This is a podcast primarily about the work of philosopher and physicist David Deutsch and related matters (such as Popperian epistemology). I read from and comment upon the books ”The Beginning of Infinity” & ”The Fabric of Reality” (both by Deutsch), ”The Science of Can & Can’t” (by Deutsch’s collegue Marletto) and ”Rationality” by Pinker (so far). In addition I make stand alone episodes about topics like resources, environmentalism, economics, science, philosophy, epistemology (especially explanations) and reason broadly.
Ep 164: Knowledge and Ignorance Part4
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 an early Popperian?
Socrates "maieutic" (the "Socratic method" - his means of elucidating knowledge by the asking of careful questions) seems to come in two versions: that designed to uncover absolute truth and that with more of an emphasis on correcting errors. In this fourth part we are really getting a deep lesson in philosophy from Karl Popper himself through his summaries and analysis of the greats in the Greek and British/European philosophical traditions.
Ep 163: David Deutsch’s ”The Fabric of Reality” Chapter 8 ”The Significance of Life” Part 2
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
Ep 162: Steven Pinker’s ”Rationality” Chapter 7 ”Hits and False Alarms” Part 1
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 repeating our experiments and collecting more data help guard against certain kinds of errors? All this and more discussed in this episode.
Ep 161: David Deutsch’s ”The Fabric of Reality” Chapter 8 ”The Significance of Life”.
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.
Ep 160: Knowledge and Ignorance Part 3
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 have arrived at the place we are at today. He explains how knowledge creation is a process of sifting the true from the false - but how does that work? In a wonderful example Popper does this before our eyes with epistemology itself - sifting the true and false, better and worse, good and bad ideas from the ancients and classics into his own epistemology: a refined optimism of how knowledge is possible and we can all learn whatever it is anyone else can learn. It's a matter of conjecturing and correcting errors. There is no room left for someone feeling pessimistic that they cannot possibly learn a thing.
Ep 159: Knowledge and Ignorance Part 2
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" fallacy that tyrants (and not so tyrants) have used to exploit racial divisions for political reasons through to today. Popper criticises not merely the low-hanging fruit of racism but also of the origins of liberal ideas and how they can also lead to tyranny if not looked at under the brighter light of fallibilism - which as I have argued before is like an acid that is able to dissolve through dogmatism and relativism alike. Popper uses the idea that truth is NOT manifest to explain how we can better build a tolerant society by just appreciating that we can all be in error.
I’m a non-physicist (a busy physician, with only very basic knowledge of physics) who is very much interested in understanding the reality of our universe. I have found David Deutsch to be one of the most fascinating writers I have ever come across, and his ideas have inspired me and changed some of my most basic conceptions of objective reality. His theories (and books), however, are so dense with revolutionary thoughts that they require time and commitment to understand and digest. That’s where Brett Hall’s podcast comes in. To me, it has been an indispensable companion to the chapters in DD’s books. My strategy has been to listen to Brett’s corresponding episode before and after reading each book chapter. Brett is himself an amazing intellect who really excels at explaining and putting into context the various concepts in DD’s work. Very helpful, I’m a big fan of both of you.
I’m only a few chapters in, but so far this has been an incredible companion to reading Beginning of Infinity.
Good in-packing of Deutsch-Popper ideas
Done in a clear and engaging way.