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Looking for a quote

by kwerk
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kwerk
#1
Sep9-11, 10:59 AM
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I'm looking for a quote I read a few days ago by a famous quantum physicist, I can't remember which one unfortunately.

It went along the lines of attacking "soft" science like sociology, psychology as masquerading as real science when really it's not. Basically hard vs soft science.

Does anyone know it?
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kwerk
#2
Sep9-11, 11:08 AM
P: 6
I think it was a Richard Feynman quote.
xts
#3
Sep9-11, 11:19 AM
P: 882
You probably think about R.P.Feynman's lecture from 1974: "Cargo cult science" https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/mragheb/ww...%20Science.pdf

or maybe of any of multiple texts by Alain Sokal (especially, his "Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity": http://physics.nyu.edu/sokal/transgr...inglefile.html), or his book: Impostures Intellectuelles.

Naty1
#4
Sep9-11, 11:37 AM
P: 5,632
Looking for a quote

Before getting too high on one's horse,[meaning acting too high and mighty] keep in mind "hard science" is rarely rock solid...just consider all the "hard science" that was wrong for hundreds if not thousands of years...how the earth orbits the sun, that our own galazy is not the entire universe, alchemy, two decades or so of science puzzling over General Relativity after it was introduced, Einstein's resistance to accepting quantum mechanics and black holes, and man made global warming for a current "hard" issue with multiple interpretations. We still don't even know for sure the origin of cosmic rays.
xts
#5
Sep9-11, 11:43 AM
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So, especially for Naty, with his relativistic Kuhnian view of hard science, one more quote, which you could probably think of: Steven Weinberg's, "The revolution that didn't happen": http://www.astro.uni-bonn.de/~willerd/weinberg.html
Ken G
#6
Sep9-11, 02:10 PM
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That's a very nice article by Weinberg, thank you for citing it. I think he makes some valid points, but ultimately I find his claims that science is moving toward "the truth" to be no more compelling than Kuhn's criticism of the idea. Indeed, this is a general criticism I would aim at Weinberg's perspectives-- at one moment, he is arguing that he doesn't care if laws are real or if rocks are real, he only cares that they share whatever is their reality. But in the next moment, he is making an argument that science is moving toward some ultimate truth! This is just not a consistent perspective, it is basically the stance that any question he doesn't have an opinion on can be relegated to philosophers, but if he does have an opinion on it, then it suddenly becomes physics instead.
xts
#7
Sep9-11, 02:42 PM
P: 882
I agree that this article has some inconsistences, you pointed out.

As a Weinberg's advocate I may only say that it was not written as a curriculum of his philosophy of science, but only as a polemic glossa against post-modernistic interpretation of Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions" (much more than against original Kuhn's ideas).
Weinberg published the "Revolution..." in 1998 - at the hottest moment of "science wars" (two years after Sokal's "Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity"), when all post-modernists loudly cried, that "feminist mathematics" is equally valid as "mathematics", because Kuhn said that paradigms shift, and it is just a right time to change paradigm from "white male chauvinist view" to correct one, and that physics is not more "scientific" than gender studies or astrology.

PS. If you liked this article, you'd probably also like Weinberg's "Against Philosophy" : http://depts.washington.edu/ssnet/Weinberg_SSN_1_14.pdf
Q_Goest
#8
Sep9-11, 02:50 PM
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"All science is either physics or stamp collecting."
~ Earnst Rutherford

There seem to be variations on the quote but that's as close to original as I could confirm in 60 seconds.
Ken G
#9
Sep9-11, 04:36 PM
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Quote Quote by xts View Post
As a Weinberg's advocate I may only say that it was not written as a curriculum of his philosophy of science, but only as a polemic glossa against post-modernistic interpretation of Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions" (much more than against original Kuhn's ideas).
Yes, I think we can all agree that when philosophy of science is done by people who don't know the science (as would not be the case for Kuhn), the result is downright awful!
PS. If you liked this article, you'd probably also like Weinberg's "Against Philosophy" : http://depts.washington.edu/ssnet/Weinberg_SSN_1_14.pdf
Actually, I don't like "against philosophy" as much as this article, because more of it falls on the side of what I see as Weinberg's core inconsistency, whereas more of the above article falls on the side of someone who understands science using it to counter claims of those who don't. In my opinion, physics is essentially a subprogram of philosophy, created by philosophy to perform a specific function. Given that, one should not expect the main program to encroach on the subprogram, but it is perfectly natural for the main program to want to interpret the output from the subprogram. What's more, the main program has the task of determining what instructions to pass to the subprogram, and when to call it, so the connection between the two should not be so denigrated as is Weinberg's custom.
Ken G
#10
Sep9-11, 04:42 PM
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Quote Quote by Q_Goest View Post
"All science is either physics or stamp collecting."
~ Earnst Rutherford

There seem to be variations on the quote but that's as close to original as I could confirm in 60 seconds.
Yeah, that quote must really tee off a lot of biologists! It really makes the same error as the concept of a "theory of everything" in physics. As if, unifying all the forces of nature, and all the primitive responses of her elementary constituents, could really provide a complete accounting of all natural phenomena. This highly reductionist perspective simply doesn't deliver on its claims-- somewhere between the excitations of an n-dimensional string, and a person figuring out n-dimensional strings, something funny happened on the way to the forum-- something that is neither physics nor stamp collecting.
Drakkith
#11
Sep9-11, 04:55 PM
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Quote Quote by Q_Goest View Post
"All science is either physics or stamp collecting."
~ Earnst Rutherford

There seem to be variations on the quote but that's as close to original as I could confirm in 60 seconds.
Do biology, chemistry, and other similar sciences belong in the physics part, or the stamp collecting? I don't see much difference between them and physics.
Q_Goest
#12
Sep10-11, 08:21 AM
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Quote Quote by Drakkith View Post
Do biology, chemistry, and other similar sciences belong in the physics part, or the stamp collecting? I don't see much difference between them and physics.
Hi Drakkith, Biology, chemistry and similar ‘higher level’ sciences such as engineering would be considered “stamp collecting”. The physics he’s refering to regards the most fundamental, lowest level description of nature, things that occur at the quantum mechanical level. The insinuation is that the laws discovered in the higher level sciences such as evolution or meteorology for example, are ultimately dependant on the underlying physics at the quantum mechanical level. Rutherford uses the term "stamp collecting" to indicate a search for these natural regularities, implying they are not fundamental to nature. For some folks, this idea is taken to be insulting to the higher level sciences.

Being a mechanical engineer, my job is basically ‘stamp collecting’ which I’m fine with by the way. Everything I do as an engineer requires knowledge of higher level regularities in nature that can be described in mathematical ways. These mathematical descriptions of what happen are able to capture the gross description of what occurs at the lower level without having to actually model any lower level ‘stuff’. Take the Navier Stokes equations for example, or even much higher level meteorological ‘laws’ of nature. These descriptions fully depend on the microscopic description of Van Der Waal forces and other local forces and interactions such as gravitational fields, and there is no room for additional higher level physical laws or natural regularities to affect the interactions at the lower level. The Van Der Waal forces don’t suddenly change when they are in a tornado or hurricane, but trying to model a tornado or hurricane by modeling the Van Der Waal forces for example, would be prohibitively difficult.
Ken G
#13
Sep10-11, 09:03 AM
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Quote Quote by Q_Goest View Post
Take the Navier Stokes equations for example, or even much higher level meteorological ‘laws’ of nature. These descriptions fully depend on the microscopic description of Van Der Waal forces and other local forces and interactions such as gravitational fields, and there is no room for additional higher level physical laws or natural regularities to affect the interactions at the lower level. The Van Der Waal forces don’t suddenly change when they are in a tornado or hurricane, but trying to model a tornado or hurricane by modeling the Van Der Waal forces for example, would be prohibitively difficult.
Your example shows just why Rutherford is so wrong. What are the Navier-Stokes equations? Mathematical regularities, as you say. They can be understood just by noticing that they work (like the Schroedinger equation), or they can be derived from more fundamental physics (which is apparently what Rutherford says is not stamp collecting). But what can we say of that more fundamental physics? Is it not merely a series of mathematical regularities, discovered by... stamp collecting? And if some underlying theory that makes quantum mechanics work is later found, does this mean that quantum mechanics is not physics any more? All of science is stamp collecting, or none of it is, but there's no arbitrary "line in the sand" where we cross into physics.

The main difference, in my view, is that physics is the most reductionist of the sciences, interested primarily in bottom-up descriptions rather than top-down ones. Biology is perhaps the ultimate in the opposite approach-- you look at what the whole organism is doing first, and then try to analyze how that global behavior integrates the functions of its parts. Physics would never look at a badger, for example, it would always pick an interaction of two molecules within the badger. Which approach is ultimately going to tell us more about badgers? I'd say Rutherford's remarks are on a weak logical foundation (for the reasons I gave), and are quite clearly insulting to non-physicists. That's a bad combination for a physicist to choose-- expressing both disdain for other arts, and an unsupportable claim for his own.
Drakkith
#14
Sep10-11, 08:56 PM
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Hi Drakkith, Biology, chemistry and similar ‘higher level’ sciences such as engineering would be considered “stamp collecting”.
Hrmm. I guess I can understand what he's getting at.


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