:  Some European philosophers have tried to put Thomas Kuhn on a chip.  In “Emergence and Decline of Scientific Paradigms” described on PhysOrg, they produced a mathematical model showing how scientific paradigms rise and fall.  “Although many factors influence the emergence and decline of such scientific paradigms,” the article said, “a new model has captured how these ideas spread, providing a better understanding of paradigm shifts and the culture of innovation.”    Like some meta-theory on theories, or observation of observers, their mathematical model had all the coldness of monitoring bacteria in a Petri dish.  Paradigms mentioned included “climate change, nanotechnology and chaos theory”.  Not apparent was how their model intersected any conception of validation, verification, or truth.History of science:  An article at PhysOrg might be enough to make a modern scientist scream.  Dr. Lawrence Principe, historian of science at Johns Hopkins, is defending alchemy as legitimate research for its time.  In “Why many historians no longer see alchemy as an occult practice,” Phillip Schewe wrote that “the scholars who write the history of science and technology no longer lump alchemy in with witchcraft as a pseudo-science.”  Instead they view it as a precursor to chemistry.    Alchemists, they said, should not be dismissed solely for failing their main mission to turn base metals into gold; “Alchemists … were active in assaying metals, refining salts, making dyes and pigments, making glass and ceramics, artificial fertilizers, perfumes, and cosmetics” – i.e., skills useful for the emerging science of chemistry.  Famous practitioners of alchemy included Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton.Design detection:  “How nature’s patterns form” was the headline of a short article on PhysOrg.  With an image of a Fibonacci spiral pattern leading the story, the article mentioned how many universal patterns, seen in sunflowers, galaxies, animal coloration or sand dunes are the result of “some kind of stress, applied stress.”  Alan Newell at the University of Arizona was telling a meeting of the AAAS that “biological forms are controlled more by the laws of physics than by evolution,” i.e., “the products of physical forces, rather than evolutionary ones.”    Further, “Patterns arise when the symmetry of a system is broken, Newell said.  The similarity in patterns from system to system occur when the systems have similar symmetry, rather than because the systems are made from the same materials.”  Newell believes patterns are impressed on nature mechanically, but as “a consequence of biochemically and mechanically induced pattern-forming instabilities” that can be described in mathematical models.    The short article did not address why natural laws and instabilities should be symmetric, or finely tuned to reproduce a Fibonacci series, or why the human mind finds these patterns beautiful.  Newell did end, though, on a poetic note: “Mathematics is like a good poem, which separates the superfluous from the essentials and fuses the essentials into a kernel of truth.”Verification and falsification:  Nature News reported that the Apex Chert in western Australia, thought to be evidence for the oldest life on the planet, may have formed by inorganic processes.  This incident touches on several areas in philosophy of science: verification, interpretation of evidence, ethics, and history of science: “Twenty years ago the palaeontological community gasped as geoscientists revealed evidence for the oldest bacterial fossils on the planet,” the article said.  “Now, a report in Nature Geoscience shows that the filament structures that were so important in the fossil descriptions are not remnants of ancient life, but instead composed of inorganic material.”    This appears to be a case of scientists who “wanted to find life so badly that they ignored the obvious,” the article said.  Olcutt Marshall opened some philosophical cans of worms with his remark, “There is a willful blindness about these structures that sometimes has more to do with local politics than global truth.”  See also the PhysOrg write-up.Paradigm backlash:  As successful as Newtonian mechanical philosophy was in the 17th and 18th centuries, it produced a backlash, wrote George Rousseau in a book review in Nature (24 Feb 2011, doi:10.1038/470462a).  Commenting on Stephen Gaukroger’s new book The Collapse of Mechanism and the Rise of Sensibility: Science and the Shaping of Modernity 1680�1760, Rousseau noted that while most scientists are aware of Newton’s achievement, “Less familiar is the philosophical phase that followed – sensibility, the view of humans as organic creatures, incapable of reduction to the sum of their mechanical parts, especially in the affective, moral and political realms.”  Accordingly, “Stephen Gaukroger explains how the philosophies of mechanism collapsed over eight decades, to be replaced by a more sensory view of nature.”    The review warned of simplistic views of mechanical philosophy (sometimes abbreviated mechanism): “Mechanism was never a single set of principles about machine-like systems,” he said.  “It comprised an array of disparate beliefs, experiences and practices that were followed in far-flung places and presided over by its principal architects: Ren� Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Newton.”    Sensibility, likewise, “is a vague term,” he said.  According to Gaukroger, sensibility “allows connections to be made between natural-philosophical and moral, political, and psychological theories in a new way, shaping a new field of the moral sciences.”  While a strict mechanist or 20th-century positivist might take issue with that phrase as an oxymoron, the definition points out the necessity of philosophical judgments on the nature of science.    The 1760s, the review said, was a watershed decade and the start of the so-called Romantic era with roots in sensibility stretching back a century or more:Imaginative literature, later codified as ‘Romantic’, also drove nails into mechanism’s coffin by postulating that matter was more complex than the mechanical natural philosophers thought.  A human is not a mere machine; a fly is much harder to study than a pebble.  By focusing on human nature rather than physical matter, the language of the new literature helped to alter the way scientists conceived their models, and enabled modernity to commence its work.It is ironic that the reviewer shares a surname with Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), an icon of Romanticism.Search for extra-terrestrial science:  Can scientists justify their work based on what they expect to find, rather than what they have found?  Rowan Hooper on New Scientist recouped the latest scoop on planet counts from the Kepler spacecraft, then launched into some philosophy: “Exoplanet findings spark philosophical debate,” he titled his article, noting that “What were once speculative and philosophical questions are now being tackled with real data, generated by NASA’s planet-hunting space telescope, Kepler.”  The word data is a philosophically-loaded question.  To what extent does data about extrasolar planets apply to the question of extraterrestrial intelligence?    Hooper heard two speakers at the recent AAAS meeting discuss how Christians and Muslims might respond positively to detection of aliens.  “Both their arguments amounted to the (to my mind) rather dubious claim that the discovery of extraterrestrial life would pose no challenge or crisis to terrestrial religion.”    Then he heard talks about the possibility of life detection by a pessimist, Howard Smith [Harvard-Smithsonian Institute for Astrophysics] and an optimist, Seth Shostak [SETI Institute].  Worried that it might take 100 generations to get in touch with aliens, Smith coined a new phrase: “the misanthropic principle says that intelligent life is so unlikely to evolve that we might as well accept that we’ll never know if we are unique or not.”  Hooper seemed to prefer Shostak’s enthusiastic prediction of successful detection within 24 years, even though it was couched in a philosophical statement, “Believing there aren’t ETs is believing in miracles.”Demarcation:  According to Research Professional John Beddington, the President’s science advisor, made waves by calling for scientists to be “grossly intolerant” of what he perceives as pseudoscience.  As for what constitutes pseudoscience, Beddington referred to “the building up of what purports to be science by the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and the failure to use scientific method.”  Particularly, he had in mind “politically or morally or religiously motivated nonsense.”    Beddington apparently does not realize that the demarcation problem and the scientific method are issues that loom large in philosophy of science.  The assumption that science can be reduced to a bias-free method apparently motivated his sermon for scientists to be as grossly intolerant of that sort of thing as they are of racism or “homophobia.”  He views religious or political influence as “pernicious,” but he left begging the question of whether secular consensus science itself is free of such influences.    Sensing a little unease with his own moral plea, Beddington told his audience, “I’d urge you, and this is a kind of strange message to go out, but go out and be much more intolerant”  That is clearly a moral judgment, not a scientific finding.  Beddington also did not distinguish “morally … motivated nonsense” from his own moral judgments.  Whether or not one agrees with his opinions, the story illustrates how science is inextricable from moral values.Sociology of OOL:  As a reporter at a recent conference of origin-of-life researchers, Dennis Overbye, writing for the New York Times, seemed amused by the curious sociology of his subjects:Two dozen chemists, geologists, biologists, planetary scientists and physicists gathered here recently to ponder where and what Eden might have been.  Over a long weekend they plastered the screen in their conference room with intricate chemical diagrams through which electrons bounced in a series of interactions like marbles rattling up and down and over bridges through one of those child’s toys, transferring energy, taking care of the business of nascent life.  The names of elements and molecules tripped off chemists’ tongues as if they were the eccentric relatives who show up at Thanksgiving every year.While not unkind to their ramblings, Overbye found plenty of confusion, disagreement, and ignorance to showcase.  His last quip was about Craig Venter’s intelligent design project to create synthetic life: “And so his genome is now in the process of acquiring its first, non-Darwinian mutation.”Science and Meaning  What does science mean?  In the New York Review of Books, Freeman Dyson discussed information theory and the history of science under the headline, “How We Know.”  In the body of his book review of The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick, Dyson, while trying to clear up some misinformation, exposed some embarrassments in science that call into question not only how we know, but what we know:The public has a distorted view of science, because children are taught in school that science is a collection of firmly established truths.  In fact, science is not a collection of truths.  It is a continuing exploration of mysteries.  Wherever we go exploring in the world around us, we find mysteries.  Our planet is covered by continents and oceans whose origin we cannot explain.  Our atmosphere is constantly stirred by poorly understood disturbances that we call weather and climate.  The visible matter in the universe is outweighed by a much larger quantity of dark invisible matter that we do not understand at all.  The origin of life is a total mystery, and so is the existence of human consciousness.  We have no clear idea how the electrical discharges occurring in nerve cells in our brains are connected with our feelings and desires and actions.    Even physics, the most exact and most firmly established branch of science, is still full of mysteries….Scientists get a kick out of the endless quest: “The vision of the future as an infinite playground, with an unending sequence of mysteries to be understood by an unending sequence of players exploring an unending supply of information, is a glorious vision for scientists,” he said, but not to artists, writers, and ordinary people.  Dyson worried about the flood of information around us being separated from meaning.  “Now we can pass a piece of human DNA through a machine and rapidly read out the genetic information,” Dyson noted, “but we cannot read out the meaning of the information.  We shall not fully understand the information until we understand in detail the processes of embryonic development that the DNA orchestrated to make us what we are.”    Claude Shannon, who felt “Meaning is irrelevant” to his information theory, started a “flood of information in which we are drowning,” Dyson said.  Is our fate to look out upon, as Jorge Luis Borges portrayed the universe in 1941, a “library, with an infinite array of books and shelves and mirrors,” never knowing what it all means?  “It is our task as humans to bring meaning back into this wasteland,” Dyson concluded.  “As finite creatures who think and feel, we can create islands of meaning in the sea of information.”    While Dyson examined the definition of information in detail in his review, he left dangling an even more important definition: the meaning of meaning.  Is meaning defined by the individual artist, writer, or ordinary person?  Who decides when something is meaningful?  Are islands of meaning grounded on a continent of truth, or are they adrift in an infinite sea of meaningless information?For a look at some of these issues from proponents of intelligent design, see an examination of Freeman Dyson’s article by Denyse O’Leary on Uncommon Descent, another O’Leary article on Uncommon Descent about origin-of-life science, a treatment of Beddington’s outrage against pseudoscience on the blog Darwin’s God by Cornelius Hunter and O’Leary.  In a subsequent post on Uncommon Descent, O’Leary quoted Frank Furedi who views Beddington’s intolerance as a fast-backward to the Middle Ages.    There’s a new anthology of essays by creationists that calls into question the objectivity of science.  The description of Sacred Cows In Science: No Objectivity Allowed, Norbert Smith (ed.) on Amazon.com states,Science was at one time defined by its method.  Carefully controlled experiments, provisional conclusions, and considered debate once defined the field.  But those days have passed.  Today, science is defined by public policy statements, consensus, and a set of metaphysical assumptions that cannot be directly tested.  Students are told that science is in conflict with “faith” or, worse yet, that faith operates in a different “magisterial” [sic]with no real application to the world we inhabit.Chapters include material on life sciences, physical sciences, and behavioral sciences.  The first reviewer agreed, “Science should be a discipline based on dissent, but as more and more science becomes publicly funded, ideas become entrenched, and outside ideas are no longer heard.”This is all interesting material with too much to comment on in each article.  Readers are encouraged to become knowledgeable about these controversies with the Baloney Detector in good working order and refine their philosophy of science in light of these real-world issues.  Science is what scientists do – unless they can defend aspiring to an unattainable goal.    One overriding theme in all the above is how science and philosophy are both human enterprises, subject to all the biases, assumptions, limitations, mistakes, and changes of mind connected with any other human activity.  One can hope to approach limitations with more clarity in a systematic way, but they are still limitations.    One thing we need more than science or philosophy is wisdom.  The writer of Psalm 119 offered a way up: “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.” (verse 99).  Indeed, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10), and of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7).    Why is the fear of the Lord essential?  Why is it the beginning of wisdom and knowledge?  Because without it, science is impossible.  The Lord is the source of the morality, integrity, and wisdom needed to even hope for a clear scientific understanding about any subject – or a philosophy of anything.    Atheists may do science, but they cannot justify what they do.  When they assume the world is rational, approachable, and understandable, they plagiarize Judeo-Christian presuppositions about the nature of reality and the moral need to seek the truth.    As an exercise, try generating a philosophy of science from hydrogen coming out of the big bang.  It cannot be done.  It’s impossible even in principle, because philosophy and science presuppose concepts that are not composed of particles and forces.  They refer to ideas that must be true, universal, necessary and certain.    It’s time science gets back to the beginning of wisdom.  You can help by rapping a scientist’s knuckles every time he steals from the Christian smorgasbord of presuppositions.  While bandaging his knuckles, encourage him with the upside of a scientific revolution based on the Bible: it makes genuine scientific knowledge, if not exhaustive, at least possible.(Visited 16 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

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SA census app to improve planning

first_img14 August 2013 South African mapping firm mapIT has released a location-based business intelligence application, MarketScope, based on Statistics South Africa’s census 2011 data, as a tool to improve government and business planning. The app has incorporated data for race, gender, age, income, education, language, employment status, household size and total population within local and district municipal boundaries. “This inclusion of the census data offers enterprise and government a comprehensive geo-spatial snapshot of their operations to allow planning, benchmarking and market analyses. It’s a virtual replication of reality,” mapIT managing director, Etienne Louw, said in a statement on Monday. MarketScope also comes standard with navigation service provider TomTom’s mapping data to ensure accurate analysis and benchmarking. TomTom has developed the most extensive mapping database in the world and includes over 10-million kilometres of roads and 2-million points of interest in Africa. “MarketScope’s four-module application geo-codes, imports, integrates and overlays proprietary information – customer, store, supplier and logistical data and third-party demographic research including census 2011 – onto a digital map for analysis and display in a geo-spatial context,” mapIT said. The four modules are client centric information, router, locator and spatial analyser. MarketScope also provides “decision-makers the ability to compare and contrast company data on consumers, sales patterns and customer trends with the latest census 2011 data and demographic information such as Living Standards Measures”, according to mapIT. Another feature of the app is the drive time analysis, which determines a drive time zone – the distance travelled through a road network in the given time. “The tool selects a driving time according to the nature of a business and how much time people would probably be willing to spend in their cars to get to this location,” the company said. SAinfo reporterlast_img read more

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Epic Adventure, — Wet Surprise (GC1YV80) — Geocache of the Week Video Edition

first_imgHiking up to the lake. Photo by geocacher Boonie-Medic Ben, of benandjayme, surveying the lake. Lackey AKprincesswarrior making her way to the island. Continue to explore some of the most engaging geocaches around the globe. Check out all the Geocaches of the Week on the Geocaching blog.If you would like to nominate a Geocache of the Week, just fill out this form. Thanks!Share with your Friends:More [vsw id=”hfFLCVLQZSE” source=”youtube” width=”853″ height=”480″ autoplay=”no”]Geocache Name:Wet Surprise (GC1YV80)Difficulty/Terrain Rating:2/5Why this is the Geocache of the Week:This was an incredible adventure and is a perfect example of how geocaching can take you to places you never would’ve visited without it. For more, check out the video above.What geocachers are saying:“Swam to it in my undies!  I gotta say, in 6+ years of caching, this is probably the coolest cache i’ve done so far…” – Thuescapades“This cache experience was my favorite of all time.” – reidsomething“What an amazing adventure! …Beautiful lake, amazing view of the mountain, and a cache full of awesome swag…what more could a geocacher want??” – AKprincesswarriorWhat the geocache owner, Freak of Nature, has to say:“I’ve always enjoyed geocaching away from urban areas. I have a background in forestry, and love the outdoors…I’ve known about this area since the late seventies. I have backpacked around here many times. Lots of local history here.I love all of the positive feedback! This is really what geocaching means to me. Discovering places and things I might never have known of, but for someone placing a cache nearby.Everybody knows of a special spot or location that means something to them. There are lots of adventures waiting to be had.  Don’t be afraid to share it with others. Thanks to all for this most enjoyable hobbie, and cache on!”Photos:Mount Rainier views on the hike up. What’s most fun you’ve had during a day of geocaching? Tell us and post photos in the comments. SharePrint RelatedThe Geocaching Vlogger — InterviewSeptember 20, 2018In “Community”Find your knight in shining armor. — Castle Northmoor (GCX612) — Geocache of the WeekJuly 30, 2014In “Community”Featured Geocacher of the Month Award WinnersAugust 25, 2011In “Community”last_img read more

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Top Intranets Embrace Mobile Accessibility and Social Networking

first_imgCognitive Automation is the Immediate Future of… Intranets are becoming a higher priority for organizations. Intranet teams are growing in size, and the best of them are embracing new trends such as mobile accessibility and social networking.These are some of the findings from Jakob Nielsen’s annual report on the top intranets for 2010. Companies that made the list this year include General Electric, Trend Micro Devices and Walmart. Nielsen is recognized as one of the world’s foremost usability experts. His findings appear solid, though it is apparent that Intranet development is just on the verge of becoming a central communication environment for enterprise collaboration.This year, Nielsen says, top companies on the list had a median size of about 6,300 employees, which continues a year-to-year trend toward smaller businesses. He attributes it to the increase in availability of small-company-friendly intranet technology.In addition, intranet teams are growing, up to 14 people, 27% higher than the average team size in 2006. This is not a big surprise. The need to develop the best possible internal communications environments now cuts across multiple platforms, ranging from the web to mobile devices. More resources are required to keep these platforms synced and accessible to the employees in the organization.Mobile Intranet SitesThe best intranets had a separate mobile site for their employees. Of the companies polled, only 30% actually had a dedicated mobile site. Expect this to change in the year ahead. People are still getting to know how to use smart phones. It’s still rare for companies to launch application environments for users, but at least one company did: an iPhone web app. Soon, though, users will expect to have access “anytime, anywhere,” to their organization’s network. Social FeaturesThe social Web is finding its way into intranets. Nielsen cites two trends:social features for employees as individualsworkgroup support and other features that encourage work-related connectionsHe cites Walmart for its discussion and profile pages and Trend Micro’s TrendSpace, which includes the capability for employees to create their own content. Trend Micro goes as far as offering an elaborate system of reward points that accrue to employees when they contribute to the intranet’s community features.It’s noteworthy that social features are still just emerging in intranet environments, especially with the advent of enterprise collaboration services. Companies still have the chance to be recognized as innovators in this space, especially if they implement real-time update capabilities and mashup environments.Intranet Design is MaturingOverall, Nielsen comes to the conclusion that intranet design is maturing. In many respects, the Intranet has come of age.In the year ahead, intranets will change even more. Mobile usability and social networking features will continue to evolve, especially as teams begin to experiment with the wide variety of enterprise collaboration services now available. alex williams Tags:#enterprise#news#NYT#Trends IT + Project Management: A Love Affaircenter_img Massive Non-Desk Workforce is an Opportunity fo… Related Posts 3 Areas of Your Business that Need Tech Nowlast_img read more

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WB Governor sends report to Centre

first_imgWest Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi has sent a report to the Centre on Friday on the ongoing violence in Darjeeling over the demand for a separate Gorkhaland State. “In the report, the Governor said all the stakeholders involved in the Gorkhaland issue should try to resolve the matter through discussion and restore peace in the Darjeeling hills,” sources in the Raj Bhavan told The Hindu.Earlier on Friday, a delegation of three Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) MLAs — Amar Singh Rai, Rohit Sharma and Sarita Rai — met the Governor and apprised him of the situation in Darjeeling. “The GJM delegation also stated that the State government is yet to issue any formal order stating that Bengali will not be made compulsory in the schools in the hills,” sources in the Raj Bhavan said. ‘Outsiders’ work’Addressing the media after the meeting, Mr. Sharma claimed that “those who are indulging in arson in Darjeeling are not GJM members but outsiders.” He also said the delegation had urged the Governor to “inform the Centre about the situation in Darjeeling and the suffering of the locals due to the State government’s stand over the Gorkhaland issue.”The GJM delegation also accused the State Government of “using force to disrupt the peaceful movement for the separate State.” (With PTI inputs)last_img read more

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