"Philosophy is dead." So say the venerable physicists Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow on the first page of their recent bestselling book, The Grand Design.Physicists declaring philosophy to be lifeless is nothing new.... Why do physicists so often, and confidently, condemn a field that is not their own? Where are their instincts to be inquisitive, resist overstepping what they know, withhold judgment until certain and accompany claims with error bars?...For philosophers, the world includes more than physical matter. As the Harvard University philosopher Steven Shapin writes in his book, Never Pure, "Plants photosynthesize, plant biochemists are experts in knowing how plants photosynthesize, [while] reflective and informed students of science are experts in knowing how plant biochemists know how plants photosynthesize." In other words, the world studied by science researchers includes not just objects, but also connections between scientists and objects.Human beings, after all, engage with the world in different ways.... [S]cientists are not like plants whose product is knowledge.... Human beings... interpret both the world and themselves....Hawking's theoretical stance as an observer of fundamental structures, too, is only one way for humans to engage with the world, and not the default setting either....The lifeworld is the domain to which philosophers bring their torch of discovery. They study similarities and differences between various modes of being in the world.... To study this is not to undermine or critique these activities, but to understand and help cultivate them.
The critical point, Crease argues, is that philosophers do not attempt to "adopt a 'view from nowhere'," but instead, "when philosophers think about science, they struggle to be self-aware of that horizon and how it affects human self-interpretation." Philosophers approach the same questions in a different way. "Philosophy has moved on and remained current since the time of Plato's Academy in Athens, despite physicists' assertions to the contrary," Crease points out. And we scientists would be well advised to realize how similar our own assertions sound to those of the anti-evolution establishment. We know that the science of evolution has itself evolved since Darwin's initial postulations; why do we not afford the same courtesy to philosophy?
On the first page of his book Subtle is the Lord..., the physicist Abraham Pais reports a discussion with Einstein in which the latter asked Pais if he "really believed that the Moon exists only if I look at it." One could hardly think of a deeper, more challenging question about the concept "to exist." Yet Pais smoothly characterizes the conversation as "not particularly metaphysical." Discussing the meaning of reality is ok, evidently, so long as it is done in an amateur way.