10 thoughts on “Physicists And Philosophy”

  1. Physicists are right to ignore philosophy – to a first approximation. There are, however, exceptions.
    1. The prevailing culturally accepted metaphysics, religious, ethics and political philosophy are upstream from government physics funding. Talk about having an impact on your experimental results, I’d say that’s rather definitive.

    2. The philosophy of science itself. IMO there’s been altogether too much “search for ULTIMATE truth” talk coming out of the funding side of big science.

    These two exceptions tend to be contradictory, but it’s going to take a little philosophy to resolve them.

    1. It’s too bad many physicists are tied to government funding. It’s also too bad that those that do science on the side are called cranks by those tied to government funding.

      If you really want to change the paradigm, adopt a pre-WWII point of view and do it on your own. Work in a McDonalds, or a patent office or something.

  2. I see Physics and Philosophy as two facets of the same gem. The two fields are answering different questions: How and Why. For the greats of the ancient world like Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Ptolemy, and Pythagoras, there probably was no distinction between the two fields at all.

    1. ” For the greats of the ancient world like Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Ptolemy, and Pythagoras, there probably was no distinction between the two fields at all.”

      That’s because at bottom, you need to select a philosophy in order to proceed with the Physics.

      That philosophy is the set of axioms with which you choose to begin.

      And those axioms are more philosophic than they are scientific.

      1. Indeed. At the base is the axiom that the laws of nature are the same everywhere. This is something we cannot know for certain, we just take it for granted that c and q and G and h bar are the same here as they are right now ten billion light years away (we won’t be able to observe the light from that area for another ten billion years). Without that axiom Physics couldn’t exist as a field of study.

  3. In general, philosophy has more to say about the human condition than modern physics. I love physics and actively read many books to understand the latest theories, but it would be dopey to look to physics for insight on how to relate to my spouse, children, friends or community. For instance, where in physics does it say I am endowed by the creator with certain inalienable rights.

  4. I dunno. I’ve got a real problem with physicists who chant “Bell Test failed therefore solipsism!”

  5. Yikes. I appreciated the sentiment, but Mr. Carroll completely whiffed, especially in his rebuttal to point 2.

    Point 1 just speaks to the ignorance of those that make the comment, not all philosophies are floating abstractions unconnected to reality. Ditto for point 3.

    Philosophy is foundational to science. There is no avoiding it. You cannot be a scientist, a physicist, without completely and utterly relying on philosophy. That many people in the science field have adopted their philosophy unconsciously does not make it less foundational. Epistemology is necessary for measurement, metaphysics is foundational to “why bother doing physics at all”, political philosophy for establishing a context in which scientists can even live, let alone work on the topics of their choice. Even aesthetics influences the kind of scientific challenges we pursue.

    Philosophy also teaches us things like logic, another backbone of science, which if Mr. Carroll had paid a little more attention to he might have known not to make this assertion “Nobody denies that the vast majority of physics gets by perfectly well without any input from philosophy at all.” . There are plenty of somebodies like me that would deny that claim.

    The premises behind the questions he was trying to rebut were all wrong, but he mostly accepted them.

    1. You are absolutely correct. There is a reason that the foundational text of science is called Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, and it’s not just that the word science still had a broader meaning at the time. All Physics, indeed all science, is founded on the philosophical ideas developed by Galileo and Newton. The problem is we absorb those ideas with our breakfast cereal and never think about them. We never realize that we do have a Philosophy and that other Philosophies, other ways of understanding the world, do exist. Your reference to the importance of other branches of Philosophy such as aesthetics and political philosophy are also well taken.

  6. Physicists know everything about nothing philosophers nothing about everything, they both have their uses.

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