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Answer by StabilizerAug 27, 2020Ω0130

I don't think one should see Pearl-type theories, which fall under the general heading of interventionist accounts, as reductive theories, i.e., as theories that reduce causal relations to something non-causal (even though Pearl might claim that his account is indeed reductive). I think such theories indeed make irreducible appeal to causal notions in explicating causal relations.

One reason why this isn't problematic is that these theories are explicating causal relations between some variables in terms of causal relations between those variables and the interventions and correlational information between the variables. So such theories are not employing causal information between the variables themselves in order to explain causal relations about them -- which would indeed be viciously circular. This point is explained clearly here.

If you want a reductive account of causation, I think that's a much harder problem, and indeed there might not even be one. See here for more details on attempts to provide reductive accounts of causation.

If you'd like to learn non-backwards-looking philosophy, which is indeed how most philosophy in mainstream American departments is done, then I highly recommend skipping undergraduate courses, which for some weird reason, kinda "talk down" to the students. Instead, I suggest three things:

(1) Just read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Pick a topic you like, such as causation or time or animal ethics, and just read the article or related articles.

(2) Read or skim academic papers or books. Most of them are surprisingly readable, especially the introductory parts. Notwithstanding criticisms of academic writing, I do think that analytic philosophy places unusual emphasis on writing clearly and plainly. (We can thank Russell and Moore for that in large part. Though, Plato wrote beautifully as well.) You can find good ideas for what to read from the Stanford Encyclopedia or track down philosophers whose work you find interesting.

(3) Listen to podcasts. Philosophy Bites's archive is a treasure trove: it has so many important philosophers on and they all have interesting and clear explanations of some central idea. Also check out Matt Teichman's elucidations. And there are a few more I'm forgetting. And then if you find something interesting, track the philosopher down, and read their books or papers. (Unfortunately, blogging by philosophers isn't as active as one might wish; I think this tracks the general reduction in blogging on the Internet.)

You'll learn a lot more this way than through undergraduate classes, which are usually slow and dull. I'm in philosophy grad school, but never took any philosophy undergraduate classes, but I picked up a significant background in philosophy using the 3 techniques above. I'm really happy for that. I love research-level philosophy, but undergraduate classes are too slow for me to sit through.

You're right: it was probably wrong of me to ask people to only find errors in his reasoning. It is indeed an invitation to fall under the spell of confirmation bias. It would've been better to also ask people to find places where he makes good arguments.

Where I disagree with you is the claim that attacking someone's epistemological method is necessarily the same as attacking the positions they hold. (Though, I agree with you that it might be interpreted that way.) In a different comment, I try to make it clear that my goal was not necessarily to attack particular positions that Adams holds (though I disagree with him on many positions), but to point out the methods that he uses that might be persuasive to some folks, but ought not to be persuasive, because these methods are not truth-seeking.

Adams uses several techniques (listed in the post) that could be used to argue for any position—even one that I wholeheartedly agree with. I suspect that in such a case I might not be quite so enthusiastic to point out the flaws in the reasoning. But as someone trying to be more truth-seeking, I ought to be sensitive to bad argumentation in those cases as well.

Stars become invisible at high altitudes because the Earth becomes very bright compared to the stars. This happens because when you are higher up, you see more of the sunlight reflected by the Earth. This happens because at higher altitudes more of the Earth is visible to you. Thus, your eyes or your cameras cannot distinguish the relatively dim light of the stars. The sky still appears black because there is no atmosphere to make the light scatter and give you feeling of being light outside that you experience on the surface of the Earth. You can see the stars if you are on the night side, you have good cameras, and you set the focal point to the sky.

I'll get to the equinox thing later.

Thanks. You're right. I mis-interpreted their experiment as written. I'll try to read it again to see what's going on and see if it's explicable.

Sure. His arguments look pretty easy to refute using some basic physics and some Google searches. Let me know if you find any other argument of his that you find particularly compelling and I'll take a crack at it.

You might want to correct: "And we forget so easily that 50 lifetimes ago we were nothing."

Umm... 12000/25 is 480. Not 48. All the other numbers in the discrete human lifetimes section should be multiplied by ten. Not as impressive as you might've thought. Still, kinda impressive I suppose.

I don't have time to refute each of arguments, because there're too many. But consider number 5 in your list. He describes a laser experiment that he claims cannot be accounted for on the current picture of the Earth. But if you think it through, it is perfectly well accounted for.

Here's the version of the experiment performed by the two Polish guys on a lake. They place two stakes 2km apart. The stakes have lasers attached to them at 30 cm height from the surface of the water. They measure the height above the surface of the point at which the laser beams meet and find it to be 39-40cm above the surface of the water.

Wild Heretic claims, on the basis of this diagram, that on the convex Earth theory (i.e., the widely accepted theory) one should expect the height from the water at the point where the lasers meet to be smaller that the height at which the lasers are mounted. But Wild Heretic's diagram misrepresents the state of affairs. Here is a better representation I drew and associated calculations that I did, which show that the convex Earth theory correctly predicts that the laser beams would meet approximately 38cm above the surface, which is very close to the observed 39-40cm.

EDIT: As dogiv points out below, I mis-interpreted the experiment. So the argument above is not a refutation of the experiment as described.

A general point: I fear Adams attributes positions and beliefs and intentions to Trump which, from Trump's actions and public statements, are not justifiably attributable to Trump.

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