File feyerabend/feyerabend.0601, message 10

Date: Fri, 27 Jan 2006 22:27:28 -0300
Subject: Re: [PKF] Introduction/Hello

Dear Paul,

On Jan 27, 2006, at 12:09 PM, Paul Newall wrote:

> On 1/27/06, Cédric Foellmi <> wrote:
>> I think that epistemology is of great importance for science, but I
>> am rather surprised and interested by the fact that, as far as I can
>> tell (correct me if I'm wrong!), the people that actively think about
>> science (the epistemologists) are not the ones who actually produce
>> the science itself. My main concern in this is the lowered
>> importance, I think, that is given to the role of measurements. Maybe
>> it is an old question, and I'm sorry for that. I never really found
>> an active place where to discuss these matters.
> Which "people that actively think about science" do you have in  
> mind, Cédric?

I was thinking about dedicated people/philosphers in universities who  
study the evolution of science (among other things), like the few I  
met years ago in Geneva, Switzerland. But maybe this was not very  
common. My statements were very much a personal opinion, and not  
meant to be provocative at all. I hope everyone understood it like  
that. I just would have liked that my ignorance of the real situation  
was not so obvious...

> It has often been the case that the most active philosophers of  
> science are
> the scientists themselves, particularly those troubled by the  
> philosophical
> implications of their work (the physicists of the turn of the  
> twentieth
> century being perhaps the best example).

I fully agree, but this is not what I see, what I experience every  
day since a few years, in astrophysics at least.

> It may be that the level of
> epistemological discussion differs across scientific disciplines, with
> astrophysics (or at least your experience of it) not necessarily being
> representative; after all, the philosophy of biology seems to be going
> strong with increasing political relevance.

As you say, my situation seems to be not representative at all. I am  
glad that philosophy of biology is strong. I think that epistemology  
is of central importance for the every-day work, and this, whatever  
the importance of the questions that this work is bringing up. I  
realize that it is actually a wish to see more people of my field  
concerned. I feel particularly frustrated because of the amazing  
current state of the research in cosmology. If some of you have heard  
about the Dark Matter and Dark Energy problems, you could understand.  
These are now labelled "discoveries" (as written in many articles and  
reports). However, the "Dark Energy" problem, for instance, owns its  
existence almost completely to the move of a term in Einstein  
equation from one side to another. History and mathematics explain  
why we should keep it the other side, but nobody seem to realize this  

> What did you mean about the "lowered importance [of] the role of
> measurements"?

After brewing my ideas almost alone for a long time, it seems to me  
that measurements are the central piece of science activity, and this  
work of measuring the universe actually defines the science activity.  
But I have been impressed by the "industrial" environment of the  
european observatories in Chile, and the industrial philosophy that  
sustain and shape the every-day operations. We are now producing  
measurements in the universe at a rate that would need twice as many  
astronomers as we have now to have time to think about it. I am  
wondering if this change is responsible for the total lack of  
interest of people who become pure industrial producers of  
measurements. This change is rather new in the story of astrophysics,  
but maybe not elsewhere... Again, I might have a few years to catch  
up with biology!

To answer your question: I used to think that people concerned by  
science were not aware of this change in astrophysics. If you add my  
mistake of thinking that other scientific branches behave the same,  
you end up saying such thing.

I don't want to bother people with a very lengthy email. I don't know  
very well to whom I am writing and who is listening. It does matter  
to me, though. And your questions, Paul, already made me thinking a  
bit more carefully.

> Welcome to the list!

Thanks very much!


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