20080506

Physics Not Without Philosophy

An interesting question from Phil:

"I am wondering if you could give me some pointers as to how to learn physics so that philosophy is not left out entirely."

I unabashedly and quickly recommended that he read "The Scientific Worldview," first. Learning physics during the current "Dark Age of Einstein" and the hey day of the enslavement of physics by mathematics is not easy. My own experience with physics was this: My first course was Physics 101, which talked about there being four dimensions and all the strange paradoxes that Einstein devised. The text had a lot of cartoons, but I couldn’t make head or tails out of half of it. I got my only college C in the course. I took Physics 102 in the summer so I could concentrate on it. It was taught by an 80-yr old professor who totally ignored “modern physics” (i.e., the Einstein stuff) and taught the classical physics in the second half of the Sears and Zemansky College Physics text (3rd ed.). That made sense to me. I got an A+ in that course.

Philosophy was the same for me. I read “Science and the Modern World” by Whitehead and was totally confused, thinking that I must be pretty stupid. After I discovered “univironmental determinism” 20 yrs later, I went through the Whitehead book again, crossing out all the BS swiftly. There wasn’t much left of it after that. In reading much other philosophy, I found that most of it is nonsense, some of it pretty high-brow, but nonsense all the same. The universe consists of matter in motion. The idea of matterless motion that philosophers and “modern physicists” promulgate is just that, only an idea. It is popular for religious and political reasons. There could never be any experimental proof for it. I find it particularly disconcerting when those who call themselves scientists entertain such notions. Our goal is to discover the truth (via interaction with the external world), not to sell ourselves to the highest bidder for fantastic promises that can never be realized.

I have a few reading recommendations at:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Scientific-Worldview/lm/2K0COODP241GC/ref=cm_lm_byauthor_full

and a more complete list at:

http://www.librarything.com/catalog/gborchardt

Nevertheless, I know my answer is really not good enough. Who teaches physics these days without all the relativity and non-Euclidean junk?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are an unabashed egotist first and foremost. Not a scientist. Not a philosopher.

I have a site for you to visit, Herr Professor:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_hMnT44Etk.

I think Old Gregg makes more sense than you.

Mike said...

The above comment is... stunning in it's breadth and depth. It adds so much to scientific/philosophical discourse! I wonder if this great physicist did this research on Youtube himself, of if they let their research assistant have a crack at it...

Your point, Glenn is well-taken, and something that I've thought about even before reading your books. How can we have science without a solid underlying philosophy? We can't: they are inseperable. Even the Templeton types - deeply misguided though they are - get that. But as you point out, the tail is now wagging the dog with respect to the relationship between math and physics. General relativity was Einstein's attempt to make the math work, not describe anything that is remotely real in a physical sense (space bends? Ridiculous). The same for the shoddy concept that is String Theory. There is no good reason shoehorn GR and QM together like that. Don't we have enough problems with them individually? Good lord, math is a tool for science. Just a tool. A tool is not an end in itself - it needs to serve an underlying philosophy, one that it hopefully as sound as we need to move forward. Why is this so hard to understand? Of course I know that the answer to that is what people are taught, what filters they end up looking at the world with, their willingness to explore new ideas... Let's just get all scientists to realize that they aren't the hard determinists that they think that they are or need to be. Then we might start getting somewhere.

Also, it seems to me, that physics of the 20th century got it backwards: in some ways, they duct-taped a philosophy onto their math after the fact to cover their butts. What do you think?

Glenn Borchardt said...

Mike:

Thanks for your comments. As to the duct tape concept...

It may look that way, but I see the current state of physics simply as an evolutionary outgrowth founded on traditional philosophy, which is primarily indeterministic. Physics really is not without philosophy as my title seems to imply. It is founded on really bad philosophy, and that is the problem. As Collingwood (1940) pointed out so nicely in his "Essay on Metaphysics," most scientists have little idea of what their fundamental assumptions really are. Phil may be doubtful of conventional views about exploding universes, curved empty space, etc., and has correctly surmised that the way out is to examine the foundation being used to come up with such ideas. So I don't think that duct tape-philosophical attributes are very important. Modern physics is part and parcel of the determinism-indeterminism philosophical struggle. Due to their hugh numbers and influence, the indeterminists are winning--at present.

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