The Role of Present-Day Science -- The Aims of this Book
The Importance and Nature of Science
Modern science plays a major if not a dominant role in the world at the end of the twentieth century. Applications of the results of scientific research have led to the technology which surrounds everyone in developed countries. This technology has very much influenced the daily lives of people. Taking some examples, the energy we use is very often supplied in the form of electricity, this being a product of nineteenth century physics. The electronics derived from more recent physics is necessary for making computers, which not only perform extremely complicated scientific calculations, but also control the operations of many types of machines. Electronics is needed for producing the many kinds of images watched by people, such as those of television and videos. Radio waves, the existence of which was predicted by physics in the nineteenth century, are widely used in communications. Chemical research led to the invention of new substances such as the plastics that surround us in our daily lives. Certain new substances are much used in contemporary medicine. A knowledge of fluid mechanics is needed in the design of aircraft. As a result of such technological developments, it was possible to send men to the Moon in 1969.
The economy of the world at the present time is very much a result of modern technology; the objects produced by the latter and the raw materials needed to produce them play a major role in world trade. It is moreover possible using modern technology to introduce increasing amounts of automation into production, thereby leading to a reduced need for manpower, resulting in unemployment.
Rapid communications are essential for speculative financial operations, which can completely destabilize the economy. Indeed technology does not only produce material comfort and means of communicating and of being informed, but it can also produce new forms of human suffering. The same conclusion is reached even more directly when we think about the role of science and technology in the development of modern weapons.
It is for such reasons that the governments of many countries attach such importance to scientific research. And this research very often needs extremely expensive equipment. In this way we can say that the economy and political decisions are not only dependent on scientific research, but that scientific research is also dependent on the economy and political decisions.
What must be emphasized, however, is that the conceptions and technological successes of science have a strong effect on the way people think. Non-scientists, for whom technology often appears to be a kind of magic, can be led to believe that scientific knowledge is the only reliable form of knowledge. They are told that the scientific method as now applied is, unlike other approaches, rational and rigorous, involving as it does the systematic experimental testing of theories and hypotheses. The application of such well tested theories explains the technical successes. Even though scientific theories change, the basic results of modern science are thought to be true, and therefore to be believed.
The assumptions of modern science are materialistic. This means that if you look deeply enough into the phenomena of the world, they can all eventually be explained by the laws of physics. These laws, as now understood, are not the mechanical laws of nineteenth century physics, so materialism is no longer mechanical. They are very abstract and mathematical, but they are usually understood to be "blind", eliminating the action of any conscious being. Everything cannot be predicted by these laws which, as we shall see, contain the unpredictable; what is unpredictable, however, is thought to be only the result of blind chance. This is extrapolated from physics to other sciences such as biology. In biology, Darwinian natural selection is also blind: species of living organisms evolving by chance are better able to survive in their environment without the intervention of any plan or idea. Competing species less able to survive are eliminated.
It is in such ways that the properties of matter and the world we live in are explained as being the result of very small-scale processes at the atomic and subatomic levels. The structure and distribution of matter in the universe is explained by processes which followed what is called the "big bang", when the universe is thought to have been very small, very dense and very hot, while after the big bang it is thought to have been in continuing expansion. Man, like all other living organisms, is considered to be a kind of machine and his consciousness and thinking are due to the functioning of the matter and the nerve cells of which his brain is composed.
It is in such a context that one may wonder whether spiritual conceptions of any kind -- such as the various religions -- involving ideas outside physics, are really relevant in the present day world. Or are they only remnants to be swept away in the course of time? Is there a way of reconciling the spiritual with the scientific, transforming both in the process?
Resistance to scientific teachings
Perhaps it is because of the dominance of science in the modern world and the nature of its teachings that movements sometimes described as "anti-science" have developed. A meeting at the French university of Orsay in June 1970 concluded that science was a religion. Going further, certain scientific explanations like the big bang have sometimes been considered to be myths. In addition, criticisms of science can be used as a justification to reduce public funding of science. Such movements criticizing science have been partly influenced by philosophical debates about the nature of scientific progress. Karl R. Popper asserted that science was a process by which wrong ideas could be disproved or "falsified". In opposition to this point of view, Thomas Kuhn asserted that the science of a particular epoch depended on basic assumptions or "paradigms", which needed a revolution to be overthrown. Historical examples such as the revolution in physics at the start of this century, to be described in chapter 3 of this book, can be used to illustrate Kuhn's ideas. A more extreme point of view is that of Paul Feyerabend in "Against Method" (New Left Books, London 1975) who went much farther, proposing an "anarchist" theory of knowledge, according to which quite irrational methods could be and have been used to produce accepted science.
Another example of "anti-science" movements is the one concerned with ecology. Threats to the environment presented by modern technology are thought in such circles to be due to the nature of science. The French journal "Survivre et Vivre" raised questions of this sort at the beginning of the seventies.
Feminists have stated that science is a result of male domination. A feminine science would be more intuitive. Associated with a corresponding technology, it would not aim to "dominate" nature as does present-day science and technology. However, I must say that the science of my female colleagues, who are relatively numerous in French astronomy, does not appear to be basically different than that of male colleagues.
Science was criticized in the sixties and seventies, especially by sociologists, from a Marxist point of view. The development of science was considered to be a result of society possessing a class structure in which such a development occurred; for example it was stated in the British "Radical Science Journal"(see Bob Young 1977) that "science is social relations". Marxism is no longer in fashion, particularly following the political upheavals in the world which occurred at the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties. Sociological criticism of science has, however, continued. "Social constructivists" claim that science is as much the result of the debates between scientists as it is of experiment. However, I must say as a physical scientist that sociologists appear to me to be often not very clear in their thinking.
I support an intermediate position in this book. Science is social relations, but social relations in a much wider framework, in which they are not only relations with other human beings (including those between a scientist and other scientists) and groups of human beings, but also with the world of nature as well as that of pure ideas. Our relations with the latter world dominate, moreover, the ways we use to explain nature.
Aims of this book
In Chapter 2, I will look at the often forgotten basic assumptions of physics and attempt to show how they fail to explain many fundamental aspects of reality. Various aspects of the history of science are examined in that chapter, which also discusses the paradoxes and contradictions that reliance on the basic assumptions leads to. The discovery of very strange worlds of twentieth century science involving physics and mathematics is described in Chapter 3.
We shall see what are some of the consequences of following the assumptions described in chapter 2, which eliminate consciousness, conscious beings and soul. Consciousness and soul cannot be completely eliminated however and, as will be seen in Chapter 4, there are strong indications that consciousness and soul reappear in certain ways without people being aware of them, especially in contemporary physics. It is in that chapter that new interpretations of certain properties of the world we live in are proposed, involving the presence of different kinds of conscious beings. These interpretations then suggest the possible new directions for research suggested in chapter 5, which may help to lead to a different kind of science. Conclusions are drawn in this last chapter.
It is possible to state the aims of this book in another way. The well known twentieth century philosopher Karl R. Popper, in his book "Objective Knowledge - An Evolutionary Approach" (Clarendon Press Oxford 1972)speaks about three "worlds". The first is the physical world or world of physical states. The second is the world of mental states, while the third world is that of ideas in an objective sense, which can be possible objects of thought. This indicates that the second world is that of subjective experience, while the third world is that of pure ideas, which show themselves in human culture. Each human being must then possess his or her own second world, which will be different from that of any other human. This means that there will not be one second world in this framework, but rather a very large number of second worlds. According to Popper, the first two worlds can directly interact with each other, while the last two can also do so in a similar way. The mind provides an indirect link between the first and third worlds; the ideas of the third world can be made material through technology. Popper states that the third world is a product of human activity. If we try to understand present-day science in the framework of Popper's ideas, we might say that it is a science of the first world obeying the mathematical laws of the third world. This science then eliminates the second world.
The British mathematician Roger Penrose, in his book "Shadows of the Mind" (Oxford University Press 1994) also supports the conception of three worlds. However for him the third world is the eternal world of "Platonic" ideas, which is independent of human beings and includes the unchangeable concepts of mathematics. According to Penrose, the Platonic world gives rise to the physical world, because nature is describable in a mathematical way. The latter gives rise to the mental world, which in turn again gives rise to the Platonic world. His scheme is like that of a serpent chasing its own tail. Roger Penrose is more open-minded than most contemporary scientists and his reputation is not always good in official circles for that reason. In particular he believes that human thinking cannot be reproduced by the kind of computers constructed up to now. However he runs into a barrier, as he still appears to consider reasoning based on the world of physics as fundamental. Apparently he is not able to completely abandon the basic assumptions of present-day science.
Another recent author who talks about the soul is the Estonian astrophysicist Undo Uus ("Blindness of Modern Science", Tartu Observatory, Estonia, 1994). He emphasizes in his book that inner experience cannot be explained by physics.
It is very easy to see that the three worlds correspond to the traditional idea of body, soul and spirit. This threefold scheme was forgotten, if not suppressed, in western culture, in which the dualism of body and soul was taught for a long time, until the soul was then also eliminated by materialism. However the reality of the threefold nature of experience has forced its reappearance in contemporary thought. In this book I endeavor to show that the soul, or second world, is basic; it is present in certain ways also in the two other worlds. It is only when this is taken into account that a fundamentally different kind of science can arise. It is not sufficient to produce some sort of unorthodox physics, as is often done by people trying to prove that something "spiritual" exists, if soul and spirit are left out. The universe has, in fact, a threefold trinitarian nature, revealing itself in several different ways. Such ways of thinking about the Universe will be discussed in this book.
What Do We Mean by Soul?
In order to progress in the kind of work this book is concerned with, we must be very precise. It is not sufficient to talk vaguely about the soul if we wish to be scientific about it and attempt to lay the foundations of a new science. We must therefore clarify the nature of the world (or rather worlds) of inner experience, or soul, which I shall consider to belong to many sorts of conscious beings. (My approach to this question has been inspired to a great extent by Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher and spiritual teacher, already mentioned in the preface to this book.) When we examine the worlds of inner experience we find that when they are considered by themselves they also have a threefold character, so that three different aspects can readily be distinguished. These aspects are:
a) Knowledge, which, in the case of the inner experience of human beings, is the result of combining perceptions with concepts through thinking. Both perceptions and concepts are experienced in the inner world. (The fact that knowledge is arrived at in this way was emphasized by Rudolf Steiner in his "The Philosophy of Freedom" (Rudolf Steiner Press 1964). Other quite different ways of arriving at knowledge are conceivable however.
b) The world of feelings, emotions and desires.
c) The ability to act, so as to change the world.
These three aspects can be related to thinking, feeling and willing. The idea that the human soul possesses these three abilities is relatively new. The late eighteenth century German philosopher Johann Nicolaus Tetens in his book "Philosophische Versuch" (1775, re-edited by Verlag von Reuther & Reichard, Berlin 1913) seems to be the first to have proposed that the soul possesses the three basic abilities of feeling, understanding and willing. He defines in this connection the will as the ability to be active, excluding the abilities of representing things (making mental images of them) and thinking. Curiously, one modern philosopher misunderstood Tetens and, when writing about his ideas, said that willing was unimportant for him, which is certainly not the case.
In this book I shall endeavor to show that we can understand the universe as composed of many different kinds of conscious beings, each of which has what we may think of as a kind of soul nature and that many of these beings possess what can be considered as transformations or metamorphoses of the three aspects of the inner world. As a result, relationships between many of the different beings will depend on these three aspects. Let it be emphasized in particular that we shall suppose that the ability to act is a reality and not an illusion, as supposed by many thinkers.
Though one can object that the various schools of psychology have different conceptions about the inner experiences of human beings, we shall see that the three aspects just mentioned and their relationship to conscious beings are not arbitrary, but appear to be very fundamental, especially if we wish to do another type of science. In chapter 2, we shall see that the three aspects or soul abilities are even required to understand the nature of something as basic as time, while the possibility of understanding certain results of twentieth century science through them will be described in chapter 4. In this way, I endeavor to show that a faint gleam of what can become another science in fact already exists. Future work might then be expected to develop these aspects to a much greater extent.