A blog about ideas relating to philoinformatics (or at least that have something to do with computer science or philosophy)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Philoinformatics Manifesto

I wrote this draft philoinformatics "manifesto" in April and have been meaning to polish it up and post it.

Yeah... it's July now.

I still intend to clean it up, but I decided to post my draft, as is, just to get it out there for now. Call it the beta version... actually more like alpha. All comments very welcome at this point.

Philoinformatics is a scientific, philosophical, and most of all an engineering discipline with the single goal of radically enhancing philosophy using information systems. If you're thinking about Artificial Intelligence that does philosophy for us then you've got the wrong (but awesome) idea. I'm talking about philosophy being done by people, but being done better, with the whole philosophical process being enhanced from end to end with helpful software made possible by underlying information systems.

We all need to recognize that philosophy as a discipline is devastatingly problematic and requires new life. Philosophy is known to lack proper resolution to patently philosophical problems and is fraught with pervasive disagreement among its experts, among other major problems. Just consider the thousands of man-years of thought put into the Free Will and Determinism topic, for example. Many philosophers do recognize that these and other problems exist and even usually spend some time thinking about them and/or joking about them, but also essentially practice a kind of denial about there existence. Maybe it's because doing philosophy still feels important and individual philosophers are making personal progress in the sense that they are acquiring and refining their own philosophical concepts. Philosophy is a slow and difficult process and philosophers are wasting the vast majority of their time doing what I believe they themselves would agree is a waste of their time if they only had a better way to view the actual landscape of philosophy; the landscape of the content of philosophy.

Despite this heavily pessimistic view of philosophy, I am not advocating for Skeptical Metaphilosophy, the view that philosophy does not have intrinsic value. I also, of course, don't claim to be able to reliably recognize when I or anyone else is specifically wasting their time doing philosophy. What I am advocating is that we build the systems required to show whether there is, where there is, and when there is valuable philosophy to be done. After thousands of years of philosophers spinning their wheels on philosophical problems, I think it's fair to suggest that some focus needs to be put into novel methods for making discipline-wide progress. For those that are able, instead of spending time refining one's own philosophical positions and attempting to make personal philosophical progress, I advocate putting some work into progress for the discipline as a whole.

Speaking of traction, actually imagine a wheel spinning on a road. The wheel spinning is the effort of philosophers and the forward motion is the progress of philosophy. If philosophy isn't making progress because of the nature of the content of philosophy (e.g. "words on holiday" or some other confusion) then that means our wheel is slippery, the problem is intrinsic. If instead philosophy isn't making progress because of the way philosophy is done or the current environment of philosophy (e.g. pervasive repetition of ideas or high barrier to entry for publishing or unknown status of philosophical positions) then that means our road is to slippery, the problem is extrinsic. For progress we need traction, for traction we need both the wheel and the road to have grip. Skeptical Metaphilosophy is the view that our wheel can't be made grippy. Naturalism could be construed as the view that scientifically supported positions are are the only grippy parts of the wheel. Both are about the wheel, philosophy itself. Philoinformatics is an attempt to give the road grip. Set up an environment where philosophy can make all the traction it possibly can. Of course, the wheel could be incurably slippery and giving the road grip won't help, but at least now you know where the grip is missing. In other words, Philoinformatics at bare minimum can provide evidence for or against Skeptical Metaphilosophy.

Philoinformatics is an attempt to face the problems of philosophy head on by building mechanisms for helping people understanding the actual landscape of philosophy. Actually, I intend Philoinformatics to be more general than what I've been advocating. Here's the more general form:

  1) Identify Symptoms
  2) Identify underlying qualities giving rise to the symptoms
  3) Design Systems to modify that quality of philosophy
  4) Develop the Systems

As simple as these steps may sound, all four of these steps are quite difficult. You might also notice that despite what I started out saying, Philoinformatics doesn't necessarily need to radically enhance philosophy. Any enhancement will do and would count as work in philoinformatics. But I stand by the "radically" part of the goal because I think philosophy requires radical enhancement and I hope philoinformatics is an avenue for getting us there.

No comments: