Scientific Models and Man
Harris (Henry)
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BOOK ABSTRACT:

Inside Cover Blurb

  1. A group of distinguished men from different disciplines here describe how current work in their own subjects is changing their view of the world.
  2. Scientific models have been enormously influential in transforming the way in which we look at ourselves and at the universe in which we live.
  3. While the transformations produced by Newton, Harvey, Darwin, and Einstein are now familiar, contemporary intellectual revolutions are less easy to appreciate, and they take time to make their full influence felt. This book gives some indications of the way the world is going to look tomorrow.
  4. This series of lectures, commemorating the philosopher Herbert Spencer, is held annually in the University of Oxford.
  5. Henry Harris is Professor of Pathology at the University of Oxford.

BOOK COMMENT:



"Bruner (Jerome) - Psychology and the Image of Man"

Source: Harris - Scientific Models and Man


Author’s Introduction
  1. Having agreed to deliver a Herbert Spencer Lecture on how psychology had affected common sense about man or had itself been affected by that common sense — thinking then that it would make an amusing summer's interlude of historical writing — I soon discovered it would not go so easily. For, once I had started on the inevitable first notes, it was plain to me that I was not embarked at all on a summer of intellectual history but on a much thornier enterprise, partly philosophical, partly psychological, and only trivially historical — trival in the sense that it was no surprise that, in the later nineteenth century, psychology had modelled itself on those successful natural-science neighbours in whose district it had decided to build its mansion, and had suffered the consequences thereafter.
  2. I can recall my early dark thoughts. Little question, to begin with, that the most powerful impact on common sense had come from Freud. Yet Freud was and is peripheral to and grossly atypical of academic psychology, so much so, indeed, that apart from providing cautionary methodological tales with which to warn the unwary undergraduate, his work is not even covered in the Oxford syllabus.
  3. Or take it another way; has psychology affected issues of public concern on which it could reasonably be expected to have a bearing, say, economics? Here, surely, is a powerful mode of thought and of policymaking that treats psychological matters like risk, preference, and delayed gratification in saving and investment. It even proposes notions like utility through which the values and probabilities of outcomes are assumed to combine to determine choice. Yet though economics had, in the lifetime of official psychology, been through the revolutions of Marshall, of Keynes, of Schumpeter, and of Morgenstern and von Neumann, there is not a trace of any influence exerted by psychologists.


COMMENT: Herbert Spencer Lecture



"Harris (Henry) - Scientific Models and Man: Preface"

Source: Harris - Scientific Models and Man


Full Text
  1. The relationship between science and philosophy is less intimate now than it was in the time of Herbert Spencer. During his lifetime, scientific discoveries dramatically transformed the view that educated people had of themselves and of the world in which they lived; but the direction of scientific investigations, and often the interpretation of particular experiments, were themselves profoundly influenced by the philosophical positions that scientists adopted.
  2. The mainstream of philosophy is nowdays a specialized discipline from which most scientists are excluded; and recent philosophical advances have had essentially no impact on scientific practice.
  3. Science continues, none the less, to change the way we see ourselves. To have one's view of oneself changed radically remains a painful process; and major scientific discoveries, once their implications have been understood, continue to provoke cries of public outrage.
  4. Many of us are temperamentally opposed to discovery and would much prefer things to stand still. But no one educated in the twentieth century, whether he knows it or not, and whether he likes it or not, is immune to the intellectual consequences of Harvey, or Newton, or Darwin, or Planck.
  5. In this, the 1976 series of Herbert Spencer Lectures, we have gathered together a group of distinguished men from different disciplines to tell us how current work in their own subjects is changing their views of man. Sooner or later, in greater or less degree, the change of vision will affect us all.
    → H. H. Oxford, Hilary 1978.


COMMENT: Herbert Spencer Lectures



"Michie (Donald) - Machine Models of Perceptual and Intellectual Skills"

Source: Harris - Scientific Models and Man


Author’s Concluding Remarks

Whether the insights obtained from machine models by students of cognition will prove to be sparse or abundant, the process of harvesting them cannot begin until the first large lessons have been truly learned. These are:
  1. Compact, algorithmic, intensive, 'top-down' theories form the basis of understanding; that and that alone constitutes their essential purpose.
  2. Their use as the basis of skill only makes sense for tasks of low complexity — as, to take an extreme example, the extraction of the square root, for which Newton's tour-de-force of concision is also a widely used machine representation. The fact that all tasks attempted by machine were until recent times of low complexity in this sense, blinded the first generation of AI workers to the essential unworkability of such representations for tasks of high complexity.
  3. For complex tasks the attempt to create skilled programs as transcriptions of intensive theories runs foul of the 'combinatorial explosion'. For such tasks, skill must, for every computing device whether protoplasmic or electronic, be built as a 'bottom-up' creation in which (to recall once more Herbert Spencer's words) ‘the vital actions are severally decomposed into their component parts, and each of these parts has an agent to itself’.


COMMENT: Herbert Spencer Lecture



"Sen (Amartya) - Rational Fools: A Critique of the Behavioural Foundations of Economic Theory"

Source: Harris - Scientific Models and Man


Author’s Introduction1
  1. In his Mathematical psychics, published in 1881, Edgeworth asserted that ‘the first principle of Economics is that every agent is actuated only by self-interest.’ This view of man has been a persistent one in economic models, and the nature of economic theory seems to have been much influenced by this basic premise.
  2. In this essay I would like to examine some of the problems that have arisen from this conception of human beings. I should mention that Edgeworth himself was quite aware that this so-called ‘first principle of Economics’ was not a particularly realistic one. Indeed, he felt that ‘the concrete nineteenth century man is for the most part an impure egoist, a mixed utilitarian.’ This raises the interesting question as to why Edgeworth spent so much of his time and talent in developing a line of inquiry, the first principle of which he believed to be false.
  3. The issue is not why abstractions should be employed in pursuing general economic questions — the nature of the inquiry makes this inevitable — but why choose an assumption which you yourself believe to be not merely inaccurate in detail but fundamentally mistaken? As we shall see, this question is of continuing interest to modern economics as well.


COMMENT: Herbert Spencer Lecture




In-Page Footnotes ("Sen (Amartya) - Rational Fools: A Critique of the Behavioural Foundations of Economic Theory")

Footnote 1:
  • For helpful comments on and criticisms of an earlier version of the paper, I am most grateful to Ake Andersson, Isaiah Berlin, Marshal Cohen, Frank Hahn, Martin Hollis, Janos Kornai, Thomas Nagel, Derek Parfit, Christopher Peacocke, Tim Scanlon, and Tibor Scitovsky.



"Wilkinson (D.H.) - The Universe as Artefact"

Source: Harris - Scientific Models and Man


Author’s Introduction
  1. What does a fish know about the water in which he swims all his life?
  2. This is one of the many homespun but profound remarks through which Albert Einstein illuminated his preoccupation with the interrelationships that give our world its structure and that link 'us' with the 'world about us'.
  3. My theme in this lecture is the linkages and definitions implicit in Einstein's seminal question. I am going to explore in a way that will be naive but, I hope, carry no more prejudice than is central to the theme itself, the way in which we advance our 'objective' knowledge of the natural world about us; more particularly I shall explore limits to that knowledge and to its objectivity. And my thesis will be that, at a certain level, the objectivity with which man now thinks of himself as looking at nature from outside will dissolve and will be replaced by something that will involve man's nature in an essential way; the natural world will therefore no longer be outside man but will depend on him for its definition: the universe as artefact.
  4. Before I begin I will discuss kinds of limits to our knowledge of the natural world that I have in mind because that will set the stage for the argument As I see it there are four classes of limits to such knowledge and I shall deal with them roughly in order of their increasing profundity.
  5. The first kind of limit is essentially trivial and I should apologize for mentioning it were it not for the fact that it really is a most serious practical nuisance: the scales in space and time that we have available to us for our experiments.
    […]


COMMENT: Herbert Spencer Lecture



"Young (J.Z.) - Memory and Its Models"

Source: Harris - Scientific Models and Man


Author’s Introduction
  1. For the whole of recorded human history until quite recently views of man have dominated scientific models of memory — rather than the reverse. The concept that man is composed of two distinct parts, body and mind, has imposed its restrictive limitations on all thinking about memory.
  2. It is ironical that, if the theory I shall propose is right, this concept of the mind is the result of the presence of a particular type of model actually in human brains.
  3. From early times there have of course been attempts to speak about memory by comparison with physical processes. Plato makes Socrates use the famous metaphor of a wax tablet which 'we hold to our perceptions or thoughts so that it receives the impression of them as from the seal of a ring and that we remember and know what is imprinted as long as the impression lasts'. I need not elaborate the confusions that arise from this dualistic view. Anyhow Plato made Socrates call it a 'waxen figment'.
  4. We may give it the credit, however, that on its physical side it contains the essence of one of the two types of hypothesis about memory that persist until today, namely that of a static record.
  5. The other type of view was already expressed by Aristotle, that memory is due not to a static trace but to a continuously maintained activity of the pneuma passing in the blood between the sense organs and the heart, which is why we still 'learn by heart'. These partially physiological views, like those of nearly all writers since, depend on the assumption of a transfer from a non-physical entity to a physical one.
  6. […]


COMMENT: Herbert Spencer Lecture



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