Scientists and Philosophers Need to Talk

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Scientists and Philosophers Need to Talk

<p>We all know what Science is – but do we know what ‘reality’ is; or even what ‘understanding’ is? Just how to we ‘know’, and how do we know that we know? There is abundant evidence that we don’t –


We all know what Science is – but do we know what ‘reality’ is; or even what ‘understanding’ is? Just how to we ‘know’, and how do we know that we know? There is abundant evidence that we don’t – and even the experts don’t! These questions are as much philosophical as they are scientific, and Tibor offers some deep philosophical insights into them. Since the mid-20th century, “metaphysics” has become something of a dirty word – especially, but not exclusively, in scientific circles. And. some would say, with good reason! Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’ did nothing to prevent Germany perpetrating the worst atrocities of the century, and Nietzsche’s “Übermensch” seemed almost to condone it. British “Logical Positivism” (1920s-30s) was a self-defeating failure; and European postmodernism (1960s-80s) turned out to be little more than an elaborate hoax. And, perhaps worst of all, Quantum Mechanics has sent contemporary metaphysics into a veritable tailspin!

All in all, it’s probably fair to say that 20th-century philosophical thought has been lacklustre at best, and scientists are probably right to have nothing to do with it! Or so the story goes... However, in this presentation I argue that for all its failings, dismissing Philosophy altogether is rather like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Philosophy is a broad church: a systematic rational inquiry into the general nature of the world (ontology and metaphysics); the justification of beliefs (epistemology); and the conduct of life (ethics). While the third of these endeavours has a chequered history, the first two are central to any system of knowledge and/or understanding, including of the physical Sciences. It may sound like too bold a claim, but it’s true: a little carefully considered “metaphysics” goes a long way towards unpacking some of the Universe’s deep mysteries.


  • Max Schlosshauer et al.: A Snapshot of Foundational Attitudes Toward Quantum Mechanics (arXiv 1301.1069v1, (2013)
  • A. Einstein, B. Podolsky, & N. Rosen: Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete? (Phys. Rev. 47(10), 1935), pp.777-80.
  • J. Ladyman & D. Ross: Everything Must Go (OUP, 2007)
  • Alan Sokal & Jean Bricmont: Intellectual Impostures (Profile Books, 1997)
  • Anthony Quinton: The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (OUP, 1995)


  • Demonstration: Scientists and Philosophers really don’t talk! [Peter Atkins (Oxford)]
  • Definition: What is Science?
  • Definition: What is Philosophy?
  • Definition: What is Knowledge?
  • Elaboration: The Pursuit of Knowledge
  • Quiz: What is “Reality”?
  • Elaboration – Some Critical Distinctions: Observables vs beables, Beings vs doings, Haecceity vs Quiddity, Phenomena vs Epiphenomena
  • Demonstration: How Philosophy illuminates the nature of “Reality”
  • More criticial distinctions: Determinacy vs Determinability, Detection vs Observation, Causation vs Attribution & Correlation, Emergent Complexity vs Holism, Descriptions vs Explanations, Validity vs Truth, The Role of Mathematics
  • Conclusion: Scientists and Philosophers… ‘really’ do need to talk!
  • And some scientists know it [Carlo Rovelli (Marseilles)]
  • Acknowledgements