Nye’s skepticism is an empty response to the question of whether we can trust our senses. “If you drop a hammer on your foot, is it real?” he asks. “Or is it just your imagination?” Then he goes on to suggest that the young philosophy student explore the question by dropping a hammer on his own foot. But such a painful experiment would not actually address the underlying question, and this approach—simply mocking the argument rather than addressing it—is so infamous that, as CUNY philosophy professor Kaikhosrov Irani points out on his blog, it has its own name: argumentum ad lapidem—”appeal to a stone.”
So, for example, in the video Nye mockingly expresses his confidence that the sun will come up tomorrow. Philosophers are confident of this too, but few feel certain that they can explain exactly what causes this daily phenomenon—or any event. The 18th century philosopher David Hume’s argument that we don’t have a reasonable understanding of causation at all, but only presume cause and effect when two things have been observed as conjoined in the past, is notoriously difficult to refute.
It's almost aesthetic, the assessment of philosophical quality.And like aesthetic judgments, it's shaped by a huge range of factors — how well the view fits with your hopes and preconceptions, whether it's argued with confidence and flair, how clever or wise the author seems, how much other people admire the author.[...]
To a substantial extent, what we assess is whether the person who is expressing the ideas in question sounds smart. If you're going to convince someone to take your perplexing, paradoxical ideas seriously, or if you're going to convince them that your impenetrable prose is worth the struggle, you had better first convince them that you're wicked smart. Being good at seeming smart is perhaps the central disciplinary skill for philosophers.
So I'm going to turn the stereotype around: anyone who dismisses philosophy in favor of science and engineering is living in an abstruse ivory tower, separate from the real world. Their philosophical positions are locked into the devices and processes they create, but because they haven't considered them it's hard to tell what they are and what implications they have. It's the equivalent of creating uncommented software with hard-coded pseudo-variables: the only way to tell what the failure modes are is to do the very same analysis that should have been done in the first place.
So even in the event that we might happen to be purely capitalistic about this situation, it makes a lot more sense to focus our universities in the direction of the Liberal Arts – with science as a necessary part, but also including philosophy, mathematics, literature, poetry, and music – if we want to build a university system that will thrive.
“Are you trying to tell me,” said Arthur, slowly and with control, “that you originally… made the Earth?”
“Oh yes,” said Slartibartfast. “Did you ever go to a place… I think it was called Norway?”
“No,” said Arthur, “no, I didn’t.”
“Pity,” said Slartibartfast, “that was one of mine. Won an award you know. Lovely crinkly edges. I was most upset to hear about its destruction. … Perhaps I’m old and tired, but I always think the chances of finding out what really is going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say ‘hang the sense of it’ and just keep yourself occupied. Look at me – I design coastlines. I got an award for Norway. I’ve been doing fjords all my life… for a fleeting moment they became fashionable and I got a major award.”
The second strategy that universities use to exaggerate their ROI is to ignore their institutional subsidies for extramural research. Federal contracts and grants are counted as income rather than as taxpayer investments that would need to be returned with interest in a market enterprise system. (The battle to account for federal taxpayers as investors in R and D was fought and lost long ago.) STEM faculty members knock themselves out getting these grants—funding rates by most federal programs are at all-time lows—but the funding agencies do not cover the full costs of research. Universities must therefore make up the difference, which usually comes to about 20% of the grant total (Newfield,“How Can Public Universities”; COGR Costing Committee). Universities get that money from endowment or other fund interest or, in larger amounts, from state allocations and student tuition. This means that French majors at SUNY Albany (and at nearly all other research universities) are paying into institutional funds that go to STEM research rather than to SASH instruction or research. In the process, they are supplying the dark pool that artificially elevates STEM ROI.
The actual subsidy situation is different. Once the research of STEM fields has led, after much postuniversity effort, to a product, it may generate enormous positive revenues, but for a private firm rather than for the university. At the university, which performs basic and applied R and D, the ostensible moneymakers are busy losing money. Their annual deficits are in stark contrast to SASH fields, especially the social sciences and business components, which teach large numbers of students without much labor-intensive craft training. The senior managers at ASU, like everywhere else, keep the university solvent by taking the SASH surpluses on the right and using them to fill the STEM budget holes on the left.
The conclusion here is that STEM profits depend on SASH subsidies. Ignoring subsidies artificially elevates ROI.
Philology is that venerable art which demands of its votaries one thing above all: to go aside, to take time, to become still, to become slow–it is a goldsmith's art and connoisseurship of the word which has nothing but delicate, cautious work to do and achieves nothing if it does not achieve it lento. But for precisely this reason it is more necessary than ever today, by precisely this means does it enchant and entice us most, in the midst of an age of 'work,' that is to say, of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to get everything done at once, including every old or new book:–this art does not so easily get anything done, it teaches to read well, that is to say, to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers . . .
—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, Preface (to the 2nd ed., 1887)
zymil, would you mind expanding on that a bit? Is it because of the guarding of the prerogative (which goes on in other disciplines too) or because Medicine has a directly personal dimension that Engineering lacks? It seems to me that the wall around professional engineering is built out of liability control, but medicine is (supposedly) an empirical science dealing with a much wider range of behaviours. So it advances along different lines. Bioethics, as opposed to professional ethics (ethics of economic matters).
At what stage of the process would someone determine when it's OK for a car to brake suddenly, given that it may cause vehicles behind it to crash?
The development of mathematics towards greater exactness has, as is well-known, lead to formalization of large areas of it such that you can carry out proofs by following a few mechanical rules. The most comprehensive current formal systems are the system of Principia Mathematica (PM) on the one hand, the Zermelo-Fraenkelian axiom-system of set theory on the other hand. These two systems are so far developed that you can formalize in them all proof methods that are currently in use in mathematics, i.e. you can reduce these proof methods to a few axioms and deduction rules. Therefore, the conclusion seems plausible that these deduction rules are sucient to decide all mathematical questions expressible in those systems. We will show that this is not true, but that there are even relatively easy problem in the theory of ordinary whole numbers that can not be decided from the axioms. This is not due to the nature of these systems, but it is true for a very wide class of formal systems, which in particular includes all those that you get by adding a fnite number of axioms to the above mentioned systems, provided the additional axioms don't make false theorems provable.
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