Philosophy of science


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Engineers prepare to enter HAM 6 (left) to install the new septum window between HAM 5 and 6 through which LIGO’s laser beam passes. Staff must wear full bunny suits and goggles to protect their eyes from any stray laser light. The structure visible inside HAM 6 supports the photodetector that ultimately detects gravitational waves. Photo courtesy Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

Essay/
Philosophy of science
Keep science irrational

Is hard data the only path to scientific truth? That’s an absurd, illogical and profoundly useful fiction

Michael Strevens

Coloured scanning electron micrograph of a macrophage white blood cell (purple) engulfing a tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) bacterium (pink). Photo by Science Photo Library

Essay/
Biology
Life with purpose

Biologists balk at any talk of ‘goals’ or ‘intentions’ – but a bold new research agenda has put agency back on the table

Philip Ball

Close-up detail of the Papilio demoleus malayanus, the lime butterfly. Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic

Essay/
Philosophy of science
Cognition all the way down

Biology’s next great horizon is to understand cells, tissues and organisms as agents with agendas (even if unthinking ones)

Michael Levin & Daniel C Dennett

A red deer stag in autumn mist. Photo by Arterra/Sven-Erik Arndt/Getty

Essay/
Biology
Sex is real

Yes, there are just two biological sexes. No, this doesn’t mean every living thing is either one or the other

Paul Griffiths

Malibu, California, 1957. Photo by Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

Essay/
Gender and identity
Sexual dinosaurs

The charge of ‘feminist bias’ is used to besmirch anyone who questions sexist assumptions at work in neuroscience

Cordelia Fine

Scientists near the Daneborg research station in Greenland, July/August 2014. Photo by Jean Gaumy/Magnum

Essay/
Philosophy of science
The necessity of awe

In awe we hold fast to nature’s strangeness and open up to the unknown. No wonder it’s central to the scientific imagination

Helen De Cruz

Scientists working extra hours during the COVID-19 pandemic at the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases in Athens, Greece. 18 March 2020. Photo by Enri Canaj/Magnum

Essay/
Philosophy of science
The good scientist

Science is the one culture that all humans share. What would it mean to create a scientifically literate future together?

Martin Rees

An artist’s representation of superstrings. Illustration by Mehau Kuylyk/Science Photo Library

Essay/
Philosophy of science
How science fails

For the émigré philosopher Imre Lakatos, science degenerates unless it is theoretically and experimentally progressive

Jim Baggott

Les Baigneuses (1912), by Albert Gleizes. Courtesy Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris/Wikipedia

Essay/
Human evolution
Choose your own birth

Every human is both an animal with a deep evolutionary history and an individual who must bring their existence into being

Ada Jaarsma

Astronomy and geometry from Le Livre et le vraye hystoire du bon roy Alixandre (c1420), Royal 20 B XX f3. Courtesy the British Library

Essay/
Religion
Science + religion

The science-versus-religion opposition is a barrier to thought. Each one is a gift, rather than a threat, to the other

Tom McLeish

Photo by Peter Marlow/Magnum

Essay/
Philosophy of science
What’s everything made of?

To answer whether the fundamental building blocks of reality are particles, fields or both means thinking beyond physics

Charles Sebens

Parallax (Candles) (1951). Courtesy the Estate of Berenice Abbott/Getty Images

Essay/
Philosophy of science
But is it science?

Theoretical physicists who say the multiverse exists set a dangerous precedent: science based on zero empirical evidence

Jim Baggott

Out of time; ‘Rocket’ Ronnie O’Sullivan at the practice table during the German Masters snooker tournament at the Tempodrom in Berlin. Photo by Stefan Boness/Ipon/Panos

Essay/
Physics
The ABC of time

In our Universe, time seems to go from past to future, not in reverse. But what if time doesn’t even have a direction?

Matt Farr

Spaceborne Imaging Radar photo of the autonomous republic of Tuva, the subject of Richard Feynmann’s intense interest during the latter part of his life and documented in Tuva or Bust! by Ralph Leighton. Photo taken from Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1994. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL

Idea/
Thinkers and theories
Richard Feynman was wrong about beauty and truth in science

Massimo Pigliucci

Detail of White Cat (1935-38), by Gertrude Abercrombie. Courtesy the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Essay/
Biology
Life ≠ alive

A cat is alive, a sofa is not: that much we know. But a sofa is also part of life. Information theory tells us why

Michael Lachmann & Sara Walker

Man of Science (1839), artist unknown. American. Courtesy the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Essay/
History of science
Natural philosophy redux

The great split between science and philosophy must be repaired. Only then can we answer the urgent, fundamental problems

Nicholas Maxwell

‘…the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some one fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres’ – Ludwig Wittgenstein. Photo by Getty

Essay/
Philosophy of science
Getting it right

Truth is neither absolute nor timeless. But the pursuit of truth remains at the heart of the scientific endeavour

Michela Massimi