Thursday, October 01, 2015

Bayesianism in mathematics and philosophy

Bayesianism is a mathematical concept, but it is used in epistemological contexts. Basically, it is a model of what confirmation is. 

From the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy;

Though a mathematical triviality, the Theorem's central insight — that a hypothesis is supported by any body of data it renders probable — lies at the heart of all subjectivist approaches to epistemology, statistics, and inductive logic.

My overall picture of epistemological justification goes something like this. We all start from different places, and have different initial dispositions with respect to the world as we experience it. Then, we acquire further information. Historically people have tried to pull their model of the world apart and start only from certain basics, and believe only what can be built up from there, but I don't think that's necessary, especially when the people who say we have to do it disagree about what has to be in the base. I think it makes more sense to adjust the beliefs we have as we go along and move incrementally toward consensus as evidence comes in. And with some things, the hope of consensus is pretty slight in the foreseeable future, so we are going to keep disagreeing. I think, for example, that atheists and theists are here to stay for a long time, and the fact that we aren't closing in on agreement does not necessarily mean that one side or the other is just being stubborn or delusional. I would say it's because the issue is too complex and there are too many parameters to it to be sure that we have considered everything, and fairly. It's easy to come up with motives for our opponents, but that in itself proves nothing whatsoever. 

I believe in God, but there is plenty of disconfirming evidence. It is just that the confirming evidence, all told, outweighs it, as I see it. 

1 comment:

Luke said...

One major problem I see with things like this is that they focus a whole lot on perception, and very little on action. We aren't just going around the world observing it, getting better and better at doing this in more ways. No, we're also creating reality. Quantum physics makes it undeniable that we actually alter reality by mere observation.

Now, some claim that in the hard sciences, this doesn't matter. But if science is to serve humans in other ways–via economics, psychology, sociology, political science—then it has to take into account poiesis, not just mimesis. One result is that the idea that the social sciences are building up knowledge just like the hard sciences is seriously problematized, e.g. by Kenneth Gergen's Toward Transformation in Social Knowledge.

So, since our starting places differ and our initial dispositions differ, how we act differs. And I don't see a guaranteed convergence—not even in science. See Paul Feyerabend's Against Method, the results of which have been accepted even by über-naturalist Penelope Maddy:

>>     A deeper difficulty springs from the lesson won through decades of study in the philosophy of science: there is no hard and fast specification of what 'science' must be, no determinate criterion of the form 'x is science iff …'. It follows that there can be no straightforward definition of Second Philosophy along the lines 'trust only the methods of science'. Thus Second Philosophy, as I understand it, isn't a set of beliefs, a set of propositions to be affirmed; it has no theory. Since its contours can't be drawn by outright definition, I resort to the device of introducing a character, a particular sort of idealized inquirer called the Second Philosopher, and proceed by describing her thoughts and practices in a range of contexts; Second Philosophy is then to be understood as the product of her inquiries. (Second Philosophy, 1)

I think we need to start talking about how our actions can bring us closer to God or send us further away from him. It is not enough to talk about perception. God doesn't just want to be looked at, like we admire a painting. He loves us, and wants us to love him and all his creation in response. Focus on perception and this very idea is undermined.