Richard Feynman on Philosophy of Science and Ornithology

Richard Feynman is supposed to have said, in his usual inimitable style, that “Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.” Cue chuckles from scientists and grumbles from philosophers. Science is useful! Philosophy is useless! Go back to counting angels. Or something like that.  The persistent disdain that distinguished scientists–likeContinue reading “Richard Feynman on Philosophy of Science and Ornithology”

The Greek Alphabet: Making The Strange Familiar

In his review of Patrick Leigh Fermor‘s The Broken Road: From The Iron Gates to Mount Athos (eds. Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper, New York Review Books, 2014) Daniel Mendelsohn writes: His deep affection and admiration for the Greeks are reflected in particularly colorful and suggestive writing. There is a passage in Mani in which the letters ofContinue reading “The Greek Alphabet: Making The Strange Familiar”

Unsung Heroines and Premature Glory

News Scientist  is currently featuring a story titled “Unsung Heroines: Five Women Denied Scientific Glory.” The woman scientists featured are: Hertha Ayrton, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Gerty Cori (an odd choice given she was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize), Rosalind Franklin, and Lise Meitner. For my money, of the stories told here, those ofContinue reading “Unsung Heroines and Premature Glory”

Carl Sagan’s Glorious Dawn: The Promise of Cosmos

The YouTube video titled “A Glorious Dawn” starring Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking (their voices run through Auto-Tune), and snippets from Sagan’s epic Cosmos, has now racked up almost nine million views and twenty-seven thousand comments since it was first put up sometime back in 2009. (Mysteriously, in addition to its seventy-seven thousand ‘Likes’ it hasContinue reading “Carl Sagan’s Glorious Dawn: The Promise of Cosmos”

The Terror of the Formerly Utterly Incomprehensible

Yesterday’s post detailing my rough introduction to calculus in high school reminded me of another encounter with a forbiddingly formidable mathematical entity, one that in later times served as an acute reminder of how even the utterly incomprehensible can come to acquire an air of familiarity. One reason for the rough ride I experienced inContinue reading “The Terror of the Formerly Utterly Incomprehensible”

Is Economics a Science?

Eric Maskin, 2007 Nobel Prize winner in Economics, responds to Alex Rosenberg and Tyler Curtain’s characterization of economics: They claim that a scientific discipline is to be judged primarily on its predictions, and on that basis, they suggest, economics doesn’t qualify as a science. Prediction is certainly a valuable goal in science, but not theContinue reading “Is Economics a Science?”

Enrico Fermi, Abduction, and Slow Neutrons

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1938, Enrico Fermi spoke briefly and thoughtfully about the theoretical and experimental work which had earned him this honor.  His talk, ‘Artificial Radioactivity Produced by Neutron Bombardment,’ is a little gem of scientific writing, which showcases not only descriptions of the results of theContinue reading “Enrico Fermi, Abduction, and Slow Neutrons”

Bohm and Schrödringer on the World, the Self, and Wholeness

Sans comment, two physicists of yesteryear on matters that might be considered philosophical. First, David Bohm on ‘the world’: [T]he world cannot be analyzed correctly into distinct parts; instead, it must be regarded as an indivisible unit in which separate parts appear as valid approximations only in the classical [i.e., Newtonian] limit….Thus, at the quantumContinue reading “Bohm and Schrödringer on the World, the Self, and Wholeness”

The Physics-Philosophy ‘Kerfuffle’

The ongoing spat between physicists and philosophers–sparked by David Albert’s negative review of Lawrence Krauss’ A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing–is the latest instance of a simmering conflict that seems to recur between the academic practitioners of discipline ‘X’ and philosophers who specialize in ‘philosophy of X.’ One kind of complaint madeContinue reading “The Physics-Philosophy ‘Kerfuffle’”