|Not a bird|
Now when sometimes it is pointed out that the New Guinea highlanders likewise classify bats as birds, they will oft hesitate, reluctant to refer to certified Victims of
|Bird. Yes, that's a horse in its beak.|
Young girls are still called "chicks" and in homosexual slang young boys are "chickens."
So what was the Old English word for "bird"? It was fugol, which was the same as the German word Vogel, derived from Teut. fluga, "to fly" and connected with words like "flock" and "flight." There was no word in the Teutonic languages that corresponded to the Latin word aves. In like manner, the ancient Hebrew word 'owph is not accurately translated as "bird," but as "things that fly." So a bat might not be a bird in the category of scientific biology, but it would be an 'owph or a fugol. Why? Because what mattered to them was that the critters could fly away before you could snare them. They were not interested in bio-genetic relationships. But the Late Modern expects scientific tracts to lurk within ancient texts. In a word, they lack an appreciation for empirical fact as regards linguistics, translation, and literary criticism and prefer high-flown theories based on wild assumptions about primordial goat-herders.
We should point out that just as fugols are not birds, water is not H2O.
Water Is Not H2O
The general assumption, according to Michael Weisberg, is that "there is a straightforward connection between scientific kinds and the natural kinds recognized by ordinary language users. For example, the claim that water is H2O assumes that the ordinary language kind water corresponds to a chemical kind, which contains all the molecules with molecular formula H2O as its members." But like birds and bats, ordinary language depends on the categories of thought that the language users find useful. Specialized users, like scientists, who have different uses in mind, will employ specialized meanings and terms. Water and steam are both composed of H2O molecules, but if TOF asks for a drink of water, he would be displeased to have live steam squirted in his face.
"It is simply false," says Brandon, "to say that the essence of water is H2O. In liquid water there are H3O+ and OH- ions, which are absent from water vapor; in water vapor there are H4O2 and other H2O polymers that are not always found in liquid water. The microstructure of water actually depends on the context." And if we note further that an electron in a valence orbit behaves differently than a free electron, we realize that context matters.
In addition, both hydrogen and oxygen come in a variety of isomers. There is hydrogen (H), heavy hydrogen (D) which has an extra neutron, and super-veavy hydrogen (T) which has two. Oxygen comes in 16-, 17-, and 18- neutron isomers which for typographical reasons we will refer to as O, O*, and O**, resp.
If we look at enough samples of enough water, we will find H2O*, H2O**, HDO, D2O*, T2O**, etc., in addition to H2O. In fact, natural samples of water almost always contain a mixture of these other isomers. In figuring out how to individuate the kind water, then, we need to ask several questions: Is pure H2O a chemical kind? How about pure D2O? In normal, terrestrial samples that are mostly H2O, how much tolerance of isotopic variation is allowed? If the substances described in all these other questions are chemical kinds, how do we decide which one corresponds to the ordinary language kind water?-- Michael Weisberg, "Water is Not H2O"
Water is actually a complex "society" of interacting molecules, and takes its properties from those interactions (form) rather than from its molecules (matter) as such.
An individual molecule of H2O doesn’t have any of the observable properties we associate with water. A glass of water, pure as water can be, is better understood as containing H2O, OH–, H3O+ and other related but less common ions, and even this is a vast oversimplification (if we could get truly pure water, which we cannot). Our current best understanding of the electron transfers that give water the properties we observe is a statistical average of ever changing interactions so complex as to be quite literally unthinkable. Indeed, the problem is “not that we are unsure which (distribution of types of) microstructure is the correct one. The point is that there is no one correct microstructure, because the microstructure depends as much on the context and functions just as another nominal essence would.”
So the complaint that the old Angles or the New Guinea highlanders lumped bats in with birds goes directly to the disconnect between the natural kinds of ordinary language and the scientific kinds or technical language. There are times (hint: "doing science" is one of them) when the latter is important, but if it is impossible even in the "simple" case of water, it makes no sense to insist that they ought to be the same kinds.-- Holly VandeWall, "Why Water Is Not H2O, and Other Critiques of Essentialist Ontology from the Philosophy of Chemistry," in Philosophy of Science vol. 74, no. 5 (December 2007), cited at Siris
- Michael Weisberg, Water is Not H2O (PDF)
- J. van Brakel, "Chemistry as the Science of the Transformation of Substances," Synthese (1997) 111:253-282. Summarized at Siris.
- Brandon Watson, Water is Not H2O