Neil deGrasse Tyson and the value of philosophy

1-12-14-Neil-deGrasse-Tyson-inside-alternate-ftrby Massimo Pigliucci

It seems like my friend Neil deGrasse Tyson [1] has done it again: he has dismissed philosophy as a useless enterprise, and actually advised bright students to stay away from it. It is not the first time Neil has done this sort of thing, and he is far from being the only scientist to do so. But in his case the offense is particularly egregious, for two reasons: first, because he is a highly visible science communicator; second, because I told him not to, several times.

Let’s start with the latest episode, work our way back to a few others of the same kind (to establish that this is a pattern, not an unfortunate fluke), and then carefully tackle exactly where Neil and a number of his colleagues go wrong. But before any of that, let me try to halt the obvious objection to this entire essay in its tracks: no, this isn’t about defending “my” turf, for the simple reason that both philosophy and science are my turf [2]. I have practiced both disciplines as a scholar/researcher, I have taught introductory and graduate level classes in both fields, and I have written books about them both. So, while what follows inevitably will unfold as a defense of philosophy (yet again! [3]), it is a principled defense, not a petty one, and it most certainly doesn’t come from any kind of science envy.

Neil made his latest disparaging remarks about philosophy as a guest on the Nerdist podcast [4], following a statement by one of the hosts, who said that he majored in philosophy. Neil’s comeback was: “That can really mess you up.” The host then added: “I always felt like maybe there was a little too much question asking in philosophy [of science]?” And here is the rest of the pertinent dialogue:

dGT: I agree.

interviewer: At a certain point it’s just futile.

dGT: Yeah, yeah, exactly, exactly. My concern here is that the philosophers believe they are actually asking deep questions about nature. And to the scientist it’s, what are you doing? Why are you concerning yourself with the meaning of meaning?

(another) interviewer: I think a healthy balance of both is good.

dGT: Well, I’m still worried even about a healthy balance. Yeah, if you are distracted by your questions so that you can’t move forward, you are not being a productive contributor to our understanding of the natural world. And so the scientist knows when the question “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” is a pointless delay in our progress.

[insert predictable joke by one interviewer, imitating the clapping of one hand]

dGT: How do you define clapping? All of a sudden it devolves into a discussion of the definition of words. And I’d rather keep the conversation about ideas. And when you do that don’t derail yourself on questions that you think are important because philosophy class tells you this. The scientist says look, I got all this world of unknown out there, I’m moving on, I’m leaving you behind. You can’t even cross the street because you are distracted by what you are sure are deep questions you’ve asked yourself. I don’t have the time for that. [Note to the reader: I, like Neil, live and work in Manhattan, and I can assure you that I am quite adept at crossing the perilous streets of the metropolis.]

interviewer [not one to put too fine a point on things, apparently]: I also felt that it was a fat load of crap, as one could define what crap is and the essential qualities that make up crap: how you grade a philosophy paper? [5]

dGT [laughing]: Of course I think we all agree you turned out okay.

interviewer: Philosophy was a good Major for comedy, I think, because it does get you to ask a lot of ridiculous questions about things.

dGT: No, you need people to laugh at your ridiculous questions.

interviewers: It’s a bottomless pit. It just becomes nihilism.

dGT: nihilism is a kind of philosophy.

The latter was pretty much the only correct observation about philosophy in the whole dialogue, as far as I can tell.

As I mentioned above, this isn’t the first time Neil has said things like this. For instance, during the q&a with the audience following one of his many (and highly enjoyable) public appearances [6], he was asked by a spectator: “would you rather die now or live forever?” To which his somewhat condescending reply was: “I never believe that the options available to a creative person are ever limited by the choices offered by a philosopher.” Which may be a very sophistic way of just not answering the question.

There is more: during a conversation with Richard Dawkins (another frequent offender), Neil was asked a question from the audience about philosophy of science and Stephen Hawkins’ declaration that philosophy is dead [7].

Here is Neil’s reply, in full:

“Up until early 20th century philosophers had material contributions to make to the physical sciences. Pretty much after quantum mechanics, remember the philosopher is the would be scientist but without a laboratory, right? And so what happens is, the 1920s come in, we learn about the expanding universe in the same decade as we learn about quantum physics, each of which falls so far out of what you can deduce from your armchair that the whole community of philosophers that previously had added materially to the thinking of the physical scientists was rendered essentially obsolete, and that point, and I have yet to see a contribution — this will get me in trouble with all manner of philosophers — but call me later and correct me if you think I’ve missed somebody here. But, philosophy has basically parted ways from the frontier of the physical sciences, when there was a day when they were one and the same. Isaac Newton was a natural philosopher, the word physicist didn’t even exist in any important way back then. So, I’m disappointed because there is a lot of brainpower there, that might have otherwise contributed mightily, but today simply does not. It’s not that there can’t be other philosophical subjects, there is religious philosophy, and ethical philosophy, and political philosophy, plenty of stuff for the philosophers to do, but the frontier of the physical sciences does not appear to be among them.”

Well, Neil, consider this your follow-up call, just as you requested. Not that you didn’t get several of those before. For instance, even fellow scientist and often philosophy-skeptic Jerry Coyne pointed out that you “blew it big time” [8] when you disinvited philosopher David Albert from an event you had organized at the American Museum of Natural History, and that originally included a discussion between Albert and physicist Lawrence Krauss (yet another frequent philosophy naysayer [9]). Moreover, when you so graciously came to the book launch for my Answers for Aristotle a couple of years ago, you spent most of the evening chatting with a number of graduate students from CUNY’s philosophy program, and they tried really hard to explain to you how philosophy works and why you had a number of misconceptions about it. To no avail, apparently.

So here we are again, time to set you straight once more. This, of course, is not just because I like you and because I think it is in general the right thing to do. It is mostly, frankly, because someone who regularly appears on The Daily Show and the Colbert Report, and has had the privilege of remaking Carl Sagan’s iconic Cosmos series — in short someone who is a public intellectual and advocate for science — really ought to do better than to take what amounts to anti-intellectual (and illiterate) positions about another field of scholarship. And I say this in all friendship, truly.

Since I’m sure this sort of accident will happen again in the future (whether at your hand or someone else’s), I figured I’d present my case as I would in a classroom, as a series of bullet points to keep handy any time someone  asks you again to comment about philosophy. So here we go:

  • Contra popular perception, philosophy makes progress, though it does so in a different sense from progress in science. You can think of philosophy as an exploration of conceptual, as opposed to empirical, space, concerning all sorts of questions ranging from ethics to politics, from epistemology to the nature of science. Imagine a highly dimensional landscape of ways of thinking about a given question (such as: do scientific theories describe the world as it is, or should we think of them rather as simply being empirically adequate? [10]). The philosopher explores that landscape by constructing arguments, entertaining counter-arguments, and either discarding or refining a certain view. The process does not usually lead to one final answer (though it does eliminate a number of bad ones), because conceptual space is much broader than its empirical counterpart, which means that there may be more than one good way of looking at a particular question (but, again, also a number of bad ways). Progress, then, consists in identifying and “climbing” these peaks in c-space. If you’d like, I’ll send you the draft of a book I’m finishing for Chicago Press that expands on this way of looking at philosophy, provides a number of specific examples, and compares and differentiates progress in philosophy from progress in a number of allied disciplines, including science, mathematics and logic.
  • Another popular myth is that philosophy keeps dwelling on the same questions, the implication being that, again, it doesn’t settle anything and consequently cannot move on to something else. But if “the same questions” are defined broadly enough, we can raise the very same criticism about science itself. I mean, your own profession of cosmology has been dwelling on “the same question” (the origin and evolution of the universe) since the pre-Socratic atomists (philosophers, by the way). And my discipline of biology has been concerned with the nature of adaptation since Aristotle’s (another philosopher!) articulation of his four fundamental causes. I’m not being flippant here, truly. Of course there are plenty of more specific sub-questions in cosmology (or evolutionary biology), some of which have indeed been settled; and of course we have made tremendous progress on the broader picture as well (usually, by settling some of the sub-questions). But the same — at a different scale and within a different time frame — can be said of philosophy, or mathematics, or logic.
  • You and a number of your colleagues keep asking what philosophy (of science, in particular) has done for science, lately. There are two answers here: first, much philosophy of science is simply not concerned with advancing science, which means that it is a category mistake (a useful philosophical concept [11]) to ask why it didn’t. The main objective of philosophy of science is to understand how science works and, when it fails to work (which it does, occasionally), why this was the case. It is epistemology applied to the scientific enterprise. And philosophy is not the only discipline that engages in studying the workings of science: so do history and sociology of science, and yet I never heard you dismiss those fields on the grounds that they haven’t discovered the Higgs boson. Second, I suggest you actually look up some technical papers in philosophy of science [12] to see how a number of philosophers, scientists and mathematicians actually do collaborate to elucidate the conceptual and theoretical aspects of research on everything from evolutionary theory and species concepts to interpretations of quantum mechanics and the structure of superstring theory. Those papers, I maintain, do constitute a positive contribution of philosophy to the progress of science — at least if by science you mean an enterprise deeply rooted in the articulation of theory and its relationship with empirical evidence.
  • A common refrain I’ve heard from you (see direct quotes above) and others, is that scientific progress cannot be achieved by “mere armchair speculation.” And yet we give a whole category of Nobels to theoretical physicists, who use the deductive power of mathematics (yes, of course, informed by previously available empirical evidence) to do just that. Or — even better — take mathematics itself, a splendid example of how having one’s butt firmly planted on a chair (and nowhere near any laboratory) produces both interesting intellectual artifacts in their own right and an immense amount of very practical aid to science. No, I’m not saying that philosophy is just like mathematics or theoretical physics. I’m saying that one needs to do better than dismiss a field of inquiry on the grounds that it is not wedded to a laboratory setting, or that its practitioners like comfortable chairs.
  • Finally, Neil, please have some respect for your mother. I don’t mean your biological one (though that too, of course!), I am referring to the intellectual mother of all science, i.e., philosophy. As you yourself seem to have a dim perception of (see your example of Newton), one of the roles of philosophy over the past two and half millennia has been to prepare the ground for the birth and eventual intellectual independence of a number of scientific disciplines. But contra what you seem to think, this hasn’t stopped with the Scientific Revolution, or with the advent of quantum mechanics. Physics became independent with Galileo and Newton (so much so that the latter actually inspired David Hume and Immanuel Kant to do something akin to natural philosophizing in ethics and metaphysics); biology awaited Darwin (whose mentor, William Whewell, was a prominent philosopher, and the guy who coined the term “scientist,” in analogy to artist, of all things); psychology spun out of its philosophical cocoon thanks to William James, as recently (by the standards of the history of philosophy) as the late 19th century. Linguistics followed through a few decades later (ask Chomsky); and cognitive science is still deeply entwined with philosophy of mind (see any book by Daniel Dennett). Do you see a pattern of, ahem, progress there? And the story doesn’t end with the newly gained independence of a given field of empirical research. As soon as physics, biology, psychology, linguistics and cognitive science came into their own, philosophers turned to the analysis (and sometimes even criticism) of those same fields seen from the outside: hence the astounding growth during the last century of so called “philosophies of”: of physics (and, more specifically, even of quantum physics), of biology (particularly of evolutionary biology), of psychology, of language, and of mind.

I hope you can see, dear Neil, that it isn’t just that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, but also that there is more active, vigorous, interesting, and intellectually respectable philosophy to be explored than you and some of your colleagues have been able to dream of so far. Please, keep that in mind the next time someone asks you about it. Or ask them to give me a call.

Postscript: I sent a preview of this essay to Neil, and a frank, civil email exchange has followed it over the past few days. However, I’m afraid neither one of us has really conceded an inch to the other’s position. We’ll see if we can do better in person over a couple of drinks.

As for a possible reply from Neil, I have, of course, invited him to submit one. Here is his reply, verbatim: “I generally reply to things if, and only if, they are writing about something that I judge to be untrue about me, or that they have misunderstood about what I have said. Neither is the case with you.”

_____

Massimo Pigliucci is a biologist and philosopher at the City University of New York. His main interests are in the philosophy of science and pseudoscience. He is the editor-in-chief of Scientia Salon, and his latest book (co-edited with Maarten Boudry) is Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem (Chicago Press).

[1] Whom I interviewed twice for the Rationally Speaking podcast: once on the value of space exploration, the second time on the meaning of atheism.

[2] For a rundown of my dual academic career, go to PlatoFootnote.org.

[3] See the wonderful book by one of Scientia Salon contributors, Rebecca Goldstein: Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away.

[4] The relevant bits start at 20’ 19” into the show.

[5] Speaking of philosophy and crap, please do yourself a favor and read the wonderful On Bullshit, by (philosopher) Harry G. Frankfurt.

[6] Here is the clip.

[7] Starts at 1hr 2’ 46” or thereabouts.

[8] Jerry Coyne on Neil deGrasse Tyson.

[9] On Krauss, also a Rationally Speaking podcast guest, see two essays I wrote for the Rationally Speaking blog.

[10] This is known as the realism-antirealism debate in philosophy of science. A good introduction can be found at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

[11] On the idea of category mistakes.

[12] Excellent sources include the journals Philosophy of Science, published by Chicago Press, and The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, published by Oxford. I’m willing to bet one of your favorite drinks, hot chocolate with double whipped cream, that you’ve never actually perused either one of them. If I win, you buy me a dirty martini.



Categories: Philosophy, Science

Tags: , ,

520 replies

  1. John Wilkins had some illuminating thoughts about “Why do physicists hate philosophy”

    http://evolvingthoughts.net/2014/05/why-do-physicists-hate-philosophy/

    He named Popper. (And Feyerabend).
    Popper is an interesting case. He was at first very popular, because the falsification principle is in the same corner as “testability” that comes with empiricism. His ideas were thought useful to weed out pseudoscience, the demarcation problem, which helped to argue against parapsychology en analytical psychology. But it turned out that his ideas were founded on the “problem of induction” which holds that if your hypothesis passes the test there is still no way to verify its truth. Scientists know very well that passing the test doesn’t give certainty, but the people that came after Popper (Feyerabend and postmodernism) saw no value at all in the results of induction. Physicists are still pissed off about that.

  2. So we can assume then that the physicists who discovered the Higgs are ignorant of philosophy or misunderstand the philosophy of science and physics. Is that correct?

  3. Because we can (empirically) create a hydrogen bomb or a new strain of humanoid, should we? Science and philosophy must dance.

    • If we set aside potentially dangerous things, bombs, cloning, etc – how might a year of study of philosophy help a molecular biologist’s bench experiments and career?

    • You keep missing the point, entirely. It is NOT the job of philosophy to solve scientific problems. We’ve got science for that. And it works.

    • My question is: what are the benefits to a bench scientists of studying philosophy? OK, doing experiments is separated.

    • I think I replied already, several times: a better understanding of the nature of what that scientist is doing. If said scientist is intellectual curious about his/her own profession, good. If not, not.

    • What are the most important parts of the “nature” of what experimental scientist are doing – explained for non-philosophers.

    • Interesting so the curious need to read a book to understand the value of philosophy in science. Nothing in 25 words or less. Sounds like and argument by authority – “Read old books.”

    • You know, I’m really trying to be patient and constructive here. I’ve given you plenty of reasons to take a loo at philosophy of science, including essays posted on this very forum (like the one on deGrasse Tyson). Now I’m suggesting an excellent introductory book on the topic and you want a soundbite while accusing me of making an argument from authority? You may want to look into a book on logical fallacies as well, here is a good one.

    • Without an understanding of the philosophy of science, one cannot have a solid understanding of what it is that they are doing when they practice science, and not thoroughly understand what that practice and its results means and does not mean. An understanding of the philosophy of science allows us to think critically of the practice of science and allows us to identify and correct fundamental errors in practice. It also articulates how the measurements scientists make relate to the physical real world around us. Perhaps the scientist could wield more force of persuasion in certain arenas if he could better articulate how his practice connects to phenomena in the world and the basis upon which that relationship between concept, theory, and reality durably holds.

      So how about this tl;dr; for you:
      It gives the scientist the argumentative and critical tools to identify and correct flawed science, but also to argue articulately, in detail, the legitimacy of his results without making his own appeal to the authority of “Science”

      If you want to learn a rather complex and subtle subject, then yes, I’m afraid you have to go and read old books.

    • In other words, how do you judge theory without philosophy? We can all agree that its capacity to produce reliable predictions gives a theory merit. But what about theory that suggests results that we are unable to produce, either because they require unattainable circumstances (like some of the high energy predictions of string theory), or because they make claims on phenomena that is impossible to measure (theory that endeavors to go into detail about conditions beyond the event horizon of a black hole), or even theory that makes claims that theory itself even admits is beyond the ability to even interact with (theories that are buttressed by multiverse based versions of the anthropic principle). You can invoke principles like occam’s razor, but why does that principle carry any force and when is it appropriate? Why is string theory spoken of in some circles with such certainty and authority when some of its predictions are as elusive as alchemy’s prediction of a path from lead to gold? Is preference of one theory over another equally predictive theory a matter of opinion, or can reason guide us to make a selection? These are philosophical questions, not empirical ones.

    • So why does everyday language and intuition carry any proof? String theory uses advanced maths that have predicted with immense precision measurable events in the future. Astounding precision. String theory is not guessing or spinning stories – they are just following what the math has said. Look at Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek’s videos on how the equations are so powerful.

    • I’m not sure why you bring up the subject of proof, nor could I find the video that you must be referencing. I did find one on youtube from Frank Wilczek called “Quantum Beauty”, but I didn’t find any argument for correctness. Just a meditation on beauty to be found in the profound simplicities that may be found amongst the dominant forces of how the matter around us behaves – an appeal to the aesthetic value of scientific theory, and an invitation to reflect upon how its capacity to draw into focus the stable structure amongst the emergent chaos can inspire wonder. All of this done in everyday language no less. I did not finish the video, so if it takes another turn in its latter portion, my apologies. From an empiricist perspective though, which I thought was where the present day scientist considers the point of view from which he works, none of what I saw offered any evidence about whether the scientific model accurately describes what is happening or will happen. This is the difference between evidence and theory. Between reality and our description of it. In fact you should find plenty of evidence in the history of science in which a model that was considered more aesthetically or hermeneutically pleasing at the time was displaced by another that offered greater accuracy of prediction over a larger body of evidence while maintaining an elegantly unified description. I.e. that the earth goes around the sun, or Euclid’s parallel postulate falling (in relation to the space of our physical reality) to einstein’s general relativity, validated by numerous experiments and most tangibly through the proper functioning of the GPS system now widely available to the developed world. In software engineering, there is a saying, that for every problem there is a solution that is simple, elegant, and wrong, and while I’ve heard much of the elegance of string theory, I’ve yet to hear of anything whatsoever that it predicts that isn’t predicted by the standard model, and I’ve heard plenty of rather fanciful ideas that I’m forced to adopt in order to make it work. Perhaps I’m out of date though. String theory lost my interest when Brian Greene’s popularization of the subject in the Elegant Universe made me lose faith in its practitioners having any interest in “proof” beyond elegant coincidence. I would find myself happily corrected if you can offer “predictions” of string theory that other physics hasn’t already produced, but that may be taking this thread a little too far off topic. I’ll not argue the merits of that area of theory with you anymore here. But nonetheless, the concepts, the tools with which we critique the merits of one theory over another, these are concepts developed by the philosophy of science.

  4. How might investigators on the Higgs team benefited from study of modern philo of science and physics?

  5. Isn’t the core principle of philo simply taking everyday language utterances/writings at face value?

  6. Feyman: “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.”

    Maybe physicists have given up on understanding.
    That explains them being irritated by people who increase the confusion with their deepities.
    Physics is about building models that fit the data. No deepities. Philosophers who try to interfere with this receive no sympathy.

    • ‘I think we can say today that we actually do under-
      stand quantum mechanics. Maybe not in the last details,
      and maybe not in its full depth, but in the broad work-
      ings of the mathematical formalism, the basic physics
      which it describes, and the deep flaws buried within its
      seemingly indisputable axioms and theorems. In that,
      we differ from Richard Feynman, who famously thought
      that nobody could actually understand it. However, this
      was said before two of the most important inventions
      for science in the twentieth century became available to
      researchers: high-performance computers, and scanning
      probe microscopes.’ http://arxiv.org/abs/1311.5470

    • Recently read that discontunities in extreme physics experiments are being “filled in” with better instruments. So, the “quantum leap,” in fact, may not exist. Another example, the red shift and theory of the universe expanding may also be vulnerable to better “microscopes.”

      Philosophers are best, again, to focus less on natural language descriptions of experiments and much more on the real study details, instruments and data.

    • I’m not even sure what that means, but it certainly has nothing to do with what philosophers do. Please try to be more constructive with your comments, I really don’t want this to degenerate into trolling.

  7. Brilliant new work. I am honored and flattered – the primary investigator has asked me to help edit future papers for readability. Predictably, since his work challenges current cultural beliefs and academic models promoting “thinking”/cognition/subjective perceptions they have been suppressed and ignored. Some snippets:

    “Thus, the temporal distinction between thinking about the choice and then implementing the response, so central to economic theory and laboratory experiments on decisions, simply does not apply to decisions made during interactive behaviour.”

    “Because the neuroanatomical organization of these circuits was laid down so long ago, we
    obviously should not attempt to explain their functional roles from a perspective that focuses
    exclusively on human cognitive behaviour. Instead, we should first consider the kinds of
    behavioural challenges that were faced by our distant ancestors. This even pertains to the cerebral cortex, which is by no means a mammalian invention but a structure homologous to the dorsal pallium that is shared among nearly all terrestrial tetrapods (Butler & Hodos 2005; Medina & Reiner 2000). Thus, even when we address the mechanisms of more modern cognitive functions, we can benefit by considering them as elaborations of ancient behavioural abilities. For example, as the mammalian brain evolved, the architecture of simple decisions may have been recapitulated toward progressively more anterior cortico-striatal circuits that serve progressively more abstract decision-making behaviour (Badre, Kayser, & D’Esposito 2010)…..

    With respect to decision-making, the evolutionary perspective motivates us to build theories of
    decision-making that are fundamentally aimed at addressing the challenges of the kinds of
    decisions faced by our very distant ancestors, whose behaviour was primarily interactive and not
    deliberative.”

  8. Oops. the PI is Paul Cizek in Montreal, Paul Glimcher’s work is similar.

    • The “affordance competition hypothesis” (Cisek 2007) suggests that during interactive behaviour,
      the brain is continuously processing sensory information to specify a set of potential actions
      (affordances) currently available in the world, while at the same time collecting information to help
      select between these (see also Fagg & Arbib 1998; Kalaska, Sergio, & Cisek 1998; Kim & Shadlen 1999; Passingham & Toni 2001; Shadlen et al. 2008).” Paul Cizek, in press

  9. “the traditional distinctions between separate systems for perceiving the world, storing and retrieving memories, thinking about an abstract goal, and acting upon it do not find strong support in neurophysiological and neuroanatomical data (Cisek & Kalaska 2010; Culham & Kanwisher 2001; Gaffan 2002). Instead, more conducive to making sense of neural data may be a distinction between processes related to specifying potential opportunities for interaction with the world versus processes related to selecting between these.” Paul Cizek, in press

  10. Philosophy’s role is provocation and social reflection of identity through open discourse across multiple mediums. It is an art of thinking critically. Removing the field of philosophy would only remove a conventional name and not the practice of the human being proposing challenges upon their community regarding the relationships between perception, ontology, and identity.

  11. Does this kind of information change the beliefs and practices of philosophers – at all? :

    “our findings contradict the traditional view that all decision making is a cognitive process taking place in terms of abstract outcome-related variables” Thura, Cizek 2014

    • I don’t think anyone ever held that “traditional view.”

    • Hmm? So, there is not a dominant cultural and academic view that consciousness, thinking, subjective preferences, values, utility, cognition, serial “decision making”, logic, language processing are the causes of behavior?

      Isn’t the cognitive view of what drives behavior, as accurately expressed in everyday language and thus the meaningfulness of language, the basis of Western philosophy, econ, history, religion, psychology, sociology, poly sci, etc?…and the discussions on this blog site?

  12. Having worked in University Science labs, worked as a GA/TA and also studied philosophy many years, and no, this does not mean I am the ‘authority’ on it all, however, this is, I think germane to the discussion: yes, Popper/Kuhn are controversial within Philosophy departments and even among some scientists as well. However, so are virtually anything proposed, not just at the time of its proposal but often for generations. Let me expound a little so as to not be misunderstood: evolution in general, is not a controversial subject within Biology, Paleontology and environmental science, as far as the evidence for and observations of changes in the frequency of alleles over time goes…However, the way natural selection is described in language, understood cognitively and what its limits are have always been controversial among the experts. Consider, Darwin versus Huxley, Richard Dawkins versus the late Stephen Jay Gould and the molecular/cell biological approach versus a more macro scale approach on how to understand the underlying processes and historical record of how changes have occured and at what rate.

    I used to love the back and forth between Dawkins and Gould; on a personal note I am very Gould biased and I think Dawkins pales in comparison, but I did take the time to read them both in all of their wriitngs, watch their interviews and see the debates over the years. Now that does not mean Gould (and Eldredge) was not controversial or never wrong… However, Dawkins a devout atheist seems to think religion does not even serve an evolutionary adaptation or a social strength/common good at all, while the agnostic Gould allowed for such matters, which of course affects the lens used to view what ‘science’ is is not, and how one constructs an hypothesis and tests a theory/establishes a workable model. One’s ‘philosophy’ (among many things, like psychology, socio-economic status, culture etc…) shapes their world view and interpretative process of results, or lack there of (null hypothesus versus alternative hypothesis) and where to go from there.

    I have enjoyed the little snippets I have seen of Tyson debating Dawkins as it were.

    Moving on to Kuhn and Popper within philosophy: no, they are not universally accepted and I suspect their philosophical models are not completely in line with ‘truth’ or completely applicable to all venues and applications. However, they have both proven very useful via professional usage, history across various domains and plenty of personal/preofessional debates. I am not completely convinced that science NEVER solves or KNOWS anything, nor am I convinced that any given falsification does what Popper, (or Einstein were convinced occurred) however there are a myriad of examples where Kuhn on the consensus model seems to be the case and Popper’s falsification claims also hold. Now, that does not mean I think true facts discovered within science or engineering for that matter can be made more true or false by the consensus process, but rather, much of scientific progress or lack thereof is perpetuated by just such a group-think process. Science should continue to do what science does well, as should Philosophy, and we must acknowledge that both are human endeavors, thus, flawed, politicized and often, non-linear in progress.

    I benefitted from my Evolutionary Biology Professor who not only was a well trained/educated and experienced Biologist but whom also had an MS in Philosophy and he brought in Philosophy throughout the class discussions. I also benefitted from a myriad of Philosophy classes alongside my Biology and Chemistry classes.

  13. I do not want to flood the comments, but work has been hectic, so as I can, I am adding these thoughts and links, however, I will digress after this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsZU_gMTSrM

    I am attempting to express several lines of thinking and address several problems we have here when we discuss philosophy of science and science and even religious anti religious undertones, within the scope of the given times and dominant culture.

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