Templeton Foundation Strategy and Planning

Most physicists are rather dubious about whether “multiverse” research is deserving of any support since it’s not clear that it is even science. Because of this, such research has been finding financial support in recent years not from conventional sources like the NSF, but from the Templeton Foundation, a very wealthy organization devoted to the goal of bringing together science and religion. Some examples of this funding include the World Science Festival program mentioned in the last posting, and the Foundational Questions Institute, which provides grants, many of them for multiverse research.

I’d always wondered if there was some kind of organized effort by Templeton to push this kind of research, and and got a partial answer to this question recently when I took a look at some of their web-pages. Last year they organized two days of conferences at the Royal Society in London, associated with their choice of cosmologist and Catholic priest Michael Heller for their 2008 Templeton Prize of a million pounds. The preparatory readings page of the second day’s conference provides a link to a document entitled Towards the Establishment of the Philosophy of Cosmology at Oxford. There’s also a link to “Password Protected Papers” on the topic of Toward a New Philosophy of Cosmology, but these papers aren’t really password protected since the password (“multiverse”) as well as the user name (“universe”) are given right next to the link.

If you follow this link, you are taken to the web-site for “A Strategy and Planning Workshop of the John Templeton Foundation”, held in May 2007 at the Royal Society. The purpose of this workshop is described as:

To bring cosmologists and philosophers together to review the ‘state of the field’ of the philosophy of cosmology and to explore the most effective ways of developing and enriching the philosophy of cosmology. How might the John Templeton Foundation contribute to field development?

and here are some other extracts from that page:

The John Templeton Foundation would like to help develop this field. We are considering the creation of substantial research support opportunities in the philosophy of cosmology. In addition, our expectation is that there is some need for infrastructure, and the Foundation would be interested in helping to support development of a suitable context for a flourishing field….

…the afternoon session, a discussion of strategy for field development. The Foundation is serious about providing resources if we can find a strategically-effective plan to make a difference.

This afternoon session was described in the program as follows:

Goal: Finally, we explore what is needed to develop the field of philosophy of cosmology in a dramatic way over the next decade. Our initial thought is that the field needs some infrastructure development as well as basic research support. Because this work must bring together such disparate fields, it is not easy working through basic university structures. It may be that beyond core research projects, we need to support the creation of major long-term initiatives or centers, and help establish training for a new kind of scholar as well as faculty positions and perhaps other elements of infrastructure such as book series or a journal to take two common elements of the scholarly enterprise. Also needed, perhaps, are ways of making it more visible to the public in ways that improve on current popular presentations.

The afternoon talks were by Priyamvada Natarajan, a Yale astrophysicist described as “currently a member of the advisory panel for the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and has an abiding intellectual interest in understanding issues in spirituality and science”, and 2004 Templeton Prize winner George Ellis who is described as “co-author of On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics” and “editor of the Far Future Universe: Eschatology from a Cosmic Perspective.” The respondent was the Reverend Keith Ward, described as “his main work is a four-volume comparative theology from OUP”, and “His most recent book, published in 2006, is Pascal’s Fire – religious understanding and scientific faith.” The evening program was devoted to a celebration of Bernard Carr and the book based on three Templeton-funded conferences that he edited, Universe or Multiverse?

In a whitepaper prepared for the strategy session, Carr argues not just for the anthropic principle, but for the necessity of a “new science”:

In one sense the current debate today about the scientific status of M-theory and the multiverse proposal is nothing new. We’ve seen that progress on the outer and inner fronts has always been controversial, so perhaps history is just repeating itself. However, there is another sense in which the current situation is very special. This is because today — for the first time — the boundaries at the largest and smallest scales have connected. They are unified through quantum gravity and so the two science/philosophy frontiers have merged.

One might argue that this merging represents the completion of the scientific process. This is why the symbol of cosmic uroborus is so powerful: it represents both the evolution of our knowledge of the universe and the triumph of physics in producing a unified view of the world. Have we therefore reached the endpoint of science just as the macroscopic and microscopic frontiers merge? I doubt it. Personally I believe this merely represents a transformation in the perceived nature of science.

He then explains why Templeton money is needed:

Whether one redefines science to include exotic new ideas is not just a semantic issue. It also has practical implications because research in topics deemed to be “unscientific” is unlikely to be funded through the usual channels. For example, even in my own field, I have sometimes found that I cannot obtain a grant for a research project because some funding council has changed the definition of what constitutes “astronomy”. There will always be research areas (especially cosmological ones) which straddle the border between science or philosophy and this is why JTF’s initiative to support such areas is so important. It can promote or nurture ideas which have not yet been accepted into the world of legitimate science.

Carr is a past president of the Society for Psychical Research, and in its proceedings recently published a paper entitled Can Psychical Research Bridge the Gulf Between Matter and Mind?. In the white paper he advocates the idea that Consciousness is somehow part of this new science:

Another feature of the new paradigm – and here I am definitely venturing beyond the boundaries of current science – is likely to be mind. One feature of the Universe which is noticeably absent in the current paradigm of physics is consciousness….

…even the mention of the C word was taboo until recently. On the other hand, one might be sceptical of physicists’ claim to be close to a “Theory of Everything”, when such a conspicuous aspect of the world is neglected.

Certainly physics in its classical form cannot incorporate consciousness….

But what has this to do with cosmology? At first sight, developments in cosmology and particle physics might appear to have diminished the status of mind. The more we understand the Universe, from the vast expanses of the cosmos to the tiny world of particle physics, the more irrelevant humans (and hence minds) seem to become. Curiously, however, in recent decades cosmology has brought about a reversal in this trend, suggesting that mind may be a fundamental rather than incidental feature of the Universe. I’m referring here primarily to the Anthropic Principle…

He ends with some comments on theology, beginning with:

Of course, most scientists are even more uncomfortable straying into the domain of theology than philosophy, so the G word (God) is usually regarded as even more taboo than the C word. However, since science seems to be coming to terms with the A and C words, perhaps the same will happen with the G word. Maybe there is a gradual process of desensitization in which the A, C and G words become successively accepted!

The whitepaper by Ellis deals with the crucial question of whether untestable speculation is science:

There is also a reverse flow, whereby the development of the philosophy of cosmology – pushing the philosophy of science to its limits – may well have useful influences in wider realms of philosophy. Indeed it must be so, as cosmology helps us understand the nature of being human by clarifying the overall physical context through which we come to have our existence. So a useful part of the whole enterprise may be to try to develop that link: the different ways in which our understanding of the universe helps shape our views of humanity, and the ways that the philosophy of cosmology may help shape the philosophy of science. This may be particularly useful in terms of those aspects of physics which also face problems of testability for fundamental reasons, and so where some physicists are proposing to lessen the degree of rigour usually demanded in a scientific proof, decrying usual scientific criteria of testability as they do so (string theory comes to mind).

The whitepaper of Simon Saunders is an earlier version of the proposal for a new Oxford program available on the 2008 conference site. It proposes a new masters level 2 year course in philosophy of cosmology, with Templeton funding 2 3-year postdocs, a 5-year research fellow, a visiting scholars program, buy out time for those teaching in or administering the program, and funding for fellowships for graduate students. He also proposes to spend about 20,000 pounds a year on an outreach program to promote “philosophy of cosmology” in schools.

I haven’t seen any evidence that this planning and strategy session led to anything. For one thing, there does not seem to yet be a “Philosophy of Cosmology” program at Oxford, although perhaps Templeton will at some point fund such a thing. But, this session does give a good idea of where some people would like to take theoretical physics, and indicates Templeton’s interest in the idea of heavily funding ventures to promote such a “new science”.

On a somewhat related note, see today’s PZ Myers posting entitled The name “Templeton Foundation” needs to become a mark of failure.

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31 Responses to Templeton Foundation Strategy and Planning

  1. Matt Leifer says:

    Hmm. I do actually think that developing the philosophy of cosmology is a good idea, but not if support for the multiverse is taken as a foregone conclusion. We need people who are willing to engage in a thorough criticism of these ideas as well.

  2. Tony Smith says:

    Peter, about Templeton and FQXi and the multiverse,
    you mention “… the Templeton Foundation … funding … the Foundational Questions Institute [FQXi] …”
    the FQXi web site (including blog entries by Anthony Aguirre, who appears to be an official FQXi spokesman regarding the essay contest) says in part:
    “… FQXi Essay Contest …
    The theme for this Essay Contest is:
    “What is Ultimately Possible in Physics?” …
    the challenge will be to maintain high relevance by focusing on *ultimate* possibility …
    the focus of these essays should be
    more about physics and what is ultimately possible *in physics*
    rather than what is ultimately possible *using physics*, i.e.
    technologically attainable in some way

    an essay that is centrally about how a multiverse limits physics ultimate predictive power — or doesn’t — would feel … relevant

    Entries will be accepted from May 15, 2009 to October 2, 2009

    This forum category will contain discussions of essays submitted to FQXi’s 2009 essay contest. Please check back in early June to join the discussion! … There are no topics yet in this category. [as of Monday 22 June 2009 around 5:30 PM EDT] …”.

    It seems interesting that even well after early June has come and gone,
    and well over a month after the essay contest opened on 15 May 2009,
    and even though FQXi’s spokesman explicitly approved the topic
    ” … about how a multiverse limits physics ultimate predictive power — or doesn’t …”

    there are NO essays on that (or any other, for that matter) topic on the FQXi Forum web page where they are supposed to appear for discussion.

    Does that mean that few essays have been submitted
    does that mean that FQXi is having difficulty screening/refereeing submitted essays to ensure that they “… explore the most effective ways of developing and enriching the philosophy of cosmology …”
    and “… to promote such a “new science” …”

    Tony Smith

  3. Peter Woit says:


    I have no idea how FQXI is dealing with their essay contest, you have to take that up with them, not here.

  4. Eric Habegger says:

    Even though the multiverse idea seems intrinsically silly I actually don’t think the idea of developing a philosophical structure that accompanies some of our newer knowledge is a bad idea at all. For instance, I think people should understand that the multiverse idea is an essentially amoral concept. That is, it projects that anything that has a probability of occuring “does” occur, even if not in our universe. Supposedly it occurs with a statistical rate that coinsides with the initial probability.

    But the whole idea gives one, if one chose to, the ability to rationalize doing bad things because someone will commit that abomination somewhere. So it gives the excuse that you can do anything you want if it will give you an advantage. I think besides being a really stupid idea the multiverse is an essentially destructive philosophical stance. I think everyone should understand that.

    I am much more comfortable with one universe, one event occuring out of the initial probability of events, and a world which can be better or worse for that event happening. It gives all of us a responsibility for living a life that will provide a better world in the future.

  5. Peter Woit says:


    If people want to discuss the “philosophy of cosmology”, that’s fine, but they should do it as philosphers, according to the intellectual standards of philosophy. The problem is that there are quite a few physicists, some motivated by a need to find some way to avoid admitting that string unification has failed, who want to engage in something that is not science, claiming it to be a “new kind of science”. Unfortunately, the Templeton organization seems interested in funding and encouraging this (or maybe not, maybe the “planning and strategy” workshop convinced them that this would be a mistake…).


    An excellent example of something which is not science and has no place in a science department.

  6. David H. Miller says:

    Peter, you said:
    >If people want to discuss the “philosophy of cosmology”, that’s fine, but they should do it as philosophers, according to the intellectual standards of philosophy.

    Putting all flippancy aside (a bit difficult in this area!), are there really any “intellectual standards of philosophy” generally accepted among academic philosophers?

    Can the pomo folks, any lingering existentialists, the growing group who hark back to the ancient Greeks, the old “analytic philosophers” of the twentieth century, and the few philosophers who have some literacy in science really agree on any intellectual standards at all?

    Don’t get me wrong – I respect and like personally some individual philosophers. For example, I am friendly with Colin McGinn, even though Colin is more pessimistic than I about solving the problem of consciousness. Colin tries to seriously learn about science before he comments on it, he separates his own speculations from established science, he adheres to standard norms of reason and evidence. He’s a good guy, even if you disagree with him.

    But I am doubtful if he is the norm among contemporary philosophers.

    Of course, I suppose this goes back to your ongoing central theme, Peter: science has outstripped other intellectual disciplines by adhering to one central rule – our speculations have to be checked by experiment.

    Take that away, and chaos looms.

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

  7. rrtucci says:

    So, why do religious people like Templeton believe in a multiverse? Where does the Bible talk about it?

  8. cos says:

    Maybe they just view it as solidarity among faith-based ideologies.

  9. Tim Solton says:

    Anybody who has ever tried to write down a definition of the term `universe’ will see that his definition does not allow him to define the word `multiverse’.

    It is a bit like first saying `everything’ and then saying `even more everything’.

    I find it appalling that a person with high school degree is not ashamed to use such words. But, “ex falso quodlibet”. Maybe that is the real motto of the Templeton Foundation?


  10. asdfasf says:

    “Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.”

  11. Tim vB says:

    actually there is already a very nice work addressing the program of the Templeton Foundation, see “The Physics of Christianity” by Frank J. Tipler. He has a nice proof of the existence of god using cosmology and some concepts from QM/QFT, it basically goes like this:
    The universe will collapse (big crunch), all intelligent live forms will unite in the process to form one entity, called the omega point. The heating universe will then fuel the ability of the omega point to process information, so it’s intelligence will diverge to infinity. Now imagine that your brain could process information twice as fast as it does now, that would mean you would have twice as many thoughts per second than you have now. Tipler’s hypothesis is, that you would experience a second therefore as twice as long as you do now. For the omega point this means that, while the (proper) physical time of the existence of the omega-point is finite, it’s consciously experienced time will be infinite since it’s information processing ability will diverge. Note that the concept of “time as experienced by a consciousness” does not correspond to any concept of time as an observable in conventional physics, so we really are expanding physics as a science in one of the direction the Templeton program would like to.
    Now, what does the omega point do with his abilities? It will of course emulate everything that ever existed before in the universe, including you and me (our original selves are probably long dead and gone by then).
    Since QM says that identical systems cannot be distinguished, an emulation of you cannot be distinguished from you, so it is really you. So you and me will be resurrected by the omega point, and be judged by it (why that necessarily happens escapes me at the moment, but hey, I read the book some 15 years back).
    So here we arrive at god and judgment day by scientific reasoning.
    Tipler doesn’t use any stringy concepts, so you could probably throw in some stringy buzzwords and resell the theory to Templeton, if you would like to get funding from them (I won’t, so here you go).
    Maybe, if you choose the buzzwords carefully enough, you could even post it in hep on the xArchive without too many people dying from a laugh attack.
    Have fun,

  12. chris says:

    Tim, ‘multiverse’ is a very respected concept for decades – among science fiction and fantasy writers.

    look. at e.g:

    i am always surprised about the nonchalancy with which respected scientists have recently started pushing this ‘scientific’ term that for decades was so firmly rooted in the area between fiction and obscurity. they could have at least cooked up another word to avoid the obvious connotations.

  13. Tim vB says:

    Hi Chris,
    the core of the problem seems to be that there can’t be any interaction between different universes in the multiverse as Sean Carroll repeatedly pointed out, so his theory does not set the stage for an interesting scifi or fantasy story, as the central part of that would be some kind of interaction between the different worlds.
    Actually I remember some scifi stories where humans encounter aliens that experience a “reversed arrow of time”, so one should probably check that no copyright is violated if one alters the whole story in this direction.
    Nonetheless I think there have been quite a few interesting interactions between science and science fiction, e.g. the novels of Jules Verne may well have inspired scientists and engineers alike, but he openly admitted that he was writing novels, not research papers 🙂
    Kind regards,

  14. Yatima says:

    “Now imagine that your brain could process information twice as fast as it does now, that would mean you would have twice as many thoughts per second than you have now.”

    Cool, I will be able to watch twice as many Battlestar Galactica DVDs in the same amount of time!

    Seriously though, even if your “mind” is sped up by a factor x – and it makes sense to assume that the perceived world would consequently speed up by 1/x – you are limited at least by the speed of light and the uncertainty relationships. As any fule know, except those misguided souls looking for ways to circumvent the “Turing Barrier” or other such B.S., there should be a maximum number of bits processable in this universe:


  15. Matt Leifer says:

    I think it would be fun if someone were to submit an article about why multiverse theories cannot be confirmed by physics to the FQXi essay competition. I am fairly sure that it would be taken seriously because FQXi does have a large degree of independence from Templeton (disclosure – I have accepted money from FQXi in the past and am a member). There are a number of anti-multiverse people involved with FQXi, so it is not completely crazy to think that such an essay might win something.


    “If people want to discuss the “philosophy of cosmology”, that’s fine, but they should do it as philosphers, according to the intellectual standards of philosophy.”

    I agree with this 100%. What I am saying is that people who are rigorously trained in philosophy really SHOULD study these issues in order to find out whether the pseudo-philosophy promoted by some contemporary physicists really stands up to scrutiny, or at least to give them a hard time about it.

    Part of the problem with this is that the most common route into philosophy of physics involves doing a physics undergraduate degree followed by a philosophy masters and Ph.D. This is why you will find vastly more philosophers studying the foundations of nonrelativistic quantum theory than any truly “modern” physics, e.g. quantum field theory, general relativity, cosmology, strings, etc. That’s not to say that there are no philosophers studying these topics, just that there are fewer of them than there ought to be. They also tend to be people with two Ph.Ds.

    Personally, as someone who is sometimes active in the foundations of quantum theory community, I have to say that the input of philosophers is tremendously useful. They play a key role in moderating the fantastical claims that physicists sometimes make and they are good checking whether arguments hold water. I’d cite Tim Maudlin’s work on Bell’s theorem and the Oxford group’s work on probability in the Everett interpretation as prime examples of good philosophical work (even if I don’t agree with all of their conclusions). It would be very useful to have this sort of quality of philosophical work in cosmology and other areas of “modern” physics.

    Therefore, I do partly agree with Templeton that there needs to be a special grad program for people who want to do philosophy of cosmology, which teaches them the conceptual underpinnings of modern physics in a rigorous way whilst at the same time covering the standard philosophy material. However the program should definitely not be one-sided or designed to produce multiverse yes-men.


    “Putting all flippancy aside (a bit difficult in this area!), are there really any “intellectual standards of philosophy” generally accepted among academic philosophers?”

    Yes. Pomo types tend to steer clear of topics like philosophy of physics. Although it is true that these people often misappropriate terminology from modern physics without understanding it, they are usually not explicitly analyzing physics when they do so. In fact, since science does not occupy a central position in their worldview, they are much less likely to study it seriously than people trained in analytic philosophy. Therefore, the vast vast majority of philosophers of physics are in the western analytic tradition and their style of argument meshes quite well with that of theoretical physics.

    As for standards, perhaps you should read an issue of Stud. Hist. Phil. Mod. Phys. and see what you think. Sure, you’ll probably find a few meaningless papers, but not more than in an average issue of Phys. Rev. Lett. and there are bound to be a few gems in there too. Another method of checking would be to attend a conference on the foundations of quantum theory and make a note of the number of crackpot talks given by physicists vs. the number given by philosophers.

  16. Tim says:

    Hello Yatima,
    well, unfortunatly BSG ended with season 4, so there is not so much to gain here…
    the interesting point here is, that Tiplers theories allow critique based on physical arguments,
    some of these he even addresses in his books (including yours on an upper bound of information
    contained in a finite volume of spacetime, see Bekenstein, resp. an upper bound on bits that could be processed in a collapsing
    universe). I would not know how to formulate citique in any comparable way on the multiverse theories.
    However, the supposed infinity of information processed means that everything that
    is physically possible will be emulated by the omega point, according to Tipler,
    so that’s a little analogy to the multiverse ideas.

  17. Syksy Rasanen says:


    George Ellis is not a proponent of the multiverse, quite the contrary. See for example




  18. Peter Woit says:


    I didn’t mean to imply that Ellis was a multiverse proponent. Thanks for clarifying that.

  19. Mitch Miller says:

    Do multiverse supporters think it is a coincidence that the multiverse was put forth as a serious idea at a time when experiments can’t help narrow down the phase space? It seems like it was obvious from the start that the standard model would only be 1 particular solution out of a large family of possible solutions but I don’t think anybody started talking about the mulitverse at that point since people were content to do experiments and fix all free parameters of the standard model.

    If the multiverse is some deep insight about nature, it is quite fourtunate that we can’t do the relevant experiments!! If we could, we would probably be content to describe our string theory vacuum and just throw away all the other solutions.

  20. Peter Woit says:


    I do think philosophers could make a major contribution here, by critically examining the issues surrounding multiverse research. Unfortunately I don’t see much of that happening, and to the extent it does, multiverse proponents like Susskind take the attitude that scientists should ignore philosophy of science when it challenges what they are doing.

    In any case, this doesn’t appear to be what interests Templeton. Their motivation seems to be to increase multiverse “research” and blur the issue of what is science and what isn’t.

    I hope someone does submit the kind of article you suggest to the FQXI competition, and I’m sure they would take it seriously. There is something very weird though about having to explain to scientists the most basic fact about what science is. The reaction I’ve seen so far from multiverse proponents makes me rather pessimistic that rational argument has anything to do with the issue at this point. Some people just inherently like doing speculative pseudo-science, and some string theorists are going to grasp at any straw that allows them to avoid admitting failure.

  21. Lee Smolin says:

    I have no objection to Oxford or anyone instituting a program in philosophy of cosmology, but what the documents you quote seem to miss is that throughout the history of philosophy a number of the most influential philosophers have been driven by cosmological concerns. So it would not be good to isolate “philosophy of cosmology” from philosophy itself.

    An example of a cosmological concern is how a law of nature is to be formulated, understood, or tested if it is to be claimed to apply to the whole universe, and not just a portion of it. Certainly Leibniz in his Monadology was thinking about these issues, and his principles of sufficient reason and the identity of the indiscernibles only make sense in a cosmological context. What was at stake in the relational/absolute debate between Leibniz and Newton’s followers were different approaches to cosmological issues. Mach’s principle is cosmological as is Einstein’s understanding of general relativity he formulated in response to it. And C S Pierce’s arguments for evolutionary explanations for laws were in response to cosmological concerns.

    Coming closer to our time, Everett, deWitt and Wheeler’s claims for the MWI were explicitly cosmological, and much of the literature by philosophers on the MWI by Sanders and colleagues reflects them. And the debates about the nature of time, among philosophers as well as physicists are also cosmological. Roberto Unger, with whom I have been working recently, is an example of a philosopher with cosmological concerns. And a number of philosophers have written on the anthropic principle, multiverse issues, and the subtleties of reasoning about probabilities and possibilities, much of it strongly critical of naïve ideas of physicists.
    To my mind the debates on these issues among physicists could only be improved by the inclusion of good philosophers who have critical and thought out views on these issues. I personally have learned an enormous amount from listening to philosophers who have been kind enough to critique things I’ve written. At the first two meetings that the Templeton Foundation sponsored on the AP, at Cambridge and Stanford, philosophers were conspicuously missing, despite proposals by some of us that they be included. The reason given was that philosophers would not be able to follow the technical issues, but my sense is the opposite, contemporary philosophers of physics are mostly well educated in physics. The effect was rather to protect some physicists from the blistering attacks a good philosopher might give to their proposals, unaware as they seem to be how naïve they sound to someone educated in the history of philosophy and science. My sense is that the best thing the Templeton Foundation could do now is support venues where the physicists who have been proposing multiverse and anthropic ideas have to listen to criticisms of these views by good philosophers. More generally, while I would never say that every physicist needs an education in philosophy, I would certainly recommend that any physicist who wants to publically speculate on issues that have a long history in philosophy, and who wants to actually contribute to progress, would be well advised to know that history before wasting everyone’s time with naïve views that don’t stand up to basic criticisms.

  22. Tomatonator says:

    It should be obvious why the Templeton Foundation supports the multiuniverse concept: Heaven and Hell and all those other afterlife places of the JudeoChristian tradition can now be considered real places that just happen to be alternate universes.

    Like the creationists, slap a little science on your ideology to make it look legit – ironically to the very groups that otherwise disdain and do not understand science.

    The worst part is that, just as UFO fringe elements tarnish the serious study and search for alien life, these guys will do the same to multiverse studies.

    Lee, I do like seeing your acceptance and appreciation of branches of learning outside physics. We need to get back to having well-rounded teachers and students who know more than just one field.

  23. Brian says:

    Tim Solton,

    The term “atom” originally referred to an indivisible piece of matter. It’s just that we ultimately learned that the things we’d gotten used to calling called atoms actually weren’t atomic, and it wasn’t worth changing the terminology. By extension, it’s not unreasonable to refer to an element of a multiverse as a “universe.” If multiverses are something you want to talk about, of course.


  24. Dave Miller says:

    Matt wrote to me:
    >As for standards, perhaps you should read an issue of Stud. Hist. Phil. Mod. Phys. and see what you think. Sure, you’ll probably find a few meaningless papers, but not more than in an average issue of Phys. Rev. Lett….

    Hmmmm. Even when I was a doctoral student thirty years ago, there was an awful lot of nonsense making its way into PRL! Damning with faint praise?

    Seriously, I tried to make clear that I was not condemning all philosophers: I explicitly mentioned McGinn as a good guy, and, yes, I have seen a number of intelligent philosophers writing on QM — as you imply, often writing more intelligently than many physicists write.

    I was just addressing Peter’s point about “intellectual standards of philosophy.” Even if we restrict ourselves to philosophy of science alone, we have to face up to the fact that Feyerabend was one of the best known philosophers of science in the previous generation.

    And even Karl Popper, who did make some good points, was ludicrously uninformed when it came to his writings on quantum mechanics.

    Yes, there are some bright and thoughtful — I’d go so far as to say some who are brilliant – philosophers writing in the philosophy of science today. On the other hand, I am still skeptical that there are decent, generally-accepted, “intellectual standards of philosophy” that prevail within the profession of philosophy as a whole. A profession that honors Feyerabend, Popper, Foucault et al., even though it also includes truly informed folks such as McGinn, Jeff Barrett, Mike Redhead, John Searle, etc., has a problem with standards.

    I’m making a narrow sociological point about a lack of serious standards that prevail throughout the profession of philosophy taken as a whole.

    Now, if you want to argue that physicists also now have a similar lack of standards (maybe worse when they write on the philosophy of quantum mechanics!), well….


  25. milkshake says:

    the style is not postmodern – is a rather traditional New Age doppel (lightly hopped with Aquinas to compliment the sponsors)

  26. cormac says:

    I had a look at Saunder’ paper, thanks for the link. Actually, reading down through the syllabus, the breakdown of topics looks very interesting – looks like a decent introduction to philosophy for any physicist. I didn’t see any evidence of foregone conclusions, wouldn’t mind doing this course myself!

  27. Steve Esser says:

    Lee Smolin spoke to something I noticed: Templeton funds some science and alot of theology, but skips over non-theistic philosophy for some reason. I hope they do reconsider this.

  28. concerned cynic says:

    Lee Smolin wrote:

    “At the first two meetings that the Templeton Foundation sponsored on the AP, at Cambridge and Stanford, philosophers were conspicuously missing, despite proposals by some of us that they be included. The reason given was that philosophers would not be able to follow the technical issues, but my sense is the opposite, contemporary philosophers of physics are mostly well educated in physics. The effect was rather to protect some physicists from the blistering attacks a good philosopher might give to their proposals, unaware as they seem to be how naïve they sound to someone educated in the history of philosophy and science.”

    I cannot believe that the absence of philosophers was at the insistence of Templeton people. The physicists must have been the ones to insist on this. Lee, if your cynical conjecture as to the motivations of the physicists who organised those conferences is correct, that is breathtakingly damning and further evidence that you and Woit have put your fingers on a real and grave problem in the temple of theoretical physics.

    Disclosure: I admit to being a stuffy Popperian in my views on how to do science. I also believe that doing physics is like ballroom dancing, you need a partner. And theorists have to dance with experimentalists; nothing happens worth noticing until the two pair off.

    The activities of the Templeton Foundation do not bother me as much as they do Peter. As a private entity, they should be free to pursue their ends as they see fit. Acknowledging Templeton Foundation support should not be dismissed as the Mark of Cain. Here’s hoping that other foundations emerge that support other viewpoints on theoretical physics. Let us not forget the good people who created Lee’s employer, the Perimeter Institute.

    If Oxford were to start a program in the philosophy of cosmology, that would be fine by me, as long as Joe Silk were invited to be part of it. And I think that Oxford should hire students, and students of students, of Sciama’s to help staff it.

    The apparent “fine-tuning” of the facts and laws of physics as summarized, e.g., in Paul Davies’s recent Goldilocks book, deserves to be included in Smolin’s list of fundamental open questions in physics. In particular, hypothesizing a vast multiverse is not a satisfactory explanation. I do not think we are anywhere near a satisfactory naturalist explanation of the universe and the laws of physics. We are like Dorothy in the Emerald City, not knowing that there is a man behind the curtain.

    The Man behind the Curtain could be taken to be a God-like entity, but I do not take that as evidence confirming the monotheism we have inherited from the Middle East. If the Universe was willed into existence by a Creator, who fine tuned the laws of physics to make intelligent life possible, we cannot conclude that the Creator values each of us as individuals. It would not justify religious ceremonies or customs, would not make an eternal soul and an afterlife more or less likely. It does not help us know more about how we should conduct our lives. It does not even assure us that God is unique. God may have left clues in the laws of nature, but that tells us nothing about the veracity of the scriptures of historical religions. It is evident that actual religions contain a huge element of human imagination.

    The universe began, a finite proper time ago, in a state of extreme simplicity / symmetry. As it expanded, a fantastic cascade of broken symmetries has resulted in the very complex reality we observe. The universe has gradually unpacked itself. In my view, the creation myth with which the Bible begins is consistent with these facts — this may be nothing more than a coincidence. Regardless, Templeton funded scholars should feel free to explore this further.

  29. Chris W. says:

    From Lee Smolin:

    More generally, while I would never say that every physicist needs an education in philosophy, I would certainly recommend that any physicist who wants to publically speculate on issues that have a long history in philosophy, and who wants to actually contribute to progress, would be well advised to know that history before wasting everyone’s time with naïve views that don’t stand up to basic criticisms.

    Man, what a relief it is to hear a physicist say that. Nothing grates on me more than people who espouse philosophical positions, especially in areas long considered by explicitly philosophical thinkers, while dismissing philosophy as irrelevant or fruitless.

  30. Chris W. says:

    See Steve Hsu’s post “Feyerabend on the giants“.

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