The most important research question in astronomy, to judge from the news websites, is neither the nature of dark matter and energy, nor the origin of the Pioneer anomaly or gamma-ray bursts beyond the GZK cutoff, nor the possible existence of Earth-like extrasolar planets. No, the big question is whether Pluto is “really” a planet, and if so, whether Charon and Ceres are “really” planets, and whether something has to be round to be a planet, and if so, how round.

I was going to propose we bring in Wittgenstein to settle this. But I guess the astronomers have already “ruled.”

Richard Dawkins often rails against what he calls the “tyranny of the discontinuous mind.” As far as I know, he’s not complaining about those of us who like our Hilbert spaces finite-dimensional and our quantum gravity theories discrete. Rather, he’s complaining about those who insist on knowing, for every humanoid fossil, whether it’s “really” human or “really” an ape. Ironically, it’s often the same people who then complain about the “embarrassing lack of transitional forms”!

Can anyone suggest a word for a person obsessed with drawing firm but arbitrary lines through a real-valued parameter space? (“Lawyer” is already taken.) I’ve already figured out the word for a debate about such lines, like the one we saw in Prague: chasmgasm.

10 Responses to “Chasmgasm”

  1. ano Says:


  2. ano Says:


  3. Thane Says:


  4. Scott Says:

    C’mon, statisticians know they’re just telling stories, right?

  5. Michael Anissimov Says:

    Pathological reifier.

  6. Perseph0ne Says:


  7. michael vassar Says:


  8. Leonid Says:

    I suggest “activist”.
    After all only a small fraction of participants actually took part in this historic vote. The rest (including me to my shame) either did not rise above the trivial questions (such as, for example, how to detect dark matter particles), left early, or, worse, preferred to walk around the town.

    To prevent future charges of plagiarism, I fully aknowledge that the term “activist” for persons “obsessed with drawing firm but arbitrary lines through a real-valued parameter space” was introduced long before me by many progressive newspapers and TV stations (normally it’s used for describing people concerned with separating the faithful from the infidels and taking “active” steps for decreasing the number of the latter).

  9. Andrew L. Says:

    Taxonomist. There’s a great Dr. Who episode about this where an alien taxonomist is obsessed with categorizing every form of life, only to be derailed by ever-occurring evolution. I think I was about 8 years old when I saw the episode, so I could be forgetting some of the details… 😉

  10. Mitch Says: