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Recommend a ( philosophy of physics ) book

  1. May 3, 2014 #1
    I don't know if this is the right section for my question .

    Can you recommend me some good books on the field of : philosophy of physics ?
    If yes, Recommend books from better to worse .

    Note : i am now a high school student , i haven't read a book on this field before , i want to be a theoretical physicist and to specialize in quantum gravity .
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. May 3, 2014 #2

    verty

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    I can tell you there are some extremely bad books on this subject. Let me do some research and I'll get back to you.

    Oh sorry, I thought you had said "philosophy of science", but actually you have asked for "philosophy of physics". There are some bad philosophy of science books that I have seen but I'm guessing you don't want a book on those usual themes, you know, Kuhn versus Popper, etc.
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2014
  4. May 3, 2014 #3
    I realize this is aside the point, but how do you know enough about theoretical physics and more specifically quantum gravity to say it is your prospective career?
     
  5. May 3, 2014 #4
    I said this is my ambition . I am now a high school student
     
  6. May 3, 2014 #5

    verty

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    @Hossam Halim

    Not knowing a lot about modern physics, and assuming you don't want a book about Kuhn and Popper and all that, I'm going to have to make the assumption that you are wanting one of these things:
    1. An overview of what scientists of the somewhat distant past have written about science itself.
    2. A modern look at space and time.
    3. A discussion of quantum physics and what it all means.
    4. A discussion of very modern perspectives: loop quantum gravity, etc.

    If you are wanting to read what modern philosophers are saying about physics, I just don't know enough about it and I couldn't find anything that jumped out at me.

    1. Try this historical anthology, it seems to cover a wide span of time and should be a very interesting read: https://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-S...8-1&keywords=philosophy+of+science+historical

    2. This book looks absolutely great, I'm tempted to get it myself: https://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-S...135928&sr=8-25&keywords=philosophy+of+physics

    3. This is starting to get beyond my area of knowledge. This one looks nice but I'll defer to others to recommend better books about quantum physics and what it all means: https://www.amazon.com/Thirty-Years...37448&sr=1-2&keywords=history+quantum+physics

    4. Sorry, I wouldn't know where to begin.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  7. May 3, 2014 #6

    WannabeNewton

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    If you want to read philosophy of physics texts from which you will actually gain considerable conceptual and foundational insight then you have to know the associated physics beforehand. So, with that being said, how much physics do you already know? Do you know any SR, GR, and/or QM?

    Also while parts of Reichenbach are great, such as the discussion of the conventionality of simultaneity and the operational definitions of clock synchronization, there are many misconceptions propagated by the book coupled with terrible terminology. It's really only useful as a piece of historical interest. There are far better books on the philosophy of space-time and of special and general relativity such as Friedman or Torretti. There are also some books on the philosophy of mechanics, such as Sklar, but again they wouldn't be of much use without having a proper knowledge of the subject beforehand.

    QM has an abundance of great philosophy texts but the truly good ones will require at least some knowledge of QM beforehand.
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2014
  8. May 3, 2014 #7

    verty

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    I was just looking at Friedman's book, "Foundations of Space-Time Theories: Relativistic Physics and Philosophy of Science".

    From the back cover:
    I don't think I like the term "foundations", surely the foundations of a theory are the observations that support it. I mean, a theory with no supporting observations can hardly be called a theory, unless it is a philosophical theory. If one has a theory of space-time, there must be observations that support it. So unless Friedman's book is about the observations or observed facts and how they support the current theory, I suspect that he isn't choosing his words in the best way.

    Then also, it seems somewhat irrelevant to what extent Einstein was influenced by positivist philosophers. I mean, he wrote up a mathematical theory. Why should positivist philosophers have anything to do with that process at all? Probably Friedman is right that after that they used the new theory as proof of whatever they were talking about, but to say that Einstein was influenced by them is patently absurd.

    So my hairs are standing up a little about this one.
     
  9. May 3, 2014 #8

    WannabeNewton

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    Why don't you actually read the book instead of over-analyzing the semantical content of the back cover?

    Secondly, what's absurd is your definition of "foundations". In what sense are the "foundations" of a theory the observations that support it? "Foundations" could easily mean the conceptual and mathematical-logical foundations of a theory, which it does in the case of Friedman. As per your "definition" of the term, the following excellent text would be devalued as well: http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/T/bo12893557.html

    Lastly, the positivist influences are all discussed in the book and in other books on the history of physics e.g. those by Statchel. Whether or not you agree with the points is another thing but you should read them first before attempting to disagree.
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2014
  10. May 3, 2014 #9

    Astronuc

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    There are observations, and then there are observations, and by that I mean, there of simple observations without detailed measurements and experiments, and there are observations accompanied by detailed measurements. Some folks may proceed to theorize (perhaps speculate is a better word) without a rigorous investigation (with experiment and measurement), while others (experimentalists) may prefer to measure first and theorize later.

    I've been reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Einstein, and Isaacson mentions the influence of Mach and others on Einstein's thinking and approach to theoretical physics. Of course, there is perhaps some interpretation by Isaacson on Einstein's beliefs and understanding, so I'd recommend Einstein's on writings on the subject.

    As others have mentioned, one may wish to explore books on "Philosophy of Science".
    For example (no endorsement expressed or implied) - https://www.amazon.com/Top-books-contemporary-philosophy-science/lm/R10COCJ3510B7I

    https://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Science-Central-J-Cover/dp/0393971759 (1408 pages!)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  11. May 3, 2014 #10

    verty

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    Too many books, too little time.

    By observations, I meant that without an experiment like Michelson-Morley, there wouldn't have been a theory of relativity. But I agree that people often say things like "the foundational idea of relativity is that time is relative". So I concede to your point that good books do say this.
     
  12. May 3, 2014 #11

    Astronuc

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    Not necessarily so.

    While Einstein acknowledged 'the ether' in his paper(s) on Special Relativity, he did not acknowledge the MM experiment. Instead, he reflected on other observations about electromagnetism.

    In fact, this textbook states: "It is certainly one of the most remarkable
    achievements of science to date, it was developed by Einstein with little or
    no experimental motivation but driven instead by philosophical questions:
    Why are inertial frames of reference so special? Why is it we do not feel
    gravity’s pull when we are freely falling? Why should absolute velocities be
    forbidden but absolute accelerations by accepted?"

    Ref: http://course.physastro.iastate.edu/astro250/WudkaGR-7.pdf
    https://www.amazon.com/Space-Time-Relativity-Cosmology-Jose-Wudka/dp/B008SMJQK2
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  13. May 3, 2014 #12

    verty

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    I think you are saying that a scientific theory is more than a theory because it has been highly refined by measurements? I want to agree but this is the type of question or proposition very common in philosophy forums where everyone has an opinion and it goes round and round. So being careful, I think to what extent a theory is scientific we should leave to personal choice. But clearly there are theories that we call scientific that are very well tested and there are also theories that are less well tested, being more speculative in nature (and some that are just not scientific in nature, being about agent spirits or such). And there are people who like to debate speculative theories and there are those who try to disprove them or corroborate them. This is all good for science because the more these theories are put to trial if you like, the more our knowledge will be advanced.

    I said in my first post that there are bad books about the philosophy of science. Unfortunately, some people like to talk about what can't be said, rather than what can, or about how people who say things are wrong. This is why I analyze what I can when it comes to philosophy books because some of them are just verbiage.

    I think the books I recommend for Hossam Halim are mostly good, although it seems that Reichenbach one may be troublesome. But I hope that Hossam Halim has found by now what he was looking for.

    Thanks for the background information. Darn, this is going to turn into a long post after all.

    I must take back what I said. It is clear to me that, as you say, Einstein's thinking was influenced in the usual sense which is, he encountered the influence and subsequent to that influence, his thinking changed. Thinking about it now, influence can also be negative, so there is almost no way his thinking could fail to change upon coming into contact with a new approach. He must have been influenced by positivist thought, period.

    The reason I called it patently absurd is because I thought it absurd that Einstein might not have been who he became but for that influence.

    Also I see that analyzing the back covers is not a safe thing to do. This is a pity because there is benefit in doing it but some back covers are just not good indicators of the content. In this case, the back cover did not in fact say that the author Friedman disagreed with the positivist claims of credibility by supposedly having aided science by influencing Einstein. It said he clarifies their mutual relationship. This is what led me to suppose that he shared the goal of making the theory of relativity a positivist achievement. And as I said, the back cover does not refute this interpretation, not really.

    I did actually look at Friedman's other books on sale and they were all philosophy related, no actual physics book, and one was specifically about positivism, so again I saw nothing to refute the wrong idea I had of the book.

    I should definitely have trusted WannabeNewton on this. He is clearly no wannabe when it comes to physics, and he is very well read.

    I think Astronuc might have edited his post but I don't have time to change what I've said here, so I'll leave the quotes of his previous post in.
     
  14. May 4, 2014 #13

    verty

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    I can see why this has puzzled historians. He was very young when MM was performed (about 8 years old), so he was unlikely to hear about it for many years. By that time, he might have heard that there is no ether (I'll use this spelling) before ever hearing about the experiment. But 18 years after MM, an experiment that showed that no deviation could be detected in the speed of light, one of the two postulates of Einstein's Special Relativity was that no deviation in the speed of light can be detected.

    Would he have included that postulate if not for MM? There is also this detail, in 1846 Neptune was discovered because the orbit of Uranus was irregular and by mathematical methods it was found that a yet unknown planet could explain the deviations. This would be quite fresh in the memory of society, it was within one lifetime of when Einstein was theorizing. It certainly might have been considered the height of scientific achievement to do this, to predict by mathematical or theoretical insight. From a PR point of view, there was reason not to mention MM.

    But I think I believe Einstein because it was certainly possible that he learned electromagnetism and already was thinking that there was inconsistency there. And we can hardly expect him to have written his papers at a younger age. So it's an interesting historical puzzle but I think we must take him at his word.

    Let's get back to what this thread is about.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
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