Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Science and its Relation to Philosophy

Revolutions in science - like that one replaced Newtonian absolutism with Einsteinian relativity - seem to have profound consequences for our view of the world. Before Einstein, both time and space were absolute; after both were relative. Before Darwin, species were changeless, and there were no relations of descent among species; after species were in constant flux (whether quick or slow), and all present species arose from other prior species.

But are revolutions in science over? Has the last already come and gone? I doubt it. Let us consider the case of physics. It is now dominated by two theories - Relativity Theory and Quantum Mechanics. The former comes into play in investigations of the very big, and the latter in investigations of the very small. But as of yet they have not been integrated into a single comprehensive theory, and thus the search for the so-called Grand Unified Theory continues on.

If GUT ever arrives (and this of course is a very real possibility) we should expect it to effect a significant change in our view of the world. (Why? Scientific revolutions have done this is the past, thus we should expect them to do the same in the future. A very simply inductive inference, this.) Thus I think it quite risky to take present physics and attempt to derive from it a philosophical view of the world, for it's a very real possibility that that view will be overturned.

Of course I mean to speak only of the present situation. It seems possible to me that, at some future time, there will be no cleavages in scientific theory of the sort that divides RT from QM. Perhaps at some future time there will emerge a single, unified theory that explains all phenomena, and if this should come to pass, science might well serve as a firm foundation for philosophical argument. But we are not there yet, and so I find it unlikely that present science is such a firm foundation. Philosophy must assert its independence of science until such time as the house of science is put in good order.

1 comment:

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