My candid thoughts on the need to distinguish “popular” philosophy from academic philosophy

What enthusiasts often forget in superficial Physics – Philosophy fusion discussions is that Philosophy is also a rigorous discipline which demands conceptual clarity of the highest order whether the topic is of analytic, linguistic or phenomenological interest.

… I am reminded of the old movie “The Fly” directed by David Cronenberg with the talented Jeff Goldblum as the protagonist scientist, when I have to listen to the nonchalant presentations on physics – philosophy fusion… How a housefly that enters the pod of teleportation without the knowledge of the protagonist scientist leads to the sorry state of the emergence of a mutated creature. The apparent process of teleportation is successful but the teleported creature acquires a genetic mix, without the scientist’s knowledge, that leads to scary consequences for the scientist.

It is true that (popular) philosophy attracts the fancy of minds if superficial correlations are to be made with science. And those uninformed and unanalysed pacts create immediate intellectual pleasures mostly of a mystical kind! But then what will emerge from such practises is a situation like in “The Fly”.

In such hasty comparisons what is referred to is a brand of philosophy called “popular philosophy” which has its own rightful place. The problem arises when “popular philosophy” is projected as (mystically) scientific and beholding the answers for questions about origin of universe, quantum physics etc. Popular philosophy is not academic philosophy. Popular philosophy is geared by popular beliefs and perceptions and interpretations. But academic philosophy is grounded in methods and epistemologies. The questions of ”pramana” and “prameya” becomes extremely important. And like any other academic disciplines a whole lot of training, and practise goes into the enterprise of serious philosophical engagement.

One instance of the confusions that arises from quick fusion ideas is the discussion on ‘subject’ and ‘observer’. It is heart wrenching to listen to courageous comparisons between subject/observer in idealistic traditions such as Advaita Vedanta with the “observer” concepts in quantum mechanics which includes a detector. Is it so difficult to understand that the ”observer” in philosophical traditions that talk about self-enquiry is eons away from the ability of a ”detector” to observe both conceptually and experientially? Aren’t subjectivity and reflective processes complex entities that not only has repercussions for philosophical analysis but also the understanding of identity and culture?

Another instance is the trend of juxtaposing technical words from physics (and other sciences) and philosophy ignoring the fact that the method, goals and purpose of the two systems of enquiry are completely different. One such expression I hear often these days is “quantum ontology”. Since such a word has the apparent power of pushing the listener to a deep vortex of mathematical and philosophical mysticism, it generates an awe taking the listener’s curiosity for ransom. And, creates some illusory worlds and representations.

I think it is high time we change our ancient belief that the “devil is in the details” which comforts us with an excuse for not engaging with rigorous and clear concepts of thinking whichever discipline it be. We have to now start seeing “the God in the details”, and feel honest to commit oneself to deeper, defined and detailed interdisciplinary discussions.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. gokulmuthu says:

    Yes. The mixing up of Physics and Philosophy, especially Advaita Vedanta has reached ridiculous levels. It clearly shows that the person who talks understands neither Physics nor Advaita.

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