This is a blog about science and philosophy, and about what these two sorts of inquiry have to say about each other as we think about what’s happening to our planet. It’s written by people with backgrounds in both fields. We don’t all see everything the same way, and we certainly don’t agree about everything! But we agree about some important things, including the usefulness of thinking philosophically about science, and of thinking scientifically about some questions that are often seen as belonging to philosophy: questions (among others) about purpose, value, and meaning.
We’re going to be exploring ideas that are tricky to write about, in several different ways! This post is going to flag some of those challenges, so that you’ll understand the ways we are trying to deal with them.
Accepting Mainstream Views
To explain our mode of inquiry and perspectives in blog form, we will necessarily gloss superficially over diverse perspectives, for the time being at least. These diverse views are held by serious researchers on basically every topic we’ll be talking about. That’s good!
That’s as it should be. But when we’re trying to explain how a mainstream view fits into a larger framework of thought, the flow of the discussion will be hopelessly confused if we keep interrupting ourselves to acknowledge alternative perspectives. So sometimes we’ll mention the other perspectives, and sometimes we won’t. Any place where we say “most scientists agree” or “many ecologists think” or even (more rarely!) “most philosophers accept,” you can assume that there are other views that differ importantly from the ones we’re talking about, and that we know about them. We’ll probably get into them somewhere else! But to get the discussion started, we must accept some view, often a widely accepted one, as a starting point.
Considering Far-Out Views
On the other hand, sometimes we’ll need to take a close look at a view that is decidedly not mainstream. Sometimes, of course, views that initially seem exotic or implausible turn out to be right after all, and eventually move into the mainstream. The history of science is filled with many examples. Indeed, the most central truths of today’s sciences are often the ones that looked most bizarre when they were first suggested, from the theory of gravity to the theory of relativity, continental drift to climate change. But that’s not the only reason to look at ideas on the margins. Some ideas that are never going to be vindicated nonetheless have something to teach us. Philosophy often proceeds by exploring a range of options that scientists might not consider, to figure out how they play out. We can then ask what possibilities they reveal, what implications they carry, and how they might relate to mainstream ideas. And science often benefits from the work seemingly marginal or radical thinkers do to open new pathways for investigation. We’ll be doing some of that, here.
Photo Credit" NASA via Unsplash
Exploring vs Arguing
This blog is part of a process of exploration, for us, and hopefully for the reader. We’re trying to figure out important things about how we think and talk about the processes involved in changes, stability, and resilience of life on Earth and the global patterns that support it. We don’t already have answers that we’re trying to promote or defend. We’re interested in arguments (of course!) as a way of critically assessing ideas we’re looking at, examining the evidence that supports or challenges them, and investigating their implications. But we’re not as interested as many philosophy-and-science bloggers are in championing one perspective and deprecating others. We’ll present arguments, but this isn’t a debate, or a polemic. It’s an exploration. We hope you’ll enjoy that approach, and find value in it. It’s one that is often made invisible by the publishing conventions of today’s scholarly research. But it’s needed at a certain stage in all inquiry, and is needed especially as we confront kinds of problems (philosophical, scientific, and practical) that humans have never confronted before.
What to Expect in Future Posts
The next post will focus on how many philosophers and scientists have thought about and asked questions about natural phenomena that have functions. We will demonstrate the views of function that most scientists accept. These views, we think, leave some hanging problems. The next post will focus on those views and problems, and then after that, we hope to propose an outline of how we see teleological thinking aiding scientific and philosophical problems.