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Shifting the Paradigm of Philosophy of Science: Philosophy of Information and a New Renaissance

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Computing is changing the traditional field of Philosophy of Science in a very profound way. First as a methodological tool, computing makes possible ``experimental Philosophy'' which is able to provide practical tests for different philosophical ideas. At the same time the ideal object of investigation of the Philosophy of Science is changing. For a long period of time the ideal science was Physics (e.g., Popper, Carnap, Kuhn, and Chalmers). Now the focus is shifting to the field of Computing/Informatics. There are many good reasons for this paradigm shift, one of those being a long standing need of a new meeting between the sciences and humanities, for which the new discipline of Computing/Informatics gives innumerable possibilities. Contrary to Physics, Computing/Informatics is very much human-centered. It brings a potential for a new Renaissance, where Science and Humanities, Arts and Engineering can reach a new synthesis, so very much needed in our intellectually split culture. This paper investigates contemporary trends and the relation between the Philosophy of Science and the Philosophy of Computing and Information, which is equivalent to the present relation between Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Physics.
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Shifting the Paradigm of the Philosophy of Science:
the Philosophy of Information and a New Renaissance
GORDANA DODIG-CRNKOVIC
Mälardalen University, Computing Laboratory, Västerås, Sweden; E-mail: gordana.dodig-crnkovic@mdh.se
Abstract. Computing is changing the traditional field of Philosophy of Science in a very profound way. First as a
methodological tool, computing makes possible “experimental Philosophy” which is able to provide practical tests
for different philosophical ideas. At the same time the ideal object of investigation of the Philosophy of Science is
changing. For a long period of time the ideal science was Physics (e.g. Popper, Carnap, Kuhn, and Chalmers). Now
the focus is shifting to the field of Computing/Informatics. There are many good reasons for this paradigm shift, one
of those being a long standing need of a new meeting between the sciences and humanities, for which the new
discipline of Computing/Informatics gives innumerable possibilities. Contrary to Physics, Computing/Informatics is
very much human-centered. It brings a potential for a new Renaissance, where Science and Humanities, Arts and
Engineering can reach a new synthesis, so very much needed in our intellectually split culture. This paper
investigates contemporary trends and the relation between the Philosophy of Science and the Philosophy of
Computing and Information, which is equivalent to the present relation between Philosophy of Science and
Philosophy of Physics.
Key words:
Computation, Digital Philosophy, Information, Information Society, Information Technology, Information-theoretic
Methodology, Philosophy of AI, Philosophy of Computer Science, Philosophy of Computing, Philosophy of
Information, Philosophy of Science.
1 What Ultimately Matters, Indeed?
The ideal of Science of the 20th century was Physics (Popper, 1999; Carnap, 1994; Kuhn, 1962;
Chalmers, 1990): relativity, quantum mechanics and finally, chaos. Physics was the model of
scientific understanding of reality. Questions in focus were:
What is the (physical) Universe (microcosm, macrocosm)?
How is the Universe built up? How does it work (interactions, symmetries)?
What is matter/energy, time, space?
On the threshold of the new millennium we have answers to those questions that seem to fulfill
our present needs. At the same time the efforts necessary to further improve knowledge within
Physics exceed by orders of magnitude corresponding efforts needed to improve other basic
scientific disciplines of interest. Therefore the paradigm of Science changes rapidly.
Historically, parallel with the growth of the body of physical theory, there was the emergence of
the "intentional sciences": disciplines that deal with symbols, references and interpretations, such
as Logic, Cognitive Science, Psychology, and Neuroscience, parts of Biology and Computing.
These new sciences are changing our concept of reality, and that of the relation between Science
and reality. Truth and meaning have been brought within the scope of Science pertaining to the
completely new context. The views of realism and metaphysics are being modified. Scientists are
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starting to scrutinize fields of norms and values. Traditionally, it is in Philosophy or in the
religious domain that questions of most general significance have been asked, as e.g.: What
ultimately matters? (See Dodig-Crnkovic 2001).
In the last century expectations on Science have grown enormously. Whether it knows it or not,
Science seems to be entering into the classically philosophical and theological territory taking
the place of highest authority. New questions in focus are:
What is life (its laws, mechanisms, limitations)?
What is mind?
What is meaning?
Computing has many interesting methods and techniques making possible new insights that can
contribute towards clarifying the above ideas, as for example the issues related to meaning such
as truth, proof, and symbol manipulation (how symbols acquire meaning), “location” of
meaning, form.
2 What is Computing?
According to ACM/IEEE (2001), Computing can be described as encompassing Computer
Science, Computer Engineering, Software Engineering and Information Systems:
Figure 1 Field of Computing
The German, French and Italian languages use the respective terms "Informatik", "Informatique"
and “Informatica” (Informatics in English) to denote Computing. It is interesting to observe that
the English term "Computing" has an empirical orientation, while the corresponding German,
French and Italian term “Informatics” has an abstract orientation. This difference in terminology
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may be traced back to the tradition of nineteenth-century British empiricism and continental
abstraction respectively.
The view that information is the central idea of Computing/Informatics is both scientifically and
sociologically indicative. Scientifically, it suggests a view of Informatics as a generalization of
information theory that is concerned not only with the transmission/communication of
information but also with its transformation and interpretation. Sociologically, it suggests a
parallel between the industrial revolution, which is concerned with the utilizing of energy, and
the information revolution, which is concerned with the utilizing of information.
3 Futurist Projection: Glimpses of the Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence
Questions of relevance for the Philosophy of Science (as e.g. concepts of mind and meaning)
have many practical consequences in the field of the Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence, AI.
Among others there is an interesting current controversy about Machines and Minds. The
questions simplified are as follows:
Can machines be intelligent (think)?
Can machines have self-consciousness?
Can machines have a soul?
As usual in the history of important controversies there are two confronting groups claiming
opposite answers to these questions. That debate is in many ways instructive. First of all it is
because it reveals our basic attitude to the question of what ultimately matters? Secondly, and at
least equally interesting and illustrative, is the argument itself.
There are a number of results of mathematical logic used to show that there are limitations to the
powers of (discrete-state) machines. The best known of these results is Gödel’s theorem (1931)
which shows that in any sufficiently powerful logical system statements can be formulated which
can neither be proved nor disproved within the system, unless the system itself is inconsistent. It
is established that there are limitations to the powers of any particular (discrete state) machine
due to Gödel’s theorem. Yet it has only been stated without any sort of proof that no such
limitations apply to the human intellect (which is actually as a rule both incomplete and
inconsistent…).
One can as well ask more pragmatic questions, as e.g.: Can a machine be made which can:
Pass the Turing test
Create an artefact that can be acknowledged as genuine by experts (compose music, write a
sonnet…)
Prove theorems/check theorem proofs through the “mechanization” of reasoning
Posses the best knowledge within a certain field and can act like an expert system (medical
expertise helping to set an accurate diagnosis), etc.
The question is: does it necessarily need to be one single machine? Do we need humanoid
machines? There is namely a difference between the ambition of representing the common
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behavior (including knowledge) of the average person and the attempt to construct the machine
able to compete with the best of scientists, artists, philosophers etc. within their special fields.
Part of AI research’s objectives is to understand the computational principles underlying
intelligence in man and machines and to develop methods for building computer-based systems
to solve problems, to communicate with people, and to perceive and interact with the physical
world. Floridi, 2002, in "What is the Philosophy of Information?", calls the Philosophy of
Artificial Intelligence a premature paradigm of the Philosophy of Information, PI.
The researchers in Artificial Intelligence have discovered a wide variety of ways to make
machines do pattern recognition, learning, problem-solving, theorem-proving, game-playing,
induction and generalization, and language manipulation, to mention only a few. AI is a steadily
growing field within computing. To be sure, none of the different AI programs seemed much like
a mind, because each one was so specialized. But now we are beginning to understand that there
may be no need to seek either any single magical "unified theory" or any single and hitherto
unknown "fundamental principle". Thinking may instead be the product of many different
mechanisms, competing as much as cooperating, and generally unperceived and unsuspected in
the ordinary course of our everyday thought.
What has all this to do with consciousness? Well, consider what happened in biology. Before the
19th century there seemed to be no other explanation of the phenomenon of life but the concept
of "vitality" i.e. some sort of life-force. There simply seemed no other way to explain all the
things that animals do. But then, scientists gradually came to see no need for a "unified theory"
of life. Each living thing performed many functions, but it slowly became clear that each of them
had a reasonably separate explanation. The same may apply to the mind.
The next fundamental question is if we can claim to understand the phenomena only on account
of their experimental predictability and reproducibility? Does the answer to the question “how?”
automatically mean the answer to the question “why?”. If we construct the machine that can
distinguish sweet from bitter, can we say that we understand what “sweet” and “bitter” means?
Can we say that the machine understands what “sweet” and “bitter” means?
4 What is That Thing Called Science?
“The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” (Aristotle, Metaphysica)
In order to be able to talk about Computing, let us take a closer look at the very definition of
Science. Saying “Science” we actually mean a plurality of different Sciences. Different Sciences
differ very much from one another. The definition of Science is therefore neither simple nor
unambiguous. For example, History and Linguistics are often but not always catalogued as
Sciences. (See Dodig-Crnkovic 2002).
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Culture
(Religion , A rt , … )
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Natural Sciences
(Physics,
Chemistry,
Biology, …)
2
Social Sciences
(Econo mics,
Sociology,
Anthropology, …)
3
The Humanities
(Philosophy, History ,
Linguistics …)
4
Logic
&
Mathematics
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Culture
(Religion , A rt , … )
5
Natural Sciences
(Physics,
Chemistry,
Biology, …)
2
Social Sciences
(Econo mics,
Sociology,
Anthropology, …)
3
The Humanities
(Philosophy, History ,
Linguistics …)
4
Logic
&
Mathematics
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Figure 2 What is Science? - Classical scheme.
The traditional Sciences have specific areas of validity. Logic and Mathematics (the most
abstract and at the same time the most exact Sciences) are a more or less important part of every
other Science. They are very essential for Physics, less important for Chemistry and Biology and
their significance continues to decrease towards the outer regions of our scheme. Logical
reasoning as a basis of all human knowledge is of course present in every kind of Science as well
as in the Humanities.
Figure 2 may be seen in analogy with a microscope view. With the highest resolution we can
reach the innermost region. Inside the central region Logic is not only the tool used to form
conclusions; it is at the same time the object of investigation. Even though large parts of
Mathematics can be reduced to Logic (Frege, Russell and Whitehead), complete reduction is
impossible. On every step of zooming out, the inner regions are given as prerequisites for the
outer ones. Physics uses Mathematics and Logic as tools, without questioning their internal
structure. In that way information about the deeper structure of Mathematics and Logic is hidden
looking from the outside. In much the same way, Physics is a prerequisite for Chemistry that is a
hidden level inside Biology etc. The basic idea of Figure 2 is to show in a schematic way the
relation between the three main groups of Sciences (Logic & Mathematics, Natural Sciences and
Social Sciences) as well as their relation to the Humanities, and finally to the cultural
environment which the whole body of human knowledge, scientific and artistic, is immersed in
and impregnated by.
However, such distinctions of sciences are quite recent, having their origins in the 16th and 17th
centuries. In the Middle Ages “Science” was a very different type of academic discipline.
Natural Philosophy was the term applied to what would now be known as Physics, but in the
medieval era it was a very profound and philosophical subject.
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Universities in the Middle Ages were of two main types: “Master Universities” such as Paris or
“Student Universities” such as Bologna. The curriculum followed the division of the seven
liberal arts into the lower level Trivium: Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic and the more advanced
Quadrivium: Music, Arithmetic, Geometry and Astronomy. These subjects were studied in order
to give the student an academic and intellectual foundation before studying the most important
part of their course of studies, the three Philosophies - Natural, Metaphysical and Moral. The
advanced student was expected to study the Ethics, Physics and Metaphysics of Aristotle and be
able to demonstrate significant ability to dispute these topics in learned debate.
It is interesting to notice that during the Middle Ages no sharp distinction was made between
Natural Science and religion, magic and the occult, because physical and magical causes were
accepted as being equally likely to be responsible for physical phenomena. For example,
medieval Astronomy encompassed the disciplines of Astrology and Cosmology.
Early Science (Alchemy, Astronomy, Botany, Cartography, Horology [Time, Calendars],
Instruments [Weights, Measures], Mathematics, Medicine, Physics, Technology, Astrology …)
was not a neat orderly system. It was a deeply interconnected blend of philosophy, magic,
analysis, observation, experimentation and religion. But from these confusing origins scholars
slowly began to develop the fields of science with which we are today familiar.
5 The Scientific Method
Having in mind its historical development, we may ask the question: what characterises Science?
And a most common answer is: the method. Since the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, many have also argued that Science strives to produce explanations in
terms of matter, energy, symmetry, and number, the framework of ideas associated with
Descartes, Copernicus, Galileo, Hobbes, Newton, Locke, etc.
This is the reductionist programme of modern Science. Its ideal is a minimum number of the
most general laws, expressed by mathematical formulas, that assure description of phenomena,
their behavior and precise quantitative prediction.
Traditionally, the reductionist ideal is also implicit in the ranking of disciplines which places
Mathematics and most reductionist Natural Sciences, e.g., Physics and Chemistry, above
Biology. Within the field of Biology, Bioinformatics, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry rank
above Physiology, Morphology, Taxonomy, Ethology and Evolutionary Psychology. Biologists,
in turn, are considered more scientific than behavioral and social scientists. The Medical
Sciences are all over this map, since some are exquisitely experimental and quantitative, e.g.,
Neurochemistry and Endocrinology, while others are far from being so, e.g., Psychiatry and
Psychotherapy. Outside all this are the Humanities. Nevertheless there are attempts to conform
with the reductionist scientific ideal even within the Humanities, and attempts are made to found
Linguistics, History and even parts of Philosophy (such as Epistemology) as exact sciences. The
question is, however, what sort of method could be common for all those different sciences, that
are “scientific” in their specific and varying ways?
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The scientific method may be described as the logical scheme used by scientists searching for
answers to the questions posed within Science. Scientific method is used to produce scientific
theories, including both scientific meta-theories (theories about theories) as well as the theories
used to design the tools for producing theories (instruments, algorithms, etc). The simple version
looks something like this:
THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD
The hypotetico-deductive cycle
EXISTING THEORIES
AND OBSERVATIONS
SELECTION AMONG
COMPETING
THEORIES
EXISTING THEORY
CONFIRMED
(within a new context) or
NEW THEORY PUBLISHED
PREDICTIONSHYPOTHESIS
TESTS AND NEW
OBSERVATIONS
The scientific-community cycle
Consistency
achieved
Hypothesis must
be adjusted
Hypothesis
must be
redefined
Figure 3 Diagram describing iterative nature of the scientific method
It is crucial to understand that the method of Science is recursive. Prior to every observation or
experiment or theoretical test there is a hypothesis that has its origins in the pre-existing body of
knowledge. Every experimental/observational result has a certain world view built in. Or, in the
words of Feyerabend, 2000, every experimental data is “theory-contaminated”.
The scheme of the scientific method in Figure 3 is without doubt an abstraction and
simplification. Critics would argue that there is in fact no such thing as “the scientific method”.
By the term “the scientific method” they actually mean the concrete set of rules defining how to
proceed in posing new relevant questions and formulating successful hypotheses. Of course, no
such magic recipe exists!
The important feature of the scientific method is that it is impartial (“objective”): one does not
have to believe a given researcher; one can (in principle) repeat the experiment/theoretical
derivation and determine whether certain results are valid or not. The question of impartiality is
closely related to the openness and universality of Science, which are its fundamental qualities.
A theory is accepted based in the first place on the results obtained through logical reasoning,
observations and/or experiments. The results obtained using the scientific methods have to be
reproducible. All scientific truths are provisional. But for a hypothesis to acquire the status of a
theory it is necessary to win the confidence of the scientific community (the scientific
community cycle of Figure 3).
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6 Interdisciplinary Sciences
The development of human thought parallel to the development of human society has led to an
emergence of sciences that do not belong to any of the classic types we have described earlier,
but rather share common parts with several of these. Many of the modern sciences are of the
interdisciplinary, eclectic type. It is a trend for new sciences to search their methods and even
questions in very broad areas. It can be seen as a result of the fact that the communications
across the borders of different scientific fields are nowadays much easier and more intense than
before.
There are also new methodological trends that emerge as a consequence of the development of
AI: more and more “manual work” of the scientist is now done by computers. The exciting new
field of Automated Discovery is already showing results within Bioinformatics, Vision,
Chemistry, Genetics, etc. We seem to be witnessing an exciting paradigm shift:
“We should, by the way, be prepared for some radical, and perhaps surprising, transformations of the disciplinary
structure of Science (Technology included) as information processing pervades it. In particular, as we become more
aware of the detailed information processes that go on in doing Science, the Sciences will find themselves
increasingly taking a meta-position, in which doing Science (observing, experimenting, theorizing, testing,
archiving) will involve understanding these information processes, and building systems that do the object-level
Science. Then the boundaries between the enterprise of Science as a whole (the acquisition and organization of
knowledge of the world) and AI (the understanding of how knowledge is acquired and organized) will become
increasingly fuzzy.”
Allen Newell, in: D.G. Bobrow and P.J. Hayes, "Artificial Intelligence - Where Are We?" Artif. Intell. 25 (1985) 3.
Here we can find a potential of the new synthetic (holistic) world view that is about to emerge in
the future.
7 Problem with the Traditional View: In What Way is Computing a Science?
AI Example Again
Let us take as an example Artificial Intelligence (AI) that is a branch of Computing according to
Computing Curricula. AI is a discipline with two distinct facets: Science and Engineering which
is the case for Computer Science in general. The scientific part of AI attempts to understand
intelligence in humans, other animals, information processing machines and robots. The
engineering part attempts to apply such knowledge in designing new kinds of machines. AI is
generally associated with Computing, but it has many important links with other fields such as
Mathematics, Psychology, Cognition, Biology, Linguistics and Philosophy, Behavioral and Brain
Sciences among many others. Our ability to combine knowledge from all these fields will
ultimately benefit our progress in the quest of creating an intelligent artificial being.
The scientific branch, which has motivated most of the pioneers and leaders in the field, is
concerned with two main goals attempting to:
understand and model the information processing capabilities of typical human minds,
understand the general principles for explaining and modeling intelligent systems,
whether human, animal or artificial.
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This work is often inspired by research in Philosophy, Linguistics, Psychology, Neuroscience or
Social Science. It can also lead to new theories and predictions in those fields.
The engineering facet of AI is concerned with attempting to design new kinds of machines able
to do things previously done only by humans and other animals and also new tasks that lie
beyond human intelligence. There is another engineering application of AI: using the results of
the scientific facet to help design machines and environments that can help human beings. This
may include the production of intelligent machines.
The Complexity of AI and its numerous connections to other scientific and further cultural
phenomena is suggested by the following table:
Table 1
Sub-fields of AI Related Fields
Perception, especially vision but also auditory and tactile
perception, and more recently taste and smell.
Philosophy, Cognition, Psychology,
Mathematics, Biology, Medicine, Behavioral
Sciences, Brain Sciences
Natural language processing, including production and
interpretation of spoken and written language, whether hand-
written, printed, or electronic throughout (e.g. email).
Linguistics, Psychology, Philosophy, Logic,
Mathematics, Behavioral Sciences, Brain
Sciences
Learning and development, including symbolic learning
processes (e.g. rule induction), the use of neural nets (sometimes
described as sub-symbolic), the use of evolutionary algorithms,
self-debugging systems, and various kinds of self-organization.
Logic, Philosophy, Mathematics, Biology,
Medicine, Behavioral Sciences, Brain
Sciences
Planning, problem solving, automatic design: given a complex
problem and a collection of resources, constraints and evaluation
criteria create a solution which meets the constraints and does
well or is optimal according to the criteria.
Logic, Mathematics, Philosophy
Robotics: provides a test bed for integrating theories and
techniques from various sub-areas of AI, e.g. perception,
learning, memory, motor control, planning, etc. exploring ideas
about complete systems.
Philosophy, Cognition, Psychology,
Mathematics, Biology, Medicine, Behavioral
Sciences, Brain Sciences, Mechatronics
8 Scientific vs. Humanistic View: A Need for Common Context
It is a notorious fact that contemporary scientists do not learn enough in their education and
training about the Humanities. In particular, scientists are not expected to reflect over the moral,
political and ideological forces and issues from which their work emerges and which it
influences. At the same time, as C. P. Snow observed in his lecture on “The Two Cultures and
the Scientific Revolution”, modern arts people know even less about Science and Technology. In
this context also Alan D. Sokal’s famous hoax article, see Sokal A. D., (1996) is very instructive.
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“The targets of Sokal's satire occupy a broad intellectual range. There are those "postmoderns" in the humanities
who like to surf through avant garde fields like quantum mechanics or chaos theory to dress up their own arguments
about the fragmentary and random nature of experience. There are those sociologists, historians, and philosophers
who see the laws of nature as social constructions. There are cultural critics who find the taint of sexism, racism,
colonialism, militarism, or capitalism not only in the practice of scientific research but even in its conclusions. Sokal
did not satirize creationists or other religious enthusiasts who in many parts of the world are the most dangerous
adversaries of science, but his targets were spread widely enough, and he was attacked or praised from all sides.“
(Weinberg, 1996)
This shows the width and depth of the existing gap between two cultures. For very interesting
attempts to build across the gap, see Lelas, 2000, Mitcham, 1994 and Rheingold, 1985.
The separation of the consideration of technological development from moral, aesthetic, political
and ideological determinations has become increasingly problematic. This separation
impoverishes people trained in Science, Technology and Medicine, and ignorance of the
scientific and technical side impoverishes those who study the Humanities.
Actually, Science, Technology and Medicine - far from being value-neutral - are the embodiment
of values in theories, in facts and artefacts, in procedures and programs. All facts are theory-
laden and all theories are value-laden, even if the value system is not explicitly given.
The essence of the Humanities is the exploration, maintaining and conducting debates about
values. That is central to Literature, the Theatre, Fine Art, much of Philosophy, Cultural Studies,
History, Classical Studies and much else.
The separation of fact and value which we associate with modern Science was an innovation of
the seventeenth century. The framework of explanation which prevailed in ancient, medieval and
Renaissance times was the Aristotelian one in which causes always occurred in fours:
the material
the efficient
the formal and
the final cause.
All four causes were required for a complete explanation.
Three of the four Aristotelian causes are still a part of the explanatory paradigm of modern
Science. The material cause explains out of what kind of matter the effect comes (matter,
including the atoms and fundamental particles). The efficient cause is that which imparts energy
to the material object and would include intrinsic ideas of energy. The formal cause gives
patterns, structures, symmetries. But the final cause or purpose was considered not objective and
was abandoned. It is not a part of modern scientific explanation.
That is the idealised story, however, and there are exceptions, e.g. in functional explanations of
Anatomy, Physiology and Medicine, in Evolutionary theory, in the functionalist tradition and in
the Human Sciences based on biological analogies.
Here it is interesting to mention Steven Weinberg’s reflection in Weinberg, 2000:
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“It might be supposed that something is explained when we find its cause, but an influential 1913 paper by Bertrand
Russell had argued that "the word 'cause' is so inextricably bound up with misleading associations as to make its
complete extrusion from the philosophical vocabulary desirable." This left philosophers like Wittgenstein with only
one candidate for a distinction between explanation and description, one that is teleological, defining an
explanation as a statement of the purpose of the thing explained.”
Weinberg, like modern physicists in general, is opposed to the idea of teleological explanation.
He presents his arguments that help us understand why scientists rejected teleology historically,
which is good to remember.
Alfred North Whitehead, on the other hand, wrote about the modern world of separated facts and
values:
“The seventeenth century had finally produced a scheme of scientific thought framed by mathematicians, for the use
of mathematicians… The enormous success of the scientific abstractions, yielding on the one hand matter… on the
other hand mind, perceiving, suffering, reasoning, but not interfering, has foisted onto philosophy the task of
accepting them as the most concrete rendering of fact.
Thereby, modern philosophy has been ruined. It has oscillated in a complex manner between three extremes. There
are the dualists, who accept matter and mind as on equal basis, and the two varieties of monists, those who put mind
inside matter, and those who put matter inside mind. But this juggling with abstractions can never overcome the
inherent confusion introduced by the… scientific scheme of the seventeenth century.” (Whitehead, 1997)
Science is a part of culture, and research traditions cannot be reasonably separated from the
prevailing world view of the epoch. The social forces affect the origination, funding and
deployment of scientific research, the foundations of scientific disciplines and even the scientific
world view. Science is not value neutral. (See Dodig-Crnkovic 2003a and 2003b).
Natural Sciences are interested in classes of phenomena and sets of undistinguishable
individuals. Their basic requirements are reproducibility and predictability. They rest upon
idealization/approximation and generalization. On the other hand arts, history and literature are
exquisitely particular and allow all sorts of interpretations in their depicting the lives of humans.
Their stories are unique and individual.
9 Philosophy of Information and Philosophy of Science
Let us start with a definition.
The Philosophy of Information is a new philosophical discipline, concerned with
a) the critical investigation of the conceptual nature and basic principles of information, including its
dynamics (especially computation and flow), utilisation and Sciences; and
b) the elaboration and application of information-theoretic and computational methodologies to philosophical
problems.”
According to: What is the Philosophy of Information? L. Floridi, 2002.
It is obviously much more than the Philosophy of Information Theory (for a very interesting text
on Information Theory, including even some philosophical consequences, see Chaitin, 1987.)
The field of Philosophy of Information (PI) is so new that no consensus is yet found about the
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nomenclature. So there are different names for essentially the same discipline: Philosophy of
Information, (see Floridi, 2003), Philosophy of Computing, (see Floridi 1999, Smith, 1995),
Cyber philosophy, Digital Philosophy (see Bynum & Moor, 1998) and with related fields such as
Philosophy of AI, Computer Ethics, (see Bowyer 2000, Martin & Schinzinger, 1989), Artificial
Morality and Computational Philosophy of Science (see Thagard, 1993).
The same is true when it comes to the use of the terms “Computing” and “Informatics”. To make
things even more complicated, Informatics is sometimes used in the meaning of Information
Systems of ACM/IEEE, 2001. Even Computing is sometimes used as synonymous of
Computation, which most commonly is a term for the special discipline which emerged at the
intersection of Computer Science, Applied Mathematics and various science disciplines
(including modeling with 3D visualization and Computer Simulation, efficient handling of large
data sets, and alike), see Dodig-Crnkovic, 2002.
What is the relation between the Philosophy of Information/Informatics/Computation and the
Philosophy of Science? The Philosophy of Information is a broader field, encompassing more
than different scientific facets of Computing. It includes an important ethical component as well
as ontological and even epistemological elements that are different in character from those
studied within the Philosophy of Science. However, there are many common interfaces where
synergetic effects can be expected in the course of research, such as the Philosophy of Science
discovering the new discipline of Computing as a new paradigm of future Science.
10 A 21st Century Renaissance - Cultivating New Ways of Thinking
From the early 14th to the late 16th century, a revival of interest in the values of Greece and Rome
led to the cultural age of the Renaissance. The European world image shifted from a religious to
a worldly outlook. Renaissance intellectuals had a growing confidence in individual human
abilities. This new humanism focused on the personal worth of the individual.
The fundamental idea of the Italian Renaissance was that a man should perfect himself by
developing all his faculties. The ideal man should be a scholar and connoisseur of art; he should
develop graceful speech and cherish a sense of honor. This Renaissance ideal of the free
development of individual faculties and its rules of civilized behavior formed a new conception
of humanist personal rights and obligations in Europe.
Nowadays, the outburst of computers and information technologies has created a new
environment for the revival of the Renaissance ideal. Computers have enabled the storage,
organization, and manipulation of information that was never possible before. The Internet
brings about practically instantaneous transmission of information around the world. It is the tool
that makes it possible to navigate and surf the oceans of information. Computers have given
artists and engineers, scientists and scholars new tools and opportunities of work and
communication. Information technology permits faster development of fundamental
breakthroughs in virtually every field, including materials, energy, and biotechnology.
As a result we should expect advancements with the character of those of the Italian
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Renaissance. The technology engine that drove the first Renaissance was the printing press.
Today, it is computing and communication that allow faster, wider access to the best
information, tools, and practices. What makes it appealing is humanism, the force at the heart of
the first Renaissance. It placed human needs and aspirations at the center of every endeavor.
Assessing Technology and even Science from a humanist perspective will be the greatest
challenge to come.
11 Conclusions
"How shall we live?" is, for Socrates, the fundamental question of human existence - and the
attempt to answer that question is, for him, what makes human life worthwhile.
Computing is changing our culture rapidly and it affects our lives in a number of most profound
ways. The Computer itself is a new research field and its object of investigation is an ever-
developing artefact, the materialization of the ideas that try to structure knowledge and the
information about the world, including computers themselves. Already the subject of
investigation of computing suggests that the traditional science paradigm may not apply for
Computing. For classical Sciences the object of investigation is Nature, while scientific parts of
Computing to a very high degree have an artefact as an object. Here we can find the first reason
of the return to human-centered philosophy: this new field that is partly scientific is about a
human project.
However, in spite of all the characteristics that distinguish the young field of Computing from
several thousand year old sciences such as Mathematics, Logic, and Natural Sciences we can
draw a conclusion that Computing contains a critical mass of scientific features to qualify as a
Science. Computing has a traditional core of “hard” (exact) Sciences.
All modern Sciences are very strongly connected to Technology. This is very much the case for
Biology, Chemistry and Physics, and even more the case for Computing. The engineering parts
in Computing have connections both with the hardware (physical) aspects of the computer and
software. The important difference is that the computer (the physical object that is directly
related to the theory) is not a focus of investigation (not even in the sense of being the cause of a
certain algorithm proceeding in a certain way) but it is rather theory materialized, a tool always
capable of changing in order to accommodate even more powerful theoretical concepts.
Contrary to the present-day scientific ideal of Physics which is defined as the opposite of
Metaphysics, Computing/Informatics is vitally connected with Philosophy. It presents an
opportunity to rethink from a new fresh perspective our basic concepts from the beginning. Even
to reach for a new synthesis of Sciences and Humanities, Arts and Engineering: a fusion of
social, cultural, economic, ethical, and ecological values for achieving a rationalization and
harmonization of the needs of human society. Technology, humanism, and cross-disciplinary
cooperation can combine in the New Renaissance which is the ideal of broad-minded, well-
mannered deliberation that cultivates diversity of opinion.
Actually, taking into account the present development within different scientific fields, we must
conclude that Science is simply not the same thing it was in the last century. The time is ripe for
a paradigm shift in the Philosophy of Science! Computing is winning the ground that was the
14
traditional domain of Physics. The answer to the question what ultimately matters nowadays
belongs more to Computing than to Physics. The search for answers to questions about truth,
meaning, mind, subjectivity, consciousness etc. lies among others within Computing.
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Philosophy and Computing explores each of the following areas of technology: the digital revolution; the computer; the Internet and the Web; CD-ROMs and Mulitmedia; databases, textbases, and hypertexts; Artificial Intelligence; the future of computing. Luciano Floridi shows us how the relationship between philosophy and computing provokes a wide range of philosophical questions: is there a philosophy of information? What can be achieved by a classic computer? How can we define complexity? What are the limits of quantam computers? Is the Internet an intellectual space or a polluted environment? What is the paradox in the Strong Artificial Intlligence program? Philosophy and Computing is essential reading for anyone wishing to fully understand both the development and history of information and communication technology as well as the philosophical issues it ultimately raises.
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