Withteeth Here, it’s been far too long since I last posted.
After an unfortunate “panel discussion” at Imagine No Religion 4 (INR4) in Kamloops, in which free will was discussed, I’ve become aware of a problematic trend that’s been arising with a number of prominent scientists. I say “panel discussion” because it was more of a beat down on the minority party, a philosopher backing a less disused form of determinism (meaning lack of free will in this setting).
To be fair the moderator was also a PhD in Philosophy, but he did not play a major role and further was defending the same basic position as the two other panelists, both scientists, only one of which had some philosophy backing. However this does not excuse what happened through out the “discussion.” Within 15 minutes of the two hour panel began the ad hominem attacks on the lone Philosopher from the two scientists. To further elaborate the Philosopher was not articulate and for most of the audience I’m sure he made little sense. That said he did make some interesting points, and had the other panelist been for fair in there assessments, and had they been willing to grant some of the definition proposed, the discussion wouldn’t have been the mess it was.
The main problem was not the philosophers inarticulate style, but rather it seemed to both Hessian and I that both of the science panelists had written him off before the discussion even began. The basic, but necessary, respect was not given, so an honest, thoughtful discussion had no chance to bloom. Why did this happen, or at least why do I think this happened? Well as it turned out both of the science panelists where better known and had both had strong words against the field of philosophy. This brings me to the main point of this post. There’s a trend is the science community to write of and disregard philosophy as the old decrepit grandparent of science, and all hail the new king (science).
Now that last line was a bit harsh, as I love science. That and I’m a Botany student. But I’m also minoring in philosophy and have already taken more philosophy courses then I need to because I enjoy it as well. So I’m in a useful position to look at this problem from both sides and address why this dismissal of philosophy is not only wrong headed but I’d even say silly and poorly thought out.
Science was born from philosophy, and was for a long while known as natural philosophy. It is a system of thought and bias reduction which deals with empirically testable claims. Philosophy on the other hand is more a whole series of thought systems devoted to creating even more logical thought systems. This is where I’ve found an analogy very useful: Philosophy is to the sciences and humanities as pure mathematics is to physics.
Both pure mathematics and philosophy are most concerned with creating abstract system of thought, often involving little more then taking a set of assumptions and applying some new or slightly altered logical system to them and seeing what happens. This doesn’t necessarily seem all that useful, but with out this sort of exploration of logic. Many of the greatest discoveries who not have been possible as there wouldn’t have been the mental/logical framework required for the discoverers to work in. More over it has been the case in physics as well as other sciences where a new mathematical model was need to describe a system or theory, and low and behold some Mathematician has already done the work for you and all you need to do is put in the numbers.
Now don’t get me wrong it’s rarely that simple, and there is a grave yard of bad and hopelessly impractical ideas. But both fields, philosophy and mathematics, work with abstracted ideas, working out the flaws and the strengths. Through these process things like Bayesian epistemology are born.
Where Science is the ground work we do to understand the world, Philosophy is the ground work of thought, of how we think about and tackle problems so that we have a fighting chance to figure out everything else.