A provocative title, assuredly, while science is everywhere, and philosophy, in appearance, some will say, nowhere. But actually our world owes even more to philosophy than to science: after all, according to my convoluted theories, the rise of Europe is greatly due to the push of the Franks against slavery, and towards less sexism. (It will not escape the cognoscenti that the great dynasty of the Tang in China, in the same period, was marked by powerful empresses.)
Science and philosophy are basically methods at both extremities of the same spectrum.
The age of science is upon us, thus the age of philosophy.
Science is about what is true. Philosophy is about what could be true.
Science is about realistic circumstances, philosophy is about imagining them. Science is about knowing, philosophy about guessing.
Neither goes without the other, since there have been baboons, and they think.
All animals with advanced brains have to be scientific enough to catch dinner, have sex, play hard to get, and they have to be a bit philosophical. However both science and philosophy took gigantic dimensions, once the genus Homo made culture into, well, a science.
With its intricate brains, Homo Sapiens could create, in said brains, entire world of ideas, neurological structures constructed by experiences, the world of tangibles, the world of truth, science. But it could also instruct, from the same, more free form structures, the world of imagination, where philosophy feeds at the trough.
In particular, 10,000 religions blossomed, and many a virgin perished in their names.
So what now?
Some say philosophy is dying. What they mean, is that they are dead.
This is the age of science, the age of truth. Much is known, but it’s nothing relative to what is coming. What is coming is automatic science. It’s not yet here, but some computer scientists are working on machines to prove theorems, automatically.
That does not mean mathematics would become meaningless, impotent, just the opposite. Mathematicians will devote themselves to the imagination, in other words, to the philosophy. Machines will see if it (mathematical philosophy) works.
In the myth of the singularity, dear to some “futurists”, science starts to progress so fast, that all becomes a blur. We are not yet there: electronic chips’ speed has stalled (from overheating), and multi-core programming is hard. However, even with slower progress, all mundane intellectuals tasks will fall to machines pretty soon.
And all over the world of inquiry, so it will be. Even in law, machines (computers) will be able to fill in all the details, check, in advance what are the consequences of imaginable laws.
All over, the imagination will be the specific human impulse. In other words, philosophy.
If one considers prehistoric man, one is considering a scientist: knowing what was true allowed survival. Being seriously wrong did not mean one’s “paper” would be rejected by a prestigious journal, but that one would be torn apart by a Homotherium pack.
There was little time and inclination for wild guesswork about the nature of the universe. Now is just the opposite: Homotherium has got extinct 10,000 years ago, with a whole panoply of terrible predators. Machines, increasingly, bring food and medicines.
We have all the time in the world to go on a rampage of guesswork.
This is already happening in physics: Strings, Superstrings, Supersymmetry, and their ilk are theories that were launched on the thinnest philosophical fumes.
For example, symmetries allowed to guess the existence of a few particles. So why not suppose that there is a symmetry (whatever that means) means the two main types of particles, Fermions and Bosons? That would remove an “infinity” or two which plagues the computations. Thus the idea of “Supersymmetry’.
Here is another example of stealth, wild philosophizing in physics, the idea of “A Universe For Nothing”.
(That’s described in the eponymous book of a professional salesman, Lawrence Krauss.) Wild guessing, if there ever was any. It makes Middle Age theologians, with their angels on pinheads, sound boring.
The Universe-for-nothing folks have prestigious chairs in the most prestigious universities in the world, and got multi-million dollars prizes (from plutocrats, of course). They use, in their despair, a completely idiotic argument about potential energy. Or, let’s say, a philosophical argument. That allows them to pretend it should cost nothing, energy-wise, to create a universe. Or a zillions of them per nanometer, actually, in every instant of time.
15,000 years ago, thinkers that crazy, arguing that Homotherium was created from nothing, would have been promptly swallowed by a pack of the saber tooth, social felids.
Science used to keep us alive, now we can afford to live by ridiculous philosophies. All the more reason, as the Seventh Extinction, the one of the Anthropocene, looms, to create some which are as serious as our ancestors needed to be.
And to those who thought our ancestors were not brainy: it seems their brains, all things equal, were 10% larger. Fortunately, things are going to get very serious, very soon. And while machines will do most of the science, our thinking, and guessing, will have to be wilder and deeper, than ever.
Philosophy is the new science.