Choose a topic

.. Epistemology
Language and thought

.. Art
Fake art

.. Cognition
General Artificial Intelligence
Observing My Experience

.. Epistemology
Consciousness defined
Dialectics and Evolution
Intentional Stance
Training vs learning
What is a Vegetable?

.. Epistmology
Dire Warnings

.. Evolution
Life is Amazing
What is a Species?
Why are Tropical Birds So Colorful

.. HUM
A Mind

.. Society
Adversarial Legislatures
Cut Energy Use
Emotional Plague
Improving Democracy
Jesus and the Money Changers
Merry Christmas
Misinformation and disinformation
Moral Hazard
Red flags
Red Rover Red Rover
Reusable Bags
Sleeping in a tent
Social Media

Culture is Ordinary

AI and Art
Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Excellence is a Plateau
Is this picture real?
NonFungible Tokens
Public Art
Tearing Down Statues
What is Art?
Working With Reality

Artificial Intelligence and the Collingridge Dilemma.
Bird Brains
Bounded Rationality
Competence Without Comprehension
Consciousness is More Like Fame Than Television
Developmental Processes
Emergence and Cognition
Gender dysphoria
I Lost My Knife
Incomplete Information and Stories
Intelligence and Motivation
Is free will an illusion?
Natural Law
Necessary Illusions
On Affordances
Pencil and Paper
Post Phenomenology
Reflective Equilibrium
Return of the Law of Forms
Shifting Meanings
Structures of Understanding
Taking Things on Faith
The Hard Problem
The I Love You Gesture
The Imagined Order
The Phenomenology of Swim Bladders.
Thinking about medical procedures
Thinking About Risk
Underdetermination and Redundancy
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
What Does Google Know?
What is going on?

A Country Is Not Like A Company
Alternate ideas lying around waiting for disaster
Blood and Money
Can Capitalism Survive?
Do Our Minds Own Our Bodies?
Everyday Communism
Invisible Hand
Job Creators
Job Destroyers
Money and Value
Money is Different
National Accounts
Necessary Production
Paper Wealth
Post Capitalist Society
Profit Motive Fails
Rentier Capitalism
Social Wealth vs Surplus Value
Spending Money Into Existence
The Metaphysics of Money
The Ontology of Debt
Thinking about Money
Wealth is What Money Buys

Blowing Up Pipelines

Absolute Knowledge
I do not know everything
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
Rethinking Knowledge
Rethinking Knowledge
Semiotics and Body Language
The Curious Ineffectiveness of Facts
The Past and the Future.
Uncertainty and Unpredictability
Whatever happened to The Truth?

Body Plans
Competition and Cooperation
Dr Malthus would be pleased
Error Correction
Evolution Defended
Evolution is not Religion
Evolution of Cars
Forces of Nature
Is Natural Selection Obsolete?
Politics and Evolution
The Evolution of Purpose.
The Problem with Natural Selection.
The Source of Bad Behavior
Thinking about Tails
Why Does a Leopard Have Spots?

Free Speech in the age of Twitter
Freedom and Badness
Freedom and Morality
Freedom From and Freedom To
Freedom in the Age of Convoys
Libertarian Coercion

10 Views of Landscape
Affect and Effect
I pay rent.
Listening to Corn
The Reform vs Revolution Paradox
What is Public Schooling For?

Levels of Abstraction
Levels of Abstraction and Minds
What is a newspaper?

As Much As Possible
Zipfs Law

Emotional Plague
Memes: Imitated Behavior.
The Problem with Memes
What is a replicator?

Beyond Rules Based Morality
Freedom and Morality
Moral Realism.
What do we owe animals?


Maps and Territories
Metaphysics Without Absolutes
Philosophy Buds
Sincerely Held Beliefs
Sorites Paradox
Stereoscopic Vision and The Hard Problem
The Gorilla in the Room of Science
The Purpose of Science
What is Going On?

If It Walks Like a Duck
Right Wing Freedom
The Sovereign Citizen
Tyranny of the Majority


Constructed Life
Correlation Wins
Quack Doctors
The Great Shattering
The Material Space
Thinking about Interconnection
Too Small to See
Watching Pigeons
Weirdness in Physics

A Job
A society needs a government.
Babies and Bathwater
Belly of the Beast
Cultural Appropriation
Drag Story Tellers
Family Values
Governance and Power
Griefers and Misinformation and Disinformation
I Distrust the News
Inclusion and Christmas
Its a Free Country
Life Extension
Moral Decline
Open Society and Falsification
Parents, Children, and Community
Rethinking Rights
Rules in a Knife Fight?
Sex and Gender
Should We Go to Mars?
Social vs Individual Responsibility.
Society and The State
Society evolved
Spheres of Influence
The Care and Feeding of Free Speech
The Collingridge Dilemma
The Common Good
The Dual Meaning of Power
The Homeless
The Problem with Hedonism
The Rule of Law.
Thoughts on Justice
To the Moon
Trial by jury
Virtue Signalling
We Live in the Present
What is to be said?
What made freedom a bad word?
Why is there a shortage of nurses?
Work - Productive, Useful, Worthless, and Bad.

Implications of Very Productive Technology
Modest Proposal
Problems with Universal Basic Income
Tormenting Unlucky People
Why there are oligarchs

The Purpose of Science

It works

Picasso was once asked it he was 'seeker'
He was scathing of the idea "I don't seek! I find!" (paraphrased)

Isn't the purpose of science to "find"; find knowledge or truth (whatever those might be)?

That sounds great until you've tried to defend it a few times.

A primary problem - many times noted is that what was taken as scientific knowledge a hundred and fifty years ago is not thought of as knowledge now.
Much has been superseded.
Much has been shown to be wrong.
Much has been shown to be not even wrong.

What does it mean to find knowledge in that context? Can that give science a purpose?

Let's consider Newton alone in the countryside avoiding the plague. He did seminal studies into the nature of light and into gravity during that time. Along the way he invented a version of the calculus.

I see a difference between his inventing the calculus and his theory of gravity.
He had a purpose in inventing the calculus - it was to help him solve the math problems that his theory of gravity presented.
But what was the purpose of pondering about gravity at the time?

Newton's thoughts have had absolutely huge practical results - but those results could not be the reason for the thoughts because Newton didn't have a clear idea at all what could grow from his research. I've not seen any evidence or even suggestion that Newton had the slightest inkling of what would grow out of his theory.

So those outcomes couldn't form a purpose for him.
Throughout the history of science we can see the same pattern - the early investigators of combustion and gasses had no idea that chemistry would be the outcome.

As science evolved that pattern became harder to see.
We moved from pretty isolated investigators like Newton into an intellectual tradition supported by public and private funds with a network of journals and personal connections.

That network was pretty good at generating problems to be investigated. The individual investigations all came to have a purpose - to work on those problems. And especially as technology started to emerge from scientific knowledge - technology presented very strong incentives to develop all sorts of scientific knowledge.

But does the sort of purpose that a particular investigation has to solve a tech problem really reflect the purpose of science as a whole?

Consider a more personal parallel - in my life I do things for a purpose. What is the purpose of me going to the bank to withdraw money? To enable me to buy groceries. Our lives are full of that sort of purpose. Local purposes that are relevant in particular circumstances - not very hard to understand.

But if you ask me the purpose of my existence I can only shrug and say "None" I just happened.

I do understand that many people are uncomfortable with this realization and there are all sorts of alternative explanations involving transcendental beings that give purpose to us.

That begs the question of the purpose of those beings.

Let's go back to the purpose of science - could it be that at the start science had no purpose but that it has evolved one.

Now that it has demonstrated the benefit of the information it produces perhaps it's purpose is to keep up the good work.

But is that sort of purpose really any use? How does that help us decide which research projects are worthy of support? And think of a recent example - the New Horizons flyby of Pluto.
It's gobsmackingly amazing - a decades long project implemented at huge expense. People have devoted their lives to and raised families working for that project. What was the purpose of that?

Well - proximately to learn about Pluto - duh.

But why would we want to learn about Pluto at all? Learning about what Pluto is like up close is very interesting but I can't see any practical benefit at all that would motivate a context of purpose. So let's revisit Picasso on this - he wanted to find and he was being disparaging who just seek - they move from one curiosity to the next without really trying to make sense of it all. What Picasso had was a method of working that produced results. But I don't think that Picasso had a purpose in his research - he had no goal. He was following his nose.

Same with Newton - he may have had his reasons for being interested in gravity - but would we call Newton's personal curiosity a purpose? Somehow - I can't think that personal curiosity is a purpose in the general sense - it may be what motivated Newton but it seems to be a category mistake to call all motivation a purpose.

Curiosity is certainly a motivation - but is it a purpose?

I'm seeing a distinction here - the reasons something happens is distinct from the purpose of something.

When things happen for reasons that is completely consistent with a deterministic reality.

Purpose is a different idea - Purpose proposes things happening in the interest of something - the whole concept is empty unless you have things with interests.

But perhaps the purpose of science is a genuine self-created purpose - the tradition of science has created a very fruitful framework - we live and adapt to that framework all the time.

But just like you and I have self-created purposes - maybe science has too. It's purpose is to provide the global framework within which so many people can live good lives exploring fruitful ideas. It's taken on a life of it's own - and while I like it and depend on it It's taken on a life of it's own - we can't guarantee that it's purposes will always be our purposes. Indeed many people think that's the case now.

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.