In “Physicists, Stop the Churlishness” (New York Times, June 8, 2012), Jim Holt pleads,
A KERFUFFLE has broken out between philosophy and physics. It began earlier this spring when a philosopher (David Albert) gave a sharply negative review in this paper to a book by a physicist (Lawrence Krauss) that purported to solve, by purely scientific means, the mystery of the universe’s existence. The physicist responded to the review by calling the philosopher who wrote it “moronic” and arguing that philosophy, unlike physics, makes no progress and is rather boring, if not totally useless. And then the kerfuffle was joined on both sides.
Physicists say they do not need any help from philosophers. But sometimes physicists are, whether they realize it or not, actually engaging in philosophy themselves. And some of them do it quite well. Mr. Weinberg, for instance, has written brilliantly on the limits of scientific explanation — which is, after all, a philosophical issue. It is also an issue about which contemporary philosophers have interesting things to say.
Mr. Weinberg has attacked philosophical doctrines like “positivism” (which says that science should concern itself only with things that can actually be observed). But positivism happens to be a mantle in which Mr. Hawking proudly wraps himself; he has declared that he is “a positivist who believes that physical theories are just mathematical models we construct, and that it is meaningless to ask if they correspond to reality.” Is Mr. Hawking’s positivism the same positivism that Mr. Weinberg decries? That, one supposes, would be an issue for philosophical discussion.
In two words, clueless arrogance.
The oddest part is that most great scientists, like Einstein, Heisenberg, and Bohr, did not despise philosophy; they understood its conceptual power. Whereas it is today’s multiverse, giant sim, giant hologram, etc., proponents who rattle on against philosophy – principally because philosophers can easily see through their pretenses by simple acts of logic.
Note: The play, Copenhagen, which touches on such themes, is well worth seeing:
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