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Why [Physics] Needs [Philosophy]

_J__J_ Festive PedantRegistered User regular
edited May 2012 in Debate and/or Discourse
Lawrence M. Krauss (physicist) wrote a book entitled, "A Universe From Nothing". David Albert (philosopher) wrote a review of the book for The New York Times in which he faulted Krauss for not answering the question he set out to answer. Said simply, Krauss doesn't actually explain how the Universe could come from "nothing". Instead, Krauss explained how particles are generated by quantum fields:
Where, for starters, are the laws of quantum mechanics themselves supposed to have come from? Krauss is more or less upfront, as it turns out, about not having a clue about that. He acknowledges (albeit in a parenthesis, and just a few pages before the end of the book) that everything he has been talking about simply takes the basic principles of quantum mechanics for granted. “I have no idea if this notion can be usefully dispensed with,” he writes, “or at least I don’t know of any productive work in this regard.” And what if he did know of some productive work in that regard? What if he were in a position to announce, for instance, that the truth of the quantum-mechanical laws can be traced back to the fact that the world has some other, deeper property X? Wouldn’t we still be in a position to ask why X rather than Y? And is there a last such question? Is there some point at which the possibility of asking any further such questions somehow definitively comes to an end? How would that work? What would that be like?

P1: Quantum fields are not "nothing".
P2: Krauss explained how particles could be generated by quantum fields.

Therefore, Krauss did not answer the question of how something comes from nothing.

Q.E.D.

Krauss became incredibly upset by this review. In an interview in The Atlantic he responded to the review by saying some very mean-spirited things:
Philosophy is a field that, unfortunately, reminds me of that old Woody Allen joke, "those that can't do, teach, and those that can't teach, teach gym." And the worst part of philosophy is the philosophy of science; the only people, as far as I can tell, that read work by philosophers of science are other philosophers of science. It has no impact on physics what so ever, and I doubt that other philosophers read it because it's fairly technical. And so it's really hard to understand what justifies it. And so I'd say that this tension occurs because people in philosophy feel threatened, and they have every right to feel threatened, because science progresses and philosophy doesn't.

After numerous philosophers, and other professional academics, contacted Krauss and explained to him that he was acting like a gigantic dick, he issued a backhanded non-apology in Scientific American:
So, to those philosophers I may have unjustly offended by seemingly blanket statements about the field, I apologize. I value your intelligent conversation and the insights of anyone who thinks carefully about our universe and who is willing to guide their thinking based on the evidence of reality. To those who wish to impose their definition of reality abstractly, independent of emerging empirical knowledge and the changing questions that go with it, and call that either philosophy or theology, I would say this: Please go on talking to each other, and let the rest of us get on with the goal of learning more about nature.

That's where the debate stands as of April 27, 2012.

I know that numerous people on these boards priviledge science over philosophy, since science makes inductions and abductions from color patches while philosophy generates the logical tools upon which scientists rely in order to construct arguments. I think this contemporary debate in academia might provide an interesting context within we we can play out our differences of opinion regarding the Science vs. Philosophy debate.

So, let's pick sides!

Team-Krauss: Boo Philosophy. Yey physics!
Team- Albert: Boo terrible definitions. Yey clarity of thought!


Seriously, though, what do you make of the relation between philosophy and physics, philosophy and the hard sciences? is there a virtue to philosophy's ability to construct logical tools and critique the language of science? Was A.J. Ayer right? Or can philosophy do more than say, "That's not what 'nothing' means?" On the pro-physics side, are philosophers laughable numbskulls who cannot reasonably critique physicists since they don't wear lab coats? Is science self-grounding, having left behind the philosophical context from which it historically emerged?

Debate and / or Discuss!

Edit: I forgot to include this article on NPR.org by Adam Frank. It provides a wonderful summary of the debate and offers a pro-philosophy take on the argument between Krauss and Albert.



Edit: MrMister, who some wish had started this thread, made an incredibly informative post that fleshes out some of the backstory to this debate:
MrMister wrote: »
Feral wrote: »
At the risk of sounding like a dick myself, I kind of wish MrMister had started this thread

I actually was planning on doing it later today! But I have been beaten to the punch. So instead of authoring a thread, without further comment I present some things that are interesting.

First, David Albert, the philosopher who reviewed Kraus's book in the New York Times, also actually holds a Ph.D. in physics and has co-authored a number of seminal physics papers with Yakir Aharonov. This makes it all the more ridiculous that Kraus has repeatedly referred to him as a 'moron philosopher' who 'probably didn't even read the book.' Here is Albert's response to the charge that his review was inappropriate because it failed to engage with the larger portion of the contents of the book (spoiler alert, he also has a problem with the physics):
Spoiler:

Second, Kraus consistently conflates philosophers and theologians. He is one of those physicists, like Hawking, who likes to speak disparagingly of the former by lumping them in with the latter. The irony here is that many philosophers--if not the majority--think that the question of why there is anything at all, and why it is this, is either: 1) unanswerable (and hence uninteresting), or 2) nonsense, because concepts of explanation and justification cannot sensibly be applied to the universe as a whole. They accept the answer: 'it just does, and it just is.' In pointing out that Kraus has failed to answer this question by reference to quantum fields, they are not trying to score points for theology, or to claim that the real answer has to do with God. Their view is that the question is either unanswerable or nonsense, so of course, they hold, Kraus has not answered it with physics. That just follows a fortiori.

Imagine someone claimed that new advances in physics have answered the question: "is the sentence 'this sentence is false' true or false?' The philosopher objects not because they think it is a good question which goes unanswered by physics (which somehow proves that god exists?), but precisely because it is a bad one which cannot be answered at all. 'This sentence is false' is not well-formed. There is no answer to what it's truth value is, because it doesn't have one. Hence, it is certainly not the case that new advances in physics can tell us what its truth value is.

I find that this unreflective anti-philosophical sentiment is a common strain in the new atheist community. They lash out at philosophers because they associate them with mysticism. They forget that philosophers were the pioneer atheists, ever since Hume killed God in 1776.

Third and finally, Tim Maudlin, a prominent philosopher of physics, has some interesting things to say about the relationship between physics--especially fundamental physics--and philosophy. The upshot is that many of the questions philosophers are interested in now are, in a straightforward way, just about understanding the physics. But these questions nonetheless get shunned in physics departments for reasons of institutional culture. He hopes for a blending in the addressing of foundational topics--that practitioners are able to apply both the impressive formal mathematical competence of the physicist and the neatness and conceptual clarity of the philosopher.
Spoiler:

_J_ on
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Posts

  • BloodySlothBloodySloth Registered User regular
    edited May 2012
    I might take the same offense to someone being paid to review my book on subject A in a really high profile newspaper, only for the review to conclude "this book doesn't even touch on subject Y, and is thus lacking." Of course, I'm not sure how much Krauss stresses the "from NOTHING" part of the title, but to me it seems the book's name is just a memorable and catchy title meant to grab readers, and not in any way an attempt to portray the full details of what he's written.

    The review goes on to ask what on earth Krauss was thinking by not covering such topics like "why does the world exist" in his book on physics. Maybe he should have been reading a different book.

    BloodySloth on
  • Hahnsoo1Hahnsoo1 Registered User regular
    edited May 2012
    The implication of the book, although it isn't outright stated, is that "I just disproved God. Yay me!" A critic just told the author "Uh, no you didn't." They then proceeded to have an e-peen flame war, the likes of which would probably be a Big Bang Theory script. It's pretty embarrassing for all people involved.

    I don't think this particular incident really questions the validity of Philosophy OR Science at all. The NPR article hints that Cosmology ("Why does the universe exist?") is so far on the fringe of science and Physics as to be mostly theoretical without ways of experimentally proving those theories (yet). There isn't even the vocabulary or abstract concepts to accurately describe the work in a general sense. Here's the excerpt:
    "Carbon-nanotube physicists are so deep within the traditional modes of empirical (i.e., data-driven) scientific investigation that they can happily ignore what goes on in the halls of philosophy. But as Krauss' example shows, cosmologists can push so hard and so far at the boundaries of fundamental concepts they cross over and fall prey to their own unspoken philosophical biases and misconceptions."

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  • Alistair HuttonAlistair Hutton Dr EdinburghRegistered User regular
    To be honest, defining what "nothing" is sounds about much fun as defining what "being" is. I'm pretty sure it'll turn out to be God all along.

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  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    The publisher is often the party that chooses the book title, rather than the author, particularly for pop-sci stuff, so it's really annoying to see critics that hung up on the title rather than the content.

    Also, J, if you're complaining about someone "acting like a gigantic dick", it helps to not spend a paragraph doing the same thing, even if it was "totally just ironic" or whatever.

    vvvvvv-dithw.png
  • Loren MichaelLoren Michael Registered User regular
    I think definitions are important, and I think that if you propose to do something, it behooves one to do that. There's a certain looseness inherent in semantics, but I don't think that excuses sloppy language, I think that means we need more time spent on explanation and more definitive terms.

    If the author says he's demonstrating one thing and doesn't even begin to do so, this seems like a problem to me.

    2ezikn6.jpg
  • BethrynBethryn Registered User regular
    edited May 2012
    There's no such thing as nothing.

    If there were, there would be no universe.

    If nothing can give rise to something, it is not nothing; it has the property of being able to give rise to something.
    If nothing can't give rise to something, and we know that there is presently something, there cannot at any 'time' have been only nothing.

    Something can be a god or physical matter of some sort, whatever fits your definition.

    Bethryn on
    bethryn.png
  • Captain MarcusCaptain Marcus Right here in River CityRegistered User regular
    Woooo science wars. You have a frankly obnoxious assumption that Dr. Krauss was acting like a dick. He wasn't; he was telling the truth. The "philosophy of science" is a particularly useless branch of post-modernism. When a scientist reads a journal, he reads one for the field he's in. He doesn't read the Journal for the General Philosophy of Science.

    What does "science studies" do?

    Does it create new vaccines? Does it design rockets? Does it further our understanding of physics?

    It does none of these things.

    At most, you could say it "provides value", as a useless middle manager "provides value" to the company. Philosophy is all well and good, but when people with non-technical degrees waltz in and start bitching at you because the title of your book (that you didn't choose) is wrong or that the latest paper in Nature "ignores feminist thought" or something, that's dumb and philosophy should stop doing it.

    Remember the Maine, Plymouth Rock, and the Golden Rule!
  • Tiger BurningTiger Burning (poster is a bear)Registered User, SolidSaints Tube regular
    edited May 2012
    I don't think the disagreement stems from the title, as Krauss seems to indicate the argument preceded the book. From the review, regarding Krauss's response to the claim that quantum fields aren't "nothing":
    Krauss, mind you, has heard this kind of talk before, and it makes him crazy. A century ago, it seems to him, nobody would have made so much as a peep about referring to a stretch of space without any material particles in it as “nothing.” And now that he and his colleagues think they have a way of showing how everything there is could imaginably have emerged from a stretch of space like that, the nut cases are moving the goal posts. He complains that “some philosophers and many theologians define and redefine ‘nothing’ as not being any of the versions of nothing that scientists currently describe,” and that “now, I am told by religious critics that I cannot refer to empty space as ‘nothing,’ but rather as a ‘quantum vacuum,’ to distinguish it from the philosopher’s or theologian’s idealized ‘nothing,’ ” and he does a good deal of railing about “the intellectual bankruptcy of much of theology and some of modern philosophy.” But all there is to say about this, as far as I can see, is that Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right. Who cares what we would or would not have made a peep about a hundred years ago? We were wrong a hundred years ago. We know more now. And if what we formerly took for nothing turns out, on closer examination, to have the makings of protons and neutrons and tables and chairs and planets and solar systems and galaxies and universes in it, then it wasn’t nothing, and it couldn’t have been nothing, in the first place. And the history of science — if we understand it correctly — gives us no hint of how it might be possible to imagine otherwise.

    I'm no fan of "philosophy of science" or "science studies", either, where those refer to science-as-a-social-construct type critiques. But the reviewer's points aren't that kind of critique. Krauss really does seem to want to answer the cosmological question "Why the universe?" and only answers the question "Why particles?" (answer: quantum fields and their tendency to interact in some ways but not others). But then the next question asks itself.

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    “You could tell by the way he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him.”
  • CptHamiltonCptHamilton Registered User regular
    As a scientist, I don't think that Philosophy is useless. Normally I'm first in line to butt heads with you, J, but Philosophy is legitimately important both historically and in its continuing efforts to refine patterns of logical thought. Not to mention its importance in modern ethics and so forth.

    I don't even think that Philosophy of Science is useless. There's certainly value in thinking about science in a qualitative sort of way. It's easy to answer "What does quantum field theory mean?" by saying, "It doesn't 'mean' anything; it just is!" but, being humans, that's not really a satisfactory answer. The implication when we ask what something 'means', philosophically, I think, isn't so much 'what grand, Platonic Truth does this expose?' as it is 'What does it mean to us?'.

    I do not, however, think that Physics needs Philosophy of Science. Philosophy, yes, for Logic, and, in some cases, Ethics, but not Philosophy of Science. P of S is a great add-on to physics and, as I said, I think it's a valid pursuit for those so-minded, but it's not in any fashion necessary to the performance of physics. Physics, and any other science, isn't concerned with the same answers that P of S is, no matter how hard some people might want or try to pretend that it is.

    Physics is never going to tell us why we're here, or the meaning of life, or What is Truth. Physics is going to tell us how to, with good accuracy, model the behavior of the observed universe. That's all its' good for and that's the best it can aspire to. It's not a religion or a philosophy, despite occasionally involving elements of faith, because it does not and can not teach us any moral lessons or guide us toward living a better life (for some qualitative definition of 'better'). It can't tell us about God or any other supernatural or metaphysical phenomenon because physics, and all the sciences along with it, is firmly and completely rooted in the natural.

    That separation means that not only can't physics tell us the Big Philosophical Answers but that philosophy can't tell us any useful physics, either. Physics uses the tools of logic developed by philosophers, but the avenues of investigation pursued by physicists and philosophers of science are simply non-intersecting. If scientists stopped doing physics right this moment, philosophers of science could keep philosophizing about existing scientific theory indefinitely. If all of the philosophers were struck dead tomorrow morning, physics could keep right on trucking with its experimentation.

    Now, that's not to say that some philosophers and some physicists won't try to cross party lines with varying degrees of success. When you're talking about the fundamental (or at least apparently fundamental) forces of the universe there is a natural tendency to wax a bit poetic. And when you have a satisfying philosophical framework built up around a particular theory, I can see where it would be tempting to dismiss competing theories on the basis that they don't fit your worldview. But people doing either of those things are just wrong.

    I haven't read Krauss' book, or even read the various back and forths beyond your quotes, but I think what others in the thread have been saying is probably basically accurate. He wrote a book about physics. He got a little carried away, maybe (I don't have evidence, so I dunno) with making the physics sound 'meaningful' in a philosophical sense. His publishers and marketers inflamed this. A non-scientist was unhappy with the philosophical implications of his work, so dismissed the work in-toto. Krauss got butthurt because his legitimate and potentially scientifically valuable work was being swept aside on the basis of its philosophical ramifications (and possibly because he disagreed with the philosophical views of his critics). People were poopy-heads on both sides. That doesn't mean that the actual physics part of his work is bad or wrong.

    Also, and it's really tangential, what someone said up-thread is right: it's useless to talk about 'something from nothing' and 'how did we get the universe out of nothing' because, even setting aside the whole before-time issue, both questions pre-suppose a state of nothing that is logically inconsistent. If you suppose a nothing from which you cannot take something then it is trivially illogical to say that something came from it.

    OptimusZed wrote: »
    Jesus, people. This thread is like a running gunbattle with stupid bullets.
  • CptHamiltonCptHamilton Registered User regular
    I don't think the disagreement stems from the title, as Krauss seems to indicate the argument preceded the book. From the review, regarding Krauss's response to the claim that quantum fields aren't "nothing":
    Krauss, mind you, has heard this kind of talk before, and it makes him crazy. A century ago, it seems to him, nobody would have made so much as a peep about referring to a stretch of space without any material particles in it as “nothing.” And now that he and his colleagues think they have a way of showing how everything there is could imaginably have emerged from a stretch of space like that, the nut cases are moving the goal posts. He complains that “some philosophers and many theologians define and redefine ‘nothing’ as not being any of the versions of nothing that scientists currently describe,” and that “now, I am told by religious critics that I cannot refer to empty space as ‘nothing,’ but rather as a ‘quantum vacuum,’ to distinguish it from the philosopher’s or theologian’s idealized ‘nothing,’ ” and he does a good deal of railing about “the intellectual bankruptcy of much of theology and some of modern philosophy.” But all there is to say about this, as far as I can see, is that Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right. Who cares what we would or would not have made a peep about a hundred years ago? We were wrong a hundred years ago. We know more now. And if what we formerly took for nothing turns out, on closer examination, to have the makings of protons and neutrons and tables and chairs and planets and solar systems and galaxies and universes in it, then it wasn’t nothing, and it couldn’t have been nothing, in the first place. And the history of science — if we understand it correctly — gives us no hint of how it might be possible to imagine otherwise.

    I'm no fan of "philosophy of science" or "science studies", either, where those refer to science-as-a-social-construct type critiques. But the reviewer's points aren't that kind of critique. Krauss really does seem to want to answer the cosmological question "Why the universe?" and only answers the question "Why particles?" (answer: quantum fields and their tendency to interact in some ways but not others). But then the next question asks itself.

    The problem with that question asking itself is that there is no end to it asking itself, which is what Krauss was saying in a round-about way.

    "Why particles?"
    "Because quantum fields."
    "Why quantum fields?"
    "Because the universe."
    "Why the universe?"
    "Because super-physics X."
    "Why super-physics X?"
    "Because super-super-physics X."
    ...

    Fundamental physical law is fundamental because it's the bottom floor. You can ask why, but there isn't necessarily an answer. What's an electron made of? We used to think the answer was "electron". Turns out the answer is "quantum fields". It's just as meaningless, in philosophical terms, but perfectly scientifically valid. It's not terribly satisfying, but I don't see why an infinite recursion is more logically valid than a universe with fundamental constituents.

    And as to the "where did those constituents come from?" question that inevitably arises when you post fundamental constituents: they didn't. I know J will argue it with me because he has before, but there is no actual meaning in asking where the universe came from, from a scientific standpoint. Physics is concerned with natural law. Natural law pre-supposes nature, in the "nature == the universe" sense. It doesn't make logical sense to approach questions about existence before or outside of the universe using physics any more than it makes sense to try to measure a ruler using the 1" mark on that same ruler. If it turns out that physics can answer questions about what was before or is outside of the universe then, as Krauss was saying, it turns out that we were wrong about what the universe is. The physical universe is, in fact, all of the things that physics can possibly answer questions about.

    Additionally, as far as we know, linear time is a property of our physical universe that crystallized out of the big bang during the first symmetry-breaking epoch. That means that it's simply nonsense to ask what happened before the universe. All of time is contained in the universe. You can't go before it because you run out of before to go to. Hawking described time as being like a globe, and going back into the past as being like going North. Eventually, no matter where you start, you reach a point on the globe where you have run out of North. It doesn't make sense to talk about "What's North of the North Pole?" and it doesn't make sense to talk about "What's before the big bang?". So all of the "how did we get something out of nothing?" is just nonsense, from a physical point of view.

    OptimusZed wrote: »
    Jesus, people. This thread is like a running gunbattle with stupid bullets.
  • tinwhiskerstinwhiskers Registered User regular
    Arguing if fields are or aren't nothing the best kind of worthless. Not knowing much background on quantum fields in particular, arguing that fields are not nothing seems like a pointless position to hold in this case.


    For example were I to empty the entire universe of all mater besides a single electron and a single proton, and stick them on opposite sides of it. The entirety of the space between them could no longer be considered to contain nothing, as they would produce a field, however weak.

    If, and from what little I have had time to gather this seems the case, quantum fields rely on no physical particles existing, then what is the point of the concept of nothing? If there are these permanent fields that are simply innate to the existence of the universe, we might as well strike the word from usage. Because there will never be nothing.


  • BagginsesBagginses __BANNED USERS regular
    I think it's kind of interesting that the questions philosophy is focusing on and physics cannot solve involve conditions that can never, ever be found, which also means that the answers can never, ever be useful. Of course, it's also interesting that the definitions that underpin the claim that philosophy is what generated the "logical tools upon which scientists rely in order to construct arguments" makes "philosophy" synonymous with "the level of complex thought done by everyone but Terri Schaivo."

  • tbloxhamtbloxham Registered User regular
    Quantum fields (being quantum) will have a probability of being measured as having 'zero' for any measurable quantity at a discrete time when a measurement is made. Thus, they are as close to nothing as it is literally possible to be. The idea of a more perfect 'nothing' has no relevance in science, since the process of observing it would cause it to be something and as previous posters have stated the existance of anything precludes the existance of a 'nothing' more perfect than a quantum field. You can complain about the word nothing itself (because it doesn't exist, there is always at least a probability of something) but you can't complain about his use of it.

    Physicist correct, philosopher wrong.

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  • JuliusJulius Registered User regular
    There was an interesting article I read yesterday about Hawking saying the same shit about philosophy too.link

    Philosophy isn't just "the meaning of life" or "what is good?". It's actually useful, if not vital, for having any science-talk actually make sense. Yeah sure sometimes it's just a load of nonsense, but that goes for some "physics" too.

  • Tiger BurningTiger Burning (poster is a bear)Registered User, SolidSaints Tube regular
    edited May 2012
    I don't think the disagreement stems from the title, as Krauss seems to indicate the argument preceded the book. From the review, regarding Krauss's response to the claim that quantum fields aren't "nothing":
    Krauss, mind you, has heard this kind of talk before, and it makes him crazy. A century ago, it seems to him, nobody would have made so much as a peep about referring to a stretch of space without any material particles in it as “nothing.” And now that he and his colleagues think they have a way of showing how everything there is could imaginably have emerged from a stretch of space like that, the nut cases are moving the goal posts. He complains that “some philosophers and many theologians define and redefine ‘nothing’ as not being any of the versions of nothing that scientists currently describe,” and that “now, I am told by religious critics that I cannot refer to empty space as ‘nothing,’ but rather as a ‘quantum vacuum,’ to distinguish it from the philosopher’s or theologian’s idealized ‘nothing,’ ” and he does a good deal of railing about “the intellectual bankruptcy of much of theology and some of modern philosophy.” But all there is to say about this, as far as I can see, is that Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right. Who cares what we would or would not have made a peep about a hundred years ago? We were wrong a hundred years ago. We know more now. And if what we formerly took for nothing turns out, on closer examination, to have the makings of protons and neutrons and tables and chairs and planets and solar systems and galaxies and universes in it, then it wasn’t nothing, and it couldn’t have been nothing, in the first place. And the history of science — if we understand it correctly — gives us no hint of how it might be possible to imagine otherwise.

    I'm no fan of "philosophy of science" or "science studies", either, where those refer to science-as-a-social-construct type critiques. But the reviewer's points aren't that kind of critique. Krauss really does seem to want to answer the cosmological question "Why the universe?" and only answers the question "Why particles?" (answer: quantum fields and their tendency to interact in some ways but not others). But then the next question asks itself.

    The problem with that question asking itself is that there is no end to it asking itself, which is what Krauss was saying in a round-about way.

    "Why particles?"
    "Because quantum fields."
    "Why quantum fields?"
    "Because the universe."
    "Why the universe?"
    "Because super-physics X."
    "Why super-physics X?"
    "Because super-super-physics X."
    ...

    Fundamental physical law is fundamental because it's the bottom floor. You can ask why, but there isn't necessarily an answer. What's an electron made of? We used to think the answer was "electron". Turns out the answer is "quantum fields". It's just as meaningless, in philosophical terms, but perfectly scientifically valid. It's not terribly satisfying, but I don't see why an infinite recursion is more logically valid than a universe with fundamental constituents.

    And as to the "where did those constituents come from?" question that inevitably arises when you post fundamental constituents: they didn't. I know J will argue it with me because he has before, but there is no actual meaning in asking where the universe came from, from a scientific standpoint. Physics is concerned with natural law. Natural law pre-supposes nature, in the "nature == the universe" sense. It doesn't make logical sense to approach questions about existence before or outside of the universe using physics any more than it makes sense to try to measure a ruler using the 1" mark on that same ruler. If it turns out that physics can answer questions about what was before or is outside of the universe then, as Krauss was saying, it turns out that we were wrong about what the universe is. The physical universe is, in fact, all of the things that physics can possibly answer questions about.

    Additionally, as far as we know, linear time is a property of our physical universe that crystallized out of the big bang during the first symmetry-breaking epoch. That means that it's simply nonsense to ask what happened before the universe. All of time is contained in the universe. You can't go before it because you run out of before to go to. Hawking described time as being like a globe, and going back into the past as being like going North. Eventually, no matter where you start, you reach a point on the globe where you have run out of North. It doesn't make sense to talk about "What's North of the North Pole?" and it doesn't make sense to talk about "What's before the big bang?". So all of the "how did we get something out of nothing?" is just nonsense, from a physical point of view.

    But you can see then why that is an interesting philosophical question. If, at some level of description the questions "why" and "how" no longer apply to the physical universe, then what does that say about us? Because "why" and "how" seem to be pretty fundamental to the way we think about the world at every level. If these questions are just artifacts of the particular way that we think about things then that's a pretty interesting result, no?

    I haven't read the book, so I can't say, but I don't think the reviewer was poo-pooing the science. It's a pop science book, and, like you said, the author probably sexed up the way he presented his conclusions to address a Big Question because that is more likely to sell books. But even if he has correctly identified some irreducible phenomena (which claim I don't think he actually makes), the very existence of a "bottom floor" to science raises a bunch of interesting questions (which, I understand, are not within the purview of science to answer).

    Tiger Burning on
    “You could tell by the way he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him.”
  • electricitylikesmeelectricitylikesme Registered User regular
    Julius wrote: »
    There was an interesting article I read yesterday about Hawking saying the same shit about philosophy too.link

    Philosophy isn't just "the meaning of life" or "what is good?". It's actually useful, if not vital, for having any science-talk actually make sense. Yeah sure sometimes it's just a load of nonsense, but that goes for some "physics" too.

    That's more "origin of knowledge" stuff though - which I would argue should be taught to everyone as a core subject of education at every level.

    That, to me at least, is obviously very important when dealing with things like quantum mechanics - where the implication of the calculation seems so diametrically opposed to every day experience (though, that, in and of itself, I find interesting - I've more or less grown up with quantum mechanics as a fact of life, and my interest and education in science reflects that. See something disappear? Maybe it probabilistically tunneled somewhere - it happens sometimes).

  • ElitistbElitistb Registered User regular
    Physics is never going to tell us why we're here, or the meaning of life, or What is Truth.
    I think part of the problem is assuming that these are actual questions (as in something that makes actual sense to ask, assuming you could reasonably define the terms and in the case of the first, what "why" even means), then that they have actual answers, and then that anything could actually provide a path to answering them.

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  • electricitylikesmeelectricitylikesme Registered User regular
    edited May 2012
    But you can see then why that is an interesting philosophical question. If, at some level of description the questions "why" and "how" no longer apply to the physical universe, then what does that say about us? Because "why" and "how" seem to be pretty fundamental to the way we think about the world at every level. If these questions are just artifacts of the particular way that we think about things then that's a pretty interesting result, no?

    Does it though? I feel the Incompleteness Theorem more then adequately addresses the problem - it stands to reason that at some level of reducibility, we reach a fundamentalness of the universe where we can no longer use it against itself.

    I mean, consider virtual computing - VM's are considered secure because you can't use the rules inside a VM to get out of it. Now, that's not always true, but a suitably well-designed VM is impervious to being broken out of - and it certainly seems like a suitable analogy for the universe.

    electricitylikesme on
  • AManFromEarthAManFromEarth Let's get to twerk! The King in the SwampRegistered User regular
    Science is for how, philosophy/religion is for why.

    We need both in our brains, everyone needs each to a different degree and can get them in different ways, but neither is going to satisfy everyone.

    Lh96QHG.png
  • Tiger BurningTiger Burning (poster is a bear)Registered User, SolidSaints Tube regular
    But you can see then why that is an interesting philosophical question. If, at some level of description the questions "why" and "how" no longer apply to the physical universe, then what does that say about us? Because "why" and "how" seem to be pretty fundamental to the way we think about the world at every level. If these questions are just artifacts of the particular way that we think about things then that's a pretty interesting result, no?

    Does it though? I feel the Incompleteness Theorem more then adequately addresses the problem - it stands to reason that at some level of reducibility, we reach a fundamentalness of the universe where we can no longer use it against itself.

    I mean, consider virtual computing - VM's are considered secure because you can't use the rules inside a VM to get out of it. Now, that's not always true, but a suitably well-designed VM is impervious to being broken out of - and it certainly seems like a suitably analogy for the universe.

    Godel's theorem doesn't address the problem at all, because Godel's theory raises the same questions. What does it mean for the way we view the universe that things can be true but unprovable, or that physical phenomena can exist without reason or cause?

    “You could tell by the way he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him.”
  • Green DreamGreen Dream Registered User regular
    Philosophy and science can and should work together - we should be interrogating the world using scientific inquiry to learn facts, and interrogating our concepts and thought-structures using philosophical inquiry to gain clarity in our reasoning.

    I can't help but think that the "philosophical" arguments against Krauss are rather childish, and miss the chance to say anything interesting, when interesting things can actually be said. Krauss similarly fails to articulate what is wrong with the simplistic philosophical reasoning - he is not a philosopher, and obviously isn't as adept at playing their game as they are. Really, Krauss and his critics are just talking past each other - so the conflict isn't between "science" and "philosophy", it's between a scientist who is failing to explain the value of his work (and compensates by denigrading those who do not have his scientific expertise, when it is his reasoned explanation that is poorly put together) and philosophers who are failing to investigate the value of his work because they have a simple stock argument they can trot out to feel smugly superior. There is failure on both sides here, but it is the failures of people, not of "science" or "philosophy".

    What science aims to do is to provide explanations for natural phenomena while remaining wholly within the sphere of natural phenomena - that is to say, the scientific answer for "Why do we find x in nature?" is answered by "Because of process y that occurs in nature." Science is - and should be! - totally uninterested in trying to explain any natural phenomenon by appealing to things or processes that are beyond it. Therefore, we should expect that science is not about to demonstrate or provide a logical proof that shows anything about God. That is simply outside of its mandate.

    However, the results of the sciences can tell us something about what we need to posit a supernatual entity, like God, to explain. Should science be unable to explain some natural phenomena and we want to have some explanation for it, a non-scientific form of explanation may well be acceptable. The interesting thing here is that if Krauss is correct, then we might be able to give a naturalistic and scientific explanation for all observable natural phenomena (other than empty extended space) simply on the basis of processes that occur in empty extended space. That's pretty powerful. That means that a universe made up of space without any material things in it could naturally produce a universe full of material things.

    If that's the case, does it formally disprove God? No. But it does say that you don't need a supernatural explanation for any material phenomena. If you really want an explanation for why extended empty space exists (for, after all, it is a natural phenomenon), I don't think that Kruass offers this. So if you don't want to wait in uncertainty for a scientific explanation for the genesis of extended empty space from some other natural force, you can posit God as the creator of empty extended space. That's cool - you can do that. And even if an explanation for empty extended space is found, you can still posit God as the creator of whatever natural phenomena gave rise to that empty extended space.

    But, if Krauss is correct and we have found such a powerful explanation for all material things, then it at least significantly cuts down the role of supernatural explanations for natural phenomena - God no longers needs to do much creating at all in order to get the Universe up and running, and that's positive knowledge that is both scientifically and philosophically relevant.

    I think Krauss is also getting at the very interesting philosophical question of what we mean when we say "nothing" (though of course he is not a philosopher, and not doing it very well). It is not a scientifically proved fact of nature that "something cannot come from nothing", but rather a philosophical proposition - an expression concerning what we demand from explanations. If we find that empty space can be the casue of material things, is the right response to cleave to our philosophical maxim and insist that empty space must not be nothing, or is the right response to reconsider the philosophical maxim and ask ourselves what it would mean for our conceptual lives if we were to accept that sometimes something can come from nothing? Are we being unreasonable if we demand that nothing can be nothing (that is, that anything that could be called nothing must be something and so cannot be nothing)? This sophistry, to me, seems utterly childish and silly - we have the word "nothing" in our vocabulary because it is meaningful and can be sensibly applied to certain natural phenomena, and you would think that empty extended space would be the paradigm case for the application of the word. It is rather like the unreasonable philosophers who say that the word "flat" can never be correctly applied to any thing in the world, since looking closely enough with an electron microscope or conceptualizing material things at the atomic level show that they are not perfec geometrical planes. This is not good philosophy, it is not contributing to clearer thinking; it is mental masturbation of the first order and fails utterly to clarify the concepts we use, instead generating meaning-destroying paradoxes by ignore basic facts about the use of the concepts supposedly under examination. There is nothing in our concpets that predetermines our response to the question I am putting forward that comes out of this; it is a question about how we want to define our concepts and how we think it makes sense to connect them. And that is the philosophical question that arises from this that is worth exploring, in my view.

  • Evil MultifariousEvil Multifarious Registered User regular
    i guess i have not been reading the philosophy of science that you guys have (outside of the big ones like Heidegger, whose discussion of science I have "read" insofar as I have opened the book and perceived the words arranged in patterns therein), because I figured that "philosophy of science" referred to the more nuts-and-bolts philosophy that underpins scientific thought

    like, where philosophy and statistical mathematics interact, in terms of making decisions about when information is meaningful (in a very functional, practical sense), or the philosophy of scientific ethics (for new research, voluntary participation in testing, animal testing, etc.), or the philosophy that underpins empiricism and the scientific method and determines what is sound methodology and what is not, etc.

    i suppose when you are all referring to "philosophy of science" you're referring largely to philosophers who discuss science as a social force, the consequences of the increasing power that science provides, the way science shapes our lives and personalities, etc.? Which, you know, sounds really important to me.

    I don't know that physicists need to be experts on philosophy, but almost every physicist I've read who is interested in the way their discipline connects to human lives and experience has also been interested in the intersection of physics and philosophy at the cosmological/ontological level, like "why do the 'laws' of science seem to work, and consistently so?" or "is reality essentially divisible and discrete?" and "how does a causal universe come to exist, and how do we deal with the 'beginning' of time?" and, in this instance, "why is there matter?"

    Inquisitor wrote: »
    I fucking hate you Canadians.
  • CptHamiltonCptHamilton Registered User regular
    edited May 2012
    I don't think the disagreement stems from the title, as Krauss seems to indicate the argument preceded the book. From the review, regarding Krauss's response to the claim that quantum fields aren't "nothing":
    Krauss, mind you, has heard this kind of talk before, and it makes him crazy. A century ago, it seems to him, nobody would have made so much as a peep about referring to a stretch of space without any material particles in it as “nothing.” And now that he and his colleagues think they have a way of showing how everything there is could imaginably have emerged from a stretch of space like that, the nut cases are moving the goal posts. He complains that “some philosophers and many theologians define and redefine ‘nothing’ as not being any of the versions of nothing that scientists currently describe,” and that “now, I am told by religious critics that I cannot refer to empty space as ‘nothing,’ but rather as a ‘quantum vacuum,’ to distinguish it from the philosopher’s or theologian’s idealized ‘nothing,’ ” and he does a good deal of railing about “the intellectual bankruptcy of much of theology and some of modern philosophy.” But all there is to say about this, as far as I can see, is that Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right. Who cares what we would or would not have made a peep about a hundred years ago? We were wrong a hundred years ago. We know more now. And if what we formerly took for nothing turns out, on closer examination, to have the makings of protons and neutrons and tables and chairs and planets and solar systems and galaxies and universes in it, then it wasn’t nothing, and it couldn’t have been nothing, in the first place. And the history of science — if we understand it correctly — gives us no hint of how it might be possible to imagine otherwise.

    I'm no fan of "philosophy of science" or "science studies", either, where those refer to science-as-a-social-construct type critiques. But the reviewer's points aren't that kind of critique. Krauss really does seem to want to answer the cosmological question "Why the universe?" and only answers the question "Why particles?" (answer: quantum fields and their tendency to interact in some ways but not others). But then the next question asks itself.

    The problem with that question asking itself is that there is no end to it asking itself, which is what Krauss was saying in a round-about way.

    "Why particles?"
    "Because quantum fields."
    "Why quantum fields?"
    "Because the universe."
    "Why the universe?"
    "Because super-physics X."
    "Why super-physics X?"
    "Because super-super-physics X."
    ...

    Fundamental physical law is fundamental because it's the bottom floor. You can ask why, but there isn't necessarily an answer. What's an electron made of? We used to think the answer was "electron". Turns out the answer is "quantum fields". It's just as meaningless, in philosophical terms, but perfectly scientifically valid. It's not terribly satisfying, but I don't see why an infinite recursion is more logically valid than a universe with fundamental constituents.

    And as to the "where did those constituents come from?" question that inevitably arises when you post fundamental constituents: they didn't. I know J will argue it with me because he has before, but there is no actual meaning in asking where the universe came from, from a scientific standpoint. Physics is concerned with natural law. Natural law pre-supposes nature, in the "nature == the universe" sense. It doesn't make logical sense to approach questions about existence before or outside of the universe using physics any more than it makes sense to try to measure a ruler using the 1" mark on that same ruler. If it turns out that physics can answer questions about what was before or is outside of the universe then, as Krauss was saying, it turns out that we were wrong about what the universe is. The physical universe is, in fact, all of the things that physics can possibly answer questions about.

    Additionally, as far as we know, linear time is a property of our physical universe that crystallized out of the big bang during the first symmetry-breaking epoch. That means that it's simply nonsense to ask what happened before the universe. All of time is contained in the universe. You can't go before it because you run out of before to go to. Hawking described time as being like a globe, and going back into the past as being like going North. Eventually, no matter where you start, you reach a point on the globe where you have run out of North. It doesn't make sense to talk about "What's North of the North Pole?" and it doesn't make sense to talk about "What's before the big bang?". So all of the "how did we get something out of nothing?" is just nonsense, from a physical point of view.

    But you can see then why that is an interesting philosophical question. If, at some level of description the questions "why" and "how" no longer apply to the physical universe, then what does that say about us? Because "why" and "how" seem to be pretty fundamental to the way we think about the world at every level. If these questions are just artifacts of the particular way that we think about things then that's a pretty interesting result, no?

    Sure it's interesting, but it's not scientifically interesting. Or, I suppose, it might be for the science of psychology or neurobiology or something, but it's not interesting to physics. That's what I was saying with the whole "physics and philosophy of science do things that both have value but in completely different ways and without necessarily ever intersecting" thing.
    I haven't read the book, so I can't say, but I don't think the reviewer was poo-pooing the science. It's a pop science book, and, like you said, the author probably sexed up the way he presented his conclusions to address a Big Question because that is more likely to sell books. But even if he has correctly identified some irreducible phenomena (which claim I don't think he actually makes), the very existence of a "bottom floor" to science raises a bunch of interesting questions (which, I understand, are not within the purview of science to answer).

    But it's a pop science book that explains to the layman how our universe of apparently physical things arises out of a seething mass of probability fields which most people, when its explained what a probability field is, would call either 'nothing' or, at least, 'just a mathematical abstraction'. The reviewer's beef was that he didn't explain how the universe arose from literally nothing, which I contend isn't something that a scientist should be doing, or be expected to be doing, in the first place.

    CptHamilton on
    OptimusZed wrote: »
    Jesus, people. This thread is like a running gunbattle with stupid bullets.
  • Tiger BurningTiger Burning (poster is a bear)Registered User, SolidSaints Tube regular
    If we find that empty space can be the casue of material things, is the right response to cleave to our philosophical maxim and insist that empty space must not be nothing,

    That's not the criticism, though. The criticism is whence quantum fields? Or, why do they interact in the the way that they do and not some other way? If the answer is "because that's the way it is" and we've reached some terminus beyond which science can not provide further explication, well, that's interesting, right? There's philosophical space to explore there.

    “You could tell by the way he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him.”
  • JuliusJulius Registered User regular
    Julius wrote: »
    There was an interesting article I read yesterday about Hawking saying the same shit about philosophy too.link

    Philosophy isn't just "the meaning of life" or "what is good?". It's actually useful, if not vital, for having any science-talk actually make sense. Yeah sure sometimes it's just a load of nonsense, but that goes for some "physics" too.

    That's more "origin of knowledge" stuff though - which I would argue should be taught to everyone as a core subject of education at every level.

    That, to me at least, is obviously very important when dealing with things like quantum mechanics - where the implication of the calculation seems so diametrically opposed to every day experience (though, that, in and of itself, I find interesting - I've more or less grown up with quantum mechanics as a fact of life, and my interest and education in science reflects that. See something disappear? Maybe it probabilistically tunneled somewhere - it happens sometimes).

    Well yeah epistemology is one of the important things of philosophy of science.

  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    The diversity in both focus and method between philosophers is so enormous that I find myself looking at statements like this, "and so I'd say that this tension occurs because people in philosophy feel threatened, and they have every right to feel threatened, because science progresses and philosophy doesn't," and thinking, "Which philosophers? Which philosophy?"

    Just comparing - as an off-the-cuff example - Patricia Churchland to Alvin Platinga... well, they're barely in the same sphere.

    Most of my friends who are actual philosophers (y'know, lecturers and professors and published authors) are bioethicists or experimental philosophers, drawing heavily from current scientific (mostly neuroscientific) discoveries. They wouldn't, for example, dismiss a scientific finding because it's based on "induction and abduction." There's no intrinsic opposition - deductive and inductive approaches are compatible and in fact both necessary to come to knowledge.

    However, there are plenty of philosophers who seem content to navel-gaze. The aforementiond Platinga, or pretty much most of the philo undergrads I met in college. When people start dismissing inductive reasoning because "it can't prove anything" (just because you can't prove something with 100% certainty doesn't mean the exercise is useless) or saying things like "philosophy is the study of everything, all other fields are subordinate to philosophy" (an idea expressed by somebody whose name I don't remember long ago on these boards) then I'm just going to look at you like you're crazy and go 'really?'

    So while I think Krauss is overreaching quite a bit when he makes broad generalizations of philosophy, I am somewhat sympathetic to comments like "This sense that somehow physicists... aren't justified in talking about these things, or haven't thought deeply about them." I've encountered, and I continue to encounter, that kind of chauvinism coming from philosophers (or, at the very least, philosophy students) quite a lot.

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • Tiger BurningTiger Burning (poster is a bear)Registered User, SolidSaints Tube regular
    edited May 2012
    Sure it's interesting, but it's not scientifically interesting.

    Well, sure. But I think the criticism of Krauss is that he wants to use his scientific results to address certain philosophical questions, but misapprehends what those questions are. Like, one question isn't so much "How did the Universe begin?" as "What the hell does it mean for the Universe to have a beginning?".

    Tiger Burning on
    “You could tell by the way he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him.”
  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    i suppose when you are all referring to "philosophy of science" you're referring largely to philosophers who discuss science as a social force, the consequences of the increasing power that science provides, the way science shapes our lives and personalities, etc.? Which, you know, sounds really important to me.

    Well, when I think of 'philosophy of science' I think of people who are asking questions like, "What does it mean to scientifically demonstrate a claim?" which is a subset of epistemology ("How do we know what we know? What does it mean to 'know' something?") so I'm thinking of people like Popper, Kuhn, Quine, Feyerabend. It's an important question and personally I have a lot of respect for many of those philosophers - particularly Quine and Kuhn.

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • manwiththemachinegunmanwiththemachinegun METAL GEAR?! Registered User regular
    edited May 2012
    Science is for how, philosophy/religion is for why.

    We need both in our brains, everyone needs each to a different degree and can get them in different ways, but neither is going to satisfy everyone.

    While both sides are to blame, it didn't used to be so. Science and religion existed fairly comfortably side by side for hundreds of years. It wasn't perfect, but Issac Newton for example wrote as much about God as he did about his own studies.

    Creationists can't get past, "we came from monkeys and the Earth wasn't made 6,000 years ago." And pro-science folks are just as bad ridiculing every aspect of religion and thinking only retards would believe in such non-sense.

    Guys like Dawkins and Chick don't exactly help smooth things over.

    manwiththemachinegun on
  • CptHamiltonCptHamilton Registered User regular
    Sure it's interesting, but it's not scientifically interesting.

    Well, sure. But I think the criticism of Krauss is that he wants to use his scientific results to address certain philosophical questions, but misapprehends what those questions are. Like, one question isn't so much "How did the Universe begin?" as "What the hell does it mean for the Universe to have a beginning?".

    That may or may not be a valid criticism of Krauss. I dunno, having not read his book. I get the feeling that Krauss' vocal atheism pisses off a lot of theologically-minded folks, and I imagine that his writing probably has a strong anti-theist bent to it. But the book appears to be an attempt to explain quantum field theory to the layman through a couching in pop-philosophy.

    My arguments aren't really for or against Krauss or his detractors directly, since I've neither read his book nor the full bodies of his post-publication interaction with the critical press, so much as against J's statements regarding Physics' dependency on Philosophy. They're trivially dependent, having arisen from the same formal logic and epistemology and so forth antecedents, and certainly they inform one another via the interplay of modern scientific ethics studies and the like, but any sort of interaction in the space of, as Feral put it, "why the universe?" navel-gazing is purely at the discretion of the physicists and not in any sense required for them to do their work. Outside of the issue of attracting neophytes I imagine that science would probably be largely better off if physicists kept their opinions on such things largely to themselves. It would at least spark less hatred from the anti-intellectual camps of the theological press.

    OptimusZed wrote: »
    Jesus, people. This thread is like a running gunbattle with stupid bullets.
  • JuliusJulius Registered User regular
    Science is for how, philosophy/religion is for why.

    This is nonsense. Aside from us not having any use for religion anyway the whole how/why thing is silly. As long as we don't limit "science" to just experiments there is no real difference in approach. Philosophy is science, though it is usually about the theoretical aspects and the fundaments rather than practical application.

  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    edited May 2012
    Julius wrote: »
    Science is for how, philosophy/religion is for why.

    This is nonsense. Aside from us not having any use for religion anyway the whole how/why thing is silly. As long as we don't limit "science" to just experiments there is no real difference in approach. Philosophy is science, though it is usually about the theoretical aspects and the fundaments rather than practical application.

    Eh, one viewpoint (common among philosophers) is that science is a branch of philosophy - philosophy covers the gathering of knowledge and science is the empirical subcategory of that (ie, 'natural philosophy').

    I'm sympathetic to that viewpoint but I don't really agree - it's a bit like saying that chemistry is a branch of physics. The fields are divergent enough that you can't trivially translate expertise and methods from one field to the other. I feel like people only make statements like that when they want to be chauvinist dicks.

    Feral on
    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • manwiththemachinegunmanwiththemachinegun METAL GEAR?! Registered User regular
    Aside from us not having any use for religion anyway the whole how/why thing is silly.

    Yes, because people of faith have accomplish nothing of significance in human history, ever. No contributions to art, law, moral theory, advancing human rights or being charitable. Anything they've done is all in spite of their faith, not because of it right? It's all just ethnic cleansing and bigotry?

    Science benefits from having many points of view, it does not subtract from it.

  • AManFromEarthAManFromEarth Let's get to twerk! The King in the SwampRegistered User regular
    Julius wrote: »
    Science is for how, philosophy/religion is for why.

    This is nonsense. Aside from us not having any use for religion anyway the whole how/why thing is silly. As long as we don't limit "science" to just experiments there is no real difference in approach. Philosophy is science, though it is usually about the theoretical aspects and the fundaments rather than practical application.

    I was using a fairly simplistic definition for each.

    You cannot use the scientific method to provide and answer for WHY DOES THE UNIVERSE EXIST? We can only find out the how side. You can't science away philosophy on the metaphysical side and it isn't science in the way that most people think about it.

    A better way to say it perhaps is that we use the scientific method in both (and after all, philosophy is where it came from in the first place).

    They are linked, but they address different parts of ourselves.

    Lh96QHG.png
  • Green DreamGreen Dream Registered User regular
    edited May 2012
    If we find that empty space can be the casue of material things, is the right response to cleave to our philosophical maxim and insist that empty space must not be nothing,

    That's not the criticism, though. The criticism is whence quantum fields? Or, why do they interact in the the way that they do and not some other way? If the answer is "because that's the way it is" and we've reached some terminus beyond which science can not provide further explication, well, that's interesting, right? There's philosophical space to explore there.

    I may be incorrect here, and I apologize if I am, but I was of the understanding that quantum fields were simply a feature of space - like its extension. Simply because you can predicate extension of space does not imply that that there is not nothing there; rather, extension is the logical possibility of something existing. What we call quantum fields can then be seen as simply another name for extension, or a clarification of what it means for space to be extended. Therefore, quantum fields are the logical possibility of something existing.

    (Homework! Compare: Water is the logical possibility of wetness. There is more than one way to understand this, and while philosophy can help us to clarify the question, it does not necessitate that we choose one answer over another - it is a matter of choosing how we organize our concepts.)

    We observe how space acts, and we get positive knowledge about it. Do we need to know why it acts that way and not some other way in order to be satisfied with our scientific explanation of how it actually acts? I don't think so - though, of course, further inquiry exploring alternate possible kinds of space could be scientifically rewarding. Even if science manages to answer how our Universe came into existence, that hardly means that scientific inquiry is done its job or has run out of interesting things to explore - nature is endlessly complex and surprising.

    Is it reasonable, or interesting, to pursue explanations beyond the point I came to in the first paragraph? I don't dispute that there are not philosophical interests to be pursued, but has philosophy anything more to say here to add to the explanation? I am inclined to think that the answer is no. However there are interesting philosohipcal questions regarding our expectations of explanations, and regarding where it becomes unreasonable to continue to ask for them.

    Green Dream on
  • Captain MarcusCaptain Marcus Right here in River CityRegistered User regular
    Feral wrote: »
    I'm sympathetic to that viewpoint but I don't really agree - it's a bit like saying that chemistry is a branch of physics. The fields are divergent enough that you can't trivially translate expertise and methods from one field to the other. I feel like people only make statements like that when they want to be chauvinist dicks.

    I agree. Also, science uses quantifiable observations and data, and philosophy uses... what? There's not really an analog between the two, aside from their shared use of logic.

    Remember the Maine, Plymouth Rock, and the Golden Rule!
  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    At the risk of sounding like a dick myself, I kind of wish MrMister had started this thread instead of _J_.

    I think MrMister has a sophisticated understanding of how scientific empiricism and philosophical deduction interact, while _J_ likes to go 'lol induction lol'.

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • _J__J_ Festive Pedant Registered User regular
    Text dump. I'm really happy with the conversation so far!
    Of course, I'm not sure how much Krauss stresses the "from NOTHING" part of the title, but to me it seems the book's name is just a memorable and catchy title meant to grab readers, and not in any way an attempt to portray the full details of what he's written.

    While the title is most likely phrased in that way to grab people's attention, I think he is trying to explain a "from nothing" story in order to claim that he's removed any need for a God or Deity to have sparked any origination to the universe. I think Albert's observation that "quantum fields" are not "nothing" is applicable to at least that component of Krauss' argument: Krauss still needs a "God" to explain

    1) Where quantum fields came from.
    2) Why we have these quantum fields, rather than others.

    To be honest, defining what "nothing" is sounds about much fun as defining what "being" is. I'm pretty sure it'll turn out to be God all along.

    Defining "nothing" is a wonderfully paradoxical project. If only because definitions usually are of the form "X is...", and with "nothing", that phrasing doesn't quite work; "nothing is" causes problems.
    Bethryn wrote: »
    If nothing can give rise to something, it is not nothing; it has the property of being able to give rise to something.

    You realize that in stating it this way you are also assigning properties to nothing, insofar as you are making a positive claim about nothing's absence of properties. "Nothing is a lack of properties", as it were.
    Bethryn wrote: »
    If nothing can't give rise to something, and we know that there is presently something, there cannot at any 'time' have been only nothing.

    Perhaps nothing can act as a foundation to something. Your statement "there is something, so there always had to have been something" has a brother in the phrase "there is something, so nothing has to be able to generate something."
    At most, you could say it "provides value", as a useless middle manager "provides value" to the company.

    Philosophy also
    1) Clarifies language.
    2) Clarifies / critiques the structure of arguments.
    3) Assesses the metaphysical assumptions upon which a particular theory rests.
    4) Assesses the epistemological assumptions utilized by empirical sciences.
    5) Raises ethical questions to direct scientific research.

    Do you think medical ethicists are wasteful?
    Physics uses the tools of logic developed by philosophers, but the avenues of investigation pursued by physicists and philosophers of science are simply non-intersecting. If scientists stopped doing physics right this moment, philosophers of science could keep philosophizing about existing scientific theory indefinitely. If all of the philosophers were struck dead tomorrow morning, physics could keep right on trucking with its experimentation.

    I appreciated your comments. This one, though, may require a reply.

    Physics uses more than just the tools of logic. When it gets down to the primordial questions regarding the fundamental nature of the universe, physics is beholden to the historical attempts of philosophers to explain these same question. "Atoms", for example, were philosophical ideas before they were science's ideas. This is, of course, true of the primary assumptions of any field of study since it originated as a branch of philosophy and then became an "independent" discipline.

    But that's, perhaps, a point worth considering. Contemporary science, be it empirical or speculative, originated in Thales. When Einstein was crafting his theories he didn't have microscopes or lab assistance. He sat at his table and speculated about the fundamental nature of reality.

    Which, interestingly, is what most philosophers do.

    In the same way that some criticize philosophers for holding too tightly to the origin story of any particular discipline, I think that persons in other disciplines can be criticized for ignoring the historical origins of their field of study and the degree to which their conceptual tools were fashioned by philosophers.

    Finally, I'll just point out that "If all the philosophers were struck dead tomorrow, physics could keep right on trucking" isn't technically correct. All of those physicists have Ph.D.s, you know.

    "Doctors of Philosophy", as it were.

    Fundamental physical law is fundamental because it's the bottom floor.

    Until we find a new bottom, as a result of philosophers prodding scientists to answer the "But why is THAT the case?" question. Quantum theory came from someone asking, "But why is THAT the case?" Presumably, whatever comes next will follow from someone asking "But why are quantum fields there?"

    Seems like every time science posits a new bottom, the project of inquiry uncovers new foundations.
    And as to the "where did those constituents come from?" question that inevitably arises when you post fundamental constituents: they didn't. I know J will argue it with me because he has before, but there is no actual meaning in asking where the universe came from, from a scientific standpoint. Physics is concerned with natural law. Natural law pre-supposes nature, in the "nature == the universe" sense. It doesn't make logical sense to approach questions about existence before or outside of the universe using physics any more than it makes sense to try to measure a ruler using the 1" mark on that same ruler. If it turns out that physics can answer questions about what was before or is outside of the universe then, as Krauss was saying, it turns out that we were wrong about what the universe is. The physical universe is, in fact, all of the things that physics can possibly answer questions about.

    I think the history of human thought has taught us that there is meaning to be found in the "But why is THAT the case" question, insofar as it births the developments we find in fields such as physics. Someone asking "But what are atoms made of?" led to inquiry that dissolved the notion that atoms were the smallest bits. So we have electrons and other particles. "But what are those made of?" the regress goes on and on.

    Modern physics, I would say, exists because of that regress. We keep asking why X, and the attempt to discern an answer to that question generates the hypothesis utilizes to get grant funding.

    I've always found it amusing how much physicists / scientists hate philosophers, given the amount of time they spend trying to answer our questions. You'd think, if they truly hated us, then they'd say, "You know what? I'm not going to answer your damn question. You fucking figure that one out; imma go get laid."
    If there are these permanent fields that are simply innate to the existence of the universe, we might as well strike the word from usage.

    The "innate" word you employ is interesting. Do we Know that quantum fields are innate? Or is that simply the least reducible thing we've found thus far?

    Scientific dogmatism doesn't make sense. So, positing that "X is innate, shut up" seems to be an incredibly unscientific attitude.
    Bagginses wrote: »
    Of course, it's also interesting that the definitions that underpin the claim that philosophy is what generated the "logical tools upon which scientists rely in order to construct arguments" makes "philosophy" synonymous with "the level of complex thought done by everyone but Terri Schaivo."

    I'd be comfortable with "philosophy" as "the collection of rational ideas".

    As I posted earlier in this response, physicists have Doctorates in Philosophy. It's just the philosophy of physics.

  • Tiger BurningTiger Burning (poster is a bear)Registered User, SolidSaints Tube regular
    Science is for how, philosophy/religion is for why.

    We need both in our brains, everyone needs each to a different degree and can get them in different ways, but neither is going to satisfy everyone.

    While both sides are to blame, it didn't used to be so. Science and religion existed fairly comfortably side by side for hundreds of years. It wasn't perfect, but Issac Newton for example wrote as much about God as he did about his own studies.

    Creationists can't get past, "we came from monkeys and the Earth wasn't made 6,000 years ago." And pro-science folks are just as bad ridiculing every aspect of religion and thinking only retards would believe in such non-sense.

    Guys like Dawkins and Chick don't exactly help smooth things over.

    Don't conflate religion and philosophy (either of you).

    Outside of the issue of attracting neophytes I imagine that science would probably be largely better off if physicists kept their opinions on such things largely to themselves. It would at least spark less hatred from the anti-intellectual camps of the theological press.

    I feel the opposite way. The delightful part of all this is that Krauss is doing philosophy by engaging with his detractors, as are we by talking about it. The more the better.

    (Also, this is probably the first and only time I will see the NY Times referred to as "the anti-intellectual camps of the theological press".)

    “You could tell by the way he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him.”
  • AManFromEarthAManFromEarth Let's get to twerk! The King in the SwampRegistered User regular
    I wasn't trying to conflate religion and philosophy, though I can see how it would seem that way.

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