Monthly Archives: November 2013

Quote for the Day – The Evolutionary Logic of Love

As Steven Pinker observes, the logic of loyalty is particularly clear in the domain of romantic relationships: You’re a great catch, but there is bound to be someone out there who’s got everything you’ve got plus a little more. Knowing that your partner might someday meet such a person, you’d be reassured by the knowledge that your partner isn’t going to leave you as soon as something better comes along. This would make you much more willing to settle down with your partner and start a family–a high-stakes cooperative endeavor if ever there was one. It’s wonderful that your partner fully appreciates your many marketable qualities, but that may not be enough to keep you together. What you really want is for your partner to have a deep, unshakable desire to be with you and you alone. In short, you want your partner to love you, to want you not only for your wonderful qualities but just because you’re you. Only love provides the kind of loyalty you need in order to take the parenting plunge. Thus, love appears to be more than just an intense form of caring. It’s a highly specialized piece of psychological machinery, an emotional straitjacket that enables cooperative parenting by assuring our parenting partners that they won’t be abandoned.

~Joshua Greene, Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them (2013), p. 42

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Quote for the Day – Einstein’s Louse and the Limits of Scientific Understanding

Nature is showing us only the tail of the lion, but I have no doubt that the lion belongs to it even though, because of its large size, it cannot totally reveal itself all at once. We can see it only the way a louse that is sitting on it would.

 ~Albert Einstein to Heinrich Zangger, quoted in Clifford Pickover, Archimedes to Hawking

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Quote for the Day – The Lake Wobegon Effect – We Are All Above-Average

When drivers rated their ability behind the wheel, about three-quarters thought they were better than average. Strangely, those who had been in an auto accident were more likely to rate themselves as better drivers than did those who driving record was accident-free.

Even stranger: In general, most people rate themselves as being less likely than others to overrate their abilities. These inflated self-ratings reflect the ‘better-than-average’ effect, which has been found for just about any positive trait, from competence and creativity to friendliness and honesty.

~ Daniel Goleman, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence (2013), p. 74

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusory_superiority

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Quote for the Day – What It’s Like to Be a Lion

If we were to interpret the lives of animals with a human eye, we would conclude that they are in flow most of the time because their perception of what has to be done generally coincides with that they are prepared to do. When a lion feels hungry, it will start grumbling and looking for prey until its hunger is satisfied; afterward it lies down to bask in the sun, dreaming the dreams lions dream. There is no reason to believe that it suffers from unfulfilled ambition, or that it is over-whelmed by pressing responsibilities. Animals’ skills are always matched to concrete demands because their minds, such as they are, only contain information about what is actually present in the environment in relation to their bodily states, as determined by instinct. So a hungry lion only perceives what will help it to find a gazelle, while a sated lion concentrates fully on the warmth of the sun. Its mind does not weigh possibilities unavailable at the moment; it neither imagines pleasant alternatives, nor is it disturbed by fears of failure.

~ Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, Flow (1991), p. 227-228

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Peter Boghossian’s Thought Challenge

Faith is not the same as hope, trust, or confidence. Faith is a kind of knowledge claim predicated on a particular brand of epistemology: faith-based epistemology. Peter Boghossian has offered a challenge for anyone who thinks faith is synonymous with hope:

In my May 6, 2012 public lecture for the Humanists of Greater Portland, I further underscored the difference between faith and hope by issuing the following thought challenge:

Give me a sentence where one must use the word ‘faith,’ and cannot replace that with ‘hope’, yet at the same time isn’t an example of pretending to know something one doesn’t know.

To date, nobody has answered the thought challenge. I don’t think it can be answered because faith and hope are not synonyms.

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Quote for the Day – We Need to Face the Fact that People Don’t Face Facts

Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change minds. In fact, quite the opposite…when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely change their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Fact…were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.”

~Joe Keohane, “How Facts Backfire”, quoted in Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists

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Abstract of paper I’m working on this semester: Minimal Models Make Minimal Explanations

Abstract: Defenders of the ontic view of scientific explanation argue that explanations for scientific phenomena are in the world regardless of whether we discover them e.g. what explains the hole in the ground is the actual meteor that hit the Earth, not our description of the meteor hitting the Earth. However, critics of the ontic view argue that it fails to capture the importance of idealized models as a critical component of scientific practice. Specifically, Robert Batterman argues that highly idealized minimal models of physical phenomenon are counter-examples to the ontic view insofar as minimal models purport to leverage explanatory power by leaving out all the ontic details. In this paper, I argue that existence of minimal modeling as a scientific practice is consistent with the ontic view of explanation.

This paper topic stems from a recent Philosophy of Science workshop I attended. At the workshop, many talks centered around a contrast between two views of scientific explanation: an “ontic view” and a “non-ontic” view (for lack of better terms). On the ontic view, scientific explanations are out there in the world and models are idealized descriptions of these explanations. On the ontic view, the extent to which a model or description explains a phenomena is proportional to the extent to which that description makes reference to the underlying ontic explanation. In contrast, the non-ontic view states that idealizations are not just “incomplete” or “partial” explanations to be filled in with more ontic details later. Rather, the explanatory work is being done by the details left out of the model.

The paper is an attempt to analyze these views and determine whether they are inconsistent. I argue that the existence of idealizations in scientific practice does not undermine the ontic view of explanation, despite Batterman and others claims to the contrary. At best, they are orthogonal. Batterman’s point is that idealizations are better explanations than ones referring to micro-levels because they help us understand the aspects of the phenomena that we are most interested in: the macro-level regularities. However, the very fact that Batterman is focused on what’s interesting is irrelevant to the ontic view because they are ontic explanations of both interesting and non-interesting phenomena. Thus, the point of what’s interesting to humans is a non-starter as an objection to the ontic view.

Rather than diagnosing this as a mere terminological dispute over the correct usage of the English word “explanation”, I appeal to Richard Feynman’s remarks on mathematics and physics to highlight an under-appreciated feature of theoretical physics that makes it distinct from mathematical physics: the notion that conjectures in physics must have a “physical meaning” to be true whereas mathematical conjectures do not.

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