• CallMeDirac
    21
    We see more and more that science, mainly physics, has strayed into the realm of philosophy and though experiments. Seeing this what is your opinion on the subject? Do you believe science has become no longer the study of the world as it is, but as it may be? or do you see science as simply the persuit of knowledge no matter the form?
  • magritte
    145
    Not physics, but the physicists. They're as big know-at-alls as we are here at TPF. I don't even see any physicists with a glimmer of understanding of the philosophy of their own field.
  • SophistiCat
    1.5k
    We see more and more that science, mainly physics, has strayed into the realm of philosophy and though experimentsCallMeDirac

    There was never a firm partition between science and philosophy. As academic disciplines they only became distinct relatively recently. Natural science used to be called Natural Philosophy (hence Ph.D.), and this nomenclature was a true reflection of the state of scholarship, which knew no boundaries between what we today call "science" and "philosophy."

    Nowadays scholarship, like most professional pursuits, is much more specialized. But the reason most scientists don't have to give philosophy much thought, if they don't feel so inclined, is that the theoretical groundwork has already been laid down before them, frameworks have been built, and they can now do productive work within those frameworks, only occasionally doing some maintenance and expansion that does not call for much philosophizing.

    But even today's academic boundaries are porous, and at the forefront of theoretical science it is often hard to make a distinction between science and philosophy. And that is how it should be.

    I don't even see any physicists with a glimmer of understanding of the philosophy of their own field.magritte

    What do you mean? No doubt, the share of all physicists who are knowledgeable about the philosophy of physics (as an academic field) is quite small. But that is to be expected, and the same can be said about every other field outside of philosophy itself. But surely you must know that there are some physicists who are, at the very least, interested in philosophy, and some are actually knowledgeable enough to participate in the academic process. If you had even a casual interest in the philosophy of science, you would have encountered such examples by now. Certainly on the other side of the fence, philosophers of physics nowadays usually have at least some physics background, all the way to postgraduate degrees.
  • tim wood
    5.6k
    Just for the heck of it, what do you suppose a philosophy of physics is? What does it look like? How does the thinking of a physicist differ from the thinking of a philosopher of physics? Can there even be such a thing?
  • CallMeDirac
    21


    The original name oh physics was Natural Philosophy, so I would say they are linked.
  • magritte
    145
    As an aside just for comparison, it might be noted that mathematicians, while not particularly involved with philosophy since it seldom interacts with their mathematical efforts, are more aware of ancient beginnings and connections of mathematics.

    I propose some tentative suggestions for thinking about the issue
      1. Ought there be a philosophy of physics?
      2. Is there a reasonable philosophy already, beyond that childish spiral diagram of 'the scientific method'?
      3. Would a philosophy of physics be of any use and does that matter?
      4. Can such philosophy be formulated without concern with what physics is actually doing and how that is progressing?
      5. Shouldn't the philosophy of theoretical physics be different from that of the observational side?

    One serious concern is that science makes steady and at times sudden progress. Most philosophy is still keyed on obsolete static categorization or Newtonian physics. How can we track that movement with our theories?
  • SophistiCat
    1.5k
    Just for the heck of it, what do you suppose a philosophy of physics is? What does it look like? How does the thinking of a physicist differ from the thinking of a philosopher of physics? Can there even be such a thing?tim wood

    Did Google ban your or something?
  • Jack Cummins
    486

    I think that many people view science as the supreme expert on truth, forgetting that the models in physics and other sciences are models primarily.

    I do believe that the physicist Fritjof Capra is the one scientist who engages most with the issues of philosophy, especially with the boundaries between the sciences and the humanities, in 'The Turning Point'. His book' The Tao of Physics' also makes important links with the philosophy of religion.Also, I think that the ideas of Stephen Hawking are important for philosophy.

    Perhaps the artistry of the philosophers can enable science to be seen as important but without relegating all other truths to the rubbish bin.
  • tim wood
    5.6k
    Did you read my post? Here:
    what do you supposetim wood
    The question to @magritte, not to Google. At the moment, as often happens, we're off on a discussion without having any idea what the discussion is actually about. Perhaps you can oblige and give us a starting point. What exactly is - in your view - a philosophy of physics?

    I ask because I am pretty sure that physics and a philosophy of physics cannot be the same thing. I have a pretty good idea what philosophy is and what physics is, but no idea what is here meant by a philosophy of. And unless we find some good starting point at least, philosophy of physics seems to border on the oxymoronic.
  • magritte
    145

    If your question is indeed sincere and you are not just tossing my challenge to physicists back in my face then I have to assume probably wrongly that you are missing some very basic issues of philosophy that I take wrongly for granted.

    The first is that philosophy is a logical enterprise, an application of some pure logic just as mathematics is. Like mathematics or other axiomatic systems, philosophy attempts to stay as simple as possible but not too simple and touches any other ground only as necessary to meet the demands of some arbitrary (strings, tiles, whatever) application domain. There are many possible mathematics and philosophies with the distinction being in their axiomatic choices. Thus, neither mathematics nor philosophy should be thought of or treated as monolithic.

    If any of this makes any sense, then that is the rationale for my answer to question 5. above. Theoretical physics is very different from observational physics. They are totally different games by philosophical standards. Knowing the formula for the flight of the bumblebee says nothing about why I was stung when I stuck my hand in there or how I should whack one.
  • Xtrix
    1.1k
    There was never a firm partition between science and philosophy. As academic disciplines they only became distinct relatively recently. Natural science used to be called Natural Philosophy (hence Ph.D.), and this nomenclature was a true reflection of the state of scholarship, which knew no boundaries between what we today call "science" and "philosophy."SophistiCat

    Very important to keep in mind.
  • SophistiCat
    1.5k
    I ask because I am pretty sure that physics and a philosophy of physics cannot be the same thing. I have a pretty good idea what philosophy is and what physics is, but no idea what is here meant by a philosophy of. And unless we find some good starting point at least, philosophy of physics seems to border on the oxymoronic.tim wood

    So ok, you are clueless. I don't blame you for that: one cannot and doesn't need to know about everything. But if you are interested enough to join the conversation, why can't you make even a tiny effort to learn?

    Here, let me google that for you.

    Want to see some examples? Here.
  • tim wood
    5.6k
    The first is that philosophy is a logical enterprise,magritte
    I disagree. Logic is a tool used by, not the thing itself.

    distinction being in their axiomatic choices.magritte
    A distinction to be made between axioms and presuppositions. In a sense you build with axioms, you build upon presuppositions. These may well be worth thinking about - is that what you comprehend as a philosophy of physics?

    My point is that since a P. or physics is not nor can be physics, it must be something else. It seems you would have it a logic or a math, but if those things, then a P. of physics just is logic or math, and I do not think that is what you mean, if for no other reason than that would make philosophy itself a logic or a math, and philosophy is certainly not either of those.
  • SophistiCat
    1.5k
    The first is that philosophy is a logical enterprise, an application of some pure logic just as mathematics is. Like mathematics or other axiomatic systems, philosophy attempts to stay as simple as possible but not too simple and touches any other ground only as necessary to meet the demands of some arbitrary (strings, tiles, whatever) application domain. There are many possible mathematics and philosophies with the distinction being in their axiomatic choices. Thus, neither mathematics nor philosophy should be thought of or treated as monolithic.

    If any of this makes any sense, then that is the rational for my answer to question 5. above. Theoretical physics is very different from observational physics. They are totally different games by philosophical standards. Knowing the formula for the flight of the bumblebee says nothing about why I was stung when I stuck my hand in there or how I should whack one.
    magritte

    To be honest, I don't recognize either philosophy or physics in your description.
  • tim wood
    5.6k
    Check me to see if I've got it. I ask magritte a question about what is in his mind and you google "philosophy of physics" to find out and then you offer that to me as what magritte is thinking. I surmise you are drinking too much too early and are neither reading nor thinking very clearly.

    Now I will tell you what I think. Physics is about the how of things and the how of the how of things. Sometimes that is expressed as "why?" But the answer to that, for a scientist, always comes back to the how.

    Philosophy is not so much about the how. If it were, it would be a science. What does that leave? It leaves the what and the why. A philosopher of physics is going to be interested in what physicists are thinking and why they're thinking it, and mainly in terms of the history of the thinking that has led to the moment. Probably they will document the axioms in use by the thinkers under consideration. Then perhaps to document their presuppositions, this latter much the more difficult because presuppositions, being presupposed, are usually not apparent.

    So-called interpretative physics, to my way of thinking, is neither physics nor philosophy of physics. Rather it is entertainment. It can contain some physics and philosophy of, but in interpreting it steps away from both and into at best speculation, too much of that being voodoo.
  • magritte
    145

    I think you are taking the problematic nature of the philosophy of physics too lightly. One can discover a thousand competent books and professional quality articles about physics that can be quoted by title, but the contents are either failed attempts to corral the issues or historical rehearsals of failed attempts to understand what is involved.

    I am not sure if there are more than a few serious thinkers who deserve consideration, and they disagree what it is that they should be philosophizing about. Everything else is pulp.
  • Banno
    9.9k
    what do you suppose a philosophy of physics is?tim wood

    Presumably, metaphysics.
  • Todd Martin
    34
    Having read over this discussion a couple times, the most striking thing to me is how the original topic, how physics has encroached on philosophy, was quickly turned into its inverse: “the philosophy of physics”...

    As for myself, I am unaware of physics‘ encroachment on philosophy, and am curious what the originator of this discussion has to offer to inform me on that subject.
  • tim wood
    5.6k
    I think so. But then that leaves one squishy word substituted for a phrase. I know it's against Banno form, but would you like to put a little spine into "metaphysics." (My understanding of the term above.)
  • Banno
    9.9k
    OK: Metaphysics is either trivial or wrong.
  • Wayfarer
    10.4k
    We see more and more that science, mainly physics, has strayed into the realm of philosophyCallMeDirac

    That's because physics has thrown up some of the greatest problems of 21st century philosophy, chief amongst them being the ontological status of the wave function, and other implications of quantum mechanics.

    It had been thought in the 19th and early 20th centuries that science was closing in on a comprehensive description of the nature of the physical world. On Friday, April 27, 1900, the British physicist Lord Kelvin gave a speech entitled "Nineteenth-Century Clouds over the Dynamical Theory of Heat and Light," which began:

    The beauty and clearness of the dynamical theory, which asserts heat and light to be modes of motion, is at present obscured by two clouds.

    Kelvin went on to explain that the "clouds" were two unexplained phenomena, which he portrayed as the final couple of holes that needed to be filled in before having a complete understanding of the thermodynamic and energy properties of the universe, explained in classical terms of the motion of particles. Specifically, they were the inability to detect the luminous ether, through the failure of the Michelson-Morley experiment, and the black body radiation effect—known as the ultraviolet catastrophe. However, it was the consequences of studying those "two clouds" which lead first to relativity and then to quantum theory - which between them completely shattered the realist picture about which Lord Kelvin was so sanguine.

    These discoveries raised huge questions about the fundamental nature of reality - questions which are still not answered to this day, and have lead to ongoing and seemingly unsolvable arguments such as the multiverse conjecture and the many-worlds interpretation of QM.

    See The Most Embarrasing Graph in Modern Physics, Sean Carroll.
  • tim wood
    5.6k
    Eh? The metaphysics of something is itself something or nothing. A metaphysics of physics cannot be physics, because physics has the physics covered. What's left is the thinking about the organized thinking of physicists about physics, which must be about the history and the current thinking of the physicists, what it is, what it comprises. That cannot be wrong, nor is it trivial.
  • Banno
    9.9k
    What's left is the thinking about the organized thinking of physicists about physics...tim wood
    In so far as this stuff is right, it is physics, and hence trivially not metaphysics. In so far as it is metaphysics, it's at best undecidable and at worst nonsense; hence, wrong.
  • Outlander
    769
    Seeing this what is your opinion on the subject?CallMeDirac

    Well, generally speaking one could say, accurately I might add, every benefit science brings also brings a detriment. Sure, we can live longer. Now we're nearing overpopulation. Sure, we can defend ourselves better. Now the entire world can be engulfed in a nuclear holocaust by a mere accident, misfire, or misunderstanding. Sure, we understand how germs work and can now circumvent many. Now they can be weaponized and wipe out all of humanity. Sure, we can entertain ourselves to our heart's content by mobile devices. Now we walk around all day like zombies, hunched over, necks bent staring at our phones all day neglecting to actually speak to one another. It's hard to say if it was all worth it, all things considered.

    Beyond all that however, no scientific law, fact, or understanding came to be without some form of thought experiment. Some person asking themselves "what if...?" - In this respect the two have much in common. Throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the wall and seeing what sticks.
  • tim wood
    5.6k
    Should I read that as there being no such thing as a metaphysics of anything, leaving just metaphysics about nothing?
  • Banno
    9.9k
    Yep.

    Or better, metaphysics can't say anything, can't tell us anything we could actually make use of. If it did it would be physics.
  • Todd Martin
    34
    If any of you can explain how a knowledge of quantum mechanics or general relativity or string theory or quarks, or whatever the post-Einsteinian physicists and mathematicians discovered about the most extreme forms of elementary matter, has any real meaning for philosophy in its highest sense, which I take to mean knowledge of man, his peculiar character and the nature of his life, I would welcome it.

    As it is, all I see here in these discussions are quibbles over pure and groundless reductionisms.

    Man is not a mere atom, especially not one hurling through the universe at the speed of light, nor can he be explained by mathematical formulae; to understand him we must recognize the scientific validity of such very real phenomena as fear and shame, trust and hope, love and hate; haven’t we all experienced these and other similar things, quite peculiar to our species? Aren’t these the things we really want to understand? If we discount them as mere figments, or reduce them to the effects of merely physical or behavioral laws, all we are doing is explaining ourselves in the light we wish to understand them...

    Years ago I had a discussion with my then wife’s father about his infidelity to his own wife: he was a tenured professor at a well-respected university. He explained to me how research into baboon behavior showed that man was a naturally unfaithful creature...as though we could be no better than the beasts...how well such scientific research fit his own agenda!...

    This example, I think, encapsulates all the dangers that a reductionist philosophy of man runs up against, whether influenced by physics, mathematics or animal behavior: man is neither a body in motion, a number in a statistic, nor a baboon cheating on his primary mate.
  • Wayfarer
    10.4k
    If any of you can explain how a knowledge of quantum mechanics or general relativity or string theory or quarks, or whatever the post-Einsteinian physicists and mathematicians discovered about the most extreme forms of elementary matter, has any real meaning for philosophy in its highest sense, which I take to mean knowledge of man, his peculiar character and the nature of his life, I would welcome it.Todd Martin

    Agree with your post; this would be as good a starting point as any. Many of the pioneers of quantum mechanics were Europeans and deeply philosophical in outlook - I’m thinking particularly of Bohr, Heisenberg and Schrodinger - and they have some very interesting philosophical views. But when, post war, the focus of theoretical physics shifted across the Atlantic it became much more concerned with practical applications - ‘shut up and calculate’ - and the presumptive physicalism of American secular culture.
  • CallMeDirac
    21


    Nothing has a pro without a con, we make trades in the hope the good outweighs the bad.
    I agree with the statement, man cannot be quantified under one category unless it is a category all to itself.
  • Banno
    9.9k
    to understand him we must recognize the scientific validity of such very real phenomena as fear and shame, trust and hope, love and hate;Todd Martin

    You want a scientific understanding of fear and shame, but one that is not reductionist...?

    Why not a round square while you're at it.
  • Wayfarer
    10.4k
    I am very astonished that the scientific picture of the real world around me is deficient. It gives a lot of factual information, puts all our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains, but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously. — Erwin Schrodinger, Nature and the Greeks
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