Richard Hamming. "Non-existent chapter": How do we know what we know (1-10 minutes out of 40)

Original author: Richard Hamming
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This lecture was not in the schedule, but it had to be added so that there was no window between classes. The lecture, in essence, is about how we know what we know, if, of course, we really know it. This topic is as old as the world - it has been under discussion for the last 4,000 years, if not longer. In philosophy, a special term has been created for its designation - epistemology, or the science of knowledge.

I would like to start with the primitive tribes of the distant past. It is worth noting that in each of them there was a myth about the creation of the world. According to one ancient Japanese belief, someone stirred up the mud, from the splashes of which the islands appeared. Other nations had similar myths: for example, the Israelites believed that God created the world for six days, after which he was tired and finished the creation. All these myths are similar - although their plots are quite diverse, they all try to explain why this world exists. I will call this approach theological, since it does not imply an explanation, except for “this happened by the will of the gods; they did what they thought was necessary, and so the world appeared. ”

In the area of ​​the VI century BC. e. The philosophers of ancient Greece began to ask more specific questions - what does this world consist of, what are its parts, and also tried to approach them more rationally than theologically. As you know, they singled out the elements: earth, fire, water and air; they still had many other concepts and beliefs, and slowly but surely all this was transformed into our modern ideas about what we know. However, this topic has perplexed people at all times, and even the ancient Greeks wondered how they knew what they knew.

As you remember from our discussion of mathematics, the ancient Greeks believed that geometry, to which their mathematics was limited, was reliable and absolutely unquestionable knowledge. Nevertheless, as shown by Maurice Klein, the author of the book “Mathematics. Loss of certainty ", which most mathematicians would agree with, does not contain any truth in mathematics. Mathematics gives only consistency for a given set of rules of reasoning. If you change these rules or used assumptions, the math will be completely different. There is no absolute truth, except, perhaps, the Ten Commandments (if you are a Christian), but, alas, nothing about the subject of our discussion. It is unpleasant.

But you can apply some approaches and get different conclusions. Descartes, having considered the assumptions of many of the philosophers who preceded him, took a step back and asked the question: “How small can I be sure of?”; as a response, he chose the statement “I think, therefore I exist.” From this statement, he tried to deduce philosophy and gain a lot of knowledge. This philosophy was not adequately justified, so we did not receive knowledge. Kant argued that everyone is born with a solid knowledge of Euclidean geometry, and many other things, which means that there is innate knowledge that is given, if you will, by God. Unfortunately, just at the moment when Kant described his thoughts, mathematicians created non-Euclidean geometries that were as consistent as their prototype. It turns out, Kant threw words to the wind,

This is an important topic, since science is always asked for justification: it is often possible to hear that science has shown something, proved that it will be like this; we know that, we know that - and we know that? Are you sure? I am going to consider these issues in more detail. Let's remember the rule from biology: ontogeny repeats phylogenesis. It means that the development of the individual, from the fertilized egg to the student, schematically repeats the entire preceding process of evolution. Thus, scientists claim that in the process of embryo development, gill slits appear and disappear again, and therefore they assume that our ancestors were fish.

It sounds good if you do not think about it too seriously. It gives a good understanding of how evolution takes place, if you believe in it. But I will go a little further and ask: how do children learn? How do they get knowledge? They may be born with predestined knowledge, but this sounds a bit unconvincing. To be honest, extremely unconvincing.

So what do children do? They have certain instincts, obeying which, children begin to make sounds. They make all these sounds, which we often call babbling, and this babble, apparently, does not depend on the place of birth of the child - in China, Russia, England or America the children will be babbling, basically the same. However, depending on the country, babble will develop differently. For example, when a Russian child utters the word “mother” a couple of times, he will receive a positive response and therefore will repeat these sounds. Empirically, he discovers which sounds help to achieve the desired and which not, and so he studies many things.

Let me remind you that I have already said several times - there is no first word in the dictionary; each word is defined through others, which means that the dictionary is circular. In the same way, when a child tries to build a consistent sequence of things, he is having difficulty encountering inconsistencies that he has to resolve, since there is no first thing that a child could learn, and “mother” does not always work. There is confusion, for example, such as I will now show.

Here is a famous American joke: the words of a popular song (gladly the cross I'd bear, gladly carry your cross)
and how the children hear it (gladly the cross-eyed bear, with the joy of a cross-eyed bear)

(In Russian: violin-fox / wheel creaking, I am a drooping emerald / kernel - pure emerald, if you want bullish plums / if you want to be happy, gossip / hundred steps back.)

I also had such difficulties, not in this particular case, but in my life there are several cases that I could recall when I thought that I was reading and speaking, probably correctly, but those around me, especially my parents, understood something completely different.

Here you can observe serious errors, as well as see how they occur. The child is faced with the need to make assumptions about what the words of the language mean and gradually learns the right options. However, the correction of such errors may take a long time. One cannot be sure that they are completely corrected even now.

You can go very far without understanding what you are doing. I have already talked about my friend, a doctor of mathematical sciences from Harvard University. When he finished Harvard, he said that he could calculate the derivative by definition, but he doesn’t understand it for real, he just knows how to do it. This is true for many things that we do. For cycling, skateboarding, swimming, and many more things we don’t have to know how to do them. Knowledge seems to be more than words can express. I do not dare to say that you can’t ride a bike, even if you can’t tell me how to do it, but you pass in front of me on one wheel. Thus, knowledge is very different.

Let's summarize a little of what I said. There are people who believe that we have innate knowledge; If you look at the situation as a whole, you may agree, considering, for example, that children have an innate tendency to make sounds. If the child was born in China, he will learn to pronounce a variety of sounds to achieve the desired. If he was born in Russia, he will also make a lot of sounds. If he was born in America, he will still make a lot of sounds. The language itself is not so important.

On the other hand, the child has the innate ability to learn any language, just like any other. He remembers the sound sequences and understands what they mean. He has to put meaning into these sounds himself, since there is no first part that he could remember. Show your child a horse and ask him: “Is the word“ horse ”the name of a horse? Or does it mean that she is four-legged? Maybe this is her color? ”If you try to tell a child what a horse is by showing it, the child will not be able to answer this question, but this is what you mean. The child will not know which category this word belongs to. Or, for example, take the verb "to run." It can be used when you are making an accelerated movement, but you can also say that after washing the shirt ran colors, or complain about a hurrying clock.

The child experiences great difficulties, but, sooner or later, he corrects his mistakes, recognizing that he understood something wrong. Over the years, children become less and less capable of it, and when they become old enough, they can no longer change. Obviously, people can be mistaken. Recall, for example, those who believe that he is Napoleon. No matter how much you present to such a person the evidence that this is not so - he will continue to believe in it. You know, there are many people with strong beliefs that you do not share. Since you may believe that their beliefs are insane, to say that there is an unmistakable way to discover new knowledge is not entirely true. You will say to this: “But science is very careful!” Let's look at the scientific method and check if this is so.

For the translation, thanks to Sergey Klimov.

To be continued ...

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Book content and translated chapters
  1. Intro to the Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn (March 28, 1995) Translation: Chapter 1
  2. «Foundations of the Digital (Discrete) Revolution» (March 30, 1995) Глава 2. Основы цифровой (дискретной) революции
  3. «History of Computers — Hardware» (March 31, 1995) Глава 3. История компьютеров — железо
  4. «History of Computers — Software» (April 4, 1995) Глава 4. История компьютеров — Софт
  5. «History of Computers — Applications» (April 6, 1995) Глава 5. История компьютеров — практическое применение
  6. «Artificial Intelligence — Part I» (April 7, 1995) Глава 6. Искусственный интеллект — 1
  7. «Artificial Intelligence — Part II» (April 11, 1995) Глава 7. Искусственный интеллект — II
  8. «Artificial Intelligence III» (April 13, 1995) Глава 8. Искуственный интеллект-III
  9. «n-Dimensional Space» (April 14, 1995) Глава 9. N-мерное пространство
  10. «Coding Theory — The Representation of Information, Part I» (April 18, 1995) Глава 10. Теория кодирования — I
  11. «Coding Theory — The Representation of Information, Part II» (April 20, 1995) Глава 11. Теория кодирования — II
  12. «Error-Correcting Codes» (April 21, 1995) Глава 12. Коды с коррекцией ошибок
  13. «Information Theory» (April 25, 1995) Готово, осталось опубликовать
  14. «Digital Filters, Part I» (April 27, 1995) Глава 14. Цифровые фильтры — 1
  15. «Digital Filters, Part II» (April 28, 1995) Глава 15. Цифровые фильтры — 2
  16. «Digital Filters, Part III» (May 2, 1995) Глава 16. Цифровые фильтры — 3
  17. «Digital Filters, Part IV» (May 4, 1995) Глава 17. Цифровые фильтры — IV
  18. «Simulation, Part I» (May 5, 1995) Глава 18. Моделирование — I
  19. «Simulation, Part II» (May 9, 1995) Глава 19. Моделирование — II
  20. «Simulation, Part III» (May 11, 1995) Глава 20. Моделирование — III
  21. «Fiber Optics» (May 12, 1995) Глава 21. Волоконная оптика
  22. «Computer Aided Instruction» (May 16, 1995) Глава 22. Обучение с помощью компьютера (CAI)
  23. «Mathematics» (May 18, 1995) Глава 23. Математика
  24. «Quantum Mechanics» (May 19, 1995) Глава 24. Квантовая механика
  25. «Creativity» (May 23, 1995). Перевод: Глава 25. Креативность
  26. «Experts» (May 25, 1995) Глава 26. Эксперты
  27. «Unreliable Data» (May 26, 1995) Глава 27. Недостоверные данные
  28. «Systems Engineering» (May 30, 1995) Глава 28. Системная Инженерия
  29. «You Get What You Measure» (June 1, 1995) Глава 29. Вы получаете то, что вы измеряете
  30. «How Do We Know What We Know» (June 2, 1995) переводим по 10 минутным кусочкам
  31. Hamming, «You and Your Research» (June 6, 1995). Перевод: Вы и ваша работа

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