Talk: What I Know and Why I Know It

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

The above quote (typically attributed to John Maynard Keynes but probably not originating from him) makes it sound so easy. So why don’t we all act in this way?

This talk looks at recent ideas about what the brain is actually doing, and relates this to what philosophers think about how we know things. It speculatively ties together the separate ideas of:

  • Neuroscience: Karl Friston’s ‘Variational Free Energy’ about what the brain is doing, involving a combination of (i) minimization of surprise through action and perception’ and (ii) hierarchical message passing.
  • Epistemology: Susan Haack’s ‘Foundherentism’, involving a combination of (i) foundational or correspondence theories of truth and (ii) the coherence theory of truth.
  • Philosophy of Science: Michael Polanyi’s ‘tacit knowledge’.
  • Philosophy: Isaiah Berlin’s Psychological classification of individuals as either (i) ‘hedgehogs’ or (ii) ‘foxes’.

to present:

  • a pragmatic, physically-grounded theory of knowledge, and
  • an understanding of the difficulties we have in changing our minds.

See ‘What I Know and Why I Know It’ for more information.

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2 Responses to Talk: What I Know and Why I Know It

  1. headbirths says:

    “Ignorance is not a lack of knowledge: it’s a preconceived idea that fills the place in our system of thinking.” – Hans Rosling (

  2. headbirths says:

    Brian Flange’s Amazon review of …

    “…Nancy Cartwright’s ‘How The Laws of Physics Lie’ is devoted to expounding a philosophy of how scientific laws have to trade-off explanatory generality for truthlikeness. In a nutshell, that’s the thesis: you can have truthlikeness or you can have generality but it’s hard to have both. … ‘How the Laws of Physics Lie’ is devoted to expounding a doctrine about science that Cartwright called local realism, which in part extols the virtues of practical experimentation over high-level (usually philosophical) theorising. This book is therefore not an attack on the rationality or success of scientific practice or scientific methodology. Likewise, Cartwright is not developing a new wrinkle on Kuhn-style anti-rationalism or relativism about science, (not that Kuhn ever claimed to be an anti-rationalist or a relativist). … one useful book for seeing where Cartwright is coming from is Ian Hacking’s ‘Representing and Intervening’ [Ed: Cartwright was married to Hacking]… philosophers have been offering articulated and well-developed statements of scientific realist positions for decades now. See for example Stathis Psillos’s ‘Scientific Realism: How Science Tracks Truth’…”

    Link to his review:

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