Philosophy of physics

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Philosophy of physics is the study of the fundamental, philosophical questions underlying modern physics, the study of matter and energy and how they interact. Perhaps the main questions concern the nature of space and time, atoms and atomism, cosmology, the interpretation of the results of quantum mechanics, the foundations of statistical mechanics, causality, determinism, and the nature of physical laws. Classically, several of these questions were studied as part of metaphysics (for example, those about causality, determinism, and space and time). Today, the philosophy of physics is very close to and the most active subtopic within philosophy of science.

The importance of philosophy of physics

Albert Einstein was a fine philosopher of physics, and the following two quotes explain a few of the more important reasons why this subject knowledge is important.

"I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today - and even professional scientists - seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is - in my opinion - the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth."

- Einstein to Robert A. Thornton, 7 December 1944, EA 61-574

"How does it happen that a properly endowed natural scientist comes to concern himself with epistemology? Is there no more valuable work in his specialty? I hear many of my colleagues saying, and I sense it from many more, that they feel this way. I cannot share this sentiment. ... Concepts that have proven useful in ordering things easily achieve such an authority over us that we forget their earthly origins and accept them as unalterable givens. Thus they come to be stamped as 'necessities of thought,' 'a priori givens,' etc.

The path of scientific advance is often made impassable for a long time through such errors. For that reason, it is by no means an idle game if we become practiced in analyzing the long-commonplace concepts and [in] exhibiting [examining? -Ed.] those circumstances upon which their justification and usefulness depend, how they have grown up, individually, out of the givens of experience. By this means, their all-too-great authority will be broken."

- Einstein, from 'Ernst Mach.' Physikalische Zeitschrift 17 (1916): 101, 102 - A memorial notice for the philosopher, Ernst Mach

Subjects in the philosophy of physics

See also

External links