Search Episodes
Listen, Share, & Support
Listen to the latest episode
Subscribe via iTunes
Subscribe via RSS
Become a fan
Follow on Twitter

Support Us:

Please consider making a donation to help make this podcast possible. Any contribution, great or small, helps tremendously!

Subscribe to E-Mail Updates

Related Readings
  • Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life
    Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life
    by Massimo Pigliucci
  • Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk
    Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk
    by Massimo Pigliucci
  • Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science
    Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science
    by Massimo Pigliucci

RS116 - Jim Baggott and Massimo on Farewell to Reality

Release date: September 7, 2014

Jim Baggot




As part of our special mini-interviews series, Massimo talks to Jim Baggott, author of “Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth.” Jim is one of an increasingly vocal number of critics of some directions taken lately by research in fundamental theoretical physics, and particularly of string theory. Massimo and Jim explore what it means for some physicists to call for a new era of “post-empirical” science.

Reader Comments (17)

the uploaded audio for episode 116 is actually 115...

September 7, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterwilliam is the correct link for the file. It's out there in the cloud, there was just a typo on the post.

September 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike

"Metaphysicists" YES!! Thank you, Massimo, for using that term!

September 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCEF

I was a little puzzled by Jim's (and Massimo's) comments in this segment. While I am sympathetic to Jim's objections to String Theory and other relatively new ideas in physics that seem to be untestable, I was puzzled by his statements that science does not have a rule book but yet he is worried that these speculative theories "are not science." If it is true that falsification advanced by Popper is outdated and that science is a more fluid human endeavor with no hard and fast rules. On what basis is Jim criticizing String Theory for not adhering to reality.

Jim finally concedes in the end that he would like science to do a test or do an experiment and that "that's all thats he's asking for." Is he redefining science to "just performing an experiment"? Why is he confident that "just doing an experiment" would save science?

September 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDuane

You say that modern philosophers of science have declared that there is no such thing as the scientific method. That is why Tyson is right: to tell bright students to stay away from modern philosophers.

Like Duane, I expected to agree with Jim. But some of his remarks undermined his points.

September 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

You say that modern philosophers of science have declared that there is no such thing as the scientific method. That is why Tyson is right: to tell bright students to stay away from modern philosophers.

Like Duane, I expected to agree with Jim. But some of his remarks undermined his points.

September 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

There is no "scientific method" because scientific methodologies employed by scientists are as vast and varied as what human imagination comes up with. And new methods for this or that are invented / discovered by scientists regularly. In every scientific paper you will find descriptions (and explanations, if regarded necessary) of the methods employed by the scientists whose work the paper is about; and in no single paper will you find mention of "the scientific method". That's not a trivial point: as philosophers of science, if we want to be intellectually honest, we have to look at what scientists actually do, and not merely rely on what we think they do, or what we've been taught to believe that they do. Spending some serious time perusing through the pages of Science and Nature is a good start to getting an idea of what actual scientific work and practices look like. Spending a lot of time with actual scientists as they do their work is, of course, more revealing.

But, regarding the so-called "scientific method", consider astronomy and geology: neither of these sciences even allow for the possibility of experiments. (Obviously, then, I disagree with Baggott: scientific hypotheses and theories don't require experimentation.) These sciences are strictly observational, and so any predictions are strictly about what we would expect to see or find if we look in certain places (i.e., look at specific astronomical or geological circumstances). But we cannot do experiments. Massimo has even made the point – in some other episode(s) – that in evolutionary biology, depending on what the specific topic is, by no means always allows for experimentation. And most of the topics in evolutionary biology that we, qua curious thinkers in general, find the most interesting are ones that do not allow for experiments. I am pretty sure there are similar situations in astrobiology, planetology (if that even allows for any experimentation, but I'm not sure), and the climate sciences. Economics, paleontology, and archaeology are other examples of sciences that I'm pretty sure don't allow for experimentation.

I think that part of the idea of the so-called "scientific method" is the idea that it is (at least part of) what makes science so successful, that it plays some role in explaining the success of science. However, the idea of the success of science is based on a filtered and biased history; for, the actual history of science is much more a history of failures than it is a history of success. Perusing through the pages of Science and Nature over the course of decades will begin to reveal that. But that is limited, because the majority of scientific failures are not published, since so many of the failures occurred before the work was even complete, before papers could even be written.

Also, I think that we, qua philosophers, should be a little charitable to Baggott: he doesn't claim to be a philosopher, he is not trained in philosophy and philosophy of science, so we shouldn't expect his thinking to be as rigorous as a philosopher's. For example, I noticed that he said at one point that science has no rules, while later he said something about science being such that we can change the rules. Strictly speaking, his two statements are contradictory, but I get what he means – as a philosopher of science, I can understand what he's trying to say. And I felt that way regarding a lot of what he said, that I can (mostly) get what he's trying to say, what he would be saying if he were a trained philosopher of science. That's certainly not to say that everything he said is agreeable.
I say this because, as a philosopher, I'm interested in the ideas, regardless of whether the person putting them out there has a clear grasp on them or not; and thus, regardless of whether I have to myself piece together and clarify what the idea actually is and what a fully fleshed out position based on that idea would be. (I suppose that all comes from having taught philosophy for a little while, and so having had to deal with students, who sometimes do have good ideas, but the haziest grasp on them.)

September 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCEF

I've now heard Massimo say several times that modern epistemology/philosophy of science has moved definitively past Popper, specifically when someone like Krauss says that their job as a scientist is to simultaneously make predictions and design experiments which could (in principle) falsify those predictions; however, I'm still waiting for him to drop the other shoe and give any indication of what the consensus position is which has supplanted Popper.

Is there maybe a 101 summary somewhere that you could link to, or a reading list of what the field now thinks isn't hopelessly superseded?

September 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterInfamous Heel-Filcher

@ Infamous Heel-Filcher

There's not really much of a consensus on a defining characteristic of science that solves the demarcation problem. I think part of the issue is that we now recognize that the search for a single defining characteristic is hopeless, having been based on a simplistic and naïve image of science and scientific practice.
But this may help you a bit, at least as a place to start:

September 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCEF

The quotes aren't verbatim, but the basic idea of what is said is conveyed:

>>"Lets not focus on whether or not a theory has been verified or falsified, it's the test itself that is what makes it scientific"<<

Why not just use the word test, testing or tester instead of science or scientist?

>>"I never received the scientific method handbook, I was a practicing scientist and there is no such thing as a scientific method, it's more of a family resemblance sort of thing"<<

When I heard this part of the podcast, I was thinking to myself... this is wrong, how can we change it? The question of what is science and what is not definitely has metaphysical involvement since it's dependent on definitions, however the question also has an empirical element to it (something in the external world that can be pointed to and observed). Empirical understandings with everything else have this sort of finality to it, it doesn't matter if you have a different opinion about what should happen when you drop a ball from shoulder height with nothing in it's way from the ground, it will fall which is what gives it a higher status than other cultural assertions. Why does this question have the added cultural qualifier where if a group of specific people share an opinion, that is then what makes it science instead of a fixed set of principles like correspondence to the external world, internal logical consistency, assumptions and counter possibilities exhaustively qualified, a non reliance on logical fallacies, etc... that would be independent of a personal opinion? Why does it "have" to be culturally adjudicated just because that's how it's always been done?

September 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJacob

Really one of the Awesome article i have read it. Thanks for the article. Also i have made a Blog on Good Friday 2015 & Good Friday Images 2015. Waiting for your valuable reply. Thanks

March 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterShilpi

I have just finished reading your book and it has given me hope for a rebirth of the scientific method. I admired your introduction and your Einstein quotes at the start of each chapter,
Quantum theory and all that followed it are all rooted in Planck's Black Body Radiation (BBR) Law (Function). Yet there was Wien's Function prior to Planck that satisfied the empirical laws of BBR. Rayleigh and Planck modified Wien's Function to solve what was viewed as an ISOCHROMATIC problem. This ISOCHROMATIC problem has never been experimentally tested. See my web page :

for details on this including the proposed test. I would be happy to work on discussing and setting up this test. This test should not be extremely expensive. It would return us to reality in physics.

April 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterClarence A Gall
Just a note to advise the technical staff that the microphones are 'popping' a lot. Simple microphone wind covers will solve the problem. The files already made can be cleaned up by removing the bass frequency, the specific frequency of the pops. - Gilbert (old sound engineer) P.S. 'A Beginner's Guide to Reality' by Jim is an excellent book.
June 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGilbert
Messages to Jim Baggott: please visit
October 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterWei Xu
Down with metaphysics.
November 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterVector
Mere instrumentality and mathematics fail to give us true understanding, we do need a physical description of reality.
December 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

If artificial intelligence
is really artificial, how
can we ascribe objective
or subjective feature too
knowledge and then understand
in complexity, these points in space
and time Lucille Ball has made in
The Ziegfeld Follies?

How can we most effectively explore
the borderlands between reason and
nonsense or metaphor and mentality?

. ~*.*~ . 11:16 AM 02/15/2018

Cyd Charisse (1945) Ziegfeld Follies [Here's to the Girls]


And in the opposite corner

Presidned Trump

Scream at the sky

First year in stock office

Market.gains: o-hey open rand

Lunatic economic musings

Maddow ">.'.n^<d"" = (c) = speed.of.light.rhetoric

What flavor

Economy clugging along

Phi on causes for incompleteness theorum

A dialogue in our therapuetic process

1 View
February 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterN.J.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.