The Sciences

Perspectivalism

Cosmic VarianceBy Sean CarrollJul 17, 2005 5:54 AM

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As an undergraduate I took a delightful course in the Philosophy of Religion from a young lecturer named Tony Godzieba. He was a committed anti-foundationalist, and would discourse passionately on the Hermeneutics of Suspicion -- along with Augustine and Aquinas we read Nietzsche and Freud and Ricoeur and had a grand old time. But Tony had one deeply ingrained habit that used to drive me nuts. He took seriously the idea that there was no neutral vantage point from which we could discuss absolute truths; rather, our lively class discussions were to be thought of as interactions between a variety of perspectives. And he knew that my friend Padi Boyd (who was also taking the class) and I were the astronomy majors in the room. So whenever he would call on either of us, he would (with the best of intentions) inevitably say something like "So now let's get the natural-science perspective on this." Man, that drove me crazy. Putting aside for the moment any disputes between foundationalist and perspectivalist theories of truth, granting that anything I say might necessarily be coming from some perspective, there is still a crucially important difference between my perspective (or that of any other individual scientist) and some abstracted notion of a "natural-science perspective." When I would argue that St. Anselm's ontological proof for the existence of God was a load of hooey, I may have been informed by my scientific education, but also by innumerable other influences -- random and deliberate, obvious and hidden, justified and irrational. Physical sciences propose crisp mathematical structures in order to model the inner workings of the natural world, but the scientists themselves are human, all too human. So what we have here is a group blog constructed by some idiosyncratic human beings who also happen to be physicists. Sometimes we'll talk about science, other times it will be food or literature or whatever moves us -- I know I have some incisive things to say about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, for one thing. We're not a representative collection of scientists, just some engaged individuals curious about our world. Welcome!

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