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Philosophy of science

  1. Aug 19, 2009 #1
    hey, my question is, do you know how many philosophers of science actually studied science? is it important to study science or can i get a long with philosophy and learn from the internet, for example, physics?
    i prefer not study physics because the math involved and most principles i can read elsewhere
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 19, 2009 #2


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    There's two ways to look at something like this. The first is from the technical side. Philosophy isn't a heavily regulated profession, so from the technical point of view anyone can be a 'philospher of science' regardless of formal study.

    However, at some point, there's a phrase that's called 'walk-the-walk' that comes into play. It's very difficult to establish credibility when you've never actually worked in the field you want to claim expertise in.

    I suppose the real question is this. What problems are you interested in working on in the philosophy of science? There are some subjects that you can learn through independent reading - but in general, physics is not one of them.
  4. Aug 19, 2009 #3
    Haha..c'mon man don't you think that's a bit like taking the easy way out? I don't know if you are simply slightly interested in the philosophy of science, in which case I would say you can just read things on the internet and some books, but if you are seriously interested in the philosophy of science or of becoming a philosopher of science then your nuts if you think you can be a competent philosopher of science without knowing Physics/Science. If you want to be good at anything in life you have to work at it, not just say "I prefer not to study math and physics", yet want to be a philosopher of Physics/Science....Our language and conceptions of the physical theories created are merely approximations of the more precise mathematical framework in which the models are formulated, and surely you would be able to understand how science relates to reality a bit better if you understood the details and exact logic behind it. I suggest you look at mathematics from a different perspective because if your interested in the forefront of any philosophy you should be familiar with symbolic logic and Boolean Algebra....
  5. Aug 20, 2009 #4
    Ideally you should study both. Maybe you could double major in physics and philosophy. Philosophy is very difficult, so I would encourage you to study philosophy if that is your primary interest. However, physics and math are also very difficult, and they are difficult in a different way than philosophy. In physics and math, you have to start with very elementary concepts and then work your way all the way up to the more advanced concepts. Also, you can not just learn about math and physics from reading about concepts. A predominant part of the learning comes from the process of solving problems. Problem solving is very strenuous and this is where you would greatly benefit from taking courses in physics and math. The courses are designed to help you learn how to handle this difficulty.
  6. Aug 20, 2009 #5
    Meni, I'll certainly claim ignorance here and state off the bat that I don't know the first thing about philosophy. I don't know what philosophers of science do. However, I do know that at the end of the day you need to get a job. My first year of graduate school my quantum mechanics professor told me a story about back when he was in graduate school. One of his friends (a fellow grad student in physics) wanted to study the philosophy of quantum mechanics for his PhD dissertation. My professor got done in the usual five years and moved on. His friend spent thirteen years on his dissertation and never finished.

    Again, this is just my unqualified opinion as a non-philosopher, but it seems to me that it would be better to be a professional physicist who does the philosophy stuff on the side, because physics makes for a far more lucrative day job than philosopher. Or, if you don't like physics because of the math, then there are other, less mathematically intensive sciences, which will still give you enough scientific understanding to be a philosopher on the side while still providing you with a paycheck.

    Just a thought.
  7. Aug 21, 2009 #6
    What is it about the "math involved" you do not like? Is it the endless problem soving drills you have to go through to attain the technical proficiency of a physicist? Or do you dislike reading books like "Mathematics:A Very Short Introduction" by Gowers. Or both. If both then forget philosophy of science! If you like reading Gowers then there's hope...
  8. Aug 21, 2009 #7
    thank you all. my math problem is that i don't care, and i don't think i should care, about the right angle an electron is moving. i can read science books. and lets say, to understand most of the relativety, you don't need math but patience and motivation. there are a lot of principles to learn. math is part of physics, my wondering is if i will be able to deal with the physics part without studing formally. as you can see, i can come to forums like that and though i won't be physicist by reading and asking here, but i will get some understanding. i think a lot of people can be autodidact. and i thought a big part of the forum is.
    arunma, that is exactly what philosopher should be like. sometime questions don't have answer but the pursuit revealing all kinds of things. i wish i'll be in that place one day
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avshalom_Elitzur - how many people like him there is, i guess this is my question
    thanks again
  9. Aug 21, 2009 #8
    Meni, I certainly wish you the best of luck. But you might want to reconsider the mathematics issue. Mathematics is especially important in areas like quantum mechanics, which is cast in the language of linear algebra. Without mathematics, statements like "the particle has no definite spin until you measure it" will falsely seem profound, when in fact they have well-defined mathematical meanings. Understanding the guts of quantum mechanics requires this mathematical understanding, and I think you would gain valuable insight by studying it formally.
  10. Aug 21, 2009 #9
    i will definitely take it into consideration.

    btw- i don't mind to work in something that isn't in the academy, i just need time to study as much as i can, with god's help

  11. Aug 22, 2009 #10
    Exactly! And philosophers of quantum physics certainly use (or at least understand and quote!) linear algebra descriptions of quantum systems. Just look at the slides of the author you quote Meni! I see some linear Algebra there... Then again you don't need to know all the nuts, bolts, and applications of linear algebra. You might pick up enough to understand your favourite author by reading Penrose's Road to Reality, or by skimming a linear algebra textbook until you find the few pages you need...
  12. Aug 22, 2009 #11
    let me ask this way: if today every little kid can understand gravity (understand NOT calculate) then can we agree that in a 500 years from now every kid would be able to understand relativity? if so, then mathematics is a ladder (tool) for exploration, but, of course, not for understanding. while more than 3 spatial dimension is a concept we can't comprehend, math will deal with it good (that is what i have been told). i agree that a philosopher, today, can't be like descartes, use only the rational as a tool but needs to know the terms used by the scientists.
    well i guess there is no (not easy way, but) bypass for me and i have doomed to life of misery
    have a nice saturday
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2009
  13. Aug 22, 2009 #12
    Do you need to know math and science for philosophy of science? No. Would it help you? Maybe. Depends on what you want to do.

    If you are thinking of a Bachelor's in Philosophy of Science, you don't really need it. But then, what do you plan to do when you are done?

    If it's graduate work in philosophy of science, you don't need the science and math. You'll probably specialize on a topic in the field, and then just pick up exactly what you need for a philosophy of science PhD in "X" area.

    If it's a professional school (except engineering), you won't need it. No law or business school will care whether you have taken math or science. They will just look at your GPA.

    If it's engineering, you'll need the math and science background.

    If it's the private sector, it depends. Math and science will be useful for finance, product supply. It is not necessary for marketing, advertising, CRM (sales), strategy, etc.

    If you are interested in investment banking or management consulting, science and math will get your foot in the door, but only if you have a good GPA.

    So it depends on what you want to do. For most things, you will want to have a good GPA, so it depends on how good you are in science and math, and whether you can get away with philosophy of science (sans science and math), which I can guarantee you can.

    Contact Professor Robert McGinn at Stanford University for more detailed advice from one of the founding fathers of the field of science, technology, and society -- another option for you.
  14. Aug 22, 2009 #13
    No-one really understands gravity.The only things we can say is that we understand are the mathematical models of gravity.The value of a mathematical model is determined by how well it agrees with the experimental observations. This is the best we can do.
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