Six more still topical blasts from the past for the summer readers of today, demonstrating the importance to every blogger of a sound set of archives. Enjoy!
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Monday, May 16, 2005
Barbed wire for Kaikoura's whales?
Japanese whalers have announced plans to go whaling again (read here), following which both scaremongering nonsense and legitimate concerns have been raised--oddly enough both of them appearing here at the Greens' FrogBlog.
The legitimate concern is one raised by Whale Watch, as expressed by Conservation Minister Chris Carter, that the ocean represents an unprotected commons that is crying out for protection. However, in whinging about this Chris unwittingly offers the germ of an answer, "These are our whales too."
This goes unerringly if unwittingly to the point of the problem, and puts its finger on the solution: for Kaikoura Whale Watch to make an ownership claim on "their whales," thereby protecting their whales, depoliticising the question and thus avoiding the unedifying prospect of seeing pictures of Jeanette Fitzsimons picketing Japanese supermarkets and surimi lunch-carts.
So how to make an ownership claim on "their whales?
The solution to the imminent and watery Tragedy of the Commons represented by out of control whale-harvesting is similar to the problem solved by nineteenth century cattlemen by the imperfect means of branding, and eventually by the invention of barbed wire. It is one of recognising and legally protecting the property right in these animals.
And no, it’s not easy to protect property rights in big fish, but then there was a time when it wasn’t easy to protect property rights in cattle either, particularly on America’s great plains. But that was before barbed wire.
Branding and barbed wire were inventions that allowed the cattlemen to identify "their cattle" and to ask the law for its protection for them. The solution for those who wish to protect "their whales" is essentially the same -- a technological advance that allows them to identify to themselves and others which whales are theirs, and which therefore have the full protection of law.
Electronic branding? GPS-power 'barbed wire'? I don't know. The cattlemen embraced the new technology of barbed wire to legally protect their herds (read about it here); whale watchers might consider devising a similary moron-proof technology to allow legal protection to be afforded to their migrating 'pods.' If they want legal protection then frankly the technology of demonstrating “their” marine life is up to them; but if they can produce something, then the law should by rights recognise and protect their property.
Perhaps Minister Carter, the World Court and the IWC could kick things off by announcing that should such technology be devised and introduced, that full legal protection will be afforded to those like Kaikoura Whale Watch who can make a claim that a common law property right in "their whales" actually exists, a right acquired over years and fully deserving of protection.
As they say, it's a start.
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Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Putting freedom beyond the vote...
There are some things that are so important they should be put beyond the vote. That's the proposition I want to offer you this morning.
Consider this for example: Western countries around the world express concern at how waves of Islamic immigration could put at risk the freedoms we take for granted -- or at least the freedoms that some of you take for granted, such as the right to free speech, the separation of church and state, and the blessings of secure of secure property rights.
As long as there was widespread understanding of and support for these important bulwarks of liberty, the secure retention of them was relatively assured; but as ignorance overtakes knowledge and the population changes any of these things of importance can be easily taken away by citizens'-initiated referenda, government vote-buying, or the easy, knee-jerk clamour of populism.
There are some things that are so important that they need to be beyond the vote. You might disagree with me on what exactly those things should be, but I invite you to consider that some are so important that they simply must be. The only secure way to put things beyond the vote is with a Bill of Rights that defines those rights to be protected, and a written constitution that chains the government up to protect them.
By contrast, New Zealand's present unwritten constitution and our toothless Bill of Rights offer insufficient protection from the venality of vote-buying and the turbulence of the modern world.
Voting isn’t everything. Democracy is not liberty. Some things are just so important that they need to be put beyond the vote. A written constitution is how you put them there.
When you do, you can move beyond democracy and go for liberty instead.
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January 26, 2009
Saving those whales with good hard sense
THERE’S NOTHING LIKE an argument about whales to make everyone lose their marbles.
One local blogger, for example, has posted various thoughts on morality and animal rights, and on her former membership of Greenpeace, and how that (somehow) pertains to Greenpeace's opposition to the Japanese whalers presently in the South Seas. “Go Greenpeace” she says. “Stop the hand-wringing and break out those guns.” (I paraphrase, of course.)
Unfortunately, she offers no argument for her position, just simple assertion and a quote from Jeremy Bentham. But since Betham himself wasn’t even even in favour of rights for human beings ("nonsense on stilts" is what the stupid man called the idea) our blogger friend struggles to get her argument off the ground.
No wonder, since animals don’t have rights anyway.
The simplest short explanation why animals don't have rights is that they don't understand them -- as PJ O'Rourke pointed out you can tell the lion all you like that it's wrong, but he's still going to rip the guts right out of Bambi. And what do you do when that happens? If Bambi has rights, then you have to throw the lion in jail.
And if animals really do have rights, then what would happen when you and your family tuck into Daisy the cow? Would you really expect your dinner to conclude with a visit from the police and atrip to jail? (Perhaps in a cell next to the lion—in which case, who's going to tell the lion about your rights?)
Fact is, no matter how much you love cuddling animals and much as we may wish it otherwise, rights pertain not to animals, but to species who survive not by slaughtering each other but by trade. Who survive by virtue of their mind. Who use their conceptual faculty to produce and to plan long range. Who bring new values into the world and who have the right to keep the values they produce. They pertain to species who need the protection of law to protect the products of their mind, and as far as is presently known ours is the only species that does so; if whales or any other species want their rights recognised, then let them show up in court and argue for them.
It's not like whales don't talk to each other enough -- all that bloody singing that they do all day.
NO, MUCH AS WE animal-lovers may wish it otherwise, animals have rights only by virtue of our ownership over them: You kill my cat and I'll see you in court (and probably outside as well). But kill a stray cat, and all we can do is judge you by what you've done. How we treat animals is one way to judge a person.
And maybe, in all the moral indignation about the whales, we forget that New Zealanders ourselves aren't too bad at slaughtering animals for food (as I pointed out the other day). Writing in The Dominion however, former MP Stephen Franks reminds us:
“We are lathered in moral indignation about whaling. Yet as a nation we live off the proceeds of slaughtering up to 40 million cuddly young animals a year. Japanese think lambs are impossibly cute.”
The Green Party blob objects that Franks "has missed the point. New Zealand has a huge industry in farming sheep. As we all know sheep are generally bred for either their wool or their meat. They are not an endangered animal. Whales on the other hand are."
There are two responses to make here. Minke whales, which the Japanese are hunting, are not endangered. Numbers in the Southern Ocean are in dispute, and are probably not as many as the 760,000 claimed in 1990, but even if much less that is not the sort of order of magnitude one sees if a species is dying out.
But some whales are endangered. This is true. So the second point to make is that perhaps if whales were farmed, they wouldn't be so endangered. I've mentioned this point here many times (just check out some of my posts on Conservation) but developing a property right in whales is perhaps the best way to ensure they don't die out. As a headline describing the work of conservationist and crocodile farmer Dr Graham Webb once summarised: "Eat Them. Skin Them. Save Them." Or, as you might say if you're a Kaikoura whale tourism operator, 'Watch Them, Photograph Them & Save Them.' Pay your money and make your choice, and all that's needed then is a legal and a technological breakthrough so you can demonstrate which whales are yours, and a change in attitude.
SO AS I SAY above, there is no case at all for protection of animals on the basis of their rights, but there is a strong case to be made for the protection of animals based on human rights -- specifically on the real, human property rights of ownership. As Dr Graham Webb has long argued, "The proposition that wildlife conservation can sometimes be enhanced through allowing and even promoting the harvesting of wildlife is a sensitive issue," but it is a necessary one to consider.
While you’re considering it, consider that there is a very good reason that cows and lambs and chickens are not endangered, but kiwis, kakapo and some species of whale are. Ever thought about that? The value of cows and lambs and chickens, and much else besides, is recognised and protected in law, and that protection is in favour of those to whom the animals are a real tangible value, and who own them. The notion of the 'intrinsic value' of animals is not required since real value is protected, and the bogus notion of 'animal rights' is not needed as real, human property rights are protected. As that headline says, 'Eat Them, Skin Them, Save Them.'
But no-one (yet) owns kiwis, kakapo and whales. And these are the sort of things that are dying out.
Graham Webb's discussion of the proposition of property makes the point that recognising a property right in animals makes for 'sustainable conservation' [PDF download]:
“...An increasing body of conservationists believe local people should not be treated as the enemy of conservation (Hutton and Dickson 2000). They should be active partners, at the frontline. To achieve and sustain this, they need to receive tangible, sustainable benefits for their efforts. In most cases, the only sustainable way of providing those benefits is through using wildlife for economic gain. That is, conservation through sustainable use (CSU).”
Graham's own crocodile park outside Darwin is a great example of one way this can work. The private conservation projects here in NZ and the various Southern African private wildlife parks are other good examples of private 'sustainable conservation' that succeed by eschewing vague ideas of non-existent 'intrinsic values' or of animal rights or of simply wishing we'd all just be nice to God's creatures , and instead by answering the question, "Of value to whom, and for what?" and then proceeding to protect the property rights of those to whom there is a recognised right and a clear value.
And if it's just whales you want to protect, then Zen Tiger has yet another solution. Like Ruth, he's on the side of the whales too, only unlike Ruth he's come up with a viable plan: Eat more McDonalds:
. “..the last hope for the Whales is MacDonald's. Their plan is to substitute the demand for whale meat with demand for a Big Mac. By all accounts, Japanese youth are increasingly turning away from Whale to Big Macs, so it seems to be working.
“We need to speed the process. I suggest two more initiatives . . . “
Read on here to find out his own cunning plan for how eating more cows can help save the whales.
Cue Card Libertarianism - Rights
Opening a whole new can of whales - Not PC
Barbed wire for Kaikoura's whales - Not PC
Eat Them. Skin Them. Save Them.
PDF] Conservation and sustainable use of wildlife — an evolving concept - Dr Graham Webb
My secret flaw - Zen Tiger
More Conservation from Not PC
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Tuesday, September 11, 2007
War on what, exactly?
What’s all this nonsense about a war on terror? That makes neither semantic nor tactical sense.
Six years to the day after war was declared on the west by means of terror and murder in Manhattan and Washington, Yaron Brook argues at The Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center that calling the present war in which the west is engaged a "War on Terror" is as foolish as calling the Second World War a War against Kamikazes, or a War on U-Boats.
This is not a war against a tactic, he says; the west is at war with an ideological enemy and the conflict should be called what it actually is: a war on Islamic Totalitarianism.
See his short argument here:
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Wednesday, November 28, 2007
What's wrong with Ron Paul?
Who's the scarier presidential candidate: Ron Paul, or the Rev Mike Huckabee?
Both Jonah Goldberg and Gus Van Horn consider the question, but with opposite results. Despite Ron Paul's "disastrous" foreign policy and his sometimes scary coven of supporters, Goldberg plumps for Huckabee as the scariest – Huckabee, says Goldberg, s a "compassionate conservatism on steroids," and "an all-around do-gooder who believes that the biblical obligation to do "good works" extends to using government -- and your tax dollars -- to bring us closer to the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth."
That’s frightening enough, so Ron Paul would have to be plenty scary to bet that. And he is,as Gus Van Horn explains:
“The Reverend Mike Huckabee is dangerous for wanting to mix religion and politics, but at least he is honest about wanting to do so. Paul pretends to be a secular candidate, and does the same thing. In that sense, he is more dangerous to our secular republic than the Reverend, because he will fool some who would otherwise oppose the agenda of the religious right.
“And I haven't even touched on the fact that as a libertarian, Paul is a poor proponent of individual rights generally and, in particular the philosophical arguments for them espoused by Ayn Rand, who is often mistaken for (or smeared as) a libertarian.”
Phew, more than a few points there to wrestle with. On the first point, Paul's opposition to abortion
shows he deserves the charge of smuggling in religion, and place him firmly at odds with any claim to being an advocate for freedom. "Abortion on demand," says Ron Paul, "is the ultimate State tyranny." On June 4, 2003, speaking in the House of Representatives, Paul described
"the rights of unborn people” as “the greatest moral issue of our time."
The ultimate State tyranny? The greatest moral issue of our time? The man's either unhinged or blind, but however good his pronouncements on economics might be (and they’re normally very good), it's clear that he's far from the secular freedom lover many would like him to be. At the very least, continues Van Horn,
“This means in sum that Paul, as an allegedly secular candidate who is, as such, dismissed as a threat to personal freedom in America, functions as a Trojan horse for the religious right even as he pretends that personal freedom is as obviously good and uncontroversial as breathing on a regular basis. (Personal freedom is good, but this is neither obvious nor uncontroversial.)”
And here we get straight to the second point. What about his claims to being a lover of freedom? What exactly is Paul's vision of "a free society"? On that subject, this Open Letter to Ron Paul
is an eye-opener, written by one Duncan Bayne in response to this article by Paul
criticising the BATF & FBI assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco. Says Bayne:
“While I agreed with many of your criticisms of BATF and FBI tactics & strategy, it became apparent to me that your article was not primarily concerned with those criticisms: the main thrust of the article was to whitewash the monstrous evil committed by David Koresh and his followers. You wrote:
‘The community of faith that once lived at Mount Carmel in Waco, Texas, believed the promise of a free society.’
“This is the "community of faith" that sacrificed twelve-year old girls to Koresh so they could serve as his 'wives' - some of whom bore his children. If that level of barbarism - a religious community complicit in the slavery and rape of young girls - represents anything approaching your idea of what is a ‘free society,’ then I don't want you having any say in how society operates.”
Too true, and here we get to the root of the Objectivist argument against irrational libertarianism. Without a rational philosophical foundation, argue Objectivists, without a decent "philosophical infrastructure," politics is a dangerous pursuit of empty words, floating abstractions, and range-of-the-moment compromises. How can you call libertarians allies in freedom, ask hardcore Objectivists, when libertarians such as Ron Paul can't even agree on what the word "freedom" stands for? And how can you call someone an advocate of freedom at all when their vision of a "free society" apparently includes the the freedom to rape twelve-year-old girls?
It's clear, just as Van Horn charges, that freedom is neither obvious nor uncontroversial. In fact, personal freedom can and does (and must) be predicated on the base of reason, not of subjective whim. As Michael Berliner points out in this article on Ayn Rand,
“She understood that to defend the individual she must penetrate to the root: his need to use reason to survive. ‘I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism,’ she wrote in 1971, ‘but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.’ This radical view put her at odds with conservatives, whom she vilified for their attempts to base capitalism on faith and altruism. Advocating a government to protect the individual's right to his property, she was not a liberal (or an anarchist). Advocating the indispensability of philosophy, she was not a libertarian.”
The point could hardly be clearer. Van Horn concludes:
“The fight for freedom is, as I have pointed out, a war on two fronts: the political and the intellectual. Of the two, the intellectual is the more fundamental, and cannot be lost. The longer enemies to freedom like Ron Paul can masquerade as friends, the longer it will take for people to become aware of the actual requirements for a society that respects individual rights.”
And that, in 'short,' is the argument. When he takes off the tinfoil hat and talks Austrian he’s damn good. But when he’s just got the tinfoil headwear, he’s rotten.
UPDATE: Robert Bidinotto's New Individualist magazine goes even further in repudiating Paul's candidacy. The cover (pictured right) gives you an idea of the opprobrium in which Paul is deservedly held; the cover story by Vodka Pundit Steven Green
“focuses solely on Congressman Paul's growing public prominence as a self-proclaimed spokesman for the ideas of liberty -- and on the impact that his representations of those ideas are having on a national audience. This article expresses concern for the fate of those ideas, and not for his fate as a candidate for public office.”
As this post on Bidinotto's blog makes clear, even apart from as the views and authorship of those Ron Paul newsletters, his credentials as a spokesman for liberty are such that his further advocacy can only damage the cause -- as more and more are realising as his campaign swiflty unravels.
“[The] revelations about Cong. Paul's more outrageous views and his intimate association with a disreputable fringe cult within the libertarian movement have touched off an explosion of media scorn and expressions of outrage in recent days -- much coming from the more responsible libertarian circles. For example, the editors of Reason magazine -- who, in sharp contrast to The New Intellectual, published a glowing cover feature about "the Ron Paul phenomenon" in their latest issue -- are now expressing their disgust and distancing themselves from his candidacy. (Here are comments from the magazine's editors, Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch. Reason contributor Jesse Walker weighs in here, and former contributor Tim Cavanaugh here, while past editor Virginia Postrel comments here and here.) Likewise, Cato's David Boaz offers his own repudiation here. (I could cite many, many more denunciations from various prominent libertarians.)
“In the meantime, many commentators are also taking Cong. Paul to task for views that thoroughly refute his claim to being a consistent champion of individual rights, liberty, and the Constitution.
“Steve Green's article in The New Intellectual cited Paul's highly restrictive position on immigration (to the right of Tom Tancredo), his hypocritical support of pork-barrel earmarks for his own congressional district, his opposition to various free-trade agreements (like NAFTA) on wacko-conspiratorial grounds that they surrender U.S. sovereignty to Evil International Institutions, and his appalling, blame-America-first version of "non-interventionism" in foreign policy.
“To that, Wendy McElroy points to Congressman Paul's pro-federal-interventionist anti-abortion bill (read her whole commentary), which would deny women the right to end a pregnancy and even deny the courts the power of judicial review in the matter -- a clear violation of separation of powers, which is a curious position for this self-proclaimed champion of the Constitution.
“But what can you expect from a religious conservative who, on Lew Rockwell's website, rejected the Jeffersonian principle of a "wall of separation" between religion and government? As the congressman put it, ’The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers.’”
“Read Bidinotto's full post here (complete with links), and a link to Steve Green's article here.”
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Saturday, March 24, 2007
Pop goes the Popper
SWORDS ARE CROSSED SO frequently here in the comments section over the merits or otherwise of Mr Karl Popper that regular readers should find much to savour, if not much on which to agree, in three related and masterful pieces linked herein.
Philosopher Karl Popper is often taken to be a pre-eminent defender of both science and liberty. In the first two of the three linked articles, Nicholas Dykes shows Popper is neither:
Popper's whole notion of knowledge rests on uncertainty; in his view one gains knowledge in the same way one might pull oneself out of a swamp by one’s own hair, with all the contradictions involved.
And he steals concepts he has no right to: observations for example are held by Popper to be unreliable, but he relies on them for his process of falsification. He insists on the soundness of deductive logic for producing knowledge, but allows his premises to be produced by any means whatever. He insists on “radical uncertainty,” and at the same time on the certainty of his own flawed position--and in the end we can see that what he calls “uncertainty” is simply the sum total of his own ignorance of the process by which knowledge is actually acquired.
His “radical uncertainty” betrays him, and us.
CONTEXT-DROPPING IS THE leitmotif of Popper’s theory of knowledge. Ii ft is to have any meaning at all, it comes from the unacknowledged context of the certainty of perceptual identification. What does Mr Popper think you're doing when you're falsifying something, if not checking the evidence in reality?
Aristotle maintained that nothing comes to us as knowledge except by way of the senses. That’s still true—and contra Popper that’s still our starting point for all knowledge. We make observations, we collect perceptions and integrate these into concepts. That’s the human way of thinking and acquiring knowledge: and the knowledge we acquire this way can be vast. We know for example that the earth moves and that the sun doesn't, that atoms exist and that gravity bends light; and we know these things not because this information is directly available to us via perception, which it's not, but because we can integrate conceptually all the information that is directly available to us -- the vast number of relevant perceptions and observations of reality, which we integrate into non-contradictory identifications that these things are so.
That's real knowledge, which we're able to check. It begins with observation, which is integrated into theories that we can check by further observation.
But Popper read Immanuel Kant instead of Aristotle, and he maintained that none of this was possible. (To get a handle on the philosopher dubbed “the all-destroyer read four more piece from the archives, Kant Can't, Kant Couldn't, Kant Didn't, and Kant Really Wasn't -- the first by Lindsay Perigo, and the last three by yours truly. Or if you’re an Atlas reader, there's always Dagny Taggart's answer to Kant.]
Kant’s radical uncertainty became Popper’s. In essence, he just took half of Kant's "system" (the half that had synthesised David Hume) and he made it his own.
Popper maintained that perceptions, the starting point of our knowledge, represented its end-point; that perceptions actually represent "theories about reality" (the very idea is absurd context-stealing). He got this from Kant.
Observe Popper's concept-stealing. Observe his ignorance of the correct hierarchy of knowledge. Observe that every theory, every item of knowledge must have a starting point, including Popper's own so-called knowledge of knowledge itself. And understand that Popper's starting point for knowledge—his starting point for reliable knowledge—rests ironically in the imagination. His own.
He talks about a "problem of induction," but his problem is only that he doesn’t understand induction. He thinks induction is merely simple enumeration, which it isn’t, and he relies instead on deduction—as if these two things can be split. Which leads to one of his own primary problems: what we might call a "problem of deduction" – if induction and observation are out, then where do we find our premises, our starting points, on which we can perform our feats of deductive logic?
But this bothers him for barely a moment. He maintains we must simply make them up, from our imagination, and if we are any knowledge at all under his framework, we too are required to make such wholesale conjectures.
Imagine driving a car by this shambolic process, let alone devising a scientific theory!
So much for certainty, and logic, which he replaces instead with flights of fantasy (fantasy that only makes sense when scientists actually do begin by a process of observation and integration, a process to which Popper himself simply turns away from as if it were unseemly.)
So Popper has problems getting knowledge off the ground, and it turns out he als has problems tying it down as well. Just as he has no right to the knowledge with which we should properly begin our deductions, neither has he a right to the knowledge by which he insists we check our deductions – to refute them. In other words, no right at all to the knowledge we need to use for his famous falsification process.
Frankly, he is hung by his own gallows: he says that knowledge of reality itself is impossible, yet his own theory purports to claim knowledge of reality at both ends.
And frankly, I'm happy to take him at his word -- that he has no knowledge of reality. Or at least no knowledge himself of how to successfully get it.
WE CAN SEE THAT Popper’s whole theory of knowledge is flawed at its root, and his whole “defence” of science therefore is based on rationalisations, leaving scientific knowledge mired in floating abstractions. No wonder philosophy departments like teaching it to young scientists, who they hope to flummox. Moreover, Popper’s celebrated process of "conjecture and refutation" can be understood as being both internally contradictory and opening the door wide to subjectivism, to the nonsense of "consensus science," and ultimately to the post-modern bullshit of Thomas Kuhn and his “paradigm shifts.”
His major work in which his so-called defence of science can be found was titled “Logic & Scientific Discovery,” yet ironically he divorced the starting points of logic from reality, and insisted that scientists don’t discover—they merely refute. So as a defender of science we can see that he is all but hopeless, insisting essentially that scientists are made blind by their own human method.
It was Kant who first asserted that, in essence, we humans are limited by our means of perception; that we are blind because we have eyes, deaf becuase we have ears, and deluded because we have a mind. According to Kant, (in Rand’s words), "Reason's validity is then switched from the objective to the collective."
And Popper follows this same approach. "Objectivity," according to Popper, does not lie in recognition of facts, instead it "lies in the fact that [scentific statements] can be inter-subjectively tested." [LSCD 44] As Dykes notes, "[Popper] later stated this differently: "It is the public character of science ...which preserves the objectivity of science," [POH 155-6] but it maintains the same notion: that for him consensus will always trump objectivity.
This is where today’s scientists get their "science by survey" and their whole "consensus science' nonsense, and it opened the door to the "inter-subjectivity" of Kuhn and his followers. Hell, it left a gap a whole continent wide for Kuhn to to drive through and exploit, which he did.
POPPER’S IDEA THAT SCIENCE may be distinguished from non-science primarily by the virtue of "falsifiability" is seen to be important, but on its own woefully insufficient as an an essential defining characteristic by which to winnow the bold from the bullshit.
Popper is worth reading, says Dykes -- "full of valuable insights, astute observations, and stimulating, sometimes inspiring prose" -- but in the end the Philosopher's Stone of explaining and defending science eluded him. Dykes concludes by suggesting, albeit briefly, what Popper missed, and what might have made his project complete.
Popperians offended by the demolition might at least take comfort in Diana Hsieh's point: "Of course, Dykes knock-down arguments don't just apply to Popper, but also to the similar ideas in Kant and Hume and others in the history of philosophy." (And they might also reflect, as Diana has, that Popper's flawed philosophical base makes him a less than worthwhile advocate for liberty.)
THE THIRD PIECE, WHICH I'd strongly recommend you read in conjunction with Dykes' piece, is David Harriman's account of Induction and Experimental Method. It’s the perfect companion piece, by a writer perfectly suited to write it.
Harriman is both philosopher (in the Objectivist/Aristotelian tradition) and a physicist at Caltech, so this is a topic on which he is eminently qualified to write. The piece is a chapter of his forthcoming book on the subject:
“[It] examines the key experiments involved in Galileo’s kinematics and Newton’s optics, identifies the essential methods by which these scientists achieved their discoveries, and illustrates the principle that induction is inherent in valid conceptualization.”
Modern science began with Galileo, says Harriman, in particular with Galileo's methodology.
“The scientific revolution of the 17th century was made possible by the achievements of ancient Greece... The modern scientist views himself as an active investigator, but such an attitude was rare among the Greeks. This basic difference in mindset—contemplation versus investigation—is one of the great divides between the ancient and modern minds. Modern science began with the full development of its own distinctive method of investigation: experiment. Experimentation is “the method of establishing causal relationships by means of controlling variables.” The experimenter does not merely observe nature; he manipulates it by holding some factor(s) constant while varying others and measuring the results. He knows that the tree of knowledge will not simply drop its fruit into his open mind; the fruit must be cultivated and picked, often with the help of instruments designed for the purpose.”
Scientific investigation and philosophical induction, argues Harriman, are characterised not just by falsification (as Popper would have it), but also by by a clear understanding of identity
, by causality
(ie., identity in action), and above all of the importance of integration
. We don’t just observe that things happen, we identify the nature of what they happen to, we induce their causes, and we integrate this new knowledge into our wider knowledge. It is these three—the law of identity, the law of causality, and the efficacy of integration--that skeptics like Hume never understood, and would-be scientific defenders like Popper never bothered to learn.
“Cognitive integration [says Harriman] is the very essence of human thought, from concept-formation (an integration of a limitless number of concretes into a whole designated by a word), to induction (an integration of a limitless number of causal sequences into a generalization), to deduction (the integration of premises into a conclusion). An item of knowledge is acquired and validated by means of grasping its relation to the whole of one’s knowledge. A thinker always seeks to relate, grasp hidden similarities, discover connections, unify. A conceptual consciousness is an integrating mechanism, and its product—knowledge—is an interconnected system, not a junk heap of isolated propositions. Galileo integrated his knowledge not only within the subject of physics but also between physics and the related science of astronomy...”
The precision necessary for scientific induction is mathematical, says Harriman.
“While discussing concept-formation, Ayn Rand explained that ‘perceptual awareness is the arithmetic, but conceptual awareness is the algebra of cognition.’ She ended [her]discussion with a challenge to the skeptics: Those who deny the validity of concepts must first prove the invalidity of algebra... A concept can function as a green light to induction only if it is defined precisely—and, in physical science, the required precision is mathematical... The cognitive integration necessary to validate a high-level generalization in physics is made possible only because the discoveries and laws are formulated in quantitative terms. Thus progress requires that the key concepts be defined in terms susceptible to numerical measurement. Such measurement is both the primary concern of the mathematician and the primary activity of the experimentalist.
“Thus induction in physics is essentially dependent on two specialized methods. Experimentation provides the entrance into mathematics, and mathematics is the language of physical science.”
It's impossible to recommend this highly enough. (Unfortunately, the full paper is only available to subscribers to The Objective Standard -- which is partly why I've quoted here as much as copyright allows -- but as I've said before, subscription to this quarterly is worth every penny.)
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Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed another romp through the archives.
Labels: Greenpeace, Whales