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Stephen S.
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Philosophy
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Question:

According to the Philosopher of Science Karl Popper, a scientific theory is differentiated from a pseudo-scientific theory insofar that the prior can be falsified whereas the latter cannot. What, precisely, is Popper saying in claiming such? Do you agree with his claim?

Stephen S.
Answer:

Popper's conception of science has had a tremendous impact on the natural and social sciences alike; so much so that it is not hyperbolic to say that his prescription for falsification has become the scientific gold standard. To elaborate, falsification is understood by Popper as a test that can show whether a statement, hypothesis, or theory is correct or incorrect: via empirical methods. For instance, the hypothesis "all swans are white" was taken to be true until explorers found a black swan in Australia. It only took one black swan --- in the whole world --- to show that the hypothesis is false. Contrarily, the astrological horoscopes are not falsifiable. They are usually quite vague and cannot be assessed as via empirical measures. Hence, they can only appear to be verified. (For instance, any time one's horoscope seems more or less correct, astrology --- as a whole --- seems to be proven as a legitimate theory.) On the whole, Popper's distinction should be used as our scientific rule of thumb. It is important to note, however, that his account is not perfect. For example, by his account the theory of evolution does not qualify as a bona fide scientific theory since it cannot be falsified. Yet the theory of evolution is clearly one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs in all of human history. Furthermore, Popper's claim that induction has not place in scientific theorizing (that all theorizing is deductive) does not seem to correspond with how scientific theories are actually constructed.

Psychology
TutorMe
Question:

What is the evolutionary origin of Theory of Mind: the human ability to attribute beliefs, desires, and so on, to other people?

Stephen S.
Answer:

Different theorists have forwarded different accounts of the evolutionary origin of Theory of Mind. Some, such as Humphrey in "the Social Function of Intellect" (1976) defend the Machiavellian Intelligence hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, human developed the ability to attribute mental states to others as a way of anticipating the --- potentially dangerous --- behaviors of their peers. In this account, phylogenetic development of human cognition amounts to a cognitive arms race: a means for ape x to plan around ape y trying harm, steal from, or out-mate x. However, recent discussion of the evolutionary origins of Theory of Mind has emphasized the evolutionary benefits of cooperation among our proto-human ancestors: claiming that the ability to attribute mental states to others made hunting in groups more effective, making ToM more adaptive per yielding more food that individuals could accrue on their own.

English
TutorMe
Question:

In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughter House Five, the protagonist Billy Pilgrim continually becomes "unstuck" in time. What do you think Vonnegut is trying to emphasize through his account of Billy Pilgrim? What, if anything, can Pilgrim's unintended time travelling tell us about the author?

Stephen S.
Answer:

As a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany and witness to the US fire bombing of Dresden, Vonnegut --- self-avowedly --- came to experience life as a series of accidents devoid of purpose. In the preface to Slaughter House Five, Vonnegut recounts his many failed attempts to write a coherent novel about the fire bombing of Dresden, and apologizes to Seymour "Sam" Lawrence (who gave Vonnegut a three book contract), saying: "It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds." With this in mind, we can interpret Pilgrim's time travelling as an expression of Vonnegut's understanding of life as precious yet capricious, and--- in many respects --- absurd. Just as Vonnegut had no control over his own fate while a prisoner of war, Billy Pilgrim has no control over his place in time.

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