Why Cosmology Needs Philosophy

What is it with the philosophy-haters in astrophysics and cosmology? From the late Stephen Hawking’s claim that ‘philosophy is dead’, to Steven Weinberg’s chapter-long jeremiad ‘Against Philosophy’ in Dreams of a Final Theory (1992), plenty of physicists and astrophysicists think that philosophy is useless, or at least useless to science. At the same time, Hawking and his co-author Leonard Mlodinow put forward an approach to scientific enquiry called ‘model-dependent realism’ in The Grand Design (2010), while Weinberg’s book argues passionately—and philosophically—against logical positivism and metaphysics. If it’s so useless, why have Hawking and Weinberg—and Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss and other anti-philosophites—so often engaged in philosophical discourse?

Despite what the haters might think, all areas of science confront questions that can’t be answered within the process of science itself. Whenever scientists examine the best way to test a theory, or wonder how scientific models relate to reality, they’re doing philosophy. But in its unique position as the study of the whole of existence, cosmology in particular is full of philosophical puzzles and positions.

In fact, there’s a philosophical belief hiding at the very heart of cosmology.

(continue reading)