Neil DeGrasse Tyson shares with Stephen Hawing a commitment to demonstrating that lots of schooling will never, by itself, equate to an education (a distinction I’ve explored in a variety of places.) For example, in a bromide from a few years back, Tyson not only dismissed philosophy as being of no value, but insisted that bright students should stay away from it as it is nothing more than a distraction.i Stephen Hawking, for his part, has maintained a long running snark-fest directed at philosophers, notable mainly in that Hawking’s petulance is only exceeded by his ignorance, and the indefensibility of his “arguments”. One must scare quote the word “arguments” in the preceding because neither Tyson nor Hawking have an actual argument, only ex cathedra pronouncements that are to be accepted without question, and in the complete absence of anything like logic, principles, evidence, or facts.
Thus, for example, Hawking vapidly legislates in his recent book, The Grand Design, that, “philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” What Hawking is, in fact, asserting here is that philosophy is only philosophy when it is doing physics. So when it fails to do physics (and actually does philosophy – a subject Hawking knows absolutely nothing about, and imagines himself virtuous for his willful lack of education) then this can only be because philosophy is dead. He declares (in Black Holes and Baby Universes), without a particle of evidence to support his claim that,
There is a subspecies called philosophers of science who ought to be better equipped. But many of them are failed physicists who found it too hard to invent new theories and so took to writing about the philosophy of physics instead. They are still arguing about the scientific theories of the early years of this century, like relativity and quantum mechanics.
and then goes on to pule that, “Maybe I’m being harsh on philosophers, but they have not been very kind to me.”ii This is the sort of childishness one might expect from a 3rd grader, not from a man who held the Lucasian Chair at Cambridge University. In its way, however, it is perfectly representative of an attitude that has consumed much of physics, in which any attempts to ask deeper questions about the issues of contemporary physics are met with the dismissive command to just, “shut up and calculate.” Continue reading →