Category Archives: Social Epistemology

Single Events Have Multiple Causes

The agency theory of causation … separates ‘causes’ from mere ‘conditions’ [and] our ability to control them.

… it should be obvious that complex social phenomena always have multiple causes, and we should be suspicious of anyone who claims otherwise. I am not, however, promoting fence-sitting – nothing of the sort. In fact, I believe the change in perspective that renders causes in terms of handles offers up two practical heuristics for navigating causal disputes. First, when it is apparent that there exists a choice of causal handles, advocates of a particular handle must go beyond merely demonstrating that it exists. They will be forced to say why their handle is fairer, or otherwise more desirable, to lean upon. And second, advocates of a particular causal handle will be forced to speak of practicalities. If a cause isn’t tractable, then it is not strictly speaking a cause at all. (Joe Boswell We must recognise that single events have multiple causes)

Neuroscience on Microchips

Microprocessors are among those artificial information processing systems that are both complex and that we understand at all levels, from the overall logical flow, via logical gates, to the dynamics of transistors. Here we take a simulated classical microprocessor as a model organism, and use our ability to perform arbitrary experiments on it to see if popular data analysis methods from neuroscience can elucidate the way it processes information. We show that the approaches reveal interesting structure in the data but do not meaningfully describe the hierarchy of information processing in the processor. This suggests that current approaches in neuroscience may fall short of producing meaningful models of the brain. (Derek Lowe “Understand the Brain? Let’s Try Donkey Kong First.”)

The Moral Economy of Tech

“As computer programmers, our formative intellectual experience is working with deterministic systems that have been designed by other human beings. These can be very complex, but the complexity is not the kind we find in the natural world. … Success in the artificially constructed world of software design promotes a dangerous confidence. … [T]he real world is a stubborn place. It is complex in ways that resist abstraction and modeling. It notices and reacts to our attempts to affect it. Nor can we hope to examine it objectively from the outside, any more than we can step out of our own skin.” (Maciej Cegłowski, “The Moral Economy of Tech”)