Graduate studies at Western
|Abstract||Footnote: My thanks to Zvi Biener and Balazs Gyenis for comments. 1. What is the relationship between philosophy and physics? What should the relationship be? To someone who does not work in philosophy of physics, it can be hard to distinguish what a theoretical physicist does from what a philosopher of physics does. The differences lie in two areas: their goals and their methods. The highest goal of theoretical physicists is to find the next theory. That profoundly colors the way they approach foundational ideas. Any idea that aids in finding the next theory is deemed useful. Sometimes the most suggestive ideas are so because they are on the edge of plausibility. However if they show promise of opening new pathways, physicists are quite willing to suspend critical scrutiny. There is no point abandoning a goose about to lay a golden egg because you suspect it may be a turkey! Gold is gold. As a result they may put up with what seems like patent nonsense to a philosopher. For philosophers of physics, the goal is different. The basic questions remain those asked by philosophers for milennia: What is the nature of space? What is the nature of time? What is the nature of matter? How are things in the world connected? And so on. They seek answers from our best understanding of space, time and matter -modern physics. There is no room for tolerance of fringe thinking for that would compromise the project. They ask: What is our understanding now on the basis of our best science? Philosophy of physics also differs from physics in its method. Philosopher of physics bring the sensibilities of philosophy to physics. To those outside physics, philosophy is synonymous with gazing in wonder at intractable mysteries. To the professional philosopher, the project is just the reverse. It is to take things that are conceptually puzzling and, through rigorous analysis, render them simple and transparent so that the original sense of mystery evaporates. Their method looks to the traditional demands of philosophy that theses must be clearly enunciated and defended by clear and cogent argumentation; and that these demands cannot be compromised..|
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