This course examines leading ideas and controversies in current and twentieth century philosophy of science. We examine various case studies: sometimes biology, sometimes chemistry, sometimes astronomy and cosmology. These case studies tend to challenge the mid-twentieth century model of scientific rationality, which emphasizes deductive reasoning in axiomatized theories as the ideal for science. But how do scientists decide on rules and principles in the first place? Where does the notion of a model fit in between the collection of data and the construction of a theory, bringing principles and empirical evidence into rational relation? How can we understand the microscopic world of molecules or wave functions in relation with the macroscopic world of the laboratory, city, field and forest, and then with the great framework of the solar system, galaxies and cosmos? How do philosophers coordinate metaphysics, logic, the history of science, and the study of epistemology? Why is there something rather than nothing? We will examine critically the standard mid-century view of scientific rationality put forward by logical positivist philosophers, with its emphasis on deduction (as well as induction perhaps quantified by appeal to probability theory) and then turn our attention to ampliative reasoning and processes of discovery, the nature of representation, and the development of concepts and families of problems.
In April 2013, we focused on modern cosmology, and the students took part in this workshop, which I organized with support from the Department of Philosophy, the Schreyer Honors College, and the Center for Fundamental Theory / Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos at Penn State.
What is the status of time in modern cosmology? Is time real, or is it a convenient illusion? Should the arrow of time be part of physics or should it be explained away? Are all the laws of physics time-reversal invariant? Should we treat time as a parameter or as an observable? What exactly do we measure when we measure time? When scientists try to unify Relativity Theory and Quantum Mechanics in their cosmological models of the universe, how does that unification affect the scientific account of time? What is the relation of time to spacetime? Is time (or spacetime) continuous or discrete?The orientation of this workshop is retrospective and philosophical. The discussion about time that spans the twentieth century, and continues to the present day among cosmologists and philosophers, forces the articulation of important issues concerning the nature of time.