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The Greatest Scientists are 'True Philosophers'?

  1. Aug 26, 2003 #1

    Another God

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    I know that science has only really parted from Philosophy recently in the big picture, and so yes, of course, in the past there wasn't even a distinction between Science and Philosophy (Natural Philosophy)

    BUT, the seperation has been quick, and the distinction is now quite clear. The difference between a B. Arts and a B. Science is profound, and you don't want to dare imply to a science degree student that their degree is no different from an arts one!

    As such, in our society, nearly all of our modern scientists are just plain simple scientists, trained to perform repetitive tasks, trained to understand the basic premises of their field, trained to hypothesis, test, report....not very much to it.

    I am proposing that these scientists, although integral to the process, will be completely overshadowed by the 'greats' that are to come, all of which will actually be 'Philosophers' (in the true, internal sense, not just in the 'I have a degree in philosophy' sense). The people who know how to critically engage with problems, people who know how to think outside the box, people who question common beliefs etc...

    This sort of stuff isn't as common as you would like to think.

    Anyway, just some thoughts: Modern scientific greats that instantly come to mind are Einstein, Watson and Crick...and some others to follow (because I am not sure if they belong)

    Einstein is a philosopher: His whole theory revolved around perception, time, reality...etc. Read his work, and it is a philosophical piece which just happens ot have brilliant maths backing it up. Einstein was a bridge between Philosophy and Science, using the common denominator : Maths.
    Einsteins natural tendency to be a philosopher is apparent in his work.

    Crick was a philosopher. As well as being famed for discovering the structure and mechanism of replication of DNA, but he also has several papers which present a theory for the Mind. I thought it amusing that if he was right, he would be the most remarkable man of all time: Responsible for answering the two most challenging questions of all time: What is life? What is the mind? hehehe. Crick is a philosopher, and I think this is part of why he is now a 'great' of science.

    Other examples I am thinking of are moreso Popular Scientisits, not so much 'greats'... But I am thinking Dawkins, Dennett, Gould, Sagan... they are all philosophers as well as scientists. I think Dawkins' work is brilliant, and it is definately a result of his philosophical approach, but it isn't the sort of work to make him a 'great' yet...
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  3. Aug 26, 2003 #2
    Funny. All names you quoted, except perhaps for Gould, are not only atheists, but virulently so. God is no longer a philosophical possibility, among intellectuals these days theism is equated with ignorance.

    What happened to The Great Theist Debate which has traditionally been the staple of philosophy? What is there to philosophize about these days?

    Nietzsche pronounced God dead. If he's right, then the next great philosopher is the one who will pronounce philosophy dead. If our existence is reduced to a meaningless battle for survival and reproduction for their own sake, then the only philosophy that matters is the one that teaches us how to eat more, live longer, and have more sex. Namely, science.
  4. Aug 26, 2003 #3
    Re: Re: The Greatest Scientists are 'True Philosophers'?

    Funny, scientists don't spend their time or mental energy dealing with mythology. Which god were you refering to, BTW? Thor, Zeus, Isis?

    Oh, and thanks for repeating the common misperceptions about atheism, we haven't seen those in...a day?

    Now, on to the philosophy...I have always believed that philosophy and thought experiments and the like are useful tools for the scientist.
  5. Aug 26, 2003 #4


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    Hmmmm, let's see. There is ontology, the philosophy of space and time, the nature of consciousness, the implications of quantum theory, the philosophy of language, ethics and the philosophy of government to name a few. I don't see how God's nonexistence changes the need for philosophical explanations of all the above.
  6. Aug 26, 2003 #5
    Eistein was not an atheist though not a practicing jew. But to name a few other greats there is Hawking, Schrodinger,Neils Bohr and Feynman . I don't know it any of them are athiest but Hawking constantly refers to God.

    Here I have to agree with Zero And you too, AG. To be great in science one has to be a philosopher, a thinker in abstract and willing and able to go outside the box. That's the difference between a great scientist and a technical scientist or a philosopher or an academic student of philosophy.
  7. Aug 26, 2003 #6
    The thing that makes them great is the combination of the two. Pure thought without the technical knowledge is like being able to whistle a pretty tune, but have no clue how to play an instrument or write music. There has to be an ability to convert the subjective philosophising into something more objective.
  8. Aug 26, 2003 #7
    Absolutely, Zero. That is what I was trying to say. The difference between a great scientist and a technician is philosophy or the ability to think outside the box and solve problems, or better, to see science in their minds. Feynman said that you really don't understand something until you can explain it to your mother. That may seem out of place here but it is what I'm talking about. They, the great scientist can really understand and visualized their abstract theories or ideas to make them into hypothesis and then theories.
  9. Aug 26, 2003 #8
    Feynman also said science was done by fools. I always wondered why people see so much significance in what is essentially a foolish endeavour.

    I happen to be of the opinion that if you really understand something, then you can't even explain it to yourself - it has become so much a part of you that you can't even think about it. But of course my name is not Feynman.
  10. Aug 26, 2003 #9
    Dennett is a philosopher :wink:
  11. Aug 26, 2003 #10
    Re: Re: The Greatest Scientists are 'True Philosophers'?

    Hi everybody I'm back after a long time and hopefully I'll stay for good this time, now that I'm in college and will probably be asking constant physics problems. :smile:

    I hate to be the one to say it first (though Royce edged toward it) but Einstein was incredibly far from being an athiest. The driving force behind much of his work was his search for understanding the mind of God. Remember his famous quote, "God does not play dice,"? Sagan may have been an athiest, but he was certainly largely in support of a common ground.

    Anyway, Another God has an excellent point and I have to say I agree. A "true" scientist is really a philosopher of a particular type, while the majority of scientists are really researchers, engineers, and experimentors, though all of whom are invaluable to science and I would not consider close-minded or repetitive machines.
  12. Aug 26, 2003 #11


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    Re: Re: The Greatest Scientists are 'True Philosophers'?

    You are wrong, so wrong.

    It depends innately on your consideration of the word, "god". God as the absolute truth, the omega to existence, is dead - as it has always been, a dead end to thought, a factor that brings no progress, no thought. But "God" as a goal, as the unreachable truth, as a philosophical idea is very much alive. Einstein for example believed in Spinoza's God, the manifestation of universal order. Even Dawkins has his "god" - in his genes and the their tendency for development. The distinction is the death of religion in philosophy, which is certainly deserving, and the death of inspiration, which has not occured, even if the wording is different.
    Science is in principle the search for knowledge and truth. That is its philosophy, and that is every scientist's real "god".

    You misunderstand. To Feynman, we are all fools. It is through science that we become less so - or at least understand how foolish we are.

    I guess you don't understand that, then. Godel's theorem...
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2003
  13. Aug 27, 2003 #12

    Another God

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    Oh I know that, but I don't think he is renowned as a 'Great Scientist' which is why I didn't bring him up. I mentioned all of their names as scientists who are true philosophers...

    It is also probably worth noting the observation that plenty of people may learn philosophy, but very few people, and even few people among the people who learn philosophy, are actually what I consider 'true philosophers'. True philosophers are the people who can't stop themselves from questioning everything. I know I am a true philosopher...its just how I work. I can't stop wondering about the way things are, how they work, and why people believe what they do believe. Most people 'Don't care' or 'Couldn't be bothered' as if it was an effort. I don't see it as an effort...i see it as a way of life.

    It is strange meeting non-philosophers, particularly when it happens in a philosophy classroom environment.

    Thats why places like PF are perfect for me... Nearly everyone here is a true philosopher...we just can't help ourselves. We just have to keep coming back, find out why people believe what they believe, find out why people don't understand things from our point of view. Are we wrong? Are they wrong? What don't I yet know about which may influence my point of view? ETC
  14. Aug 27, 2003 #13
    Well put, AG. I think all of us here are so afflicted or is it infected. I used to drive my parents and teachers nuts by constantly asking "Why" and "How". They soon resorted to; "Look it up yourself."
    Which was frustrating at the time; but, it got me into the habit and got me reading everything in sight inlcluding matchbook covers much to my wife's dispair.
  15. Aug 27, 2003 #14
    Re: Re: Re: The Greatest Scientists are 'True Philosophers'?

    Quoting you: "you are wrong, so wrong"

    God as the absolute truth, the omega of existence, is what inspired most great geniuses of the past. From Bach to Michelangelo to Dante to Newton, belief in God has motivated men to reach the unreachable.

    Now look at materialism: what does it inspire? Does it move anyone to write deeply moving novels, to compose soul-stirring symphonies, to build magnificent structures?
    Hawkins believes God is the law of physics. No offence but he might as well believe God is his dog's poo. Why bother? Who cares about those impersonal Gods who are completely uninterested in human affairs?
    The distinction is actually whether we are still allowed to think of the universe as the manifestation of conscious desire or the outcome of logical necessity. The former case implies a god, the latter case implies nothing worth thinking about.
    By the time you think a virulent atheist such as Dawkins actually believes in "god", the word "god" has lost any trace of meaning it still managed to have. Let's have a little respect for our language, shall we?
    You misunderstand. I agree with Feynman that we are all fools, but I don't agree with you that fools can become less foolish by thinking alone. A fool can only think foolish thoughts. Whatever it is that makes a man less foolish, it certainly can't have anything to do with exercising his foolishness!
    There are few things I understand, Godel's theorem not being one of them. Among the things I understand quite well are how to flex 150 different muscles to take a step, or how to choose four words, out of a few thousand, and arrange them in the proper order so that I can eat: "a hot-dog please!"

    If you think you understand those extremely complex things and can explain them to your mother or even yourself, then give it a try!
  16. Aug 27, 2003 #15


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    Evolution explains all those physically adapted abilities. Study it up, trying to repress your urge to explain everything by some supernatural power. You might find something out.
  17. Aug 27, 2003 #16


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    And hence this belief lives on, even in the case of Dawkins - his search for a gene based cause of cooperation can be thought of as a search for the truth of the matter, or even a search for god. But the attitude that the truth can be read from a book or be preached and after that, no more, was never part of philosophy as a process of wisdom, and never should be. The will to reach the unreachable is at the heart of science - maybe you should read up on Karl Popper?

    You see, it is clear from: "how to eat more, live longer, and have more sex" that you don't at all understand what science is about.

    Science as a philosophy is about the pairing of scepticism and wonder in the search for truth. That's it. This is the essence of science - it has nothing to do with meaninglessness, nothing to do with the application of technology, but to do with a transcendent search.

    Materialist science, and science is not neccessarily materialist is based on the key goal of materialism - to learn of the nature of the objective reality which we assume lies beneath. It may not write novels, but acheives a beauty of it's one, in letting us see it all more clearly.

    Because it is an inspiration. The Greeks had their gods, too - the fickle gods of Mount Olympus, whoses actions inspire terror and awe. Plato has his gods, in the ideal forms on a level above. The God of Dawkins is a purpose, something to reach for. Something to reach for does not have to be selfish like a personal god, and yet tells us something about ourselves. Why open your eyes if the photons don't care about you?

    Does it matter? You are interposing what you want the universe to say, instead of listening to what it actually says. The fact that people do find purpose in understanding the universe, conscious or not, shows that you are wrong.

    If you think Dawkins cannot consider what he is looking for as something meaningful outside of his life, then you have no appreciation for God - the real living god, instead of the thin paper model. Dawkins does not believe in the God of religion - but whenever he writes about exceeding the laws of natural selection, then he is reaching for a higher idea.

    Another parable:
    The man who asks a question is a fool for a day. The man who does not ask a question is a fool for eternity.

    Certainly science is not just thought, or lone thought. Science is part wonder, a curiousity and will to look out at the world. To open your eyes is science.

    Godel's paradox demonstrated that by trying to create such a broad generalisation, you have created a paradox and hence invalidated your argument. For by trying to explain it to me, you have shown that you do not understand it, and hence are not fit to explain it.
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