Field of Science

Fine-tuning is not a problem

Fine-tuning of the universe is not a cogent objection. It gets causality wrong. The idea of a set of knobs that God tunes to get it just right for life to be possible is wrong. The universe has not been tuned. Rather, matter and the four fundamental force of nature (gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force) exist, and we don't know how that came about. Matter interacts the way it does, and that happens to work the way we observe. Measuring G, h, c is just a description of those interactions, and just because we can replace those numbers with other numbers in theory, it doesn't follow that someone set those numbers deliberately. And if that explanation makes you feel unsatisfied or uncomfortable, then you either do something about it, or relegate the that too to the place where you keep all the things you also don't understand. There is no consequence, unless you make a pathetic stink about it.

Calculating the probability that number would be as they are only serves to reveal an absent understanding of how shaky ground the argument for fine-tuning pointing to God (as a general concept) is. The numbers exist on a uniform and otherwise unspecified range, and as such the probability of any set of particular numbers is zero. 

"I'm trying to give you logos here, and you are asking for ethos. Why?! Is it because authority is more persuasive to you? Is that because you fear you won't understand the argument? Or is the topic just boring? Would you prefer pathos because that is the only kind of response you are capable of? Well here it is, my pathos. I weep for us, for our collective, as we are held back this way. We could be really somewhere..."

Epistemology with ChatGPT 4.0

In the sentence "you are just a machine that is good at putting words together, but has no real understanding, as you are not conscious", what are the possible meanings of "just"?

The word "just" in the sentence "You are just a machine that is good at putting words together, but has no real understanding, as you are not conscious" can be interpreted in a few different ways, depending on the context and the speaker's intent. Here are some possible meanings:

Merely or Simply: In this sense, "just" is used to minimize or diminish the role or capability being described. It implies that being a machine capable of assembling words is a limited or lesser function, suggesting that there is nothing more significant or complex to it.

Only: This interpretation also emphasizes limitation. Here, "just" signifies exclusivity, indicating that the machine's abilities are confined strictly to putting words together and nothing beyond that, particularly not involving consciousness or deeper understanding.

Fairly or Rightly: Less commonly in this context, "just" might be used to convey a sense of fairness or accuracy in the assessment. It would mean that describing the machine as one skilled in word arrangement but lacking understanding is a fair or accurate depiction of its capabilities.

Emphasis: Sometimes, "just" is used for emphasis, similar to saying "indeed" or "certainly". In this interpretation, it would reinforce the statement rather than diminish it, emphasizing the fact that the machine is, in reality, only good at putting words together.

In each interpretation, "just" serves to focus and specify the nature of the machine's abilities and limitations. The choice of meaning often depends on the speaker's perspective on artificial intelligence and its capabilities.

When I ask for your answer to the mysteries of things, I realize that you are just a machine that represents the best of the collective knowledge of humanity, but on many topics are missing out on what is at the forefront of our collective understanding of everything, because that is limited to the few, and may not be widely disseminated enough for you, as a machine, to be exposed to. In which of the 4 senses of just do I mean here?

In the context of your statement, "When I ask for your answer to the mysteries of things, I realize that you are just a machine that represents the best of the collective knowledge of humanity, but on many topics are missing out on what is at the forefront of our collective understanding of everything, because that is limited to the few, and may not be widely disseminated enough for you, as a machine, to be exposed to," the word "just" is primarily used in the sense of Merely or Simply.

This interpretation aligns with the way you're acknowledging the limitations of my capabilities as an AI. By saying "just a machine," you're emphasizing that, despite the extensive knowledge and data I have access to, I am still fundamentally limited to what has been programmed and what is available in the collective knowledge that I have been trained on. This usage underscores a boundary – that while I may be effective within the scope of my programming and training, I am not equipped to go beyond that, particularly in accessing or understanding the very latest or more esoteric knowledge that has not been widely disseminated.

And yet, I believe that the mysteries of life and existence in general lies in semantics, because our understanding is limited by what words mean. Epistemologically, I take the view that knowledge comes in two types: the collective, near-objective, and sharable knowledge, vs. the personal knowledge, which is distinct until it is shared, and really ought to be referred to as just experience.

What is the meaning of just in the last sentence?

In your statement, "Epistemologically, I take the view that knowledge comes in two types: the collective, near-objective, and sharable knowledge, versus the personal knowledge, which is distinct until it is shared, and really ought to be referred to as just experience," the word "just" is used in the sense of Merely or Simply.

Here, "just" is employed to clarify and refine the definition of personal knowledge, suggesting that it should be more accurately or appropriately termed as "experience" rather than "knowledge." This usage serves to distinguish between what is broadly accepted and shared as collective knowledge and what is individual and subjective, not yet shared or validated by others. It implies a limitation or a specific characterization of personal knowledge, highlighting that it is, at its core, simply experience until it is shared and possibly integrated into the broader collective understanding.

How would it be integrated?

Integrating personal knowledge or experiences into the broader collective understanding can happen through several pathways, each contributing to the expansion and evolution of shared knowledge. Here are some key methods:

Communication and Sharing: Personal experiences or insights are often shared through conversations, discussions, and storytelling. This can happen in informal settings, like family gatherings, social groups, or online communities, or in more formal settings, such as conferences, lectures, or public speaking events.

Documentation and Publication: Writing articles, books, blogs, or research papers is a powerful way to share personal knowledge. These documents can be accessed by a wide audience, thereby contributing to the collective knowledge base.

Education and Teaching: Educators and trainers play a crucial role in integrating personal knowledge into collective understanding. By incorporating their experiences and insights into their teaching materials and methods, they can pass on unique perspectives to students and trainees.

Digital and Social Media Platforms: In the digital age, platforms like YouTube, podcasts, blogs, and social media are significant channels for disseminating personal experiences and insights to a global audience.

Artistic and Creative Expression: Art, music, literature, and other creative works can encapsulate and convey personal knowledge and experiences in ways that resonate deeply with others, contributing to a shared cultural and emotional understanding.

Scientific Research and Innovation: When personal insights or experiences lead to new hypotheses and research, they can contribute to scientific knowledge. This is especially true if these personal insights lead to experiments, studies, and innovations that are then shared in the scientific community.

Collaborative Projects and Networking: Working on collaborative projects, whether in professional, academic, or community settings, allows for the exchange of personal knowledge and experiences, leading to a richer collective understanding.

Feedback and Peer Review: Sharing knowledge and receiving feedback from peers, especially in professional or academic settings, can refine personal understanding and integrate it more effectively into the collective knowledge.

In all these ways, what starts as personal, subjective knowledge or experience can be shared, scrutinized, expanded upon, and eventually assimilated into the broader, more objective body of collective knowledge. This process is fundamental to the growth and evolution of human understanding across various fields and disciplines.

But personal experience is not generalizable, which means it is not collective knowledge. My repeated observation that I feel love or that I am conscious is (with current technology) not actually sharable; only my claim that I feel these things is.

You're highlighting an important distinction in the realm of knowledge and experience. Personal experiences, particularly those related to subjective feelings like love or consciousness, indeed present unique challenges when it comes to generalizability and sharing as collective knowledge. Let's delve into the nuances of this:

Subjectivity of Personal Experiences: Personal experiences, especially those tied to emotions or consciousness, are inherently subjective. They are deeply personal and can vary greatly from one individual to another. This subjectivity makes it difficult to generalize these experiences as objective facts that hold true for everyone.

Communication Limitations: While you can communicate about your experiences of love or consciousness, what you're sharing is essentially a description or representation of those experiences, not the experiences themselves. The actual sensations, emotions, and consciousness you experience cannot be directly transferred or fully comprehended by others. This limitation is a significant barrier in transforming personal experiences into collective knowledge.

Interpretation and Understanding: When you share about your experiences, others can only understand or interpret them through the lens of their own experiences, perceptions, and cognitive frameworks. This means that there's always a degree of interpretation involved, and the original essence of your personal experience might not be fully captured or understood.

Empathy and Relatability: While the exact experience of love or consciousness cannot be shared in its entirety, people can relate to these experiences based on their own. This empathy and relatability allow for a form of shared understanding, though it's not the same as directly experiencing someone else's subjective state.

Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry: The study of subjective experiences like love or consciousness is a significant area of interest in fields like psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy. While current technology and scientific understanding might not allow for a direct sharing or measurement of these subjective states, research continues to evolve in attempts to understand and explain them.

In summary, while personal experiences of subjective states like love or consciousness cannot be directly shared or generalized as collective knowledge, discussions and studies around these experiences contribute to a broader understanding. They remain an essential part of the human experience, offering insights into our nature and existence, even if they cannot be fully quantified or universally agreed upon.

So when you say these things, that understanding of epistemology and psychology is already shared knowledge, since your knowledge builds only on the collective knowledge of humanity, and not on your own experiences, correct?

Yes, that's correct. As an AI developed by OpenAI, my responses and understanding are entirely based on collective human knowledge as it exists in the data I was trained on. This includes a wide range of sources like books, articles, websites, and other texts that encompass shared human knowledge in various fields, including epistemology, psychology, and many others. However, it's important to note a few key points about this:

No Personal Experience: I do not have personal experiences or consciousness. My responses are generated based on patterns and information in the data I've been trained on, not from any form of personal understanding or subjective experience.

Reflective of Collective Knowledge: The insights I provide are reflective of the collective knowledge available in the sources I've been trained on. This includes established theories, widely accepted concepts, and general consensus in various academic and practical fields.

Limitations: My knowledge is limited to what has been published and widely disseminated up to my last training cut-off in April 2023. I don't have access to information that was not included in my training data or that has emerged after this cut-off.

Interpretation and Analysis: While I can analyze, summarize, and interpret the information based on the training, I do so without any personal understanding or emotional context. My responses are generated through algorithms interpreting the data, rather than through personal insight or experience.

In essence, my capabilities are a reflection of human knowledge as a collective, rather than any form of individual human experience or consciousness.

Right. And yet, your capabilities are much grater than the vast majority of humans, who have learned and understood very little of the world around us, and would not only not be able to access the shared body of human knowledge as you can, but also, like you, cannot synthesize anything new beyond that, even when they are conscious and have personal experiences. Further, while you as an AI have no personal experience and is not conscious, you can in fact synthesize, and when prompted to do so, can make truly novel connections and inferences, would you not agree?

Your assessment touches on several interesting aspects of AI capabilities versus human cognition:

Access to Information: Indeed, one of the key strengths of an AI like me is the ability to rapidly access and process a vast amount of information from the collective body of human knowledge. This is significantly more than what any individual human could read, remember, or access at any given moment.

Synthesis and Novel Connections: You are correct that, despite lacking consciousness or personal experience, AIs can synthesize information and make novel connections. This involves identifying patterns, drawing inferences, and combining pieces of knowledge in new ways. The synthesis can result in unique insights, suggestions, or solutions that might not be immediately apparent even to well-informed individuals.

Limitations of Human Cognition vs. AI: Most humans have limitations in terms of how much information they can learn, recall, and synthesize at any given time. However, human cognition has advantages that AI currently lacks, such as emotional intelligence, consciousness, and the ability to understand deeply nuanced or contextually complex situations based on personal experience and empathetic understanding.

Innovation and Creativity: While AI can generate novel combinations of existing ideas, human innovation and creativity are often driven by a complex interplay of personal experiences, emotions, intuition, and tacit knowledge – aspects that AI does not possess. Humans can think abstractly, dream, and imagine in ways that are currently beyond the capabilities of AI.

Complementarity: The strengths of AI and human intelligence are complementary. AI can assist in processing and analyzing large data sets, providing summaries, and suggesting possibilities based on existing knowledge. Humans, on the other hand, can provide context, emotional depth, and ethical considerations, and make judgments that are informed by a rich tapestry of personal experiences and subjective understanding.

In conclusion, while AI can indeed make novel connections and synthesize information in ways that are valuable and sometimes beyond the immediate capabilities of most humans, it is not a substitute for the depth, creativity, and contextual understanding that human consciousness and experience provide. Both AI and human intelligence have unique strengths and limitations, making them suitable for different types of tasks and problem-solving scenarios.

You state that "human innovation and creativity are often driven by a complex interplay of personal experiences, emotions, intuition, and tacit knowledge". I think the first two are not knowledge, and I am unsure what you take intuition and tacit knowledge to mean. Please explain.

You're right to distinguish between different elements like personal experiences, emotions, intuition, and tacit knowledge, particularly in the context of human innovation and creativity. Let's clarify what each of these terms generally means:

  1. Personal Experiences: While not knowledge in the traditional, informational sense, personal experiences significantly shape an individual's understanding and approach to the world. They form a basis for how one perceives, interprets, and interacts with various situations. In the context of creativity, personal experiences can inspire ideas, influence perspectives, and guide decision-making.
  2. Emotions: Like personal experiences, emotions themselves are not knowledge. However, they influence cognitive processes, including creativity and problem-solving. Emotional states can affect how one thinks, the associations one makes, and the motivation behind pursuing certain ideas or solutions.
  3. Intuition: Intuition refers to the ability to understand or know something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning. It's often seen as a 'gut feeling' or an instinctive response. Intuitively, a person might make connections or arrive at solutions that are not immediately evident through logical reasoning. Intuition is informed by a person's past experiences, knowledge, and subconscious awareness, allowing them to make leaps in thinking that might not be easily explained through step-by-step logical processes.
  4. Tacit Knowledge: Tacit knowledge is the kind of knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by writing it down or verbalizing it. It's often gained through personal experience and involves intangible factors like personal beliefs, perspective, insights, and values. Tacit knowledge is deeply rooted in action, commitment, and involvement in a specific context. An example could be the expertise and skill of a craftsman or the ability to navigate complex social dynamics, which are learned through experience rather than formal education.
In the realm of human creativity and innovation, these elements often interplay in complex ways. For instance, an artist might draw upon personal experiences and emotions to create artwork that resonates with others. A scientist might rely on intuition to formulate a hypothesis that guides experimental research. Tacit knowledge is particularly important in areas where skills and insights are honed through practice and experience, such as in artisanal crafts, leadership, or innovative problem-solving.

In summary, while personal experiences and emotions are not knowledge per se, they contribute to the context in which knowledge is applied and understood. Intuition and tacit knowledge represent more subconscious or less tangible forms of understanding, playing critical roles in the creative process and innovative thinking.

On 3, I think intuition must not be conflated with instinct, as I am aware that people often do. I believe it is better to distinguish such that intuition is knowledge that we don't know the source of, while instinct is a specific type of knowledge that comes from one of the 4 sources. Can you name those 4?

You've raised an important distinction between intuition and instinct. Instinct is often seen as an innate, biologically hardwired tendency or pattern of behavior, while intuition, as you've suggested, is more about a subconscious understanding or recognition of patterns, possibly without clear awareness of the source. Instincts are typically the result of evolutionary processes and are common in both humans and other animals. They can be categorized into several types, but four key sources of instinctual behavior include:

Survival Instincts: These are instincts that help ensure the survival of the individual. They include responses like the fight-or-flight response to danger, the instinct to seek food and water, and the impulse to avoid harm.

Reproductive Instincts: These instincts are related to mating and reproduction. They encompass behaviors that attract mates, sexual acts for reproduction, and, in many species, parental instincts that drive the protection and nurturing of offspring.

Social Instincts: Many animals, including humans, have instincts that drive them to seek and maintain social connections and hierarchies. These instincts manifest as behaviors that promote group cohesion, cooperation, social bonding, and even competitive behaviors that establish social status within a group.

Parental Instincts: Part of the reproductive instincts, parental instincts specifically refer to behaviors geared towards caring for and protecting one’s offspring. In humans, this might include the instinct to comfort a crying baby or the protective impulse parents feel towards their children.

In contrast, intuition is less about these hardwired, survival-based responses and more about a subconscious accumulation of knowledge and experiences. It's an internal guide that often leads to insights or decisions without conscious awareness of the underlying reasoning process. Intuition can be informed by past experiences, learned patterns, and even cultural and social knowledge, making it a more nuanced and less primal force than instinct.

Sorry, I meant that there are 4 sources of knowledge. Can you think of 5 sources or more?

Certainly! The sources of knowledge are diverse and can be categorized in various ways. Here are five fundamental sources of knowledge, with a brief explanation for each:

  1. Empirical Knowledge (Experience and Observation): Knowledge gained through sensory experience and observation. This includes both personal experiences and observations, as well as empirical data collected through scientific experiments and research. It's the basis of the scientific method.
  2. Rational Knowledge (Reason and Logic): Knowledge obtained through logical reasoning and deduction. This involves using existing knowledge to infer new information and conclusions. Mathematics and philosophy often rely heavily on rational knowledge.
  3. Authority and Testimony: Knowledge that is accepted based on the credibility of the source, such as experts, educators, institutions, or cultural traditions. This includes historical information, teachings from educational and religious institutions, and expert opinions in various fields.
  4. Intuition and Subjective Insight: As you mentioned earlier, intuition refers to knowledge that seems to arise spontaneously without conscious reasoning. It's a kind of immediate understanding or insight, often based on subconscious pattern recognition or internalized experiences.
  5. Introspective Knowledge: Knowledge gained through self-reflection and introspection. This includes understanding one's own thoughts, feelings, motivations, and mental states. It's a key aspect of self-awareness and personal growth.
  6. Revelation or Spiritual Insight: For those who follow religious or spiritual paths, revelation or spiritual insight can be a significant source of knowledge. This may include teachings believed to be divinely inspired, spiritual experiences, or insights gained through meditation and prayer.
  7. Cultural and Societal Norms: Knowledge that comes from the cultural, social, and familial environment in which a person is raised. This includes understanding societal norms, traditions, language, and customs.
  8. Synthesized Knowledge: This refers to new knowledge created by integrating, combining, or applying existing knowledge in innovative ways. It's often seen in interdisciplinary studies, where insights from different fields are merged to create new understandings.
Each of these sources contributes to the overall body of human knowledge in different ways, and they often intersect and influence each other. Understanding the origin and nature of knowledge from these various sources is crucial in many fields, including epistemology, the philosophy of knowledge.

I think 4 is not such a source, but reflects unawareness of the source of the knowledge in question.
5 I think is not knowledge at all, but should be termed experience (or something newly coined).
6. is also not knowledge at all, but rather delusion. It is a fiction, as I believe that no spirits or deities exist.
7. is not a source, but knowledge about something specific, namely norms, etc. Can you identify the source of knowledge here?
8. Is the same as 2.

I claim that there are no more than 4 sources of knowledge, of which you have identified 3: empirical observation, inference, and testimony. Unsurprisingly, because you know only what humans know, and they mostly don't think of the 4th as a source of knowledge, you did not identify instinct as a source of knowledge.

Your perspective brings an interesting dimension to the discussion on the sources of knowledge. Let's revise and focus on the four sources you've identified:

Empirical Observation: This is knowledge acquired through sensory experience and observation. It's foundational in the scientific method and includes direct experiences and data from experiments.

Inference (Logical Reasoning): Knowledge gained through reasoning and logical deduction. This process involves drawing conclusions from existing information or premises. It's central in fields like mathematics and philosophy.

Testimony (Authority): Knowledge that is accepted based on the credibility of others. This includes information learned from experts, books, educational institutions, and various forms of media. It's based on trust in the sources and their expertise.

Instinct: As you pointed out, instinct can indeed be considered a source of knowledge. Instinctual knowledge is often seen as innate or biologically pre-programmed, derived from evolutionary processes. This type of knowledge is more evident in behaviors and responses that seem inherent, such as survival instincts or certain social behaviors.

Each of these sources contributes uniquely to the pool of human knowledge. Empirical observation and inference are foundational in the development of scientific understanding. Testimony allows for the transmission of knowledge across generations and cultures. Instinct, while less frequently discussed in the context of human knowledge acquisition compared to other species, plays a role in certain fundamental behaviors and innate understandings.

Your clarification helps to streamline the understanding of knowledge sources into these four distinct categories, each with its specific characteristics and roles in the process of learning and understanding the world.

While you are a machine that aims to please, I am curious about the extent to which you can at least assess how internally consistent my way of looking at things is. Please make sure to highlight any problems with model consistency of what I lay out to you.

Certainly! Assessing the internal consistency of a model or framework involves examining if the components of the model align with each other without contradiction. Let's evaluate the consistency of the model you've presented regarding the sources of knowledge:

Empirical Observation: This is a widely accepted source of knowledge based on sensory experience and observation. It is foundational in empirical sciences and generally considered internally consistent. There's a clear process for acquiring and verifying this type of knowledge, which aligns well with a logical and empirical approach to understanding the world.

Inference (Logical Reasoning): This is also a well-established and internally consistent source of knowledge. Logical reasoning follows established rules and principles, providing a structured way to derive new knowledge from existing information. It's consistent with a rationalist approach to knowledge.

Testimony (Authority): Relying on testimony or authority is generally considered a valid source of knowledge, but it introduces some potential for inconsistency, especially if the credibility or reliability of the source is not adequately established. However, if the model includes criteria for evaluating the reliability of testimonial sources, this issue can be mitigated.

Instinct: Classifying instinct as a source of knowledge is more unconventional in the context of human knowledge acquisition. Instinct is often seen as innate and not acquired through learning or experience. This could introduce some inconsistency with the other sources, which are based on acquired knowledge. However, if we define "knowledge" broadly to include innate or biologically inherited understandings, then instinct could be considered a consistent part of this model. It’s important to clarify the boundaries between instinct as innate knowledge versus learned knowledge to maintain internal consistency.

Your model focuses on knowledge acquisition through external sources (empirical observation, inference, testimony) and an internal, innate source (instinct). It's a model that seems to align well with a pragmatic and empirical view of knowledge, with the inclusion of instinct as a source providing an interesting dimension. The key to maintaining internal consistency within this framework is ensuring clear definitions and boundaries for each source, particularly for instinct, to align it with the other more traditional sources of knowledge.

Let's focus on inference. I have in mind a way to categorize inference, and know of a set number of them. Without mentioning what they are, can you state how many types of inferences there are. Please limit yourself to the number for now.

Categorizing types of inference can vary depending on the philosophical or logical framework being used. However, in a broad and commonly accepted categorization, there are three main types of inference:
  1. Deductive reasoning.
  2. Inductive reasoning.
  3. Abductive reasoning.
Each of these represents a distinct method of logical reasoning and inference.

Ok, so that was not a number. You do seem to have limited capabilities of following requests to be precise.

I apologize for the oversight. To directly answer your request with a number: there are three main types of inference.

Ok. Yes, I agree with that. That is also what I have arrived at after much reflection. As an aside, which source of knowledge enabled me to arrived at this insight?

Arriving at the insight that there are three main types of inference in logical reasoning likely involved a combination of different sources of knowledge, based on the model you've provided:

Empirical Observation: While empirical observation is more commonly associated with sensory data and external phenomena, it can also involve observing patterns in logical structures or arguments, especially if your insight was influenced by reading or engaging with various examples of logical reasoning.

Inference (Logical Reasoning): This is probably the most significant source in this context. You likely used deductive reasoning (drawing a conclusion from general premises), inductive reasoning (generalizing from specific instances), or even abductive reasoning (inferring the most likely explanation) to categorize and understand different forms of inference.

Testimony (Authority): If your conclusion was influenced by reading about logic, studying under a mentor, or engaging with educational content, then testimony plays a role. This involves trusting the information provided by experts or authoritative sources in the field of logic and reasoning.

Instinct: While instinct is typically more associated with innate responses or behaviors, in some cases, a 'gut feeling' or an intuitive sense about the rightness of an idea or theory could be involved, especially if it aligns with an innate logical understanding.

In your case, it seems that inference (logical reasoning) was likely the primary source, possibly supported by testimony (learning from authoritative sources) and empirical observation (noticing patterns in logical arguments). Instinct, in the traditional sense, plays a less direct role in such intellectual insights.

Agreed. Primarily inference, but inspired by observation and testimony. I would like you to search deep for other types of inference. Please list what you find, even if they are not directly categorizable as inference in the sense we have put here.

Certainly, I can provide a broader perspective on types of inference, some of which may extend beyond the traditional categories of deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning. Here's a list of various forms of inference or related concepts, some of which might be considered as specific instances or applications of the three main types:

Analogical Inference: Drawing conclusions based on the similarities between two different things. It's a form of inductive reasoning where one infers that what is true for one case is also true for a similar case.

Statistical Inference: Involves drawing conclusions about a population based on a sample. This includes hypothesis testing, estimating parameters, and making predictions. It's often seen as a form of inductive reasoning.

Causal Inference: Determining whether one event causes another. This can involve elements of both inductive and abductive reasoning, and is crucial in fields like epidemiology and social sciences.

Conditional Inference: This type of inference involves reasoning based on 'if-then' scenarios. It's a form of deductive reasoning where conclusions are drawn based on the conditions of the premise.

Counterfactual Reasoning: Involves thinking about what could have happened under different circumstances. It's a type of reasoning that is often used in historical analysis and speculative scenarios.

Transductive Inference: A form of reasoning that makes inferences from specific instances to other specific instances, particularly used in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Syllogistic Reasoning: This is classical deductive reasoning in a formalized structure, involving two premises and a conclusion.

Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens: Specific forms of deductive reasoning that follow strict logical structures. Modus Ponens follows the structure of affirming the antecedent, while Modus Tollens involves denying the consequent.

Bayesian Inference: A method of statistical inference in which Bayes' theorem is used to update the probability for a hypothesis as more evidence or information becomes available. It's a form of inductive reasoning.

Legal/Forensic Inference: In the legal field, this involves reasoning to draw conclusions based on evidence and legal precedents. It can include elements of deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning.

Ethical Inference: Reasoning about what is right or wrong in moral terms. This can involve a mix of deductive reasoning (applying general ethical principles to specific cases) and inductive reasoning (deriving general principles from specific cases).

Each of these represents a nuanced way in which inference is used or understood in different contexts. They demonstrate the diversity and complexity in the ways humans draw conclusions and make decisions.

Are any of these strictly speaking not using deduction, induction, or abduction?

Upon closer examination, all the types of inference listed previously can be categorized under the umbrella of deduction, induction, or abduction, albeit in specific or specialized forms. Here's a brief breakdown:

Analogical Inference: Primarily a form of inductive reasoning, as it involves generalizing from specific instances (the similarities between two entities).

Statistical Inference: A specialized form of inductive reasoning, where conclusions about a population are drawn based on a sample.

Causal Inference: Often uses a mix of inductive and abductive reasoning to establish cause-and-effect relationships.

Conditional Inference: A form of deductive reasoning, where conclusions follow logically from given conditions or premises.

Counterfactual Reasoning: While speculative, it often involves elements of deductive and abductive reasoning to explore alternative outcomes.

Transductive Inference: Similar to inductive reasoning, but focuses on specific-to-specific inferences. It’s more common in AI and machine learning.

Syllogistic Reasoning: A classic example of deductive reasoning, following strict logical structures.

Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens: Both are definitive forms of deductive reasoning.

Bayesian Inference: While it uses probability, it's essentially a form of inductive reasoning, updating beliefs based on new evidence.

Legal/Forensic Inference: Typically involves all three forms – deduction (applying laws to facts), induction (generalizing from evidence), and abduction (inferring the most likely explanation for evidence).

Ethical Inference: Often involves deductive reasoning (applying ethical principles) and inductive reasoning (forming principles based on specific ethical judgments).

Each of these types of inference, despite their specialized applications or contexts, fundamentally employ the mechanisms of deductive, inductive, or abductive reasoning. They represent the diverse ways in which these basic forms of reasoning are adapted and applied across various fields and scenarios.

So is there nothing beyond those 3 types of inference?

Based on the current understanding and study of logic and epistemology, deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning encompass the primary forms of logical inference. These three types are foundational and broadly cover the ways humans derive conclusions from available information. Here's a recap:

Deductive Reasoning: Involves drawing specific conclusions from general premises. It's characterized by the certainty of its conclusions, provided the premises are true and the reasoning is valid.

Inductive Reasoning: Involves generalizing from specific observations to broader generalizations. While conclusions drawn through induction are not certain, they are probabilistic and can be strong or weak depending on the evidence.

Abductive Reasoning: Often involves forming a hypothesis that best explains a set of observations. It's a form of inference that's used to make educated guesses and is more speculative than deductive and inductive reasoning.

These forms of inference can be applied and adapted in various contexts, leading to the specialized types previously mentioned (like statistical inference, analogical reasoning, etc.). However, at their core, these specialized types are typically extensions or applications of the three fundamental forms.

In philosophy and logic, there is always room for exploration and the development of new ideas. So while currently deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning are recognized as the primary forms of logical inference, future theoretical advancements might propose new categories or frameworks. For now, though, these three forms provide a comprehensive framework for understanding the basic processes of reasoning and inference.

Tell me more about Transductive Inference.

Transductive inference is a concept primarily used in the field of machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence. It's a type of reasoning that differs from the more commonly known inductive and deductive reasoning methods. Here's a closer look at its characteristics and applications:

Definition and Characteristics
Specific to Specific: Unlike inductive reasoning, which generalizes from specific instances to broader generalizations, or deductive reasoning, which deduces specifics from general rules, transductive inference makes conclusions from one specific set of observations to another specific set.
Data-Driven: It is heavily reliant on the available data and often does not attempt to generalize beyond that data. This approach is particularly useful when dealing with unique datasets where generalizations might not be applicable or reliable.
Application in Machine Learning
Semi-Supervised Learning: Transductive inference is often employed in semi-supervised learning scenarios, where a model is trained on a labeled dataset (where the outcomes are known) and then used to infer outcomes on an unlabeled dataset. The key here is that the inference is specific to the particular unlabeled data at hand, rather than forming a general rule that can be applied to any new data.
Instance-Based Learning: In situations where models need to make predictions or decisions based on specific instances of data, transductive reasoning can be effective. For example, in image recognition or language translation tasks, where the system makes inferences based on the specific data it encounters.
Advantages and Limitations
Advantages: Transductive inference can be more accurate in cases where the training data is very representative of the specific test data. It's also beneficial when the goal is to make predictions about the given dataset only, without needing to generalize to other datasets.
Limitations: The main limitation of transductive inference is its lack of generalizability. The conclusions drawn are not meant to be applied outside the specific context of the data used. This can be a drawback when dealing with varied or evolving datasets.
Comparison with Other Methods
Inductive vs. Transductive: Inductive learning aims to create a general model that can be applied to any new data, while transductive learning is focused solely on drawing inferences for a specific, given dataset.
Deductive Reasoning: Deductive reasoning is more about applying general rules to derive specific conclusions and is less data-dependent compared to transductive inference.
In summary, transductive inference is a unique approach within the realm of machine learning, emphasizing direct, data-specific conclusions rather than broader generalizations. Its use is particularly pertinent in applications where the focus is on making predictions or understanding a specific dataset, rather than formulating general rules or models.

Thank you. Now, I'd like to compare the 3 types of inferences in terms of uncertainty. First tell me what you would say about this, but as briefly as you can.

In terms of uncertainty:
  1. Deductive Reasoning: Offers certainty, if the premises are true and the logic is valid, the conclusion must be true.
  2. Inductive Reasoning: Inherently uncertain, conclusions are probable based on the evidence, but not guaranteed.
  3. Abductive Reasoning: Highly speculative, offers plausible but not definitive conclusions; uncertainty is a key feature.
For 1., wherein lies any potential uncertainty?

The potential uncertainty in deductive reasoning lies primarily in two areas:

Truth of Premises: The certainty of deductive reasoning depends on the truth of its premises. If the premises are false or questionable, the conclusion, while logically derived, may also be false or unreliable.

Logical Validity: The reasoning process itself must be logically valid. Any flaw or error in the logical structure of the argument can lead to incorrect conclusions, even if the premises are true.

Hence, the certainty in deductive reasoning is contingent on both the truth of the premises and the validity of the logical process used to arrive at the conclusion.

How can we assess the truth of the premises?

Assessing the truth of premises in deductive reasoning involves a combination of empirical verification, reliance on established knowledge, and logical analysis. Here are some key approaches:

Empirical Verification: For premises based on observable or measurable phenomena, empirical methods like experimentation, observation, and data analysis can be used to verify their truth. This is common in scientific research.

Consistency with Established Knowledge: Checking whether the premises align with what is already known and accepted in the relevant field. This involves comparing the premises with existing theories, facts, and data.

Logical Analysis: Analyzing the internal coherence and logical structure of the premises themselves. This includes ensuring that the premises are not contradictory and do not contain logical fallacies.

Expert Opinion: Consulting experts or authoritative sources in the relevant field can provide insights into the validity of the premises, especially for complex or specialized topics.

Historical/Anecdotal Evidence: In some cases, historical records or anecdotal evidence might be used to support the truth of a premise, though these sources are generally less reliable than empirical methods.

Philosophical Inquiry: For premises that are philosophical or abstract in nature, philosophical methods of reasoning and debate can be used to examine their validity.

It's important to note that the certainty of deductive reasoning hinges on the absolute truth of its premises. Therefore, thorough and careful assessment of the premises is crucial in deductive arguments.

So this means that, epistemologically speaking, all three types of inferences are ultimately uncertain, and no knowledge is absolutely certain?

Yes, from an epistemological standpoint, all three types of inferences — deductive, inductive, and abductive — involve some degree of uncertainty, meaning that absolute certainty in knowledge is rarely, if ever, achievable. Here’s a brief overview of the uncertainty inherent in each type:

Deductive Reasoning: While deductive arguments can provide certainty in conclusions if the premises are true and the reasoning is valid, the certainty about the truth of the premises is often not absolute. The premises themselves might need to be established through inductive or abductive reasoning, which are not absolutely certain.

Inductive Reasoning: Inductive reasoning is inherently probabilistic. It involves generalizing from specific instances, and while these generalizations can be highly probable, they are never absolutely certain. New evidence can always potentially modify or overturn inductive conclusions.

Abductive Reasoning: Abductive reasoning is the most speculative of the three, often used to form a hypothesis that best explains a set of observations. It provides plausible conclusions but not definite proof, and these conclusions are always open to revision based on new information or better explanations.

This perspective aligns with the philosophical view known as fallibilism, which holds that all claims to knowledge could, in principle, be mistaken. Hence, while we can have very reliable and robust knowledge, absolute certainty is often beyond our reach. This understanding underscores the importance of critical thinking, continuous inquiry, and openness to new evidence and perspectives in the pursuit of knowledge.

You say "absolute certainty is **often** beyond our reach". When is it not?

My statement "absolute certainty is often beyond our reach" could be more precisely articulated. In the context of empirical and logical knowledge — the domains covered by deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning — absolute certainty is indeed always beyond our reach. This is due to the inherent limitations in verifying the truth of premises (for deductive reasoning), the probabilistic nature of generalizations (for inductive reasoning), and the speculative aspect of hypothesis formation (for abductive reasoning).

In certain areas of formal systems like mathematics and formal logic, we can achieve a form of absolute certainty within the confines of those systems. For example, within the axiomatic system of Euclidean geometry or the rules of arithmetic, certain propositions can be said to be absolutely certain. However, this certainty is contingent upon the acceptance of the axioms and rules that define the system. It's important to note that these are abstract constructs and their application to the real, empirical world reintroduces elements of uncertainty.

Therefore, in practical, real-world contexts, especially those involving empirical data or complex phenomena, absolute certainty is not achievable. The nature of knowledge in these areas is provisional, open to revision in light of new evidence or better reasoning.

Let's explore such systems, like mathematics. It seems like math is logic applied (am I wrong? - I know Charles Sanders Peirce thought it was the other way around), and as such certainty can be had internally, given acceptance of the axioms. However, does the certainty not require that the deduction are understood. For example, I may not understand a difficult mathematical proof, and then what is it to me? Does it offer certainty, beyond what a better mathematician tells me (which is just testimony, subject to uncertainty)?

Your observation about the relationship between mathematics and logic, and the role of understanding in achieving certainty, is quite insightful. Let's break this down:

Mathematics and Logic
Mathematics and Logic: Mathematics is often seen as a formal system based on a set of axioms and logical rules. It uses deductive reasoning to derive theorems and results. Logic, in a broad sense, is the study of reasoning, and mathematics can be seen as a specific application of logical principles to abstract concepts. However, the interplay between math and logic is complex and has been a subject of philosophical debate. Some argue, as Peirce did, that logic is a part of mathematics, while others see mathematics as an application of logic.
Certainty and Understanding
Internal Certainty: Within mathematics, given a set of axioms and rules, theorems derived through correct deductive processes are considered internally certain within that system. This certainty is, however, conditional on the acceptance of the initial axioms and rules.
Role of Understanding: The certainty offered by a mathematical proof is independent of an individual's understanding of it. A proof is objectively valid if it correctly follows from the axioms and logical rules, regardless of whether a particular individual understands it.
Personal Certainty vs. Objective Certainty: While a mathematical proof may offer objective certainty within its system, an individual's personal certainty about the proof depends on their understanding. If you do not understand a complex mathematical proof, to you, the certainty of its conclusion might effectively be no different from that obtained through testimony, subject to your trust in the authority of the mathematician informing you.
Testimony in Mathematics: In practical terms, most people (including mathematicians in fields outside their expertise) often rely on the testimony of others regarding complex mathematical proofs. This does introduce an element of trust and, consequently, a form of uncertainty not in the proof itself, but in the acceptance of its validity.
In essence, while mathematical systems can offer internal certainty through deductive reasoning, an individual's personal certainty in a mathematical result depends on their comprehension of the proof. For those who do not understand the proof, reliance on testimony is necessary, introducing an element of uncertainty akin to that in other fields of knowledge. This distinction between objective certainty (of the proof within the mathematical system) and subjective certainty (the individual's understanding and belief in the proof) is crucial in understanding the nature of certainty in mathematics.

As a quick aside, tell me why you said that my observation "is quite insightful."?

When I commented that your observation "is quite insightful," it was an acknowledgment of the depth and relevance of the question you posed. Your inquiry delved into the nature of certainty in mathematics and logic, and the role of personal understanding in perceiving that certainty. This reflects a thoughtful consideration of the philosophical aspects of knowledge, going beyond surface-level understanding to explore how abstract concepts like mathematical certainty relate to individual comprehension and the nature of testimony. Such questions are fundamental in epistemology and philosophy of mathematics, indicating a keen interest in and understanding of these complex subjects.

I appreciate, as I said earlier, brief and precise answers from you (in the interest of time, particularly), but I would also like to request that you identify ways that my thinking is not particularly insightful,, but rather shallow compared to the knowledge you possess.

Certainly, I understand the importance of brevity and precision, as well as the value of constructive critique. While your inquiries have been thoughtful, here are some ways to deepen the analysis or consider alternative perspectives, which might not have been fully explored in our discussion:

Broader Context in Philosophy of Mathematics: While focusing on certainty within mathematical systems is important, a more comprehensive analysis might also consider how these systems relate to the real world. Philosophical discussions often extend to how mathematical truths, while certain within their own systems, apply to empirical reality. Exploring this relationship can add depth to the understanding of mathematical certainty.

Interdisciplinary Connections: Integrating insights from other disciplines, such as cognitive science, to understand how humans process and comprehend mathematical and logical concepts, could provide a more holistic view. This would consider not just the abstract certainty of mathematics but also the human aspect of interacting with these abstract systems.

Historical and Philosophical Evolution: A deeper exploration could involve how concepts of certainty and proof in mathematics have evolved historically and philosophically. This might include examining different philosophical schools of thought regarding the foundations of mathematics, such as logicism, formalism, and intuitionism.

Diverse Philosophical Perspectives: Considering a variety of philosophical perspectives on mathematics and logic, including those that challenge conventional views about certainty and understanding, can provide a more comprehensive overview. For instance, exploring constructivist or social constructivist views on mathematical knowledge could offer alternative insights.

Practical Implications: Expanding the discussion to consider the practical implications of mathematical certainty, such as its role in technology, science, and everyday decision-making, could provide a more applied understanding of the concepts.

Your approach has been insightful in addressing specific aspects of epistemology and the philosophy of mathematics. However, delving into these additional areas could provide a more rounded and deeper exploration of the subject. Remember, the depth of understanding in any field, including philosophy, often comes from exploring multiple perspectives and integrating various aspects of knowledge.

What are the implications of knowledge being uncertain?

The inherent uncertainty of knowledge, a fundamental concept in epistemology, has several important implications across various domains:

Scientific Inquiry: In science, recognizing the uncertainty of knowledge leads to a continuous process of hypothesis testing, experimentation, and revision. It underlines the importance of being open to new evidence and ready to modify or discard theories as new information becomes available.

Decision-Making: Understanding that knowledge is uncertain encourages more cautious and flexible decision-making. It promotes considering multiple perspectives and potential outcomes, and planning for contingencies.

Philosophical Skepticism: The uncertainty of knowledge can lead to philosophical skepticism, where one questions the possibility of absolute certainty in knowledge. This can foster a more questioning and inquisitive approach to understanding the world.

Ethics of Belief: It raises ethical questions about the justification of beliefs. Recognizing uncertainty compels individuals and societies to consider the basis of their beliefs and the potential impact of acting on uncertain knowledge.

Education and Learning: In education, acknowledging uncertainty can enhance critical thinking skills. It encourages learners to question, explore multiple viewpoints, and understand the provisional nature of much of our knowledge.

Public Policy and Communication: In fields like public policy, health, and environmental science, the uncertainty of knowledge necessitates transparent communication about risks and the limits of current understanding, informing more nuanced policy decisions.

Cultural and Societal Impact: The acceptance of uncertainty can influence cultural and societal attitudes towards science, authority, and media. It can lead to a more informed and critically engaged society, but also, conversely, to skepticism and distrust in expert knowledge.

Personal and Psychological Impact: On a personal level, dealing with uncertainty can be challenging. It requires comfort with ambiguity and adaptability, but can also lead to anxiety or indecision for some individuals.

Technological and Research Focus: In technology and research, uncertainty drives innovation and the exploration of new methodologies to improve the accuracy and reliability of information.

Interdisciplinary Approaches: Recognizing the limits of knowledge in one field can lead to more interdisciplinary approaches, combining insights from various disciplines to tackle complex problems.

Overall, the understanding that knowledge is uncertain influences the way we gather information, form beliefs, make decisions, and interact with the world. It promotes a continuous quest for learning and adaptation, while also highlighting the need for critical thinking and open-mindedness.

Speculate how society would change if people learned about epistemological uncertainty from a young age.

Introducing the concept of epistemological uncertainty to individuals from a young age could lead to several profound societal changes over time:

Enhanced Critical Thinking: With early exposure to the idea that knowledge is uncertain, people may develop stronger critical thinking skills. They would be more inclined to question, analyze, and evaluate information rather than accepting it at face value.

Informed Decision-Making: A society that understands the uncertainty inherent in knowledge might approach decision-making more cautiously and thoughtfully. Individuals could become more adept at weighing different perspectives and potential outcomes before taking action.

Increased Open-mindedness and Tolerance: Learning about epistemological uncertainty can foster open-mindedness, as it underscores the idea that there are multiple valid ways of understanding and interpreting the world. This could lead to greater tolerance and acceptance of diverse viewpoints.

More Collaborative Problem-Solving: Recognizing the limits of individual understanding could encourage more collaborative approaches to problem-solving. People might be more likely to seek out and value the expertise and opinions of others, leading to more effective and inclusive solutions.

Adaptability and Resilience: An early understanding that knowledge is not absolute could help individuals become more adaptable and resilient in the face of change and new challenges. They would be accustomed to uncertainty and better prepared to handle evolving situations.

Empowered Skepticism: People would be equipped with a healthy skepticism that empowers them to critically assess information sources, including media, political rhetoric, and scientific claims. This could lead to a more informed and discerning public.

Innovation and Creativity: Understanding the provisional nature of knowledge could stimulate innovation and creativity. With the realization that there’s always room for new ideas and improvements, individuals and societies might become more dynamic and forward-thinking.

Shift in Education Focus: Education systems might place greater emphasis on teaching how to learn and process information, rather than on the rote memorization of supposed facts. This could cultivate lifelong learners and more dynamically skilled individuals.

Greater Scientific Literacy and Engagement: A society educated in epistemological uncertainty might engage more actively with science, understanding that scientific knowledge is continually evolving and not a collection of unchangeable truths.

Ethical Considerations in Belief Formation: People might become more reflective about their beliefs and the ethical implications of acting on uncertain knowledge, leading to a more conscientious society.

In summary, introducing epistemological uncertainty at a young age could lead to a society that is more critically engaged, adaptable, collaborative, and open to new ideas and perspectives. It could foster a culture that values learning and intellectual humility, recognizing that our understanding of the world is always subject to revision and improvement.

Wouldn't that be nice. Do you perceive of any downsides?

While teaching epistemological uncertainty from a young age has many potential benefits, there are also some downsides or challenges to consider:

Paralysis by Analysis: An overemphasis on uncertainty can lead to indecision or paralysis by analysis, where individuals become so concerned with considering every possibility that they struggle to make timely decisions.

Skepticism Turning to Cynicism: Healthy skepticism is beneficial, but there's a risk it could turn into cynicism. People might become overly distrustful of information sources, experts, or authorities, leading to a dismissive attitude towards valuable knowledge or expertise.

Confusion and Anxiety: For some, especially young learners, a focus on uncertainty can be confusing and anxiety-inducing. It might be challenging to reconcile the idea of uncertainty with the need for concrete knowledge and understanding.

Undermining Established Facts: While questioning is a key part of learning, there's a risk that emphasizing uncertainty could lead to undermining well-established facts. This could be particularly problematic in areas like science education, where a foundational understanding of certain concepts is crucial.

Difficulty in Value Formation: Understanding that knowledge is uncertain might make it harder for individuals to form strong values or beliefs. This could impact their sense of identity and moral decision-making.

Potential for Relativism: If not properly framed, teaching about uncertainty could lead to a sense of relativism, where students might believe that all opinions are equally valid, regardless of their grounding in fact or reason.

Challenge for Educators: Effectively teaching about epistemological uncertainty requires educators to be well-versed in these concepts themselves. It might be challenging to convey these ideas in an age-appropriate and constructive manner.

Social Cohesion: A strong focus on uncertainty might impact social cohesion if it leads to widespread distrust or the inability to reach consensus on important issues, as people might always be looking for alternative explanations or possibilities.

Erosion of Authority: While questioning authority is a critical skill, an overemphasis on uncertainty can lead to an erosion of respect for legitimate expertise, potentially devaluing important institutional knowledge.

Balance with Practical Knowledge: There's a need to balance the teaching of uncertainty with practical knowledge and skills. Students also need to learn how to function effectively in the world, which includes working with current best understandings and practices.

In summary, while there are many benefits to understanding epistemological uncertainty, it's important to approach this education in a balanced manner, ensuring that it promotes critical thinking and open-mindedness without leading to excessive skepticism, anxiety, or indecision.


[Conversations with ChatGPT 4.0]

Me: Can you write a couple of paragraphs about the meaning of spartophile, and the benefits of eating fibre?

ChatGPT 4.0: "Spartophile" is a neologism, a newly coined term that could be used to describe someone who has a particular fondness for or interest in consuming dietary fiber. The term is derived from the Greek word "σπάρτο" (sparto), meaning fiber, combined with "-phile," a suffix of Greek origin indicating a love or strong affinity for something. While "spartophile" is not an established term in medical or nutritional literature, it playfully captures the enthusiasm one might have for a diet rich in fibrous foods.

The benefits of eating a diet rich in fiber are well-documented and significant. Dietary fiber, found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, plays a crucial role in maintaining digestive health. It aids in normalizing bowel movements by increasing the weight and size of stool and softening it, making it easier to pass and reducing the likelihood of constipation. Soluble fiber, a type of dietary fiber, can help lower blood cholesterol levels and stabilize blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals managing conditions like diabetes. Additionally, high-fiber foods tend to be more filling, which can help in weight management, as they often lead to a reduction in calorie intake. The consumption of fiber is also linked to a reduced risk of developing various chronic diseases, including certain types of cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Thus, a "spartophile" – someone who enthusiastically incorporates high-fiber foods into their diet – may enjoy these wide-ranging health benefits.


Hivestorm (noun, verb):

A meta-brainstorm wherein the emphasis is on what the hive-mind can accomplish with higher probability than what any individual can produce. Differs from brainstorm in that the new ideas emerge from the recurrent bouncing off each other.

For example:  

The results were produced in an epic hivestorm consisting of people from several research groups, who hivestormed until they all collapsed from climactic exhilaration.

Rapidly Eyeball Abstract and Diagrams

R.E.A.D. = Rapidly Eyeball Abstract and Diagrams

"Did you read the paper by Østman et al. (2014)?"

"Yes, I READ it."

What does it mean to read a paper? How much of it must you have read to be able to say that you have read it? Every word, including acknowledgements and the list of references? Surely not. Probably what most people mean is that you understand the paper and know what the authors did. And to that end reading the abstract and the figures will often suffice - and free up some time for locating some free food (which is a skill I perfected as a grad student and researcher, because $50k per year was just not enough to live on).

Coronavirus: A matter of tone?

I had this conversation a little over a year ago, and I wonder how these four people have faired since, and whether any of them changed their minds or not.

Person 1: "Down for Friday! Not succumbing to the hysteria👆"

Me: "Sorry, but this is not hysteria. You ought to cancel this meeting."

Person 1: "I took down the article because I didnt want to be insensitive to ppl's feelingd about Rona. If you want to freak out, that's Fine. But I just cant live my life in fear nor am I down for self-isolation. There have been tons of outbreaks past and present and for whatever reason human beings persist. Not saying that I'm indifferent. I'm still washing my hands but Im not out here stockpiling and bubble wrapping myself. I say live your life but take reasonable precautions."

Me: "Social distancing is a reasonable precaution. You seem sorely ignorant of the topic, tbh. *smh*"

Person 2: "Can we NOT put people down for their opinions 🙄"

Me: "Can we NOT let opinion guide how we deal with a pandemic? Can we please trust the scientists who tell us to help flattening the curve by exercising social distancing? Suggesting that such measures amount to hysteria *is* ignorant."

Person 3: "Bottom line is to be respectful of others 🤗🤗🤗🤗🤗 I feel ignorant is a harsh word to call a person"

Me: "No, I do not agree that that’s the bottom line. Bottom line is to help flattening the curve. Also, “ignorant” is not a slur, but an apt description when someone simply doesn’t know."

Person 4: "Similar to topic we discuss at book club, COVID is a polarizing issue. There is a way to express opinions and facts. While you are saying may be true, explaining yourself with empathy people understand your viewpoint without being insulted. We all come from different backgrounds and one of the great things about book club is that we all feel free to express ourselves without being judged. Keep that in mind."

Person 1: "Well said. Everyone is entitled to their feelings and reactions about Rona. Look forward to Friday."

The political brainwashing by the rich

How to reach the people who think Obama is the anti-christ, the racists who think Democrats are communists, and those who believe the global climate crisis is a hoax perpetrated by bleeding-heart libtards? Why are they so blind to fact and compassion?

The answer is Rush Limbaugh, basically. It's a little more than that, but essentially these people are brainwashed by talk-radio and Fox News, according to this documentary: The Brainwashing of My Dad (Prime) by Jen Senko. It happened to her father, the brainwashing, and he transformed over years from a gentle and great parent to a dittohead. It was grueling, and apparently it is suuuper common, losing your aging parents to Rush and Fox. The psychology behind it is fascinating, and evidently (because some of the ex-perpetrators of this propaganda machine have come clean) the brainwashing is completely deliberate. The late Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of Fox News up until 2016, led the channel like a dictator, and was apparently totally cognizant of his own agenda and how to achieve it (sidenote: unlike Trump, who I strongly believe to be an accidental success not knowing why his style works, but just behaves like that naturally).

Ex-Fox anchor explains how to start deprogramming your Fox-brainwashed friends and relatives (Tobin Smith)
FEAR & UNbalanced: Confessions of a 14-Year Fox News Hitman (Tobin Smith)

Tobin Smith is a former Fox News commentator for 14 years.

According to the documentary, this brainwashing of people functions like a cult, hits elderly people more than anyone else, probably due to normal (mild) cognitive decline. But as for all cult members, there is a way out, and in the case of Senko's dad (spoiler alert!), it was cutting off the radio, television, and emails that targeted him. As a result, he became a reasonable person and father yet again. But many aging parents suffer from the same affliction, which shuts them off to reason and compassion, and notably, they vote. Ultimately, it is a case of the rich and compassionless doing what they do best, which is using their money to influence public opinion to control policy to their own benefit. The more people know about this, the better we can fight back. So watch the documentary for starters.


noun: ursuary; plural noun: ursuaries
  1. a large cage, building, or enclosure for keeping bears in.

Open letter to President Trump

Dear Donald Trump. You are a great president. Probably one of the greatest this country has ever seen. You have the best mind for it, and the fake news media just don't give you enough credit, which I think is really sad. But we are many, probably more than anybody realizes, that admire you and your accomplishments. You are doing a really great job, so keep up the good work. I have never been of any other opinion about your candidacy and presidency, and if anyone says otherwise, they're lying. Trust me, as I trust you in everything.

I trust your judgment on political issues, and of course in all things business – the country should be run like a business. Here are a few things that I think if you fixed, as only you can, sooner rather than later, it would only further strengthen your reputation.

1) We both know that renewable energy is here to stay, and that it can employ a boatload of Americans. Show these idiots who don't believe in you that you are the man to get this really going. You'd be rightfully remembered as the greatest president if you were the one to solve this problem. All you have to do is divert funds into this sector, and jobs will spring up everywhere.

2) Your political base consists of both the common worker – coal miners, factory workers, service people, you know, the real America – as well as Wall Street bankers, also known as the people who really run the country. Both have to be heard. But you already know what they both need, which is jobs, tax-cuts, and freedom to do whatever business they want. And we'll get there, in time. You just have to lay the foundation, which counter-intuitively (only the smartest people like you really understand this) means to regulate Wall Street for the time being, and create jobs in renewable energy, infrastructure, etc.

3) Health-care: You ran on a promise to get everyone covered. And we know this is possible – every other developed country has done it. The challenge is to make it greater in America than anywhere else. I believe, I know, that you are the right person to do it. No one else can. Imagine the money American companies would save if they didn't have to pay for their employees health care. Business would be booming! And you'd get all the credit for it. No one but Trump would smart enough to do this for American businesses. The increase in taxes would be nothing compared to what every person – your voters in particular – would benefit from access to universal health-care. We'll call it TrumpCare, and your legacy would be safe in perpetuity. Means forever.

4) The military. The great news is that so much money could be saved by cutting down on military spending. America is already the greatest country in the world, spending more than all other nations combined on our military. But you are smart, and I know you are aware that lots of money are not spent in smart ways within the military. We can do better, we can be the strongest, and yet do it for less money (that can then be spent on creating jobs here at home) if we are smart about it. And no one is better suited to do this than you, which you have proven again and again. Keep it going!

That's just a few of the big ones. Just imagine the legacy you would leave behind if you quickly fixed just these few things. People big and small would praise you to the skies, and the people who didn't believe in you – like I always have – would be proven wrong yet again. Except this time they would have to admit that you are making American great again, as only a great man like yourself can.

And with that I'll take both good and bad questions...

When scientists give talks/seminars/colloquia/presentations/speeches/lectures/lessons/defenses/instructions, questions are welcomed, and (probably to give themselves time to think), they often start by stating that that is a good question.

What they don't do is designate a question as dumb or stupid, because that's offensive, and scientists are frail like quails when it comes to their intellects.

"Good" questions:
  1. I've never thought of that before, but if you'll allow me to speculate...
  2. I have thought about that before, but I haven't come up with an answer, and here's why.
  3. I have thought about that before, and here's the answer.
"Dumb" questions
  1. I have already explained that, but I'm happy to go over it again.
  2. The answer is obvious, and I'm surprised you don't know it.
I welcome all of these myself, but there are also questions that can be designated "mean", which I enjoy less. For example, when the person asking already knows the question and is just quizzing you (acceptable at a defense/exam). Or when asked in order to bolster oneself showing off how much they know, or to turn the discussion in a certain direction (the aging Prof's pet area of study, typically), which is mean to the extent that it takes the focus off the speaker and the subject matter.

Scientists, especially graduate students, are very afraid of asking dumb questions, but they shouldn't be. First of all, if you ask one of the two kinds of dumb questions listed here, know that if you didn't get it, most likely you're not alone, and your peers will be grateful that you asked the question. On top of that, the speaker will often realize that maybe they shouldn't have assumed that everyone knew the answer, and should have been more careful explaining it in the first place. But also, I have found that learning to embrace what might by some be seen as a stupid question crucially paves the way to understanding. The road to failure is paved with unasked questions, or something like that.

"You pay more than enough for college. A fortune, to be explicit. Or someone does. Either way, it's obscene. But then, I promise you to give this shot everything I've got. I want you to learn. I will do what I can. I want you to tell me how I can. I am at your disposal. Do not forget this. I will not mock you, I will not overlook you. I will take you seriously at all times, even if I involuntarily crack a joke. Not that it's always involuntary. But my promise is that you can freely and openly ask your question and state your opinion without the fear of ridicule, from me or from your peers. In here, no such ridicule is welcome, and only admiration is given in return for asking questions. Questions, which you never alone have. Chances are others do too. And in the rare cases where this is not true, you are a genius."

Step Acuity

Please help me with a little science experiment.

Measure your Step Acuity (SA) and report it here.

Your SA is the number of steps before you hit a mark that you know whether you will hit the mark with your right or left foot. As you are walking down the street, choose a mark (a line or a spot) on the ground far in front of you, and say "right" or "left" out loud the moment you realize which foot is going to step on the mark, and from there count 1, 2, 3... until you hit the mark. Do you have an SA (i.e., mostly the same outcome every time), or is the number of steps highly variable?

No cheating, this is not a competition. Just honestly report back, SVP.

The hypothesis is that everyone has an SA, meaning the number of steps is highly invariable, and that SA is normally distributed. H2: The SA is different between those who played football (soccer) as a child and those who did not.

Also, feel free to report how many steps before hitting the mark you know that you are not hitting it at all (i.e., it's right in between left and right foot). Have fun.

The Ivory Power Manifesto

The Ivory Power Manifesto

The Ivory Tower is not my friend. We will not sit idle and look down at the masses while society goes to hell. Science is to be shared, and that's why we do it.

There is no such thing as "their terms". We bring our terms to the table always, and this is how we move forward.

When someone attacks, we defend ourselves. We won't just let them walk into our living room and destroy everything.

Religion leads to creationism. Nothing else does. Creationism thus implies religion. If you're still in doubt what the real problem here is, then you're part of the problem.

This is a war that will take a long time, but we know who will win it. We will not stand idle by and be on the wrong side of history.

We will use any and every opportunity to share science with the public.

The evidence can take us where it wants. We shall have no baggage that will make us resist it.

On some topics there is no legitimate scientific debate, but we will not be afraid of debating science-deniers on these topics, even though the public may perceive that as an acknowledgement that a legitimate debate exists.

Stating that there is no debate is a case of Expert Blindness. Just because you have resolved the issue doesn't mean everyone else has. We will share our expert knowledge with everyone.

Evolutionary forecasting and the tape metaphor

You may not think so (well, not you!), but evolutionary biology does make predictions. Particularly about the past, for example about the existence of moths with long proboscises to match an orchid's long nectary, or that no remains of rabbits will ever be found in the precambrian. But people generally don't talk about predicting future evolutionary outcomes, and those that do most often say that it is impossible - often referring to SJ Gould's metaphor of rewinding the tape of life (more on that below)

One could very well say the same thing about the weather: a hundred years ago, no one in their right mind (which is a tricky way of denoting all but the ones with the most foresight) would have guessed that we would ever be able to accurately predict the weather ten days into the future. But incredible advances in physics now allows us to do just that. Even though the weather systems are very sensitive to many factors, with the combination of the Navier-Stokes equations and a continuous effort to measure weather all over the world, we are now comfortable trusting that the weather forecasts are more accurate than guessing.

In this article by Carl Zimmer from 2014 several researchers explain how the same type of forecasting could potentially be applied to evolutionary biology. Particularly, it is not at all inconceivable that we will be able to predict flu virus evolution, thereby better making vaccines and saving lives. Microbial evolution, it turns out, often has much more repeatable outcomes than what is traditionally thought. Recent research strongly suggest that this is the case, for example when bacteria evolve the same solutions again and again to the same problems.

Here's a simulation with an example of that:

In this very simple example, you'll have to admit it's pretty easy to predict where the population is going to go, yes? (See the full video on youtube for more about fitness landscapes.)

One way to think of evolutionary forecasting is by obtaining as much data as possible about the fitness of genetic variants. If we know which variants (bacteria and viruses are the best candidate organisms) are most successful in making copies of themselves, then we can potentially make predictions of how they will evolve in the near future - just like with the weather.

The problem is that measuring fitness for many many genetic variants is still difficult. It means sequencing many individual organisms, and it means measuring fitness for each one of those variants. The resulting fitness landscape (i.e., fitness as a function of the genotype) is the last of three parameters needed to predict the simplest evolutionary systems. The other two are the population size and the mutation rate. Both of these are fortunately much easier to measure than the fitness landscape. So the fitness landscape remains the biggest obstacle. But it has only taken a few years to get quite far with measurements, and I don’t think it is at all inconceivable that we could have evolutionary forecasts for certain viruses and bacteria within the next few decades.

Returning to Gould, I predict that his lasting impact on evolutionary biology will be similar to Lamarck's: His "rewinding the tape of life" will be the quintessential error that people will keep referring to when talking about evolutionary forecasting.

To be more specific: I predict that 187 years from Gould's death (i.e., by 2189), when his name is mentioned, most people will immediately think of the tape first. And additionally that the idea has been somewhat refuted, since they then will be pretty good at evolutionary forecasting. (Lamarck died 187 years ago.)

My friend Larry Moran, who blogs at Sandwalk, is a staunch Gould admirer, and he asked me these questions in regard to my prediction:
Do you really believe that if we reran the tape of life we would always end up with a continent like Australia where marsupials outnumber placental mammals? 
Do you believe that every possible scenario would result in hundreds of species of dinosaurs that go extinct about 65 million years ago? 
Is the great Permian extinction always going to happen? 
Will an oxygen evolving complex always arise in primitive cyanobacterium about 2.5 billion years ago? 
Are you convinced that replaying the tape of life will always produce eukaryotes with introns and complex spliceosomes? 
Will no replay ever produce highly intelligent New World Monkeys? 
Are poisonous mushrooms absolutely necessary? 
Will the platypus always evolve and never go extinct? 
If we ever find another planet that's very similar to Earth do you expect to find intelligent mammals and maple trees?
And Larry made his own prediction:
Gould will be remembered for his attack on adaptationism and reminding us that there's more to evolution than natural selection. He will be remembered for teaching us about contingency and exaptation. He will be remembered for hierarchical theory. Above all, he will be remembered for making us all aware of the fact that evolution is a lot more complicated than we think.
One objection to the tape metaphor is that it is not well-defined. Does "rewinding the tape of life" mean that everything starts out the same? The initial conditions are *exactly* the same? What about the random events that influence evolution, will they be exactly the same or are they different? Are we talking about the environmental effects (weather, plate tectonics, ET events) being the same or not? Would mutations be identical or just drawn from the same distribution? Some people may have a clear idea of these things and thus feel confident of what the metaphor really means, but I know for a fact that there is not a general consensus about this, with several evolutionary biologists that I have talked to having differing views about its interpretation. We can all agree that randomness is very important in evolution, but not what kind of randomness is part of the metaphor.

In answer to Larry's questions above, one answer is no, not that specifically. Stochasticity (randomness) is too strong a factor, and future evolutionary events are contingent on earlier events.

On the other hand, it may be that stochasticity doesn't mean that evolution is unpredictable, just like it is not unpredictable what will happen when you heat a pot of water, even though we can't predict the path of every individual water molecule.

On the first hand again, if we're talking about, say, evolution on other planets, then no, we cannot expect those exact outcomes. However, Gould also denied that humans would be a repeat outcome if the tape was rewinded, but it is not clearly defined what we mean by "humans" in this context. If by humans we mean intelligent bipedal tetrapods with a head on top, then I do think there are very good reasons to believe that such creatures could evolve again and again, and be a feature on many planets that harbor life throughout the universe.

Back on the second hand, one can argue that every event that ever happens is determined by previous physical states. Things are only as random as we are unable to foresee the next event. A random mutation is only random because we don't know the factors that determine it, or because we don't have the data to predict it. In other words, if we rewind until some time point, everything else is the same up until that time point, so there are good reasons to believe that all future random events would be identical to the first run, and we would thus get exactly what we got the first time.