There’s science, and that’s great. Then there’s Science Bores (SBs), and they’re not. You know, people like Dawkins, Tyson, Pinker.
One of the irritating things about SBs is their pose of epistemological modesty. Science doesn’t dogmatically claim to be True, they’ll say. It just claims to be — and here there are many formulations, but one that I read recently is: “True on the basis of the available evidence.” (Presumably, there really ought to be an “apparently” at the beginning of that phrase, but let that pass.) This is the kind of thing that makes SBs pat their tummies with satisfaction.
Let’s abbreviate “True on the basis of the available evidence” as “TrueEv.”
What is the meaning of “true” in TrueEv?
It can’t be TrueEv, or we have an infinite regress.
But non-TrueEv True is what SBs deny (via TrueEv).
So this kind of tummy-patting, which is supposed to signify an epistemological modesty, is in fact quite empty.
It’s just a pose.
Philosophical question: how can the Leibniz who denies mind-to-brain reduction (as in his image of the mill) also be the Leibniz who asserts discourse-to-math reduction? How can he be an anti-reductionist as a philosopher of mind, but a pro-reductionist as a philosopher of language? I don’t get it.
The very idea of a database seems to me epistemologically questionable. For the idea rests on — or, perhaps, projects — a supposition of data as finite. For if data is infinite, then the idea of a collection of some data, presumably, is useless and stochastic. It would be like having a collection of some numbers (assuming numbers to be infinite). What’s the point? You might as well have just one — the one you are working with, when you’re trying to work out some problem. For one in the number, compared to infinity, is all you can ever have.
Only if data (in the last analysis) is finite can the idea of a database make any sense. Only if data is finite can the idea of an ever-larger database make sense. Therefore, the more committed one is to the idea of a database, the more committed one becomes to the presupposition that data is finite. In this way, every database, from the Domesday Book to Google, enforces upon us an epistemological assumption. The “bigger” the database, the more powerfully enforced is the assumption.
Do we know this assumption to be correct? Can we? I don’t know (perhaps there is an answer in theoretical physics) but I doubt it. And if not, isn’t it kind of problematic for us as a culture and society to be increasingly committed to the idea of the database? Aren’t we begging the question of what knowledge, fundamentally, is, or might be?