Sunday, December 27, 2015

Philosophical Anarchism of Paul Feyerabend

During the past few weeks I have enjoyed reading Against Method by Paul Feyerabend (revised edition 1988). As suggested by the title Feyerabend argues for philosophical anarchism, for an anything-goes approach to scientific method. Feyerabend responds to the method of falsification advanced by Karl Popper by showing that no theory can stand under that ideal: Every revered theory of science stands in spite of some contradictory evidence! Practitioners who need to get on with their work mostly just ignore contradicting evidence, and Feyerabend shows this turning away from uncomfortable evidence is okay and even necessary for all sorts of advance. I find this very interesting and mostly convincing.

I differ however, if I have understood Feyerabend correctly, in a view suggested by the Resource-Patterns Model of Life (RPM, which is the focus of this blog). RPM starts out with an assumption — that resource patterns (RPs) exist concretely in our universe, and even though this is only an assumption I believe almost all people will feel confident building large structures upon this assumption. The challenge of living things (LTs) in RPM is to discover and learn how to exploit RPs. So for us humans (being LTs) our important discoveries about RPs are not found in a universe of anarchy. Rather the locations of RPs, and the physically possible ways to exploit RPs, are orderly. What we may discover pertaining to RPs is also orderly, an order extant in the physical facts of the extra-human universe. Feyerabend’s anything-goes method suggests to me a failure to recognize this order underlying what we humans learn about our surroundings.

But my difference just mentioned may boil down to almost nothing when I allow that we humans do not know what we will discover until after we have discovered it. If we could gain a God’s-eye view before we start a search then it would not be a search; we would know beforehand the necessary direction of search. So my objection has merit in that God’s-eye view. But for us here below who lack that view Feyerabend seems to have a good point.

Let me add that RPM provides an excellent platform for continuing development of the philosophy of mind to which Feyerabend has contributed. We start with tabletop critters which have minds (or more specifically computer programs) which we have specified to be just barely sufficient for their survival at a low level. We add a huge RP which the critters can never hope to exploit unless they can discover new modes of cooperation. Then we start giving the critters incremental senses and/or calculating routines, running the model to see which increments in ability enable a population of critters to discover and exploit the RP. In this quest we will face concrete examples of development of language, leadership, and lying. We will come face-to-face with what looks to us like a thought which exists not in a single critter but in a connected network of critters — a thought possible only in that higher level of life.

I hope my promises just expressed will show more clearly as I post drafts of the remaining chapters for my book underway.