Why does physics keep a distance from philosophy?

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I've seen it on this forum when someone asked a philosophical question ant the moderator closed the thread saying that this does not concern physics. Why not accepting philosophy?
 

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  • #2
berkeman
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I've seen it on this forum when someone asked a philosophical question ant the moderator closed the thread saying that this does not concern physics. Why not accepting philosophy?
For one thing, we do not have Mentors on staff that can adequately Moderate threads that discuss philosophy.
 
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  • #3
fresh_42
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Why not accepting philosophy?
When was the last time you actually saw philosophy? Maybe the question, but certainly not the answers. It is not fair to the scientific field of philosophy to call any thought about the world philosophy. We don't discuss flat Earth or circle squaring either. The way it appears on public forums, which are not specifically dedicated to the field, leads only to endless and meaningless discussions. There are actually philosophers on the internet, too, and I'm sure they can deal with these kind of questions way better than us.

E.g. imagine the question why ##1,2,3,\ldots## are called natural numbers, and ##\pi, e, \sqrt{2},\ldots ## are called real numbers. These are the kind of questions which usually come up. We could discuss this forever and a day without a single step forward. And experience tells, that those debates usually end up in two camps defending opposing opinions in a more and more personal manner. And under the view of scientific philosophy, none of the contributions will qualify as such. Of course I cannot claim this will always happen, but I'm certain enough to claim this will happen in nine out of ten cases, accompanied by unnecessary moderator action and eventual warnings.
 
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  • #4
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In my opinion, what is often disparaged as "philosophy" here would be better labeled as "speculations or opinions about physics that are not testable by experiment, even in principle." All we can do is argue about their validity. In most or all cases it comes down to personal preference.
 
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  • #5
anorlunda
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I've seen it on this forum when someone asked a philosophical question ant the moderator closed the thread saying that this does not concern physics. Why not accepting philosophy?

You heard answers from three viewpoints so far. Bottom line, you're not going to find sympathy for philosophy discussions here on PF. Now for a fourth viewpoint.

There are many places on the Internet where philosophy are discussed. Very many. We like PF the way it is, which is:

Mission Statement:

Our mission is to provide a place for people (whether students, professional scientists, or others interested in science) to learn and discuss science as it is currently generally understood and practiced by the professional scientific community. As our name suggests, our main focus is on physics, but we also have forums for most other academic areas including engineering, chemistry, biology, social sciences, etc.
 
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They use different methods - this tells you about science:


Science tests its guesses against observation - philosophy just garbles on and on and on - never reaching a conclusion.

We at one time discussed philosophy here and it was banned for that exact reason - threads involving it just went on and on - going nowhere.

We like to actually resolve things - its a weird idea - I know - perpetually arguing the same thing over and over - never getting anywhere is obviously better and what has led to the technological advances of modern society :-p:-p:-p:-p:-p:-p:-p. Sorry couldn't help myself - but I am sure you get my drift.

Its just the mentors, advisers, homework helpers etc etc here prefer posts to actually get answers.

That's not to say philosophy is not a legit area, and we occasionally touch on it here, but with a very tight rein, its just doesn't fit our aims.

I also must say I did a postgraduate course in philosophy and what some people here consider philosophy is more like wild speculation than actual philosophy. Actual philosophy would be questions such as what is mathematics - philosophy's answer is all sorts of things eg its just a convention. Turing, a legit scientist whose works are well and truly on topic here had a long debate with Wittgenstein about it. I will not give the details but as a philosophical debate it was thought Wittgenstein won. But today most scientists side with Turing. I will not go into the debate here - you can look it up - and no its not what we discuss here - its just an illustration of what is philosophy, compared to what some that post here think is philosophy.

If you want to discuss actual philosophy then there is the philosophy forum:
https://thephilosophyforum.com/

Even though I know a little bit about philosophy on the rare occasion I venture over there I get done like a Turkey dinner - it really is a different way of thinking. As I said, judged as a philosophical debate, the debate of the two greats of their fields, Wittgenstein and Turing, it was thought Wittgenstein won. Wittgenstein thought math just a convention. These days you are unlikely to find adherents to that view amongst scientists - but some scientists in the past like Poincare did champion it. However he was a polymath at home in many areas - not just math and physics - but engineering and philosophy. Guy's like this are - how to put it - rather unusual.

Thanks
Bill
 
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  • #7
lekh2003
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Physics reaches conclusions. Philosophy is designed not to. It is designed to be open for discussion forever.

If we openly allowed philosophical questions, the very nature of philosophy dictates that we will never be able to help the OP or anyone on the thread. We will keep roaming in loops and I can imagine mentors would want to move on from one thread.

No point discussing philosophy when no one is ever going to be able to help anyone. That just isn't what PF is for. There might be forums that allow philosophy, so go there. Why torture PF with endless cycles of thinking.
 
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  • #8
jtbell
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We at one time discussed philosophy here and it was banned for that exact reason - threads involving it just went on and on - going nowhere.
We once had a philosophy forum which became overrun by "wild and woolly" ideas and discussions. One of the mentors, who had a lot of academic experience in philosophy (maybe even a degree, I don't remember now), "took over" that forum. She required that new threads must include some reference to a serious philosopher, a more explicit version of our requirement in the science forums that topics must be traceable to mainstream textbooks or journals even if you don't always have to give a specific reference. She also closed down discussions that started to go round in circles, similarly to the way we handle discussions about interpretations of quantum mechanics in the QM forum. This reduced the volume of discussion but improved the quality. Unfortunately, she left. We had no one who knew enough about philosophy to moderate that forum confidently, so we removed it.
 
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  • #9
lekh2003
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She required that new threads must include some reference to a serious philosopher, a more explicit version of our requirement in the science forums that topics must be traceable to mainstream textbooks or journals even if you don't always have to give a specific reference. She also closed down discussions that started to go round in circles, similarly to the way we handle discussions about interpretations of quantum mechanics in the QM forum. This reduced the volume of discussion but improved the quality. Unfortunately, she left. We had no one who knew enough about philosophy to moderate that forum confidently, so we removed it.
That is some interesting trivia.
 
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  • #10
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The thing that everyone needs to know, especially NEW members, is that many of the policies and rules that are in placed are there for a reason. They just didn't come up due to some divine revelation from above, or that the Mentors or Admins one day decided on it without any rational reason. Many of the things that we have been criticized for (no "personal theory", no discussion on philosophy, no this, no that), were something that had been tried and done! We learned from those, and decided accordingly on how they fit into the mission of the forum. So if think you want to see something allowed on this forum, chances are we had already tried it, found that it didn't work to our standards, and decided against it.

Because PF values quality of discussion, it means that we need not only experts in many of the subject areas that we discuss here, but also experts who have the time and patience to moderate and monitor such discussions. Shortcomings in any of those will mean that the quality of discussion will severely deteriorate, and that defeats the whole intent of this forum.

And the thing that one must also realize is that quality begets quality. This is why we are able to attract and retain many members who are physicists, engineers, chemists, biologists, mathematicians, technicians, etc... etc, and students of those areas. There is a sense that, unlike a free-for-all forum, information obtained from this forum has a higher degree of reliability or validity.

This is why we'd rather NOT have discussions on certain topics or give platforms to certain issues. There are already infinite number of places online where you can find noise. The fact that this forum has a higher signal-to-noise ratio is highly unusual for an open, internet forum, and something that many of us here are proud of.

Zz.
 
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  • #11
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Having done philosophy of science course last year which focused on the likes of Feyerabend and Popper, two things very quickly became apparent. First, the contribution of philosophy in the context of the course to physics or mathematics or whatever science your choose can best be described as limit that approaches zero. Secondly, the whole affair resembles a case of one-upmanship with each big name being a major detractor of the one who came before. It rather reminded of the ideas of Hugo Rune who appears in Robert Rankin's books which says a lot.
 
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  • #12
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Thank you very much for your answers. I understand your point and it's really unarguable that philosophy is a very different field and its contribution to science is right to be questioned. I personally love both physics and philosophy and I believe that philosophy can actually help us get forward in a some way (maybe not the way we imagine or expect it), but as I'm very early in my career I still need a lot of time and work to form reasonable arguments and prove myself right or wrong on this point.
 
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  • #13
lekh2003
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Thank you very much for your answers. I understand your point and it's really unarguable that philosophy is a very different field and its contribution to science is right to be questioned. I personally love both physics and philosophy and I believe that philosophy can actually help us get forward in a some way (maybe not the way we imagine or expect it), but as I'm very early in my career I still need a lot of time and work to form reasonable arguments and prove myself right or wrong on this point.
I feel very proud that you have sensibly found out the difference between the fields. Seldom have I seen a new member with opposing views understand and conclude his argument.

Thanks.
 
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  • #14
fresh_42
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I personally love both physics and philosophy and I believe that philosophy can actually help us get forward in a some way (maybe not the way we imagine or expect it), but as I'm very early in my career I still need a lot of time and work to form reasonable arguments and prove myself right or wrong on this point.
I think this depends on the case. E.g. I consider Kant as most important for our life as a social species, and with Plato, Macchiavelli, Hegel, Kant you get a pretty good basis in this field. Things change when it comes to physics and mathematics, which in my opinion have to be treated differently with respect to philosophy. In mathematics, the language becomes important, and Wittgenstein might be a good read. On the other hand are most mathematicians Platonists. Maybe also Russell should be mentioned here, as one of the time witnesses and forerunners of the big revolution in mathematics in the first half of the 20th century. Considering physics, there is a book from Popper - The Logic of Science - which I find is a perfect example, of how philosophy fails to actually contribute to science. I cannot recommend it. In my opinion the reader who is familiar with the scientific side, becomes quickly aware, that Popper was not. His constructions often miss the point and don't really apply to science, despite the title. As I've mentioned the mathematical revolution, there has been in parallel the big revolution in physics, too. I'm not aware of any philosophical convincing contribution, which e.g. would help us here, who deal on a daily basis with the various interpretations, i.e. would have shed some light on this mess. Thus the limits as to how far philosophy is applicable on scientific problems, is questionable, to say the least. Two of my favorite quotations, http://chem.tufts.edu/AnswersInScience/RelativityofWrong.htm, and Feynman on why questions which do not claim to be philosophical, are despite of it far more helpful than Popper's entire book is.
 
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  • #15
anorlunda
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I personally love both physics and philosophy and I believe that philosophy can actually help us get forward in a some way

There's nothing wrong with that. Just don't expect both from the same web site. You can explore science here at PF and philosophy other places.
 
  • #16
Robin04
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There's nothing wrong with that. Just don't expect both from the same web site. You can explore science here at PF and philosophy other places.
I know, I was just curious of opinions about the relationship between physics and philosophy and it seemed reasonable to ask this question here as well.
 
  • #17
dextercioby
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[...]I personally love both physics and philosophy [...]

Then, please, follow this guy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mario_Bunge and read his work on physics and on philosophy, especially his two books (start with second, then first).

1967. Foundations of Physics. Berlin-Heidelberg-New York: Springer-Verlag (1967), Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 67-11999
1973. Philosophy of Physics. Dordrecht: Reidel.
 
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  • #18
zonde
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I think this depends on the case. E.g. I consider Kant as most important for our life as a social species, and with Plato, Macchiavelli, Hegel, Kant you get a pretty good basis in this field. Things change when it comes to physics and mathematics, which in my opinion have to be treated differently with respect to philosophy. In mathematics, the language becomes important, and Wittgenstein might be a good read. On the other hand are most mathematicians Platonists. Maybe also Russell should be mentioned here, as one of the time witnesses and forerunners of the big revolution in mathematics in the first half of the 20th century. Considering physics, there is a book from Popper - The Logic of Science - which I find is a perfect example, of how philosophy fails to actually contribute to science. I cannot recommend it. In my opinion the reader who is familiar with the scientific side, becomes quickly aware, that Popper was not. His constructions often miss the point and don't really apply to science, despite the title. As I've mentioned the mathematical revolution, there has been in parallel the big revolution in physics, too. I'm not aware of any philosophical convincing contribution, which e.g. would help us here, who deal on a daily basis with the various interpretations, i.e. would have shed some light on this mess. Thus the limits as to how far philosophy is applicable on scientific problems, is questionable, to say the least. Two of my favorite quotations, http://chem.tufts.edu/AnswersInScience/RelativityofWrong.htm, and Feynman on why questions which do not claim to be philosophical, are despite of it far more helpful than Popper's entire book is.
Your post leaves a feeling that you have unjustified expectations from philosophy. Popper said - we can not know what is valuable, but we can know what is trash. So let's bring out the trash and that will leave the room where valuable things can develop.
You say that philosophy have not contributed to the mess with interpretations. Have scientists granted philosophers the permission to discard useless interpretations? What would you say if some philosopher would propose: let's discard MWI, it's waste of effort to patch it? You would say: it has such an elegant math, it should be valuable somehow.
 
  • #19
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Popper should be credited for clarifying the difference between science and philosophy - science is falsifiable, philosophy is not.
 
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Popper should be credited for clarifying the difference between science and philosophy - science is falsifiable, philosophy is not.

Personally I find Popper shallow compared to Feynman. Feynman for example points out some things are not quite falsifiable like Popper says - eg are quarks falsifiable considering confinement? I think of greater importance is to doubt. That is the key - you are never sure 2+2 =4 - yes it likely is - but you must constantly consider - well maybe not. We make progress in all sorts of ways - I think Feynman's greatest insight was we made progress in the past by positivist philosophy, considering only what can be observed, simply mucking around with equations, my personal favorite symmetry, plus other stuff I haven't mentioned. We are stuck right now - who knows when the next leap will be made and what will birth it. What we do know is it likely will not be what we tried before because we already know those and would have tried it. As Feynman mentions, like me, he was struck with the closing words of Dirac in his famous textbook on QM - here some new ideas are required. To doubt, be on the look out for new ideas and humbly admit no particular idea, philosophical analysis, positivism, falsification etc etc is the answer is both the key out of, and our current big frustration. Many thought string theory was the answer - but it morphed:
https://www.quantamagazine.org/string-theorys-strange-second-life-20160915/

Maybe the big breakthrough is simply doing the long hard slog of making tiny advances until we realize - we have made considerable progress but didn't notice it - it was so slow. Perhaps Kuhn is now dead - not that I personally was enamored with him to begin with - Popper was better - but for me still too shallow. Feynman IMHO had it right. The next big breakthrough may be just around the corner - or not - nature is as nature is - we just do the best we can.

It's amazing to me Feynman, who constantly poked fun at philosophy and philosophers, being very anti philosophy, got what science is better than any actual philosopher I have read - Kuhn, Popper, Russell, Wittgenstein even some of my heroes like Poincare. Strange - very strange.

Thanks
Bill
 
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Popper should be credited for clarifying the difference between science and philosophy - science is falsifiable, philosophy is not.
Can u pls provide an example to show that philosophy is not falsifiable?
 
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  • #22
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I'm not aware of any philosophical convincing contribution, which e.g. would help us here, who deal on a daily basis with the various interpretations
Not trying to argue with the practicality of curtailing discussions where people end up changing their definitions or do not believe in a standard of logic in the beginning, but I would just like to say that science is a subfield of philosophy, in its origin and its mission.
What is theoretical physics but a quest to define existence? How objective can knowledge be? These are central philosophical questions which motivate new inquiries in science, with successful scientific theories swaying philosophical opinions.
Physics is not really distinct from philosophy as a whole, just from the rest of philosophy.
I just wanted to share that someone on this forum does not reject the value of philosophy, even if I understand why there is no philosophy forum on here.
 
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What is theoretical physics but a quest to define existence?

Maybe its a quest to reconcile observation with theory. The biggest weapon in that endeavor is not philosophy but the recognition all science is provisional. I would suggest a close reading of Feynman - The Character Of Physical Law

Thanks
Bill
 
  • #25
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Frustratingly to some, including myself sometimes, some gatekeepers at this site have an attitude "philosophy is bunk".
One can explain and to an extent justify this ignorance and philistinism by what must seem to them an evidential confirmation when people came here with bunk which they called "philosophy".
So there has been instituted a pragmatic sanction for which the motives have been explained.
It seems possible still to debate here philosophically if it is called "foundations of quantum mechanics" (rather impenetrable to most of us, which may be why).
Otherwise, as has been said, there are other places. And it is valuable to have the indications of where these are, and I hope the thread stays open to get some more.
As some people will naturally be interested in not only doing or learning science but what it is about, what its methods and justifications really are etc. Philosophical interest has long most focused on fundamental physics and maths, but you cannot, should not, get away from ethics in modern biology and medicine. Or to take another example, a lot of people have taken up Popper, reduced to one idea and one slogan, and pronounced the scientific consensus on global warming 'unscientific'. One idea and one slogan may prove not to be all you need then after all.
 
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Frustratingly to some, including myself sometimes, some gatekeepers at this site have an attitude "philosophy is bunk".

Where you got that from beats me. Its not bunk, just not particularly useful to physics. I worked as a computer programmer for 30 years and guess what, not one program I ever wrote, not a single one, and I wrote a LOT, required a conscious philosophy of any sort. Its the same in physics, virtually no physicist ever requires anything but knowledge of physics, like writing programs requires knowledge of programming. Its simply not an issue for doing physics.

This thread is old and reactivated for some reason. But philosophy by forum rules, the rules all members signed up to when they joined, is not discussed here. The mentors, who you call gatekeepers, of which I am one, do not think philosophy is bunk - but have varying views on how useful it is to physics. You are correct, we are a bit flexible on the foundations of QM forum because that will on occasion slip on over to philosophy. But a thread entitled 'Why does physics keep a distance from philosophy?' needs to be kept in check so as not to get out of hand.

Thanks
Bill
 
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  • #27
jk_er_gamma
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Maybe its a quest to reconcile observation with theory
The idea that experiment is a valid form of testing truth is a specific kind of philosophy, worked out in the ages when competing philosophies were rationalism and empiricism. Maybe the scientific method is something we take in through the science community, but it has philosophical underpinnings.
 
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  • #28
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The idea that experiment is a valid form of testing truth is a specific kind of philosophy, worked out in the ages when competing philosophies were rationalism and empiricism. Maybe the scientific method is something we take in through the science community, but it has philosophical underpinnings.

Of course it does, and the philosophy of science is a valid and deep part of philosophy. But it is philosophy. Like I said when I wrote about computer programming I did not use any conscious philosophy - but of course there was tons of unconscious ones. And that's the precise reason why physics keeps a distance from philosophy - an unconscious one as elucidated by people like Feynman is all that's required. That is not a philosophy is bumk view, its just deconstructing that unconscious philosophy has not proved useful to most of physics. Physics BTW is hardly alone in this.

Thanks
Bill
 
  • #29
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But we've learned so much from philosophy, which tells us we don't have to observe and experiment - just reason. Things like women have fewer teeth than men, that an object's natural state is at rest, that heavy objects fall faster than light objects and many more.

You can't make this stuff up! Or can you?
 
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  • #30
Wrichik Basu
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Science and philosophy don't always go against each other. Philosophical mindset should be such that it can accept the rational findings of science.

But the fact is, "In PF, we discuss mainstream science. Mixing up philosophy with science has not proved to be healthy for PF in the past. So philosophy is banned."

No idea why an old thread was suddenly churned up.
 
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  • #31
BillTre
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I think the term philosophy is often too poorly defined for a general discussion.
I think of philosophy's relationship with science in several different ways, which may be better discussed independently.

One is ethics. Bioethics has already been mentioned.
At one level, this is something that has to be considered for practical reasons when writing a proposal or working out animal care.
This has been bureaucratized and is largely dealt with by departments/campus organizations in support of their researchers. It is a real world issue with right and wrong answers for biological researchers.
This can also include considering research results wrt philosophical questions concerning legitimate scientific practice: Do Fish Feel Pain (there is a fair sized literature that affect animal care choices).
In the medical field, triaging is an impactful and real world application of ethics (to optimize positive results).

Another application of philosophy seems to involve more solid issues like metaphysics and epistemology that seem closer to some of the subjects of physics (and therefore other sciences).
In this area, the distinction between using data to decide an issue vs. other means of argumentation does seem to me to divide philosophy from science.
Philosophy can present well parsed questions or analyses of some outstanding issue.
Getting the information to decide an issue, moves understanding forward to the next arising issue.
In theory, they could work hand in hand (philosophers developing questions, scientists interrogating the real world), but it not all philosophers seem to keep up with the rapidly moving modern interpretation of the natural world.

There is also a "Philosophy" of how research in a particular field should be conducted.
This might be considered practical guidelines, but may touch on real philosophical questions.

"How is Psychology to be conducted?" is a good example.
The question, "What can be fruitfully addressed?" lead a part of psychology (a more biological/experimental part) to focus on Skinner type behavoralism and operant conditioning. This was productive in that it produced results (which later became useful in chasing down the neural substrates of behavior), but not very illuminating of the more subtle drivers of behavior, nor of any inner mind issues.
Other parts of psychology did not follow this philosohy and went their own way.

Another psychological issue would concern conscious phenomena, what to make of them, what is accessible to experiment. This could be relevant to thinking/consciousness or to the much more grounded field of psychophysics (how sensory impressions related to physical stimuli).

"Shut-up and calculate" might be another philosophical approach to what should be done in a field.
 
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  • #32
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Can u pls provide an example to show that philosophy is not falsifiable?
Sorry, this was necro-posted to an almost 2 year old thread which was about forum policy. This is the feedback forum, it's not a debate forum. And with that cleared up, thread closed.
 
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  • #33
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In the medical field, triaging is an impactful and real world application of ethics (to optimize positive results).
Yes, when you first learn how to triage and practice it in exercises, it can be difficult to deal with psychologically. And having applied it in the real world multiple times, it always weighs on your psyche, but it definitely seems to be correct and important. Well, except for the time that I was physically dragged from one patient to another by an irate family member...
 
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