Saturday, August 8, 2015

Bollinger's Axiom

Just recently I learned that back in 2011 Stephen Hawking declared that philosophy is dead.

Speaking at Google’s Zeitgeist Conference in Hertfordshire, Hawking said, "Almost all of us must sometimes wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics."

And that doofus Lawrence Krauss shot his mouth off around the same time, saying that philosophy had made no progress in 2000 years, and then wrote an entire article in Scientific American in which he sort of apologized. Sort of. Krauss' case is somewhat more annoying because he claims to have a solid knowledge of philosophy.

Then again, to put that into perspective: Sam Harris claims to be a philosopher.

For as long as I can remember thinking about it I had always assumed that everybody was stupid about something. Then in 2007 I learned that I am autistic. Then just recently I started to wonder whether the dumb-in-some-areas, smart-in-others paradigm was not universal, but applied especially to me because I'm autistic.

Then I hear about what Hawking said in 2011, and I reflect on him and Krauss and Dawkins, all brilliant in their own fields and occasionally quite shaky indeed when they wander outside of them -- and the New Atheists in general, most of whom, unlike Harris, are actually competent in some field or other -- and it seems to confirm that I was on to something all along:

Don't assume, because someone is brilliant in one field, that they have useful insights about -- anything else at all.

I like that. How about if we call that Bollinger's Axiom, so that people can start mis-quoting it and mis-applying it right away and claiming that I think all sorts of things which I don't?


  1. Are you implying that Hawking is wrong? The question "what are we doing here" is a scientific one, not a philosophical one.

    Physics is the most successful epistemological system ever invented, and its answers are more concrete, useful, and accurate than those of philosophy. I'm not saying philosophy isn't dead, but it's a lot smaller than it once was.

    1. No, I'm not implying Hawking is wrong, I'm coming right out and saying it. Physics and philosophy are apples and oranges. Each has unique questions and applications. They might occasionally inspire one another, but they're different. No matter how magnificent apples become, they will never be oranges, and vice-versa. All Hawking did was demonstrate that he doesn't know a lot about philosophy, the same way you did with your comment.

      I'll give you an example: Nietzsche -- ever heard of Nietzsche? He was a philosopher who was active until the late 1880's, and knew more about physics than some physicists of the time did -- wrote that without music, life would be a mistake. Now, you may think that that statement is profound, and you may think it's ridiculous, but one thing you most definitely can't do is prove or disprove it using physics.

      Thank you for your comment.

    2. Spoiler Alert: Plato beat you to your axiom by about 2400 years in The Apology

    3. pray tell what physics has to do with epistemology, its greek root meaning knowledge or understanding.

    4. "Plato beat you to your axiom by about 2400 years in The Apology." Same Anonymous as the 1st comment? Be that as it may, I'll look into that. Thanks.

    5. niel b, it seems to me that physics has everything to do with knowledge and understanding (although with different kinds of knowledge than recent philosophy). I don't understand your objection.