Philosophy catfight!: Pigliucci vs. Krauss

One thing that really angers Massimo Pigliucci is when a scientist either criticizes philosophy or (in Pigliucci’s mind) practices philosophy in a “simplistic” way, particularly if said scientist doesn’t have at least one Ph.D. in philosophy.  So Massimo is really peeved at Larry Krauss’s new profile/interview in The Atlantic.  Some of Krauss’s statements are to Massimo as a juicy antelope is to a hungry lion. Pigliucci writes, for example:

Here is another gem from this brilliant (as a physicist) moron [Krauss}: “Philosophy is a field that, unfortunately, reminds me of that old Woody Allen joke, ‘those that can’t do, teach, and those that can’t teach, teach gym.' And the worst part of philosophy is the philosophy of science; the only people, as far as I can tell, that read work by philosophers of science are other philosophers of science. It has no impact on physics what so ever. ... they have every right to feel threatened, because science progresses and philosophy doesn’t.”

(NB: I haven't yet read Krauss's interview, though I will.)

Note that Pigliucci calls Krauss a "moron," a term that Krauss himself applied to philosophers like David Albert, who unfavorably reviewed Krauss's book in the New York Times (Albert, however, is also a physicist!).

But name-calling aside, Massimo makes some good points.  First, Krauss was wrong in saying that philosophy doesn't progress. It has, not—and Massimo admits this—in the sense that philosophy gets us closer to the truth about nature, because that's not the business of philosophy. Rather, philosophy sharpens its arguments over time, and finds errors with other people's arguments in a way that can inform science (I'm particularly fond of ethical philosophy, at least that part that helps us understand what we really think about morals). Unlike theologians, philosophers don't repeat bad arguments once they're decisively refuted.

Also, as Massimo notes, logic can be considered a branch of philosophy, and there's no doubt that logic, or at least the ability of philosophers to think more logically than many scientists, has also contributed to science.  One example is the work of Philip Kitcher, a philosopher at Columbia who continues to use logical tools to attack flawed science (two of my favorites are his dissection of creationism, Abusing Science, and his critique of sociobiology, Vaulting Ambition).  And I'd be remiss if I didn't add Dan Dennett, who has clarified for many of us (including scientists) the importance of Darwinism and the formidable problems involved in studying consciousness.

Finally, Krauss appears to have made some statements that look simply silly, and Massimo calls him out on them.  One is this:

Krauss also has a naively optimistic view of the business of science, as it turns out. For instance, [Krauss] claims that “the difference [between scientists and philosophers] is that scientists are really happy when they get it wrong, because it means that there’s more to learn.” Seriously? I’ve practiced science for more than two decades, and I’ve never seen anyone happy to be shown wrong, or who didn’t react as defensively (or even offensively) as possible to any claim that he might be wrong.

Yep, Massimo’s right.  I’ve never seen a scientist be delighted to be wrong (fortunately, I’ve never had that experience :-) ), though some are more gracious than others in admitting error.

More important is the oft-discussed question about whether a quantum vacuum, which to Krauss was the starting point of the universe, can be described as “nothing.”  The Atlantic interviewer, Ross Andersen, asks Krauss whether that’s justified, since a quantum vacuum has “properties.” Massimo’s take:

. . . in my mind’s eye I saw Krauss engaging in a more and more frantic exercise of handwaving, retracting and qualifying: “I don’t think I argued that physics has definitively shown how something could come from nothing [so why the book’s title?]; physics has shown how plausible physical mechanisms might cause this to happen. … I don’t really give a damn about what ‘nothing’ means to philosophers; I care about the ‘nothing’ of reality. And if the ‘nothing’ of reality is full of stuff [a nothing full of stuff? Fascinating], then I’ll go with that.”

But, insists Andersen, “when I read the title of your book, I read it as ‘questions about origins are over.’” To which Krauss responds: “Well, if that hook gets you into the book that’s great. But in all seriousness, I never make that claim. … If I’d just titled the book ‘A Marvelous Universe,’ not as many people would have been attracted to it.”

In all seriousness, Prof. Krauss, you ought (moral) to take your own advice and be honest with your readers. Claim what you wish to claim, not what you think is going to sell more copies of your book, essentially playing a bait and switch with your readers, and then bitterly complain when “moronic” philosophers dare to point that out.

Now Massimo and I have had our differences, and I’m generally a fan of Krauss (though I didn’t much like Krauss’s new book), but I’m on Massimo’s side in this one.  Despite the famously dismissive statement by Feynman, I think philosophy can be of real value to scientists.  It has helped me, for example, rethink and clarify my notions of “free will.”

But it’s also true that areas previously only the purview of philosophers, like the notion of “free will,” are increasingly coming into the ambit of science.  Philosophy, like religion, will have to yield to—or at least deal with—the facts.  And it won’t pay philosophers to be dismissive. It would have been much better for Massimo to have left out the last part of this paragraph in his critique:

Nonetheless, let’s get to the core of Krauss’ attack on philosophy. He says: “Every time there’s a leap in physics, it encroaches on these areas that philosophers have carefully sequestered away to themselves, and so then you have this natural resentment on the part of philosophers.” This clearly shows two things: first, that Krauss does not understand what the business of philosophy is (it is not to advance science, as I explain here); second, that Krauss doesn’t mind playing armchair psychologist, despite the dearth of evidence for his pop psychological “explanation.” Okay, others can play the same game too, so I’m going to put forth the hypothesis that the reason physicists such as Weinberg, Hawking and Krauss keep bashing philosophy is because they suffer from an intellectual version of the Oedipus Complex (you know, philosophy was the mother of science and all that… you can work out the details of the inherent sexual frustrations from there).

No, I don’t agree that Weinberg, Hawking, and Krauss suffer from some jealousy of philosophy (the Oedipus complex, for those of you who have forgotten, is Freud’s notion that boys often desire to sleep with their mothers and kill their fathers). So I think Krauss has hit a nerve here: yes, philosophy, insofar as it deals with facts about nature, can be subservient to science.

On his website, Massimo all too often devalues his arguments by being so obviously defensive about his turf. In this case, Pigliucci should have deep-sixed the Oedipus argument, which makes him look a bit petty. Stick with the critique and forget the psychoanalysis. Still, I think we do need to take seriously Massimo’s defenses of philosophy. After all, the man has degrees in both science and philosophy.

145 Comments

  1. Linda Jean
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    you comment lots without reading original material..why?

    • Albatross
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Are you referring to the Krauss interview?

      (If you were referring to the interview…)
      Coyne doesn’t appear to comment on the interview, just on Massimo’s response/reaction. He contextualizes with information about Krauss that is already established elsewhere.

      That said, it would be interesting if a complete critical read of the interview would have affected the degree of Coyne’s agreement.

      • Linda Jean
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        im surprised you even think there is a question…as im surprised that dr coyne does this, not often, but noticeably, to me, a surprise.

  2. Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    It is my experience that many philosophers don’t take kindly to criticism.

    I have not yet read the Krauss article, but based on your quote, he is entirely correct in his comments about Philosophy of Science. There are a few philosophers with an inkling that something is wrong in the standard philosophy of science. But there are few of them.

    Now I’ll have to go read Krauss and Pigliucci.

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      And what do you take “the standard philosophy of science” to be? Some sort of justificationist system perhaps?

      • Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        Maybe “standard” was the wrong word. There’s lot of disagreement between philosophers.

        At best, philosophers have a poor understanding of how science works. They try to fit it into their epistemology (including justification), but it’s a poor fit. And they don’t understand why mathematics is so useful in science.

    • Daniel
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      It is my experience that many humans don’t take kindly to criticism.

      Philosophers and scientists are humans.

      We’ve got the makings of a tidy little syllogism right there.

  3. bonetired
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Not directly related but might be of interest to UK peeps …

    BBC4 at 21:00 BST

    “Beautiful Minds

    Professor Richard Dawkins reveals how he came to write his explosive first book The Selfish Gene, a work that was to divide the scientific community and make him the most influential evolutionary biologist of his generation. He also explores how this set him on the path to becoming an outspoken spokesman for atheism.”

    (Sorry Jerry but I couldn’t this of another way! )

    • Linda Jean
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      most influential…? really? most known….perhaps…

      • bonetired
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        Oh I agree … BBC’s words not mine!

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01glqt3

        • Linda Jean
          Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

          well taken…i was also bbcing…

      • MalJ
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        Oh here we go… let’s all knock Dawkins .. for being:
        a) “strident”
        b) “militant”
        c) correct
        d) a really nice guy….
        e) and an atheist who speaks his mind..
        f) sorry … forgot “whining” (sp?)
        Cheers,
        MalJ

        • Linda Jean
          Posted April 25, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

          was saying he may be “well talked about”, but influential in the science of evolution….?

          • Nilou Ataie
            Posted April 25, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

            Welcome to the planet.

  4. Darth Dog
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    “…scientists are really happy when they get it wrong…”

    Actually, scientists are really happy when other scientists get it wrong. When the faster-than-light neutrinos were announced there were a lot of physicists excited about the chance to work on new physics. But few scientists are very happy when they personally are wrong. They’re human like everyone else.

    The important point though is that most scientists are excited when an existing theory is shown to be wrong or incomplete. That gives them something new to work on. This is as opposed to religion which is dogmatic and defensive when challenged.

    • itchy
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      “Actually, scientists are really happy when other scientists get it wrong.”

      Yes!!!

      • itchy
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        It’s always important to distinguish between what individual scientists do and what science does. They are not the same thing.

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      The excitement of the Large Hadron Collider experiments for scientists in the field of physics is the testing of predictions of the current theory of fundamental particles. Scientists are just as prepared for the theory to be shown to be wrong as they are for it to be shown to be correct. It really is true that is exciting if the theory is shown to be wrong. The search would then be on to identify where the error lies and come up with a new theory which can explain the results.

    • josh
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      In fairness, I suppose philosophers (who are mostly non-believers) are happy if they think a new philosophical idea has been thought up or an old one conclusively overthrown.

  5. JamesM
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Given that so many schools of mutually exclusive philosophies exist, and that there is no way using the methods of philosophy to differentiate one mutually exclusive school of philosophy from another, I would say that philosophy now is where it was with Aristotle. Philosophy can at best use the tools of logic, but it cannot advance and I seriously doubt that philosophers routinely discard disproved and fallacious arguments. I do not see the value in philosophy that you see.

    • Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      That is why non aristotle-logic might be the solution for a new way to look at things which would resonate more with the “real” nature of the world. Aristotle logic and its law of identity or non-contradiction is a reflection of our dual mode of perception. And that is perfect for science. But imperfect when you want to grasp the whole picture, i.e.: what science isn’t able to talk about.
      A philosopher, Stephan Lupasco wrote interesting things about this. And he knew about science, he wasn’t just a philosopher… Buddhist logic is in right line with his work too…

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stéphane_Lupasco

      And for those who’d like to see how the opposition between mind and matter is an occidental concept that is highly culturally loaded and how reductionism is a disguised monotheism, I suggest you listen to this very good interview with Hoyt Edge, a professor of philosophy. Ideas have an history that we take for granted because, hey, this is how we think…
      http://www.skeptiko.com/hoyt-edge-explore-cross-cultural-views-of-consciousness/

      • JamesM
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        hmmm. I’ll pass…

        • couchloc
          Posted April 25, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

          “I would say that philosophy now is where it was with Aristotle.”

          It’s strange to me that someone could profess this view of philosophy. Either you are joking or you are ignorant of the history of the subject. Here is a list of ideas that were first proposed or developed over the years by people we think of as philosophers. Anyone who thinks that philosophers don’t make extremely important contributions to society doesn’t know their history very well.

          # Socrates – Critical reasoning
          # Aristotle – Formal logic
          # William of Ockham – Ockham’s razor
          # Adam Smith – Capitalism, field of Economics
          # Machiavelli – Political philosophy
          # Francis Bacon – Scientific method
          # David Hume – Empiricism
          # Voltaire – Civil liberties, freedom of religion
          # Montesquieu – Separation of powers
          # John Locke – Liberalism, natural rights
          # Thomas Hobbes – Social contract
          # René Descartes – Analytic geometry
          # Liebniz (w/ Newton) – Calculus
          # Jeremy Bentham – Utilitarianism
          # Karl Popper – Falsification
          # Godel, Frege, Boolos, Foundations computing theory (basis of modern computers)
          # C.S. Peirce – blinded, randomized experiments
          # Singer – Animal rights movement
          # Rawls – Just democracies

          (Of course, these ideas have had little affect on our society. One wonders why philosophers continue to waste everyone’s time with such things!)

      • andyo
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

        “Skeptiko” is a well known woo purveyor, it has been discussed here before, and at the real Skeptico.

        • Posted April 26, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

          The interview here is with 2 philosophers that are talking about how the concept of consciousness was built in Occident and how it is different in some parts of the world. It is very interesting.

  6. Rob
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    yes, philosophy, insofar as it deals with facts about nature, can be subservient to science.

    Can be? MUST be. Facts should always win out.

  7. newenglandbob
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I read Krauss’ book and was disappointed. It did not reach the high standard of some of his other books. There have been many reviewers that have given it a poor review and I think Krauss is feeling pressure and his follow up articles are making the situation worse.

    • Linda Jean
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      right on neb

  8. Slex
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I haven’t read the book by Krauss, and I don’t find some of his arguments in the interview very solid. But I also think that those who criticize him, because the nothing he subscribes to is not of the philosophical type, are off the mark. Because they implicitly assume that the universe started from the philosophical nothing. But what evidence do they have of that (this is not a rhetorical question – I just don’t know much physics)? If the universe really started from quantum nothing, the accusations against Krauss in this respect look like a red herring to me.

    • Chris
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think philosophers assume the universe started off from nothing, since nothingness cannot have the property of existence. What they are bothered by – particularly theist philosophers – is the lack of metaphysical explanations for things with properties, i.e., the quantum vacuum must have some explanation, philosophically or metaphysically speaking, for •why• it produces particles (and whether or not those particles are randomly produced). They don’t accept ‘brute facts’ (e.g., the quantum vacuum just ‘is’) as a terminus of explanation: brute facts must also be explained.

      • Dan L.
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        1. Most philosophers seem fine with admitting basic facts — facts whose truth value cannot be questioned. Qualia are usually regarded as such basic facts. So, no, there are some facts that philosophers believe cannot be explained.
        2. Munchausen’s trilemma implies that there actually has to be some unexplainable fact somewhere. Say we were to concede that quantum vacuums ARE the fundamental bottom of everything else in the universe. And say we need to explain them. In terms of what? Everything else we could possibly use to explain them has already been explained by them. There’s either an infinite regress, circularity, or a dead stop somewhere…and if there must be a dead stop, why not at quantum vaccuum?

        Trying to get around Munchausen’s trilemma is like trying to write a dictionary without circular definitions. It just can’t be done.

        • Daniel
          Posted April 25, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

          One of the things that I uncharitably hate about philosophers is the discovery that an idle and not-completely-formed idea of mine that was never really done up properly but of which I am still nonetheless rather pleased turns out to already have been had and fleshed out and thoroughly explained by someone else, usually before I was ever born, and I am the silly berk that never heard about it until just now.

          Philosophers are jerks.

          ^_^

          • Dan L.
            Posted April 25, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

            Tell me about it. I figured out naturalism and qualia inversion while I was still a little kid and was absolutely devastated when I found out people had already considered these things before I had.

        • rickflick
          Posted April 26, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

          Dan Dennett is a “scientific philosopher” and he does not believe qualia exist. Which says a lot, I think. Foundational notions or concepts must be provisional, just as scientific notions begin as hypotheses and for ever remain subject to change. Metaphysics can be justified only as tentative, world-view hypotheses.

        • Chris
          Posted April 26, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

          Well, I doubt that any philosophers believe there are facts whose “truth value cannot be questioned.” If you can point me to them, that would be appreciated. But it seems to me that any such philosophers are abdicating one of their own basic functions, which is to question everything, particularly anything claimed as “cannot be questioned.” Any so-called basic fact must, at minimum, be argued for as to why it is basic, i.e., it must be •explained• as basic, and anything ‘basic’ is going to require a metaphysical explanation. From what I understand, Krauss tries to make a historical argument against previous misunderstandings of the nature of space and the vacuum, but this is ultimately irrelevant to the question of why there is something rather than nothing, and/or what is the foundational level of reality, as well as irrelevant to any current philosophical understandings of ‘nothing.’

          Munchausen’s trilemma, while relevant to any claims of basic facts, etc., is also somewhat of a separate issue – and it cuts both ways. Any claim that the quantum vacuum is the terminus of explanation or fundamental level of reality is also subject to the trilemma.

      • Dan L.
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        There’s kind of another approach, which is the actual history of the concept of quantum vacuum. Assume there IS such a thing as “nothing” — that’s what was once called “vacuum.” Then discover that there’s a minimum level of uncertainty in any measurement of position and velocity. Then notice that a region of space-time with an energy of zero violates this “uncertainty principle”, creating a contradiction.

        Maybe “nothing” is just inherently contradictory and so there must be, at a minimum, quantum vacuum. That’s certainly the impression I’ve had for a long, long time.

        • Leigh Jackson
          Posted April 25, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

          Everything is nothing. No such thing as nothing. Either will do.

      • Posted April 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

        The problem is that you can’t have anything, including “nothing”, without defining properties. Every concept of nothing will have properties to which one can ask “where did that property come from”. For example, if you define “nothing” to have the property that “something” can’t spontaneously occur, you’ve defined a physical law for it. Where did that law come from?

        Hence Krauss’ statement about caring about the “nothing” that does exist, and the great point that the evidence appears to show that “nothing” does exist — “nothing” decomposes into component somethings that add up to nothing. More importantly, can it be any other way?

        That to me is the philosophical question. And the “other way” just appears to be the multiverse problem. Hence Krauss addresses it all, and I agree if that is not philosophically satisfying then the problem is with philosophy. The “just is” answer isn’t a terminus of explanation. It is, as Krauss describes it, an environmental one. If explanations, especially probability based ones, are to have any meaning, one needs to be willing to accept this particular universe is not an inevitable outcome, it is just as likely as any other possibility and happens to be the one we’re in.

        That is perfectly rational and reasonable, and consistent with our understanding of complexity and chaos. I see no justification for saying it isn’t satisfactory.

  9. Peter Beattie
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Another series of rather cheap shots by a philosopher of all people, who by trade should be all about the highest-possible quality of critique. And it should be clear as the light of day to a philosopher that no term’s definition can be taken for granted just because you (or anybody else) thinks that’s what it should be. If you do philosophy of science and your definition of ‘science’ is not exactly the same as that of a reviewer of your work, it would be obviously unfair of the reviewer to chastise you for deviating from his expectations, unless he can argue why you shouldn’t have so deviated.

    Krauss is talking about a state in which none of the things that we know about—particles, space, most of the laws of nature—exist. To that state, he says, he applies the laws of quantum mechanics, and they make a universe. The difference between ‘something’ and Krauss’s ‘nothing’ is sufficiently big to warrant a provocative title for a book, it seems to me. To basically harp on about the lack of a qualifier, e.g. to make “A universe from essentially nothing”, seems rather pedantic. And the talk about words instead of actual states of affairs is a lamentable distraction from what really matters. (Cf. the free will discussion: instead of engaging in ‘Is!—Isn’t!’ shouting matches, we should talk about what could most profitably be meant by a term and then investigate whether the conditions thus delineated are actually met.)

    • Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      The problem might reside in language itself as an imprecise mode of communication. The “essence” of the world might be paradoxical, outside the true/untrue, real/unreal, on/off paradigms that our dual mode of perception is grasping.

      So when it comes to debating the nothing-that-is-something-so-it-is-not-nothing-but-yes-it-is, that no-thing can’t make sense from our logic even if it exists for “real”. Words can’t just talk about it. Add this that it is probably uncreated, and you have again a problem because what never started cannot end, which means it would be outside time, outside the opposites by which our mind can grasp the world…

    • Old Rasputin
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      Indeed. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your second paragraph. The only (potentially) complicating or opposing point that I would add would be that the definition and associations held by a particular word in the popular imagination should also be factored into the profitability you refer to.

      There are lots of useful, relevant meanings for the words “national” and “social”, but if you walk into a room and say “Hi, I’m Greg and I’m a national socialist!” you’d better be prepared to spend all of your energy pushing back against the common understanding of those words, before you’ll even have an opportunity to explain your own minority, specialized usage. Incidentally, I think that words like “free will” (but for the love of all that’s unholy, let’s not get into /that/), “god”, and so on fall into this category.

      But “nothing”? Krauss’s usage definitely diverges from the average person’s understanding of that word in 99% of cases, and I suspect that many readers felt a bit ‘cheated’ in a sense. On the other hand, don’t we almost expect books written for a popular audience to be titled somewhat provocatively? Isn’t that pretty de rigueur in our culture? “The Selfish Gene”. “Consciousness Explained”.

      So I think in conversation, we’d better be willing to qualify the word “nothing”, but in the title of a book such vague usage is probably forgivable.

    • MadScientist
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      Pigliucci’s articles bore me and I am always reminded of a phrase from Shakespeare: “’tis a tale told by an Idiot, full of Sound and Fury and signifying Nothing.”

      For all his outrage, I have yet to see him actually make a point.

  10. Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    I agree with most of what you said, as you might imagine.

    I recommend Albert’s NYT review of Krauss’s book as well. Albert has a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, so it’s worth taking his pretty critical review seriously.

    On whether philosophy makes progress, I think the progress it makes is somewhat more even than what you identify; I elaborate here. In brief, I suspect that one reason that there’s so little consensus is that philosophers are better at defending false theories than other people are, and that as a matter of contingent fact, observation tends to agree more often than a priori sources of knowledge.

    In defense of Pigliucci, I wonder whether his “Oedipus” stuff was tongue-in-cheek, as a way of demonstrating the absurdity of Kraussian armchair psychological speculations. I doubt that he really believes it, but I don’t know him.

    Last, once again on the intersection of science and philosophy, I say a lot here, but briefly, I think philosophy is centrally concerned with a priori justified beliefs, such as beliefs about modality, normativity (e.g. ethics), abstract (nonspatiotemporal) objects, and essences: the “nature” of truth, justice, justification, etc. If that’s the case, then there’s very little room for science indeed. We can certainly argue about whether beliefs about those things have to be a priori, but I think I can show that they almost always are.

    • Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      I wonder whether his “Oedipus” stuff was tongue-in-cheek, as a way of demonstrating the absurdity of Kraussian armchair psychological speculations.

      Yes, that was how I read it, at least in the quoted excerpt. It may look different in the original context, of course.

  11. Neil
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Krauss’s fine book is about a simple fact–what the average person thinks of as “nothing” (a pure vacuum) is in fact a fluctuating something. It averages out to a nothing. Moreover, all of what people think of as something (the components of the universe), came from this “nothing”.

    Philosophers seem averse to accepting the measurable world of physics as answers to fundamental questions. They’d rather argue endlessly about imponderables.

    • Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Scientists seem averse to accepting that what cannot be measurable exists for real…

      • Rob
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        What exists that isn’t measurable? A measurment is observation. If you can’t observe it, does it exist?

        • gluonspring
          Posted April 25, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

          Here’s where philosophy has been useful to me.. naming ideas. “Positivism” comes to mind just now.

          Once named, the ideas are easier to talk about. It is a slim contribution for a whole field of human effort, but it’s something.

          • Daniel
            Posted April 25, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

            Slim?

            Well – maybe.

            But if it’s slim, it’s the slim layer at the bottom that supports everything else.

            For me, the biggest thing I have taken away from philosophy has been consciousness raising as to the host of tacit assumptions that have to take place before even the most basic of interpretations about the world around me can be performed.

            Philosophy takes these assumptions and brings them out into the light and forces me to recognize that in the majority of cases they are, in fact, nothing more than naked assumptions.

            Philosophy should be very humbling.

            I always get suspicious when I find someone using philosophy to give themselves an air of wisdom, because of the two of us at least one must have missed something, and I don’t think it’s me.

        • Posted April 25, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

          To Rob: Meaning can be observed but not measured.

          • Daniel
            Posted April 25, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

            I thought that meaning is something that is assigned rather than something that is observed.

            • Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

              Something that isn’t measurable is certainly not something that can be observed and certainly not a thing either. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
              Consciousness is another example. You can see the traces it leaves when it interacts with matter but you can,t observe consciousness.

              But I agree that philosophy is very interesting when it points tacit assumptions that have to take place before even the most basic of interpretations about the world around can be performed.
              I listened yesterday a philosopher, Dr. Hoyt Edge, explaining how the idea of dualism conditioned reductionism and how it is related to monotheism and how cultures that aren’t monotheistic have a different perspective and vocabulary to talk about their “non-dualism”…
              It was very interesting http://www.skeptiko.com/hoyt-edge-explore-cross-cultural-views-of-consciousness/

              • Daniel
                Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

                @JF Fortier

                I just want to pause for a moment here. It seems as if you just contradicted something you recently said.

                I don’t know if that means I read you wrong, or you misspoke, or you just didn’t think things through at first, or whatever.

                But I want to plant a flag in the ground to make sure you notice it.

                Consider the following summary of this thread of comments so far:

                JF: Scientists seem averse to accepting that what cannot be measurable exists for real (1)

                Rob: What exists that isn’t measurable? A measurment is observation. If you can’t observe it, does it exist? (2)

                JF: Meaning can be observed but not measured. (3)

                Dan: I thought that meaning is something that is assigned rather than something that is observed. (4)

                JF: Something that isn’t measurable is certainly not something that can be observed and certainly not a thing either. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. (5)

                It looks like your response to me in (5) directly contradicts your response to rob in (3).

                Am I correct?

                What’s going on there?

                Consciousness is another example. You can see the traces it leaves when it interacts with matter but you can,t observe consciousness.

                It’s a side issue: But what did you have in mind when you wrote this?

                If you mean quantum weirdness as in the two-slit experiment then please remember that the two-slit experiment comes out the same way regardless of whether or not any individuals are physically present while the experiment is running.

              • Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

                ‘Consciousness’ is a process, not an entity.
                A refied verb, not a noun.

              • Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

                Fie on my speeling!
                refied -> reified.

              • Posted April 26, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

                We would need to define precisely what observing means and that is exactly what I’m talking about; reality is a blurred process. The goal of science is to de-blur that process. By doing so, you obtain measurable things but it doesn’t mean that it grasps the whole picture, that by isolating the parts from the whole, by trying to “objectivate” the more possible what is analyzed, science doesn’t contaminate its analyze by putting objectivity above subjectivity. Both requires awareness and both are different planes.

                As for consciousness, I just mean consciousness…

      • DV
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        As they should!

        Do you believe there exists a teapot orbiting the Sun between Earth and Mars?

        • gluonspring
          Posted April 25, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

          No, but I want to! My faith in the teapot is weak. Lord help me have faith!

          Actually, it is a dream of mine that one day we will put a teapot in orbit around the sun.

          • corio37
            Posted April 26, 2012 at 3:22 am | Permalink

            There are innumerable teapots already in orbit around the sun. But most (all?) of them are gravitationally attached to planet Earth.

            • gluonspring
              Posted April 26, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

              +1

              Correction: I want to believe in one orbiting between Earth and Mars.

          • Beachscriber
            Posted April 26, 2012 at 5:56 am | Permalink

            Neehee, another good example of how philosophically clueless scientists can be. Faith is not something that applies to an object. Technically, it is a virtue – a skill of relating – and as such is only applicable to inter-personal and group relationships, and not necessarily to God. Applying faith to a relationship with an physical object is like applying kindness or justice (other virtues) to your relationship with your teapot or whatever kind of pot you do. It’s all very funny, if it’s intended to be.

            • Beachscriber
              Posted April 26, 2012 at 5:57 am | Permalink

              One second thoughts, it’s funny either way.

      • Dan L.
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        Yes, because for scientists “exists” is exactly equivalent to “has energy” and energy is measurable.

        If you want to make a plausible case that this is the wrong point of view you need to find a definition of “exists” that does not entail energy.

  12. DV
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Get used to it. Nothing, ain’t nothing anymore. Physics has a plausible account of how something comes from nothing. People want to move the goalpost and ask “but who created that ‘nothing’”, seemingly oblivious that the assumption of a ‘who’ (certainly a something) makes the question circular.

    • Posted October 25, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure you quite got the point: nothing is by definition not anything – you and Krauss might respond by saying, “well, such a nothing, an absolute nothing, doesn’t exist”, but that’s the point – nothing does not exist, that’s why it is nothing. Nothing can not positively exist in the same way one can not positively prove a negative.
      So, the “nothing” Krauss describes isn’t nothing (which is why he is able to describe it) but it is, I think, a sufficient explanation for a few reasons.
      1. It’s impossible to give a positive description of nothing anyway.
      2. People who ask, “where did everything come from, how did everything begin to exist?”, are begging the question – they assume that there was nothing to begin with.

      • rickflick
        Posted October 25, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

        Well, that’s something anyway.
        Well put.

  13. Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    I’ve never seen a scientist be delighted to be wrong (fortunately, I’ve never had that experience ), though some are more gracious than others in admitting error.

    I disagree. It seems like your idea of being wrong is publishing something that ends up being incorrect. I agree that probably no one enjoys being shown to be fundamentally wrong in the literature. However, I have used a bit of data to develop good hypotheses that I thought were correct only to do the experiments to test said hypotheses and find that nature is much more interesting than I predicted. I think this is what Krauss was referring to when discussing the delight in being wrong.

  14. Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    sub

  15. Beachscriber
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    ” … so I’m going to put forth the hypothesis that the reason physicists such as Weinberg, Hawking and Krauss keep bashing philosophy is because they suffer from an intellectual version of the Oedipus Complex …”
    I thought that was obviously a parody of Krauss’ armchair psych, a bit of mockery, button-pushing, and therefore not something to disagree with at face value.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      Well, yes, I think it was written in a humorous fashion, but I think Massimo sort of meant it, at least vis-a-vis philosophy envy. Maybe not.

    • Posted April 25, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      I think the same : surely Massimo is doing it to show the absurdness of the claim. Put his “Okay, others can play the same game too, so I’m going to put forth the hypothesis” in parallel with that guest post pretty much destroying psychoanalysis, and I think it is pretty clear. http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.ca/2012/02/tear-down-wall-psychoanalysts-suppress.html

    • josh
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      How can a philosopher parody armchair-anything without imploding from the irony singularity?

  16. steve oberski
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Nothing isn’t what it used to be …

  17. Flaffer
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    The point Massimo makes against Krauss about “nothing” does speak to the problem with what Krauss has claimed previously in talks: Krauss believes that he has explained how something can come from nothing. And no “averaging out” can make something nothing. Also, somethings have properties and “tendencies”, etc. The question Massimo makes is how somethings with properties are nothings?

  18. Daniel
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    If ‘nothing’ is defined as ‘that which is without properties’, then doesn’t this imply that ‘without property’ itself becomes a property of ‘nothing’, resulting in the entire concept collapsing into a self-referential mush of incoherence?

    This seems really ham-fistedly obvious. But then again the whole ‘If we evolved from apes then why are there still apes?’ thing seems ham-fistedly obvious to creationists.

    If anything, the apparent and subjective obvious-ness of my problem with this conception of ‘nothing’ is cause for concern, not confidence.

    What am I missing?

    • Dan L.
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      I’m with you. Take a really simple example: a chair. The chair is a thing and it has properties, but which part is the thing and which parts are the properties? Are the atoms the thing or is “made of atoms” a property? Is the form of the chair the thing or is the form of the chair a property?

      The distinction of things from properties is ontologically confused and needs to be clarified before it can be used as a valid objection to the concept of vacuum energy IMO.

      • Posted April 25, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        And, as Feynman observed of ‘a chair’: it is not the same coherent set of particles from one microsecond to the next.
        Resin is constantly evaporating from the wood, atmospheric oxygen is being added in the form of oxidation, etc.
        Is the ‘chair’ of now the same ‘chair’ from 2 seconds back?

    • gluonspring
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think you’re missing anything. I think the idea of “nothing” really is incoherent, much as the idea of “omnipotence” is incoherent. It feels meaningful because of the way language works, but it isn’t. It seems superficially easy to describe both concepts:

      There are things, so “nothing” is the absence of all of things.

      There are limits to action, so “omnipotence” is the absence of all limits to action.

      Such statements sound superficially coherent, so it is easy to be lulled into feeling that they mean something, but they do not. Or rather, they are incoherent. We can obviously talk about both “nothingness” and “omnipotence”, we can use them in stories and so on, so there is some kind of “meaning” there , if only the indirect meaning that comes from existing in our minds. Even in our minds, though, these ideas exist only by dent of our minds’ ability to pull a curtain over the incoherence at the core of these concepts.

      • Posted April 26, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        Here’s a clip of Krauss on nothingness that, to me, did a better job of representing why he thinks that word should be re-defined and attempts to justify the title of his book.

    • Flaffer
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      Negative properties are not properties for after all, nothing has all KINDS of negative properties. It does not have the shape of a cheese log, it is not near Dubuque, it is not oily, it does not possess a smell, ad nauseum. It does make it a slippery concept and is in a sense only negative properties, including important ones like “does not exist”, “does not occupy space”, etc. But having negative properties does not mean that something must be there.

      • Daniel
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        Ah, OK.

        That makes sense.

        I figured I was missing something.

        Thanks.

        • josh
          Posted April 25, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

          No, you were right the first time. Flaffer has just demonstrated that nothing has the property of not having properties and is therefore not a useful concept as used here.

    • Mel_M
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

      Daniel,

      I wouldn’t define “nothing” that way. IMO, “nothing” just refers to the absence of “something.” I think it’s an error to attempt of reify “nothing.” In this view, for example, “empty space”–however that should be defined–is a completely different concept than “nothing.” One might define empty space as space with nothing in it. Without claiming that this definition is correct, I use it to try to make my point about the concept of “nothing.” Of course, under this view, creating something from nothing is like trying to make a car out of no parts or building a house with no building materials.

      In another application, I think this view of “nothing” helps understand why there is no evidence for the non-existence of God: “nothing” can’t leave any fingerprints, so to speak. However Kraus (I have his book but haven’t read it yet) wants to define “nothing,” I think the view presented here is still a valid one.

      In Kraus’ preface, however, he says: “For surely ‘nothing’ is every bit as physical as ‘something,’ especially if it is to be defined as the ‘absence’ of something.” Whether he ever gets around to explain that, I do not know. The only objection that I can think of is that, surely, “physical” refers to things that exist and not to things that don’t exist. I have to add that this analysis doesn’t mean that I will disagree with his concept of “quantum vacuum”–whatever that is.

  19. MadScientist
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    I happen to agree (mostly) with Krauss about how the only people who read about the philosophy of science are other philosophers of science. It’s not quite true of course since there are scientists who’ve read the likes of Popper. I’ll also say that when philosophers start talking to me about philosopy of science they’re never pleased to hear me say that none of it matters at all – science had been progressing long before Popper and even much earlier philosophers. Science does not depend on the philosophy of science for results; the philosophy of science is more of a post-facto rationalization than anything else.

    • Posted April 25, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.

      • MadScientist
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

        Well, except that I disagree with Richard Feynman on that one. Some species of birds have undoubtedly benefited, even if indirectly, from Ornithology. It is not clear than any branch of science has had any benefit from Philosophy. Like me, Lawrence Krauss places Logic in Mathematics rather than philosophy (I do so because it is the mathematicians who have developed the field over the past 2000+ years). Philosophy can’t really claim a primary influence over anything but philosophy. Even logical thought is a human endeavor which Philosophy can neither claim as its own nor claim to be a major contributor to its promulgation and development. I can’t help wondering what philosophy has to offer that no other field offers. Even on the matter of ethics, philosophy only seems to be able to state observations yet advance nothing significant.

        • bonetired
          Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:33 am | Permalink

          Except for one very important point: the birds know and will always know bugger all about ornithology.

          • Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:48 am | Permalink

            They know when they are being watched[1].
            Niels Bohr said so.

            ____________________
            [1] Or is it ‘Twitched’?

        • Beachscriber
          Posted April 26, 2012 at 1:37 am | Permalink

          Yes, birds just get on with flapping and pecking and laying eggs while scientists just get on with looking under rocks, collecting things and measuring them, both bird and scientist blissfully ignorant of the higher orders of thought.

      • couchloc
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

        I’m not sure where the antagonism comes from. As a matter of fact, it’s not true that it is only other philosophers who read philosophers of science. There are quite a few examples of scientists engaging with philosophers over the years. Not all scientists do this (which is fine), but there is certainly a bonnegligible interaction among some of them that seem to find it useful.

        Alan Sokal (physicist), see Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture, which has detailed discussions of phil. of science.

        Clark and Primo (pol. scientists), see A Model Discipline: Political Science and the Logic of Representations.

        Richard Dawkins, an editor at the phil. of science journal, Biology and Philosophy.

        David Albert (physics), works in phil. of science at Columbia University

        Thomas Kuhn, (physics), left science to go work with philosophers of science.

        Francis Crick, (nobel prize) see the bibliography in his The Astonishing Hypothesis, which recommends readings from Churchland and Dennett among others.

        Ernst Mayr, (biologist) various publications of his cite philosophers of science Bunge, Nagel, Scriven, and Hull.

        Alex Rosenburg (phil. science) and Daniel McShea (biologist at Duke) co-authored the recent book, Philosophy of Biology.

        Jerry Coyne (biology) says he enjoys reading philosopher of science Philip Kitcher.

        • couchloc
          Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, I meant “nonnegligible”

          • Beachscriber
            Posted April 26, 2012 at 1:52 am | Permalink

            That is some word! I love it! If I were a bower bird I’d put it right in the middle of everything I say! ;-)

        • MadScientist
          Posted April 26, 2012 at 1:45 am | Permalink

          I’m not even being hostile here. I’d like to know what other scientists find useful in what has been written about the philosophy of science.

          Over the past few weeks I have seen many claims and no cogent arguments. For example, “science is not the only way of knowing” – implying, I presume, that philosophy is another ‘way of knowing’ and yet utterly failing to present the case. In this particular example, given the long history of philosophy, I would imagine that perhaps some mention would be made of evidence for the claim – especially given the much vaunted claim that philosophy is all about logic.

          • MadScientist
            Posted April 26, 2012 at 1:47 am | Permalink

            Oops … I meant I’m not deliberately antagonistic. Somehow I put ‘hostile’ – I need more coffee.

            • couchloc
              Posted April 26, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

              Well, if you wanted to read any of the items I mentioned by scientists you might learn what they think is interesting yourself. Or you might just take seriously Jerry’s claim (in several recent posts) that he finds some areas of philosophy worthwhile. In a recent entry he claims that “philosophy is a way of knowing” and that it has certain uses, and so you might want to consider his views on the matter. I think he presents a very good case for this viewpoint.

              http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/04/10/is-philosophy-a-science/

              “I’d like to know what other scientists find useful in what has been written about the philosophy of science.”

              Well, it depends on the subject matter. Sokal is concerned about general scientific issues (explanation, empiricism), the political scientists mentioned are interested in testing (hypothetico-deductivism, models), Crick is interested in reductionism, Rosenberg and McShea are interested in conceptual issues in biology (reductionism, functional explanation), Coyne is interested in creationism and science. So there is no one thing but it depends on people’s interests.

        • Beachscriber
          Posted April 26, 2012 at 1:49 am | Permalink

          Great post! I wonder why there are no replies from the odiosophers here.

  20. gluonspring
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    He should have called his book:

    “There is no nothing”

    or

    “Nothing does not exist”

    or

    “Nothing is imaginary”

    Those titles would have been more to the point.

    yournothingisimaginary.com would even be a catchy place for his blog. ;-)

    • Posted April 26, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Or how about “The End Of Nothing!!!”

      • gluonspring
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        +1

        How I learned to stop worrying and love the vacuum field.

  21. David Leech
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Nah! I still have no time for philosophers, an armchair and a pipe is no substitute for getting your hands dirty (aka doing work with reality and the facts.) All we know about ‘before the big bang,’ the expansion of space and time is the potential for the expansion of space and time existed. We know this because it happened. Whether it was nothing or nothing was unstable or nothing is really a quantum vacuum may never be answered. Though if it is then it will be answered by physicists and cosmologists. At least Krauss is pointing out what we know and what we can infer from what we know. Pigliucci on the other hand seems to be claiming that nothing (no-thing) can be a priori state with ‘nothing, he he’ to back it up.

    • MadScientist
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      Oh come on – philosophers are great fun to be around. The game I like to play is “how much do I have to chide this one before he starts to violate all his claimed virtues of logic and engage in sophistry?”

      • David Leech
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

        Not sure about that as I have heard rumors of the way they behave with ‘fireside’ pokers:-)

        • Peter Beattie
          Posted April 25, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

          I am sure that was just a confusion about language. ;)

  22. Peter Beattie
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and one more thing. When Krauss says that “scientists are happy when they get it wrong, because it means that there’s more to learn”, one might have expected a philosopher to notice that the phrase employs a generic plural which obviously does not mean that all scientists feel this way. Further, Krauss explicitly adds the rationale for doing science that, he thus claims, scientists hold up as their ideal: learning, i.e. the growth of knowledge and understanding. And yet, Pigliucci chooses to personalise the statement, in order to score a point:

    I’ve never seen anyone happy to be shown wrong, or who didn’t react as defensively (or even offensively) as possible to any claim that he might be wrong.

    Which is nothing but a distraction from the real issue. Krauss was talking about overarching features of disciplines, and science does indeed progress precisely (and exclusively) because of criticism, otherwise known as an attempt at falsification. This is the great leap forward that Popper’s systematization (mainly in The Logic of Scientific Discovery) achieved. In a nutshell: there is no absolute certainty to be had, but through criticism we can still attain objective knowledge.

  23. Quidam
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    >b>… particularly if said scientist doesn’t have at least one Ph.D. in philosophy

    If a scientist has a Ph.D., then by definition he has at least one Ph.D. in philosophy – a doctorate to be precise.

    I have a Ph.D. in engineering – so I too have a Doctorate in Philosophy

  24. Quidam
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    … particularly if said scientist doesn’t have at least one Ph.D. in philosophy

    If a scientist has a Ph.D., then by definition he has at least one Ph.D. in philosophy – a doctorate to be precise.

    I have a Ph.D. in engineering – so I too have a Doctorate in Philosophy

  25. Vishnya Maudlin
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Sad thing about all this episode is that Krauss has shown no intellectual honesty and integrity. If David Albert’s review of his book was incorrect he should have pointed out what was wrong with it. Instead, he started to insult him and to use ad hominem arguments even saying that he didn’t read the whole book. Then he went a step further and attack philosophy as a discipline without knowing anything about it. He menage to show his complete ignorance in his comments about Wittgenstein or in his comments about philosophy of science.
    In the interview he even admitted that the he was dishonest about the title of his book – it was just a hook for an ignorant public to buy the book.
    The real sign of the intellectual honesty is to be able to criticize bad arguments with the conclusions we agree with. While David Albert like many of us are atheists it doesn’t mean that we have to accept any crappy argument for that position.

    • Daniel Schmuhl
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      This isn’t the first time Krauss has said ridiculous things about philosophy. Although philosophers can be annoying at times, philosophy itself does have value and there really is no way of getting rid of it. Science cannot tell you why we should value science or what science is or any of that. Science itself is based on philosophical presuppositions.

      • Posted April 25, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        Chemistry is based on alchemical presuppositions.
        Astronomy is based on astrological presuppositions.

      • MadScientist
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

        Are you suggesting that philosophy can tell us why we should value science? Has science no value then without the nod of philosophy?

        You also claim that science is based on “philosophical presuppositions”. What a meaningless statement – that is merely an attempt to claim that philosophy must somehow be the basis of science. If you are to assert that, then you must first give us a meaningful definition of philosophy against which to test your assertions.

        • gluonspring
          Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:02 am | Permalink

          I think it is less meaningless than trivial. Since philosophy seeks to include in it’s scope essentially everything, there is probably nothing that humans do or think of that is not in some sense philosophical in it’s presuppositions.

          It always strikes me like a guild of scribes trying to take credit for science’s successes since, after all, all scientists write.

          • Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:37 am | Permalink

            Yip.
            As I have said before: a clear case of science envy.

          • MadScientist
            Posted April 26, 2012 at 1:50 am | Permalink

            Yes, it sure seems that way which is why I find the claims bewildering.

      • Mel_M
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

        Absolutely true!

        Even Kraus’ freedom to present his views is dependent on moral and political theories which are the province of philosophy–especially of metaethics.(I’m talking about the ideas and not about professional or academic philosophers.)

        One of biggest challenges in the fight against religion is the heavy reliance that the pious have on attacks against reason–implicit or explicit. Aa an example, there is a theologian who attacks the demand for reasons for religious conclusions by saying that the demand itself has no reasons. It’s the philosophic field of epistemology that deals with such attacks and much more. Since I read TGD, I’ve looked more closely at religious ideas and noted how often they ignore and undercut reason. Once they can dispose of reason, they are free to go on their way with faith.

        Of course, the whole question of natural vs supernatural causation is also a philosophical issue–the field of metaphysics. I must mention that attempts to deduce the special sciences are also invalid (a philosophic view, I might add).

        Even people who have never heard of philosophy, carry around a huge load of it, and, unfortunately, are unable or unwilling to step back and examine it. I wish I knew how to reach such people, but I don’t.

        • Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

          As you seem to be passionate about the utility of philosophy, are you able to provide a single concrete example of where philosophy has befitted scientists, that other fields of endeavour could not have done?
          As it is to be a single example, you may as well make it the best one.
          Your move:

          • Mel_M
            Posted April 26, 2012 at 5:27 am | Permalink

            I have little more to offer, so, if this makes no sense to people, I can’t do a whole lot better.

            Philosophy informs about what the goal of science is and how to do it: causal generalizations and reason based on observation and experiment. This took a long time to develop. Different views included Platonic science and supernatural explanations. Remnants of these existed, as I recall, even in great minds such as Kepler and Newton. In the nineteenth century, there were problems accepting atomic theory because of Kant’s influence. His view was incompatible with the theory’s attempt to get underneath “experience.” Luckily, many scientists didn’t give up the search for causes; they pushed ahead. Philosophy is where you find it.

            For positive influence (along with some negative), I can mention Aristotle and Francis Bacon. Aristotle performed the vital service to science of getting rid of Plato’s theory of forms and focusing on the concrete. He also codified the fundamentals of deductive logic. Bacon was influential in the area of scientific method.

            Also, epistemology can inform the theory of education and aid schools in providing a sound scientific education instead of teaching dogma separated from real inductive and historical roots. Just understanding and retaining a load of scientific conclusions is not science. Any field can support the philosophy it needs, but it’s still philosophy.

            Off topic, but an additional comment:

            I think that the fundamentality of philosophy is evident in the fact that attacks against it actually use it. Anyway, the definition in Wikipedia is adequate. As for philosophic presuppositions, these three links to The Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy should suffice. While scientists can develop sound methods themselves or absorb them from the culture, it’s the explicit identification of these principles that is an important protecter of rationality. I believe that the most important task of good philosophy is to keep the human mind on the rails–so to speak. Unfortunately, a goodly part of the U.S. population is way off the rails today. Even some capable scientists with PhDs have fallen into the “God of the gaps” nonsense. More than ever, perhaps, we need to be able to define and defend reason–including the role of perception in knowledge. The pious will ask: “Why should I limit my knowledge to what is rooted in perception?” The end of religion and irrationalism is not in sight.

            Definition of philosophy:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy

            Francis Bacon:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_bacon

            The nature of definitions:
            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/definitions/

            Metaethics:
            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaethics/

            Presuppositions (axioms): (Check out the implicit theory of axioms Aristotle presents.)
            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-metaphysics/#FunPriAxi

          • Mel_M
            Posted April 26, 2012 at 5:30 am | Permalink

            My reply is awaiting moderation and I don’t know how long that will take.

    • Posted April 26, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      “In the interview he even admitted that the he was dishonest about the title of his book – it was just a hook for an ignorant public to buy the book.”

      Given that that A.) Krauss seems to sincerely think that it is time to re-evaluate the common definition of “nothing” (see the link I posted above) and makes an argument for his case, and B.) booksellers frequently use provocative book titles to sell books, I’m surprised that there is so much controversy over the title. After all “The Universe From What I Would Call ‘Nothing’ But Most Would Insist Is Still ‘Something’” probably would not have jumped off the racks.

      • Vishnya Maudlin
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        Krauss himself wanted to be provocative (by his own admission)in such a way to start the dialogue with theologians. As I already wrote by redefining “nothing” he didn’t achieve anything except cheating his atheist readers. There are many scientists writers of the popular books on science and they do not need to resort to deception on order to sell their books.

  26. CJ
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Krauss frustrates me. He can so easily go from a measured and enlightening statement to an incredibly ignorant and arrogant one. He’s not afraid to make ridiculous assertions outside his own field. His understanding of economics was just embarrassing when he was on that “Our Future In Space panel” from TAM last year.

  27. Posted April 25, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    As worldview naturalists, we don’t need to take sides between science and philosophy, rather we should be philo-scientific in our investigations:

    “Naturalists are driven by the immodest desire to plumb the depths of reality, to know what objectively exists, to understand how things fundamentally work, and to have maximally transparent explanations of phenomena. In this project our primary commitment is epistemic, to a *philo-scientific* way of knowing that we justifiably believe gets us reliable beliefs about the world. I call this a “philo-scientific” epistemology because it combines openness to philosophical critique with a reliance on scientific criteria of explanatory adequacy as vetted by that critique and the actual practice of science. Naturalism holds that science and philosophy are continuous, interpenetrating and collaborative in our investigation of reality; neither is foundational to the other. The naturalist mainly wants not to be deceived, not to make errors of logic or method or assumptions when understanding the world. Science, kept presuppositionally and methodologically honest by philosophy and real-world experience, has given us increasingly reliable explanations of how things work as judged by our growing capacity to predict and control phenomena. Such is the naturalist’s pragmatic test of knowledge: we are not deceived because we successfully predict.”

    From a chapter in 50 Voices of Disbelief, http://www.naturalism.org/Toogoodtobetrue.htm

    • MadScientist
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

      To me that looks like a weak claim that philosophy must play an essential role in science. Scientists like myself would respond with something like “forget the philo-scientific mumbo-jumbo – what’s philosophy got to do with science?”

      • gluonspring
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:06 am | Permalink

        Philosophy has, I think, roughly the same utility to science that science fiction has: a source of thoughts, some occasionally interesting. That’s not nothing, but it’s not much.

  28. Posted April 26, 2012 at 2:11 am | Permalink

    Still, I think we do need to take seriously Massimo’s defenses of philosophy. After all, the man has degrees in both science and philosophy.

    On that note, Nonsense On Stilts was a great read.

  29. Vishnya Maudlin
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 4:51 am | Permalink

    All of you who are so feverishly attacking philosophy would have benefited if you took some philosophy in college.
    Let just look at the history of what happened here:
    1) Lawrence Krauss writes a book.
    2)The book gets a bad review.
    3) Krauss goes on ad hominen attack and pulls a straw man – attacks philosophy.
    4) Now we are talking about usefulness of philosophy.

    Critical thinking anyone?

    • Daniel
      Posted April 26, 2012 at 5:14 am | Permalink

      For what it’s worth, I’ve been following Krauss for a while now.

      I think his philosopher-baiting is just that: Facetious nose-tweaking, nothing more.

      Speculatively, I’d say that it’s probably borne of being swiped at over the course of his career by annoying philosophers that want to snipe and waffle and tear things down to show how clever they are rather than engage in meaningful dialogue. I’m not saying that all or even most philosophers are like that – but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that there’s a significant and vocal minority that fits the bill.

      Note that he does the same thing to string theorists.

      Obviously that’s just my reading of his videos and texts, I don’t actually have the ability to view the inner workings of the man’s mind.

      But that’s just how it seems to me: That Krauss is just teasing you – assuming you are a philosopher who is offended by said teasing, of course.

      That doesn’t make it okay… But to my mind, it takes the edge off a bit.

      • Vishnya Maudlin
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 5:21 am | Permalink

        I do understand how you want to defend Krauss, but I do not understand why. The question is whether he has a response to David Albert’s criticism or he doesn’t. Philosophers are annoying only if somebody doesn’t have good arguments for their positions.

    • Andrei
      Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

      No, it’s a bit different.
      1) Lawrence Krauss writes a book, where he addresses all the points later made by David Albert.
      2) David Albert writes a moronic review, where he basically says that he did not like Krauss’s answers, and restates the points again.
      3) Krauss rightfully calls the review moronic, and does not bother with any replies because anyone interested can just read the book.
      End of story.

      Basically, David Albert does not like the “physical” notion of nothing. He agrees with Krauss that what philosophers called “nothing” a hundred years ago, turned out to be not exactly nothing. So, what is “philosophical” nothing today? Albert does not bother to answer this question, so one can only guess. Krauss did just that in his book. His conclusion is crystal clear: such a thing cannot be said to exist in any meaningful sense.

      Think of it: There is nothing, no space-time, no fields, particles, energy, not even physical laws. That means, no laws of conservation either — what would prevent anything from happening (like the whole universe or an infinite number of them) simply popping in and out of existence at random? David Albert writes extensively on the nature of physical laws, he says:

      The fundamental laws of nature generally take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of that stuff are physically possible and which aren’t, or rules connecting the arrangements of that elementary stuff at later times to its arrangement at earlier times, or something like that.

      Then he asks, what if there is no quantum fields? Can the laws predict where they cam from? But then again, remember, we don’t have any laws either — what could possibly prevent those quantum fields from simply popping into existence along with the laws?

      The bottom line is that the “philosophical” notion of “nothing” is utterly useless in any explanations. Krauss rightfully asks the question, can such a thing even exist?

      What David Albert fails to understand is that Krauss’s book is an attempt to explain the origin of the Universe WITHIN the physical laws. Since the Universe is flat and its total energy is zero, no known physical law forbids its emergence out of (essentially) nothing, which in physics simply means anything with zero energy.

      Krauss not the first to point this out — Alan Guth said that the Universe may be the ultimate free lunch in 1981.

      • Vishnya Maudlin
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

        Particularly, I like your evaluation of the review of the book as moronic! Really a serious way to discuss the issue.
        Let start with the subtitle of the book “Why there is something rather than nothing?” These bombastic title supposedly answers the theological question (notice, contemporary philosophers would nave engage in this question for a simple reason that is completely useless). The next step for Krauss is to redefine the notion of nothingness in such away so physics can answer it. I can answer any question if I have my ow meaning of the terms.

        “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
        “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
        “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – - that’s all.”
        (Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6)

        Krauss wanted to sell his book by using a provocative title so he can lure gullible atheists. He essentially mislead people by not using the notion of “nothing” that most theologians use – “nothing” means nothing, not even laws. Krauss’s intellectual dishonesty doesn’t have any limits.

        • Andrei
          Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

          You can give a hand to David Albert et al by providing your own definition of “nothing” (and preferably show that it is somehow useful.)

          So far I understand “philosophical” nothing as “an entity out of which nothing can come into existence”. If it’s indeed so, then you win by definition, I grant you that.

          • Vishnya Maudlin
            Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

            The question is useful for what? If Krauss wanted to answer theologians how something comes from nothing he should have used their definitions. If he didn’t then his book is completely uninteresting from their point of view. Thus, the book has no bearing on the atheism – theism debate. But, then how many people would bye his book?

            • Andrei
              Posted April 26, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

              Useful for physics or philosophy. Useful for our understanding of how the world works. Krauss discussed the usefulness of theological and philosophical notions of “nothing” in his book and found it wanted. I happen to agree with him. But you can prove him wrong. So?

    • gluonspring
      Posted April 26, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      So, what do you think we should be talking about?

  30. Jorge Juarez
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I have to agree with Massimo, Krauss really fucked up. I also think that the Oedipus complex bit is a parody of Krauss, not to be taken 100% seriously.

  31. Daniel
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Think of it: There is nothing, no space-time, no fields, particles, energy, not even physical laws. That means, no laws of conservation either — what would prevent anything from happening (like the whole universe or an infinite number of them) simply popping in and out of existence at random?

    Interestingly: I think that a better term for communicating this idea is primordial chaos.

    Take away natural laws in your definition of nothing, and what you have isn’t nothing anymore, but primordial chaos.

    Which is actually a very recent favorite rebuttal of mine to the First Cause argument. Not that we needed another, of course. But it’s fun to watch believers twist in the wind and try to come up with a reason why ‘God’ is a more reasonable leap of intuition than ‘Primordial Chaos’.

    • Andrei
      Posted April 26, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      I like the term.

      On the other hand, if somebody insists on “nothing can arise from nothing”, they actually imply that there is a law strikingly similar to a law of conservation. Conservation of Nothing. (Where did this law come from?…)

      And since there is such a law, it is not really nothing. The only difference between this sort of “nothing” and the “nothing” of Hawking or Krauss is that the underlying law is not observable and derived out of pure speculation.

  32. Filippo
    Posted April 27, 2012 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    Is there sufficient certitude than the protagonists are “morons”? Is it impossible that one or more could be “imbeciles,” “dunces,” “idiots,” “Idiot Savants” “Dummies”? “Numbskulls”? “Poltroons”? ;)

    Garsh, Ah don’t know whut to call myself, not having a Ph.D. (A struggling autodidact?)

    Whither the name-calling?

    Seems to me that philosophy serves us significantly regarding logic, critical thinking skills. (Re: Sagan’s “Baloney Detection Kit.”)

    Dawkins tells a tale to the effect of an elderly scientist being proved wrong, and thanking the gentleman for it (“my dear fellow, . . . .”).

  33. Pirate
    Posted April 27, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Small correction: Albert has a doctorate in physics, but he is employed by Columbia as a philosopher, not a physicist.

  34. Posted April 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    David Albert is one of 5 members of the “Rutgers Templeton Project in Philosophy of Cosmology.”

    http://philocosmology.rutgers.edu/

  35. Posted May 1, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Massimo’s oedipus comment shouldn’t be read literally. I actually thought it was both apt and funny in a sarcastic kind of way.

  36. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    Unlike theologians, philosophers don’t repeat bad arguments once they’re decisively refuted.

    Let us be clear with what this mean. Philosophers can refute inconsistent philosophies. The remaining philosophies can be around even if they don’t conform to science but are really bad empirical arguments. Examples includes the Quine-Duheim thesis (not how experiments are done), falsification (not how testing is done) and ‘paradigms’ (not testable observations).

    This takes on an especially ironic meaning since Pigliucci mentions Freud’s pseudoscientific psychoanalysis.

    • Vishnya Maudlin
      Posted May 3, 2012 at 6:10 am | Permalink

      Philosophers study bad arguments in order to see what is wrong with them so they do not repeat them.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Philosophy catfight!: Pigliucci vs. Krauss (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com) [...]

  2. […] overview and critique of Krauss’s nonsense can be found on Jerry Coyne’s site, and if you don’t read Massimo Pigliucci’s blog, you should dip in from time to […]

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