These questions are in focus for Harald Wiltsche, professor of philosophy with a specialization in general philosophy of science, philosophy of physics and phenomenology. He also has an interest in epistemology and history of science. On October 27 he is giving his inaugural lecture about his research.
What is your research about?
I am a philosopher working at the intersection between philosophy of science, epistemology and phenomenology. I want to understand how bodily, socially, and historically situated subjects gain knowledge about the world by relying on means as diverse as thought experiments, mathematical models, or scientific instruments.
It is hard to overestimate the importance of science and technology to our modern society. Scientific theories determine how we understand the world, and we rely on them in our decision-making. But what is it about science that makes it such a successful activity? What makes science different from other activities humans engage in? Are there phenomena that cannot, in any suitable fashion, be represented by scientific theories? How can we improve the ways in which science helps us address societal challenges? These are central questions in my research.
What is it about our minds that allows us to figure things out with such an incredible precision and reliability?
What made you interested in this area?
I was always fascinated by the ability of humans to transcend themselves through their intellectual capabilities. Galileo figured out how objects would fall on the surface of the moon long before anyone could go there. My motivation to become a philosopher is ultimately to understand how this works: What is it about our minds that allows us to figure things out with such an incredible precision and reliability?
Why is research in philosophy of science so important?
Philosophy and science grow out of the same desire, namely the wish to understand the inner workings of reality. Although science has been extremely good in answering this question, there is an increasing dominance of a “shut up and calculate!” mentality that favors pragmatic problem-solving over satisfying our intellectual curiosity.
I believe that being all too pragmatic about science is a very short-sighted strategy that will ultimately lead to a degeneration of science itself. And I also believe that close interdisciplinary collaborations between philosophy and science are the best way to counter this tendency.
Is there something within your area you would want to explore or study more in the future?
Among the many things the COVID-19 crisis has taught us, the perhaps most shocking concerns the extremely wide gap between science and the general public. While science becomes more and more specialized, the proverbial “man on the street” is out of touch with what science says and how it operates. Considering this, we shouldn’t be surprised by the recent thriving of religious fundamentalism or conspiracy theories. I think that the humanities could be instrumental in countering this tendency, and I would like to invest more time in the future to figure out how exactly this could be done.
Read more about the inaugural lecture here.