Philosophy of Science

A few miles farther on, we came to a big, gravelly roadcut that looked like an ashfall, a mudflow, glacial till, and fresh oatmeal, imperfectly blended. "I don't know what this glop is," [Kenneth Deffeyes] said, in final capitulation. "You need a new geologist. You need a Californian."

John McPhee, Assembling California, p. 11 [The Noonday Press; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993]


(1) And our view may be corroborated by actual observation more effectively than by any sort of verbal argument.

(2) And this is to be proven, better than any demonstration through words [], from the observable [] itself.

John Philoponus, Commentaria in Aristotelem graeca, XVI-XVII, Joannes Philoponus, In Physicorum libros tres priores/quinque posteriores commentaria, ed. Hieronymus Vitelli, Academia litterarum regiae borussicae, Berlin, 1887-1888, p.683 16 ff; (1) first translation, A Source Book in Greek Science, edited by Morris R. Cohen and I.E. Drabkin, Harvard, 1948, 1975, p.220; (2) second translation, see the analysis of the Greek text and this translation here.


Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics.

Stephen Hawking, and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design, p.5 [Bantam Book, 2010, 2012]


BILL MURRAY: "Ray, for a moment, pretend that I don't know anything about metallurgy, engineering, or physics, and just tell me what the hell is going on."

DAN AYKROYD: "You never studied."

Ghostbusters, 1984, Columbia Pictures

Editorial Essays

Xenophanes [of Colophon, ] thinks that a mixture of the earth with the sea is going on, and that in time the earth is dissolved by the moist. He says that he has demonstrations of the following kind:  shells are found inland, and in the mountains, and in the quarries in Syracuse he says that an impression of a fish and of seaweed has been found, while an impression of a bayleaf was found in Paros in the depth of the rock, and in Malta flat shapes of all marine objects. These, he says, were produced when everything was long ago covered with mud, and the impression was dried in the mud. All mankind is destroyed whenever the earth is carried down into the sea and becomes mud; then there is another beginning of coming-to-be [genesis], and this foundation happens for all the worlds.

Hippolytus, Refutation of all Heresies, G.S. Kirk & J.E. Raven, The Presocratic Philosophers, Cambridge, 1957, 1964, p.177; for Greek text, see here.

(1) For if you let fall from the same height two weights of which one is many times as heavy as the other, you will see that the ratio of the times required for the motion does not depend on the ratio of the weights, but that the difference in time is a very small one.

(2) For if you let fall at the same time from the same height two weights that differ greatly, you will see that the ratio of the times of the motions does not correspond to the ratio of the weights, but that the difference in the times is a very small one.

(3) For letting fall at the same time two weights from the same height, differing from each other in very great measure, the ratio of the time of the motions does not follow the ratio of the weights, but the difference of the times is the very smallest.

John Philoponus, Commentaria in Aristotelem graeca, XVI-XVII, Joannes Philoponus, In Physicorum libros tres priores/quinque posteriores commentaria, ed. Hieronymus Vitelli, Academia litterarum regiae borussicae, Berlin, 1887-1888, p.683 16 ff; (1) first translation, A Source Book in Greek Science, edited by Morris R. Cohen and I.E. Drabkin, Harvard, 1948, 1975, p.220; (2) second translation, Greek Science After Aristotle, by G.E.R. Lloyd, W.W. Norton, 1973, p.160; (3) third translation, see the analysis of the Greek text and this translation here.


This is the third of four lectures on a rather difficult subject -- the theory of quantum electrodynamics -- and since there are obviously more people here tonight than there were before, some of you haven't heard the other two lectures and will find this lecture incomprehensible. Those of you who have heard the other two lectures will also find this lecture incomprehensible, but you know that that's all right:  as I explained in the first lecture, the way we have to describe Nature is generally incomprehensible to us.

Richard P. Feynman, QED, The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, p. 77 [Princeton University Press, 1985]


These ultimate springs and principles are totally shut up from human curiosity and enquiry. Elasticity, gravity, cohesion of parts, communication of motion by impulse [sic]; these are probably the ultimate causes and principles which we shall ever discover in nature.

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section IV, Part I, p. 26 [L.A. Shelby-Bigge, editor, Oxford University Press, 1902, 1972, p. 30]


Raffiniert ist der Herr Gott,
aber boshaft ist er nicht.

Subtle is the Lord God,
but malicious is he not.

Albert Einstein, on visit to Princeton University, April 1921, inscribed over the fireplace, Jones Hall 202 (previously Fine Hall, when Einstein had an office there, before Fuld Hall of the Institute for Advanced Study was built, and before the New Fine Hall of the University was built)

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