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Is it true that before 2006 Pluto was a planet, and now it no longer is? Or was

Is it true that before 2006 Pluto was a planet, and now it no longer is? Or was Pluto never a planet by IAU's post-2006 definition, and still is a planet by the pre-2006 definition? You can't change what something is just by changing a definition right?

Many concepts in science are at least in part socially constructed. That does not mean that the world is socially constructed, just that our concepts about the world are devised by scientific communities. "Planet" is one of those terms that is partially socially constructed. Over the last 5 years that social construction has become visible in the debate over Pluto's status. "Planet" was first used to mean "object revolving around the sun." But then all kinds of small objects--comets and meteorites--also revolve around the sun, and the decision was made not to call them all planets, but only to call the sizeable ones planets. "Sizeable" reflects our interests as Earth inhabitants in revolving objects of about the same size as we are. But then in the late twentieth century thousands of celestial bodies of the same size or larger than Pluto were found in the Kuiper belt. Scientists could have decided to call them all planets, so that we would have thousands of planets in the solar system, but they prefered (for aesthetic reasons?) a smaller number. So they made up another condition that effectively rules out the thousands of planets in the Kuiper belt, but also ends up making Pluto no longer a planet (the condition was "effectively cleared its neighbouring region of planetismals"). Pluto is the same old lump of rock. It is classified as just one of the planetismals in the Kuiper belt.

The IAU voted on adding this condition, and the majority of voters supported it. There is continuing opposition to the condition from several astronomers who would have preferred to have thousands of planets than to drop Plato for seemingly arbitrary (aesthetic?) reasons.

Why does giving authority to a sense of aesthetics sometimes lead to finding the

Why does giving authority to a sense of aesthetics sometimes lead to finding the wrong answer to a scientific question?

Good question! First, it must be said that sometimes aesthetic considerations seem to be quite positive scientifically, at least according to books like The Elegant Univers by Brian Greene: "In physics, as in art, symmetry is a key part of aesthetics." In the International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Eligan has argued that "Aesthetic devices are integral to science." And there have been various claims about how Einstein, Pincare, Heisenberg, Weyl, have been led by aesthetic considerations. On that, check out Truth and Beauty by Chandrasekhar. When you look at what is meant by "aesthetics" in this literature it sometimes refers to symmetry, simplicity, harmony, order, consistency, economy, unity, elegance, beauty... I suppose one way to answer your question is that aesthetics can lead to bad science if the sense of the beauty of a theory is somehow misplaced or there is (what we might think of later as an ugly) ignoring of evidence for the sake of a simplicity that is inadequate to the task. There have been scientists and philosophers who seem drawn to what they see as the elegant simplicity of scientific behaviorism, and yet such simplicity is at the expense (or so I suggest) of the reality of first-person subjective experience.

When proponents of Intelligent Design insist that it is inconceivable for a

When proponents of Intelligent Design insist that it is inconceivable for a particular biological structure to have simply evolved, their opponents sometimes respond "evolution is cleverer than you are." This is a pithy response, and no doubt there is truth to it; but can the ID-proponent really be reasonably expected to accept this?

Whether ID proponents would accept the counter is not necessarily the best question. I would suggest we ask whether they should accept it, or what force it has.

My own sense is that the charge that it is "inconceivable" how, say, the eye evolved is really quite lame. Suppose it true that it is utterly beyond the imagination of human beings how the eye might have evolved. So what? Surely there are plenty of things that are utterly beyond our imagining. That we can't figure it out in any detail, or even begin to do so, just doesn't show anything.

One might ask why we should believe that the eye evolved, then. The answer, presumably, is that we have good evidence for evolution in general, that we can actually see it in action in simpler cases, and that one can tell some rough story about why and how primitive light-detection might have evolved, and even see a range of such sensory organs in actual organisms. Having any reasonable sense of how the eye, as it is, evolved over the eons isn't really to be expected.

So I'd suggest that "evolution is cleverer than you are" is really just a way of dismissing the argument without trying to answer it.

Do immoral methods in science always produce false results? I've heard this

Do immoral methods in science always produce false results? I've heard this kind of claim made in relation to psychological experiments in which subjects are initially lied to. It doesn't seem intuitive. Why do people say this?

You ask a good question that I have wondered about myself. The classic examples of immoral work in science are Nazi experiments on human physiology and the Tuskegee syphilis study. Neither were up to current methodological standards, but both were OK science for their time. In a way it would be more convenient if these cases would be bad science as well as immoral science, because then no questions need be asked about whether it is permissable to use the results. Perhaps it is difficult to acknowledge that science can be used successfully in ways that are immoral. But I think we learned this lesson with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Scientific skepticism seems to be on the rise in the past few decades

Scientific skepticism seems to be on the rise in the past few decades (postmodernism, the climate change debate, controversy surrounding genetics & cognitive sciences, creationism, alternative medicine, etc). Some say scientific discoveries are relative; others say they are false; others say they are a conspiracy by special interest groups to sway public opinion, or keep people in the dark. This has raised a question I think we need to answer, as a society, if we are to draw the line between science, pseudoscience and charlatanism, and to move forwards into the future: what good reasons are there for trusting in scientists and their theories? What makes trusting what a scientist says about his or her specialty, or trusting a scientific journal or article or experiment on some specific theme, when we know little about it from experience, any different from trusting a member of the clergy or a holy text? All this, of course, from the point of view of a person who is neither a scientist nor knows...

fantastic question, and one I struggle with as well. I don't have a very good answer to offer, but can recommend a couple of things which might help you formulate your own answer. A new book called "Voodoo Histories" is a study of conspiracy theories, and while it's not specifically about science it discusses many relevant questions (and provides some analysis of why people pushing 'bizarre' theories find them more credible and hold them to lower standards of evidence than the 'official' theories they're claiming involve conspiracies); and an article by Larry Laudan from a few decades ago called something like "A Confutation of Convergent Realism," which shows how science past was very successful despite having many/almost all false theories, which undermines the claim of contemporary Realists about science that contemporary science (with all its successes) has a very good claim on the 'truth. For my own two cents, you sound a little too dismissive re (say) "the peer review system," since if that doesn't satisfy skeptics then maybe they're not just skeptics but conspiracy theorists .... YOu might also add that, though there is always disagreement across science, there is also something like a consensus that forms around major theories -- precisely the kind of thing that lacks deeply across religious beliefs ...

Where things gets VERY complicated of course is when political agendas get mixed into scientific issues, eg re climate change -- both sides cite their 'experts', it becomes very hard for someone not thorughly immersed to decide whom to believe ...

Is religion merely a primitive form of science?

Is religion merely a primitive form of science?

Great question! It may seem quite odd to equate religion and science because the former involves so much more than science. In religious communities and traditions one finds a whole way of life, a set of values and rites that seem to go well beyond the kind of inquiry that make up the natural and social sciences. Still, historically and today, religions do offer descriptions, explanations, and predictions about the cosmos and our place in it. Theistic traditions, for example, understand the cosmos itself to be created and conserved in being by an awesome, omnipresent, good, purposive reality. In today's terminology, however, I think it would be misleading and perhaps wrong to think of such a claim as a scientific one, but it would not be unscientific because there is (obviously) no evidence for such a worldview. The cosmological argument, for example, has some very able defenders today (see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry for a good version) and that argument would seek to establish theism on the basis of the evident contingent nature of the cosmos. As a side point, some philosophers (most notably Alfred North Whitehead) have argued that modern science itself had religious (specifically theistic) roots. This is, of course, controversial but worth considering. You might find Whitehead's Religion in the Making of interest.

Is science really as neutral and objective as scientists claim? Let me for

Is science really as neutral and objective as scientists claim? Let me for arguments sake use the example of "ghosts". When a person lives in a country with wide-spread belief in the supernatural they are more likely to interpret a strange event as having a supernatural component. We can say that they are not analysing the event in an objective way, but are interpreting it from the biased mindset that "the supernatural exists". A scientist looking at the same event would not have such cultural assumptions; but he is interpreting the event on the basis of what he already knows about science (ex, That cognitive processes have a biological basis, that immaterial beings violate the laws of physics as they are currently understood, etc.) Now we know from history that many scientific theories which had the support of the entire scientific community turn out to inconsistent with empirical observation in some way and require modification or to be discarded entirely. Similarly, some theories which were once...

This is an excellent question. Science aims for both objectivity and truth. Sometimes science fails to be objective (for example, when scientists ignore important evidence, or lack evidence) and sometimes scientific theories fail to be true (for example, Newtonian mechanics turns out not to be true from an Einsteinian perspective) but lack of objectivity is different from falsity. Now let's turn to your case of reasoning about ghosts. If a person has an experience that seems to be due to the supernatural" then that experience is deserving of scientific explanation. In a society with less scientific knowledge than ours, the explanation might be that the cause of the experience is a ghost. That explanation would be incorrect, but not lacking in objectivity (the people in that society are reasoning objectively, given their beliefs and their evidence). The "supernatural" is not automatically "unscientific;" in fact what we count as supernatural changes as science changes. Newton, for example, used "occult forces" to explain gravitation, something that was regarded as appealing to the supernatural in the very mechanistic physics of his time. Our views about ghosts should depend on the evidence we get, interpreted against the background of our current scientific knowledge. I've never seen a ghost myself, and I think ghost sightings are likely to be illusions created by overactive imaginations. But I might be wrong. That does not mean that I'm lacking in objectivity.

This is a response to an answer given by Miriam Solomon (http://www

This is a response to an answer given by Miriam Solomon ( In her response Miriam claims that " the 16th century, it was against the laws of nature to claim that Earth moves around the sun." Surely this is missing the point. It was not against the laws of nature but against the contemporary "theories" (*approximations* of the laws of nature) in science. Therefore it was not the laws that were wrong (as she claims), but the theories. Furthermore, to develop upon the original question; the existence of ghosts contradicts currently-held theories of science but also the very conception of ghosts is *self-contradictory*. (For example; If ghosts are capable of physically interacting with their environment they are subject to the action-reaction law of classical mechanics. But if they are capable of travelling through solid objects they do not exert force upon their environment and are not subject to said law: a contradiction.) From this perspective isn't asking ...

Haven't read the original exchange, but in response to the contradictions point: sure if you define ghosts that way then they may be self-contradictory, thus impossible. But then philosophers of science talk about cases where you begin with one cnoception of a thing and then as science/theorizing progresses that conception gets revised. So, perhaps, 'common-sense' intuitive conceptions of ghosts may involve that self-contradiction, but of course most people haven't thought too hard about developing a detailed or sophisticated coneption of ghosts, and once they do they may well be willing to revise one or both of the contradictory features -- eg maybe grant that ghosts are 'spirits' in the early modern sense (very fine fluids) which do indeed have causal interactions with the physical world (but perhaps only with such slight effect that they are very hard to detect) ... or, perhaps, if mind-body (spirit-physical) interactions do occur, maybe there are primitive ceteris paribus laws governing them, knowledge of which would force various revisions to the 'classical mechanics' laws you mention etc... maybe in fact any evidence that the laws as currently known are not perfectly followed to precision would BE evidence that there's more than what's physical, and thus could consttute evidence for (non-self-contradicotry) 'ghosts' ....


Do the laws of science disprove the existence of ghosts? The universe adheres to

Do the laws of science disprove the existence of ghosts? The universe adheres to strict physical laws and constants; as Stephen Hawking notes; these laws MUST be adhered to 100% of the time, or they wouldn't be laws. In science, a theory can be supported by thousands of separate pieces of separate empirical evidence but it only takes ONE piece of empirical evidence which contradicts a theory for that theory to be disproven; in which case the theory must be discarded or modified. The existence of ghosts is evidence which would contradict thousands of theories in science; in physics, biology and chemistry (Newton's laws of motion, Einstein's equivalence of mass and energy, etc. etc.) The immutability of the laws of science are verified by the products of man's understanding and manipulation of these laws; technology, transportation, medicine, etc. etc. These things form the bedrock of modern civilization. I know that in science it is said that nothing can be "disproven"; for example, we can't completely...

Science is fallible. There is a long tradition of claiming phenomena to be "physically impossible" or "against the laws of nature" and then finding out that it is the laws that are the problem, or some underlying assumptions. E.g. in the 16th century, it was against the laws of nature to claim that Earth moves around the sun (it turned out that Aristotelian physics was wrong) and e.g. in the early 20th century continental drift was thought to be physically impossible (it turned out that continents do not move over the sea floors, but stick to them, making motion possible along with the formation of new ocean floor).

So I'm not a fan of saying that the laws of science disprove the existence of anything that we have independent evidence for. I think it is more scientific, in fact, to ask "what evidence do we have for the existence of ghosts"? and take it from there.

What's the status of the so-called "scientific method" among philosophers of

What's the status of the so-called "scientific method" among philosophers of science these days? I realize that there are and have been many different methods employed in what we call or want to call scientific investigation, so I appreciate how misleading the singular term might be. But, with that caveat in mind, in school and elsewhere you hear all about this great 'method' we've established. And certainly scientists take themselves to know and share some activity. To put a finer point on this question, let me sketch what I get the impression this 'method' looks like: 1) It's empirical, that is, it involves observation and experimentation. 2) The scientist makes some initial observations, forms a hypothesis, deduces some predictions from it, then designs and performs a "controlled experiment" to "test" them. This experiment is done by attempting to identify variables, some independent, one dependent to ensure (obviously with fallibility) that the appropriate relationship/conditions are being...

"The scientific method" is often poorly or incompletely or misleadingly described in science classes (especially high school science classes). So I'll say a little about that first, and then something about recent philosophical discussions of scientific method.

As you (and many others) describe the method, it begins with "the scientists makes some initial observations and forms an hypothesis." This is typically understood as the inductive part of scientific method. And, while it is true that scientists sometimes start with inductive generalizations, most of the time they start with a deeper hypothesis, one that offers a causal explanation for what is observed. If all we ever did was make inductive generalizations, we'd never get beyond the observable--never get to atoms and magnetic forces and osmotic pressures and all those other invisible entities or abstract concepts that form part of scientific theories. So really, the scientist starts with a hypothesis that is arrived at by abduction ("looking for the best explanation"), then the testing is, as you say, making predictions from the theory, and doing experiments or observations to see whether the predictions are correct.

What I have described is the standard "hypothetico-deductive" account of scientific method. Many philosophers of science still think it is a correct account of good scientific reasoning. Others find it either too idealistic (scientists fail to follow scientific method yet still get good results) e.g. Thomas Kuhn, or insufficient (does not say enough about what is needed for scientific reasoning) e.g. Helen Longino or even incorrect e.g. Ronald Giere says that what scientist work with is models, not theories.