In the scientific realism vs instrumentalism debate, realism is the position that the elements of a scientific theory represent reality. So when general relativity talks about space warping, space really is warping. Instrumentalism, or anti-realism, is the stance that scientific theories are just prediction mechanisms, with no guarantee that they represent reality. Under instrumentalism, general … Continue reading Structural realism, a way to be a scientific realist?
Ethan Siegel addresses a question on whether spacetime is real. But there’s more to the Universe than the objects within it. There’s also the fabric of spacetime, which has its own set of rules that it plays by: General Relativity. The fabric of spacetime is curved by the presence of matter and energy, and curved … Continue reading The causal criteria for being real
Those of you who've known me a while may remember that I dislike accepting philosophical labels. For example, although the labels "materialist" or "physicalist" are more or less accurate descriptions of what I think, they often seem to imply an ideological rigidity I'm not comfortable with. My attitude toward these labels somewhat resonates with Neil … Continue reading Scientific theories and prescriptive vs descriptive instrumentalism
In a somewhat whimsical podcast episode, Sean Carroll explores the physics and "rules" of time travel. Probably the first two thirds explore the physics. Carroll notes that if time travel under general relativity is at all possible, it would more likely involve a spaceship attempting to navigate some kind of closed timelike curve than stepping … Continue reading The rules of time travel?
When learning a new idea or concept, often it doesn't make a lot of sense at first. The various descriptions may seem dubious, and we might fail to see the structural similarities that bind them. Then, at some point, if we keep at it and are lucky, we "get it", it "clicks", we have an … Continue reading Talking across the boundary of the epiphany
I'm always interested in new takes on the demarcation between science and non-science, so after seeing the New Yorker write up on Michael Strevens' new book, The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science, it seemed like something I needed to read. Strevens begins by examining the two leading theories of science: Karl Popper's falsifiability … Continue reading The iron rule of science?
There's an interesting article in Psyche: How to foster ‘shoshin’. "Shoshin" is a Japanese Zen word referring to a "beginner's mind." The idea is that when we take ourselves to be a beginner in a subject, or at least still a student of it, we're more open to possibilities. But as we begin to think … Continue reading Fostering an open mind
Noam Chomsky published an essay on his web site a few years ago: Science, Mind, and Limits of Understanding. Chomsky's thesis is that there are areas of reality that science is simply incapable of understanding. He uses as his principle example, the case of Isaac Newton's understanding of gravity. Chomsky acknowledges that this is a … Continue reading The mechanical philosophy and mysterianism
A question that has come up in a couple of recent conversations: Is there any hope within a scientific or philosophical view of reality for immortality, something like an afterlife that is typically promised in the major religions? The most popular hope these days is the Technological Singularity, the idea that sometime soon we will … Continue reading Scientific and philosophical possibilities for immortality
James Wilson has an article up at Aeon, looking at the trolley problem and other ethical and philosophical thought experiments. One of the things he discusses is the notion that many philosophers have, along with many fans of particular thought experiments, that they're sort of like a scientific experiment. It's not that unusual for someone … Continue reading The problem with philosophical thought experiments