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Posted: 05 October 2009 12:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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Stephen, this seems to me a perfect example of why many scientists consider philosophy an intellectual wasteland. If you want to assure yourself the sun will come up tomorrow you need merely do the math.

Why does the universe act in accordance with physical laws

Dunno. Scientists haven’t figured out that one yet. That does not mean the universe does not act according to physical laws. Look at it this way. Isaac Newton did not know why the planets remained in stable orbits. That did not mean the planetary orbits might destabilize, with Mercury crashing into the sun and Saturn flying out of the solar system, it merely meant our physics had not progressed to the point to explain why the planets remained in their orbits. The planets played nice until Laplace came along and explained their orbital mechanics.

So we don’t know why the universe acts in accordance with physical laws. Big deal. The fun part of science is figuring out things we don’t know. Using history as a guide I can guarantee you that when we do figure out why the universe acts in accordance with physical laws it will be scientists who figure it out, not philosophers. It may be that physical laws fluctuate, but once again we aren’t going to determine that by sitting around in parlors talking about it. It takes observation, measurements and complicated mathematics, none of which is in the philosophers’ toolkit. While philosophers spend their time debating how we can know things scientists are busy figuring them out.

The idea is we know the sun will rise tomorrow but we also know that it might not 1)because we might not be in circumstances in which it will rise tomorrow (due to knowledge being uncertain) and 2) because it could disappear at random regardless of the circumstances (or so I’m led to believe)

Care to place a bet?

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Posted: 05 October 2009 12:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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fotobits - 05 October 2009 12:30 PM

So we don’t know why the universe acts in accordance with physical laws. Big deal.

Darned right it’s a big deal, if we don’t know why the universe acts in accordance with the laws of physics, we don’t know why it does what it does and all we’ve done is replaced God with the laws of physics.

 

Care to place a bet?

What bet? I’m simply pointing out the scientific point of view as far as I understand it. Do you disagree with the view?

Stephen

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Posted: 05 October 2009 01:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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StephenLawrence - 05 October 2009 12:39 PM
fotobits - 05 October 2009 12:30 PM

So we don’t know why the universe acts in accordance with physical laws. Big deal.

Darned right it’s a big deal, if we don’t know why the universe acts in accordance with the laws of physics, we don’t know why it does what it does and all we’ve done is replaced God with the laws of physics.

No, we haven’t. What we have done is acknowledged the current limits of our knowledge and identified an area that needs further study. We don’t know why stars on the edges of galaxies orbit at the same speed as stars closer to the centers of galaxies. Instead of throwing up their hands and assuming god spins galaxies physicists and astronomers are studying the universe, designing and carrying out experiments, to find the answer. We don’t know everything. That means we have a lot to learn, not that we replaced god with the laws of physics.

Care to place a bet?

What bet? I’m simply pointing out the scientific point of view as far as I understand it. Do you disagree with the view?

Stephen

Yes, I disagree. Our sun will not “disappear at random regardless of circumstances.” That may be a philosophically valid idea, but it is not scientific. A disappearing star would leave quite a bit of physical evidence behind; evidence we could observe in other parts of the galaxy and in other nearby galaxies.

Oh, one more question, sorry to bombard you, this is another subject which baffles me. Imagine the universe was 6,000 years old (as some do grin ) would we be less certain that physical laws are immutable? In other words what is the connection between length of time and our certainty?

Imagine the universe is nothing more than a computer simulation, and we are nothing more than chimera. My point is I fail to see what relevance an imaginary universe has on the universe we inhabit. Such talk may be, as I’ve said before, interesting around a campfire while drinking tequila, but is not worthy of academic pursuit.

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Posted: 06 October 2009 04:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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Stephen, I have thought about this a bit more, and realize what has bothered my about this discussion, including Hume’s views. For the sun to not rise tomorrow, or to simply disappear, would violate everything we know about physics. Mass/energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only be changed in form. This includes kinetic energy, such as earth’s rotation on its axis and orbit around the sun. This also means the sun cannot simply disappear. If the sun goes away it will be spectacular, and fatal for us.

Put quite simply, the earth will keep rotating on its axis and orbiting the sun, which will remain the center of our solar system. Changing the parameters would violate the most fundamental laws of physics. All this talk of the sun not rising or not being there is sophistry.

As for the laws of physics replacing god in our thinking, that is another bit of sophistry. The laws of physics work. We can observe and measure the universe at work. We make predictions and verify them through observations. If the observations contradict the predictions we toss out the theory that led to the predictions and develop better theories. The theories we have now have been verified countless times, and we use them because they work, knowing full well that one contradictory observation would disprove the theory. So far that has not happened with what we consider the fundamental laws of physics, thermodynamics being one such set of laws. There is no evidence of a god.

Hume was wrong, and discussing his ideas as if they had some relevance to life and the universe is a waste of time.

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Posted: 06 October 2009 05:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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fotobits - 06 October 2009 04:57 AM

Stephen, I have thought about this a bit more, and realize what has bothered my about this discussion, including Hume’s views. For the sun to not rise tomorrow, or to simply disappear, would violate everything we know about physics. Mass/energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only be changed in form. This includes kinetic energy, such as earth’s rotation on its axis and orbit around the sun. This also means the sun cannot simply disappear.

Not correct, actually. There could be a quantum mechanical fluctuation on a massive scale that would simply eliminate the sun. The chances of it happening are, of course, vanishingly small; so small that it would never happen in the history of the universe, or likely in the history of a very large number of universes. But it is both logically and physically possible. In general, philosophers are interested in logical possibility.

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Posted: 06 October 2009 05:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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And that points out the difference between philosophers and scientists. Philosophers discuss things they know full well will not happen, while scientists work to find out how and why things happen. There is an entire universe out there to explore, so I cannot see the value in discussing possibilities that are nothing more than mathematical curiosities. The sun will not disappear.

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Posted: 06 October 2009 12:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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fotobits - 06 October 2009 05:10 AM

And that points out the difference between philosophers and scientists. Philosophers discuss things they know full well will not happen, while scientists work to find out how and why things happen. There is an entire universe out there to explore, so I cannot see the value in discussing possibilities that are nothing more than mathematical curiosities. The sun will not disappear.

With the mysteries like quantum physics, I think philosophy’s role is more important than you’re giving credit. When things are clear cut, sure there’s no need to over-analyze it. But when the “how to perceive the problem” arises, the value of philosophy becomes more apparent. Concepts that scientists rely on heavily like Popperian falsificationism are the direct result of philosophic inquiry and thinking. That which they use to trumpet to “successes” of a given study/empirical test rest squarely on philosophy’s contributions. It’s like standing on a ladder to get to some higher point and proclaiming the uselessness of ladders. The “obviousness” and applications of today’s scientific methods are at least as much a contribution of philosophy as they are of going out into the world and taking a look (empirical testing). Just because there are philosophers that are so incredibly backward from sophistry, doesn’t mean that philosophy isn’t playing a significant role in science today. Again, science without philosophy is taxonomy without theory. Science is indeed a subset of philosophy at least initially, and then they tend to have a reciprocal relationship. For either side to deny the value of the other is pure ignorance.

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Posted: 06 October 2009 02:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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Pray tell, how are philosophers, who have no training in mathematics or physics, going to contribute to our understanding of quantum physics?

I realize philosophy has made a few contributions to science. William of Ockham gave us his Razor. Karl Popper pointed out that one falsification negates any number of positive outcomes. But Popper also argued vehemently against Neils Bohr and the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum physics. He was wrong, of course. At least he left us with the notion of falsifiability being a key determinant of a scientific theory, but when he got involved in judging actual science he turned out to be wrong, which should surprise no one as Karl Popper did not have the mathematical background to understand what he was arguing against. Like Popper, Hume had some good ideas, but when he tried to judge science he fell flat and came to erroneous conclusions.

Other than those two instances, it is hard to find any philosophical contributions to science. Far more often philosophers stood on the sidelines debating meaningless things while scientists went about exploring.

“I began to be annoyed that the movements of the world machine, created for our sake by the best and most systematic Artisan of all, were not understood with greater certainty by the philosophers, who otherwise examined so precisely the most insignificant trifles of this world.” Nicholas Copernicus.

That quote is relevant to this thread, where we have philosophers arguing we cannot prove the sun will not simply go “poof,” when we all know the idea is preposterous.

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Posted: 06 October 2009 02:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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fotobits - 06 October 2009 02:33 PM

Pray tell, how are philosophers, who have no training in mathematics or physics, going to contribute to our understanding of quantum physics?

I realize philosophy has made a few contributions to science. William of Ockham gave us his Razor. Karl Popper pointed out that one falsification negates any number of positive outcomes. But Popper also argued vehemently against Neils Bohr and the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum physics. He was wrong, of course. At least he left us with the notion of falsifiability being a key determinant of a scientific theory, but when he got involved in judging actual science he turned out to be wrong, which should surprise no one as Karl Popper did not have the mathematical background to understand what he was arguing against. Like Popper, Hume had some good ideas, but when he tried to judge science he fell flat and came to erroneous conclusions.

Other than those two instances, it is hard to find any philosophical contributions to science. Far more often philosophers stood on the sidelines debating meaningless things while scientists went about exploring.

“I began to be annoyed that the movements of the world machine, created for our sake by the best and most systematic Artisan of all, were not understood with greater certainty by the philosophers, who otherwise examined so precisely the most insignificant trifles of this world.” Nicholas Copernicus.

That quote is relevant to this thread, where we have philosophers arguing we cannot prove the sun will not simply go “poof,” when we all know the idea is preposterous.

Certainly, if a philosopher wants to say something of value about a given line of study, she will need to be educated and updated about the science in question. But you fail to admit that scientists, in their routines are doing a mixture of philosophy. The Copenhagen interpretation was philosophical in nature. If scientists were restricted from the use of philosophy, they wouldn’t be able to establish interpretations of anything.

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Posted: 06 October 2009 02:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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With the mysteries like quantum physics, I think philosophy’s role is more important than you’re giving credit.

or

Certainly, if a philosopher wants to say something of value about a given line of study, she will need to be educated and updated about the science in question.

Which is it?

But you fail to admit that scientists, in their routines are doing a mixture of philosophy. The Copenhagen interpretation was philosophical in nature. If scientists were restricted from the use of philosophy, they wouldn’t be able to establish interpretations of anything.

I haven’t mentioned it in this thread (or maybe I have, this has gone on a long time), but I believe scientists are the best philosophers around. I’ll take Carl Sagan and Neil de Grasse Tyson over David Hume and Immanuel Kant any day, any time, anywhere.

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Posted: 06 October 2009 02:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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fotobits - 06 October 2009 02:33 PM

That quote is relevant to this thread, where we have philosophers arguing we cannot prove the sun will not simply go “poof,” when we all know the idea is preposterous.

Well, but it’s a true statement that we cannot prove (either logically or physically) that the sun will not go “poof”. Philosophers are interested in true statements; if a scientist says that he can prove such a thing, he is speaking falsely.

If he says he can prove it to some arbitrary probability, that’s a different matter.

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Posted: 06 October 2009 02:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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fotobits - 06 October 2009 02:49 PM

I haven’t mentioned it in this thread (or maybe I have, this has gone on a long time), but I believe scientists are the best philosophers around. I’ll take Carl Sagan and Neil de Grasse Tyson over David Hume and Immanuel Kant any day, any time, anywhere.

That’s not a fair comparison, since Sagan and Tyson are contemporaries. Better to ask whether Sagan and Tyson are better philosophers than, say, Dan Dennett or Jerry Fodor or Colin McGinn. (Etc.)

And then, I’m sorry to say that although I adore Sagan and Tyson, they aren’t going to measure up. One shouldn’t overstate one’s case.

(I should add that neither Sagan nor Tyson are/were great scientists, either. But that’s a separate topic).

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Posted: 06 October 2009 02:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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fotobits - 06 October 2009 02:49 PM

With the mysteries like quantum physics, I think philosophy’s role is more important than you’re giving credit.

or

Certainly, if a philosopher wants to say something of value about a given line of study, she will need to be educated and updated about the science in question.

Which is it?

False dichotomy.

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Posted: 06 October 2009 03:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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dougsmith - 06 October 2009 02:52 PM
fotobits - 06 October 2009 02:33 PM

That quote is relevant to this thread, where we have philosophers arguing we cannot prove the sun will not simply go “poof,” when we all know the idea is preposterous.

Well, but it’s a true statement that we cannot prove (either logically or physically) that the sun will not go “poof”. Philosophers are interested in true statements; if a scientist says that he can prove such a thing, he is speaking falsely.

If he says he can prove it to some arbitrary probability, that’s a different matter.

So, the odds are 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000* to one against the sun going “poof.” Only a philosopher would argue the sun might actually go “poof.”

*10 to the minus 43rd, and yes I made up this number to illustrate the point. If anything, I would bet it is too low.

That’s not a fair comparison, since Sagan and Tyson are contemporaries. Better to ask whether Sagan and Tyson are better philosophers than, say, Dan Dennett or Jerry Fodor or Colin McGinn. (Etc.)

Point noted. I’m not familiar with Fodor or McGinn. I’m only vaguely acquainted with Dennet’s writings. I do not recall Dennett offering judgments on specific scientific theories.

Kaizen - 06 October 2009 02:52 PM

False dichotomy.

In one post you stated philosophy has an important role in quantum physics, and in the next you acknowledged that if a philosopher wants to contribute to our knowledge of quantum physics that philosopher will need to spend years studying physics and math. What philosopher is qualified? I know of none.

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Posted: 06 October 2009 03:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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fotobits - 06 October 2009 03:14 PM

That’s not a fair comparison, since Sagan and Tyson are contemporaries. Better to ask whether Sagan and Tyson are better philosophers than, say, Dan Dennett or Jerry Fodor or Colin McGinn. (Etc.)

Point noted. I’m not familiar with Fodor or McGinn. I’m only vaguely acquainted with Dennet’s writings. I do not recall Dennett offering judgments on specific scientific theories.

I believe Dennett has a focus on consciousness and is staying on top of the neuro and cognitive sciences.

In one post you stated philosophy has an important role in quantum physics, and in the next you acknowledged that if a philosopher wants to contribute to our knowledge of quantum physics that philosopher will need to spend years studying physics and math. What philosopher is qualified? I know of none.

Scientists that must address problems that are at least somewhat philosophical in nature and the rarer occasions when the primary philosopher does stay on top of a particular scientific study.

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