Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Science and History

There's an interesting post at Alex Ross's "The Rest is Noise" weblog on science stories about music that show inadequate awareness of music history, so (e.g.) they claim that scientists have "discovered" a fact that was already well-known. I've noticed similar cases where science stories touch on philosophical issues. The moral from these sorts of cases is that science may inform, but history tells the relevance; there are lots of interesting facts, experiments, and theories in scientific research into music, for instance, but where they all really fit is something that can only be seen by looking at music history, i.e., at our knowledge and understanding of music as it has actually grown and developed and moved through time. The same is true of philosophy; scientific research can shed light on philosophical issues, but what light is shed depends on knowing what those philosophical issues actually are and have been through time.

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