Lecture series on foundations of science: Scientific Realism

Whether there exists something ‘real’ to be described by science is one of the oldest question in philosophy of science, and it is one of the fundamental pillars on which scientific disciplines are built. In particular, are theoretical entities introduced by scientific theories merely useful predictive tools, or rather do they offer a faithful description of an outside ‘real’ world? Do we have scientific (i.e. non-metaphysical) methods to discriminate between these world views?

In this regard, foundations of natural sciences were shaken by the advent of quantum mechanics. Indeed, this theory demolished most of the a priori ideas, upon which classical theories were built, including the conception of reality. Crucial fundamental issues in quantum theory, such as the ontological status of the wave function and of the properties of particles are still heatedly debated. As D. Mermin pointed out, “today, nearly 90 years after its formulation, disagreement about the meaning of the [quantum] theory is stronger than ever. New interpretations appear every day. None ever disappear”.

Despite the importance of the concept of realism for science, fundamental issues of such a kind are rarely treated in as much detail as they would deserve in university courses. Therefore, a group of students of the University of Vienna from different scientific fields (see https://naturwissenschaftscafe.wordpress.com/) have organised a lecture series devoted to the subject of scientific realism. The lecture series will consist of nine lectures (in SS 2018), held by some of the most prominent (both international and local) professors in the field of foundations of quantum mechanics and philosophy of science. Moreover, the lecture series will be an official course of the University of Vienna, for which students could get ECTS upon passing an exam.

Further information can be found on Ufind under the following link: https://ufind.univie.ac.at/en/course.html?lv=260020&semester=2018S

This initiative has been stimulated also by a very successful (over 200 attendees) symposium on foundations of science, entitled “Shut Up and Contemplate!”, which was organised in March 2017 (https://shutupandcontemplatesymposium.wordpress.com/).



What is Fundamental?

In our next meeting Flavio will discuss the question “What is Fundamental?” and expound his and Chiara’s viewpoint on the topic. The meeting will take place on the 17th of January at 8pm in Tunnel Vienna.

The Topic was inspired by the Community Essay Contest of  Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi), in which Flavio and Chiara participate. Their essay “Demolishing prejudices to get to the foundations” can be found and commented under the following link:


To have some structure, the suggested way of reading the essay is:

  • Level 1-general idea:
    Until page 6, second paragraph (the one ending with “for every future scientifically significant theory.”)
  • Level 2-examples from physics:
    the whole text

Quantum Brain Dynamics

The next Naturwissenschaftscafé will take place on the 19th of December at 20:00 in Tunnel Vienna.

This time Moe will talk about Quantum Brain Dynamics and how current studies in Quantum Biology and Neuroscience deal with phenomena like “Quantum Conciousness” and quantum information processing in the brain.

The topics discussed are highly speculative and may contain some philosophic and even esoteric components. When reading into the field, I got the feeling that it is very important to stay open AND critical. I’m looking forward to an open discussion, because there seems to be no consensus in the scientific community whatsoever.

I will start with a short introduction in Neural Network Theory and how its assumptions are based on classical physics.

Then I want to give you an overview about the hypothesis that sparked the speculative discussion about “Quantum Conciousness”, which was developed by Penrose and Hameroff in the 90s.


And finally, I would like to talk about the current status of Quantum Neuroscience and which hypothesis have been killed by in-depth analysis:


and which are still alive:


For the preperation of the discussion it would be ideal to watch the first video, read the abstract of the arxiv paper and the quantamagzine article 🙂

Additional Literature:

What is life? Are viruses alive?

The next meeting will take place on Fr 16.6. 18:00 again in Tunnel Vienna. This times topic will be: What is life? Are viruses alive? presented by Geli and Patrick.
Please read into and watch the materials provided in order for us to have a common basis of knowledge for the discussion:

Level 1:

Watch this video explaining in brief what Viruses are and discussing differences in organization compared to things perceived as alive.

Level 2:

Read these articles discussing how newly found giant viruses might alter our previous understanding of aliveness/alivehood/alivebeing?
level 3:
Read a physicists perspective on the subject in Erwin Schroedingers book: What is life? A book that is based on a course of lectures held in 1943.

Should we colonize Mars?

The next meeting will take place on Fr 2.6. at 18:00 again in Tunnel Vienna.
This times Topic will be: Should we colonize Mars?, prepared by Thomas.Please make use of the great amount of Literature Thomas provided and read into the topic so we can have a nice discussion:

Level 1 Fundaments
As basis for our discussion I take this article in the Jacobin Magazine on the difficulties of governing a future Mars colony:
A critical view on Space X’s endeavours of colonizing the red planet and their moral context:
Level 2 Background
A response on the Aeon article on Space X’s efforts and how space exploration can aid humankind:
More on the Jacobin Magazine article in an interview with the author:
For more on space fairing context, a somewhat blue-eyed but fun to read article on how we would colonize Mars as part three of a series of posts on space colonization by waitbutwhy:
Level 3 Moar, moar, moar!
Videos and articles on the context of space travel:

Paul Feyerabend’s “against method”

The next meeting will take place on Fr 5.5. at 18:00 at the Tunnel Vienna Live and will be hosted by Moritz:

First, the plan was to cover current views in philosophy of science, because of the last discussion about the wiener Kreis and logical positivism. So I will try to be as recent as my knowledge permits and talk about Paul Feyerabend and his famous book “against method” (well, it was 1975 but I guess that’s recent in philosophy).

To discuss what came after logical positivism, please read a basic overview about Poppers Critical_rationalism https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_rationalism (for those of you, who speak german please read the german one because it is much better).

This is necessary to understand Feyerabends criticism of science as ideology: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemological_anarchism

And about his interesting life between physics and philosophy i recommend the 5. Chapter of https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feyerabend/#FeyeLateWorkTowaRelaButThenBeyoIt.

Enjoy the reading and I’m looking forward to an interesting discussion!

The Vienna Circle and its Philosophy

The next Naturwissenschaftscafé will take place on Friday 21st April at 6pm at Strudlhofgasse 4. The topic will be the Vienna Circle and its philosophy.

Please read into to material provided below to prepare for the meeting.

Level 1
To get an overview of the Vienna Circle just have a look at the Wikipedia article:

Level 2
For a bit more background there are some sources I can suggest you to look into:

Interview of A.J. Ayer on Logical Positivism and its Legacy : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nG0EWNezFl4

Prof. Christian Damböck, who also held a talk on the Symposium, wrote a book about the Vienna Circle (Ausgewählte Texte des wiener Kreis). He published a postface which I strongly suggest you to read (unfortunately in German): Nachwort zu Ausgewählte texte des wiener Kreis:

Level 3
For those of you, that really want to spend more time learning about the Vienna Circle, read the following:

Book (which I will bring with me to the NWC): Sie nannten sich der Wiener Kreis, exaktes denken am rande des Untergangs by Karl Sigmund

and the article of Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: