Michael Brooks writes over at the NewStatesman about ‘20 new ideas in science’. Although he doesn’t specifically draw attention to this, a lot of these are issues that have traditionally plagued philosophers, such as whether time exists, what consciousness is, and why so many of us have faith.
There are quite a few more that philosophers have tackled in recent years. I appreciate the scientific discoveries that are being made relevant to philosophy of biology, which include explanations about the nature of the tree of life (apparently its a web), and the degree to which humans are evolving (yup, it’s still happening – apparently this was an open question…).
I should also give a shout out to the following, because I’ve had discussions about it recently. It’s always scintillating to discuss the nature of information, and it’s also always nice (as I pointed out in my previous post) to get people agreeing with you. Anywho, of course everything is information (it’s also art), and it’s nice to get scientists showing this:
Everything is information
If you had a magic microscope that could see how things work on the tiniest scale in nature, you might get a bit of a surprise. Right at the bottom, holding everything together, is something we think of as abstract: information. The idea that has big thinkers all worked up is that everything in physics is made up of atoms of information. Any experiment or observation can be boiled down to asking a yes/no question, and the answer is a piece of information analogous to the 0 and 1 binary digits (bits) that computers process.
To draw us back to the title of this post, where will this leave philosophers? Stephen Hawkings thinks philosophy is dead. I wouldn’t be quite so pessimistic, for four reasons.
- It’s plausible to think that philosophers assisted with these advances, at least by pointing scientists to the right questions. Philosophers can continue to have a role in helping people cut up the world (metaphorically) so as to point scientists in fruitful directions (etc).
- Not all philosophical questions have been solved. Meaning of life, anyone (sigh)?
- There’s always experimental philosophy, to bridge the gap between science and philosophy.
- Even if science does eclipse philosophy in all other areas, it still (somewhat ironically) has no mandate over philosophy of science – this school of thought needs to be somewhat outside science so as to legitimately comment on it (let me know if this point is confusing).
As an addendum, I’ll point out that I don’t support hard and fast divides between disciplines at all (just in case my aforementioned thoughts suggested I did). I’ll follow this up in a separate blog post, promise.