Science vs. The Rest: Round N


In his commentary on my essay “Science is Not your Enemy,” Leon Wieseltier writes, “It is not for science to say whether science belongs in morality and politics and art.”  I reply: It is not for Leon Wieseltier to say where science belongs. Good ideas can come from any source, and they must be evaluated on their cogency, not on the occupational clique of the people who originated them.

The rest is here.

Science and Metaphysics

Pete Wolfendale, Reid Kotlas and Nick Srnicek are doing a blog event. Here’s the blurb:

Science and Metaphysics

We are caught at the nexus of two different historical trends. First, we accept that with regard to certain questions, empirical science is the arbiter of truth. This is not to say that science is a unitary body of knowledge, but that the only standpoint from which to challenge the authority of scientific theories is from within science itself. Secondly, we accept the bankruptcy of positivism. There is more truth than that over which empirical science has dominion. Metaphysics is something other than science. Nonetheless, we cannot admit that metaphysics is completely beyond science’s authority. We cannot do this without also denying that in some sense, they have the same object – reality as it is in itself. We must thus acknowledge that there is a relation between science and metaphysics, wherein the one must somehow constrain the other, even if this constraint is somehow mutual. The question is then what exactly is this relation, and what are these constraints?

We invite submissions of 1500-2500 words on this general topic. Issues that could be addressed are:

– The methodological constraints science places on metaphysics.
– The metaphysical implications of specific aspects of modern science.
– The positive contribution of metaphysics to scientific inquiry (both in general and in particular).
– The nature of naturalism (e.g., methodological vs. substantive naturalism).
– The nature of materialism (e.g., materialism vs. physicalism).
– The necessity of concepts such as nature and matter.
– The viability of mathematical ontology (e.g., Badiou, Meillassoux, etc.) and the relation between mathematical and empirical science.
– The role of the philosophy of science in general and its relation to both scientific practice and metaphysical inquiry.

When It Is All Over

Reading around about quantum mechanics this morning (sounds so important and smart, but really it was a kind of amateurish voyage inspired by another BBC documentary, my ultimate source of information about science and world in general), I came across this exchange:

Amusing SR style puzzle: when the universe dies in heat death in about 10^100 years where the last black-holes are decayed according to Hawking and classical matter has disintegrated to nothing, what will there be?

Continue reading

Should philosophers just wear lab coats?

I came across this passage in Rorty’s Objectivity, Relativism and Truth quite by accident (Really–I was avoiding grading papers and dropped something behind my bookcase only to find Rorty’s book which I’m pretty sure isn’t even mine).

…any academic discipline which wants a place at the trough, but is unable to offer the predictions and the technology provided by the natural sciences, must either pretend to imitate science or find some way of obtaining “cognitive” status without the necessity of discovering facts (35).

Now, I have no idea if this actually represents Rorty’s own stance on the use of science in its relations to other non-scientific fields, but it gestures to a rather interesting phenomenon.  That is, if one wants to achieve at best some prestige, or at worst, acceptance of those in the academy,then one has to become “scientific.”  This seems especially evident in those who would like to teach Intelligent Design alongside evolution in the science classroom.  In this case, religion or religious discourse is “dressed up” and parades around as science.  I’m sure there are other examples.


This got me thinking about some of Tom Sorell’s criticisms directed towards various attempts to cook up a scientific philosophy under the guise of  “naturalism”  in his book Scientism.  That book isn’t fresh enough in my head to make any substantive connections here, but I think I recall his solution was some sort of version of Kant.

I Knew It!

Our world may be a giant hologram

DRIVING through the countryside south of Hanover, it would be easy to miss the GEO600 experiment. From the outside, it doesn’t look much: in the corner of a field stands an assortment of boxy temporary buildings, from which two long trenches emerge, at a right angle to each other, covered with corrugated iron. Underneath the metal sheets, however, lies a detector that stretches for 600 metres.

For the past seven years, this German set-up has been looking for gravitational waves – ripples in space-time thrown off by super-dense astronomical objects such as neutron stars and black holes. GEO600 has not detected any gravitational waves so far, but it might inadvertently have made the most important discovery in physics for half a century.

For many months, the GEO600 team-members had been scratching their heads over inexplicable noise that is plaguing their giant detector. Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time – the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into “grains”, just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. “It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time,” says Hogan.

If this doesn’t blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab’s Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: “If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram.”

Philosophy as a Practice of Political Intervention.

Marxist-Leninist afternoon continues with a section from Althusser’s Lenin and Philosophy:

In a lecture now a year old, published in a small volume by Maspero under the title Lenin and Philosophy, I have attempted to prove that Lenin should be regarded as having made a crucial contribution to dialectical materialism, in that he made a real discovery with respect to Marx and Engels, and that this discovery can be summarized as follows: Marx’s scientific theory did not lead to a new philosophy (called dialectical materialism), but to a new practice of philosophy, to be precise to the practice of philosophy based on a proletarian class position in philosophy.

This discovery, which I regard as essential, can be formulated in the following theses: Continue reading

Why Is There Corn Syrup In My Salad?

Following a delightful and at times passionate rant about ingridients of my potato salad purchased at a store, I see this insightful piece in Slate:

Dark Sugar: The decline and fall of high-fructose corn syrup (by Daniel Engber).

High-fructose corn syrup first started trickling into our food supply about 40 years ago; by 1984, it was flowing from just about every soda fountain in the country. These days HFCS accounts for almost half of all the added sugars in the U.S. diet, but the corn Niagara may soon be over. Last week, PepsiCo became the latest manufacturer to turn its back on America’s sweetener, introducing three new soft drinks—Pepsi Natural, Pepsi Throwback, and Mountain Dew Throwback—sweetened with a “natural” blend of cane and beet sugars.

The rest of this interesting take on corn syrup is here. My favorite part of the piece is the tone and the conclusion: sugar is still bad for you, fatty, stop putting it in every damn thing you eat.

I Hate Science: Another Monstrous Distortion.

Levi offers another one of his characteristic “pick and choose” and wildly distorted interpretations of my comments on Speculative Heresy – it’s all nicely quoted and nicely summarized there. It is clear that I hate science – but hey what has it ever done for me and my armchair (actually, an ottoman kind of like this one – I know, weird, but I like my sitting arrangement, does it make me an ottoman philosopher?)? 

Shahar, a preventive comment to your typed-as-we-speak friendly email about why I even bother with this debate anymore – once in a while, there are interesting issues being brought up and I’d like to hope there’s some value in all of these exchanges…

P.S. Google Maps is tracking the swine flu – nothing to worry about, I dont’ believe in science so it’s not going to affect me.

New Science Blog

I came across this intersting blog – check it out. Here’s an example of the post discussing Quantum Mechanics and some of it’s philosophical implications (old theme, I know, but nonetheless still very exciting for yours truly):

Foundational studies of quantum physics hold a deep fascination for anyone interested in questions about the ultimate structure of the world. Quantum mechanics (QM) is now hovering around its 100th anniversary (depending on whether or not you take the work of Planck, Einstein, or Bohr to mark its true birth). Unlike other theories, quantum mechanics has proven to be remarkably elusive in terms of pinning down what truly, absolutely, no-kidding-anymore, really exists.


The Many-Worlds Interpretation seems crazy to a lot of people, physicists and non-physicists alike. Personally, as a theorist of the astrophysical sort, I see its allure but remain suspicious of the enormous commitment it asks. What may be most interesting about it, however, is how, by taking things to an extreme, it raises two of the oldest and deepest questions we can ask:

What truly exists, and what kind of access do we have to it?