Philosophical Superficiality has harmed physics (SciAm blog)

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Philosophical Superficiality has harmed physics (SciAm blog)

Postby Marshall on August 25th, 2014, 9:25 am 

Interesting interview came out 21 August in John Horgan's SciAm blog:
http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cro ... d-physics/
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Re: Philosophical Superficiality has harmed physics (SciAm b

Postby TheVat on August 25th, 2014, 1:36 pm 

I like that Horgan is hearing this from Rovelli....

"What is the “mystery of the universe”? There isn’t a “mystery of the universe.” There is an ocean of things we do not know. Many of them we’ll figure out, if we continue to be somewhat rational and do not kill one another first (which is well possible.) There will always be plenty of things that we will not understand, I think, but what do I know? In any case, we are very very very far from any complete comprehension of everything we would like to know."

...given that Horgan, in the 90s, wrote "The End of Science" and seemed quite carried away by the possibility that science was winding down, as an intellectual exploration. It's a very thought-provoking book, btw.

I'll read the article more when some things are resolved here....crazy week so far. Son going down to Nebr. to visit dying grandma, car breaking down (my car, as it happens, which I had loaned), and classes starting today - he's now officially a geoscience major. And my faith in the Toyota engine has been severely compromised.
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Re: Philosophical Superficiality has harmed physics (SciAm b

Postby Marshall on August 25th, 2014, 4:17 pm 

Braininvat » Mon Aug 25, 2014 10:36 am wrote:I like that Horgan is hearing this from Rovelli....

"What is the “mystery of the universe”? There isn’t a “mystery of the universe.” There is an ocean of things we do not know. Many of them we’ll figure out, if we continue to be somewhat rational and do not kill one another first (which is well possible.) There will always be plenty of things that we will not understand, I think, but what do I know? In any case, we are very very very far from any complete comprehension of everything we would like to know."

...given that Horgan, in the 90s, wrote "The End of Science" and seemed quite carried away by the possibility that science was winding down, as an intellectual exploration. It's a very thought-provoking book, btw.

...


Sorry to hear about your son's grandmother. There was a such a mix of sad news (and the aggravation about the Toyota engine) with good news: geoscience seems like an excellent major! All these collective global problems due to become pressing. atmosphere, climate, ocean biota, fresh water, aquifers, mineral resources, ice, problematic waste sequestration, geological stability. With objective scientific study ultimately the only way to arrive at rational course of action. So that part, the major, seemed like really GOOD news.

Yes I agree about the Horgan Rovelli tête à tête. Heh heh, good interview. some clear forthright statements. And Horgan asked fruitful leading questions. Maybe I'll quote some more of it, or someone else will, after a while.
http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cro ... d-physics/
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Re: Philosophical Superficiality has harmed physics (SciAm b

Postby Marshall on August 26th, 2014, 1:28 am 

Another short excerpt of from the interview:

==quote==
Horgan: Can science attain absolute truth?

Rovelli: I have no idea what “absolute truth” means. I think that science is the attitude of those who find funny the people saying they know something is absolute truth. Science is the awareness that our knowledge is constantly uncertain. What I know is that there are plenty of things that science does not understand yet. And science is the best tool found so far for reaching reasonably reliable knowledge.

Horgan: What’s your opinion of the recent philosophy-bashing by Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss and Neil deGrasse Tyson?

Rovelli: Seriously: I think they are stupid in this. I have admiration for them in other things, but here they have gone really wrong. Look: Einstein, Heisenberg, Newton, Bohr…. and many many others of the greatest scientists of all times, much greater than the names you mention, of course, read philosophy, learned from philosophy, and could have never done the great science they did without the input they got from philosophy, as they claimed repeatedly. You see: the scientists that talk philosophy down are simply superficial: they have a philosophy (usually some ill-digested mixture of Popper and Kuhn) and think that this is the “true” philosophy, and do not realize that this has limitations.

Here is an example: theoretical physics has not done great in the last decades. Why? Well, one of the reasons, I think, is that it got trapped in a wrong philosophy: the idea that you can make progress by guessing new theory and disregarding the qualitative content of previous theories. This is the physics of the “why not?” Why not studying this theory, or the other? Why not another dimension, another field, another universe? Science has never advanced in this manner in the past. Science does not advance by guessing. It advances by new data or by a deep investigation of the content and the apparent contradictions of previous empirically successful theories. Quite remarkably, the best piece of physics done by the three people you mention is Hawking’s black-hole radiation, which is exactly this. But most of current theoretical physics is not of this sort. Why? Largely because of the philosophical superficiality of the current bunch of scientists.
...
==endquote==
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Re: Philosophical Superficiality has harmed physics (SciAm b

Postby TheVat on August 26th, 2014, 1:46 pm 

Sorry to hear about your son's grandmother. There was a such a mix of sad news (and the aggravation about the Toyota engine) with good news: geoscience seems like an excellent major! All these collective global problems due to become pressing. atmosphere, climate, ocean biota, fresh water, aquifers, mineral resources, ice, problematic waste sequestration, geological stability. With objective scientific study ultimately the only way to arrive at rational course of action. So that part, the major, seemed like really GOOD news.


Thanks! Yes, good news mixed with bad news, indeed. Grandma is 91 and has been suffering a lot, so the sadness of her departing is alloyed with happiness for her ordeal ending and finding peace in whatever dimension she may have spun into. She was interested in assisted suicide, but toughed it out, knowing the jeopardy I, or other relatives, would be put in if we tried to help her in this regard. In some difficult moments, she floated the idea of me going down to the border and buying Mexican horse Nembutal, but eventually came to understand the dangers of this, as well as other, options.

And yes, son and I have talked about what a great time it is for the geosciences to play a key role in solving global problems. You've got it right - this path for him is great news. And now I'm done digressing! :-)

I like Rovelli's little jabs at the "physics of 'why not?'" And "absolute truth." LOL If Rovelli became the public voice of physics, I think we would have a more enlightened public on these matters. He is very level-headed and I admire him immensely.
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Re: Philosophical Superficiality has harmed physics (SciAm b

Postby owleye on August 26th, 2014, 8:46 pm 

Interesting defense of philosophy. It might have been better had he talked about how it influenced him or spoke of some philosophers he has found of value, assuming of course, his ideas applied to him as well.

What I don't understand is why scientists should even feel threatened by them, at least enough to try to move them aside. I can certainly agree that if a philosopher encroaches into science, trying to do science, I might imagine that that would be annoying. However, as far as I can tell, very few philosophers are listened to anyway, so I'm not sure what's the beef. I have the feeling that what Rovelli is advising is for the scientist not to be so hidebound. Presumably expanding one's reading list or the size of one's friends and acquaintances, is going to enrich their own ideas.
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Re: Philosophical Superficiality has harmed physics (SciAm b

Postby Forest_Dump on August 26th, 2014, 10:44 pm 

Oddly I think that any interest of what is outside our solar system is purely a philosophical choice. Interest in what is happening within our solar system is also a purely philosophical choice that may relate more to our philosophical obsession with economics. These in turn reflect our philosophical interests in things that could happen millions or billions of years in the future and things that happened millions or billions of years in the past (really, why should I care?). It is merely a reflection of our current philosophical tropes which are similar to, I suspect all peoples all over the world in the past, predating the Bible or the epic of Gilgamesh, etc., which are pretty much the same thing but just differ in how these same old questions are addressed with seemingly scientific data. Can anyone really explain why we should care about black holes or the big bang, etc., without it being a philosophical discussion? The rest of philosophy is either putting all that science, etc., in perspective or addressing different questions that are now or were in the past of interest to at least some people.
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Re: Philosophical Superficiality has harmed physics (SciAm b

Postby Marshall on August 28th, 2014, 12:48 am 

I should make clear, in case anyone reading doesn't know the background to the Rovelli-Horgan interview...
Marshall » Mon Aug 25, 2014 6:25 am wrote:Interesting interview came out 21 August in John Horgan's SciAm blog:
http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cro ... d-physics/

that this is part of a longer multi-faceted discussion.
Rovelli continues as Affiliate Professor in the department of History and Philosophy of Science at U Pittsburgh (where he taught in Physics Department for 10 years before taking a physics professorship at Marseille.)
He has a a book out on the Greek philosopher Anaximander (in relation to the history and nature of science).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlo_Rove ... of_science
He has been vocal about the need for greater philosophical awareness and depth in physics at least since 2004 (the message was included in his book Quantum Gravity) as a prerequisite for progress.
A substantial section of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is devoted to Rovelli's thought about foundation and interpretation of Quantum Theory (see article on Relational QM http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qm-relational/ section 2).
"The best developed of these interpretations is relational quantum mechanics (Rovelli 1996, 1997). For evaluations and critical account of this view of quantum theory, see for instance van Fraassen (2010) and Bitbol (2007). The central tenet of relational quantum mechanics is that ..."

When the publisher North Holland decided to put out a HANDBOOK OF THE PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE, Rovelli was invited to write one of the chapters. Here is the table of contents for the second volume (Philosophy of Physics):
http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/3162/1/ ... ilPhys.pdf

For a more explicit explanation of his views about the importance of philosophical depth to progress in physics, theres a recent piece by him in the New Republic (reprinted from John Brockman's Edge essay collection Universe).
http://www.newrepublic.com/article/1186 ... -certainty
A thread about that in Phil. of Sci. forum:
viewtopic.php?f=10&t=27417&p=264049#p263748

In a sense he wears two hats, has professional credentials in two fields--- mainly as theoretical physicist but with an important sideline in the history and philosophy of physics.
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Re: Philosophical Superficiality has harmed physics (SciAm b

Postby Marshall on August 28th, 2014, 6:36 pm 

owleye » Tue Aug 26, 2014 5:46 pm wrote:Interesting defense of philosophy. It might have been better had he talked about how it influenced him or spoke of some philosophers he has found of value,...


One way to understand this, I suppose, is to note that CR operates partly as a philosopher/historian of science.
His philosophical analysis has guided his creativity as physicist. His criticism of recent physics theory often centers on its philosophical shallowness: i.e. that for several decades many theorists have blissfully disregarded basic conceptual lessons of GR and QT. They have acted as if they thought the field could progress by following the intuitive appeal of fanciful guesswork, without taking certain basic principles seriously.

The work on quantum geometry/gravity that CR is best known for is notable for being grounded in essential lessons: freedom from any assumption of a prior geometric background, priority of interaction of system with observer, measurement as interaction between systems ("background independence" and relationalism).
Some philosophers have found his philosophy of value or have been influenced by it: for to mention a few, I just quoted the Stanford Encyclopedia regarding van Frassen and Bitbol. For another example, the philosophers Jeremy Butterfield and John Earman got him to contribute a chapter to their Phil of Sci Handbook, invited him to speak at a Philosophy conference at Oxford last year.

What I don't understand is why scientists should even feel threatened by them, at least enough to try to move them aside.

The interesting thing to understand is why for some 10 years many theorists (string especially) apparently felt threatened by Rovelli and reacted sometimes with hostility, irritation, or refusal to acknowledge. This has changed considerably since 2009 (when the organizers of the annual String conference, at Geneva CERN that year) invited him to give a plenary talk at the conference. I'd say things have gradually improved since then.
I think I can best understand the earlier irritation if I recall the funny and infuriating Dialog a la Galileo he wrote back in 2003. I'll get the link.
http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0310077
A dialog on quantum gravity
Carlo Rovelli
(Submitted on 8 Oct 2003)
The debate between loop quantum gravity and string theory is sometimes lively, and it is hard to present an impartial view on the issue. Leaving any attempt to impartiality aside, I report here, instead, a conversation on this issue, overheard in the cafeteria of a Major American University.
20 pages
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Re: Philosophical Superficiality has harmed physics (SciAm b

Postby Marshall on August 28th, 2014, 7:40 pm 

I think, as CR says in the SciAm interview the publicized media performance of Hawking Krauss Tyson badmouthing contemporary academic Philosophy is just foolish talk.
It's the kind of phony grandstanding tribalism that gets media attention.

It is impossible to make a sharp division between Philosophy and Physics or a sharp US VERSUS THEM division between the people seriously involved in both.

AFAICS based on my limited scope there are philosophers who understand physics language, who are sensitive to and aware of major physics issues.
There are physicists whose approach to theory is grounded in, and motivated by, philosophical considerations.

If you go back into past history, early 20th century (or even before) then the difficulty is one of multitude: there are too many names! The problem I experience is trying to identify the philosophically creative and insightful physicists of the present day---and the philosophers of the present who understand and illuminate today's physics.

In Galileo's *Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems* the character named Simplicio is the one who believes in the systems of Ptolemy and Aristotle and the character named Salviati is the one whose views most closely resemble those of the author himself.

So in the modern version the (woman) PhD student is named Sal and the Professor she's having lunch with is Dr. Simpson, "Simp" for short.
Marshall
 



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