Philosopher Hilary Lawson goes head to head with mathematical physicist Eric Weinstein over the nature of reality. Is metaphysics still relevant? This excerpt was taken from the debate ‘The matrix, myths and metaphysics,’ which took place at the HowTheLightGetsIn festival in Hay-on-Wye, Wales in May of 2023. Watch the full debate at…

Not so long ago philosophers and scientists were deeply critical of overall metaphysical accounts of the world, arguing that they were empty nonsense and should be consigned to the dustbin. ‘Metaphysics is the finding of bad reasons for what we believe on instinct’, concluded the author Somerset Maugham. But metaphysics is back. Idealism, possible worlds, panpsychism all have their adherents. ‘We are living in a simulation’, Matrix followers, like Elon Musk, intone. But is this a fundamental error that we once had recognised and have now forgotten, that trades evidence and reality for fiction and fantasy?

Should we recognise all overall metaphysical accounts as speculative nonsense? Since there can be no empirical evidence for any of them, is contemporary science the only way to determine the nature of things? Or might metaphysics be not only necessary but unavoidable?

Hilary Lawson is a post-postmodern philosopher and a renowned critic of philosophical realism. He is best known for his work on reflexivity and his theory of Closure, which puts forward a non-realist metaphysics arguing that we close the openness of the world with our thought and language.

Eric Weinstein is a mathematical physicist and the host of the podcast The Portal. He is the former Managing Director of Thiel Capital in San Francisco and was formerly a Co-Founder and Principal of the Natron Group in Manhattan as well as a Visiting Research Fellow at Oxford University in the Mathematical Institute. Since completing a PhD dissertation in the Mathematics Department at Harvard in 1992 he has held research positions in Mathematics, Physics, and Economics departments (at MIT, Hebrew University, and Harvard respectively).

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