While riding the shuttle in this morning I overheard this conversation between Professor Murkywaters and his two favorite students from his Molecular Philosophy course, Ms. De Essdeetee (De) and Mr. Online (On).

Murky: Well, fancy meeting you two! Good morning!
De: Hi. (less than enthusiastic)
On: Good morning, I guess.
Murky: The rain got to you both?
De: No, quite frankly, it was yesterday's conversation. couldn't even read Hilbert last night.
Murky: Oh,oh, THAT'S trouble! Want to talk about it?
De: Yes, very much. What troubles me most is what you said about complexity science. That it is more or less a result of the confusion about the relationship between hard and soft science.
On: Yeah! That's been troubling me too!
Murky: You guys don't waste any time getting to the heart of the matter do you? You should be upset. That's what complexity science or whatever it is seems to reflect. People are upset.
De and On

in unison:



Murky: Well, think about it. Why shouldn't it be upsetting to start to realize that something that has been staring us in the face for a few centuries is now suddenly a hot topic? And why shouldn't the first response be to try to co-opt it?
On: Co-opt? That sounds like a term from one of my soc courses. What do you mean?
Murky: Well, in fact, doesn't science have a sociology too? My contact with the notion of co-optation came in the sixties during the "movement" and immediately afterward. Think about it. "Dirty Hippies" wearing long hair and torn jeans. What a sight. The construction workers called them "fags" and beat them up. Now construction workers have long hair and jeans, especially tattered ones, became fashion.
De: So what does that have to do with ANYTHING?
Murky: I use the term co-optation to try to convey an adoption of the form of something while avoiding the substance. Kind of adopting the symbol without the meaning. Many political scientists have written that the U. S. society has this ability as one of its sources of stability.
On: And you think that the same kind of thing may be happening in science?
Murky: Well, if is a stabilizing kind of behavior, it certainly is possible.
De: Now I think you are out in left field!
Murky: Look at it this way: some of these things people are all excited about as being "complex". Did they just arrive? No, they were here all along. And look how happy you both were with the term "mushy" yesterday. You're not immune to the condition that I'm trying to get at.
De: But you are suggesting that this kind of behavior serves a purpose and THAT certainly isn't SCIENTIFIC!
Murky: Yes, if we stick to the narrow definition of science, that's true. The narrow definition fits the hard scientist's prejudices much better than it does our needs though. That's an example of the problem. If you only include in science those things which you can deal with at the moment, you are stacking the deck, so to speak.
On: You mean that posivist logic isn't the basis for science?
Murky: Some will fight to the end to say it must be. But one of the objectives of my lectures has been to illustrate how constructs have already infiltrated hard science from the beginning.
De: CONSTRUCTS? You mean that mushy social science constructivism stuff?
Murky: That is the kind of thing I mean. That's why I like thermodynamics as a topic for discussion. It is full of constructs.
De: Yes, but pick up any physics text and you'll see that thermo has a sort of mushy quality to it next to all the real hard stuff.

Yes, and when recognized by scientists like Clifford Truesdell, his reaction was a kind of attempt to "co-opt" it and make it look like his own field, continuum mechanics, which is rock solid. After all, he contributed a whole volume to "The Handbook of Physics" on his field.

De: Isn't that good?
Murky: It depends on what your goals are. If you want to limit science to the things that can be dealt with that way, co-optation works to a limited extent. It "takes over" that subject matter as a legitimate topic but then makes sure you only look at it "correctly".
On: Sounds like P.C.!
Murky: There are some parallels, I think
De: So where are the constructs in thermodynamics (anxiously)?
Murky: Would you put concepts like "heat", "work", and "energy" in the same class as position, weight, and charge?
De: Well they ARE less fundamental, and you left out time.
Murky: Yes, I left out time deliberately. We'll get back to that one. But the difference between the two groups of concepts is the nature of the way we perceive things. We believe we can directly measure mass, position, and charge. We then have constructed a way of relating them in concepts like energy.
De Do you mean that energy really doesn't exist? What about Einstein?
Murky: Let's defer Einstein for the moment. It is clear that things like trees, water, rocks, etc. seem to be less of a construct than energy, no? That doesn't mean that energy doesn't exist, but that it, in fact, has been a very useful construct and we are quite comfortable with assigning it as a property of all those other things!
On: Oh, oh. Now THAT sounds a bit mushy to me! Does it exist or doesn't it? It certainly is not like this bus!
Murky: Hah! Saved by the bell. Here we are at the Miracle College. Right here on Pill Hill. See you soon I hope! Feel any better?
De: Hey, that's not fair! When can we continue?
On: Yeah, I have a lot of questions.
Murky: Over coffee later today?
De and On

in unison:


It's a date.

They depart the shuttle and enter Sanger Hall.

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