Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Philosophy Of the Higgs

A rather fascinating article that throws itself into the debate between physics and philosophy.

You can read the rest of the article for yourself. However, it seems that we can boil it down to the last two p paragraph in the article.

So then, should we physicists listen to philosophers?

An emphatic "No!", if philosophers want to impose their preconceptions of how science should be done. I do not subscribe to Feyerabend's provocative claim that "anything goes" in science, but I believe that many things go, and certainly many things should be tried.

But then, "Yes!", we should listen, as philosophy can provide a critical assessment of our methods, in particular if we consider physics to be more than predicting numbers and collecting data, but rather an attempt to understand and explain the world. And even if philosophy might be of no direct help to science, it may be of help to scientists through its educational role, and sharpen our awareness of conceptional problems in our research. 

I have no issues if I have to live with that. What it is saying is that philosophy doesn't really have any contribution on the physics itself. However, it may have some usefulness in the PRACTICE of physics, which isn't surprising because doing physics is a human endeavor.

However, there is still the nagging feeling that while physics can stand on its own to show how (i) it is useful and (ii) it has changed our perception of the world that we live in, the field of philosophy appears to be less able to stand on its own and depends very much on what comes out of science.

I think philosophy of science should not consider itself primarily as a service to science, but rather identify and answer questions within its own domain. I certainly would not be concerned if my own research went unnoticed by biologists, chemists, or philosophers, as long as it advances particle physics. On the other hand, as Morrison pointed out, science does generate its own philosophical problems, and philosophy may provide some kind of broader perspective for understanding those problems. 

1 comment:

coraifeartaigh said...

I think the comment 'philosophy may sharpen our awareness of conceptional problems in our research' is about right (at least in some areas of research)and is somewhat in conflict with your next statement, that 'philosophy doesn't really have any contribution on the physics itself'.

I suspect it's not about what philosophy per se can bring to physics, but whether physicists can benefit by being aware of the philosophical assumptions they are working under (and by being able to articulate them).
For example,the presumption of a stationary earth prevented astronomers from grasping the implications of the retrograde motion of the planets for centuries, while the assumption of a static universe did not allow Einstein and co. to consider an expanding universe.
So you might say that unexamined philosophies can delay progress in physics...