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The Curved Embrace of Science and Philosophy PDF Print E-mail
Written by nuncio   
Wednesday, 05 June 2013 14:45

Amidst the blizzard of information/speculation about the technological singularity, it’s all too easy to lose our bearings. Philosophy is still our compass – perhaps now more than ever.

Although somewhat confused, a recent article on The Guardian website by Raymond Tallis ably demonstrates a pervasive sense of frustration that a ‘grand universal theory’ of science/philosophy/metaphysics has failed to materialise (sic). Is such frustration a symptom of some kind of ‘pre-singularity tension’?

This sense of frustration makes little sense to me. Science and philosophy complement each other, so why do we feel that we must unequivocally smear them together? Philosophy helps us to understand why we do or do not have reasons to act in particular ways; science provides the practical tools with which to find evidence upon which to base our reasoning. In short, we only have objective reasons to act if those reasons are based upon what is, in fact, true. The embrace in which science and philosophy are engaged reminds me of a quote from physicist John Wheeler about the relationship between matter and space: “Matter tells space how to curve, and curved space tells matter how to move.”

As for metaphysics, we now know that all ‘real’ things are, at one level or another, abstractions. (But this does not introduce any possibility that there exist complex entities that have not arisen, like us, from initial simplicity.) Tallis’ comment about the ‘failure’ of physics ‘to accommodate conscious beings’, is silly. What does he want? It sounds to me more like he doesn’t like what physics has to say about consciousness.

We can value both philosophy and science without losing our way. We can be reductionists and holists at the same time. The future will require that we learn to hold some forcefully open states of mind, but ones, I hope, that will be based only upon what is a true and reasonable.

We should only want a technological singularity if we have reasons to want that; we must use philosophy to explain/examine why/if it is the right thing, instead of just insisting that it is inevitable. A desirable singularity could be a kind of embrace, but it should be an open one, and one that we have chosen for good reasons.

Science tells philosophy how to find evidence, and evidence-based philosophy tells science how to move.

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