An Overview of Present-Day Positivism
Auguste Comte is normally credited as the founder of this heroic doctrine of denial; in the years that followed, it was to take on many forms which, regardless were alike in the severity of their deprivation, varying only in matters of narrowness and emphasis.
Comte recognised three phases in the emergence of his "rationality". First came the theological age of darkness -of animism, superstition and anthropomorphism. This was replaced by metaphysics -the age of philosophical free-wheeling speculation that exalted the a priori over the a posteriori. Finally came the scientific era centered within and largely limited to what was objectively observable.
In one of its stronger forms -followed by few nowadays- even the a priori world of logic and mathematics was placed beyond the pale, or was made captive to the realm of physical exploration. Thus John Stuart Mill sought to make of mathematics an operational discipline in which conjectures -putative theorems- over numbers or geometrical configurations were put to the empirical test. In an equivalently extremist sally even a material substratum at the root of observed phenomena has been dismissed on the grounds that any such ding-an-sich is in principle unobservable; to acknowledge any such presence was viewed as an Occamian affront. There have been some positivists who have gone so far as to reject the atomic theory. This retreat into phenomenalism signifies that operability is driving ontology, so that all non-observables have been consigned to non-existence.
It was Ernst Mach who was to inherit Comte's mantle -it is his name which comes most readily to mind whenever mention is made of the movement nowadays What Mach emphasized was the dispatch of absolutes, however conceived. All such 'religious' hold-over were to be replaced by a pan-relativism which favoured no one position over any other; ethics for example became a matter of taste or choice, perhaps to be governed only by a cost/benefit analysis. It was the Machian weltanschauung that mostly inspired Einstein in his pursuit of the doctrine of relativity. I had always assumed (as I believe have also most others) that the driving force of his contemplations was a need to account for the paradoxical Michelson/Morley findings about the constancy of the speed of light, so that I was astonished to learn (form Paul Davies, in one of his books) that Einstein made no more than a passing mention to their discovery in discussing the origins of his renowned theory.
In its later forms -notably as 'logical positivism', the misuse of language has been taken as the main culprit held accountable for the impercipience of those still cleaving to the old values and beliefs.
I believe it to be the case that positivism in its stronger dominates the intellectual scene today. The doctrine is one of a drastic retrenchment on three fronts; ontological, metaphysical and formal/logical/mathematical. First comes a thoroughgoing secularism that constrains the larger Reality of all-that-is to the realm of cosmic existence. Second, the unwelcome intrusion of the prima facie presence of consciousness is varyingly ignored, explained away or marginalized into virtual non-existence. Finally, its "physicalist" face or aspect constrains the scope and gamut of the lex naturalis to what is needed to account for the grounding -inorganic- stratum of existence. This is not at all to claim that the system of laws as they stand is complete; what is -sotto voce dogmatically- demanded, is that no extensions are to be contemplated specifically in support of the astonishing manifestations of the organic domain -the performance delivered by the mind/brain ensemble (however conceived) and the dazzling cornucopia of an unfolding phylogeny (including the ultra-challenging problem of accounting for life's origin).
It is perhaps the dispatch of transcendence that is the most drastic of its three acts of deprivation. To deny it is -so to speak- to draw the larger Reality inside its Schwarzschild radius. As an immediate consequence, the second category of consciousness is crushed into modal conformity with the materiality of the physical world; it's only our stubborn adherence to superstitious 'folk' beliefs that makes us think it's still around. Viewed through the rectifying spectacles of positivist doctrine, we no longer see apples and oranges before us, but only two kinds of apples, the second of which have been spray-painted orange.
Likewise, all of its spiritual concerns -the 'Great Questions' of life, death and the 'meaning of it all'- vanish into a black hole, or rather, into one of the latter-day variants of the doctrine, rebound from it as surrealist doppelgangers of their former selves. Henceforth ethics, for example, has nothing whatever to do with axiological absolutes, being nothing more than a stratagem of the germ plasm aimed at its own continuing survival.
Three consequences of this positivist weltanschauung may be distinguished. First it is to be held the prime culprit behind the sense of alienation and spiritual destitution that so disfigures our age. Second, it has led to a vast and fruitless expenditure of energy as attempts are made to ground all of the daunting manifestations of life and mind within the scope of Natural Law as currently accepted. Of more immediate concern to us within the context of the present website is the ways in which the doctrine corrupts and misdirects our attempts to advance our understanding of physics in our search for the holy grail of closure. For example, our sense of mystery banished by the doctrine is but driven underground, to make a disguised reentrance as the intellectual seeks to reshape science into the image of science fiction -hence his dalliance with the possibilities of time travel. .
The classical statement of its scope runs somewhat as follows. For a start, clearly physics is physics. Cchemistry is no more than electromagnetic physics (courtesy of Wolfgang Pauli’s 'exclusion' principle). The whole of biology in turn, is nothing more than physics viewed through inverted opera glasses –top-down, as it were. The entire 3-4 billion years of evolving phylogeny is once more ‘nothing but’ physics as seen through a time machine –a remarkable vehicle passing under the name of Neo-Darwinism. Finally, the astonishing performance manifest by brains -quintessentially those that we possess- are but the outcome of a very complex and intricate machine -a recursive anastomotic network of tens of billions of neural elements.
All that physics can directly tell us about are the 'whats' of its existence -the nature of the lex naturalis upon which it stands. It is taken to be purely formal -a kind of cosmic-wide implementation of applied mathematics. As has already been mentioned, even the notion of substance comes into question -on the Occamian grounds that it is fruitless to speculate upon the intrinsically unobservable ding-an-sich. Such a dismissal automatically eliminates speculations upon what may be the intrinsic differences of the basic parameters of materiality -e.g. whether time and space have intrinsically differing characteristics that must be taken into account in the process of putting together systems of law -scientific theories- in accounting for observed regularities within nature. Physics cannot, out of its own resources even justify its own existence -it is mute over the most basic of all questions -as to why there should be something rather than nothing. In a word, it cannot bring itself to ontology. It speaks about itself only in the language of forms -and it does so in a way which draws upon the length and breadth of our grasp logic and mathematics. As Russell has noted, physics isn't mathematical because we know so much about physical reality, but because we know so little.
The classical view of the constitution of the domain of Natural Law then, is that of an inverted cone. Physics secures its apex; all others stem from it in a more or less ordered sequence, starting with chemistry. 'Physicalism' takes this doctrine one stage further by insisting that this reductionism is total, without residue. All other disciplines bring nothing of their own; they have only what physics endows them with. This is strictly an empirical/scientific issue having little or nothing to do with broader concerns of metaphysics and ontology. Is the gamut of Natural Law, evolved largely within the inorganic domain sufficient to account for the phenomena of life and mind? His answer is in the affirmative -and it is resonant with dogmatic overtones. When confronted, face-to-face, with the question 'is it conceivable the present compass of law should turn out to be insufficient', his veneer of open-mindedness demands that he give an affirmative answer. But it is very evident that no accumulation of counter-evidence would ever be strong enough to cause him to reconsider. For reasons suggested in the introduction, this is, for him a necessary belief.
And the evidence of inadequacy is very strong indeed. I examine the case against 'artificial intelligence' in The Mind/Brain Problem, Harrison 1981, 1986, presently in course of presentation as a separate website. A second website, based upon an unpublished volume The Origin of the Specious' presents the case against Neo-Darwinism as a doctrine sufficient to account for evolution. It is at its weakest in accounting for life's origin. The chapter of my volume dealing with life's origin is currently available: You can find it at the link: The Origin of Life.
Claiming that extensions are needed to the formalism of natural Law -and whatever material substratum that the coherence in question is embedded within- does nothing to eliminate or reduce a dependence upon a conventional grounding. But this latter provides the mantel rather than the kernel of organisms. There is, of course, no question of a co-dependence of the organism -at both somatic and brain levels- upon physics; but the configurations and constructions they support (just browse in any book on anatomy, histology or the central nervous system) are exported 'from above' -.i.e. from an exotic kernel) than putting themselves together, bottom-up, as Neo-Darwinism demands.
You will find more on Exotic Biochemistry (as I call my speculations on the needed extensions to natural law) at the Exotic Biochemistry link.
In contending with this shortfall, the intellectual has claimed that what we need is already at hand, thanks to recent developments and discoveries in the realms of logic and mathematics. They see in their manifestations evidence of limitless depths within which the mechanisms of which we are in dire need will come to light. Here are some of them: Memes, Anastomotic Networks, Cellular Automata, Chaos, Fractals, Holograms, Heuristics, Complex Adaptive Systems, Fuzzy Logic, Ilya Prigogine's 'New Thermodynamics' -and above all, that infinitely malleable concept -'Emergence'. Taken together, we are assured, they must be more than adequate to meet the crisis, without any need of falling into the sin of vitalism (the v word, by the way). To some of their more fervent advocates, they have become mantras and panchrestons.
In making this appeal, the intellectual is, in effect, urging a sea change in the way we regard the intrinsic nature of the mathematics underlying Natural Law. These newly emerged disciplines, they believe, have an extraordinary fecundity surpassing -in a quasi-qualitative way- conventional, classical ideas and notions. However, what they are offering are no more than hopes -I almost said prayers- that these disciplines can in fact meet the crisis by delivering the goods. All that has so far shown up by nature of hints are remote indeed from the organized behaviour of living systems. Nor, as Penrose has remarked do the manifestations displayed look 'usefully' productive in the way which is needed. One may see a man in the moon, faces in clouds, and almost anything within Rorschach's ink blots -and this, I believe, is all that they are doing.
What is objectionable here is not their high hopes that these disciplines will deliver the goods, but their insistence that this affirmation be installed and accepted as the default posture. To adopt this position is to advocate a sloppy science bordering on the pseudo. They have chosen to disregard the distance between the making of a promise and its redemption. Many years ago the noted geneticist Dobzhanski complained that religious fundamentalists were seeking to make good their claims by assigning anything not yet accounted for by science as evidence of the Divine hand at work. Well, he had a point there; but let us have one rule for all. As Russell had observed many years ago, there are many advantages in postulating, rather than proving or demonstrating what you want -'all of which are those of theft over honest toil'. That hidden ground ahead -the 'no man's land' 'out there', is to be worked for, not stolen. Of course, it is always better if one can follow a negative with a positivist alternative. But if not, we are under no obligation to take a hand in the only game in town, if we suspect that the deck is stacked and the cards are being dealt from the bottom. In any such situation, the mature stratagem should simply be that of reserving judgment. -however painful this free-floating uncertainty may be. The interested reader will find more on this at the Chaoplexology link However, more than this -and something of a different kind entirely- cries out for explanation. Why does the Mainstream intellectual -who if nothing is a very intelligent man- persist in the face of the manifest bankruptcy of the status quo. This is addressed in the final paragraphs of the present section: The Intellectual Scrutinized.
It is the secularism of the present paradigm that lies behind the more serious of its limitations. The dismissal of transcendence leaves physics without a place to park is laws, while implying that the Gödelian window opens upon a brick wall. It also confronts us with the cosmological crisis; where did the universe come from? Most urgently, it contradicts a founding principle of Modal Logic. Above all, whatever lays claim to be the Larger Reality must carry with it the attribute of self necessity (not to mention also, self-justification). It is intolerable that there might have been nothing rather than something To claim self-sufficiency for the cosmos is the contradict the grounding axiom of what might be called modal logic. No actual existent or regime or entity (including, for that matter a personal God) can pass muster as the grounding Alpha of Reality. A related embarrassment is the crisis of origins. If there is no Transcendent domain 'out there' to provide the needed resource, where did the cosmos (and all us along with it) come from?
I have to apologize for the sketchy inadequacy of the above paragraphs, but further clarifications would call for too large a digression. The interested reader will find a little more at the Neutral Monism link, and a great deal more within the forth-coming website The New Monadology that is devoted to little else.
Over this matter of dismissal, there are, however, dissenting voices to be heard. Penrose says he has never known a mathematician of any moment who was not a Platonist -that is to say someone who believed that mathematics resides in an Eternal Realm quite independently of any cosmic existence. It is important to insist here that this is no 'as if'' or tongue-in-cheek affirmation but something quite literal and fundamental. In the course of his creative speculations, the mathematician has a sense of encounter with this realm that in its own way is every much as tangible as the extrinsic domain addressed by physics and commonsense alike. Usually this concession to Transcendence is closely circumscribed, having only to do with the formalism of logic and mathematics. Penrose for one, however, insists that the Platonic realm must also be pressed into service in more mundane and less exalted operations. One might cite as a typical example, any casual linguistic exchange between friends, particularly in proportion as this be in the vernacular, where many words are used ambiguously; where the grammar sloppy, and the sentences malformed. Any such flow of mental events is necessarily machine-supported, even though its mechanisms are a great deal more exotic than the intellectual is prepared to grant. But, it is only in proportion as language is used at the highest level of precision that the Gödelian window may be left closed and shuttered. In reality, however, the formalism of language is incorrigibly 'soft' and ambiguous; it can only be brought into sharp focus by an on-the-run, largely subconscious exercise of the creative imagination. We are forever in need of the back-light provided by the undraped Gödelian window that is so an inseparable feature of the inner domicile of mind. I hope I have not misrepresented Penrose over this supremely important matter. I discuss it at much greater length in a PDF which you can find right now at the far end of this link: The Gödelian Window.
The Platonic realm as referenced by mathematicians is strictly a domain of Forms -of abstractions. However, here and there, an otherwise 'irreligious' mathematician or physicist is to found who is on the point of letting God 'back in' -though on the strict understanding that we are talking of a Deistic and not a Theistic presence. As such He is the Supreme Clockmaker and author of Natural Law and the mathematical abstractions upon which it stands. Einstein -after studiously separating himself from the God of Isaac and Jacob- was to find himself partial to what Spinoza had in mind in his pantheist Weltanschauung. In a celebrated aside, Stephen Hawking has remarked that to come into possession of a closed and all-embracing knowledge of a 'completed' physics would be to 'know the mind of God'. After all, such a God would be one of them, rather than one of us -the supreme horologist or celestial mathematician (my thanks to "Hla-Shwe" for this gem). Yet once more, something of double think is forever at work in the background; any such divinity is somehow always spoken of with a nudge and a wink, so that we are left uncertain as to how seriously we are to take the whole matter; one suspects that he is trying to have it both ways. Above all, he is confused over the 'God question'
Consciousness imposes a double threat to those seeking to make good the positivist manifesto. manifesto. First of all, it simply does not belong. One searches the length and breadth of the lex naturalis for any trace of its presence. It offers no reason or justification for its existence; it's offensive for the way in which it clutters up the landscape. In Sartrian parlance it's an absurdity, something surreal; it just plain doesn't belong. Much worse than this are the things it is up to; it harbours dangerous ideas in its Existential preoccupations with such matters as life, death and immortality.-and it lacks the simple decency of keeping its trap shut. n claming itself to be an author and agent, the self-styled psyche poses an intolerable threat to the autonomy of physics.
The following paragraphs and figures enlarge upon our brief encounter with the beast already encountered in the introduction. Let's start with the figure on the left, depicting brain in deep sleep or in a state of total narcosis. Everything's in grey-scale, so nothing here to ruffle the feathers of the orthodox But now glance at the figure further down on the right. This is how an informed commonsense might regard the wake-up phenomenon. It is as though some metaphysical analogue of oxygen had encountered an enabled reductant within the subtleties of the cortical configuration. Mercifully, however, the fire of consciousness is not only cool but also non-consumptive; nothing gets 'used up' save for the ATP -or whatever- needed to maintain the cortex in a state of dynamic enablement. But where this 'perfect' gas of psychogenic potency come from, given both their secularism (thus excluding a transcendent source) and Von Neumann's demonstration that there can be no further 'hidden variables' within particles. I shall return to this 'catastrophe of origins' later. In the meantime, the intellectual can but deplore the situation, given his very dim view of the consciousness that, willy nilly, contrives to appear upon reawakening. To remind the reader, I repeat a diagram already given that of the brain that is in process of suffering the fate of Poe's 'The Strange Case of Dr Valdemar'
Faced by this dilemma, he has vacillated between turning a blind eye to the whole matter, or alternatively, retreating from a thoroughgoing Positivism in granting consciousness a grudging re-entrance. But let's start by examining some of the stratagems of downright dismissal that have been resorted to.
First it has been suggested that consciousness may be dismissed as an 'illusion'. Now this is an extraordinary sentence. Though grammatically correct it is nevertheless linguistically diseased. It is a catachresis in that 'illusion' is not among the attributes that may characterize any state of consciousness . It's rather like saying that the square root of minus one is purple. It is a mistake to claim that what they assert is wrong; they aren't even wrong -as physicist Wolfgang Pauli was wont to say. They never qualify for consideration at all.
But this particular example is more deeply faulted in its self-contradictory nature. It immediately brings Russell's famous 'barber' paradox to mind;. the barber shaves all men who do not shave themselves -so, who shaves the barber?
As a second stratagem at dismissal, it has been asserted that there's really no problem or dilemma at all, once one accepts the 'fact' that the mind IS the brain. This crushing of the 'second' modality of subjectivity into the primary mode of material extrinsics is to impose a shot-gun wedding between two partners who are incorrigibly disjunct. The union cannot last; it must end almost before it has begun.
What the hell is going on? After all, consciousness in any of its manifest form is no kind of inference at all but something directly known through participation unlike questions of the nature (or even the existence) of matter, its ding-an-sich is directly given in a process of participation But perhaps, finally that's the problem. Because it's something we're immersed in, it's too close to be seen. For example I once asked my daughter to tell me about everything she could see, in viewing the scene directly outside, through the garden door. What she described is shown in the figure on the right; it looks fine yet harbours a signal ellipsis. perhaps a supporting cause of this impercipience is the stubborn, deeply-entrenched outwards-turningness of the Western mind -and what other kinds of mind are around, nowadays?
Yet I suspect also that the characteristic outwards-turningness of the Western mind-set inclines to this brand of reflective impercipience (I'm afraid we Americans are the worst offenders here).
Faced with this dilemma, he has vacillated between turning a blind eye to the whole matter, or alternatively, that of granting consciousness a grudging re-entrance -after being shorn of almost all of the properties that make it what it truly is. It has been reduced to a mere non-efficacious epiphenomenon devoid of all influence upon the flow of events -hence ceasing to be a challenge to the autonomy of physics. It is carried along as a helpless captive of the workings of Sherrington's 'enchanted' cortical loom. Its presence remains gratuitous but at least physics is isolated from its intrusions. We may think we're altering the course of events, but that's just one more illusion, a piece of 'folk psychology' of which we are in such urgent need of disabusing ourselves of.
However, granting it an acceptance, no matter how trivialized or marginalized leaves them with the sleep/wake toggle unexplained. Upon our arousal from deep sleep, where does it come from, given that it is no part of the foundations of Natural Law? There's no consciousness plank in the platform upon which it stands. This being the case, he has no recourse but to appeal to the catch-all of 'emergence' -that will-nilly, when matter is sufficiently subtly organized and tricked-out, this alien mode of existence springs into view. This is something to incite the envy of the alchemists of the days of Paracelsus. After all, what they aspired to do was to transmute one physical element into another-something which, in fact, might be possible, though not in the simplistic terms that they had in mind -by chemical manipulations conducted in retorts and test tubes. If it is to be done at all, it would probably have to be atom by atom, as it were, in the core of a specially put together atomic pile or atom-smashing machine. But in claiming an emergence of one category from another they commit a fundamental breach in logic. As, to my mind, Hegel has adequately demonstrated, new categories can only emerge in quasi-enantiomorphic pairs from a higher and more abstract invariance that embraces both. I take Hegel, rather than modern physicists to be the author of 'symmetry breaking' -as it has come to be known.
The neurosciences have, of course, rendered invaluable services in their exploration of the interactions between internal conscious, and external neuro-physiological events, that is, about the physical concomitants of consciousness. This mind/brain pas de deux is wondrous to behold, but no matter how far we pursue our studies of neuroanatomy or neurophysiology, nothing that we discover can tell us anything about the nature -or above all the significance- of the 'second category' of the subjective interior. Nor can they lead to the conclusion that because they are necessary for consciousness that therefore all human action is trapped within a strict neural causality. To put it differently, The denial of true human initiative and 'free will' is an elective, that is, it's something that the intellectual has chosen to impose, in accordance with the positivist manifesto, and in no way driven by the discoveries themselves.
Regardless, it is important that this concession be granted to positivism. No matter what our metaphysical or ontological presuppositions may be, mental states and phenomena of every kind are absolutely dependent upon brain functioning. The stream of consciousness in all of its aspects is essentially and inescapably incarnate; no material substratum, no mind it's as simple as that. The all-inclusiveness of this dependence must be insisted upon. The brain is needed for more than the sensory/praxial interactions with the body and world beyond. More also than for all manner of internal thought processes. It is needed for the very presence of the agent itself -the psyche that presides over the phantasmagoria of the mental theatre. No matter how strong one's Cartesian persuasions may be, the agent of mind can't be held aloof from the mind that it has. When we awaken from deep sleep, we recover much more than what we know and what we can do -our know-how and know-what-; we also remember who we are. I do not wake up in your brain, nor do you in mine.
If reality in-the-large is to be so closely circumscribed, we are all left asking how its spokesmen are to contend with questions of meaning, significance, value, destiny and all of those ontologically and axiologically dense matters that have disturbed the sleep of thinking men everywhere since the dawn of civilisation. Yet none of these categories can boast of any presence or representation as axioms or postulates or other primitives upon which the Lex Naturalis is grounded. In a piece of outrageous prestidigitation, science, which cannot even bring itself to ontology, has presumed to pronounce upon all of those categories –the intrinsically important ones- which, by definition, lie incorrigibly beyond its pale. Following is a representative sampling of the ‘Great Questions’ that I have in mind: :
1.Who am I?
2.Why am I Here?
3.What is the Meaning of Life?
4.What is the Meaning of Death?
5.What is the Cosmos for ?
6.What is the Aim of Evolution?
7.What is the Nature of Reality?
8.How Are We to Understand Infinity and Eternity?
9 What is Being?
10 Why Should there be Something Rather than Nothing ?
11.What is the Significance of Pain & Anguish?
As George Wald has so aptly put it: ".....The great questions are those an intelligent child asks, and, getting no answers, stops asking."
Reducing conscious states to epiphenomena, while securing the autonomy of physics still leaves these deep concerns unaccounted for. Ridiculing them as superstitions of 'folk' mentality, despite the pungency with which this derision is driven home, does cause the problems to go away. Just as the Lex Naturalis says nothing about the category of consciousness; it is also silent over all matters of meaning. It is concerned exclusively with the 'whats' of existence, and not at all with the 'whys'. The intellectual has no recourse but to resort once more to acts of prestidigitation. Our ethical concerns, for example, are to be dismissed as stratagems of survival conjured up within the mysterious depths of the germ plasm; this doctrine passes under the name of 'sociobiology'. Teleology -we are assured in its turn, isn't really teleology at all but 'teleonomy' -something which behaves as though it were. This seeming explanation in fact adds nothing whatever to the conversation; what would you think of your physician who 'diagnosed' a mysterious limp that was bothering you, as 'idiopathic claudication'?
It is true, of course, that the methodology of science and of an understanding of the empirical realm as being under the governance of Natural law demanded an a dismissal of all forms of animism and of Aristotelian notions that 'aim' lay deep within the foundations of causality. But when we go on to consider the raison d'etre of cosmic existence and cosmogony, then 'whys' must be granted a re-entrance -if on totally different terms, having to do with the internality of consciousness. This is clear enough when speaking of the strivings of such beings as ourselves. But what are we to say of what seem to be hidden urges deep within phylogeny. Mind seems to be getting in there somehow, though evidently not on the same terms as those with which we are all directly familiar. Nor -even for those otherwise accepting of theism- does any doctrine of a divine orthogenesis really satisfy; whence the malevolence of parasitism? What are we say of invertebrate parasites who deposit their spores or eggs within the human brain, to grow at the expense of our cerebral substance. Just what is going on here is the greatest of the unsolved problems of nature; Something urgently needs to be said, yet nothing proposed seems to fits. I explore this vexing problem in my The Origin of the Specious -forthcoming as a website. Within this volume I have developed a theory of sorts, but to me, it's still an enigma. But of one thing we can be sure, and that is, Neo-Darwinism cannot fill the bill. We need something else, and it is very far from clear what that 'something' might be. Without question this matter of the quasi-teleological thrust of phylogeny is the great unsolved mystery of nature; we hardly have a clue as to how to proceed
In this closing paragraph, I do want to make one thing very clear -in black and white- over science's intrusion into matters of value purpose and significance. Nothing in the foundations of Natural Law has anything whatever to say on this subject; it cannot even address the meaning of its own existence. Search its lengths and breadths though we may, we shall discover no reason or justification for cosmic existence, still less about the 'Great Questions' which disturb the ruminations of the psyche. All matters of meaning can only originate as intuitions or a priori judgments, or directly given truths. Any judgments offered by science over these matters are ipso facto out of order. Any time natural scientists wander into this domain, they are automatically exceeding their mandate. But this is exactly what is going on
For a start, let's consider those situations in which established facts -as rendered by the mathematical formulations to which they may be reduced- may be given more than one interpretation, each of which fits the facts equally well. As a simple example, let's consider the impact of the discovery that the speed of light is constant, independent of the motion of the observer, made by Michelson and Morley towards the end of the nineteenth century. Henceforth, we had no choice but to replace the Galilean transformation by its more subtle Lorenz counterpart. This having been done, two choices remain open to us over matters of interpretation. Are we to continue to accept the presence of the not-directly-observable inertial manifold, or are we to dismiss it -consign it to non-existence? Both are equally consistent with the facts. But they differ greatly in their impact upon their challenges to commonsense awareness. Retaining the manifold minimizes the accommodations which are demanded, and it turns out that these are perfectly manageable. Thus, no more than a moment's reflection is needed to tell us why we observe none of the otherwise counter-intuitive consequences of the switch in transformations. It is simply this -that they only become apparent at very high velocities altogether above those encountered in the course of everyday living. In this way, commonsense meets the challenge by growing -to come into a broader overview of the nature of physical reality.
The second alternative of dismissal -that of Einstein's 'relativity' that is the default favorite- affronts commonsense judgments much more severely. First of all, the very act of dismissal is suspect for its irrealist implications. We are properly suspicious of a theory that destroys the platform upon which the putative physical and cosmic reality stand -leaving us all free-floating. Furthermore, extended into general relativity, physicists believe they can foresee the in-principle possibility of 'time travel' -with all of the daunting paradoxes to which it leads. For all of the above reasons I take it to be the most reasonable choice to be that of the retention
When confronted by the above arguments and the recommendation that the inertial manifold, though not directly visible, be retained, the Mainstream physicist customarily responds by playing the Occamian card. In any situation in which two theories account equally well for the facts, then Occam's Principle requires us to accept the simpler of the two alternatives. However, what William of Occam had in mind was a razor -the matter of making a choice between two alternatives -other things being equal. But in this situation, they are anything but, and the fact that the counter argument is of intrinsic conscious origin does not disqualify it from being placed upon the opposite balance pan. What the intellectual is offering us is not a razor at all, but something else entirely. Of course, the intellectual will immediately protest that affronts to commonsense do not 'count' but such a judgment is in no wise demanded by the facts themselves; rather it is the taking up of a position; in plain terms it is a piece of outrageous positivist arrogance.
But this is only the beginning; positivist physics has come to render axiological and other judgments that are the exclusive prerogatives of the psyche and the inner world of meaning which it apprehends. This we have been assured that ethics is not or need not be a matter of any inner search for quasi absolutes of a religious and therefore questionable nature. Science can hand us the answer without any need of venturing beyond its own domain. Ethics is nothing but a stratagem of the germplasm targeted at it's own continuing survival. Now this is a rather odd position to take, for a number of reasons. First it imbues the germplasm with agency -something which is denied to the psyche. More than this, it is making the domain of consciousness -where alone all matters of value are known and understood- are made subject to germ cells which have none. In other words, that which is totally lacking in intrinsic value and meaning has been deemed competent to read the lesson to that where alone values and meaning are to be found, manifest and expressed.
The scientist, like everyone else needs to come to terms with these vital matters; the one thing to be born steadfastly in mind is that his profession puts him in no privileged position to intone to the rest of us about them.
While we should baulk at natural science's intrusion into our private domain' there are substantial arguments in favour of some reverse traffic. Obviously the compass of natural law -known and unknown- must be sufficient to fulfill the purpose for which any authentic weltanschauung must assign to it. Clearly, an acceptance of one notion over another will have a great deal to do with the deeper mind-set which the theoretical physicist brings in support of his speculations about what remains to be discovered 'out there', or perhaps to ideas about how the body of laws already in our possession may be tidied up or condensed into something of simpler coherent depth. As one example -and here I speak personally- I would be prepared to 'bet the farm' that curvature parameter of the universe -Ω- will turn out to indeed have the value of unity as currently observed, because only thus may the cosmos be given the configuration and stability to guarantee a convergence to the Omega climax of a single living being.
The figure below is offered by way of summary. The first frame presents the modal components or categories -and their rough interrelationships- That and model of the Larger Reality must sustain, if it is to qualify for serious consideration. Now let's see what we're being asked to live with today. The conquest of this territory is a bizarre and surreal tale. First is a an abandonment of most of most of the territory in which Reality retreats into the domain of basic Physics and its satellite disciplines. Then, as though through misgivings over the penury so imposed, a rebound expansion was executed so that the whole of the abandoned territory was reoccupied -but by a single modality!! In this operation of mimesis, physics sought to create doppelganger shadows of the missing modes (e.g. by 'selfish' genes -in which agency makes a surreptitious reentrance). As indicated by the rents in the fabric, no amount of stretching could cover all of the landscape; in these cases the ellipses were explained away as 'folk' notions; as when consciousness has been dismissed as an 'illusion'.
The all-pervasive positivism of the present day has a triple impact First, upon the self-image of any culture unwise enough to embrace its depredations, tending towards an alienation and undermining of the authenticity of the human persona. Second, it leads to a huge and inevitably fruitless expenditure of energy as the intellectual seeks to make good the positivist manifesto -for he must do this in the face of a three-fold retrenchment of the resources available to him, namely ontological, metaphysical and formal. Finally, it doubles back destructively upon the progress of the scientific endeavour itself. It might, perhaps have been thought that a world-view stripped down to the categories of materiality would be tailor made for advancing the frontiers of natural science, but as we shall see, this is not at all the case.
It is to the first of these to which we shall turn, in the paragraphs that follow. Austrian psychiatrist and philosopher Viktor Frankl, as someone who had survived a stay in more than one Nazi 'death camp' rendered this harsh judgment upon the dehumanizing influence of the current Weltanschauung: We are subjects who have imploded into objects. No longer an ens spiritualis, each of us is henceforth nothing but a res naturalis:
To hold the human estate in high esteem is taken to be a holdover of outmoded religious beliefs. Notions of the ‘dignity of man’ are greeted with derision; current ‘political rectitude’ commands the acceptance of its antithesis –that of self-abnegation.
Nothing is spared from its depredations; its secret poison infects magazines, film, art, literature, and the whole of the educational system. Reach any book off the university bookshelf dealing with cognitive psychology or Neo-Darwinism; glance at any such magazine as Scientific American at your local supermarket; or tune into any educational program on these subjects -as put out, for example, by Public Broadcasting (in the USA). Almost all of the intellectuals dominating the present scene and who are becoming increasingly known to the general public tell the same story. It is one of a secularism which is misrepresented, sotto voce, as a plausible if not a necessary inference from the discoveries of science. Although it has become fashionable of late to bring God into the conversation (Stephen Hawking's celebrated aside has already been given further above) In a seeming display of broad-mindedness, the pace-setters of our culture have proposed that there are two completely different ways of coming to terms with reality; the inwards-turningness of the many forms of religion and philosophy; an appeal to the aesthetic values of poetry and music, or finally of an existentialist that has the courage to be, in the absence of any reason for being. On the other side of the fence, of course, is the positivism of scientific empiricism. However, to safeguard its primacy, a protective rider has been added. The two viewpoints are held to be mutually disjunct; there is to be no question of any meaningful dialogue between them, still less of a creative absorption or synthetic integration into a higher view of truth. So, we are urged, let's be keep our priorities straight; whatever else, it is upon the bedrock of scientific materialism alone that we can safely take our stand. This being clearly understood, then religion for example, or for that matter anything addressing a realm beyond that of empirical existence is quite all right -'if you like that sort of thing'. Buddhist practices for example, are welcomed and accepted for their therapeutic value in offering an analgesic or anodyne against the anxieties and frustrations of the age. Because, officially, at least, it is an atheistic world view, it may be safely embraced without fear of falling into the sin of fundamentalist beliefs .