William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

The Philosophy Of Uncertainty: An Introduction. Complete Preface. Update

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Le livre, he is done! I yesterday sent a proposal to a philosophy editor at Cambridge. Not enough equations or pictures in it to pique the interest of the statistics editor, I guess.

Thanks to those who volunteered to copy edit. I may still call on your services, especially if I can’t find a publisher who isn’t interested in it or me (I have eccentricities) and want to self publish.

Here is the Preface (the Author’s Forward has all the acknowledgements and thanks). I’ll also in time put up pieces of the proposal so that you can see details of each chapter. (The Preface doesn’t reveal much.)

P.S. I have been neglecting my email in order to finish, so if I haven’t answered yours (which is likely, since I have about 200 to answer), this is why.

Update Shot down at Cambridge. On to the next! I just sent query to Oxford. And Springer. And MIT press. And Wiley.

Dear Professor Briggs

Thanks for sending me the details relating to your proposed project ‘The Philosophy of Uncertainty’. The topic is an interesting one, but I’m afraid I don’t think that the style and approach of this book would be suited to the Cambridge list. I’m sure you will find that other publishers think differently, though, so I hope you will try the project out on them. I hope you are successful in finding a home for it.

Best wishes —

Preface

Fellow users of probability, statistics, and computer “learning” algorithms, physics and social science modelers, big data wranglers, philosophers of science, epistemologists; other respected citizens. We’re doing it wrong.

Not completely wrong; not everywhere; not all the time; but far more often, far more pervasively, and in far more areas than you’d imagine.

What are we doing wrong? Probability, statistics, causality, modeling, deciding, communicating, uncertainty. Everything to do with evidence.

Your natural reaction will be—this is a prediction based on plentiful observations and simple premises—“Harumph.” I can’t and shouldn’t put a numerical measure to my guess, though. That would lead to over-certainty, which I will prove to you is already at pandemic levels. Nor should I attempt to quantify your harumphiness, an act which would surely contribute to scientism.

Now you may well say “Harumph”, but consider: there are people who think statistical models prove causality or the truth of “hypotheses”, that no probability can be known with certainty until the sound of the last trump, that probabilities can be read from mood rings, that induction is a “problem”, that randomness is magic, that parameters exist, that p-values validate theories, that computers learn, that models are realer than observations, that model fit is more important than model performance.

And that is only a sampling of the oddities which beset our field. How did we go awry? Perhaps because our training as “data scientists” (the current buzzword) lacks a proper foundation, a firm philosophical grounding. Our books, especially our introductions, are loaded with a legion of implicit metaphysical presumptions, many of which are false. The student from the start is plunged into formula and data and never looks back; he is encouraged not to ask too many questions but instead to calculate, calculate, calculate. As a result, he never quite knows where he is or where he’s going, but he knows he’s in a hurry.

The philosophical concepts which are necessarily present aren’t discussed well or openly. This is only somewhat rectified once, and if, the student progresses to the highest levels, but by that time his interest has been turned either to mathematics or to solving problems using the tools with which he is familiar, tools which appear “good enough” because everybody else is using them. And when the data scientist (a horrid term) finally and inevitably weighs in on, say, “What models really are”, he lacks the proper vocabulary. Points are missed. Falsity is embraced.

So here is a philosophical introduction to uncertainty and the practice of probability, statistics, and modeling of all kinds. The approach is Aristotelian. Truth exists, we can know it, but not always. Uncertainty is in our minds, not in objects, and only sometimes can we measure it, and there are good and bad ways of doing it.

There is not much sparkling new in this presentation except in the way the material is stitched together. The emphasis on necessary versus local or conditional truth and the wealth of insights that brings will be unfamiliar to most. A weakness is that because we have to touch on a large number of topics, many cannot be treated authoritatively or completely. But then the bulk of that work has been done in other places. And a little knowledge on these most important subjects is better than none, the usual condition. Our guiding light is St Thomas, ora pro nobis, who said, “The smallest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser.” It is therefore enough that we form a fair impression of each topic and move onward. The exceptions are in understanding exactly what probability is and, as importantly, what it is not and in comprehending just what models are and how to tell the good from the bad.

This isn’t a recipe book. Except for simple but common examples, this book does not contain the usual lists of algorithms. It’s not that I didn’t want them, it’s more that many proper ones don’t yet exist, or aren’t well understood; and anyway, they can be a distraction. This book is, however, a guide on how to create such recipes and lists, as well as a way to shoehorn (when possible) older methods into the present framework when new algorithms haven’t yet been created. This book is thus ideal for students and researchers looking for problems upon which to work. The mathematical requirements are modest: this is not a math book. But then probability is not a mathematical subject, though parts of it are amenable to calculation.

Some will want to know what to call this unfamiliar new theory. Well, it isn’t a theory. It is The Way Things Are. The approach taken is surely not frequentist, a method which compounds error upon error, but it is also not Bayesian, not in the usual sense of that term, though it is often close in spirit to objective Bayesianism. There is no subjectivism here. The material here is closely aligned to Keynes’s, Stove’s, and Jaynes’s logical probability. Many elements from the work of these and similar gentlemen are found here, but there are also subtle and important differences. If a name must be given, Probability As Argument is as good as any, though I prefer simply Probability.

If we’re doing it wrong, what’s right? Models should be used to make probabilistic predictions of observable entities. These predictions can, in turn, be used to make decisions. If the predictions fail, the models fail and should be abandoned. Eliminate all forms of hypothesis tests, which only serve to confirm biases. Do not speak of parameters.

Here is the book in brief. All truth is conditional on or with respect to something. There are thus necessary or universal and conditional or local truths. Truth resides in the mind, and not in objects except in the sense that they exist (or not). Truth is not relative in the modern sense of that word. Probability aims at truth. We come to know many truths via induction, which is widely misunderstood and is not a “problem”, indeed it provides the surest form of knowledge. Logic is the study of the relationship between propositions, and so is probability. All probability, like all truth, is therefore conditional.

Most probability is not quantifiable, but some is. Probability is not subjective, and limiting relative frequency is of no use to man or beast. Chance and randomness are not mystical causes; they are only other words for ignorance. Science is of the empirical. Models—whether quantum mechanical, medical, or sociological—are either causal or explanative. Causal models provide certainty, and explanative models uncertainty. Probabilistic models are thus not causal (though they may have causal elements).

Bayes is not what you think. Hypothesis testing should immediately and forever be tossed onto the scrap heap of intellectual history and certainly never taught to the vulnerable. Probability is not decision. The parameter-centric, even parameter-obsessed, way of thinking about models must also be abandoned; its use has lead to widespread, enormous over-certainty and caused more than one soul to be lost to scientism. Its replacement? Models which are and must be checked against reality. The best way to check against reality is conditional on the decisions to which models are put. The most common, widespread errors that come in failing to understand not treating probability logically are shown, including the common mistakes made in regression, risk measures, the over-reliance on questionnaires, and so on.

The language used in this book will not be familiar to regular users of probability and statistics. But that is rather the point. It ought to be.

How working statisticians and probabilists should read this book. Start with Chapter on Probability Models, then read the two successive Chapters on Statistical & Physical Models and Modelling Strategy & Mistakes. After this, start at the beginning for the proofs of the assumptions made in those Chapters.

Everybody else, and in particular students, should start at the beginning.

51 Comments

  1. Really looking forward to this coming out so I can throw some money at it.

  2. I’ll buy one as well.

  3. Ditto on the wanting to purchase a copy when available.

    Typos? “can known with” should be “can be known with”
    “are realer” my philosophy teacher who taught high school English would say “no”—”are more real” is correct
    I would probably use the “are realer” just to see if anyone is paying attention!

    This is interesting in that it matches very closely to what I learned in philosophy and psychology back in the 70’s. Even though I did learn what “p” values were, there was never the certainty attached to them that exists now. As for the certainty of theories, etc, I guess my refusal to call evolution a provable theory says it all. I’m not bothered by the lack of certainty in things, however, and don’t feel obligated to defend “scientific” theories to the death. Science, philosophy, psychology are all ever changing and learning. Some parts stay over time while others don’t. The need for the belief in the absolute certainty of theories is new and probably based on politics and insecurity, rather than actual science or philosophy.

  4. Looks very good.

    It occurs to me that some illustrations (drawings or photographs like those that head each blog post) might be useful for cementing ideas for students. At the line “Uncertainty is in our minds, not in objects, and only sometimes can we measure it, and there are good and bad ways of doing it. “ I imagined a man walking on a railroad track, his back to an approaching train, feeling a tremor under his feet, and wondering whether to move to the side or proceed straight ahead. His immediate future is pretty certain, although he has an imperfect mental model to predict it. Earthquake? Heavy truck at the crossing up ahead? Or locomotive? Hearing a screaming whistle improves the probability of a more favorable outcome, yet his mental model still is imperfect until he turns around and observes the crucial data. Carrying a seismometer on his stroll is an awkward means of detecting speeding trains and wearing a hat is no defense at all. 😉

    Plus people like humorous images.

  5. Looking forward to the book also. Nice appeal to the Angelic Doctor at the start. How about the University of Notre Dame Press?

  6. With the exception of MIT Press, I’d be flabbergasted if any of the publishers you mention would take this (you do realize your writing style is different from most academic publishers?). But there probably is a University press somewhere that would bite (just not British or Ivy League, with the MIT exception), or maybe even Basic Books. Also, any press will likely send out the submission for some sort of “peer review,” which may not benefit you, so be prepared to persevere.

  7. Briggs

    September 15, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Shecky R,

    I agree they are not used to clear prose. But the big houses do have good marketing departments. Why, I could make hundreds of dollars on this!

    Persevere? I’m telling academics they are wrong and that here is the truth. Academics love truth, don’t they?

    Sean K,

    I’ll give them a go.

  8. There’s also InterCollegiate Press and Patheos Press, not as prestigious possibly as the University Presses, but… and doesn’t Catholic University have a Press?
    I’m looking forward to a) buying the book and b) reading it… and what about ebook format?

  9. The flowery first person style is a problem for a technical book on epistemology, even if targeted somewhat at the non expert. Fun for blog posts, though. The sentence “The approach is Aristotelian. ” approximately translates into, “I’m a crank don’t publish me.” If your approach is Aristotelian (whatever you might presume that to mean), my suggestion would be to leave it as an unstated premise, which admittedly, is a problem for a text avowed to exploring unstated premises. I would also suggest that if you’re going to argue that there is no such thing as chance (a position I’m sympathetic too, although for entirely different philosophical reasons), I’d suggest when you do introduce that claim you spend a considerable amount of time defending and justifying it, rather than offering it as an axiomatic principle dangling in mid air. The philosophically illiterate but mathematically educated QM crowd will dismiss your arguments as 19th century without making the proper effort to explore your reasoning here.

  10. Briggs

    September 15, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    Will,

    Spend some time reading in the field and you’ll quickly learn two things: (1) prefaces are often flowery, and (2) the Aristotelians are on the comeback; several new books in this area.

    Now would you guess that given I have written an entire book on the subject, that I might have spent “considerable amount of time defending and justifying” my arguments? Or perhaps I have filled it entirely with newspaper clippings?

    Or maybe you just like to argue for the sake of arguing?

  11. Totally agree with your decision to submit to the big houses. They at least still have SOME pull, some buzz-creating ability. And hey, it COULD hit.

    Number Of Publisher Rejections Of Famous Books

    Auntie Mame, Patrick Dennis (15)
    Carrie, Stephen King (30)
    Chicken Soup for the Soul, Jack Canfeld and Mark Victor Hansen (140)
    Diary of Anne Frank (16)
    Dr. Seuss books (15)
    Dubliners, James Joyce (22)
    Dune, Frank Herbert (23)
    Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (38)
    Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (i.e., book one), J. K. Rowling (9)
    Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach (18)
    Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl (20)
    M*A*S*H, Richard Hooker (17)
    The Peter Principle, Laurence Peter (16)
    The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot (17)
    Watership Down, Richard Adams (26)
    A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle, (26)

    You’ve got yourself a one-in-a-million book on your hands. You know it, I know it, and a bunch of people who comment here know it.

    Even if it’s rejected a million times, even if every academic in this entire sad world turns up his nose at it, that’s still true.

    Good luck.

  12. Maybe a rush to judgement? Some of the Weekly World News articles are worth preserving in book form for posterity: http://weeklyworldnews.com/

  13. Dr Briggs,

    I’m offering practical criticism which you’re free to accept or reject. Although if you reject it I would hope it would be based on sound reasons, and you gave me no confidence that you did. I do a vast amount of reading, although not in statistics, and first person is fine but any descent copy editor is going to tell you what I’ve just told you, which is the style should be toned down somewhat. I’m an internationally published author too, on technical subjects different from your own. (It’s no big deal publishing books. Everyone seems to be able to do it these days.) Regarding some of your opening claims which will be viewed as controversial, at the very least emphasize you will be defending them rigorously later in the text. Aristotle is not making a come back; that’s merely a huge blind spot on your behalf. It will be a challenge to be taken seriously by a mainstream publisher if you’re going to dig your heals in there. I’m not here to change anyone’s mind, which is impossible anyway if one holds a belief for non rational or emotive reasons. I’m here because I greatly admire your intellect and am happy to give you a pass on your blind spots, because many of your insights are so valuable. That doesn’t mean I’m going to be sycophantic. Any criticism I give you is well considered and meant to help you hon your own arguments. They are not meant as knee jerk mindless attacks in the same vein as two of your regulars here. While I may not always agree with you, alternative points of view are valuable in a free society. I’m highly critical of Richard Dawkin’s work, for example, but I’m still glad he is out there saying what he is saying because it forces the other side to respond rather than be complacent in their positions. It gives the other side the opportunity to explain why a particular point of view is wrong. In my view, what you write at least on epistemology, is vastly more on the right than the wrong side.

  14. Briggs

    September 15, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    Will,

    I’m rejecting your advice on the Preface. And Aristotelian ideas have been surging. I don’t expect everybody knows this. You didn’t. Good news is that I have references. Plenty of good, juicy books put out by (as you say) mainstream publishers, most of them in the past five, ten years.

    But it is kind of you to “give a pass” to my blind spots.

  15. I’m sure you’d do the same for me, if I had any. 😉

  16. Enjoyed very much the exchange between Professor Nitschke and Doctor Briggs.

  17. Since this is a philosophical work is there going to be an attempt made to address philosophers who argue that Cause is not a concept essential to metaphysics? Bertrand Russell’s critique is probably a good starting point, although a little dated, given the fact that he was such a brilliant communicator.

    I’m also wondering if you are going to address the “problem” of induction in relation to Hume’s position versus Stove’s? (Although reading Stove is a bit like sticking a fork in your eye.) It’s never been clear to me where you stand on that issue, because what I’ve read of your discussions on induction sound somewhat post modern (or at least Humean) yet you often cite Stove as an authority, yet he obviously adopts an antipodean stance.

  18. I would also like to buy your book on Uncertainty. I am certain of that.
    Will the unknown, unknowns be discussed? See below:
    “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” Donald Rumsfeld

  19. Briggs

    September 16, 2015 at 8:40 am

    Michael D,

    I don’t have Rumsfeld per se, but his observation is of course true. You don’t know what you don’t know.

    Coincidentally, today I ran across this, “Women complain of feeling cold at much higher rates than men. Here, myriad anecdotes parlay neatly into actual evidence.” Who said ancedotes weren’t evidence? And what does control really mean in experiments? I have lots on that kind of thing.

    Will,

    Yes. Russell was wrong about this, as he was about so many things.

    Oh my yes. There is no “problem” with induction, which is itself of five distinct kinds.

  20. Anecdotes are evidence, just not sufficient evidence.

    Lobos Motl had an interesting guest post that is somewhat in line with this discussion: http://motls.blogspot.com/2015/09/what-confirms-physical-theory.html
    The writer is from the mathematical philosophy department. Guess philosophy is the proper place for discussions of this type.

  21. 1) the third last para has “lead” for “led” and ends with a sentence that needs some serious help –

    2) the big text publishers aren’t going to be interested – and neither are the pseudo science (pop-sci) people. In your place I’d be thinking of the religious-academic press, a university press, or self-publishing.

    One “hook” you may want to use in your covering letter (particularly if you contact agents) involves tying your work to the replication projects now under way – in which people take a bunch of “social science” publications and fail to replicate their claims. This stuff is topical and so of interest to the art-fa*ts making up the agent (and editor) communities – and, particularly so, because explaining these results in terms of error rather than fraud could help them justify many of their own beliefs.

  22. Briggs. How about this for a catch title of your new book.

    “Bullshit” how to identify it; how to use it to your advantage.

  23. Briggs,

    Do you draw out the distinction between cause and explanation/reason? While chance is not a cause per se, it is an explanation or reason as we might talk about privation as an explanation of motion. With this distinction we can reasonable say “That happened beCAUSE of chance.”

  24. Briggs

    September 16, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Semiotic Animal,

    Yep. In great detail.

    You’re right that chance can be used in this way—Aristotle did this—but it will never be remembered in practice that chance is not a cause. How much better and how much more honest and how much more scientific to say, “I don’t know what caused this”?

  25. Would you accept a reasonably sized wad of cash for a pdf? Otherwise, I hope the published book isn’t like some less-than-popular academic books going for upwards of $100.

  26. Cmdr. Briggs — Put me on the list for a copy of your finished book. Willing to pay in advance if you intend to self-publish.

  27. I’ll be very curious to see if Dr Brigg’s addresses a critique of ‘Cause’ or simply assumes’s it’s a ‘non issue.’ You don’t get away with a hand wave declaring that Russell was wrong because he wasn’t. Aristotelians never solved any problems in physics. Russell’s position is on the side of scientific progress for the last few centuries. When you start declaring that your side, which produced nothing, was ‘right’ and the side that produced everything of value was ‘wrong’, your blind spot starts morphing into delusion.

  28. Briggs

    September 16, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    Will,

    Russell was wrong. Nyah nyah nyah.

  29. I would not put that in a chapter on its own in your book.

  30. Briggs

    September 16, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    Will,

    Would you not? But it comprises nearly the whole of my Chapter on causality.

  31. I’ll buy the book anyway, even if you don’t address this, as it will no doubt have other interesting things to say. (Although I’m not expecting anything constructive to be written about the metaphysics of Cause, as it would be a herculean task to progress on that topic. I’m rather depressingly assuming at this stage, that it will just be an reiteration of the uselessly depressing teleology where God’s Will is the grand ‘non-explanation.’ ) Even with the flowery style… although my suggestion would be to study Richard Dawkin’s writing style as per, say, the First Edition, of the Selfish Gene. Not because he is an entrenched ideologue of course, but because he writes so beautifully.

  32. Briggs

    September 16, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    Say, Will, how did all those letters, punctuation, and whatnot get strung together under your name? A cosmic joke, perhaps?

  33. I can only gather from the quality of your arguments that Aristotle is set to make a come back on the stage of modern thought in the same sense that Ptolemy is on verge of making a come back in astronomy. 😉

  34. I don’t think Aristotle’s come back stage (did he ever really leave?) is going to be a grave, except perhaps to fill it in.

  35. Will: I tend to agree with your assertion that first person may not be best with textbooks. I find myself trying to correct such things even on my blog and the children’s blog, where it really doesn’t matter. That being said, reading how college students write now and seeing Twitter and Facebook entries, it might actually sell better with informal language than formal. Today’s students tend to be informal both in behaviour and thought. It could actually be a plus.

    There may indeed be a comeback of Aristotle. Check the philosophy blogs and sites.

    How about “Cause for concern or concern for cause” as a title for the book?

  36. Sheri,

    The final nail in Aristotle’s coffin was Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. Since his time things have only become more far remote i.e., Einstein and the Standard Model. To add insult to injury, the invention and implications of the Universal Machine really mean that you’re completely out of touch with five centuries of scientific progress, and getting more out of touch every day. Of course, all of this matters only in metaphysics, not other fields. In science, practitioners don’t worry about philosophy. They do whatever it takes to make a discovery. Philosophers come along later and rationalise how those discoveries were made. I can’t imagine how Dr Brigg’s can bring back Cause in metaphysics as it’s a battle long lost. I think his only option will be to present a system that doesn’t address modern advanced science, as how could he possibly do so? If he sticks to medicine, ecology, sociology, psychology, etc., Cause is still a useful concept.

    I’m not against first person writing. The best writing seems to be more business like and not overly self reflective.

  37. Will: I am going to have to look through what you’ve commented more closely. You raise some interesting points and I want to see if I can understand where you are coming from.

  38. Sheri,

    Bertrand Russell:

    “In the fourth place, such laws of probable sequence, though useful in daily life and in the infancy of a science, tend to be displaced by quite different laws as soon as a science is successful. The law of gravitation will illustrate what occurs in any advanced science. In the motions of mutually gravitating bodies, there is nothing that can be called a cause, and nothing that can be called an effect; there is merely a formula. Certain differential equations can be found, which hold at every instant for every particle of the system, and which, given the configuration and velocities at one instant, or the configurations at two instants, render the configuration at any other earlier or later instant theoretically calculable. That is to say, the configuration at any instant is a function of that instant and the configurations at two given instants. This statement holds throughout physics, and not only in the special case of gravitation. But there is nothing that could be properly called “cause” and nothing that could be properly called “effect” in such a system.”

  39. Will: Russell may or may not be correct. As a “science”, particle physics is very, very young. Give it another 100 years, and then we can revisit Russell. At this point, we do not see cause. We did not see cause for illness before we discovered viruses.
    I don’t have a full explanation for the cause of many things. Admittedly, that is the considered to be the function of God in much of the universe. Is that short-cutting or refusing to see reality? I’m hard pressed to say particle physics is more or less believable than the existence of God. Particle physics is called science by some, philosophy by others.
    I do understand why you object to Russell–we currently cannot see cause at the sub-atomic level. I am quite okay with not knowing the cause but still looking for one. I don’t think you are comfortable with this idea, though I may be misinterpreting you. I believe that theoretical physics does still look for cause. If not, there is a truly blind spot and science is being done a disservice.
    Thank you for the explanation. Perhaps I can explain further in the future why I am not ready to pronounce some things as “without cause” just yet–I’m sure we’ll be discussing cause here for quite some time.

  40. Sheri, this is not about “Russell” being right or wrong. That is just some ridiculous foolishness from Dr Briggs, who has no come back, which is why he adopted a school yard level rebuttal. What Russell articulated, although a little dated, is the last 500 years of modern thought on this topic. If you’re arguing this position is wrong, you’re arguing the last 500 years of modern thought was ‘wrong’. That would be a reasonable position to hold if we’d made little or no scientific progress in the last 500 years. But the opposite happened; there was no significant scientific progress while Scholastic thought dominated Western culture.

    The issue is not whether we can dispense with Cause or not. The issue was already decided centuries ago. The fact that you can type on your computer, the fact that computers even exist, the fact that we now have space travel, all that was possible using science that dispensed with the archaic concept of ‘Cause.’ Certain people want to keep Cause in their philosophies not because it’s useful, but because Catholicism has access to special privileged knowledge about the universe. God whispered in the ear of the early Church, and told them that the universe worked a certain way. In their view, the universe works the way they want it to work, because they are smarter than everyone else and understand God’s Mind in a way others don’t. It’s a special privilege thing. Although unfortunately, they seem unable to do anything useful with this sacred information, such as make new scientific discoveries… If you are a Theist, then your job is to figure out to the best of your ability, the way God has decided to construct the universe. It doesn’t work when you think you already know, and selectively apply and ignore evidence to fit a failed world view.

  41. Will: So the science is settled. I’ve heard that before.

    I don’t think you have to be arguing from a theist position to believe all things have cause. You would not use God as the cause, but you can still keep looking for causes where you have yet to find them. I think that’s what science was doing at least up until quantum mechanics. Finding cause in the sub-atomic world may be difficult, but I don’t see that it’s impossible.

  42. Sheri, we’re not talking science, we’re talking metaphysics. But let’s use Einstein’s relativity as an example. You can’t yell out “The Theory of Relativity is wrong!” and then go “na na na pants on fire” if someone questions your claim. In principle, all claims in metaphysics and science are provisional. A better theory to Einstein’s might come along. Because you can’t rule that out, you can’t say “The Science is Settled”. But you don’t get to declare that a theory is wrong until you can produce a better replacement theory. But it’s worse than that. You can’t say Impetus Theory is making a come-back and that’s why Relativity is wrong. Because Impetus Theory is not making a come back. Or at the very least, you have to demonstrate why and how it’s made its come-back. Saying you *like* Impetus Theory more because it’s more consistent with your theological convictions is not a philosophical argument. It’s not even a logical argument.

  43. Will: I know the difference between science and metaphysics. Which is why I am arguing that you cannot know things with absolute certainty. It’s not black and white and it cannot be. That was my point.

    Interesting. I can’t declare it wrong until I can produce a better replacement theory? Isn’t that the argument that global warming advocates use all the time? I have no alternative so I must accept global warming and the doomsday scenario?

    Actually, I posted a link to a Lobos post on what confirms a physical claim? He addresses this well–If the theory works, then you do need a better replacement if you want to use a different theory. If not, the theory remains. Relativity works for now. Therefore, it remains.

    “The issue is not whether we can dispense with Cause or not. The issue was already decided centuries ago. ” sounds fairly definite to me. So is cause science or metaphysics and is it or is it not settled?

    This is confusing to me because my studies of metaphysics and philosophy never made statements like you are doing. It was perfectly acceptable to postulate ideas and question assumptions. My belief that there is cause, and a first cause, is just that. A belief. I did not state I could prove it. I have explained to you before that your objections would take a book to cover all aspects of and I simply do not have the time to go there. I am not throwing out any theories and yelling “pants on fire”. I am questioning if there may exist alternative theories. I don’t have one at the moment. I believe one has to ask if there might be an alternative before one actually looks for one. It’s a start. Okay? Later, I’ll refine the idea as information becomes available. It’s really tough to get information, however, if just asking the question illicits a very negative response.

    There was no argument that cause does or does not exist. I merely stated that I believed cause existed. Again, you are ascribing more to my statements than is there. I am not an idiot. I know perfectly well I cannot make a statement like “I like theory A so I’m going with it. And, for the eightieth time, THIS IS NOT ABOUT THEOLOGY. GOT IT?????

  44. The reason why you can’t say it’s wrong is because you don’t know what’s wrong with it. We know, for example, that the Standard Model in physics is incomplete. (Because we can’t reconcile QM with gravitation.) We don’t know if the Standard Model can be expanded upon, in which case it wasn’t wrong. Or maybe we have to toss it out completely and start over. In which case we’re in a better position to decide ex post facto that it was indeed wrong. We now know Ptolemy’s physical-astronomical model was wrong. We now know Netwon’s physical theory was incomplete. At this stage it is too early to say that Einstein was wrong. We just don’t know. Which is why we can’t say it’s wrong. If you could provide evidence to show why it’s wrong, then you could say it’s wrong and get the Nobel Prize in Physics while you’re at it.

  45. Again, I did not say it was wrong. Are you even reading what I wrote? I said it COULD be and questioned why I can’t ask if the theory could be wrong. I said I don’t believe all the parts of the theory, but that I cannot prove that belief (Did you read Lobos’s posting on evidence and physical theory?). Until I find an alternative that works, I am forced to concede the theory works. As to its truth, that’s different. It’s pointless to try and answer if you aren’t going to even read what I am saying. You’re starting to remind of someone else who never reads answers, just keeps on going on whatever track. I don’t answer him anymore and for now, I’m done here. Until you actually READ what I write, this is a waste.

  46. The editors of Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and other prestigious university presses are equipped with subject knowledge and with the help of top academic and scholarly reviewers. Some are first-class scholars in their own right. So, if whatever you sent doesn’t meet his/her standards or pique his/her curiosity, without reputable credentials and previous publications in philosophy, chances are that your manuscript won’t be sent to reviewers for suggestions

    The publisher of this book The Searching for Certainty: On the Clash of Science and Philosophy of Probability might be interested in your manuscript. C.P. Robert and A. Gelman reviewed the book in their blogs a long while ago. (Too lazy to find the links. If interested, just ask Ms. Google.) They don’t claim to be philosophers, but they are well-read and well-published scholars. Mr. Briggs, it might be beneficial for you to read their reviews.

    I love the tone of the rejection letter. Polite and brief. So I saved it as a template for future use.

  47. Nine Banded Books seems to publish dangerous authors with dangerous ideas. Including this one, by a dangerous friend, whose opinion on the subject I completely disagree with btw.

  48. Sheri,

    “Again, I did not say it was wrong. Are you even reading what I wrote?”

    Sadly, yes.

    “I said it COULD be and questioned why I can’t ask if the theory could be wrong.”

    The reasons for which I just explained. Clearly then, I understood what you wrote.

    “I said I don’t believe all the parts of the theory, but that I cannot prove that belief”

    Then you’re talking gibberish and it’s best to keep such thoughts to yourself.

    “Until I find an alternative that works, I am forced to concede the theory works.”

    Why are you are looking for an alternative if you can’t find fault with the existing one? Why are you worried about granting concessions? What ‘concession’ did you think you made?

  49. Whatever, Will. As noted, arguing with you on this is like arguing with Sylvain on anything—a complete waste of time. You are positive you know everything there is to know about this and you are qualified in physics, philosophy and psychology to deal with all aspects so any ideas not in line with your thinking are garbage and must be disregarded. A god cannot be argued or reasoned with. So I concede to your omnicience and leave for a discussion elsewhere instead of a sermon here.

  50. Will: I am also instituting the same thing you suggested for those who would argue with Sylvain who never listens and knows everything—I am addressing any of your comments because you are wasting my time. Now go do your happy monkey dance for “winning” and keep those blinders on. You’ve won the “can see outside the box or even that there is a box” award for your efforts.

  51. Briggs

    September 19, 2015 at 10:44 am

    Thanks, Nick. I recall your review of this disheartening book.

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