Tag Archives: philosophy

An Introduction to the Game Theoretic Semantics view of Scientific Theory

What is a scientific theory?  In an abstract sense, a scientific theory is a group of statements about the world.  For instance the Special Theory of Relativity has, “The speed of light in a vacuum is invariant,” as a core statement, among others, about the world.  This statement is scientific because, in part, it is meant to hold in a ‘law-like’ fashion: it holds across time, space and observer.

The Popperian view is that we have scientific theories and we test those theories with experiments.  This means that given a scientific theory, a set of scientific statements about phenomena, we can deductively generate predictions.  These predictions are further statements about the world.  If our experiments yield results that run counter to what the theory predicts — the experiments generate statements that contradict the predictions, the theory did not hold across time, space or observer — then the theory eventually becomes falsified.  Else the theory may be considered ‘true’ (or at least not falsified) and it lives to fight another day.

The game theoretic semantics (GTS) view is that truth is the existence of a winning strategy in a game.  In terms of the philosophy of science, this means that our theories are strategic games (of imperfect information) played between ourselves and Nature.  Each statement of a theory is a description of a certain way the world is, or could be.  An experiment is a certain set of moves — a strategy for setting up the world in a certain way — that yields predicted situations according to the statements of the theory.  If our theory is true and an experiment is run, then this means that there is no way for Nature to do anything other than yield the predicted situation.  Said slightly differently: truth of a scientific theory is knowing a guaranteed strategy for obtaining a predicted Natural outcome by performing experiments.  If the strategy is executed and the predicted situations do not obtain, then this means that Nature has found a way around our theory, our strategy.  Hence there is no guaranteed strategy for obtaining those predictions and the theory is not true.

An example:

Take Galileo’s famous experiment of dropping masses off the Tower of Pisa.  Galileo’s theory was that objects of different mass fall at equal rates, opposing the older Aristotelian view that objects of greater mass fall faster.

According to the Popperian view Galileo inferred from his theory that if he dropped the two balls of different mass off the tower at the same time, they would hit the ground at the same time.  When he executed the experiment, the balls did hit the ground at the same time, falsifying the Aristotelian theory and lending support to his theory.

The GTS view is that dropping balls of unequal mass off a tower is a strategic game setup.  This experimental game setup is an instance of a strategy to force Nature to act in a certain way, namely to have the masses hit at the same time or not.  According to Galilean theory, when we are playing this game with Nature, Nature has no choice other than to force the two masses to hit the ground at the same time.  According to Aristotelian theory, when playing this game, Nature will force the more massive ball to hit the ground first.  History has shown that every time this game is played, the two masses hit the ground at the same time.  This means that there is a strategy to force Nature to act in the same way every time, that there is a ‘winning strategy’ for obtaining this outcome in this game with Nature.  Hence the Galilean theory is true: it got a win over the Aristotelian theory.

Why you might want to consider doing things the GTS way:

GTS handles scientific practice in a relatively straightforward way.  Theories compete against Nature for results and against each other for explanatory power.  Everything is handled by the same underlying logic-game structure.

GTS is a powerful system.  It has application to  game theory, computer science, decision theory, communication and more.

If you are sympathetic to a Wittgensteinian language game view of the world, GTS is in the language game tradition.

More on GTS:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/logic-games/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_semantics

Posted in game theory, logic, philosophy, science. Tagged with , , , , .

Risky Kakanomics

Gloria Origgi writes:

This is an application of the theory of kakonomics, that is, the study of the rational preferences for lower-quality or mediocre outcomes, to the apparently weird results of Italian elections. The apparent irrationality of 30% of the electorate who decided to vote for Berlusconi again is explained as a perfectly rational strategy of maintaining a system of mediocre exchanges in which politicians don’t do what they have promised to do and citizens don’t pay the taxes and everybody is satisfied by the exchange. A mediocre government makes easier for mediocre citizens to do less than what they should do without feeling any breach of trust.

She argues that if you elect a crappy politician, then there is little chance of progress, which seems like a bad thing. People do this, though, because maintaining low political standards allows people to have low civic standards: if the politicians are corrupt, there is no reason to pay taxes. Likewise, the politicians who have been elected on the basis of being bad leaders have no incentive to go after tax cheats, the people who put them in office. Hence there is often a self-serving and self-maintaining aspect to making less than optimal decisions: by mutually selecting for low expectations, then everyone cooperates in forgiving bad behavior.

This account assumes that bad behavior of some sort is to be expected. If someone all of a sudden starts doing the ‘right thing’ it will be a breach of trust and violating the social norm. There would be a disincentive to repeat such a transaction again, because it challenges the stability of the assumed low quality interaction and implied forgiveness associated with it.

I like Origgi’s account of kakonomics, but I think there is something missing. The claim that localized ‘good interactions’ could threaten the status quo of bad behavior seems excessive. Criticizing someone who makes everyone else look bad does happen, but this only goes to show that the ‘right’ way of doing things is highly successful. It is the exception that proves the rule: only the people in power — those that can afford to misbehave — really benefit from maintaining the low status quo. Hence the public in general should not be as accepting of a low status quo as a social norm, though I am sure some do for exactly the reasons she stated.

This got me thinking that maybe there was another force at work here that would support a low status quo. When changing from one regime to another, it is not a simple switch from one set of outcomes to the other. There can be transitional instability, especially when dealing with governments, politics, economics, military, etc. If the transition between regimes is highly unstable (more so if things weren’t that stable to begin with) then there would be a disincentive to change: people won’t want to lose what they have, even if it is not optimal. Therefore risk associated with change can cause hyperbolic discounting of future returns, and make people prefer the status quo.

Adding high risk with the benefits of low standards could make a formidable combination. If there is a robust black market that pervades most of the society and an almost certain civil unrest given political change (throw in a heavy-handed police force, just for good measure), this could be strong incentive to not challenge an incumbent government.

Posted in economics, game theory, mind, philosophy. Tagged with , , , .

On Matthen’s Intelligibility Argument

Mohan Matthen’s post Teleology in Big Systems brought up two options explaining how someone — Tom Nagel in Mind and Cosmos — would choose a teleological explanation over a naturalistic one. The first, below, got me thinking:

First, he might be saying that though it is physically possible (by a fluke series of mutations, for example) for mentality to have come about, it would be better explained by teleology. (Let’s call this the “intelligibility” argument.)

Though Matthen was referring to doubts about Darwinism being sufficient to lead to consciousness, there is another way to understand this intelligibility argument. If we grant that consciousness is something very special, though not unphysical, someone might consider the laws of physics to be constructed, teleologically, to permit consciousness. This is to say that our physics is teleogically directed to account for consciousness. The claim is not that consciousness was necessitated by our physics, but that our physics must conform to allow the possibility of consciousness. What is one philosopher’s Nature is another’s Teleology.

Now, I can’t see any philosophical motivation for this outside of a very deep belief that consciousness is exceptionally special. But if we grant exceptional status to consciousness, then it wouldn’t be ridiculous to consider that our physics must somehow be subject to the requirements of consciousness instead of the other way around. Whereas there may be infinite other possible physics that do not allow for the possibility of consciousness, we live under a physics that does.

My immediate, knee jerk response to this sort of move is that it is just a semantic shift about the meanings of teleology and nature, nothing deeper. If what the teleologist means by teleology is what others mean by nature, then there is no difference of opinion, only word use.

However, this semantic response does not engage the motivation for the teleological argument. The motivation is that consciousness is exceptional. So, if the naturalist believes that consciousness is exceptional and entirely natural, then the naturalist is left with no natural explanation for why it is so exceptional. However the teleologist may say that consciousness is exceptional, subject to the laws of physics, but unsurprising, since the laws of physics itself are directed to allow for consciousness. Since the teleological account does a better job at explaining something as special as consciousness, it is preferable.

This conclusion about preferring the teleological explanation to the naturalistic one is based on the absolute assumption that consciousness is exceptional. But how exceptional must it be? Since we are making physics, and presumably the rest of science, subject to our assumption, then the reasons for our assumptions must then be ontologically more basic and more certain than our entire scientific understanding of the world.

Personally I do not have any basis for thinking consciousness is so special that all of science must be made to account for it. From my perspective, claiming that science must conform to consciousness is a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, since I’d have to arbitrarily assume consciousness to be a fundamental substance and science to be constructed to allow for it.

However, there could be people who do have beliefs that strong. For them, they would not be arbitrarily assuming consciousness to be the more fundamental substance in the universe and hence it would follow that science should conform to it. Instead it would be a direct causal link: consciousness, therefore science that teleologically allows for consciousness. This kind of teleological naturalism is special in that it does not appeal to the unlikelihood or complexity of consciousness evolving, as is wont to happen nowadays, but is based on an ontological claim about consciousness. I don’t know if this is more defensible than the Intelligibility Argument based on likelihood, but, as it is different, perhaps it has a chance to fair better.

Posted in biology, design, evolution, ontology, philosophy, physics, science. Tagged with , , , .

The Paradox of Unreasonability

“You’re being unreasonable!”

One or more of you may have had this directed at you. But what does the speaker mean by it?

Presumably the speaker believes that the listener is not acting according to some given standard. However, if the speaker had an argument to that effect, the speaker should’ve presented it. Hence, all the above statement means is that the speaker has run out of arguments and has resorted to name-calling: being unreasonable is another way of saying crazy.

Now, though, the situation has reversed itself. It is not the listener that has acted unreasonably, but the speaker. Without an argument that concludes that the listener is being unreasonable, then it is not the listener that is being unreasonable, but the speaker. The speaker is name-calling, when, by the speaker’s own standards, an argument is required. For what else is reasonable but to present an argument? So, by saying that the listener is being unreasonable, in essence the speaker is declaring themself unreasonable.

But, yet again, the situation reverses itself. If a person has run out of arguments, and makes a statement to that effect, then he or she is being perfectly reasonable. This returns us to the beginning! Therefore, by making a claim about someone else being unreasonable, you paradoxically show that you yourself are and are not reasonable, such that if you are, then you are not, and if you are not, then you are.

Posted in argumentation, logic, philosophy. Tagged with , .

Carnival 141 Here

I’ll be hosting the next philosophy carnival, so please submit some fun links over at http://philosophycarnival.blogspot.com/.

Posted in fun, internet, philosophy. Tagged with , .

Holy crap, it’s The Matrix for chickens

No, really:

http://io9.com/5885510/holy-crap-its-the-matrix-for-chickens

[Sent to me by my brother. Thanks bro!]

Posted in ethics, philosophy, products, technology. Tagged with , , .

Book Review: The Genial Gene

The Genial Gene: Deconstructing Darwinian Selfishness by Joan Roughgarden

In The Genial Gene Joan Roughgarden seeks to replace the competitive understanding of evolution, known as sexual selection, with a cooperative one. The first sentence of her book reads, “This book is about whether selfishness and individuality, rather than kindness and cooperation, are basic to biological nature” (p. 1).

So what is the argument? Taking this first line, she wants to conclude something about basic biological nature. To do this, one can either define what basic biological nature is and then use that definition to derive conclusions, or else survey the natural world and find the best interpretation for whatever empirical results were found. She opts for the latter strategy.

To this end she first surveys and compiles examples of what people consider to be evidence for sexual selection and argues that this evidence has been misconstrued or simply does not support the theory of sexual selection. Then she offers a few logical arguments against sexual selection with the aim to highlight contradictions within the theory.

She then develops her alternative, called Social Selection. Social Selection is fundamentally based upon cooperation, not competition, and she proceeds to reinterpret the empirical research with respect to cooperation. Given the results of this reinterpretation, she concludes that the cooperative approach provides a more accurate picture of the empirical data than the competitive approach. Therefore social selection, not sexual selection, is fundamental to biological nature.

Can this argument be maintained?

Her argument fundamentally turns on the interpretation of the empirical research. (If her logical arguments were strong enough to undermine sexual selection on their own, she would have dedicated more space to them. At best, in my opinion, they could raise questions about sexual selection, but are not inherently damaging enough, even if they are accepted uncontested, to force a major revision to sexual selection.) She interprets the research in terms of cooperation and her opponents are those who interpret the research in terms of competition. Roughgarden claims her interpretation is the correct one.

Insofar as she is making an inference saying her interpretation is the best conclusion, her argument fails. She readily admits that the defenders of sexual selection are able to consistently create explanatory fixes for apparent contradictions in the empirical research. Since they are able to explain the data, the fact that she is unsatisfied by their explanations (and likes her own better) is no grounds for convincing her opponents to give up their explanations. After all, they have history and authority on their side. Her coming up with better numbers, that is, having formulas that (she says) more accurately represent the research, is not a sufficient reason for discarding a theory that has held up for many years, especially one that continues to be an area of active research. So, she has not successfully argued that social selection should replace sexual selection.

However, if we consider a more modest conclusion, then Roughgarden may be able to maintain part of her argument. She makes the point that the core Darwinian theory does not include sexual selection; it is a later contribution (ppg. 3-4). This suggest that there may be theoretical room for cooperation in addition to competition. But how much room?

Now the interpretive problem that she set up cuts the other way. Instead of her trying to convince us that her cooperative interpetation of the empirical research is the correct one, we ask the competitive interpretation why it is the best one. Empirical research alone cannot support one conclusion over another: the data must first be interpreted before a conclusion can be reached. As mentioned above, sexual selection has history and authority on its side, but age and endorsements are not arguments for being the sole fundamental methodology of biological nature. Without history and authority, sexual selection proponents only have their ability to explain bioogical research, which is no more than Roughgarden has. Therefore, advocates of sexual selection have no further theoretical resources to support their claim that sexual selection is the fundamental method working in evolution.

This means that Roughgarden does succeed in part. Based on the arguments she provides she is unable to maintain that kindness and cooperation underpin evolution, but she is able to cut sexual selection down to her size. She has shown that it is possible to reinterpret biological research in terms that do not rely upon competition and that sexual selection has no special theoretical privelege. Therefore sexual selection proponents can no longer claim to be fundamental biological reality: even though Roughgarden was unable to fell their theory, they won’t be able to down her either, and so she has established theoretical room for cooperation in Darwinian theory.

Posted in biology, evolution, measurement, science. Tagged with , , , .

Philosophy Carnival 8 August

I’m hosting the next philosophy carnival, on August 8th.  If  anyone is thinking about submitting to the next philosophy carnival, I have a preference for philosophy of science, though feel free to submit on any topic.  Also, I like to be entertained by my academic philosophy, so the more off the wall the better.

Posted in news, philosophy. Tagged with , .

The SEP on the Kindle

Reading on a computer screen is often not pleasant, especially when a lot of reading has to  be done. This is a general problem for philosophy since nearly everything is in PDF format and if you don’t want to print out a tree’s worth of paper you are stuck.

I got a Kindle.  Kindles can handle PDFs, but what I just found out is that Kindles can do the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy quite well.  KindleI downloaded the webpage and then deleted the content from the top of the page down to the start of the article.  Then I used Calibre to convert the webpage into Kindle format.  It looks great and the images come out well.

So I did some poking around, and found out that if you use a Firefox extension called “Download Them All” you can download a webpage and all the links on that webpage, i.e. you could go the contents page of the SEP and then download all the articles linked there.  Basically you could have the entire SEP on your Kindle and be good to go.

Posted in philosophy, products, technology. Tagged with , , .

Special Relativistic Fitness, Preliminary Thought Experiment

Imagine two different tribes of biologists.  The first tribe is comprised of very fast people.  They survived for thousands of years by studying biology and being faster than their competitors.  The second tribe is comprised of very strong people.  They survived for thousands of years by studying biology and being stronger than their competitors.  After all this time, the first tribe is filled with very fast biologists and the second tribe is filled with very strong biologists.

Now imagine that two biologists, one from each tribe, are evaluating the fitness of two organisms.  One of the organisms is fast, the other is of average speed.  Other than the difference in speed, they are identical.  The strong biologist recognizes that one is faster than the other, but does not find this to be significant and assigns the two organisms equal fitness.  The fast biologist recognizes that one is faster and assigns it a slightly higher fitness because of its speed advantage.

Is the difference in fitness evaluations a matter of scientific opinion?  If it were an opinion that the fast organism was fitter, this would be a scientific opinion based upon environmental and competitive factors.  Given different competition and environment, the evaluation would have come out differently.  However, the fast biologist and her entire tribe have survived by being faster than their competition.  Her evaluation is not only scientifically based but also partly based upon her evolutionary heritage and Weltanschung that is finely attuned to how speed is beneficial.  It is these factors, unique to people of this tribe, that give more weight to speed as evolutionarily significant and makes it more than just a case of scientific disagreement.

Is the fast biologist unfairly biased? If we consider the perspective of the strong biologist, we can see that the strong biologist has no greater claim to her appraisal of an organism’s fitness: strength is just as arbitrary a trait as speed and this thought experiment could have equally been set up with two organisms that only differed in strength.  Hence the fast biologist could equally claim the strong biologist is unfairly biased toward strength and away from speed.  Generalizing, we can say that no one perspective, be it speed, strength, sight, etc., or any combination of traits, is privileged.  Hence their is no unfair bias because every scientific perspective based upon evolutionary heritage and an associated Weltanschung is as legitimate as any other.

Lastly, consider that every biologist will recognize the same amount of phenotypic difference between two organisms;  difference in phenotype does not permit variation in interpretation.  Therefore any difference in fitness evaluation is not due to a perceived physical difference by the biologists in the organisms studied.

Therefore this thought experiment implies that our determinations of fitness are not independent of the evolutionary history of the biologist(s) making those determinations.   Insofar as we cannot escape our own biology and how it shapes our views, it will determine the fitness value we assign to organisms, if only to a small extent.

Consequences:

In one sense everything on Earth has been evolving for the exact same amount of time, since the dawn of life, and hence no organism alive is any more evolved than any other.

However, from the perspective of the fast biologists, the fast organism is more evolved.  Insofar as the fast biologists believe that life is evolving towards moving faster, the organism that moves faster has adapted before the other organisms.  So, in the special circumstance of a population perceiving evolution to move regularly towards a trait, an organism with that trait can be considered more evolved.

—– the analogs —–
evolutionary significant events are specific adaptations :: physically significant events are light flashes
regular evolutionary change is a population with trait selection :: regular motion is a non-accelerating inertial frame
difference in phenotype does not permit variation in interpretation, regardless of observer :: failure of addition of velocities of light, regardless of observer.
upper limit to adaptation- by definition, no jumps :: speed of light in vacuum defined as c

Posted in biology, evolution, fitness, philosophy, Special Relativity. Tagged with , , , , , .