Philosophy: How do we think?

What is there?     What is the point?     How do we act?

How do we think?

If we accept that knowledge and understanding is a set of models then one way of classifying those models is as Mythos or Logos.

In common parlance myths are unproven false legendary invented imaginary fictitious stories to explain some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature. More generally mythos is a set of unverifiable socially powerful stories told for a human purpose – it includes all fictional story telling and, in our view, religion. The stories may inform, entertain, account for, explain and help us come to terms and cope with the human condition and our own mortality. Mythos is important in understanding the human condition but is rarely the basis for engineering decision making. However it has to be appreciated as having an important role in practical decision making more generally since it is often the basis for making important life choices.

In philosophy logos is order and knowledge through reason, logic or rational thought and concerned with the factual. However what we mean by factual is problematic – see uncertainty. Logos is directed at helping us to decide how to act to achieve practical ends. However it is also important to note that in theology logos is the divine word interpreted, by the faithful, as God’s instrument in the creation and source of order in the Universe and is directed at how we should live.

As a basis for action inter-subjective and objective shared models can be tested by discussion, criticism and experiment against other models in one or more languages. We humans constantly test our models and attempt to come to some form of agreement expressed in a language about semantics (meaning) and the behaviour of the physical world. However subjective models are based on individual faith, values, beliefs and judgements and can only be tested through personal experience, self-criticism and self-evaluation. Nevertheless the testing of our ideas is the basis of a proper duty of care we all have to each other. Objective models are tested by the scientific method.

Two important qualities of a model are whether it is true or is factual – see uncertainty. A model is empirically true (lower case t) if a statement based on a model agrees with the results of an experiment to an acceptable tolerance within a context and in accordance with the purpose of the model. Such an agreement is a necessary but not sufficient condition for empirical truth. Facts are true models. Absolute Universal Truth (AUT) is truth in all contexts – known and unknown. The number of possible contexts is unknown and possibly infinite and infinite regress is inevitable, therefore AUT can never be completely established. The falsity of a statement or prediction based on a model is testable since one demonstration that it is false, outwith an acceptable tolerance in accordance with the purpose of the model, is sufficient.

We belive that a good explanation H of evidence E in a context C is a) when H states what caused E in C and b) E can be inferred from H to a high degree in C and c) H is dependable in C (i.e. likely to be true). Inference to the best explanation is the drawing of a good explanation, which is considered as the best, from a set of specific premises. It is abduction where probable is replaced by best. Abduction is a deduction in which the propositions are uncertain.

Rigour is the strict, scrupulous adherence to rules. Logical rigour is strict adherence to the rules of logic. Mathematical rigour is strict adherence to the rules contained in stated axioms. Scientific rigour is strict adherence to the testing of scientific predictions. Practical rigour is strict adherence to the use of rational judgement to design appropriate systems that successfully fulfil a stated set of purposes.

Design is a model making process of creatively deciding the form and structure of a system to satisfy a set of purposes within a specific context. Design requires a duty of care. Architectural design is deciding the form of a system to satisfy human need. Engineering design is deciding the form and structure of a system to satisfy both the demands of Nature and the requirements of the architectural design.

A good design solution H at time t, is one which is fit for purpose and consists of a set of decisions taken with a duty of care which is demonstrated by explicit supporting evidence E within a context C, when a) E is the best explanation of the causal processes in H available at time t; b) H can be inferred from E to a high degree; and c) E is dependable in C (i.e. likely to be true in context). Inference to the best design solution is the drawing of a good design solution, which is considered as the best, from a set of specific premises.

Innovation is introducing something new such as creating or altering an object for the first time. Creativity is innovation that would not evolve naturally without imagination and which presents new insights (i.e. beyond what is usual, established or regular).

All models are uncertain to a degree. Where the results of a test are true then the model attains some degree of confirmation. The degree of confirmation is a quality of a model which rises with the number and ingenuity of tests that are true.

Change happens through effort i.e. work that causes (the coming into being) of messages to be passed between interacting objects. A tool is a means to accomplish a purpose. In mechanics work is the product of force and distance but in more general terms is the exertion or effort to make change happen. The capacity for work in a process is energy – the raw material of change.

What is there?     What is the point?     How do we act?