RE: An essay I just wrote on the Singularity.

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Sun Jan 04 2004 - 22:02:08 MST


> > Well, as a scientist, I find that many non-falsifiable ideas are worth
> > paying attention to --- they can be quite inspirational conceptually....
> Can you give an example of an idea that is not falsifiable even in
> principle that is conceptually inspirational?

"Not falsifiable even in principle" is pretty strong.... It's hard for me
in practical cases to distinguish "not falsifiable even in principle" from
"not falsifiable in the near future assuming current science is correct"...

Is the theory that species on Earth evolved by natural selection
falsifiable? How about the Big Bang theory? Historical rather than
experimental sciences are one kind of example...

Another kind of example is the so-called "science of complex systems", as
discussed in many popular books. This has never really crystallized into a
general science of complex systems -- its "principles" tend to be too
slippery, things like "evolution and autopoiesis are the two dynamical
principles underlying complex systems" -- yet its lessons have been
inspirational to many scientists...

Also, the notion that consciousness collapses the wave function in quantum
physics. Perhaps this is gobbledygook -- I quite often think so -- but it
led Wheeler to design the delayed-choice double-slit experiment, led to the
development of exotic probability theory in quantum logic, etc. etc.

Or, the notion that hierarchical structures are generally useful in
cognitive systems. Maybe this could be falsified somehow, but not plausibly
in human science -- it's too general. Yet this kind of heuristic is really
useful in AI desing.

> > Are you familiar with the later philosophy-of-science work by
> Imre Lakatos
> > and Paul Feyerabend (two friends who did not agree with each
> other, but both
> > had interesting and deep ideas about how science is actually
> done, which is
> > different in many respects from what Popper claimed). I would
> be curious
> > how you respond to their critiques of Popper's falsificationist
> perspective.
> I have heard of them but have yet to read them. I'd appreciate
> recommendations of reasonable starting points in their works.

Feyerabend's classic is "Against Method", a very funny as well as deep book.
"A Farewell to Reason" is pretty good too.

"For and Against Method" contains a lot of correspondence between Feyerabend
and Lakatos. But the first part of the book is a simple and systematic
exposition by Lakatos of why Popper's thinking is totally inadequate. You
should definitely read this!

Lakatos's classic is "Proofs and Refutations", but it deals mostly with
math. For his views on empirical science in detail, see his "The
Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes"

-- Ben

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