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Massimo Pigliucci
Works at City University of New York
Attended University of Connecticut
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The discussion on fakery, aesthetics and artists as public intellectuals continues at #ScientiaSalon.
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That would make then artistic bullshitters.
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Massimo Pigliucci

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New paper with @raphaelscholl: The proximate–ultimate distinction and evolutionary developmental biology.
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Hey +Massimo Pigliucci this is a great article. I discussed this prior with my friend +Kirk Jordan who wrote a blog post about this. In it I conceded the distinction between observational science and historical sciences (evolutionary biology, cosmology, geology and so on), but made mention of the fact how these sciences work. Here are some of my comments.

[Kirk is right to make a distinction between the empirical sciences and the historical sciences. Evolutionary biology is a historical science, distinct from functional (i.e. molecular biology or genetics). In the historical sciences, where experiments are inappropriate narratives must be constructed.

While someone might be rightfully sceptical of the historical narratives of evolutionary biology because they seem like just so stories, the narratives, at least the good ones anyway, must be built on evidence.

But from where does this evidence come from? One must remember that nature itself, living or otherwise, has a history inscribed into it. We are all, if you will, historical structures (as Francois Jacob likes to puts it).

We can take a problem. For example, the origins of language. We do not have a narrative yet, but we do know where to look to build one. We know that language, narrowly construed, is a computational process. We also know that it is intensional, internal, and individual. So if we want to look for the historical origins of language we know to look for computational/recursive structures in other animals. We know for example, to look at insect navigation or to look at how other animals mentally represent number. We know that animals do not have a representation of number as we do when we've matured, but we do know that children at one stage in their mental development share the same representation of number as other animals.

We also know that since language is individual, it must have come about via mutation. This is what we know from linguistics and good, conservative biological practice.

Historical narratives have explanatory value because events in a historical sequence usually make a causal contribution to later events. For example, take the extinction of the dinosaurs. This extinction vacated a large number of ecological niches and set the stage for the spectacular radiation of the mammals during the Paleocene and Eocene era, owing to their invasion of these vacant niches.

We can also gather evidence to support historical narratives -- meaning that some can be tested. Take the demise of the dinosaurs once more. It was once attributed to a devastating disease to which they were vulnerable. It was also attributed to an ecological or climate crisis. In the 1980s when the asteroid narrative was proposed by Walter Alvarez, both narratives were abandoned after the discovery of the impact in the Yucatan.

Historical narratives can certainly be tested and brought under the shadow of empiricism.]

I noted the call of historical science as speculative and while I did not bring up CSI or cosmology, I did mention thought experiments and asked

[Galileo did not do experiments. He spoke about what would happen if we were to experiment. They were thought experiments. Half of his experiments are impossible to perform. Yet, his contributions are included in our scientific common sense. In the day, they were absurd to the medieval philosophers and lay people who thought that steam rises because air is lighter and its going to its natural place.

Because these are thought experiments and some of these thought experiments cannot be performed, is Galileo's work theoretical science or observational science?]

These observations are what I've come up with from the little philosophy of biology and biology that I have read on my own and I'm not quite sure if they are remotely good enough to contribute to the discussion. I'd appreciate if you'd let me know. Cheers for posting this.
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Tomorrow at #ScientiaSalon: Don Prothero on observational vs historical science.
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+Bob Calder

Fair point. The question is unclear, a contrivance designed for some donnish reason. And the answer given as the functional 'origin' of the Constitutional powers is also time dependent. Is the origin the time at which it was drafted or the time at which their was consent of the people ?
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by Massimo Pigliucci Human nature is a funny thing. Some scientists, like biologist E.O. Wilson [1] and linguist Steven Pinker [2] are pretty convinced it is a real thing, and that it seriously con...
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This  weekend at #ScientiaSalon: Philosophy, my first five years, by Massimo Pigliucci.
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New at #ScientiaSalon: Faker and aesthetics, on artists as public intellectuals.
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Tomorrow at #ScientiaSalon: Fakery and aesthetics, art as public intellectualism.
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Massimo Pigliucci

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Science and Religion: 5 Questions, ed. by G. Caruso, includes my answers.
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Jesus.. Its a test!!!  
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Have him in circles
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Professor of Philosophy
  • City University of New York
    Professor, present
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Rationally Speaking: the podcast, the blog
Philosopher, evolutionary biologist, blogger. What else needs to be said? Okay, a lot, but for now it will do.
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Survived (even thrived!) nine years in Knoxville, TN
  • University of Connecticut
    Evolutionary Biology, 1990 - 1994
  • University of Tennessee
    Philosophy, 2001 - 2003
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