A Major Misconception of the Heavens
(and everything else too)
The article entitled One True Cosmos in New Scientist (3004), by physicist Lee Smolin and Brazilian philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Unger, is a significant step in the right direction in Cosmology, but their sound suggestions are not, as yet, sufficient to cure the malady that today infects current ideas in this area.
Nevertheless, it is Mangabeira Unger’s philosophical contributions that are crucially important and necessary, for they display a clear, outsider influence to dispel the navel contemplation now rife in Cosmology.
For, it is definitely in the area of Philosophy that Modern Physics (and its ever more dependant offspring, Modern Cosmology) that the major inadequacies most certainly lie. The main point of criticism is correctly directed at the concept of The Multiverse, and their clear condemnation of such a stance as unscientific is certainly correct.
Their arguments upon that position need no added amendments from this philosopher-physicist. But, their criticisms constitute only a first and essential step. No mention is made of The Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory, and the massive retrenchment that it caused in Modern Physics, or, indeed, the whole idealist fiasco of Wave/Particle Duality. The errors exposed here are too narrow to account for the major diversion that has been instituted over the last century.
It has to be the case though, that the standpoint these critics describe, must also infer further consequent criticisms, which have certainly not been elaborated upon in this article. What is also spelled out, however, is what they call the "Newtonian Paradigm", which they see as a method developed for the investigation of local subsystems, which are in Cosmology wrongly applied to Super-systems on a Cosmic scale. But, the errors involved are in fact much more fundamental than that.
For what has become the norm in Science is the isolation, filtering and necessarily rigorous farming of experimental Domains (subsystems), in order to investigate them. And, what is involved, in that, isn’t just a matter of taking a subset of Reality to investigate. What is always achieved amounts to a great deal more than a mere artificial isolation of a natural subsystem. Every such Domain is always significantly changed - not only have many factors been purposely removed, but those remaining have also been artificially controlled, expressly to produce an unnatural, yet revealing context – tailored or farmed to clearly display a previously only glimpsed (and, in this special context, easily achieved) sought-for relation. Yet, what can then be extracted is NOT what was acting in the original, unfettered Reality-as-is: is, always, a produced simplification and idealisation, of what was originally glimpsed.
Now, this is absolutely crucial, but also, in order to assume that what we finally have in our hands is exactly what was acting in the natural unfettered situation, we have, in addition, to assume the Principle of Plurality. Otherwise, we cannot make all the extensive, consequent reasoning that follows.
For example, what is finally extracted is assumed to be a Natural Law – and ALL naturally occurring situations are assumed to be mere summations of such Laws, and also that NONE of these are in any way changed by that process. The Principle states that all such factors are both separable and unchangeable contributions.
So, what are the consequences of such beliefs? It means that if sufficient farming of appropriately designed and produced Domains are carried out, a whole set of these eternal Natural Laws will be put into our hands to explain literally all associated phenomena. But then, a following step is also crucial! For, it is assumed that all phenomena can be built solely out of these Natural Laws by mere addition.
But, it just isn’t true! For, if it were, you wouldn’t need technologists at all. Neither would you need experimental scientists to construct appropriate experiments revealing these “Natural Laws”.
So, though I commend the argument about subsystems in this article - it is, as I have explained, a much more important problem that has been revealed, AND must, somehow, be transcended!
The crucial underlying Principle of Plurality, which not only sees Reality as analysable into separable eternal Laws, but also sees these as permanently fixed. Philosophically, that makes these “Laws” primary, and NOT caused by their context. This is an idealist position! And, if they do NOT reveal actual eternal Natural Laws, but instead only actually arrange Domains of Reality to artificially deliver what seem to be such, then, they have not so much revealed, as at least partially constructed, what we end up having in our hands.
And, this means that the processes involved – The Newtonian Paradigm – which constitute, in fact, the standard experimental methods of Science – do not reveal, but only “deliver”, due to the carefully arranged Domains.
And, what they deliver are NOT the eternal building blocks of Reality.
Yet, of course, they are still eminently useable! For, we not only construct the appropriate Domains in order to reveal these “Laws”, but also construct the very same Domains in order to effectively use them! So, the Paradigm stands.
It is OK for technologists and product producers, but, it is just terrible for those attempting to understand Reality. Ever-better theories are undermined from the outset.
The next criticism in the article concerns the so-called “special nature” of our Universe, when compared with what can be produced by the known set of”Laws of Physics”.
Indeed, starting with such Laws, it is considered almost inconceivable how we could ever have arrived solely at the Universe we now quite evidently have. So, to attempt to explain that anomaly, the scientists felt they could do no other than put forward the conception of the Multiverse, for within that, every conceivable Universe is possible, so ours would be included. Among the infinite number of all possible Universes, produced by random mixes of “the Laws”, if all were worked out, would, in time, turn up ours as one of the set.
But, our Universe isn’t a "special case": It is, indeed, the only one there is.
Comparing it with a set of laws in all their possible configurations means nothing. The whole trajectory of such reasoning is seriously lacking, on so many levels. Everything from the idealist stance of the laws coming first, to the incorrect assumption that they are fixed, and finally to the belief in the Principle of Plurality – they produce results that constitute a mere house of sand!
There is no proper reasoned case for The Multiverse: it is merely a formal sticking plaster to cover a real gaping hole in our understanding!
The criticisms involved are not just many and varied, but are cumulative – each one precipitating more, and as soon as one brick is shown to be dodgy, the whole edifice comes tumbling down.
So, that being the case, major changes in the assumptions and principles we employ must be implemented.
The problem is, “Where to start?”
It can only be at the level of an alternative underlying Principle to that of Plurality, and, historically, that has always been the Principle of Holism, which is defined by - Everything affects everything else!
All things are variable, including the relations between things.
Laws don’t determine contexts, but contexts make Laws!
And, with such a World, only a single trajectory was followed, giving us the one Universe we now have. BUT, any assumption of straight through causality is also wrong. Analysis is always a simplification, and universal Reductionism is a myth!
Lastly, and most importantly, development isn’t incremental, but involves long periods of Stability interleaved with short dramatic interludes of revolutionary transformations.
The so called Newtonian Paradigm is only usable in constructed and maintained Domains, and the real changes that occur can only be addressed by studying and understanding Emergences, where all significant qualitative change occurs!
[Indeed, though the philosopher in this fruitful pairing clearly insists upon variable Laws, he does not see development via revolutionary Emergences, but entirely incrementally, which significantly alters his suggested solutions to these philosophical and scientific problems. So, to some extent, his attitude upon this reflects his political stance and activities as a government Minister in a capitalist government in Brazil]
One sound conclusion of these writers is that our conceptions of scientific laws do need revising significantly.
That conclusion is explained by = “discarding the assumption that the same kind of laws that work on the scale of small subsystems of the World, will work, scaled up, at the level of the whole Universe.”
Of course, as already explained above, there is a great deal more to it than that. All our laws are predicated upon differently constructed and constrained Domains. But, if, in addition, they are also included in Hierarchies of Systems in Reality – each with its own laws, then but only then, would I be inclined to agree with them.
Yet, the initial creation and subsequent evolution of such hierarchies must also be explained, and this can only be achieved by the occurrence of Emergent Episodes – Revolutions, which are clearly rejected by these writers.
The point is made by these writers about how the “Natural Laws” can be used to deliver an infinite number of non-existant Universes, but the “Why?”, appended to this, is inadequate – merely stating that they cannot be applied to things as large as the Universe, for that simply does not cover sufficient ground!
For, the real reasons are far more basic and explicable!
The Laws extracted by the usual means are NOT the driving essences of the Universe, but simplified and idealised Abstractions – arranged for in tailor-made Domains, and not about unfettered Reality at all, they are only about Pure Forms alone that can be extracted - and in so doing defining a different World, in which only pure forms exist, a non-real World, which I call Ideality!
So, the laws we extract, manipulate and even use are merely Laws of Form and certainly NOT the comprehensive creators of all of Reality.
We have a name for such studies limited to such a world: it is termed Mathematics.
And, this must be the most damning criticism of Modern Science: it has abandoned concrete materialism for formal idealism!
For, its Motive Forces of Reality are deemed to be the Formal Relations – the “Natural Laws” – farmed-for in all experiments, and involving only Pattern – without physical, causal explanations, and hence these are not about concrete Reality-as-is. No wonder such theories get nowhere: they are not what we assume they are!
Finally, the writers conclude that a new principle must become the basis for a New Science that we require to tackle the Universe. But, as they are not clear what the Principle was that they were assuming, they are not yet in a position to define its alternative. That mistaken Principle was not merely about local subsystems rather than Universes, but about ALL scientific investigations. It is the Principle of Plurality.
And, the new alternative has to be that ancient Principle, which is both the opposite of Plurality, and also has, in a contradictory way, been the essential ingredient in all the best scientific explanations throughout its history. It is , of course, the Principle of Holism.
What is required is the extension of traditional holistic explanations to also devising, carrying out and interpreting experiments. And we are still a long way from that!
Sadly, in identifying three principles, which, it is suggested, will lead to the way that these writers suggest is essential, include one which constitutes, in fact, the main problem with the current standpoint. For they insist - namely “Mathematics is not a description of some, separate, timeless, platonic Reality, but a description of the properties of one Universe”.
No it is not!
On the contrary, what they say it is in that statement, is simply not true. We don’t seek mere descriptions but causal explanations! So, in spite of a really valuable intention, they end up shooting themselves in the foot.
May this philosopher/physicist suggest some areas, he has already contributed to this problem, over the last six years, in the pages of the SHAPE Journal on the Web.
The Theory of Emergences
The Theory of the Double Slit
A Hero of Holism – Yves Couder
Myths of Tegmark
Brian Cox’s Theory of Everything
Truly Natural Selection
Marxism I, II, III
The Superstructure and the Base.
My work (Jim Schofield) can be found at the following sites:
SHAPE Channel on Youtube