Rolin Jones Discovers Clark Glymour

A number of posts here and here have compared the “hockey stick” construction of past temperatures to the play by Rolin Jones to illustrate an area of science where dramatization and self-promotion have become confused with the search for scientific truth. The background of this story is fascinating.

In a story on the playwright at relates the story behind the play.

In doing research for the play, Jones was lucky to have as a resource the library at Yale University, where he was studying. He dusted off an eclectic tome called Android Epistemology, which had never been taken out by a student. “The pages were still stuck together,” he recalls. “I was amazed that somebody had written 250 pages on the theoretical epistemology of thinking, breathing robots.”

The book Thinking about Android Epistemology was edited by Kenneth M. Ford, Clark Glymour and Patrick J. Hayes, and Clark Glymour. Clark Glymour was one of the most influential writers for me on modeling. He has written extensively on causation, especially the conditions for inferring causation from observational data. He also has software called Tetrad implementing his ideas. While his work is little known, I think the issues he explores are central to scientific method.

He defines ‘knowability’ in terms of the ability of the ‘knower’, establishing a hierarchy of minds capable of proving hypotheses of increasing complexity similar to the pantheon of Greek Gods. For example, a simple existential hypothesis like “This is a ball” is provable by a mere mortal by producing evidence of the ball. A simple universal hypothesis like “All of these are balls” is disprovable by a mortal by showing an example that is not a ball. It is also provable in the case of a finite number of examples by enumerating each of the examples of balls. However, a mere mortal cannot enumerate a infinite number of examples of balls in finite time and so not prove the universal hypothesis. But a Greek God may have the power to do so by enumerating each ball in time 1/n, thus in the limit producing infinite balls in a finite time. Thus provability is a function of the power of the knower.

There is much, much more fascinating stuff in Glymour’s work. A list of his books are here. I hope the pages are not all stuck together as Rolin Jones found. Perhaps when robots start buying books “Thinking about Android Epistemology” will become a best seller.


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