Physics and Philosophy
- Young Suh Kim
Professor of Physics Emeritus
University of Maryland
Ronald Reagan with Nancy (1952). Brenda Marshal (left) and William Holden (right).
Successful movie stars!
- Ronald Reagan
was the president of the United States for eight years (1981-1989). He was a
popular president. His first job as a politician was the governor of California
from 1967 to 1975.
He was born in 1911. Thus, he was 64 years old when he entered the field
of politics. Then, what was his real job? He was a successful
movie actor. Since most of the politicians are graduates of law schools,
a newspaper reporter once asked him how he became the president with his
- Reagan's answer was very simple. "I do not know how anyone can become
the president without acting background."
The highest academic degree is known as Ph.D. which means "doctor of philosophy,"
Thus, philosophers have a complex attitude toward other academic professions.
Every academic field is a branch of philosophy.
In 1961, at Princeton University, I became a Ph.D. after completing the
requirements for the degree.
- I have friends who regard themselves as successful philosophers. They
tell me physics is a narrowly specialized field. Thus, I am a narrow-minded
My reply to them is very simple. I am not able to see how anyone can
do philosophy without understanding physics, even though my true answer is
"They have to do their philosophies because they cannot do mathematics."
- Immanuel Kant and
Georg W. F. Hegel are among the most influential philosophers of our time.
I studied how they were able to come up with their main ideas. I even went to
their home bases:
Statue of Kant in Kaliningrad
- Kaliningrad (Russia, East Prussia until 1945)
for Kant. The city of Kaliningrad was developed by Germans as a trading port
called Koenigsberg. The geographical environment of this area is similar to
that of Italy's Venice. Many people with different cultural backgrounds come
to the same place to do business. Kant's philosophy is description of this
environment. The same thing could appear differently depending one the observer's
environment and status of mind.
According to Einstein, the same thing could appear differently to
- Stuttgart (Germany) to study Hegel's
personal background. I went to Hegel's house which serves as a museum these
days. Hegel studied history very carefully. He worked hard to point out there
are two classes of people: the haves and have-nots. The society consists of
the harmony and integration of these two classes. This concept led to the
opposite conclusion: class struggle advocated by Marx, Engels, and Lenin for
Hegel noted also the integration of cultures. Christianity is strong because
it is the synthesis of Jewish religion and Greek rationalism. Einstein took
this point of view and came up with the integration of massive and massless
particles based on his photo-electric effect. Einstein received his Nobel
prize for this synthesis, not for his formulation of theories of relativity.
- Here is my conclusion. Kant and Hegel are essentially
talking about Einstein in their philosophies. Thus, my conclusion is very similar
to Reagan's answer about his job:
How can philosophers do their philosophies without understanding Physics?
- Click here for Einstein's
- Hegel. Physics is art of synthesis.
- Then it is possible to define Einstein's
coordinate among the philosophers.
- As I said in my ealier articles, my way of thinking is heavily influenced by
the Korean way. How did Koreans think? During the 14th Century, as their national
ideology, Koreans adopted Neo-Confucianism formulated by the Chinese scholar named
Zhu Xi (1130-1200).
Koreans call it "Zhuja-Hak." It was like Christianity serving as the ideology
for all Western nations.
Zhu Xi formulated the traditional ethics of Confucianism in the scientific language of
Taoism. The traditional Confucianism tells "You should do that, and You should not
do that." Zhu Xi's Neo-Confucianism tells "Why you should or not do."
Thus, the Taoist influence is strong in Korean way of thinking. Its influence is
shown their national flag where red and blue are mixed in harmony.
The following diagram shows how this Taoism can be integrated with Kantian and Hegelian
approaches to the world.
The best illustration of this integrated approach is the way in which Americans practice
their democracy: two-party system. Modern physical
theories, such as quantum mechanics (wave-particle duality) and theory of relativity
(moving and stationary observers) were developed in this way:
My job as a physicist is to combine both quantum mechanics and relativity into one
theory: both theories are derivable from one basket of equations.
- Doing physics research does not prevent me from becoming interested in
other cultural activities of life.
- I like music. Click here for
songs and music I like to hear.
- I enjoy visiting art museums in the world.
- I enjoy taking photographs. Click here for
the cameras I once owned and I still have.
- Click here for photos I took while travelling
around the world.