Pigliucci pwns Neil deGrasse Tyson; SMBC teases Pigliucci

Neil DeGrasse Tyson has criticized philosophy quite a bit recently, and so has Lawrence Krauss, though Krauss apologized for some of his more egregious statements. Tyson, however, remains obdurately anti-philosophy, and that has angered Massimo Pigliucci. Over at his new website Scientia Salon, Pigliucci takes out after Tyson in a post called “Neil DeGrasse Tyson and the value of philosophy”. I think it’s a pretty good defense of the value of some philosophy, and includes stuff like the following (it takes the form of an open letter to Tyson):

You and a number of your colleagues keep asking what philosophy (of science, in particular) has done for science, lately. There are two answers here: first, much philosophy of science is simply not concerned with advancing science, which means that it is a category mistake (a useful philosophical concept [11]) to ask why it didn’t. The main objective of philosophy of science is to understand how science works and, when it fails to work (which it does, occasionally), why this was the case. It is epistemology applied to the scientific enterprise. And philosophy is not the only discipline that engages in studying the workings of science: so do history and sociology of science, and yet I never heard you dismiss those fields on the grounds that they haven’t discovered the Higgs boson. Second, I suggest you actually look up some technical papers in philosophy of science [12] to see how a number of philosophers, scientists and mathematicians actually do collaborate to elucidate the conceptual and theoretical aspects of research on everything from evolutionary theory and species concepts to interpretations of quantum mechanics and the structure of superstring theory. Those papers, I maintain, do constitute a positive contribution of philosophy to the progress of science — at least if by science you mean an enterprise deeply rooted in the articulation of theory and its relationship with empirical evidence.

and this:

A common refrain I’ve heard from you (see direct quotes above) and others, is that scientific progress cannot be achieved by “mere armchair speculation.” And yet we give a whole category of Nobels to theoretical physicists, who use the deductive power of mathematics (yes, of course, informed by previously available empirical evidence) to do just that. Or — even better — take mathematics itself, a splendid example of how having one’s butt firmly planted on a chair (and nowhere near any laboratory) produces both interesting intellectual artifacts in their own right and an immense amount of very practical aid to science. No, I’m not saying that philosophy is just like mathematics or theoretical physics. I’m saying that one needs to do better than dismiss a field of inquiry on the grounds that it is not wedded to a laboratory setting, or that its practitioners like comfortable chairs.

I have to agree with Massimo here: it’s simply stupid to dismiss all philosophy as valueless. While I think that some of it is (the discussions of “the meaning of meaning”, for instance, leave me cold), philosophy has been of substantial value in areas like ethics. What is the Euthyphro argument, for instance, except philosophy? And that argument, often used by atheists, shows pretty definitively that morality cannot come directly from God.  Further, Massimo notes that philosophy does progress in the sense that it explores conceptual space over time, and nowhere has it done this more effectively than ethics.  The work of Peter Singer, for instance, builds on a lot of previous ethics, and has been valuable in helping us clarify how to deal with strangers, how to treat animals, and so on. Over time, fallacious arguments get weeded out, and philosophy helps collate our scattered ideas into coherence.

Further, philosophy helps scientists be rigorous, for the discipline teaches the logical tools that can help clarify scientific thinking. I, for one, have benefitted from reading the lucubrations of Dan Dennett about consciousness and about evolution, even if I don’t always agree with him. So on this count I think Tyson needed to be schooled. Massimo’s rebuke is kindly and not ascerbic, but Pigliucci reports that, in an email reply, Tyson simply won’t be budged. As Massimo noted:

As for a possible reply from Neil, I have, of course, invited him to submit one. Here is his reply, verbatim: “I generally reply to things if, and only if, they are writing about something that I judge to be untrue about me, or that they have misunderstood about what I have said. Neither is the case with you.”

That’s neither cool nor polite, Dr. Tyson, and it bespeaks an unwillingness to learn.

As a footnote, though, the strip SMBC took it upon itself to tease Massimo with this cartoon. I vaguely remember Massimo making the “same river” point, but I can’t recall where. Perhaps a reader can help.

Yes, that’s clearly Dr. Pigliucci, but the artist forgot the black diamond earring. . .

20140518

h/t: Mark

 

137 Comments

  1. Cara
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Definitely subscribe to this topic.

  2. gbjames
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    sub

    • francis
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      //

  3. Curt Cameron
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    About the second Pigliucci quote, do we really give Nobels to people who do only theoretical physics, untethered to any observations?

    • Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      I think their theory has to be substantiated before they get the prize, e.g. Higgs, Einstein, etc. However, they do get the prize for making theoretical advances that prove to be an accurate reflection of nature.

      • Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:28 am | Permalink

        There is (or used to be) a polite fiction that the physics prize would be given for something practical rather than mere theory however well supported. That is why Einstein got his specifically for the photoelectric effect and only vaguely for other contributions.

    • W.Benson
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      Hans Bethe, Physics, 1967. The first page of his Nobel Lecture is a must see.

      • Posted May 20, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        Here.

        What in particular did you find notable?

        /@

      • Ivo
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 12:38 am | Permalink

        This passage, I suspect:

        “Therefore, if gravitation supplies the energy, there is enough energy available to supply the radiation [of the sun] for about 1015 sec which is about 30 million years.
        This was long enough for nineteenth century physicists, and certainly a great deal longer than man’s recorded history. It was not long enough for the biologists of the time. Darwin’s theory of evolution had just become popular, and biologists argued with Helmholtz that evolution would require a longer time than 30 million years, and that therefore his energy source for the sun was insufficient. They were right”

  4. Blue
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    O, that is hilarious — the cartoon.

    What a dithering, vacillating bloviator the colonoscopist is !

    Blue

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      Funny, that is how I would describe the philosopher. The doctor is at least telling jokes. (Said to make their patients comfortable. Not easy for a colonoscopy, I assume…) =D

      You may have forgotten to push the red button for the easter egg.

      • Filippo
        Posted May 20, 2014 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

        Just this particular philosopher? Any scientist – perhaps Dr. Tyson?

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 21, 2014 at 4:58 am | Permalink

          I think Blue misread the comic (as per the easter egg).

          Sure, people can be like that which beat of life you pick. The theme in the SMBC was to put it over on the philosopher though. (Joke with philosophy.)

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:07 am | Permalink

            Whichever beat. [/goes to fetch coffee]

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:09 am | Permalink

          Also, to be clear, I suspect whichever reading is funny. But it seemed like it was the odd reading in the context of the thread.

  5. Kirth Gersen
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    I’m not seeing Tyson’s response as uncool, just terse. Basically, he’s saying, “You understand my position and have not misrepresented it in any way, so I need not correct you.” It’s like an offhand thank-you to Pigliucci, without necessarily changing his stance in the bargain.

    • Prof.Pedant
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      I concur. It reads to me as if Tyson concedes Pigliucci’s points.

    • lkr
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      I’d have to agree with Kirth — An acknowledgemenet without any flames or snark here, just doesn’t care to extend the exchange at this time.

    • Paul
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      I, too, find his reply neither uncool nor impolite.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      Without having any experience with NdGT’s correspondence habits I’d have to agree. I’d have to call the tone of his reply ambiguous, but not necessarily impolite. Perhaps Jerry has some prior experience with NdGT that has informed his characterization of the reply.

      • Filippo
        Posted May 20, 2014 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

        Professor Tyson’s interview responses (e.g., his “refreshing” critique of U.S. public school teachers in an interview in The Humanist magazine a few years ago [2009?]) might be illustrative and illuminating.

      • Harrison
        Posted May 20, 2014 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

        He got into a small altercation with Steven Novella over a stage bit:

        http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/doctor-bashing/

        Personally I don’t think he comes off very well in the comments at all.

        While I’m griping, I might as well say I question Tyson’s understanding of evolutionary biology and psychology as well. Has anyone here heard his hypothetical that “We’re only 1% different than chumps so what if there were an alien species that was 1% different than us?”

        It’s difficult to precisely enumerate the problems with it, but look it up and I’m sure you’ll seize on some confusing aspects.

        • Scientifik
          Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

          “Has anyone here heard his hypothetical that “We’re only 1% different than chumps so what if there were an alien species that was 1% different than us?”

          It’s difficult to precisely enumerate the problems with it, but look it up and I’m sure you’ll seize on some confusing aspects.”

          I have heard it and personally found it thought provoking in more ways than one.

          Why do you think that Neil doesn’t understand evolutionary biology?

          • Harrison
            Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

            I’ll attempt to clarify, then. Because I find several problems with it.

            For one, it’s rather fuzzy thinking conflating genetic and phenotypic difference. A 1% difference in genotype does not at all imply a 1% difference in phenotype. Moreover it’s not as if the 1% of genotypic difference expresses itself only in cognition. There’s quite a bit of morphological difference as well.

            Secondly, his assumption that the failure of communication between humans and chimpanzees is due to differing degrees of intelligence rather than to what psychology terms the “theory of mind,” which chimpanzees lack, and which humans only begin to express around 4 years of age. That’s a quite clear threshold we can point to which refutes his argument that a more intelligent alien species along the same continuum of intelligence as us (I didn’t really get into the argument over different types of intelligence because that’s a too big kettle of fish on its own) would be unable to communicate with us. Lack of theory of mind creates an unbreachable barrier of communication between humans and chimps that has nothing to do with our raw intelligence.

            Finally, and this is just a personal quibble, I’d question the probability of a hyperintelligent species evolving. If you only need to be as intelligent as a human in order to build societies and drastically reduce the selection pressures that drive high intelligence in the first place, then it’s not unreasonable to assume that to get any smarter than that, you’re more likely to have to rely on genetic engineering than natural selection.

            • Scientifik
              Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

              “For one, it’s rather fuzzy thinking conflating genetic and phenotypic difference. A 1% difference in genotype does not at all imply a 1% difference in phenotype. Moreover it’s not as if the 1% of genotypic difference expresses itself only in cognition. There’s quite a bit of morphological difference as well.”

              Yet Neil’s point was mainly about the cognitive upgrade the 1% genetic difference gave us over chimps. He said something like, imagine if there was a species as different from us, as we are from chimps (in the same direction).

              “Secondly, his assumption that the failure of communication between humans and chimpanzees is due to differing degrees of intelligence rather than to what psychology terms the “theory of mind,” which chimpanzees lack”

              This only made me think what the hypothesized species would have that “we humans lack”.

              “Finally, and this is just a personal quibble, I’d question the probability of a hyperintelligent species evolving. If you only need to be as intelligent as a human in order to build societies and drastically reduce the selection pressures that drive high intelligence in the first place, then it’s not unreasonable to assume that to get any smarter than that, you’re more likely to have to rely on genetic engineering than natural selection.”

              I don’t have trouble imagining the evolution of a hyperintelligent multi-planetary species, who at some point realized that its environment really is the cosmos and not its parent planet. Think Tiktaalik in space…

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:19 am | Permalink

              Well, maybe there is a qualitative distinction that makes understanding difficult. But dogs understand owners quite good. And as usual, the claimed differences to other apes is a matter of degree at most:

              “On the 30th anniversary of Premack and Woodruff’s seminal paper asking whether chimpanzees have a theory of mind, we review recent evidence that suggests in many respects they do, whereas in other respects they might not. [b]Specifically, there is solid evidence from several different experimental paradigms that chimpanzees understand the goals and intentions of others, as well as the perception and knowledge of others. Nevertheless, despite several seemingly valid attempts, there
              is currently no evidence that chimpanzees understand false beliefs. Our conclusion for the moment is, thus, that chimpanzees understand others in terms of a perception–
              goal psychology, as opposed to a full-fledged,
              human-like belief–desire psychology. [/b]”

              [Does the chimpanzee have a theory of
              mind? 30 years later, Josep Call and Michael Tomasello, TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences; http://phys.org/news/2014-05-network-paradox-algorithms-universal-limitation.html ]

              They understand us. They understand us slightly differently (well, duh). It may or may not preclude making our type of societies.

              Does it preclude communication? I don’t know, but why would it?

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:20 am | Permalink

                Bold fail, so please disregard the [/I thought of another site's HTML editor] typo.

    • Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      You know, it’s fine that you all disagree with me about the nature of Tyson’s reply. But I’d much prefer a discussion about the value of philosophy than whether or not I was unduly affronted by Tyson’s reply. Frankly, people seem more interested in disagreeing with something trivial than in discussing the issue that I saw as the important one on this post.

      • Kirth Gersen
        Posted May 20, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        I respect your judgment a great deal, Prof Coyne, but in this instance I’m reluctantly forced to disagree on what’s trivial vs. valuable. If philosophy has something to add to science, it will do so. (If not, it obviously won’t!) Neither outcome hinges on conversation here. However, the fragmentation of the freethinking base into small bands of mutually-antagonistic special-interest sub-groups seems to me to be proceeding at good pace. I’d rather mend fences with Tyson, Piggliucci, and so many others (even in very small ways) — or at least not throw gas on the fire — than debate weighty matters I can’t influence. That said, I’ll drop the topic and cede you the floor.

        • Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

          I might add, with current popularity of Cosmos (and how beautifully correct they are!) – seems open season at Neil. Let’s not.

          Drop it, philosopher-man, et tu prof-CC.

          NdGT may not the best looking guy, but he’s not bad. Definitely so.

          cheers.

          • Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

            Hear hear. Let’s drop this issue. And- to prevent future fragmentation in an already highly anti-intellectual culture- let’s all agree to not publicly disparage academic fields of which we are not experts. I’m serious: it’s too easy for the anti-reason side to challenge our funding/reason for existing. No need to help them out.

            • Posted May 21, 2014 at 4:32 am | Permalink

              Carlos, you have a Roolz violation for telling me what to write about. You can apologize for that or you can go to other websites.

          • Filippo
            Posted May 21, 2014 at 4:14 am | Permalink

            “NdGT may not the best looking guy . . . .”

            Why are you mentioning that? (I’ve only read the above one posting via email – I haven’t had time to read all comments yet – are you responding to someone else posting here presuming to bloviate about such things? Are we not above that?

          • Posted May 21, 2014 at 4:28 am | Permalink

            To Pranatabangsa:

            Drop it? Forget it. I don’t take well at being told what to do, so what I’m suggesting is that you drop this site and go elsewhere. Based on your Roolz violation, and on your ludicrous and gratuitous comment on Tyson’s “looks,” you’ll never post here again. Bye.

      • Brad
        Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

        Your weird jealousy of Tyson as a beloved and popular advocate of science is truly grating. Wake up to it and get over it, Salieri.

  6. Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Why are jokes about philosophers funnier than about scientists? We need both a philosophical and a scientific answer.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:25 am | Permalink

      =D My attempts below.

      Empirical answer:

      – Because philosophy is more of a joke?

      Philosophic answer:

      – Because philosophy has a malleable epistemology?

  7. Kurt Lewis Helf
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Pigliucci was interviewed on this exchange on the most recent episode of “The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe”; if you’re not listening to this podcast, you should be. Coincidentally, the Rogues also discussed Steven Novella’s participation in the recent Afterlife Debate:

    http://www.theskepticsguide.org/podcast/sgu/462

  8. Robert
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    NdeGT added that he was simply pointing out that if you want to philosophize about physics, you should study phsyics, about biology? study biology. I don’t see how anyone could take issue with that.

    • Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      Nobody does. As a philosopher of biology, I’ve done enough coursework in biology to earn a master’s. I’m also moving onto a postdoc in microbiology lab. I consider it my job to be up-to-date in both philosophy of science and the areas of biology I’m studying.

      Philosophy is continuous with science. So science invariably interacts with philosophical questions. This is why it’s important to have empirically informed philosophers AND philosophically aware scientists.

      • Scientifik
        Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

        How are “philosophical questions” pertaining to biology different than “scientific questions”?

        • stuartcoyle
          Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

          There are significant moral issues that have a biological science at their base. For example those questions around the use of genetic engineering, cloning, population size, preservation of environment, biological warfare.

          These would be “philosophical” rather than “scientific” questions. It is useful and important that the people doing the thinking about these issues understand both the science
          and the principles of moral philosophy.

          • Scientifik
            Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

            Wouldn’t they rather be “ethical” and “environmental” questions?

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:30 am | Permalink

        “Philosophy is continuous with science.”

        Quite obviously, it isn’t. Is that why you didn’t even try to reference that claim?

        E.g: Philosophy has no empirical basis. Science has nothing but such a basis. You can’t bridge that gap.

        Sure you can claim that it inspires (or clarifies) theory. But so does everything, including magic speculation (theology, religion). That doesn’t map one way or another to the unbridgeable empirical gap.

        • Posted May 21, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

          What is the empirical basis (whatever that means exactly) of some hypergeneral “traditional science”. For example, general relativity? One has to enrich GR with specific subassumptions to test etc. And then one is quickly in the realm of other hypergeneral theories, i.e., science oriented metaphysics.

      • eric
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:20 am | Permalink

        Carlos that is excellent. However, I am somwhat skeptical that what you’re doing is normal for philosophers of science. Maybe it’s a generational thing and young up-and-coming philosophers are much better prepared than their forebears, but the folks I learned philosophy from would opine on QM without being able to solve simple particle-in-a-box problems. In fact, one of my philosophy professors was so innumerate that he didn’t use a number scale for grades at all because he didn’t like to calculate running averages.

        Another example would be Zeno’s paradoxes (at least his best known one). The philosophers I took classes from seemed woefully behind the times when it came to presenting these, because of their refusal to get educated in other relevant fields. In this case, mathematics: the question of someone closing half the distance to a wall with each step is a solvable calculus problem. High schoolers now learn how to do this. To present it to freshmen philosophy students as a deepity is to basically admit that you either don’t know or don’t care about an answer to the paradox discovered around 300 years ago.

        I think most scientists are rightly skeptical about the ability for someone like that to say anything valuable about what some scientific theory means. If you don’t know enough about a subject to do the study questions at the back of a freshman textbook, you probably shouldn’t be opining on how that subject works. And yes, that goes for scientists opining on non-scientific subjects too. If (for example) you can’t solve a few simple economics problems, you should probably not be calling it dismal.

        • Posted May 21, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

          In one of my first-year physics exams there was a question about a bouncing ball which asked you to calculate the time when it stopped bouncing — clearly a finite sum of an infinite series. (But I’d forgotten the formula … so worked it out from first principles! 😎) Anyhoo… imagine my surprise when I later overheard another student say that he’d got the result that the ball bounced forever!

          Clearly some freshmen need to ponder Zeno!!

          /@

    • Scientifik
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      Point taken.

  9. Shea B
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Tyson’s view seems to be in line with that of Hawking/Mlodinov in THE GRAND DESIGN (“philosophy is dead” because it hasn’t kept pace with scientific discoveries). To a degree, that’s true (or at least partially true): the methods of science offer the best means of learning more about the nature of reality. Any viewpoint that dismisses science out of hand should rightfully be considered suspect.

    On the other hand, good thinking and good writing are always valuable, no matter what field they belong to. I have a background in English (literary studies), and while I am often disturbed (or amused) by the excesses of literary theory, I would maintain that the process of reading and reflecting on a complex work of literature is (at a bare minimum) good for the brain. As a teacher, I think that “critical thinking” (in its various forms/contexts) is a genuinely good thing.

    • Ivo
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 12:55 am | Permalink

      I loved that little book, The Grand Design, but I found the near-gratuitous slur to philosophy very annoying. Up to a point, it is true that “science has substituted philosophy” as the rightful authority providing answers to most questions (although one could more politely say that science grew out of philosophy, or even that it is still a subset of philosophy). But The Grand Design itself is a work *about* science and definitely not a work *of* science. So what is it? A scientifically informed attempt at a coherent and unified vision of the world? Sounds a lot like philosophy to me.

  10. Somite
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    If people want to study philosophy, and they enjoy it, fine with me. Even though I agree with Tyson that philosophy is not the most efficient way to arrive at any truth, if people enjoy the process, more power to them.

    I do have two major problem with some philosophers including Massimo. 1) their backseat driving in science, including accusations of scientism and the bemoaning that scientists don’t do enough philosophy.

    2) The constant invocation of metaphysics and epistemology like those are not problems science hasn’t solved. There is only the natural world and knowledge is what happens when our ideas match the natural world.

    The latter one is specially pernicious because theists frequently will latch on to metaphysics and epistemology to justify belief in god.

    In the end philosophy is just not efficient enough for true progress and I feel like Tyson that science left philosophy behind a long time ago.

    • Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      I agree with your two major plaints about Massimo’s criticism of scientists, and I’ve written about them frequently. These are in fact the two issues over which he and I cross swords. But you have to give the guy credit where he’s right, which I think he largely is in this post.

      • Somite
        Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        Yeah. Maybe the problem is that we use philosophy too generally. In general when we roll our eyes at philosophy we are specifically referring to Continental Philosophy (and some rationalists). However, taxonomy of philosophy is so convoluted as to be hopeless.

        • Posted May 20, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

          +1

          “Philosophy” is not a homogeneous subject, there are many flavors. NdGT specifically said he took issue with studying the “meaning of meaning” and (I listened to the Nerdist podcast in question a while back) the tenor with the interviewer was joking, saying that the kid had wasted his time studying philosophy. (The interviewer is a comedian by trade.)

          Pigliucci is not just a philosopher sitting on a sofa, he is also a trained scientist. This is an important distinction that even he doesn’t appreciate.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted May 20, 2014 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

            ““Philosophy” is not a homogeneous subject, there are many flavors.”

            Which of course means it fails the Outsider’s test – it is useless.

            • eric
              Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:40 am | Permalink

              That makes no sense to me. There are many flavors of science, too – does that make it useless?

              IMO the outsider test is utterly irrelevant here. What is the point of even mentioning it? Are you saying philosophers should judge philosphy the same way they judge non-philosophy disciplines? Because that would be the direct analogy of Loftus’ outsider test of religion.

              IMO academic disciplines serve the purpose of organizing human knowledge in a way that individuals can learn all of what they want or need to learn about a subject without spending too much time on extraneous material that is not about that subject. The categories are mostly functional, not metaphysical. If some school has an environmental sciences department, it’s because they have found enough student interest in that subject to create an in-depth set of classes for it. Not all schools have that, because not all schools have the functional need for it – in some cases, if you want to learn environmental science, you gotta take the relevant classes from biology, chemistry, and geology departments. Neither system is ‘the one true right way,’ it’s all just functional – how to best serve the interests of the student body. Likewise, if most schools combine symbolic logic, ethics, religious philosophy, and (the study of) Plato into one department, its because they have found that that grouping is useful and valuable for their students as well as their professors. That “lumping” doesn’t make all those subjects useless – that’s a complete non-sequitur.

          • Posted May 20, 2014 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

            I think Massimo certainly does appreciate that point as he specifically discusses it in his article.

            /@

            • Posted May 20, 2014 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

              Perhaps. My point is that when Pigliucci conjectures or pontificates, it is based on his dual training and not mere thinkology.

              I wouldn’t go so far as to say that all philosophy is useless, but much of it is overwrought and baseless…. “meaning of meaning”, for example.

              • Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

                Your philosophical position here is an interesting one…

                /@

              • Posted May 21, 2014 at 1:44 am | Permalink

                Ant, I guess my point is that philosophy is useful when used in conjunction with, or to clarify, the reality as defined by observing the natural world*. Maybe not “Useful”, but “correct” is a better word.

                Euthyphro was a philosophy based on empirical observations of the real world; not invoking a supernatural agency to morality. If Plato were not well-versed in the scientific observations then his philosophy would be useless…and incorrect.

                For examples of incorrect (and useless) philosophy, look to any of the revealed religions. Catholicism in recent years has tried to instill some idea of “Natural law” to give it some veneer of respectability, but of course they f**k it all up.

                *Not to get into the conundrum of what is natural and what is supernatural, but reality should have an element of repeatability and consistency. Observations that cannot be repeated or observed by others are unnatural, supernatural, or better known as fake.

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:33 am | Permalink

                “Observations that cannot be repeated or observed by others are unnatural, supernatural, or better known as fake.”

                I like it! I may have to steal that, if I forget where I got it from.

    • Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      Your first point is a matter of personal taste, is it not?

      Your second point is a very interesting philosophical assertion. Wouldn’t you prefer it if there were people who were specifically trained to defend that claim with the deepest philosophical rigor? Many philosophers of science do exactly that. These philosophers are just as interested in defending science from superstition as you are. Understanding and promoting these arguments can help improve the level of reasoned discourse in a sadly anti-intellectual culture.

      • gluonspring
        Posted May 20, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        Some philosophers claim that science *needs* input from philosophy to advance. I suspect that’s what he means by backseat driving. If so, the claim that science needs input from philosophy to advance is a factual claim not merely a matter of preference.

        As for defending science from superstition, I will say that I am not much of a fan of trying to defend ideas wholesale. I have seen a lot of effort spent trying to precisely delineate what constitutes “science” with the goal of being able to separate the scientific wheat from the pseudoscience chaff. I think it is generally much more productive to address specific claims (do the position of planets influence personality?, are Rorschach test interpretations repeatable between clinicians?) than to try to make a sweeping assessment of whole fields of endeavor (astrology or clinical psychology are pseudoscience). Eventually, of course, a whole field may be discarded as useless, but because it is useless, not because it fails a philosophical test.

        • David Miller
          Posted May 20, 2014 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

          Does science need philosophy to advance? If so, does science need the input of professional academic philosophers to advance?

          The answer to the first question seems to clearly be yes. There are philosophical considerations underlying science. Epistemology is probably the big one, but there are others. Sometimes that baggage needs to be examined carefully.

          I think the answer to the second question is that it is probably not strictly necessary, even though it might sometimes be helpful. If there were no professional philosophers, scientists would just have to deal with their philosophical problems themselves. I suspect they would probably manage it. In fact, I suspect they already do manage it.

          My sense is that NdGT is mostly speaking to the second question.

          • gluonspring
            Posted May 20, 2014 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

            Yes, my position would be that the useful bits of philosophy have been subsumed into separate fields: science, history, ethics, logic, mathematics. Philosophy, as a professional endeavor, is mostly just redundant at this point with the various fields it is historically related to. If you want to house your ethics work in a philosophy department, so be it, but ethics as a field need not be there and could exist as it’s own field at this point. Ditto for the rest. Philosophy’s children do not need it and it adds little value to their ongoing efforts.

            • eric
              Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

              IMO you’re making a wierd sort of definitional or syntax error here. Consider this analogy: “Chemistry is useless: the useful bits have been subsumed into separate sub-fields such as general, organic, inorganic, physical, etc.. chemistry. If you want to house those together in a single department, so be it, but they need not be there and could exist as their own fields at this point. Chemistry’s children don’t need it and it adds little value to their efforts.”

              That would be pretty strange, eh? Because when we talk about ‘chemistry,’ we aren’t talking about what’s left over when we subtract all the sub-fields, we are talking about the collection of sub-fields that have generally gone under the heading chemistry. I suggest we should give the same treatment to philsophy. We should not think of it as what’s left over once a bunch of selected sub-fields have been subtracted; we should recognize it as a term referring to the collection of those sub-fields.

              • gluonspring
                Posted May 21, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

                I take your point.

                I think a better analogy is whether a department of “science” would be useful at this point, or whether we would consider “science” as a valid profession. Can a person reasonably contribute to “science” as a whole? They might, but only by being a polymath who mastered several actual fields and contributed to each of those, not by working on this generic thing “science” instead of chemistry, physics, etc. Sure, the various fields overlap and there is much productive work to be done at the intersections of fields, and we may find that there are new ways to carve up this endeavor that demolish the old categories, the intersections often become fields themselves.

                The best math now is not being done in philosophy departments. It’s done in math departments. There is something a bit arbitrary about that, sure, but the fact is that there exists a math department that does math very well and so philosophy, as a department, has no choice but define itself in opposition to this more efficient specialization. If it’s only math, then come join the math department. If it’s not only math, then what is that extra bit? No extra bit? Then why exist?

                That is, it’s not a matter of conceptual definitions, of whether the word “philosophy” has meaning. It certainly does. But rather whether a group of people organizing their efforts in this way will be sufficiently efficient at solving problems to not be rendered completely redundant by more specialized fields in the way that “science” as a professional endeavor is rendered redundant by the various specialized fields. Many schools have a college of science under which lives the various departments of chemistry, physics, biology, and so on. Generally, though, people do not get degrees in science nor do they teach classes in science nor do they hold professorships in science. There is a reason for that. I think philosophy is in a similar position. A college of philosophy under which one places ethics, history, math, logic, and the rest, makes perfect sense to me in a way that a degree in philosophy does not.

              • Posted May 21, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

                But you can do a general science degree, so why not a general philosophy degree?

                /@

              • eric
                Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

                “Can a person reasonably contribute to “science” as a whole?”

                Why yes they can. You are currently sitting in front of a machine that contributes to science as a whole. It increases the productivity and development of new knowledge across multiple fields. It makes experiments across the broad expanse of science possible that simply weren’t possible before. Thank you Lilienfield, Shockley, et al., circa 1925 or so.

                I’d argue that symbolic logic is a reasonable analog. It (like the transistor) may have arisen from a single subfield, but its usefulness across subjects is so great that it is a contribution to philosophy as a whole. Jerry also mentioned ethics, which is a subfield of philosophy that has arguably contributed to many many academic discliplines.

                “whether a group of people organizing their efforts in this way will be sufficiently efficient at solving problems to not be rendered completely redundant by more specialized fields”

                IMO there is a local question of audience size or supply and demand, if you want to think about it that way. When and where demand for ethicists or logicians is great, it makes sense to break them out into their own unit. When and where the demand is lower, it may make more organizational sense to collect them under one departmental roof. I say local because there is no one size fits all solution that academia uses. Just as some schools have an environmental science department while others don’t – depending on demand and expertise – its perfectly reasonable to me that some schools may decide to have a generic or inclusive philosophy department granting degrees in philosophy, while others schools have ethics departments granting degrees in that.

                “A college of philosophy under which one places ethics, history, math, logic, and the rest, makes perfect sense to me in a way that a degree in philosophy does not.”

                As I imply above, those sorts of decisions are IMO local ones depending on the school’s priorities, their resources, and the demand from the students. It makes no sense to build out entire departmental administrative structures if your demand consists of one or two professors teaching a couple of classes.

                Also, just as an amusing aside, you realize that many of the people reading Jerry’s posts probably have a Doctorate of Philosphy in Something, right? In the standard US system, there aren’t any Doctorates of Something (except JDs I guess); all PhDs technically have degrees in philosophy.

              • gluonspring
                Posted May 21, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

                “Thank you Lilienfield, Shockley, et al., circa 1925 or so.”

                I think you are making my point here. Shockley was not a “science” major nor was he working on the project of “science” in a general way. It’s utility for general knowledge is a happy byproduct of rather more specific and well grounded aims.

                As for logic, the historical position of philosophy in intellectual history is just not germane to the question of it’s present utility as an independent field. Logic is obviously useful. But is philosophy contributing to logic currently over and above that of computer science and math? I don’t know why philosophers make this point so often: science came from philosophy, logic came from philosophy, math came from philosophy, and so on, therefore we need professional philosophers. That just doesn’t follow. I am surprised that philosophers who are schooled in logical fallacies make this irrelevant point so often. OK, these fields historically came from philosophy. So? It all came from bacteria if you go back far enough, but if I have a problem to solve taking a vat of bacteria and waiting for it to evolve into a super-intelligent species that can solve it is not an efficient way to proceed.

                As for the D. Phil, well, I know you’re just being amusing there but that’s a bit of irrelevant history too isn’t it? And pointing it out is bit like a Christian saying, “Hey, atheist, have you noticed that that money you’re using says ‘In God We Trust’? Well, so it does. So it does.

                I grant that it is more meaningful than that, of course. Unlike ‘In God We Trust’ I am actually proud to have the word “Philosophy” on my degree. It’s a good word. I actually like the idea of philosophy. It connotes deep thinking (more than reading the dissertation might!) and a devotion to an intellectual life. Those are good things. I have no beef whatsoever with careful thought, with the rich history of philosophy, etc. It’s the profession I’m skeptical of, and most specifically the pretense that the profession is currently helping to advance human knowledge over and above what is coming out of other fields, that without professional philosophers some branch of human knowledge creation would be stunted. I’m just not buying that.

              • Posted May 21, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

                If science came from philosophy, why is there still philosophy? 😆

                /@

              • gluonspring
                Posted May 21, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink

                Ant:

                “But you can do a general science degree, so why not a general philosophy degree?”

                You can, of course, but in both cases you are embracing inefficiency and the very high likelihood of insufficient depth in a particular area to contribute compared to people who have devoted themselves to the subfield. Obviously one can have a degree in anything and, though personal ability and effort, master any other thing. A lawyer is not prohibited from winning the Field Medal, nor are philosophers. But we know as a practical matter that Field Medals are going to be won by and large by people who specifically study math.

                But my beef isn’t really with the mere existence of philosophy as a degree. It might be useful in some narrow sense. To teach the history of philosophy, for example. Similarly a degree in “science” might be just the right level of generality for someone wanting to be a science teacher at some grade level.

                My objection, rather, is to something like the contention that the human enterprise of science would be hobbled without people with general degrees in “science” to help it along. I see no evidence that that is true. The geneticists I work with do not wait for nor need the input of someone with a degree in “science” to know how to proceed. They, of course, borrow from many fields not their own: physics, chemistry, math, evolutionary biology, statistics, etc. But these are imports from other specific fields. There is nothing really left over for genetics to import from a “science” field, and the contention that science is hobbled without generic degrees in “science” seems, to me, very hard to support. Obviously all fields of science share some commonalities, like experimental design, but there again there is really no need of a separate field called “science” to curate these commonalities. Experimental design, for example, is pretty well subsumed under statistics now.

                Similarly, I think it is hard to support the idea that a general “philosophy” field is needed for continued advancement of any other field of human knowledge (whatever it’s historical utility). Once you take out the things other subfields are doing better, I feel there is little value left for an umbrella discipline to add.

              • Posted May 21, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

                Your reply is far longer than my facetious comment deserved!

                /@

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:38 am | Permalink

            If you claim that philosophy has made contribution to science (when?), you may have a beef with Pigliucci:

            “There are two answers here: first, much philosophy of science is simply not concerned with advancing science, which means that it is a category mistake (a useful philosophical concept [11]) to ask why it didn’t. … ”

            P claims both that it isn’t useful for science and that it has no such results (“it didn’t”). Or maybe he wants to claim that it has such results, but then he runs up against the notion that it is a category mistake to shore up philosophy presumed usefulness with it.

    • nightglare
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 3:02 am | Permalink

      Science hasn’t solved the problems of metaphysics and epistemology. Those questions are not amenable to scientific investigation. Physicalism might be an essential scientific assumption, but scientific theories are not incompatible with the existence of supernatural entities.

      Also, ironically, science can be used as an argument for the claim that there are non-physical as well as physical objects. The indispensibility argument, due to Quine and Putnam (independently), is that, as our best scientific theories make indispensible reference to abstract objects (numbers, sets etc.)– because the theories cannot be stated without the abstract objects — and as our best scientific theories are true, we ought to believe in the existence of abstract objects. Is this correct? Well, that’s a philosophical question.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:42 am | Permalink

        Physicalism is a clear result, nothing mysterious about it:

        “The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Are Completely Understood …

        A hundred years ago it would have been easy to ask a basic question to which physics couldn’t provide a satisfying answer. “What keeps this table from collapsing?” “Why are there different elements?” “What kind of signal travels from the brain to your muscles?” But now we understand all that stuff. (Again, not the detailed way in which everything plays out, but the underlying principles.) Fifty years ago we more or less had it figured out, depending on how picky you want to be about the nuclear forces. But there’s no question that the human goal of figuring out the basic rules by which the easily observable world works was one that was achieved once and for all in the twentieth century.”

        [ http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2010/09/23/the-laws-underlying-the-physics-of-everyday-life-are-completely-understood/#.U3yetPmqkXo ]

        Re the last, existence comes out of observations. Or you are an (unwarranted) dualist.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:44 am | Permalink

          I should also note, as how science shaped up (the energy principle of thermodynamics, the absence of hidden variables in quantum mechanics, laws simply out of symmetries), it would now be mysterious to not see physicalism.

      • eric
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

        Physicalism might be an essential scientific assumption, but scientific theories are not incompatible with the existence of supernatural entities.

        This is a very poor argument in favor of philosophy (and I’m saying that as a mostly-defender of the discipline).

        Science is “not incompatible with” an infinite number of ideas, most of which are probably not worth us wasting blood, sweat, and tears to investigate. Saying ‘science can’t solve metaphysical and epistemological problems’ is not a reason to do philosophy, any more than saying ‘science can’t disprove Thor’ is a reason to worship Thor. Before we bother spending our time worshipping Thor, you should show there is some value in that activity. And before we bother spending time doing philosophy, you should show that that activity has a reasonably decent chance of solving the metaphysical and epistemological problems you hope to solve.

        • nightglare
          Posted May 21, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

          It wasn’t an argument in favour of philosophy. I was just refuting the original poster’s claim that science had settled the central metaphysical and epistemological questions. It hasn’t and it can’t.

          Whether metaphysical and epistemological questions are interesting, important,or whatever, is, of course, a different matter.

  11. Peter Moore
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    I think you give Pigliucci too much credit.

    Tyson’s comment was precisely about the usefulness of philosophy to the practice science, so Pigliucci’s ‘category error’ comment was a non-sequitur: seemingly just an excuse for a glib “Sophisticated Philosopher”™ putdown of an “unsophisticated” scientist. You have little patience for that kind of behavior from “Sophisticated Theologian”s, do you really think that is acceptable from Pigliucci?

    And his comment about theoretical physics qualifying as “armchair speculation”, he again misses the point. Pagliucci just gives examples where work done outside lab can help science or could be valuable as intellectual exercise in and of it self. But that again is non-sequitur. NDT point was not that “armchair speculation” is of no value: his point it is only of value to science if it helps produces testable models about the world. So again, Pagliucci is being either glib or sloppy.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:46 am | Permalink

      The Sophisticated Philosopher™ or the SoP™, my new favorite!

  12. Kevin
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    What does Tyson think about how NASA or the NSF is justified a budget? It is part of science, but it is not. Some may call it policymaking or program management, but it is not really science. It is coordinating ideas of broader interests, ethical concerns, and economic motivations that may best suit the advancement of our society and human knowledge simultaneously.

    What about implementing engineering controls that protect scientists in an experiment that has never been run before? Is this engineering? Not quite. Is it science? Not really. No one publishes the research associated with what safety interlaces were used to protect graduate students from electrocution. Philosophy, on the whole, helps inform us of how to develop methods to not only finance, but pursue, science. Among many other things.

    Maybe Tyson is concentrating his criticism onto Hegelian Idealism or post-modern deconstructivism, or the like, and I can see how some philosophy is not particularly that useful to solve problems.

  13. Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    NdgTs predecessor–Carl Sagan–understood much more clearly how the practical and the theoretical need one another

    • Posted May 20, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      Thanks

    • Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

      When I click to play the video I get, “This video is not available in your country.” I live in the US. Why would I not be able to view the video regardless of where I live?

      • Phil Giordana FCD
        Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

        Is this a philosophical question?

  14. Jonathan Houser
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I think science minded people, and often atheists specifically, tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to philosophy. Theologians are technically philosophers within a specific branch of philosophy, and they bloviate and make dumb arguments, ergo the whole of philosophy must be much the same. Or at least any part of philosophy that touches theology (like metaphysics or epistemology, as a commenter above mentioned.) It’s ok to give philosophers their due without justifying the ridiculousness of theology.

    I think the problem with this is that the people that offer the most blanketed criticisms of philosophy are frequently the ones who engage the least with it. I know little about geology, but I certainly wouldn’t claim that it is nothing more than dirt physics that serves no purpose other than finding oil for corporations.

    I don’t want to sound like the theologians that say “don’t criticize until you’ve read the best,” but it would behoove many critics of philosophy to go read something like “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking” by Dan Dennet and see if he is really doing nothing more than navel gazing. Learn a bit more about philosophy beyond just hearing someone talk about Plato’s Cave for the fiftieth time and commenting on how science solved that little mystery.

    • gluonspring
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      Dan Dennet comes up often in these discussions of philosophy. I enjoy Dennet a lot but I’d submit that what makes him interesting is that he is a charming polymath who engages pretty solidly with science and not that he has deployed special tools of philosophy that have yielded unique insights that come from using tools of philosophy. What Dennet writes, the good stuff at least, could have been written by a thoughtful neuroscientist, computer scientist (c.f. Hofstadter) or any other sufficiently informed and careful thinker. That is, I suggest that it is the Dennet in the philosophy that is great, not the philosophy in the Dennet. Now if one takes philosophy to be any kind of careful thinking, or use of math, or use of logic, then of course, none of us can do anything without philosophy. But if you take philosophy to be some set of tools or knowledge that allows philosophers to solve problems that other smart people not so armed couldn’t solve, well, I doubt it.

      As for critics of philosophy not engaging, well, I’m sure that’s true in many cases. Many scientists are as practical as shopkeepers and will have nothing of it. But many are not. There was a time when I read all the philosophy I could get my hands on since philosophy seemed concerned with exactly the questions I cared about: what is mind?, where does order come from?, why does science work?, what can we know?,etc. Time and again I found that the philosophy approach to these questions tended to turn into a useless fog. I learned a lot about what can be known by studying meta-mathematics and computational complexity, but very little from reading the philosophy of epistemology (yes, I know, some of the players were philosophers, but they were doing mathematics). What value I got out of reading Thomas Kuhn and other’s works on the nature of science came from their careful historical analysis, that is from empirical observation, not from any philosophical analysis of the nature of knowledge.

      In short, I think most of the contributions of philosophy today should not be called philosophy. They are instead history, logic, math, ethics. Each of these is more coherent as a field of it’s own. Glomming them together into a field called “philosophy” adds very little to these fields and brings in a great deal of muddy confusion.

      • strongforce
        Posted May 20, 2014 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

        +1

      • Ivo
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 1:10 am | Permalink

        “what is mind?, where does order come from?, why does science work?, what can we know?”

        Ah! if I correctly read you between the lines, we seem to have gone down similar paths: starting with those same grand questions, I was first driven to read lots of philosophy, then computer science, logics and (meta-)math (via the Dennett-Hofstadter connection), then eventually cognitive sciences, biology and physics, which seemed to provide the most satisfying and relevant information.

        Careerwise I got stuck with maths, though :-)

        • gluonspring
          Posted May 21, 2014 at 11:58 am | Permalink

          Saying you got stuck in maths is like saying you got stuck in the Louvre or the Ritz. ;-)

          You read between the lines correctly.

          I enjoyed reading philosophy immensely but, then, I also enjoyed reading Harry Potter. ;-)

      • Ivo
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 1:11 am | Permalink

        and +1 too for the comment

      • reasonshark
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 2:38 am | Permalink

        “In short, I think most of the contributions of philosophy today should not be called philosophy. They are instead history, logic, math, ethics. Each of these is more coherent as a field of it’s own. Glomming them together into a field called “philosophy” adds very little to these fields and brings in a great deal of muddy confusion.”

        I disagree. Philosophy is the application of critical and rational enquiry to fundamental problems. As a result, ethics, mathematics, and logic ARE philosophical matters, not least of all because those issues underlie ones that are often taken for granted in science, such as the critical analysis of reason, epistemology, and metaphysics. If you want to know the limitations of science, the rules of logic and mathematics, science’s relevance to ethics and politics, and how to tackle and frame concepts such as time, causality, language, mind, objects, events, properties, and so on, and you want to do this critically and systematically, then that’s philosophy.

        Yes, there’s bad philosophy (pick any theologian), and more than there should be, but there’s bad science too, and both aspire to a standard of reason. Someone like Dennett contributes to science because he takes time to examine scientific concepts critically (such as the species and the meme), quite independently of any empirical evidence, and can take frameworks from one field (say, evolutionary biology) and see how they might fit into other fields, including ones to do with meaning and morality. That’s what philosophy is in the business of doing: judging and analysing better and worse ways of framing and understanding concepts, including ones that science is grounded on. The very notion of empirical evidence was borne of philosophy, from an old debate on epistemology centuries ago.

        In short, not calling philosophy “philosophy” is to fail to understand what philosophy actually is about.

        • gluonspring
          Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

          “If you want to know the limitations of science, the rules of logic and mathematics, science’s relevance to ethics and politics, and how to tackle and frame concepts such as time, causality, language, mind, objects, events, properties, and so on, and you want to do this critically and systematically, then that’s philosophy.”
          :-) And philosophy answers these questions, does it?

          I should clarify, in any case, that when I say “philosophy” here I am referring to the profession, not the concept. As a concept, “philosophy” is as useful as “thought”, but it also strikes me that a Department of Philosophy is as useful as a Department of Thought.

          • reasonshark
            Posted May 22, 2014 at 5:29 am | Permalink

            “And philosophy answers these questions, does it?”

            Er, yes? It was philosophers that pointed out and answered the issue of the problem of induction that underlies the scientific method we use today; that thrashed out and laid out the positions one could take on how and why mathematics works so well, and compares and contrasts them; that laid out the various ethical, normative, and meta-ethical positions and provided reasons for and against each one; that laid the groundwork for scientists to even begin investigating and making sense of the mind; and that justifies taking science seriously in the first place. Nearly every issue on knowledge in science you take for granted was a subject that philosophers had to thrash out and analyze at some point.

            Granted, not every question is decisively answered, and there’s bad philosophy as well as good, but trying to suggest it either answers definitively or it’s irrelevant is a sign of absolute ignorance. Not to mention historical ingratitude.

        • Peter Moore
          Posted May 21, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

          “Philosophy is the application of critical and
          rational enquiry to fundamental problems”

          But by that you are practically claiming philosophy as covering all rational thought. Trivially self-consistent, but so broad as to be functionally worthless.

          I would propose we characterize “The application of critical and
          rational inquiry to fundamental problems” as the “Fundamental Principle of the Enlightenment”, or FPOE for short.
          Now at the time of the enlightenment, the pursuit of FPOE, whether to physical phenomena or conceptual phenomena, was all grouped under the head of Philosophy. Thus what we call science was initially Natural Philosophy.

          But as each line of inquiry under FPOE was spread and developed, each branch took on very distinct characteristics of their own. And so FPOE had several children: Science, which is FPOE applied using empirical methods to natural phenomena, Mathematics which is FPOE applied using formal proofs to purely abstract problems, and Philosophy I think is best characterized as FPOE applied to conceptual realm (ethics,religion,etc).

          (Now I really these characterizations are terribly broad and naive: but I’m just trying to suggest a different approach, and not a rigorous taxonomy).

          So rather than Science being the child of Philosophy, instead Science, Mathematics and Philosophy as practiced today are siblings: each a branch from that initial fundamental principal of the Enlightenment.

          • reasonshark
            Posted May 22, 2014 at 5:32 am | Permalink

            “But by that you are practically claiming philosophy as covering all rational thought. Trivially self-consistent, but so broad as to be functionally worthless.”

            It’s basically the opening paragraph of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy.

            The specific fields I laid out ARE philosophy. You get nowhere playing word games for the sole purpose of denying philosophy any credit. If you think it’s “too broad”, then that’s your problem. That’s what philosophy IS.

          • reasonshark
            Posted May 22, 2014 at 5:36 am | Permalink

            “But by that you are practically claiming philosophy as covering all rational thought. Trivially self-consistent, but so broad as to be functionally worthless.”

            Look at the Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy

            All the subjects I mentioned are the fundamental problems. Your counterargument is basically on par with saying science is too broad to be functionally useful because it covers anything involving evidence and hypothesis-testing. Er, yeah, because that’s what science IS.

          • reasonshark
            Posted May 22, 2014 at 5:37 am | Permalink

            Darn. I thought the first comment failed to publish, so I tried again. Apologies for the double-posting (or is it triple-posting now?).

      • josh
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        This exactly. When Pigliucci wants to tout the accomplishments of philosophy he defines it as broadly as possible to include ‘thinking about broad issues in a field’. But this is already done better by actual experts in those fields. When he is defending his turf he defines it narrowly as though only he and other professional philosophers can bring any needed insight, when generally they don’t add much. The problem is not so much philosophy, which as you say is just part of a continuum with intellectual endeavors;the problem is Philosophers who believe they are operating in some rarefied realm with special qualifications.

        • gluonspring
          Posted May 21, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          Exactly.

          A lot of things written by philosophers are insightful and useful, but not because they were written by philosophers.

          • couchloc
            Posted May 21, 2014 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

            gluonspring,

            I think you have actually misunderstood Dennett in your comment from above, which I will reply to here. You say, “I’d submit that what makes [Dennett] interesting is that he is a charming polymath who engages pretty solidly with science and NOT that he has deployed special tools of philosophy that have yielded unique insights that come from using tools of philosophy.” The suggestion being made is that philosophy has nothing distinctive to offer and could well be passed over.

            Well, I think this is mistaken and don’t think Dennett would agree with it. Here are his own words on the issue:

            “When scientists decide to ‘settle’ the hard questions of ethics and meaning, for instance, they usually manage to make fools of themselves…. The reason philosophers spend so much of their time and energy raking over the history of the field is that the history of philosophy consists, in large measure, of very tempting mistakes, and the ONLY way to avoid making them again and again is to study how the great thinkers of the past got snared by them. Scientists who think their up-to-date scientific knowledge renders them immune to the illusions that lured Aristotle and Hume and Kant and the others into such difficulties are in for a rude awakening.”

            • gluonspring
              Posted May 21, 2014 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

              To be clear, I was not claiming that Dennett would agree with my take on the nature of the value of what he does! He is, after all, a philosophy professor. I’m saying what I think Dennett is doing, not what I think Dennett thinks he is doing.

              As for the quote, I feel that anyone who decides to ‘settle’ the hard questions of ethics and meaning runs a big risk of making fools of themselves, whether they are scientists, philosophers, or something else, because the questions are not very amenable to solution, as such.

              I’d find Dennetts quote more persuasive if he named a few of these mistakes (which should be easy to do if the field has advanced) and how we know they are mistakes. Insofar as someone has made a mistake in the past, it is obviously useful to be aware of that as a time saving device to avoid repeating those mistakes. What are Hume or Kant’s biggest mistakes, and how do we know they are mistakes?

              • couchloc
                Posted May 22, 2014 at 5:21 am | Permalink

                I’m working today and don’t have time for a long reply, but will say this. My guess is that your impression of Dennett’s work has come from reading his more popular books or something (which for many around here are the only things they are familiar with). But Dennett is well known for other books and papers he’s written in philosophy over the years. He’s published in journals called “Journal of Philosophy” and you don’t get into this leading journal by being “a polymath” but by applying philosophical tools to complex and difficult problems. Just take Dennett’s work on “free will and compatibilism.” His writings on this appeal to and refine the concepts of “freedom,” “cause,” “ethics,” “responsibility,” “rights,” “knowledge,” etc.—all concepts that have long philosophical histories and that Hume and Kant have helped clarify (themselves introducing philosophical distinctions like “a priori,” “a posteriori,” “analytic,” “synthetic,” “deductive consequence,” “strict implication,” etc.). These concepts are introduced and clarified by philosophers in attempting to solve such problems and constitute conceptual advances. You need new concepts sometimes to solve intellectual difficulties, just like Einstein needed a new conceptual framework to solve his problems in physics, and Kuhn needed the conceptual framework of Quine the philosopher to make sense of his historical cases you approve of. Dennett has not misundertood his own methodology; it is you who have misunderstood Dennett I think who understands what he’s doing quite well.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:50 am | Permalink

      Philosophy fails the outsider’s test (different schools (arbitrary); can make counter-philosophy to any philosophy (story telling); have no science results (useless)).

      So engaging with it is like engaging with theology; it may make them happy, but you only soil… waste your time.

  15. Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

  16. nilou ataie
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    The merging of scientific domains is a task for the philosopher, and a broader perspective can produce understanding and further discovery. It is on the fences of the borders of physics, chemistry, and biology that good philosopher’s will perch their armchairs and observe, no matter how comfortable and tricked out those armchairs may be. Philosopher’s are very important to the scientific enterprise as they should tell the story, but first they should learn as much as possible about the scientific domains- which are rife with observations about the nature of reality.

    • nilou ataie
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      *philosophers :(

  17. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    So Tyson is not only displaying unadultered atheism at times, he is also dissing philosophy now. It seems to correlate well with his work on the new Cosmos’s series, originally of Sagan, who did the very same. Sagan notes in Cosmos, as I remember it, that science was empiricism out of culture’s trade at all times. While philosophers that were missing the chance of making science progress like Pythagoras or actively preventing it like Platon were based in magic (mysteries respectively religion, IIRC).

    I find it humorous that Tyson handles Pigliucci much like someone trolling science, which if Tyson started the analysis on science P. is. Philosophers has promoted philosophism for 2 000 years, and they can’t take a simple empirical analysis of what they have contributed – 0, zip, none – to science. Especially since they have no observable facts on their side.

    I agree with Krauss that philosophy is useful for jurisdictional ethics. Here Pigliucci overreach with the usual philosophical saws:

    much philosophy of science is simply not concerned with advancing science, which means that it is a category mistake (a useful philosophical concept [11]) to ask why it didn’t. The main objective of philosophy of science is to understand how science works and, when it fails to work (which it does, occasionally), why this was the case.

    So it isn’t understanding science in order of advancing it, philosophy of science doesn’t concern scientists.

    What scientists, at least in physics, study early is statistics and measurement theory, which _is_ the sciences of science that advances science, and help _scientists_ “understand how science works and, when it fails to work (which it does, occasionally), why this was the case.”

    A common refrain I’ve heard from you (see direct quotes above) and others, is that scientific progress cannot be achieved by “mere armchair speculation.” And yet we give a whole category of Nobels to theoretical physicists, who use the deductive power of mathematics (yes, of course, informed by previously available empirical evidence) to do just that. Or — even better — take mathematics itself,

    Sad.

    – So much of mathematics is not used in science because it isn’t useful there, and mathematics that no one uses are simply not developed. Mathematics and its algorithmic twin computer science is quasiempirical, the latter even look at physical resources as important empirical measures.

    – Theoretical science is _not_ using “the deductive power of mathematics” as much as the tested or testable physics that are described by math. A famous example is quantization, which can’t be put on axiomatic mathematical basis, but where theorists crank a physics algorithm handle. At the end they have to weed out the solutions that are not gauge or relativistic, as I understand it, a physics consideration.

    • Ivo
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 1:32 am | Permalink

      Two quibbles:

      “So much of mathematics is not used in science because it isn’t useful there, and mathematics that no one uses are simply not developed”

      I’m not sure I understand your point here, but just for balance: the truth is, most of the math done by professional mathematicians is pure math, which is only interesting to other mathematicians and definitely has (yet) no uses in the rest of the sciences.

      “A famous example is quantization, which can’t be put on axiomatic mathematical basis…”

      I assure you that there is a great amount of activity, by physicists and mathematicians alike and stretching back for a century or so, to provide quantization with solid mathematical foundations. The fact that it’s not easily done does not mean that it can’t be done, nor that physicists don’t desire it! Yes, the mathematicians’ standards for foundational issues are quite more rigorous then the theoretical physicists’, but the latter don’t particularly like it either to have their theories rest on dodgy math.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:58 am | Permalink

        Sorry about the brevity of parts of a longish comment. My point on mathematics is that there are branches what go underdeveloped or are simply forgotten, because they interest a handful of people. (Not that it doesn’t happen in science too. :-/)

        Quantization, obviously I don’t know much detail since I haven’t studied quantum field theory, only basic quantum physics (QM, Solid State). But despite over a century of efforts it is not axiomatized, so it is unlikely to be. My notion is that physics is more like computer science, algorithmic, than mathematical, axiomatic, because computer science have to look at physical resources and we should expect such a correspondence then.

        The larger problem is that Pigliucci is wrong now on using “deduction” rather than experiments based on observation, and it seems he is unlikely to ever be correct.

        • gluonspring
          Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

          The problem with such endeavors is one of efficiency. The space of theorems is infinite. This renders trying to explore them in an unbiased way absurd. Philosophy, as a profession, suffers from a similar problem. One can argue that philosophy weeds out the logically inconsistent ideas, leaving us with a smaller space of possible ideas for science and other endeavors to explore. The space of logically consistent ideas, however, is also infinite, so attempting to produce a cartography of logically permissible ideas is not helping.

          • gluonspring
            Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

            Or, I should say, is not helping much. The help it provides pales compared to the task.

            So over all I’d say that the problem with philosophy, as a professional endeavor, is not so much that it’s absolutely useless, just that it’s so inefficient that it does not pay for the effort.

            Two thousand years of philosophy has probably told us less about what it means to have a mind and be an intelligent agent than rolling Watson out onto the set of Jeopardy (not that the latter has finished off the question, just that it has accomplished more in that direction).

        • Ivo
          Posted May 21, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          Ah, OK, you were expressing *regret* that some parts of maths are not developed. I can only agree with that sentiment :-)

          More seriously, I think Pigliucci is not wrong about theoretical physicists: while they don’t have the same goals as mathematicians (i.e. ultimately they only care about mathematical theories which are faithful models for some portions of the physical world), it is quite true that they spend lots of time performing deductive reasoning. In their papers you find formal deductions from first principles (axioms), and even some proofs and theorems that would make many mathematicians proud. So yes, “armchair physicists” they are!

  18. Filippo
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    sub

  19. Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    I think my second biggest problem with giving philosophy much credit at all is, as others have said, that those who promote philosophy want to apply this label to such a pantheon of ideas that it becomes almost meaningless. My biggest issue, which is related, is that philosophy has no self-correcting mechanism at all – while it might be considered to include theoretical physics, as Pigliucci wants to claim (I find that being opportunistic, myself,) it also encompasses such utter wastes of time as consciousness and meaning. Inevitably, those who champion philosophy get to the point of claiming it is interchangeable with abstract thought, which shows how little use their philosophical studies have been since this is something that we (and other species, to a certain extent) have evolved to possess, so no one needs the slightest training in it.

    To take ethics as an example, this is a topic that has been kicked around for centuries, without much progress at all – largely because the term ‘ethics’ has been created as if it’s a well-defined thing, instead of a subjective interpretation of how someone feels about a subject, to a large extent based on the biological structures we have to encourage positive social interactions. Since we also have structures to encourage competition and protection, all of which having particular applications to our survival, ‘ethics’ has to apply to not just whether we steal food from the work fridge, but exactly how we defend ourselves against invaders (and even how we define ‘invader.’) The clash over capital punishment comes because we have desires to discourage antisocial behavior, while also recognizing consciously that some actions probably won’t accomplish this goal. Using the word ‘ethics’ in here just muddies the waters, because everyone has their own interpretation of what it means. Philosophy, with millions of written words on the subject, has not clarified this in the slightest – quite the opposite.

    I think there’s a few applications of philosophy that are useful – encouraging other perspectives (or even realizing they exist,) thought experiments, and so on. Much of this, however, will never be proven as worthwhile without empirical demonstrations. And these are vastly overwhelmed by the portions that blather incessantly about ‘The Mind’ and objectivity and qualia and all that. Most of these are considered such sophisticated subjects only because philosophy is structured to perpetuate itself, and not to reach a functional goal. A vaccine with only 10% effectiveness would not be considered very useful, but somehow we’re supposed to praise philosophy over the same thing.

    • gluonspring
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      I’ve read a lot of philosophy, especially philosophy of the mind. As a way to answer questions it’s a waste of time. It is occasionally thought provoking, but one doesn’t need professional philosophers for that. I got as much though provocation out of reading The Mind’s I, which has as much fiction as professional philosophy, as I did out of the mountains of philosophy I read afterward. Provoking thought is useful, but it’s not a profession. The word “qualia” is useful too, but it’s just a word, not a profession. The fact that someone coined a word, “spandrel”, to describe the space in the corner of certain arches and the utility of this word does not justify the creation of a field to coin such words.

      It’s not that such a profession would be literally useless, it’s just that it’s so inefficient at producing useful things that it couldn’t possibly justify the office space.

  20. Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    If we study science for real, this is science, not philosophy.

  21. DoctorD
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    I lost all “faith” and respect in Massimo back around the time of Fukushima. He rambled on in his blogs of the day, and then had to stop and give his readers a 3 session “Basics of Fission Physics.”

    Right there I realized that the philosophers didn’t understand nature and had lost touch with the science (and in this case, the engineering) and had nothing to contribute to the discussion.

    I ask what (besides navel-gazing) does philosophy have to offer? Let the science go where it will, without the philosopher’s permission.

  22. compuholio
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    I don’t know the exact position of NdG on philosophy and I certainly would go as far to claim that all philosophy is useless. But I would agree that it is to a large degree and that is totally okay with me. We do lots of things in science that are not useful, we do them because it is interesting.

    [...] do collaborate to elucidate the conceptual and theoretical aspects of research on everything from evolutionary theory and species concepts to interpretations of quantum mechanics and the structure of superstring theory

    This is an example of what ticks me off about philosophy: The unspecific babbling and the pretentiousness. How exactly did they contribute to science? “to elucidate the conceptual and theoretical aspects of research” is a phrase that is designed to sound nice but is completely content-free. If I have time I will read the suggested paper but I shouldn’t need to as it would have been so easy to simply name contribution of philosophy to science: Modal logic or temporal logic are examples of a concept that was first used in philosophy and is nowadays a hot reasearch topic in computer science.

    Of course one might argue if computer science is really science – another topic that I’ll leave to the philosophers (and which I don’t particularly care about).

    • compuholio
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 1:00 am | Permalink

      I certainly would go as far

      I meant: “I certainly wouldn’t go as far”

      There really should be a preview function for posts…

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      CS is quasiempirical, I think (looks at physical resources for computation). Fits within Jerry’s larger science, if not “pure” science, and is proven useful (helps with algorithms and computer construction et cetera).

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 6:03 am | Permalink

      Also, I consider logic having parted from philosophy today, in the same manner that science parted from its Naturalist often (too often) religious driven past.

  23. reasonshark
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 2:44 am | Permalink

    An interview with Rebecca Golstein on the subject of philosophy’s relevance:

    http://chrisstedman.religionnews.com/2014/05/19/atheists-shouldnt-dismiss-philosophy-plato-author-rebecca-goldstein/

  24. Richard Bond
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    I am ambivalent about philosophers. Many of them spout pretentious rubbish, but it is eminently worthwhile to understand the best. Hume and JS Mill are worth a good deal of anybody’s time.

    Pigliucci, however, provides a perfect example of why physicists despise philosophy: thinking that it can contribute to “interpretations of quantum mechanics and the structure of superstring theory” is a bad case of Dunning-Kruger. There is no viable interpretation of quantum mechanics outside the maths and in terms of reality. Metaphors do not count. And if M-theory turns out to be the best way forward for quantum mechanics, the same will apply.

    • Posted May 21, 2014 at 6:23 am | Permalink

      “There is /no/ viable interpretation of quantum mechanics outside the maths and in terms of reality.”

      Strongly disagree. See David Deutsch’s *The Fabric of Reality* on the many-worlds interpretation.

      (M-theory is not about the *interpretation* of quantum mechanics. Not sure if that’s what you were intending to say, but the segue was ambiguous.)

      /@

      • Richard Bond
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

        The many-worlds interpretation of QM is based firmly on mathematics, and gives the same answers as other interpretations that are worth considering. That is consistent with my point that there “is no viable interpretation outside the maths”.

        I have some concerns with the many-worlds idea, though. Young’s slits experiment allows, as far as we currently know, an infinite number of angles for a particle that passes through it. Does an orthogonal universe split off for every possible angle, down to the nth decimal point? Or consider crossed polarisers that deviate infinitesimally from perfectly orthogonality, so that, in our world, only an infinitesimal number of photons pass the second polariser. Does that mean that every photon that reaches the second polariser creates two equally possible universes, regardless of the vast difference in the probabilities of passing or not?

        You are right about my ambiguity: I did not mean that M-theory is an interpretation of QM. I was trying to be too succinct. If it succeeds, M-theory will extend QM to a more fundamental level, which will then invite its own interpretations. Philosophers, however, will make no contribution to getting to the stage where that is possible.

        • Posted May 21, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

          Bunge made the point more than 40 years ago that the goal is not necessarily to find philosophy in the “finished” result of scientific theories, but perhaps to make use of it in the scaffolding while building others. He specifically mentions QM in this light; finally we realize that all the nonsense over the “refutation of realism” was just Bohr’s charisma, etc.

          And those philosophical ingredients (see above) are of a piece with the traditional hypergeneral theories. So for example, mereology is the study of part-whole relations. That may well play a role in some future more specific theory. Who knows?

          • Richard Bond
            Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

            The original Copenhagen interpretation of QM was fatally savaged by Schrödinger’s feline friend. The transactional interpretation depends on the fact that QM equations are generally symmetrical in time, so that events might feed back to their causes. The hidden variables interpretation presumes underlying deterministic maths giving rise to probabilistic behaviour which then becomes deterministic at the Newtonian level, which is not terribly convincing. Decoherence is a kind of update to Copenhagen that has a precise definition of when entangled particles cease to be so: when their wave functions become mutually orthogonal.

            I view of Prof CC’s timely reiteration of Da Roolz earlier today, I do not want to instigate a discussion about which of these interpretations is valid. My point is that no philosophers made any significant contribution to any of them.

        • Posted May 21, 2014 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

          But what you said was, “There is no viable interpretation of quantum mechanics outside the maths and in terms of reality.”

          Whatever its mathematical basis, the many-words interpretation can be explained without the mathematics and in terms of reality.

          As I’ve said here in the past, after studying physics for three years and nearly four years’ research in particle physics, I could not claim to have understand quantum theory. (Although I could – then! – do the math[s].) However, reading Deutsch’s (non-mathematical!) exposition of the many-worlds theory was revelatory: I understood what was going on physically for the first time.

          IIRC, it is a mistake to think of MWI as continuous forking of worlds. Rather it’s an infinite(?) number of worlds whose histories diverge over time. So, with Schrödinger’s cat, in 50% of worlds with that cat in that box it is a live cat, in the other 50% a dead one: All that happens when you open the box is discover which set of universes you’re now living in. (Read Deutsch: He explains it much better than I!)

          /@

          • Richard Bond
            Posted May 22, 2014 at 1:55 am | Permalink

            So, the acceptance of an infinity of universes, only one of which we can observe, is reality? I think that we have degenerated into quibbling over words, and we should agree to disagree.

            To go back to the theme of the thread: no philosopher contributed significantly to MW.

            • Posted May 22, 2014 at 3:20 am | Permalink

              * So, the acceptance of an infinity of universes, only one of which we can observe, is reality? *

              Yes.

              Have you read Deutsch?

              /@

  25. icaro066
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Ok, so a philosopher makes one contribution in, say 1000 contributions made by scientists, on string Theory (that some scientists say it ain´t science because it’s not testable)…

    • Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      Are contributions necessary for every endeavor?

      “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

      In essence this truism is what both philosophy and science, and all human endeavor, is about. Scientists enjoy the scientific method, and I would argue that it has a lot to do with our genetic programming. We test hypotheses and re-test hypotheses to ge in touch with the reality around us.

      Philosophy without a context that incorporates the scientific method is absurd (to me, and I think this is the basic crux of NdGT’s sentiment as well.) My problem with philosophy is not that it doesn’t contribute, it’s that it is not very fun.

      To fart around, sitting in an armchair and conjecturing about reality without testing a hypothesis is just so unsatisfying. Natural philosophy (ie, science), is also farting around, but it is more satisfying.

      Of course, I cannot speak for everyone, but even Plato used real-world examples and observations to tease out his philosophy. In fact, he wrote an entire book (The Republic) on how this affects the governance of human society. He might have been flawed, but his process was empirical.

      Having said that, I think a good amount of philosophy is indeed moored to the scientific method. The exceptions are revealed religion and theology which dictate dogmatic teachings that are not empirically based and therefore are not repeatable in the real world.

      Tangentially, I would go so far as to say that this is the reason that young people eschew church-going in increasing numbers. I would go further to state categorically that moral behavior based on revealed religion is flawed and a better understanding of why we act morally in society is obtained through science.

      In the end, however, it’s all just farting around. We act morally because of our biology. The broad arc of Science will continue because we are naturally selected to look at the world empirically…. or we will become extinct because of our complacence about…you name it: climate change, nuclear weaponry, or some black swan that is so-far unseen.

      Until then, just fart around.

      • icaro066
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        ” Scientists enjoy the scientific method, and I would argue that it has a lot to do with our genetic programming. We test hypotheses and re-test hypotheses to ge in touch with the reality around us. ”

        So, that’s what we are doing for 200 000 years: testing hypotheses and gettin it real…

        ” My problem with philosophy is not that it doesn’t contribute, it’s that it is not very fun.”

        Most people think science is boring. Ask any Physicist and they have storys live: “So, what do you do”… “I’m a Physicist”… “Man, i was so bad at physics.”

        I think it’s like this: Most people like what they do, science, Philosophy or whatever, because it’s fucking awsome for then. The problem is the mentality that works like this: I have a hammer so everything looks is a nail. And the hammer around everybody.

        “To fart around, sitting in an armchair and conjecturing about reality without testing a hypothesis is just so unsatisfying”

        For you.
        Every kid as a natural curiosity and they fart around a lot until someone (usually school) shut them down. Science starts with farting around. And lets be honest. It’s impossible to test all hypothesis. We all start with some premisses

  26. Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on alexanderwrites.

  27. Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    “So, that’s what we are doing for 200 000 years: testing hypotheses and gettin it real…”

    Yes.

    “Most people like what they do…”

    Exactly.

    “For you. Every kid as a natural curiosity and they fart around a lot until someone (usually school) shut them down. Science starts with farting around.”

    Shut them down? No, science gives the individual an organized way to pursue that curiosity, to find answers. And yes, sitting around pontificating without testing hypotheses would be unsatisfying *for me.* That’s what I said; I qualified it. If that’s what you like, then do it!


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