Life. Can only biologists speak about it?
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30-05-2014, 06:32 AM
Life. Can only biologists speak about it?
Hello everyone.

A few days ago at a gathering, I had the chance to watch two people have a rather heated up chat about life. At some point, one of them asked the other if he was a biologist, to which the other replied negatively. "Then you cannot speak about life", the first one said. Quite cautiously, the other one smiled and said: "Ok, let's talk about something else". I thought of it a good move, because when alcohol is being served, heating up an already hot conversation does not always yield better mutual understanding and the gathering was for fun, but it did make me wonder, can non-biologists speak about life?

Just like biologists, non-biologists are living beings too; at least human beings who are not biologists (stones are not biologists and they are not necessarily living things). But I think any living being able to describe its perspective can talk about life, from the perspective of a living being. Yes, biologists may have had an education focused on living systems and thus they may be more familiar than other people with the way things interact within a living system, but that does not mean that people who have not had a formal training in biology cannot be familiar with biological concepts. People may study life not for the need to make a living, but simply out of curiosity. So if the sentence "if you're not a biologist you cannot speak about life" means that one lacks the ability (or authority) to speak about life unless one does something specific for a living, I don't think it is strictly true.

But the meaning of the original sentence could have been "I won't believe anything you may say about life, because you're not a biologist" and I would find that partially sensible. Not believing stuff, in general, seems like a sensible approach; at least I always recommend understanding over belief. However, I wouldn't find the idea fully sensible because it would seem to place the validity of someone else's suggestions about life on the fact that they may or may not be biologists, instead of placing it on the plausibility of the suggestions themselves. And biologists can be mistaken too. If a biologist came up to me and told me how I am the result of some intelligent design, I wouldn't believe him or her despite their profession.

What do you think? Can non-biologists speak about biology? Can non-philosophers speak about philosophy? Can non-physicists speak about physics? Can atheists speak about religion?

Cheers!
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30-05-2014, 10:15 AM
RE: Life. Can only biologists speak about it?
Can non experts hold opinions? Sure.
Should we take these opinions on face value or analyse them with particular sceptical care given the source? Probably.
Can non professionals be experts in a particular field? Sure.
Can the expert consensus on a subject be wrong? Sure.
Yet does the expert consensus carry greater weight than conflicting non expert opinion? Yes, it carries more weight.

Give me your argument in the form of a published paper, and then we can start to talk.
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30-05-2014, 11:24 AM
RE: Life. Can only biologists speak about it?
Hello Hafnof, how are you?

Thanks for an informative answer. Very interesting; concise.

Have fun!
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03-06-2014, 06:54 PM
RE: Life. Can only biologists speak about it?
Was the first person a biologist?

If not then his/her argument would be basically hypocritical for a start.

We shouldn't base facts purely on the authority of the person who said them. Scientists are just as prone to mistakes as anyone... Which is why any scientific claim is given to the community for scrutiny, the more thorough the better.

While a scientist should be expected to give better insight into a scientific subject than most people, it would be wrong to assume that anyone else's knowledge is inferior.

A good example is astronomy... There are many professional, university educated astronomers out there with PhDs etc, who are experts on exoplanets, distant galaxies or supernovae, but know only the basics about the Moon. Sir Patrick Moore never gained a single qualification in science and remained an amateur his whole life, yet his knowledge of the Moon was so extensive, that both the Soviet Union and the United States used his hand drawn charts for their lunar programs in the 1960s.

One of the marked differences between science and religion, is the fact that religions accept claims based on the authority of the person making it... It must be true because the Pope/Rabbi/Guru/Imam said so.

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03-06-2014, 08:17 PM
RE: Life. Can only biologists speak about it?
(30-05-2014 10:15 AM)Hafnof Wrote:  Can non experts hold opinions? Sure.
Should we take these opinions on face value or analyse them with particular sceptical care given the source? Probably.
Can non professionals be experts in a particular field? Sure.
Can the expert consensus on a subject be wrong? Sure.
Yet does the expert consensus carry greater weight than conflicting non expert opinion? Yes, it carries more weight.

^I was going to say that, so thank you.

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19-06-2014, 03:55 AM
RE: Life. Can only biologists speak about it?
Absolutely and I hope they do. The creationists tend to believe that only biologists can know about evolution and everyone must defer to them on issues about evoultion - this is absurd and is one of the ways they like to compare evoutionism to a religion involving people all taking what the scientists say on faith.

The crucial difference though is that anyone can go out and buy a book and learn the same things the biologists know. You don't need third-party validation of your knowledge such as a degree.

If we all behave as though scientists are the only ones able to talk of science then we give credence to these ridiculous claims that science is a religion based upon faith.

I've read books about Marine Geology and Sociology. In a discussion with a geologist I would seek to learn more but when it comes to stuff I believe I understand well I would most certainly be ready to defend it if faced with a preposterous assertion by the scientist.

It's basically a case of wanting to know the truth and not just be right. If you suspect you are wrong then show humility and a willingness to learn from this person who knows more about it than you; if on the other hand they are making absurd claims which you believe are not consensus views then you most certainly do not need to be a scientist yourself to challenge them.

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20-06-2014, 07:35 AM
Re: Life. Can only biologists speak about it?
If we only relied on experts to have discussion, we wouldn't even have philosophy existing in it's socratic form such as this discussion.

It's especially amusing to me that this biologist argument happened around "life." An extremely general term which may not actually relate to biology. If I'm looking for a "life" expert I may want a physiologist or biochemist over just biologist.

"Allow there to be a spectrum in all that you see" - Neil Degrasse Tyson
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20-06-2014, 07:49 AM
RE: Life. Can only biologists speak about it?
(30-05-2014 10:15 AM)Hafnof Wrote:  Can non experts hold opinions? Sure.
Should we take these opinions on face value or analyse them with particular sceptical care given the source? Probably.
Can non professionals be experts in a particular field? Sure.
Can the expert consensus on a subject be wrong? Sure.
Yet does the expert consensus carry greater weight than conflicting non expert opinion? Yes, it carries more weight.

I'll take this a step further. You don't have to be an expert in a given field to be able to give a well though out answer including the evidence supporting your conclusion, and rebuttals to the arguments against it.

Save a life. Adopt a greyhound.

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20-06-2014, 07:32 PM
RE: Life. Can only biologists speak about it?
Perhaps somebodies profession (take biologist) can serve them advantageous when speaking about life in terms of receiving more credibility and enabling them to have more information about said topic. However, I don't think that entitles them to disregard or belittle what others say solely because it's their field of research, as I agree with you completely when you say we should be placing validity on the plausibility of the suggestions themselves. Consider that having the particular profession may aid that process, no doubt, as they can go more into detail about what they say and provide information they've studied at a level a non-biologist will not be able to match.

Biologists can speak about life at a greater level, and explain their reasoning at a far greater depth as they've invested their life into investigating biology. It's also important to acknowledge that anyone can talk about take the universe, for example, in great detail as well and they don't necessarily have to be an astronomer. If they were to talk about it with some level of competency, they'd have to do at least a little research. Even with being mesmerized by the complexity of life or the universe, learning more about it would make you even more mesmerized as you actually have some idea of what's going on! I would have loved to speak with Carl Sagan about the cosmos, but I'd have to be cautious in what I say and safely tread on topics I know more about in order to have a discussion where instead of being taught something, we are exploring it further.

Thank you for this thought provoking inquiry.

Everyday is judgement day. Use your judgement, use reason.
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21-06-2014, 06:24 AM
RE: Life. Can only biologists speak about it?
Ah for crying out loud, people take things too far. From the OP it looks like that was a casual, beer drinking conversation, not a freaking formal debate.

Maybe we should all shut up and only let scientists talk. Tongue

If you want to debate and do it formally, choose a partner that meets your criteria in the first place.

If you want to have a beer with a friend and shoot the shit, get off your high horse.

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