Something curious is happening in some corners of fundamental physics these days, and I am wondering if professional philosophers of science are fully aware of this, or else why there is not more quality contribution to the discussion from those who would actually be trained and qualified to do so:

Namely in some corners of fundamental physics, physicists are starting to stop being physicists and start being all interested in discussing philosophy. Not with philosophers, though, but among themselves, and in fact while at the same time publically proclaiming that "philosophy is dead". I am thinking of much of the discussion that goes with the term "multiverse".

Some of this is science, but for intrinsic reasons there is not too much science to be done about a "multiverse" (as Bert Schellekens, who arguably was the first to point out the bit of science that is available, already pointed out). This discussion is instead squarely in the territory of philosophy, much like discussion of phenomena such as "conciousness" etc. which arguably might be part of science one day, but currently are not (and in fact you don't have to look long for physicists trying to make the connection to that, too). Nevertheless, this discussion is all the hype in some public media and the physics-web sphere, see for instance here.

A kind of inverse Giordano Bruno complex is getting hold of part of the community.

My trouble with this is not so much the discussion in itself. It is potentially interesting, such as speculations about the nature of conciousness are potentially interesting, -- while similarly out of reach for present science. My trouble is this: first, I find the intellectual discipline in some of the discussion lacking, one can tell that physicists are not being trained to enter such territory. Second, I find it disturbing that this discussion crops up in the physics arXive-s. I'd be happy to find it in the philosophy journals when I do want to go look for it.

In short, it seems there has rarely been such a strongly felt need among the fundamental pyhsics community for some help from the philosophy departments, and at the same time this help is not happening, or if it is, it is not being recognized.

In the tradition of this discussion forum of asking more or less obvious "Why?"-questions, let this be my why-question: why did that happen?

Notice that I am not asking why physicists are talking about the multiverse, I know that quite well. I am intersted in this phenomenon of the sociology of science, that we have physicists start getting all interested in philosophy while at the same time proclaiming that "philosophy is dead". Apparently, there is some lack of cross-community communication here.

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    What does professional philosophy have to say about multiverses? Just wondering.
    – Drux
    Mar 24, 2014 at 14:25
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    @Drux, when you look at the discussion, you'll notice that after some initial motivation from physical input, the questions are very old ones of epistemology. But the resulting discussion among physicists often fall quite short of some basic quality measures, such as for instance witnessed by the inanity of the "Boltzmann brain"-discussion en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boltzmann_brain Mar 24, 2014 at 14:46
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    Good question. I was watching the latest episode of the new Cosmos two days ago. When Tyson started talking about multiverses I asked myself: is this not philosophy? If it is, then what do people like Maudlin, Sklar, the good folks at Pitt, and others have to say about these matters? I haven't had the opportunity to explore these aspects of philosophy of science, but I imagine there must be a lot of philosophical literature on it. Mar 24, 2014 at 21:29
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    I second the surprise that Tyson mentioned multiverse theory in Cosmos, even implying it's fully mainstream. I mean I like the multiverse "theory" too (mostly for simplicity, while my adviser argued with unitarity), but there are big leaps between accepting electromagnetism, accepting the big bang and accepting the multiverse. My understanding is that one of Tysons goals is to prohibit emergence of more American kids with an creationist point of view by propagating scientific results. Why then does he feed his opponents with ideas that can't properly be backed up? This will not end well.
    – Nikolaj-K
    Mar 25, 2014 at 15:37
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    A related question which the OP might find interesting. philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/8389/…
    – Neil Meyer
    Mar 26, 2014 at 8:00

1 Answer 1


This is a great question: Why don't scientists care to hear more from philosophers? My guess would be that the culprit here is specialization. This can happen in two different ways.

First, both philosophy and the natural sciences have become increasingly specialized in the past century. It has gotten much harder these days for a professional philosopher to also be up to speed on what is going on in the natural sciences, and vice versa. There are some exceptions. I would wager that Lawrence Sklar is about as up to speed on the cutting edge of physics as any non-physicist can be. Still, the amount of time and effort required to really get to know more than a few debates in one's own field is prohibitive, let alone to get the expertise necessary to discuss issues in other fields.

Second, there have been some high profile cases where scientists have made sweeping, negative claims about philosophy. Amateurish generalizations and denunciations make some philosophers question whether there really is anything philosophers stand to learn from their colleagues in the natural sciences.

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    Thanks for the pointer to Sklar. I am aware of his textbook as of 1992. Could you point me to some writings of his where he considers more recent developments? The issue that I am concerned about here started becoming noticeable not before, roughly, the change of the millenium. Mar 24, 2014 at 14:54
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    Looking briefly at his CV I don't see any recent work by Sklar that looks relevant to multiverse stuff. Maybe you could also check out the work of Tim Maudlin? I know he's also well thought of in the philosophy of physics community.
    – user5172
    Mar 24, 2014 at 17:14
  • Thanks again. I looked a bit for texts by Maudlin. He edited a collection on metaphysics issues, but maybe not quite on what I am after here. But let me know if I am missing something. On the other hand, if the upshot is that there is no philosopher of physics who has looked into this, then... well, that's the phenomenon that my question is about. Mar 24, 2014 at 18:53
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    @shane - I would add that philosophy is equally to blame for making sweeping claims about science that I'm not so sure are negative so much as just gobbledygook. Feyerabend in particular was a strong proponent of a view of science that was basically some sort of popularity contest, which is true to a small extent, but focusing on that aspect is amazingly counterproductive. (Feyerabend may have been reacting to negative attitudes from physicists of his day who were in turn reacting to Feyerabend's predecessors etc.--my point is that it's an old issue, with plenty of stubbornness on each side.)
    – Rex Kerr
    Mar 24, 2014 at 22:06
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    There's stupidity enough on both sides to go around.
    – user5172
    Mar 24, 2014 at 23:41

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