A few weeks ago, Big Think posted a video with Bill Nye in which he talked about the relevance (or lack thereof) of philosophy. The backlash was fierce, to say the least.
[Philosophy] 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 ping pong ball as part of a giant interplanetary ping pong 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…
… philosophy is important for a while but it’s also I get were Neil [deGrasse Tyson] and Richard [Dawkins] might be coming from but 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.
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.
If you’re not familiar with the subject — and I’ll be the first to admit I’m not — then that answer might sound sensible at first. But the people who do understand it saw all sorts of holes in Nye’s argument. Needless to say, they were not pleased.
You can click on those links to get a better sense of what Nye missed, but if reading isn’t your thing, listen to John Rael‘s excellent take on it:
(Random plug: My friend Dr. Dan Fincke helped write the script for that video, and he teaches online classes called “Philosophy for Atheists” and “Philosophy of Science and Knowledge.” If you want to dig into these subjects, he’s a great instructor.)
We constantly mock the Creationist/Intelligent Design movement because, armed with a little bit of knowledge, they think they know enough to debunk all of modern science. Every time they open their mouths, people who understand evolution can easily counter their mistakes. In some ways, Nye did the same thing here. He would have been better off saying he wasn’t a philosophy expert and deferred to people who are.