I get questions regularly about the bizarre nature of contemporary physics. I am sure practicing physicists with PhDs get these more regularly than I, yet I occupy an interesting and rare position in the academic disciplinary landscape: I’ve studied science, particularly physics, into the graduate level, and I am actively developing my expertise in the history and philosophy of science, particularly physics, as well as being a lifelong student of more traditional philosophy (e.g., analytic, contemporary, and Eastern). The question most regularly asked of late has been: What are physicists talking about with all of this “non-verifiable” theory; it sounds like philosophy? By this, they mean the fact that there is this apparent post-empirical turn, and the lack of requirement of empirical data to substantiate proposed theory. I’d like to spend some length explaining my thoughts on this, including a suggestion to all practicing scientists, regardless of discipline.
Category Archives: Popular Science
Serendipity often leads to some of our most fruitful realizations, creative ideas, and understanding —and are even responsible for our most citation-worthy bits of supporting information. Such is the case to be discussed here. It so happened that, just after writing the blog in response to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s ignorant position on philosophy, I read Richard P. Feynman’s The Character of Physical Law to unwind. The Nobel laureate was always notoriously, even devilishly, anti-philosophy. Continue reading
Neil deGrasse Tyson and Philosophy: The Voice and Never-Was of Science Insults the Foundation of All Intellectual Thought
The primary problem with putting anyone on any kind of pedestal is that the positioning in the spotlight contains quite a bit of power, power that can be misused or abused. Anyone possessing the spokespersonship of a particular academic discipline, in promoting their discipline, as a rule, should never knock other disciplines. Rather unfortunately, Neil deGrasse Tyson occupies one such position as a science advisor to the government and a science popular, and he has also misused (abused?) his position by knocking another discipline, philosophy. During a podcast that featured his presence, he spoke condescendingly of philosophy, spoke of its uselessness, and pointed out that it can ‘mess you up,’ presumably, meaning to say that philosophy can adversely affect the general mode of one’s thinking. (For the complete podcast, click on this sentence.) The objective in this blog is to address some of what Tyson has said, and hence partly a work of philosophy apologetics to a certain extent, but I also want to besmudge his reputation a bit, as he is in serious need of deflating —and I think the reader will find that very little needs to be done to each either of these ends, just a bit of thought.
There was a very nice turnout at Duquesne University’s 7th Annual graduate conference in philosophy (themed “Nomos and Physis”). A big thanks goes to the Duquesne Department of philosophy and Matt Lovett for running such a well-organized event. The spread of papers presented was diverse array of subtopics: Phenomenology and Nature; Nature In Itself, Nature for Us; Nature in Ancient Philosophy; Contemporary Ontologies and Nature. The general sentiment around the room seemed to be that the questions, discussion, and commentary was productive. Probably the most fascinating element of the conference —I know not if it was by design or happenstance— was that the papers reflected holistic approaches to philosophical considerations pertaining to Nature. Continue reading
This is a paper I am preparing for a graduate conference at Duquesne, whose theme is “physis and nomos.” The paper is to be sent in on December 1, 2012, so any comments before then are especially welcome, but comments afterword are also welcome.
Click here for pdf of the paper: A “MEILLASSOUXIAN” APPROACH TO KANT’S FIRST ANTINOMY OF PURE REASON AND THE BIG BANG
The intention of this post is plural: to illustrate how patently unqualified Lawrence M. Krauss is to make any kind of philosophical statement; to convince the reader of how bad his book, The Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing, is; and to provide a moral about what happens when someone’s thought is so ideologically driven that the individual becomes set at all costs to demonstrate a particular result, even if it means affirming the consequent. Having now read the book, my opinion has changed of Krauss (see my related post), and I can say that I no longer have any sympathy for him. Perhaps the most interesting point about my take on the book is that I actually agree with what he is arguing for, so much so that I am preparing a paper for a graduate conference on just this topic: the universe from nothing. Therefore, it should be clear from the outset that there is certainly no clash in ultimate beliefs between us. Continue reading
In my more ignorant days, that is, my early days as an undergraduate student of physics, I would say that string theory doesn’t deserve to be funded. In fact, I would have said it wasn’t really physics, or at least that nobody have proved that string theory was physics to me. That has changed. No, my actual view of string theory vis-à-vis physics has not changed; but what has, is my view of the relationship between all of the human endeavors to understand the world, or, more broadly, “what is the case” —even what might be the case. This change has come about as a direct result of my studies of philosophy and, really, my understanding of how the human condition, in its healthiest state, is heavily embedded in the process called the “liberal arts.” Continue reading
In her opinion article “Physicists Versus Philosophers” (in The Philosophers Magazine Issue 58, 3rd Quarter 2012), Ophelia Benson presents a short, but interesting, account of friction between philosophers and physicists. I was a bit bothered by a number of elements presented in the article, and provoked to sympathy for the physicists, by way of reflection. “Sympathy,” not because I side with the comments of physicists, like “‘The only people, as far as I can tell, that read works by philosophers of science are other philosophers of science’”; but because of all of the changes in tides and shifts in power away from physics. It really is a tumultuous time in academia. Take a second to consider it. Many (maybe most?) scientists and philosophers no longer believe in ontological reduction down to the level of physics. Continue reading
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
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