What is the relationship between philosophy and science, the two most ancient ways we have of acquiring knowledge? Do they compete with one another? Are they complementary? Bill Nye the Science Guy suggests that, while philosophy is a worthwhile pursuit, it is science that allows us to escape the rigid confines of our own rationality. Whether the sun will rise tomorrow is a question fraught with endless skepticism. We in fact cannot say for certain whether it will or won’t. The same is true for questions concerning our very existence: Are we perhaps merely brains stored in the vat of some evil genius? While skeptical philosophies stumble over these questions, science provides a way out, a way to get on with things, and a way to keep living in the world.
Mike: Hey Bill. Mike here. I’m a philosophy major in college right now and I'm looking for your opinion on the subject. Some of the scientists like Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson have brushed it off as a meaningless topic. I’m just wondering about your thoughts on the subject.
Bill Nye: Mike, Mike. This is a great question. I’m not sure that Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins, two guys I’m very well-acquainted with have declared philosophy as irrelevant and blown it off, in you term. I think that they’re just concerned that it doesn’t always give an answer that’s surprising. It doesn’t always lead you someplace that is inconsistent with common sense. And it gets back — it often, often gets back to this question. What is the nature of consciousness? Can we know that we know? Are we aware that we are aware? Are we not aware that we are aware? Is reality real or is reality not real and we are all living on a pingpong ball as part of a giant interplanetary pingpong game and we cannot sense it. These are interesting questions. But the idea that reality is not real or what you sense and feel is not authentic is something I’m very skeptical of. I mean I think that your senses, the reality that you interact with with light, heat, sense of touch, taste, smell, hearing, absolutely hearing. These are real things.
And to make a philosophical argument that they may not be real because you can’t prove — like, for example, you can’t prove that the sun will come up tomorrow. Not really, right. You can’t prove it until it happens. But I’m pretty confident it will happen. That’s part of my reality. The sun will come up tomorrow. And so philosophy is important for a while, but it’s also — I get were Neil and Richard might be coming from, where you start arguing in a circle where I think therefore I am. What if you don’t think about it? Do you not exist anymore? You probably still exist even if you’re not thinking about existence. And so, you know, this gets into the old thing if you drop a hammer on your foot, is it real or is it just your imagination? You can run that test, you know, a couple of times and I hope you come to agree that it’s probably real. It’s a cool question. It’s important, I think, for a lot of people to be aware of philosophy, but just keep in mind if you’re spending all this money on college this also may be where Neil and Richard are coming from. A philosophy degree may not lead you to, on a career path. It might, but it may not. And keep in mind humans made up philosophy too. Humans discovered or invented the process of science. Humans invented language. Humans invented philosophy. So keep that in mind that when you go to seek an absolute truth you’re a human seeking the truth. So there’s going to be limits. But there’s also going to be things beyond which it doesn’t matter. Drop the hammer on your foot and see if you don’t notice it.