Re: virus: Scientists and Philosophers

Tue, 09 Feb 1999 09:24:13 -0800

Reed Konsler wrote:

> Scientists hate rules. The only thing a scientist hates more than
> a rule is not getting to happen what they want to happen. Every
> rule in science ought to be traced to avoiding a pitfalls or catastrophe.
> Every rule beyond that makes the scientist uncomfortable. A
> philosophers job is to generate rules.

It's strange to hear this from you, Reed, as I had imagined that you'd had some exposure to philosophy of science. Philosophy of mind and philosophy of science were my areas of emphasis in grad school, and in 3 years I did not have a single seminar or read a single paper on generating rules by which scientists should conduct themselves.

Actually, I take that back. Karl Popper did say that a theory that isn't falsifiable isn't scientific, and I suppose you could read that as a tacit instruction to scientists not to formulate their hypotheses in such a way that they are insulated against refutation by experimentation.

Still, for the most part, we examined questions like: "Are all observations theory-laden?" "Is science moving towards an accurate model of the universe, i.e. are our scientific models approaching verisimilitude, or are they just allowing us to make more accurate and useful predictions about observable phenomena?" "Do unobservable theoretical entities like quarks really exist, or are they just convenience fictions that allow us to make sense of our data?"

> A philosopher of science generats rules that they never, themselves,
> need to follow.

If this is the perception of scientists, then it makes sense that they would feel resentful and dismissive, although I think that they are chafing at the constraints of a leash of their own imagining.

> "No taxation without representation" know what I mean?

I know what you mean, but I don't agree that only research scientists have the perogative to examine the history, evolution, aims, methods, and underlying assumptions of the scientific enterprise. What's more, few scientists seem interested in this kind of careful and sustained examination. As you pointed out, they tend to be focused on results.

Take care.