I don't mean to pollute the site with more discussion of questions, but I'm genuinely confused by the community's response to this and I want to figure out what is going on. There were a couple of questions (this one and this one) asking about whether metaphysics questions were appropriate on this site, and in each case, the votes are clearly in favor of "no, metaphysics questions are not appropriate." But when the specific questions that prompted that discussion were named, the community has voted that they are on topic. So what's going on?

I would like for us to resolve this one way or another - either we close all the offending questions, or we bring back the tag for good. (I strongly support the first option.) Which shall it be, and why were the votes inconsistent in the earlier questions?

I would offer you that the vitality of physics is rooted in metaphysics, J.C. Maxwell, in his book Matter and Motion on page 9 must discuss metaphysics as it relates to the idea of space. To paraphrase, it is by deduction that we come up with the idea of space. Its the idea of trying to come up with other facts from other known facts that fuels the metaphysical discussion. It is hoped that some truth will fall out of the discussion. I just don't see how you shut that off without changing the historical nature of physics. – user11547 Sep 15 '12 at 12:28
Simple: just ask metaphysics questions on meta.physics! – Kazark Oct 8 '12 at 16:41

7 Answers 7

up vote 10 down vote accepted

There should be no either/or duality :

either we close all the offending questions, or we bring back the metaphysics tag for good.

The degree of offense is what should be the criterion, and the voting and comments should help you as a moderator to gauge that. If some are offended it is OK, one cannot please everyone.

This philosophical definition of metaphysics that Anixx is introducing is confusing and disorienting to the purpose of this board. As physicists philosophy is optional and should not be a required prerequisite to understand the discussions on physics. So I am against a metaphysics tag.

Also as I said elsewhere many students visit this site and it would be a pity to disorient them with fluff, as far as physics goes.

If the question is about philosophy, you cannot get rid of it by just removing the tag. – Anixx Sep 11 '12 at 16:54
@Anixx a question only about philosophy does not belong to a physics board. I would accept a "philosophy " tag as a secondary tag, not a tag from the lingo of philosophers that needs special definitions. – anna v Sep 11 '12 at 18:50

If it's a philosophical question that depends on or is closely related to a physical theory then it should be allowed I think. It should be up to the poster of the question to relate the question to physics. So, my take is those questions where no attempt has been made to reasonably relate them to physics should be out, but otherwise should be allowed.

The reason is that philosophical debates often spark really important discoveries about physics, such as nonlocality and completeness of quantum physics which started out as a philosophical debate but has now reached the point where it actually has technical applications. We should therefore not stifle debate of philosophical issues unless it is clear that they are not in any way related to physics. It is better to err on the side of openness.

... and shall we or not use special tag for the questions of that kind? I'd say that in your view philosophy tags would be redundant because the questions will have proper physics tags. – Yrogirg Sep 12 '12 at 7:26
@Yrogirg I myself often want to see the whole list of philosophical questions. It is difficult to find them by other tags. For example, a question labelled "time" can be about time a plane can reach another city or be a philosophical question. – Anixx Sep 12 '12 at 11:42
I am OK with a metaphysical or philosophical tag, as long as the relevant questions are not deleted. – SMeznaric Sep 12 '12 at 14:03

Generally, there is no and there never was an issue with metaphysics questios. Anixx just tried to mix things up, discredit fundamental physics, and get attention as it started. The negative votes on this and this question, as well as the positive votes on his answers to the polling question, say that the communitiy disagrees with Anixx that there even is any general issue with philosphical questions on physics SE. Generally, most of the topics he meantioned are not (only) metaphysics or philosophy. Such issues are now investigated by serious theoretical physicists today. So questions asking about such things can well be incorporated into physics SE, if they are appropriately stated by alluding to the corresponding physics theories that deal with the issue, etc

So in my opinion, the only thing to do now is to close/delete (was there not the option of migrating too?) specific questions about the topics Anixx mentioned if and only if they have attracted enough close/delete votes or sparked a huge number of complaining flags and otherwise leave them alone. I thought the system deletes/closes questions automatically if enough votes from mods and high rep users have accumulated (?), so probably nothing has to be done. There is certainly no reason to generally delete/close larger groups of questions or disallow certain topics in the future as Annix tried to achieve. Neither is a metaphysics tag, saying that certain questions are not physics, needed here. Off base questions should be dealt with case by case as they come in (and as it was done before).

Once and for all, things were just fine before Anixx started to create an artificial issue, so it would be best to leave things allone.

Another point to consider is that refering to fundamental physics questions, that are investigated by serious theoretical physicists today, as "metaphysics" or even worse condemning them as off topic here on physics SE would lend support to people who attack fundamental physics not only in the internet but actively try to prohibit research into it even in the "real world" ...

Another point to consider is that refering to fundamental physics questions, that are investigated by serious theoretical physicists today, as "metaphysics" or even worse condemning them as off topic here on physics SE would lend support to people who attack fundamental physics not only in the internet but try to prohibit research into it even in the "real world" ... – Dilaton Sep 9 '12 at 10:53
So you're saying that the questions listed in the polling thread are not actually metaphysics/philosophical questions? I would not agree with that... – David Z Sep 9 '12 at 18:54
By the way, questions will be closed by 5 votes from high-rep (3000+) users. People tend not to vote to close on this site, though, so questions only rarely accumulate that many close votes, and it falls to the moderators to take care of closing questions that should be appropriate. – David Z Sep 9 '12 at 18:58
I did not say that every question from the polling list is on topic, but from the results of the poll you can see that the community generally has not problem with some of them being around characterized just by the normal physics subfield tags. The only one who ever (but very obstinately) complained about them was Anixx, who wants to enforce the application of some obscure definitions of a philosopher as can be seen from his answer here. Note that again the community strongly disagrees with Anixx in this answer too (-5 is not nothing here) – Dilaton Sep 9 '12 at 19:19
@DavidZaslavsky I dont understand why you take Anixx s one-person campain that seriously and even support it whereas you ignore the will of the community on this artificial issue. Of course you can start closing any theoretical or fundamental physics questions if you think it is appropriate ... But that would really disappoint me; I thought you some kind of like theoretical or fundamental physics too. As I said, it would be best to just deal with "boundary questions" case by case and otherwise refrain from taking any drastic disproportionate actions to satisfy just one user. – Dilaton Sep 9 '12 at 19:32
it's not because of Anixx. I looked at the questions, I do consider most of them to be philosophy, not fundamental physics, and I would like them to be off topic for this site. If they are to stay, I certainly believe it would be appropriate to tag them as philosophy or metaphysics. But do note that I have not supported Anixx's "campaign," nor have I ignored the will of the community - if I had, all those questions would be closed. – David Z Sep 9 '12 at 20:34
@DavidZaslavsky Ok, but I think that a warning is appropriate that a "philosophy" or "metaphysics" tag will probably cause nothing but strife, as it already did. There is a dangerous potential for misusing it by people who want to troll against legitimate fundamental physics or everything else they dislike for some reason ... I could name about a handful of such users. – Dilaton Sep 9 '12 at 20:57
BTW I disagree that most of them are philosophy, just with some or at most half of them I dont see how they can be adressed by physicists. Some are even quite good questions as can be seen by the upvotes and the interesting answers. And nobody, not even David, felt offended by thes questions before Anixx brougth up this non-issue. So I ll stick with my answer here. – Dilaton Sep 9 '12 at 23:36
@DavidZaslavsky you have a difficult job in deciding what to do with these borderline philosophical questions. I think you should either: tag them as "philosophy_of_physics", migrate them to philosophy or close them. But certainly close them rather than tag them "metaphysics". – Physiks lover Sep 9 '12 at 23:49
@Physikslover you are wrong, not all of them are philosophical questions. Some of them are clearly about valid topics renowned cosmologists and physicists worked on. Or are you really going to say what Stephen Hawking does is just metaphysics or philosophy? I – Dilaton Sep 10 '12 at 0:48
@Dilaton the ones David are concerned about are likely to be borderline philosophical if he's concerned about them being too philosophical. That isn't to say all the questions posted here last time fall into that category. – Physiks lover Sep 10 '12 at 12:42
@Dilaton why do you think that "Metaphysics" tag discredits some topics? – Anixx Sep 10 '12 at 20:58
@Dilaton why do you think that if Hawking wrote on something, that cannot be philosophy? Many phisicists write on philosophical topics. – Anixx Sep 10 '12 at 21:12
@Anixx: There's a difference between "All of what Hawking has written is not philosophy" and "All the papers Hawking has written is not philosophy.". And "metaphysics" discredits topics here, because it seems as if the question is like "If everything has a place,...". AND, fund. physics questions aren't meta-physics . – Dimensio1n0 Aug 1 '13 at 15:01

A tag ''metaphysics'' is misleading, generally meaning ''non-physics''.

I propose to use

  • ''foundations of physics'' (a physics journal has this name), or
  • ''philosophy of science'' (The Physics and Astronomy Classification Scheme (PACS) http://www.aip.org/pacs/ has a classifier 01.70.+w for this area.)

    I am quite interested in thinking about serious questions in this area.

  • share

    "when the specific questions that prompted that discussion were named, the community has voted that they are on topic. So what's going on? ... I would like for us to resolve this one way or another - either we close all the offending questions, or we bring back the metaphysics tag for good."

    To have a coherent policy of closing metaphysics questions requires that you have a coherent definition of what is and what isn't metaphysics. There is no prospect of any such consensus. I believe the policy should be, no metaphysics tag, and questions are closed or not on a case-by-case basis.

    If there is to be a philosophy tag, it should be "philosophy", not "metaphysics". Metaphysics (or ontology) is a term of art in philosophy, and it makes no sense to have technical philosophical jargon in the tags on a physics Q&A forum.

    P.S. By the way, there is a user who has posted ravings about the anthropic principle and reality under at least a dozen different identities, most recently "Curious boy".

    Metaphysics is just a branch of philosophy that deals with the world and our place in it. If in Biology.SE was a question whether abortion is appropriate at 6th month of pregnancy or what the medics should do with conjoined twins when one is less developed than the other, I would support tagging such questions with "Ethics" tag. Ethics being another branch of philosophy. – Anixx Sep 10 '12 at 21:05
    Anixx, too many physicists think metaphysics means "nonsense" or "off-topic" for that to work as a tag on a physics site. – Mitchell Porter Sep 10 '12 at 21:10
    Interesting information. I did not know about this. They possibly also think that philosophy is nonsence. – Anixx Sep 10 '12 at 21:14
    @Anixx Mitchell is right and reason for this is that the term "metaphysics" is used too often to sling mud on and discredit fundamental physics by people who want to abolish or forbid any research into fundamental physics, as can be seen by following some abominable discussions at certain blogs, below popular online news about fundamental physics, etc. These evil people (mis?)use the term to say that what they dislike is not physics and research into it should therefore be disallowed. – Dilaton Sep 10 '12 at 21:26
    @Dilaton do you have any links? – Anixx Sep 10 '12 at 21:29
    @Annix I could give you a link to a really terrible blog whose "raison d'etre" is nothing but to make parts of fundamental physics the blog owner dislikes completely disappear and links to many online articles about fundamental physics with horrible "discussions" in the comment sections below, etc :-(. But I think it is not a good idea to do this here, and I generally avoid clicking such dark places of the internet as I can (it still happens way too often that I bump accidentally into such things) because following such things too closely drives me up the wall and makes me vomit ... – Dilaton Sep 10 '12 at 21:42
    @Dilaton why do you think that blog is significant for this site? If somebody does not like some topics in physics and/or philosophy that does not imply that the topics should be avoided here, I think. – Anixx Sep 10 '12 at 21:54
    @Anixx because saying that questions about valid fundamental physics topics are not physics by tagging them as metaphysics, philosophy, or something like that would lend support to these evil (often they are NOT physicists!) people and their followers. They would think that people on physics SE agree with them, the goals they try to achieve, etc, if they happen to peek in here. The foundation of the fundamental physics prize has infuriated them since it is targeted at exactly such topics as they want to forbid research into. – Dilaton Sep 10 '12 at 22:26
    Upon this the most well known among these people have reinforced their presence in the popular media such as newspapers, TV, etc and the science journalists are happy about this because promoting them causes strife, controversy, flame wars, etc and that sells ... So I think we should avoid tagging questions about topics such as cosmology, quantum gravity, (beyond the standard model) particle physics, etc as metaphysics or philosophy by all means, even if you mean no harm by it. And it is certainly wrong to say that topics, that can be and that are investigated by physicists, are NOT physics. – Dilaton Sep 10 '12 at 22:36
    The evil people who fight fundamental physics I'm talking about are very popular among non experts in physics; and by their forceful media campaigns, books, ect they actively try to negatively influence science by all means. I'm not sure how seriously they are taken by politicians, decision makers about science funding, ect; how much damage they have already done to fundamental physics (the US are canceling HEP for example ...) and what they are capable to do in the future :-/ ... – Dilaton Sep 10 '12 at 23:07
    @Dilaton this looks like a conspiracy theory. My opinion is that regardless of what some people which as you claim, infiltrate the media and TV think and may use in their interest, the questions should be tagged according their content and topic. – Anixx Sep 10 '12 at 23:35
    @Dilaton by the way, can you give an example of some topics that were labelled by your opponents as non-scientific while you disagree with them? – Anixx Sep 10 '12 at 23:41
    let us continue this discussion in chat – Dilaton Sep 10 '12 at 23:55
    "If there is to be a philosophy tag, it should be "philosophy"" ha-ha! community doesn't like philosophy tag either! meta.physics.stackexchange.com/questions/80/… I guess the only tag that will be permitted is "history-of-physics" – Yrogirg Sep 11 '12 at 4:31

    I think that while some questions may be philosophical in essence, they still are bordering some of the phisical topics such as quantum mechanics, cosmology and measurement theory. As such, it is more productive for these questions to be asked in Physics.SE so I support the second option.

    Some questions that are pure philosophy such as "why there should be anything at all?" should be moved to Philosophy.SE though.


    Philosophy has a well-developed arena for such questions, whole journals devoted to the topic. Let them be placed there, and let the physics site keep a strict boundary of matter-energy/time-space relations. If physicists want to speculate on such matters they can go to philosophy.SE and debate.

    Philosophy has no such thing--- they have a political system which is designed to match with the current fasions in human-organization politics, essentially devoid of any content which is useful. – Ron Maimon Sep 25 '12 at 16:16
    Umm, that's a bit cynical. You're ignoring a lot of philosophical thought which includes all the political science which made the country that you (presumably) live in. – TheDoctor Sep 25 '12 at 18:03
    I don't think it's useless for politics, it's just useless for science. It's not like you can live without politics. The philosophers have no stronger claim to knowledge than political persuasion, so that the field is historically dominated by a series of pretentious reactionary morons (Aristotle,Confucious), vague gibberish (Hegel,Heidegger), and complete frauds (Nietzsche,Rand). There are a few people who regurgitate obvious stuff (Hume,Denett), and a few who made actual contributions (Liebnitz, Russell). The only nonmathematical philosopher who said something worthwhile is Carnap. – Ron Maimon Sep 26 '12 at 7:32
    In fairness, there are some nontrivial ideas associated with Plato whose proper descendents are now in religion, which is philosophy where you modify the politics by introducing sacred text, so that otherwise politically untenable ideas can survive. The 18th century philosophers are making up reasons to prop up the Bourgeoisie and liberalism (the life/liberty/property, the US stuff), and the 19th century guys are just secularized versions of earlier Christian thinking (Marx). None of these are very honest or very new anymore, and none of the philosophy requires deep reading, unlike science. – Ron Maimon Sep 26 '12 at 7:45
    Haha, you are hilarious. I would have shared you point-of-view had I not met those who do not hold the idea of G-d as a "theoretical", but as bona-fide experience as legitimate as our conversation here. – TheDoctor Sep 26 '12 at 19:44
    I don't think it's funny--- the state of philosophy is a shambles. I am one of those people, by the way. I don't think God is theoretical. It's a natural description of higher order collective intelligence and the ethics that emerge from these. But just because God is a legitimate concept doesn't mean it enters politics naturally. In religion, you use sacred unalterable texts to establish the bounds of discourse, to make the God politics separate from the human politics, because no king can rewrite the religious text. But the texts become more obviously stupid with time. – Ron Maimon Sep 26 '12 at 20:15
    Ha, you risk creating a conversation on a q&a site, but the state of philosophy is not that different than the state of the world in general: shambles. As for G-d, it's only a theoretical construct if it doesn't have a name, given by the entity itself, of course. – TheDoctor Sep 26 '12 at 20:32
    The state of philosophy is completely different from the state of mathematics, any science, and even economics--- philosophy is all garbage, while the rest is only partly garbage. The closest thing to the garbage in philosophy is Freudian psychology, but this is now gone. The entity "God" doesn't create the universe, doesn't do squat, and only roughly corresponds to the thing in the stories in religious texts, so little that it takes effort to even recognize that God is what these texts are talking about. This discussion is to clarify why you shouldn't use philosophy terms here. – Ron Maimon Sep 26 '12 at 23:34
    ... this philosophers' stupidity infects other fields, because these guys keep crossing boundaries into fields containing actual knowledge. If you have an entire department composed of people doing fraudulent stuff, the poison seeps out. For example, Earman and Mosterin, recently wrote a mentally defective paper on inflation, Earman on Feynman diagrams, etc. Philosophy has taken over quantum mechanics interpretation, thereby guaranteeing no further progress. There is not a single paper written by philosophers in the intersection of philosophy and physics which is not completely worthless. – Ron Maimon Sep 26 '12 at 23:37

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