Pluto pictures prompt ponderous posturing 
The New Horizons probe has just passed by Pluto, providing the more detailed pictures of it than we've ever had. People are excited about it, because it's cool.

Predictably, however, it's also been an occasion for whinging about the word "planet". The New Horizons team wants to talk up Pluto as a planet.

They are happy to play it up for a reporter. Alan Stern, the mission's principal investigator, complains that the IAU definition is "rather unscientific", that it's "trying to legislate what is and isn't a planet -- to keep the numbers small." His idea, I think, is that the discovery of Eris and other Kuiper belt objects revealed that there were too many planets to make up a countable list for school children. He raises some of the usual objections against the orbit-clearing criterion which figures in the official definition of "planet".

[index.php?entry=entry130118-141811]My view on this[/url] is that the 2006 decision to regiment the word "planet" in a way that excluded Pluto made the word track a natural kind. There's a broader natural kind which includes the planets, Pluto, Ceres, Eris, and a great many other round solar satellites. Astronomers could have made "planet" pick out that broader category, at the cost of reclassifying the asteroid Ceres. Either way, folk use of the term was going to take some bruising. (I deal elsewhere with the usual objections.)

The New Horizons team has some professional investment in the status of Pluto, of course. And their focus on studying Pluto also means that they are focused on phenomena which make the broader natural kind more salient for them. But it misrepresents the way that scientific language works to pretend that there was only one scientific thing for the IAU to do.


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Trouble in d-cog land 
Matt Brown has a short article on d-cog at the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective. It's something between a critical notice and a blog post, I guess.

Brown's aim, narrowly, is to engage Ron Giere's claim that distributed cognition counts as cognitive in virtue of having individual doxastic states among its outputs. His argument, by way of Wilfred Sellars and Paul Churchland, is to argue that the model of individual doxastic states itself elides all the material and social distribution that necessarily contribute to doxastic states.

In my own work, I've argued for a thin conception of d-cog according to which "an activity is d-cog if (1) the task is such that it would count as cognition if it were carried out entirely in a single mind or brain, and (2) the process by which the task is carried out is not enclosed within the boundary of a single organism."

Brown's argument seems to open up this objection to my conception: Belief and knowledge are never and could never be entirely in a single mind or brain. As such, it seems false that they would "would count as cognition if... carried out entirely in a single mind or brain". At best, it's undefined as to whether they would.

I find both my own conception and Brown's argument plausible. I'm not sure how to resolve this.

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Janet at Forbes 
Janet Stemwedel is now a contributor at Forbes on topics of ethics and the social structure of science.

Janet started her blog "Adventures in Ethics and Science" back in 2005. It moved to the professional Science Blogs network and then to Scientopia. Her blog "Doing Good Science" ran at Scientific American until they changed the editorial vision for their blog network at the end of last year.

2005 was an auspicious year to begin a philosophy blog. *ahem* And her previous blogs had cool banners.

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On gendered terms and the vocative "dude" 
Another scrap uncovered while moving.
Vocatively, you can use "dude" to a woman because it's in this weird in-between space.


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Scrap from a non-existent story 
Another scrap of paper unearthed by the process of moving.
All of the fictional parts of this story are made up, because that is what it means to be fictional. All of the true parts correctly describe the world as it really is, because that is what it means to be true. What more would you expect? These are words, and they mean what they mean.

Things are never so simple (one might object) because meanings themselves are complex things produced by the give-and-take of language. Meanings are produced by talk and by books, as much as talk and books depend on language. What words mean depend on how we use them. Reality is not like that -- what a stone is and how much it weighs do not depend on how we use it.

I'm not sure when I wrote this, exactly. Perhaps it's a section of Philosophical Investigations in the possible world where Wittgenstein was a novelist.

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