Why Science Needs Metaphysics

Technology cannot keep pace with theoretical predictions about subatomic reality coming from physics. The same applies to our ability to observe the far reaches of the universe. Theory outstrips data and can become more extravagant with the claims it makes about the character of a reality. Theories are more underdetermined by empirical results than ever, but scientists are reluctant to admit that the arguments they put forward are philosophical and metaphysical. Their theories provide a framework in which they can operate, but if they are removed not only from actual observation but from what in principle can be accessible to us, our descendants, or even any possible observer in our universe, it is hard to see that they are anything other than the product of pure reason. Just because scientists use such reasoning does not make it science.

What then has to be the case for genuine science as such to be possible? This is a question from outside science and is, by definition, a philosophical—even a metaphysical—question. Those who say that science can answer all questions are themselves standing outside science to make that claim

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus7 min readScience
When We Were the Cosmos: The director of the Griffith Observatory revisits the dawn of astronomy.
Leading off this week’s chapter of Nautilus, physics writer Michael Brooks carries on a playful, imaginary conversation with Jerome Cardano, a crazy-bold 16th-century scientist, inventor, and astrologer (it was, after all, the 16th century). Brooks w
Nautilus11 min read
The Ancient Rites That Gave Birth to Religion: Sacred beliefs likely arose out of prehistoric bonding and rituals.
The invention of religion is a big bang in human history. Gods and spirits helped explain the unexplainable, and religious belief gave meaning and purpose to people struggling to survive. But what if everything we thought we knew about religion was w
Nautilus6 min read
The Math Trick Behind MP3s, JPEGs, and Homer Simpson’s Face
Over a decade ago, I was sitting in a college math physics course and my professor spelt out an idea that kind of blew my mind. I think it isn’t a stretch to say that this is one of the most widely applicable mathematical discoveries, with applicatio