Stoical in the Face of Metaphysical Doubt?

A thread with Massimo Pigliucci ended with this tweet from me. (I’m guessing he muted the conversation at that point):

It had started with this Tweet:

The “whataboutery” & “strawmen” digs are about more than this particular thread. It’s not the first time we’ve been here.

In fact almost all the points he raises in the course of the thread are in that opening statement:

    • the thing we call a computer;
    • a name for an information processor;
    • given it seems information processing is more generally embedded in many things more fundamental than “a computer” by any other name.
    • there’s no doubt plenty of it happens in a brain / mind.
    • (The thing we call “a computer” has changed within the past century, from a person to a man-made-machine.)

Suffered the same problem as this previous dialogue with Massimo.

In fact I’ve accused him of overly dogmatic statements of his own position before as well. Obviously highly pragmatic – a Stoic – dealing with the practicalities of “living a better life” here and now, but taking the whole of modern science as an almost unquestioned given. Pragmatic thing to do, if it ain’t broke – and is self-correcting – don’t fix it kinda attitude, but to me, a lack of curiosity (?) in where things might be improved – problems solved – by metaphysical thinking at the foundations of modern science.

The final tweet (at the top of this post) was preceded by this one from Massimo:

Those, to me, are the strawmen. The rhetorical suggestion that I need a lesson in understanding ontology and epistemology relating to any metaphysics underlying my understanding and philosophy of science, life, the universe and everything – the whole enchilada – when we had in fact been talking about “what is a computer” within the limitations of a Twitter thread.

[As it happens my own metaphysics couldn’t be more concerned with addressing both ontological and epistemological issues in scientific explanations of reality. My concerns with the theory couldn’t be any more pragmatic either – as an engineer, applied science is my day job. As it happens my specialism is information engineering in support of (individual and social) human decisions – cybernetics.]

Maybe as a Stoic, Massimo doesn’t really have any interest in metaphysics? I’m only interested in it because it seems to be at the foundational boundaries of physical science that some of the toughest problems persist in our descriptions – and our knowledge – of reality. Questioning the foundations – the orthodox presumptions – seems unavoidable if we are to fix such problems?

Maybe I’ll get a chance to dialogue with Massimo beyond the confines of Twitter at the London HTLGI this autumn, if this Covid19 lockdown ever ends?


My metaphysical thinking?
Scattered throughout this blog. If in doubt, ask.

Those problems in need of a fix?
Well by coincidence, see my next post “Problems, problems”.


Post Note:

Great piece here by John Horgan on Paul Feyerabend, which includes a great 4 part piece by Massimo – alongside Carl Sagan – defending more anarchic market-place of alternative ideas – famously astrology – in the face of overly authoritarian / dogmatic scientific positions.

I was tempted to tweet this in response:

“Fascinating that @mpigliucci reference in there – because in several recent dialogues I’ve been biting my tongue not to accuse him of being overly dogmatic about his own scientific position and dismissive of alternatives. (Great pieces by both John and Massimo.)”

Doubly fascinating Massimo expressed the scepticism I do, that the best ideas necessarily win in the market place. In fact my position is that they don’t. Memetics says the ideas that win are those that are simplest to communicate and fit most closely with prejudiced positions.

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