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Philosopher Bas van Fraasen, the McCosh Professor of Philosophy, emeritus, at Princeton University and the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at San Francisco State, will be giving a presentation at Cal Poly at 11:10 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 29, in the Corporation Administration Building (No. 15) Room 135. The presentation, titled Hempel’s Dilemma, will feature a new paper furthering the professor’s theory of “constructive empiricism” and his opposition to scientific realism.

Unobservable entities, van Fraasen argues, such as molecules and atoms, are not things to absolutely believe science’s “truth,” not due to any particular flaws in the supposed laws governing things, but because it is the duty of science to empirical adequacy, not the truth. From what I understand of the theory, this refers to the ability of the observable phenomena of a theory to fit in to the structure that is set up—or, perhaps better put, the rational soundness of the theory as a theory rather than a fact.

Not every scientist or philosopher may completely believe a theory they may suggest as a possible reason for something, for it is just one more part of a larger, hopefully unending discussion to better understand and appreciate the ticking of the cosmic clock. And yet, a great many scientists fully believe in a theory as a fact, explain it as if it was a fact, hold larger discussions from a viewpoint that accepts the theory as a fact. This is, of course, dangerous territory.

Once again—if I’ve butchered my attempt at a summary of this idea, many apologies to van Fraasen. Of course, that’s yet another reason to attend this presentation. The professor is considered by many to be one of the most significant philosophers of the last 50 years, and his book in which this theory was published, The Scientific Image, has been translated into six languages. He’s written nine other books, hundreds of articles, and even had plenty of things written about him in his lifetime, as well.

As a lover of words and discussion, peering through different ideological spyglasses can be very thrilling and enlightening for me. I don’t believe we shall ever completely crack the universe’s genetic code, but that seems all the more reason to keep trying. There are so many wonders to explore, and yet so many ways to upset those around us. What will your next glimpse ahead reveal, readers?


Intern Chris White-Sanborn has seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, yes, but would much prefer to discuss Lola Rennt. Send your collegiate news to


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