Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Trip to Alaska

Laura and I just returned from a fabulous ten day trip to Alaska (Juneau and the Kenai Peninsula). Great food, decent weather, and amazing scenery made for a wonderful trip. Laura's brother is a fishing guide out of Juneau and so we got the reciprocal touring hookups. I particularly enjoyed hearing his stories about idiotic tourists. You know, the ones who ask whether these fish swimming by are Atlantic salmon, or "what elevation is Juneau?": um, there's the sea . . . so. . . . Or on the Mendenhall Glacier, someone asked the guide "How did these [few] leaves get up here?!" He responded in rhythm: "Oh, those are meteoric leaves from outer space."

Some photos from the trip are here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Course Release

Just got word that my EPSCoR Proposal Enhancement Release Time (PERT) Grant was recommended for funding — gotta love the pervasive acronyms in the grant game! — allowing me a course release for the fall. While this is great and will allow me to spend a bunch more time prepping my NSF grant application supporting the History and Philosophy of Science lecture series I'm trying to get going here, it does mean giving up a course I've been hoping to teach for quite a while (Metaphysics). And of course it was the course for which I had done the most prep work. . . . Oh well, hopefully I'll get the chance again sometime soon.

To the students registered for the course: Sorry! But I've got to ask (since I won't get the chance in person): for those of you who were signed up for the course without having taken any philosophy before, what made you want to take it? It would have been damned hard to jump into an advanced class like that. Imagine signing up for PHYSICS 446: Condensed Matter Physics (or whatever) not having taken Physics 101. . . . Perhaps I'll never know.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Stay at CFI

Just got back from a very pleasant stay at the Center for Inquiry, the world's "foremost not-for-profit organization devoted to the defense of reason, science, secular humanism, and the naturalistic worldview". Got to work on a few papers, talk to other research fellows and U at Buffalo faculty, and enjoy some fabulous BBQ courtesy of Neil Williams! Neil and I are working on a paper on Toxins — exploring whether they are a natural kind. Should be interesting: Neil's a rabid "powers"-guy, I'm a bit more circumspect. Fire and ice: hopefully the paper won't turn out to be lukewarm water (jeez: two Spinal Tap references in two posts). . . .

Creativity in Science

I've been thinking recently about the role of creativity in scientific research. Is it necessary? What is it, exactly? At first glance, one might attempt to cash it out in Kuhnian terms as paradigm-breaking hypotheses unprompted by previous experiment รข€” in other words as original "insights" that begin to define novel paradigms. The history of science would seem to lend some support for this interpretation (ask yourself: who are the creative scientists?). But it also seems that one could find scientific creativity in "normal science". Finding the right deferents and epicycles to approximately cohere with observations or developing the right experiments (e.g., Ray Davis' neutrino detector) are difficult. Moreover, simply being "original" doesn't seem to exhaust what we have in mind — one could be stupidly or mechanically original. If 'creative' only describes the source of an idea, does it turn it into a black box? On this count, there has been a good deal of work in neuroscience about where insight comes from. I'm not sure what light any of that would shed on the questions above.

So in short, I'm still casting about for ideas. Comments and references welcome. . . .