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Old Aug 28th 2009, 04:37 AM   #1
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Relationship between philosophy and physics

So I'm curious to know what the readerships opinion is on asking metaphysical questions inspired by physical phenomena.

Surely one would agree that there are many topics in physics that stir the imagination or ponder someone to ask themselves the philosophical question Why is it like that?. On the other hand, while these questions are interesting, many philosophers with a keen interest in metaphysics appear to know little of the factual science or math of the theory from which these questions are inspired. Furthermore, many physicists seem to be uninterested in these metaphysical questions. Is it safe to say that the relationship between the disciplines physics and philosophy in academia, is a wash?

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Old Aug 28th 2009, 08:29 AM   #2
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The early physicists / scientists etc. were often referred to as natural philosophers. This stemmed i guess from asking questions about observed phenomena, mainly "why?" So in the early days philososphy and physics were closer.

Furthermore, many physicists seem to be uninterested in these metaphysical questions.

This i guess is because over time physics has tended to restrict itself to those areas where it is felt answers can be obtained. Things which cant be so categorized are deemed to be outside the scope of physics, which is in my opinion unfortunate .

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Old Aug 28th 2009, 10:06 AM   #3
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Physics invokes questions in every field. The main reason philosophy and physics aren't talked about too often, with regard to each other, is because these two fields of study use very different approaches on answering fundamental question. The main difference is, in my opinion, philsophy is totally void of evidence and has no criteria for what "evidence" is in philsophy.
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Old Aug 29th 2009, 01:13 AM   #4
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Yes I agree that one usually can't get anything meaningful by focusing on the philosophical aspects, hence this area has been ignored by modern science. On the other hand, philosophy is still very much in our college system. In fact, research is still done here. My opinion, is that if your going to be a scientist, you should spend little time on the philosophical aspects.

On the other hand, if you are going to study philosophy, you should definitely have a good deal of scientific background (especially in theoretical physics if you want to study metaphysics). This is probably a pain in the ass, but at least this guide ones ideas so that those which are downright incorrect by the physical theory, can be thrown out. I think most philosophers have little understanding of subjects such as QM or SR though.
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Old Sep 5th 2009, 11:45 AM   #5
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Relationship between philosophy and physics

Philosophy permits a forum where questions that might not be reasonable to ask in physics may be asked. There are also many areas of commonality between philosophy and physics e.g. Zenos paradox. I personally think that the contributions of philosophy to science are underestimated take for example the contributions of philosphers like Frege and Russel or Godel. Rene Descartes who after whom the cartesian system is named can also be considered a philosopher. Maybe it is important to distinguish the type of philosophy we are talking about as well e.g. Logic, Rationalism and Empericism. On empericism, an interesting comment by LJ Henderson "Science owes more to the steam engine than the steam engine owes to science" I dont think it is black and white.
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Old Sep 5th 2009, 01:12 PM   #6
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YP...

Perhaps in the 1800's and before hand, the contributions of philosophy to discovery and knowledge were not so meaningless. At present, I believe it probably is unfortunately. That it isn't to say its not interesting. Indeed, I have a keen curiosity about some the metaphysical type questions in which philosophy provides the forum to ask. On the other hand, I also like to plant vegetables and go out for long distance runs! Do you see my point?
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Old Sep 5th 2009, 03:44 PM   #7
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Relationship between philosophy and physics

I see your point but do not agree. For example, I believe that philosophy should be used to answer questions which shape the tools that are available to a science to develop and accept new theories e.g. testability of theories and acceptance of empirical data.

Also philosophy has shaped the course of mathematics, then it has also shaped the course of physics. I think that maybe the point you are trying to make is that there have been no substantial advances in say the last 70 years where the field of physics has evolved substantially but that is different from saying that philosophy does not influence physics particularly as both are such a broad subjects.
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Old Sep 5th 2009, 03:52 PM   #8
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Can you give me a particular (and specific) example for how philosophy has recently influenced physics?
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Old Sep 6th 2009, 02:34 AM   #9
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I think some specific examples are the flow of time and reversal of time. Another interesting example relating to the testability of an hypothesis would be string theory.

Read this link

Philosophy of space and time - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Old Oct 9th 2009, 08:17 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by jamix View Post
So I'm curious to know what the readerships opinion is on asking metaphysical questions inspired by physical phenomena.
It's normal to ask such questions in physics. In fact it's probably at the core of what we all seek. We start out with [i]Why is it like that?[/quote] questions in physics and we investigate. What we end up with is a description of the phenomena and with that description we often feel like we have answer to our question.[/

Very important here is to note that it was a philosopher of science who led scientists to the way to "do" science itself. It was the famous scientific philosopher Karl Popper who came up with the idea of falsification as one of the identifying marks of the scientific method.
Originally Posted by jamix View Post
On the other hand, while these questions are interesting, many philosophers with a keen interest in metaphysics appear to know little of the factual science or math of the theory from which these questions are inspired.
More often than not the people who work as philosophers in science are scientists themselves. Philosophers in other areas (not the philosophy of science) don't really need more than a basic understanding of science. An example would be a person who is interested in ethics. E.g. an ethicist doesn't need to understand quantum mechanics.
Originally Posted by jamix View Post
Furthermore, many physicists seem to be uninterested in these metaphysical questions.
In my opinion that is truly a shame because those who think like that are really participating in philosophy to some extent but simply are not calling it that.
Originally Posted by jamix View Post
Is it safe to say that the relationship between the disciplines physics and philosophy in academia, is a wash?
No. Far from it. In fact as the famous physicists Fritz Rorhlich wrote ...ignoring physics means not understanding physics.

There is some good literature out there on all this. I recommend reading the following - Chapter 1 of Classical Charged Particles - 3rd Edition by Fritz Rohrlich (2007). The chapter is called Philosophy and Logic in Physical Theory. This is a must read in my humble opinion. I placed it on my website temporarily for you to download. See Philosophy and Logic of Physical Theory

I also recommend reading it because it’s only 7 pages long and beautifully explains the importance and place of philosophy in physics. It’s an excellent treatment of the topic.

Then there are the following very well known landmark books;

The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper (see The Logic of Scientific Discovery). This book has been referred to as ...one of the most important documents of the twentieth century.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn (see The Structure of Scientific Revolutions)

Physics and Philosophy by Sir James Jeans, Dover Pub., 1942.

Originally Posted by jamix View Post
My opinion, is that if your going to be a scientist, you should spend little time on the philosophical aspects.
Yipes! I couldn’t disagree more. One of my favorite and most important parts of my education was a course I took called Philosophy of Physics.

Last edited by Pmb; Oct 9th 2009 at 08:26 PM.
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