Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Science/Philosophy discussion on PF

Looks to be a very fascinating discussion about science and philosophy shaping up on the Philosophy Forums. At least, fascinating for my tastes, since I'm perennially interested in the question of what use philosophy really is these days compared to science.

Anyway, the thread starts out by directing several questions to John Searle (who is actually a member of the forums, although I suspect far too busy to be very active). Searle himself did give one response, but since then the thread's been drawing other participants; nonetheless, so far it has been a high caliber and well-reasoned discussion, by my estimation.

Here's a sample to whet your appetite, from the original poster (HamishMacSporran)'s response to Searle's own response:
... [M]any scientists take the view that the scientific revolution was made possible not by an accumulation of philosophical analysis, but instead by a rejection of the existing philosophical systems in favour of a new experimental method. From this point of view, scientists don't need philsophers [sic] to do their groundwork for them, but should instead ignore their clever arguments and focus on doing experiments. Hence the motto of the Royal Society, "Take nobody's word for it".

You [Searle] also raise the issue of computationalism within cognitive science, and your arguments against it. Whatever their merits, these arguments have not led to a conclusive rejection of computationalism. Dennett, for example, continues to deny your conclusions are valid, and the mind as a computer program metaphor continues to be common currency among cognitive scientists.

To many scientists this is just another symptom of philosophy's malaise: nothing ever gets resolved. That's why, instead of arguing for another thousand years about whether universals exist, they believe they need to focus on questions that can be definitively answered by experiment, with some even claiming that questions outside this domain are meaningless.

Does the computationalist hypothesis really have any experimental implications for cognitive scientists? What effects would you expect your arguments to have on a cognitive scientists research program? Are there benefits of philosophical dispute even in the case that no definite conclusion is reached?

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