Physics and Philosophy

  • Young Suh Kim
    Professor of Physics Emeritus
    University of Maryland

    Home Page.

      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 acting background.

  • Reagan's answer was very simple. "I do not know how anyone can become the president without acting background."

      In 1961, at Princeton University, I became a Ph.D. after completing the requirements for the degree.
    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.

  • I have friends who regard themselves as successful philosophers. They tell me physics is a narrowly specialized field. Thus, I am a narrow-minded person.

    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
    1. 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 moving observers,

        Hegelhaus in Stuttgart

    2. 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 their communism.

      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?

    1. Click here for Einstein's Kantian background.

    2. Hegel. Physics is art of synthesis.

    3. Then it is possible to define Einstein's coordinate among the philosophers.

    4. 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. Crazy Enough.

    5. Doing physics research does not prevent me from becoming interested in other cultural activities of life.

      1. I like music. Click here for songs and music I like to hear.

      2. I enjoy visiting art museums in the world.

      3. I enjoy taking photographs. Click here for the cameras I once owned and I still have.

      4. Click here for photos I took while travelling around the world.