What do you think about Dr. Tyson's description of the status of Philosophy today as he describes it in this video starting at about 1:02:46 into the video:

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I would agree with him that "physicist" and "philosopher" parted ways after the discovery of quantum physics, but I would say this split was to the detriment of physics, not a necessary or needed event. I think the advent of quantum mechanics shook up the physics community, resulting in a wild frenzy of experimentation and data-gathering. In the process, the physicists forgot to be philosophers; they stopped examining these phenomena at the conceptual level, lost the ability to reflect on the efficacy and opportunity for recombination of ideas in their theories, and instead went all-out for equation-based, brute-force problem solving.


So many decades later, quantum mechanics is still completely "mysterious" and "confusing" despite our ability to show the mathematics for most of it because the physicists no longer pursue conceptual solutions to provide the why for their equations. And after 40-odd years, the mathematics community is still being consumed by the equation-work of String (M-) Theory, despite its utter lack of testability and unpalatability at the conceptual level. Science may be the study and description of our world, but Philosophy is the study and revision of our ideas about the world, and the loss of the scientist-philosopher has lead to a long stagnation of scientific thought on many of the most fundamental questions.


I do think that philosophy has immediate and useful contributions to modern science, but there is a great barrier to overcome between the two roles now. I do not think the physicists will change their course-- the very loss of philosophy makes that unlikely --so the only changes can come from philosophers-made-scientists. If members of the philosophy community can learn the concepts, phenomena, and mechanics of modern physics well enough to generate major insights about it; then learn to speak as a physicist and recast those insights as equations (doing the work of the physicists); and successfully push that message to the rest of the physics community, at last the "scientist" and "philosopher" might converge again. 

That's a long path to travel, though, so I don't see it happening very soon.

Drake, I don't know if you know this or not, but I will tell you now: I have a great respect for you as a person and as an intellectual.

I am not sure what you mean by this:  "lost the ability to reflect on the efficacy and opportunity for recombination of ideas in their theories"

I wonder if your perception that Quantum Mechanics and M Theory is 'completely "mysterious" and "confusing"' could be explained by the fact that these sciences have entered into realms of knowledge that our 5 senses do not perceive directly.

There are other realms that our senses do not perceive directly that are easy to understand for example the microscopic world. In the microscopic world, an everyday thing like gravity has a negligible effect on the microscopic world and surface tension in the microscopic world has a huge effect there as opposed to our everyday experience with surface tension.

My point is that different resolutions of our pictures of the universe (Macro and Micro and Nano and smaller) give us information that may or may not "make sense" to us when all we have is our everyday experiences. 

The tools of science allow us to go beyond our limitations of perception and "see" how the universe really is. I'm sorry to say that Philosophy (if it has anything to contribute) has a long way to go to reach a point where it is useful in the physical sciences again. 

Have a good day

"lost the ability to reflect on the efficacy and opportunity for recombination of ideas in their theories" is the fancy-speak for "lost their (theoretical) creativity". There's been all sorts of interesting progress on new hardware and experimental techniques so we're gathering great amounts of new data, but there's been comparatively little innovation on the theoretical side.


"completely 'mysterious' and 'confusing'" was a parroting of how most scientific speakers (such as Dr. Tyson above) have been consistently describing quantum mechanics for the past two decades. This attitude of mystification is also strongly conveyed in their tone and handling of such topics. It's close enough to reverence that it strikes a nerve for me (I'm philosophically irreverent, as I believe the act of revering impedes critical thinking).


Personally, I don't find it at all confusing (though it can sometimes be challenging) to deal with concepts and phenomena across many different scales. While the realization that quantum mechanics diverged from the classical theories was initially surprising, now that we've had a chance to study the differences I see so reason why philosophers cannot apply logic and argument to find conceptual solutions to modern challenges. The "oddness" of quantum mechanics doesn't isolate it from other conceptual problems, it just introduces a new set of ideas and constraints to consider. The failure of modern physicists is their mystification of science through the belief that quantum phenomena are inherently impossible to understand at a conceptual level.

After talking with one of the lead LHC physicists yesterday (you find odd neighbors in a university town), I still think modern physics has 'lost its rudder' without philosophy, but I realize that my earlier views were a bit too negative. It isn't that physics is going in a wrong direction now, but rather that the physicists have no direction at all in their theoretical work.


They remain focused and directed on the experiments they need to pursue, but they now have a whole array of random models that they need to systematically eliminate by laborious testing. This will be intensely inefficient and take years to make even minor progress, but it will get a result, eventually. I believe that the re-integration of philosophic methods for conceptual problem-solving would greatly accelerate this progress and enhance the social impact of these scientific efforts, but now I figure they'll get there one way or another.

I agree with you here Drake. I might even go a step further and suggest that, unless it is immediately obvious what the practical implications are of what can become extremely expensive experiments, that funding for this science be restricted. We started to build a collider in Texas which was to be even more powerful than the LHC, but congress stopped its funding. Although it is disappointing that we are no longer the center of the physics universe, it is a necessary fact because we have problems which are more important right now from the perspective of the greater good. We have real human suffering to deal with, and pressing social needs that need to be addressed, and frankly, chasing down M-theory and string theory seems a huge waste of time and resources. If it looked as if there were some breakthrough on the horizon which would give us some new source of power or some new kind of useful material, then I might change my mind on this.


As for what this has to do with philosophy, I would say two things. First, it means that if there is little need/use for certain areas of philosophy, like perhaps philosophy of science, or even metaphysics, then I would also suggest that funding in those areas, public or private, also dry up to some degree. But secondly, there are areas of philosophy which are, imho, only growing in importance. In ethics and political philosophy in particular, I would like to see funding increase, and the extra added resources used to help solve the very real human problems this country, and indeed all of humanity, is facing in this dangerous new century.

“Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.” 
― Richard P. Feynman

Note that "philosophy of science" refers to the epistemological basis of science (i.e. what it is and how to pursue it). This is distinct from the application of analytical philosophy to scientific questions, which is essentially a mode of concept-based problem solving using logical relations. In contrast, most physics is pursued through equation-based problem solving using mathematical relations.


So Feynman is entirely correct that "philosophy of science" does not produce solutions, but philosophy in science is entirely capable of doing so.

Drake makes good points - it is quite possible that the divergence of philosophy and hard science is something lamentable, but it is also true that we can no longer do hard science from the armchair of the philosopher, so in that sense the split has made doing science more rigorous. I agree with Drake that it would be best if the philosopher was also a scientist, and vice versa, and that it is possible that the two will converge again in the future, but it is what it is.


On the other hand, Tyson was only saying that philosophers have been split off from doing hard science, not that there is no more use for philosophy. He was not saying that science has taken over the job of philosophy, or that philosophy in general has become obsolete. In fact he points out that there are still area where philosophy is still useful, namely ethical and political philosophy (areas that are nowhere near being taken over by scientists). While philosophers in these areas do well to take into account a scientific worldview and mindset, and to employ similar methods, the philosopher does a kind of work that goes beyond the scientific method, employing the full range of our human mental capacities ranging from logical inferences to emotional attunement and intuition, and indeed even other states of consciousness other than our everyday, waking one. While ethics and politics may in theory be subjected to the closest scientific scrutiny, and one day may even achieve a level on par with other hard sciences, this is so remote from the necessities of the day that the reductions and even terminations of entire philosophical departments is dangerously premature.




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