Stanford philosophy professors to host series on the cosmos


The nationally syndicated Philosophy Talk radio show received a $200,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation to produce an eight-episode series focused on the nature of the universe.

Titled A Philosophical Guide to the Cosmos, the series aims to take listeners on a “grand philosophical journey” through the cosmos, tackling puzzling questions about the nature of the universe. Philosophy Talk is hosted by Stanford philosophy professors JOHN PERRY and KEN TAYLOR.

The new series kicks off March 13 with a show titled “Ancient Cosmos,” and continues, at the rate of one episode per quarter, until fall 2017. Each one-hour episode tackles a different big question in cosmology with a guest expert from either science or philosophy of science.

Questions to explore include: What is the origin of the universe? What exactly are space and time? Could the laws of physics ever change? Is the universe fine-tuned to support intelligent life? Are we part of a multiverse? And how does science make progress in answering these questions?

“Philosophy and, in particular, the philosophy of science is very much alive and full of good ideas,” Perry said.

Both Taylor and Perry say that science alone also cannot answer all our questions about the ultimate nature of the universe.

Take the arrow of time, a problem that has puzzled philosophers since at least the 5th century BC, according to Taylor.

He noted, “We perceive time as having a direction, as moving from past to future, and not the other way around. But nothing in contemporary physics explains this. Why is that? Is it because our physical theories are incomplete? Because time isn’t real? Even if you start out thinking about these things scientifically, you’re going to get yourself into the domain of philosophy pretty quickly.”

Taylor said that philosophy alone isn’t going to reveal the nature of time or space, or the size of the universe, or what, if anything, happened “before” the Big Bang. “But who ever thought that?”

He noted that there is no competition between science and philosophy. “Never has been. Never will be. The two, at their best, have always been partners, not adversaries.”