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epistemology, philosophy, Science, The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

Shoulders of Giants? -Philosophy and Science in Context, or, “Lawrence Krauss jumps off!”

If I have seen further [than other scientists/philosophers] it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants.- Isaac Newton

We act as if they’re [philosophers without current knowledge of science] authorities about something; they knew nothing!- Lawrence Krauss

Lawrence Krauss recently appeared on the English [UK] radio show “Unbelievable?” In this radio program, Krauss and Randy Holder, a Christian, were in dialog about “A Universe from Nothing?” [not necessarily Krauss’ book, but the subject in general]. The dialog, unfortunately, showed that Krauss continues in his ignorance of the importance of philosophy to his own subject, as well as his own flippant dismissal of generations of scientists.

At one point in the program (around the 26:00 mark), Krauss says the following:

I don’t [indiscernible–he may say “also”] care about what Mr. Leibniz said… we refer to philosophers who wrote at a time when we didn’t know that there were a hundred billion galaxies. [So?] Who cares what they say? We act as if they’re authorities about something; they knew nothing!- Lawrence Krauss

Really?

I can’t think of a more galling statement for a contemporary cosmologist to make. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, for those who don’t know, happened to be one of the men who discovered infinitesimal calculus. He also (among countless other contributions to mathematics, science, social sciences, engineering, and philosophy)  developed a calculator, contributed to the development of binary language, was one of the first to posit that space was relative, and developed the principle of sufficient reason (which supports all scientific investigation).

Yet, according to Krauss, because he lived in a time before we know how large the universe was, he “knew nothing!” You see, Krauss, and some other scientists and thinkers with a scientistic/physicalist bent, too often throw out the very basis of their thought. How far do you think Krauss could get in his cosmological research without infinitesimal calculus? How would Krauss go about investigating the causes of various natural phenomena without the principle of sufficient reason?
The answer is pretty simple: he wouldn’t get anywhere.

Krauss, like those before him, stands on the shoulders of giants. But, unlike those who are humble enough (or who know enough about philosophy and history?) to admit it, Krauss says “We act as if they are authorities about something, they knew nothing!”

Really, Krauss? Let’s see how well your next research project goes if you throw out all the contributions they made to your methodology. Next time you do an experiment, try to do it without parsimony or inference to the best explanation. Write to me how that goes!

What’s happened with people like Krauss, and I can think of others (like Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins) who do the same thing, is that in their gusto for the marvels of modern science, they have forgotten the very basis for their methods, their research, and their rationality.

Without philosophy, there would be no way  to infer causes from effects; without the principle of sufficient reason, there would be no reason to think that causes even have effects; without a well developed notion that what will happen can be inferred from what has happened, these scientists could not even get going. But then they have the absurd tendency to turn around and reject philosophy. They say things like the quote Krauss fired off above.

Here’s the thing: science is utterly dependent upon philosophy to survive. If we didn’t have philosophy–if we didn’t have the developed notions of rationality, inference, and the like–there would be no science. Other theists (and philosophers) have contributed things like parsimony/Occam’s Razor to the wealth of philosophical methodological backbone which makes the scientific enterprise possible. In fact, there is still debate over whether we can reliably make inferences from science (for one example philosophically defending scientific inference, see Wesley Salmon, The Foundations of Scientific Inference). Some scientists have now apparently become those who sit in the ivory towers, blissfully ignorant of how their own research depends upon others’ outside of their field.

I suspect a multifaceted problem behind the motivation of those who throw philosophy out the window once they’ve embraced full-fledged empiricism. First, many of these thinkers have demonstrated they don’t actually know what empiricism means as a–that’s right–philosophical system. Apart from Krauss and Hawking, one could cite the recent example of Richard Dawkins admitting that he doesn’t know what “epistemic” means. Note to those who embrace that philosophical system of Krauss et al.: without epistemology, you would not even be able to justify inferences to best explanation. How’s that for a dose of reality?

Second, there is a kind of blatant ignorance of–or even intentional trampling on–the historical development of scientific inquiry. I hesitate to say that philosophy makes a “contribution” to science, because that’s not what it is. A simple study of schools of knowledge reveals that science, by its very nature, is utterly dependent upon epistemological research. Without such development, there would be no scientific method.

Third, these scientists constantly make philosophical claims, apparently in complete ignorance of the fact that they are philosophical claims. For example, in the same dialog Krauss argues that “the universe certainly doesn’t care what I like…” and throughout the discussion points out that it doesn’t matter what we think, the universe is revealed in a certain way by research.

He apparently seems utterly oblivious to the fact that that, in itself, is a philosophical position. One could take a rival position and argue that the appearances of nature don’t actually determine reality because everything is mind-dependent (idealism, solipsism, or other schools). It’s not enough to just point at nature and say “see, this is how things are!” because if that’s all one does, then someone could say “Your ideas about how things are are dependent upon your mind and ideas, and therefore don’t have any access to reality.” No scientific research could rebut such an argument, only a philosophical position in which nature can give us a reliable record for rationality can ground science.

Krauss dismisses philosophy very nonchalantly. It seems as though he (and others like him) is oblivious to the fact his entire system is philosophical. Consider the claim that “science can examine reality.” How does one go about proving it? One could argue that one could simply make a test and show that over and over again in circumstances y, x result happens, so we are justified that when we assert that if y, then x. But of course we would have to justify that a test can be connected to reality; we’d have to figure out what it means to have “justified” belief; we have to show that our scientific method is trustworthy; we have to assume that mathematical truths are true; we have to operate within a rational perspective; etc. All of these are philosophical positions. Some of them are debates within philosophy of science, in fact. The bottom line is that whenever someone does science, they are utterly reliant upon philosophy. By simply taking the empirical world as something which can be explored, they have made a number of philosophical assumptions, whether realized or not. Scientists take much of the philosophical development as a given before they even start their research. And then, some of them, like Krauss, have the gall to turn around and dismiss philosophers as though they “know nothing.” Suddenly, he has undermined his own system of thought, without even acknowledging that it is a system of thought.

Frankly, some of these scientists are just confused. Thankfully, many scientists operate with a system that respects the contributions of philosophy to science and encourage the interplay between the fields of knowledge.

Here’s the bottom line for those scientists who agree with Krauss: your entire field of research can only proceed if you grant over a thousand years of philosophical development. One major contribution was made by Leibniz, whom people like Krauss casually dismiss. But without the theistic philosopher with the awesome wig, scientists would have nothing. Thanks, philosophy! Thanks again, Christianity!

SDG.

——

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

32 thoughts on “Shoulders of Giants? -Philosophy and Science in Context, or, “Lawrence Krauss jumps off!”

  1. Good point well put.

    Posted by Paul Bruggink | May 24, 2012, 9:57 AM
  2. This issue has been bugging me for ages too. Krauss especially just seems to be making a goose of himself with the bizarre and frankly stupid statements he’s been making. I find it all very infuriating. So thanks for the article.

    Posted by Andy Gray | May 24, 2012, 11:21 PM
  3. Krauss clearly states early on that he is taking steps toward a philosopher’s ‘nothing’. On the question of ‘something from nothing’, Krauss states, ‘In no way will the answers be definitively known. But because of progress that has been made in the past 25 years, there are aspects of that question that were previously thought to be in the domain of philosophy and religion which can now being addressed by science’. So it seems that Krauss is taking pains to address the issue you suggest that he does not understand.

    The principle of sufficient reason was first formulated by Anaximander of Mletus, who also had a cosmology. His cosmology is completely discredited. I don’t think it would be controversial to say ‘who cares’ about Anaximander’s view of the origin of the universe.

    In Monadology 36, Leibniz states that the sufficient reason for necessary truths is that their negation is a contradiction. But as Godel demonstrates, there are claims that can neither be proven not disproven. So there are statements which seem to be true but which cannot be demonstrated to be necessary truths. This has caused a significant rethinking of PSR by many philosophers.

    Leibniz’s philosophy was also the subject of one of the most famous satires in Western literature. I will argue that Voltaire is also much more readable than Leibniz, at least in English translations. More significantly, Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature also presents a strong criticism of Leibniz’s PSR. Many of Hume’s arguments were anticipated in Candide.

    In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant specifically states that the PSR should be restricted to things that appear in space and time. This limits applications of the principle to the empirical. This is obviously not a problem for Krauss, but it seems to be a significant argument against Holder.

    In The Limits of Reason, Scientific American 294, No. 3 (March 2006), pp. 74-81, Gregory Chaitin argues that Leibniz anticipated some aspects of modern algorithmic information theory. Chatlin also states, “If Leibniz had put all this together, he might have questioned one of the key pillars of his philosophy, namely, the principle of sufficient reason—that everything happens for a reason.” I am quite certain that Krauss is familiar with this work if for no other reason than it is related to Leonard Susskind’s formulations of black holes and the information content of the universe. This is a topic of great importance to Krauss’s work.

    For all of these reasons, the PSR as stated by Leibniz, has been soundly challenged on many grounds. At the very least, the modern formulations of PSR are quite different than that stated by Leibniz.

    So just why should Krauss care about the views of Leibniz? The world has moved on since then. On issues of cosmology, Krauss gave several reasons to discount the question of Leibniz. I have listed a few of the problem’s with his philosophic claim that you suggest is at the very heart of science.

    If you were to ask Krauss about the value of differential and integral calculus, he would no doubt agree that they were essential. If you were to ask about the importance of conservation of energy (Leibniz was among the first to consider mv^2 a important parameter in mechanics), he would agree that it is essential. But even here, there has been a great evolution of thought since the time of Leibniz. Energy conservation and mass conservation have been combined, for example.

    Posted by robertfolkerts | May 27, 2012, 10:37 AM
  4. Krauss clearly states early on that he is taking steps toward a philosopher’s ‘nothing’. On the question of ‘something from nothing’, Krauss states, ‘In no way will the answers be definitively known. But because of progress that has been made in the past 25 years, there are aspects of that question that were previously thought to be in the domain of philosophy and religion which can now being addressed by science’. So it seems that Krauss is taking pains to address the issue you suggest that he does not understand.

    The principle of sufficient reason was first formulated by Anaximander of Mletus, who also had a cosmology. His cosmology is completely discredited. I don’t think it would be controversial to say ‘who cares’ about Anaximander’s view of the origin of the universe.

    In Monadology 36, Leibniz states that the sufficient reason for necessary truths is that their negation is a contradiction. But as Godel demonstrates, there are claims that can neither be proven not disproven. So there are statements which seem to be true but which cannot be demonstrated to be necessary truths. This has caused a significant rethinking of PSR by many philosophers.

    Leibniz’s philosophy was also the subject of one of the most famous satires in Western literature. I will argue that Voltaire is also much more readable than Leibniz, at least in English translations. More significantly, Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature also presents a strong criticism of Leibniz’s PSR. Many of Hume’s arguments were anticipated in Candide.

    In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant specifically states that the PSR should be restricted to things that appear in space and time. This limits applications of the principle to the empirical. This is obviously not a problem for Krauss, but it seems to be a significant argument against Holder.

    In The Limits of Reason, Scientific American 294, No. 3 (March 2006), pp. 74-81, Gregory Chaitin argues that Leibniz anticipated some aspects of modern algorithmic information theory. Chatlin also states, “If Leibniz had put all this together, he might have questioned one of the key pillars of his philosophy, namely, the principle of sufficient reason—that everything happens for a reason.” I am quite certain that Krauss is familiar with this work if for no other reason than it is related to Leonard Susskind’s formulations of black holes and the information content of the universe. This is a topic of great importance to Krauss’s work.

    For all of these reasons, the PSR as stated by Leibniz, has been soundly challenged on many grounds. At the very least, the modern formulations of PSR are quite different than that stated by Leibniz.

    So just why should Krauss care about the views of Leibniz? The world has moved on since then. On issues of cosmology, Krauss gave several reasons to discount the question of Leibniz. I have listed a few of the problem’s with his philosophic claim that you suggest is at the very heart of science.

    If you were to ask Krauss about the value of calculus, he would no doubt agree that they were essential. If you were to ask about the importance of conservation of energy (Leibniz was among the first to consider mv^2 a important parameter in mechanics), he would agree that it is essential. But even here, there has been a great evolution of thought since the time of Leibniz. Energy conservation and mass conservation have been combined, for example.

    Posted by robertfolkerts | May 27, 2012, 11:14 AM
  5. After posting, the server responded ‘Your comment is awaiting moderation.’ Drat! I don’t really want to moderate my position.

    I had a mistake in the second to last paragraph of the previous post
    discount the question of Leibniz.
    should be
    discount the position of Leibniz.

    I would also point out that Krauss hold’s Newton, the co-inventor of calculus, in high regard. But on questions of gravitation, Krauss knows that Einstein is closer to the truth. So you could even say ‘who cares what Newton thought’, since Newton did not know about the evidence that was only discovered after his death.

    There is no appeal to authority in science. You have to present a coherent argument that does not contradict observation. In this sense ‘Who cares what X thought?’ is the correct response by any scientist to any argument by authority. This blog is entitled ‘always have a reason’, not ‘always quote an authority’. Did you not hear that Krauss was challenging Holder with that very point?

    Posted by robertfolkerts | May 27, 2012, 11:43 AM
  6. On the subject of Leibniz and a modern physicist: From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “The Identity of Indiscernibles is a principle of analytic ontology first explicitly formulated by Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz in his Discourse on Metaphysics, Section 9 (Loemker 1969: 308). It states that no two distinct things exactly resemble each other.” This, and, PSR, seem to be foundational of Leibniz’s argument for rationalism.

    A modern physicist, trained in quantum mechanics, will recognize that this principle is simply false. Bose-Einstein condensates are a direct refutation of Leibniz’s identity of indiscernibles. These condensates have quite distinct physical properties that have been observed in superfluid helium.

    Posted by robertfolkerts | May 27, 2012, 1:26 PM
    • Okay, first I want to say that there’s no way I can adequately respond to this plethora of thoughtful comments, so I’ll restrict my response to a few points.

      First point: a huge amount of your response is philosophical. Again, this essentially is my point. Scientists can’t get by without philosophy. Period.

      You wrote, “A modern physicist, trained in quantum mechanics, will recognize that this principle is simply false. Bose-Einstein condensates are a direct refutation of Leibniz’s identity of indiscernibles. These condensates have quite distinct physical properties that have been observed in superfluid helium.”

      I’m not sure you’ve actually captured the meaning of Leibniz’ view of identity. That principle is based upon a metaphysical system, and as such even if things are physically indistinguishable, they can still be distinguishable in the fact that they do not have the exact same properties [not restricted to physical properties.

      You wrote, “There is no appeal to authority in science.”

      Absolutely false. Every single scientist, whether they like it or not, is resting their beliefs, principles, and method upon the studies of others. By taking things like gravity, the existence of space and time, and the like as givens in their experiments, they are actually, believe it or not, relying upon authorities. Scientists can’t go and test everything in their lifetimes. They specialize, and assume that the studies which went before them are accurate (if they are using them as givens). They simply must trust that a huge portion of the empirical evidence they take as a given is correct.

      Let me ask you this, Robert, have you done an empirical study of inertia; gravity; have you worked out the equations for general relativity on your own?; have you physically studied stratification?; have you empirically tested for plate tectonics?; etc.; etc.?

      I sincerely doubt you’ve even done all the examples I’ve listed. Instead, you–guess what!?–rely upon the experts.

      And you know what that is?

      Appealing to authorities.

      Case closed.

      Moving on, you wrote, “In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant specifically states that the PSR should be restricted to things that appear in space and time. This limits applications of the principle to the empirical. This is obviously not a problem for Krauss, but it seems to be a significant argument against Holder.”

      Appeal to authority?

      Hmmm…..

      Have you empirically tested to see that the PSR should be restricted in this sense? Or are you relying upon a presupposition, or some philosophical argument?

      In any case, let’s remind ourselves what you just did:

      You quoted Kant as an authority on the PSR.

      That’s an appeal to authority.

      Hate to say it, you’ve just really undermined your whole argument.

      Moving on, you wrote “For all of these reasons, the PSR as stated by Leibniz, has been soundly challenged on many grounds. At the very least, the modern formulations of PSR are quite different than that stated by Leibniz.”

      Oh I agree. Here’s the thing: these challenges to the PSR are philosophical.

      Moving on, you wrote, “Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature also presents a strong criticism of Leibniz’s PSR. Many of Hume’s arguments were anticipated in Candide.”

      Appealing to authority. Acting as Krauss, I say those guys knew NOTHING!

      See how it works? It’s a marvelous tactic to just dismiss centuries of thought.

      You can’t rationally do it though.

      Krauss is irrational. Period.

      Your own argument continually rests on appealing to authority, be it Kant, Hume, Voltaire, or the papers you quote. Have you done those studies yourself? Nope. You’re trusting them.

      I rest my case.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 27, 2012, 3:21 PM
      • Also, RE: “The principle of sufficient reason was first formulated by Anaximander of Mletus, who also had a cosmology. His cosmology is completely discredited. I don’t think it would be controversial to say ‘who cares’ about Anaximander’s view of the origin of the universe.”

        Anaximander’s view of the origin of the universe is certainly of historical import in regard to the study of the history of thought about cosmology. It is extremely important to understand how ideas developed in order to understand modern ideas. That’s exactly what my point was regarding Krauss’ “jumping off” the shoulders of giants: he doesn’t seem to realize how very much his entire endeavor depends upon a past.

        I think you’ve demonstrated this robustly and ironically in your attempt to prove otherwise. You cite sources like Hume, Kant, and Voltaire. I’m assuming you know these guys lived a long time ago but still think their ideas are relevant or at least can somehow inform the current discussion.

        That’s exactly the kind of thing Krauss apparently dismisses.

        But in your defense of him, you do the exact thing you’re trying to defend Krauss for not doing: observing his debt to a host of thinkers as far back as–yes–Anaximander.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 27, 2012, 4:19 PM
      • So apparently, my biggest mistake is to show that over the last three centuries, there are authorities that contradict Leibniz and by pointing that out, I too, am appealing to authority. I was showing that are are historical reasons for doubting that Leibniz should be regarded as an authority on either physical or philosophic issues in the modern world.

        Note that I did not say that Leibniz was discredited, I said that his ideas have been soundly challenged. Who did the challenging? Those quoted in my comment. So it doesn’t seem accurate to state that I am appealing to authority. I was giving evidence that Leibniz has been soundly challenged. I chose this phrase carefully so that I was not appealing to authority in my argument. So in point of fact, I did “See how that works” and prepare for it.

        Lawyerly word parsing aside, I will readily concede your point that it is impractical to only rely upon your own observations and to provide formal argument for every statement.

        If you have the time, go you youtube and listen to ‘Feynmann’s lecture on The Character of Physical Law. Just for the fun of it, he studies the ideas of Newton and makes those thoughts his own. Feynmann is not appealing to Newton as an authority. He is using Newton as a teacher and fellow investigator. He ponders Newton’s writing until he understands the argument and realizes the truth of the arguments for himself. From this and other interviews, it should be very clear that Feynmann has a great distrust of authority. This is the mindset of a great scientist.

        Posted by robertfolkerts | May 27, 2012, 5:50 PM
      • You are quoting others to make your point. That is appealing to authorities. Further, I note that there was no attempt to answer the large part of my critique. Let me repeat it:

        Let me ask you this, Robert, have you done an empirical study of inertia; gravity; have you worked out the equations for general relativity on your own?; have you physically studied stratification?; have you empirically tested for plate tectonics?; etc.; etc.?

        I sincerely doubt you’ve even done all the examples I’ve listed. Instead, you–guess what!?–rely upon the experts.

        And you know what that is?

        Appealing to authorities.

        Case closed.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 27, 2012, 5:58 PM
      • You state:

        I’m not sure you’ve actually captured the meaning of Leibniz’ view of identity. That principle is based upon a metaphysical system, and as such even if things are physically indistinguishable, they can still be distinguishable in the fact that they do not have the exact same properties [not restricted to physical properties.]

        You state that it is a FACT they they do not have the same properties. Perhaps the metaphysician can distinguish between two Bosons using some non-physical properties. But I doubt it. What non-physical properties do you suggest can be used to distinguish two helium atoms that are in the same quantum state?

        There have been multiple attempts a finding hidden variables to do just that. All have been failures.

        So please, show how this can be done. This is a profoundly important topic in modern science and in the philosophy of science. If you think you can resolve this outstanding problem, I urge you to try.

        ——

        On a less confrontational note, the article in Scientific American is quite readable and it raises a number of issues that are profoundly interesting. It is quite sympathetic to Leibniz. It is an appeal to read it for yourself and think about what is said. If Krauss bothers you, just focus on something positive. I think you will find Chaitin to be refreshing and challenging.

        Posted by robertfolkerts | May 27, 2012, 8:29 PM
      • Are they two bosons or one?

        Also, you still haven’t responded to my point, which I charge utterly dismantles your whole argument:

        Let me ask you this, Robert, have you done an empirical study of inertia; gravity; have you worked out the equations for general relativity on your own?; have you physically studied stratification?; have you empirically tested for plate tectonics?; etc.; etc.?

        I sincerely doubt you’ve even done all the examples I’ve listed. Instead, you–guess what!?–rely upon the experts.

        And you know what that is?

        Appealing to authorities.

        Case closed.

        The thing is, you trust authorities to tell you things about, oh, bosons, because you are not a particle physicist.

        You can’t test everything yourself in science, even if you’re a scientist. You trust other’s authoritative statements on the fields you are not a part of. Biologists trust what astrophysicists tell them and vice versa. Why? Because they’re experts in their respective fields.

        But that is, fundamentally, a reliance upon authorities.

        So here it is: unless you can provide a sound rebuttal to my block quote above, your argument is literally worthless. Sorry, but it is. You’re trying to make it sound as though empiricism is the only standard for truth and that somehow trusting authorities just doesn’t happen in science [while, somehow, ironically, missing the point that you yourself are citing authorities! I still haven’t figured that out]: but the problem is that it all depends upon philosophy and trusting the discoveries of the past, if revising and rejecting them over time.

        Honestly, just stop dodging my challenge. Either prove that somehow you have tested everything scientifically, or tell me the truth: you trust authoritative statements.

        Otherwise, I’m done with this conversation.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 27, 2012, 8:45 PM
      • in answer to your critique:

        yes, yes, no (but I did find a typo in a GR paper’s formulas and point it out, so that is pretty close), no (pretty off topic), no (pretty off topic). I don’t know how to answer “etc, etc”

        Posted by robertfolkerts | May 27, 2012, 8:46 PM
      • So you trust experts on plate tectonics? History? Biology? Stratification?

        Looks like experts are important.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 27, 2012, 8:48 PM
  7. But without the theistic philosopher with the awesome wig, scientists would have nothing.

    Pure hyperbole.

    Are they two bosons or one?

    Don’t be cute. If you can’t answer the question, just say so.

    Posted by robertfolkerts | May 27, 2012, 9:11 PM
    • It’s a genuine question. How do you know there are two?

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 27, 2012, 9:22 PM
      • And let me note that you’re using the exact same debate tactics you’ve used elsewhere: instead of confronting the arguments which are truly powerful, you just start pulling quotes out of arguments and rebutting them. Let’s stick to my main critique:

        You can’t test everything yourself in science, even if you’re a scientist. You trust other’s authoritative statements on the fields you are not a part of. Biologists trust what astrophysicists tell them and vice versa. Why? Because they’re experts in their respective fields.

        But that is, fundamentally, a reliance upon authorities.

        …Honestly, just stop dodging my challenge. Either prove that somehow you have tested everything scientifically, or tell me the truth: you trust authoritative statements.

        Otherwise, I’m done with this conversation.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 27, 2012, 9:24 PM
  8. Yes JW, experts are important I and turn to experts. I do try to verify that the expert to whom I turn is considered an expert on the topic at hand. I did not dodge your question. I answered every question in your main critique directly.

    There are abundant reasons for Krauss to deny that Leibniz is an expert on a theory of modern cosmology. This is not to diminish Leibniz or his contribution to science/math/philosophy. But in every one of these areas, there has been significant advancement since the time of Leibniz. I believe that was the spirit of Krauss’s statement.

    Posted by robertfolkerts | May 27, 2012, 10:16 PM
  9. How do I know that there are two bosons and not one? To be concrete, lets consider the case of two He4 atoms (spin 0) that have condensed to form a molecule. You ask how do I know this is still 2 helium atoms? We know from diffraction experiments the distance between the two nuclei. We can also tell that mass is conserved, so we still have 8 electrons, 8 protons and eight neutrons. We can measure the spectra of the excitations of the ‘molecule’ and these agree with Bose Einstein statistics. But because of the overlap of the wave functions, the two atoms are indistinguishable and in the same quantum state. There are no attributes that can be used to distinguish between the two atoms.

    You could argue that when the two atoms are both in the same ground state, the two atoms disappear to be replaced by a single thing (the molecule in the ground state). When the molecule is excited, it disappears and is replaced by two atoms. There is no way to tell which of the two final atoms corresponds with each of the ‘initial’ atoms.

    So, if you want to postulate the second approach, I will agree that there is one particle. But it is not either of the initially indistinguishable bosons.

    If we take to atoms, join them into a molecule and then dissociate the molecule, their is no physical way to tell which of the two final atoms is corresponds with each of the initial atoms. But in the case of Bosons, it goes beyond this. If two particles have the same internal structure and we can’t tell them apart, they are practically indistinguishable. This is like the idea of standard statistics problems where you have ‘three red balls …’ We all have a clear understanding that not knowing which is which is very different from claiming that the balls are two balls with exactly the same characteristics.

    Quantum particles can have the same internal states, so they are practically indistinguishable. This is not weird, this is just a practical limit on your ability to tell them apart.

    But in the case of bosons, the wave function of the two particles is in the same state. Overlapping symmetric wave functions have quite distinct properties from particles that have overlapping antisymmetric wave functions. Both of these are quite different from how two distinguishable particles (say O16 and O17 atoms joining to form a molecule). In this case, you can always tell the two atoms apart.

    Does this address your question?

    Posted by robertfolkerts | May 27, 2012, 11:12 PM
  10. Much of your effort has been on one point: My statement that science does not use an appeal to authority. I will agree that statement is too strong. An appeal to authority is one of the weakest forms of a argument in science. It will crumble in the face of any repeatable observations to contrary. Tim Folkerts actually helped to clarify this in the web page “Soft versus Hard Evidence; Appeal to Authority etc.” by John Denker. I will concede that Tim and John has a better analysis than my statement. Will you agree that an appeal to authority is only a weak argument in science?

    I am conceding your point, with the amendment that appeal to authority is a weak argument in science. My argument still stands:
    Krauss has good reasons to deny that Leibniz has expertise in modern cosmology. He did not argue that Holder was not a expert. From what I can tell, he respected Holder’s view on cosmology. The two disagreed that God was the sufficient reason for the universe. But their disagreement was civil and Holder held that this was a postulate that could be accepted or rejected with little impact on cosmology. There was a great deal of agreement between the two. Both seemed to genuinely enjoy the conversation.

    Do you honestly think that Krauss does not recognize the value of Leibniz’s contributions in math and science? I simply do not believe that ‘Leibniz knew nothing’ was in respect to all of Leibniz’s contributions. I truly feel that is was a more narrow comment about the relevance of Leibniz for a conversation on theories of quantum gravity.

    Like Krauss, I just do not like the multiverse theory. It just seems inelegant as a physical theory. But if I were to argue against him, I would simply point out that his multiverse is quietly assuming many of the attributes of God. It is timeless, it envelops the universe and it gave rise to the universe. Where have I heard that before? I can see no reason to expect physics to have any way to detect a personal God, so this is about a much agreement as you are likely to get.

    As Holder states correctly, his position is not inconsistent with anything Krauss says. Krauss is a brilliant man, and he has an large ego as well. Everybody gets things wrong. What is exciting and useful is when they get things right. Just let Krauss be Krauss and further your own arguments.

    Do you think it is a coincidence that Krauss’s multiverse has parallels with Craig’s arguments for God? Is that not a more fruitful conversation?

    Posted by robertfolkerts | May 28, 2012, 12:38 AM
    • I’m glad you have conceded my point. I appreciate the willingness to modify the position. And I do think that an appeal to an authority is weaker than empirical evidence.

      Moving on, I’m not capable of evaluating Krauss’ mental states. What I can say is that Krauss continually denigrates philosophy and philosophers, and his literal words were “We act as if they’re [philosophers without current knowledge of science] authorities about something; they knew nothing!”

      Again, without the capability to read his mind, I can only analyze what he said, and I can’t help but think that in light of his other discussions on philosophy and logic, he means what he said. He is a member of the “scientistic” crowd of empiricists who are so wrapped up in the [truly wonderful] glories of science that they assume it is the only or best way of gaining knowledge–they operate blissfully unaware of the fact that such an epistemology has stood defeated and that the positivistic school of knowledge collapsed under the weight of its own self-defeating nature.

      Regarding the multiverse, Krauss does assign to it attributes that theists hold would be God. However, the explanatory scope is nowhere near that of God. But such a topic is far afield and I’ve written on the multiverse elsewhere on my site.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 28, 2012, 12:55 AM
      • My point on Leibniz is still not addressed. It is clear Leibniz was a genius and a polymath. He took great strides to advance our knowledge. But, we have collectively moved far past Leibniz in science and mathematics. In a question on cosmology at the beginning of the 21 century, Leibniz simply is not an authority. Do you disagree?

        The recent discoveries of an expanding universe mean that only a physicist who has been active in the past 20 years is qualified to discuss this topic authoratitively. There is a great deal of uncertainly and these issues are being addressed. It seems to me that a few more decades of research will give us answers to current questions and lead us to new ones. Given the rate of progress of philosophy, I would expect philosophers to be a bit more patent. We all know who is making measurable, rapid progress and who is rehashing the same arguments that we have been hearing for over two millennia.

        If you cannot read Krauss’s mental states, why does the next sentence continue, “they assume it is the only or best way of gaining knowledge …’? How is that reading a mental state?

        You could have written the very same piece, but lead in with Krauss’s statement and then say something like ‘That got me thinking about Leibniz and he contributions to science that continue to this day. Scientists on the forefronts of research are still getting inspiration from Leibniz after three centuries…’ From my examples, you can show Feynmann lecturing on Newton, a contemporary of Leibniz. Chaitin’s piece on modern math and Leibniz is a actually a joy to read and is very sympathetic to Leibniz. I’m sure you can find more.

        Posted by robertfolkerts | May 28, 2012, 5:06 PM
      • The view of Leibniz on cosmology is important in the sense that without it, we could not have the understanding we do now. But that’s beside the point. The comment you are still trying to defend is in the context of the discussion of a necessary being. Krauss, revealing is utter lack of understanding of even the most basic philosophical principles, asks “Why necessary? …The universe could just happen to exist, and that’s life!” (23:45); of course Holding was talking about God as a necessary being, and very few theistic philosophers hold the universe is necessary, so Krauss’ retort is off the mark. But anyway, Holding said, “Is this universe… the result of the creation by an eternal necessary being… or is the universe just a brute fact? And frankly that takes us back to Leibniz who raised this issue why is there something rather than nothing in the first place.”

        And it is in response to this that Krauss says Leibniz knew nothing, by associating Leibniz with the notion that he didn’t know about modern cosmology.

        Here’s the thing, Robert, Leibniz absolutely is an authority on contingency and necessity. It would be almost impossible to have such a discussion without bringing up his concepts of necessity. In fact, every philosophy text I pulled off my shelf that has a discussion of contingency and necessity cites Leibniz.

        So Holding’s point here is philosophical. Krauss’ problem is that he’s trying to make the problem scientific (why is there something rather than nothing) and in doing so he manages to make such absolutely absurd statements as “…surely ‘nothing’ is every bit as physical as ‘something'” (“A Universe from Nothing” kindle location 162). Of course any philosopher (and a great deal of scientists) can see why this statement is completely ridiculous. Nothing is indeed nonbeing. But Krauss complains about philosophers defining nothing as nonbeing… saying that it is then “vague and ill-defined” (kindle location 155). Of course Krauss has therefore revealed his complete lack of knowledge about contingency. It’s not that philosophers change their definition (as he charges on kindle location 162), rather, it’s that philosophically speaking, nothing just is nonbeing. Period. But Krauss can’t even make the distinction between contingency and necessity, as he revealed in his comments in this discussion.

        So in context, the citation of Leibniz as an authority was absolutely appropriate. And the fact that Krauss throws him out the window is absurd, because without Leibniz’s contributions to cosmology (i.e. infinitesimal mathematics), we couldn’t even get going.

        Regarding reading Krauss’ mind. Krauss has literally said that science is the only way to gain knowledge. I’m not reading his mental state here, Robert; instead you’ve just revealed that you apparently don’t even read the positions of those you’re defending. Krauss says, in “A Universe from Nothing,”: “without science, any definition is just words” (kindle location 162).

        So I hate to say it, but once more you’ve revealed your lack of care in looking at sources. And of course I wasn’t reading a mental state, I was referencing the fact that Krauss says, in writing, that science is the only way to define reality.

        Regarding Leibniz’s law of identity and bosons. You wrote “You ask how do I know this is still 2 helium atoms? We know from diffraction experiments the distance between the two nuclei.”

        Well of course this would be a great way to show how Leibniz’s view of identity contributes to the scientific communities. We know there are two bosons because there is distance between them (according to you–I can honestly admit I’ve read little on the topic). But then by the law of identity, they have different properties: boson x is at location l1, boson y is at location l2. Thus x differs from y in that x has the property “exists at l1” while y has the property “exists at l2”. Problem solved. Let’s move on.

        Here’s what we have so far: Krauss says Leibniz knew nothing despite the fact that infinitesimal calculus is used in cosmology. Furthermore, the context in which Leibniz was used is very much a context in which he is an authority: contingency and necessity. You’ve already granted that citing authorities is necessary in science. You’ve shown that you don’t even know the position Krauss holds on certain views while trying to defend him (i.e. his positivism). You’ve effectively shown that Leibniz’s law of identities works.

        Seems to me the points I’ve made are doing pretty well.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 29, 2012, 10:02 AM
  11. *Rodney Holder.

    No one in the UK is called “Randy”.

    Posted by lukebarnes | April 14, 2014, 11:32 PM
  12. I’d say knowing what Krauss thinks of Leibniz isn’t nearly as interesting as wondering what Leibniz would think of Krauss.

    Posted by Pedro Werneck | July 4, 2015, 2:10 PM

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