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Dykes Discussion re Popper

Nicholas Dykes is an Objectivist (Ayn Rand’s philosophy) who wrote material misrepresenting and attacking Karl Popper and his Critical Rationalism. He wrote A Tangled Web of Guesses: A Critical Assessment of the Philosophy of Karl Popper and Debunking Popper: A Critique of Karl Popper’s Critical Rationalism.

Dykes contacted me because of my writing about Objectivism (Charles Tew is an Objectivist, here’s the open letter referred to) combined with me disagreeing with Dykes about Popper. Below I’ve shared our discussion.

Hello,

My name is Nicholas Dykes, I live in Herefordshire, England.

A friend forwarded me your ‘open letter’ to Charles Tew, and its etceteras. In it, you seemed to state that critics of Karl Popper had relied on secondary sources and had failed to make a case against him. (Pardon me of I got that wrong, it was very hard to follow the sequence of the material.)

Having studied all Popper’s books, and written an extensive critique of his work based entirely on my reading of them, I would be very interested to learn if my criticisms were ill-founded.

You seem to believe that ‘intellectuals’ dislike criticism. I do not. It is just very hard to find critics who are not also partisans and hence not very, or not at all, objective. One leading British Popperian almost exploded into vituperation upon reading my essay “A tangled web of guesses: a critical examination of the philosophy of Karl Popper.”

My own work is readily available on Amazon at modest prices or, vis-a-vis Popper, can be downloaded free from my website: nicholasdykes.com

I would happily engage in a discussion – I have waited since 1996 for one – but privately, via email. I do not like discussing ideas on public forums, though I might have done in Athens c. 300 BC!

Best wishes,

Nicholas Dykes [March 2019]

Hi. Thanks for the interest. But my colleague already wrote criticism of your work on Popper. Rather than discuss, you said to him, "I do not consider it worthy of a reply.”

Then, rather than address the subject matter, you wrote a bunch of insults about his tone, style and quality (like "laughably, adopts a snooty, sneering, holier-than-thou tone”) without quoting the parts you found objectionable or giving substantive details about exactly what text was flawed in what way. Link:

https://conjecturesandrefutations.com/2013/07/27/a-refutation-of-nicholas-dykes-on-karl-popper/

Since your approach to discussion seems to be to make comments like:

I published my monograph on Popper over a decade and a half ago. It is revealing, all these years later, to see that the best a Popperian can come up with by way of reply is such a half-baked attempt at a smear job.

and

‘Muddle-headed old duffer’ might strike some as an argumentum ad hominem. It is not.

I have little hope for a productive discussion with you. But if you say that you’ve changed and want a serious, respectful, substantive discussion, you’re welcome to try again.

I think a good place to begin would be if you could write a short summary (maybe 3 paragraphs) of Popper’s solution to the problem of induction which I, as a Popperian, would agree with. That would impress me if you could do that successfully and could lead to productive discussion of your criticisms. And it would provide something to discuss, and shed light on our differences, if I do not agree with your summary. In the alternative, asking questions you have about CR would be fine. Or, in the alternative, you could change your mind and decide that Alan’s material, linked above, is worthy of a reply (just a reply to the first major error would be fine). Otherwise you could tell me what’s wrong with those approaches and suggest a specific way to begin discussion.

BTW you may be interested in my writing on how intellectuals are not really open to criticism or discussion, and how to do better. See this article as well as many more linked at the end:

https://rationalessays.com/using-intellectual-processes-to-combat-bias


How's this for starters? There is no 'problem of induction'. Hume, followed by Popper, missed the point. As H.W.B. Joseph pointed out in 1916, Hume's argument 'is in flat contradiction with the Law of Identity.' If Joseph was wrong, please tell me why. This point was elaborated in my 'Tangled Web' essay. Have you read it? Cordially, ND [March 2019]

I read one of your Popper papers years ago and had a similar reaction to Alan’s reaction.

Note that Ayn Rand believed there was at least one major problem with induction (and that she didn’t know the solution). ITOE:

Prof. M: Take the example of Newton’s theory of universal gravitation. He said that if the theory is true, then the planets will exhibit elliptical orbits with the sun at one of the foci. Now it is found in astronomy that the planets do follow that path. So what can one say then about Newton’s theory? Is it a possible explanation? Is it correct, or what?
AR: After it has been verified by a great many other observations, not merely the verification of one prediction, then at a certain time one can accept it as a fact. But taking your example as an illustration of what you are asking, if the sole validation for Newton’s principle was that it predicted that orbits will be elliptical, and then we observed that they are elliptical—that wouldn’t be sufficient proof. Epistemologically, it wouldn’t be enough. You would have to have other observations, from different aspects of the same issue, which all support this hypothesis. [Historically, Newton validated his theory by means of a great many observations of widely differing phenomena.]
Prof. M: The question is: when does one stop? When does one decide that enough confirming evidence exists? Is that in the province of the issue of induction?
AR: Yes. That’s the big question of induction. Which I couldn’t begin to discuss—because (a) I haven’t worked on that subject enough to even begin to formulate it, and (b) it would take an accomplished scientist in a given field to illustrate the whole process in that field.

But the problems with induction are harder than this. One is: what distinguishes “confirming evidence for X” from “evidence which doesn’t contradict X”?

Anyway, the CR view is that no one has ever learned a single thing by induction. You believe otherwise. Can you give a real life example of something learned by induction? This will also require specifying what you mean by induction more specifically than "By opening our eyes, ridding ourselves of preconceptions, and engaging in a process of elimination, we can discover the identities of the entities we observe.” I’m especially interested in what the process of elimination entails and how it differs from Popper’s error elimination by critical discussion and empirical falsification.

Regarding Joseph’s argument, there’s no dispute (from me at least, I don’t care about Hume) that objects have an identify in fact, in truth, in reality. The issue is how people learn about objects. In particular, observing that object X behaves in Y manner in context Z, whether it’s observed once or a million times, does not logically imply that object X always behaves in Y manner in context Z. Further, if you observe “X happened then Y happened in context Z” (once or a million times) it doesn’t tell you whether X causes Y in context Z. A defense of induction needs to address problems like this in detail. How do you get from observations to knowing identities or causes?

Also in Tangled Web you seem to confuse fallibilism and falsifiability (see the section titled "Fallibilism as a Criterion of Demarcation”, but Popper’s criterion was empirical falsifiability and you immediately quote someone mentioning falsifiability not fallibilism). (Empirical) falsifiability means that something could be contradicted by a basic observation. Ayn Rand was a fallibilist, which means: omniscience is not the standard of knowledge, humans can make mistakes and there is nothing anyone can do to get a 100% guarantee against having made a mistake.


Thank you. That was much more the sort of response I was hoping for.

I should perhaps have contacted you a bit later on. [Personal remarks about being old and busy.]

We 'never learned anything from induction'. Oh. What about human reproduction? I'm not a biologist or any other type of scientist, but I think anybody would be correct in saying that a human male sperm cell and a human female ovum, when conjoined, result in a human foetus. I assume this was discovered by observation, after the invention of microscopes. I therefore take the above to be a fact, learned inductively. Do you dispute this? [March 2019]

I will still be interested in these topics next month or next year. You can respond whenever you want, to fit your schedule, and it won’t affect what I have to say.

I agree that we have knowledge about sperm and egg cells and reproduction. I agree we learned that knowledge somehow. I agree it’s real, genuine, legitimate knowledge (it’s also fallible). I agree observation was involved in the learning process in some way.

How could we tell if induction was used? One option would be to figure out how specific individuals learned about this topic (study the history of science) and see what they did and compare it to a detailed statement of the inductive method. Another productive option would be to argue, on principle, using logic, about what methods of learning can possibly work or not, which would tell us about what the scientists could or could not have done in order to succeed.

CR says observation doesn’t guide us (we guide ourselves), but observations are valuable. We can use observations in a critical role to help eliminate errors (if something contradicts observation, reject it as an error). CR also allows observations to be used in an informal inspirational role – conjectures can be formed by any means people want to try – dream analysis, following their unquestioned intuitions about which patterns in observation data are important, or anything else. This is OK because the rigor in the CR process, which gets knowledge instead of arbitrary junk, is in the “refutations” part, not in the “conjectures” (brainstorming) part. This process is literally an instance of evolution (replication with variation and selection) and works for the same reasons that genetic evolution works. Note that in genetic evolution the mutations (brainstorming) are random (not intelligently chosen, and the majority of new mutations are errors), and the process works anyway. The selection (error elimination) part is what differentiates between good or bad mutations/ideas.

So far I don’t see anything in this example about human reproduction which contradicts CR. I also don’t see anything in the example which contradicts induction. I don’t find the example revealing. Having more detail about what the scientists did might contradict an epistemology, but CR doesn’t focus on that. CR’s case against induction is more focused on logical arguments and on asking for exacting detail about how induction works (like some of the questions I raised in my previous email, plus then many followup questions).


Hi Elliot, nearly finished [personal stuff he was busy with].

You say Rand was a fallibilist. Can you substantiate that, or at least elaborate a bit? Saying she was not omniscient, nor considered herself to be, does not say very much. A rational person would not hold such a view of themselves, and her astute perception that concepts are open-ended proves that she didn't.

The open-ended conception also answers the query 'where is the cut off point in observation?' There may never be one. So what?! That new discoveries may alter previous knowledge does not ~invalidate~ previous knowledge. It merely expands it.

Popper and his followers have always seemed to me to be creating a great big fuss over the obvious, yet in so doing lending support to scepticism. To which position the equally obvious answer is: can a girl be a little bit pregnant? A is A, not 'perhaps'.

Hwyl fawr! ND [April 2019]

ItOE:

Man is neither infallible nor omniscient; if he were, a discipline such as epistemology—the theory of knowledge—would not be necessary nor possible: his knowledge would be automatic, unquestionable and total. But such is not man’s nature. Man is a being of volitional consciousness: beyond the level of percepts—a level inadequate to the cognitive requirements of his survival—man has to acquire knowledge by his own effort, which he may exercise or not, and by a process of reason, which he may apply correctly or not. Nature gives him no automatic guarantee of his mental efficacy; he is capable of error, of evasion, of psychological distortion. He needs a method of cognition, which he himself has to discover: he must discover how to use his rational faculty, how to validate his conclusions, how to distinguish truth from falsehood, how to set the criteria of what he may accept as knowledge. Two questions are involved in his every conclusion, conviction, decision, choice or claim: What do I know?—and: How do I know it?

Galt’s speech:

Do not say that you're afraid to trust your mind because you know so little. Are you safer in surrendering to mystics and discarding the little that you know? Live and act within the limit of your knowledge and keep expanding it to the limit of your life. Redeem your mind from the hockshops of authority. Accept the fact that you are not omniscient, but playing a zombie will not give you omniscience-that your mind is fallible, but becoming mindless will not make you infallible-that an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error. In place of your dream of an omniscient automation, accept the fact that any knowledge man acquires is acquired by his own will and effort, and that that is his distinction in the universe, that is his nature, his morality, his glory."

These quotes are in agreement with CR and also directly say “Man is [not] infallible” and "your mind is fallible”.


The open-ended conception also answers the query 'where is the cut off point in observation?' There may never be one. So what?! That new discoveries may alter previous knowledge does not ~invalidate~ previous knowledge. It merely expands it.

I agree with that general sentiment. But that doesn’t address the problem of a cut off point for when to reach a conclusion, make a decision, or take an action (rather than consider the issue more, right now). We should keep learning more in general. We also need to judge new ideas and differentiate when they should be used or are not yet ready for use. That’s the problem Rand was talking about in the quote about induction.

Popper and his followers have always seemed to me to be creating a great big fuss over the obvious, yet in so doing lending support to scepticism. To which position the equally obvious answer is: can a girl be a little bit pregnant? A is A, not 'perhaps’.

That induction is a myth (doesn’t work at all), and the alternative of an evolutionary epistemology, are denied by virtually everyone. So those merit a fuss. I’m happy to debate the technical details of this matter but have had difficulty finding inductivists who wish to.

The fallibilist and CR view that there is a third way which is neither skepticism nor a 100% guarantee against error is shared by Objectivism, but caused a fuss because many philosophers oppose it. The “justified, true belief” conception of knowledge is infallibilist (due to the requirement that an idea be “true” to qualify as knowledge) and created a false alternative between infallibilism and skepticism.

CR and Objectivism may be in agreement about the progressive and contextual nature of man’s knowledge, but most other philosophers don’t understand that, which leads to fuss.

CR, like Objectivism, has also been attacked for providing a third way between the false dichotomy of empiricism and rationalism. So again the bad ideas of other philosophers created a fuss.

BTW I wrote some summary of Objectivist epistemology, CR and their overlap. Each point could be elaborated with quotes if needed. http://curi.us/1579-objectivist-and-popperian-epistemology


Hello Elliot,

I’m sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you, many other matters intervened.

When we last corresponded you said Rand was a fallibilist, although I forget how you worded it precisely.

I would be grateful if you could outline your reasons for that judgment.

Thanks in advance.

Nicholas [Dec 2019]

[As a response, I forwarded him my previous email.]


Many thanks. I’ll get back to you. Hopefully without such a long delay. BTW, the ‘other matter’ was [personal stuff]. Best, N [Dec 2019]

[I didn’t respond.]


Hello Elliot,

I was just about to let you know that [busy with personal stuff]. Then I thought I'd first review where we were. In the course of so doing, I came across this August 18 post from you on a Popper website:

“Dykes emailed me privately around 5 months ago about CR. He didn’t want to have a public discussion, but he claimed to really want a private discussion. Shortly after praising one of my emails for being the sort of response he was hoping for, he stopped responding to the discussion that he had initiated. He sent a total of 4 emails. None of them contained substantive writing about epistemology (I did write substantive comments and also provided Rand quotes that he requested because, apparently, he was inadequately familiar with Rand to know her material offhand). And he was unwilling or unable to write a ~3 paragraph statement of Popper’s solution to the problem of induction that a Popperian would agree with (he didn’t try and ignored the request). All of this is typical, not atypical, of “intellectuals”.

I was disappointed, but your post did reveal some things about you. I noticed immediately of course that you did not inform your readers of my message to you on March 21: “I should perhaps have contacted you a bit later on. [Personal remarks about being old and busy.]” Neither did you tell them of your reply to me the same day: “I will still be interested in these topics next month or next year. You can respond whenever you want, to fit your schedule.”

To begin with, for the record, I did not 'claim to really want', that is simply not true. Nor does saying 'more what I had hoped for' constitute praise. Further, I do not understand why you think the two quotes from Rand you sent – which I did not request – provide evidence that she was a 'fallibilist' as you claim, a term loaded with other connotations. They merely show that she was a rational thinker who accepted that our knowledge is continually expanding hence we can never be omniscient. Nor do I understand why – when I had been at pains to present Popper's ideas fairly in my essays, using his own words – you should imagine that I, pressed for time as I was, would want to provide you with a synopsis.

I'm glad you like Rand and give her credit, I've been doing so since 1963. Also, I agree that there are indeed a few loose parallels between her thought and Popper's. However, lumping her together with an avowed Kantian like Popper, to the extent that you have, seems odd to say the least. It would almost be comical, except for the fact that Kant's thinking led eventually to the slaughter of some 100 million people. Although I think her comment was unfair – Kant's successors were equally at fault – it is easy enough to see why she wrote: “Kant is the most evil man in mankind's history.” (The Objectivist, September, 1971, quoted in Binswanger's Lexicon).

If you were feeling impatient on August 18 – I can hardly blame you if you were – why did you not contact me, instead of breaking what I thought was our agreement to have a private discussion? Instead, you indulged in an unbecoming and untruthful bout of public sneering, hardly the way to persuade me or anybody else. Though it was comical, Molière would have loved it.

What did your August 18 post reveal? That you lack good manners. It also made me wonder about your trustworthiness, as well as some other traits of yours, and thus whether you were the sort of person I want to correspond with. I don't. So, goodbye, Elliot.

Nicholas [Dec 2019]

[I didn’t respond.]


So Dykes complained that I didn’t give him credit for arguments he planned to make in the future … in the same email where he announced he’s never going to make them. I continue to await arguments from Dykes or anyone else.

I never said a word agreeing to keep Dykes’ emails private. I can’t have broken an agreement I never made. I don’t know why he sent personal info to a stranger on the internet who disagrees with him and wrote an adversarial initial reply, but I’ve omitted those parts because they’re irrelevant. I think it’s actually his comments about philosophy he wants private, but I disagree, especially considering he’s a public figure who wrote articles trashing Popper.

Popper isn’t an avowed Kantian.

Dykes did request info re Rand on fallibilism, as you can see above. It’s odd that he’s lying about that. Seems like he doesn’t want to count the quotes as relevant despite Rand making statements like “Man is [not] infallible” and "your mind is fallible”.


Elliot Temple on December 22, 2019

Messages (4)

> ItOE: Man is neither infallible nor omniscient; if he were, a discipline such as epistemology—the theory of knowledge—would not be necessary nor possible: his knowledge would be automatic, unquestionable and total.

This is a clear statement of the importance of fallibilism in epistemology. It is more than just a statement that man is fallible; it says that fallibilism is a well-spring of epistemology.


Anonymous at 5:20 PM on December 22, 2019 | #14929 | reply | quote

Privacy

Dykes wrote:

> I would happily engage in a discussion – I have waited since 1996 for one – but privately, via email. I do not like discussing ideas on public forums, though I might have done in Athens c. 300 BC!

Then was the rest of the exchange by email?

It looks like Dykes took replying by email to be an implicit agreement to keep the exchange private. Did you not see it that way?


Another Anonymous at 6:13 AM on December 23, 2019 | #14933 | reply | quote

#14933 Yes those are all emails. I don't think a reply like

> I have little hope for a productive discussion with you.

should be taken as agreeing to his discussion terms or to anything else he said.


curi at 2:37 PM on December 23, 2019 | #14935 | reply | quote

Elliot has no respect for privacy.


Anonymous at 4:54 PM on December 23, 2019 | #14937 | reply | quote

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