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Thursday, November 18, 2021

"Has Science Killed Philosophy?"

This is a debate sponsored by the Royal Institute of Philosophy on the question "Has science killed philosophy?" It suffers from one of the main problems of the philosphy of science and that's an unreasonable focus on theoretical physics. What's interesting is that the question even arises because that suggests to me that there's some reason to suspect that philosophy might not be as important as most philosophers think.

Watch the debate and decide for yourselves whether philosophy is still useful. Frankly, I found it very boring. I didn't learn anything that I didn't know before and I didn't find the defense of philosophy compelling. The philosopher's best answer to the challenge is that their discipline has complete control over rational thinking so every time you are thinking seriously about something you are doing philosophy. Ergo, philosophy will never be killed by science.

What do you think of Eleanor Knox's description of the differences between your right hand and your left hand? Is she on to a deep metaphysical question that science can't address? Or is this an example of why scientists are skeptical of the value of philosophy?

All three panelists were asked to identify a modern philosopher who made a significant contribution to science. Alex Rosenberg immediately identified someone named Samir Okasha whom I've never heard of. Apparently, Okasha made a significant contribution to the levels of selection question in evolution. According to Alex Rosenberg, the philosophers that he listens to tell him that if anyone has settled these question it's Okasha. Perhaps he should listen to evolutionary biologists to get their view on the subject?


26 comments :

  1. Okasha is widely known among evolutionary biologists who are well read on the levels of selection debate. There is no doubt his contribution has been important, though I wouldn't say he has settled the debate. So I think many evolutionary biologists would agree with philosophers on that.

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    1. Here's a "Quick guide" to the levels of selection debate written by Samir Okasha in 2010. I may not be fully up-to-speed on all the nitpicky details of the issue but I don't see anything in that article that Gould didn't say ten years earlier in his explanations of hierarchy theory.

      What I do see in that article is some very questionable statements and a lack of appreciation of the fact that the very question of "levels of selection" presupposes that the only way evolution can happen is by selection. You can also have drift at the gene, individual, group, and species level and that contributes to evolution.

      Gould covers this point extensively in his book "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory." The point is that the "levels of selection" debate is fundamentally an example of considerable question begging and I don't see how you can admire a philosopher who ignores that point.

      Levels of selection

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    2. Hi Larry Moran,

      Your sticky point. Even selection with a bank shot is still selection.


      Cheers,

      Lamarck

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  2. Short answer, yes, it has. Science seeks to explain nature via its methodology which is distinct from philosophy's. The latter is at the periphery of the former, conceptual and speculative via its own method, argumentation.

    Some philosophers are still endlessly urging about theistic arguments while bemoaning how scientist are philosophically "unsophisticated". In other words, patting themselves on the back.

    -César D.

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  3. Consider the nature/ conduct of physics pre and post WWI. Pre is mostly physical experiments, post is almost all (there may be an exceptions but I don't know) hypotheses without possibility, in principle, of physical experiment. Physics is the only 'true' science i.e hypothesize, experiment, predict, repeat by rigorous standards. If so, is science becoming more like philosophy?

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    1. So theoretical physics isn't a "true" science?

      -César D.

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    2. It appears that experimental physics is the only true science. Who knew?

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    3. Maybe consider "true" in a more objective/not literal way? The conduct of physics (and -> science) has evolved from the original one based on empiricism to the present one. So anyone could ""know that (your little joke) by a little reading. The salient point is how that change affects the outcome.

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    4. @John

      Shame on you! You didn’t realize that “true” science means “hypothesize, experiment, predict, repeat by rigorous standards.” All of the science that you and I have been doing for many decades fails to meet those standards. Only physics passes the test. Who knew?

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    5. Biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy: all just a bunch of wankers, apparently.

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    6. His argument reminds me of those peddled by creationists that sciences like geology, paleontology, even astronomy (time delay of information from he far reaches) and the ToE are all not "science" because the observations of events are claimed not to happen in real time but are "historical" reconstructions and therefore unreliable; they cannot positively answer the question: "where you there to observe...."

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    7. The notion of distinguishing "pure" versus "unpure"(?) sciences makes one think of this.

      https://xkcd.com/435/

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  4. Whithout reading the text, only the title. The science trough tehnology kills philosophy, as people become more consumers without thinking the philosophy of being healthy.

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  5. Seems that I hit a nerve without meaning to. But since that has happened it might be amusing to recollect Rutherford and butterflies.
    But back to the original intent, is physics conducted differently now and if so what is the result?
    If there is a change has that affected other science?
    I could have and should have phrased my point in a better way but some have enjoyed the exchange nonetheless.

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    1. It might be amusing to recollect Rutherford and butterflies, but I don't. What?

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    2. Should have said stamp collecting.

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    3. Who was it that said "When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging"?

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    4. Hi John Harsman,

      Who was it that said “when you stop digging, you are still in a hole”?


      Cheers,

      Lamarck

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  6. The description of the talk on youtube says 'Stephen Hawking's proclamation that philosophy is dead was clearly hyperbole. But when it comes to understanding the fundamental nature of reality, has philosophy really got anything left to contribute? Does the rise of physics demand the end of metaphysics?'

    I didn't watch it. If it had a less clickbaity title such as 'Has a tiny bit of physics killed a tiny bit of philosophy?', I might have.

    'understanding the fundamental nature of reality' is a very, very small part of physics. I just copy-pasted these three brief descriptions of physics articles/letters in Nature about 2 years ago to give some idea what most physicists do most of the time. (Do your own searches if you don't like my results.)

    'A gated quantum dot strongly coupled to an optical microcavity': Strong coupling between a gated semiconductor quantum dot and an optical microcavity is observed in an ultralow-loss frequency-tunable microcavity device.

    'Imaging work and dissipation in the quantum Hall state in graphene': Imaging studies show that topological protection in the quantum Hall state in graphene is undermined by edge reconstruction with a dissipation mechanism that comprises two distinct and spatially separated processes—work generation and entropy generation.

    'Highly efficient and stable InP/ZnSe/ZnS quantum dot light-emitting diodes': A method of engineering efficient and stable InP/ZnSe/ZnS quantum dot light-emitting diodes (QD-LEDs) has improved their performance to the level of state-of-the-art cadmium-containing QD-LEDs, removing the problem of the toxicity of cadmium in large-panel displays.

    From a general philosophical point of view, these are the same sort of stuff as biochemistry or evolutionary biology. So, no, Morris, if you're reading, physics in general is not conducted differently now.

    The first 3 minutes or so of this video give a quick guide to the current state of 'understanding the fundamental nature of reality'. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEhAMnQb9p4
    Getting back to the tiny question of whether a tiny bit of physics has killed a tiny bit of philosophy, I reckon that if you're stuck in a rut, you should welcome offers of help, even from unlikely-seeming sources.

    In general, I like philosophy, I think it's important, and that it has a great future.

    Graham Jones
    https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Graham-Jones-5

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    1. I like your examples,they are in the category of applied physics (not fundamental). I read somewhere that casual polls suggest significantly greater number of physics PhDs work in applied fields (materials) than in basic (particle theory e.g.) research or academics. Publications which get the most play (popular) seem to be in cosmology quantum effect in brains, and increasingly in notions of free will, panpsychism etc. This latter category seems unprovable in principle and that is what I meant that physics seems to be different now. Of course this ignores importance of the research, so a bit of a red herring. No question that possible outcome and so potential value of materials research is in a different category from free will.

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  7. "Shame on you! You didn’t realize that “true” science means “hypothesize, experiment, predict, repeat by rigorous standards.” All of the science that you and I have been doing for many decades fails to meet those standards. Only physics passes the test. Who knew"
    I understand you don't like my comment and you mock it. Is that b/c you think it naive or so obviously wrong? So can you provide a succinct statement what is a better definition and maybe provide an example?

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    1. There are several models of science, and what's naive is that you present one of them as the only valid way. To pick a simple example, not all science is experimental. Experiments are simply a setting up of conditions in order to make certain observations more convenient. But observations can be obtained in all sorts of other ways too. When paleontlogists find fossils, examination of those fossils produces observations, data that can be combined with other data to examine a great many questions. Consider another example: a systematist gathers data — observations — from many species and uses them to test many hypotheses of relationships all at once, without the need to choose one as the prior hypothesis. Experimental science is fine, but it's not all that works.

      Science is a set of methods used to gain reliable knowledge of the world. Whatever helps us do that is science.

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  8. Hi Larry Moran,

    it is funny that the "Royal Institute of Philosophy" comes up with a question in the title that just screams for the term “false problem” (= philosophical fighting term). According to Wittgenstein, there are basically no philosophical problems; for either a problem is an illusory problem or it can be solved scientifically [sic!].

    And what exactly do the people at the Royal Institute of Philosophy understand by the term science? If it is true that there is a unity of the sciences through causal connections, then philosophy itself is necessarily also science. But if science more precisely means “natural science”, then it gets even stranger: that would mean that philosophical dilettantes like biologists, chemists and physicists would have to solve their philosophical problems themselves in the absence of the experts (which they do, and that's what it looks like when concepts like “biological function”, “biological information”, “selection” or “junk DNA” are treated with naive empiricism here...).

    Incidentally, it is also - though not exclusively - a philosophical question why exactly we are graduated as PhD - “philosophiae doctor”. In fact, the natural sciences stand on the shoulders of a giant called philosophy. But it is not the task of philosophy to do natural science, but to reflect critically on it. Thus, natural science is a branch of philosophy and philosophy is an auxiliary science of the natural sciences.

    Knox’s spacetime functionalism is of course not a profound metaphysical question, but fails because of the anthropocentric view of (biological) function. BTW: metaphysics is just bad physics. As important recent contributions to the philosophy of mind I would like to mention Daniel Dennett or Thomas Nagel (before he got weird: "What is it like to be a bat?").

    Samir Okasha had actually listened to the evolutionary biologists before getting involved in the selection level wars ultimately triggered by George C. Williams; he had then also solved the problem philosophically... ;-)

    Which is the most economical science? Mathematics. Because all you need is paper, a pencil and a wastepaper basket. But philosophy is even cheaper. It even saves the wastepaper basket.


    Cheers,

    Lamarck

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    1. Hi, Lamarck

      Wittgenstein was somewhat in the correct path but, unfortunately, created his own philosophical "problem" by believing a logical language can resolve some issues. He was wrong.

      Mathematics is not a science.

      -César D.

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    2. "Which is the most economical science? Mathematics. Because all you need is paper, a pencil and a wastepaper basket."

      As much as I enjoy mathematics, and statistics (where I've made my career), neither is a science.

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