My training is as a mathematician and a physicist. When I first began out I was also very definitely interested in philosophy/religion, but aside from encyclopedia entries on philosophy I had little material at hand.
In fact as I was raised as an orthodox muslim one of my interests in science was the attempt to find out what the true was. There was little theological debate (to be fair there was no-one around that I could debate with) and just a commitment to assertion to things that appeared at first obvious (well I was a child then) and then doubtful. Science offered an agreeable contrast: it started with things that one could see. It had a method.
As an A-level student, I came across maximal principles in physics, which appeared to me analogous to Liebniz 'best of all possible worlds'. When I came across feynmans (nobel in physics) approach to QFT, the sum over all possible paths a particle could take (in a popularisation), it seemed even truer. It made me want to take philosophy more seriously.
I read somewhere a zen koan 'what is the sound of one hand clapping', this doesn't appear to have any mathematical/physical questions, but it raised questions about the truth of statements, I couldn't dismiss it as being simply untruthful, for what is meant by the cretan liar paradox, that godel took seriously and which resulted in his incompleteness theorems and got everybody excited, although I was to learn (much) later that godel remained anxious that all that there was in his theorem was all that there was in that cretan statement. This also made me want to take philosophy seriously.
I also read, most probably in an Asimov book (a sci-fi author) that the ancient greeks had discovered the notion of the atom. This was incredibly startling and made me incredibly angry that there was no discussion of this within the college syllabus. Feynman himself said, that if he were to pass on one scientific statement to a future generation, that it would be that everything was made of atoms, which leads me to suspect that he hadn't known that this had been philosophised about over two and a half millenia ago. And of course this also wanted me to take philosophy seriously.
Much later when I got around to reading the relevant portion of lucretious 'de rereum natura', I was surprised by how much of nineteenth century physics they had accurately (qualitatively) predicted. It wasn't just the notion of atoms, but also that they cohere, that they collide, that they move in straight lines, that they move incredibly quickly microscopically, but slowly to the eye. Incredibly they also posited a 'swerve', a random motion, to account for free-will, which is startling when you're being brought up on a diet of deterministic Newtonian physics. Einstein said that god didn't play dice, due to the prestige of newtonian physics, but did he know that a few ancient Greeks said he most certainly did?
And of course the copernican revolution revolved around a heliocentric universe, but again the ancient greeks got there first. They didn't do it by the scientific method, but by observation & disputation. They were philosophers of nature. So what was the importance of the copernican revolution? But a new emphasis on questioning received wisdom, and that this also meant kicking back on the catholic chuch. Its importance is social.
Then there is the current obsession of grand unification in physics, is this the same as the parmenidian one, or brahman? Sure we will know more details, but skip the details, my life is short, there is so much else to do. May be those religious thinkers got there first too.
As I skipped through school, the carefully constructed syllabus led you to only one conclusion, that scientists were getting it right, and getting it righter. That the final goal was not much further away. That this material universe was all that there is, though this is never stated explicitly, but imbibed gradually.
Eventually I had a crisis of faith and jumped ship, to a foundation I thought much firmer, more solid, the logic and evidence unassailable. I was committed to the scientific view, but this lasted only a month or so, until I realised that the thisness of experience was simply not explainable by science. I'd been torn between between being an artist and a scientist. So the colours of things, the sensual world mattered, and when I reached the cusp of adulthood, it mattered much more, the vividness of crimson, the scent of a rose, the figure and face of a woman. None of this experience was amenable to science. Sure you could state that the wavelength of red is such and such a number, and relate it to maxwell laws. But this didn't explain what I felt and what I saw. Hence Heideggers 'thrown into the world' and the sensuality and thisness of things.
So I had another crisis of faith, this time in science, in its ability to find the final truth. Ones spirit is forever reaching out for that holy grail. And I mean it as a crisis of religous faith. One could trace back the notion of the universe being Number to the pythagorean cult, which I'm sure wouldn't hesitate to call it in those terms, and the primary difference between ancient greek science and science since Galileo is Galileos emphasis on measurement. On giving reality to Pythagorases dictum.
David Wallace, a novelist, said one doesn't get to not what worship, one will, one must. You have only the freedom to choose what we worship. As I've grown older, I've seen so much of what humans do as based on ritual. We've never given them up, just added to them, changed them. It seemed to me that the religous perspective mattered as much, if not more than the scientific one. The word Islam means submission (to the will/law) of Allah. Why the passion/love of finding out all those laws, the fine detail, when we know all things worship. The electron as much the human, or as Yeats put it: She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree; But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree.
Perhaps an anthropological viewpoint was of importance, in why ritual mattered.
A lot of performance art was tied around ritual acts, but I didn't understand that. A lot of 'primitive' societies indulge in ancestor worship. But we being more sophisticated do not do that, or do we? Isn't their the ritual nod towards Newton, and Darwin, and Einstein in scholarly papers and conferences, the respectful listing of past masters in the bibliography? The ancestral worship continues in changed form. This is explicitly acknowledged in a project on the web that traces the genealogy of master-student (that is parent-child) relationships in doctoral dissertations. Oh and 'primitive' societies don the garb or use the shield or the spear of a respected enemy, is this the same relationship when we pick up a hermes bag, or don that saville row suit, or wave that tome by Yeats about? Culturally are 'primitive' societies really that far apart from the 'advanced' western ones. Gaugain famously sailed to the polynesian islands, and a picture he painted there bore the title: Where have we come from, What are we, Where are we going?
One is seduced by mathematics, by logic, that sensual music of signs, the movement of forms around. One is aware of just how many good mathematicians have stated that the beautiful is true, which indicates that the role of the sensual is not just through our outer senses but also our inner intellectual ones. That perhaps aesthetics is more important. We love the beautiful, and the good too. And after Baudelaire, the ugly, the sinful and dangerous (but then he's only expanding aesthetic categories).
It seems to me that there is a kind of hostility in science towards philosophy, religion and the arts too. Hawking said Philosophy is dead. Feynman pours scorn on an artist he befriends. Dawkins is an arch athiest. The scorn it appears is returned. But these are really tribal distinctions, and sibling rivalry. They are all in fact intertwined delicately and are a whole. At one point in ones life one strand appears more important than another, and at another time a different strand.
When the new testment starts with, in the beginning there was the word, (and the word was with God). Is that really so different from saying that the universe is information?
When the prophets & poets claim they are divinely inspired, is that so different from the illumination I get when I finally understood calculus. When the light finally breaks. Is it me, or have I been divinely illuminated? Islam talks about the Noor (Light) of Allah, its a certain position in islamic theology called, illuminatism.
When Empedocles held everything is love & strife. Is this not so? We call the law of 'attraction' of gravity. Attraction or 'love' of matter for matter. And strife, do not the atoms hit each other, and push each other around. And on the ethical/human life, is not love and strife all around us? Intellectual, political and personal loves and hatreds?
As to why so much philosophical/artistic/literary & religious nonsense is produced. Who knows. One cannot know the individual intellectual history of each and every scholar. One cannot know what is nonsense today, may make sense today. Physicists were grumbling about 'gruppenpest' and mathematicians about 'abstract nonsense', both of which make very good sense today. Kelvin invented a vortex model of atoms, which inspired Tait to treat knots mathematically, both of which dropped out of sight until the late 20C and is now of huge importance. And VI Arnold bemoans the neglect of classical physics for more abstract terain, Atiyah acknowledges many instances of the 'axiomatic system at its worst'. John Baez complains about centipede mathematics when one axiom is stripped off after another. Theres plenty of silliness in mathematical & physical circles. We're all at it. Eventually a few gems will be dug up amongst the tsunami of mud.
To become a trained mathematician/physicist takes a long time. To become good at anything takes labour. And that is as true of philosophy, theology and the arts too. To remain good takes even more labour, its an ardous process and prone to corruption. We are in the end only human.
Theres plenty of magical thinking and superstition in mathematics & physics, as there is in all parts of our lives.
Anyway this entry is way too long, but hopefully illuminating. I'm trying to show how for myself various ideas from all sorts of terrain formed my intellectual development. A sort of intellectuall bildungsroman.
Shantih. Shantih. Shantih.