Knowledge: Technical and Scientific

Utility had been deliberately excluded from Aristotelian natural philosophy. Aristotle had nothing against practical knowledge, which he called techne; he simply did not consider it to be the same kind of thing as scientific knowledge, which he called episteme. From techne we have the word technology, which means to us largely the application of scientific knowledge, while from episteme we have the word epistemology, a branch of philosophy that deals with the theory of knowledge, scientific or any other. For Aristotle, however, the difference between techne and episteme was not a difference between application and theory, but was one of sources of knowledge and goals of knowledge. The source of technical knowledge was practical experience and its goal was, roughly speaking, knowing what to do next time. The source of scientific knowledge was reason, and its goal was the  understanding of things through their causes.

–  Stillman Drake, Galileo A Very Short Introduction (p. 4)

Does Tulsi has environmental benefits too?

Recently there was a news item in Times of India which had the same heading as that of this particular post. The news claimed

(Around two decades back Dada Dham, a socio-spiritual organization brought together a team of botanists, ayurvedic scholars and environmental enthusiasts to study the environmental benefits of tulsi.)

NAGPUR: Ayurvedic medicinal values of Tulsi are well known. Our ancient scriptures have enumerated the medicinal benefits of tulsi. Its extracts are used widely for curing common ailments like common cold, headache, stomach disorder etc.

But the environmental benefits have been comparatively unknown. Around two decades back Dada Dham, a socio-spiritual organization brought together a team of botanists, ayurvedic scholars and environmental enthusiasts to study the environmental benefits of tulsi.

Now the next claim from an “eminent botanist” that the report does is startling indeed.

“Tulsi gives out oxygen for 20 hours and ozone for four hours a day along with the formation of nascent oxygen which absorbs harmful gases like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide from the environment,” said Shyamkant Padoley, an eminent botanist.
How would the tulsi plant (Ocimum tenuiflorum) do this? Is it anatomically so different that it is capable to do this? How does the plant regulate this 20 and 4 hour cycle?  I would really like to know. How is that no other plants have this cycle? How did they detect presence of ozone, what detectors they used? What mechanisms in presently known cycle of photosynthesis account for this cycle? And if this is part of the standard photosynthesis process, then all plants should have it. This seems fishy, and a most preliminary search did not yield any positive result. All of them talk about production of oxygen and not ozone, as reported by Padoley. And if this is indeed true, it might lead to change in our conception of the photosynthetic cycle.
And if the ozone report is to be believed at all then this is what ozone does to you quote from Wikipedia article on ozone:
Ozone is a powerful oxidant (far more so than dioxygen) and has many industrial and consumer applications related to oxidation. This same high oxidizing potential, however, causes ozone to damage mucus and respiratory tissues in animals, and also tissues in plants, above concentrations of about 100 parts per billion. This makes ozone a potent respiratory hazard and pollutant near ground level.
There is evidence of significant reduction in agricultural yields because of increased ground-level ozone and pollution which interferes with photosynthesis and stunts overall growth of some plant species. The United States Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a secondary regulation to reduce crop damage, in addition to the primary regulation designed for the protection of human health.
There is a great deal of evidence to show that ground level ozone can harm lung function and irritate the respiratory system.Exposure to ozone and the pollutants that produce it is linked to premature death, asthma, bronchitis, heart attack, and other cardiopulmonary problems.
Ozone is air pollutant, green house gas.
To summarize this is that ozone is NOT GOOD for us at ground level! It may do us good in upper atmosphere to block UV Rays, but down here on ground it is bad. And if this claim of ozone production by Tulsi is true why is the campaign of “Tulsi lagao pradushan hatoa (Plant tulsi, remove pollution)” which follows in the article is being implemented?

Padoley, member of technical committee, ministry of environment and forest, NewDelhi, and forest tech committee, also read a paper at the International Conference on Occupational Respiratory Diseases at Kyoto in 1997 where cyclo oxygenate, an enzyme only found in tulsi was labelled for the first time. This enzyme regulates the entire mechanism of oxygen evolution. (emphasis added)

This again I am unable to understand. It says this enzyme is “only found in Tulsi”, and it also “regulates entire mechanism of oxygen evolution”. One can agree that a particular enzyme is found in a particular plant, but if this enzyme controls “entire mechanism of oxygen evolution”, how do other plants regulate their mechanisms of oxygen evolution.

Dada Dham initiated a campaign ‘Tulsi Lagao Pradushan Hatao’ in 1987 under the guidance of Narendra Dada, the institution’s head. It was under this campaign that the above mentioned panel of experts was formed. After finding out the environmental benefits of the plant, Dada Dham organized a number of programmes like street plays, nukkad sabhas and lectures to propagate the use of the plant.

Dr Dattatraya Saraf, an ayurvedic doctor and expert said, “The plant enriches the environment with oxygen almost 24X7 and also absorbs other pollutants.” He further added that if the size of the plant can be increased, the environmental benefits can be increased.

This statement that “plant enriches the environment with oxygen almost 24X7” is in contradiction to statement by above Padoley regarding 20 and 4 hour cycles. Which one is to be believed? And mind you this is just appearing a few lines later, this is either very poor editing and reporting, or hogwash to the public.

“That is why we want to urge scientists and concerned authorities to make research on the issue of increasing the height of tulsi plant. If big trees can be converted to bonsai plants then big tulsi trees can be possible too,” said Kishor Verma, PRO of Dada Dham.

This is another statement that I would like to contest. Did they compare the rate of oxygen production vis-a-vis to other plants. That is to say simply did they have any control sample? And does making “tulsi tree” make any sense (can one really do it is another question), will it really increase oxygen making capabilities, is it a linear relationship between these two variables? The water is completely muddy in this !

He also citied the research and work by other organization in support of tulsi’s environmental benefits.

“The forest department of Uttar Pradesh, with the help of an organization called Organic India Limited, Lucknow planted lakhs of tulsi saplings around Taj Mahal to protect its surface from industrial emissions. This step has yielded positive results,” Verma said.

“We are just asking the administration to take notice of these extra ordinary benefits of tulsi and take steps for utilizing them. Even simple steps like planting tulsi plants on road dividers, parks etc can bring a difference,” said Verma.

The reporter and also the editor make no effort to correct these glaring inconsistencies in the report itself, forget about doing nay research on the topic, or verifying the claims made by these people. Maybe this was like the paid news that is talked about a lot these days.

What I find here i that the agenda of what is to be done was already set, the conclusions were already drawn, by our ancestors, written in black and white in ancient texts. The point was only to justify what they were doing, and trying to provide a “scientific basis” of what they already believed to be true (for whatever reasons, mostly religious, and presence of a religious organization in this sort of confirms this).

A good example of  pseudo-science and bad science reporting.

Science, a humanistic approach

Science is an adventure of the whole human race to learn to live in and perhaps to love the universe in which they are. To be a part of it is to understand, to understand oneself, to begin to feel that there is a capacity within man far beyond what he felt he had, of an infinite extension of human possibilities . . .
I propose that science be taught at whatever level, from the lowest to the highest, in the humanistic way. It should be taught with a certain historical understanding , with a certain philosophical understanding , with a social understanding and a human understanding in the sense of the biography, the nature of the people who made this construction, the triumphs, the trials, the tribulations.

Nobel Laureate in Physics

via Project Physics Course, Unit 4 Light and Electromagnetism Preface

Do see the Project Physics Course which has come in Public Domain hosted at the Internet Archive, thanks to F.  James Rutherford.

Explosives or Not

We have earlier seen some quotes from the book The Golem: What You Should Know About Science. There are two companion volumes to this book The Golem Unleashed: What You Should Know about Technology and Dr. Golem: How to think about Medicine. These series of books by Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch provide us with examples from these fields which most of the times are ‘uncontested’. For example in the first volume they discuss about the famous 1920 experimental confirmation of Einstein’s predictions in general relativity by Eddington. This experiment is told as a matter-of-fact anecdote in physics, where petty borders of nationalism could not stop physics and physicists. But in the book, as they show inspite of scanty or almost no positive evidence, Eddington “Concluded” that the predictions were true. This they term “experimenters’ regress”.

The experimenter’s regress occurs when scientists cannot decide what the outcome of an experiment should be and therefore cannot use the outcome as a criterion of whether the experiment worked or not.

The Golem Unleashed pp. 106

In The Golem Unleashed they present us with many examples of this from field of technology. One of the examples is from the Challenger accident which Feynman made famous by courtroom drama. In this case they call the “experimenter’s regress” as “technologist’s regress”.

Recently I read (all further quotes from the same link)an episode in India which would fit in very with these episodes. This is regarding baggage  scanning machines installed at Indian airports. They were brought at 2 crore rupees per unit in 2010. But in August 2011 they failed the tests on tasks they were supposed to do.

The scanners are called in-line baggage inspection systems as they scan bags that go into the cargo hold of the aircraft after passengers check in and hand over their luggage to the airline. They use x-ray imaging and “automatic intelligence” to verify the contents of bags and determine whether they include explosives.

Now one would think that this would be as easy as it gets. Either the scanner detects whether the explosives are present in the baggage or they do not. But it is not as simple as it seems so. Now when the tests were done, the testers found the machines failed.

During the tests, security sources said that a technological specification committee of officials from the IB, RAW, SPG, NSG, BCAS and the civil aviation ministry passed bags containing 500 gm of six kinds of explosives, including PETN and ammonium nitrate, as well as IEDs through these systems. The scanners did not flag any of these bags as suspicious, the sources said.

So after this “failure” the companies which supplied these machines were asked to improve upon the machines or to share the software to recalibrate them. But the companies and interestingly Airport Authortiy of India AAI said that the testing methods were at fault. Now the explosives were passed and the machines did not detect them, then how can companies say that the testing methods were not working?

The machines work on the so called 70:30 principle.

“Though it works on a 70:30 principle, if there is an explosive in the 70 per cent, it will throw up the image of each and every bag that has dangerous substances. We would like to emphasise that the systems supplied and installed by our company at Indian airports are of state-of-the-art technology and are fully compliant with current standards.”

The 70:30 principle refers to the “automatic intelligence” used by Smiths Detection machines to clear 70 per cent of the baggage and reject the rest, according to the Airports Authority of India (AAI). “The machines reject 30 per cent of the baggage, the images of which are then sent to the screener. These systems have automatic intelligence capability and have been tested against a wide range of substances considered dangerous for aircraft. The details and specifications are never disclosed, or else terrorists would understand the software,”

But if anyway machines are doing the job, why not do it 100%? And the funny thing is that they are not sharing the software, which is the main agenda of the proprietary software companies. This is a case where people realize that they are just Users of the software under question. This argument that  “or else terrorists would understand the software” does not hold. They don’t need to if the machine is going to reject a whole lot of bags And in anyway if there are bus/holes in the software, a thousand eyes repair them much faster than a few. And this is The companies further say that

“The technology or physics is that x-ray based system can’t detect explosives, it is only approximate detection of dangerous substances,”

Why is the AAI siding (they are rather defending the companies) with the companies is something worth pondering.

AAI people say “The problem could be due to the sheer ignorance of officers who lacked the skills to test for explosives,”

Still with no unanimity in the testing results, the case truly presents us with a “technologist’s regress.”

Science And Certainty

Science is not about certainty. Science is about finding the most reliable way of thinking, at the present level of knowledge. Science is extremely reliable; it’s not certain. In fact, not only it’s not certain, but it’s the lack of certainty that grounds it. Scientific ideas are credible not because they are sure, but because they are the ones that have survived all the possible past critiques, and they are the most credible because they were put on the table for everybody’s criticism.

The very expression ‘scientifically proven’ is a contradiction in terms. There is nothing that is scientifically proven. The core of science is the deep awareness that we have wrong ideas, we have prejudices. We have ingrained prejudices. In our conceptual structure for grasping reality there might be something not appropriate, something we may have to revise to understand better. So at any moment, we have a vision of reality that is effective, it’s good, it’s the best we have found so far. It’s the most credible we have found so far, its mostly correct.

via | Edge

This is something that I think separates science from religion. Religion is about absolutes, trust in the absolute God. And this is the difference that should be also taught to the students of science.

Reason and Faith – Misconceptions in Science Education

Reason does not work in matters of faith. But it may have a chance at clearing misconceptions.

via Tehelka

Truly so. In case of my field of study, namely science education research, it may be the other way round. The classic studies in science education aim at identifying the misconceptions that the learners have regarding a particular subject and then finding a mechanism by which they could be addressed.

This was a very simple but very basic presentation of  what most studies try to achieve, though the methodology may be different. There are some studies which present us with a conceptual framework so that all the responses and the problems with the learners can be seen in light of a theoretical construct. This they say will enable us to make sense of what we see in the classrooms, and what is present as representation in the learners mind. What I think they are trying to say is that we need to get to the conceptual structures that lead to formation of the misconceptions.

Now mind you that many of these misconceptions in science are very stubborn and people are very reluctant to give them up. The reason may be that many of these misconceptions come from direct factual experience in the real world. And from what I know about Philosophy of Science, we might want to make a case that all science is counter-intuitive to our everyday experience. This would explain why misconceptions in science arise. But would this case explain all the known misconceptions?

Let us do some analysis of how a particular misconception might arise.There can be two different reasons for a misconception to arise, if we adhere to deductive logic. That is to say we assume that we have a set of starting statements that are given, whose authenticity is not questioned. And from these set of statements we make certain deductions regarding the world out there. Now there can be two problems with this scenario, one is that the set of statements that we are taking for granted might be wrong, the other is that in the process of deduction that we have followed we made a mistake. The mistake is learnt only when the end result of our analysis is not consistent with the observations in the real world. Or it might be even the case that the so called misconception will lead to a correct answer, at least in some cases.  In these cases we have to resort to more detailed analysis of the thought structure which lead to the answers. Another identifying characteristic of the misconceptions is presence of the inconsistencies across different areas known to the learners. Whereas they might get a particular concept clearly and correctly, in applying same thing for another concept they just might revert to a completely opposite argument and in doing this they do not realise the inconsistency.

We will be clearer on this issue when we talk with a few examples. Suppose that we have a scenario in which we are trying to understand the phenomena of day and night, its causes and consequences. A typical argument in our class goes like this:

How many have seen the Sun set?

Almost all hands would go up, then comes the next question:

How many have seen the Sun rise?

Almost same number of hands go up, excepting a few, who are late risers like me. Some of the more intelligent and the more knowledgeable would say,

“Wait! Sun doesn’t rise and set, it is the Earth that is moving, so it causes the apparent motion of Sun across the sky, the start and end of which we call as day and night. So in conclusion the Sun doesn’t rise and set, it is an illusion created by motion of Earth.”

To this all of the class agrees. This is what they have learned in the text-book, and mind you the text-book represents truth and only truth, nothing else. It is there to dispel your doubts and misconceptions and is made by a committee of experts who are highly knowledgeable about these things. Now let us continue this line of reasoning and ask them the next question in this series.

Does the Moon rise? If so, does it rise everyday?

The responses to this question are mixed. Most of them would say that it does not rise, it is always there, up in the sky. Some would gather courage and say that it does rise.

Does the Moon set?

Again to this the response is mixed, and mostly negative. Most of them are adamant about the ever presence of the moon in the sky. The next question really upsets them

Do the stars rise and set?

Now this question definitely gets a negative response from almost all of them. Even the more knowledgeable ones fall. They have read different parts of the story, but have not connected them. They tell you the following: “No the stars do not move, they are there all the time.” They also tell you that there is something called as the fixed stars and this is in the text-book, which cannot be wrong. And when asked:

Why are we not able to see the stars during the day time?

They tell you “Of course you cannot see the stars during the day time. This is because our Sun, which is also a star, is too bright and the other stars too far away and hence are dim. So our Sun’s brightness, overwhelms the other stars, and hence they are not visible during the day time, but they are there nonetheless. In the night time, since the Sun is no longer visible, the stars become visible. Have you never noticed that during the evening twilight the stars become visible one by one, the brighter ones first. Whereas in the morning the brightest are the last ones to disappear.”

Of course, the things said above and the reasoning given sounds good. So much so that the respondents are convinced that they understand how things work, and have an elaborate reasoning mechanism to explain the observed things, in this case the formation of day and night and appearance / disappearance of stars during night and day respectively.

You ask them:

Don’t you think there is a problem with what you have just said?

“Where is the problem?”, they tell you. “We just explained scientifically how things are in heaven.”

Then you open the Pandora’s box,

“Well you have just said that the Sun doesn’t move really, it is the Earth that moves, and hence we see the apparent Sun rise and Sun set.”

Then they say, “Yes, that is the case. The Sun doesn’t move, but the Earth does.”

You ask, “How do you know this? Do you see that the Earth is moving?”

They say, “The textbook tells us so ” Some of the more knowledgeable ones say that “Galileo proved that the Earth moves and not the Sun. Since we are on Earth, we see only apparent motion of the Sun.”

You say: “But wait, just now you said that the Moon does not move, it is always in the sky. Also you said that the stars do not move, they are there all the time. Now if the Earth moves, then all these bodies should also move, if only, apparently.Then the stars must also move, just like the Sun does, do not forget that Sun is a star too! So other stars should also just set and rise like the Sun, and so should also the Moon!”

Or you can argue just the opposite: “I claim that it is the Sun that moves, Earth does not move. Isn’t it a lot more easier to explain this way, why we do see the Sun moving, because it moves. And we anyway do not see Earth moving! How will disprove me?”

Then the grumbles start. They have never thought about this. They knew the facts, but never connected them. This lead to the misconceptions regarding these things. They were right in parts, but never got a chance to connect the dots, metaphorically speaking.The reason for these misconceptions is the faith in the text-books, but if the text-books fail to perform the job of asking them the right question, where the reasoning alone can get rid of many of the misconceptions.

If we choose the alternative question, of challenging them to disprove that the Earth is stationary, almost most of them are unable to answer the question of disproving that the idea that the Sun moves and not Earth. They would suggest that we can see this from the satellite in the sky (Can we really?).

Most of us take the things for granted and never question many (or as in most cases, any) of them. And many times the facts are something we do not question. We say that “It is a fact.” This statement basically posits that the information which we think is out there can be unquestionable. But there are many flavours of the post-modern philosophy which challenge this position. They think that the facts themselves are relative, that is to say that one culture has different science than another one.  But let us leave this, and come back to our problem of the stars and the Sun and Moon.

Lets put out the postulates for the above arguments and try to deduce deductively the results that were obtained.

Claim 1: Sun doesn’t move.

Claim 2: Earth moves.

Observation 1: We see the Sun moving across the sky daily, it rises and it sets.

Explanation 1:  Since the Earth moves, and the Sun is stationary, we see that Sun moves apparently. This apparent motion of the Sun is seen as the Sunrise and the Sunset by us. This is what causes the day and night.

But we can have Observation 1 explained by another set of claims, which is exactly opposite, namely, that the Earth doesn’t move but the Sun moves.

Claim 3: The Sun moves.

Claim 4: The Earth does not move.

Explanation 2: Since the Earth does not move, and the Sun does, we just see the Sun passing by in the sky, around the Earth. This causes day and night.

We see that Explanations 1 and 2 are both valid for Observation 1, if the claims 1 and 2, 3 and 4 are true then the respective deductions from them, in this case the Explanations 1 and 2 respectively are also true.So in this case the logical deduction is correct, provided that the Claims or assumptions are correct. But this process does not tell you whether the claims themselves are true or not. But both set of assumptions, cannot be true at the same time. Either the Earth moves or it does not, it cannot be in a state of both. If at all we had an explanation which came from these assumptions which did not correspond with the observations, but was logically deducible, then we can question the assumptions or premises as philosophers call them.

Of course, the things said above and the reasoning given sounds good. So much so that the respondents are convinced that they
understand how things work, and have an elaborate reasoning mechanism

We can have one example of this type.

Assumption 5: Stars do not move, there are so called “fixed stars”.

Assumption 5: During the day time the Sun is too bright, as compared to the other stars.

Now in this case combining Assumption 5 (A5) with Observation 1 (Ob1) we would get the following:

Explanation 3: The stars are too dim as compared to Sun, hence we cannot see them during the day time, but they are present. Hence they do not move.

In Explanation 3 (E3) above the deduction has a problem. The deduction does not follow from the assumption. This is the other problem in which we talked about above.

Most of the people who would suggest these responses have mostly no background in astronomy. Even then the basic facts that Earth goes round the Sun and not the other way round are forced upon them, without any critical emphasis on why it is so. Neither are they presented at point with the cognitive struggle of another view point, namely the geo-centric view. So presenting the learners with opportunities that will make them observe things and make sense of the explanations in light of the assumptions that were made, will enhance the reasoning and help them to overcome some of their misconceptions.

But there is another observation which can be made of the skies. And it can be either done in the classroom with the aid of Free Softwares like Stellarium. After the round of above questions, we usually show the class the rising of the stars from the east. In a darkened room with a projector the effect is quite dramatic for those who have not witnessed such a thing before. So you can show the class, just as the Sun rises, all other celestial bodies like the Moon and the stars also must rise and this is an observed fact.

Observation 2: The stars and planets and the Moon also rise and set everyday.

So how do we make sense of this observation, Ob2 in the light of the assumptions that we have.

Assumption 6: Sun is a star.

Explanation 4: We observe that Sun moves during the day, from East to West. Sun is a star, hence all other stars should also move.

Now why this should be the case will be different for the geo-centric and the helio-centric theories. In case of H-C theory the explantion is simple. The Earth moves hence the stars appear to move in the opposite direction. And this applies to all the objects in the sky.

Since the Earth moves all other celestial objects will appear to move. In case of G-C theory we have to make an assumption that the
stars are “fixed” on some imaginary sphere, and the sphere as a whole rotates.

But coming back to the misconceptions, it is just the ad-hoc belief that the stars do not move (“fixed stars”) in conjunctions with another observation that in presence of too bright objects dim objects cannot be seen leads to belief that the stars are immobile and do not rise and set as the Sun does. There is another disconnection from another fact that they know, or are told in the textbooks, that  the apparent movement of the Sun is caused by the actual movement of  the Earth. There is no connection between these two facts which is  made explicit.

We think that providing opportunities for direct observation aided by software, Stellarium in this case, which help in visualizing the movements of celestial bodies will help in developing the skill of reasoning and explaining an observed phenomena.

Thinking Humans

There is at least one philosophical problem in
which all thinking men are interested: the problem of under-
standing the world in which we live, including ourselves,who are
part of that world, and our knowledge of it.
– Karl Popper

Conjectures and Refutations

Sophie’s World

I had heard about Sophie’s World from quite a number of sources. Finally I got a worn out copy from Fort for 100 bucks. Finished it in the next couple of days. This was about two years back. It is one of the best bedside introductions to philosophy…
Embedded in mystery and weirdness.
The best part of the climax is a p”hilosophical party”, which I also wish to have…


Who are you?

“You are me.”

“I am you.”

You can’t experience being alive without realizing that you have to die, she thought.

Where does the world come from?

How could it be “the easiest way”?

… the only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder…

Why was it so difficult to be absorbed in the most vital and, in a way, the most natural of all questions?

So it is easier to ask philosophical questions than to answer them.

Actually, we are the white rabbit being pulled out of the hat.

and anyway it would be pointless to chase after someone who was determined to get away.

It all has to do with habit.

Do you think it can do what it does?

A philosopher never gets quite used to the world.

She understood that people had always felt a need to explain the processes of nature. Perhaps they could not live without such explanations. And that they made up all those myths in the time before there was anything called science.

… nothing can come from nothing …

Once we have determined what a particular philosopher’s project is, it is easier to follow his line of thought, since no one philosopher concerns himself with the whole of philosophy.

How can I “see” a flower, for example?

You probably wouldn’t admire a friend who was good at everything if it cost her no effort.

She decided that philosophy was not something you can learn; but perhaps you can learn to think philosophically.
 Why is Lego the most ingenious toy in the world?

Why did people quit playing when they grew up?

“I’m not playing!” Sophie retorted indignantly, “I’m doing a very complicated philosophical experiment!”

Do you believe in Fate?
Is sickness the punishment of the gods?
What forces govern the course of history?

Who had the right to call other people’s belief superstition?

One day we will meet, but I shall be the one to decide when and where.

Thus the “fortune-teller” is trying to foresee something that is really quite unforeseeable.
This is characteristic of all forms of foreseeing. And precisely because what they “see” is so vague, it is hard to repudiate fortune-tellers’ claims.

Over the entrance to the temple at Delphi was a famous inscription: KNOW THYSELF! It
reminded visitors that man must never believe himself to be more than mortal—and that no man can escape his destiny.

…wisest is she who knows she does not know…

Is there such a thing as natural modesty? 
Wisest is she who knows she does not know… 
True insight comes from within. 
He who knows what is right will do right.

But today, most people think it is “natural,” even though
it is still strictly forbidden in lots of countries.

 But the more she did, the more clearly she saw that knowing what you don’t know is also a kind of knowledge.

But didn’t all knowledge come into people’s heads from the outside?

The history of ideas is like a drama in many acts.

In order for democracy to work, people had to be educated enough to take part in the
democratic process.

“The question is complex and life is short.”

Modesty—or the lack of it—is first and foremost a matter of social convention.

“You can seek him in the present, you can seek him in the past, but you will never find
his equal.”  on Socrates

So it is no easy matter to distinguish between the teachings of Socrates and the philosophy of Plato.

Socrates saw his task as helping people to “give birth” to the correct insight, since
real understanding must come from within. It cannot be imparted by someone else. And only
the understanding that comes from within can lead to true insight.

Something within him left him no choice.

A  “philosopher” really means “one who loves wisdom.”

A philosopher knows that in reality he knows very little.

…it troubled him that he knew so little.

“One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.”

Any one question can be more explosive than a thousand answers.

All he knew was that he knew nothing—and it troubled him. So he became a
philosopher—someone who does not give up but tirelessly pursues his quest for truth.

Can you live a happy life if you continually do things you know deep down are wrong?

“We don’t learn anything there. The difference between schoolteachers and philosophers is that school-teachers think they know a lot of stuff that they try to force down our throats. Philosophers try to figure things out together with the pupils.”

“It’s not him who’s disturbed. But he likes to disturb others—to shake them out of their rut.”

… several tall buildings had risen from the ruins …

 We still speak of Socratic or Platonic philosophy, but actually being Plato or Socrates is quite another matter.”

 Plato’s four tasks.
 First you must think over how a baker can bake fifty absolutely identical cookies.
 Then you can ask yourself why all horses are the same.
 Next you must decide whether you think that man has an immortal soul.
 And finally you must say whether men and women are equally sensible.

 … a longing to return to the realm of the soul…

Because even though some horses were as brown as bears and others
were as white as lambs, all horses had something in common.

All she knew was that dead bodies were either
cremated or buried, so there was no future for them.

Why are horses the same, Sophie? You probably don’t think they are at all. But there is
something that all horses have in common, something that enables us to identify them as
horses. A particular horse “flows,” naturally. It might be old and lame, and in time it will die. But
the “form” of the horse is eternal and immutable.

Because clearly, the mold itself must be utter perfection—and in a sense, more beautiful—in comparison with these crude copies.

… the girl in the mirror winked with both eyes…

Was it the path she had taken earlier?

How could a person who had never seen a live chicken or a picture of a chicken ever have any “idea” of a chicken?

What came first—the chicken or the “idea” chicken ?
Are we born with innate “ideas”? What is the difference between a plant, an animal, and a human? 
Why does it rain? 
What does it take to live a good life?

…a meticulous organizer who wanted to clarify our concepts …

You’ll have to content yourself with the fact that you are not the only one who can’t exceed your own limits.

Everybody is more or less peculiar. I am a person, so I am more or less peculiar. You have only one girl, so I am the most peculiar.

Common sense and conscience can both be compared to a muscle. If you don’t use a muscle, it gets weaker and weaker.”

The world is me, she thought.

And as you know, when a thing gets bigger and bigger it’s more difficult to keep it to yourself.

It is the only way to become more than a naked ape. It is the only way to avoid floating in a vacuum.

… going only part of the way is not the same as going the wrong way…

Sorry. My lips are sealed.”

But she had been nervous, and when you’re nervous its comforting to break all taboos.

“It’s easy to know better after the fact.”

We shall become better acquainted by and by

But philosophy is not a harmless party game.

One generation ages while another generation is brought forth.

Life is both sad and solemn. We are let into a wonderful world, we meet one another here, greet each other—and wander together for a brief moment. Then we lose each other and disappear as suddenly and unreasonably as we arrived.

“It’s not a silly question if you can’t answer it.

“Does all this really matter?” “Does it matter? You bet it matters!

“Smart. But not so smart really.”

“Is it really as simple as that?”

For the wages of sin is death.

That was a serious slip of the tongue.”
“But a slip of the tongue is never wholly accidental.”

…such stuff as dreams are made on…

She knew her mother knew that Sophie knew her mother wouldn’t believe it either.

“No, there’s a lot I don’t know.”

“Well, nearly everything that’s important comes either from Greece or from Italy.”

That was actually quite a lot in the space of one second.

carpe diem’—‘seize the day.’

‘memento mori,’ which means ‘Remember that you must die.’

But any display of magnificence presupposes a display of power. It has often been said that the political situation in the Baroque period was not unlike its art and architec

… he wanted to clear all the rubble off the site…

“You begin to work out your own philosophy.”

‘How can you be certain that your whole life is not a dream?’

Laboratory of The Mind

 Having gone through the book Robert Browns Laboratory of Mind – Thought Experiments in Natural
Sciences, I have taken the following notes. Though the book starts with examples from a varied disciplines it culminates trying to interpret the EPR paradox in a way. Though an interesting book to read for a philosopher of science. I would have liked to see some detailed discussions on some of the thought experiments, the book could have been more aptly titled  Thought Experiments in [Quantum]  Sciences, though there is an entire chapter on Einstein, who is the master of such thought experiments, equaled only by Galileo.


  As I was sitting in my chair
  I knew the bottom wasn’t there,
  Nor legs nor back, but I just sat,
  Ignoring little things like that.

  Logic alone cannot give us great wealth of mathematical results.

   since abstract objects if they did exist would be unknowable.

    just as no experiment in physics is really crucial, so no argument
    in philosophy is really conclusive. 73

    In reality the very opposite happens. It is the theory which
    decides what we can observe…’ 106

    the crucial difference between Einstein and those who make the
    correspondence with experimental fact the chief deciding factor
    for or against a theory: even though the ‘experimental facts’ at
    that time very clearly seemed to favor the theory of his opponents
    rather than his own, he finds the ad hoc character of their
    theories more significant and objectionable than an apparent
    disagreement between his theory and their ‘facts’. 120

    As Heisenberg put it, This probability function represents a
    mixture of two things, partly a fact and partly our knowledge of a
    fact’ (1958, 45). 128

    What is even meant by ‘an interpretation of the QM formalism’ is
    somewhat vague. Logicians have a precise notion of
    ‘interpretation’ or ‘model of a formal system’, but that won’t do
    here. To start with, the formalism is already partially
    interpreted; it is hooked to observational input and output in a
    clear and unambiguous way.  This partial interpretation is called
    the minimal statistical interpretation. What it can do is handle
    everything observable. It is often favoured by those who advocate
    an instrumentalist outlook for scientific theories in general. But
    our interest is with how the world really works, not just with
    making successful observable predictions. Only those lacking a
    soul are content with the minimal statistical interpretation. 131

    In many (perhaps all) scientific theories, there are elements
    which are taken as just brute facts. For instance, in Newton’s
    physics, inertia is an unexplained explainer; it accounts for
    other phenomena, but is itself unaccounted for. Are EPR
    correlations like that? 146

* Questions
1. When we see one swan to be white we do not conclude immediately
   that all swans are white. But on the other hand we conclude that
   all gold atoms have the same atomic number 79. Why is there an
   asymmetry between the two modes of thought?

2. Why does 3>2 seems intuitively pretty obvious, whereas `proton is heavier than
   electron’ does not?

3. Quine says, our conviction that 2+2=4 does not stem from laboratory
   observations, no matter how carefully performed or often
   repeated. Comment.

4. How would things be different if there were no abstract objects but
   everything else, including our ‘intuitions’, remained the same?

5. Is Newton’s first law only vacuously true? Let me elaborate on
   this. The first law as known states the following:

   /A body will continue its state motion or rest, unless it is acted
   upon by a force./
   Now how do we do this experiment in real? Can we have /any/ test
   body which is far away from any other body, so that there are /no/
   forces acting on the test body? If not, then how can we be assured
   about the validity of the first law?

6. Though we often now make fun of theories like phlogiston, caloric
   or aether, they were actually successful to some degree in their
   day and were believed by reasonable people. (Maxwell once said that
   the aether theory was the best confirmed in all science.) The
   physical world somehow or other contributed to the production of
   these rational, but false, beliefs. How is it that a (physical)
   world that contains no phlogiston, caloric, or aether can somehow
   be responsible for bringing about the phlogiston, caloric, and
   aether theories?