With Continual Reference to Justin Kahn.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Justin Kahn’s Wonderful and Fun Philosophy of Science Projects You Can Do At Home!

Like many non-scientists I am fascinated by what science has to offer by way of inquiry, innovation and explanation. Personally, I find philosophy of science to be a valuable way of investigating what science is and what science can be. In sharing my passion, I have found many to be intimidated by the lofty and abstract concepts that comprise philosophy of science. To bring home what philosophy of science has to say about the scientific pursuit, I have designed these fun, easy to do experiments.
(The reader is reminded that Justin is not a professional scientist and can not be held responsible for the safety of those conducting the experiments or those in the immediate vicinity of these experiments. These experiments are described for informational purposes only!)

Title: Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
What You Will Need: A Pillow. A Fully Equipped Lab and Massive Amounts of Funding.
What You Will Do: Construct a device which can kill people on a massive scale. Now, lay down, resting your head on the pillow. Are you able to sleep? Next, try finding a cure for a disease. Like AIDS. Lay down, resting your head on the pillow. Are you able to sleep? Which of the two nights did you sleep better? Do you think it make senses to talk about responsibility in science? Now think about this: What if you chose to find a cure for a disease, but the first person you will be curing is a person who is working on the device to kill people? For the purpose of this experiment we will assume that your Massive Amounts of Funding comes from a front organization for a group of very malicious scientists. And now they are going to use your previous research on the killing device and make the device even more deadly. On the other hand, what if the person making the device to kill people is going to use it on the person who is manufacturing all of these diseases in the first place? Again, I’m not entirely sure that these diseases are being manufactured, but if you think about it, they have to be coming from somewhere. Now try doing nothing. Lay down, resting your head on the pillow. Are you able to sleep?

Title: The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living
What You Will Need: Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained, a Mead Notebook& a pot of coffee
What You Will Do: Combine the Scientific Method (Hypothesis, Procedures, Data Collection, Conclusion) with Transcendental Meditation (Introspection, Chanting Ohmm). Record your findings. Now review Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained. Has he really explained Consciousness? Did he miss something? Maybe a little, tiny bit of your own consciousness? Has he explained the aspect of our consciousness known as conscience? Think about this over a cup of coffee. Dennett also wrote a book called Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. Based on what we know about Dennett do you think Darwin’s ideas are really that dangerous? (To test your work on this ask yourself, “Would I rather be trapped in a cage with the collected works of Charles Darwin or a cage containing an angry, juiced lion?”) As a bonus thought experiment, try to come up with more modest titles for Dennett’s works without going as far as titles like, “Some Stuff I Think I Might Know About Important Stuff.” Actually, that is kind of catchy.

Title: What is Science?
What You Will Need: Dry Ice. Regular Ice. A Balloon.
A Copy of Newton’s General Scholium, The Ghost of Einstein & 3 x 5 Index Cards
What You Will Do: Set the dry ice next to the regular ice. Note that they are both called ‘ice.’ Do they share the same properties? That was a rhetorical question. Of course not, yet both are called ice. Does that mean that the class of objects known as ‘ice’ does not exist? That ice is just a label slapped on to various objects at random?

Is there an essence of ice? Does ice definitely exist? Or not? Whichever position you take, defend your answer using the Scientific Method and/or Transcendental Meditation.

Next place the dry ice in the balloon. Tie the end of the balloon. I find this to be the most challenging part of any experiment I conduct. Usually I have my manservant do it for me, because the balloon always snaps away from my fingers. Since, I can’t very well expect my man servant to go trotting around the country helping everyone with their experiments, I should think that one of your servants or friends will be able to help you.

Now, read Newton. Is there any evidence that suggests he believes in a spiritual reality? Like God? Like him deftly mentioning God? Think about this very carefully: Should the General Scholium be taught in public schools? Do you think tax dollars should go towards getting your fifth grader reading Newton? Should your tax dollars go towards indoctrinating your fifth grader in the belief that virtually anything can be called Ice without consequence?

Pull yourself away from the reading. Look at the balloon. Notice how it inflated itself? Do you know how it has done that? Magic. But the important thing is that you have done a piece of real science. This should make you feel important.

Next, ask the ghost of Einstein what he thinks about the nature of science and the responsibility of the scientist. Record your findings on the Index cards. When you are ready, use the index cards to form the outline of paper called, “What is Science and How Does it Exist in the World?”


acrimonious said...

i want to try out experiment number one... i'll get back to you on how it works out.

p.s. saturday night i listened to some guy talking about nietzsche on cassette tape. it ruled.

ok bye!

Justin said...

Agoria (??--I can't read the name because the title overlaps. Sorry.)

Who is Nietzsche? What is a cassette tape. Sounds like a crazy Sat. Night.


awesome-ness said...

it says acrimonious, fool.

and it WAS crazy.
i'm a flipping party animal.

Maleah said...

What a pleasure to read. Simply. What a fun way to start this day. Your brain is marvelous.

That Alicia-ness is testy in the morning. She needs more coffee.

Comrade Kevin said...

Usually I read this blog for the latest in celebrity gossip and fashion trends. My favorite segment is 'Does this celeb's butt look huge or what?'

Today though? Wow, talk about going a whole different direction. If it wasn't for the fact that Justin mentioned his manservant (again) I would have thought I was reading a completely different blog altogether!

Jenn said...


Misha said...

I took one philosophy class in college. It was taught by a small, thin, neat man who wore shirts and ties of the same hue and had a website devoted to his dog. I don't recall paying much attention to him, ever. As a result much of this post was gibberish to me, and I now have one more regret in my life.

Thank you, Justin Khan.

P.S.: if, say, somebody were to knit you a scarf, what color would said hypothetical scarf be?

Too_Lively said...

What if Einstein’s ghost shuns me?

Justin said...

Very likely, it can only mean, you did the experiment wrong.


Justin said...


Well, I doubt that an intro class would have covered philosophy of science topics. However, I could loan you a dozen books, which might clarify certain aspects of my post.

Justin said...

I don't even have any idea. Maybe umm. Shoot. I don't know how to match colors. Blue? Is that reasonable?

My bookshelf woul be wood colored, but that's not what you asked right?

Justin said...

Comrade K:
Don't Worry. "Does this celeb's butt look huge or what?" will return next week. We will be looking at Rainer W. Fassbinder and the Cookie Monster.


Justin said...


Oww shucks.

Despite your completely accurate judgements of my post, it would seem that maybe Alexia needs less coffee. j

Taihae said...

yours are okay, justin, but youre still coming off as a little new to this whole science thing. Don't feel bad, I bet your dad wasn't leaping out from around corners and maniacly quizzing you on the latin names for the periodic table of elements like some crazed scientifically obsessed sphinx, at the tender age of 10, no less. We all cant have the sort of head starts I had in life. Is the unexamined life not worth living? I don't know. But i think the question you SHOULD be asking is, "what is the latin name for silver?" and let me tell you, justin. It's argentium.

No need to thank me.

goldennib said...

I am not sure I am really real or if I even exist so I can't participate in any experiments.

part-time buddha said...

Going to sleep after reading this post is an experiment in scientific transcentdental post-gravitism. Hope my pillow exists, qua pillow, and remains more-or-less under my head.

apple tree said...

i don't need any sort of coffee arrangement!

and i don't mean to sound testy.
if you know me in person you will quite possibly realize that i am one of the nicest human beings ever to exist.


kelmaree said...

I was going to take a philosophy of science class next semester but after your comprehensive coverage of the topic I don’t have to bother anymore…

Christina said...

Reasons why I haven't responded:

1. I've been over at my boyfriend's for the past few days and haven't checked my computer in the meantime.

2. My boyfriend has a Mac, which I don't like to use because the interface irritates me.

3. Switching email updates on won't really work either because I check my email even less than I check my blogger account.

I'm sorry I haven't responded. If it means anything, I responded within 30 seconds of actually seeing your comments. It's just that I saw them 3 days after you posted them.

Metamorphosis said...

Nice, nice.. Science is fun. Socrates is the dude-man!

Justin said...

Sometimes I wish I were a scientist, but I can't find a labcoat that fits me.


Justin said...

I didn't take it personally, but at some level, don't you think maybe it was revenge for my accidentally skipping over your birthday message?

Well, let's put that behind us:

1)Macs confuse me.

2)Maybe you should get a palm pilot and have email updates sent their.

2a) Or if it is just a moderate amount of email I could read your emails an leave notes on the bulletin board

3)Do you think Misha is really going to make me a scarf? Do you think I have to coordinate my hair cut with my scarf? Let me know if you have any ideas on my hair.


Justin said...

You live!

Now you can be the smart alec in the philosophy of science class who knows everything.


Justin said...

apple tree,
But doesn't that go against everything that Freddy N. argues for in his classic, 'Beyond Niceness and Rudeness'?


Justin said...

p-t b,
It is nice to think that someone might not be able to sleep because of the post.

j-d k

Justin said...


As things are it does minimize my chances of lawsuit.

What did you do with Quilly?


Justin said...

You are absolutely right: The question is as important as the answer.

Having said that I've always wante to visit argentium. It is just so hard to get away.


P.S. Is science, a recessive gene?

Sophie T. Mishap said...

Einstein's ghost says your novel suffers from symptoms of natural selection. Now all those monkeys locked in a room with typewriters are doubly motivated.

Comrade Kevin said...

J - Rainer W. Fassbinder! That's hot. It's a good thing we have Wikipedia or I never would have known who this Cookie Monster was though. Talk about an obscure reference.

xajlqwk said...

when you chant ohmm also chant watt for the full effect. remember it's not huh but hummm.