Thursday, September 15, 2011

Appearing in Tallahassee

I will be speaking at the Center for Inquiry conference on "Science for Everyone" next month in Tallahassee, Florida, along with several other great speakers. Reception is Friday evening, 14 October (2011), 7:30-9:30pm, and the conference itself is Saturday, 15 October, from 8:30am to 5pm. Registration is $50 ($35 for students with a valid student ID), and a lunch is included. The event is at the Aloft Hotel (200 North Monroe Street) where rooms are also available at conference rates (mention "Center for Inquiry").

Others speaking are a pretty cool lot. Sir Harry Kroto, professor of chemistry and Nobel laureate. Joe Nickel, the widely beloved P.I. with a Ph.D. in folklore and a flair for magic. Dr. John Shook, once professor of philosophy and now director of education at CFI, and author of the critically acclaimed The God Debates. And the beloved founder of Skepchick, Rebecca Watson, groovy wave feminist, unruly gadfly, podcaster, and she who, in exactly thirty two years time, with an aptly thrown shoe, will kill Suri Cruise and liberate us all from her horrid transglobal dominion.

My talk will be "How Do We Know Microwave Ovens Aren't Just Magic? (And Other Challenges to Scientific Certitude)." Critics of science have claimed science collapses under the strain of bizarre, insurmountable problems like underdetermination, the problem if induction, cartesian demons, or the inability to falsify "mind-over-matter constructivism" or other antirealist or supernatural points of view. And microwave ovens prove them wrong. So do bathtubs. I'll take you on a digital romp to see why. Q&A will follow and of course I'll be selling and signing some of my books throughout the event.

See the CFI Calendar Page for details, and to register online. 


Loren said...

Great idea of a talk. You can also talk about other things that philosophers of science tie themselves into knots about, and that pseudoscientists exploit, like:

* The science / pseudoscience "demarcation problem". Seems to me that pseudoscience may be interpreted as failed science, which I think gets around that problem.

* Science as social construction. That seems to me to be related to the question of perception and the external world. We don't really see or otherwise perceive external objects. We get perceptions and we interpret them as caused by external objects. This interpretation is behind the scenes, so we don't notice it. This usually works well, but it sometimes fails, as when we conclude that rainbows and clouds are solid objects. So could science be interpreted as a similar process operating at a social level?

* Thomas Kuhn, paradigm shifts, and the supposed "incommensurability" of paradigms (they supposedly can't be compared). Crackpots love Thomas Kuhn and paradigm shifts almost as much as they love Galileo and his martyrdom. While TK was correct in describing periods of upheaval in science followed by working within established paradigms, it must be pointed out that new paradigms completely replacing old ones is rare. They usually either include successful old ones or else they are developed for previously-uncharted territory. Relativity and quantum mechanics vs. Newtonian mechanics is a good example; one gets Newtonian mechanics as a limiting case.

Turning to your examples of microwave ovens and bathtubs, one does not need very fancy science to design a bathtub, though one does to design a microwave oven. Computers and space travel are also good examples, it seems to me.

Pikemann Urge said...

Critics of science have claimed science collapses under the strain of bizarre, insurmountable problems like... cartesian demons

What? Of course science has limitations and even problems (what doesn't?) but cartesian demons are a strain on science now?? Dear me. It might be a problem in theology (e.g. Christianity) but even there it isn't a deal-breaker.

Crackpots love Thomas Kuhn

And skeptics deprecate him because if he's right then certain kinds of knowledge can't easily be pinned down, allowing 'heresy' to gain a legitimacy via the paradigm 'loophole'.

Richard Carrier said...

Generally, as even Kuhn himself said, almost everyone who cites "Kuhn" in support of any position, gets entirely wrong what he actually argued. I find that's true. Almost everyone I meet who talks about what Kuhn said, never read Kuhn.