Solution to the problem of induction

Gus Bovona

Member
What do you think about this solution to the problem of induction?
In truth, we do not argue from a premise of uniformity in inductive reasoning, but to a conclusion of uniformity, by positing that uniformity as a hypothesis and weighing it against every competing hypothesis that could produce the same observations. There are essentially only two (and various combinations of the two): random chance (an observed pattern is just accidental and thus indicative of no continuance of it), and intelligent design (some Cartesian Demon is arranging things to look that way, and it could stop doing so any time now). Both can be shown to be extremely improbable—when the data are sufficiently extensive, and no evidence exists of either alternative—relative to the conclusion of uniformity (accidental patterns become exponentially unlikely all on their own, producing extremely low likelihoods; while Cartesian Demons require exponentially improbable ancillary assumptions, producing extremely low priors). This does not declare the other hypothesis absolutely false; rather, it concludes they may yet be true, but we have no reason to believe either likely. And as long as we accept that that’s all we can say, and all we have to say, the problem is solved.
From Richard Carrier, https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/17294
 

Torin

Member
For clarity, the SEP reconstructs Hume's problem of induction in this section:


Carrier is denying P5:

P5. Any probable argument for UP presupposes UP.

Carrier's argument is:

1. Either the uniformity principle is true, or the patterns we observe are random, or the patterns we observe are produced intelligently.
2. It is highly improbable that the patterns we observe are random.
3. It is highly improbable that the patterns we observe are produced intelligently.
4. Therefore, the uniformity principle is probably true.

Basically Carrier is presenting this as a counterexample to P5. Hume says there can't be an argument like this, but here it is, so Hume is wrong.

Do you agree with my reading, @Gus Bovona?

One issue I see is that Carrier may be covertly assuming that our memory (of patterns) behaves uniformly, so that uniformity is presupposed rather than strictly proven.
 

Gus Bovona

Member
For clarity, the SEP reconstructs Hume's problem of induction in this section:


Carrier is denying P5:

P5. Any probable argument for UP presupposes UP.

Carrier's argument is:

1. Either the uniformity principle is true, or the patterns we observe are random, or the patterns we observe are produced intelligently.
2. It is highly improbable that the patterns we observe are random.
3. It is highly improbable that the patterns we observe are produced intelligently.
4. Therefore, the uniformity principle is probably true.

Basically Carrier is presenting this as a counterexample to P5. Hume says there can't be an argument like this, but here it is, so Hume is wrong.

Do you agree with my reading, @Gus Bovona?

One issue I see is that Carrier may be covertly assuming that our memory (of patterns) behaves uniformly, so that uniformity is presupposed rather than strictly proven.
I basically agree. I don't, though, think that Carrier necessarily relies on memory. One can record observations external to one's memory. I guess then you're depending on object permanence? But might not the same style of argument make object permanence probably true? Also, it's not that memory behaves uniformly necessarily, merely that one's memory is accurate. But that can be tested as well. But memory is not essential to Carrier's point, I think.
 

Torin

Member
I basically agree.
Ok.
I don't, though, think that Carrier necessarily relies on memory. One can record observations external to one's memory.
That doesn't do you much good if you don't remember what the words in your recordings mean, or who made the recordings, etc.

Also, nobody makes recordings like this for every induction they perform, or even a significant proportion of them. In practice, our inductions almost always depend much more heavily on memory than you're allowing.
I guess then you're depending on object permanence? But might not the same style of argument make object permanence probably true?
It would if you could remember that objects had been permanent in the past.
Also, it's not that memory behaves uniformly necessarily, merely that one's memory is accurate. But that can be tested as well.
Only if you can remember the tests, and remember the reason for the test while you're performing the test well enough to perform it, etc.
But memory is not essential to Carrier's point, I think.
Why not?

Maybe I am bringing up a somewhat separate epistemological point. Even if that's the case, this is plainly something that needs to be answered somehow for Carrier's argument to go through.
 

Gus Bovona

Member
Ok.

That doesn't do you much good if you don't remember what the words in your recordings mean, or who made the recordings, etc.

Also, nobody makes recordings like this for every induction they perform, or even a significant proportion of them. In practice, our inductions almost always depend much more heavily on memory than you're allowing.

It would if you could remember that objects had been permanent in the past.

Only if you can remember the tests, and remember the reason for the test while you're performing the test well enough to perform it, etc.

Why not?

Maybe I am bringing up a somewhat separate epistemological point. Even if that's the case, this is plainly something that needs to be answered somehow for Carrier's argument to go through.
I think your objection is a separate point, as it would apply to any epistemological approach - we'd have to remember what words meant, etc. Also, I don't think it's proper to reject Carrier's point because of your point about memory, since your point about memory would apply to any conceivable point one could make about anything. It would be like questioning whether a car needs gasoline to operate assuming we hadn't solved Zeno's paradox about motion.
 

Torin

Member
I think your objection is a separate point, as it would apply to any epistemological approach - we'd have to remember what words meant, etc. Also, I don't think it's proper to reject Carrier's point because of your point about memory, since your point about memory would apply to any conceivable point one could make about anything. It would be like questioning whether a car needs gasoline to operate assuming we hadn't solved Zeno's paradox about motion.
It's a point about the uniformity of memory, though. Carrier is arguing for the uniformity of nature, so I think it is relevant to point out that his argument covertly assumes the uniformity of memory.

Anyway, we are doing epistemology here. You can hardly handwave away fundamental objections in that context.
 

Gus Bovona

Member
It's a point about the uniformity of memory, though. Carrier is arguing for the uniformity of nature, so I think it is relevant to point out that his argument covertly assumes the uniformity of memory.
Yes, Carrier's point relies on the uniformity of memory, but so does any other point one could conceivably make. Every point "covertly" assumes the uniformity of memory. Your issue is a deeper issue than Carrier's issue. Did you take my point about gasoline in a car and Zeno?
Anyway, we are doing epistemology here. You can hardly handwave away fundamental objections in that context.
Let's try it like this. Let's *assume* the uniformity of memory in the same way we assume the three laws of logic. We *have* to because we can't even have a conversation without assuming logic, and without assuming the uniformity of memory ("What does this word mean?"). Given that assumption, how do we solve the problem of induction? Some say, while implicitly assuming the uniformity of memory, that we can't solve the problem of induction. Carrier disagrees. But everyone is already assuming the uniformity of memory, because we can't even have a conversation without doing so.

By the way, the other issue hanging out there is attaching the concept of uniformity to the problem of induction. A probabilistic approach to induction need not include uniformity, which implies a non-probablistic approach, because uniformity is either all or nothing.
 

Torin

Member
Yes, Carrier's point relies on the uniformity of memory, but so does any other point one could conceivably make. Every point "covertly" assumes the uniformity of memory.
Yes, because the Uniformity Principle is a pervasive assumption of our reasoning.
Your issue is a deeper issue than Carrier's issue.
I don't think so.

Let's go back to my first post. Carrier is providing a counterexample to Hume's P5, which says:

P5. Any probable argument for UP presupposes UP.

So Carrier needs to make an argument for induction's cogency that does not presuppose UP (the Uniformity Principle). But as I've shown, he has not done this.
Did you take my point about gasoline in a car and Zeno?
Yes, my post was a response to that point.
Let's try it like this. Let's *assume* the uniformity of memory in the same way we assume the three laws of logic. We *have* to because we can't even have a conversation without assuming logic, and without assuming the uniformity of memory ("What does this word mean?"). Given that assumption, how do we solve the problem of induction? Some say, while implicitly assuming the uniformity of memory, that we can't solve the problem of induction. Carrier disagrees. But everyone is already assuming the uniformity of memory, because we can't even have a conversation without doing so.
That just isn't an accurate reading of Carrier - it's a different solution than Carrier's. We can talk about it if you want, but it isn't what Carrier is saying.

Not to be preachy or anything, but I've noticed that I personally have a tendency to try to "save" philosophers from themselves when they're saying something I find implausible by reinterpreting their arguments. It is important not to do that, though, because it can warp your understanding of their argument (or prevent you from learning from them, if their position is more plausible than you realize).

Why don't we contact Carrier about this objection, if we can't answer it? Is there a way to do that? Lots of academics have email addresses online...
By the way, the other issue hanging out there is attaching the concept of uniformity to the problem of induction. A probabilistic approach to induction need not include uniformity, which implies a non-probablistic approach, because uniformity is either all or nothing.
But Carrier himself attached uniformity to the problem of induction (following Hume, who was the author of the problem): "we do not argue from a premise of uniformity in inductive reasoning, but to a conclusion of uniformity." I thought we already agreed on this interpretation.
 

Gus Bovona

Member
That just isn't an accurate reading of Carrier - it's a different solution than Carrier's. We can talk about it if you want, but it isn't what Carrier is saying.
Can you be specific? How is what I wrote not an accurate reading of Carrier? I don't see that because I don't even see a reading of Carrier in what I wrote, I was discussing issues in the background of what Carrier wrote. But see below about uniformity, maybe that's what you were getting to?
But Carrier himself attached uniformity to the problem of induction (following Hume, who was the author of the problem): "we do not argue from a premise of uniformity in inductive reasoning, but to a conclusion of uniformity." I thought we already agreed on this interpretation.

You're correct, I missed that. I retract my questioning the position of uniformity in Carrier's argument.
 

Torin

Member
Can you be specific? How is what I wrote not an accurate reading of Carrier? I don't see that because I don't even see a reading of Carrier in what I wrote, I was discussing issues in the background of what Carrier wrote.
The thread is about Carrier's solution to the problem of induction. You're offering a pragmatic solution to the problem of induction which differs from Carrier's.
 

Gus Bovona

Member
The thread is about Carrier's solution to the problem of induction. You're offering a pragmatic solution to the problem of induction which differs from Carrier's.
I think you're talking about what I wrote in post #7. Can you quote what I wrote that was me offering a pragmatic solution?
 

Torin

Member
I think you're talking about what I wrote in post #7.
Yep!
Can you quote what I wrote that was me offering a pragmatic solution?
I took this to indicate a pragmatic solution: "Let's *assume* the uniformity of memory in the same way we assume the three laws of logic. We *have* to because we can't even have a conversation without assuming logic, and without assuming the uniformity of memory ("What does this word mean?")."

You can correct me if I'm wrong, but this seems to indicate that the three laws of logic and the validity of memory are "assumed" in order to "even have a conversation," which would be a pragmatic solution.

Anyway, the broader point is that your solution is distinct from Carrier's.
 

Gus Bovona

Member
Yep!

I took this to indicate a pragmatic solution: "Let's *assume* the uniformity of memory in the same way we assume the three laws of logic. We *have* to because we can't even have a conversation without assuming logic, and without assuming the uniformity of memory ("What does this word mean?")."

You can correct me if I'm wrong, but this seems to indicate that the three laws of logic and the validity of memory are "assumed" in order to "even have a conversation," which would be a pragmatic solution.

Anyway, the broader point is that your solution is distinct from Carrier's.
It's a solution to what? Assuming the uniformity of memory is not a solution to the problem of induction. It's a solution to the problem of how to even talk about problems - all of them.
 

Torin

Member
It's a solution to what? Assuming the uniformity of memory is not a solution to the problem of induction. It's a solution to the problem of how to even talk about problems - all of them.
Okay. My point, though, is that if Carrier's argument presupposes the uniformity of memory, it presupposes the Uniformity Principle, and hence is not a good counterexample to P5. If talking about any problem whatsoever presupposes the uniformity of memory, it just follows that talking about any problem whatsoever presupposes the Uniformity Principle as well.
 

Gus Bovona

Member
Okay. My point, though, is that if Carrier's argument presupposes the uniformity of memory, it presupposes the Uniformity Principle, and hence is not a good counterexample to P5. If talking about any problem whatsoever presupposes the uniformity of memory, it just follows that talking about any problem whatsoever presupposes the Uniformity Principle as well.
Couldn't we just presuppose the uniformity of memory without preuspposing the uniformity of anything else? In general, we should presuppose the minimum needed to deal with questions (memory, laws of logic, maybe other things too). We don't have to presuppose the uniformity of everything.

The principle of uniformity is directed at cause and effect in the problem of induction, and not toward memory. The only use of the word "memory" in the SEP article you cited was ancillary to the issue of the uniformity of memory that you brought up.
 

The Pixie

Active member
What do you think about this solution to the problem of induction?

From Richard Carrier, https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/17294
I am perhaps being naive here, but I would suggest that we only need to worry about two possibilities; uniformity or not.

  • If the universe at the macroscopic scale is uniform, then we would expect objects to persist, to follow laws, to change when there is an effect causing the change, etc.
  • That is what we observe.
  • Therefore the universe at the macroscopic scale is uniform.
 

Gus Bovona

Member
I am perhaps being naive here, but I would suggest that we only need to worry about two possibilities; uniformity or not.

  • If the universe at the macroscopic scale is uniform, then we would expect objects to persist, to follow laws, to change when there is an effect causing the change, etc.
  • That is what we observe.
  • Therefore the universe at the macroscopic scale is uniform.
I think "expect" contains a probabilistic element to it anyway.
 
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