There was an interesting analogy in an article in Discover magazine: what is the definition of 'continent?' To most of us it would probably mean something like "land mass." But Asia and Europe are only separated by an imaginary line. How big does a land mass have to be go from an "island" to a "continent?" Australia is a continent...but why not Greenland or Madagascar?
I am willing to bet that a narrow and precise definition of 'planet' is more useful to science than a broad, almost meaningless title.
One difficult aspect of science is accepting change. Generally, humans don't like change…especially when it comes to the way we view the world around us. When you've grown up learning about this or that...and suddenly a new discovery tosses your picture of the world into the trash...it's natural do defend the original view.
Buddhists believe that one should avoid attachments to material things; it has recently occurred to me that in a strikingly similar sense, critical thinking requires a detachment from ideas
. If you believe a math problem will give you a certain answer but the calculations prove otherwise, you should re-check the numbers...but at some point, if a theory is debunked, you have to learn to let it die.
This may be easier said than done! Scientists have often faced this dilemma. Imagine spending your whole career formulating and then finding evidence to support a theory, only to have it dashed after decades of work. It would be difficult to simply shrug your shoulders and “head back to the drawing board.” Instead you'd most likely keep trying to salvage the theory...perhaps even to the point of re-interpreting facts in such a way as to "breath life" back into the theory. But at that point, you are no longer conducting science.
Einstein, perhaps the greatest physicist in history, could not accept quantum mechanics. “God doesn’t play dice,” he said, when confronted with the consequences Uncertainty Principle
. Yet today quantum mechanics and general relativity are the pillars of modern physics. When the first theories on plate tectonics were being formulated, there were scientists who resisted. Even today, there are still a few scientists who have not accepted that humans are affecting climate change (not many; most of the world’s scientific community has concluded that human activity is at least partially responsible for global climate change).
Now, the designation of bodies orbiting the sun are not based on math equations. There's no ‘inescapable reasoning’ behind one title or another. But again, I am willing to bet that a more specific way to differentiate the "major planets" from the rest of the plethora of objects orbiting the sun is in fact a positive step. Is that not worth the ‘agony’ of accepting change?
Edited by locally pwned, 31 August 2006 - 11:43 AM.
"The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking." - Albert Einstein
"The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion." - Thomas Paine
"If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands." - Douglas Adams