Monthly Archives: August 2012

My Journey from Physics to the History and Philosophy of Science (a.k.a. HPS)

Recently, at a reception for the incoming grad students of IU Bloomington’s HPS Department, I was faced with a question, but it was a more specific question than had previously been posed to me.  Typically, I am asked, “How did you move from physics into philosophy of physics?”  The question my host, Dr. Sandy Gliboff asked me, with the hint of a smirk and a sense of humor, “What made you decide to go into HPS, rather than be a real scientist?”  I gave him my answer to the former question, which I will give presently; but I did not give him the answer to his question.  Given that so many people ask so regularly, and given that there are so few physicists that go into philosophy, I will take this time to answer publically; and so I begin with the answer to the former. Continue reading

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Filed under Personal

A Problem with Popular Physics/Science Books: The Problem of Authorship

It should be common knowledge that it isn’t wise to accept, without air of caution, someone’s opinion on a matter as absolute fact, if that person is not an expert in the given field.  Consider popular physics, for the moment.  What field is it that a physicist (or, as will be the case in the blog post, a mathematician) is expert of?  That’s one question.  Another is: What does the composition of works in popular physics entail?  If the answer to the former is not the answer to the latter, then there is something wrong.  I believe something is. Continue reading


Filed under Literature, Philosophy, Philosophy of Physics, Philosophy of Science, Physics, Popular Science

The Impossibility of Precisely Measuring Positions of Particles in Quantum Physics

I am not going to go too hard on him, James S. Trefil, because he is such a fine author and I enjoy his work; but I must address an error that this physicist makes in one of his books, From Atoms to Quarks: An Introduction to the Strange World of Particle Physics (1980).  (See my review of the book by clicking on this sentence.)  I have chosen Trefil’s error for discussion, because he is a fine physicist, which makes for a good mark in proving a point, namely, that physics needs philosophy of physics to mind a number of problems that are not central to advancement of the science.  These problems include the kind of conceptual one that will be mentioned —one that I hope other physicists do not err on— and conceptual problems in foundations, metaphysics, and so forth. Continue reading

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Filed under Philosophy, Philosophy of Physics, Physics, Popular Science