Episodes
Here we delve more deeply into the ways our senses and our reason might go wrong in the creation of knowledge. There are no authoritative inerrant sources of knowledge and yet we can nonetheless come to knowledge...by creating it. Unusually for ToKCast we take a left turn into visual arts as Popper refers to some art history and remarks by the British landscape artist John Constable. Constable makes the claim his paintings are like scientific experiments. How? We get through parts 11 and 12...
Published 12/02/22
John Locke, Voltaire, John Stuart Mill and Bertrand Russell are herein credited with advancing the cause of tolerance. Popper makes the case for tolerance following Voltaire who argued from fallibility that we should stand ready to forgive others around us - and therefore be tolerant for humans make errors. We discuss what "interpretation" meant to Bacon (it is quite the opposite to what it means today to most people most of the time) as he speaks of interpreting nature. So does this make him...
Published 11/18/22
Published 11/18/22
Here we cover the cosmic significance of life and thought. I begin with some discussion of Stephen Jay Gould's view of aspects of evolution by natural selection - specifically with some analysis of his paper "The Spandrel's of San Marco" which is available here: https://faculty.washington.edu/lynnhank/GouldLewontin.pdf
Published 11/11/22
Here we consider whether when collecting data we are able to distinguish between the signal (hits) and noise (false alarms). I make the case the author early on is doing a good job of explaining "random error" when conducting experiments. However, broadly speaking this is an issue of increasing precision in our measurements. No mention seems to be made, crucially, in understanding the possibility of systematic error (a problem for accuracy). How do precision and accuracy differ? Why won't...
Published 11/02/22
This chapter is about just what you get in the title: the significance of life. Is it true we are just a chemical scum? Much of "The Beginning of Infinity" worldview is contained here, in an earlier form, in this chapter. In this, the first part, we primarily consider the question of what life itself is. We conclude that it is best thought of as a kind of resilient information. And that is knowledge.
Published 10/26/22
How can we perceive the truth? Was it naive for the ancients to think it was "the Muses" or some such who guaranteed the truth was the truth? Was Descartes way off base to think the Christian God guaranteed what we thought of as certain as indeed...certainly true? Today people still endorse ideas about "not possibly being mistaken" - but what is their basis for thinking this if not "the divine guarantor"? Here Popper continues his masterclass in the history of epistemology explaining how we...
Published 10/20/22
In this I take things a little slower - but it's well worth the journey through Plato - even Plato's uncle "Critias" makes an appearance - and the great defender of liberalism John Milton who was one of the first to argue against censorship. Milton was one of the first to argue "truth will out" in a battle against falsehood. Popper disagreed - but agreed with Milton that censorship was never good. So what was the disagreement and how was it resolved? We learn Plato endorsed a "blood and soil"...
Published 10/15/22
Part 1 of a new short series where I am commenting on Karl Popper's lecture "On the sources of knowledge and of ignorance". This paper sets the scene for the link between objective knowledge and fallibilism - refuting, as it does so, the empiricism of the classic British tradition and the rationalism of the Continental Tradition. I make the case at one point that most modern intellectuals (I mention the Americans in particular - perhaps unfairly) blend both classic philosophies into an...
Published 10/06/22
This is a preview of a series where I will be commenting on Popper's "On the sources of knowledge and of ignorance". In this part I remark on my own experience encountering Popper as a university student who took some philosophy subjects - how Popper was presented. How he compares to his contemporaries - like Wittgenstein. Popper's style of writing and as I keep emphasising on ToKCast - Popper's tendency to go to science - to ideas there in science and how it works set him apart. He does not...
Published 10/01/22
This is part 2 of a deep dive into the role of induction in objectivist epistemology as interpreted by an objectivist scholar of Ayn Rand. Thomas Miovas Jr operates a website about Objectivism here: https://www.appliedphilosophyonline.com. The relevant paper can be found here: https://www.appliedphilosophyonline.com/induction-in-philosophy-and-the-special-sciences.html?fbclid=IwAR2cNLVGxyguM5R2TXaYe3OVclhw34lAdIKN0Mp13zTLK-J8dPMmnfNVlOs It is the above paper I am analysing. In this episode...
Published 09/28/22
This is an excerpt from a longer episode yet to come. After my analysis of Objectivist Epistemology (so far) I was implored to read a book by objectivist "David Harriman" titled "The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics" (2010). It is available here:...
Published 09/25/22
Stop Presses. We interrupt regular programming to discuss the announcement of David Deutsch's share in the award of a Breakthrough Prize - one of the highest honours in science. ToKCast does not, as a rule, cover "news" - but this one exception allows me to turn something "timely" into something "timeless". There is a webpage for this episode here: https://www.bretthall.org/breakthrough.html
Published 09/23/22
This is in response to a paper by Objectivist scholar Thomas Miovas Jr who operates a website about Objectivism here: https://www.appliedphilosophyonline.com. The relevant paper can be found here: https://www.appliedphilosophyonline.com/induction-in-philosophy-and-the-special-sciences.html?fbclid=IwAR2cNLVGxyguM5R2TXaYe3OVclhw34lAdIKN0Mp13zTLK-J8dPMmnfNVlOs In this episode I discuss induction broadly speaking, the objectivist usage of the term and Thomas Miovas attempts to salvage the word...
Published 09/22/22
Ayn Rand claims we are "observing the facts of reality" when forming concepts. Here I explain why that is wrong and how facts are things we conclude *only at the end* of a long chain of interpretation. This is an excerpt from an episode to be released after this one, also on "objectivist epistemology", and in addition to the previous episode released about "An introduction to objectivist epistemology" by Ayn Rand.
Published 09/22/22
Here I read from Ayn Rand's work "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" and reflect upon it by comparing it to actual epistemology (how knowledge is created). We explain the misconceptions in the view that knowledge is all about the goings on in minds and how Rand's epistemology is root-and-branch subjectivist. Ayn Rand is an excellent defender of free trade and capitalism, the inherent value of people: her ideas are pro-human and broadly optimistic. However the epistemology is...
Published 09/20/22
The final episode of readings from "The Science of Can and Can't" by Chiara Marietta. This serves as something of a summary chapter with pointers about the future of Constructor Theory.
Published 09/16/22
A version of this on Youtube has music and images as a farewell finale to the "Things that make you go mm?" series. This is about meaning: what is it, is there a meaning for us? Does the question make sense?
Published 09/15/22
Rational and anti-rational memes. Static and dynamic societies. Diversity of ideas and individuality. Credit: "The Beginning of Infinity" by David Deutsch
Published 09/14/22
Minds are the makers of memes; ideas that survive. But how is it memes are replicated and transmitted through a culture? What counts as a meme?
Published 09/13/22
The crucial differences between AGI and regular AI: minds vs the mindless. Is "competency" at completing tasks what makes a system "intelligent". I explain why that is, in a deep sense, the opposite to what intelligence may be - or at least the kind of intelligence that is interesting in the I in AGI.
Published 09/13/22
What is a mind? Can we pin it down? To what do the pronouns "I" and "you" really refer? Is the mind different to its contents? What do we know and what are we struggling still to understand?
Published 09/12/22
Stability under rapid change - progress - has happened rarely in history. It has been sustained only once. In any case it began in Britain? Why? We cannot articulate all the reasons, much of that content remains inexplicit. But we cannot ignore systems of governance - and in that case the constitutional monarchy. ER II 1926-2022
Published 09/09/22
What is metaphysics? Is there a point in subscribing to one? Some think believing in certain theories about the way ultimate reality must be is helpful. How is a metaphysical stance consistent with both realism and fallibilism? 
Published 09/08/22
In his book "Our Mathematical Universe" Max Tegmark claims we occupy 4 different kinds of multiverse and that ultimate base reality is made of mathematics. I analyse these claims and his 4 levels of multiverse distinguishing between scientific and metaphysical claims by describing possible experimental tests of some of the multiverses - and remark on this desire many express for an ultimate, final explanation of reality.
Published 09/06/22