Establishing the Philosophy of Cosmology by Rachel Thomas:
"We live in a golden age of cosmology," says Jeremy Butterfield, a
philosopher of physics from the University of Cambridge. Since the mid 20th
century, we've seen dramatic advances in our understanding of the Universe. It
started with Einstein's development of the general theory of relativity in the
beginning of the century, which provided a deeper understanding of the structure
of stars and galaxies and their formation. In the 1960s the unprecedented
precision of observations provided an enormous stimulus. This, according to
Butterfield, therefore also heralds a golden age for philosophy.
Scientific advances have always stimulated philosophical reflection, whether
it's Plato, Aristotle, Galileo or Newton. But over the last century, Butterfield
says, analytic philosophy, growing up mostly in Vienna and Cambridge between
1890 and 1930, was overly obsessed by logic. This perhaps isn't surprising, as
logic at that time was developing rapidly with revolutions in the foundations of
mathematics, such as Gödel's
incompleteness theorem. "This mesmerised philosophers into thinking that
logic and language, and how language represented reality, were the centre of
philosophy," says Butterfield. "Unfortunately they therefore downplayed the
philosophy of nature, as it used to be called, or natural philosophy."
But fortunately, in the 1970s, philosophers began to once more engage with the
details of science, and natural philosophy came back into its own. Philosophers
began to really sink their teeth into the two scientific revolutions of the
early 20th century: quantum mechanics and relativity. Philosophers have found
rich pickings in the strange world of quantum mechanics (you can read more about
this in Plus)
and Butterfield hopes that a new project will allow them to investigate areas of
cosmology just as fruitfully.
The entire article can be read here.