Category Archives: Philosophy

Falsification is Not Critical Rationalism

Critical Rationalism (CR) is the philosophy of Karl Popper. It has been misunderstood by many.

CR roughly says that knowledge is created through guesses and criticism of these guesses.

One common misconception is that people mistakenly equate falsification with CR.

Falsification, in a philosophical sense, is roughly the idea that you can formulate a specific claim (i.e. a guess) about something in such a way that certain observations could contradict the claim.
If observations turn out to contradict your claim, your claim is wrong.
Even though your specific claim is proven to be wrong, a similar claim could still be correct.
(Edit 2020-07-30: Theories can not be conclusively disproven as we could be mistaken, our instruments could be faulty, and for many other reasons.)

Falsification, usually done through experimental testing, is only one type of criticism among many.
Although falsification could be a part of CR, it is thus not central to Popper’s position.

(See my discussion tree “CR, Oism, what intelligent ppl do” on SubscribeStar for another example of how people mistakenly equate falsification with CR.)

Programming and Philosophy

I am learning programming. The programming language I chose to learn is Scheme.

Why learn Scheme, a symbolic programming language, of all things?

The reason is that I want to understand the conceptual thinking of programming. Regarding programming, Curi (Elliot Temple), told me:

you need the big picture instead of to treat it like a bunch of math.

Scheme looks to have good resources for doing that. From Simply Scheme’s foreword:

It [Simply Scheme] emphasizes programming as a way to express ideas, rather than just a way to get computers to perform tasks.

This is the essence of how good philosophy works as well: learning to understand concepts, integrating them into the big picture, and avoiding contradictions in the process. Objectivism teaches this. In Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, Ayn Rand writes:

There are two different methods of learning: by memorizing and by understanding. The first belongs primarily to the perceptual level of a human consciousness, the second to the conceptual.
[…] The second method of learning—by a process of understanding—is possible only to man. To understand means to focus on the content of a given subject (as against the sensory—visual or auditory—form in which it is communicated), to isolate its essentials, to establish its relationship to the previously known, and to integrate it with the appropriate categories of other subjects. Integration is the essential part of understanding.

Rand, in Atlas Shrugged:

Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.

Do you see the similarities between good philosophy and Scheme programming?

By learning programming I work on philosophy – and by learning philosophy I work on my programming.

I am using Simply Scheme to learn Scheme.

Fooled by complexity

To make stuff harder to understand is to add complexity to them.

People sometimes think that if something they read is confusing and hard to understand, it means that it is deep and meaningful. This type of reasoning becomes especially common if you find out that other people believe and say that the unintelligible stuff is deep and meaningful.

When people claim that something is deep and meaningful but you can’t make sense of it, ask them why they consider it to be deep and meaningful. You’ll find that, more often than not, they do not have good reasons as to why.
Unfortunately, much like the adults in HC Andersen’s tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” most people are too afraid to look dumb in the eyes of others, so they usually do not ask for clarification when they are confused. Most people are, what Rand would call, second-handers.

Something that seems confusing is not necessarily useless. But making stuff confusing is a method often used in pretending something is deep and meaningful when it’s actually not. If you don’t understand something you shouldn’t pretend it is meaningful just because it is confusing.

Richard Feynman was good at explaining things in a simple to understand way. In, “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”, Feynman shares one “fooled by complexity” kind of situations from his life:

There was a sociologist who had written a paper for us all to read–something he had written ahead of time. I started to read the damn thing, and my eyes were coming out: I couldn’t make head nor tail of it! […] *I had this uneasy feeling of “I’m not adequate,” until finally I said to myself, “I’m gonna stop, and read _one sentence_ slowly, so I can figure out what the hell it means.”*
So I stopped–at random–and read the next sentence very carefully. I can’t remember it precisely, but it was very close to this: “The individual member of the social community often receives his information via visual, symbolic channels.” I went back and forth over it, and translated. You know what it means? “People read.”
Then I went over the next sentence, and I realized that I could translate that one also. Then it became a kind of empty business: “Sometimes people read; sometimes people listen to the radio,” and so on, but *written in such a fancy way that I couldn’t understand it at first, and when I finally deciphered it, there was nothing to it.*

When people do understand something, they should be able to explain it in a fairly simple way. If they can’t, chances are they do not really understand it themselves. This is very true for our own understanding as well – if you can’t explain things in a fairly simple way, chances are that you do not really understand them that well.

Asking questions is one way to not get fooled by complexity. Ask others clarifying questions. Ask yourself clarifying questions. Why is this? How is this so? Idea trees are a good way to organise one’s thoughts.

So if you do not understand something that you think is important, ask for clarifications. Even more importantly, ask yourself for clarifications – and put effort into simplifying things so that they actually are coherent.

Feynman again:

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.

“Well, that might sound good in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice.”

Sometimes, when you try to make an argument in a discussion, someone might say something like “Well, that might sound good in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice.”

Let us consider that for a moment. What do they mean when they say something like that? If it actually sounds good in theory, why are they so fast to say it won’t work in reality?

In “Philosophy: Who Needs It” (chapter 2, Philosophical Detection), Ayn Rand, explores on this:

“This may be good in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice.” What is a theory? It is a set of abstract principles purporting to be either a correct description of reality or a set of guidelines for man’s actions. Correspondence to reality is the standard of value by which one estimates a theory. If a theory is inapplicable to reality, by what standard can it be estimated as “good”? If one were to accept that notion, it would mean: a. that the activity of man’s mind is unrelated to reality; b. that the purpose of thinking is neither to acquire knowledge nor to guide man’s actions. (The purpose of that catch phrase is to invalidate man’s conceptual faculty.)