Friday, 19 January 2007
Diving into the Waters
It was a late start. But finally all our Visiting Fellows had arrived and settled into their offices. They came from near-- Pennsylvania and Michigan--and far-- Cyprus and Sweden. Each had now found how to work their email; and where the library was; and which seminars they would sit in on; and so on. Late on Friday afternoon we sat in our Center lounge in order to get to know each other academically.
My question to each was the same: "What do you really care about?" I could read in the blankness of their faces the thought that this is not a good question. No one asks that. I go first to show that the waters are warm and welcoming. Each takes his turn and each finds the speeches come easily. They are a jumbled mix of autobiography and expectations. But they are easy since every philosopher of science is driven by yearnings and once you start to spell them out, the momentum is irresistible.
What is fascinating is just how crooked is each pathway followed to philosophy of science. Everyone found their interest in philosophy of science as a remedy for a deep dissatisfaction elsewhere. So much ethical theorizing is uninformed or badly informed by science. Or the practice of physics does not satisfy the deep curiosity that first brought one to physics. Philosophy of evolutionary biology can fill the gap of doubts elsewhere.
As the speeches were broken more and more by interjections, I could see the intellectual alliances and fault lines of the coming term forming. One who had proclaimed intolerance for metaphysics now pressed the Good Son of Kant with a polite "I didn't really follow what you meant by..." Or those who agreed with me that inductive inference really is the fascinating problem were challenged by the observation that the sterile passivity of inductive inference could not possible capture the essence of experiment, the active intervention into nature.
We had pooled and shared our academic hopes and ideas. A little while later we were all seated at dinner. Newcomers to the US were having their first experience of American beer. The intensity of hops in an American IPA is a shock to the unprepared. We ended with another kind of sharing. Two huge, American-sized brownies and a slice of chocolate pie were put in the middle of the table for us all to devour.
John D. Norton
Coffee and Biscotti with the Director
19 January 2007