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Cosmologists engage in natural philosophy without admitting it?

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 Except in this case?: Philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci (defender of falsifiability*) offers a thoughtful review of The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time by by Roberto Mangabeira Unger and Lee Smolin:

Before we get to what the authors set out to accomplish, it is worth discussing a more basic premise of the book: they see it as an exercise in what they call (a revived form of) “natural philosophy.” Of course, natural philosophy was the name by which science went before it became a field of inquiry independent of philosophy itself. Descartes, Galileo, Newton and even Darwin thought of themselves as natural philosophers (the word scientist, in fact, was invented by Darwin’s mentor, William Whewell, in 1833 [2]). But what’s the point of going back to the old term, aside from a bit of historical nostalgia and perhaps intellectual pretentiousness?

Actually, Unger & Smolin (henceforth, U&S) make a very good case for it, which begins with the observation that many of their colleagues have indeed engaged, often stealthily, or perhaps without recognizing it, in precisely this sort of activity. You may have noticed over the last several years the appearance of a number of books written by scientists and allegedly aimed at the general public, but upon closer inspection turn out to be a bit like those recent delightful Disney and Pixar movies: two-track productions, with the obvious and most accessible one aimed at young audiences, interwoven with more sophisticated jokes that only the cognoscenti (i.e., the adults, as far as the movies are concerned) understand and enjoy. These exercises in natural philosophy, according to U&S, have been written by scientists who want to talk not just to a lay audience, but also to their colleagues, outside of the strict and constraining formalism of peer review. Think of such books as long op-ed pieces that scientists (partly) aim at each other in order to influence the agendas of their respective fields. More.

Yes, we suspected that. And then they play that sickening game of Oopsies! Why did YOOUU!! think we meant anything by that?  This is all just “science”!

Thanks for bringing it up for discussion. Readers?

* File:A small cup of coffee.JPG Because some of us have trouble with seven-syllabubble words like falsifiability, especially when we have a bad winter cold, we tend to use the more economical term, “sanity,” instead. Sorry.

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One Reply to “Cosmologists engage in natural philosophy without admitting it?

  1. 1

    Roberto Mangabeira Unger is a Brazilian philosopher, a Law professor at Harvard University.

    http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/unger/

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