Physics vs.. Philosophy: A Public Battle?

Physics and Philosophy disagree about cosmology–where do we come from? How? Why? Apparently there’s more than one way to look at these questions.

When you think about it, it is strange to think of noted scientists and philosophers coming to verbal fisticuffs and brainy bouts over life, the universe and nothing. Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist, has written a book called “A Universe from Nothing,” which raises questions about cosmology that have been met with varying degrees of rebuff from members of the scientific, philosophical and religious communities. This philosophical “which came first?” debate is nothing new between these disciplines, but Krauss’ book has brought a once merely simmering debate to a full boil as philosophers of science rebuke Krauss’ bold assertions.

David Albert, who is a noted philosopher of science, weighed in against Krauss’ book in a New York Time review and not in the way that one might think, given his philosophical background. Albert’s problem lies less in the lack of God or religion in Krauss’ Quantum Field Theory-based claims, but more in how “something” comes of “nothing.”

The backdrop behind this debate is—among other things—the probable discovery of the Higgs Boson as well as another unknown particle, which are possibly central missing pieces in the puzzle of physics that might be able to unite previously contradicting classical and quantum theories of physics.   Whatever the case, any prospective physics degree candidate will likely find that now is a very exciting time to be majoring in physics.

The quantum field theory allows for a no-particle state of being, thus making particles fundamentally unstable and in a state of being “nothing.” When applying the theory of quantum mechanics to this state of nothing, it allows these particles to jump to other configurations and turn to something.” With this theory, there is no need for anything to be present; no need for God or any type of “something.” At this point, Albert takes off the gloves and is ready to have it out, asking the deeper question of Krauss’ assertions as to how the laws of quantum mechanics have come into existence. Albert feels that Krauss has grossly missed the mark by neglecting to answer the more philosophical question of how did these theories regarding these particles come into being.

Krauss is as steadfast in holding his ground as Albert is in shaking it and has raised the stakes in this battle by attacking the field of philosophy of science, in general. In a highly criticized interview that Krauss gave to “The Atlantic,” he referred to the field of philosophy of science as “moronic.” As incendiary as Krauss’ lashing out against the philosophy of science is, he is not alone in his dismissal of the field.

Leonard Susskind, a noted theorist and proponent of String Theory, and supports the idea of allowing for changes in the very fabric and nature of cosmological science, based on String Theory. Susskind also summarily dismisses the field of philosophy of science, further noting that he would rather that the anthropic principle not be brought into the matter. The anthropic principle basically states that the universe is set in tandem — not independently off — conscious life, which definitely is the bone of contention in this now knockdown, dragout academic brawl. If there were a conscious being present at the point when the unstable particles made their jumps to independently form “something,” that would dispel Krauss’ and Susskind’s scientific findings and firmly held beliefs.

Krauss’ uncompromising criticism comes through in his interview from The Atlantic with the following, “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, and I doubt that other philosophers read it because it’s fairly technical.” Krauss further discusses how the field of physics threatens a safe haven that philosophers have long held sequestered unto themselves, and he understands why philosophers feel threatened since philosophy is a static field while physics is continually moving and changing.

As sciences moves forward with ideas such as hidden dimensions of reality associated with string theory and multiverses, we may see even more rivalry among these once closely associated academic disciplines. 

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