Friday, December 22, 2017

Book Review: Philosophy of Physics

There are some physics controversies that no amount of physics research can answer. 
Why is doing string theory scientific despite its lack of empirical predictions? 
How should we interpret quantum mechanics? 
What is the nature of time and space? 
What constitutes fundamental physics?
'Philosophy of Physics' by Robert P Crease  attempts to answer such questions, by using four examples from physics to exhibit the aims and value of these philosophical approaches.
The beginning of the book specifies the first duty of a philosopher, as one to look and describe rather than judge and prescribe. When this happens, it can help resolve the philosophical challenges.
Next chapter talks about the philosophical traditions that have paid particular attention to physics. Analytic philosophers, the founding figures of whose tradition included logicians, physicists and mathematicians such as Rudolf Carnap, Hans Reichenbach and Bertrand Russell, who tend to be primarily interested in the logic of science and the meaning of its basic concepts, is one. Pragmatic philosophers, who thinks humans do not spring into being as scientists, but apprentice to become, tend to be interested in how scientists approach and solve puzzles, and what the consequences are, is another. Continental or hermeneutic philosophers, who tend to be interested in the workshop activity as one mode in which human beings can exist among others, and scientific knowledge as one way among others in which human beings are bound up with the world, forms the third group. 
The book thereafter examines four controversies, namely fundamental physics, the nature of space and time, quantum mechanics, and method. Does thermodynamics reduce to statistical mechanics? Is condensed-matter physics fundamental, or ultimately just an amalgam of physics and chemistry? Questions like these are posed to throw light on fundamental physics, where, philosophers from each of the above mentioned groups are shown to approach the issue differently.
"These three groups of philosophers", the book sys, "look at different dimensions of scientific practice with different aims and audiences in mind, tend to include people with expertise in fields that lie beyond physics. Their research, in other words, may well help physicists themselves to think about their work in ways they ordinarily do not, and to ward off misconceptions about the nature of scientific activity."
I liked the book. As far as philosophical insights coming to the help of scientific research, though a couple of examples is given, I think the value of the book could have crossed all limits, if only a good collection of such cases found a place in it.