Monday, October 27, 2008

Can a joke be a premise?

Some jokes are philosophically deep. Here's a classic that I'm surprised that (as far as I know) philosophers of science haven't picked up on (my verision): A panda walks into a bar and orders a Guinness and a salad. When he's done, he pulls out a gun, fires a few shots into the air, and ambles out. As he passes, the bartender shouts: "Hey, what'dya do that for?!" To which the animal replies: "It's 'cause I'm a panda: look it up!" The bartender reaches for his copy of Mammalian Systematics and reads with a groan: "Giant Panda . . . Ailuropoda melanoleuca . . . eats shoots and leaves."

Thus begins my paper "Why the Long Face?: The Stable Property Cluster Account of Natural Kinds". The title references the (quick) joke about the horse that walks into the bar --- the bartender asks "Why the long face?" The answer, of course, is because it's a horse. So here's a quick argument that there are natural kinds in biology: These jokes wouldn't be funny if species were not natural kinds. But they are funny (well, sort of). Hence there are biological natural kinds.

The paper is basically a defense of the first premise. But I must say, it's getting a little out of hand. After "trimming" my for a while dormant paper on biological kinds, it now weighs in at a hefty 22,000 words. And of course I found all sorts of things that I need to expand and eleborate. Damn! The journey continues. [inner voice: Shhhh! Don't tell anyone or they might not read it! --- oops!]. At this rate, perhaps I should give up trying to trim it down to a stand-alone article and instead simply focus on my book.

Well, in case you work in this area and are interested, here's the most recent copy, warts and all. Comments welcome. But please don't cite it, of course.

"Why the Long Face?: The Stable Property Cluster Account of Natural Kinds"
as of 10/27/08

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The HPS Series at UI

We're getting there. I've been working with a number of folks in various departments to raise funds (basically going door-to-door to departments) to start a lecture series in the History and Philosophy of Science. So far, we have two scheduled speakers: Ned Hall and Sahotra Sarkar (with hopefully more to come shortly).

Professor Hall will offer two talks, one aimed at scientists and one aimed at philosophers on November 13th and 14th. I'm still working on getting a suitable room scheduled.

The new HPS Group webpage is up (in a fetal — or blastular, even — state). Look for updates there if you're interested. I'd also be keen to get suggestions for other folks to add to our list of potential invitees — particularly people outside of philosophy of whom I'm less likely to know.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Yellowstone in Fall

Laura and I were recently guests of the Yellowstone Association during their Legacy for Learning Weekend. We're not going to get our names on any lists for our financial support of the association (which, by they way, deserves as much financial support as folks can muster). Instead, we played evangelists — especially after our amazing wolf-watching trip last winter. I had my camera of course and managed to get several shots I'm pretty proud of. This one might be my favorite. I love how putting the tree vertically gets the horizon just slightly off kilter. Neat.

Here are some more photos from that trip.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

White Winter Hymnal

I recently bought the Fleet Foxes' new self-titled album. Seattle band that doesn't really sound like Seattle. But I dig it. Particularly this song:

But I have to ask: what does it mean? Anyone?