Wednesday, 5 June 2013
Philosophy & Science, not versus.
A response written to a question posed by a Facebook group: "'There is no such thing as philosophy-free science' - Agree or disagree?"
Science is made up of disciplines separated by arbitrary human-constructed divisions. A world of chemicals behaving according to the Laws of Physics. Physics is the Real World application of Mathematics. Mathematics is a branch of philosophy.
Scientists deal with what is ‘real’, what is possible in the universe we live in and what is demonstrable. Some extrapolate what might also be possible elsewhere, and by doing so depart from empirical study for the realm of conjecture and ‘thought experiments’. They need only look about them to see how that space has long been occupied by philosophers, artists and writers. Unfettered human thought, free to wander in the ‘What If?’.
It is clear humans are not solely concerned with the possible, the real or the statistically likely. We spend inordinate amounts of time pondering the unlikely and the impossible. Potential is more important to us than what actually happens. Freedom is not the action of roaming where we want, but the possibility of doing so even when most of us choose not to. A cage is just a concept.
The ocean of all that may or may not be possible is far larger than the puddles of what we have discovered. Philosophy is the process that teases puddles from the ocean, precipitating ideas into the paths of the analytical. The nature of oceans is such that they cannot be contained, cannot be seen all at once, cannot be fully understood. But they can inspire. They can be experienced. They can be felt and tasted and swum in, in such ways that any manageable sample of them will never convey. Philosophers cannot draw conclusions from their ocean of possibilities, but that is not their intention.
Philosophy lacks the focussed restraint of science, but that is its strength, not its weakness. A feature rather than a glitch. Science is focussed. It sets boundaries to allow more accurate study within the fields it chooses to define as separate. That way the ocean can be portioned and understood one piece at a time. Each piece revealing another set of truths. That does not make the ocean itself any smaller nor any easier to describe well in dry academic language.
Without science, philosophy decays into idle speculation. Without philosophy, science stagnates from lack of inspiration.