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Physics and Philosophy

  1. Jan 10, 2012 #1
    Hello PF folks! I'm a 10+2 Indian student with a simple question.

    I want to merge physics and philosophy to answer fundamental questions about the nature of time, the future and the laws that govern the universe and how human perception affects them. The philosophy angle comes in with respect to concepts like the uncertain future, destiny and such stuff. And I want to study all this, using proven physical tools like quantum mechanics and general relativity. Crazy idea, I know. But I guess even if I make a small insight into this, it will be real great achievement. The idea is if not to get to the answer, then to make it easy for the next guy who comes along the quest.

    The main question is, do you think there will be anybody out there in the world who is willing to fund a search for such crazy questions? I need a little money to survive. That's it.

    Pure sciences are not so encouraged in our country :(
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 10, 2012 #2
    Your best bet is to get a physics degree (and a philosophy minor/double) and try to get into a masters philosophy program which deals with things like this. Not much physics research out there for philosophers, but philosophy can always use physcists.
  4. Jan 10, 2012 #3
    I'd suggest to study physics and read philosophy on your own. Looking at the history, being a physicist/mathematician and a great philosopher at the same time is not something crazy. In fact, I think that the majority of people that are deeply interested in theoretical physics/mathematics are interested in philosophy also, since philosophy is a really broad concept.

    Quantum physics/General relativity researchers do get funding. And I think what matters the most is how competent you are going to be as a researcher, not the specific topic you will do research about. The questions aren't crazy, by the way. It's the approach to them that can be crazy. So If you will stay rational and scientific, I don't think you will have any problems.
  5. Jan 10, 2012 #4
    Not a bad goal, but you should know that the likelihood of doing that is small. On the other hand, you could end up with something useful even if you don't get what you are looking for.

    Also you should look at people who have tried this before, and seen what they have gotten. I'm not terribly impressed by what has come out. One problem is that physics makes a *terrible* philosophy of life since most of it is uncertain, and you really can't build a life on such weak foundations. But that's me.

    No. However, if you just want to survive and think, it's pretty easy to find some work that will allow you to avoid starvation. One thing about me is that my work is pretty fundamental to my philosophy of life. Something that I've found useful is to "think deeply" about economics and society and to make that part of the philosophical quest rather than as something separate.
  6. Jan 10, 2012 #5
    I completely agree on that! And hence, my aim is to make the road easier for the next man who comes on the very same quest. Finding straightforward answers might not be in store for me and I have no problems with that!

    Previous quests were synonymous with Einstein's quest for the theory of everything in his ripe old years. What got me interested was the apparent conflict between the Many Worlds Interpretation of QM and the block universe view of General relativity. Of course, I have not indulged into the heavy math of the same but I want to do so!

    Also I am very much interested in taking up a academic position as I am hell-bent on teaching and passing on knowledge!

    Being brought up in a country like India, a country where anything besides Engineering or Medicine is 'crazy', I thought I'd add it in. But I completely agree with the fact that no question is crazy, just that a particular approach to it might be!
  7. Jan 11, 2012 #6


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    My advice for you is that if you want to be a philosopher on something, then do that something first before you become a philosopher.

    For example if you want to be a philosopher on mathematics, then become a mathematician first and then do the philosophy later. If you want to become a philosopher on education, then be a teacher and then philosophize later on.

    Don't do it the other way around because a) you probably won't gain the insight to make a good enough inductive or deductive statement and b) many people won't take you seriously.
  8. Jan 11, 2012 #7


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    Also one thing I want to add is that truth is hard to find, and absolute truth is pretty much impossible. If your aim is to discover some kind of absolute truth, then be cautious about your ambition.
  9. Jan 11, 2012 #8

    Apply to a few schools in America. Look for the ones who have merit-scholarships for international students or need-based financial aid. You could easily major in physics while taking courses in philosophy. You might want to look into Australia (that kind of double major is possible) and England (they actually have a few degrees with the title "BSc/BA Physics and Philosophy" - Oxford, Nottingham and a few others that I can't remember) as well.
    However, in Australia, "funding" for international students is even more scarce than in America. In England, they're barely existent. At least, that's as far as undergraduate education is concerned.
    You might want to look into other European countries as well. Universitat Leipzig has a Physics BSc in English. German universities require students from India to do a foundation year in a Studdienkolleg though. Don't quote me on that but if I'm not mistaken, students who have scored well in the JEE (IIT) can benefit from certain exemptions and perhaps, start directly into the BSc. But again, I'm not certain about that and you should check and see for yourself.

    Speaking of IITs, I suspect you're preparing for the JEE? You might want to look into the Kanpur branch as they have 4-year BS degrees (like the American degrees) in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Economics. There is also the option to stay for another year and get an MS or double major.
    Following a bachelor's degree in India, you could apply for a PhD program. Maybe a joint PhD program, such as http://www.hotcoursesusa.com/us/joint-phd-degrees-in-physics-and-philosophy-of-science-at-university-of-rochester-111866-usa.html [Broken] one.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  10. Jan 11, 2012 #9
    I think you misunderstand philosophy. There is no "truth" to be found in it, especially not in philosophy of physics. Philosophy poses questions and possible answers. That's all it does.

    I really do hate to attack people's dreams, but your dream is very much impossible as you describe it. One thing I would suggest is to mold your dream into something more feasible and grounded in reality. Become a physicist. You can answer questions about the 'nature of time' and such through the powerful tools of mathematics. Then philosophize all you want by writing books as a hobby.

    As an example, let's look at Richard Dawkins. The man is renowned as a philosopher of religion, espousing anti-theological stances, but his life's work is actually in evolutionary biology. He is setting forth possible answers to questions about the origin of mankind by melding biology and philosophy. You should consider something similar. Who knows? Maybe in thirty years' time I'll be reading your work and thinking, "This guy has some cool thoughts." Or maybe in thirty years' time I'll be reading your work and thinking, "Maaaan, this guy's a crackpot" :) But that's modern philosophy for you. Take it or leave it.
  11. Jan 11, 2012 #10
    Hahaha! :D As you people say, I have a long long way to go. I want my thoughts to remain rational and pretty much on the grounds of mathematics. I shall keep my search going on!

    Thank you for helping me out folks :)

    Any more advice is welcome!
  12. Jan 11, 2012 #11


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    Yeah I did go off on a tangent, but it seems that at least like the OP, many people dream of finding some kind of absolute truth in science (at least in their own mind), and this is what I was trying to emphasize with this statement.


    That is what I was trying to say in the other part of the post, and this is a more specific anecdote that supports that statement.
  13. Jan 11, 2012 #12
    People have been thinking about this for several decades. It's possible that there *isn't* an answer that we can get in the next hundred years. It's also possible that the key involves some weird and non-obvious research, and that you are better off doing something random. A lot of particle physics comes from theories that were developed to explain superconductivity.

    They actually aren't. It's actually very, very easy to come up with a mathematically elegant theory of everything. The hard part is to come up with an TOE that matches messy reality. This is why focusing on philosophy isn't likely to turn up anything useful. The philosophy is the easy part. The hard part is messy reality and most of that involves experimental stuff.

    QM and GR conflict. The problem is its not obvious how philosophy is going to resolve the conflict.

    Schools aren't the only places that you can teach.
  14. Jan 20, 2012 #13
    sounds super awesome to me (but i have a philosophy degree ;). have you seen this M.A. program at Columbia: http://philosophy.columbia.edu/content/ma-philosophical-foundations-physics

    I 100% agree that you should focus on the hard science and math and do the philosophy secondary (as a 2nd major or minor or even as specialization in grad school).

    good luck! I would kill to work on your team :)
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