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Friday, June 10, 2005

Popperianism Explored

Today I decided to try out Popper's system. Knowing that the fact that, every previous day, when I took the train south from my flat I got to LSE, has no predictive value for what will happen if I take it south today, I made a "bold conjecture" and decided to get to LSE by heading north.

Does anyone know if some place named "Glasgow" is near LSE? I went into a pub to ask, but when I said I didn't know who the Rangers were, I got my head bashed in.

19 comments:

  1. Does anyone know if some place named "Glasgow" is near LSE?

    It wasn't the last time I checked, but of course this doesn't answer your question...

    (And no, this stupid wisecrack should not be construed as an endorsement of Gene's caricature.)

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  2. "I made a "bold conjecture" and decided to get to LSE by heading north."

    The earth being a sphere, what's the problem? It'll just take you a bit longer.

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  3. I think the trains stop at the North Sea.

    In any case, since I'm trying out Popper's epistemology, I must protest the idea that the Earth is round is certainly not a proven fact -- it merely hasn't been falsified yet.

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  4. Gene said:

    In any case, since I'm trying out Popper's epistemology, I must protest the idea that the Earth is round is certainly not a proven fact -- it merely hasn't been falsified yet.

    I must confess that I'm all mixed up at this point. Sarcasm aside, what are you taking to be Popper's position? Are you saying he fails to understand Hume's critique of induction (and hence is stupid), or are you saying he takes Hume's critique too seriously (and hence is stupid)? I gather that you think Popper is stupid, but I'm not sure what he did to offend you.

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  5. Hume's critique, which is essentially Popper's, applies to what Peirce called "crude inductivism," which none of the major inductive thinkers -- not Bacon, not Boyle, not Mill, not Peirce -- actually endorsed. They simply fail to recognize the use of induction as a means of lending credence to the hypothesis of a true causal factor. My upcoming response to Lester will go into this in detail.

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  6. Gene,

    I still don't understand your blog post, then. Popper could certainly handle your situation in his framework. He would form the falsifiable conjecture that going south gets you to LSE, and this prediction would (I predict) be verified. In contrast, the conjecture that going north would also work would be quickly falsified.

    In any event, I don't see why your "bold conjecture" is supposed to be an example of what Popper advocates. He's trying to explain when and why induction does work, in a manner that can withstand Hume's critique. You are somehow taking Popper to be saying, "Because past examples are no guide to the future, any theory is equally probable." That's not what he's saying at all.

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  7. C. Strong5:18 AM

    "I made a "bold conjecture" and decided to get to LSE by heading north."

    The earth being a sphere, what's the problem? It'll just take you a bit longer.


    If we assume that the earth is a sphere, going north will only get you so far, and as you pass the north pole you will now be heading south, directly contradicting the "heading north" attempt, and thus forcing the need to turn around, ending up perched on the north pole.

    Assuming that there is a North and a South of course.

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  8. No, Bob, Popper says induction is never valid, and no theories are ever verified. (For real.)

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  9. Gene said:

    No, Bob, Popper says induction is never valid, and no theories are ever verified. (For real.)

    Right, and he's correct. Induction never does prove anything for certain. If there were a nuclear attack or a huge earthquake, then taking the train south might not get you to LSE.

    And when I said "verified" I didn't mean "proven true," I meant that it matched up with the prediction.

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  10. No, Popper didn't say induction never proves anything for certain -- no sensible inductivist claimed that it did -- he said induction never gave us any guide to theory truth whatsoever.

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  11. Anonymous6:07 AM

    Just to be clear he said that specific and particular confirming instances can neither prove nor verify general and universal theories and it is the truth or falsity of general and universal theories that we are interested in if we want to increase our knowledge of the world.

    A 'bold' conjecture is one which offers the greatest potentially predictive and explanatory possibilities. Clearly one confirming instance of a bold conjecture won't do anything to verify it and neither, if you think about it, will any finite number.

    In anycase, what Popper maintains is that all theories are epistemologically, though not psychologically, uncertain. One can be quite psychologically sure that a theory is true while still being open to its epistemological uncertainty.

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