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RS110 - Scientia, the Unity of Knowledge

Release date: June 15, 2014

For all the sniping that goes on between science and philosophy it's easy to forget that both fields are part of "scientia," the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Julia and Massimo discuss the latter's new "Scientia Salon" online journal, how the boundaries blur between math, science and philosophy, and how the Internet can change scientific research.

Massimo's pick: "The limits of the digital humanities, by Adam Kirsch"
Julia's pick: "Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science"

Reader Comments (2)

I was listening to the podcast and got a little confused during your conversation on Mathematics. Could you please give me an example of where inductive methods have been used in mathematics? The example you gave of P-nP or even the Riemann Hypothesis are not currently accepted as true by mathematicians. They might be assumed to be true and their consequences might be sought. However, they are not accepted by mathematicians are true, as can be evidenced by nobody getting various prizes for proving the conjectures.

Various results might also be assumed to be true for Applied Mathematics which are not proven deductively. However, that is only because Applied Mathematics deals with real world situations. It is probably safe to assume in Applied Mathematics, say modelling something on Earth, that the sum of any two numbers you encounter is less than the number of electrons in the universe. That does not mean that the sum of all numbers has been accepted as less than that number.

So, what I am asking for is a theorem which has been proved inductively and accepted as true (apart from all humans who have seen it making an error) by the community of mathematicians.

Also, I was a little confused on what you considered as an inductive proof. For example, if I say that for all natural numbers less than 4, the sum of pairs of those numbers is less than 10, I could just try every possibility. For you, would that be inductive? I would call that deductive, since I have tried every possibility and I can go on to show that there are no other possibilities.

June 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMadhav Kaushish

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. However, my interest was especially (albeit a bit distressingly) piqued when Massimo and Julia discussed the breadth of disciplines that skeptics and critical thinkers have to be at least cursorily familiar with when evaluating claims presented, because i've recently been spending a lot of time ruminating on this as well. As someone who is dismayed by the prevalence of anti-science attitudes in American society, I want very much to see a much wider adoption of skepticism and critical thinking among my fellow humans, but at the same time, I find it difficult to blame them (at least not too harshly). I think people genuinely seek real understanding, but as the domain of human knowledge gets wider and deeper, it becomes more and more difficult to find the time to follow along without resorting to all manner (good and not-so-good) of heuristic shortcuts (like the "wouldn't it be nice if" heuristic that Julia mentioned). When the rope that moors an individual's boat becomes too long, I can completely imagine said individual questioning that which they're moored to (or worse yet in my view, giving up on understanding it and just deifying it) if they can no longer see it.

I'm fortunate in that I devote a lot of time to reading, studying, listening to science / philosophy / skeptical / humanist podcasts like RS, SGU, Point Of Inquiry, Reason, Skeptoid, etc. and taking courses (i.e. math, economics, physics, astronomy, all of which I really enjoy). I also work as a software engineer, and that definitely helps. Many people, though, have lives that leave very little - if any - time for this kind of thing. Massimo suggested that one way of dealing with this was to try to engage as many as one can and instill a certain (what I consider) love for the process of scientific discovery (and respect for the rigor thereof). I and many others try to do this, but as one who has shared Julia's concern, I would love to see many, many more Julias / Massimos / Emily Lakdawallas / Sagans / Pamela Gays / Novellas / Tysons in the world, and I _sincerely_ hope that this can be scaled. I'd love to hear more thoughts on how this could be done.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Michael Zorko

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