Hello to All!
Ahhh . . . . . the freedom of graduation! It feels really exhilarating. At the commencement ceremony last Friday, I couldn’t help but feel so excited for moving another step forward in my life. Three years of hard work and philosophical endeavors have led up to this moment.
[And I definitely have something to show for it: this blog (and my diploma, of course). Even though I’m only “green as grass” here, I still feel honored to be a part of the contributions and discussions that occur, both currently and in the future (as a law school student).]
One thing I wasn’t expecting, however, was that my final “lecture” as a UNF student would be so close to “home,” if you will. The school’s Provost took the opportunity at the ceremony to talk about Black Swan, a book he was reading (not to confuse it with a movie of the same name). While most of the details about the book are not important, there was one thing that caught my ear.
In his speech, which you can find here, the Provost mentioned the following (though without the emphasis):
“The reason Black Swan events have the shocking impact that they do, according to Taleb, is because we are trained to anticipate continuity and a cause-and-effect relationship between the past, the present, and the future. Like the Thanksgiving turkey that has been handsomely fed for the first 1000 days of his life, there is no reason to expect that on the next day it will have its head chopped off rather than receive another portion of grain.”
I couldn’t believe that I’d was hearing about topics that Hume and company dealt with in the Modern period in a speech about education! Then again, it might just be an appropriate topic, but having just finished facilitating for Dr. Vitz’s Modern Philosophy class, I didn’t think that the final note would ring, if you will, in the way it did.
Coming from this, what I’d like to explore here is one of those topics implied by the quote: Induction.
For those who may not know what it is (such as visitors to this blog), Induction generally refers to the notion that that the past will somehow resemble the future. Take a science experiment, for example. What one tries to do is use past events to try to predict future ones. So, when I drop a pen from my hand, and you see it fall to the ground, you expect, after seeing this a number of times, that every time I drop a pen, it will fall to the ground. The future is expected to resemble the past.
Yet some philosophers, like David Hume, have objected to Induction as a cogent foundation to anything, let alone science. The argument comes from the simple challenge of trying to find the foundation of Induction itself. What bases our expectation that the future resembles the past? If we take the conventional notion of “cause” as a necessary connection of some sort, then it appears that, ultimately, the only foundation of Induction is Induction. In other words, it begs the question, using the notion that the future will resemble the past to prove that the future will resemble the past.
You might be getting where this is going. If Induction is question-begging, then science is in a huge pickle. Or is it? If the future does not necessarily resemble the past, isn’t that just a warning to not dogmatically assume that the pen will fall to the ground every time I drop it, but rather hold it as a general maxim (to use Hume’s terminology)? I mean, isn’t science just really a system of probables rather than certainties? Every so often, views that have been held, sometimes for generations, are debunked and replaced with new ones. And now we have all of this string-theory mumbo-jumbo and company that seems poised, with more work, to replace some other, “older” position we’ve held.
So I seem to have doubts about science being doomed and all from Hume (and others) bringing up this objection to Induction. Indeed, the problem might not be that big of a problem if we make our use of Induction something probable rather than certain by basing it off of our continual observations of some event, B, following from another event, A, and our confidence that if A, then B.
Maybe then we might get back to worrying about what we should be doing next instead of whether we can even be justified in thinking that the past could somehow lead to some resemblance in the future.
George (“The Meager Weakling”)
P.S. — I’d be interested in reading what you guys have to say about all this, so feel free to leave a comment.