Philosophy and science

Things were much simpler in the old days. The ancients didn’t categorize everything into the many fields and specialties that we have today; they didn’t even have the scientific method. There was just the unknown and the people who investigated it. There were supernatural explanations (religion) and rational ones (philosophy). “Natural philosophy” later became all of the sciences that we know and love today: physics, astronomy, mathematics, etc.

For a fascinating look at how this happened, check out this video:

Many say that we have no need for philosophy today–that science, the son, has far exceeded philosophy, the father, and will one day answer all of the meaningful questions. But before we dismiss philosophy as obsolete, let’s take a closer look at the special relationship between philosophy and science. Will Durant described it best when he wrote:

“Science seems always to advance, while philosophy seems always to lose ground. Yet this is only because philosophy accepts the hard and hazardous task of dealing problems not yet open to the methods of science – problems like good and evil, beauty and ugliness, order and freedom, life and death; as soon as a field of inquiry yields knowledge susceptible to exact formulation it is called science…Philosophy seems to stand still, perplexed; but only because she leave the fruits of victory to her daughters the sciences, and herself passes on, divinely discontent, to the uncertain and unexplored.” The Story of Philosophy, p. xxvi

Philosophy is always on the cutting edge, always grappling with the difficult and seemingly impossible. But just like science fiction has become science fact, perhaps one day philosophy will give birth to new sciences. Some would argue that this is already happening with string theory, free will, and consciousness. The rapid advancement of science and technology is also creating tension as society struggles to keep pace. Philosophy can help people connect the dots, give them a roadmap, and with it, a sense of direction and purpose. Having pondered such concepts for centuries, perhaps philosophy, the old man, can still be useful after all.

11 thoughts on “Philosophy and science

  1. “Science has unearthed more knowledge than we know what to do with, but facts and figures without synthesis just create confusion and disillusionment.”

    I am rather offended by this above statement. Facts and figures without synthesis? What about the people who devote their lives to writing of textbooks and educating the next generation? What about the millions of review articles that I can find in the literature?

    “Science is also rapidly approaching a point when it cannot satisfactorily explain certain things with only experiment and observation (ie. free will and string theory). This is where philosophy, the old man, steps up and shows that he still has a few things to teach.”

    So how do you think that you, as a philosopher, can explain things that we scientists cannot? If I tell you that the current formulation of string theory is problematic because the equations blow up? Do you know what that means? How do you suppose that you can solve this problem?

  2. I have reworded the final paragraph because the original obviously did not convey my intent. I have a great respect for science. I do not mean to suggest that philosophy is somehow “better” than science, only that it is still useful despite popular opinion to the contrary. They are related; in fact, the two work together for the most part, not against each other. Science’s job is to push the boundaries of knowledge, and it does so at a phenomenal rate. But this leaves an ever increasing gap between quantitative knowledge and qualitative considerations. Philosophy can help society close this gap.

    At the time I wrote this article, I believed that there were some things that might be too difficult to scientifically prove or verify, citing free will and string theory as examples. This is really a matter of opinion. Many scientists and some philosophers (e.g. Daniel C. Dennett) believe that it’s only a matter of time before science unlocks the mechanics behind “free will.” As for string theory, many scientists acknowledge that it will be exceedingly difficult to verify the existence of multiple dimensions and superstrings. My mind will likely change as science advances. Until they are officially superseded by science, I believe that philosophical explanations can still be useful. They shouldn’t be dismissed simply because they are “not science;” they are based on logic too.

  3. Have we Philosophy of Physics? Have we Philosophy of Religions?

    1. Religion tells us nothing but fables and fantasies! For example: God created woman from Adam’s rib, using physical laws. So, what is Religion? Religion is the poor man’s philosophy.

    “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.” – Albert Einstein

    2. Modern Physics tells us nothing but fables and fantasies! For example: One Galaxy can eat another Galaxy. A Galaxy can “attack” another one.

    Question: Where did Galaxies come from? We don’t have an answer.

    “You know, it would be sufficient to really understand the electron.” – Albert Einstein

    “Tell me what an electron is and I’ll then tell you everything.” – Somebody

    “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” – Richard Feynman

    The Editor of the Australian magazine Cosmos asked, “Is it time to call a spade a spade, and admit that theoretical
    physics is heading down the wrong track?”

    And somebody wrote, “The theoretical physics is a greatest joke in human history.”

    So, what is Physics? Physics is the poor man’s philosophy.

    3. What to do? I think, at first, we must answer to the simple classic question: what did come first the chicken or the egg? If somebody didn’t understand this question, I will ask it simpler: What was before Vacuum or Gravity? Does Gravity exist in Vacuum or vice versa? Why I ask these questions – because the Universe (as a whole) is Two-Measured. There are two Worlds: Vacuum and Gravity.

    Now we have three (3) sources of the Universe: Big Bang , vacuum and God. Which of them is correct? About Big Bang and God my opinion is this: the action, when the God compressed all Universe into his palm, physicists had named “a singular point.” And action, when the God opened his palm, physicists had named “the Big Bang.”

    And about vacuum Paul Dirac wrote, “The problem of the exact description of vacuum, in my opinion, is the basic problem now before physics. Really, if you can’t correctly describe the vacuum, how it is possible to expect a correct description of something more complex?”

    Best wishes.
    Israel Sadovnik. Socratus.

  4. The common opinion about Philosophy of Physics can be found here and here.

    My opinion: there is Classic Mechanic and Quantum Mechanic, but there isn’t Philosophy of Physics. Why?
    1. In thermodynamics particles are “mathematical points.”
    2. In QT (quantum theory) particles are mathematical points.
    3. In SRT (special relativity theory) particles are points.
    4. In QED particles are points.
    5. The energy, impulse, linear and angular momentum in physics are also mathematical points.
    6. When one mathematical point (particle) interacts with another mathematical point (energy, impulse ..etc), physicists say, “The Quantum Theory and micro-world are paradoxical.”

    Therefore I wrote: “Physics – Particle and its shadow Math Point. Our Earth moves straight and rotates around itself. Let us take an infinite small point and suggested it also has these two kinds of movement. What will be happen?”
    1. An infinite small point moves straight and its trajectory shows us a straight line (SRT).
    2. An infinite small point changes its straight direction (for example near Sun) and its trajectory curves (GRT – general relativity theory).
    3. An infinite small point can rotate around itself.(?!)

    Here is hidden a puzzle. Stupid question: Does anybody ever draw point in his life? Take pen and make point. What do you see? “Point,” you say. And I see point, which has geometrical form of circle ( c/d=pi=3.14). And even the smallest point will have geometrical form of circle. And even an Infinite Smallest Point will have geometrical form of circle.

    4. The SRT talks about an infinite small point which moves in the Emptiness. Which geometrical form can this point have ? The Third law of Thermodynamics says that in the Cold Emptiness, an infinite small point cannot have volume. It means an infinite small point must have geometrical form of circle.
    5. According to SRT, this circle’particle cannot be firm; it must be elastic.
    6. In 1915 Einstein connected Mass with Geometry. Maybe now, in 2011, somebody will try to understand the interaction between an Infinite Small Particle and Geometry.

    Let’s look at it another way – In an Italian railway station, it was more then two hours until the departure of the train. I went to the caf’ and ordered a cup of coffee. Soon two men and a very beautiful, slim woman took a place opposite me. They ordered something to drink and one of the man opened a case of violin and took out a bow. He began to explain something about the bow, carefully and gently touching it. Then another man took this bow and also enthusiastically continued this conversation. For half an hour, the bow was passed from one hand to another, followed by enthusiastic discussion. The beautiful woman looked at bow and at both men without saying a word. I watched this group with admiration and excitement. What a class! What cultural level! What a beauty!

    And now let’s imagine the bow compressed into a “mathematical point,” and the musicians were speaking seriously about a mathematical point which must produce a sound from a violin. Everybody will say I describe an absurd situation. Well, I agree. But why doesn’t anybody say this to physicists when they observe an elementary particle as a mathematical point without paying attention to its geometrical form?

    When Feynman said, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics,” it was only because nobody took into consideration the geometrical form of a particle. If physicists think about a particle as a mathematical point, the result can only be paradoxical. I am sure that if somebody takes into consideration the geometrical form of particle, the paradoxes in Physics will disappear. We will then have Philosophy of Physics.

    The Electron’s puzzle – The electron is not a point. It is forbidden for an electron to be hard as a steel; it must be elastic. The electron doesn’t really have an orbit . It is the result of a standing wave of fantastically high frequency. It can be a corpuscular and a wave at the same time. On one hand, when it interacts with aether, all its parameters becomes infinite. On the other hand, it is the result of electromagnetic waves and a density in the aether. The electron has a negative twin brother: the positron. In 1900, 1905, Planck and Einstein found the energy of electron: E=h*f. In 1916, Sommerfeld found the formula of electron : e^2=ah*c, really meaning e = +ah*c and e = -ah*c. In 1928, Dirac found two more formulas of electron’s energy: +E=Mc^2 and -E=Mc^2.

    1. Why does the electron have five (5) formulas?
    2. Why does the electron obey four (4) Laws?
    a) The law of conservation and transformation energy/ mass
    b) The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle / Law
    c) The Pauli Exclusion Principle/ Law
    d) The Fermi-Dirac statistics
    3. Dirac’s formula E= (+ / -) E=Mc^2 is for a “rest particle,” but how can a rest particle have enough active energy to blow up big cities like Hiroshima and Nagasaki? How can an electron’s “at rest” potential energy change into a high active energy? Which of electron’s actions makes this process possible? What does the formula E= (+ / -) E=Mc^2 mean?
    4. What is an electron, exactly? Now nobody knows. In the internet we can read hundreds theories of the electron. There are also books like this one, which gives a complete picture of contemporary theoretical thinking (traditional and new) about the physics of the electron. All of them are problematical.

    So, why do we call an electron “a simple elementary particle” when it doesn’t look very simple? We can read hundreds of books and magazines about the philosophy of physics. But how can we trust them if we don’t have the real model of Electron?

    Best wishes.
    Israel Sadovnik. Socratus

  5. Where does the information come from? What is the material basis of Quantum Consciousness? Will Physics explain Consciousness?

    Once upon a time, 20 billion of years ago, all matter (all elementary particles, quarks, and their girlfriends – antiparticles and antiquarks; all kinds of waves too – electromagnetic, gravitational, muons, gluons field, etc.) were assembled in a ‘single point’. It means that all information also was assembled in a “single point”.
    And then there was “big bang,” and all information blew into bits, spreading in different directions. Michael Brooks wrote, “Where did the information go? The laws of physics dictate that information, like energy, cannot be destroyed, which means it must go somewhere.” (‘The big questions,’ p195-196). Suppose that every bit of a “single point,” every particle of a “single point” is the owner of some information. Then there are two possibilities: 1) every particle has its own information and after 20 billion years they accidentally united and created everything, including a man. The aim of it is to observe all accidental possibilities. 2) in the beginning every particle has zero information.

    Question: “How does zero information become a very high informational level?”

    We know that there is no information transfer without energy transfer. More correctly, there is no quant information transfer without quant energy transfer. The electron has the least electric charge. This means that it has some quant of the least information. What can an electron do with this information?

    Let us look the Mendeleev/Moseley periodic table. We can see that the electron first interacts with a proton to create an atom of hydrogen. This is the simplest design that was created by the electron. Going down the periodic table, we can see how this information grows and reaches high informational level. The most complex design that was created by the electron is Man. Man is a living essence. Animals, birds, fish are all living essences. And the atom? The atom is also a living design. The free atom of hydrogen can live about 1000 seconds. Someone a long time ago once said that if given sufficient time, an atom of hydrogen would turn into Man. Instead of searching for “dark, virtual particles,” we should try to understand what the electron is because we still do not know that, even today.

    Am I mistaken? No. According to the Pauli Exclusion Principle, only one electron at a given quantum state can be in the atom. This electron animates the atom. This electron manages the atom. If the atom contains more than one electron (for example – two), this atom will have a “Siamese twin.” Thankfully, the Great God saved us from having such atoms, such cells. Therefore the human brain has only one electron. Each of us has an Electron, but we do not know it. As the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ says, “Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be” (Chapter 9, Text 11).

    Only the electron has a quant of information. A proton has no quant of information. Why? Because information can be transferred only by electromagnetic fields. Currently, we don’t have a theory about proton-magnetic fields. In my opinion the Electron is the quant of information.

    Many years ago, man domesticated wild animals (wolf, horse, cat, bull, etc.) for his uses, but man did not understand his four-footed friends. In 1897, J. J. Thomson discovered a new particle – the electron. Gradually man has harnessed the electron to work for him, but he does not understand what an electron is.

    I think it is better to understand the closest thing (like the photon/electron) before studying far away space and particles (like dark matter, quarks, mesons, bosons, etc.).

    “You know, it would be sufficient to really understand the electron.” – Albert Einstein

    “Tell me what an electron is and I’ll then tell you everything.” – Somebody

    “The electron that can be told is not the true electron.” – David Harrison

    Best wishes.
    Israel Sadovnik. Socratus.

  6. Unified Field Theory
    / By Tim Joseph /
    In the beginning there was Aristotle,
    And objects at rest tended to remain at rest,
    And objects in motion tended to come to rest,
    And soon everything was at rest,
    And God saw that it was boring.

    Then God created Newton,
    And objects at rest tended to remain at rest,
    But objects in motion tended to remain in motion,
    And energy was conserved and momentum
    was conserved and matter was conserved,
    And God saw that it was conservative.

    Then God created Einstein,
    And everything was relative,
    And fast things became short,
    And straight things became curved,
    And the universe was filled with inertial frames,
    And God saw that it was relatively general,
    but some of it was especially relative.

    Then God created Bohr,
    And there was the principle,
    And the principle was quantum,
    And all things were quantified,
    But some things were still relative,
    And God saw that it was confusing.

    Then God was going to create Furgeson,
    And Furgeson would have unified,
    And he would have fielded a theory,
    And all would have been one,
    But it was the seventh day,
    And God rested,
    And objects at rest tend to remain at rest.
    =================== .

  7. If Infinity is some kind of reality, what to do?
    1. Classic physics has infinity as a conception of Newtonian space and time.
    2. Quantum theory meets with Infinity.
    3. Cosmology is occupied with Infinity.
    . . . etc . . . .

    About every part of physics is occupied with the concept of ‘Infinity.’ But Infinity is an irrational concept. We cannot measure it! What to do?

    I can say, “God doesn’t exist because we cannot see him/her/it, touch him/her/it, hear or smell him/her/it.” Millions would agree with this argument. But in Physics I cannot say that Infinity doesn’t exist because we cannot measure it. It is true that we cannot measure it, but it appears again and again in many physical and mathematical problems. In spite of my or your or physicists’ wishes, it appears again and again because…because it is some kind of reality! What to do?

    There can only be one answer: if we cannot escape the concept of ‘Infinity,’ if ‘Infinity’ is some kind of reality, then we must agree with its existence and find the ‘hidden’ parameters of ‘Infinity’ in Physics.

    It seems that it can take only two physical parameters: T= 0K and E= 0 = infinite (the lowest state of cosmic background energy).

    Can somebody suggest another concrete physical parameter or parameters?

    Best wishes.
    Israel Sadovnik. Socratus.

  8. Not By Chance the Existence Began.

    The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. The probability of a monkey exactly typing a complete work such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet is so tiny that the chance of it occurring during a period of time of the order of the age of the universe is extremely low, but not zero.

    If there are as many monkeys as there are particles in the observable universe , the probability of the monkeys replicating even a short book is nearly zero. It means that by chance it is impossible to create Intellect Existence during 13 – 20 billions of years after ‘Big Bang.’

    The Intellect Existence needs some intellect beginning.


  9. Why we don’t have Philosophy of Physics?

    1. In thermodynamics particles are ‘mathematical points’
    2. In QT particles are ‘mathematical points’
    3. In SRT particles are points.
    4. In QED particles are points.
    5. Then one ‘mathematical point’ (particle) interacts with another ‘ mathematical point’ the physicists say: ‘The micro-world is paradoxical.’

    Matter and Form: when they are paradoxical.

    Wood is itself a matter. Wood is itself a form, a geometrical form. A cupboard made of wood is a real whole of form and matter. Geometrical form and matter are ‘grown together’ in it. No form exist without matter. Nor can there be matter without form.

    But in micro-physics, physicists took up another conception. According to this doctrine matter does exist, but the form is not a physical object. The form is disappeared from the physical reality. They works with a ‘point’.

    Question: isn’t physics a science of the matter, form, energy and motion? Aren’t all these subjects ‘grown together?’ Take away one subject and you have all modern paradoxes in the physics.

    Israel Sadovnik Socratus.

    The more I study the more I know.
    The more I know the more ideas I have.
    The more ideas I have the more they abstract.
    The more they abstract the less I know the truth.

    And as a result conclusion from some article: ‘One of the best kept secrets of science is that physicists have lost their grip on reality.’

  10. Here is a good article about a recent book by Dorion Sagan, the son of Carl Sagan, in which he argues that science and philosophy should work together more. Philosophy is about making connections. What insights could be gained if the super-specialized disciplines of science connected with one another? The possibilities are endless!

Comments welcome!