Re: preposterous

From: Moorad Alexanian (
Date: Thu Apr 05 2001 - 20:47:48 EDT

  • Next message: Stephen J. Krogh: "RE: preposterous"

    I am preparing a colloquium that I am giving in our department tomorrow and
    so I do not have time to write. I enclose two references:

    1) "Mind from matter? : an essay on evolutionary epistemology" / by Max
    Delbrück ; edited by Gunther S. Stent ... [et al.] Publisher Palo Alto,
    Calif. : Blackwell Scientific Publications, c1986

    2) "What is life? : the physical aspect of the living cell ; with, Mind and
    matter ; & Autobiographical sketches" / Erwin Schrödinger Publisher
    Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, c1992.


    -----Original Message-----
    From: Jonathan Clarke <>
    Cc: <>
    Date: Thursday, April 05, 2001 7:17 PM
    Subject: Re: preposterous

    >Careful of tautology here: defining the big things in biology as that done
    >physicists :-).
    >To be honest I was not aware on any contribution to biology by the two
    >you name, but doubtless that is my ignorance. Please enlighten me.
    >Of course one could also mention Linnaeus, Harvey, Lister, Pasteur, Koch,
    >Darwin, Wallace, Mendel, Diamond, Ayala, and Florey, none of whom were
    >physicists (to my knowledge). Of course in the 20th century the field of
    >biology is now so vast that it is impossible to keep track of who is who.
    >Moorad Alexanian wrote:
    >> I have always said that physics is the prototype of science and I do not
    >> know of any reasonable argument against that. The proof of that is the
    >> historical order in which the different sciences achieved maturity.
    >> biology, historical biology, etc. without the experimental scientific
    >> developed by the likes of Kepler, Newton, Galileo, etc. By knowing what
    >> science is, then we are in a position to know what it is not. For
    >> it is self-evident to me that the fundamental question of origins is not
    >> scientific question, the answer lies outside of science. It is foolish to
    >> attempt to find a theory for it. I never said that other sciences
    >> teach physicists something new. But it is true that the people who did
    >> things in biology were physicists, viz., Schrodinger, Delbruck, etc.
    >> Moorad
    >> -----Original Message-----
    >> From: george murphy <>
    >> To: Jonathan Clarke <>
    >> Cc: <>
    >> Date: Thursday, April 05, 2001 9:40 AM
    >> Subject: Re: preposterous
    >> >Jonathan Clarke wrote:
    >> >
    >> >> Was it Rutheford who said that "Science consists of physics and stamp
    >> >> collecting"? I think that attitude with its self righteous sense of
    >> >> superiority to lesser mortals has permeated conciously or otherwise
    >> of
    >> >> the culture of physicists. Certainly when I was an undergraduate I
    >> >> encountered it and it was only partlyu tongue in cheek. This has been
    >> >> reinforced by much of the popular work of the philosophy of science
    >> >> Popper and Kuhn) also being written from the perspective where physics
    >> >> provided the norm and the illustrations. At least, that is how I
    >> remember
    >> >> them. If we are going to talk about philosophy of science I think we
    >> need
    >> >> to conciously distance ourselves from such views because they are so
    >> >> ingrained.
    >> >
    >> >By way of throwing some petrol on the fire -
    >> > There is some truth in the statement attributed to Rutherford.
    >> if
    >> >Rutherford didn't say this there is a nice substitute in a statement of
    >> Bunsen:
    >> >_Der Chemiker der kein Physiker ist ist gar nichts - "The chemist who is
    >> not a
    >> >physicist is nothing at all." Rutherford of course thought it a great
    >> that
    >> >he had gotten the Nobel Prize for - Chemistry!) Physics achieves a
    >> >degree of precision and certainty in the areas in which its methods can
    >> >applied, and other sciences gain considerably when it becomes possible
    >> apply
    >> >physical theories to them. The application of thermodynamics and
    >> >mechanics to chemistry is an obvious example.
    >> > However -
    >> > 1) The methods of physics _can't_ be adoped (at least with our
    >> present
    >> >or any forseeable state of understanding) as the _modus operandi_ of
    >> >sciences - e.g., evolutionary biology.
    >> > 2) Physics has achieved so much success by working with
    >> differential
    >> >equations and "bottom-up causality" that we tend to forget that those
    >> equations
    >> >need boundary conditions (in space & in time), & such conditions bring
    >> >something like "top-down causality". The nature of living systems may
    >> related
    >> >to this in crucial ways. This doesn't mean that they can never be
    >> described in
    >> >terms of physics, but the ways in which the necessary physics will have
    >> be
    >> >formulated may be rather different from that of the present day.
    >> > 3) The fact that physics does achieve a higher degree of
    >> and
    >> >certainty than other sciences doesn't mean that those other sciences
    >> tell
    >> >us anything at all or give us any confidence in their results. I think
    >> that is
    >> >the mistake Moorad has been making: Physics gives precise agreement
    >> between
    >> >theory and observation for many phenomena and historical geology and
    >> evolutionary
    >> >biology don't give as precise correlations for the phenomena they deal
    >> with, so
    >> >we can't place any reliance on the claims of the latter sciences. But
    >> just
    >> >doesn't follow.
    >> >
    >> >Shalom,
    >> >
    >> >George
    >> >
    >> >George L. Murphy
    >> >
    >> >"The Science-Theology Interface"
    >> >
    >> >
    >> >

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