On the relation between physics and philosophy

  • #151
martinbn
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Blackboards are not very useful for discussing philosophy. If you search for youtube lectures on math, physics and philosophy, only the ones on math and physics will often be on blackboards.
True, but for an article like this why pose in front of that board (or choose that picture if it wasn't taken for the ocasion). Why not a board with the word philosophy! Or an empty board :smile:
 
  • #152
A. Neumaier
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Philosophy has been around for more than 2000 years and none of its problems are resolved.
No. The solved problems of philosophy have matured into solved problems of sciences.

That's why philosophy is called the mother of all sciences. As long as concepts are ambiguous or mixed up philosophy is essential.

Only where the foundational problems are solved it is no longer needed.
 
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  • #153
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Philosophers argue over the same things as they always have.
Not true. Today some philosophers, for instance, work on the measurement problem in QM. Of course, I'm talking about philosophers with good knowledge of QM.

Also, noone stops physicists to use philosophy
Not true. The editors and reviewers in mainstream journals often reject papers because they use some philosophical arguments.

Why is the author not using philosophy to solve some of the problems? Or is she, and which problems has she cracked?
She is, see e.g. http://de.arxiv.org/abs/1912.06462
 
  • #154
martinbn
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No. The solved problems of philosophy have matured into sciences.

That's why philosophy is called the mother of all sciences. As long as concepts are ambiguous or mixed up philosophy is essential.

Only where the foundational problems are solved it is no longer needed.
Like what? Which problems do you have in mind?
 
  • #155
martinbn
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Not true. Today some philosophers, for instance, work on the measurement problem in QM. Of course, I'm talking about philosophers with good knowledge of QM.
You are right. There new problems the philosophers argue about. But none of them is solved. My point was that it is just lexical analysis with no progress. (And adding new topics.)
Not true. The editors and reviewers in mainstream journals often reject papers because they use some philosophical arguments.
But do any of those papers actually solve any problems?
There is very little in this paper, and it isn't new. It also doesn't solve the problem, or does it?
 
  • #156
A. Neumaier
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Like what? Which problems do you have in mind?
Mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, biology, pharmacy, ...

All started as part of philosophy and matured into separate disciplines that, on the whole, can stand on their own. But the foundations of quantum physics has not yet reached that stage.
 
  • #157
martinbn
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Mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, biology, pharmacy, ...

All started as part of philosophy and matured into separate disciplines that, on the whole, can stand on their own. But the foundations of quantum physics has not yet reached that stage.
You said that the solved problems of philosophy matured in to sciences. My question wasn't which sciences. It was which problems? And to clarify this, which problems were solved by philosophy to become sciences?
 
  • #158
A. Neumaier
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You said that the solved problems of philosophy matured in to sciences. My question wasn't which sciences. It was which problems? And to clarify this, which problems were solved by philosophy to become sciences?
I should have been more precise. let me rephrase:

The parts of philosophy whose problems were solved by making the corresponding concepts and methods of investigation precise enough matured and became sciences.

Problems like: what are numbers? what is length? what is motion? what is permanent? what is change? what causes motion? what are elements?
 
  • #159
martinbn
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I should have been more precise. let me rephrase:

The parts of philosophy whose problems were solved by making the corresponding concepts and methods of investigation precise enough matured and became sciences.

Problems like: what are numbers? what is length? what is motion? what is permanent? what is change? what causes motion? what are elements?
This is consistent with what I wrote. I said that philosophy cannot solve problems. You are saying that some problems couldn't be solved by philosophy, and new methods for solving problems were invented (the corresponding sciences).
 
  • #160
A. Neumaier
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This is consistent with what I wrote. I said that philosophy cannot solve problems. You are saying that some problems couldn't be solved by philosophy, and new methods for solving problems were invented (the corresponding sciences).
No, you put your words into my mouth, making them sound very differently.

Some problems were solved by philosophy, and each time, upon gradually recognizing the power of the resulting methods, a corresponding part of philosophy gradually separated from philosophy and turned into a new science. This can be checked in every case.

It is very different from the claim that a new science arrived from nowhere and produced new methods for solving problems.
 
  • #161
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Unfortunately, most posters here who criticize philosophy immediately also betray their complete lack of understanding what philosophy is, how it is practiced or why it is important. These posters remind me of my younger self - an overly optimistic idealistic math/physics student who was vehemently anti-philosophical for pretty much the same juvenile reasons that have been repeated ad nauseam here. I therefore hope to correct some misunderstandings about philosophy typically expressed on here and generally prevalent among science circles. These are misunderstandings which took me decades to finally see, however I understand that conveying some of this understanding to others might be too optimistic on my part. I digress.

Philosophy is probably the most misunderstood academic discipline. I think it shares many parallels with medicine, including the common misunderstanding of the field by students, amateurs and most scientists; to elaborate, many believe that knowledge of anatomy, physiology and the medical nomenclature is needed for practicing medicine, but this belief is actually mistaken because they miss what medicine is about: knowledge of the above things are for a starting physician at best helpful in developing a systematic for diagnostics and treatment and it is actually only necessary in order to communicate with others; in philosophy, knowledge of the main philosophical schools and teachings practically have the same role for the philosopher.

Philosophy is not a collection of explanatory theories. In particular, knowing philosophy is not merely having knowledge of the content of any particular philosophies about any particular concepts; particular philosophies mostly serve to classify concepts in a conventional fashion in order to be able to communicate quickly about some new knowledge of some core archetypical concepts within the community. The canonical classification is usually not capable of being given in a truly systematic fashion, e.g. it typically isn't amenable to a simple mathematical treatment; to be caught up by this - as most scientists tend to be - is to miss the point, because philosophy is not about content but instead more about method and process.

Philosophy is characterized by a collection of methods used in conjunction in a communicative and reflective process which iff done correctly is capable of giving elucidations. Given explanations are typically not simply of a particular concept as expressed specifically in some delimited context, but instead of any possible expression - indeed, often all expressions - of some concept. This concept is then usually captured in a universal description which describes the necessary essentials and is semantically coherent, e.g. a concept such as 'love', 'motion' or 'freedom'. The universal description encompasses all possible particular instances, e.g. the study and description of motion in general is a philosophical topic, while any particular theory of motion, especially when done empirically correspond to different scientific theories.

The learning of the philosophical process - highly analogous again to the learning of the medical process - is one which takes not only years of absorbing book knowledge, but more importantly, years of passing through philosophical experience by shadowing those who are already in the know (cf. clinical training) and it is only after one has done this sufficiently long that they are capable of philosophizing correctly. It is only then that a capable philosopher can even begin to go beyond known principles in order to find a more true description, often by stating new principles. This again is analogous to the physician who goes beyond knowledge of standard anatomy and physiology by using deeper principles to reason in order to achieve his actual goal, namely treating some ailment.

The practice of philosophy is characterized as a process of describing all important aspects of any concept using both logic and intuition such that the necessary aspects of the concept can be faithfully elucidated, identified and hopefully better described. Today, if a part of this process can be carried out to an extreme degree of systematic precision, we typically stop speaking of philosophy and instead just quickly call this process 'mathematics' instead. Mathematics is highly related to philosophy, but is instead different by focussing almost exclusively on the methods and not on the content whatsoever, i.e. the topics of mathematics are both general and abstract, while those of philosophy while general tend to be concrete.

In fact, it is in this sense that physics is clearly part of philosophy because exactly like philosophy it seems to be the only discipline which has the exact same quality of not being about some specific topic but instead being a collection of methods - which although unlike the rest of philosophy are related to each mathematically - that are used to generally study any aspect of a concrete topic - nature - and the entire subject is organized around central principles, i.e. the laws of physics. Misunderstanding the goal of physics by getting bogged down on doing experiments or speaking instead as a science apologist of the utility of physical theories is to disregard understanding for understanding's sake: the traditional goal of theoretical physics is to understand the world.

This makes theoretical physics essentially a completely rational i.e. philosophical endeavor, were it not that a developed physical theory - once sufficiently matured - should eventually be compared to experiment, in contrast to the rest of philosophy. What the practice of theoretical physics has arguably lost in the last few decades is the idea that theories get to have time and room to mature - something that is always given to theories in philosophy. This modern impatience with physical theories is a direct consequence of multiple factors, among others the belief that the ultimate mathematical method is already known in physics (e.g. 'look for symmetry'), the professionalization of academia, the death of the generation who were trained philosophically and the competitive publishing culture focused mostly on low risk short-term research with clear results, while shunning long-term risky projects with unclear fruits; ironically, all of this is described by philosophy of science yet seems to fall on deaf ears.
 
  • #162
martinbn
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No, you put your words into my mouth, making them sound very differently.

Some problems were solved by philosophy, and each time, upon gradually recognizing the power of the resulting methods, a corresponding part of philosophy gradually separated from philosophy and turned into a new science. This can be checked in every case.

It is very different from the claim that a new science arrived from nowhere and produced new methods for solving problems.
Then my question remains. Which problems? Give me a specific example.
 
  • #163
A. Neumaier
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Then my question remains. Which problems? Give me a specific example.
I gave several in post #158.
 
  • #164
Demystifier
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But do any of those papers actually solve any problems?
Yes. For instance, the Bell's famous paper on Bell inequalities was considered philosophy at that time and was published in a rather obscure journal.
 
  • #165
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Which problems? Give me a specific example.
E.g. Newton's philosophical insight that motion of planets along ellipses can be reduced to a certain differential equation (that now bears his name).
 
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  • #166
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My point was that it is just lexical analysis with no progress.
I think you have a wrong impression of what philosophy is. Do you, for instance, know what is analytical philosophy?
 
  • #167
For centuries religious disdain for science effectively banned any conversation on the subject, it now seems science's disdain for philosophy effectively bans any conversation also. Science in its wisdom will simply treat some things as though they do or don't exist and then effectively ban any conversation on a issue saying a counter claim is useless philosophy. I don't think endless philosophizing of an issue is at all helpful but as a starting point for a line of scientific inquiry i think it vital and as A. Neumaier said:
Not true. The editors and reviewers in mainstream journals often reject papers because they use some philosophical arguments.
It is very different from the claim that a new science arrived from nowhere and produced new methods for solving problems.
Ideas don't just appear out of nowhere.
 
  • #168
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Then my question remains. Which problems? Give me a specific example.
To be a bit more descriptive: unification, i.e. dissolving dichotomies, as occurring in the history of theoretical physics is a completely philosophical method: unification is to make into a logically consistent unity which are seperate concepts based on a philosophical analysis of what is necessary and what is contingent; when a unification occurs successfully, the new concept often automatically fulfills certain uniqueness and existence criteria, i.e. is automatically an application of some theory in pure mathematics, whether that field of pure mathematics has already been discovered or not.

Concrete examples are littered in the history of physics, e.g. the idea that uniform motion and rest are unified in one concept is a product of philosophy. Also, the idea that the apple falls and the moon orbits i.e. falls with a sufficient acceleration are essentially due to the same cause, is a result of philosophy. Likewise, the unification of energy and mass, as well as the unification of gravitation and spacetime curvature, are products of philosophy. Having the conceptual unification is practically a prerequisite for finding the correct mathematics describing the unification!

It is very important to realize and recognize that once the philosophical unification is achieved, the correct mathematical model of this unification - often by searching through applications in pure mathematics or creatively applying pure mathematics - follows quickly; this process is non-commutative i.e. the order in which it is done matters w.r.t. getting the wanted result! The philosophical conceptualization has to occur before the mathematization; this is because if one starts with mathematics and then tries to conceptualize, there are literally an infinite amount of roads that can be taken, while given some concept it is much easier to then mathematicize (cf. Bayes' theorem).

Even stronger, the forced unification of two independent mutually inconsistent mathematical frameworks which each are valid and work seperately, such as the theories of electricity and magnetism, Newtonian mechanics and Maxwellian electrodynamics, or inertial motion and accelerated motion, into a single new mathematical framework automatically tends to lead to more unifications.

Characteristic of unification is that more comes out than is put into the unification, e.g. unifying the mathematics and of electricity and magnetism automatically leads to a mathematical model of light; these are unexpected consequences of the unification which are typically completely unintended but instead follow necessarily and objectively as a side effect of the unification. Feynman, the last theoretician who had mastered unification, described this process as the new idea 'being simpler than what it is was before' i.e. that more comes out of a unification than was originally put into it.

It goes without saying that the two most important open problems in theoretical physics today, namely quantum gravity - i.e. the successful unification of (the mathematical frameworks of) quantum theory and general relativity - and the measurement problem in QT - i.e. the unification of the mathematical frameworks of unitary evolution and measurement - can only be solved by the philosophical method of unification.

Lastly, unlike practically all of the other methods learned in theoretical physics - i.e. mathematical methods - unification is clearly not reducible to a routine, algorithmic, purely deductive exercise before the unification has actually been successfully achieved, because successful unification is a genuinely creative process. This means that unification cannot be 'divided and conquered' like most simpler problems can be in physics, and it has instead to be done 'in one go' by a single mind, i.e. it has to be capable of being carried out as a derivation from first principles.

The relative unfamiliarity in learning how to properly do unification as a method - which is a fault of the physics education system - and the prevalence of remaing 'low hanging fruit' i.e. physics problems which can be divided and conquered, or even directly experimentally approached without changing or inventing any theories or inventing new mathematical reformulations of existing theories, goes a long way of explaining why even with so many physicists today alive and practicing, these problems remain; even worse, if a young person wants a good career, they best avoid such problems and just integrate themselves without resistance into existing hot research programs. This is why these problems are so difficult and why progress w.r.t these problems is so slow.
 
  • #169
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@vanhees71 I hope that the above post gives you some elucidation why foundational problems (such as the measurement problem in QM) are not only actual problems in physics, but literally the most important problems in physics regardless of any empirical impetus from the experimenters. The science apologist's often given justification for theoretical physics is a fallacy: advancing the state of experiment or of technology is not the main goal of physics! As Feynman said: 'Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it.'
 
  • #170
The philosophical conceptualization has to occur before the mathematization; this is because if one starts with mathematics and then tries to conceptualize, there are literally an infinite amount of roads that can be taken, while given some concept it is much easier to then mathematicize
Well said, an experiment is a brilliant supplier of data, but why do an experiment in the first place without some idea seeking an answer? We need not wonder with science, data is what it is- a cold hard fact.
I wonder about these vital facts therefore I philosophize.
 
  • #171
vanhees71
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@vanhees71 I hope that the above post gives you some elucidation why foundational problems (such as the measurement problem in QM) are not only actual problems in physics, but literally the most important problems in physics regardless of any empirical impetus from the experimenters. The science apologist's often given justification for theoretical physics is a fallacy: advancing the state of experiment or of technology is not the main goal of physics! As Feynman said: 'Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it.'
No, I've no clue what all this has to do with physics. Physics is a down-to-earth (in the literal sense) natural science with the modest goal to find a description of observable facts about Nature. As it has turned out since Kepler, Galilei, and Newton one can find astonishingly accurate mathematical descriptions based on very few quite simple fundamental laws ("geometry" of spacetime, symmetry principles underlying the description of interactions). That itself is an amazing empirical fact, not more but also not less.

Particularly there is no measurement problem related to QT from a physics point of view. To the contrary QT describes all empirical facts quantitatively with an amazing precision. Only if there were a reproducible contradiction between empirical facts and the predictions of a theory this theory would have a problem.
 
  • #172
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As Feynman said: 'Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it.'
The irony is that Feynman was also against philosophy in physics, precisely because it doesn't give practical results.

I think the problem is that most physicists, including Feynman, hold double standards on what they mean by "practical".
 
  • #173
vanhees71
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Well, Feynman obviously had more fun with sex (without practical results ;-)) than with philosophy (whatever practical results one might expect or not)...
 
  • #174
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Well said, an experiment is a brilliant supplier of data, but why do an experiment in the first place without some idea seeking an answer? We need not wonder with science, data is what it is- a cold hard fact.
I wonder about these vital facts therefore I philosophize.
I think the fact that many physicists, or scientists generally, have a tendency to start mistaking what is conventional knowledge for what is a logically simple notion, purely as a result of being overly familiar with the conventional description. In effect, their haven gotten used to such a description then leads them to take it for granted; adopting such a pragmatic purely instrumental attitude w.r.t. a complicated or even illogical notion directly causes the genesis of a conventional tradition and then with time also a resistance to reconsidering that convention and reformulating it into a more coherent i.e. a logically simpler notion, e.g. by fitting it to a more accurate mathematical framework. Both Newton and Poincaré wrote extensively on this, but alas, no one seems to read them.
No, I've no clue what all this has to do with physics. Physics is a down-to-earth (in the literal sense) natural science with the modest goal to find a description of observable facts about Nature. As it has turned out since Kepler, Galilei, and Newton one can find astonishingly accurate mathematical descriptions based on very few quite simple fundamental laws ("geometry" of spacetime, symmetry principles underlying the description of interactions). That itself is an amazing empirical fact, not more but also not less.
I see that I still haven't quite gotten the message across since you are still focussing on the trees instead of the forest, i.e. focussing on contingencies instead of on necessities; perhaps it is my fault for not being brief enough, I am writing to be understood. In any case, I will try to rephrase the main points.

In the practice of theoretical physics - exactly like in philosophy - it is not so much knowing the content of theories that is most important, but what is instead absolutely key is mastering the methods which enable the theorist to go beyond specific theories and in principle invent any theory. Probably the most important method that the very best theoretical physicists in history all have mastered is the art of unification: this is a philosophical method for discovering logical truth.

Consequently, all of the greatest physical theories are examples of unifications, i.e. products of employing the art of unification correctly: the criteria for being a successful unification is having a very high degree of mathematical self-consistency; this translates to directly being a naturally expressed model in some dialect of pure mathematics as a result of having complete logical consistency.

Theories which do not have the above tend to be self-inconsistent theories; they tend to be plagued with many possible interpretations. To use an analogy, self-inconsistent theories are prematurely born theories which are sick i.e. in need of treatment: this treatment is again employing the art of unification correctly.

Perhaps the two greatest mathematical physicists in all of history, Isaac Newton and Henri Poincaré, both have tried to explain these things about how to practice theoretical physics in some detail in their works, alas without specifically inventing or employing a terminology to make these things clear (NB: which explains why what I'm explaining doesn't seem to be common knowledge). In any case, I would personally recommend Poincaré's book Science and Method.
 
  • #175
vanhees71
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Well, the methods of theoretical physics is based on mathematics, not philosophy.
 

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