Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Philosophy is dead

A new paper on Science and Philosophy: A Love-Hate Relationship argues:
In this paper I will argue that: (i) The natural sciences need philosophy; and (ii) That scientists need philosophy. ...

Stephen Hawking has declared the official ‘death’ of philosophy in a way that seems to echo Nietzsche’s famous phrase ‘God is dead’. Commenting on questions such as the behavior of the universe and the nature of reality, Hawking writes: “Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” (Hawking 2010, p. 5). ...

In this section I give two examples where philosophical discussion has been genuinely contributory to science, along the line s discussed in 3a)ii. Before doing that, I will address the negative examples that were given in 2b) — examples where philosophy’s influence has been rather hampering for science: the iron clad of mechanistic philosophy and Plato’s dictum that celestial motions should be along circles. ...

In the past ten years we have seen the first commercialization of quantum randomness: the first bank transaction built on the basis of a code encrypted not by the usual algorithms of classical cryptography (which rely on unproven mathematical assumptions such as the difficulty in factorizing large prime numbers), but based on the new field of quantum cryptography: a technique for encoding messages based on the notion of entanglement between particles at long distances. Quantum cryptography has been successfully developed and commercialized by several groups over the past twenty years or so.
No, this is just not true. There are no successful commercial applications of quantum cryptography. Philosophy has contributed nothing.

You can tell that this guy doesn't know what he is writing about when he says "difficulty in factorizing large prime numbers". Prime numbers do not have (non-trivial) factors. Only the non-prime numbers can be difficult to factor.

He also recites the usual nonsense about Kuhnian revolutions. Hawking is right. Philosophy is dead.


  1. No comprende. Whenever scientists hypothesize or conjecture (as opposed to declaring established or arguably-established facts) they philosophize. Again: cf. "Philosophy: Who Needs It?", A. Rand,

    "It's 'A Wrapper-Class Thing' ..." ~ J. Burdick

  2. So anyway, I guess the other thing that leaps out in protest is all that (mish-mash?)I've read about how competing scientific theories with a priori equivalent predictive power -- they say the better scientific theory is the one which is more elegant and/or simpler. "Elegant" sounds like aesthetics, which is a branch of philosophy. I don't think "elegant" is necessarily synonymous with "simpler" though for a particular case it might be. What's "elegant" if not merely "simpler"? Not sure, but let's start with the fact that it's a different word. It connotes gracefulness. Maybe a theory which is less simple because it strives to account for hitherto yet un-pin-downable factors is more elegant than a simpler rival with equivalent predictive power?