Reality Thursday

by John Holbo on October 1, 2009

I don’t see why only Theory and Monday should have all the fun. Still, one comment from Michael’s thread caught my eye. Hidari:

I might also add that the ‘anti-relativist’ or (as I would prefer to put it) ‘anti-contextualist’ position is generally hopelessly confused in that they tend to use Positivist arguments to support Realist positions. But you can’t do that. The positivists were instrumentalists, as befitted their anti-metaphysical, pro-empiricist assumptions. Realism is a metaphysical position.

The rest of the comment suggests this is supposed to express a Nancy Cartwright-style view, which I don’t think is really quite properly described as anti-realist. (It is anti-Realist, for certain values of the self-important capital-R. But that is another kettle of fish. Or, possibly, Fish. I mention this out of scrupulosity because it just isn’t clear to me the positions Hidari is objecting to in the thread are Realist, as opposed to realist.) Anyway, the point is this. I’ve been watching the new They Might Be Giants Here Comes Science DVD with my girls [amazon]. It’s great! Can’t decide yet whether I like it better than the earlier TMBG kid’s discs, but it does measure up so far.

In the opening number, one of the Johns does exactly the thing that bothers Hidari (and Cartwright is indeed someone who scourges this particular move): offering positivist arguments on behalf of realism.

As I was saying, one of the Johns quotes Rudolf Carnap, “science is a system of statements based on direct experience and controlled by experimental verification.” And the other John then says: “Or as we say, Science Is Real!” And the song starts. But these two statements are hardly equivalent. Indeed, even the graphic for the song title is eloquently anti-Carnapian:


This clearly implies that science does not consist of sentences. It is a thing that itself contains the things that sentences about science are about. Or as we say: things! Reality! (Call it what you will. Place is thick with the stuff.)

Here’s a YouTube link to the video for TMBG “Science is Real”, complete with Carnapian intro. (You can also watch it as an Amazon preview, but they cut the Carnap bit! That was the best part!)

So your job, this Reality Thursday, is to write a song – or poem – expressing as clearly as you can, with extra style points for keeping it intelligible to an 8-year old – your favored philosophy of science. Does it consist of sentences, or does it consist of reality? You decide! The only thing I can think of that rhymes with ‘paradigm’ is ‘spare a dime’. As to the rest: I’m recovering from the flu myself and have 100+ papers to grade, so don’t ask me to dance you a little jig. I don’t have the time or energy.

You can also comment in prose.

Goodbye, John

by Kieran Healy on October 1, 2009

My friend John Pollock died yesterday. I’ll leave it to others to write up his many contributions to philosophy and computer science. I wanted to take a moment to remember him as the hard-charging mountain biker he was. He introduced me to biking shortly after I moved to Tucson, and he spent a lot of time driving me and many others all over Southern Arizona to ride on desert singletrack. Despite being almost twice my age he (and several others even older) would routinely leave me behind on the trail, cranking up hills or blasting down them. Eventually I started to be able to keep up better, but that was partly because John sold me his beautiful Ellsworth Truth, pictured above, at a knock-down price. It’s a great bike. Too good for me, really. I’ll miss you, John.