On the alleged need to define one’s terms

May 5, 2012 | By | Reply More

Vilayanur Ramachandran described the alleged need to define one’s terms carefully by telling the following story:

After his triumph with heredity, [Francis] Crick turned to what he called the “second great riddle” in biology—consciousness. There were many skeptics. I remember a seminar he was giving on consciousness at the Salk Institute here in La Jolla. He’d barely started when a gentleman in attendance raised a hand and said, “But Doctor Crick, you haven’t even bothered to define the word consciousness before embarking on this.” Crick’s response was memorable: “I’d remind you that there was never a time in the history of biology when a bunch of us sat around the table and said, ‘Let’s first define what we mean by life.’ We just went out there and discovered what it was—a double helix. We leave matters of semantic hygiene to you philosophers.”

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Category: scientific method

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Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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