Thoughts about Conjectures&Refutations

Topic Summary:
Talk about parts Conjectures & Refutations by Karl Popper.

A thread for commenting on C&R. I started doing this in my mini-goal thread.

This is a place to continue, having met my mini-goal.
Happy for others to jump in with their own comments on it.

CF Relevance:

I was reading chapter 16 where Popper talks about Marx. It’s interesting reading someone who knows something about Marx (and treats him respectfully) as I’ve only seen people talk about Marx in catch phrases and memes which had left me with the impression that it wasn’t something to take seriously. I had no idea that it included attempts to make scientific predictions (even if they’re flawed). The casual Marxists seem to do him a disservice.

I think I’m more inclined to take people who knowledgeably talk about Marx seriously, having read Popper’s explanation (and criticism of it). I think before I’d have made a mistake in being dismissive.

I’m not convinced to go and read Marx myself. I expect that Popper’s explanation of Marxism is fair, and don’t expect that I’ll be debating any studied Marxists. But if it becomes relevant to me I would expect more value from reading it than before, even if I end up disagreeing with it.

I just want to mention that I have been re-reading the first few chapters of C&R but I have never read past chapter 2. I think that I will be posting some questions about C&R in the new general philosophy questions topic because it’s unbounded, so there’s more opportunity for criticism. It’s kinda funny. I’m smiling because this is an example of the sort of mini-dilemmas that I have experienced with trying to figure out where to post questions. I think I will post in this topic if something comes up that I can comment on productively but for my own questions I feel better or more comfortable with posting on the more open-ended topic that I started. I think it feels better for me because it’s more open in terms of topic and criticism.

I’ve read most of chapter 18 now. I think it’s very interesting.

I think it strikes a chord with me as Utopian thinking and justification for violence is something I’ve seen/heard from a lot more people I’ve interacted with, and I’ve thought about Utopian thinking somewhat before in another context.

I’ve only skimmed it (reading as audio book) so far and I’m going to finish reading the chapter and do some more in-depth analysis with the physical book before commenting more. I’ll use this as a grammar tree exercise too.

I’ve read the audio book chapter 18 a few times now and will gradually dig into the chapter in some more depth.

I’m going to use this as an exercise for paragraph trees too.

Starting with the first paragraph of Chapter 18. It’s a very long paragraph! I’ll start by breaking it down into sections.

##Section 1: Premise

There are many people who hate violence and are convinced that it is one of their foremost and at the same time one of their most hopeful tasks to work for its reduction and, if possible, for its elimination from human life. I am among those hopeful enemies of violence. Not only do I hate violence, but I firmly believe that the fight against it is not at all hopeless.

##Section 2: Obstacles

I realize that the task is difficult. I realize that, only too often in the course of history, it has happened that what appeared at first to be a great success in the fight against violence was followed by defeat. I do not overlook the fact that the new age of violence which was opened by the two World wars is by no means at an end. Nazism and Fascism are thoroughly beaten, but I must admit that their defeat does not mean that barbarism and brutality have been defeated. On the contrary, it is no use closing our eyes to the fact that these hateful ideas achieved something like victory in defeat. I have to admit that Hitler succeeded in degrading the moral standards of our Western world, and that in the world of today there is more violence and brutal force than would have been tolerated even in the decade after the first World war. And we must face the possibility that our civilization may ultimately be destroyed by those new weapons which Hitlerism wished upon us, perhaps even with the first decade after the second World war; for no doubt the spirit of Hitlerism won its greatest victory over us when after its defeat, we used the weapons which the threat of Nazism had induced us to develop.

(that’s still very long, but I don’t see a really good way of splitting it as it’s very interconnected)

##Section 3: Conclusion

But in spite of all this I am today no less hopeful than I have ever been that violence can be defeated. It is out only hope; and long stretches in the history of Western as well as of Eastern civilizations prove that it need not be a vain hope - that violence can be reduced, and brought under the control of reason.

Then breaking it down into nodes:

Section 1:

Some notes on my choices:

  • In some context’s, the writer’s personal opinion of violence would be irrelevant (an unimportant/modifier type detail) but as this is the context for a chapter on the subject I think it’s a primary point.
  • For this section I didn’t think there were any appropriate uses of variables.
  • Overall, I’m not really happy with how this came out, I have a sense of something being wrong with it but can’t tell quite what. I think it would be easier with a more direct motive->action->conclusion sort of section, but I think there has to be a good way of approaching a section like this.

I’m going to pause doing these here and come back to the others after doing some more thinking and looking into paragraph trees.

Breakdown of my stages before getting to the final nodes:

1 Like

I think I’m overreaching trying to do paragraph trees. I did not do very well with my first attempt, so I’m going to step back to looking at grammar.

I found Elliot’s English Language, Analysis & Grammar article helpful to understand the grammar better.

I’m starting with this sentence from C&R Chapter 18.

I realise that this task is difficult now! I wasn’t sure how to break the sentence down at first so I tried looking for a sentence analyser to help and found this:

It’s pretty complicated but it seems to have explanations for everything so I’m going to try to use it. I got this output with the sentence.

To start with just breaking the clause down:
“I” - subject pronoun (referring to the noun “Karl Popper”)
“realize that the task is difficult” - predicate

Then breaking the predicate down:
“realize” - action verb
“that” - I was stuck on this one, however the analyser says this is a conjunction, so I looked up it’s usage and found a conjunction definition which makes sense (item 13 in the list on the link).

(used to introduce a subordinate clause as the subject or object of the principal verb or as the necessary complement to a statement made, or a clause expressing cause or reason, purpose or aim, result or consequence, etc.):
I’m sure that you’ll like it. That he will come is certain. Hold it up so that everyone can see it.

So “that” is a conjunction introducing the subordinate clause “the task is difficult”, and the subordinate clause is the noun of the main clause.

Then breaking the subordinate clause down:
“the” - determiner adjective restricting “task” to a single task (from the context of the paragraph the task is: the elimination of violence from human life)
“task” - subject noun of the subordinate clause
“is” - linking verb
“difficult” - adjective modifying the noun “task”

It was quite a lot of work doing this and I had to look up a lot of stuff, but I’m pretty sure I got it right and am happy to keep putting this much work into each sentence (though I’m confident I will get faster pretty quickly, most of the rules seem pretty simple). I expect I’ll keep needing the help of the sentence analyser for a while.

I had planned to start doing grammar trees as well with this (making my own rather than relying on the analyser’s output), but I’ve looked into those and they seem to have a lot more things I need to learn. I’m going to continue just looking at the grammar until I can do it without needing to look a lot of things up.

I’m going to aim to continue this analysis on one sentence per day on average.

Next sentence:

This is much longer and more complex than the last one. I definitely need the syntax analyser I linked before to help. A big way it helps me is by identifying what the usage of the word are when I can’t tell, then I can look that up in Elliot’s grammar guide to understand the connections. Unfortunately the analyser has a character limit and can’t take the full sentence, so I’m going to simplify the sentence so I can enter it into the analyser.

Simplified sentence:
“I realize that, only too often in the course of history, it has happened that success was followed by defeat.”
(my shortened substitution in bold, my intuition is that it maintains the overall structure so the analyser should be able to make sense of it in the same way)


I’m not going to include screen caps of the constituent tree any more as I’m not working on grammar trees yet.

Sentence analysis

“I” - subject
“realize” - action verb
“that” - conjunction introducing the subclause
(skipping the comma-delimited aside for a moment)
“it has happened that success was followed by defeat” - a subclause which is the object of the sentence

Here I wasn’t sure how to describe the use of commas, so I looked at this article (which I found linked in the earlier grammar article).

So “only too often in the course of history” is a modifier aside phrase, it applies to the subclause. It’s a fairly important aside; the sentence would lose information about how often “success was followed by defeat” without it.

Aside analysis

“only too often in the course of history”
“only” - this is being marked as a “null link” and being ignored by the analyser, I think this is because it’s not a literal usage of “only”, and “only too” is common phrase which operates (in this case) as an adverb,
“too” - part of the adverb phrase “only too”, modifying “often”
“often” - this is the main adjective of the aside, the sentence would still make sense if this was the only word in the aside
“in” - preposition relating “the course of history” to “often” (I checked the analyser here to identify it as a preposition then Elliot’s grammar guide to better understand what that means)
“the” - determiner restricting “course of history”, meaning the one and only course of history
“course” - noun
“of” - preposition relating “history” to “course”
“history” - noun

Subclause analysis

Even with the aside removed the full sentence is still too long to analyse at once. So I’m going to try entering just the subclause for analysis as it’s own sentence:
“it has happened that what appeared at first to be a great success in the fight against violence was followed by defeat.”

Analyser output:

“it” - subject noun, in this case the event that the hypothetical object of the sentence has in fact occurred
“has” - verb, but…
“happened” - This is marked as a null link by the analyser, I think because “has” and “happened” are both verbs and it doesn’t have a way to interpret that. I looked into this and found this explanation of using “has happened” which I think makes sense. It seems like “has” is being used like an adverb to imply the happening is current or in recent history (which makes sense in this context referring to the rise and fall of Nazism).
“that” - conjunction introducing the sub-subclause as the object
“what appeared at first to be a great success in the fight against violence was followed by defeat.” - sub-subclause

Sub-subclause analysis

The analyser seems to have gotten this wrong owing to the double verb “has happened”. I’m going to try re-analysing just the sub-subclause.
“what appeared at first to be a great success in the fight against violence was followed by defeat.”

The analyser seems to have parsed the sub-subclause without any problems.

“what appeared at first to be a great success in the fight against violence” - the subject noun phrase
“was” - linking verb, past tense, saying “followed by defeat” happened to the subject and it was in the past
“followed” - past participle, an adjective affecting “defeat” specifying that it came after the subject
“by” - preposition connecting “defeat” as the thing which followed the subject
“defeat” - object noun

Then analysing the subject noun phrase of the sub-subclause:

“what appeared at first to be a great success in the fight against violence”
“what” - I think this is a determiner
“appeared” - participle affecting noun phrase(1)
“at” - preposition indicating the appearance happened at a time
“first” - the time at which the appearance happened
“to” - preposition
“be” - infinitive verbal because it’s preceded by “to”

I don’t think I can explain these better currently. I have in mind something like “appeared at first to be” is an adjective phrase applying to noun phrase (1).

“a great success in the fight against violence” - noun phrase (1)
“a” - determiner limiting to a single incidence
“great” - adverb modifying “success”
“success” - adjective
“in” - preposition connecting “great success” to the noun phrase (2)

“the fight against violence” - noun phrase (2)
“the” - determiner specifying a specific fight, start of noun phrase (2)“the fight against violence”
“fight” - the main word of (2) and the main subject noun of the subject noun phrase
“against” - preposition indicating the preceding word “fight” is in opposition to the following word “violence”
“violence” - noun


This was a very complicated sentence. Looking ahead I think the next few sentences will be easier, then the last two sentences will be even more complicated. I’ll keep working on these. I might break the last really long sentences into multiple posts depending on how long it takes to analyse them.

I a lot of these I was working out by looking up definitions of the words which included what the usage was, or by searching for the word in Elliot’s grammar guide. The syntax analyser helped in cases where I couldn’t find the answer in the grammar guide, but it does get stuff wrong so it needs to be used with care.

The part “what appeared at first to be” was the hardest part to work out and my confidence that I correctly analysed that part is low. I might need to read more about infinitives. Otherwise I’m happy with the result.

It feels weird that when a word modifies an adjective, it’s called an adverb.

Looks like you’re trying to learn two things at once: Popper and grammar.

It may be easier to separate them. I think the grammar work is getting so much attention that you’re probably not really learning about Popper while doing it. If you were going to focus on learning grammar and pause learning Popper, are these the ideal sentences to practice with? Or would you use some easier sentences?

That last sentence was a lot of work in one go, probably more at once than is effective for learning. I got pretty tired by the end and my sense is effective learning drops off pretty fast with tiredness.

The three sentences following that one are shorter and I’m guessing easier so I want to continue as I have been; I think those three are a reasonable step down and I don’t want to make analysis too much easier or I’ll find it boring.

After the three shorter sentences there’s a big sentence (starting with “I have to admit that”) and finally one REALLY big sentence starting with “And we must face the possibility”. Depending on my progress with the three shorter sentences I may decide that it’s a bad idea to continue on to the two big sentences, and seek out alternatives.

One flaw I’m more aware of in my writing is being unclear with nouns by using “that”, “them”, “those”, etc too often. My sentences are coming out longer from being more explicit with nouns. I guess I’ll be able to shorten sentences again as I practise.

I have gotten off-topic from Popper. With the rate I’m getting through sentences it may be a while before I make any actual comments on Popper (besides comments like: he writes really long sentences). I don’t know how long it will take for me to complete analysis faster, it might be weeks before I make substantial comment on Popper’s ideas if I try to make significant progress learning grammar first.

It might be worth moving my posts here focused on grammar and my paragraph tree post to a separate thread, then I can return here when I want to make on-topic comments and it would be less messy if I want to comment on Popper as well as learning grammar.

I made an attempt at this sentence. I thought it was hard and I’m not confident about the tree. The series of non-finite verbs, “to be”, “was”, and “followed”, are tough to place and tough to identify as finite or non-finite. The second “that” is hard to parse. It looks like it’s role is to be a subordinating conjunction which connects what “happened” with the following clause. Also, there’s lots of prepositions and other modifiers that are tricky to place, or identify what they’re modifying.

EDIT (to block quote):
From Conjectures and Refutations by Karl Popper:

I realize that, only too often in the course of history, it has happened that what appeared at first to be a great success in the fight against violence was followed by defeat.


[realize [I] [that [has [it] [happened [that [appeared [what] [“to be” [success [a] [great] [in [fight [the] [against [violence]]]] [was [followed [by [defeat]]]]]][at [first]]]]] [often [too [only]] [in [course [the] [of [history]]]]]]]]

Please edit the blockquote so it attributes that text to Popper not MetaCreation. (Either quote MetaCreation quoting Popper, using nesting levels, or quote Popper directly.)

The way it shows up currently is misleading:

I tried the sentence without pre-reading:

I ended up with 3 sections b/c I didn’t know what was coming and how it fit together. I just finished doing most of the words without worrying about how to combine stuff or getting the tricky parts right. This took around 5min.

Then I worked on figuring out the structure using only relevant words (finite verbs and anything clause-conjunction-like). I tried two versions then stopped to consider which to use.

It probably would have been a little faster to pre-read the sentence then figure out the basic structure then add in the other words afterwards, but it didn’t make a big difference. Just making a tree without pre-reading works better with most sentences (which are simpler) and I didn’t know how hard this one would be so I just jumped in (knowing that rearranging isn’t a big deal).

Then I made a final tree by combining my sections based on my new understanding of the structure:

My total time was around 12min (I started a stopwatch maybe a minute after starting and got 10:41). I didn’t double check stuff, so most of the tree is mostly based on my subconscious knowledge since I only stopped to consciously think about stuff a little bit. I used more conscious thinking for the main structure – in general if there’s more than one conjunction then I can’t rely on my automatizations as much. I haven’t yet compared my results to what anyone else posted. The 12min time doesn’t include writing this forum post (which was quick too).

EDIT: correction: for the second forward reference, the subject for that “was” is “what” not “fight” in my final tree. I wrote “fight” when i was just trying to quickly find a noun for the subject and i never updated it using my final understanding of how the sentence actually worked.

Looking at @Fire’s tree, the first thing I noticed is my “often” subtree doesn’t make sense modifying “realize” when I think about the actual content/meaning. Having it as an introductory modifier for the verb in the next clause (“has”), like Fire did, looks right to me.

Fire has “appeared” as a finite verb which doesn’t work. Then his “was” ends up in a kinda random spot with no conjunction. I did start to read “appeared” as a finite verb in my initial reading but I recognized that was problematic when I got to “was”. So “appeared” is a past participle modifying the “what” which is harder to tell because “appeared” has a lot of modifiers of its own.

In “I clicked the link and what appeared was a cat.” it’s easier to see that “appeared” is just a modifier on “what” because it’s just a single-word sub-tree. (“What” is sometimes a relative pronoun – a conjunction-like-thing – but not here. Fire’s tree agrees with mine on the “what” acting like a regular noun here.)

I didn’t check all the details for differences. Fire can check that.

I’ve noticed that quoting doesn’t always capture all quoting levels correctly. I think that’s why your pre-edit quote came out wrong.

Using your example, from selecting in my post like this:

The quote comes out like this, incorrectly attributing it to the writer of the post and missing the additional quote level:

So the quoting needs to be manually edited in case like this, where a nested quote is being quoted without any of the surrounding post.

For example if you include the preceding line it quotes correctly, so if you quote like this:

Then you get this:

I started analysing the next sentence, but pretty quickly started getting tired. I think I’ve got a “too many unknowns” overwhelm which my subconscious is raising as an argument but I’ve got a habit of persisting through that and trying to proceed anyway. In other words: I’ve been trying to do something which I have unanswered criticism of.

So I think I have a problem of my subconscious identifying overwhelm, but consciously trying to push through it and complete tasks anyway. I think this might be related to my problem of overreaching getting overwhelmed in life in general. I think this is a really important problem I need to fix as I want to start making progress more effectively and enjoy learning more.

So I’m going to stop doing grammar analysis of Popper here. I’m going to continue it in another thread with easier examples.

I’ll come back to this thread later/another day and actually talk about Popper.

Quotes are from Conjectures & Refutations Chapter 18.

A rationalist, as I use the word, is a man who attempts to reach decisions by argument and perhaps, in certain cases, by compromise, rather than by violence. He is a man who would rather be unsuccessful in convincing another man by argument than successful in crushing him by force, by intimidation and threats, or even by persuasive propaganda.

I think this is an important attitude, and one that a lot of people learn to oppose as children when parents rely on force, threats, or lies to get “desired” behaviour from their children.

There are many difficulties impeding the rapid spread of reasonableness. One of the main difficulties is that it always takes two to make a discussion reasonable. Each of the parties must be ready to learn from the other. You cannot have a rational discussion with a man who prefers shooting you to being convinced by you. In other words, there are limits to the attitude of reasonableness. It is the same with tolerance. You must not, without qualification, accept the principle of tolerating all those who are intolerant; if you do, you will destroy not only yourself, but also the attitude of tolerance. (All this is indicated in the remark I made before–that reasonableness must be an attitude of give and take.)

I have the impression that most people do not want to reasonably discuss. If they discuss at all they seem to want to state their ideas then disengage and go about their business (or in worst cases, be insulting/demanding with people who don’t agree with them).

I don’t know if that’s accurate though. Hypothetically if a lot of people are pessimistic about debate and expect other people to be pessimistic about debate, that would result in lots and lots of people not even trying. In that situation even if someone is interested in being reasonable their expectation that other people will not be is so high that it’s not worth trying. People could on a grand scale want to reasonably discuss but be so pessimistic about it that they never do.

Then the obstacle isn’t so much convincing people to be reasonable, but convincing people that you’re reasonable. Maybe I’m hoping for too much there.

When discussion seems hopeless I guess tribalism, coercion, manipulation and other unreasonable things seem like more effective ways to complete goals.

I think I have said enough to make clear what I intend to convey by calling myself a rationalist. My rationalism is not dogmatic. I fully admit that I cannot rationally prove it. I frankly confess that I choose rationalism because I hate violence, and I do not deceive myself into believing that this hatred has any rational grounds. Or to put it another way, my rationalism is not self contained, but rests on an irrational faith in the attitude of reasonableness. I do not see that we can go beyond this. One could say, perhaps, that my irrational faith in equal and reciprocal rights to convince others and be convinced by them is a faith in human reason; or simply, that I believe in man.

This seems odd. I don’t know why Popper didn’t try to rationally explain why violence is bad here. He seems to be embracing some irrationality in his thinking.

Maybe there’s a lack of goal behind is thinking. I don’t know Popper very well yet, his writing seems to be about how to think and pursue truth but I don’t recall reading anything about what that is good for. If he doesn’t have a clear idea of a purpose behind thinking well I guess it would make sense that he doesn’t really know why reasonableness is good and violence is bad and has this answer of faith instead. Maybe the answer is that he thinks mankind is the good and has faith in mankind.

I think mankind is the best thing that exists. Humans are the only known beings that can change their minds and decide what is good and what is bad and actually change the world to that end. To do that most effectively I think reasonableness is necessary to discuss possible ideas and identify the best ones rather than entrenching mistakes. I think violence as a solution for conflicts is bad because it gets in the way of discovering the best ideas.

I’ve written enough for now. The chapter goes on to start talking about Utopianism. I’ll continue reading and write some more about that in a later post.