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Physicist: We can only argue positions based on philosophy


“How real is reality?” asks theoretical physicist Adam Frank at NPR:

… throughout the past 100 years, physicists have proposed a lot of different ways to interpret their mathematics and, in the process, explain what quantum theory tells us about the fundamental nature of “The Real.” These interpretations tend to fall into one of two camps.

For the first camp, the mathematics directly describes a reality that is independent and objective. In this view, quantum mechanics is an ontological theory (ontology is the branch of philosophy dealing with what truly exists). For the second camp, however, the mathematics of quantum mechanics describes only our knowledge of the world. For these folks, quantum physics is an epistemological theory (epistemology is the branch of philosophy dealing with what human beings know and how they know it).

But the encounter with quantum weirdness can shake that vision for some physicists. Many of the founders of quantum theory were convinced that their new theory was telling them that ontology was no longer possible for physics. For them, physics was the act of learning about our interactions with the world, not the world in-and-of-itself.

The problem with all these interpretations is that, in general, there remains no way to distinguish between them experimentally. All anyone can do is argue philosophical positions based on, well, philosophy. More.

Exactly. And the pretense that things are otherwise helps us understand the current war on testability and falsifiability in order to defend string theory (actually, multiverse theory). Some people believe it must be true and just can’t wait around for the evidence that merely confirms it. Others don’t have much at stake and can wait for testable evidence. Some wouldn’t want it to be true but support standards based on evidence.  Those positions all depend on underlying philosophical positions.

The problem is that the philosophy that prevails gets to call itself “science” and decide what is or isn’t evidence and whether it matters. And that could just come down to a vote.

See also: Has Nature “got” what is at stake in the string theory controversy?


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Good thread. Science must not be the philosophy that prevails. It should be raw independent and based on data and investigation of date(testing). yet i suspect much of scientific conclusions does not make the grade. not just why evolution failed but many things we accept and have no problem accepting. Real science doesn't keep up with human desire to know the truth i think. so many things are not scientifically based even if the hypothesis is true. Even if the hunch is true. Science is a hard professor marking human investigation into nature. Robert Byers

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