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Is philosophy the black sheep?

  1. May 30, 2006 #1
    Is philosophy the "black sheep?"

    In our quest to understand this reality, both subjective and objective, is philosophy generally considered as "lesser" than physics and other sciences?
    Maybe it's just me, but was the decision to include a philosoph section on a physics forum of this quality kind of "unorthodox?"

    Your opinions on this are very welcomed.
     
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  3. May 30, 2006 #2

    Hurkyl

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    Science (and mathematics too) is philosophy. Specifically, it is a subfield dedicated to a particular method of inquiry.
     
  4. May 30, 2006 #3

    Ivan Seeking

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    However it has been argued on philosophical grounds that this is no longer true. :biggrin:

    true story
     
  5. May 31, 2006 #4

    Evo

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    The problem with "philosophy" on an internet forum is that it's going to draw all the flakes and weirdos and the result is a lot of mental diarrhea.
     
  6. May 31, 2006 #5

    SpaceTiger

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    By scientists, it usually is, despite the fact that the origins of science were in philosophy. Many scientists consider philosophical discussions to be a waste of time, probably because truly objective agreement is impossible to reach. Personally, I think it's a good mental exercise, regardless of whether or not the conclusions can be objectively agreed upon. Further, I think study of philosophy can help with development of intuition (in any area) and creativity.
     
  7. May 31, 2006 #6

    arildno

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    Well, it so happens that a "philosopher" with no knowledge of the sciences can produce nothing of value for science (psychology and suchlike excluded since it doesn't qualify as a science).

    However, the converse is not at all true:
    A practising scientist may have much to say of philosophical interest pertaining to his field of expertise even if the scientist is wholly unschooled in formal philosophy.
     
  8. May 31, 2006 #7
    Near as I can tell, most scientists consider just about anything outside of science to be a waste of time.
     
  9. May 31, 2006 #8

    arildno

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    Not at all.
    My general impression is that most scientists consider just about anything said ABOUT SCIENCE by non-scientists to be a waste of time listening to, if one is interested in learning more science.
     
  10. May 31, 2006 #9

    Evo

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    I find most scientists have many interests outside of science, such as literature, art, & music, to name a few.
     
  11. May 31, 2006 #10

    Moonbear

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    Considering all the flakes and weirdos who think they can spout off about physics without having ever studied physics, it's probably no surprise we find plenty of them wandering around spouting off about philosophy with no idea of what sort of rigor is required for a proper philosophical argument.
     
  12. May 31, 2006 #11

    Moonbear

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    Very true. We have to feed the creative part of our brains as much as the analytical part. :approve:
     
  13. May 31, 2006 #12

    Ivan Seeking

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    Considering that we don't have a unified theory, isn't it ultimately a faith statement that physics is not a philosophy? Granted, we can reproduce experiments and predict outcomes, but until complete, we are still taking it on faith that our models somehow represent the underlying reality of the physical world in such a way that physics [and math] is consistent. Is there a physics that applies to all domains - such as at both quantum and cosmological scales, for example? It is an assumption that such a physics does exist, so at the least, much of the physics of the 20th century is a faith statement.

    If the idea that we predict correct answers is thought to be the distinction between science and philosophy, then I refer to the epicycles of Mars as an example that testable right answers may have nothing to do with reality; at least at the deepest levels. So it seems that we can argue that physics is the philosophy of modeling.
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2006
  14. May 31, 2006 #13

    SpaceTiger

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    I think there's a big difference between what scientists do and what modern-day philosophers do, but to answer your question, we would have to first agree on a definition of philosophy. I think most scientists are very pragmatic about their work -- they don't try to generalize its applicability beyond the range in which it has been demonstrated. I wouldn't call that faith.

    I do, however, think that scientists regularly invoke philosophical arguments when evaluating theories. Occam's razor is one example, but even that can be loosely justified with statistical arguments.


    Epicycles didn't successfully predict -- that was exactly the problem. It was a very non-scientific approach, in fact, because it relied on preconceived notions (e.g. circular orbits) that weren't rigorously justified.

    Whether or not our theories describe truth or "reality" is a philosophical question, but insomuch as the theories are just used to predict future outcomes, I would say my work has very little in common with what we normally consider philosophy.
     
  15. May 31, 2006 #14

    Ivan Seeking

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    Well, we could really dig and say that no number of confirmations of a theory deny the possibility that the next test will produce unexpected results. Strictly speaking, the very notion that identical tests will always yield identical results is an assumption. But I was thinking of the big picture in which we try to merge theories from cosmology, GR, QM, etc, in an effort to gain a complete understanding of the natural forces, matter, time, space, and so on. That this can be done is that faith statement referenced earlier. In fact it was only in the last ten years or so that I first heard the idea that a unified theory may not even be possible. No one had ever mentioned that possibility before.

    It seems to me that much of science is geered towards this assumption of an underlying structure that makes a unified theory possible, and a good thing I think. Otherwise, for me at least, it becomes difficult to justify pure research. I think we all assume that we're going somewhere with this.

    It was a best fit given the assumptions. Whether or not it was correct is a matter of error over time, as it still is. No? Wasn't it accepted as basically correct but needing fine tuning?

    Yes, I wasn't considering the popular notion of philosophy in any of this. I was thinking about the implications for physics should we find that a unfied theory is not possible - the limitations imposed on our view of physics until we know otherwise.

    Is physics nothing but modeling? I call that engineering.
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2006
  16. Jun 1, 2006 #15

    hypnagogue

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    Psychology doesn't qualify as a science?

    On the other hand, it's not uncommon to find an otherwise competent scientist who is totally out of his depth when addressing philosophical matters.

    I see philosophy as a necessary complement to science if one wishes to construct a coherent worldview for oneself. I think there will always be legitimate metaphysical and epistemological questions that cannot be settled conclusively by scientific inquiry.
     
  17. Jun 1, 2006 #16
    I find it unsettling that everyone so far, even those who explicitely say science is philosophy still dis-associate it by the way they construct their other sentences.

    anyways,
    one differences between the philosophy and science in specific regards to this forum that might be particularly important is:

    In the sciences, the majority of discussion is people asking questions and people giving answers as par to the accepted system of biology, physics, ect. Very little discussion is arguing about wether (i never remember how to spell this kind of weather) or not something is actually true, and very little is discussing about original research. In contrast, in philosophy the vast majority is people arguing about various aspects of 'truth' and there are only a handful of threads where people ask "What did Nietzsche mean when he said so-and-so" or whatever.


    oh, and the black sheep where I am is political science. No one outside of poli sci respects poli sci.
     
  18. Jun 1, 2006 #17

    Chi Meson

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    Oh, that is so true. And then, becuase people think that physics is an extension of philosphy, some get the notion that any idea they have after a sleepless night of too much coffee is just as good as 100 years of experimentation.

    Side note: Physics used to be known as "Natural Philosophy" until it was seen to be very different from simply "thinking about objects."

    Nowadays, a new word for philosophy is "metaphysics," suggesting the realm that is beyond (some would say "above") scientific methods.
     
  19. Jun 1, 2006 #18

    Moonbear

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    Huh? That's very much what scientists do all the time. Where did you get the notion we don't? :confused:
     
  20. Jun 1, 2006 #19

    arildno

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    No, it doesn't. Unverifiable fantasy theories abound, replacing each others as the fashions and decades go.
    This is NOT how science develops.
    Well, I did put the caveat in "pertaining to his field of expertise", didn't I?
    Sure enough. It doesn't, however, follow that the philosopher ought to be ignorant of science in order to produce good philosophy.
    This, however, seems to have been raised as a virtue by French rubbish thinkers in particular (that would be the post-modernists/deconstructionists like Lyotard, Baudrillard, Derrida and a lot of others of the same ilk)
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2006
  21. Jun 1, 2006 #20

    vanesch

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    I couldn't agree more. Scientific activity is often divided in two parts: a technical one, and a philosophical one. During scientific education, and during "work as a scientist" the accent is overwhelmingly placed on the "technical" part (calculations, laboratory procedures, insight in a formalism, devellopment of intuition for failure-search in lab procedures, etc...).
    As long as one stays within a clearly defined paradigm, in fact, all that is "needed" of a scientist are these technical skills. It's what makes that the experiment comes out all right, that the calculations are correct, that the right intuition is used for the allowable approximations and so on, in other words, that the working scientist does a good job, writes good publications, and obtains good results.

    But it is interesting to see the battles about, say, the unification of gravity and quantum theory, to see the philosophical side emerge again, because this time, there IS no paradigm in which to work technically (well, in fact, there are fake paradigms, set by the heros of the moment).

    I think it is a pity that philosophy has a "bad name" amongst the physicist community in general. Feynman (otherwise a great physicist) must be partly responsible for it. That's understandable: during Feynman's days, the best way to book success was to "shut up and calculate" within a certain paradigm. Deep philosophical ponderings got you nowhere, hard labor in the lab or with pencil and paper did marvels. One after the other, successes were booked.
    But since about 20 years, that machine got slowly to a grinding halt.
    Not in domains like condensed matter and so on, but on the most fundamental level, not much progress has been booked. And now, one sees furious battles over *philosophical* principles at the top of fundamental physical research, like: "is the antropic principle a valid principle or not ?" "Is it meaningful to look after a theory of everything ?" ; "what does it mean to do theoretical research on topics that will probably remain outside of the realm of experiment for ever?"
     
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