Construct[ion/iv]ism: Pick One of the Above
John Richards BBN Labs Cambridge, Massachusetts
When two research programmes compete, their first "ideal," models usually deal with different aspects of the domain. As the rival research programmes expand, they gradually encroach on each other's territory, and the nth version of the first will be blatantly, dramatically inconsistent with the mth version of the second.
-- Lakatos ( 1978, p. 71)
At a party where I work, we were drinking some homemade beer. As we shifted back and forth between two different batches, it became clear that one of the batches was significantly more "bubbly" than the other. The brew master suggested that he had decreased the amount of air in the bottle, and his theory was that the decreased amount of oxygen meant that the yeast would die sooner, thereby converting less sugar to alcohol and producing fewer bubbles. I turned to a second individual, asking if this made sense. He responded that it was crucial to calculate how much pressure was building up in the bottle, that the increased pressure was probably what was killing the yeast, and that we needed to examine what the effect of more fluid and less air would be on the amount of pressure in the bottle. The first solution had been suggested by a biologist, and the second by a physicist. As I insufficiently understood the brewing process, and was becoming increasingly captivated by the product, what became most interesting, as a philosopher, was that two distinctly different conversations evolved: physicists in one group, biologists in the