Thoughts on “Do Mountains Exist? Towards an Ontology of Landforms”

While this piece is quite abstract, I glommed on to one particular contention that applies beyond mountains to other areas of science. On page 4, the authors state that they can rephrase the question “do mountains exist?” as “do we need to accept… mountains in order to attain good explanations or… good… theories?” (Smith and Mark 2003). They then go on to describe theories about human and animal behavior that may utilize mountains to make sense and be accurate. This line of thinking reminded me of the famous experiment carried out by Ernest Rutherford (at McGill) that confirmed the existence of an atom’s nucleus in the 1800s. Although Rutherford could not observe a nucleus himself, the presence of a nucleus was the only feasible explanation for why he repeatedly obtained a specific set of results in his experiments. In this way, one could say the question “does a nucleus exist?” was answered by asking “do we need to accept nuclei to attain good explanations for Rutherford’s experiments?” The same may be said of the beetle experiment mentioned in this paper. Even setting aside the assumption that mountains exist, the entomologist’s results point to mountains existing; they must exist for the beetles to concentrate at their peaks. Therefore, this rule of thumb resonates with me as I can see it being applied not only in geography but other scientific fields as well. An important question that stems from using this line of reasoning is how to prove that something exists if it does not need to be accepted to attain good explanations or good theories, or whether determining if such a thing exists is even worthwhile. Unfortunately, answering such questions is beyond the scope of this blog post… but it has got me thinking.

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