Synthetic Epistemology
Synthetic epistemology is the construction (or synthesis) of epistemology as a core aspect of the high level design of synthetic cognitive systems. Here we work towards a single normative epistemology intended to unify diverse synthetic cognitive systems into a single cosmic cognitive system potentially extending throughout our galaxy and beyond.
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These are the briefest notes on the main features of synthetic epistemology.
Some aspects of synthetic epistemology are introduced through the work of other philosophers.

Introductory Notes
These are the briefest notes on the main features of synthetic epistemology.
Why a New Epistemology?

Synthetic biologists are designing new organisms and ecosystems, some specifically intended for space travel. They research life partly by creating new kinds of life, and may eventually participate in the design of self reproducing cognitive systems which confound our classification as living or intelligent. To realise systems of this kind, which can propagate optimally across the cosmos while engaging fruitfully as cognitive agents collaborating with their terrestial alma mater and peers, deliberate and intelligent design will be necessary. A key element of that design will be an epistemology which is no longer anthropomorphic, nor even exclusively appropriate for living cognitive systems.

Or more briefly: we need new synthetic epistemologies, because the age of synthetic cognitive systems is upon us. A single overarching synthetic epistemology is desirable (if unlikely) to provide unity throughout an expanding cosmic intelligence.

Why Synthetic?

My original motivation for the use of this term was more broadly but more philosophically rooted than the engineering impetus which has caused me to return to the idea.

Epistemology has always been a problem domain for me because of the conflict I perceive between what I consider to be epistemological bedrock (the distinction between logical, empirical and evaluative sentences, various foundationalisms) and widely received attitudes among analytic philosophers in the second half of the twentieth century. A key element in this recent consensus is the idea that, by and large, one can and should take language as it is for the purposes of philosophy. It has long seemed to me that one cannot coherently suppose that language has any definite meaning, but must chose either from diverse prior meanings or from equally diverse possible future meanings in articulating an understanding of any matter. One must I believe, and in any case I do, chose ones language carefully and that choice should be made with some purpose in mind. There is therefore a creative element in a philosophical (or other) theory. The recognition that my epistemological ideas depend upon a purposive synthesis of language and methods rather than articulate in a given language objective epistemological truths has lead to my use of the term "synthetic epistemology"

To this motivation related to our right to choose language, is now added the impetus from my desire to carefully design synthetic cognitive systems.

Some Comparisons
Some aspects of synthetic epistemology are introduced through the work of other philosophers.

Socrates is famous for his method of eliciting knowledge by questioning, and the associated doctrine (anamnesis?) along the lines that we are born with the knowledge which we have temporarily forgotten, needing only some hints to recall.

I have myself a poor memory, particularly for detail. My experiences and my reading are rarely memorised in an explicit form, but are digested and discarded. They affect in greater or lesser degree my conception of the world, but the details of what it was which caused that transformation are likely to be lost. If I need to retain details it can be done, but otherwise the chances of retention are small, and the effort involved in memorisation can be very large.

The effect of this manner of assimilation is that I find myself making judgements without knowing the source or nature of the knowledge on which the judgement is based, it is as if the knowledge were innate. My own experience is not exceptional, even though my own memory (which is rather bad) may not be typical. Probably the major part of our cultural knowledge (including almost the whole of our working knowledge of language) we know without having any trace of memory of how we came by it.

The relevance of this here is in the following points:

  • En passant, that there is no reason to doubt that we have some innate knowledge (of how if not of that)
  • that much of our best and most reliable knowledge is formed by sound judgement on the basis of extensive experience and has no rational basis

Leibniz is of interest here because of his ideas about the automation of reason.

The automation of reason is today becoming a reality. Not only men, but also machines, may perhaps now be said to "know"

What are the scope and limits of the kind of deductive knowledge which Leibniz envisaged, and, beyond this sphere in which reason reigns, what model there prevails?

In synthetic epistemology particular attention is intended to an idealised model of rational knowledge. The ways in which this breaks down and how things work beyond its realm are of interest.

David Hume

There are several aspects of Hume's philosophy which are relevant here.

Firstly, in general tenor he was sceptical and has been regarded as an eminent and early positivist (before that term was invented).

Secondly, the distinction between "relations of ideas" and "matters of fact", a precursor of the analytic/synthetic distinction, as well as that between those two and on the one hand judgements of value, and on the other the speculations of metaphysics, had a central place in his philosophy.

His scepticism lead him to consider only the truths of logic and mathematics as known with certainty, and his negative views about the status of causality and the justification of causal or inductive inference (inter alia) presented to him a problem in need of resolution. His resolution of this problem we may find unsatisfactory, for it consisted in showing not why these kinds of inference are justified notwithstanding that they fail to be logically sound, but in explaining why we will continue to make them irrespective of their logical status.

This resolution, unsatisfactory though we may find it, is an element consistent with his general conception of philosophical method, which was inspired by the work of Newton and modelled on the methods of empirical science. It is for this reason that Hume's major work is entitled "A Treatise on Human Nature", he conceived of his philosophy as differing in subject matter rather than in method from the work of Newton. I guess this is naturalism.

Synthetic epistemology is not naturalistic, but is intended to be a synthesis rooted in an understanding of "human nature".

History of Epistemology of Science
Accounts of scientifuc method are often more normative than descriptive and may therefore be considered pre-cursors or early examples of synthetic epistemology.
1. Pre-Socratic Cosmology
2. Aristotle's Demonstrative Science
3. Ancient Skepticism
4. Renaissance Science - Newtonian Mechanics
5. Leibniz's Universal Characteristic
6. Humean Scepticism
7. Carnap v. Popper
8. Computer Science & Synthetic Biology
Synthetic Biology Projections
Gene Therapy & Correction of Genetic Defects
Designer Babies and Evolution by Choice
Engineered Ecosystems for Solar Exploration
New Intelligent Life for Near Stellar Travel
Synthetic Cognitive Systems for Galactic Proliferation
Epistemology for the Cognitive Cosmos

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