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science & humanities in bed together

w00t! I successfully convinced the Philosophy department at UCSC to hire me as a TA for their Intro to Logic class in the Fall. This is the first step in my larger plan to help bridge the gap between physics & philosophy, to expand my horizons a bit, and most importantly... to trick science & humanities into putting aside their petty differences and hopping in bed together. :)

I first offered to TA Intro to Philosophy, and they were considering letting me do that since I've at least taken an equivalent class before (as opposed to Logic which I've never taken--but fortunately I'm half Vulcan, so it's in my blood!), but I was a bit too slow and they already filled all the open positions for it.

This will be the 4th department I've TA'ed for now (Math, Physics, and Astronomy being the first three); I really love moving around and picking up new things as I go. Teaching the same thing over and over gets repetitive. Next I guess I should do a CS or an EE class since I have a whole background there that's going unused; but if I enjoy this quarter in Philosophy as much as I'm hoping, I'll probably just stay there as CS and EE can both get kind of boring.

I also might sit in on some philosophy classes, which should be easier to do now that I have some connections to the faculty there. Particularly, I'd like to know more about Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Mind, Epistemology, and the Vienna Circle. But I'm not sure if I should just jump into a graduate class or if I should take some upper division undergrad classes first. Hopefully talking with the other TA's I work with in the fall will help me figure out stuff like this.

Oh, and I forgot to mention one more thing I saw at Burning Man (in my last friends-only post, in case anyone is confused). They had a Playa Book of Records set up where people tried to set different records. The one which I happened to walk by and catch was a man who hung 4 full cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon from his penis (secured by his Prince Albert piercing) for about 60 seconds straight! He broke the previous record of 3 cans, but when he tried to do 5 he let out a yelp of pain and took it off almost immediately. Ouchies! Oh, and one more thing I saw was a bar for people on stilts. There were enough people walking around the Playa on stilts that they actually had a full bar set up for them on the second story at which they could walk up casually and order drinks. Wonderful!

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
cola_fan
Sep. 9th, 2005 03:38 am (UTC)
You seem very ready to venture outside of your most obvious strong areas. I think that's a plus. Btw, nice Burning Man notes.
majelix
Sep. 9th, 2005 05:09 am (UTC)
Could you (briefly or not) expand on your current thoughts on philosophy of physics?

Most specifically, I'm curious as to how you see the current situation: is there a divide, and which side is guiltier of this? My naive response would be to throw rocks at scientists, people like Feyerabend and Finklestien are obvious counter examples.

Also, and you probably already know this, but Mr. Brown also shares many of those listed philosophical interests. Hangin' with the Churchills must make you weird like that.
spoonless
Sep. 9th, 2005 07:37 am (UTC)

Could you (briefly or not) expand on your current thoughts on philosophy of physics?

Well there are a lot of different philosophical issues which arise in regard to physics. Could you be more specific? I (tenatively) consider myself an empiricist and a representational realist if that helps. Finkelstein's views seem closer to logical positivism... which is not far off from me, but I mostly see it as "taking things a step too far". I don't necessarily believe in objects or universals, but I do believe in a holistic external reality.

I have always seen science as a privledged form of knowledge that doesn't suffer from the same problems as folk knowledge. My impression is that many of Thomas Kuhn's ideas about science are seriously flawed, although I haven't actually read his book first hand yet so I probably shouldn't criticise it. (And if I'm going to start TA'ing philosophy I really need to learn to keep these opinions to myself so that I don't lead anyone in to not thinking for themselves. Or at least let them know that I'm a scientist pretending to be a philosopher not the other way around so they should expect to hear things from that perspective.)

Also, and you probably already know this, but Mr. Brown also shares many of those listed philosophical interests. Hangin' with the Churchills must make you weird like that.

Churchills? Did I miss this?

I'm curious as to how you see the current situation: is there a divide, and which side is guiltier of this?

There is a divide between science and philosophy for sure... but I don't think it's insurmountable. It's just that they tend to have different approaches and different paradigms. I think one or both of them will have to give up some of their beliefs eventually. However, I can't tell for sure which... my guess would be the philosophers, but I'm always open to the possibility that I'm just not familiar enough with their paradigm and whole knowledge base to understand the points they're making as well as I understand the science end of it.

My naive response would be to throw rocks at scientists

Well in that case, my naive response would be to duck :)
majelix
Sep. 9th, 2005 05:06 pm (UTC)
Thanks for answering! You should definately visit the GT Philosophy Society once you get these ideas in order.

And by Churchill I meant Churchland. Sorry about that.
csn
Sep. 9th, 2005 08:58 am (UTC)
synthesis
I applaud your efforts, that's what I'm all about. Keep at it, we need more of it.
gustavolacerda
Sep. 20th, 2005 05:08 pm (UTC)
good for you! who knows if we might meet on a philosophy of physics conference someday?
spoonless
Sep. 21st, 2005 10:27 pm (UTC)
That would be cool, although I doubt I could convince anyone to send me to such a conference, unless I actually started doing work in philosophy.
jemvla
Sep. 20th, 2005 08:34 pm (UTC)
This is the first step in my larger plan to help bridge the gap between physics & philosophy...

greetings, spoonless. you are a spoonfull! what gap exactly do you mean? this post gets me (uncharacteristically) dichotomizing and categorizing, questioning a hypothetical relationship between say, inspiration (philosophical perhaps), for a project, and its fulfillment (generally scientific), a separation i do not always acknowledge. perhaps you refer to particular professors and their spurious assumptions, or a gap in their minds, or even your own understanding?



spoonless
Sep. 20th, 2005 09:14 pm (UTC)
Greetings... I notice you don't keep much in the way of a journal, but we have many friends in common so I added you in case you want to read any friends-only stuff of mine.

I refer to an ideological gap between the typical attitudes of scientists and philosophers... particularly towards metaphysics and epistemology. There are plenty of exceptions on both sides of the fence, but by and large I have noticed a big difference between the way scientists look at science and the way philosophers look at science. As well as the way that each group talks about it, indicative by the language they use. I think this is most likely due to misunderstandings on both sides.
jemvla
Sep. 20th, 2005 10:27 pm (UTC)
thank you

as for thought processes, can you write out the misunderstandings?

ideological gap is a new idea for me. as if there should be something to fill the space?

is the language used by scientists and philosophers really that misleading? how does it detour from the truth?

mostly, i really want to know if you have developed a certain way of thinking that works for both "science" and "philosophy" -- what's in the middle of the gap?
spoonless
Sep. 22nd, 2005 07:18 am (UTC)

as for thought processes, can you write out the misunderstandings?

Well, I think it's more complicated than I care to write here. But some of the main misunderstandings... philosophers don't seem to understand the way truth works in science. They paint pictures of scientists continually throwing out old models of the world and replacing them with brand new ones... which to the philosophers look completely different... whereas to the scientists they are simply the next step of refinement. I don't think the philosophers understand the nature of the revision of scientific knowledge that goes on, and as such they don't trust the empirical knowledge gained through science enough. The source of the
problem may be that they often place too much emphasis on logic (I've found that philosophers tend to be a lot more rationalist whereas scientists tend to be a lot more empiricist... but now I'm really making generalizations.)

On the other hand, the scientists tend to scoff at philosophers and regard their work as either meaningless or hokey. While there are certain branches of philosophy I see this way (theology, for instance), most scientists fail to realize the need for philosophy at all... and they also don't realize how much their implicit philosophies affect their own work and their view of it. I believe that science could advance more rapidly if there were a greater understanding of philosophy among the scientists. If nothing else, it would help theorists make better judgements about which directions to take their work in. Similarly, I think the philosophers could construct more accurate world views if they paid more attention to the knowledge held by the scientific community.

There are a lot of other issues which I didn't mention, but maybe that will give you an idea of the types of things I'm referring to.


ideological gap is a new idea for me. as if there should be something to fill the space?

Yes... I think that if communication increases between the fields we should expect to see a convergence of knowledge as well as language.

is the language used by scientists and philosophers really that misleading?

Yes, although unfortunately I don't have the time to write about this right now.

mostly, i really want to know if you have developed a certain way of thinking that works for both "science" and "philosophy" -- what's in the middle of the gap?

Well, it's hard to answer that because there is no one philosophy that philosophers (or scientists) espouse. My main problem is that they just don't place enough emphasis on each others' fields and they largely ignore the work being done. There is a middle ground that either doesn't get explored... or it gets explored by both sides but in very different ways and with different conclusions.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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