Lustig Andrei
 
  1  
Reply Sat 17 Dec, 2011 08:37 pm
@Lustig Andrei,
I have to apologize and add an erratum to my previous post re: Arthur Koestler. The correct name of the book I'm recommending is The Sleepwalkers. The Watershed is only the middle portion of the larger volume, the portion which deals almost exclusively with Kepler. But if you're interested in the wider picture, particularly Koestler's views on "hard" science as a modern branch of philosophy, not unrelated to the religious impulse, you need to read the "Epilogue" in the larger volume.

Sorry. Thank you.
0 Replies
 
wandeljw
 
  1  
Reply Sun 18 Dec, 2011 08:40 am
The current issue of Philosophy Now magazine has an interesting essay on this subject. Below are excerpts:

Quote:
Hawking contra Philosophy
(Christopher Norris, Philosophy Now, Nov/Dec 2011)

Stephen Hawking recently fluttered the academic dovecotes by writing in his new book The Grand Design – and repeating to an eager company of interviewers and journalists – that philosophy as practised nowadays is a waste of time and philosophers a waste of space. More precisely, he wrote that philosophy is ‘dead’ since it hasn’t kept up with the latest developments in science, especially theoretical physics. In earlier times – Hawking conceded – philosophers not only tried to keep up but sometimes made significant scientific contributions of their own. However they were now, in so far as they had any influence at all, just an obstacle to progress through their endless going-on about the same old issues of truth, knowledge, the problem of induction, and so forth. Had philosophers just paid a bit more attention to the scientific literature they would have gathered that these were no longer live issues for anyone remotely au fait with the latest thinking. Then their options would be either to shut up shop and cease the charade called ‘philosophy of science’ or else to carry on and invite further ridicule for their head-in-the-sand attitude.

*****************************************************************

Professor Hawking has probably been talking to the wrong philosophers, or picked up some wrong ideas about the kinds of discussion that currently go on in philosophy of science. His lofty dismissal of that whole enterprise as a useless, scientifically irrelevant pseudo-discipline fails to reckon with several important facts about the way that science has typically been practised since its early-modern (seventeenth-century) point of departure and, even more, in the wake of twentieth century developments such as quantum mechanics and relativity.

Science has always included a large philosophical component, whether at the level of basic presuppositions concerning evidence, causality, theory-construction, valid inference, hypothesis-testing, and so forth, or at the speculative stage where scientists ignore the guidance offered by well-informed philosophers only at risk of falling into various beguiling fallacies or fictions. Such were those ‘idols of the theatre’ that Bacon warned against in his New Organon of 1620, and such – albeit in a very different philosophic guise – those delusive ideas that, according to Kant, were liable to lead us astray from the path of secure investigation or truth-seeking enquiry. This was sure to happen, he warned, if the exercise of pure (speculative) reason concerning questions outside and beyond the empirical domain were mistakenly supposed to deliver the kind of knowledge that could be achieved only by bringing sensuous intuitions under adequate or answering concepts. While in no way wishing to lumber science with the baggage of Kantian metaphysics I would suggest that this diagnosis, or something like it, applies to a great many of the speculative notions nowadays advanced by theoretical physicists including proponents of string theory (Hawking among them) and some of the more way-out quantum conjectures. These thinkers appear unworried – blithely unfazed, one is tempted to say – by the fact that their theories are incapable of proof or confirmation, or indeed of falsification as required by Karl Popper and his followers. After all, it is the peculiar feature of such theories that they posit the existence of that which at present, and perhaps forever, eludes any form of confirmation by observation or experiment.

***************************************************************

A firmer grasp of these issues as discussed by philosophers during the past few decades might have moderated Hawking’s scorn and also sharpened his critical focus on certain aspects of current theoretical physics. My point is not so much that a strong dose of philosophic realism might have clipped those speculative wings but rather that philosophers are well practised in steering a course through such choppy waters, or in managing to navigate despite all the swirls induced by a confluence of science, metaphysics, and far-out conjecture. After all, physics has increasingly come to rely on just the kind of disciplined speculative thinking that philosophers have typically invented, developed, and then criticised when they overstepped the limits of rationally accountable conjecture. Such are those ‘armchair’ thought-experiments that claim to establish some substantive, i.e., non-trivial thesis concerning the nature of the physical world by means of a rigorous thinking-through that establishes the truth (or, just as often, the demonstrable falsehood) of any statement affirming or denying it.

No doubt there is room to debate whether these are really (and remarkably) instances of scientific discovery achieved through an exercise of a priori reasoning or whether they amount, as sceptics would have it, to a species of disguised tautology. However there are just too many impressive examples in the history of science – from Galileo’s marvellous thought-experiment showing that Aristotle must have been wrong about falling bodies to a number of crucial quantum-related results – for anyone to argue convincingly that results obtained in the ‘laboratory of the mind’ can only impress philosophers keen to defend their patch. Indeed, there is a sense in which the scientific enterprise stands or falls on the validity of counterfactual-conditional reasoning, that is to say, reasoning from what necessarily would be the case should certain conditions obtain or certain hypotheses hold. In its negative guise, this kind of thinking involves reasoning to what would have been the outcome if certain causally or materially relevant factors had not been operative in some given instance. Hawking constantly relies on such philosophical principles in order to present and justify his claims about the current and likely future course of developments in physics. Of course he is very welcome to them but he might do better to acknowledge their source in ways of thinking and protocols of valid argumentation that involve distinctly philosophical as well as scientific grounds.

******************************************************************

No doubt there is a fair amount of ill-informed, obtuse, or ideologically angled philosophy that either refuses or tries but fails to engage with the concerns of present-day science. One can understand Hawking’s impatience – or downright exasperation – with some of the half-baked notions put around by refuseniks and would-be engageniks alike. All the same he would do well to consider the historically attested and nowadays more vital than ever role of philosophy as a critical discipline. It continues to offer the sorts of argument that science requires in order to dispel not only the illusions of na ïve sense-certainty or intuitive self-evidence but also the confusions that speculative thought runs into when decoupled from any restraining appeal to regulative principles such as that of inference to the best explanation. To adapt a quotation by Kant in a different though related context: philosophy of science without scientific input is empty, while science without philosophical guidance is blind. At any rate it is rendered perilously apt to mistake the seductions of pure hypothetical invention for the business of formulating rationally warranted, metaphysically coherent, and – if only in the fullness of time – empirically testable conjectures.
Cyracuz
 
  1  
Reply Sun 18 Dec, 2011 09:25 am
@wandeljw,
There is one thing that might be said about philosophy in relation to the direction physics has taken.
Traditionally, physics has grown out of philosophy. Metaphysics became the foundation on which physics based all it's inquiries. But with the development of quantum physics, which describes a world completely divorced from any metaphysical understanding of reality that we have previously had, the tables were suddenly turned. Where physics used to follow where philosophy led, it is now for philosophy to follow where quantum physics leads. To the reality quantum physics describes, there is no corresponding metaphysical reality.
I don't see Hawking's statement as a dismissal of philosophy, but rather a challenge to philosophy. Quantum physicists who work with understanding reality are still struggling with with metaphysical concepts from our macro-cosmic understanding of reality, and perhaps it is up to philosophers to supply them with a metaphysical language that can enable them to conceptualize their work with more success?
wandeljw
 
  1  
Reply Sun 18 Dec, 2011 09:33 am
@Cyracuz,
Cyracuz wrote:
Quantum physicists who work with understanding reality are still struggling with with metaphysical concepts from our macro-cosmic understanding of reality, and perhaps it is up to philosophers to supply them with a metaphysical language that can enable them to conceptualize their work with more success?


I agree. In the above essay, Norris also suggests that philosophy can provide a way for quantum physics to critique the reasoning behind new ideas.
Cyracuz
 
  1  
Reply Sun 18 Dec, 2011 09:43 am
@wandeljw,
Yes. But he does have a point when he says that philosophy is lagging behind. I've seen a few attempts at conceptualizing the world quantum physics reveals, but such attempts are often discredited by their similarity to religious notions. The idea of the unified field as a cosmic singularity which is the origin of everything, for instance, makes philosophers and scientists alike very wary. That's a wound left by religion on our very beings, and I will not be surprised if this is fuel of the fire for every religious fanatic out there.
0 Replies
 
JLNobody
 
  2  
Reply Sun 18 Dec, 2011 02:55 pm
@Cyracuz,
Naively perhaps, I feel that much of philosophy and quantum physics are both forms of metaphysical speculation, the first based on language and the latter on mathematics (actually those are both forms of language). I see, for instance, the noumena of Kant and the strings and alternative realities of QM to be purely conceptual constructions well beyond the reach of empirical efforts.
0 Replies
 
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Sun 18 Dec, 2011 02:55 pm
@Cyracuz,
Naively perhaps, I feel that much of philosophy and quantum physics are both forms of metaphysical speculation, the first based on language and the latter on mathematics (actually those are both forms of language). I see, for instance, the noumena of Kant and the strings and alternative realities of QM to be purely conceptual constructions well beyond the reach of empirical efforts.
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Sun 18 Dec, 2011 03:33 pm
@JLNobody,
Perhaps I should change my "name" to Ditto.
Cyracuz
 
  1  
Reply Sun 18 Dec, 2011 04:43 pm
@JLNobody,
Good points. Both classical philosophy and "quantum philosophy", if if can be called that, are forms of metaphysical speculation. But the classical metaphysical understanding of reality is the one we have evolved with, and it has evolved with us. A metaphysics derived from quantum physics would give us a contrast which could perhaps increase our insight into both "worlds".
0 Replies
 
Cyracuz
 
  1  
Reply Sun 18 Dec, 2011 04:46 pm
@JLNobody,
Ditto?
I didn't get that one.. Confused
Lustig Andrei
 
  1  
Reply Sun 18 Dec, 2011 05:36 pm
@Cyracuz,
He posted the same post twice. Hence, ditto. Not the first time, either.
Cyracuz
 
  1  
Reply Sun 18 Dec, 2011 05:45 pm
@Lustig Andrei,
Ah yes. That happens from time to time. I wonder how, though, since there is a duplicate post filter on the forum meant to prevent identical posts being published several times.
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Sun 18 Dec, 2011 09:46 pm
@Cyracuz,
Actually, guys, if I did not occasionally delete one of my "dittos" you'd see more of my repeats. And some of them are aborted as duplicate posts?
Cyracuz
 
  1  
Reply Mon 19 Dec, 2011 12:08 am
@JLNobody,
A few times my computer has frozen for a minute just as I was uploading a post, and then the loading timer for the next window expires. It goes back to the previous window, and I have to hit "reply" again. If the post is already uploaded, I get the message that an identical post already exists, and I will not let me post it.

I guess if your internet connection is unstable, it might be possible to send the upload several times before the server knows that it's been uploaded, and you bypass the duplicate thing. Do you press the reply button more than once?
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Dec, 2011 04:21 pm
@Cyracuz,
Probably. Rolling Eyes Rolling Eyes
Look, I hit the emoticon button twice.
0 Replies
 
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Dec, 2011 04:21 pm
@Cyracuz,
Probably. Rolling Eyes Rolling Eyes
Look, I hit the emoticon button twice.
Cyracuz
 
  2  
Reply Thu 22 Dec, 2011 04:25 pm
@JLNobody,
An experiment in dualism? Smile
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Dec, 2011 09:51 pm
@Cyracuz,
Very Happy
0 Replies
 
 

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