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To most scientists, and to those interested in the sciences, understanding is the ultimate aim of scientific endeavor. In spite of this, understanding, and how it is achieved, has received little attention in recent philosophy of science. Scientific Understanding seeks to reverse this trend by providing original and in-depth accounts of the concept of understanding and its essential role in the scientific process. To this end, the chapters in this volume explore and develop three key topics: understanding and explanation, understanding and models, and understanding in scientific practice. Earlier philosophers, such as Carl Hempel, dismissed understanding as subjective and pragmatic. They believed that the essence of science was to be found in scientific theories and explanations. In Scientific Understanding, the contributors maintain that we must also consider the relation between explanations and the scientists who construct and use them. They focus on understanding as the cognitive state that is a goal of explanation and on the understanding of theories and models as a means to this end. The chapters in this book highlight the multifaceted nature of the process of scientific research. The contributors examine current uses of theory, models, simulations, and experiments to evaluate the degree to which these elements contribute to understanding. Their analyses pay due attention to the roles of intelligibility, tacit knowledge, and feelings of understanding. Furthermore, they investigate how understanding is obtained within diverse scientific disciplines and examine how the acquisition of understanding depends on specific contexts, the objects of study, and the stated aims of research.
A Personal History of Modern Astronomy
The discovery of x-rays continues to have a profound and accelerating effect on the field of astronomy. It has opened the cosmos to exploration in ways previously unimaginable and fundamentally altered the methods for pursuing information about our solar system and beyond. Nobel Prize winner Riccardo Giacconi’s highly personal account of the birth and evolution of x-ray astronomy reveals the science, people, and institutional settings behind this incalculably important and deeply influential discipline. Part history, part memoir, and part cutting-edge science, Secrets of the Hoary Deep is the tale of x-ray astronomy from its infancy through what can only be called its early adulthood. It also offers the companion story of how the tools, techniques, and practices designed to support and develop x-ray astronomy were transferred to optical, infrared, and radio astronomy, drastically altering the face of modern space exploration. Giacconi relates the basic techniques developed at American Science and Engineering and explains how, where, and by whom the science was advanced. From the first Earth-orbiting x-ray satellite, Uhuru, to the opening of the Space Telescope Science Institute and the lift-off of the Hubble Space Telescope to the construction of the Very Large Telescope, Giaconni recounts the ways in which the management methods and scientific methodology behind successful astronomy projects came to set the standards of operations for all subsequent space- and Earth-based observatories. Along the way he spares no criticism and holds back no praise, detailing individual as well as institutional failures and successes, reflecting upon how far astronomy has come and how far it has yet to go. Crisp, informative, and prognostic, Giacconi’s story will captivate, inspire, and, at times, possibly infuriate professional and amateur astronomers across the breadth of the field and at all stages of their personal and professional development.
The Limits of Philosophy and Science
In Skeptical Environmentalism, Robert Kirkman raises doubts about the speculative tendencies elaborated in environmental ethics, deep ecology, social ecology, postmodern ecology, ecofeminism, and environmental pragmatism. Drawing on skeptical principles introduced by David Hume, Kirkman takes issue with key tenets of speculative environmentalism, namely that the natural world is fundamentally relational, that humans have a moral obligation to protect the order of nature, and that understanding the relationship between nature and humankind holds the key to solving the environmental crisis. Engaging the work of Kant, Hegel, Descartes, Rousseau, and Heidegger, among others, Kirkman reveals the relational worldview as an unreliable basis for knowledge and truth claims, and, more dangerously, as harmful to the intellectual sources from which it takes inspiration. Exploring such themes as the way knowledge about nature is formulated, what characterizes an ecological worldview, how environmental worldviews become established, and how we find our place in nature, Skeptical Environmentalism advocates a shift away from the philosopher's privileged position as truth seeker toward a more practical thinking that balances conflicts between values and worldviews.
Constancy and Cosmos
Light -- our experience of light, our measurement of light, and the notion that light speed is constant -- can be understood to mark our interface with the cosmos. David A. Grandy's book moves from the scientific to the existential, from Einstein to Merleau-Ponty, from light as a phenomenon to light as that which is constitutive of reality. To measure the speed of light is to measure something about the way we are measured or blended into the cosmos, and that universal blending predetermines our measurement of light speed in favor of a universal or constant value. It's quite a trip, one aimed at scientists who have pondered light speed constancy, philosophers inclined to question the idea that mind and world are distinct, and scientifically or philosophically inclined persons who enjoy stretching themselves in new ways.
Ghosts, the Incalculable, and the Suspension of Animation
Adding to the growing field of posthuman or cyborg studies, TechnoLogics explores how our position in the technologized world reorders, in the most radical ways imaginable, our basic experience of the lines governing literary, philosophical, and cultural production. The ancient dream of immortality is now becoming realized through cloning, genetic research, and artificial intelligence, bringing with it the need for new forms of both reading and living in the everyday world. In this emerging cyborg culture, what is to come for us is not predictable but, instead, an open possibility to be shaped by the work of, among others, artists, computer designers, scientists, and writers. Through encounters with Plato, Melville, Marx, Jünger, Heidegger, Freud, Derrida, Baudrillard, and others, Gray Kochhar-Lindgren identifies the causes, characteristics, and links between the most primordial of wishes—immortality—and the highest of high tech, and asks how, in our culture of technocapitalism, we can continue to listen to the faint call of ethics.
The UC Berkeley-Novartis Controversy