Natural Philosophy

Subtopics: Limits Complexity Experience World Views Dalai Lama Kira Open Inquiry

A snapshot of the
6th Mind & Life
Conference in
Dharamsala in 1997,
with the Dalai Lama
and physicist David

I am very interested in what it is that we physicists are doing, when we are doing physics. On a level of technique (the math we use, the experiments we run), this question can be answered easily. But if we ask for the wider context within which all this experimentation and analysis takes place, finding answers is not so simple. Here is a very short summary of my views. Here is a longer dialogue with two colleagues, when they were postdocs at IAS. And here is an older dialogue with Bas van Fraassen, philosopher of science, then at Princeton University

What interests me most is the question of where science may be going, in the indefinite future. Will it reach a limit, beyond which areas like art and traditional religions will remain forever outside reach? Or will science eventually be integrated with all other valid ways of knowing? If the latter is the case, what form will such an integration take? Will it be the result of a reductionistic approach, perhaps by finding explanations for all human interests in terms of the way human brains function? Or will the integration take place on a much wider stage, within a new language and method that respects the achievements of both science and more traditional ways of knowing?

My best guess is the last one, wider integration, and I have been exploring possibilities in a variety of dialogues and meetings with experts in different areas. Here are two articles I wrote on this topic about ten years ago, In Search of Stepping Stones and Life as a Laboratory ([147] and [165], respectively, in my publication list; the first paper contains references to some of my earlier publications in this area).

In the seven subtopics that this page points too, I give an overview of where I have been working on mostly in the nineteen nineties. Since then I have focused on trying to give a longer more comprehensive account of what I have learned in this area. This has so far resulted in two longer book length manuscripts, neither of which I have yet published. The first one is called Life as a Laboratory (2004), using the same title as the article mentioned above. The second one is called The Magic of Time (2011). I am currently working on a third manuscript, since I am still not satisfied with the angles I have explored so far. Because there is no agreed-upon entry into the topics I am exploring, I have to make up the structure as I go along, which takes time.

Finally, here is a more personal article that I wrote more than 20 years ago in which I described more directly the outcome of some of my own investigations at that time. Just like theoretical physics is firmly based on experiments that are intersubjectively agreed upon by experts, so I think real philosophy too ought to be based equally on intersubjective agreement as to its experiential content, by experts with the proper training. My article was a small step in that direction, but at that time I did not feel confident to put it on my web site amidst my other more scholarly written publications. The times are changing, so I have now added it here, in 2012, with the intent to include more of these kinds of writing in the book manuscripts that I am currently working on, mentioned above.