Philosophy 310=Biology 310
Bryn Mawr College
Appearance and Reality in Physics
Text: Peter Kosso, Appearance and Reality, Oxford, 1998
- From Kosso:
"It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find outhow nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature" ... Niels Bohr
"Physics is an attempt conceptually to grasp reality as it is thought independently of its being observed. In this sense one speaks of physical reality" ... Albert Einstein
- But see also:
"Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world" ... Albert Einstein
- "The philosophy is in the details of the physics ... The philosophical results are summarized under what I will call realistic realism. It is realistic in the sense of being practical and explicitly admitting of our limitations. We can know some things about the way nature is but not everything. The details and the proof are what the whole book is about."
Chapter 1 Physics and Philosophy
- "Perhaps Bohr has raised an issue that is strictly an internal matter for physics ... Perhaps, on the other hand, Bohr's claim ... requires an external judgement ... we may invite circularity into the argument if we use scientific knowledge to judge the abilities of scientific knowledge ... It is an issue about physics. But this does not mean it is strictly an issue of philosophy ... The question of appearance and reality necessarily involves both physics and philosophy ... philosophy without physics is empty; physics without philosophy is blind"
- "The bottom line here is what is in fact knowable in physics. What, in fact, can be proven given the methods of physics and the limitations of human beings? The "proven" here should not mean proven with dead certainty, for then no scientific claim would quality. It is more realistic and more profitable to pursue some degree of responsible justification that separates knowledge from guess work and dogma".
- "To know the limits of knowledge in physics ..."
- "a concern shared by physics and philosophy. Both pay explicit attention to the standards by which to tell the difference between speculation and knowledge ..."
- "all physicists ... share basic theoretical and methodological beliefs that guide the acquisition and interpretation of data ... this kind of evaluation is essential to the discipline ..."
- "philosophical claims about physics and the nature of scientific knowledge must be based on a detailed account of physics in action. Philosophy relies on this kind of evidence"
- "of all the sciences, physics come closest to the level of generality in philosophy, Physics aspires to make claims of unlimited universality ... a level of generality that brings it close to that of philosophy".
- "This account of motion, made precise and mathematical by Newton, is a fundamental truth of physics. It is also contrary to the way things seem to work ... It is not common sense ... Are these principles dead certain?"
- "foundational principles of physics actually defy our day-to-day observations ... we must doubt that observation by itself can be the basis of proof for scientific claims ... Trained and interpreted observations .... must count somehow as evidence ... If pure observaton is not the source of verification ... the perhaps pure reason is ... if Feynman is right, making sense cannot be a basic standard of credibility in science ... these questions ... are at a level of abstraction and generality to make them philosophical questions ... brought on by the challenging character of the principles of physics ..."
- "epistemology is the domain of inquiry about the nature of knowledge ... the important contrast ... is the doman of inquiry about the general nature of things ... Some people call it ontology, others call it metaphysics ... Is there a determinate way that nature is, independent of our looking at it or thinking about it?"
- "The terminology and explicit contrast ... are introduced to avoid confusion ... The human influence on the knowledge of things does not necessarily imply a human influence on the nature of things"
- "A responsible epistemological anti-realist cannot take either side on the metaphysical issue. If we cannot know anything about nature beyond our own observations, then we cannot responsibly make any metaphysical claimn, either that there is or is not an objective world beyond our observation."
- "The general attitude in this approach is to avoid a purely abstract philosophy based only on logic and reason ... Naturalized epistemology is empirical, based on evidence of how knowledge is in fact done ... In our case it will be what physics can tell us abou the limits of knowledge ... But this is again flirting with the circularity ... Scientists must be careful that it is not the same theory that benefits from evidence as was used to support the evidence. The same sort of care must be applied to philosophical evidence in naturalized epistemology"
What exactly IS the relation between physics (science) and philosophy? In what way is philosophy more than history? More univeral than "unlimited universality"?
Is it begging the question to start with the presumption of a distinction between epistemology and metaphysics?
Could it be that what is relevant about physics (science) is not that it is in any final sense contrary to both "day-to-day observations" and "reason" but that it is, at any given time, contrary to both prior observations and the common sense/reason that have derived from them? Why presume that "day to day observations" and "common sense/reason" are fixed commodities? Could it be that both change and that "science" is the process by which such change occurs? We are suprised because we start from point A and make observations or have thoughts that require us to acknowledge the limitations of prior observations/thoughts?
This possibility is important not only in its own right but also because it undercuts the argument that being surprised is evidence that one is getting closer to an objective description of "reality" (while retaining the argument from surprise (Popper?) that there is SOMETHING out there).
What DOES one need to do (anything?) about the circularity problem?
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Thursday, 09-Feb-2006 15:32:52 EST