Author Archive


Philosophy of science humor

In Uncategorized on April 28, 2010 by Pete Abram

From some random website with which I am not familiar comes a great satirical article: – I figured I’d post this after Andre went on about how horrible it is to side with Kuhn. Even though I do side with Kuhn, please, please, please do not accuse me of siding the the “Insane Clown Posse”.

The Insane Clown Posse Are Sane Proponents of Thomas Kuhn’s Paradigm Theory.

The Insane Clown Posse video, ‘Miracles,’ was recently posted on YouTube and has since become an internet meme due to its seemingly ignorant lyrics, specifically the following excerpt:

Water, fire air and dirt–f*cking magnets, how do they work? An’ I don’t wanna talk to a scientist; y’all muthaf*ckas lyin’ and gettin’ me pissed.

Many claim that the ICP is extolling the tenets of the anti-science movement, first introduced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, specifically in his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences. This movement states that science can lead to moral corruption and arrogance. However, it seems that the ICP is not saying that science is worthless, but that truth is inherently unknowable. They are, it seems, students of the great sociologist Thomas Kuhn and his groundbreaking work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

Kuhn said that science, heretofore viewed as a progressive study, is in fact not progressive, but rather based on large-scale changes in thought and theory. For instance, Newton is one of the fathers of modern science, with his laws and equations still being taught in physics and calculus classes to this day. However, when Einstein theorized his relativistic physics, not only did his equations give better results than Newton’s, but by their mere existence showed that Newton’s equations were all wrong, merely approximations of the “truth.”

To put it simply, Kuhn stated that each one of these sets of beliefs was called a “paradigm.” And, when a paradigm exhibited enough anomalies, for instance the inability to apply Newtonian physics to sub-atomic motion, scientists would theorize a new paradigm to take the old one’s place. The upshot of this was that no paradigm in itself could be called truth. Rather, if the universe’s laws were a clock, a paradigm could only describe the motion of the hands; there was no way to see the gears themselves.

Joseph Bruce and Joseph Utsler AKA Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope are simply claiming this with their lyrics, “magnets, how do they work?” The truth is the theory of magnetism has changed wildly over the decades and is still veiled in a certain amount of mystery. Sure, scientists know how to use magnets, how to measure magnetic force, even how to chart magnetic fields, but to actually explain that force is to create a unified field theorem which remains the unfound Holy Grail in scientific research. Scientists themselves do not really know how magnets work. What they have now is simply a paradigmatic explanation of magnetism.

And in terms of scientists “lyin’,” here again the ICP is repeating their belief that scientists remain hard-headedly in support of a certain paradigm and it is often left to the next generation of scientists to have the flexibility of thought to accept a better fitting paradigm.

Although Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope may have never read Kuhn’s works, those who suggest that their raps are ignorant haven’t been properly educated in scientific theory and sociology. For, if they had been, they would know that the ICP is not ignorant. Far from it: they are keeping Thomas Kuhn’s theories alive and well.


A priori statements about biology

In Discussion on April 26, 2010 by Pete Abram

What kind of a priori statement about biology (or even physics) could be remotely interesting? Like Strawson said, an a priori statement is one which you can know is true from your couch, you don’t have to do any science. But if we’re not doing science, then it seems like the statement isn’t going to be biological in any interesting way.


Science and truth

In Discussion on March 11, 2010 by Pete Abram

The question of how well science is at finding truth is one we’ve discussed a few times during the break in class, so I figured I’d start up a thread for discussion about it. Todd and I firmly believe that although scientific theories claim to aim at truth, the matter of the fact is that they just plain can’t. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, so anything from here on out is all me. I don’t think that science can ever get to the fundamental thing-in-itself because of the limitations of our methods. Every method we have of testing/observing/deconstructing an object in science will depend on certain aspects of the object e.g. how it reflects light or how it reacts when bombarded with electrons. There isn’t a method of study in science that does not depend entirely on the interactive properties of an object, so we never know what the object actually is, we merely know how it acts. Now I’m sure the objection could be leveed that how an object acts is the same thing as what that object is, and someone can bring that up if they’d like.

I also don’t think we have particularly good reason to think that any scientific theory is correct for the following reason: every single scientific theory that’s existed before our current ones has been false (geocentrism, Newtonian mechanics, plum pudding atom model, &c.). Basic inductive reasoning tells us that there will be some new theory that better describes how everything interacts and proves the previous theories to be laughably absurd. And any response that says “we don’t have reason to think that it’s false yet” will just be an argument from ignorance. Think of the scientific mode of finding facts like a person. Everything that this person has told you so far has seemed to be correct, but has actually been wrong. Why should we think that what he says now is true, even if all of the available evidence confirms it? I guess a decent way of posing this second concern is as follows: Should we trust reputations/induction or current evidence when past evidence has proven to be misleading?



Some qualms with Universal Darwinism

In Discussion on February 7, 2010 by Pete Abram

The Hodgson article discussed Universal Darwinism and made some suggestions that I was not very comfortable with. The first is the claim that the laws of nature (physics) could possibly be evolving or have evolved. The obvious issue I have with this is that universes don’t really ‘survive’ or ‘die’ and there is no natural tendancy for universes to lean towards ‘survival’. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that changing the laws of nature would cause universes to ‘die’. If gravitational force, or the mass of a proton, or something like that were changed, it could very well be the case that matter does not form in a universe as it did in ours. There could be a universe with protons and neutrons floating around without bonding into atoms because of changes in strong force, sure. But this doesn’t mean that the universe would be ‘dead’ or cease to be. I find the claim that the laws of nature evolve to be quite implausible.

The other issue I had with the idea of Universal Darwinism is a qualm I also have with sociology. I’m sure some of you have heard my critique of sociology: “It’s the most statistically accurate and profound statement of the obvious known to man”. I feel somewhat similarly about Universal Darwinism. I see UD’s thesis as follows: stuff varies, the better stuff tends to outperform the worse stuff and thus outlast the worse stuff. How is this not painfully obvious? If a trait is better for survival, we shouldn’t be surprised if animals with that trait usually survive longer. Am I oversimplifying somehow? I can see how this type of thought can be apply to language, sociology, and so on, but I don’t know why we should call it Darwinism when it so drastically differs in methods of inheritance and causes of variation.