a history of walking

utopian artifacts

Hogan: You are a Christian, more specifically a Quaker. Does your faith have any effect on your scientific views, or vice versa?

Ellis: It may affect to some degree the topics I choose to tackle, but it cannot affect the science itself, which has its own logic that must be followed wherever it leads without fear or favour, within the domain of application of the relevant theories.

My philosophical and religious views must of course take present-day science seriously, but in doing so (a) I distinguish very clearly between what is tested or testable science and what is not, (b) I make strenuous efforts to consider what aspects of reality can be comprehended by a strict scientific approach, and what lie outside the limits of mathematically based efforts to encapsulate aspects of the nature of what exists.

Many key aspects of life (such as ethics: what is good and what is bad, and aesthetics: what is beautiful and what is ugly) lie outside the domain of scientific inquiry (science can tell you what kind of circumstances will lead to the extinction of polar bears, or indeed of humanity; it has nothing whatever to say about whether this would be good or bad, that is not a scientific question).

Attempts to explain values in terms of neuroscience or evolutionary theory in fact have nothing whatever to say about what is good or bad. That is a philosophical or religious question (scientists trying to explain ethics from these kinds of approaches always surreptitiously introduce some unexamined concept of what is a good life by the back door). And they cannot for example tell you, from a scientific basis, what should be done about Israel or Syria today. That effort would be a category mistake.

Horgan: Krauss, Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson have been bashing philosophy as a waste of time. Do you agree?

Ellis: If they really believe this they should stop indulging in low-grade philosophy in their own writings. You cannot do physics or cosmology without an assumed philosophical basis. You can choose not to think about that basis: it will still be there as an unexamined foundation of what you do. The fact you are unwilling to examine the philosophical foundations of what you do does not mean those foundations are not there; it just means they are unexamined.

Actually philosophical speculations have led to a great deal of good science. Einstein’s musings on Mach’s principle played a key role in developing general relativity. Einstein’s debate with Bohr and the EPR paper have led to a great of deal of good physics testing the foundations of quantum physics. My own examination of the Copernican principle in cosmology has led to exploration of some great observational tests of spatial homogeneity that have turned an untested philosophical assumption into a testable – and indeed tested – scientific hypothesis. That’ s good science.

Thus what he is presenting is not tested science. It’s a philosophical speculation, which he apparently believes is so compelling he does not have to give any specification of evidence that would confirm it is true. Well, you can’t get any evidence about what existed before space and time came into being. Above all he believes that these mathematically based speculations solve thousand year old philosophical conundrums, without seriously engaging those philosophical issues. The belief that all of reality can be fully comprehended in terms of physics and the equations of physics is a fantasy. As pointed out so well by Eddington in his Gifford lectures, they are partial and incomplete representations of physical, biological, psychological, and social reality.

And above all Krauss does not address why the laws of physics exist, why they have the form they have, or in what kind of manifestation they existed before the universe existed (which he must believe if he believes they brought the universe into existence). Who or what dreamt up symmetry principles, Lagrangians, specific symmetry groups, gauge theories, and so on? He does not begin to answer these questions.

It’s very ironic when he says philosophy is bunk and then himself engages in this kind of attempt at philosophy. It seems that science education should include some basic modules on Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, and the other great philosophers, as well as writings of more recent philosophers such as Tim Maudlin and David Albert.


Tony Owl [wuvmykittycat] (original)


“Actually,” said Harry, pocketing his e-cigarette, “Peter’s pursuit of rational self-interest is of a higher moral order than your determination to kill yourself on another person’s behalf, Sirius. Self-sacrifice is never the answer; it ends only in pain and death.”

Sirius blanched. “But Voldemort — we could have stopped Voldemort.”

“It’s a free market,” Harry said, shrugging.

Lupin turned into a wolf.

“Control yourself,” Harry said. “Good lord, man, you’re a being of pure will and drive. Exercise it.”

Lupin turned back into a man with flashing, clear eyes and a jaw that could level a mid-sized office building.

“In the marketplace of ideas,” Harry went on, “Voldemort has the same right to disseminate his philosophy as you do. If his philosophy is sound, it will flourish. If his philosophy is unsound, you have nothing to fear.”


A Study of New York by Tumble Dry Comics



#SFChurches each one unique as the city itself #sfphotography (at Holy Virgin Cathedral of SF)


#SFChurches each one unique as the city itself #sfphotography (at Holy Virgin Cathedral of SF)

My life right now.