Philosophy in science: the tower of Babel

The past weeks I have had some opportunity to think about philosophy in general, and also about its relation to science (specifically to physics and mathematics which tend to preoccupy me more than other disciplines).

I frequently come across (foundational) debates where to me the key issue seems to be that we have trouble understanding what we are trying to talk about. The image that comes to mind:

Image

The tower of Babel, Pieter Brueghel the Elder

Therefore I’m baffled that Stephen Hawking declared that `philosophy is dead’. In fact, such a viewpoint to me illustrates the need for more philosophy in (foundations of) physics and mathematics.

On what do we found our conceptions? What underpins our underpinnings? Many scientists, even in foundations, seem reluctant to really address these questions. And yes, I believe that the publish-or-perish culture is a large contributor to this reluctance.

Another contributor is the inherent hardness of addressing these questions. And then, when talking about our axioms, our basic assumptions, there is the added complication that we do not really speak each other’s (scientific) language. Even in mathematics alone, this occurs more often than not.

So would it not be an idea to give both philosophy and communication a more prominent role in (foundations of) science?

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About fwaaldijk

mathematician (foundations & topology in constructive mathematics) and visual artist
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