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Aug
28th
Wed
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I can only meditate when I am walking,’ wrote Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the fourth book of his Confessions, ‘when I stop I cease to think; my mind only works with my legs.’ Søren Kierkegaard speculated that the mind might function optimally at the pedestrian pace of three miles per hour, and in a journal entry describes going out for a wander and finding himself ‘so overwhelmed with ideas’ that he ‘could scarcely walk’. Christopher Morley wrote of Wordsworth as ‘employ[ing] his legs as an instrument of philosophy’ and Wordsworth of his own ‘feeling intellect’. Nietzsche was typically absolute on the subject — ‘Only those thoughts which come from walking have any value’ — and Wallace Stevens typically tentative: ‘Perhaps / The Truth depends on a walk around a lake.
Robert Macfarlane, British travel writer, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, Hamish Hamilton, 2012 (via invisiblestories)
Jul
2nd
Tue
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David Deutsch on Fallibilism


“The fact is, there’s nothing infallible about “direct experience” (…). Indeed, experience is never direct. It is a sort of virtual reality, created by our brains using sketchy and flawed sensory clues, given substance only by fallible expectations, explanations, and interpretations. Those can easily be more mistaken than the testimony of the passing hobo. (…)

This logic of fallibility, discovered and rediscovered from time to time, has had profound salutary effects in the history of ideas. Whenever anything demands blind obedience, its ideology contains a claim of infallibility somewhere; but wherever someone believes seriously enough in that infallibility, they rediscover the need for reason to identify and correctly interpret the infallible source. (…)

[Popper]: [A]ll ‘sources’ are liable to lead us into error at times. And I propose to replace, therefore, the question of the sources of our knowledge by the entirely different question: ‘How can we hope to detect and eliminate error?’ (…)

Popper’s answer is: We can hope to detect and eliminate error if we set up traditions of criticism—substantive criticism, directed at the content of ideas, not their sources, and directed at whether they solve the problems that they purport to solve. Here is another apparent paradox, for a tradition is a set of ideas that stay the same, while criticism is an attempt to change ideas. But there is no contradiction. Our systems of checks and balances are steeped in traditions—such as freedom of speech and of the press, elections, and parliamentary procedures, the values behind concepts of contract and of tort—that survive not because they are deferred to but precisely because they are not: They themselves are continually criticized, and either survive criticism (which allows them to be adopted without deference) or are improved (for example, when the franchise is extended, or slavery abolished). Democracy, in this conception, is not a system for enforcing obedience to the authority of the majority. In the bigger picture, it is a mechanism for promoting the creation of consent, by creating objectively better ideas, by eliminating errors from existing ones.

“Our whole problem,” said the physicist John Wheeler, “is to make the mistakes as fast as possible.” (…) [T]hat only means that whenever possible we should make the mistakes in theory, or in the laboratory; we should “let our theories die in our place,” as Popper put it. (…)

[L]essons can be learned to prevent them from happening again. “We are all alike,” as Popper remarked, “in our infinite ignorance.” And this is a good and hopeful thing, for it allows for a future of unbounded improvement.

Fallibilism, correctly understood, implies the possibility, not the impossibility, of knowledge, because the very concept of error, if taken seriously, implies that truth exists and can be found. The inherent limitation on human reason, that it can never find solid foundations for ideas, does not constitute any sort of limit on the creation of objective knowledge nor, therefore, on progress. The absence of foundation, whether infallible or probable, is no loss to anyone except tyrants and charlatans, because what the rest of us want from ideas is their content, not their provenance. (…)

Indeed, infallibilism and nihilism are twins. Both fail to understand that mistakes are not only inevitable, they are correctable (fallibly). Which is why they both abhor institutions of substantive criticism and error correction, and denigrate rational thought as useless or fraudulent. They both justify the same tyrannies. They both justify each other.” “
Apr
7th
Sun
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“Relativity is inherently convergent, though convergent toward a plurality of centers of abstract truths. Degrees of accuracy are only degrees of refinement and magnitude in no way affects the fundamental reliability, which refers, as directional or angular sense, toward centralized truths. Truth is a relationship.” “
Buckminster Fuller, an American engineer, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, and futurist (1895-1983), “The Designers and the Politicians” (1962), later published in Ideas and Integrities : A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure (1969), p. 233, and The The Buckminster Fuller Reader (1970), p. 305.
Dec
7th
Fri
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Philosophy, art, and science are not the mental objects of an objectified brain but the three aspects under which the brain becomes subject.
Gilles Deleuze, French philosopher (1925-1995), What Is Philosophy?, Verso, 1994, p. 210.
Oct
24th
Wed
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I find the question “Why are we here?” typically human. I’d suggest "Are we here?" would be the more logical choice.
Leonard Nimoy, American actor, film director, poet, musician and photographer, answering the question why we are here in The meaning of Life, LIFE Magazine, Dec 1988.
Sep
23rd
Sun
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This unusual and highly successful species spends a great deal of time examining his higher motives and an equal amount of time ignoring his fundamental ones.
Desmond Morris, British zoologist and ethologist, cited in The Dopamine Project
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S. J. Gould, F. Drake, L. Nimoy, J. Cage, A. Hammer on the Meaning of Life

“The first thing I look at each morning is a picture of Albert Einstein I keep on the table right beside my bed. The personal inscription reads “A person first starts to live when he can live outside of himself.” In other words, when he can have as much regard for his fellow man as he does for himself. I believe we are here to do good. It is the responsibility, of every human being to aspire to do something worthwhile, to make this world a better place than the one he found. Life is a gift, and if we agree to accept it, we must contribute in return. When we fail to contribute, we fail to adequately answer why we are here.” 

Armand Hammer, American business manager and owner, physician (1898-1990)  

“I find the question “Why are we here?” typically human. I’d suggest “Are we here?” would be the more logical choice.”

Leonard Nimoy, American actor, film director, poet, musician and photographer  

“Observations of distant galaxies have produced provocative evidence for a startling idea: Our universe was just one bubble in a great fountain of bubble universes springing from the Big Bang that created all reality. Given billions of years of evolution, sophisticated living structures have developed, including creatures conscious of their universe, able to manipulate it in massive ways. There is no doubt that life will have developed in many places in our universe. Our own significance, our ultimate potential and our ensemble of possible destinies will be understood by finding and studying the other intelligent creatures of space. Thus a prime task is to seek out other intelligent civilizations and to share knowledge with them.”

Frank Drake, American astronomer and astrophysicist  

“No why. Just here.”

John Cage, American composer, music theorist and writer (1912-1992)

“The human species has inhabited this planet for only 250,000 years or so-roughly.0015 percent of the history of life, the last inch of the cosmic mile. The world fared perfectly well without us for all but the last moment of earthly time–and this fact makes our appearance look more like an accidental afterthought than the culmination of a prefigured plan.

Moreover, the pathways that have led to our evolution are quirky, improbable, unrepeatable and utterly unpredictable. Human evolution is not random; it makes sense and can be explained after the fact. But wind back life’s tape to the dawn of time and let it play again–and you will never get humans a second time.

We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a ‘higher’ answer — but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers ourselves — from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way.”

 Stephen Jay Gould, American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science (1941-2002)

The meaning of Life, LIFE Magazine, Dec 1988. (Illustrations: 1, 2)
See also: ☞ What is the meaning of life?, Quora answers
Life tag on Lapidarium
Sep
9th
Sun
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The [“why”] question is meaningless. (…) Not only has “why” become “how” but “why” no longer has any useful meaning, given that it presumes purpose for which there is no evidence.
Lawrence Krauss, Canadian-American theoretical physicist who is a professor of physics, Foundation Professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, ☞ Philosophy vs science: which can answer the big questions of life?The Observer, 9 Sept 2012.
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Every science begins as philosophy and ends as art; it arises in hypothesis and flows into achievement.
Will Durant, American writer, historian, and philosopher (1885-1981), The Pleasures of Philosophy, 1929.
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Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence? (…)

In the eighteenth century, philosophers considered the whole of human knowledge, including science, to be their field and discussed questions such as: did the universe have a beginning? However, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, science became too technical and mathematical for the philosophers, or anyone else except a few specialists. Philosophers reduced the scope of their inquiries so much that Wittgenstein, the most famous philosopher of this century, said, “The sole remaining task for philosophy is the analysis of language.” (…)

However, if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist.
Stephen Hawking, British theoretical physicist and author, A Brief History of TimeBantam Dell Publishing Group, 1988.
Aug
6th
Mon
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Freedom of the mind requires not only, or even specially, the absence of legal constraints but the presence of alternative thoughts. The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities.
Alan Bloom, American philosopher, classicist, and academic (1930-1992), The Closing of the American Mind, Simon & Schuster, 1987.
Jun
11th
Mon
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There is at least one philosophical problem in which all thinking men are interested: the problem of understanding the world in which we live; and thus ourselves (who are part of that world) and our knowledge of it. All science is cosmology, I believe, and for me the interest of philosophy, no less than of science, lies solely in its bold attempt to add to our knowledge of the world, and to theory of our knowledge of the world. I am interested in Wittgenstein, for example, not because of his linguistic philosophy, but because his Tractatus was a cosmological treatise (although a crude one), and because his theory of knowledge was closely linked with his cosmology.

For me, both philosophy and science lose all their attraction when they give up that pursuit - when they become specialisms and cease to see, and to wonder at, the riddles of our world. Specialization may be a great temptation for the scientist. For the philosopher it is the mortal sin.
Karl Popper, Austro-British philosopher and professor at the London School of Economics (1902-1994), The World of Parmenides: Essays on the Presocratic Enlightenment, Routledge, 2012, p. 8.
May
27th
Sun
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The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty. The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given.

Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never traveled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.
Bertrand Russell, British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic (1872-1970), The Problems of Philosophy (1912), Cosimo, Inc, 2010, p. 113-114.
May
24th
Thu
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" "I am sitting with a philosopher in the garden; he says again and again "I know that that’s a tree", pointing to a tree that is near us. Someone else arrives and hears this, and I tell them: "This fellow isn’t insane. We are only doing philosophy.” “
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language (1889-1951), On Certainty (Über Gewissheit), #467, J. & J. Harper Editions, New York, 1969.
Apr
10th
Tue
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At the end of his life, Rousseau acknowledged that it was not nearly so easy as he had assumed to follow the Delphic oracle’s injunction to ‘Know thyself.’ He concluded ruefully that it was ‘arrogant and rash’ to profess virtues that you cannot live up to, and retreated into indolent seclusion.
—  James Miller, Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche,Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011 cited in Philosophy as Inspiration. The consolations of understanding, The Economist, 27 Jan 2011