Is physics possible without philosophy? - Contra Tyson

Discussion in 'Philosophy, Religion and Spirituality' started by otherstar, Jul 24, 2014.

  1. otherstar

    otherstar Registered User

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    " You cannot do physics or cosmology without an assumed philosophical basis. You can choose not to think about that basis: it will still be there as an unexamined foundation of what you do. The fact you are unwilling to examine the philosophical foundations of what you do does not mean those foundations are not there; it just means they are unexamined."
    From this interview with George Ellis

    I have a background in the philosophy of science, the philosophy of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. I think Ellis is spot on. Unlike the popular Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Stephen Hawking, I think philosophical knowledge has a great deal to offer to the physicist and I would go so far as to agree with him in saying that one must have some kind of assumed philosophical basis for any intellectual undertaking whether that basis is examined or not. One must have some kind of natural understanding and approach to their world that precedes scientific knowledge and may well even make that kind of knowledge possible.
     
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  2. BryanMaloney

    BryanMaloney Premium Member

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    I'm a biologist. Ellis is absolutely spot-on. We all have fundamental paradigms. Physicists, in particular, tend to be the most delusional about this. I would say that Aristotle and Aquinas are not good places to base a philosophy of science upon (I prefer Popper and Mayr, particularly Mayr, although Wittgenstein II is also very useful), but their weaknesses are due more to the fact that science simply wasn't done in their eras, so they didn't see how philosophy had to be re-framed to handle that activity.
     
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  3. JohnnyFlotsam

    JohnnyFlotsam Premium Member

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    Science, as it has been understood through the ages (even before it had that name), has always assumed that there were things that we did not, and perhaps could not, know about "the way the world works". "The stuff we don't know" is a very long list and to me, it has always seemed more than a bit short-sighted to start arbitrarily crossing things off that
     
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  4. dfreybur

    dfreybur Premium Member

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    Physics is not possible without philosophy. It is possible to be a physicist without considering that philosophy. A scientist can articulate the scientific process without considering the underlying philosophy of science. When I worked on the space program early in my career the guys I considered the best rocket scientists considered them more engineers than scientists.

    In science results come from action, action comes from thought, thought comes from both training and education. The training part is the puzzle solving activity of science. The education part includes some amount of philosophy. it's the same as the difference between tactics and strategy.

    In science fiction there is discussion about levels of technology when alien species meet and battle. It's really about levels of science. Science defines wheat is possible. Technology goes out and implements the possible until it pushes up against the edges of the possible and starts to find small inconsistencies in the science. With better science it's possible to build machines that do what is impossible to worse science.

    I'm an engineer. Ever since my experience with rocket scientists early in my career I've worked to consider the science that is the basis of my technology. What's possible and what's not? Where are the boundaries of the possible? How can I push the technology towards those boundaries? Is there something crazy I can try that's impossible given the current science?

    Under it all there's an assumption that there is a real physical universe that can be described better and better. That's one of the principles in the philosophy of science.
     
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  5. otherstar

    otherstar Registered User

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    I disagree to a point because the shared epistemology of Aquinas is grounded in sense knowledge that points to the existence of a physical universe (i.e. there is an extra-mental world that is knowable via our senses). I do not get that from every philosopher of science (especially Wittgenstein). For more contemporary views, I tend to agree more with Eddington, and Harre, than Popper).
     
  6. dfreybur

    dfreybur Premium Member

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    Science moved a very long way using the underlying assumption that the physical world exists and can be investigated and approximated. Whatever "exists" means even the mental only speculations work to explain existence. Top down and bottom up approaches do tend to lead to the same points.
     
  7. BryanMaloney

    BryanMaloney Premium Member

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    Mayr, on the other hand, stresses that individual things "actually exist", which is why I favor him most. For much of the physical sciences, a "standard error" often does mostly represent what would be commonly considered an "error"--a summation of inaccuracy of measurement (although this breaks down in probabilistic interpretations of atomic particles, etc.). On the other hand, at nearly any level, "standard error" in biology is a crude estimate of actual variation in the population. "An electron" has a "true" mass that is presumed to be valid for any other electron and is an approximation based on several measurements to approach this "true" mass. "A human" does not have a true mass. A specific human might, but "a human", as in a "generic" human does not and cannot have a single mass. Instead, there is a range of mass coupled with a frequency for every point along that range, and that frequency/mass combination may or may not fit into any function that can be described by a "simple" distribution (as in gaussian, Gamma, beta, etc.), even if it is bounded on either end (not to say that there are no approximations).

    Thus, in the life sciences, the philosophy underlying models is moving toward "All models are false, but some are temporarily more useful than others, for a certain purpose, more or less, roughly." more than "We are eventually zeroing in on the true model."
     
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  8. otherstar

    otherstar Registered User

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    That's good, that is rare among philosophers in this age (most have jumped of the Kantian cliff...lol). I'll have to read Mayr...he sounds interesting. Harre is of the same mindset (philosophical realism). I also need to read The Modeling of Nature by the late Rev. William Wallace, OP. I heard him speak right after the book came out (about 15 years ago, so I don't remember it well), but he has some good insights into the philosophical underpinnings of scientific inquiry.
     
  9. Rick Carver

    Rick Carver Premium Member

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    To be Devil's Advocate: Does this mean that if I believe the Earth if flat and the sun rotates around the Earth, the sun will not rise tomorrow? The Laws of Physics are LAWS — whether I believe in them or not. Philosophy can hold many positions and opinions, but none of them can keep the sun from coming up.
     
  10. otherstar

    otherstar Registered User

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    Are they really laws (in the sense that they truly govern what's happening), or are they really just accurate mathematical descriptions of what happens or will happen?
     
  11. BryanMaloney

    BryanMaloney Premium Member

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    "Laws"? Are you not aware that laws can be amended or repealed? I'm being puckish, of course, but getting superstitiously enamored of "laws of physics" because they are "LAWS" (ta-daaaa) is silly. The so-called "laws" of physics are ultimately just approximations and guesses. They are models. They are useful but they might be wrong. One of the "laws" of Aristotelian physics is "An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion comes to rest." It was a law in its day. Newton discovered that Aristotle's "law" was really just a special case of a broader principle. It was a "law" of physics, but it was incomplete, it required special clauses to be "true".

    Likewise, "conservation of matter" and "conservation of energy" USED TO BE "laws" of physics, immutable, absolutely and objectively "true". Guess what--they're not true. They're merely special cases, approximations.

    Riddle me a riddle, then, of science is all about LAWS, all about such certainty and absolute strictness, what is the TRUE value of the mass of a human being (any and all individual human beings) as a SINGLE number? I don't want an approximation that might or might not apply to any specific human being, I want the single number (you may use slugs, poundals, or kilograms, whichever suits you) that is the single TRUE mass of a human being.
     
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  12. BryanMaloney

    BryanMaloney Premium Member

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    Many is the time I wish I could go back in time and tell some seminal author "No! Do not use that term! It will engender more ignorance than it will banish."
     
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  13. BryanMaloney

    BryanMaloney Premium Member

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    Mayr was always an outsider when it came to philosophy of science. He was, after all, merely a biologist, not one of those semi-divine physicists who innately can speak the Mind of God to an ignorant and benighted world.
     
  14. Rick Carver

    Rick Carver Premium Member

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    Your 3 paragraph diatribe on what makes a law a law still fails to answer the basic question I originally proposed: What does one's not philosophically believing in a physical law make it any less true?
     
  15. Rick Carver

    Rick Carver Premium Member

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    sorry for the double
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2014
  16. dfreybur

    dfreybur Premium Member

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    As long as you understand that "accurate" here means approximations that are subject to revision and replacement by more accurate approximations -

    There's no distinction between an unerring law of nature and what happens. That's how laws of nature are defined.

    To the extent the mathematical model matches what happens, that's the extent to which the mathematical model matches a law of nature.

    Disbelieving a law of nature has no effect on what happens. Nature is not effected by disbelief.
     
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  17. Rick Carver

    Rick Carver Premium Member

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    I think we went in opposite directions around the Earth only to collide in agreement somewhere near Sri Lanka. You cheated! You have the rotation of the Earth in your favor.
     
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  18. Morris

    Morris Premium Member

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    I really enjoyed this thread. Thanks for all the views.


    Jeff
     
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  19. pointwithinacircle2

    pointwithinacircle2 Rapscallion Premium Member

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    As I understand it, both physics and philosophy are concerned with the nature of reality. Physics is the study of the nature of the physical world. Philosophy is the study of what it means to be human. By studying one we learn about the other. Just as the compasses and the 24 inch gauge are used to measure and delineate the physical world, they can also be used, if properly understood, to navigate the moral and social world.
     
  20. BryanMaloney

    BryanMaloney Premium Member

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    Specifically quote where I stated this and I'll respond. Otherwise, you're just making up straw men to knock over, a cheap rhetorical trick with no value.
     

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