Replacing the Old with the New

At the time the United States was a toddler most chemists believed that when something was burned it would release a substance called terra pinguis or phlogiston. Phlogiston is lighter than air, odorless, colorless and was essential to the combustion process. Though this term is clearly no longer used it had a good life. When it was born science had only enough room for four elements: earth, fire, wind and water. During the time of it’s decline 150 years later, chemistry, as we know it, was coming into it’s own. One question that has been debated is how did chemists and other scientists go from using a term like phlogiston to not using that term? Did it go out of style? If so, surely it must have been replaced by another term. After all, phlogiston provided a good explanation for a handful of problems. It explained the oxidation of metals or rust, for instance. It also explained the loss of weight in substances that were burned. There were, however, a couple quirks that surrounded phlogiston. For one, magnesium weighs more after it is burned. So, phlogiston didn’t just go out of style. Something was wrong with it. History tells us that phlogiston was demoted after the discovery of oxygen, but because it goes from a weightless, colorless and odorless substance to a self-repellent fluid called caloric, I wouldn’t say it fared so badly. But the question remains, how do we go from phlogiston to caloric? Was it a preponderance of evidence against phlogiston and for caloric?

The fate of the caloric may provide a hint, but I should just say that a new theory emerged from the problems of an old one. That seems like a good thing when the new theory covers the old theory. But something lurks in going from one theory to another. It isn’t always the case that the new theory can explain everything the old theory could and more. A good example of this is the wave-particle duality that exists today. Originally, wave theory and particle theory were at odds with one another. Both are excellent theories with great explanatory power. But neither can cover enough of the explanatory power of the other in order to take it over (if you will). So after a little over 200 years of fierce competition, they were combined. So, if one theory can’t cover all of the explanations of another and more how can we say it is better? How do we know when a more specialized theory is more useful than one which covers more ground but is less specific or requires much more data, for instance?

We shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves to find a solution, after all, there seem to be several reasons why one theory concedes to another as you go through the history of science. One philosopher even suggested that there were no good reasons why one line of thought would prevail over another. That has always sounded like an interesting position; one that should keep everyone else honest, at least.

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How it goes in the morning

Mornings as a philosofarmer are interesting and action packed. For starters, there is the wake up usually conducted by the pitter-patter of Miles coming up the stairs. He takes just long enough for the Mrs. and I to make a welcome spot. Next comes the exodus from bed and down the stairs, making sure to stop by and grab Elle. Then usually it’s plan time. This particular morning is a little bit different because the Mrs. is attending a birth. She’s a doula/birth professional, so I’m sometimes left holding down the fort and am happy to do so. So there will be no planning today; only doing. And the first thing I did was wake up before everyone and everything else. It was important to get the outside chores done or else the next chance would be mid-day at nap time. I grabbed everything I needed to milk and feed the goats, the warmest hat in the house and headed out to the goat pen. Setting up is always easy, particularly because the goats know exactly where to go: to the food cleverly attached to the milking station. The trio of chickens (Castor, Pollux and Betelgeuse) also know that it’s feeding time. It takes me a lot longer to milk the two of our three goats than the Mrs. She should seriously join a competition.
So after I extract about a quart and a half of milk my goats get a little impatient and then so do I. So we wrapped up. Then it was off to the other chickens – Perse, Cygnus, Carina, Norma and Scutum (that’s right, the chickens all have celestial names) – in order to grab their 5 eggs for the day. Each is a different color. I’m not quite sure which color egg belongs to which chicken but I have my suspicions. My outside chores were mostly complete for the day. I went inside to see if I had really pulled it off and as I walked in, Miles was walking out of his room having just woken up. Whew! Then I heard Boogie happily talking to herself. Double whew!!

Breakfast time.

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You do what?!

Sure. When my colleagues hear about my life as a farmer I get the exact same look my neighbors and community give me when they hear about my work as a philosopher. I believe there are a lot of questions packed into those looks, so I think a blog is a good place to begin to provide answers. Or maybe just hints, tidbits and slices of what it is to be a philosofarmer.

On the one hand there are the eight chickens and three goats. And on the other a pile of my favorite books, journals and articles containing ideas and concepts with which to understand and wrestle. It’s a great balance really and can be done simultaneously. You would be amazed at what comes to mind when you’re chopping wood for a few hours or tilling your garden with a giant, old school tiller from the 1960’s. When you’ve mowed that acre and a half with the push mower and you’re tired, even Wittgenstein’s Tractatus is more approachable. The same is true for the animals. They get to give me the first crazy look to my latest idea to improve their lives. So, again, it’s a great balance.





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