Thursday, May 15, 2014

As many a curbstone philosopher has observed....

"[A]s many a curbstone philosopher has observed, everything is related to everything else.”

          -- Antonin Scalia

All these and more correlations can be found at Spurious Correlations, a blog by Tyler Vigen.  Here Vigen explains his project:


James R said...

It's funny how this correlates to something I was talking about the other week. As Tyler says in his video, science is great at description, but scientists are needed for explanation. People have been trying to figure out causality ever since David Hume (or before) got on the scene. Tyler gives a nice introduction.

Most of the time we just treat causality as intuitive. The barometer reading lowers, then a storm comes, but no one says one causes the other. The pole's shadow predicts the height of the pole, but we don't say it causes it. In fact, intuitively, we say just the opposite, the height of the pole causes the length of the shadow. Causality is a tricky business.

Now-a-days with enough statistical evidence we make a law. That law now has enough power to be treated as an explanation or even a cause. Objects fall because of the law of gravity; this object behaves in a certain way because of the law of momentum; or this is because of evolution.

And then we get into probabilistic cause and it becomes more complicated. Doctors have to deal with this all the time. In these cases, we normally say, we just don't have enough information.

Anyway, there are thinkers, sometimes known as philosophers, who write about these things. Here is one if you are so inclined.

Big Myk said...

How does one get beyond the tautalogical tendencies in expalnations of causation. You can say that the apple fell because of gravity. But then one must ask, well, what caused the gravity? Post Einstein, we say that gravity is caused by the fact that mass curves spacetime. And then the question is: what causes mass to warp spacetime. Maybe there is another answer, but the only one I know of is: that's in the nature of mass and reality. So, palm for palm, Madame, we are where we began: the apple falls because that's the nature of things, or more succintly, the apple falls because apples fall.

James R said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James R said...

Reposted because spell checker would not accept "swivet"

You're trying to put a lot of philosophers and scientists out of business. But no, we find causality quite useful, so I don't think those who invest in it will go hungry. It saves lives, builds buildings, and makes life much more comfortable, but it does get peoples' knickers in a swivet ever so often. Instead of adding anything new, I'll just quote an old favorite.

The man of science says, "Cut the stalk, and the apple will fall"; but he says it calmly, as if the one idea really led up to the other. The witch in the fairy tale says, "Blow the horn, and the ogre's castle will fall"; but she does not say it as if it were something in which the effect obviously arose out of the cause.
. . . .
In fairyland we avoid the word "law"; but in the land of science they are singularly fond of it.
. . . .
We must answer that it is MAGIC. It is not a "law,"
A tree grows fruit because it is a MAGIC tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched.