Observing the death-throes of Idealist Science
The scientific investigation of things is always channeled quite markedly by our established preconceptions, assumptions and even our well-established methodologies. How could it be otherwise? And, of course, such determining elements do not just fall out of nowhere. Mankind has had a very long history of such methods, starting as long ago as when they were rather well-equipped apes in the trees of East Africa millions of years ago.
Yet, by a long series of adaptions and consequent changes in modes of living and processing sense perceptions, as well as survival and interaction problems, they have become differentiated from even the closest of their other ape relatives, to be able to do things quite unimaginable in their long past ancestral world.
Mankind, almost miraculously, began to Think, Communicate and Act to an unprecedented degree. And all of these developments were totally unpredictable within their immediately pre-origin states, or indeed any prior stages of development. Adaptions not only fitted this species for necessary actions and methods, but, as always, also extended things into the wholly new possibilities of which Mankind became increasingly capable. Entirely new tasks emerged for the first time capable of being both conceived of, and then attempted.
But, that amazing development route, does not mean that that he directly climbed a pre-existing ladder towards some totally and always available level. Indeed, though most gains were both pragmatic and rarely fully understood, certain conceptual gains “had the legs” to enable a whole series of quite different developments too in an ever-increasing range of areas.
But, every single one, because it was pragmatic rather than conceptual, always had its limits, and could, and indeed did, ultimately lead him astray. But, this was not a flaw, or even an error. It simply could not be otherwise. Progress solely by discovered processes, which attempt to lift you up by your own bootlaces, will necessarily have this property.
What is remarkable is that along the way they did, most definitely, lead to considerable gains, but NOT as a continuous and clearly consequent sequence. On the contrary, each productive set of methods and their retinue of emerging ideas would always and inevitably, come up against an unavoidable crisis, wherein the current tools did not match up to the jobs that presented themselves. And such crises meant that extended periods without any significant new gains were very common.
Something very unusual had to happen to make possible the actual surmounting of any such “terminating” impasse, and as soon as a single individual had reached and somehow surpassed the barrier, Mankind’s communication abilities soon propagated the solution throughout that person’s in-contact groups.
But, if this inevitable “accelerator-brake” trajectory is not appreciated, then the exponents to the most currently fruitful ideas and techniques, will, when confronting such an inevitably final impasse to their accepted mix of ideas and methods, are made inevitably prisoners of their beloved paradigms and techniques, and we can quite definitely say that they had encountered yet another case of the “tail beginning to wag the dog”!
The once progressive standpoint, if insisted upon as the “Truth”, becomes reactionary, and will never traverse the self-generated impasse. Further development will halt at such a point, and future achievements will be limited forever to within the same prior area.
You continue to swim, but only in your own pool: the infinite sea lies forever just around the corner, and unconsidered.
Now, this may sound very pessimistic, but in fact it can be the very opposite, for as Hegel insisted, “Once you are aware of a limit or boundary, you have already passed it!”
The seeker for ever closer approaches to the Truth – the scientist (for example), must be constantly aware of the above described trajectory, and when he or she encounters what appears to be a terminal halt to proceedings, must recognise it, and critically review their previously untouchable assumptions, principles and methods.
Let us look at the current crisis in Physics, which has now lasted for almost a century, and shows, as yet, no signs of any conquest of it at any time soon.
It is, of course, the Copenhagen Era in Sub Atomic Physics! And the ideas and techniques which have terminated progress in this important area are NOT new, but have finally outlived their usefulness: these are the principles of Plurality and Formalism, and have forced a significant philosophical retreat, that previously was seemingly not required.
Now, many will guess what Formalism is, but may not recognise Plurality, though the latter is not only much older than the former, it is also more profoundly important, and has, for well over 2,000 years, been the unrecognised cornerstone of all conceptual developments since that time.
To understand how these remarkable principles have been extremely effective ideas, and have also generated a whole set of successful investigative techniques and consequently extremely valuable theories, we have to, as always, go back to the ancient Greeks.
It is they who most successfully learned to abstract from complex and unfettered Reality certain crucial simplifications, which very effectively revealed what were previously hidden, glimpsed or unreliable in Reality-as-is.
The cornerstone of their method was Geometry, where by the amazing simplification of points, lines and planes into what were actually unachievable forms – dots of zero extension, lines of zero thickness and completely flat and infinite planes, managed to extract shapes, forms and relations which were truly universal.
Euclidian Geometry delivered just such an available World. And working solely within this idealisation, they could address certain problems, relationships, and Theorems (geometric derivations), which were certainly NOT obvious when the natural entities were studied.
The abstract versions had separated Form from its complex, real World Content, and studied it in “splendid isolation”. They believed that they had uncovered the Essences of Reality, but actually they had only revealed the universal features of Purely Abstract Form.
They were working in a totally formal subset of Reality, which because of that major restriction did funnel down into a very much smaller number of common patterns – Forms.
Indeed, it is very clear to me that we should never endow this area of study with the idea that is Reality. In truth it is NOT about Reality as such, but only about the Shapes, Patterns and Forms that constitute a majorly simplified reflection of Reality, which I insist should be clearly labelled as that World of Pure Form alone - Ideality.
It was indeed a magnificent achievement!
It was the beginning of Mathematics in general, for it is the same sort of thing – abstracted Form dealt with entirely separately from Reality, and in its own terms. Indeed, it is the process of Abstraction applied to Pattern alone!
But, of course, this constitutes only one aspect of Abstraction, and for those who require a broadening of their study of its methods and achievements, there is a vast country in Ideality.
Yet, at the beginning of my own investigations, I took many months to arrive at a general diagram entitled The Processes and Productions of Abstraction (shown here)
And this figure shows what a small corner of the whole we are concentrating on with Formalism and Mathematics. [The index identifies that sector which constitutes Ideality, and that it amounts to only about one sixth of the diagram in the bottom right corner.]
I feel that I should say at this point that I am not an external and perennial critic of Mathematics. Throughout my education in Grammar school and University I was always at the top of the class in Mathematics, and have since dedicated very large periods to solely mathematical researches. I am indeed a mathematician.
So, these criticisms and revelations are well-informed and well-founded - and, of course, totally incapable of being the basis for most problems and decisions in Life (though two Indian mathematicians recently published a novel in which the hero is sure that the truths and logic of Mathematics are indeed just that).
So, because they are so closely related, I must, before I go any further, reveal the content of that other principle – that of Plurality.
This is the basis of all Analysis!
It assumes that any Whole can be analysed into its constituent Parts, which subsequently could be brought together to actually make that Whole. And repeating the analysis exercise, with each and every Part, would reveal its components in the same way, and thereafter be repeated to end a “possible infinite regress” with a final arrival at a set of fundamental units related by eternal laws.
Now that descent we all know as Reductionism, but hidden within it is the pluralist assumption that the various Parts are entirely separable. This is a crucial assumption, and in certain cases a valid one, but it is only very rarely true.
It means that Wholes are the result of these separable Parts coming together – nothing else is involved in the essential thing that we are abstracting. When we invert Reductionism, along with the assumption of Plurality, we believe that there is a causal set of links all the way from the fundamental and final basic elements to everything in our World. They are inevitable consequences of particular mixes of those bases, complicated in layer upon layer.
Now, this sounds quite reasonable but if we find those Parts by experimental techniques in specially constructed and constrained set ups, we can assume that what we get by these means will be the same as exist in the Whole in which they exist in totally unconstrained Reality. They are totally separable and unchanging as contributions, and hence, when we have by the same sort of methods identified ALL the component parts, we should be able to produce the Whole from them. Now, though this can be true in certain stable situations, it is usually totally wrong. They are NOT separable! Plurality is wrong!
The alternative to this assumption of Plurality is Holism, which insists that such separability is a myth, and though “something-like” our extracted relation (in an experiment) occurs in Reality, it is certainly not exactly the same. Reality is NOT produced by contributing separable laws.
Laws are produced by particular interacting and mutually affecting mixes within Reality, and when that changes so does the Law, sometimes so radically that you could not even relate the new Law to the old law; they could be entirely different.
Yet Science is built upon Formalism and Plurality.
How was it so successful, for it most certainly was?
It worked because we didn’t apply the extracted laws in totally unfettered Reality. On the contrary, we had learned to first rigorously constrain a section of Reality to a remarkable and maintained degree to reveal, and then extract relations more easily. And then we also found out that our laws would only work when applied in those exact same Domains, from which we had extracted them.
We are the horticulturalists of Reality!
We create the ideal plots, cultivate and maintain them, learn all we can to improve them to most effectively extract our necessary “truths”, and then apply them within our perfect plots to grow what is possible there.
Now, this has worked well in very many areas for several centuries, but you cannot cover all of Reality with greenhouses, controlled environments, irrigation and appropriate fertilisers. At certain crucial points, we must confront Reality as it is! And that occurs mightily in Sub Atomic Physics.
Now, the effect of all our constraints and consequent extractions upon our conceptual and practical approaches was not immediately evident, but turned out to be nevertheless absolutely crucial. We only very rarely address qualitative change!
Our construction of Domains, and the extensive constraints within them, effectively impose an artificial stability upon an invented situation: we make absolutely sure that the area of study does not qualitatively change under our hands into something significantly different. We kneel on its chest and hold down its arms and legs to study its properties.
“Stir thoroughly, then wait for equilibrium, before taking any measurements” is the usually applied imperative, which encapsulates this approach more generally. We know that to get results we must study stability! We, very sensibly, only look in stable conditions for our relations. We, effectively, reveal the Science within various versions of Stability.
Indeed, each and every law (equation) that we uncover is always a law of the precise conditions that we set up and maintain in our experimental area – our Domain, not only of extraction, but also essentially of application too. Though we know well enough that qualitative changes do always happen naturally in all unfettered Reality, we don’t reveal why they happen, because we very effectively prohibit them in our experiments.
Now, the usual response to this assertion is the bringing forward of the many examples of Change of State (Phase Change) readily admitted to by each and every scientist. They all with surprise explain how they are very well aware of the changes from solid to liquid, and liquid to gas, and are then admonished by reference to rules about Latent Heat. But any such laws are about energy transfers only! They don’t explain why these qualitative changes occur: they merely describe what occurs energetically. Causes are never part of equations: they are succinct descriptions only!
And whenever we are confronted by such changes, we institute two quite different responses. We turn away from causes and instead do overall statistics!
Latent Heat is merely a measure of the energy involved, that is necessary as part of the transition, which will transfer from one organisational regime to another, and, as it stands, merely as a quantitative amount, it could never be said to be any sort of explanation of the change!
So, in the past there has always been what we can describe as an accompanying explanatory narrative, which is additional to any constants and equations, and which derives from our knowledge of and theories about the structure of solids and liquids, so that when these True Theories are coupled with the quantitative stuff we feel we have a solid handle on what is going on. And, when real explanations are extracted from scientists in an area such as this, what they say derives very little indeed from the quantitative descriptions, and almost entirely from the qualitative theories, that appear in the always-accompanying narrative. Then, we hear of balances between opposing forces, which settle into stable arrangements, and which can explain everything from ordinary expansion on energy input, the breakdown of the current Phase into something very different on a Change of State.
This is our solution!
We do NOT actually explain anything with our purely quantitative formulae and the various thresholds, which signal Phase Change. We give our static forms together with purely verbal explanations, based upon qualitative models or metaphors. And this is always the case over the widest range of phenomena too.
But, we do not know how to address Dynamic, Qualitative Change in process: we just get out at the relevant “floors” where stability has been attained, and there is very good reasons for this. Such transitions are never simple and formulatable as are relations within stability, especially when the latter are extracted in artificially stable and specially constructed Domains. Our sciences and our scientists do not know how to deal with Significant Qualitative Change.
Now again, many would dispute this, but they are mistaken.
What we do is state what we know about some particular changing phenomenon, especially if the various stages map onto something else that we are very familiar with. We “explain” by analogy! “Just like that over there!”, is not, I’m afraid an explanation. It is certainly useful, and allows some things to be inferred, and others to be seen more generally, but it is appearance and not essence. It is something we know from experience to be the case, and not something we understand.
Our investigations are either carefully chosen or rigorously constrained (or both) to allow our usual extraction of relations. We build Roman Roads through the countryside of Reality; we do not usually investigate Reality’s own passages of creative change. But, of course, this means that we ignore vast tracts of the most important areas and processes that are actually transforming Reality.
Let me illustrate this with the most important example.
We know nothing about Revolutions! Now, the reader might reject such an area as freakish, biased and unimportant, but this only demonstrates that they do not even realise that all qualitative changes of real significance only happen in just such Events, not only in Society but also at every single Level in the development of Reality since its start.
These Events are termed Emergences. Indeed, at every single significant turning point in the history of Reality, all important qualitative changes only occur in relatively short episodes of truly revolutionary change, in Emergences! And, in between, there have been many very long periods of Stability, in which most things stay relatively the same, varying only in inconsequentials – usually quantitative and formulateable!
Even the absolutely crucial relationship between Stability and Emergence is never addressed. We merely take the transformed situation and study it entirely within its own terms as a “New Science”!
After the, actually certain, Origin of Life from non-living substances and processes, we merely address the new Level of Living Things and call it Biology! And it is really studied in isolation.
To report that non-living processes still occur, is of course true, but to assume that when they seem to be happening within Life they are exactly the same is rubbish!
The crucial question of exactly why and how the first Life came to be is nowhere known or understood.
NOTE: In Brian Cox’s repeated comments in the Wonders of the Solar System TV series on BBC TV, he seems to infer that the occurrence of Life would be automatic given only conducive conditions, appearing more like reproduction than miracle.
It is not part of what we do, is it?
But, the Quantum Crisis did a great deal more to disable Sub Atomic Physics. It ultimately led to the victory of Bohr and Heisenberg at Solvay in 1927 and the establishment of a new order in that branch of Physics, for the essential explanatory theories or accompanying narratives were declared to be wholly self-kid, and all such contributions banned.
Instead the only reliable and hence “truthful” gains of past methods were deemed to be the extracted and “essential” Equations alone. And, without that crucial explanatory framework, the causes of phenomena became the extracted, “objective” laws themselves. Science was not only transformed to be entirely pragmatic (like Technology), but also switched around to now be also idealist!
Theories, as they used to be, vanished, and were replaced by equations alone. And, if you had one that worked, it was thereafter termed to be a “theory”.
Of course, it was no such thing: an equation is a description only, and a purely formal one at that. Yet, if you consider it to be more than that, you are saying that, “Obeys this equation!”, is the cause of a phenomenon.
It most certainly is not!
So, how does this once so appealing, “waggily-tail” get to remarkably wag the whole dog in very misleading ways?
We still have to set up more and more exclusive and extreme Domains to get the reproducibility required for reliable relations to be extracted as “the underlying essences”, and the contents of these defined and maintained Domains become more and more special and unlike any current or past situation. So much is removed or held constant that all holistic effects are also totally absent. We usually limit our entities to at most two, and sometimes only one(?). And gigantic machines costing billions of pounds are constructed to add what they consider to be the only necessary ingredient possible – Energy! And the only phenomenon they can conceive of, conducive to this style of investigating, is the majorly destructive Collision – the total dissociation of their accelerated entities and their targets (now often the very same things) into whatever is the result.
Of course, they can never control what happens after a collision event, but because the conditions have been so strictly erected and constrained, they infer the construction of each Whole in terms of its “broken” Parts. Now, where have I heard that before?
You are right! It is indeed Plurality, applied not in the greenhouse-type conditions where it is usually employed, but in an arranged cataclysm. And guess where all the evidence for such mammoth dissociations occurs? It is only in real world Emergences, which always commence with a cataclysm of enormous dissociation, but then go on to a series of alternating Phases in entirely opposite directions, involving on the one hand creative construction of New Order, and on the other by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, until an entirely NEW complete Level is created out of the almost totally unconstrained detritus of a complete Level dissociation.
Do you think that our Copenhageners at the Large Hadron Collider will do it?