The Enigma Of The Universe ► Prologue ► A Comparative Study

Posted: 12.08.2014

The meaning of the word 'philosophy' according to the earliest philosophers of the West, the Greeks, who came before Socrates, was chiefly 'the study of the external world.[1] Now in modern terminology, most of the study of external world is called 'science.' Thus, it can be seen that there is a close resemblance between the meanings of the words 'philosophy' and 'science.'

The above discussion clearly shows that the views of the thinkers vary regarding the relation between science and philosophy. Nevertheless, one thing which is clearly accepted by all, is that there is a very close relation between science and philosophy and that if any enigma has been tackled by both, a comparative study of their respective dealings would be of real assistance in solving that enigma. Some of the modern physicists have recognized this truth. They have discussed the philosophical implication of modern physics as a result of which a new subject 'Philosophy of Science' has come into existence.

The renowned physicist Werner Heisenberg has brought about a radical change in modern physics by his discovery of principle of uncertainty. It has added a new chapter to the subject of comparative study of science and philosophy. His book Physics and Philosophy has made it clear that how even the great physicist like Heisenberg considers that comparative study between physics and philosophy is urgent. F.S.C. Northrop puts questions in his 'Introduction' to the above book, "Isn't physics quite independent of philosophy? Hasn't modern physics become effective only by dropping philosophy? Clearly, Heisenberg answers both of these questions in the negative."[2] These words of Northrop's not only refute the view which considers science and philosophy poles asunder, but also establish the fact that philosophy has played an important role in the enormous success of modern science.

We get a clear picture of the importance of the comparative study of science and philosophy in the words of Heisenberg himself. In the last chapter 'The Role of Modern Physics in the Present Development of Human Thinking' of "Physics and Philosophy" he writes, "....... that this most modern part of science touches very old problems of thought at many points, that it approaches some of the very old problems from a new direction, it is probably true quite generally that in the history of human thinking the most fruitful developments frequently take place when two different lines of thought-lines meet. These lines may have their roots in quite different parts of human culture, in different times or different cultural environments or different religious traditions: hence if they actually meet that is if they are at least so much related to each other that a real interaction can take place, then one may hope that new and interesting developments may follow. Atomic physics as a part of modern science does actually penetrate in our time into very different cultural traditions. It is not only thought in Europe and Western countries, where it belongs to the traditional activity in the natural sciences but it is also studied in the Far East, in countries like Japan and China and India, with their quite different cultural background, and in Russia where a new way of thinking has been established in our time."[3] Thus the value of the comparative study of the old traditional philosophical views and the views of modern physics can be estimated from the words of the renowned scientist. If we want to solve the mysteries of nature through the philosophy of modern science, it is undoubtedly useful to know the views of the old philosophies regarding them.

Most of the modern scientists will agree that it will prove fruitful to discuss the old philosophical problems and their solutions in the light of the modern scientific theories.

Sir Edmund Whittaker maintains, "It is still true that many central philosophical questions cannot be discussed profitably without reference to the physical universe and recent advances in physics have exhibited some classical philosophical problems in a new light. Among these is the question as to the nature of physical space."[4] Out of many problems of nature, the problem of space has been tackled by modern science with a new outlook. And the new solution of this old problem is based mostly on epistemological methods. Although some thinkers deny this philosophical character of modern science, the well-known German mathematician and philosopher Hans Reichenbach has refuted this denial and says; "If the speculatively oriented philosophy of our time denies to contemporary science its philosophical character, if it calls contribution such as the theory of relativity or the theory of sets unphilosophical and belonging in the special sciences, this judgment expresses only the inability to perceive the philosophical content of modern scientific thought."[5] He further holds, "One should approach science from a philosophical point of view and try to construct with its sharpened tools the philosophy of this technically refined knowledge."[6]

Thus we see that the scientists and the thinkers accept clearly that there is a philosophy of science. But they are not unanimous as to its real nature. We shall discuss at length the philosophical views of different scientists later on. Here it will be sufficient to say that philosophy is implicitly connected with science. We find in the words of the renowned scientist, Sir A. Eddington, a clear expression of this implicit philosophical nature of science. In the preface to his book 'The Philosophy of the Physical Science,' he writes, "It is often said that there is no "philosophy of science", but only the philosophies of certain scientists. But in so far as we recognize as authoritative body of opinion which decides what is and what is not accepted as present-day physics, there is an ascertainable present-day philosophy of physical science. It is implicit in the methods by which they advance science, sometimes without fully understanding why they employ them, and in the procedure which they accept as giving assurance of truth, often without examining what kind of assurance it can give."[7]

In conclusion, we can say that the comparative study of science and philosophy will prove very useful and if the enigmas of nature concerning the Universe, Space, Time etc. are tried to be solved in the light of this comparative study, we can get a good deal of assistance in satisfying the curiosity of human mind.

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