The Ship of Theseus sails in Water (and not H2O)

The difference between natural language and the language of science

The problem of reference in philosophy deals with relations of words to the world. Do words correspond to some mind-independent objects in the external world? In the following text, I propose the thesis that “reference” is one area where science and everyday affairs take sharp, diametrically opposed directions, and that this in turn implies that we use different faculties of the mind in doing science as opposed to everyday work.

In everyday life, words can be used to communicate to others what we mean. “There is a chair in the room”. This sentence appears simple to understand. And it is. Everyone can easily understand what it means and it communicates one’s beliefs about the world. The simplicity of the sentence leads us to believe that the constituents of this expression, the words of the sentence, refer to some mind-independent objects called “chair” and “room”.

Let’s examine the word “chair”. The dictionary defines a chair as: “A seat, especially for one person, usually having fours legs for support and a rest for the back and often having rests for the arms.”

Instead of wasting “ink” over explaining why the word chair can’t possibly refer to any external object in the world, I refer the reader to the following pictures of chairs, Continue reading The Ship of Theseus sails in Water (and not H2O)

Abdus Salam and Galileo: The separation of science from religion (and philosophy)

Dr Abdus Salam, the late Pakistani particle physicist is the only Muslim physicist till date to have been awarded the Nobel Prize. Dr Salam was rare among modern day scientists in that he was a devout Muslim. While most modern scientists are not concerned with religious matters, Dr Salam found his inspiration for science in religion. Continue reading Abdus Salam and Galileo: The separation of science from religion (and philosophy)

Wittgenstein contra Wahhab

The basic tenet of Salafi/Wahhabi Muslims is that the word of God, i.e., the Quran, is not open to interpretation; the meaning is apparent from what is stated and woe unto those who indulge in the needless and dangerous talk of interpretation.

On the other hand, those who hold views similar to those held in the Mutazilite tradition, for example Shias and some  Sunni sects, believe that the literal meaning needs to be interpreted and we can interpret the Quran to obtain its true meaning.

Interestingly, two groundbreaking, and opposed works by the same man, the unrivaled genius Ludwig Wittgenstein, shed valuable light on these issues.  Continue reading Wittgenstein contra Wahhab