The Basic Assumptions of Science and their Limits
What does physics basically study?
Let us now see what makes up the world of physics, which is usually considered to be the most basic of the sciences. This world must clearly be derived from what is experienced by human beings, that is from their inner world, which includes perceptions and concepts. In fact physics, as it exists at present, only studies certain kinds of perception, which it associates with a narrow range of concepts. This means that only a small fraction of the world of sense impressions and of inner experience has been used to make up what is considered to be the world of physics, that is, the only world in which the materialist believes.
The perceptions that have been studied since the revolution in ideas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which led to the birth of modern science, are usually produced by experiments. In experiments situations are especially created, so that certain phenomena can be studied more easily. In fact the will of the experimenter is used in the search for knowledge when experimental methods are applied.
Furthermore, only certain kinds of perceptions are studied. Physics has been more and more monopolized in its development during the last centuries by the study of the interactions between phenomena and measuring instruments, that is, between what is produced by matter according to the conceptions of physics and what is made from matter according to the same conceptions. Direct perceptions of phenomena by human beings, of sensations due to phenomena which are inner experiences, have come to be considered as untrustworthy and therefore are ignored as much as possible. What is trusted is what is considered to be "objective", that is, the interactions between phenomena and instruments, which leads to numerical measurements including, for instance, very small quantities, those which last an extremely short time, and very faint astronomical objects which cannot be directly perceived by humans without the help of instruments. What are studied are therefore the numerically measurable interactions between various phenomena and the instruments used in their examination -- as perceived, however, by human beings! It is these processes which are usually considered worthy of investigation in physics. In this way, the role of the human observer is reduced to a minimum.
An astronomical example concerns observations of distant objects without it being possible to perform real experiments on them. In the seventeenth century Galileo looked through a primitive telescope and discovered many things, such as the satellites of Jupiter, the phases of Venus (Venus usually appears far from circular and rather looks like the Moon during different phases) and sunspots. The human eye was replaced by the photographic plate about a century ago. More recently, the photographic plate has been replaced by electronic detectors, the use of which makes numerical measurements relatively easy. Such measurements are proportional to the intensities of different kinds of light falling on a particular detector. In that way the human eye has been bypassed; this means that the effect of light on detectors replaces direct experience using the eye.
The restriction in the concepts used by physics is even more striking. The situation is not only that physics studies what can be expressed mathematically, but that in particular it studies what can be expressed in terms of space and the spacelike properties of time. This can be understood if we look at Newton's laws of motion as stated in his famous book of 1686, "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica", on which mechanics is based. These laws, preceded by Galileo's research in the early seventeenth century, can be considered as being near the beginning of what has become present-day physics. Let us recall Newton's laws, which can be formulated as follows:
1) If no force is applied to it, a body will continue to be at rest or to move in a straight line at a constant velocity.
2) The ratio of the force acting on a body to the rate of change of the body's velocity due to the force, is constant.
3) If one body acts on another the force of action on one is equal and opposite in direction to the force of reaction of the other.
In addition, we have Newton's law of gravitation:
4) Two bodies attract each other with a force proportional to the product of their masses (the masses multiplied by each other) divided by the square of the distance between them.
The second law leads to a definition of mass, because the change in velocity of a body acted on by a given force is inversely proportional to its mass (that is, to 1/mass). Velocity is the rate of change of distance with time, while acceleration is the rate of change of velocity with time. This means that we can say, as is learned in school, that force equals mass times acceleration. In addition let us emphasize that what is involved are measurements of distance and time, with the mass of a body being a constant defined by these laws. Force is also defined with respect to the laws, while what is called "energy" can be similarly defined. In such a framework, distances may in the first instance be defined by what is measured by measuring rods and time by what is measured by clocks, that is, by what are already simple versions of measuring instruments. Let us note that the time measured by a clock is a space-like quantity; it is a number giving the time after (or before) a certain event. In a description of what happens to a body, it needs to be added to the distance and direction of the part of a body where the event occurs, defined with respect to a point of reference.
The definitions of Newton's laws are directly related to the concept of primary and secondary qualities. The former include distance, time, mass, force etc. and belong directly to the world of physics. Other qualities such as colour, taste, smell etc. are supposed to be due only to how the human body perceives phenomena and so to be outside physics. The idea of this separation is in fact quite old. The fifth century BC Greek philosopher Democritus who, together with Leucipus, suggested that matter is made of indivisible atoms moving in empty space, distinguished between the geometrical properties of atoms such as shape, order, position and size on the one hand and non-geometrical qualities on the other. The latter included taste, colour, brightness and darkness, cold and heat, which were all subjective for him and a matter of opinion (see "Les Presocratiques" by Abel Jeanière, Seuil, 1996). Democritus' books have been lost, but similar ideas were described by the first century BC Roman Epicurean poet Lucretius in his poem "De Natura Rerum", which has survived. The origin of such a form of materialism in ancient times, when little was known of physics, is curious; it makes one wonder whether there were not pre-existent materialistic mystery teachings based on some sort of direct inspiration, where materialistic assumptions were taught. Indeed P. Feschotte in "Les Illusionistes" (Editions de l'Aire 1985) considers that materialism may have been an a priori idea.
A similar distinction was made at the beginning of modern science by Galileo in his book "Il Saggiatore", where he distinguished between what is measurable and what is not measurable, such as smell and taste. He insisted that nature is written in mathematical language and described a scientific method for testing hypotheses. The seventeenth century English philosopher John Locke separated primary qualities such as size, shape and density from secondary qualities like colour, taste and smell.
Another aspect of Newton's laws, and thus of classical mechanics, needs to be emphasized. The second law describes rates of change. If one knows the forces present, including those discovered after the time of Newton, and the positions of all bodies including those of each of their constituent parts at a certain time, it is possible to determine their future positions by adding up the rates of change at each time, or by what mathematicians call integration. The mathematics involved in such calculations due to Newton and Leibniz, developed enormously from Newton onwards. In this way the universe came to appear to be completely deterministic -- though as we shall see in the next chapter, even Newton's laws do not exclude the unpredictable.
It should also be emphasized that laws like those of Newton encourage explanations of physical phenomena in terms of what happens to the smallest constituents of bodies. Each of these constituents, which were earlier considered to be atoms and later particles, can be expected to be acted upon by different forces. What is observed should then be the result of adding what happens to each constituent. According to this very basic conception, our large-scale world is explained by the very small.
2. The Further Development of Classical Physics, Chemistry and Biology
The later development of classical physics and chemistry involved, among other things, the study of phenomena unknown at the time of Newton, in particular the discovery and investigation of forces other than gravitation, without however changing the basic hypotheses mentioned in the last section. This type of thinking also came to dominate biology. Such developments became particularly important in the nineteenth century. In many ways, twentieth century biology is also part of classical science and will for this reason be considered together with physics in this section. I will now give some examples of results which were very important for the way modern science was to evolve after the laying of the foundations of mechanics.
The study of electricity and magnetism made great progress in the nineteenth century. The forces of electricity and magnetism were found to be closely connected. The Danish physicist Oersted discovered the magnetic effect of an electric current in 1820. Following the work of many other physicists such as Ampère and Faraday, Maxwell produced a general theory of electromagnetism. Light was explained as consisting of electromagnetic waves having small wavelengths which are visible to the human eye, the wavelength of any sort of wave being the distance between two successive peaks of the waves. Other kinds of electromagnetic wave, such as the radio, x and "gamma" rays, were later found to have different wavelengths from those of visible light. In fact there had previously been a clash between those who considered light as consisting of particles, an idea favored by Newton, and those who considered light to be due to waves. The latter conception seemed in the nineteenth century to have been proven by the work of Young and Fresnel. The clash between these ways of explaining light was not, however, concluded by Maxwell's electromagnetic theory, as we shall see in the next chapter.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Dalton explained the processes of chemistry by interactions between atoms. Atoms of different fundamental substances, called chemical elements, each having different properties, combine to produce what are now called "molecules" containing several atoms. Each substance obtained by combining different elements is called a compound, and has, according to this conception, its characteristic molecule, while substances containing different molecules have different chemical properties.
Another example of the development of physics is thermodynamics or, in more popular language, the physics of heat. Changes in physical properties of bodies, such as expansion due to increasing temperature (a measurement of expansion is clearly one of changing length or distance) led to a definition of temperature. The pressure of a gas, that is the force per unit area exerted by the gas on a wall, was found to depend on temperature. According to the very successful kinetic theory of gases, this was explained by the fact that a gas consisted of particles (in fact molecules) which struck the wall, each molecule having an average velocity proportional to the square root of the temperature above absolute zero. Heat was generally explained by the disordered motions of molecules. In this way the human experience of heat became explained as only being due to an average velocity of small particles.
It was through the explanation of the phenomena of heat that the concepts of probability and statistics entered physics. It was far too complicated to calculate the motion of every molecule. Each molecule was therefore assigned a probability of having certain properties; it was the mean properties of the molecules of a substance which were then to be considered. Clearly this did not contradict Newtonian determinism; it was, however, only necessary to calculate mean properties in order to explain the large-scale structure of the world.
It should be noted at this point that the concept of energy came to be considered fundamental in physics and chemistry. For example, energy was found to be contained in electricity, magnetism and light, to be necessary for or produced by chemical reactions, and to be present in heat. The role of energy is in fact that of a sort of "ability to act" of a physical system. The total amount of energy in any system which is isolated from the rest of the universe was found to be constant, this being called the "principle of the conservation of energy".
The contribution of Darwin in the nineteenth century was fundamental to the history of biology. The theory of natural selection which he proposed and which was developed by those who followed him, states that when random variations (now called "mutations") in the abilities of living organisms occur, those organisms which are more able to survive will survive. In this way evolution can be produced, because new kinds of organisms will appear and many sorts which are less able to survive will be eliminated. Nothing outside the laws of physics, whose basic nature we have already looked at, is needed for this kind of evolution to occur.
Similarly, Mendel founded genetics. He looked for easily identifiable characteristics of peas and measured the proportions of different sorts of descendents, produced when peas with different characteristics were crossed. He found certain laws that these proportions obeyed and in this way he found normally constant factors in heredity (which are only modifiable by mutations), later to be called genes. A gene can be thought of as being a kind of "atom" of heredity. This was to lead to the present ideology about how genes dominate the living organism to the exclusion of everything else. The nature of genes has been elucidated in the twentieth century and appears to be based on the chemical properties of certain very large molecules, that is, the molecules of a substance called DNA. Modification of the DNA molecules of living organisms has now become possible, such manipulations being called "genetic engineering". However, as emphasized by Craig Holdrege in "A Question of Genes. Understanding Life in Context" (Floris Books, and Lindesfarne Press with another title, 1996), all the phenomena of life are far from being explained by genes. This means that life cannot be put into such a straight jacket.
It was also in the nineteenth century that Karl Marx claimed that he was able to explain the nature of human society materialistically, in a way which is somewhat similar to the explanation of evolution by Darwin. Everything, according to him, is based in the last resort on economics, this being particularly clear in that part of Marxism called "historical materialism". This is clearly very one-sided, though the effects of the economy on human society and the way people think should not be underestimated. In any case, any explanation of economics only by the laws of physics is, to put it very mildly, highly doubtful. Marxism became a very powerful force in politics and in the twentieth century it was to be used as a state ideology. It was this state ideology, justifying extreme forms of dictatorship, that later failed.
One thing which is already striking in this description of the history of science is the way in which science, and especially physics, "succeeded" in spite of the limiting nature of its basic assumptions. This apparent success continued into this century with the rise of modern physics, including relativity and quantum theory, to be discussed in the next chapter.
The physical definitions of space and time have become more subtle and very far from what is suggested by normal human experience; but space and time still remain basic. Such a success would appear to show the real presence of a world of the physical sciences, or material world, which is not the same as the world of human experience. The nature and possible interpretation of this world will become clearer later in this book.
3. Critiques of the Basic Assumptions of Physics
The most fundamental criticisms of Newtonian physics were made by the great German poet, writer, thinker and scientist Goethe, who lived at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. His scientific work on the nature of colour and the development of plants is particularly noteworthy.
In perceiving phenomena, he sought to directly perceive the ideas behind them in a rigorous way, without making hypotheses. In this way he perceived not only the principles of the way plants change in their development, or what he called their "metamorphosis", but he also perceived the idea of an "archetypal plant", containing the whole nature of plants. When we examine Goethe's way of looking at the world, we are in a completely different conceptual framework than that of classical (pre-twentieth century) physics. For him the same laws appeared in nature as in art; artistic creation was the same creation as natural creation at a higher level. In addition the senses of human beings were, according to Goethe, the greatest and most precise of physical apparatus; the fact that physics had detached experience from man was the worst of misfortunes.
Goethe's theory of colours radically challenged what was believed by physicists. According to Newton, white light is made of a mixture of lights of different colours. He found that a narrow beam of white light passing through a prism was split into beams with different colours, each of these lights being arranged in what is called a spectrum. Red coloured light in a spectrum is followed by lights having colours of orange, yellow, green, blue indigo and violet. Students of physics are still taught this, as they are also taught that the quality of colour as perceived by human beings is something outside physics, only associated with sensory perception. Moreover, according to the nineteenth century explanation of light as being composed of those electromagnetic waves which are visible to the human eye, the sequence of colours in a spectrum is a sequence of electromagnetic waves having different wavelengths, the wavelength of "pure" red light being larger than that of "pure" light having other colours. Goethe noticed, however, that if one looks directly through a prism colours appear only at the boundaries of white and dark surfaces; in fact one sees only part of a spectrum at a boundary. A complete spectrum is perceived when a small white spot on a black surface is observed through a prism, while a dark spot on a white surface produces a sort of "negative spectrum", consisting of the opposite, or what are called complementary colours to those of the normal spectrum. In fact this does not contradict Newtonian theory, for according to that theory each of the points on the white surface will produce a spectrum which is shifted with respect to the spectra of other points; the superposition of all the spectra will mix each of them to produce white light except at the boundaries of the white surface.
But Newton's ideas are the result of the type of experiment just described as artificial and not directly deducible from human experience. For Goethe colour really played a role in the world and was produced by the interaction at the boundaries of light with darkness, which also had a real existence. This interaction was mediated by substances such as that of the prism. It may be noted that the idea that colour is produced by the interaction of light with darkness is much older; in his book "Timaeus", Plato already suggested that different colours were produced by mixtures of black, white, red and what is bright. Aristotle went further, stating that white seen through a black screen appears to be red.
Goethe's conceptions have not played a major role in official science. Indeed, the situation at present is even worse than it was during Goethe's time. There is a tendency, especially in astrophysics, to wish to calculate and deduce everything from supposedly rigorous theoretical models, using the very powerful computers now available. However, such models can still contain highly dubious assumptions, even from the point of view of official physics, while they can also neglect certain observations. This is clearly the opposite of the Goethean approach! In spite of this, a few scientists have tried to base their ideas directly on observations. An example is the well known Swiss astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky, who died in 1974. In a book "Morphological Astronomy (Springer 1957), he describes his unorthodox way of doing astrophysics. I tried to be at least "slightly Goethean" at the start of the work leading to my doctoral thesis, as well as in some later research. In this work I looked more closely at what observations can tell an astronomer than is usually done. This led me in my doctoral work to propose explanations and support models which were "out of fashion"; the fashion changed about a decade later. In any case, this type of "semi-Goethean" method does not challenge the basic assumptions of physics. More radical Goethean challenges to present-day science have not yet made much of an impression either, perhaps because of their inability, unlike that of official science in general and even nineteenth century physics, to explain from simple assumptions many different phenomena or at least their space-like aspects. As already mentioned, classical physics was amazingly successful. It appears to me in view of this that even more radical approaches are required.
Another aspect may be mentioned concerning the nature of space, on which physics is based. It has three dimensions and so can be measured in any three perpendicular directions from any point. This is the basis of what are called "Cartesian coordinates" in geometry and their role in the calculations of physics can be very abstract. Rudolf Steiner pointed out in his lecture cycle "The Origins of Natural Science" (Rudolf Steiner Press and Anthroposophic Press 1985), that there are basically three fundamental perpendicular directions in human experience; or, to be more precise, in the experience of the human body. These are the directions from back to front, from left to right and from down to up. It is those directions and not any three possible perpendicular directions which are important for Man. In the world of physics a particular physical system might have preferred directions, but in general calculations can be made using any three perpendicular directions; also from this point of view physics, in becoming abstract, has become disconnected from what is directly perceived by humans.
4. Arguments about the Nature of Consciousness
At this point I shall insert descriptions of certain problems which excite much interest at the present time. These problems show the contradictions inherent in the foundations of classical science as described at the beginning of this chapter, and suggest that another kind of science is needed. They can be looked at in many ways without invoking twentieth century physics -- which will be considered later in this book.
There has been much discussion in recent years about the causes of consciousness and particularly thinking, and about how to explain them using the current materialistic ideas concerning the nature of the world. Scientific results about the brain and nervous system are generally used as the basis for these discussions. It is often even asserted that all the phenomena of consciousness and thinking are reproducible by calculating machines and computers. In view of what has been already stated in this chapter about the physics on which materialism is based, such discussions seem extremely curious. Consciousness has been eliminated from physics and now certain scientists want to deduce it from this physics without consciousness and the science of computing in order to explain human experience and also that of higher animals!
It is not my intention to describe in detail these debates, which appear to me to be rather futile. More can be found in the already mentioned books "The Blindness of Modern Science" by U. Uus and "Shadows of the Mind" by Roger Penrose. Let us add "The Emperor's New Mind" by Roger Penrose (Oxford University Press 1989); a debate about artificial intelligence contained in two articles in the January 1990 issue of "Scientific American" by the Berkeley, California philosopher John R. Searle and the Churchlands, as well as an article by Searle which appeared in the May 1996 issue of the French general scientific journal "La Recherche".
Discussions are generally centered on the question of whether or not consciousness and thinking can become (or are) properties of computers. The question is not only scientific, as there are large economic interests involved in the development of more powerful computers and robots. If such machines can be made more able to imitate the processes of human thinking, using what has been discovered about the nervous system, the computer industry will be able to make large profits. Roger Penrose in "Shadows of the Mind" describes four points of view on these questions:
A. Strong or hard artificial intelligence: All thinking is computation; even feelings of conscious awareness are evoked by the carrying out of appropriate computations. Strong artificial intelligence can also be considered (as in Searle's article) as proposing that the mind is only the "software" of the brain, the latter being the "hardware" of what enables a human being to think; a human must then be considered to be a sort of computer. In fact the software of a computer is its system of programming and its hardware its physical structure.
B. Weak or soft artificial intelligence: Awareness is a feature of the brain's physical action and although any physical action can be simulated computationally, computational simulation cannot by itself evoke awareness.
C. Appropriate physical action of the brain evokes awareness, but this physical action cannot even be properly simulated computationally.
D. Awareness cannot be explained by physical, computational, or any other scientific terms.
Roger Penrose strongly argues for C, because it has been proved that computers of the kind which exist at present cannot perform all mathematical proofs that can be performed by mathematicians, while D is for him the point of view of the mystic and outside science. As far as the arguments given against A and B by Penrose are concerned, it must be emphasized that the performance of all mathematical proofs is impossible for any machine based on the processes of classical physics. Roger Penrose tries to overcome this dilemma by supposing that the nervous system works according to the principles of quantum physics. The model proposed by Roger Penrose is, however, quite speculative. His opinions on this subject have made him rather unpopular in certain official circles, but in fact he does not escape from materialism. Here I shall try to show that there are other possibilities similar to D, which are not "outside" science.
In the 1996 article Searle rejects A, as he has done in previous articles. Minds have contents and, unlike computers, do not only handle symbols according to certain rules. He then describes three approaches in a way different from Penrose. Searle does not accept Penrose's reasoning, which he strongly criticizes, while the studies of the nervous system by two other authors (Crick and Edelman) are considered helpful. Searle admits, however, that the qualities of mental experience or "qualia" as they are called, cannot be explained in such ways. In fact, qualia belong to Popper's second world and though researches on the brain and nervous system indicate that certain mental events are to quite a large extent correlated with events in these parts of the human body and therefore with phenomena of the world of physics, one cannot really expect to explain qualia by using present day science!
5. Modern Astronomy, Cosmology and the Anthropic Principle
The contradictions of present-day physics are also clear in discussions about what is called the "Anthropic Principle", This principle was first stated by Brandon Carter in respect to cosmology, that is, the science of the large scale structure and evolution of the universe. To be studied scientifically, the universe had to be able to produce intelligent creatures, that is, humans; this means that it had to possess certain properties. In this way the existence of these properties is explained by the presence of intelligent beings!
This principle appears at first sight to contradict another basic principle used in the study of the Universe for more than four centuries, the "Copernican principle". This principle, according to Konrad Rudnicki in "The Cosmological Principles" (Jagellonian University, Krakow 1995), asserts that the Universe observed from any planet looks much the same. Therefore the planet on which Man lives has no special significance compared with that of other planets. The Copernican principle can, according to Rudnicki, be extended to obtain a more general principle, which he calls the "generalized Copernican Principle". According to this last principle, the universe observed from every point and in every direction looks much the same. This principle, if true, leads to the conclusion that the home of the conscious being Man not only has no special significance compared with that of other planets, but also has no significance with respect to that of any other point in the whole universe. Indeed one can argue without invoking the generalized Copernican principle that it is "unlikely" that our home is at such a significant point. Such a principle can clearly be connected with the rejection of an important role for consciousness by present-day science, though it is of course not equivalent, as consciousness and intelligence can be conceived as existing in many different places in space as well as on earth.
Before saying more about the anthropic principle, it is necessary to summarize what astronomers consider to be the nature of the universe. The planets revolve around the Sun, which appears to be a fairly normal star. The distances of the stars measured by different methods are fairly consistent and the faintness of other stars compared with the Sun can be understood by their much greater distances. Stars are considered to consist of hot opaque gases, which are hotter in their interiors than at the surfaces, from which the light seen by observers directly comes. The energy of almost all stars is thought to be produced by processes known to nuclear physicists in their extremely hot interiors, and the way stars change or evolve during their existence is predicted using the laws of physics. The Sun seems to belong to a system called the Galaxy, which contains hundreds of thousands of millions of stars. Many other galaxies exist, in some of which the brightest individual stars can be detected using modern instruments. The American astronomer Edwin Hubble argued convincingly in 1925 that certain objects seen in the sky were not in our galaxy. There are indications believed by almost all astronomers (there are a few exceptions) that the galaxies are moving away from each other. Galaxies further away from our galaxy have, according to these indications, a higher velocity relative to our galaxy; it is impossible to observe parts of the universe beyond a "horizon", moving away from us at speeds greater than that of light. In this way the universe is thought to be expanding; it must then have been very dense, very hot and very much smaller than it is now in the very early stages of its development. The original state is often called the "big bang", as the idea of it resembles that of an explosion. Since light takes a long time to come from far-away objects; the universe must have been much younger when the light from the farthest visible astronomical objects was emitted.
Let us consider in a little more detail, though still schematically, what is thought to have been necessary to produce human beings. According to the conceptions of cosmologists, the constants of physics, which could have been different originally, became fixed at a very early stage in the expansion of the universe, and the different fundamental forces of physics became separate forces. Then, according to these conceptions, as the universe cooled a few chemical elements were formed by certain processes of nuclear physics, but most matter remained in the form of hydrogen. The universe became transparent later, which it had not been before. The diffuse gas which made up the universe at that time then condensed into galaxies and the stars of which they are largely composed. Most chemical elements, including carbon nitrogen and oxygen, which play a primordial role in life on earth, are thought to have been manufactured in the interiors of stars by processes of nuclear physics, which are different from those of the very early universe. These elements were then ejected with other material from the stars in which they were made into the space between stars and often became incorporated into other stars, which condensed later. In particular they became incorporated into the Sun and planets. Life, which is considered to be a property of very large, complex molecules, probably needing to contain a very large number of carbon atoms, could then be created in the conditions existing on earth as a result of chemical processes. A very long period of evolution then would have been necessary to produce intelligent beings like humans with large brains, by the random process of Darwin's natural selection.
For such a development to be possible, the universe must be very old; its age is in fact estimated as being of the order of fifteen thousand million years, though it should be noted that there is some disagreement about the exact value of its age. This means that it must not have had properties which would have made it start to contract soon after beginning its expansion. An expanding universe which is very old must clearly be also enormous, as it would have needed a long time to expand. The constants of nuclear physics must also have been suitable for the formation of the chemical elements necessary for life in roughly the right proportions. In such ways the similarities of the ratios of certain physical constants which have been discovered, might be explainable. When such conditions are taken together, it is clear that even according to such materialistic ideas, we cannot live in a random universe.
Discussions about the anthropic principle are given in a number of places, such as "The Anthropic Cosmological Principle" by Barrow and Tippler (Clarendon Press 1986) and the already mentioned "The Cosmological Principles" by Rudnicki. In fact there are several forms of this principle, which are stated in different ways:
The weak anthropic principle: This asserts that human beings must live in a universe which could have produced them or, as stated by Rudnicki, "the physical properties of the observable part of the Universe have to be taken as a logical conclusion from the premise that the human being observes it". Barrow and Tipler define the principle without directly referring to human beings as "The observed values of all physical and cosmological quantities are not equally probable, but they take on values restricted by the requirement that there exist sites where carbon based life can evolve and by the requirement that the universe be old enough for it to have already done so."
The strong anthropic principle: This asserts, according to Barrow and Tipler, that "The universe must have those properties which allow life to develop within it at some stage of its history". Rudnicki's different definition of this principle is that the "physical properties of the Universe have to be taken as a logical conclusion from the premise that real observers exist in some parts of the Universe's space-time".
The final anthropic principle: Suggested by Barrow and Tipler, this states that "Intelligent information processing must come into existence in the universe and once it comes into existence, it will never die out". This principle is related to their very daring, highly speculative hypotheses about how the universe containing intelligent beings able to process information should end -- that every civilization produced by such beings is able to attain a point when, as well as defending itself successfully from various perils, it is able to create/construct more intelligent and more resistant beings (in fact, robots able to survive in very extreme physical conditions) than those of the original civilization. The ultimate descendents of such civilizations may then possibly encounter those of other civilizations; in that case the civilizations will merge. Life will obtain unlimited knowledge and gain control of all matter and forces, take over the Universe, which in a very materialistic way will (perhaps must?) then have a "happy end".
It is clear that the first of these forms of the anthropic principle is the least speculative and the last the most.
Specialists are usually very uncomfortable when they speak about the anthropic principle, because it violates to a smaller or greater degree their basic assumptions, according to which consciousness should be unimportant. The weak anthropic principle cannot be denied, though one can always say that the conditions necessary for all forms of intelligent life are not really known.
Even according to materialistic assumptions, other sorts of intelligent life than that which exists on earth might in principle be possible in this as well as in another sort of universe. If this possibility is denied, there is another sort of escape for the convinced materialist. A very large number of different universes could exist, so that humans only live in one of the very few in which intelligent life is possible. Other universes could exist (or have existed) earlier or later in time than our present one, be very far beyond the "horizon" and so unobservable, or be permitted by a certain interpretation of what is called "quantum physics". Quantum physics and its interpretations will be discussed in the next chapter of this book. In this way, Barrow and Tippler "rescue" their materialistic ideology.
It seems clear from this discussion that it is rather difficult to suppress consciousness in any conception which tries to explain the whole universe. If you try to do so you tend to run into paradoxes.
6. The Nature of Time
As we saw at the beginning of this chapter, present-day physics is based on space and the spacelike aspects of time. It is easy to show that this concept does not even take into account all the aspects of time, which have puzzled thinkers for a very long time (no pun intended!).
The major problem is that time has not only spacelike properties, but in addition it consists of past, present and future. The present is not stationary, but "slides" from past to future. For instance, the second century AD Roman philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelus compared time with a flowing river. In this he may have been inspired by the 5th century BC Greek philosopher Heraclitus for whom change was fundamental and who said that one never entered the same river twice. St. Augustine (5th century AD) was extremely concerned about time in his "Confessions", where he prays to God to enlighten him. He wonders whether the past and future can, like the present, also exist -- and about the relation between time and movement. St Augustine concludes that time only flows for the soul. This interest in time was continued by the early twentieth century philosopher Bergson. We should also mention Einstein, who stated that the problem of time worried him seriously; the present, essentially different from past and future, meant something special for Man, but that this important difference did not and could not occur in physics. Such problems now interest a number of contemporary physicists. In this connection we can mention the book "Now, Time and Quantum Mechanics" (editors Michel Bitbol and Eva Ruhnau, Frontières, 1994) and a small popular book in French "Le Temps" by Etienne Klein (collection "Dominos", Flammarion, 1995). Let us now look at these questions in more detail.
In the world of classical deterministic physics of Newton's laws the passage of time is an illusion, because the future, like the past and present, already exists in a certain way. This is easily seen, as it is in principle possible according to these laws to completely calculate the future, which then cannot bring anything new into existence. Indeed the whole of time is in such a situation similar to the human perception of the past.
The first property that distinguishes time from space is that it has a direction or "arrow". This becomes clear if a film is run backwards and "impossible" things happen. The pieces of a broken cup are put together on the floor and then rise spontaneously to the top of a table. An undamaged house emerges from a fire, human corpses rise from the dead, walk and if one waits long enough become babies, which then enter their mother's womb. In a less spectacular example, if time could be run backwards, temperature differences would spontaneously emerge in regions where the temperature was uniform. However, according to Newton's laws of motion when they are applied without any additional law, reversing the motions of all particles as in the film run backwards should not produce situations which are radically different from those in which motions are not reversed. In fact, in all such phenomena a basic law of thermodynamics manifests itself, that is, that in an isolated system a quantity called "entropy" must increase with time. This quantity measures the disorder of a system. The positions and motions of its molecules should, because of the mathematics of statistics, evolve into more probable states, probability being defined by the statistical considerations mentioned in section 2 of this chapter. Nevertheless, this situation appears paradoxical because according to a famous theorem of the French mathematician Poincaré based on classical physics; if one waits long enough events which are almost identical with previous ones will occur in a finite isolated system. In this way past events should eventually be repeated.
It is of course doubtful whether the whole universe is a finite, isolated system. The arrow of time in any case indicates that the universe has not only an already existing past, but that it also has a future. There is a direction in its evolution. In fact cosmologists are able to explain the increase in entropy and the arrow in a quite materialistic way starting from what is supposed to have happened following the origin of the universe in a "big bang". An expanding universe of the sort believed in by cosmologists has a beginning which is quite different from late stages in its development. The "arrow" of time can still be integrated into present-day physics, without changing fundamental ideas.
The most difficult problem occurs if the present is included in the description of time, because it would then appear to be "outside physics". It is here that a science which does not take soul qualities into account has some of its greatest difficulties. These difficulties can be overcome if we examine the human experience of time, taking into account the three soul abilities mentioned in Chapter 1. A human being is in the present, but from this vantage point the future, present and past are experienced in quite different ways. He or she is able to act, that is, to use his or her volition in the present to influence future events, which he or she cannot predict with certainty. This unpredictability has been confirmed by twentieth century science, as we shall see in the next chapter. As a result, the future appears to be "dark" for the human being. The possibility of action dies when the future becomes the present; he or she will then tend to have the strongest feelings about the results of the actions performed, such as feelings of satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, or pleasure or remorse. It is even possible that to have such strong feelings about the future or the past is mentally unhealthy. A human being can see the past, have knowledge of it and so reflect on it with the greatest amount of clarity using his thinking ability; the past however, unlike the future, is dead. What is known about the past is used to think about the future, in so far as this is possible. When we think about the nature of the human experience of time, we can see that we are not making an arbitrary division of the soul when we refer to the three soul abilities. They appear to be basic in the nature of the world. Time is fundamentally a soul experience. This true nature of time has not, until now, been taken into account by physics. My manner of looking at time is inspired by Rudolf Steiner, especially a lecture he gave on November 27, 1920, published as part of a series called "The Bridge Between the Universal Spiritual and the Physical Constitution of Man. Freedom and Love. Isis Sophia" (volume 202 of his collected works), in which he relates time to the three soul abilities.
It is also interesting to note that the English language relates willing to the future. In the future tense of verbs, the word "will" is used. For example, the reader of this book will, after reading this section of chapter 2, perhaps eat a meal or fall asleep!
This soul nature of time is also connected with another aspect of Rudolf Steiner's teachings. In his book "How to Know Higher Worlds", he describes a path of spiritual development which leads to the possibility of having perceptions of the spiritual nature of higher invisible worlds and the attainment of spiritual knowledge. He contends that his statements can be verified by using these methods. At a certain stage of this development, the soul abilities (thinking, feeling, willing) become independent of each other, which results in great dangers if the true self is not strong enough to master such a situation. This can be compared to the fact that under the influence of certain drugs human perception of the order of events in time is disturbed and a kind of temporary madness can set in. This madness would, in view of our considerations about time, appear to be connected with a separation of the three soul abilities in what is clearly a very dangerous and dubious way of having experiences of higher worlds.
One other aspect must now be emphasized. The human way of looking at time can only be true and represent reality if the universe is not completely predictable, that is, if acts of will can influence future events. As we shall see, twentieth century science has in fact found that the world is not completely predictable. There is then at least a possibility of will being able to act meaningfully. This need not only involve human will; it is conceivable that the wills of other beings also act to influence events in such a partially unpredictable world. It is with this kind of question, combined with how a new science can be based on the soul abilities, that we shall be concerned to a large extent in the rest of this book.
To be continued in the next issue of SouthernCross Reveiw
© 1999 Michael Friedjung
Michael Friedjung was born in 1940 in England of Austrian refugee parents who had escaped from the Nazis. He was already deeply interested in science at eleven years of age, and uniting science and spirituality eventually became his aim. He studied astronomy, obtaining a Bsc in 1961 and his Phd in 1965. After short stays in South Africa and Canada, he went to France in 1967 on a post-doctoral fellowship and later was appointed to a permanent position at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in 1969, where he is now Research Director. After living with the contradictions between official science and spiritual teachings, he began to see solutions to at least some of the problems, which are described in this book.