Philosophy before physics

January 23, 2019

Stephen Hawking once said “Philosophy is dead”.

Speaking to Google’s Zeitgeist Conference in Hertfordshire, the author of ‘A Brief History of Time’ said that fundamental questions about the nature of the universe could not be resolved without hard data such as that currently being derived from the Large Hadron Collider and space research. “Most of us don’t worry about these questions most of the time. But almost all of us must sometimes wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead,” he said. “Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics.”

But claiming that philosophy is dead is itself philosophy.

Hawking’s comment is remarkably like that of Isocrates who some 2,300 years ago followed the sophists. He taught rhetoric and oratory and did not much care for Plato’s new-fangled approach to thinking and education or his definition of philosophy. Isocrates certainly did not like Plato’s attacks on his school.

“Those who do philosophy, who determine the proofs and the arguments … and are accustomed to enquiring, but take part in none of their practical functions, … even if they happen to be capable of handling something, they automatically do it worse, whereas those who have no knowledge of the arguments [of philosophy], if they are trained [in concrete sciences] and have correct opinions, are altogether superior for all practical purposes. Hence for sciences, philosophy is entirely useless.”

Plato (428BCE – 348BCE)

But Plato prevailed even if he did make use of “fake news”.

Because of Plato’s attacks on the sophists, Isocrates’ school — having its roots, if not the entirety of its mission, in rhetoric, the domain of the sophists — came to be viewed as unethical and deceitful. Yet many of Plato’s criticisms are hard to substantiate in the actual work of Isocrates; at the end of Phaedrus, Plato even shows Socrates praising Isocrates (though some scholars have taken this to be sarcasm).

Part of the issue is semantics. Philosophical thinking by a physicist remains philosophy. (And observations and reasoning by philosophers would still be physics).

One cannot even begin to undertake the process called science without a philosophy. One can make observations and report them as perceptions but whether the perceived observations are valid or not are a matter of philosophy. Linking observations – or perceptions of observations – requires a philosophic acceptance of causality. Causality itself requires an acceptance of the flow of time which remains a philosophic question even when asked by a physicist. The languages used in describing observations (including mathematics) and in reasoning itself are underpinned by a philosophy of language. Even the simplest of observations requires the observer to have an underlying philosophy, just to be perceived as a relevant and valid observation. Communicating such observations are even more dependent upon the existence of language having a philosophy.

As Carlo Rovelli writes:

Here is a second argument due to Aristotle: Those who deny the utility of philosophy, are doing philosophy. The point is less trivial than it may sound at first. Weinberg and Hawking have obtained important scientific results. In doing this, they were doing science. In writing things like “philosophy is useless to physics,” or “philosophy is dead,” they were not doing physics. They were reflecting on the best way to develop science. The issue is the methodology of science: a central concern in the philosophy of science is to ask how science is done and how it could be done to be more effective. ….. They express a certain idea about the methodology of science. Is this the eternal truth about how science has always worked and should work? Is it the best understanding of science we have at present? It is neither. In fact, it is not difficult to trace the origins of their ideas. They arise from the background of logical positivism, corrected by Popper and Kuhn. The current dominant methodological ideology in theoretical physics relies on their notions of falsifiability and scientific revolution, which are popular among theoretical physicists; they are often referred to, and are used to orient research and evaluate scientific work.

….. They express a certain idea about the methodology of science. Is this the eternal truth about how science has always worked and should work? Is it the best understanding of science we have at present?

It is neither. In fact, it is not difficult to trace the origins of their ideas. They arise from the background of logical positivism, corrected by Popper and Kuhn. The current dominant methodological ideology in theoretical physics relies on their notions of falsifiability and scientific revolution, which are popular among theoretical physicists; they are often referred to, and are used to orient research and evaluate scientific work.

All of human thought builds on implied philosophies; on assumptions of reality and observations and on implicit philosophies embedded in the logic of our languages. There is no branch of science which does not need fundamental assumptions which are taken as being axiomatic. There is no branch of science which does not have fundamental “rules”. It is only the explicit questioning of the underlying assumptions which we label “philosophy”.  But the philosophies exist whether the assumptions are questioned or not. Physics of any kind is not possible without an underpinning philosophy of physics.

Philosophy is integral to science and to physics. There can never be a fundamental assumption made without there first being a philosophy.

And, of course, philosophy precedes physics in the dictionary.


Carlo Rovelli: Physics Needs Philosophy / Philosophy Needs Physics


 

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Rage against the dying of another light

January 22, 2019

Per-Erik Störe (1959 -2019)

A good man died yesterday.

He was a friend and would have been 60 next week.

I first met him only 9 years ago but admired his mind, his energy, his initiative, his inspiration and his friendliness. I am privileged and glad and thankful to have had him as a friend.

Of course I know that globally some 150,000 others also died yesterday. And that some 350,000 babies were born yesterday. I understand Dylan Thomas that much better now, as the regret and sorrow that he will no longer touch and inspire those around him, turns into a kind of anger. And along with Dylan Thomas, I rage against the dying of another consciousness, where all Pelle experienced and remembered and had learned and knew is lost forever.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night. 
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray 
Do not go gentle into that good night. 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

But I am very thankful I knew him and I can call him a friend.


 

When the encyclopedia in your pocket is wired into your brain

January 20, 2019

All human knowledge is not, yet, available on the web. All the knowledge which is available on the web is not, yet, available to each of us. But all that is available on the web is already available to each of us who has a connected smart phone in a pocket. With every connected smart phone there is an encyclopedia in a pocket.

But using such an encyclopedia is not, yet, instantaneous. It is not yet a part of your brain. It is not just the choice of browser or search engine (e.g. Google) or the repository (e.g.Wikipedia). You still have to search the web. You still have to ask the right question. You still have to discard the advertisements and the fake news and select the relevant information. It takes a little time. By the time you find the right answer the conversation may have moved on to another topic, such that presenting the information you found in your pocket may be embarrassingly irrelevant.

Nevertheless, everyone with a connected smart phone now has an encyclopedia in their pocket. And, I would guess, this encyclopedia will be implanted and connected to the brain within the next 50 years.

We are already in the age of implants.

Currently, implants are being used in many different parts of the body for various applications such as orthopaedics, pacemakers, cardiovascular stents, defibrillators, neural prosthetics or as drug delivery systems. Concurrent with the increased life span in today’s world, the number of age-related diseases has also increased. Hence, the need for new treatments, implants, prostheses and long-term pharmaceutical usage as well as the need for prolonging the life span of the current techniques has increased. 

Implants where thoughts can be used to control computers are already with us. Brain-computer interfaces (BCI’s) which were first thought of in the 1970s are now with us to stay.

image from Frontiersin.org

When drone warfare emerged, pilots could, for the first time, sit in an office in the U.S. and drop bombs in the Middle East. Now, one pilot can do it all, just using their mind — no hands required.

Earlier this month, DARPA, the military’s research division, unveiled a project that it had been working on since 2015: technology that grants one person the ability to pilot multiple planes and drones with their mind.

“As of today, signals from the brain can be used to command and control … not just one aircraft but three simultaneous types of aircraft,” Justin Sanchez, director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, said, according to Defense One.

….. Back in 2016, a volunteer equipped with a brain-computer interface (BCI) was able to pilot an aircraft in a flight simulator while keeping two other planes in formation — all using just his thoughts, ….. In 2017, Copeland was able to steer a plane through another simulation, this time receiving haptic feedback — if the plane needed to be steered in a certain direction, Copeland’s neural implant would create a tingling sensation in his hands.

We cannot yet, at will, without noticeable delay, mentally call for and access some particular information from the entire store of human knowledge.  But it is no longer science fiction to imagine people with an implant which has all the abilities of a mobile, smart phone. It will be an implant where the input/output interface would no longer require the use of fingers or the reading of a physical screen. Your thoughts (and perhaps also sub-vocalisations) would be sufficient to trigger the appropriate questions to the web. The answers would be projected onto your eyes or enter your brain subliminally. Humans would have to become far more practiced not only at distinguishing between interfacing with the external world and internally connecting with the web, but also with mental multi-tasking in a way never required before.

Maybe not in 10 years but surely within 50.


 

Killing humans is usually immoral

January 18, 2019

Morality is relative.

It varies over time and space.

There have always been situations where killing of some humans has been considered, not just not immoral, but actually a moral duty. To kill people of opposing faiths was justifiable for a long time. To put enemies or sufficiently “bad” people to death was once a moral duty. Even something to be proud of.

It is no different today.

For ISIS and other “terrorist” organisations killing the enemy in particularly brutal ways is something which is not only something to be proud of but also something which opens the gates to Paradise. Armies are trained to, and assessed, by their ability to kill the enemy – in bulk. Collateral damage is regrettable but allowed. It is never immoral. Many states allow individuals to kill when their own survival is threatened. Many other states do not. Many states exercise capital punishment for really “bad” people. Many other states do not and many of these mollycoddle the cancerous humans among them. In more “liberal” quarters the number of euthanasia deaths and abortions carried out have become something to be proud of. Paradoxically, the states which are most opposed to capital punishment are also the states which are most in favour of abortion and the “mercy” killings of the aged or the terminally ill.

There is no such thing as a “human right” to life. Any individual’s life is “cabined, cribbed, confined” by his genes, the privileges accorded by the surrounding society and the quirks of random events.

As with all so-called “human rights”  living is just another privilege.


 

Abortion now a significant demographic parameter

January 15, 2019

During 2018, it is estimated that around 140 million babies were born and that around 60 million people died. The global population had reached 7.7 billion at the end of 2018.

In addition, around 41 million legal abortions were carried out in 2018. There may also be a significant number of illegal or unreported abortions so that the total number may be around 50 million.

Global fertility rates are declining inexorably. The number of babies born will be reducing over the next 100 years (with the biggest declines expected in Africa). The crude death rate is a balance between two trends; first the decline due to improving health care (and longevity) and second the increase due to an increasing population of the aged. By around 2090 deaths will exceed births and by 2100 the world population will be in decline.

Abortions are not recorded in either birth or death statistics. But what is not in doubt is that the actual number of babies born is almost 30% lower because of abortions. If abortions were included in both birth and death statistics the natural population increase (births minus deaths) would remain unchanged (190m-110m instead of 140m-60m). However, abortions would then be the single highest cause of death. The next highest cause of death would then be coronary artery disease (around 10m).

The long term, global, fertility and morbidity trends are not affected by the number of abortions. Even if no abortions took place, world population would still stabilise and then decline but this would be delayed by about 40 years (stabilisation and decline in 2130 instead of about 2090).

That abortion is now a significant demographic parameter is self-evident.

The morality or rightness of carrying out abortions is a different matter and primarily for women to decide on. The human species is the only one which has the ability to, and does, carry out intentional abortions. That women should be assisted to carry out abortions to preserve their health or for other necessary medical reasons (physical or mental) seems obvious.

I am not so sure that assisting abortions for the convenience of the mother or for covering up carelessness is equally justified. Or that 41 million legal abortions is a number to celebrate or to be particularly proud of.


 

Darker Nhaikus

January 14, 2019

Even “not quite haikus” can get quite dark.

46.

Awake again,

It is the first day of

The rest of my life

47.

26,000 gone,

Less than 7,000 left;

Allotted span

48.

One wedding

And six funerals last year,

Life’s winter

49.

Trees also die

Of storms and fire and murder,

But not old age

50.

Orbits and seasons,

But in a cyclical world

A linear life

Winter sunrise 20190114

 


 

Even more “not quite haikus” /3

January 8, 2019

I have caught the bug and seem to be adding 2 or 3 “not quite haikus” every day.

This set is to round off the present infection.

If I ever get to over 100, I will have to make a little book of Nhaikus.



11.

Before the beginning

And after the end of time

Iswas stasis

12.

TV News

Change the channel

Reality shift

13.

Science describes,

Even explains the how

But never the why

14.

Powerful car, but

The end of the journey

Is where the road ends

15.

Born, lived, died

Then relegated to history

Now forgotten

16.

Born, lived, died

Earned a Wikipedia entry

Immortality

17.

Without any Gods

Invented by others

No atheists

18.

Corks apopping

Another New Year to usher in

Déjà vu

19.

Three score and ten

A never-ending bucket list

Tick tock, tick tock

20.

Beyond infinity

Smaller than the infinitesimal

Unknowable


Previously:

Not quite Haiku

Some more “not quite Haikus” /2


 

Some more “not quite Haikus” /2

January 5, 2019

Challenging enough to condense a meaning into 3 phrases in 3 lines and even more so when restricting the syllables and trying to get some measure of juxtaposition.

Some more attempts at “not quite haikus” to follow my earlier attempts.

Surely amateurish but oddly satisfying.

Basho

6.

Sitting in the car

Raindrops merging on the windscreen

Wife shopping

7.

Silence all around

Unheard cacophony in the air

Radio waves


 

8.

A hole in the thick ice

Groaning and creaking all around

Grilled fish for dinner

9.

Visitor at the door

Rolling to expose his belly

Neighbour’s cat

10.

Low winter sun

Hanging in a crystal blue sky

Brilliantly blinding


Not quite Haiku

January 3, 2019

I was reading some Japanese Haiku (in translation) and had to have a go.

Not quite haiku which should be 3 lines with 5, 7, 5 syllables (17 total).

1.

Enveloped by a dark

Where your mind cannot tell

If your eyes are open

2.

Hiss and crackle in the glass

Of whiskey pouring on to icy rocks

Anticipating contentment

3.

A library in my hand

But no rustling of turning pages

Oddly disconcerting

4.

Beyond known and unknown

Lie the when and what and where and why

Of the unknowable

5.

Roaring deafening winds

But in the eye of the storm

The silence is music


Many New Year celebrations left in 2019

January 1, 2019

Apart from in June and July, it would seem that New Year is celebrated somewhere in every month of the year.


 


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