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popper As an undergraduate, I studied the philosophy of science at the LSE department of philosophy that had been founded by Sir Karl Popper. As a first year undergraduate, I asked what would Popper do if had been an undergraduate student in his own department?

Nature title I guessed he would have proposed a big conjecture and send it off to the top scientific journal, Nature, to see what would happen. Having imagined this, I created a theory about rationality and the origins of Western Civilization, and posted it off. It was published in Nature in May just before my first year exams.  
ucl bedford way building psychology department Unfortunately, my understanding of science and that of contemporary professional philosophers occur  in such different conceptual worlds that I decided to become a scientist. I obtained a medical council research scholarship and did a PhD at University College London.

My approach to rationality and science 

At present, the relationship of science and its reasoning to truth is modeled in terms of  justification. But justification is not the only possible way of analyzing this relationship. Here, I advocate a nonjustificatory philosophy based upon how scientific debate makes theories fit in regard to truth.


The key words in this approach are meta-cognition, problem solving, goalsmodus tollens, truth timelines, autonomy, epistemological fitness, debate masturbation, and quality control practices.

Meta-cognition describes the endeavor of philosophy. The term meta-cognition comes from psychology where it describes the awareness we have of the processes of our own cognition. Philosophy has this concern at a collective level. An example of meta-cognition is that the words we say and speak are made up of phones—that "cat" is made up of three phonetic elements /k/, // /t/. Such meta-cognition is not innate and due largely to learning to spell words alphabetically—a process that both objectifies and provides a representation for these otherwise hidden vocalization units. Those without this experience—illiterates, and those literate only in logographic scripts—lack a meta-cognition of phones—they instead experience words in terms of sound syllables, or just their meaning. The philosophy of rationality concerns meta-cognition of how people can effectively use logical and deduction to persuade each other about ideas in regard to their truth. The philosophy of science, this meta-cognition concerns the principles behind the reasoning that has made science in the last four hundred years so successful. Thus it is not a purely theoretical study, it has to focus upon what underlies an actual process that has happened and is happening.

The meta-cognition of rational human reasoning identities it as problem solving activity done between people involving logic and deduction in regard issues of truth and interpersonal persuasion. A key question in philosophy is the nature of that problem solving, in particular, what is the underlying problem that defines the collective engagement with truth done by scientists.

Goals and sources define two different two kinds of framework in which to understand problem solving. Goal problem solving is based around competition: there exists a number of possible candidate solutions, and the problem solving concerns how to select which is picked in regard to some criteria determined by the problem’s goal. Source problem solving, in contrast, is based around identifying a transmission or verification: there exists a solution and the problem solving concerns finding a path or establishment that links a candidate to that source. An example of goal problem solving is a baby competition: there is a set of possible winners, and there exists a criteria—the opinions of judges in regard to the goal of selecting the most beautiful baby. An example of a source problem solving is finding and identifying a missing child search. There is only one solution and that might be found. A different child, however, similar to the child that has gone missing, does not provide a solution. Only the solution is that defined by the problem’s source—identity with the missing child.

Modus tollens and modus ponens are two types of valid deductive inference. They offer two kinds of metatheoretical frameworks in which to understand how logic might underlie the nature of problem solving. In modus tollens, given a valid deduction, falsity transmits from consequences to antecedents, in modus ponens, truths transmits from antecedents to consequences. In a closed system in which all truth values are known or can be established, any inference in one can be done in the other. However, in an open system, they are different and this is important in understand the basis of persuasion. This is because the persuasion of ideas can be defined either in terms of seeking not hold false ones (modus tollens), or to hold true ideas (modus ponenism). Modus tollenism involves reasoning being constructed as a goal type problem solving: compete ideas so false ones are identified leaving nonfalse ones—the epistemological focus is upon removing error. Modus ponenism involves reasoning being constructed as a source type problem solving: find the right antecedents and the true consequences (your true beliefs) can be inferred by appropriate deductive transmissions—the epistemological focus is upon justification and warrentedness. A concrete example of modus tollenism exists in the rationality of airworthiness: no aircraft can be shown to be safe but aircraft can be shown to be liable to accidents. What we call safe aircraft are those that most intense endeavors fail to find are unsafe—the rational authority of airworthiness is constructed out of modus tollenist reasoning—it is about avoiding error.

Truth timelines are epistemological chronologies of the actual (hidden) truth or falsity of the theories that scientists hold. The goal of science is to hold true theories even if they can never be proved to be actually true. Einstein's general theory of relativity could well be true as so far it has not been shown be false. In contrast,
Newton is known to be false. It is possible all scientific theories are false or not provable as true. Fortunately, truth timelines offer an epistemological more accessible goal.  The goal of science is to create a truth timeline with the property that no scientific theory that is actually true as theories get replaced over time gets replaced by a false one. Thus, scientists construct problem solving in their reasoning so that it produces a truth timeline

Truth timelines are hidden and science uses a proxy for truth: autonomy. Autonomy is the trait of the process that underlies the persuasion for holding a theory. That persuasion has autonomy is it is informative, and only informative about the truth of the theories, in particular, it does not informative about the process of the persuasion  provided for a theory. Autonomy can be lost at many stages by which support or persuasion is provided for theories. It might be at the stage of evidence: a fact might be true only of the particular part of the universe but used in regard to a universe process—it loses autonomy because knowing where data is gathered to support a theory informs you about the support it gains. Autonomy might be lost through evidence being an artifact: the star on the plate is a spark of dirt on the telescope lens: knowing about the presence of that dirt informs you about the mistaken support given for the theory. Autonomy might be lost in the process by which scientists persuade each other about theories, for example, because of dominant personalities, interests in advances theories or limitations in statistical competence. In these case, knowledge about these factors informs us about whether an theory will be held or not.

Epistemological fitness concerns the attempts of those seeking truth to create the environment within scientific debate such that theories which successfully propagate with autonomy in regard to their truth.

History, human experience and research shows that a major factor competing against truth as a fitness is debate masturbation. This refers to the frailty of human reasoning that it often finds arguments persuasive due to nonrational factors such as personal interest, false or faulty deduction, and other errors. As such, this persuasive causes ideas to be held or spread due factors that are not separate from the reasoner or the process of debate—they do not contain the intercourse with an external world: they lack autonomy. Such factors give false ideas are warranted that causes them to be more fit than nonfalse ones in persuasion.

Quality control practices is how the fitness of theories is limited to and only to truth.  Quality control practice is an activity central to any complex system: from DNA (in the form of code checking) to organisms (in the form of checks against cancer cells). In society, a critical function of institutions is their role as quality control practices upon those with power or actions in regard to maladministration, corruption or ineffectiveness (see my ideas upon democracy).

Publications and articles in order of composition.

The logic of scientific debate: Epistemological quality control practices and Bayesian inference – a neoPopperian perspective  pdf 

Skepticism and relativism. Science 1999 285 (5425): 200. pdf (Reprinted in Bruce Reichenbach, Introduction to Critical Thinking, 2000, McGraw-Hill. )

Popper's achievement. Nature 1996 373 (6509): 10. pdf
Popper: Success or failure? Nature, 1992 359 10 Sept: 100.  pdf