Saturday, February 27, 2010

Science is Real!

Here's a surprising and fun reference to Carnap for your Saturday enjoyment:



The video is from the delightful album (and DVD) for kids called Here Comes Science by the rock band They Might Be Giants (aka The Twin Quasars of Rock). I highly recommend it to readers with kids that want to get them excited about science.

As John Holbo pointed out a while ago, there's at least one small philosophical gaffe in the reference to Carnap at the beginning of the song:
As I was saying, one of the Johns quotes Rudolf Carnap, “science is a system of statements based on direct experience and controlled by experimental verification.” And the other John then says: “Or as we say, Science Is Real!” And the song starts. But these two statements are hardly equivalent. Indeed, even the graphic for the song title is eloquently anti-Carnapian... This clearly implies that science does not consist of sentences. It is a thing that itself contains the things that sentences about science are about. Or as we say: things! Reality!
Anyhow, the album is still fantastic. I particularly enjoy "I Am a Paleontologist," "My Brother the Ape," "Photosynthesis," and "What Is a Shooting Star?" What I enjoy more is seeing my daughter and her friends sing along to fun songs about evolution, astronomy, states of matter, electric cars, etc.

12 comments:

  1. Isn't "Reality" a metaphysical thesis to be banished?

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  2. I think Holbo is misreading TMBG. When they say "Science is real," they aren't taking any particular philosophy of science position. As the song makes clear, they're contrasting scientific theories with stories about angels, elves, and unicorns. For all that I can tell, their description of science is compatible with most any view held by philosophers of science. When they quote Carnap, their interest and emphasis is what sets scientific understanding apart from mythology: experiment and observation.

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  3. Eric,

    Before we reach for our torches and pitchforks and run "Reality" out of town, would you mind reminding me what the thesis you call "Reality" states and why it should be banished?

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  4. As a long time fan of both They Might Be Giants and science, I have mixed feelings about this album. One of TMBG's hallmarks has been non sequitur lyrics. Here they strain to stay on message, and the science patter seems forced into some of the songs. Relatedly, I don't think that there is any music on this album which is as catchy as TMBG's greatest stuff. 'Mammal' (from Apollo 18) is a better science song than anything on Here Comes Science.

    Having said all that, I admit I'm not the target audience for the album. It's a kid's album, and the pleasure that this curmudgeon gets out of it is incidental.

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  5. @Gabriele: Carnap's antipathy toward metaphysics includes [framework independent] Realism (the question toward which it is the answer is a pseudo-question).

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  6. @Eric: Oh, I see. Thanks goodness--for a second I thought that listening to TMBG had turned you into some sort of social constructivist! ;-)

    What threw me off is that I thought Carnap called positive answers to external questions 'realism' (or 'Realismus') not 'Reality'? (Although maybe in earlier works he talks of a 'Realitätsaxiom'?).

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  7. Maybe TBMG should have started with Heidegger: "Science is the theory of the real."

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  8. @P.D. - It's true, this album is somewhere between "regular" TMBG material and most other children's music. But- Way better than most other children's music as a result. And, they do a really nice job of creating enthusiasm for science with the power of rock and roll (I hypothesis I've tested personally with a somewhat small sample size). And I think they do a great job of emphasizing things like the importance of subjecting your beliefs to empirical criticism, and evolutionary naturalism, and alternative energy.

    But still, their interpretation of Carnap is confusing.

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  9. @P.D. - I also was really disappointed that "Mammal" wasn't on here.

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  10. @Gabriele, I am no Carnap scholar. But I read him as dismissive of metaphysics (including framework independent claims about "reality"). Of course, the song really emphasizes evidential practices of science...which raises another set of issues about Carnap's relationship to context of discovery.

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  11. Given the right meaning postulates, a system of statements about angels, unicorns, and elves might be ... "controlled by experimental verification." Developing such a system has not drawn much interest, apparently.

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