ANU philosopher urges consensus on 50-year debate

Dec 20, 2011
ANU philosopher urges consensus on 50-year debate
Photo by Eugene Zemlyanskiy, http://bit.ly/t8qj0s

(PhysOrg.com) -- Misinterpretation of a key scientific concept has led to decades of fierce debate according to an Australian National University philosopher.

In a hugely influential paper published fifty years ago, eminent scientist Ernst Mayr distinguished between ‘why’ questions and ‘how’ questions in biology; for example, the difference between asking ‘why do birds migrate’ and ‘how they know when to migrate’.

Dr Kim Sterelny of the School of Philosophy says that of this distinction has created a rift in the biological world that is holding science back.

“Many current controversies in evolutionary theory in part depend on different views about the relationship between ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions,” he said.

Instead of treating ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions as equally important, many scientists are choosing sides and ignoring the fact that such questions are complementary rather than alternative ideas.

In a paper published in Science, Dr Sterelny and his co-authors have urged the scientific community to re-evaluate their interpretation of this important issue.

They are calling for a change in the default view from seeing ‘how’ and ‘why’ as unrelated to recognising them as reciprocal.

“Instead of primarily focusing on single cause-effect relations within systems, the evolutionary sciences as a whole should focus on broader trends, feedback cycles, or the tracing of causal influences throughout systems. This debate is relevant to all of the biological sciences - evolution, psychology, linguistics and molecular biology,” Dr Sterelny said.

Explore further: Education Dept awards $75M in innovation grants

More information: www.sciencemag.org/content/334/6062/1512.abstract

Provided by Australian National University

4 /5 (8 votes)

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jdbertron
1.6 / 5 (5) Dec 20, 2011
How about we stop graduating bookworms and instead focus on developing those students that really strive for discovery ?
rawa1
1 / 5 (3) Dec 20, 2011
Instead of primarily focusing on single cause-effect ... the sciences as a whole should focus on broader trends, feedback cycles, or the tracing of causal influences throughout systems..
The same can be recommended to the contemporary physics as well. It's rather good for description of deterministic phenomena, but it tends to overlook the emergent indeterministic phenomena inside of many particle systems from cold fusion over high temperature superconductivity to quantum vacuum.
Alex_
not rated yet Dec 21, 2011
we need more science and less all other crap.
enough singers and manufactures and burger flippers.
rawa1
1 / 5 (1) Dec 21, 2011
we need more science and less all other crap.
For what? These scientists ignore the cold fusion and many other important findings for years anyway...
http://peakoil.co...195.html
The research of contemporary science just requires many other supporting professions to implement, it's nothing fundamental with respect to saving of human labour.
Briantllb
not rated yet Dec 21, 2011
we need more science and less all other crap.
enough singers and manufactures and burger flippers.


We definately do not need any more Lawyers.
Isaacsname
not rated yet Dec 21, 2011
I've never even really understood this problem, but I would think it's deeply rooted in us.

" Why ? " is always the 1st question we drive our parents crazy with as children, not " when, where, how, or what ".

It's a question that's usually reserved for philosophical topics, but I don't think it should be excluded from scientific methodologies. It's just as important in heuristics as " when, or, what, etc.
Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (1) Dec 24, 2011
It's "deeply rooted" in the problem of demarcation/induction. Science is not consensus and consensus is not science.

A narrative cannot be falsified, we are raised to believe just-so stories.
Callippo
1 / 5 (1) Dec 24, 2011
Science is not consensus and consensus is not science.
Only theoretically, in sad practical reality the science is just defined with intersubjective consensus in meritocracy (the intersubjective opinion of more distinguished physicists pays more). We should always distinguish the ideal state of things from this real one for not to be occasionally surprised with our own deductions.
Callippo
1 / 5 (1) Dec 24, 2011
"HOW magnets work" question shouldn't be misspelled for "WHY magnets work" in an attempt to evade direct answer. http://www.youtub...Pe-DwULM