Archive for ‘science and philosophy’

June 6, 2014

The science – philosophy wars

by Neil Rickert

From time to time, scientists criticize philosophy.  And philosophers react.  For an example of this, see the relatively recent post by John Wilkins:

In that post, John quotes some physicists, and wonders why they criticize philosophy.  I am going to suggest that a lot of this is miscommunication.


To see the problem, let’s look at what John said in a comment to that post:

Philosophy, which is about the nature of knowledge at least in part, must attend to actual knowledge. Hence it cannot ignore science and just pull epistemic strictures out of its rear end. Hence, [good] philosophy must attend to science.

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October 21, 2013

Macro level determinism is false

by Neil Rickert

In a recent post at his site, Jerry Coyne writes:

But physics does not have to be complete for us to accept determinism on a macro level.

Clearly, Coyne believes that there is determinism at the macro-level, which I take to be the level of ordinary objects such as we use in our everyday lives.  He is not alone in that belief in determinism.  It is a view I often hear.

That view is false.

The evidence from physics is clear.

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January 28, 2013

HSW – Kepler’s laws are false

by Neil Rickert

While my title line might seem dramatic, I want to be clear that this post is not intended as a criticism of Kepler, or of Kepler’s laws.  Rather, it is critical of the view that scientific laws are true descriptions of the world.  This post is intended as part of my series on how science works.  My aim is to describe my own understanding of Kepler’s laws.

The basis of Kepler’s laws

In case some of my readers are not familiar with them, Kepler’s laws are an attempt to account for the motion of the planets in our solar system.  Kepler’s laws were preceded by the Ptolemaic idea that the planets moved in cycles and epicycles.  Galileo argued, instead for the idea of Copernicus, that the planets traveled in circular paths around the sun.  I presume that Kepler was looking for something a little more precise than the Copernican circles.

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January 10, 2013

HSW – Against induction

by Neil Rickert

In this post, I shall argue against induction.  Specifically, I shall argue against what I referred to as “philosophic induction” in a recent post.  My earlier post — “All emeralds are green” — was intended to illustrate the view that I shall be presenting here.  I suggest you read that now, if you have not already done so.  Throughout this post, I shall assume familiarity with that story.

That emeralds are green has sometimes been used to illustrate the idea of induction.  Presumably, the argument would be:

  • All the many emeralds that I have seen were green;
  • Therefore all emeralds are green.

Interestingly, emeralds were also used by Nelson Goodman in his skeptical “grue” argument.

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January 1, 2013

HSW – about induction

by Neil Rickert

I have long been a critic of induction.  The trouble with the word “induction” is that it is used in many different ways.  As part of my continuing series on how science works, I want to explain here what I am criticizing, and what I am not criticizing.

Baconian induction

Sir Francis Bacon suggested used the term “induction” in his recommendations on investigating the natural world.  As described by Wikipedia, his method called for:

procedures for isolating and further investigating the form nature, or cause, of a phenomenon, including the method of agreement, method of difference, and method of concomitant variation.

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December 2, 2012

HSW2 – How I see Newton’s mechanics

by Neil Rickert

This continues my discussion of how science works, a topic that I introduced in a recent post.  The “HSW” in the title of this post is intended to indicate that.  My plan, for this post, is to describe how I look at Newton’s laws.  I won’t be discussing his law of gravity here, mostly to keep this post reasonably short.  I might post on that at a future time.

A note on history

I am not an historian.  My primary concern is with how the science works, rather than with how it was discovered.  If you think that I have said something about history, then you have misunderstood.  Some of what I am discussing here might actually be due to Galileo or to other scientists.

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August 24, 2012

Science and philosophy

by Neil Rickert

In a blog post last month, John Wilkins expressed concern about what some scientists say about philosophy:

What gets my gander is that Perakh, or more recently Lawrence Krauss, Hawking and Molodinow, and a steady stream of physicists, seem to think that while their own discipline is noble, authoritative and has extensive conceptual ramifications (that we should really call philosophical), my discipline is just “entertainment value”. In a rejoinder to me and others just posted, Perakh tries hard to back down from this, but it’s pretty clear that he, and his entire field, has a set against philosophy. Why is this?

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