Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Suggestion Philosophy of Physics Forum

  1. Nov 18, 2009 #1
    I enjoy participating in the philosophy section of the forums here, but I think its current location and format are greatly detracting from its potential. Philosophy is an established and complex field, with it's own textbooks and PhDs, etc. There are established bodies of knowledge and plenty of active research. Unlike the other subsections, however, posters in the philosophy forum are not asked to adhere to established theories.

    The result of this is that much of what could be thoughtful and informative philosophical discussion seems to be drowned out by off the cuff personal thoughts, which people are often very passionate about, but which can bear little resemblance to what is considered to be in the realm of possibility philosophically. The philosophical discussions that are more like what one would find in a philosophy of science or philosophy of math program are contained in the other forums and not found in the philosophy section. For example, interpretations of quantum mechanics fall in the realm of academic philosophy. Philosophers of science argue over Bohr and Bohm and the ontology of quantum field theory, etc. On PF, interpretation threads are mixed in with the other quantum physics threads. On the quantum physics forum you can find different people who only post in those interpretation threads or who avoid them entirely despite being active on the others. Similarly, to a lesser degree, the same thing happens with set/number theory, the meaning of time in relativity, etc.

    I believe much of this problem is that, unlike even sociology or history, philosophy is stuck as a subsection of general discussion in the lounge. Those people interested in learning about or discussing interpretations of quantum mechanics or the nature of time are probably not aware that those areas are actually philosophy. If they are not aware of this fact, they surely won't be looking at a subsection of the lounge for intelligent answers.

    The rules of the philosophy forum also reflect its standing as a lounge topic. The rules require adherence to established science, but not to established philosophy. While I'm not saying that established philosophy is immune to revision, we do amateur readers a disservice by allowing posters to state definitively, for example, that sometimes 2 + 2 = 5. Part of the philosophy major is a required logic sequence, and I can assure you that 2 + 2 does in fact equal 4 and nothing else. Anyone claiming otherwise would fail their philosophy class. We don't allow such posts on a math forum, why allow them in philosophy?

    My suggestion is that we pull philosophy out of the lounge and make it a real subject. Allow a venue for discussions of interpretations and ontological meanings. Create new rules, and moderate the forum to bring it closer to the quality level of the science forums. By moderating accordingly, discussions of QM and relativity interpretations, etc, could easily create a worthwhile posting volume from the beginning. The current forum could remain where it is as "Other Philosophy," or it could be made a subforum of the new philosophy forum. Also, by keeping the main, moderated forum limited to philosophy of physics (or science), it would not at all be out of place on the front page of PF and would synergize quite well.

    Providing a quality philosophy forum would give a proper introduction to philosophy to amateurs and perhaps get them involved in real philosophy. I think this would be a great thing, as physicists especially are usually interested in issues of ontology and have the analytical mind to add to the discussions. It would also attract philosophers of science from elsewhere on the internet. Frankly, the typical philosophy focused website looks like PFs S&D forum. There are also a lot of philosophers interested in and focused on physics.

    Finally, I direct you to some contemporary philosophy of physics for an example of what more advanced discussion topics could look like. From http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/view/subjects/physics.html:

    "On Tensorial Concomitants and the Non-Existence of a Gravitational Stress-Energy Tensor."
    "The modal nature of structures in ontic structural realism."
    "Reduction and Emergence in Bose-Einstein Condensates."
    "Entanglement Exchange and Bohmian Mechanics."
    "On the Explanatory Role of Mathematics in Empirical Science."

    See also http://www.princeton.edu/~hhalvors/papers/ for some philosophy of physics papers primarily published in leading physics journals.


    To summarize my suggestion:

    1) Create a new forum: "Philosophy of Physics" or "Philosophy of Science."
    2) Moderate the forum like a science forum so that definitive unsupported claims must conform with a major contemporary theory and all other claims must be well supported or framed as speculation (don't allow anything that would clearly earn a failing grade in a philosophy class).
    3) Move topics on QM interpretations, the existence of numbers, etc, to the new forum to immediately raise the level of quality and awareness and set a new quality bar.
    4) Rename the current philosophy forum to "Other Philosophy" and keep it where it is or make it a subsection of the new forum so it attracts less academic discussions away from the main forum. Keep the same, relatively relaxed, rules on this forum.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 18, 2009 #2

    Redbelly98

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    The Philosophy forum can be a problematic area, and your suggestion(s) certainly merit discussion.

    One problem is that the forum moderators (i.e. the Mentors) mostly have backgrounds in technical areas: science, math, and engineering for the most part. I'm not aware that any of us has a philosophy background, and don't have training in the "established body of knowledge" you refer to. That would be necessary in order to moderate a philosophy forum outside of General Discussion. As it is, we can usually tell when a discussion has gotten way out of hand. It is tough for us to catch these things early on though.

    Not sure what a viable solution is, but I think the moderation issue would have to be addressed.
     
  4. Nov 18, 2009 #3

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    The Philosophy forum was moved to where it is now for a number of reasons. It was discussed among the mentors and admins at length.

    There are excellent forums for discussion of Philosophy out on the internet. It is not our intention to provide everything for everyone. We intend to focus on the hard sciences, but we appreciate your suggestion.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2009
  5. Nov 18, 2009 #4
    Do we have any philosophy PhDs :smile:? http://plato.stanford.edu/ contains pretty much all standard philosophy at an intermediate level. I graduated with honors in philosophy undergrad (thesis on QM) and would be happy to help point out gross deviations from the SEP. It's more the method and poster attitude, however. If someone suggests something that they just came up with, that's great and should be encouraged. Other posters can then set them straight :smile:! If someone presents a new way of looking at something with a valid argument behind it, that should also be cool in my opinion.

    By limiting discussion to physics and science related topics, mentors should be familiar with much of the discussion already. There is a lot of good philosophy discussed on PF - it is just limited by and hidden within the science forums. Consolidating those posts on one forum automatically increases the concentration of provably modable threads.

    Unless someone is claiming a detail about a certain highly specific theory, there isn't actually a whole lot that needs to be covered. Links to SEP pages on basic philosophical principles (like logic) can be included in the stickied rule posting. Actually, as long as posts are consistent with logic, math, and science, they are most of the way there. The only step left is making sure speculation is not declared as definitive. Since most philosophy is just self-consistent speculation, except what is reducible to logic or historic first principles, it's fairly easy to do. The difference is philosophers know that what they're saying is only true given certain assumptions, and they don't make definitive statements without that caveat. Philosophy is all about assumptions.

    Sure it would be messy at first while people get the hang of it, but you'll still have the old forum. By presenting it as something new and giving it an academic focus, it won't be disruptive to the community. Initially doing something like mod-by-committee to get things started could work, and once things get rolling and there's some publicity it should be easier to find a willing and qualified full time mod.

    I should also point out that philosophy of physics uses the method of analytic philosophy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analytic_philosophy). This is very different from anything having to do with marxism, feminism, existentialism, politics, or poetic or literary "profound" thoughts.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2009
  6. Nov 18, 2009 #5

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    The old Philosophy forum was a disaster. With the time and resources we have, it's fine where it is.

    Please feel free to try to raise the bar in there. Report bad posts for removal.
     
  7. Nov 18, 2009 #6
    Well that's certainly confusing considering the placement of the sociology/anthropology forum, and the fact that physics implicitly depends so heavily on philosophy (as evidenced by the philosophical discussions throughout the science forums).

    Can you suggest another website? As mentioned, I haven't been able to find any sites where people actually have a clue about physics.

    Obviously I realize the site is yours and not mine to run, and I appreciate the consideration.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2009
  8. Nov 18, 2009 #7

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Try philosophyforums.com?
     
  9. Nov 18, 2009 #8

    Q_Goest

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Hi kote. I read through a few of your posts in the philosophy forum and in my opinion your posts are well above the average. I'd agree with everything you've said about the philosophy forum and in fact, I started an identical discussion in the science advisors forum last year. At that time, Math is Hard came back to moderate the forum and Evo has also tried hard to help out. And while I think it's gotten a bit better this past year, it really doesn't have the leadership, nor the followers, necessary to turn it around. That isn't to say the mentors here haven't been trying, but I think there's a second issue as well. As you've pointed out, there are many areas of philosophy. A really good philosophy board would look something like this:
    http://philpapers.org/bbs/forums.pl

    There are dozens of different catagories in philosophy, just as there are dozens of different catagories in science. So I don't think one or two people, no matter how how hard they try, will ever be able to put a serious philosophy forum together. There has to be support from the people using the board as well, but unfortunately the knowledgable posters like yourself seem to be drowned out by all the folks that have no experience or education in philosophy. It's very disheartening to try and explain basic concepts such as qualia and not only do people not understand, but they argue from a completely uneducated perspective on why those basics are wrong.

    Regarding your suggestions, I'd agree whole heartedly that moderating a forum as is done in the other science forums would work, but that's a huge amount of work. Consider for example that the new forum you're suggesting will get just as many bad posts as the present forum. If that happens, the moderators would have to toss out 90% of the posts because it's impossible to stop people from posting nonsense. The posts are going to be thrown in and there's no way anyone here is going to want to sift through all of that garbage. There aren't enough mentors capable of moderating it properly and there aren't enough members that are knowlegable enough to post in a forum like you've described.

    Here's a suggestion. Close the philosophy forum to the general public but have a philosophy forum that is by invitation only. Or perhaps keep the existing forum and add the forum you're suggesting, but make it by invitation only. I think the only way there can be an intellegent philosophy forum here is to limit access to people that know what they're talking about. That's actually what Chalmers and Bourget have essentially done with PhilPapers (the forum I referenced above) and it's fairly effective.
     
  10. Nov 18, 2009 #9

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Excellent post Q_Goest.

    I would love this. I would like to see P&WA closed except to members with at least 500 posts. But that could drive down traffic to the site, so it may not be what Greg wants.

    I do think it might be a good solution for Philosophy. How would we decide who gets accepted to post? Obviously everyone that posts in there thinks they are qualified. :tongue2:
     
  11. Nov 18, 2009 #10
    Thanks for the link and thoughtful response. I'm familiar with PhilPapers but hadn't seen their forum. I don't dispute that there aren't enough mentors - I'm not in any position to know about that. I don't think you would get as many bad posts on a forum with a big DISCLAIMER: POSTS YOU WOULD SUBMIT FOR A CLASS ONLY :smile:, but you would still probably get a large portion of them.

    I do disagree that not enough members are knowledgeable though. Every time I can get away with posting philosophy on the QM forum, I do so, and there are some pretty good discussions there. Many of the threads are pure philosophy. I've been able to get away with discussing logical positivism and Bohr's connection to the Vienna Circle on there, but I know that's already pushing it. We've actually had a few good discussions about positivism - people are actually interested and contribute very well with little or no philosophical background.

    None of those people ever check the philosophy forum though in its current state, which limits discussions from making connections to other areas of philosophy or science. It limits how implications, necessary to coherent physics, may be fleshed out. My motivation for posting this suggestion is that there are actually a lot of knowledgeable and interested active posters on PF. They just have no idea that they are even doing philosophy.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2009
  12. Nov 18, 2009 #11
    Evo, the 500 post thing might actually work quite well for Philosophy. It could work as Q_Goest suggested, with an automatic probationary/conditional invitation at a certain post count. Not only would it make moderation feasible, but it would give people time to become familiar with the style of philosophical posts before contributing. Leaving the forum open for readers would let amateurs get a more accurate (and scientifically relevant) view of what philosophy is. It would also act as an incentive for active forum participation - stick around and we'll let you in on the interesting discussions :biggrin:.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2009
  13. Nov 18, 2009 #12

    Q_Goest

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Hi Evo,
    That's the million $ question. The way PhilPapers does it is that you have to meet a given set of criteria such as being a professor of philosophy or publishing a paper in a philosophical journal. Those kinds of things. Otherwise your posts are not accepted until they've been read and approved by an editor (an editor is what they call a mentor or moderator).

    Certainly if someone can show they're a professional philosopher or if they've published papers in philosophy, that should be adequate. But as you say, "...everyone that posts in there thinks they are qualified." Personally, I think about 10% of the people posting in the philosophy forum are qualified, so from my perspective, there's a real problem and I think you've put your finger on it.

    For those folks that aren't philosophers or published, I think a person has to be interested enough to ask for an invitation. They should send a request to a mentor and perhaps you have a few people sitting around evaluating their existing posts and then decide whether or not they should be allowed to post. Maybe the first few dozen posts they have are held back like they do at PhilPapers, and only after a review does the message get to become a post. I think you have to be fairly strict about it though, and have some people reviewing the process that have enough background in philosophy to know the difference.
     
  14. Nov 18, 2009 #13
    Good thoughts. Holding back a few initial posts could be helpful. There are a few factors that I think will make it easier than this though.

    The first is that I, and I imagine others, would value access to such a forum. If I knew it were one strike and I'm out, and I would have to post a few hundred extra times on a pseudonym to possibly regain access, I would be very careful about each of my posts. The second factor is that if every post on the forum were thoughtful, and I knew I were risking my access with each post, I would at least want to match the common level of thoughtfulness by pure social pressure. Finally, if there is a problem on the forum and half of the threads are closed with a reminder about only posting well motivated/supported arguments, anyone new coming in is likely to tread very carefully.

    I don't know how much work it would be to handle invitation requests or reviews, but a simple post count check (plus blacklist) would probably work - with or without an additional avenue for requesting an invite.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2009
  15. Nov 18, 2009 #14

    Q_Goest

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Hi kote,
    You bring up a good point here. There are a lot of good discussions that are philosophical in nature that never get to the philosophy forum.

    So maybe philosophical questions about science should be left where they are - in the science forums. Those kinds of discussions are self moderated, so there's no reason to add work to the mentors overseeing the philosophy forum. By self moderated, I mean that like any discussion about science, there are a large number of very knowledgable people here that tend to crowd out the crackpots and uninformed posters. Let's leave that alone - if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I think the posts that need fixing are all in a sub catagory that are now shoved into the philosophy forum. I really don't see a problem with keeping the science philosophy threads where they are. From my experience, making suggestions that lead to small, evolutionary changes are generally easier to implement than suggestions that lead to larger, revolutionary changes in how the board works. Revising the philosophy forum would be easier than making a larger shift to move all philosophy (including philosophy about science) into a new philosophy forum.
     
  16. Nov 18, 2009 #15

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Exactly, trying to extract posts that might fit into philosophy would be disruptive to discussions in the science forums.

    Philosophy will have to be for people that want to discuss things from a strictly philosophical angle.
     
  17. Nov 18, 2009 #16

    Moonbear

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Quick! Someone get a net! We have someone who knows something about philosophy...don't let him get away! :biggrin:

    Unfortunately, the philosophy forum has been a thorn in PF's side for some time now. We still have that forum because we DO think it's an important subject as it pertains to the sciences, but it has been considerably down-sized from what it used to be because we lack adequate moderators for it, and because too many people don't know the difference between philosophy and mental diarrhea.

    So, please, help nudge folks in the right direction! Sometimes it just takes one or two higher quality members to wrangle a forum into something much improved.
     
  18. Nov 18, 2009 #17
    Good point. It doesn't make sense to take risks with changes to the science forums. The point I was trying to make was just that PF posters do have knowledge and interest in philosophy of physics. A revised venue could very well attract these discussions organically, without anything needing to be moved.

    And Moonbear, thanks for the support. Do you think if I put things like "quantum field theory" and "mereology" in the subject and link to philosophy papers it will help :uhh:? I'm trying here. It's frustrating knowing that people on PF know the QFT and would be interested in the discussion but don't bother with the philosophy forum. (And yes, I realize mereology is a super obscure topic - I'm just fishing with that one.)
     
  19. Nov 19, 2009 #18

    Moonbear

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    You're right that a lot of people here do enjoy having philosophical discussions, but don't necessarily recognize it as philosophy. It's part of the reason we keep the philosophy forum, because the sciences ARE a field of philosophy (that's why we all strive for a doctor of philosophy degree: Ph.D.). Unfortunately, too many seem to have gotten out of all their formal education without taking any philosophy courses, so think philosophy is a subject for stoned hippies rather than a serious academic discipline that requires all the same standards as any other academic discipline of rigor in developing arguments, defining terms used, citing sources, ensuring sources used are appropriate, carefully detailing steps of logic, etc.

    The key is to link to the publications. Since folks are not familiar with the philosophy literature, it'll ensure you don't get branded a crackpot and might help expose people to what real philosophy is about.

    Honestly, I think every science major should have to take a philosophy course for their major requirements. Just the single course I took helped enormously with my scientific writing, much more so than any of my English writing or lit courses did. The English courses were focused on the writing itself or the interpretation of the books, etc., while the philosophy course focused on the development of a clear argument that elaborated each step in logic...something very challenging to do.

    So, yes, I'd like to see the Philosophy forum raised to the standards of the rest of the forum...maybe then it could be moved back out of the "lounge" and back into the serious academic sections.
     
  20. Nov 19, 2009 #19

    Redbelly98

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    To get good moderation in philosophy, we might need something similar to the Homework Helper and Science Advisor designations. That could relieve much of the moderation burden for the Mentors.
     
  21. Nov 19, 2009 #20
    Considering one of the main issues (the issue?) with the forum is that everyone thinks they are an expert, I think this is a great idea. If it might be considered out of place with the rest of PF, a simple If Forum != Philosophy Then Hide "Philosophy Advisor" should do it. Easy and low risk :smile:.

    Regarding Moonbear's points, which I agree with, this could also help scientists unfamiliar with the subject to distinguish between actual philosophy and "mental diarrhea."
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2009
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook




Similar Discussions: Philosophy of Physics Forum
  1. Philosophy Forum (Replies: 9)

  2. Philosophy forum closing (Replies: 37)

Loading...