Saturday, 26 July 2008

THE RISING OF A CURTAIN - In Which Post Miss Selena Blows A Raspberry At Bertrand Russell.


“I have not reached my peak until I can look down on myself and my stars”
Zarathustra III - The Wanderer



To escape the epistemological paradox of a universe with no edge in space,
no beginning or end in time, lies not within the scope of human intelligence.
For even though the human mind acknowledges the concept of infinity (chiefly
because of the greater difficulty of entertaining that of limited space), it
cannot arrive at infinity by reason. Not only is the truth not ascertainable -
as indeed the idealist philosophers have always held - by the rational process,
but every such process - in view of the twentieth century - is of necessity
hypothetical.

Indeed, there is a succession here from men like Locke, Berkeley, Hume,
Kant and Schopenhauer, or Fichte, Hegel and Heidegger, etc., to the ideas of
many contemporary philosophers of science. Nor was this the final word on the
matter. Nature, it now emerged, was not of a mechanical order. There was
something inherently uncertain in the fabric of reality itself. The word vividly
expresses the process. In fact, it is impossible to state adequately the sheer
force and consequence of the Uncertainty Principle after the invention of quantum mechanics by Heisenberg and Schrödinger in 1925 and 1926. Beginning, perhaps, with Faraday, Maxwell, Hertz, and Lorentz etc., Max Planck, already in 1900, had discovered the formula for black-body radiation involving the new constant h. Rutherford and Soddy, in 1903, advanced the theory
of ‘spontaneous disintegration’. Einstein hypothesized the light quantum in 1905. Niels
Bohr’s 1913 theory of the structure of the atom anticipated quantum mechanics
for the first time. Einstein in 1915, succeeded in incorporating gravitation in
his theory of general relativity. Like Picasso in the history of modern art, he
takes on an enormous, unavoidable presence in the annals of twentieth-century
physics. The millennial feat by which de Broglie first suggested that electrons may have the properties of waves was performed in 1924. This was followed by Pauli’s exclusion principle, formulated in 1925 when Dirac also predicted the existence of the
positron.

There is but a sense of genius - of irresistible magical
powers - about twentieth century physics at its zenith, accompanied, perhaps, by
an underlying foreboding that we could manipulate reality as if it were a
fantasy. Like a look from another world the effect on the twentieth century of
the new physics defies any exact examination. Though no exact date can be
applied to it, it was the rising of a curtain. And if we wish to understand the
most charismatic and pervasive of scientific revolutions, we can hardly get
closer to it than this handful of men who were at that time of an entirely new
mind-set. In the eyes of many, their genius and proficiency put them at the apex
of human evolution. What passed largely unnoticed was Bertrand Russell's
premature pronouncement that the history of human knowledge was in the process of completion. In the closing stages of the century in which he came of age, it sounded like an epitaph.



Perhaps the grand manner is unsuited to the rendering of plain physical
objectives, but nothing was ever to be quite the same. For the sceptic who
affects to ignore the ultimate metaphysical problem and fancies that the end of
knowledge is the end of all meaning, takes no account of the fact that meaning
is never single-minded, that it always contains the next source of conflict.
While one puzzle is being solved, new ones are being born. Things change, said
Chesterton, because they are not complete. They accommodate themselves to every
single query the mind of man can possibly devise. From Aquinas to Nietzsche men
are unanimous: nothing is ever allowed to lapse into stasis. Or as a modern
physicist somewhere remarked, the universe is made of processes, not things. It
is transitory, in other words, and therein lies its real significance.


Dreamy



11 comments:

Dick Madeley said...

Nothing profound to say, Selena, but I think one of your best pieces.

Dick Madeley said...

I should add that I meant to say that I haven't anything profound to say (do I ever) whereas your piece was packed with profundity. Overflowing with the stuff.

Selena Dreamy said...

Ahh, Richard, you have a way with words... not your type of topic, I know. Thanks for being kind.

D.

Jonathan said...

What sumptuous lips! Just what I needed here in the desert. Thank you! I trust we are all similarly happy.

I'd have chosen a strawberry, but no matter. Preference is subjective.

"For even though the human mind acknowledges the concept of infinity (chiefly
because of the greater difficulty of entertaining that of limited space), it
cannot arrive at infinity by reason."

So true. I think this may be because of the innately oppositional, either/or, dialectical processes innate to our reason. Maybe a different type of reason could compass the infinite? A Pre-Socratic reason? Something more expansive and Edward de Bono.

"There is but a sense of genius - of irresistible magical
powers - about twentieth century physics at its zenith, accompanied, perhaps, by
an underlying foreboding that we could manipulate reality as if it were a fantasy."

Yeah. Obviously as a non-physisist I can only address these matters as an observing, speculating layman (there is something very undemocratic about science is there not?:))

Anyway, But maybe we only marvel at our own powers because of our instinctive, interiorised allegiance to the reductionist, soulless tradition that science has rooted itself in since the 17th Century, which had told us not to expect such uncharterable developments.

Shamans and medicine men and magicians from the past did not doubt the powers they could marshall over nature. The ‘Enlightenment’ rationalistic worldview says, nay loudly declares, that tales of all that are bunkum, because they have to be on the basis its own mechanistic preemises. Now those
premises today deconstruct. So we feel giddy, perhaps.

The organic, fully alive majesty of the universe that surrounds and interpenetrates us is nothing new.
It's just that science is throwing off spiritless mechanality from within, at the theoretical level – for now…showing us the errors of our original scientific axioms regarding nature as a lifeless machine governed only by inexorably impersonal, (i.e uninfluencable)laws.

Well that's my non-physisist's
view on things.

Great Post Selena!

All Shook Up said...

Ver good, Dreamy. It's making me think - I haven't had this much fun since I was a spliffed up student. Usually, we went on to the ouija board once we'd got infinity sorted. What more can I say.. thanks for clearing it up for me..

Selena Dreamy said...

...the ouija board! - a case of 'ideo-motor action', I‘ve been informed.

Personally I think the spliff produces equally fascinating and potentially even more spooky manifestations - in my case, at any rate :)

D.

Selena Dreamy said...

“I think this may be because of the innately oppositional, either/or, dialectical processes innate to our reason.”

Absolutely, Jonathan. I think you may just have anticipated my next post. Looks like we’ll soon be seeing eye to eye after all...

“our instinctive, interiorised allegiance to the reductionist, soulless tradition that science has rooted itself in ....regarding nature as a lifeless machine governed “


Ooops, on second thoughts, that, it seems to me, is a misjudgement of astonishing proportions. Looks like we have a long way to go together yet....

...fabulous! Looking forward to it...

Dreamy

Jonathan said...

'that, it seems to me, is a misjudgement of astonishing proportions.'

How exactly? You should not get all lunar like that and leave me dangling like that, like a teased thing:) How do we disagree? How do I know you don't misunderstand me?

Where lies my error that you so confidently and yet so whimsically scorn?

Are you saying that Science since Newton had not predominantly viewed nature mechanistically - as a fixed object external to us which it was our role to chart and measure?

Jonathan said...

I was trying to account for the modern minds uneasiness with the revelations of quantum mechanics that u alluded to, thats all..seeking to imply that there's no justification to feel uneasy really. That we only do so becasue we'd learned to think about reality in the wrong way in the first place, and were merely passing through an experience of challenge and correction. Quantum mechanics expose that error to us, even though we may not acknoweldege it.

Fancy thinking one is separate from the world that surrounds one, that subject is different from object...? Bonkers.

I think the difference between u and me is that you think humanity is the sole creator of the universe, or reality, as it were (or at least as it relates to us?); while i see humanity as a co-creator of the same...which keeps a transcendednt God or other in t he picture too. A figure that (possibly) offends your desires for cosmic autonomy?

But we do both agree anyway (I think) that the old models of conceiving our epistemological and existential relationships to the universe ( we as passive, reactive players)are flawed.

Unless I mistake you(possibly having been too preoccupied with those lips...?)

All Shook Up said...

Hiya Dreamy... I think I might have to leave you to slug it out with Jonathan at this point. Not that I'm not fascinated, but it's all so far beyond my knowledge and understanding of the subject that I either find myself disagreeing from a viewpoint of knowing ignorance - or agreeing out of a respect for your own deep knowledge of the subject.

Here's where I am.... I'm stuck with the notion that things are inevitably as they appear, despite theoretical arguments to the contrary which are always advanced by people with brains the size of Jupiter, like Einstein, Heidegger, Schoenhopper (-burg, -hauser, -digger -whatever) whom I don't dare to disagree with. But.. if I draw a circle with my compasses - damn me, it's a circle despite the fact that one of the above is sure to tell me that if I keep on slicing it into halves, it will reach an infinitesimal point where it is neither a dot nor not-a-dot. Despite the fact that if it's a design for an arch. it will ALWAYS bear the weight of the masonry above it.

I'm just about to go out and sow some pansy seeds. They will, by an almost miraculous process that bio-science is light-years away from understanding, let alone replicating, come up as pansies as described on the packet. Subject to a slight variation in soil conditions, the same will happen if you sow a packet where you are. Or anyone, anywhere except perhaps (just perhaps) in distant galaxies where laws of nature we have no way of knowing might govern their behaviour (I suppose I'd better add in the spirit of the discussion).

I'm sure this is a simplistic and naive way of understanding phenomena, but it serves me as well as I need it to. Bugger parallel universes - we are where we are. In my experience, things are just what they are, waiting to be discovered AS they are. No need to go as far away as distant galaxies for an example when America was there, much as it is now, before Columbus went over to discover it. His 'consciousness' didn't have any bearing one way or another unless we count his willingness to look and think beyond the horizon.

Thanks for taking me with you this far.. sorry I can't come any further alongside you but I shall follow in the wake of your expositions with great interest and a willingness to be enlightened when my brain stops aching with the effort.

Re's, A.

Selena Dreamy said...

"Despite the fact that if it's a design for an arch. it will ALWAYS bear the weight of the masonry above it."

Admirably put!!