Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson on Philosophy

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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    Drake Everren

    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.

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    Jedi Wanderer

    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.