Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lawrence Krauss: another physicist with an anti-philosophy complex


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by Massimo Pigliucci

I don’t know what’s the matter with physicists these days. It used to be that they were an intellectually sophisticated bunch, with the likes of Einstein and Bohr doing not only brilliant scientific research, but also interested, respectful of, and conversant in other branches of knowledge, particularly philosophy. These days it is much more likely to encounter physicists like Steven Weinberg or Stephen Hawking, who merrily go about dismissing philosophy for the wrong reasons, and quite obviously out of a combination of profound ignorance and hubris (the two often go together, as I’m sure Plato would happily point out). The latest such bore is Lawrence Krauss, of Arizona State University.

I have been ignoring Krauss’ nonsense about philosophy for a while, even though it had occasionally appeared on my Twitter or G+ radars. But the other day my friend Michael De Dora pointed me to this interview Krauss just did with The Atlantic, and now I feel obliged to comment, for the little good that it may do. And before I continue, kudos to Ross Andersen, who conducted the interview, for pressing Krauss on several of his non sequiturs. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Krauss is proud (if a bit coy) of the fact that Richard Dawkins referred to his latest book, entitled “A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing,” as comparable to Darwin’s “Origin of Species,” on the grounds that it upends the “last trump card of the theologian.” Well, leave it to Dawkins to engage in that sort of silly hyperbolic rhetoric. (Dawkins still appears to be convinced that religion will be defeated by rationality alone. Were that the case, David Hume would have sufficed.) The fact is, Krauss’s book is aimed at a general audience, popularizing other people’s (as well as his own) work, and is not the kind of revelation of novel scientific findings that Darwin put out in his opus, and that makes all the difference.

Krauss’s volume was much praised when it got out in January, but more recently has been slammed by David Albert in the New York Times:

“The particular, eternally persisting, elementary physical stuff of the world, according to the standard presentations of relativistic quantum field theories, consists (unsurprisingly) of relativistic quantum fields... they have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story.”

That’s harsh, and Krauss understandably doesn’t like what Albert wrote. Still, I wonder if Krauss is justified in referring to Albert as a “moronic philosopher,” considering that the latter is not only a highly respected philosopher of physics at Columbia University, but also holds a PhD in theoretical physics. I didn’t think Rockefeller University (where Albert got his degree) gave out PhD’s to morons, but I could be wrong.

Nonetheless, let’s get to the core of Krauss’ attack on philosophy. He says: “Every time there's a leap in physics, it encroaches on these areas that philosophers have carefully sequestered away to themselves, and so then you have this natural resentment on the part of philosophers.” This clearly shows two things: first, that Krauss does not understand what the business of philosophy is (it is not to advance science, as I explain here); second, that Krauss doesn’t mind playing armchair psychologist, despite the dearth of evidence for his pop psychological “explanation.” Okay, others can play the same game too, so I’m going to put forth the hypothesis that the reason physicists such as Weinberg, Hawking and Krauss keep bashing philosophy is because they suffer from an intellectual version of the Oedipus Complex (you know, philosophy was the mother of science and all that... you can work out the details of the inherent sexual frustrations from there).

Here is another gem from this brilliant (as a physicist) moron: “Philosophy is a field that, unfortunately, reminds me of that old Woody Allen joke, ‘those that can’t do, teach, and those that can’t teach, teach gym.' And the worst part of philosophy is the philosophy of science; the only people, as far as I can tell, that read work by philosophers of science are other philosophers of science. It has no impact on physics what so ever. ... they have every right to feel threatened, because science progresses and philosophy doesn’t.”

Okay, to begin with, it is fair to point out that the only people who read works in theoretical physics are theoretical physicists, so by Krauss’ own reasoning both fields are largely irrelevant to everybody else (they aren’t, of course). Second, once again, the business of philosophy (of science, in particular) is not to solve scientific problems — we’ve got science for that (Julia and I explain what philosophers of science do here). To see how absurd Krauss’ complaint is just think of what it would sound like if he had said that historians of science haven’t solved a single puzzle in theoretical physics. That’s because historians do history, not science. When was the last time a theoretical physicist solved a problem in history, pray?

And then of course there is the old time favorite theme of philosophy not making progress. I have debunked that one too, but the crucial point is that progress in philosophy is not and should not be measured by the standards of science, just like the word “progress” has to be interpreted in any field according to that field’s issues and methods, not according to science’s issues and methods. (And incidentally, how’s progress on that string theory thingy going, Lawrence? It has been 25 years and counting, and still no empirical evidence...)

Andersen, at this point in the interview, must have been a bit fed up with Krauss’ ego, so he pointed out that actually philosophers have contributed to a number of science or science-related fields, and mentions computer science and its intimate connection with logic. He even names Bertrand Russell as a pivotal figure in this context. Ah, says Krauss, but really, logic is a branch of mathematics (it’s actually the other way around), so philosophy can’t get credit. And at any rate, Russell was a mathematician (actually, he was largely a logician with an interest in the philosophy of math). Krauss also claims that Wittgenstein was “very mathematical,” as if it is somehow surprising to find a philosopher who is conversant in logic and math. Nonetheless, Witty's major contributions are in the philosophy of language.

Andersen isn’t moved and insists: “certainly philosophers like John Rawls have been immensely influential in fields like political science and public policy. Do you view those as legitimate achievements?” And here Krauss is forced to reveal his anti-intellectualism, and even — if you allow me gentle reader — his intellectual dishonesty: “Well, yeah, I mean, look I was being provocative, as I tend to do every now and then in order to get people's attention.” Oh really? This from someone who later on in the same interview claims that “if you’re writing for the public, the one thing you can’t do is overstate your claim, because people are going to believe you.” Indeed people are going to believe you, Prof. Krauss, and that’s a shame, at least when you talk about philosophy.

Krauss also has a naively optimistic view of the business of science, as it turns out. For instance, he claims that “the difference [between scientists and philosophers] is that scientists are really happy when they get it wrong, because it means that there’s more to learn.” Seriously? I’ve practiced science for more than two decades, and I’ve never seen anyone happy to be shown wrong, or who didn’t react as defensively (or even offensively) as possible to any claim that he might be wrong. Indeed, as physicist Max Plank famously put it, “Science progresses funeral by funeral,” because often the old generation has to retire and die before new ideas really take hold. Lawrence, scientists are just human beings, and like all human beings they are interested in mundane things like sex, fame and money (and yes, the pursuit of knowledge). Science is a wonderful and wonderfully successful activity (despite the more than occasional blunder), but there is no reason to try to make its practitioners look like some sort of intellectual saints that they certainly are not (witness also the alarming increase in science fraud, for instance).

Finally, on the issue of whether Albert the “moronic” philosopher has a point in criticizing Krauss’ book, Andersen points out: “it sounds like you’re arguing that ‘nothing’ is really a quantum vacuum, and that a quantum vacuum is unstable in such a way as to make the production of matter and space inevitable. But a quantum vacuum has properties. For one, it is subject to the equations of quantum field theory. Why should we think of it as nothing?” Maybe it was just me, but at this point in my mind’s eye I saw Krauss engaging in a more and more frantic exercise of handwaving, retracting and qualifying: “I don’t think I argued that physics has definitively shown how something could come from nothing [so why the book’s title?]; physics has shown how plausible physical mechanisms might cause this to happen. ... I don’t really give a damn about what ‘nothing’ means to philosophers; I care about the ‘nothing’ of reality. And if the ‘nothing’ of reality is full of stuff [a nothing full of stuff? Fascinating], then I’ll go with that.”

But, insists Andersen, “when I read the title of your book, I read it as ‘questions about origins are over.’” To which Krauss responds: “Well, if that hook gets you into the book that’s great. But in all seriousness, I never make that claim. ... If I’d just titled the book ‘A Marvelous Universe,’ not as many people would have been attracted to it.”

In all seriousness, Prof. Krauss, you ought (moral) to take your own advice and be honest with your readers. Claim what you wish to claim, not what you think is going to sell more copies of your book, essentially playing a bait and switch with your readers, and then bitterly complain when “moronic” philosophers dare to point that out.

Lee Smolin, in his “The Trouble with Physics” laments the loss of a generation for theoretical physics, the first one since the late 19th century to pass without a major theoretical breakthrough that has been empirically verified. Smolin blames this sorry state of affairs on a variety of factors, including the sociology of a discipline where funding and hiring priorities are set by a small number of intellectually inbred practitioners. Ironically, one of Smolin’s culprit is the dearth of interest in and appreciation of philosophy among contemporary physicists. This quote is from Smolin’s book:

“I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today — and even professional scientists — seem to me like someone who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historical and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is — in my opinion — the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth.” (Albert Einstein)

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Postscript: As people have pointed out, Krauss has issued an apology of sorts, apparently forced by Dan Dennett. He still seems not to have learned much though. He confuses theology with philosophy (in part), keeps hammering at a single reviewer who apparently really annoyed him (in the New York Times), and more importantly just doesn't get the idea that philosophy of science is NOT in the business of answering scientific questions (we've got, ahem, science for that!). It aims, instead, at understanding how science works. Really, is that so difficult to understand, Prof. Krauss?

224 comments:

  1. Turf wars!

    Kraus' comments about the lack of contributions by philosophers are all a bit "No True Scotsman"-like, "ah, but Russell wasn't really a philosopher."

    Do you need to sweat it, though? Accept that the philosophy of science is as much use to a scientist as ornithology is to a duck. Ornithologists do know a lot about ducks, but ducks know nothing at all about ornithologists.

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    1. Yes, but ducks are also incapable of learning to improve how they do things on the basis of observers' advice.

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    2. Such an inaccurate analogy. Childish really.

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    3. lol! funny analogy. And it certainly can be accurate for some scientists. However, Krauss isn't necessarily one of those people. If you are judging him from this one piece primarily, then you really need to read his books, as well as his apology which followed this interview, where he tries to clarify his views.

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    4. Dyami,

      I've read Krauss' apology. It starts out well, but then he gets into nonsense (again) about how useless philosophy of science is to science, thereby showing that he simply did not understand people's criticisms of his interview.

      As for his book, it has nothing to do with this issue. Nobody, as far as I know, is criticizing him for writing bad physics.

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  2. It's surprising to see Krauss take pot shots at philosophy whenever he can, because his books are full of philosophical arguments. If I had to guess, it seems he's making the same mistake that Sam Harris did in The Moral Landscape and just relabelled everything that constitutes knowledge as being "science". If Krauss has an anti-philosophy bias, it's in name only.

    Still, I found A Universe From Nothing an enjoyable and informative read.

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  3. Ducks need to be ornithologically erudite enough to know whom to follow. Else they might be conditioned to follow an ornithologist - a ridiculous sight. :-)

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  4. Regarding "Planck's Principle" that science progresses as the adherents of older views die off, please see David L. Hull, Peter D. Tessner, and Arthur M. Diamond, "Planck's Principle," Science 202 (17 Nov. 1978): pp. 717-723: http://www.artdiamond.com/DiamondPDFs/PlancksPrinciple.pdf

    and

    Sharon G. Levin, Paula E. Stephan, and Mary Beth Walker, "Planck's Principle Revisited: A Note," Social Studies of Science 25 (1995): pp. 275-283: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/285535?uid=3739552

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  5. I've heard Degrassi and Dawkins make similar charges against philosophy. I think the basis of their thought lay, not only in their philosophical ignorance and fundamental flaws in logical reasoning, but in greed. At a time when departments generally are losing funding, it makes sense to throw their competition for funding, philosophy, under the bus. How else can you explain such categorical statements from Krauss, such as logic is distinct from philosophy and scientist are always happy about their mistakes. Krauss is either a liar (whose making assertions for increased funding and glory for physicists) or intellectually bankrupt (Krauss isn't the only one whou can make statements for attention :) )

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    1. An alternative explanation. Krauss made such remarks in a perhaps more emotional, less rational state than we would have all liked, including himself, thus prompting an apology to philosophers (this is more or less what actually happened). He personally is not competing for funding, so I'm not sure that's a viable hypothesis.

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    2. His apology was not an apology. It was an opportunity to restate his hubris.

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  6. To piggyback upon Smolin's claim regarding the dearth of appreciation of philosophy amongst (many) contemporary physicists, Feynman infamously said: "Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds." Of course, we can imagine that ornithological knowledge would be useful to birds had they the ability to utilize it.

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    1. Of course ornithology is crucial to bird conservation...which is useful to birds if only they recognized it!

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  7. A more general comment is that Krauss et al. have an impoverished understanding of what philosophy is, and that insofar as they write books (e.g. "The God Delusion" and “A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing") they are doing philosophy, and, as it happens, not very well.

    It would probably be superfluous to identify the many philosophically-inclined scientists (Bohr, Max Planck, Max Born, Einstein, Heisenberg, Laplace, Darwin, Newton, Lord Thompson, Ernst Mach, Ludwig Boltzmann, etc.) and scientifically-inclined philosophers (Moritz Schlick [PhD. Physics], Karl Popper [PhD. Psychology], Thomas Kuhn [PhD. Physics], Otto Neurath [PhD. Political Science and Statistics] Massimo Pigliucci, etc.), but there are so many and the influences of philosophy into scientific methodology and understanding (and, in turn, science into philosophical methodology and understanding) that one can only think Krauss is being willfully obtuse.

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    1. Out of genuine curiosity, what are some of the weak philosophical arguments that you think Dawkins makes in his book "The God Delusion" ?

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    2. How about his Ultimate Boeing 747 Argument?

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  8. "When was the last time a theoretical physicist solved a problem in history, pray?"

    Luiz Alvarez with the Alvarez hypothesis, perhaps? I guess calling it 'history' would mean employing a rather broad definition of 'history', but the point stands...:)

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    1. While theoretical physics may not give us tons of historical insight, cosmology certainly does (and separating these fields doesn't make a lot of sense, unless someone is trying to win an argument on purely semantic grounds). Looking at the stars is literally looking back in time. If that's not history I don't know what is.

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    2. Kari,

      seems to me you are the one who may be playing semantic games. I was clearly referring to human history, which is an entirely different discipline, and poses entirely different problems, from cosmology.

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  9. "Why there is something rather than nothing?” is a philosophical or metaphysical question, not a scientific one. Science cannot answer "why" questions, only "how" ones. Of course, there is no naturalistic or physical explanation for how something came from "nothing." And it is intellectually dishonest to suggest otherwise.

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    1. There is no logical explanation of how something allegedly "became" a something whether you use science, philosophy or the paranormal. Because the concept of the actuality of nothing is in many ways our final superstition.

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    2. There is a supernaturalistic explanation; it's called "creation ex nihilo."

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    3. Too bad it's not logical.

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    4. Science answers why questions all the time: "why does a newly hatched cuckoo chick push other eggs out of the nest?" is a why question, the how is very different to why the process begins.

      The question I would have is why there is something rather than nothing wouldn't at the very least be scientifically informed - if not a question that would be at the heart of cosmology? If scientific inquiry is able to describe and theorise about smaller and smaller building blocks of nature, wouldn't they at least have a say in the question?

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    6. Roy,

      Some things defy conventional logic.

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    7. And some of those also defy all logic. Abstractive forms of logic are all we have to determine even the possibility of reliably predicting the interactive effects of nature's physical and non-physical elements.

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    8. Kel,

      You're conflating "teleology" (purposefulness or goal-directedness) with "teleonomy" (apparent purposefulness or goal-directedness).

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    9. Roy,

      What are nature's "nonphysical elements?"

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    10. Awareness, strategies, expectations, natural regulatory systems and forces. And sequential natures of change.

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    11. You're positing that there are two elements: physical and nonphysical. That sounds like some form of dualism.

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    12. Dualism is the division of something conceptually into two opposed or contrasted.
      But mind for example emerges from the physical brain, and neither could work without the other. The same goes for all the informational processes of nature.

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    13. Neither Krauss nor his friend, Dawkins, appear to think of nature in those terms.

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    14. But are mental states ontologically reducible to brain states (and therefore physical states)?

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    15. Hi Alastair,

      Re: But are mental states ontologically reducible to brain states (and therefore physical states)?

      Yes. Mental states (so-called) are brain states. Seems simple enough.

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    16. No, because for one thing brain states don't have to be the physical parts of brains. And neither are the mental strategies, unless you want to call the writing or recording of them physical. Which apparently you do, but I and others see a difference. Where are the strategies that enforce nature's regulations written, or the directions for the proper movement of electrons when expected, etc. Where is anticipation recorded and by what?. Enough with the word games. Focus on the meanings, and if you think that ideas are physical, revise the dictionary.

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    17. I suspect however that you're waiting to come up with your own version of the non-physical elements of nature, and would like to get mine out of the way first.

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    18. Roy,

      Your "emergentism" still implies some form of dualism - namely the duality of physical and nonphysical aspects.

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    19. Eamon,

      >Yes. Mental states (so-called) are brain states. Seems simple enough.<

      This is merely a materialistic assumption.

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    20. So what, it's not the Cartesian duality of two opposed or contrasted aspects. You can call it property dualism, but I'm not that big on labels as explanative.

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    21. Alastair,

      Re: "This is merely a materialistic assumption."

      Not a mere assumption at all. The inference to physicalism is the result of much philosophical argumentation and some pretty successful scientific research programmes.

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    22. Roy,

      Property dualism qualifies as a form of dualism.

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    23. Alastair,

      I cannot say. For an answer, you will have to consult the relevant scientific experts. However, I can say that I find no prima facie difficulty in identifying consciousness with physical states.

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    24. Property dualism is a form of dualism? So what? Is there a stigma to that term in general?

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    25. Eamon,

      You're shifting the burden of proof on me. You're the one who is making the assertion that we have scientific evidence that mental phenomena are physical. So, what evidence do you have? What are the physical properties of consciousness?

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    26. Roy,

      So what? You're claiming that nonphysical mental phenomena "emerge" from physical phenomena. How exactly does that work?

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    27. The purpose served by the physical phenomena IS to allow the non physical to emerge.
      The physical phenomena, if you follow the thing that Krauss got right, emerged from their non physical wave function to begin with. Both systems are continually dependent on each other in turn. Both are arguably necessary for the evolution of all universal systems.

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    28. The mind for example emerges from the brain and directs its reconstitution physically in return.

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    29. Alastair F. Paisley, I don't see how my "conflation" negates my point in any way. Neglect for a moment that teleological phenomena can be, and are, scientifically studied; it doesn't change my point in any way.

      Can you show that the why question is beyond the realms of science, yet a meaningful question to ask? Would it be wrong to actually pay attention to cosmology for trying to understand the framing of that question?

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    30. Roy,

      Your proposal of "ontological interdependence" (for lack of a better term) still qualifies as a form interaction dualism - namely the duality of potentiality (represented mathematically by the probability wave, a.k.a. the superposition of all possible states) and actuality (represented matehmetically by the collapse of the wave function), the duality of deterministic and indeterministic aspects, the duality of efficient and final causation, the duality of information and matter, and the duality of the mental and the physical.

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    31. Kel,

      But the "why" question presupposes purpose. Do you believe there is a "purpose" for why some biological characteristics or traits were naturally selected over others? If you do, then you're making a teleological argument for a higher intelligence at work in the natural process.

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    32. Alastair, I ask again about your lumping all duality in one heap, so what? Is there a point in there somewhere?
      And you seem now to be objecting to the possibility of there being a higher intelligence at work in the process. Why does such intelligence have to be higher? Why hasn't intelligence as a non-physical aspect of nature more simply evolved its active and reactive capabilities?

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    33. Alastair,

      I was under the impression that asked me to which brain states we can reduce consciousness, which is why I said I could not give you an answer (I am not a neuroscientist).

      To answer your question, in general I believe mental states (e.g., consciousness) are brain states for many reasons, but not the least of which is that the substance dualist view presents problems which are neither soluble nor necessary, and that the scientific view of the world insists on closed systems. In other words, modern science insists on physical causes for physical events (such as lifting one's arm or humming a melody) and do not make room for incursions from outside the physical world. Certainly any non-physical, causally efficacious event would violate laws such as the conservation of momentum and energy, that is, a change in one's mental states would effect some inexplicable change in the distribution of micro-physical particles across space-time.

      Thus, given the successes of the physical sciences over the last 150 years or so, we must take their presuppositions seriously, and since h.sapiens are physical objects, I find it unpalatable to hold that the cause of their (so-called) mental events are not physical.

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    35. Roy,

      At what point in the evolutionary process does a "stimulus-response" system develop "active and reactive" capabilities?

      You're objecting to the notion that the nonphysical or mental can create the physical but you have no problem accepting that the physical can yield the nonphysical or mental.

      The nonphysical or mental is as equally as fundamental as the physical. So, it appears to be misguided to say that the nonphysical or mental emerged from the physical.

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    36. Eamon,

      Several points:

      1) There is no scientific evidence that mental states reduce to brain states. ("Correlations" are not to be conflated with "identification.")

      "The characters of brain states and of phenomenal states appear too different to be completely reducible to each other. I suspect the relationship is more complex than traditionally envisioned. For now, it is best to keep an open mind on this matter and to concentrate on identifying the correlates of consciousness in the brain." (source: pg. 19, "The Quest for Consciousness" by Christof Koch)

      2) Quantum mechanics allows for the temporary violation of the conservation of energy.

      "Are virtual particles really constantly popping in and out of existence?"

      3) Quantum mechanics also holds (according to the standard interpretation) that nature is fundamentally "dualistic" and "indeterministic."

      4) Biology is not technically considered one of the physical sciences.

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    37. Alastair,

      Thank you for your response. There is much I could say in response, but perhaps when the theme of the post is geared more toward this topic we discuss this further.

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    38. Where did I object to the non physical creating the physical?
      "The physical phenomena, if you follow the thing that Krauss got right, emerged from their non physical wave function to begin with."
      "Why hasn't intelligence as a non-physical aspect of nature more simply evolved its active and reactive capabilities?"
      "The mind for example emerges from the brain and directs its reconstitution physically in return."
      What about the above assertions was so completely unclear as to cause you to assume the opposite?

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    39. You asked, "At what point in the evolutionary process does a "stimulus-response" system develop "active and reactive" capabilities?"
      Most probably long before we found those capabilities in biological life forms. But if you're going to consistently mistake my meanings here, there's little reason for me to attempt an explanation of why I think so.

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    40. Roy,

      > Where did I object to the non physical creating the physical? <

      When I stated that there is a "supernaturalistic" explanation for the creation of something out of nothing (e.g. "creation ex nihilo").

      > Most probably long before we found those capabilities in biological life forms. <

      This seems to suggest that intelligence (as manifesting in the capacity to act and react) is fundamental.

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    41. The capacity to act effectively requires a minimum of strategic intelligence. Which isn't nothing. There never was a nothing, and never will be. Something could not be conceived as having come from it or be reduced to it.

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    42. Roy,

      The probability wave is a mathematical abstraction. As such, it qualifies as "nothing" ("nothing" in the sense that it is "no thing" or "thingless" - nonphysical).

      The collapse of the wave function is a pure chance event; therefore, it is "noncomputable" - it cannot be logically determined. (A computer program cannot be coded to perform a truly random event.) So, what is your explanation?

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    43. Krauss has described the wave as "mysterious' energy, but if you believe it's only a mathematical abstraction, and yet still has a causative effect, it's something. And what is a pure chance event in your lexicon? Does it not follow a probabilistic curve, for example? Or is your pure chance some sort of pure uncertainty?
      Give us a break. This attempt to fashion mathematics as the true determinant of nothing is just silly. Not even Krauss made that attempt.

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    44. Or are you basing 'pure chance' on the fact that you know of only one attempt at the big bang? Rather a jump to find a relevant assumption.

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    45. Roy,

      "Even an electron has at least a rudimentary mental pole, respresented mathematically by the quantum potential."

      (source: pg. 387 "The Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory" by David Bohm and B.J. Hiley)

      In my previous post, I asked: "What is your explanation for the "collapse of the wave function." No explanation was forthcoming.

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    46. I don't see that question anywhere above. In any case I don't disagree that we can represent potential mathematically. But we've made the assumption beforehand that there's measurable potential there to start with.
      You seem to be assuming that we can measure nothingness mathematically. I've assumed there is nothing there to measure.

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    47. Roy,

      You're evading the question. The question is: "What is your explanation for the "collapse of the wave function?"

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    48. Gee, I thought you'd never ask. I have no explanation. I didn't know I was supposed to have in the context of this discussion, since you haven't disputed that such a function exists, or argued that it's representative of nothing. Or is that actually your argument? Did the putative wave function not collapse after all?

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    49. Roy,

      > I thought you'd never ask. I have NO explanation. < (emphasis mine)

      So, the bottom line is that you have no explanation (logical or otherwise). And this simply bolsters my contention that some things may simply defy conventional logic.

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    50. I have a logical explanation, which is that I have no reason to dispute that the wave function, as explained by physicists, exists. I don't pretend to do other than cite their work for a further explanation. I'm not a physicist, although I reserve the right to question when they delve into the philosophical side of their work.
      So if all this is leading up to an "I'm right because you can't prove I'm wrong" scenario. that's not logical in any form of it.

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    51. Roy,

      > I have a logical explanation, which is that I have no reason to dispute that the wave function, as explained by physicists, exists. <

      The bottom line is that you have NO logical rationale to explain how the wave function collapses. (A pure chance event defies logical explanation.)

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    52. Assuming it's a pure chance event is a materialistic assumption, no? I don't assume that pure chance events are possible. Randomness and uncertainty are necessary for intelligence to exist. Pure chance would, paradoxically, leave us with a deterministic system.

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    53. Next thing you know, you'll be touting precognition, for God's sake.

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    54. Roy,

      > Assuming it's a pure chance event is a materialistic assumption, no? <

      It is not a materialistic assumption by virtue of the fact that a pure chance event has no physical cause (by definition) and therefore no physical explanation. Besides, you have already acknowledged some form of dualism. So, I don't know why you are raising this issue.

      > I don't assume that pure chance events are possible. Randomness and uncertainty are necessary for intelligence to exist. Pure chance would, paradoxically, leave us with a deterministic system. <

      You're contradicting yourself. On the one hand, you say that you don't believe pure chance events are possible. Yet, on the other hand, you believe randomness and uncertainty are necessary for intelligence. Which one is it?

      "Indeterminism" means that only SOME (not ALL) events are without cause.

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    55. Roy,

      > Next thing you know, you'll be touting precognition, for God's sake <

      Parapsychology is a science (to the dismay and consternation of many skeptics). But now I am digressing.

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    56. Pure chance is a materialistic mis-assumption, since it has neither a prior cause or a prior purpose. And randomness and uncertainty reflect our understanding of an indeterminate universe. Causes aren't followed with a certainty of predictable effects.
      There's no contradiction at all since neither randomness or uncertainty require pure chance as their cause. There you'd have the mother of all contradictions. I'm surprised that you didn't realize that.
      And parapsychology might have some future as a science if they'd forget about their precognition expectations.

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    57. Alastair:
      "But the "why" question presupposes purpose."
      But there is purpose to structures in nature, it's as Ernst Mayr put it a posteriori as opposed to a priori. To try to make "why" exclusively a priori seems a constraint that we're imposing on it.

      "Do you believe there is a "purpose" for why some biological characteristics or traits were naturally selected over others?"
      There is a purpose: to maximise genetic load into subsequent generations.

      "If you do, then you're making a teleological argument for a higher intelligence at work in the natural process."
      How so? Where does a higher intelligence fit into maximising reproductive success?


      And this is not even getting into the a priori teleology of artificial selection, and now genetic modification.

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    58. Roy,

      > There's no contradiction at all since neither randomness or uncertainty require pure chance as their cause. There you'd have the mother of all contradictions. I'm surprised that you didn't realize that. <

      I recognize that there are some things that defy logical explanation.

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    59. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    60. Kel,

      > There is a purpose: to maximise genetic load into subsequent generations. <

      > Where does a higher intelligence fit into maximising reproductive success? <

      Purpose presupposes some kind of intentionality and therefore intelligence (either intrinsic or extrinsic).

      Merriam Webster defines "purpose" as "something set up as an object or end to be attained : intention."

      "Intention is an agent's specific purpose in performing an action or series of actions, the end or goal that is aimed at."

      (source: Wikipedia: Intention)

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    61. As to defying logical explanation, why there is something rather than nothing is unexplainable. That doesn't mean the explanation, if we had it, would be illogical.
      We don't make up facts that fit illogical syllogisms, any more than we use illogic to prove a speculative assumption.

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    62. I'll leave it to Kel to explain to you the difference between having a purpose and serving a purpose.

      Delete
    63. This topic (and this comment thread, in particular) reminds me of the Buddha's fourth unconjecturable:

      Conjecture about [the origin, etc., of] the world is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.

      Is anyone here feeling madness or vexation?

      Perhaps not madness (insofar as that's more of a third-person/intersubjective judgment, whereas vexation is more of a first-person/subjective affect), so consider that one a caveat, as in:

      You folks can drive yourselves made with a question like "Why is there something rather than nothing?"!

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    64. Typo correction: You folks can drive yourselves mad with a question like "Why is there something rather than nothing?"!

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    65. Why madness, if we recognize we don't yet have the ability or means available to explain it? Does our simple curiosity about the limits of the human version of trial and error processing offend you? And in any case this has little to do with the origin of the world, it's concerned with the paradoxical non-origin of everything. What was it that Buddha had to say about that?

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    66. Roy,

      Curiosity does not offend me in the least, although there's a point where one has to wonder whether or not one's time would not be better spent in other pursuits. But, if you disagree, then by all means - carry on.

      BTW, I guess I prefer a broader interpretation of the Buddhist text that I cited - one which conveys endless speculation about metaphysical questions like these.

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    67. Carry on? We were already done when you advised us to quit.

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    68. You answered the question of "why there's something rather than nothing"? Because that's the sort of speculative pursuit to which my "carry on" comment referred.

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    69. I said it's a question that we can't answer. Are we done now?

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    70. Alastair
      "Purpose presupposes some kind of intentionality and therefore intelligence (either intrinsic or extrinsic)."
      This is turning into a tautology, and does nothing to actually address the argument put forward other than to say that we shouldn't call what evolution does "purpose". It says nothing for "why" questions in evolution, only to say that the way that you define "why" questions only includes the "why" that we do.

      It also sounds very much like Jerry Fodor's argument against natural selection; I've got his exchange with Massimo Pigliucci on The Infidel Guy podcast running through my head now.

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    71. Roy, I thought it would be clear that "it's a question that we can't answer" is the basic message of that Buddhist text that I cited, but (judging from your initial response) perhaps not. Sorry if I caused any confusion.

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    72. Kel,

      > This is turning into a tautology, and does nothing to actually address the argument put forward other than to say that we shouldn't call what evolution does "purpose". It says nothing for "why" questions in evolution, only to say that the way that you define "why" questions only includes the "why" that we do. <

      A naturalistic explanation explains "how" a process occurs, not "why" a process occurs. You either get that or you don't. If you don't, then we will have to simply agree to disagree.

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    73. I'm not sure what either of you are disputing now, since everything that happens is either for a purpose or in service of a purpose. You can try to explain 'how' something happens and leave out the element of purpose, but you can't explain 'why' correctly and leave out purpose. In fact you can't explain how correctly and leave out why - they are parts of the same explanatory parcel.
      Scientists try to separate the how from the why routinely. Krauss is one of them.
      Philosophers on the other hand can be good at whys that have no relation to a conceivable how. I suggest it's because they also disregard the fact that purpose has a role in everything. By the way, purpose in the end means reason, in case you were wondering.

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    74. "A naturalistic explanation explains "how" a process occurs, not "why" a process occurs. You either get that or you don't. If you don't, then we will have to simply agree to disagree."
      Only if you define "why" so narrowly as to exclude why from nature beyond ourselves. And I still contend that even in cases of a priori teleology that are well within the bounds of science; there are necessarily naturalistic explanations as to why unless there's something non-natural about us. Explain the computer without "why"...

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    75. Roy,

      I don't have problem with idea that "everything is either for a purpose or in service of a purpose." But this is not naturalism.

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    76. Although I'm not a naturalist, I don't see why they'd disagree with me on that score. But you never know.

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    77. Returning to the INITIAL comment, @Alastair.
      <>
      I'll postulate 2 forms of nothing: (i) the conceptual, tautological, and analytical, which is a mere definition; (ii) the observable, factual (hypothetical), and experiential. (i) cannot logically 'exist' even in potentiality since anytime we define it, it becomes observable and measurable (quantum vacuum), and can thus be proven to have something in it. (ii) is EQUALLY discussed in philosophy and the one KRAUSS is concerned with. The distinction I have made is somewhat crude, perhaps, but it is presumptuous and reactionary to say Krauss hasn't solves at least PART of the problem, even if you think Nothing (i) still poses a philosophical challenge.
      <>
      Again, you define WHY in a dishonest way. Consider,(a) why do plants need water? (b) why do I have dreams? (c) why does the earth orbit the sun?.. I am not going to spell out the argument here, but simply ask that you consider the possibility that when other people use the term WHY, they don't necessarily presuppose some Nature-Purpose.

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    78. Noce comment, although I think all questions about 'why' presuppose there's a reason for everything that happens. And reason will at least equate to the purpose served.

      Delete
    79. PS. Oh yes, the original original post was about relaible knowledge of "nothingness". Clearly, logically, I have nothing to say about it. I will leave it at that. But if they are saying the universe (particles and fields, and, arguably, a void of space and time in which to move) or any part of it can be created or destroyed, I would take the traditional view that it cannot until reasonably persuaded to tend another way.

      Krause and others have developed a theoretical system that is fascinating to discuss and raises all sorts of interesting issues, particularly when accompanied by a medicine show. But its just a theory, and you, I and everyone else will have our own. I most assuredly have my own.

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  10. "..merrily go about dismissing philosophy for the wrong reasons..." What, pray, are the RIGHT reasons to dismiss philosophy?

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    Replies
    1. Depends on what you mean by "philosophy". But one can see good reasons to dismiss certain utterances and verbal expressions termed "philosophy" on display in the Sokal Affair.

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    2. the sokal affair is in my opinion, totally overated and im not sure whats got to do with philosophy.?

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    3. It has everything to do with important parts of postmodernism being palpably bad (so-called) philosophy, if not pseudophilosophy entirely.

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    4. If I recall correctly, the "Social Text," which printed Sokal's article, did not engage in peer review, nor did it run Sokal's article by a physicist. Which makes it hardly a good example of serious, academic philosophy.

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    5. not only that MdD, but more. In any case being "post modern" is like being neocon, or comunist or republican: self desirable worldview(s) not evidence based, or something...

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  11. I recall reading that Einstein credited his scientific insights to having read the metaphysics of Spinoza and Schopenhauer. How many philosophers (let alone scientists) today have a complete and utter disdain for metaphysics?

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  12. You can't really blame Krauss for string theory. He's been pretty critical of it (see his Hiding in the Mirror).

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    Replies
    1. but one can blame him for nothing being something or is it the other way around..? i am lost now.....but shouldnt be ??

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    2. Blame him for deceptive advertising.

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    3. I believe Krauss characterized "string theory" as metaphysics.

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  13. Wow, people, even Jerry Coyne (largely) agrees with me, even though he takes my quip about the Oedipus Complex too seriously (it was a joke, Jerry):

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/philosophy-catfight-pigliucci-vs-krauss/

    Rohit,

    > Luiz Alvarez with the Alvarez hypothesis, perhaps? I guess calling it 'history' would mean employing a rather broad definition of 'history' <

    Paleontology is squarely a science, though obviously an historical one. As you surmised, I meant the type of history taught in History Departments. (Note also that the Alvarez's used historical methods, not physics, to arrive at their discovery.)

    Fester,

    > What, pray, are the RIGHT reasons to dismiss philosophy? <

    Much, though not all, postmodernism, and a good chunk (but, again, not all) of feminist philosophy.

    Rien,

    > You can't really blame Krauss for string theory. He's been pretty critical of it <

    I don't blame him, I was merely pointing out that there are huge areas of science that don't make progress, and may even be dead ends.

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  14. Don't you think you're knocking down something of a strawman with your comments about the business of philosophy of science? I really don't think Krauss is trying to denounce philosophers of science for having made no contribution to physics, rather he is saying that their work has had no effect on the functioning of the field.

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  15. Damian,

    Let us grant the qualified claim you mention. It is fantastically false. Those scientists who hold themselves to be exempt from any philosophical influence are usually the slaves of some dead philosopher.

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    Replies
    1. I don't think Krauss would deny that physics has roots in philosophy. It seems to me that what he is saying is that much of the work that goes on in philosophy of science has had no impact on the functioning of physics.

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    2. Damian,

      If that is his point, it is a rather trivial claim: On a day-to-day level, philosophy has merely an indirect influence. But, as I have said in another comment on here, at more theoretical levels philosophy remains relevant to science.

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    3. Eamon,

      Uncontroversial yes, but I wouldn't say it's trivial. Krauss is just engaging in a bit of derision after having his book trashed, unfairly some might say, by a philosopher. He just chooses to do so by making the point that much of philosophy of science has been irrelevant to the functioning of physics.

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    4. Damian,

      Krauss's point per your construal is myopic and thus false. Whilst true that many practicing scientists do not engage in the phil. of science literature, current scientific practices (i.e., theory selection, hypothesis testing, and other mores theoretical endeavors) are (1) formed via significant philosophical influences over the last 150 or so years, and (2) change along with philosophical influences today. See, for instance, the Bayesian revolution in modern statistics and formal epistemology over the last 30 years. This movement was led in large part by scientifically-inclined philosophers (Richard Jeffrey), philosophical-inclined statisticians (L.J. Savage) or philosopher / scientists (E.T. Jaynes). I could proffer more examples, but this should suffice.

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    5. Just to be clear, I was never suggesting that Krauss was right in his comments.

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  16. I think contemporary philosophers have failed in explaining to the public what their field is all about. This is a shame especially in the context of contemporary debates about rationality vs. religion, because I think the view point of mainstream philosophy of science and language is, in a way, much more 'atheistic' and non-mystical than the view points of 'icons of rationality' like Krauss and Hawking.

    The job of explaining the facts is very important, but the job of elucidation what we are doing when we do science, can do a lot to demystify issues like consciousness, intelligence, skepticism, knowledge, or the supposedly "origin" of the universe.

    I think in this context about deflationary\pragmatist approaches like those of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Gilbert Ryle, Donald Davidson, Robert Brandom, and others.

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  17. Too bad Krauss has failed to bone up on his Parmenides.

    Is Being a verb or a subject? Is the cosmos a way or a destination? Outside of what is, where are we to find truth?

    Philosophy sketched this out over 2,000 years ago, yet Krauss is still trying to find the words to frame the problem.

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  18. This is a teaching moment for philosophers, to the extent Krauss succeeds in getting a public audience, the same audience will be receptive to the philosophers; maybe philosophers can demonstrate how to approach Krauss's claims.

    In general, there is a problem of how the public can validate and trust science for itself without relying too much on the say-so of authorities. Part of it is the very structure of the scientific argument, which can be examined without necessarily having a full understanding of the content of the argument. I haven't read Krauss's book, but from the commentaries I've read so far, it seems that here is an excellent example to show how to approach these claims and be able to weigh their plausibility without having to be a Ph.D. in physics.

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  19. Massimo,

    Do you think Krauss's idea can be salvaged if translated into an eliminative materialist position on the folk concept of 'nothing'? I.e., do we have any reason to think the kind of 'nothing' we want Krauss to demonstrate is any different than 'colorless green ideas sleep furiously'?

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  20. Eamon,

    I think your third sentence is accurate, but your second doesn't follow from that. I wish it did; that is, I wish that philosophy of science had had a much greater effect on the practice of science. Had it done so, science might progress rather faster than "funeral by funeral".

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    Replies
    1. Bill,

      At the level of day-to-day practice, you are correct that the phil. of science-- or, more generally, epistemology-- has little effect on science. But at the more theoretical levels, especially at the level of hypotheses testing and theory selection, philosophy deeply influences science. Take, for instance, the rejection of string theories by Krauss and others: as other commenters above have noted, they do so via philosophical means.

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  21. Damian,

    > I really don't think Krauss is trying to denounce philosophers of science for having made no contribution to physics, rather he is saying that their work has had no effect on the functioning of the field. <

    If you read the interview, that is precisely what he was doing.

    Kel,

    > If scientific inquiry is able to describe and theorise about smaller and smaller building blocks of nature, wouldn't they at least have a say in the question? <

    Absolutely it should. I'm not attacking science, it's Krauss who is dismissing philosophy.

    Michael,

    > If I recall correctly, the "Social Text," which printed Sokal's article, did not engage in peer review, nor did it run Sokal's article by a physicist. Which makes it hardly a good example of serious, academic philosophy. <

    You do recall correctly. And what people like Krauss don't seem to realize is that we are all on the same side, against postmodernist nonsense. But Krauss, Dawkins, Harris, and so on all seem to confuse postmodernism for "philosophy" sensu lato.

    Arun,

    > This is a teaching moment for philosophers, to the extent Krauss succeeds in getting a public audience, the same audience will be receptive to the philosophers; maybe philosophers can demonstrate how to approach Krauss's claims. <

    True enough, but philosophers have actually gained a large public audience in recent years, witness all the "and philosophy" books that have been published (for example: http://andphilosophy.com/)

    Eid,

    > Do you think Krauss's idea can be salvaged if translated into an eliminative materialist position on the folk concept of 'nothing'? <

    Well, since I think eliminative materialism is silly... (And I'll get to tell Patricia Churchland that tomorrow, since I'm in St. Louis for a conference on consilience where she is also a speaker. Stay tuned, I'll blog about it...).

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    Replies
    1. Massimo,

      Re: Well, since I think eliminative materialism is silly ...

      I look forward to your comments on eliminative materialism (a thesis to which I subscribe).

      Delete
    2. I look forward, too, although I haven't yet gotten the Churchlands' book I want to check the original sources with. When hearing them discuss the idea, I don't feel enlightened, I'm usually torn between "they're wrong" and "they're not saying anything."

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  22. The "laws" of logic are abstracted from our evidential experiences in our Newtonian frame of reference, and science has no problem with showing them to be more or less irrelevant in other frames of reference(e.g., the counterintuitive nature of quantum mechanics), I'm really not sure what philosophy can contribute to the acquisition of knowledge. We can "philosophize" about the implications of newfound scientific knowledge, but I'm with Richard Dawkins in that I often wonder what the purpose of philosophers really is, and damn close to Hawking in thinking that philosophy is dead.

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    Replies
    1. What is "philosophy" such that it is dead?

      Delete
    2. Perhaps not contribute to science, but it can contribute to life. How should we live our lives? Why? Atheists act in a manner that is humane and good? Why? These are questions that science can't answer, but philosophy can help with.

      It's not a finite answer, it's a course and direction of thinking. You can't say philosophy is dead until you can keep people from thinking "what?" and "why?". Krauss may over state, "I have all the answers, no more thinking needed by you non scientists, just trust me." Actually Darwin did much to get people thinking. Krauss would like to do much to keep people from thinking. Just trust the smart guys, we now know all the answers.

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  23. Counter intuitive is not counter logical.

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  24. Mike,

    logic and math are independent of physics, and Richard Dawkins simply doesn't get it, though plenty of people have tried to explain it to him, including me.

    Justin,

    it's not that Dawkins' arguments are weak, is that he doesn't seem to realize that he is doing science-informed philosophy. Just like Krauss when he criticizes string theory.

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  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  26. Krauss's book "A Universe From Nothing", while enjoyable, credits Steven Pinker for coming up with the hoary old argument from Euthyphro (page 171-172). If Krauss is going to criticize philosophy, he should at least be able to recognize some of the basic arguments and not credit them to contemporary sources!

    Dawkins, Harris, and particularly Coyne are extremely arrogant and obnoxious. You can't tell them anything and they have nothing to learn from anyone else. Such self-centered pig-headedness is best ingnored.

    Thanks to Massimo for his wonderful website, and thanks to all
    the commentators here who contribute to it. Whether I agree with them or not, I always learn a lot by coming here.

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  27. Technically speaking, science is a sub-discipline within philosophy - namely, "natural philosophy."

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  28. Massimo,

    > If you read the interview, that is precisely what he was doing. <

    I've read the interview and I can't see anything that makes me think Krauss is denouncing philosophy of science for having made no contributions to the advance of physics and I definitely don't see this in the quote you prefaced your comment with. Respectfully, I think you're seeing something that isn't there.

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    Replies
    1. FWIW, I read it the same way as Damian. Besides, aren't philosophers supposed to operate on the principle of charity? :-)

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    2. Could you explain what the gym-teacher remark is supposed to be communicating, then? Or why Krauss says that philosophy of science is the worst part of philosophy?

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  29. I have to honestly say while not a scientist I have family that ARE scientists. Trust me, scientists HATE to be proven wrong. They get very pissy and there is great in fighting. The idealization that scientists are all happy is a lie. Often when a scientist is proven wrong, it's because they made a mistake. No one likes to be told they made a mistake. Scientific truth will win, but it can also scuttle a career of a scientist that first brings into question the "mistake".
    Also why does Krauss feel the need to "sell more books" via "over statement"? That's the kind of crap that Big Foot and UFO believers pull! Sales shouldn't mean that much to a scientists! Let the book stand on its own merit, and no it is not the equal to Darwin. Please let him state that he GETS he is not the equal of Darwin. Remember, Darwin didn't need to "overstate" and indeed did his best to "understate" his book. Darwin is going to still be in print 100 years from now. Krauss, this will be on the sale table next year.

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  30. Damian,

    maybe my understanding of the English language isn't that good, but when Krauss says:

    "he worst part of philosophy is the philosophy of science; the only people, as far as I can tell, that read work by philosophers of science are other philosophers of science. It has no impact on physics what so ever"

    in what sense is he not dismissing philosophy? And why does he think that philosophy ought to have an "impact" on physics, by which -- from the context -- he means answering problems in physics? That's not what the goal of philosophy is...

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    Replies
    1. He is being dismissive of philosophy in a very childish way, but his point/claim is that work in philosophy of science has no effect on how physics as a field functions, not that philosophy of science should be solving problems in physics.

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    2. Of course it does. Nearly all science today is riding on the centuries-old philosophies of Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes and others. Only where we see reference to "emergent properties" do we see the older notions of formal causes peeping out.

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  31. Mike D.,

    Re The "laws" of logic are abstracted from our evidential experiences in our Newtonian frame of reference, and science has no problem with showing them to be more or less irrelevant in other frames of reference(e.g., the counterintuitive nature of quantum mechanics)...

    Generally, I take the later clause to be incoherent. Science (and, more specifically, scientific methodology) presupposes inferential frameworks, i.e., logics, for the assessment of evidence and the confirmation of scientific hypotheses. That is, an inference from common experiences to "laws" of logic presupposes logic. Outside of an inferential framework, concepts such as 'evidence' are meaningless.

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  32. We might start by asking Krauss what means he thinks he's using to invalidate philosophy. Surely he doesn't think he's doing a scientific experiment.

    Further, it seems pretty obvious that his idea of "nothing(ness)" is no less ridiculous, if we're going to judge it in this manner, than a philosopher's view of it. In order to identify a feature, property, force,etc and its role in the dynamics of what is actually out there in an environment full of many various features, etc, we conceptually parse the property we want to analyze from the rest and examine it under an ideal and hypothetical scenario. So Krauss uses current scientific observations and accepted frameworks to infer what space *would* look like if we *hypothetically* removed all the physical stuff. We find that if we follow the reasoning, we end up, to the best scientific knowledge, with quantum fluctuations.

    But the point is, none of this is actually observed. He just conceptually and hypothetically "removes" observed physical features to see what remains. If we can accept this hypothetical process, what reason do we have to stop at quantum fluctuations? Why can't we conceptually remove that as well? You can't respond with "Well, because in reality that could never happen." That objection is based upon the assumption that just because it isn't the actual case, that it's nonsense. So what are we to make of the process it took to infer the idea of quantum fluctuations in a "perfect vacuum"? It runs counter to the work that he actually values. And it would be easier to see that fact if he wasn't so caught up in this scientific chauvinism that seems to be so popular with certain public scientific characters.

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  33. Dan Dennett apparently didn't take it too kindly, either, & now Krauss has back-pedaled (somewhat) & apologized. Too funny. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-consolation-of-philos

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  34. I'd just like to clarify that the 'Damian' posting comments above is not me. I have posted numerous comments on this whole affair on other sites (especially the discussion on the Philosophy of Cosmology blog), some in defence of Krauss, but have no interest in defending his comments on philosophy in this interview, which I think are badly misinformed, irresponsible, and indefensible. Happily, thanks to Dan Dennett's intervention (to whom I, and it seems others, wrote about Krauss's comments in this interview), he has now retracted them and apologised in the piece linked to by Wade above.

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  35. Massimo,

    In the link you cited (Your own "On the difference between science and philosophy")
    you write,

    "no contemporary professional philosopher would consider herself a utilitarianin the original sense intended by Jeremy Bentham, or a Cartesian dualist, or a Popperian falsificationist".

    I was under the impression that the doctrine of Popperian falsification was still in good standing.

    Can you help me out by citing some papers or books that explain why the Popper doctrine is now disfavored?

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    Replies
    1. Tom,

      Popperian falsificationism is widely rejected insofar as it is proffered as the necessary and sufficient condition for demarcating science from pseudoscience. However, most, if not all, phil. of science regards falsificationism as an important condition for demarcating science from pseudoscience.

      In a technical sense, Popperian falsificationism fails for three primary reasons: (1) particular quantifier statements [e.g. (∃x)Fx] are not falsifiable, (2) probabilistic statements are not, strictly speaking, falsifiable, and (3) any scientific theory (or hypothesis) exists within a larger theoretical framework such that many auxiliary hypotheses are involved in (dis)confirmation. So, e.g., the logic behind falsificationism is a series of applications of modus tollens: If A, B; not-B; Thus, not-A. However, most scientific hypotheses are of the following form: (Where A= the hypothesis under examination, O = observational conditions, E = experimental conditions, etc.) If A, O1, O2, ... On, & E1, E2, ... En, then B. But from observing not-B (or failing to observe B and thence inferring not-B) we cannot, under Popperian falsificationism, infer not-A; some one or all of On or En may be false whilst A yet true.

      There are plenty of papers which highlight (1) - (3). (1) of course is a standard result of first-order logic. Re (2) see, for instance, Elliot Sober's paper 'What Is Wrong With Intelligent Design?' (The Quarterly Review of Biology March 2007, Vol.82, No.1). Re (3) see a talk given by Imre Lakatos (one of his last as it happens) titled 'Science and Pseudoscience'. The transcripts of which can be read here: http://www2.lse.ac.uk/philosophy/about/lakatos/scienceandpseudosciencetranscript.aspx

      Also, if you have problems finding the Sober paper, contact me and I can send it to you via e-mail.

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    2. I should add also that Popperian falsificationism could not incorportate inductive logic into its framework- that is, not in any coherent sense. (Popper attempted to amend his programme to make room for ampliative inferences with his idea of 'corroboration' but that failed fabulously.)

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    3. Eamon:

      Thank you so much for your posts in answer to my question.

      It is clear to me now that I had a very superficial understanding of the ramifications of Popper's doctrine.

      The Lakatos transcript was good, but I was a bit disturbed by his comment that,

      "The liberal Establishment of the West also exercises the right to deny freedom of speech...as we have seen in the case of the debate concerning race and intelligence."

      I think he is full of horse manure on that point.

      I was very excited to get the Sober paper -- many thanks for pointing that out to me. Best wishes.

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    4. Tom,

      No problem. I am glad to help.

      Re Lakatos's comment, I am not sure he personally thought there was a causal connection between race and intelligence, only that he thought Western liberal establishments were not open to any such discussion. Either way, his talk is a good one.

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    5. There may well be a causal connection between ethnicity and evolved intelligence. For example, do children of remote tribes in the Amazon have the same abstract reasoning capacities as those from modern literate socities? Do they grasp some mathematical concepts as intuitively and at an early age, etc.?

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    6. Eamon,

      I do not criticize Lakatos for remarks on race -- he does not make any.

      However, I do criticize him for his crackpot notion that there is a "Liberal Establishment" with an agenda of silencing conservatives when they speak about race. This agenda presumably takes the form of a Stalinist style purge -- judging by the context in which Lakatos lodges his complaint.

      Lakatos is not specific, so I'm guessing that what he has in mind are isolated incidents such as someone being shouted down at a public talk. But that is a far cry from a concerted scheme by an organized Liberal Establishment to ship racial-theory Vavilovs off to a concentration camp for execution.

      If anything, the opposite is the current problem: conservative authoritarian governments oppressing people who desire liberalization -- as in the recent "Arab Spring" killings, or the more recent deaths of four students at Aleppo University in Syria.

      When has the Liberal Establishment ever shot down someone for talking about race? Anyone familiar with the literature being published on evolution and biology knows that race is freely discussed from time to time and is hardly a "taboo" subject. Lakatos confuses a reluctance to endorse poor scholarship about racial theories with organized oppression -- presumably (by Lakaos's intimation)on the scale of a Vivilov dying in a concentration camp.

      Lakatos's preposterous fear of the "Liberal Establishment" coupled with his ill-informed remarks on Karl Marx (which unintentionally say more about Lakatos than they do about Marx) have earned Lakatos three tin-foil hats on my five-hat nut scale.

      His right wing obsession with Marxism and the "Liberal Establishment" mar what was otherwise a good discussion of philosophy.

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    7. Tom,

      I have never heard Lakatos described as 'right-wing' : he was educated at Moscow State University, was a member of the Hungarian Communist Party, and a vehement opponent of the Nazi regime and other forms of fascism. He remained a Labour supporter whilst he lived in the U.K.

      Also, to be curious, in what way do you find his comments about Marx uninformed?

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    8. Interesting, it doesn't need to be a conspiracy on paper, by direct words, or even by touching the nose. Conspiracies flow in currents through organizations and societies if the tension or momentum are high enough. Witness advisers in governments falling over when they should seriously query justifications for war, for example, if the tension and momentum is building or already built and in need of an outlet (the tension was building in that sentence, phew).

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  36. Massimo,

    This is an excellent article and I am grateful that more are taking up the charge to end the kind of anti-intellectual nonsense that Harris, Krauss, Dawkins and Hawking have been engaging in lately (and surprisingly in the context of Hitchens' funeral, considering he was quite favorably disposed towards philosophy and the humanities).

    Despite being a lowly undergraduate, I recently wrote and published a journal article responding to Stephen Hawking's similarly misguided claims in "The Grand Design." I think you and your readers will enjoy it, as I attempt a similar exposition of the relationship between philosophy and science.

    http://clubs.bard.edu/qualia/files/qualia_2.pdf

    Michael Fitzpatrick
    California State University, Chico

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    1. Michael,

      Thank you for bringing your paper to our attention. I will give it a read.

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    2. I would love to see Hawking in a debate with William Lane Craig!! Hawking will always use his medical condition as an excuse, but Dr. Craig would easily destroy Hawking's anti-Philosophy arguments! It would be very satisfying to those tired of the scientists' arrogance!!

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  37. I recommend that everyone should read that cited article by Michael Fitzpatrick. Usually when someone cites their own work the best thing to then do is ignore it. But not in this case. Definitely not.

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    1. I had a quick squizz and I was worried Michael was going to distinguish between scientific and philosophical method, which are both merely rational methods for the particular circumstances, but he pulled it back by saying science is a subset of philosophy, which it is.

      I prefer the classical definition of science as "a body of reliable knowledge", and would probably say philosophy is a part of science by that definition, but it amounts to the same thing. They are inextricably bound by the one principle.

      Good recognition of Dummett, I must read some more. I have an interest in every aspect of valuable and reliable knowedge, including physics no less than biology and psychology. Theoretical physicists (emphasize theoretical in the case of Krause), are going into uncharted territories of both new dimensions and "nothingness" (which tend to combine to create "events").

      My first instinct is to say it is a medicine show, and being rational I would say the uncharted nature of the territory makes a medicine show necessary. Shame on Krause, Hawking, and others who play God for 15 minutes. Be patient, their edifices will crumble in time, Zeus told me so.

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  38. If someone asked me which living Nobel laureate is most like Einstein and Bohr in terms of philosophical depth, then my vote is for Martin Perl.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Lewis_Perl
    Often the most Socrates-like people are the least intellectually aggressive.

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    1. No, Francis Collins. Dr. Collins has completely reconciled Religion with science. Dr. Collins has demonstrated how one can directly see the evidence of God in all Creation, right down to the molecular level.

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  39. This post contains two claims that both seem to be true in some sense, but which are prima facie in conflict with other:

    1) Philosophy of science does not aim to make contributions to science any more than history of science does.

    2) Science is impoverished by its failure to engage with philosophy of science. (See the quotes by Einstein at the end as well as Dennett's claim somewhere to the effect that science always has some philosophical presuppositions whether consciously or not.)

    How could we make these claims more precise so that they might both be true?

    It certainly seems correct that philosophy does not aim to answer scientific questions. So does philosophy instead aim to answer the question what is a properly scientific question in the first place? And is this the point Krauss is implicitly denying?

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  40. David,

    very good point, though I don't think the inconsistence is quite that glaring. Einstein was making the broader point that philosophy helps you see the forest instead of just the trees. That has a probably intangible effect on the pursuit of individual discoveries, but it may change someone's attitude toward his own discipline and aims.

    And things can get more complicated, as there are some areas of philosophy of science (in both philosophy of biology and physics, not to mention philosophy of mathematics) where the contributions of philosophers and scientists are hard to disentangle. For instance, discussions of species concepts in biology.

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    1. Einstein was a deeply religious man, who constantly described God's place in the Universe! It was Einstein who said that God doesn't play dice with the Universe. That is why it is so strange that lesser physicists like Krauss now say that there is no God of Creation, when there clearly is! Philosophers like William Lane Craig, and scientists like Einstein have demonstrated that there is, without a doubt, a Supreme Creator.

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    2. Here is another spanner for your works gentlemen. If there is a void, and particles and fields move within it, rather than moving within the expanding Spacetime of the universe, there would be no way of detecting it, scientifically. No measurement could determine the difference from the data. One might say Parsimony demands negating a void, but such a simple, infinite, vast thing should not be passed over so lightly, if it exists and we wish to explain existence.

      Consequently, we have philosophy, such as metaphysics, which gets into questions not only of consistency in defintitions and concepts towards some kind of universality. There may be factual realities, such as a void, which are only accessible by reasoning and not be scientific measurement. That is one example, and a reason also to be mindful of the openness of philosophy on all issues relating to existence.

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    3. PS. If you wants to be itsy bitsy about it, put the expanding Spacetime that is created and continues to be created within "nothing", and place the "The Whole Shebang" (to quote from another more harmless dog and pony show) within a void. No can tell. Einstein uses three spatial dimensions plus time, you cannot even appeal to imaginitive "extra dimensions" to get around that. But of course, that will not prevent rational "scientists" from upping the ante to become Zeus and declare extra dimensions in recent times!

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  41. One possibly interesting fact here is that David Albert is one of 5 members of the Rutgers Templeton Project in Philosophy of Cosmology.

    http://philocosmology.rutgers.edu/

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    1. Is that a criticism of Albert, and if not, what's the point? That a scientist should realize all aspects of religion are taint and tainted?

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    2. Ophelia,

      I don't find that interesting at all.

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    3. @Roy - I'm sure you're familiar with straw-man arguments. You're putting words in Ophelia's mouth. She didn't say anything about religion, she stated a fact.

      To me it's not only interesting that David is working on a grant from the Templeton Foundation, it is cause for some reasonable concern. I don't want to cast a shadow over the entire foundation (because they fund some very important research) but they do often support questionable science. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Templeton_Foundation#Controversies

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    4. I asked a question as to the reason for stating an otherwise irrelevant fact. And now you're giving me what you suspect was the reason. The same one I obviously suspected. So where's the straw man now?

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    5. The Templeton Group does excellent and very necessary work to bring science and Religion together. This is greatly needed, because science has increasingly fallen into the hands of the secularists. One of the problems with the U.S. is the prevalence of the secularists, and science is their greatest tool. The Templeton Group has declared war on this travesty!! The TG is attacking science on several fronts. The likes of Dawkins and Hawking and Krauss have had their day. Science will not be used to erode society further.

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  42. Massimo,

    I think I know what is the matter with physicists these days: they're stuck.

    I am a mathematician currently working with evolutionary biologists. I've been aware of philosophers contributing to evolutionary biology for a few years. I first noticed some work by Joel Velasco. The podcast you linked to has other examples.

    I think the key difference between evolutionary biology and fundamental physics is that evolutionary biology is in an expansionary phase, whereas fundamental physics is not. The availability of huge amounts of molecular sequence data means biologists have more than they can deal with, and welcome help from others. Mathematicians, physicists, philosophers, and others are drawn to the field. Meanwhile the experiments that physicists would like to do are too expensive, and theoretical progress has been slow. Physics had an expansionary phase until the 1970s or so, which seems to about the period when physicists and philosophers were getting on fine, but it has slowed since then.

    The mathematical physicist John Baez, who used to work on quantum gravity said this last year:

    "The two-week-long conference reaffirmed my belief that people working on quantum gravity are stuck. Many of those people are good friends of mine, so it was nice to see them again, but I'm very glad I quit working on that subject."

    I think a lot of physicists are feeling a bit like that. Most find something worthwhile to do, like popularizing physics, or like John Baez's Azimuth project. A few start philosophizing.

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    1. Dr. William Lane Craig, unless I am mistaken, has demonstrated the contrary; evolutionary biology is entirely false! Evolutionary biology is NOT in an expansion phase, but in fact is dead. This was demonstrated long ago. Philosophers such as Dr. William Lane Craig have also shown that much of physics is obsolete. Such Philosophers have advanced Reason by showing the needless reliance on science.

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    2. Is this a parody of a real comment or are you a lunatic?

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    3. I'm afraid the latter, but I could be wrong...

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    4. Massimo,

      Unfortunately, I think you are correct.

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    5. I seriously doubt Baez meant he thought quantum gravity had been stuck since the 1970's. Whatever you mean by an "expansionary phase," it's definitely not the case that physicists had no use for mathematicians since the 1970's. In fact, after the 1970's there was one of the biggest phases of interaction between physics and mathematics. In 1990, Ed Witten, a physicist, was awarded the Fields Medal, considered the most prestigious prize in mathematics. He was the first physicist to get that award.

      Physics has always used mathematics, but this was one of the relatively rare times when physics and math research were intertwined and pushing each other's boundaries. Many in both fields regarded this as one of the most exciting times in the history of physics.

      I think Pigliucci has stated that he doesn't think string theory is a science, but Pigliucci says a lot of things that don't make too much sense to me. Let's not get carried away with spinning a myth about what's happening or not happening in physics.

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  43. I think Stanley Fish would have problems with your arguments.

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  44. What I find interesting in this is the dismissal of "postmodernism" as a type of philosophy. First, this term has been used in the conversation in an all too vague way. Second, I don't think anyone within the Continental tradition really uses that term. "Post-structuralism" or "theory" are the preferred terms, and for good reason. These are developments within the history of philosophy which deserve to be considered within the context in which they arose, not derisively dismissed in such a way that the reader is left without a clue as to what you are specifically referring.

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    1. Postmodernism seems anarchistic but that may be the state of things. One is confined to ones' construct of reality, and although we share constructs as a species, they are still individuals' constructs. To express one's construct and allow it to be taken by others with acknowledgment it belong to the one and only 'me' is a step forward in recognition of the freedom of constructs. The trick is not be be a clown about it by saying things that have no objective substance, or nobody will read it except to criticize the time wasting arrogance.

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  45. If the high energy physicists aren't careful, the philosophers of physics will go on strike. Just imagine all of the inconsistencies, invalid inferences, and unacknowledged postulates that would creep into their science if that happened!

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  46. I find it ironic that Pigliucci takes such umbrage at Krauss' dismissal of philosophy, when as a skeptic he is in the same business. Skeptics make similar such dismissals of areas they sometimes don't seem knowledgeable about but which they just "know" aren't worth serious attention. Skeptics are after all more than simply those people who hold the evidence bar high. There's emerged a more or less well defined culture of skepticism and a conventional agreement about what areas are consider worthy of rational inquiry and what areas aren't. Dismissals by skeptics are often at least as sloppy and uninformed as anything Krauss, Hawking, and Weinberg are guilty of.

    It's also ironic that if you asked most people who the most skeptical contemporary physicists are, Hawking and Weinberg would be at the top of most lists.

    That said, I too find it troubling that today's physicists are so narrow. A century ago, things were very different. Most of the best scientists of that time and earlier had a passionate interest in philosophy and/or religion. Most took definite stands in those fields and some were major figures in them in their own right. There's some evidence that a broader vision like that can enhance a scientist's creativity or sustain it over a longer stretch of his career. Perhaps string theorists need to get out more if they want to get unstuck.

    I think multiple factors are involved in the narrowing of scientists. One major issue is the explosion of knowledge in the past century. On the one hand, if he's in an active field, it takes all of a scientist's time just to keep up with the papers coming out in his sub-specialty. Most feel they have no time for philosophical reflection. You can argue that the attitude is misguided, but I'm sure it's a common one.

    On the other hand, the magnitude of what's out there in other domains is equally formidable. In Newton's time, a learned scholar may have been able to keep abreast of developments in all branches of learning. Today, no one could even have a glancing familiarity with what's going on in every field. It's sometimes claimed that Hilbert was the last mathematician to know and contribute to all branches of mathematics. Even that's no longer conceivable.

    Sadly, the educational system often channels students into specialties too soon and fails to expose them to serious study in the bigger intellectual world. A physics student told me last week that he fulfilled a general education requirement by taking a fluff course in "Diversity and Tolerance" whose intellectual content he could summarize in about 3 minutes. He saw no loss in thereby evading a real education. It shouldn't be too surprising that he and a peer later joked about the pointlessness of "felafelsy."

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    1. Addle,

      I don't see any irony here. Being a skeptic doesn't mean that one is skeptical of everything. One has to have good reasons for skepticism, and Krauss doesn't have them in the case of philosophy.

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    2. I didn't say skeptics were skeptical of everything. I didn't say anything even approximating that statement. Agreed, there is no irony in your strange misinterpretation of my statements. There is however a sharp irony when viewed by a rational outsider, who sees your attitudes as equally arbitrary as Krauss', differing only in their arbitrary details.

      What I did say is that what skeptics are skeptical of is not determined by "good reasons" but is largely a matter of culture. I don't expect you to agree with that, of course. Perhaps, being steeped in the culture of skepticism, you are simply unable to see it. Perhaps, you are in active denial of it. ... I don't know, but there is heart of our disagreement.

      From the viewpoint of most people outside the skeptical movement, skeptics are irrational people, dismissive of some things without being informed, and uncritical of other things that deserve to be challenged.

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    3. Addle, its a free Society and along the way things get said that need to be said, admittedly imperfectly. Its all about Judgment. Massimo is exercising his fairly rationally, and Krauss his fairly irrationally. You can broaden the argument into the role of criticism and enquiry, but at the end of the day the reader will judge.

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  47. Great post. Great insights in the flaws of the so-called 'New Atheists.' I really appreciate your objectivity.

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  48. Sheesh. People like Kraus frighten me, frankly. How can an otherwise intelligent person, a professional scientist, no less, actually be AGAINST philosophy? What's even more frightening is that some people actually agree with him.

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  49. It is amusing that Krauss says that "If I’d just titled the book ‘A Marvelous Universe,’ not as many people would have been attracted to it.” There's a famous book about string theory by Brian Greene called *The Elegant Universe* which was both a bestseller in the US and a Pulitzer Prize finalist. So there's that.

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  50. hahah! forced by dan dennet.. perfect.

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  51. To balance the record a little, let me present a brief example of useless philosophy. Searle's Chinese Room makes the point that human meaning is different from automatic tabulation, well duh! A blade of grass is different from a human and from automatic tabulation, so what? He says nothing more of value. The real point would be to explain the relationship between them, whether tabulation is used within human meaning, and to what extent etc. etc. etc., which he fails to do. Human meaning is different from computer meaning, well thank you Mister Searle.

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  52. OK I will type once again for the record, let's hope its not deleted. To balance the other way, Libet was an true experimentalist all at sea with concepts. There is no challenge to Free Will. Primary motor for flex builds because Sensory & Premotor are building to intention (as one sensory-motor structure before PMC), then pop, we have PMC sufficiency for action.

    That build up in the S-M structure is from inputs building imperceptibly to intention over a period of half a second until sufficiency in the S-M, and then in the PMC. Th brain is serving the gross anatomy in adaptive cycles, representing it rather than mysteriously determining the build-ups.

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