Event explores science, philosophy with best-selling author, Penn State experts

Grayson Doucette
October 20, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The word "science" has recently entered the popular culture as a noun, an adjective and even a verb. People now say “I’m going to science it,” “I don’t agree with the science,” and “That sounds pretty sciencey."  But what does science actually mean?

In an Oct. 25 panel discussion held at Penn State's University Park campus, two noted science philosophers and a scientist are going to dig into the meaning of the word and discuss why it is important.

Penn State Science Policy Society and Graduate and Professional Student Association will present “The Philosophy of Science,” in the HUB Freeman Auditorium from 6 to 8 p.m. Attendance is free for the event and the public is welcome.

The event will feature New York Times Bestselling Author Sam Kean, author of "The Disappearing Spoon" and "The Violinist’s Thumb"; Penn State philosopher Emily Grosholz, author of numerous philosophy-based books and editor of The Hudson Review; and Penn State geography professor Robert Crane, whose research focuses on modeling weather systems. Together they will help explore questions at the roots of science and where it intertwines with humanity’s growth.

Kean proposes that this meeting place is in philosophy itself.

“Most people think of science as a collection of facts to memorize, but it's more than that. It's really a way of approaching the world, and thinking about the world in a new way," he said. "Science is philosophy, and philosophy can help make sure that the science gets done right.”

Pointing to some of the brightest minds in philosophy, Grosholz said that the panel is designed to help students take a step back and reflect on the importance of science and why so many consider science indispensable.

“Karl Popper taught us to remain skeptical about either mathematics — and deductive logic — or sense perception as the sources of scientific truth: For him, the genius of science was to make bold conjectures while always remaining open to the possible falsification of claims, though he explained in detail how we can know for sure that one scientific theory is superior to another," said Grosholz. "He was a realist, not a skeptic."

Grosholz suggests that science is not a destination, but a growing, dynamic exploration.

"Thomas Kuhn argued that science is always carried out within a 'paradigm,' which furnishes a theory, accepted data, exemplary solved problems, instrumentation, protocols for the lab and the field, and powerful, specialized mathematical idioms: It is the house within which science can be carried out," said Grosholz. "However, as we all know, sooner or later the younger generation must leave home and construct another habitation. Kuhn too was not a skeptic — a new scientific revolution is always possible, but it will arrive with a new paradigm.”

Science Policy Society member Grayson Doucette hopes he — and the audience — will hear a hint to what this new paradigm might be.

"We expect the panelists to help us explore some of the most pressing questions of our times, like 'What counts as science?' 'How reliable are scientific theories?' and 'What is the ultimate purpose of science?'" Doucette said. "And If you have burning questions like these, or those about the history of how science was, is, and should be conducted, please join in the discussion!"

  • book cover

    'The Disappearing Spoon' by Sam Kean

    IMAGE: © Little, Brown and Company

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Last Updated October 25, 2017