sci.philosophy.natural FAQ (Long)

From: Will Wagers (wagers@computek.net)
Date: Mon Nov 20 1995 - 04:38:37 EST


I believe that some of the subscribers to this last are interested in the
following FAQ. Please pardon me if you have already seen this FAQ on
another mailing list. It is also available in news.groups.

SCI.PHILOSOPHY.NATURAL Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQ)
-------------------------------------------------------

This FAQ was produced to answer some of the questions
regarding the new, proposed newsgroup: sci.philosophy.natural.

This FAQ was prepared by the proponent: Will Wagers
<wagers@computek.net>.

Please repost this FAQ to other relevant mailing lists and
newsgroups that have not been included in the initial posting
(but, please be sure that it has not already been posted there).

Table of Contents
----------------

 1. What is sci.philosophy.natural ?
 2. What is Natural Philosophy ?
 3. With which historical periods are we concerned ?
 4. With which cultures are we concerned ?
 5. Isn't the range of possible subjects too broad?
 6. Why is the group moderated ?
 7. Why not change the name to soc.history.science.ancient ?
 8. Where does the mysticism come in ?
 9. What is a newsgroup ?
10. Where is the gateway?
11. How do I participate?

1. What is sci.philosophy.natural ?
---------------------------------

sci.philosophy.natural is a proposed, moderated Usenet
newsgroup dedicated to the discussion of and publications on
ancient natural philosophy (science). The focus is the search for
how ancient science influenced ancient mythology, philosophy,
and theology, and their influences, in turn, upon science. The
effort is multi-disciplinary in the extreme, drawing upon the
contributions of scientists, scholars, and other specialists of
every sort.

The proposed newsgroup will replace any existing groups. There
is a small overlap with *many* existing newsgroups and mailing
lists in that subjects appropriate to sci.philosophy.natural are
occasionally discussed there. One purpose of
sci.philosophy.natural is to bring these discussions under one
roof to facilitate interdisciplinary scholarship.

This should result in off-loading some traffic from high volume
newsgroups and mailing lists. It would still leave any and all
posters the forums that currently exist, so there is no question
of denying anyone an outlet for their ideas. The small number of
newsgroups and mailing lists which regularly deal with topics
appropriate to sci.philosophy.natural may regard the proposed
newsgroup as a means of publishing finished articles after the
rounds of specialist comment and criticism have occurred.

The number of potential readers is difficult to estimate due to
the interdisciplinary nature of the group. However, a small
survey for a single subject area encompassed by
sci.philosophy.natural - archaeoastronomy- drew 135 interested
readers or contributors. Many mailing lists from which
sci.philosophy.natural would draw participation have 300-1500
members.

2. What is Natural Philosophy ?
------------------------------

According to the Oxford English dictionary, 'natural philosophy' is
1) the study of natural bodies as such and of the phenomena
connected with them; 2) physical science, physics, or knowledge
or study of nature , or of natural objects and phenomena; 3)
'natural knowledge" now usually called 'science'; 4) or, more
generally, the study or knowledge of physical phenomena.

In common parlance today, the term is used in two main contexts
to mean either "ancient science" or "physics" (e.g. in the Physics
Department at Glasgow University undergraduates sign up for a
"Natural Philosophy" degree only to discover that it means
mainstream physics).

Aristotle divided ancient science into three convenient
≥contemplative≤ or ≥theoretical≤ philosophies of nature: 1)
Natural Philosophy (Physics); 2) First Philosophy (Theology); 3)
and Mathematics.

Although there are many, many possible schemes for organizing
the group, it is the premise of this group that all human studies
relate ultimately to the study of nature, or, if you prefer, of
reality, or of god(s). This represents the three viewpoints on the
study of ultimate reality - scientific, philosophical, and
theological. The group studies at what points the three
viewpoints converge and diverge and the mutual influences
among them. All three viewpoints, at times, use a mythological
means of expression.

Therefore, in our context, natural philosophy means the study or
knowledge of reality, whether approached from a philosophical,
scientific, or theological point of view. It is this simplifying
assumption which will allow us to untangle the roles of the three
viewpoints in their developments. The broadness of the term
allows us to admit all viewpoints which bear on the problem. A
more elaborate justification of this point of view is beyond the
scope of this FAQ.

3. With which historical periods are we concerned ?
-------------------------------------------------

The primary focus of sci.philosophy.natural is the period up to
and, overlapping to some extent, the 14th century in the West. In
this century, the logarithmic increase in the number of inventions
signals the onset of modern, experimental, scientific progress.
After this time, philosophy, science, and theology grow ever
more distinct, specialized, and incompatible. At the same time,
the mythological expression of "truth" steadily declines.

The use of the term "natural philosophy" extends way beyond
this pre-scientific
period. To some, the term "natural philosophy" implies medieval
science or the sciences of the 17th through 19th centuries in the
West. These periods also exhibit the confounding of the
philosophical, scientific, and theological viewpoints and are
appropriate topics.

However, our primary targets are the pre-scientific periods of
*all* cultures before myth and science completely diverged (if,
indeed, they have). The dates of such developments vary by
culture. Therefore, the focus of the newsgroup is not purely on
Western natural philosophy, but includes African, Indian, Oriental,
Southeast Asian, etc. The reason for such a broad scope is that it
is only when comparing different cultures that certain
synchretizing or de-synchretizing influences can be observed.
Consequently, the dates of the relevant historical periods will
vary by culture.

4. With which cultures are we concerned ?
----------------------------------------

All cultures displaying a distinctive philosophical, scientific, or
theological viewpoint are appropriate objects of study. For
example, Aztec, Mayan, and other American Indian cultures,
Babylonian, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Indian, Islamic, and
Southeast Asian - to name some of the most prominent. Again,
the reason for such a broad scope is that it is only when
comparing different cultures that certain synchretizing or
de-synchretizing influences can be observed.

5. Isn't the range of possible subjects too broad?
------------------------------------------------

The range of topics is, indeed, purposely broad. The group's very
reason for being is to bring specialists, who are working
elsewhere on more narrow subject areas, together. At this level,
the scholarship on different periods and cultures can be
compared to arrive at more universal themes and tendencies.

Many postings will be finished, electronic, research papers. It is
often these which will be discussed, both in their own contexts
and in the larger context of natural philosophy. The subjects of
postings will be tagged to indicate their primary focus, e.g.
"Classical Mayan:".

6. Why is the group moderated ?
-------------------------------

sci.philosophy.natural is for scholarly discussion, postings of
papers, postings of professional interest, etc. Neither flames, nor
unfounded 'speculative' postings, nor unrelated commercial
postings can be permitted.

Minority viewpoints are seldom embraced and are often actively
discouraged on many specialist moderated newsgroups and
mailing lists which are dominated by a small group of established
leaders in a certain discipline. All new and revolutionary ideas
begin as minority viewpoints. Therefore, sci.philosophy.natural
*welcomes* minority and controversial viewpoints which are
justified by scholarship and which pass moderation. It will
encourage the development of novel themes and techniques, e.g.
statistical textual analysis. The new newsgroup also recognizes
and encourages the rise of the independent scholar with personal
access to online resources and, often, superior computer skills.

All viewpoints and levels of knowledge are welcome, subject to
the moderation policy described in the Request For Discussion
(RFD) posted in news.announce.newgroups. Because natural
philosophy is such a broad subject and because lively debate on
issues is encouraged, this group is moderated by a panel.
Prospective articles are assigned to a moderator with skills
appropriate for the relevant subject area. Articles will *not* be
rejected based on whether the moderator(s) disagree with the
views expressed. The posting will either be accepted as-is,
rejected, or accepted with changes.

7. Why not change the name to soc.history.science.ancient ?
----------------------------------------------------------

We seriously considered this possibility. A subgroup of
sci.philosophy.tech was also considered. In the end, we decided
to go with ''sci.philosophy.natural"; partly, because we want to
attract scientists to the discussion. (Many people thought that
soc.history.science should be classified as a sci group.) As you
appreciate, there is a rainbow of possible categories to choose
from, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. *Among*
the groups we hope will contribute are archaeologists,
astronomers, classicists, historians, independent scholars,
linguists, mathematicians, philosophers, physicians, physicists,
scientists, taxonomists, theologians, translators, etc. The point is
that we seek contributions not just from *historians* of
philosophy, but from *philosophers*, for example. Such an
interdisciplinary effort will seem to some (like myself) to
warrant its own major group, to others it may seem to fall
logically into a subgroup of philosophy, religion, or science, as
you please.

The discussions under soc.history.science are generally unrelated
to the proposed newsgroup. Recent threads (11/18/95) in
soc.history.science were discussions on:
        - Darwin, Lamarck, and DNA;
        - a query for a sociology report;
        - the politics of science;
        - paradigm in formulation;
        - the early history of the telephone;
        - evolution;
        - a query about a quote from the National academy of Sciences;
        - Dirac in Westminster Abbey.

None of these threads shares the focus of sci.philosophy.natural.
(A few of the topics might be suitable if the content were
different.) So, the topics of sci.philosophy.natural are no more a
subset of soc.history.science than of many other existing groups,
although anyone already accustomed to classifying it as history
will see the situation otherwise.

A further proof is that many of the threads were cross-posted to
groups in soc.history, sci.philosophy, and other newsgroups.

Some of the topics we shall address have indeed come up in
soc.history.science. However, they come up in many - well over a
hundred - newsgroups and mailing lists. There are questions of
archaeology, anthropology, astronomy, biology, history,
linguistics, mathematics, natural history, palaeography, physics,
symbology, textual interpretation, translation, and on and on. The
purpose of sci.philosophy.natural is to give these discussions a
home. The new group is not to be dominated by the points of
view of any one academic discipline, e.g. historians. The current
newsgroups tend to be too general for our purpose, making our
topics unwelcome. Mailing lists tend to be too specialist, with no
common forum for different specialties to contribute.

Another reason for selecting .sci over .soc is that we hope to
facilitate the use of scientific methods in the process of
resurrecting, translating, and interpreting ancient symbols,
texts, etc. Most of the potential "breakthroughs" in what is
basically a 2,000+-year-old topic are coming from new scientific
techniques and discoveries, e.g. biotechnology, signal processing,
new dating metrics. Only a trained scientist fully understands
their limitations and (scientific) significance. So, scientists and
other specialists must work together in order to sort it all out.

8. Where does the mysticism come in ?
-------------------------------------

Some people seem to have misinterpreted "natural philosophy"
as "natural theology". They then conclude that the topic is some
form of mysticism. The subject of sci.philosophy.natural is
*science*. It is not the proper forum for promoting or discussing
mysticism except as it may have influenced or been influenced
by ancient science.

9. What is a newsgroup ?
------------------------

sci.philosophy.natural will be a Usenet newsgroup, not a mailing
list. Newsgroups are widely distributed over the Internet. Rather
than e-mail, newsgroups use a protocol called 'NNTP'. To access
them, you need special client software - many are available as
share-/free-ware for DOS, Macintosh, and Windows - connected
to an NNTP server. Most universities and commercial Internet
providers have such servers for the use of their subscribers.
Among the advantages of a newsgroup are: 1) you only see it
when you want to: the thread does not fill up your mailbox; 2)
you view the entire thread of a discussion, rather than viewing it
piecemeal scattered among other topics; 3) newsgroup reading
can be automated; 4) world-wide exposure.

Because it is a different medium, newsgroups routinely co-exist
with mailing lists on similar topics without competition or
interference, e.g. sci.philosophy.tech covers some of the same
topics as PHILOSOP and PHILOS-L. Where overlap exists, many
people will avail themselves of both media.

10. Where is the gateway?
--------------------------

Many people are either unacquainted with or unable to access
Usenet newsgroups. Upon approval of the new newsgroup, I shall
implement a mailing list gatewayed to this group. This will ensure
that everyone will have the capability of accessing the group
either via Usenet or via the mailing list.

11. How do I participate?
-------------------------

The first Call for Votes (CFV) either has been or will be posted
shortly in news.announce.newgroups. In order to pass, the
proposal must receive 100 more Yes votes than No votes and, at
least, two thirds of the votes must be positive.

The CFV will include directions for mailing votes to a neutral
votetaker. The voting period will be at least 21 days. In order to
count, your vote must be in the CFV format and posted to the
neutral votetaker, not to me.

We welcome your participation.



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