This is the year of Darwin (yes, yes, it’s also the year of astronomy, I know), and especially this week -- around the date of Chuck’s birth -- we are seeing a spike of events, radio and tv pieces, and printed articles. (Expect a second peak in November, for the anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species
In doing some research for my next book (on the differences between science and pseudoscience), I re-read this rather stunning piece of writing: “Scientists these days tend to keep up a polite fiction that all science is equal. Except for the work of the misguided opponent whose arguments we happen to be refuting at the time, we speak as though every scientist's field and methods of study are as good as every other scientist's, and perhaps a little better. This keeps us all cordial when it comes to recommending each other for government grants.”
“I discovered a flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works.” This, infamously, was uttered by former chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, who admitted that his view of how economies work was deeply flawed, and yet refused to issue an apology for years of federal intervention (or lack thereof) based on his “flawed” model. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are suffering economic hardship as a result of someone making policy decisions on the basis of a flawed assumption.
Metaphors are dangerous things. On the one hand, it seems pretty much impossible to avoid using them, especially in rather abstract fields like philosophy and science. On the other hand, they are well known to trick one’s mind into taking the metaphor too literally, thereby creating problems that are not actually reflective of the reality of the natural world, but are only perverse constructs of our own warped understanding of it.