Monday, June 03, 2013

Is science dead because it has not kept up with ancient developments in philosophy?

Writing for Britain's Guardian, philosopher and scientist Raymond Tallis argues that it would be a shame if people took too seriously the proposal of people like physicist Stephen Hawking to give up on philosophy.

Hawking famously declared philosophy "dead" because it had "not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics." It would be more true to say that science is dead because it has not kept upon with ancient developments in philosophy. Nevertheless, more than a few modern secular scientists are sympathetic with Hawking's dismissive attitude toward philosophy.

Tallis makes the case that it isn't philosophy that has a problem, but physics itself:
Fundamental physics is in a metaphysical mess and needs help. The attempt to reconcile its two big theories, general relativity and quantum mechanics, has stalled for nearly 40 years. Endeavours to unite them, such as string theory, are mathematically ingenious but incomprehensible even to many who work with them. This is well known. A better-kept secret is that at the heart of quantum mechanics is a disturbing paradox – the so-called measurement problem, arising ultimately out of the Uncertainty Principle – which apparently demonstrates that the very measurements that have established and confirmed quantum theory should be impossible. Oxford philosopher of physics David Wallace has argued that this threatens to make quantum mechanics incoherent which can be remedied only by vastly multiplying worlds.
That physicists like Hawking, who have to posit the existence of multiple universes in order to maintain the coherence of his physical theories, should criticize philosophy for "keeping up" with it is amusing to say the least. There are a few of us who are also a little out of touch with recent developments in astral travel and holotropic breathing. That we should find that that requires us to reassess own own beliefs is not exactly self-evident.

Tallis also points to the inability of current physical theories to give a materialist account of consciousness or time. And then there is the materialist demand that we accept their preposterous claim that something came from nothing despite the fact that they can provide literally no explanation of how this presumably happened.

As a theist, I find it rather amusing to be asked to abandon my belief in metaphysical realities on the grounds that it makes no rational sense by someone whose own theories seem to become more outlandish and unprovable by the week.

In fact, the only thing the fairly new theory of multiple universes has done is to make longer the list of preposterous beliefs we would have to stomach in order to accept materialism. Not only are such beliefs no more irrational than a belief in, say, God, but they have even less relevance to our lives as human beings:
Perhaps even more important, we should reflect on how a scientific image of the world that relies on up to 10 dimensions of space and rests on ideas, such as fundamental particles, that have neither identity nor location, connects with our everyday experience. This should open up larger questions, such as the extent to which mathematical portraits capture the reality of our world – and what we mean by "reality". The dismissive "Just shut up and calculate!" to those who are dissatisfied with the incomprehensibility of the physicists' picture of the universe is simply inadequate. "It is time" physicist Neil Turok has said, "to connect our science to our humanity, and in doing so to raise the sights of both". This sounds like a job for a philosophy not yet dead.
Tallis is not too bad at playing the philosophical equivalent of the boy who pointed out that the Emperor has no clothes.

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Lee said...
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