Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Beginning - Philosophy

We'll start at the beginning, and the beginning of physics is philosophy. For a long time we called ourselves "natural philosophers." In fact the first physicists were just philosophers. So, a few words about philosophy, because I think that most people dislike it or feel very disassociated from it, think of it as something repellant like the number of angels on the head of pin, and think it belongs to the past. Whether or not I'm right about a common dislike for philosophy in the populace at large, I am right about a dislike for philosophy among today's physicists. Many physicists look down on philosophy; Feynman had some choice words about it of basically total disdain. So let's unearth the truth about philosophy and what it's about, and then see how physics grew out of that.

There is a very practical way of approaching life - one that emphasizes getting things done. This is the mode that most of us spend most of our time in. I know how to walk, the sky and what that tells me about how to keep myself warm and safe from the weather, how to use a sponge, soap, and water to scrub and clean dishes, how to make my room beautiful, how to communicate with others and participate in family ties, the rules for my local government/groups and how to work those rules to get things done, and many many other things. At every stage in history most people have been engaged in getting things done. It's still that way today. We put a lot of thought into it and are constantly challenging ourselves and learning more into order to get new things done. It requires immense time and talent, and the majority of people have focused on this sort of life and work, and many have lived very satisfying lives doing so.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to think of physics having its roots in philosophy. Though almost everything has it's roots in philosophy, hence the doctorate for almost all disciplines being a Ph.D. - Doctor of Philosophy. Of course, in the middle ages, theology was considered the Queen and capstone of all the disciplines, of which what we consider the hard sciences were a small minority, since God created the world, and any study of the world was therefore a study of God. This isn't a view you'll find expressed much in today's academic world...