Quine

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“We frequently must choose between simplicity and comprehensiveness, and even between different kinds of simplicity.”

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“We have two competing conceptual schemes: a physicalistic one and a phenomenalistic one (one having to do with the world as it’s experienced/perceived). Which should prevail? Each has its advantages, each has its special simplicity in its own way, each deserves to be developed. Each may be said, indeed, to be the more fundamental, though in different senses.” This seems like a strange loop.

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“Philosophy is continuous with science ― and where it’s not, it’s bad philosophy.”

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“The crisis in the foundations of mathematics ― sparked at the turn of the century by the discovery of Russell’s paradox and other antinomies of set theory ― has its companion piece in physics in the antinomy that arose between the wave-like and particle-like accounts of light. And the second great modern crisis in the foundations of mathematics ― sparked in 1931 by Gödel’s proof that there are bound to be statements in arithmetic that are neither provable nor refutable ― has its companion piece in physics in Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.”

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“To mention Boston we use ‘Boston’ or a synonym, and to mention ‘Boston’ we use‘Boston’’ or a synonym. ‘‘Boston’’ contains six letters and just one pair of quotation marks, ‘Boston’ contains six letters and no quotation marks, and Boston contains some 800,000 people.”

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“It may be seen as possible and desirable for the art of epistemology (the study of knowledge) to be applied sometimes to itself, now acting in a ‘meta’-role ― and if it then gains new insights on how to ensure validity in its subject matter, it follows that those insights may call for a revision of its own procedures, thus calling into question the exercise just performed! This may be compared to a neurosurgeon operating on his or her own brain.”

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“We mustn’t leap to the fatalistic conclusion that we’re stuck with the conceptual scheme that we grew up in. We can change it, bit by bit, plank by plank, though meanwhile there’s nothing to carry us along but the evolving conceptual scheme itself. The philosopher’s task was well compared to that of a mariner who must rebuild his ship on the open sea.”

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“Most logical paradoxes are known to be invalid arguments but are still valuable in promoting critical thinking. However, some have revealed errors in definitions assumed to be rigorous and have caused axioms of mathematics and logic to be re-examined (e.g., Russell’s paradox). Still others, such as Curry’s paradox, are not yet resolved.”

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The following quote is about Quine, rather than by him.

“Quine distinguished between three classes of paradoxes:

  • veridical paradox produces a result that appears false (and absurd) but is demonstrated to be true nevertheless. Examples include Hilbert’s paradox of the Grand Hotel and Schrödinger’s cat.
  • falsidical paradox establishes a result that not only appears false but actually is false, due to a fallacy in the demonstration. Examples include Zeno’s paradoxes and various invalid mathematical proofs, such as that 1.=.2, generally relying on a hidden division by 0.
  • A paradox that’s in neither class may be an antinomy, which reaches a self-contradictory result by properly applying accepted ways of reasoning. For example, the Grelling-Nelson paradox (the linguistic analogue to Russell’s paradox) points out genuine problems in our understanding of the ideas of truth and description.
  • A (secret, special) fourth kind has sometimes been described since Quine’s work: a paradox that’s both true and false at the same time, in the same sense, is called a ‘dialetheia’. In Western logic, it’s often assumed that no dialetheia exist, but they’re sometimes accepted in Eastern traditions, such as Zen Buddhism. The notion of dialetheia also relates to cases such as both affirming and denying that ‘John is here’ when John is halfway through the door.” [1]

[Pannenkoek] “What about ‘This statement is true’? Shouldn’t that be a dialetheia?”

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Daniel Dennett

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“Philosophy ― in every field of inquiry ― is what you have to do until you figure out what questions you should’ve been asking in the first place.”

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“Creativity, that eagerly sought but only rarely found virtue, is often a previously unimagined violation of the rules of the system from which it springs.”

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“I found I never really appreciated many of the painters of the 16th and 17th centuries until I visited museums where I could see room after room full of second-rate paintings of the same genres. If all you ever see is the good stuff ― which is all you see in the introductory survey courses, and in the top museums ― it’s very hard to see just how wonderful the good stuff is. If you really want to understand a great philosopher, you have to spend some time looking at the less great contemporaries and predecessors who are left in the shadows of the masters.”

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Determinism:  There is, at any instant, exactly one physically possible future.”

“A common belief is, ‘Determinism is incompatible with free will. Unless there’s quantum indeterminacy in our brains, we can’t have free will.’ These are both mistakes.”

Dennett goes on to say that the randomness of quantum indeterminacy (unfortunately) wouldn’t even help us to achieve free will in the sense that’s being proposed. [Pannenkoek] “In other words, it goes from perfectly deterministic to perfectly random ― at no point do we ‘take control of ourselves’.”

“Common wisdom states, ‘You can’t change the past, but you can change the future.’ Oh really? From what to what? The future is just what’s going to happen, and you can’t change that. This has nothing to do with determinism. The very idea of changing the future is a mistake. But what you can do is make something that was anticipated in the future not happen.”

[Pannenkoek] “So he’s saying that even without determinism, we still couldn’t change the future. Whether there’s determinism or randomness, the future can’t be changed.”

“Although in the strict physical sense our actions are predetermined, we’re still free in all the ways that matter, as opposed to an impossible and unnecessary freedom from the laws of physics ― from causality itself.”

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“Consider the statement, ‘Love is just a word.’ It can be read in two different ways: one way that’s true but trivial, and another that’s much more intriguing but false. On the level of linguistics, of course it is ― but that hardly tells us much, since that could just as easily be applied to anything, not just love. On the level of reality, it’s pretty manifestly untrue. Love is many things ― a feeling, an emotion, a condition ― but not a word. This statement sounds deep only because it teeters precariously between those two readings. Furthermore, this is an example of a use-mention error ― specifically, a confusion between a word and what it refers to, between ‘love’ and love.” [2]

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“I’ve always figured that if I can’t explain something to a group of bright undergraduates, then I don’t really understand it myself.”

[Pannenkoek] “This reminds me of Einstein’s, ‘If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself’.”

I think a key difference is that if a child isn’t able to grasp the concept, you’re tempted to blame it on their being too young. With a bright undergraduate, though, you don’t have that excuse.

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“If Shakespeare hadn’t existed, nobody else would’ve written Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet. If Van Gogh hadn’t existed, nobody else would’ve painted Starry Night. This may be a slight exaggeration, but there’s something to it. While there’s an individuality to the contributions of great artists, that isn’t the case for scientists, nor is it their goal. In fact, it’s positively beside the point. The famous priority disputes in science, and the races for one Nobel Prize clincher or another, are ferocious precisely because somebody else could make exactly the contribution you were striving to make ― and you won’t get points for style if you come in second. These contests have no parallel in the arts, where a different set of goals reigns.”

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“If you can approach the world’s complexities, both its glories and its horrors, with an attitude of humble curiosity ― acknowledging that however deeply you’ve seen, you’ve only scratched the surface ― you’ll find worlds within worlds and beauties you couldn’t have imagined.”

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“When an artistic tradition reaches the point where literally ‘anything goes’, those who want to be creative have a problem: there are no fixed rules to rebel against, no complacent expectations to shatter, nothing to subvert, no background against which to create something both surprising and meaningful.”

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“The middle ground, roughly halfway between poetry and mathematics, is where philosophers can make their best contributions, I believe, yielding genuine clarifications of deeply puzzling problems.”

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Eleizer Yudkowsky

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“If a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it, does it make a sound?

Person 1: ‘It makes a sound, just like any other falling tree!’

Person 2: ‘But how can there be a sound that no one hears?’

The the first person is speaking as if ‘sound’ means acoustic vibrations in the air, and the second person is speaking as if ‘sound’ means an auditory experience in a brain. If you ask, ‘Are there acoustic vibrations?’ or, ‘Are there auditory experiences?’, the answer becomes obvious, and so the argument is really about the definition of the word ‘sound’.”

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“The way a belief feels from inside, is that you seem to be looking straight at reality. When it actually seems that you’re looking at a belief, as such, you’re really experiencing a belief about your beliefs.”

In other words, a truth/fact from the first-person perspective is a belief from the third-person perspective.

I can imagine some naïve author opening his book saying, “All the other philosophers just told you what they thought was the truth. However, I’m going to tell you the actual truth.”

This point strikes me as both so obvious that it’s almost not worth stating yet also a perennial source of arguments and confusion.

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“Arguing that you should be immune to criticism is rarely a good sign.”

[Pannenkoek] “So like with a dictatorship? Is that he means?” That is a good example. I think there are also subtler examples more commonly encountered in everyday life ― for instance, when someone insists that something they made is “supposed to be bad.”

The following are three even more interesting examples I can remember.

  • I knew someone whose therapist said that something she’d like him to work on was his habit of responding with, “Yeah, but…” to her advice and then discounting or dismissing it. It was true that he did this to some degree, and he agreed to work on it. However, he then found he could no longer disagree with anything she said, since every time he did, she’d reply with, “You’re doing it again.”
  • I remember one book that was largely about the distinction between the roles of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. One of the author’s central points was that the left-brain handles language and conceptual thought while the right-brain is non-verbal. Consequently, the author would say things like, “I encourage you to notice when the left-brain ― which wants to be the master of the conversation ― dismisses any of the ideas presented next as ‘unimportant’, ‘meaningless’, or ‘silly’, or otherwise looks for some way to reject them and maintain its dominance.”i[3]
  • And I can remember this one passage by Raymond Smullyan. “I am like a mirror. I’ve simply observed from long experience that virtually everyone I contact seems to see in me his or her own characteristics. The most hostile people I know tell me how hostile I am, honest people trust me and tell me how genuine and sincere I am, hypocritical and mendacious people tell me that I’m insincere and a big hypocrite, brilliant people tell me how brilliant I am, stupid people tell me how stupid I am.”

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“Experiments tell us things about the nature of reality which you just plain wouldn’t expect from a priori reasoning. Experiments falsify assumptions we can’t even see. Experiments tell us how to do things that seem logically impossible. Experiments deliver surprises from blind spots we don’t even know exist.”

[Pannenkoek] “I value the results of testing much more than those from theorizing. If it works in theory but not in practice, it’s pointless. If it works in practice but not in theory, then we don’t know why it works, but it’s great!”

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[Quine] “What justifies my claim that natural science is the best way to find out about the world? This too must be based on natural science. If that’s circular, I simply accept the circularity.”

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“I think there’s an important distinction between something like reflecting on your mind using your mind (it’s not like you can use anything else) and having an unquestionable assumption that you can’t reflect on. Everything, without exception, needs justification. Sometimes ― unavoidably, as far as I can tell ― those justifications will go around in reflective loops. Though I do think that reflective loops have a meta-character which should enable one to distinguish them, by common sense, from circular logics.”

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[Quine] “Our argument isn’t flatly circular, but something like it. It has the form, figuratively speaking, of a closed curve in three-dimensional space.”

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Citations

  1. Oliver Burkeman, summarizing Dennett
  2. Wikipedia’s Paradox article
  3. Chris Niebauer
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