Massimo hangs it up

Massimo Pigliucci has been writing at his site Rationally Speaking since August of 2005, which is three years and four months longer than this site.  And, after all those years, he’s decided to curtail his writing there, as he explains in his farewell post, “So long, and thanks for all the fish” (the title, of course, comes from a Douglas Adams book). The occasion, as he notes below, is that he’s reached the half-century mark and wants something new to do—a feeling I completely understand. But he’s also not quitting the internet entirely—just moving to a new kind of website:

However, I feel like I need a new project or two to re-energize my batteries, now that I have just celebrated half a century on this planet! Hence my decision to close Rationally Speaking (though the archives will remain available as long as Blogspot will host them) and open Scientia Salon (which you can, of course, follow on TwitterFacebook orGoogle+).

Scientia” is the Latin word for knowledge, broadly construed – i.e., in an ampler fashion than that implied by the English term science. Scientia includes the natural sciences, the social sciences, philosophy, logic and mathematics. And Salons, of course, were the social engine of the Age of Reason in France and throughout much of Europe.

The idea of Scientia Salon is to provide a forum for in-depth discussions on themes of general interest drawing from philosophy and the sciences. Contributors will be academics and non academics who don’t shy away from the label of “public intellectual,” and who feel that engaging in public discourse is vital to what they do and to society at large.

He’s also striving for a kindler, gentler, site, one with less trolling and name-calling.

Massimo and I have had our differences in the past: he’s been upset that I construe science too broadly, and that I seem philosophically naive, while I’ve been angered at what I considered too much defense of his own academic turf, and at what I saw as beating the dead horse of scientism.  Regardless, though, he was always a worthy opponent: thoughtful, not quick to anger, and engaged with his commenters.  I regret that our discussions have often had a bit too much rancor, but I do wish him well in his new venture. I’ll be checking into Scientia Salon from time to time, and hope readers will alert me when there’s something especially interesting happening there.

59 Comments

  1. Posted March 24, 2014 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    A gracious post, Jerry. I also wish Massimo well with this venture, and I hope to find an opportunity to contribute there some time.

    • metroplexsouthsider
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      Ditto, including on the contributing. I’m working on a piece about aesthetics, something that Massimo doesn’t do much himself.

  2. gbjames
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    sub

    • francis
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:00 am | Permalink

      //

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      sub

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:09 am | Permalink

      🐳

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

      //

  3. Filippo
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    He’s hanging his hat (up) elsewhere.

    (Am reminded of the Harold Arlen song, “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home.”)

  4. Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    He’s also striving for a kindler, gentler, site, one with less trolling and name-calling.

    This is a good aim (especially given certain sites that actively strive for the opposite). Also important is having sites where people who disagree discuss the issues with each other, rather than having different tribes on different sites talking past each other.

    To that end I’ve already gone onto Scientia Salon to argue for scientism. ;-) Will be interested to see how that site turns out.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      Trying it out for a while to see if there’s any meat in the discussions.

  5. eric
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    Hopefully his invited intellectual contributors will include folks who disagree with him. [cough Jerry cough].

  6. Greg Esres
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Funny, but I was just wondering the other day how much longer his podcast would continue. He and Julia make a pretty good team, each approaching skepticism from a different perspective.

    • Greg Esres
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      Nevermind, Massimo says the podcast will continue.

  7. Thanny
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    So the concept he’s been railing against is just fine, so long as you use the word “scientia” instead of “science”.

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      Kinda what I was thinking. But, hey, if that’s what it takes for him to embrace reason, I’m willing to grant him his archaic spelling….

      b&

      • Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        Oh, before long someone will accuse him of scientiaism …

        /@

        • Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

          Remind me to put that on my calendar — I’ll be happy to be the one!

          b&

          • Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:21 am | Permalink

            Ben : Put that on your calendar.

            /@

            • Posted March 25, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

              Put a hat on my colander?

              b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 25, 2014 at 9:28 am | Permalink

                No, not the coriander!

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

                Okay — I’ll skip the candelabra and go straight to the signal flare. Will that work?

                b&

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

                Now you’re being cilantro!

                /@

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:35 am | Permalink

                There’s a bee in the corridor? Here, take this coriander blossom and use it to lure the bee outside.

                b&

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink

                What is this? Apis take?

                /@

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

                It’s a beeknapping! Aren’t they just so cute when they sleep like that?

                b&

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

                Zzzz!

                /@

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

                But you forgot the B!

                b&

            • HaggisForBrains
              Posted March 25, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

              What’s with the cool new Gravatar, Ant?

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

                New for spring.

                It does’t work so well at this size, though.

                /@

  8. Kevin Alexander
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    sub

  9. Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    I enjoy both your sites, and look forward to Scientia Salon. It seems that you have each expressed regret for the rancor, so I hope that will become a thing of the past and that you will continue to engage each other in a constructive dialogue.

  10. Vaal
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    I wish Massimo well in his new venture as well. I listen to his Rationally Speaking podcasts quite often and they are excellent.

    Vaal

  11. Ian Belson
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I honestly don’t think you guys are so far apart. Scientia is just evidence and reason applied to areas of human understanding or knowledge other then the craft of “science”. Pigliucci as a philosopher I think gets all hung up o definitions and is a splitter rather then a joiner. At heart his scientia idea is almost the same as yours and Pinkers.

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      There is some substance to the dispute, beyond the spelling (Latin “Scientia” v English “science”).

      Massimo asserts that: “knowledge draws from multiple sources, some empirical (science), some conceptual (philosophy, math and logic), and it cannot be reduced to or constrained by just one of these sources”.

      I would assert that knowlege in philosophy, maths and logic are, ultimately, derived from the same empirical sourcs as science.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        I would assert that knowlege in philosophy, maths and logic are, ultimately, derived from the same empirical sourcs as science.

        Agreed, at least the knowledge that eventually turns out to be useful in some practical manner.

        I think one of the major differences between “scientism” ( in lack of a better term ) and these other ways of knowing are that some of us simply stop looking for these other ways of knowing. In the same sense you stop consulting a hypothesis that doesn’t work.

        Until new shit comes to light there’s no reason to.

      • Chuck Sullivan
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        How, for example, is our knowledge of the validity of modus tollens derived from empirical sources?

        • Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

          Don’t you think that, were it invalid, there would be examples invalidating it?

          Got any examples invalidating it? No? That’s how you can be confident that it’s valid.

          b&

        • Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

          What do you mean by the “validity” of modus tollens? Do you mean that it works in our universe? If so, how else do you know that other than empirically?

          If you’re going to formally prove modus tollens from basic logical axioms, then how do you validate those axioms other than by the fact that they work in our universe?

          • Chuck Sullivan
            Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

            If Ali is from Nigeria, then Ali is European.
            Ali is not European.
            Therefore, Ali is not from Nigeria.

            You said that logic is derived from empirical sources. How is this piece of logic derived from empirical sources?

            • Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

              If you’d like us to agree with you that philosophy is an entirely useless endeavor because it’s ungrounded by reality, you’ll find many of us agreeing with you.

              But you’d also find a similar set of us who’ll argue for the effectiveness of that logic which has been empirically demonstrated to be useful — but, of course only for those domains over which it has utility.

              I could just as easily state that you can’t draw a triangle with two right angles, and then play a “gotcha” card by grabbing a sphere.

              Is that what this is about?

              b&

              • Chuck Sullivan
                Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

                What it is about is me trying to understand exactly what the statement “logic is derived from empirical sources” actually means.

                It might seem self-evident to you that logic is derived from empirical sources, but it is not self-evident to me. So, I’m trying to understand what this means. If logic is derived from empirical sources, and if modus tollens is a logical form, then it seems it would follow that modus tollens is derived from empirical sources. So I used an example of a logical argument in the form of modus tollens, and for the life of me I can’t see how it is derived from empirical sources.

                If you can show me how it is so derived I would greatly appreciate it. Seriously.

              • Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

                So, let’s start with some basics.

                I would argue that science, broadly understood, is the apportioning of belief in proportions indicated by a rational analysis of empirical observation. And the basic method used to apportion beliefs is to come up with an idea through any means you like, make some observations related to that idea, and compare how the two stack up. If the idea isn’t completely out in left field, you feed it back into the process and keep looping for as long as it holds up.

                The ancients had some ideas that they formalized in what we today call modal logic. Though there are some notable exceptions, they’ve held up remarkably well over the millennia — at least, in applicable domains.

                Contrast that with some other ideas the ancients — and, in many cases, the very same ancients — also had, such as Aristotelian metaphysics. Aristotle had this idea, based on everyday experience, that things stopped moving once you stopped pushing on them; thus, his Prime Mover. Well, thanks to Newton, we know that that idea doesn’t actually hold up at all, except very approximately if you want to be overly generous and squint especially hard at energy loss due to friction.

                So there’s your empirical origins of modal logic. It came from the same source as metaphysics, but we have empirical evidence that the one is pretty useful in many situations and the other is complete and utter bullshit.

                Again, remember: where you actually get your original hypothesis is irrelevant, though there are certainly more and less efficient ways of doing so (and applying the scientific method to itself can be especially fruitful). What matters is that you don’t actually know that anything is true until you go out and look for yourself.

                It might help to imagine if the world were different, such as if it were like a video game in which, for every ten apples you picked off the tree and put in your sack, you could take eleven apples out of the sack. That’s clearly not our world…but, if there were such a world, you can be certain that the inhabitants would have developed an entirely different function for addition than the one that seems naturally instinctive to us, and they would be utterly perplexed by our own additive function. If you’re a philosopher, you’ll go off on some irrelevant tangent I won’t even pretend to imagine. But if you’re an empiricist, that’s not a problem; if it works and if it’s confirmed by observation, that’s what you go with even if it’s not what you expected.

                See, for example, quantum mechanics, relativity, Darwinian evolution’s designerless designs, and so on.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Chuck Sullivan
                Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

                I think I understand now. You’re not defending the view that all of logic is derived from empirical sources, but that a particular form of modal logic, one where the mode ‘possible’ refers to physically possible, is derived from empirical sources.

                If that’s what you’re arguing, then I have no problem with it.

              • Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

                My position is that the only way we have to distinguish true or useful ideas from false or useless ones is with science. You can make up any kind of logic you like with any rules you like, including Calvinball. And if you enjoy doing that sort of thing, fantastic — knock yourself out. But if you want to know if that logic actually has any bearing on reality, you’ll have to go out, get your hands dirty, and compare your logic with reality.

                That is, after all how we know even basic things like the law of non-contradiction. And, indeed, if macro-scale phenomenon behaved like quantum-scale phenomenon actually do, the law of non-contradiction may well have seemed absurd or only useful in certain obscure theoretical domains.

                And I refuse to make the distinction between different types of possibility; doing so is as meaningful as distinguishing between different forms of geometry. There happens to be one real geometry (or, at least, that’s the overwhelming scientific conclusion) and that you could hypothesize certain things as possible in other geometries but not the real one is as meaningful as hypothesize that you could construct a triangle with more than one right angle in a non-Euclidean geometry. So? Why is it okay to change geometries to do the trick but not change the number of sides for the figure, or the requirement that the lines be straight? Calvinball is Calvinball; the real question is what’s real.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • chrisj
                Posted March 28, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

                Ben writes “My position is that the only way we have to distinguish true or useful ideas from false or useless ones is with science.”

                Okay how about the idea of democratic government. Is that derived from science?

                Also, you use the word “true” in your statement. What do you mean by that? Did you know that there are multiple theories on truth is. What scientific observations can you make that will tell you which one is “true” without begging the question?

            • Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:52 am | Permalink

              How did humans work out that that is valid other than by observing that it works in the world?

              • Chuck Sullivan
                Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:29 am | Permalink

                But validity doesn’t always work ‘in the world’. Validity has to do with the form of the argument not its empirical content.

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:33 am | Permalink

                So you think the above argument is valid? OK, why do you think that? I suggest that you consider it valid because it’s the way the world works (i.e. the logic is empirically validated).

                If you want to argue that you can prove it from more basic logical axioms, then why do you think that those logical axioms are valid? Again, empirical corroboration that they are the way the world works seems to me the only grounding.

              • Chuck Sullivan
                Posted March 26, 2014 at 1:32 am | Permalink

                Validity is about form, not content.
                It’s true that the senses can aid us in understanding logic.

                But to say that knowledge of logic is derived from empirical sources needs a good argument, which hasn’t been provided.

                Consider the following bit of logic.
                What makes one argument valid and the other invalid? The answer is easy.

                If P then Q.
                Not Q.
                Therefore. not P
                –A Valid argument–

                Some Xs are Ys.
                Some Zs are Xs.
                Therefore, Some Zs are Ys
                —Invalid argument—

              • Posted March 26, 2014 at 3:29 am | Permalink

                Then why do *you* think that the former is valid and the latter invalid? Just saying that the answer “is easy” is not an answer.

                I suggest that the only answer is that that is the way things work in our universe, which you know empirically.

              • Posted March 26, 2014 at 7:09 am | Permalink

                It wouldn’t even be that much of a challenge to design an universe in which things worked differently — a computer game, for example, in which many of our logical intuitions are turned umop-apisdn. Right now, we have no way of ruling out the possibility that there might be natural multiverses in which such is actually the case.

                b&

      • chrisj
        Posted March 28, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        How is math derived from empirical sources?

        • Posted March 28, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

          The first people who wrote things like “1 + 1 = 2″ or Pythagoras’s theorem were codifying regularities that they say in nature. Maths was originally used for trading, for building, etc. Over time, this empirical knowledge of how the world works came to be distilled into mathematical axioms.

        • Posted March 28, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

          Counting.

          /@

  12. Richard Olson
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I’m another happy to learn Rationally Speaking continues.

  13. kelskye
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    There were four blogs I read with any frequency, and two I commented on. Now it’s down to three (and one). I hope the scientia saloon lives up to the ideal.

    Also, I do wonder how different Jerry’s broad view of science differs from Pigliucci’s conception of scientia.

    • gbjames
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      Completely different, doncha know. Jerry’s version is scientism, a well-known danger to humanity.

      • kelskye
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

        I think the reason why scientism might be a problem is science can also refer to the narrow view of science, that scientists are implicitly given more credibility and authority than pursuers of truth in other fields, such that a scientific worldview neglects other fields. I’m not sure whether Sam Harris makes a mistake in thinking the IS/OUGHT problem can be resolved by neuroscience because of his poor choice in terminology, but more philosophy might have stemmed his confusion.


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  1. […] he does so in a way that is usually fair and charitable. On the same day as this post, Coyne also offered some kind words to Massimo Pigliucci, someone with whom he’s had major disagreements. As I’ve said before, I think Coyne […]

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