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Philosophy begins where physics ends, and physics begins where philosophy ends

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Richard Feynman - Philosopher (Image: Washington University)

Physicist Sean Carroll has some words of wisdom for physicists who might have less than complimentary things to say about philosophy. The most recent altercation between a physicist and philosophy came from Neil deGrasse Tyson who casually disparaged philosophy in a Q&A session, saying that it can be a time sink and it doesn’t actually provide any concrete answers to scientific questions. Now I am willing to give Tyson the benefit of doubt since his comment was probably a throwaway remark; plus it’s always easy for scientists to take potshots at philosophers in a friendly sort of way, much like the Yale football team would take potshots at its Harvard counterpart.

But Tyson’s response was only the latest in a series of run ins that the two disciplines have had over the past few years. For instance in 2012 philosopher David Albert castigated physicist Lawrence Krauss for purportedly claiming in his most recent book that physics had settled or at least given plausible answers to the fundamental question of existence. In reply Krauss called Albert “moronic” which didn’t help much to bridge the divide between the two fields. Stephen Hawking also had some harsh words for philosophers, saying that he thought “philosophy is dead”, and going further back, Richard Feynman was famously disdainful of philosophy which he called “dopey”.

In his post Carroll essentially deconstructs the three major criticisms of philosophy seen among physicists: there’s the argument that philosophers don’t really gather data or do experiments, there’s the argument that practicing physicists don’t really use any philosophy in their work, and there’s the refrain that philosophers concern themselves too much with unobservables. Carroll calls the first of these arguments dopey (providing a fitting rejoinder to Feynman), the second frustratingly annoying and the third deeply depressing.

I tend to agree with his take, and I have always had trouble understanding why otherwise smart physicists like Tyson or Hawking seem to neglect both the rich history of interaction between physics and philosophy as well as the fact that they are unconsciously doing philosophy even when they are doing science. For instance, what exactly was the philosophy-hating Feynman talking about when he gave the eloquent Messenger Lectures that became “The Character of Physical Law“? Feynman was talking about the virtues of science, about the methodology of science, about the imperfect march of science toward the truth; in other words he was talking about what most of us would call “the philosophy of science”. There’s also more than a few examples of what could fairly be called philosophical musings even in the technical “Feynman Lectures on Physics”. Even Tyson, when he was talking about the multiverse and quantum entanglement in “Cosmos” was talking philosophically.

I think at least part of the problem here comes from semantics. Most physicists don’t explicitly try to falsify their hypotheses or apply positive heuristics or keep on looking for paradigms shifts in their daily work, but they are doing this unconsciously all the time. In many ways philosophy is simply a kind of meta, higher level look at the way science is done. Now sometimes philosophers of science are guilty of thinking that science in fact fits the simple definitions engendered by this meta level look, but that does not mean these frameworks are completely inapplicable to science, even if they may be messier than what they appear on paper. It’s a bit like saying that Newton’s laws are irrelevant to entities like black holes and chaotic systems because they lose their simple formulations in these domains.

My take on philosophy and physics is very simple: Philosophy begins where physics ends, and physics begins where philosophy ends. And I believe this applies to all of science.

I think there are plenty of episodes in the history of science that support this view. When science was still in a primitive state, almost all musings about it came first from Greek philosophers and later from Asian, Arab and European thinkers who were called “natural philosophers” for a reason. Anyone who contemplated the nature of earthly forces, wondered what the stars were made up of, thought about whether living things change or are always constant or pondered if there is life after death was doing philosophy. But he or she was also squarely thinking about science since we know for a fact that science has been able to answer these philosophical questions in the ensuing five hundred years. In this case philosophy stepped in where the era’s best science ended, and then science again stepped in when it had the capacity to answer these philosophical questions.

As another example, consider the deep philosophical questions about quantum mechanics pondered by the founders of quantum mechanics, profound thinkers like Bohr, Einstein and Heisenberg. These men were brilliant scientists but they were also bona fide philosophers; Heisenberg even wrote a readable book called “Physics and Philosophy“. But the reason why they were philosophers almost by default is because they understood that quantum mechanics was forcing a rethinking about the nature of reality itself that challenged our notions not just about concrete entities like electrons and photons but also about more ethereal ones like consciousness, objectivity and perception. Bohr and Heisenberg realized that they simply could not talk about these far flung implications of physics without speaking philosophically. In fact some of the most philosophical issues that they debated, such as quantum entanglement, were later validated through hard scientific experiments; thus, if nothing else, their philosophical arguments helped keep these important issues alive. Even among the postwar breed of physicists (many of whom were of the philosophy-averse, “shut up and calculate” type) there were prominent philosophers like John Wheeler and David Bohm, and they again realized the value of philosophy not as a tool for calculation or measurement but simply as a guide to thinking about hazy issues at the frontiers of science. In some sense it’s a good sign then when you start talking philosophically about a scientific issue; it means you are really at the cutting edge.

The fact of the matter – and a paradox of sorts – is that science grows fastest at its fringes, but it’s also at the fringes that it is most uncertain and unable to reach concrete conclusions. That is where philosophy steps in. You can think of philosophy as a kind of stand-in that’s exploring the farthest reaches of scientific thinking while science is maturing and retooling itself to understand the nature of reality. Tyson, Hawking, Krauss, and in fact all of us, are philosophers in that respect, and we should all feel the wiser for it.

Ashutosh Jogalekar About the Author: Ashutosh (Ash) Jogalekar is a chemist interested in the history and philosophy of science. He considers science to be a seamless and all-encompassing part of the human experience. Follow on Twitter @curiouswavefn.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. SJCrum 6:50 pm 06/23/2014

    This is a funny topic, and that because philosophy is based entirely on thinking, and the ability to analyze everything.

    The funny part is that scientists, who think they are totally astounding as far as ultra-superior accomplishments in science, are totally clueless about a zillion percent of what they think they know.

    And, the real THINKERS have far more ability to understand everything that is right under the noses of all of the physiticians.

    In real science truth, the fantasticness that is really great is that every single thing that even the philosophers describe can, in fact, be described by mathematics and all of the science that is involved in everything they do. With that, the philosophers can also be proven by all of the math and science to be dead-on right. Darn if that ain’t gonna’ bite the tushes of the physicicians.

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  2. 2. M Tucker 7:21 pm 06/23/2014

    Sean Carroll really embraces philosophy and philosophical discussions while Krauss and Tyson do not. That is OK as far as I am concerned but it is the knee-jerk negative reaction that puts me off. You can’t ignore philosophy completely. You can choose not to discuss it but that does not make it go away. After all the scientific method is a philosophy of science.

    Sean Carroll recently said “…if the universe began to exist there must be a transcendent cause; I [Carroll] said that everyday notions of causation don’t apply to the beginning of the universe and explained why they might apply approximately inside the universe but not to it”

    I find that fascinating. I have not been able to find his explanation but I have found what amounts to basically negative critiques of naturalism (the philosophy espoused by Carroll). I think it is worthy of a standalone post and not a video. I would rather savor the words.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a written debate between Kurt Gödel and Sean Carroll?

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  3. 3. Roger846 11:48 pm 06/23/2014

    I basically agree with the idea that “philosophy begins where physics ends, and physics begins where philosophy ends”, but I don’t consider the dividing point between them to be a sharp interface. I consider the philosophy-physics spectrum to be smooth and continuous. Briefly:

    1. If metaphysics (philosophy) is the study of being and existence, and the universe “be”s and exists, and physics is the study of the existent universe, then the laws of physics should be ultimately derivable from the foundations of metaphysics. This also means that so-called metaphysical constructs used to model existence are actually physically existent things but thought of in more of a metaphysical way. I think faster progress towards a deeper understanding of the universe will use this type of thinking that I sometimes call philosophical engineering.

    2. Given enough progress in metaphysical modeling of existence, such a model should eventually be able to make testable predictions about observable things. And, just as always, the scientific method should apply to this type of work.

    3. Both philosophers and physicists do thought experiments. Thought experiments are still experiments in that they’re manipulating a starting system to find out more about how that system works. It seems not many philosophers, physicists or mathematicians use good experimental technique (avoiding experimental artifacts, doing controls) in doing thought experiments. So, they’re alike, unfortunately, in this way as well.

    Thanks.

    Roger

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  4. 4. Francis Higgins 4:55 am 06/24/2014

    The two are inseparable.

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  5. 5. bwinwnbwi 8:40 am 06/24/2014

    “My take on philosophy and physics is very simple: Philosophy begins where physics ends, and physics begins where philosophy ends. And I believe this applies to all of science.”—Sean Carroll

    Here’s why I agree with Sean Carroll: Evolution is not just associated with biology; it is associated also with structure. Our aesthetic experience (sensory/emotional) and our theoretic experience (language, number, logic, identity) are implied in the b~b~bb structure (b~b/aesthetic experience and ~bb/theoretic experience).

    This center of functional activity, i.e., the ~bb structure, is the source of the symbol-generating movement of free thought that emancipates language, myth, science, and morality, etc.. In the absence of this center of functional activity, “thinking” is restricted to the manipulation of signs—mere sensual indicators, minus the symbols that carry the significance of those same indicators. In other words, in the absence of this center of functional activity, language becomes severely limited, if not impossible.

    That which connects/embeds everything to everything else—first through the history of universe/Earth (~~b), second through the liberation of life/consciousness (~bb), and third through the liberation of the participatory moment of a conscious self (b~b~bb), bridges the gap that separates science from philosophy. For more http://bwinwnbwi2.wordpress.com/

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  6. 6. GLSheridan 10:34 am 06/24/2014

    We don’t really know the true nature of reality. The facts we discover may help us eventually to find out who and what we really are. Isn’t that what philosophy and science both do?

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  7. 7. B1itsjustme 6:02 pm 06/24/2014

    Feynman would roll if he saw Philosopher next to his name in the photo caption.

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  8. 8. milnik 6:21 am 06/25/2014

    In this discussion should be, first, to know what is and what is the philosophy of physics and which one is closer to consciousness and the laws of nature.
    Philosophy is a way determine and defining a concept and appearance of the multitude of variants that are drawn from a variety of knowledge, experience and memory and they never get a confirmation on the final definition. Physics is a science that is based on the fact that you know the natural laws by which all acts which are formed from matter and energy of various types and shapes. Philosophy can enter in the field of spiritual entities of the universe and of man, while the physics that one is prohibited, as a spiritual entity considered in physics, as well as contaminating agent or some kind of drug. If philosophy is to be determined, it will make you begin to study physics and spiritual entity, because there are “stored” all knowledge and able to physics which can occur due to limited effect. Because sentence Feynman: Philosophy of begins where physics ends, and physics begins where philosophy ends. This is like looking for answers: What is the older, the chicken or the egg? Physics confirms the truth, and the philosophy behind her trail.

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  9. 9. MarekKZ 8:30 am 06/25/2014

    Calling Richard Feynman a “philosopher” is rather like baptizing people long dead – to show that he ‘belongs to our clan’. Some people call themselves philosophers, some not – if they use scientific knowledge to present ideas of their own, and do not distort the science, it really does not matter whether it is Francis Crick in “Astonishing Hypothesis” or Daniel C. Dennett in “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”.

    The statement “Philosophy begins where physics ends, and physics begins where philosophy ends”, if analyzed in Dick Feynman style, would mean simply: when we know what are we talking about, it is physics, when we do not, it is philosophy. Philosophy cannot claim knowledge – if we know that the earth revolves around sun, it is not philosophy. So what is it? Perhaps speculation? But scientists speculate all the time: “It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.” Speculation is part of the scientists’ toolbox. So where does it leave philosophy? “Scientific method”, whatever it means, is either true (i.e. it can be shown, that science is done such way), or not. If it is true, it is science, if it is not, it better be forgotten – left to the annals of science historians. We can learn much better how is science done from sparse remarks of Feynman than from volumes of science philosophers.

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  10. 10. SAULT18 12:18 pm 06/25/2014

    Philosophy was just a struggle to find truth before we had the tools or understanding to do so. Natural Philosophy arose out of this field and we have come to realize a fairly good understanding of the questions philosophers waxed on and on about in their own unique way. Philosophers still poke around in the areas we haven’t quite nailed down yet as far as scientific answers are concerned, but they have experienced the same “god of the gaps” that religious philosophers have had to struggle with. “I think, therefore I am” became “my neurons fire due to complex chemical reactions, giving me awareness and consciousness”. “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” became “The precursor to the first chicken laid the first chicken egg and it all went on from there”. And so on.

    Struggling to find truth when you don’t have enough facts to make a definitive call can be channeled into useful speculation that drives scientific progress. Conversely, getting wrapped up in (currently) unanswerable questions can also be a total waste of time like Tyson said. And on the cynical side of things, there is also a level of job security for the small number of philosophers that ask questions that cannot be answered and get people talking about seemingly mind-blowing yet utterly useless ways of thinking about our existence. (This is my own personal corrolary to Occam’s razor that I call “Sault’s Wallet” – all things being equal, following the money will tend to lead you to the proper conclusion.)

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  11. 11. docbloc 3:22 pm 06/25/2014

    Finite beings cannot encompass the infinite. We can in that endeavor employ principles governing all activities and operations. There are seven such hermetic principles: Mentalism, Correspondence, Polarity, Vibration, Gender, Rhythm and Cause and Effect.
    When does one stop taking data? A wavelength cannot be measured unless you know its period. We do not have the time to wait that long.
    We cannot handle an infinite bandwidth of frequencies.
    Separation is a tool to help us make some sense out of the infinite. Physics and Philosophy are one. The title Doctor of Philosophy in Physics acknowledges that.

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  12. 12. SJCrum 5:25 pm 06/25/2014

    M Tucker – You mentioned a quotation that included the thought in it “that the (physical) universe needed to have a cause” associated with its existence. It was roughly in that ball park anyway.

    The point is that there was an ultra-enormous type of cause that was totally involved with its beginning.

    The first point related to this situation is that ALL OF THE MATTER (ATOMS ENTIRELY) were made by an enormously difficult process of making all of the atoms in the universe by using nothing but ENERGY. And, there isn’t even a dribble of real solidity in even one itty bitty single atom at all. At the smallest “particle-like” size, the components that are used to make all protons and electrons are nothing more than sub-microscopic energy balls, and each of those having a positive or negative magnetic charge.

    And, that is real science and undeniably able to be totally proven as science fact.

    The point is that this energy type of solid matter is totally impossible to evolve, and quite frankly, it was God who had the intelligence to create the process that makes all matter.

    In the very beginning, and before even an atom of the universe was made, there wasn’t anything that was like solid matter at all. Even angels had another type of existence that wasn’t solid at all. But, even that took five million years for god to even make their body types.

    As for the real CAUSE of the solid matter world that exists now, every single itty bitty atom of it came into existence because of one tremendously Wow! item. And, there were almost ten million years of dreaming of this item continually that gave all of the incentive to, someday, have enormously fantastic success.

    Lovely females. And, I am not kidding even in the slightest of slightests. As for that, the incredibly beautiful loveliness of females that have existed on this planet from the very beginning until now, are totally impossible to have them evolved, and were, instead, every luscious inch of them, totally designed.

    Concerning that also, all females on this planet are just about to be transferred from this world by God, and to a world that is near Orion’s Belt stars. The planet is actually six star diameters to the upper-left of the left-most star. And, even the word “paradise” isn’t even close to being good enough to describe it.

    More than that is that every single female will be twenty-six forever, and also be physically more beautiful than any female has ever been on earth here. They will also be equally beautiful as well.

    There is a whole lot more, but, in the end, the item of whether, or not, there was a cause to all of the universe’s atoms, there certainly, without any doubt at all, was. And, all of them were it TOTALLY.

    By the way also, even the bunny rabbits, and all animals and pets from this world will be TOTALLY in love there, and forever.

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  13. 13. SJCrum 5:34 pm 06/25/2014

    Roger846 – Concerning your topic of the relationship between psychology and physics, the real truth is that the philosophical dreaming and thinking that occurred roughly ten million years ago, was what caused the solid world that physics describes to even be invented and even then made into reality.

    The point is it’s like the chicken or the egg that came first. By the way, it was the fluffy, and squawking, chicken. In the end, it was philosophy and a whole lot of dreaming that came way before the newly-created science of physics.

    So, that was the real beginnings and ends involved.

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  14. 14. SJCrum 5:57 pm 06/25/2014

    GL Sheridan – As for the topic of our knowing “who”, and “what”, we are, that is so simple that it’s almost ridiculously so. For a female, they are ultra-fantastically Wow!

    But, in getting back to the main topic of “who” we are, that is simply that God made His own soul by using three soul parts that are, the emotional part that we have as one, a second of being able to think and reason, and a third that has strong feelings about surviving.

    The way He then made all positive souls is that He increased his own soul by one soul-amount, and after doing so He separated it from himself to give every one of them an individual life. For females, He made the emotional part greater, and for males they had the stronger feelings about surviving greater.

    So, that is “who” everyone is, and the souls are a type of energy.

    As for “what” we are? Duh-uh to me, because that is, duh-uh, the same. Who woulda’ guessed, huh?

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  15. 15. SJCrum 6:10 pm 06/25/2014

    SAULT18 – Concerning your comment about “god of the gaps”, isn’t it a “darn if this ain’t gonna’ burn your panties off” type of a thing for you here.

    Now, gee whiz, why would that be? Well, the first item that is going to end up being far slicker than any greased snot would ever be, is that I can write enough to fill a Britannica sixteen times over in filling in all of the gaps that are so theorized.

    So, if you would care to just suggest an itty bitty one, or a zillion, go for it.

    As for what real philosophy is all about, it is simply having the intelligence and eagerness to find out how every single thing in existence totally WORKS.

    And, science is totally about how all of that total existence factually came into existence, and then how every bit of that factually works also.

    And, as someone said here earlier, they are factually equal.

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  16. 16. SJCrum 6:12 pm 06/25/2014

    DocBlok -

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  17. 17. SJCrum 6:25 pm 06/25/2014

    Docbloc – Concerning your comment about the “finite not being able to understand the infinite”, and that suggesting that the infinite is way too complex to understand because it is something like infinity, the truth is that every single thing that exists can factually be totally understood, and perfectly.

    And, the God of Creation who factually does exist, and undeniably of course, and provable as such, has the ability to describe every single thing of science, and every detail of how it ALL works.

    The point is that God invented every single thing of existence, and He factually knows every single detail of EVERYTHING.

    So, I am sorry to ring your bell a bit, but there isn’t a single thing that He cannot answer, and answer TOTALLY. Also in a way that is as easy as store-bought pie to make.

    Just ask any ol’ question in the world and then see exactly just how much, or not, that He knows. Go for it.

    Now, was that naughty, or what? Don’t worry, earth won’t crack right down the middle with this. It’s just a few itty bitty above-world class science items that might at first be totally impossible to describe. (hee, hee)

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  18. 18. lesizz 6:28 pm 06/25/2014

    Physicists are scientists with a particular specialty. I suppose it’s due to the nature of their specialty that they get into these entanglements with philosophers, where scientists of other specialties are not so prone.

    Science is process. Climate change deniers who use the tern “junk science” show their ignorance of just what science is. If what’s going on isn’t the process, it ain’t science. “Junk science”, if anything, would refer to the science of junk, like what you’d find in a junk yard; old discarded refrigerators, etc.

    From an Anthropological perspective, science is a system of magic, the system of magic most predominant in industrial society; a system with its specific method.

    So this battle is between practitioners of philosophy and practitioners of magic. I’m not sure that there is so much of a divide between what they practice.

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  19. 19. curiouswavefunction 7:42 pm 06/25/2014

    Crum: Please take your creationist and weird sexist comments elsewhere. This is a place for discussing science.

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  20. 20. Bread8 8:20 pm 06/25/2014

    This is a place for discussing science.

    … and philosophy.

    And better for it by doing so.

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  21. 21. Marwell 10:25 pm 06/25/2014

    “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” is equivalent to asking “What came first, those cells or this cell?” which can be narrowed down to “What came first, this cell or that cell?”

    To answer these questions (if backwards) is not a serious problem in biology once required knowledge and understanding of life and evolution had been established. In philosophy though, this riddle stands redoubtable and tall, unvanquished.

    That’s why philosophy is dopey. It doesn’t ask the right questions, or it doesn’t ask the right questions the right way, or it is not interested in answers.

    When it does all three, and more, it is no longer philosophy, it is science.

    We traipse between the two, and when there, philosophizing can point us in a good direction. But by itself it is fruitless. Domain of vainglorious stupor. The good news is that it is not dead and will not die; we’ll keep it well and live. There will always be use for it.

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  22. 22. DrKrishnaKumariChalla 11:11 pm 06/25/2014

    In the article ” 10 Scientific Ideas That Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing” Astrophysicist Dave Goldberg says: The idea that has been misinterpreted even more perniciously than “theory” is about Quantum Uncertainty and Quantum Weirdness. It’s when people appropriate concepts from physics for new agey or spiritual purposes. This misconception is an exploitation of quantum mechanics by a certain breed spiritualists and self-helpers, and epitomized by the abomination, [the movie] What the Bleep Do We Know? Quantum mechanics, famously, has measurement at its core. An observer measuring position or momentum or energy causes the “wavefunction to collapse,” non-deterministically. (Indeed, I did one of my first columns on “How smart do you need to collapse a wavefunction?”) But just because the universe isn’t deterministic doesn’t mean that you are the one controlling it. It is remarkable (and frankly, alarming) the degree to which quantum uncertainty and quantum weirdness get inextricably bound up in certain circles with the idea of a soul, or humans controlling the universe, or some other pseudoscience. In the end, we are made of quantum particles (protons, neutrons, electrons) and are part of the quantum universe. That is cool, of course, but only in the sense that all of physics is cool.
    http://io9.com/10-scientific-ideas-that-scientists-wish-you-would-stop-1591309822
    It would be better if we as people of science stop thinking in a philosophical way and start thinking about real Physics.

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  23. 23. Doctorbabaguy 10:57 am 06/26/2014

    This issue has been debated many times before. Perhaps the best take so far was by Bertrand Russell (see “The Problems of Philosophy” http://skepdic.com/russell.html: “Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.”

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  24. 24. Zeitgeist64 8:28 am 06/27/2014

    Philosophy ( based on abstract thought process ) and science ( based on experimental observations ) have been fused together by Einstein’s famous thought experiments .

    The language of modern science is mathematics . Isn’t maths the product of pure abstract reasoning ?

    As per quantum science , the most accurate science so far, the intention of the observer plays an equally important component of any concrete observation as what is the “observed” itself , perhaps turning all observations in science subjective . This means the observer must first have to think of and arrive at a conclusion on what he wants to observe ,before even setting up his ” process of observation” . The entire set up all scientific experiments and observations is therefore first based on thought process , ergo philosophy .

    That space- time is a continuum and its the natural warping in space that make the motion of planets the way they move around the more massive object , the Sun, was Einstein’s philosophy because Nature do not believe in force , even if it were “forces of attraction” ( gravity as conceived by Newton ). He designed experiments for the benefit of experimental scientists to prove it to the experimentally too. I mean , experimental scientists were following the foot steps of philosophy.

    Philosophy and experimental science are actually braided together like electromagnetism , in which both electricity and magnetism are intricately interwoven . There need not be any conflict between them .

    Fringe science is always thought processes ie philosophy . Philosophy is that “gleam in the eyes” of the loving father when he looks at the lovely mother before producing the loving and lovely offspring .

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  25. 25. Gene86 12:08 pm 06/27/2014

    At age 85 I looked at my college diploma. It said ” Batchelor of arts with a major in physics. “. When I was young I told everyone I was a physicist, that I had a degree in physics. In my dotage I finally realize my degree is a Liberal Arts degree, which makes me a philosopher !
    In my mind they both are searching for answers to the same questions, one using logic, the other mathematics. The philosopher poses the question, the physicist attempts to answer it conclusively. In reality, the physicist can’t search for an answer until a question is posed and often he/she is the seeker !
    I now realize I was never a true physicist ( poor math) , but a closet philosopher. Of course I’m not telling my ex-employers that. I’ve outlived most of them anyhow !

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  26. 26. darkspace 3:37 pm 06/27/2014

    The reason physicist say that philosophy is dead is that they are now the philosophers and resent anyone else not well versed in their particular model from claiming that status. Imagine If I had designed a machine with 90% of its gears misaligned, on being confronted with the problem I simply respond that the gears really are in alignment, they have “dark design” powered by “dark Function”. If the accepted model has to be taken on 90% faith its philosophy not science, in fact it does not even rate philosophy, at that point it becomes religion, even the bible is at least 10% true. Physicists have abandoned science in favor of mathematical mysticism and arrived at a place so close to Plato’s definition of a philosopher it would be uncomfortable for them to admit, the true philosopher sees the truth directly without lowering themselves to observation or experiment. Math can support any concept at all including astrology numerology and alchemy which only by slow degrees became astronomy quantum mechanics and chemistry through experiment and observation. Physics is now imbued with social perks of all kinds, this has corrupted physics, a careerist can not afford to be wrong which is the surest way to ensure that no one is free to challenge dogma, Physicists have no right to confidently assert a model based on the evidence they claim they will find later, that is not how science works,its not even how a court trial works, but it IS how philosophy works

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  27. 27. Aiya-Oba 3:44 pm 06/27/2014

    Natural philosophy is theoretical physics not sophistry. Aiya-Oba (Philosopher and discoverer of Nature’s absolute logic, equator of self-contradiction, eternal oneness of pairness, the All in all (Cosmos).

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  28. 28. evelyn haskins 8:07 pm 06/27/2014

    “Philosophy” is “mental” self-pleasuring.

    Unless the “philosopher” knows some facts to back up his philosophising, it is all about as useful as descriptions of his dreams.
    To say, as the philosophers do to try to justify their “discipline”, that philosophy teaches reasoning, is silly.

    To reason, one must have knowledge — one doesn’t expect historians to just sit in their armchairs and spout historical musing — they go to primary references. We don’t need ‘philosophy’ to teach logic.

    Then obscure terms to make oneself sound erudite, is not valid. And writing a whole chapter to say what could be said in plain English is one sentence, is
    very false reasoning. Esoterics are not the same as wisdom, understanding or knowledge.

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  29. 29. evelyn haskins 8:10 pm 06/27/2014

    This reminds me of the fashion that came into science a couple of decades ago to “carry out” “thought experiments” :-(

    That of course is nothing more nor less than ‘philosophy’. It only becomes “science” when a hypothesis that can be tested is devised.

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  30. 30. Patrice Ayme 12:12 am 06/28/2014

    There is a scientific method. It consists in using facts of absolute certainty and significance to establish reality.

    Philosophy also tries to establish reality, but uses all and any facts, including unique, ephemeral facts, and facts that are only suspected or imaginable.

    To ascertain certainty, physicists always have to approach the subject modulo the philosophical method.

    Thus the physicists who claim they use no philosophy are just saying their activity is devoid of significant mental creativity.

    Feynman was rewarded for his efforts: his son majored in philosophy. In person, Feynman was open to drastically new approaches in the foundations of physics. So his utterances in writing were directed to some types of modern philosophers who made no sense (and still do not). He was actually a philosopher, and even used philosophical like arguments in his famous Lectures.

    Link to this
  31. 31. Mr. Science 10:32 am 06/28/2014

    Both are useful, but differently. Science questions the answers while philosophy questions the questioning.

    Link to this
  32. 32. GregRobert 5:38 pm 07/2/2014

    I get the impression that almost everyone here fancies themselves to be philosphers. There’s a lot of misunderstandings here. Like the idea that there is actually a thing called proof

    Neither of them ever proves anything. The word is no longer operational.

    Render unto … Well, you know the rest.

    Link to this
  33. 33. HansVanLeunen 12:22 pm 07/5/2014

    Since the introduction of the wave function in the early decades of the twentieth century physicists have based most of their tools on this smooth descriptor of something that might have a fine grain stochastic structure and a corresponding fine grain behavior. This includes the density operator/matrix methodology that is gaining popularity in the last decades. With other words physicist look with a blurred view on something that may contain the secrets of the origin of what they are analyzing. Working with smooth descriptors has many advantages. It opens the very flexible mathematical toolkit that is based on Lie groups and Lie algebras. This fact has formatted the equations that quantum physicists tend to use. Still this whole technology hides what might exist underneath the wave function. A whole wonderland is waiting there for being discovered.
    The problem with this wonderland is that its fine structure and its fine grain behavior cannot be observed. Only the smoothed structure and the averaged effects of the fine grain behavior become noticeable. Any daring discoverer is hampered by the fact that most physicists do not allow statements and theories that cannot be verified by observations or by accurate and repeatable experiments.
    Only philosophers are allowed to enter this wonderland and generate completely deduced models that describe this non-explored terrain.

    See: http://www.e-physics.eu/WhatIsUnderneathTheWavefunction.pdf

    Link to this
  34. 34. hkraznodar 5:48 pm 07/7/2014

    @Ashutosh: Doesn’t the blog software offer the ability to remove discussion posts? I’d swear I’ve seen blog discussions purged of stupidity before.

    Link to this
  35. 35. PlainLanguageS 2:51 pm 09/14/2014

    While the article doesn’t clearly spell out why philosophy and science are not about the same kind of thing – philosophy being about the conditions that must be satisfied so that what is scientifically apparent can become apparent in just the way it appears — it makes an important observation that our popular science apologists (Dawkins et al) are telling us a rather one-sided story about what science is, does and knows.

    This is especially important today because after over a century of scientists’ and philosophers’ continuous failure to articulate a demarcation line between science and non-science, we are starting to understand much more clearly that there was never a possibility of such a demarcation line.

    Meaning that scientific discovery is so complex and so enfolded into the process of life as a whole that it cannot be abstracted away from it and set up as some kind of pinnacle of human understanding, a final means to discovering the truth of the universe.

    More on this here: http://plainlanguagescience.ca/2014/09/14/what-science-knows/

    Link to this
  36. 36. crecraft 8:06 am 09/18/2014

    I strongly endorse the plainlanguagescience article on Knowledge versus Reality. The wave function is Knowledge. In isolation Knowledge is static. But Reality is not. This is the source of irreversibility and indeterminism.

    http://www.evolvingcomplexity.com describes a minimalist interpretation, Dissipative Dynamics. It is based on a no-nonsense conceptual foundation, sound and clearly articulated premises, and logical deduction. It provides an objective interpretation of quantum dynamics that encompasses Quantum Bayesiansim (QBism); restores classical definiteness; embraces irreversible and indeterminate change; and provides a foundation for a true physical Law of Evolution that operates across a full spectrum of system types and scales.

    Link to this

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