Neil Tyson And The Value Of Philosophy

Reprinted from Scientia Salon. You can read the original here.It seems like my friend Neil deGrasse...

What Does It Mean For Something To Be Metaphysically Necessary?

I mentioned before, this semester I’m teaching a graduate level seminar on David Hume, and having...

David Hume And The Missing Shade Of Blue

This semester I’m teaching a graduate level course on “Hume Then and Now,” which aims at...

Is Theologian Alving Plantinga For Real? Alas, It Appears So

I keep hearing that Notre Dame philosopher and theologian Alvin Plantinga is a really smart guy...

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Massimo PigliucciRSS Feed of this column.

Massimo Pigliucci is Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York.

His research focuses on the structure of evolutionary theory, the relationship between science and philosophy

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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.)
Continuing our discussion of biophysicist John R. Platt's classical paper on “strong inference” and, more broadly, the difference between soft and hard science, another reason for the difference between these two types of science mentioned but left unexamined by Platt is the relative complexity of the subject matters of different scientific disciplines.
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.
I’m used to some American media outlets shamelessly feeding crap to the public. Think Fox so-called News, for instance. But the Los Angeles Times? That’s supposed to be one of the most highly respectable papers in the country, on par with the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune or the Boston Globe. Well, once again I was wrong. David Klinghoffer published an opinion piecein the LA Times that argued that belief in the paranormal is not just, well, normal, but actually good for you.