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Cosmologist: Philosophy is essential to the development of physics.

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Carlo Rovelli

From Carlo Rovelli at Scientific American:

Against Philosophy is the title of a chapter of a book by one of the great physicists of the last generation: Steven Weinberg.1 Weinberg argues eloquently that philosophy is more damaging than helpful for physics—it is often a straightjacket that physicists have to free themselves from. Stephen Hawking famously wrote that “philosophy is dead” because the big questions that used to be discussed by philosophers are now in the hands of physicists.2 Neil de Grasse Tyson publicly stated: “…we learn about the expanding universe, … we learn about quantum physics, each of which falls so far out of what you can deduce from your armchair that the whole community of philosophers … was rendered essentially obsolete.”3 I disagree. Philosophy has always played an essential role in the development of science, physics in particular, and is likely to continue to do so.

Nobody puts this better than Einstein himself: “A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is—in my opinion—the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth.”9 It is sometimes said that scientists do not do anything unless they first get permission from philosophy. If we read what the greatest scientists had to say about the usefulness of philosophy, physicists like Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Bohr and Einstein, we find opposite opinions to those of Hawking and Weinberg. More.

Rovelli is, of course, correct. On a practical level, it is our philosophy that determines whether evidence for our beliefs is necessary and what can be accepted as evidence. The proponents of the multiverse and panpsychism (everything is conscious) for example, do not believe evidence is necessary for their beautiful concepts and that is a philosophical decision. Those who believe that the universe shows no evidence of fine-tuning have decided to ignore a large body of evidence because it is not satisfactory for their purposes. It is no use making these decisions and then claiming that one has no use for philosophy. They are classic philosophical decisions.

See also: Carlo Rovelli: Theories of everything ill-conceived but we can learn to understand quantum mechanics

and

Does physics deconstruct our sene of time?

One Reply to “Cosmologist: Philosophy is essential to the development of physics.

  1. 1
    vmahuna says:

    I’m not sure I’d use a word as fancy as “philosophy” to describe what’s going on. My understanding was/is that a Philosophy is a system of coherent ideas that pretty much explains Everything. And so Darwinism “is the creation myth of Atheism”, since every serious Philosophy MUST HAVE a Creation Myth. So Darwinism, and Dark Matter-ism, etc., etc., are PIECES of a Philosophy that obviously hasn’t gelled yet.

    And instead of working really, really hard on fitting together the loose pieces into a coherent whole, the multiverse, etc., guys are just arguing “I like chocolate ice cream more than vanilla ice cream. Therefore chocolate ice cream is BETTER.” I don’t think Plato or Thomas Aquinas would be impressed.

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