My new ebook The Grand Bazaar of Wisdom, and other essays on science, philosophy and religion, is available on Amazon. Probably it's one of the most interesting recent books on the frontiers of science and philosophy: it will not leave you indifferent.
You may have a look below at the introduction and the table of contents.
Former versions of the essays contained in this book have appeared in the webpage Mapping Ignorance, a popular science site maintained by the Chair of Scientific Culture of the University of the Basque Country (EHU). I am deeply thankful to EHU, to Juan Ignacio Pérez, and to César Tomé, for giving me the chance of collaborating in such an exciting project as the ‘expert’ in philosophical matters. Here, I have collected those entries that I think are most representative of my philosophical understanding of science.
I start with the programmatic manifesto entitled ‘Positivism is a Humanism’, in which I defend the ‘liberal positivism’ that impregnates the rest of the chapters. This view of knowledge is ‘positivist’ in the good-old-fashioned sense that having passed severe empirical tests is the only way for something to count as knowledge about the world, but is ‘liberal’ in a triple sense: first, the idea that empirical tests and their severity are not an algorithmic question, but something more or less open to contextual considerations; second, the view of science as a social process much more similar to a ‘market’ than what is usually assumed (a view I discuss with big detail in the chapter that closes the book and that gives it its title); and third, the idea that establishing something as scientific knowledge is primarily a kind of social coercion (it consists in telling what the experts in a field of research are not legitimized to deny), and, since liberalism suggests that it is better to minimize social coercions, then a considerable amassment of reasons must be put on the table before deciding that accepting something as an ‘established fact’ is compulsory.
The rest of the chapters are devoted to some of the topics for which I feel a higher intellectual excitement, but that, till now, I have not had the chance of discussing with much detail in my more ‘serious’ academic writings. Most of these topics are usually on the verge of what can be called ‘metaphysics of science’... in general to conclude that we have no grounds for accepting anything that is properly speaking ‘metaphysic’ about all that stuff. Ideas like an ‘ultimate explanation of everything’, or like the possible kinship between scientific truth and beauty, or like the very idea of truth, or like irreducible ‘free will’ and ‘consciousness’, or like that of theological explanation of natural laws and living beings... all of these ideas fall like a house of cards when examined from the point of view of a liberal, deflationary positivism.
I have also included a series of chapters devoted to the history of ideas: one about the origins of Islam, and another one on the history of scepticism from the Greeks to Spinoza and Hume. These are fields on which my scholarship is more than dim, but for which my passion is considerable, as in the case of archaeology, a topic on which I have also included a brief chapter on the (possibly Basque) first human population of the Americas, as a friendly and slightly humoresque tribute I felt glad to pay to my hosts in the Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea’s website.
I hope all type of readers can enjoy the texts included in this book. The language and the use of technicalities have been kept at a level that almost anybody with a normal education and a sound appetite for learning and understanding can easily grasp. Of course, the main message of the book is that we can have a judicious, non blind trust on scientific knowledge, and be utterly sceptical about almost any other supposed form of ‘knowledge’. Perhaps many readers are not attracted by these conclusions as much as I am, but I’m offering the following texts as the start of a critical conversation.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Positivism is a humanism: a manifesto.
2. We cannot (ultimately) explain everything.
3. Deflating truth.
3.1. Deflating truth.
3.3. Truth as correspondence, and truth as the goal of inquiry.
3.4. Trivial Platonism.
4. Science and the search of beauty.
4.1. Science and the search of beauty.
4.2. The Halflings’ view.
5. Je ne regrette rien: on the neuropsychology of free will.
5.1. On the neuropsychology of free will.
5.2. Conscious decision in the lab.
5.3. The chimera of a quantum ‘solution’ to the problem of free will.
5.4 Freedom and the regret connection.
6. What is consciousness?
6.1. Consciousness: its physical signatures.
6.2. Is the ‘hard problem’ really so hard?
7. Scepticism: a short uncertain story.
7.1. The origins.
7.2. The Pyrrhonians.
7.3. Medieval doubts.
7.4. The Renaissance of scepticism.
7.5. Descartes’ evil demon.
7.6. The mother of all lost causes.
7.7. The Vulgate wars.
7.8. Do you have a brain, or a religion?
8. Deconstructing intelligent design.
8.1. On Dembski’s wrong ‘explanatory filter’.
8.2. Dembski’s ‘explanatory filter’ is no filter at all.
8.3. The true (and complex) nature of the ‘explanatory filter’.
8.4. On information and minds.
8.5. Of clocks and complexity.
9. History and legend in the origins of Islam.
9.1. Primitive sources about the origin of Islam: the Christian writers.
9.2. Primitive sources about the origin of Islam: Islamic texts.
9.3. What does the Qur’an say about the origin of Islam?
9.4. The grapes of wrath.
10. Did the first Americans come from Bilbao?
11. The Grand Bazaar of wisdom: an invitation to the economics of scientific knowledge.
11.1. The Grand Bazaar of wisdom.
11.2. Cost-benefit approaches to the growth of scientific knowledge.
11.3. Epistemic utility approaches.
11.4. From the ‘free market of ideas’ to the ‘republic of science’.
11.5. Science as a market.
11.6. The limits of the market metaphor.
11.7. Institutionalist theories of the economics of science.
11.8. Mathematical models in the economics of science.