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PHYSICS 1978

A.  Physics as of 1978

© Henry A. Flynt, Jr.

This text is extracted in 2006 from “The Crisis in Physics and the Question of a New Science” (1978).  The rest of the old text will be consolidated as (B), (C), and (D).  Numbers in <> are page numbers of the old typescript.  Numbers in [] are the old footnotes, which I choose not to renumber.  Footnotes and other supplements are at the end.

Because ‘universe’ in physics no longer means “everything,” I use ‘Nature’ as a word for everything physics wants to see.  The word deserves to be capitalized; it can’t just be a common noun at this point.

In newly editing the text, it proved irresistable to add comments about what the succeeding thirty years added to the the state of affairs in 1978.  I have woven some skimpy comments into the old text, usually italicizing them.  Numbers with bullets refer to postscripts in which I second-guess myself at greater length.

                        No proud tower of human thought can remain unshaken by the greatest crisis one can name in the history of science:  neither mathematics nor logic, neither philosophy nor physics.—J.A. Wheeler [1]

Part I:  Introduction

                        By 1978, physicists had revived the hypothesis of the creation of the universe in finite past time.  They expanded on this hypothesis by theorizing that time itself began at the creation; that all conservation laws were violated in the creation; and that the creation is a barrier at which the methodology of physics fails absolutely.  Jastrow interpreted this result as a scientific proof of the existence of God. [2]  Wheeler called this result the greatest crisis of all time in physics—in the 1973 Gravitation textbook, no less. [3]

                        There is another excerpt from Wheeler which my 1978 text printed toward the end, but which needs to be here, at the beginning, to remind us what physicists think their discipline is about.

                        Physics is by definition that which does go on its eternal way despite all the shadowy changes in the surface appearance of reality.  Some day a door will surely open and expose the glittering central mechanism of the world in its beauty and simplicity. … some principle uniquely right and uniquely simple must, when one knows it, be also so compelling that it is clear the universe is built, and must be built, in such and such a way, and that it could not possibly be otherwise.  [48] 

This is also from the 1973 Gravitation textbook.  As soon as this is said, we have to follow up by saying what physics means by “Nature.”  Nature is an inhuman ideal mechanism lying behind a veil of perceptions.  This is hardly neutral culturally.  •A1

                        To continue with 1978, and with the creation and the epistemological crisis.  Given that every development in physics is tentative, these sensations may subsequently go by the board.  That line was a saving grace in the 1978 essay—I was cynical enough to realize that the physicists might merely be dramatizing, and that the great pronouncements of physics were here today and gone tomorrow.  Nevertheless, these sensations would be embroidered on for two decades before being swept aside.  •A2

                        What is important here is that these sensations focus attention on an entire aspect of physics which is significantly different from the aspects portrayed in the amateur and student literature of the subject.

                        In the first place, there is an entire body of research in theoretical physics which is metaphysical.  Since the vernacular gives that word different meanings, and since we will rely heavily on the word, let us take a moment to explain what we mean.  For us, metaphysics belongs strictly to philosophy and was was first expounded in Aristotle’s treatise of that name.  Metaphysics treats of reality, its substance and scope, addressing questions via speculative reasoning.  A central topic in metaphysics is “the God of the philosophers.”  Other topics are time, causation, possibility.  Orders of being which transcend the tangible or material. 

                        For Aristotle, let it be noted, physics and metaphysics were continuous with one another.  By the twentieth century, a methodological indictment of metaphysics had arisen.  Metaphysical questions are unresolvable.  A metaphysical thesis cannot be falsified by observation.  Moreover, metaphysics multiplies entities; it does not strive for the least extravagant explanation.  Thus, it was considered to be a great advance to declare natural science independent of metaphysics, and to declare metaphysics superfluous.  Science was supposed to have saved us from the morass of metaphyiscs.

                        To say that theoretical physics has taken a turn toward metaphysics, then, says a great deal.  It says that physics ventures onto supernatural territory and answers questions which were formerly questions about the supernatural.  It says that physics engages in untestable speculation about the unobservable.  It says that physics no longer cares about avoiding cognitive extravangance.

                        All the while, physics had decreed that the account of the origin and fate of the universe should directly coalesce with the account of the most minute events or distinctions in nature.  (In other words, it demanded a grand unification.)  That inexorably drove physics further into metaphysical territory. 

                        I gave a 1978 roster of metaphysical submissions in physics in the form of Special References 2a [at the end].  There were plenty of metaphysical submissions after 1978:  Wilczek 1980; Nielsen 1981; Gardner 1985; Harrison 1995.  (See the Supplementary Bibliography.)

                        In the second place, it occasionally slips out—typically in the theoretical research literature—that physics is a collection of rules of thumb founded on sophistry.  If we want admissions by physicists themselves, we have to proceed on a case-by-case basis.  One case is quantum electrodynamics, the unification of quantum mechanics and special relativity.  Leon Cooper says that the axioms of the theory are probably inconsistent [4]; and G. Sparling says that the theory is discredited by the appearance of divergences in it, even if those divergences can be removed by the dodge of renormalization. [5]  David Bohm makes these observations in even stronger language.  Not only does the theory contain what appear to be some serious contradictions; it has arbitrary features which are capable of indefinite adaptation to the facts. [6]  In regard to the parton model, L. J. Tassie says that while the model yields results agreeing with experiment, “It is not pretended that [the model] is logical, self-consistent, or even sensible.” [7]  •A3

                        Further, two long-standing problematic aspects of quantum mechanics are acknowledged.  One aspect is that after fifty years, there is no agreement on what the formalism of quantum mechanics says about the constitution of reality. [8]  Well, that issue would come to the forefront after 1978 and split the profession.  The second aspect is that the zone between the macroworld of classical physics and the microworld of quantum mechanics has not been precisely located, and it is not known what models apply in this zone.  (The biggest revelation in discussions of this latter problem is the extent to which the models of the macro- and microworlds are themselves mismatched to the purported subject-matter. [9])  After 1978, the question of whether we should see quantum effects on the human scale would move to the forefront.  •A4 

                        A further revelation is that experimental results are routinely suppressed because they are silly by the standards of prevailing theories. [10]  For a roster, see Special References 2b.

                                                                                                                                                •

Part II:  Metaphysics

<8>            Let us spell out what we have heralded above.  There is an entire range of theories which are metaphysical and supernaturalist in character—sometimes explicitly so.  These theories do not coincide with the dogmas of any historical religion; but they sometimes provide answers to questions asked in historical religions, and their answers are far more arcane than the dogmas of religion.  •A5

                        The theories mostly arise in two areas of theoretical physics:  cosmology; and the measurement problem in quantum mechanics.  As far as I know, nobody before 1978 has made an inventory of theories in physics on the basis of their common metaphysical character (probably because to do so undercuts the positivist apology for physics).  Physics is betraying its own promises in public view, but doesn’t want that to be noticed.  Since scientific triumphalism owns the channel, it can basically have its way.

                        The metaphysical trend in physics embraces many theories and many sorts of theories.  Because the metaphysical theories are many and diverse, there is no possibility of a facile rebuttal of our judgment that physics has become metaphysical.  Only in one case, that of Ezra Newman’s “Heaven” model, can an issue be made of the physicist’s facetious and irresponsible choice of terminology.  The value of Newman’s model as evidence decreased as it became clear that although it was reputably published, nobody paid any attention to it.  But other developments would afford much stronger evidence, as I keep mentioning.  •A6  Only in two of the cases collected here, those of the creation of the universe and the Heaven theory, do <9> direct comparisons with dogmas of historical religions become an obvious consequence.  And in most cases, it is clear that the metaphysical theories are a part of the substantive content of physics itself (they are not extraneous popular interpretation of physics, as were advanced in the past by Compton and Eddington). [13]

                        The current scientific account of the origin of the universe in finite past time is a testable theory and indeed has won its support on the basis of astronomical observations.  Its extra-naturalist character has to do with the properties of the initial singularity, with the claim that the creation was the beginning of time itself, and with the circumstance that the scientific reconstruction of the past fails absolutely at the singularity.

                        On the other hand, what most of the metaphysical theories have in common is that no way is known to test them empirically, or that they are untestable in principle.  These theories are invoked because of contributions which they supposedly make to physics as a system of ideas.  In some cases, they are theories about theories, that is, attempts to elevate existing theories by the use of advanced mathematical methods in a context in which coherence is the only test of truth.

                        We have mentioned the quest to merge the account of the origin and fate of the universe with the account of the most minute events or distinctions in Nature.  In 1978, the work of Finkelstein, von Weizsäcker, and Castell was notable in this connection.  [14]  Wheeler, following Brandon Carter, revived a vulgarized Hegelianism with his self-reference cosmogony. [15]  Any number of presumably untestable cosmologies involving infinite numbers of universes, non-linear time, etc., have been proposed by Sakharov, Davies, and others.  In particular, Davies’ time-reversal universe has the metaphysical implication that free will is absolutely invalidated.  [16]  Nature is indeed an inhuman ideal mechanism lying behind a veil of illusions.  As it often does, physics takes a position on consciousness without having consciousness in its ontology.

                        The measurement problem in quantum mechanics has placed solipsism on the agenda of physics [e.g. d’Espagnat, Conceptual Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, Second Ed., 263].  It has given rise to a whole literature around Everett’s theory that the universe spits into an infinity of parallel universes.  This theory is explicitly recognized as metaphysical and untestable by d’Espagnat. [17]  What you have to know is that Everett’s interpretation of quantum mechanics is the one that won out.  In his book on Everett’s theory, d’Espagnat also raises the issue of how the possibility of communication among individual consciousnesses is to be guaranteed.  This problem is usually not recognized explicitly in physics, but it certainly is an implicit problem in the assumptions of physics.  d’Espagnat proposes to solve the problem by repudiating positivism completely and accepting the hypothesis of a super-consciousness which monitors all individual consciousnesses.  [18]  Again, the justification for this hypothesis is its contribution to the coherence of physics as a system of ideas.

                        We come to Newman’s “Heaven” model, [19] which is related to Penrose’s twistor theory.  Aside from its irresponsible name, and the fact that it is evidently a theory about theories which is not orientated toward net testable empirical content, the model is of interest here for another reason.  “Heaven” is a four-complex-dimensional manifold with a complex metric.  It may provide the explanation for the ultimate, primordial <10> order of the cosmos.  At the same time, the model is extremely mathematically advanced and non-intuitive.  It is completely dissociated from the space and time which we apprehend experientially or sensuously.  Thus the model utterly mocks our sensuous-active apprehension of the world—inverting the presumptive dichotomy of “real” and ‘imaginary.”  Well, all this was just a pilot project for more extravagant submissions in the twenty-first century.

                        If we limit ourselves to work in the mainstream of physics, such as the work of Finkelstein, Wheeler, and Newman, and leave aside work which could be assigned to a border region of natural philosophy, such as that of d’Espagnat or Grünbaum, the following additional remarks can be made.  The tendency in physics which eventuates in metaphysics was already present at least as far back as Dirac’s theory of the unobservable infinite sea of negative-energy electrons (a theory which by today’s standards is pedestrian).  As of 1978, the tendency has been carried much further.  If there was an era in which physics could not have been called supernaturalist because it was too obviously engrossed in the mechanics of matter, that era is over.  Physics has become an arcane, totalizing discipline which relentlessly mocks the sensuous-active apprehension of the world.  A physicist who is not comfortable with this quality of physics will not even be able to do significant work in the field.  If there is the slightest doubt that physics has become metaphysical, this last consideration settles the issue.

                        We need to be even more emphatic.  It’s not just that physics drifted into metaphysics on a whim.  The logic of their problems has forced them in that direction.  The rational norms secured by positivism have had to be abandoned, whether or not physics was ready to admit as much.  Physico-mathematical science really did turn a corner in the 1970s—whether or not Wheeler or Jastrow was the ideal person to scream it from the rooftops.

                                                                                                                                                •

<11>        Having established that a part of physics as of 1978 is explicitly metaphysical, we need to focus on quantum mechanics in order to make some clarifications as to what physics is not.  We will be concerned  with the quantum mechanics of 1928 [sic], and it is worth noting that the portrayal of early quantum mechanics given by physicists at the frontier of research as of 1978 has major problematic aspects which are not mentioned in the amateur and student literature.  •A7  To the extent that quantum mechanics has an agreed-upon content, that content consists of the manipulation of mathematical formulas (whose variables purportedly refer to measurable quantities) to obtain definite numerical results. [20]  Beyond, that, the fact that quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory of measurables raises two crucial questions about the meaning of the theory.  1) Is reality itself probabilistic, in the sense that, for example, two mutually exclusive states can both be real at the same time?  2) In what sense is reality rightly conceived as dependent on acts of observation? [21]  In the succeeding years, physics pounded such questions like a drum.  What is so important (and what the amateur and student literature does not mention) is that as of 1978 there was no agreement among physicists on these questions; and moreover, that quantum mechanics performs its scientific function without answers to these questions. [22]  Yes, it was called “shut up and calculate.”

                        One may ask, for example, whether quantum mechanics says the following.  If we start from some initial state of a quantum system, purely “objective” phenomena are insufficient to determine which of the probabilistically defined branching alternate states of the system will end up being actualized. <12>  Indeed, for every quantum event with two outcomes which are equally probable within a specified time, the system’s objective constitution incorporates both of two mutually exclusive states at the end of that time.  It is the logically subsequent act of observation which selects one of the equiprobable alternatives as the one that is actualized.

                        One may in addition ask about the following.  Let two human observers be provided.  Let the quantum event be “amplified” so that if it occurs within the specified time, the first observer will be rendered unconscious.  Let this first observer and the quantum system be walled off from the second observer for the entire specified time.  The first or inside observer is thus incorporated within the probabilistic system relative to the second or outside observer.  The result is “Schrödinger’s cat.”  [Also called the cat paradox.]  Relative to the outside observer, the inside observer will be equally conscious and unconscious at the end of the specified time; and will only assume a univalent state when the outside observer looks behind the wall to observe the outcome.  Yet, presumably, the inside observer will know univalently at all times (in half of the cases at least) whether he is conscious or not.  This is the sort of problem of interpretation which quantum mechanics provokes, but on which physicists do not agree.  The problem becomes substantive in quantum cosmology, for when the entire universe is taken as the probabilistic system, any non-supernatural observer at any time will be incorporated within the probabilistic system. [23]

                        Another question refers to the earliest phase of the universe, when (according to 1978 orthodoxy) the universe could have no aspect whatever except those aspects which are the subject-matter of fundamental physics.  “The universe this, the universe that.”  Today it’s about Nature, and it is seemingly an error to say “the” universe.  Wheeler and Weinberg have not apologized for being so wrong about the most basic thing.  The universe was obviously nothing but a superposition of simple oscillators, or something of the sort.  To paraphrase Steven Weinberg, “At the beginning physical phenomena directly exhibited the essential simplicity of nature, but no one was there to see it.”  [24]  How, then, were the acts of observation which quantum mechanics requires for the determination of physical reality supplied?  Quantum mechanics poses this question, but there is no agreement on the answer.  [25]

                        What is appropriate for my purpose is to comment on some crucial claims which have been made for quantum mechanics in this area.  The prototypical claims were those made at the outset by Heisenberg.  In the first place, Heisenberg, influenced by Einstein’s overthrow of absolute motion, and reacting against pictorial models of the atom, proclaimed that physics should be concerned exclusively with establishing the mathematical relationships among the observable invariants in the totality of our experience.  As for mathematical connections which did not themselves correspond to observables, to associate with them a pictorial world of sub-visible entities, or a world of cause and effect, was to “play with paper dolls.”  But these proclamations were not viable:  the subsequent history of physics was a history of violations of Heisenberg’s position.  Einstein’s reply to Heisenberg was that only the theory itself determines what is observable. [26]  What is more, we shall see that physics continues to rely heavily (if not entirely) on “pictorialization”:  here defined as the transfer of models from the sensuously apprehended <13> world, or classical physics, to non-congruous subject-areas, often accompanied by naive realism concerning postulated unobservables.  We shall also see that Heisenberg’s own principle has been massively used as a loophole through which unobervables can be introduced.

                        Far more important was Heisenberg’s claim that quantum mechanics had incorporated the perceiving subject in physics—that, indeed, quantum mechanics started by explicitly unifying phenomena from both sides of the subject-object dichotomy.  [27]  We have concluded, and we agree with those physicists who have concluded, that this claim is a misrepresentation.  Indeed, it is the most mischievous misrepresentation that modern physics has made about itself. 

                        For the purposes of this paper, one of the primary features which defines physics is its relentless exclusion of the awareness of the observer from its subject-matter.  The mischief consists in excluding awareness by claiming to incorporate “the observer”; but by equating the observer with

any macroscopic machine which automatically produces a coded registration of some characteristic signal. [!!!]

Returning to Heisenberg’s original claim, there are any number of physicists who now acknowledge that the “the observer” in quantum mechanics can just as well be a computer. [28]  And a blatant object-lesson is provided by Leon Cooper’s description of a “human mind”—a description which reduces the mind to a quantitative mechanism and eventuates in the notion of

a reversible simple mind. [29]

                        Some physicists have, in the 1970s, extended the claim that physics should deal or does deal with the observer’s awareness.  We have already mentioned Wheeler’s self-reference cosmogony, which evidently says that the physics of the universe is determined by a foreordained quest for self-awareness.  One can only feel embarrassment at Wheeler’s attempt to solve the problem of subject and object by a comic-book drawing of an enormous eye growing out of the universe on a long stalk and gazing intently back at the universe.  [30]  Again a caution:  it’s no longer “the” universe.

                        Then, Finkelstein has expanded the claim that quantum mechanics already deals with awareness.  Finkelstein claims that quantum mechanics deals directly with the flux of sensuous concreteness—that it is the culmination of Buddhist logic, Blake, and the late Wittgenstein.  He claims that quantum mechanics dispenses with models and instead works with plans of action. [31]  He claims that quantum mechanics aleady incorporates the conscious subject in the Dirac formalism. [32]  What we have said about Heisenberg should provide a hint of the shattering unrealty of these claims (a hint that will be underlined as we proceed).  For Finkelstein to imagine that such a monograph on particle physics as Fiber Bundle Techniques in Gauge Theories [33] is a transcription of the flux of sensuous concreteness just shows that physicists have drowned in objectifying alienation.  A much more accurate picture of the attitude of particle physics to consciousness is given by Weinberg’s statement that when the universe exhibited its essential simplicity, no one was there to see it.  (The perceiving subject was absent not only from the ontology of physics, but from the universe as well.)  It is this ultimate disdain for awareness which actually underlies the physicists’ enterprise.  •A8

                                                                                                                        •                    •                        •

Part III:  Congruity

<14>  The preceding part treated the commitment of 1970s physics to theories which have a metaphysical or supernaturalist character.  I did not mean to imply, however, that because physics is committed to these theories, the contents of the theories accord so perfectly with the reality of the cosmos that the theories are beyond rational disbelief.  On the contrary, at the same time that supernaturalist pretensions have appeared in physics, it has become increasingly apparent that the intrinsic rationale of the purported subject-matter is not contoured to the sort of “laws” which physics is capable of “discovering.”  The case can be made within the framework of physics that there is an irremediable disparity between the rationale of the models of physics and the rationale of the purported subject-matter.  The theoretical edifice of physics has become obviously jerry-rigged and dependent on sophistry.  In fact, while physicists may claim that their purpose is to find a satisfyingly simple key to Nature, the course of the development does not show that at all.  Unless they take advantage of their monopoly of the channel and misrepresent as some of them do about “consciousness.”

                        A.  The objection, then, is that the purported subject-matter of physics is not contoured to the theoretical models.  Here we will speak of how the state of play reflects that—allowing the affirmative characterization of the subject-matter to be a black box in the discussion.  The affirmative characterization of the subject-matter will be deferred to (B), since it is not a state-of-play issue.

                        If one knows a lot about positivism, a little about  Heisenberg, and nothing about physics—and if one is suspicious on principle of all attributions of reality to intangible phenomena—one may propose to take the equipment and activity of the experimenter as the ultimate subject-matter of physics, the immediate from which there can be no appeal.  In fact, there are apologists of science who are willing to hide behind an empiricist ideology, and to claim that physics is a simple  collation of observations.  [34]  Heisenberg introduced matrix mechanics with a program that physics should only refer to observables—and continued this program in 1943 with S-matrix theory.

                        But note that matrix mechanics already utilized acknowledged unobservables—the matrix elements.  Then, S-matrix theory has been generally recognized to be inadequate.  •A9  More important, what Heisenberg meant by “observables” are themselves abstractly conceived phenomena which are not apprehended sensuously.  Indeed, the formalism of quantum mechanics says that every self-adjoint operator in the Hilbert space referring to a system of measuring equipment is an “observable.”  Nevertheless, only a very small restricted class of these self-adjoint operators corresponds to physical observables even in a figurative sense. [35]

                        What must be recognized is that the radical affirmation of the concrete is hopeless as a direction for physics.  From the beginning, physics has been conceived in terms of generic or abstractly defined phenomena such as perfect spheres, frictionless planes, and unlimited expanses of empty space.  It has been fundamental in physics to collate sensuously disparate phenomena (such as diamonds and graphite) by insisting that they have an intangible but pictorializable common structure (the carbon atom).  A physical hypothesis can have innumerable sensuously disparate experimental <15> realizations, which are collated by appeals to intangible phenomena.  Experimental design is totally controlled by theory.  Physics has been potentiating this approach for centuries.  It cannot now abandon this direction and still remain physics.

                        No matter how tangible and intimidating a particle accelerator may be, when it is viewed purely as a tangible apparatus to be subjected to human sensuous manipulation, it is senseless, and might as well be a junkyard.  It has no autonomous rationale.  Further, it is not at all true that physics treats concrete experimental results as immediates from which there can be no appeal.  On the contrary, physicists routinely suppress observations which are silly by the standards of prevailing theories; and observations which were considered silly but were reported anyway have been rehabilitated speculatively decades later.  [36]  The experimental physicist has to decide with respect to every observation made whether to believe it or not and whether to report it.

                        Our conclusion is as follows.  The only tangible and intimidating candidate for the ultimate subject-matter of physics is the equipment and activity of the experimenter.  And experiment has been invoked as the subject-matter of physics both by apologists of science and by Heisenberg’s research program.  Nevertheless, experimental activity in physics has been assembled totally under the control of theory, with the result that experiment of itself signifies nothing and has no direction.  Experiment of itself makes less sense than children playing in a junkyard.  The nominalistically most plausible candidate for the subject-matter of physics has no autonomous rationale at all.

                        (We will make a comment on particle experiments as a supplement to our general remarks.  The form taken by the experimental data is that of millions of pictures of tracks.  At one level of interpretation, a track on a picture yields the following information:  the time the track was made; momentum; velocity; and information about the track’s position relative to other tracks.  Beyond this data, a large amount of information is imputed, in connection with the event, which is not supported by any trace on the detection devices.  Unobservable particles are imputed to satisfy conservation laws—yet as we shall see, theoretical physics makes an equivocal use of conservation laws.  Further, entire events which precede the detected event are often imputed in the interpretation.)

                        B.  We next view the issue of the lack of congruence between the theoretical models and the purported subject-matter of physics from a different angle.  There is a tendency for new branches of pure mathematics to turn up in the theoretical physics of a few decades later.  The appearance of non-Euclidean geometry, and of group theory in quantum mechanics, are examples.  Non-Euclidean geometry was developed on the understanding that it was an exercise in pure thought which was belied by the real world; so that there is no question of its development being motivated by physicists’ <16>  needs.  As for group theory, a physicist preoccupied by the success of group-theoretic models in the Sixties said  “ … why I think that God is a group theorist.  The answer is all around us—in snowflakes, flowers, galaxies.” [37] What this citation underlines for us is the elementary character of group theory.  Yet group theory was discovered well after the first application of calculus in physics, and then by pure mathematicians; and it was not applied in physics until a century after its discovery. The linked development of pure mathematics and physics does not show an understandable progression from the elementary to the advanced.  What we do find, though, is that a branch of pure mathematics discovered in a given period turns out to be indispensable to the modeling of the physical observations of a few decades later, but can make no contribution to modeling the physical observations of earlier periods.  Nature’s disclosures are timed to correspond to the succession of fashions among modern Western mathematicians.

                        It has been suggested that there is nothing suspect in the link we have pointed out.  The relationship is simply that when experimental data are found which cannot be handled by existing mathematical methods, they are bypassed or ignored until the necessary advances are made in pure mathematics.  However, the references cited in this paper, mostly surveys published in the early 1970s, contain models which employ such topics and concepts as graph theory, local algebra, orthomodular lattice, covering group, homology group, category theory, sheaf theory, fiber bundle, spectral sequence, and symplectic manifold.  These topics were all fashions in the pure mathematics of the generation just previous; and no doubt the monographs and journal articles in physics in the early 1970s would show an even more comprehensive correspondence with the fashions in pure mathematics of the generation just previous.  The notion that a body of experimental data has lain around for decades or centuries so that it can step forward and attach itself to just this inventory of mathematical techniques one generation after they become prominent is stretching coincidence too far.  No matter what becomes the fashion in pure mathematics, a subsequent experimental observation will inexorably require its application.

                        Thus, if we accept that physics is a faithful record of the order of the cosmos, then we must believe that the order of the cosmos continually metamorphoses to yield new phenomena which correspond to recent fashions in academic mathematics.  (Incidentally, physicists do not have enough of a historical sense to make this observation.  Rather, as the above quote about group theory shows, they assume that the fashion which preoccupies them is correct, and disregard earlier—and later?—fashions as misconceptions.)  Moreover, physics is based on a commitment to the effect that reality excludes the awareness and the interests of the human observer.  Yet the cosmic reality is supposedly rearranged continually to correspond to human academic fashions.  (Would the real laws of physics, then, disclose a mathematical structure correlated with human psychology which generated the changing order of the cosmos?)  It is implications such as these which make the claims of physics increasingly implausible.

<17>        (There is, we might add, another explanation for the situation which does not require a divine rearrangement of the cosmos for the benefit of new Ph.D. mathematicians.  It is typical for the models of theoretical physics to be tested against the data at only a few points.  There is a mass of structures and connections in the models which are never tested.  If the standards of concordance between model and subject-matter in physics are superficial enough, then any abstract scheme can be made to represent any data.  The explanation for the way mathematics is utilized would be that physicists are simply forcing whatever subject-matter they come up with into fashionable models.  Of course, to accept this explanation is to concede that the correspondence between theory and subject-matter in physics is merely cursory.)

                        C.  Continuing our examination of the lack of congruence between models and purported subject-matter in physics, we now turn to a direct consideration of certain models themselves.  Actually, as we indicated near the beginning, the advanced literature already contains various acknowledgements of the immanent weaknesses of contemporary models.  From time to time, accredited physicists recognize that contemporary models obtain their successful predictions by the massive use of sophistry, including inconsistency as well as the endless rigging of theories ad hoc.  Up to a point, the immanent objections made by accredited physicists are entirely similar to our own, so much so that here we will do little more than underline them.  As for the issues in the critique of physics which transcend isolated objections, they concern intellectual politics as much as anything.  Why have physicists not assembled the various isolated objections into a systematic critique?  Because of Francis Bacon’s principle that science has to put its best foot forward to avoid Scholastic sterility.  Also:  why do physicists who make perceptive criticisms propose, as alternatives, answers of the same species as those they find unsatisfactory?

                        We begin with quantum electrodynamics.  The advanced literature contains a number of trenchant critiques of this theory, acknowledging that it is inconsistent and that it yields infinite solutions which have to be corrected ad hoc. [38] These critiques stand in  sharp contrast to the earnest, unqualified portrayal of the theory in the amateur and student literature.  Formerly, we mentioned the misrepresentation involved in the claim that quantum mechanics deals with the subjectivity of the observer.  Here we remark that the portrayal of quantum electrodynamics in the amateur literature is another serious misrepresentation, and probably a more conscious one.  Despite the cliche that the scientific attitude is a critical one, most physicists conceal their doubts rather than publicizing them.

                        We cited L. J. Tassie’s acknowledgment of the flaws in the parton model in the first section of this paper. [39]  Concerning another body of particle theory—dispersion theory and Regge theory [‘regge’ subsequently became a common noun in theoretical physics]—Mandelstam acknowledges that models of this species are all unsatisfactory due to the presence in them of particles with negative decay probabilities or imaginary-valued mass. [40]  Another species of explanation which we find unsatisfactory is recognized by Telegdi when he says that the muon quantum number is a circular explanation which explains only itself.  [41]

<18>        A vigorous and more sweeping critique of contemporary model-making is provided by Phipps. [42]  Phipps censures quantum electrodynamics for positing that particles are created and annihilated for no physical reason other than that energetics does not forbid it.  He also censures the practice of assembling mathematical entities ad hoc to “explain” a phenomenon, and then reifying those entities—“thereby literally manufacturing physics out of our own mathematics.”  Unfortunately, Phipps goes on to present as an alternative a theory which revives Dirac’s infinite sea of negative-energy electrons, and he also posits states of imaginary-valued momentum.  Published physicists say that the discipline needs to be reconstructed; on the other hand, their remedies are more of the same.

                        Let us return to two older problems with quantum mechanics which we have mentioned.  First, the zone between the macroworld of classical physics and the microworld of quantum mechanics has not been precisely located, and it is not known what models apply in this zone.  The biggest revelation in discussions of this problem is the extent to which the models of the micro- and macroworlds are themselves mismatched to the purported subject-matter. [43] Secondly, the formalism of quantum mechanics says that every self-adjoint operator in the Hilbert space referring to a system of measuring equipment is an “observable.”  Nevertheless, only a very small restricted class of these self-adjoint operators corresponds to physical observables in any sense. [44]

                        Let us attempt to state these objections at a more general level.  The most characteristic approach in devising a model in post-classical physics is ‘pictorialization”—though the approach may be obscured by the presence of novel mathematical apparatus.  By pictorialization we mean the transfer of a model from the sensuously apprehended world—or more precisely, from classical physics—to a new subject-area, even though there is no reason to suppose that the two subject-areas have congruous intrinsic rationales.  When the model is transferred, it is given ad hoc modifications until its predictions agree with the few observations which define the new subject-area.  (From then on the model is proclaimed a law of nature in the amateur literature.)  When a subsequent observation conflicts with the model, the model is as likely to be again corrected ad hoc as it is to be repudiated.

                        Another species of explanation in contemporary physics is represented by circular theses, theses which say that things work for the things they work for.  As of 1970, physics proclaimed a number of conservation laws, then allowed them to be violated … and allowed different laws to be violated by different forces.  Isospin conservation was violated by the weak and electromagnetic forces; but conservation of isospin projection, parity, and strangeness was violated by the weak force only.  Other examples of circular explanations were the explanation of the stability of the proton by the law of baryon conservation; the vicissitudes of the lepton number(s); and the so-called strangeness theory of the 1950s.

<19>        There is more to be said about the invocation of conservation laws in physics.  The existence of the neutrino and other particles is posited for no other reason that they are required to prevent violation of the conservation of energy (and other conservation laws) in detected particle collisions.  At the same time, quantum electrodynamics posits particles which violate the conservation of energy—particles whose existence is excused because they exist so briefly that they are guaranteed to be unobservable by Heisenberg’s principle. Thus, the principle of conservation is wielded in opposite directions to yield the existence of two classes of unobservable microphenomena.  And Heisenberg’s principle (which may have seemed a daring affirmation of the concrete) is mainly used now in reverse to allow an elaborately structured realm of entities which are unobservable in principle.

                        There is a small point having to do with the propaganda of physics which is worth making here.  Another approach to devising models in physics is through symmetry considerations.  Occasionally a symmetry model will predict the existence of a new particle, which is then discovered.  The symmetry argument is acclaimed as a miraculous insight into the order of Nature.  Then other phenomena are found which make the inventory of particles non-symmetrical again.  But physicists never retract their acclaim for the prescience of the symmetry argument. They never acknowledge that its successful prediction was the result of a mistake.

                        So much for the state of play.  My conclusions are in other texts in this series, beginning with (B).

Postscripts 2006

•A1          Who invented this “Nature” and made a sacred cow out of it in the first place?  The question has an answer:  the Italian Vanini. 

As to Wheeler’s pronouncement, a remark by Einstein serves to illustrate further.  When asked what if experimental measurements did not confirm his theory, Einstein replied:  “I would feel sorry for God.  My theory is correct.”  Max Jammer, Einstein and Religion.

•A2          In the next ten years, the picture became more lurid.  Martin Gardner’s review of two physics popularizations in 1985 pushed the most touchy issues to the forefront.  Also Wilczek 1980; Nielsen 1981; Harrison 1995.  d’Espagnat was still engaging in the by-now-passé handwringing in 1995, in Veiled Reality.  See the Supplementary Bibliography.

As of 2006, we know that physicists extricate themselves from the touchy issues of the 1970s and 1980s.  The scientific method is rescued by repudiating the fact of the unique creation, etc.  But there is a discrepancy here which I hammered on in “How Physics Doctrine etc.” (2005).  If there weren’t any unique creation and any crisis, then some very prominent physicists were very wrong.  All the same, physics does not write its history as a series of failed revelations.  (Heaven help any student marooned on a desert island who tried to appraise physics on the basis of all the latest things as of 1978.)

Then, the new “multiple universe” physicists don’t say what it would have meant to the scientific method if the Wheeler of the 1970s had been factually right.  In other words, supply a more grandiose speculation that gets rid of “uniqueness,” and then the question of principle posed by uniqueness can be forgotten.

•A3          The parton model was eclipsed by quark chromodynamics, but incredibly, is still in play, being used to explain some aspects of short-distance interactions.  One more illustration of the patchwork character of the Nature-portrait.

•A4         The venerable Wheeler would have his name on a 2001 article on the subject!  Max Tegmark and John A. Wheeler, “100 Years of Quantum Mysteries,” Scientific American, February 2001.

•A5          Again, the literature after 1978 provided more cases of what I claimed.  Wilczek 1980; Nielsen 1981; Gardner 1985; Harrison 1995.

•A6          I cannot resist mentioning R. Opher’s “dybbuk” model in the journal Foundations of Physics, Vol. 5,  No. 2, page 309.  If this is as ridiculous as it appears, why was it published?

•A7          As an aside, a magisterial history of quantum physics was published in 1994 by S. S. Schweber.  QED and the men who made it   QC680.S34

•A8          It is important to distinguish between whether physicists have a satisfactory account of consciousness (which would seem to be impossible) and whether their theories are compelled to make reference to consciousness.  The latter can very well be true and we should be vigilent to see if they go there.  Wigner’s claim was that a human consciousness has to be brought in.  von Weizsäcker said the same thing.  Even so, my 1978 text was a valuable warning against a lot of mischievous misrepresentation.

•A9          S-matrix theory was being eclipsed by quark chromodynamics in the 1970s.  And yet it is still in play for limited purposes.  Additionally, we may note that in 1971, the leading exponent of S-matrix theory, Mandelstam, objected that it was mere mathematics and not an explanation, in other words, metaphysics.  For a full history, see James Cushing, Theory Construction and Selection in Modern Physics:  The S Matrix.

Supplementary Bibliography:  Must-reads after 1978

Frank Wilczek, “Cosmic Asymmetry” Scientific American, Dec. 1980.  “Why is there anything at all, and not rather nothing?  Because nothing is unstable.”

Frank Wilczek, “Might Our Vacuum Be Metastable?” Nature vol. 298 and page 633 [1982]

H. B. Nielsen, “Did God Have to Fine Tune the Laws of Nature to Create Light?” Particle Physics, 1980 (1981)  QC793.A35 [Andric, Dadic, Zovko, eds.]

Martin Gardner, “Physics:  The End of the Road?” The New York Review of Books, June 13, 1985

Edward Harrison, “The Natural Selection of Universes Containing Intelligent Life,” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1995, page 193

Bernard d”Espagnat, Veiled Reality [quantum mechanics] (1995) QC174.12.E87

Max Jammer, Einstein and Religion

S. S. Schweber, QED and the men who made it   (1994)  QC680.S34

James Cushing, Theory Construction and Selection in Modern Physics:  The S Matrix.

Lisa Randall, Warped Passages

 

PHYSICS 1978

B.  Physics and the Civilization’s Reality-Pictures

This text is extracted in 2006 from “The Crisis in Physics and the Question of a New Science” (1978).  It presupposes (A), the first of the extracted texts.  Numbers in <> are page numbers of the old typescript.  Numbers in [] are the old footnotes, which I choose not to renumber.  Footnotes and other supplements are at the end.

Because ‘universe’ in physics no longer means “everything,” I use ‘Nature’ as a word for everything physics wants to see.  The word deserves to be capitalized; it can’t just be a common noun at this point.

In newly editing the text, it proved irresistible to add comments about what the succeeding thirty years added to the state of affairs in 1978.  I have woven some skimpy comments into the old text, usually italicizing them.  Numbers with bullets refer to postscripts in which I second-guess myself at greater length.

Physics, the ordinary world of fact, and the “social” revolution

                        What of physics as a cultural enterprise in the context of the civilization’s elite reality-pictures? 

                        We will consider mainly the relationship between physics on the one hand, and common sense or the ordinary world of fact on the other.  Every society must have a system of concepts for the ordinary apprehension of the world and ordinary social interaction.  But in the Middle Ages, not to mention primitive society, every ordinary sphere of life was permeated with what we would call uncontrolled superstition and supernaturalism.  What has changed is that today, superstition and supernaturalism are normally considered to be matters of individual opinion. 

                        Common sense, on the other hand, is a core of concepts on which everyone can agree precisely because the uncontrolled superstition has been filtered out of it—with natural science serving as the norm of what is superstitious!!!  As of 1978, common sense means—I say—not just those concepts which are practical, but concepts which are demythologized, secular, and pedestrian.  Astrology, faith-healing, and religious miracles “still” have a following, but they are not part of a civilization-wide consensus.  They are opposed by an official world-view which has placed them on the defensive.  That is what I mean by saying that they are not among the elite reality-pictures.

                        Thus, today’s common sense and today’s world of fact are the consequences of the scientific world-view and the scientific revolution. Strictly speaking, the modern world of fact cannot even be blamed on the capitalist economy—because Marx, Engels, and most of their followers affirm the secular, pedestrian conception of Nature, and hold that it will remain unchanged by the transition from capitalism to socialism.  (One implication is worth stating even though we have not documented it in detail.  The twentieth-century “continental” metaphysicians who expressed misgivings about the new physics, while acquiescing to the practical world of fact and even appealing to the latter in their objections to physics, were quite wrong to suppose that their world of fact was independent of science and scientism.) 

                        The larger implication of these remarks is that <4> any mortal crisis for physics would also be a crisis for common sense and a crisis for the ordinary world of fact.  An official claim that physics has proved, or could prove, the existence of God smashes the justification for conventional secularism: it shows that there can be no moderate refutation of supernaturalism, and nullifies the possibility of a reasonable, moderate atheism.  Similarly if physics now claims that there was a time before all time when there was nothing at all.  What of the laws of Nature before the beginning?  •B1

                        In modern Western culture, there are a number of secularist ideologies which have similar views on the cognition of Nature.  These ideologies hold that the only responsible account of the constitution of Nature is that of natural science.  The understanding of Nature provided by natural science is rationalist, naturalist, and practical.  For these reasons, natural science is the diametrical opposite of superstition, occultism and religious authority.  Natural science is also the diametrical opposite of metaphysics—in the sense of the word which I carefully spell out at the beginning of (A).

                        It follows that science is a natural ally of social progress.  An even stronger conclusion is possible:  that Nature is a stable given, in the sense that if there are any further surprises in our understanding of Nature, those surprises are technical curiosities which exclusively concern professionally indoctrinated specialists.  Our understanding of Nature is not susceptible to being revolutionized from outside the scientific professions.  Physics may ever add new wrinkles—but the academic institution called physics will be the master science of Nature forever more.  In that sense, history has ended.

                        In the work of Marx and Engels, this last notion becomes the notion that the only mutable realm of human existence—the only arena of insurgent change—is the social order.  Marx and Engels assumed that natural science is simply an extension of the sensuous-active or sensuous-practical apprehension of Nature.  It is the priority of the latter that gives “the simple workman” his supreme political authority.  Science makes a naturalist, rationalist revolution against the supernaturalist obscurantism of religion and metaphysics.  These considerations make science the natural ally of socialist revolution.  At the same time, science settles the question of the constitution of Nature by routine technical methods.  In so doing, it removes that question from the realm of the “social” revolution, from the realm of the assault on institutions.  “The world needed a Marx who was not an ‘office’ economist—but the world does not need any physicist who is not an academic physicist.”  •B2

                        To repeat, the course of physics belies this secular-rationalist consensus.  The dividing line between physics on the one hand, and supernaturalism and metaphysics on the other, is erased as physics grinds onward.

                        But that is not all.  The relation of physics to the sensuous-active apprehension of the world—what was the primary realm for Marx and Engels—becomes increasingly problematic.  It is not that physics no longer affects the palpable world.  It is that it does so in a viciously counter-intuitive way which makes a mockery of “the truth of the simple workman at his lathe.”

                        The nightmare of Scholasticism, which had supposedly been banished by modernization, has returned.  But there is more to it than that.  As physics grinds onward, its theoretical edifice becomes more and more obviously jerry-rigged and dependent on sophistry.  It becomes obvious that physics is an expanding patchwork of <5> ad hoc models, which employ far more connective apparatus than is ever tested, and which are not converging to anything.  The claim that Nature has an intrinsic rationale contoured to the sort of “laws” physics is capable of “discovering” loses its plausibility on the basis of internal evidence alone.

                        Let us resume with the central issue:  the relation between physics and common sense.  The supposedly demythologized, secular, pedestrian world of fact is a consequence of the scientific revolution; in particular, it is a vulgarization of classical physics.  At the same time, ever since the Copernican debate, science has seized on data accessible to common sense to argue that reality has an unseen structure which makes a mockery of common sense.  Starting in the twentieth century, physics has carried its mockery of the sensuous-active apprehension of Nature to an extreme.  •B3

                        That is still only part of the story.  Even as science wipes the floor with common sense, and covers common sense with contempt, science never, ever challenges the legitimacy of common sense in the life-world.  [11]  Science does not tamper with the life-world; it only supplements it.  Even when physicists arrive at the conclusion that the door to the physics laboratory is made entirely of empty space, as some do, they do not in the least suggest that students should stop perceiving doors. 

                        The preparation of the apparatus never leaves the realm of common sense.  Indeed, there is much more to it than that.  It is because there are consciousness, language, and free will that science is pursued at all.  Without language, there would be no medium in which to embody physical ideas.  Physics must assume that consciousnesses can communicate with each other via language.  Without free will, there can be no experiments, properly speaking, only the passive observation of the given.  And yet physics has never given consciousness, language, and free will a place in Nature.

                        We may therefore think of science as a fantastic extrapolation of one possibility of common sense in an unbalanced way.  There are two lessons here. 

                        The first lesson is, again, that physics and the pedestrian world of fact are irrevocably yoked to one another.  To say it once more:

i) Science is crucial in stripping vast ranges of “superstition” from the common realm of fact.

ii) Physical experiments are launched from common-sense preparations.

                        The second lesson is that the tendency of physics to become increasingly arcane never shatters the life-world.  It is not only God and soul and love and beauty that most physicists refrain from pronouncing on; physicists don’t delineate the life-world, no matter how much they deride it. 

                        So let me hammer it home.  Physics has carried its mockery of the sensuous-active apprehension of nature to an extreme.  Yet—science never, ever challenges the legitimacy of common sense in the life-world.   If you can see it from without, that is a perfect impasse.  •B4 

                                                                                                                                                •

Secularism and banality

<10>        Every development in physics is tentative, and any of the theories we cite could be forgotten tomorrow.  That was one of a number of lines in the 1978 text which was a saving grace.  I was cynical enough to realize that physics could at any time jettison the theories I was basing my commentary on.  Of course, they would be replaced by even more arcane and grandiose theories.

                        But what is important for our purposes is that physics has completely outrun logical positivism and all other “anti-metaphysical” naturalisms.  Tendencies which were already present in physics by the 1930s, which the positivists chose to ignore, have intensified until they have become prominent in the mainstream of the discipline.  The positivists claimed that supernaturalism and metaphysics on the one hand, and scientific naturalism on the other, are mutually exclusive.  There can be a criterion of meaningfulness which is liberal enough to permit every notion the scientist wants to use, and still exclude metaphysics.  Supernaturalist propositions can never be made interdependent with an empirical inquiry.  But contemporary physics has linked metaphysical theories to its cognitive system.  it has formulated metaphysical propositions in its own language.  In some cases, as with the creation of the universe, it proposes to verify or to falsify supernaturalist propositions empirically.  In other cases, it entertains untestable theories because of their contribution to the coherence of physics as a system of ideas.  In particular, the role of a metaphysical theory may be to rationalize explicitly a hidden metaphysical assumption which physics cannot do without.

                        One of the main tendencies in modern Western thought is the assumption that natural science has provided the basis for a reasonable and moderate secularism—a secularism which can acknowledge the ordinary world of fact and technology, and at the  same time exclude superstition, supernaturalism, and possibly metaphysics.  The moderate secularist feels that it is indispensable to acknowledge the ordinary world of fact and technology.  He or she also feels that it is necessary for the world of fact to be stable in the signal respect that future surprises in that world will be mere technical curiosities.  At the same time, the moderate secularist feels that belief in the phantoms of supernaturalism—in a supernatural Creation, etc.—is superfluous and actively obstructionist.  He or she has a direct sense that to believe in a cosmic Mystery linked to the human fate (let us not even recall Wheeler’s self-reference cosmogony) is to infantilize himself.  Some secularists go further, and reject metaphysics inasmuch as it is defined as speculation about irresolvable issues.

                        In short, the moderate secularist is prepared to treat a certain range of venerable beliefs as expendable.  At the same time, they vehemently avow that the beliefs which constitute the ordinary world of fact are inescapable and indispensable.  If they are an adherent of scientism, they rely on science to provide a sophisticated, institutional justification of the boundary drawn between indispensable and expendable beliefs.  And even if they are not an adherent of scientism (Sartre, Beauvoir?), the demythologized, secular, pedestrian world of fact which they invoke as fundamental is itself a product of the scientific revolution.  (Indeed, it is a vulgarization of classical physics.)  What the turnabout of the 1970s does is to smash the secularist consensus regarding the appropriate roles of credulity and incredulity relative to one another.  The normal progress of research in physics has revealed that a reasonable, moderate secularism is rationally insupportable.

                        What is notable about this manuscript is how thoroughly I wanted to absorb that lesson.  I was not willing to let the civilization make such a dramatic turnabout and pretend that nothing had happened.

                                                                                                                                                •

The epistemology of physics

                        We proceed to some long-standing epistemological features of physics. 

                        We draw on the cases in (A) to reach some conclusions about the basis on which physics accepts models:  as a preliminary to the critique to follow.   <19> 

1.  The model need not be such that it is plausible that the purported subject-matter is contoured to it.

2.  The model is accepted if it can make one or two successful predictions or if it can be modified ad hoc to yield agreement with observation on one or two points.  A model will usually have a mass of mathematical structure or connections which are never tested or used in empirical work.

3. Even if subsequent predictions of the model fail, the model is likely to be retained and to be corrected by further ad hoc modifications.

                        We find physics to be a proliferation of models, each with an elaborate mathematical apparatus, and each of which is used to explain a few observations.  The way the parton model is still in play is an example.  Each new experimental finding is like a hole in an expanding balloon.  Each new model is like a patch over that one hole.  Physicists can go on adding patches forever, but the models do not converge with each other or with the totality of observations.

                        All this prompts an observation about the relation between the purported purposes and the actual purposes of physics.  Physicists regularly declare that their goal is to discover a satisfyingly simple key to the universe. [45]  And some of the research programs we mentioned (in connection with the turn to metaphysics) are nominally directed toward this goal.  Nevertheless, there is not the slightest indication that the <20> repertory of physicists’ models will be reconstructed so as to conform to the requirement of satisfying simplicity.  Physics as a whole remains a enormous patchwork of ad hoc models which are not converging to anything.  Why, then, do physicists indulge the patchwork of models?  Why do they not insist on satisfying simplicity?

                        The answer is obviously that the real priority of physics is to be able to make deductive computations of quantities which agree with experimentally observed values.  Physicists in turn are loyal to this priority because it affords manipulative power over Nature.  As Leon Cooper says about quantum electrodynamics, the theory is accepted because there is incredible numerical agreement between theory and experiment. [46] And as L. J. Tassie says about the parton model, “the important feature of the parton model is that it agrees with certain experimental results.” [47]

                        Let us offer another view of it.  Physics invokes a subject-matter whose rationale is incongruous with the representations which the method of physics is capable of producing.  The points of contact between physicists’ representations and the purported subject-matter cannot be other than cursory and coincidental.  What is at stake is not a succession of approximations to perfection with which reasonable individuals should be satisfied.  The situation is rather that the relation demanded between subject-matter and method has requirements which cannot all be satisfied at once.  When physics invokes its subject-matter, it commits itself to standards of intellectual integrity which it is intrinsically unable to satisfy.

                                                                                                                                                •

The affirmative characterization of the subject-matter

                        Physicists believe that there is an “it” which their models portray, but they do not characterize it other than in asides.  Finkelstein’s groovy vision of physics notwithstanding, it is altogether untenable to define the subject-matter as consisting of the connections within experience, or to conceive of the laws of physics as collations of experience. 

                        If the reader is interested in pretentious offerings which make the conventional wisdom more smug, he or she may consult G. Ludwig’s “The foundation of a physical theory.”  [12]  But Ludwig keys on quantum theory to the point that his definition of physics in general gets swallowed up—or would have to be teased out.  Ludwig starts not from the sensuous-concrete world or from what is given in perception, but from Carnap’s logic of science.  Ludwig’s answers are so classically orthodox that their banality is stifling.

                        Wheeler’s pronouncement from the Gravitation textbook, which we reproduced at the beginning of (A), serves as an archetype.  <21>  The massive human commitment involved in physics would not be made without the belief that physics is progressively uncovering the hidden reality of the universe, d’Espagnat observes. [49]  Well, that’s a real issue:  whether the Establishment would be capable of supporting physics if they believed that it is merely a collection of rules of thumb.

                        We may supplement Wheeler with Phipps’ characterization of the subject-matter of physics as an inhuman, autonomous world. [50]  (Do not forget, though, that at the time Wheeler was invoking the glittering central mechanism of the universe, he was also speculating about a participatory universe co-determined by the human observer. [51]) 

                        We learned from (A) that Nature is an inhuman ideal mechanism lying behind a veil of illusions.—And we have just learned from Phipps that physics concerns an inhuman, autonomous world.  Let us be clear what these affirmative characterizations of the subject-matter are.  They are demands placed by physicists on the “it” which goes ahead of them like the carrot in front of the donkey.  If it wasn’t that “it,” they would pick up their marbles and go home.  Nothing they have ever said or can ever say proves that the life-stream is a veil—with that “it” on the far side.

                        Let us formulate the purported subject-matter of physics in our own words.  This formulation will not be a truism, because physics has the complexity of an institution which has developed without a pre-specified mandatory program.  The quest for conceptual elegance, the quest for predictive power, and the quest for technological applicability both obstruct and reinforce one another.

                        But our task becomes easier when we realize that what we want is a critical definition, one which identifies what physics posits and what physics demands in such as way as to expose resulting dilemmas.

                        Physics admits concrete experiences only as glimpses of an impersonal order of Nature (Nature-in-general).  But physics goes much farther than this.  It posits an objective mechanism of Nature which our apperceptions hide from us, but which must produce our apperceptions as one output.  The mechanism must provide for the lawful succession throughout all time of the states of Nature-in-general.

                        We could stop now—but to do so would be to omit the peculiarities which have brought physics to its recent turnabout.  Ordinary apperception, in conjunction with ordinary language, is paradoxical.  Physics does not confront the paradoxes.  It flees them by positing that the objective mechanism of the universe is non-paradoxical, and by assuming that we can acquire a non-paradoxical language capable of non-paradoxical representation of the mechanism.  This assumption might seem to make the subject-matter of physics more suited to the chosen method.  But is has the opposite effect, because the tidy solutions which the assumption encourages are still expected to generate our untidy existence as one output.  Then, physics posits that the objective mechanism of the universe is ideal, that is, that it is consistent, regular, and measurable.  It must therefore be represented by consistent, regular, measurable simulacra or metaphors.  Again, this assumption might seem to make the subject-matter more suited to the chosen method,  But it does not, because the computed quantities yielded by the ideal simulacra are still expected to agree with our quantified apperceptions.

                        In invoking its subject-matter, physics wants things both ways.  It demands that our untidy existence be generated by an inhuman objectivity which is perfectly tidy.  The research activities of physics, <22> on the other hand, invert this absurdity.  Tidy solutions which mostly do not accord with our apperceptions are agglomerated and contorted to yield a enormous patchwork of sophistries.

                        The foregoing definition begins to suggest why physics gets the results it does, and why physics cannot get the results it demands.  Further, it begins to be apparent how the monopoly of physics as the only naturalist, rationalist research program could be broken.  Physics is a synthesis of many commitments, and this collection of commitments can clearly be varied in all sorts of ways.  This argument is not as crisp as one would want.  I was saying, evidently, that if one takes the life-stream as the norm (without sanitizing it to make it look like classical physics), then the physical simulacra don’t bridge to that life-stream.

                                                                                                                                                •

Boundary failures revealed

                        My characterization of the subject-matter lights up certain boundary failures of physics (as we might call them).

                        1.  Physics may be justified on the grounds that our apperceptions often conflict with themselves in such a way as to prompt the notion of a hidden reality which generates our apperceptions but which also belies them.  The bent appearance of a stick thrust partly under water is an elementary example.  But the conflict in question arises in our conceptualized apperceptions.  Without a context of concepts about sticks, water, sight, etc.—concepts which parallel ordinary language—there is no conflict which demands resolution by the invocation of a hidden structure.

                        2.  Physics posits that the correct relation between the objective mechanism of Nature and the correct language is non-paradoxical, and that we can easily acquire a correct language.  The correct language is conceived as a transparent medium of representation.  Thus, physics never recognizes any refractory problems in language.  Yet ordinary apperception, in conjunction with ordinary language, is paradoxical.  And physics still expects its tidy solutions to “bridge to the life-stream.”

                        3.  Some attempts to analyze the method of physics emphasize the operation of attaching quantitative notions to perceptions; and remark that one’s choice of mathematics imputes unwarranted structure and connections to the perceptions—manufacturing physics out of one’s mathematics, as Phipps puts it.  But this viewpoint conceives of the purported subject-matter of physics in an overly agnostic way.  Physics does not acquiesce to the realm of perceptions and humbly begin to attach numbers to perceptions, one by one.  To suppose that it does takes the life-stream far more seriously than any scientist has ever taken it.  On the contrary, physics sweeps the veil of perceptions aside and demands that we discern an already consistent, regular, and measurable inhuman mechanism behind the veil.  Physics begins with mathematical mechanisms or simulacra—and expects them to generate the life-stream as one output among many.  (So it is that Ludwig begins with Carnap’s logic of science.)

                        4.  Physics demands the discernment of a lawful succession in time of states of Nature—for all time.  We suggest that any science which commits itself to this goal will be driven beyond the discernment of a pedestrian and profane objectivity to a supernatural objectivity.  The genesis and primordial order of Nature will be found to be supernatural in some legitimate sense.  In this connection physics creates for itself a horizon which it can never overmaster.  That might have to be modified to take into account the fashions that supplanted the 1978 fashions, but I’m not ready to concede that I was wrong.

<23>

                        5.  Physics partitions the awareness of the human observer out of reality.  We have already argued at length for this conclusion with respect to quantum mechanics, showing that so far from incorporating the observer’s awareness in physics, quantum mechanics reduces the human mind to an automaton and even to an off-on switch.  We also cited Weinberg’s statement that when the universe exhibited its essential simplicity, no one was there to see it.  In addition, the implication that consciousness is an illusion (or delusion) emerges from the theory of relativity.  According to general relativity, all moments of time exist together.  There is no flow of time or privileged direction of time.  Inasmuch as we experience a flow of time, our consciousness has deluded us and is a loathsome illusion.  By excluding the observer’s awareness, physics again creates for itself a horizon which it can never overmaster.

                                                                                                                                                •

What is a science?

                        Proceeding to ever greater generality, let us offer some thoughts on what a science does.  In the first instance, a science of Nature is a portrait, a representation, of something called Nature, in propositions or formulas.  So, in addition to what we said about this Nature, we must now recognize that Nature is to be portrayed, depicted.

<7>            Every influential “science” compartmentalizes “the world”; and counterposes human faculties or potentialities to one another.  The science then develops some of the compartments and faculties at the expense of others. 

                        One compartment of special interest consists of the phenomena which are acknowledged as immediate:  that is, which require no apology, justification, or excuse, and which are admissible as primary evidence.  (We may add that every culture assumes that some subject-matters are more immediate than others—for example, that it is possible deliberately to deceive other people, and that one does not apprehend all of Nature as direct experience.) 

                        Another characteristic of a “science” which Hennix would emphasize is the purpose which understanding or cognitive mastery serves.  I acknowledge that Hennix’s work provides concrete insights on this question.  However, to focus on declarations of purpose is naive.  At one level, it may be that the purpose of cognitive mastery is apprehended through the prior experience of a crisis, or through the process of acquiring mastery itself.  (Indeed, it seems to me that the compartmentalization which I spoke of implicitly establishes the science’s purpose.)  At another level, declarations of purpose may be highly dishonest, while “actual” purposes may be obscure and only definable relative to a standpoint outside the science in question.  Further, a doctrine is not validated merely by being accompanied by a declaration of purpose, even if that declaration is well-intentioned.

                                                                                                                                                •

The reconstruction of physics:  trial balloons

                        I proceed to some trial balloons regarding the reconstruction or repositioning of physics.  If that seems presumptuous or needless, recall that Finkelstein claimed that quantum mechanics had already accomplished such a repositioning.  Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science adds to the series of such proposals offered by already-renowned scientists.

                        I offer the trial balloons so that they may be shot down.  The material paraphrases what I already said in (A)<5>

                        1a.  There is an obvious way to propose to salvage much of physics as it presently exists.  It is technology which has the power to intimidate those who otherwise scorn physics.  In addition, the experimenter’s apparatus has a tangible realty which cannot lightly be denied.  Thus, why not salvage physics as a hands-on activity from which all problematic theory is simply severed?  [To reconstitute the concepts of physics as a direct rationalization of technology.]

                        This is a dead end.  Despite whatever tangible reality the experimenter’s apparatus may seem to have, experimental physics cannot exist other than in the context of theory.  If we could in imagination strip all theoretical conceptualization from experiment, what would remain would not be the authenticity of the sensuously concrete, but rather an inherently unrationalizable charade. 

                        In addition, physics already is the embodiment of pragmatism and instrumentalism.  Theories are proposed and maintained in physics precisely because they are thought to contribute to the furtherance of pragmatic and instrumentalist purposes.  It does not make sense to claim that quantum electrodynamics portrays the intrinsic rationale of Nature:  it is as a jerry-rigged rule of thumb that physicists accept it.  (The “God” which physics has stumbled across is defined in instrumentalist terms and is a consequence of the pursuit of instrumentalist purposes.)  If we identify the concept of manipulative power with whatever physical technology is best able to do, then it is doubtful that a dynamic, continually progressing instrumentalism can be divorced from the sort of theory to which physics is already committed.

<23>        We offer the following supplementary remarks.  The pragmatic character of physics is closely related to its collation of sensuously disparate phenomena by way of theoretically posited structures—as in the case of diamonds, graphite, and the carbon atom.  If physics were so nominalistic, so close to the concrete, that it could not make such collations, its pragmatic efficacy would be appreciably diminished.  Physics is probably well-adapted to the pragmatic and instrumentalist purposes it has taken as its purview.  A reaffirmation of pragmatism will not produce a new direction in physics. 

                        1b.  One could accept the equipment and activity of the experimental physicist as real, and devise a theory which repudiated all pictorialization and phantom entities, and which described the relations among experimental results in purely mathematical terms.  This proposal was precisely Heisenberg’s program of 1928.  The proposal is totally untenable, for reasons similar to the reasons why a pure pragmatism is untenable.  (We have explained them at length earlier in these texts.)  <24>

                        2.  My other proposal (from 1970) was based on the earlier considerations concerning the subject-matter of physics, and the considerations in (A) concerning the lagged relation between physics and pure mathematics.  The Nature which is portrayed in physics continually changes its primordial structure to yield new phenomena which can only be understood through the pure mathematics of the immediately preceding generation.  I proposed to take a deadpan attitude toward this state of affairs, and to ask “How?” rather than “Why?”  The result, if my proposal were carried through, would be equations for a generative structure correlated with human psychology which yielded the changing order of the cosmos.  One supposes that the world-view implicit in this proposal would be an objectified and mathematically analyzed idealism.

                        To cut the matter short:  these proposals do not help.

                                                                                                                                                •

Physics does not deserve to exist

Too compromised intellectually

<24>        When physics invokes its subject-matter, it commits itself to standards of intellectual integrity which it is inherently unable to satisfy.

i. Physics deploys action-at-a-distance theories, positing the transmission of influence between apparently separated systems.  That’s spooky.  [Wait!  Once you grant that Nature exists, why can’t Nature be spooky?  Who is to say that transmission of influence must be limited to percussive contact or whatever it is called?  Very well, but if you admit that you are spooky, I win!] 

ii. What about the Anthropic Principles? 

iii. As for the boast that physics makes predictions—the catch is that it keeps requiring ad hoc corrections when predictions are tested. 

It is more a matter of triumphal rhetoric than has ever been acknowledged.  Einstein delivered the well-known line “I would feel sorry for God.  My theory is right.”  (Jammer, Einstein and Religion.)  Why does Einstein’s public picture him as a hero for saying that?  As the student of modern physics learns at once, Einstein missed out on a great many of the answers.  Wasn’t it terribly presumptuous of him to say, in effect, empirical considerations be damned? 

                        We may no longer suppose that the scientific method points the direction away from occultism and superstition, and toward demythologization, naturalism, rationalism, and secularism.  Physics cannot be taken as a <25> paragon of the avoidance of occultism and superstition.  The condescension which scientifically indoctrinated individuals express toward the adherents of occultism is completely hypocritical.  And there is a further implication.  Earlier in these texts, we argued that the recent developments in physics show that there can be no moderate refutation of supernaturalism.  What we now find is that for similar reasons, there can be no reasonable, moderate refutation of charlatanism.  Neither physics nor the ordinary world of fact can any longer be the basis for controverting charlatanism.  The Heaven model, anyone?  The dybbuk model, anyone?  Harrison 1995, anyone?

                        Physics can go on forever making new observations and correcting models ad hoc, with the full approval of the powers that be.  That line is another saving grace.  No matter how absurd physics becomes to outsiders, it will never produce a new science by tripping itself up.  Further, nobody will produce a viable new science by making a checklist synthesis, in which all the commitments of physics are listed and then are individually approved or slated for modification.  <ending 25>

                        This argument was rather shaky.  I took it as a prima facie disgrace if physics returned to the supernatural and to metaphysics.  It is likely that most intellectuals today would not disapprove of these developments. 

                        Behind the just-stated objections, I had a shadowy complaint that an incongruity has surfaced between the rationale of the subject-matter and the representations which physics is capable of producing.  And—that physics has not settled accounts with the life-stream.  And—that the actual theoretical system is a patchwork.

                        For the moment, let me put it this way.  Martin Gardner, 1985, and Edward Harrison, 1995, showed that prestigious science was lately entertaining ideas that should have been banished forever.  Ideas which showed that physics could not follow through on its own program, and was forced to open a door which cosmically humiliated it.

Considerations of fulfillment

<26>        I now resume with the “social” revolution, or rather, with the question of human fulfillment.  I probably got some of what I say here from Hennix.  Of course, even if I heard it from Hennix, the choice to repeat it is my responsibility.

                        I have to say something about the present situation of our lives—by which I mean both inherited social relationships and the inherited “determination of reality” embodied in the life-word.  Most people spend most of their time serving tawdry purposes which are imposed on them from “without.”  Their lives are organized so that their goal is individual brute survival (symbolized by money); and so that any possibilities they have for uniqueness, creativity, exploration, affection, or camaraderie are either devoured as means to the end of brute survival or else are repressed altogether.  We are speaking not only of work roles, but of roles in leisure and the family as well.  Most people spend most of their time doing things no rational person would freely do.  What is more ghastly, many people are so abased that they affirm their unfree roles as their essential identities—roles such as tie salesman, actor in cigarette commercials, spouse, or physicist inventing ways to blow people up.

                        With respect to uniqueness, creativity, exploration, affection, and camaraderie as needs in their own right, most people ruthlessly deny these needs, and also fear to probe these needs in themselves.  Further, most people are perpetually isolated from one another as far as attention to these needs is concerned.  And all of us are harassed by demands that we serve tawdry, “externally” imposed purposes.  (I qualify the word “external” because the same people who separately experience tawdry purposes as an external imposition are the source of those purposes in their joint existence as a society.)

                        Marx defined the problem of “alienation” as a purely sociological problem to which people’s consciousness and choices and “determinations of reality” were irrelevant—a problem which would be solved by a change of the economic system which was conveniently inevitable.  But the result of Marx’s approach was that the critique of alienation became a mere propagandistic means for a political tendency whose goal was primitive accumulation, as it happened. 

                        When uniqueness, creativity, exploration, affection, and camaraderie are ends in their own right, we will speak of them jointly as sublime gratification.  (I cannot accept another label which has been proposed—“self-realization”—because it implies that gratification is purely solitary.)  Sublime gratification is difficult and improbable, and perhaps out of the question for most people.  But we have intimations that sublime gratification is possible; and either we seek it now or not at all.  That line is another saving grace.  To wait for all the servile and disoriented people to cooperate to change the economic system is to postpone sublime gratification to an imaginary future.  [I was coming off of the defense of my Ph.D. dissertation at the NSSR earlier in 1978.] 

                        Further, if sublime gratification is possible only for an elite, it is not an elite of inherited privilege but an elite of motivation or dedication (although inherited privilege helps).  For most people, the suppressed pain of being subordinated to tawdry purposes and the energy spent rationalizing their submission to tawdry purposes reinforces their fears that they have no capacity for sublime gratification.  Thus, they are afraid even to probe the need for <27> sublime gratification in themselves.  (Someone recently said to me that I am free because I am not married.  What she didn’t realize is that I am not married, don’t work in an office, don’t go to discos, etc. because I am free.)

                        Parenthetically, it has traditionally been a purpose of art to keep the promise of sublime gratification alive.  (We exclude twentieth-century art, whose purpose has mostly been to keep the promise of desolation alive.)  But art is a consolation for failure.  It is a simulation of happiness which presupposes the dichotomy of entertainer and passive audience.  And when the performance is over, the bright lights are turned off, the props are packed away, and the hall is emptied, then performers and audience alike crawl back to resume their crippled, demeaning lives.

                        Given the situation we have described, a reasonable slogan for one of our most important needs today would be “transcendent escape.”  In addition, what we should seek is a condition of life which sustains transcendent escape.

Why intellectualize life?

                        The issue concerning “mental mastery activities” which preoccupies me at the moment is the issue of why we should intellectualize life at all. 

                        As our critique of physics was meant to establish, official intellectual disciplines only confirm the destructive external imperatives to which we are subject.  Official intellectual disciplines seek to enslave us to deceptions (and in particular, to develop the ability to manipulate abstractions in a mechanistic and therefore crippling way).  Thus, if by the intellectualization of life is meant the official intellectual disciplines, intellectualization has nothing to recommend it.

                        On the other hand, the mindless pursuits available in our situation are not a worthy alternative either.  Mindless pastimes are either meaningless or lonely, or else they expose you to destructive external imperatives just as ineluctably as official intellectual disciplines do.  There may be mindless pastimes which offer a momentary escape, but they certainly do not enable us to sustain sublime gratification.  On the whole, mindless pastimes surrender by default to the tawdry purposes which are imposed on us.

                        If we desire to neutralize the harassment to which we are subjected, and to achieve a condition of life which sustains sublime gratification, then thoughtfulness, discipline, and competence are indispensable.  It is in this sense that it is necessary to intellectualize life.  Such an application of the intellect is not to be compared with the enslaving misuse of the intellect by official intellectual disciplines.

If the reader finds it presumptuous that I spoke of sublime gratification—and tied my proposal for a revolution against physico-mathematical science to it—perhaps the “saving grace” noted above is enough of a defense, or at least shows who I was writing for.  I probably would not have said this, whether it was sensible or not,  if not for my dialogue with Hennix.

Postscripts 2006

•B1            [2].  And cf. Martin Gardner in The New York Review of Books in 1985.  I did not err in 1978 in saying that a mortal crisis for physics would be a crisis for the common realm of fact.  I did not err in judging that physics had turned a corner.  Nevertheless, while physicists announced these developments in the most sensational terms, they eventually swept them aside.

•B2            Certain figures in academia go further into social-objectivism than Marx.  They claim that all ultimate reality is social—which means that ultimate reality has only existed since there has been a human civilization on earth.  (There is a questionable argument about the observer in quantum mechanics which is a little like that; the cognizant human observer is very recent in geological time.)  Then physical Nature is no more and no less than a social myth.  Lukács made such suggestions; he was understandably accused by orthodox Marxists of idealist deviation.  That is not even to mention the radical feminist authors (Sandra Harding, Audre Lorde).  It says a great deal about the universities that some professors could make a career of this drivel.  But the physical scientists have implacably disregarded these babblings from the other side of the academic hall.

•B3            By 2006, the existence of God will be the least of it.  The physicist has infinitely leapt to the infinitely untestable infinity, infinitely beyond God.  God doesn’t even come into it.  God cannot multiply the infinities fast enough to gain admission to MIT in the first place.  As Lisa Randall, the priestess of hot hopping physics, says in Warped Passages,

                        Other branes might be parallel to ours and might house parallel worlds.  But many other types of braneworld might exist too.  Branes could intersect and particles could be trapped at the intersections.  Branes could have different dimensionality.  They could curve.  They could move.  They could wrap around unseen invisible dimensions.  Let your imagination run wild and draw any picture you like.  It is not impossible that such a geometry exits in the cosmos.

The infinity of infinitely untestable infinities are hopping so fast that they have left God infinitely behind in the dust.  At the same time, physicists vehemently deny that they have violated the prohibition on cognitive extravagance.

                        If the readers do not understand that it has come to this, then they will not understand the cultural juncture that smashes them in the face while the physicists screech with self-congratulation.

                        The civilization did turn a corner intellectually in the second half of the twentieth century.  Wheeler and Jastrow couldn’t formulate it honestly, but their sensationalism was a real symptom.  The turnabout has been screaming in our faces.  But it goes unnoticed and unspoken, because the vantage-point needed to see it has been excluded, and the needed context has been stripped away.  Scientific triumphalism owns the channel.  Not only does it deny the microphone to any unspecialized critical survey.  It extinguishes the memory of where physics came from; it extinguishes all unsuborned historiography.   

                        “What science does is good because science does it. That is all ye need to know.”  It is logical positivism, but with a twist:  because all the rational norms positivism wanted to impose on science have been discarded.

•B4            What races forward into the future at breakneck speed is:  a dead civilization.

 

PHYSICS 1978

C.  The Question of a New Mental Mastery Activity

This text is extracted in 2006 from “The Crisis in Physics and the Question of a New Science” (1978).  It presupposes (A) and (B).  Numbers in <> are page numbers of the old typescript.

Because ‘universe’ in physics no longer means “everything,” I use ‘Nature’ as a word for everything physics wants to see.  The word deserves to be capitalized; it can’t just be a common noun at this point.

In this case, there is the need for a lengthy 2006 forward to sort the material out.

2006

                        <4>  In (B), I explained that Marx and Engels place natural science beyond the institutions that need to be affected by “the revolution.”  That is, they place natural science beyond the need for any sort of transformation from outside.  They hold that “the ultimate reality of the universe” will henceforth be a technical question to be answered by accredited professionals paid to sit in offices. 

                        Let us backtrack for a moment and note that science has a revolution in its past.  After Francis Bacon, legitimate science was carefully split off from magic and occultism—progressively discarding such doctrines as vitalism.  To that has to be added Galileo’s overthrow of Aristotle in physics.  Galileo was an insurgent—perhaps the only perfect case of an insurgent in the entire history of science.  (Vanini and Bruno are not perfect cases.)  Interestingly enough, Galileo came from inside the profession, and forced himself outside by his contributions. 

                        In 1978 (I said), it has become evident that a revolution against physics from outside is called for.  That thesis drove the entire 1978 essay.  <5>  Having learned of the work of C.C. Hennix, and judging that an alliance with Hennix was called for, I picked a formula meant to allow us to ally—presenting Toposes & Adjoints, and meta-technology (as yet unnamed), as two alternatives to supersede physics.  My slogan was “a new science of Nature.”  That decision made, I proceeded by relating the inadequacies of physics, as I identified them, to the project of launching “a new science of Nature.”  I explained further that the reason I used the term ‘Nature’ is to preclude the swallowing up of the scientific project in sociology (a preposterous direction which certain ultra-Marxists pretended to want).

                        Already, this slogan did not correspond to the amalgam of Toposes & Adjoints and meta-technology.  A more accurate phrase would have been “mental mastery activity (with requirements to exclude occultism).”  But the amalgam was misbegotten.  The only time it was ever in play was in that essay. 

                          I was looking forward to what I would call meta-technology.  Indeed, the first prospectus for that activity appeared at the end of the essay.  But I was not yet ready to take the decisive step.  I wanted to bridge the unbridgeable by talking about sciences as a generic category of activity:  as if it were a question of a new science which could be inserted where physics is now.  The result was an exposition that became a fist-fight with itself.  I said at the beginning of the 1978 essay <5>  that I employed the notion of a new science only as a heuristic device, and warned that the label might be inappropriate for the new intellectual modalities that I favored.  Much later in the essay, I cautioned <25> that in some respects, the notion of “a new science of nature” seriously misrepresented the intellectual program which I propose.  A science (of Nature) is a portrait, a representation, of something called Nature, in propositions or formulas.  As for meta-technology, it is an instrumental modality, but not a science.  As my exposition proceeded, I announced these qualifications.  Today, it is painful to see myself pointing left and marching right; all the same, the qualifications are saving graces of the 1978 text.

                        Even after I announced meta-technology as such, I continued to write texts in which I placed Volpin’s and Hennix’s stray thoughts on physics side-by-side with meta-technological considerations—as if they were eggs from the same nest.  It reflects, frankly, how desperately I sought alliances and coalitions.

                        In reworking the material in 2006, the best approach seems to be to reframe it so that I separate the question of a new science from the embryonic meta-technology.  All the same, they are both covered by the slogan of a mental mastery activity.  “Either all activities which could be sciences or meta-technology.”  (Hereafter I will use the abbreviation MMA.)

                        The end of the essay becomes an explanation of meta-technology exclusively.  Since it would be anachronistic to insert that label in a 1978 text, I will speak of the instrumental activity.

                        My exposition needed a disclaimer to make it clear i) that I knew what the fault of superstition was, and ii) that the new MMA would not be a new superstition.  The MMA, not just the instrumental activity, needed this disclaimer.  The twist is that I framed the disclaimer so that it applied only to my instrumental activity.  Hennix would have said that the approach of Toposes & Adjoints was implicitly superstition-banishing.  But Hennix and I did not have the same program in this regard.  That is why I cannot attach my disclaimer of superstition to the explanation of the MMA, and must hold it off until I come to the instrumental activity.

                                                                                                                                                •

                        <6> As of 1978, it became evident that physics had turned a corner.  Potentially, there are implications here for the “social” realm.  Marx and Engels had a fantasy of politicians glamorously making the social revolution, while the cognition of Nature and the world of fact remain routine technicalities, the province of accredited academics.  There was no role for an insurgent change in:  our understanding of Nature and our attitude toward the ordinary world of fact.

                        But Marx’s and Engels’ assumption that physics supported their world-outlook, their secularism, was simply false.  Moreover, their assumption that physics and scientism point toward a collectivist and egalitarian economic system is unwarranted.  The reigning natural science is an obstruction to a transition to a post-capitalist society.  (In part, that is an advanced theoretical question, concerning the parallel between profit-maximization and the action principle.)

                        By 1978, there had been an objective turnabout which made a revolution against physics from outside thinkable.  For all that, we conceded that physicists may continue to act out their established routines for many decades, with the full approval of the powers that be.  This line is another saving grace.

<7>            The prospect of a revolution against physics might well affect and shape future perspectives of social revolution.  [In 1978, I was speaking prophetically about socialist insurgency.  After all, I was coming off of the defense of my Ph.D. dissertation at the NSSR.  Today I must say that all this is inoperative for the foreseeable future.]

                                                                                                                                                •

<25>

                        A viable new MMA crystallizes by being organized around a compelling motivation arising outside the established sciences.  There must be an unprecedented core experience or core insight which demands that inherited elements be subordinated and reorganized to a new purpose.

<13>        In order to clear the way for posing the question of a new MMA seriously, we must dispel the impression that contemporary physics already appreciates the observer’s awareness.

                        As to the new motivation, I do not mean that it must appear in formal declarations of purpose.  I do not assign a high priority to making unexceptionable declarations of purpose and then attempting to implement them.  Rather, there must be a formulation and solution of a problem, perhaps an elementary problem, such that the formulation and solution are not reducible to any existing science.  The new MMA is elaborated by multiply potentiating such solutions.

<7>   A new MMA is a cognitive system which compartmentalizes “the world” and human faculties in a new way.  More specifically, a new MMA will determine the phenomena to be acknowledged as immediate in a new way.  Indeed, the new compartmentalization may recognize phenomena as immediate which an established science excludes altogether—doing so by starting simultaneously on both sides of the established science’s boundary.

                        A new MMA may integrate human faculties which an established science couterposes to one another.  Further, it is typical for a new MMA to seize part of the existing language for use relative to its new compartmentalization of “the world.”  Thus, every word will acquire a new meaning, and the discourse can be understood only by a process of osmosis or intuitive leaps which correlate the vocabulary with immediate phenomena rather than with previous usage.  Along the same lines, the new distinctions have to be apprehended by an act of empathy.  The new MMA may use <8> elements of an established science, but use them independently of the context of assumptions in which they formerly appeared.  In this case, empathy requires both innocence and inventiveness:  one must be unencumbered by the former context of assumptions, and at the same time one must fill in whatever new context of assumptions is implied (the operation well expressed by the phrase “mutatis mutandis”). 

                        As for the role of motivation or purpose, it seems that what I have already said is applicable here.  One apprehends the purpose of cognitive mastery through the prior experience of a crisis; or through the process of acquiring mastery itself.  Moreover, the new compartmentalization implicitly establishes the MMA’s purpose.  (I may mention that Tony Conrad has suggested that motivation explicitly be recognized as an operator in intellectual methodologies.)

                        In conclusion, a new MMA will explore human faculties, aspects of the immediate, and interactions between the immediate and the mediated which existing cognitive systems suppress.  Note:

i. Our description of the new MMA is not complete.  Without further provisions, the description could just as well apply to a new superstition as to a new science.

ii.   The achievement of the new MMA will be a qualitative expansion of our “mental” abilities.  (This may be specific to my instrumental activity; see (D).)


PHYSICS 1978

D.  The New Instrumental Activity

This text is extracted in 2006 from “The Crisis in Physics and the Question of a New Science” (1978).  It presupposes (A), (B), and (C).  Numbers in <> are page numbers of the old typescript.

Because ‘universe’ in physics no longer means “everything,” I use ‘Nature’ as a word for everything physics wants to see.  The word deserves to be capitalized; it can’t just be a common noun at this point.

                        The passages to follow should be separated from the rest of the 1978 essay, because I subsequently use them as the first prospectus of meta-technology.  They don’t need to be bundled with the rest of the argument.  My manuscript list shows that by late 1978, I was already committed to most of the positions announced here.

                                                                                                                                                °

<6>            We propose an instrumental activity which is incomparable with physics.  What the instrumental activity does, for example, is to provide instructions for experiences of logically impossible world-states, and for experiences in which human subjectivity becomes tangibly objectified.  The very possibility of such experiences vitiates existing cognitive systems or exposes their triviality.  “Breaking the framework of objectification.”

                        Many sciences have as their purported aim to provide a “map of reality”; but we reject this purpose for the instrumental activity.  <25>   Its concern is not with Nature, but with the life-world.  It does not have a collection of purported propositional truths as its end product.  <6>  Indeed, so far as experiences of logically impossible world-states are concerned, stable propositional truth is inoperative in those experiences by definition.  These lines are further saving graces.

                        The personal purposes which are to be served by the intellectualization of the world are considerations here. The experiences to which the instrumental activity provides access represent a qualitative expansion of our “mental” abilities.  They provide us with a means for escaping the ordinary life-world and functioning in a superior life-world.  Thus, to repeat, the instrumental activity is a not a matter of the memorization of a new catechism of hypotheses or propositions.  It is a question of a transformation of the life-world.  If implemented socially, it would represent a change in the form of life of society.  In addition to confirming positions I had already taken, this looks forward to “The Collectivity After the Abolition of the Universe and Time.”

<27> What the instrumental activity addresses directly is the “determination of reality” embodied in the life-world.  The instrumental activity begins with instructions for qualitatively anomalous experiences; or with instructions which enable one to recognize and utilize anomalous experiences which one already has.  <28>  The experiences in question include experiences of contradictory world-states and experiences in which human subjectivity becomes tangibly objectified.  By providing instructions for such experiences, the instrumental activity initiates the development of specific new mental abilities.

                        The instrumental activity also analyzes the “verificational processing” or “evaluational processing” of experience which sustains the inherited life-world.  (A new terminology is required for this topic.)  The analysis, applied in conjunction with the new specific abilities, shows that the life-world can be disassembled and re-assembled.  <6>  Physics has technology as its most intimidating achievement.  We need to diminish this intimidation.  There are many sorts of manipulative power which physical technology does not and cannot give us.  In dreams, I have the ability to move though the air without support merely by an exercise of volition. If we pass from the utterly fake empiricism of physics to the narrowing of the frame to the personal microcosm which I call the experience-world, then flying in dreams is a manipulative power.  Well, that was what I had in 1978.  “Flying Dreams” was from 1975.  It was only a glimmer of a glimmer of a compelling example (it was an unprocessed curiosity).

<28>        Some phases of the new science can also be conceived as thought-experiments in a non-laboratory neurocybernetics. 

                        Thus, the instrumental activity is justified by its ability to provide access to anomalous experiences or states of being—experiences or states of being which, it should be emphasized, are potentially ecstatic.  That seems a gesture to Hennix.  Because the object of the instrumental activity is not a collection of stable propositional truths, and because the instrumental activity can only emerge from specific competencies, there is no basis for presenting the instrumental activity as a unified system.

                        Incidentally, it would be wrong to construe our program as a proposal to replace physics by psychology.  Scientific psychology is defined by the assumption that its subject-matter is derivative from “physical reality” and the assumption that its method is derivative from the method of physics.  We flatly refuse to posit “physical reality,” and do not concede that we lose anything by this refusal.  Still more saving graces; by now, I have massively qualified what I am saying.

The superstition disclaimers

<28>        What guarantee is there that the instrumental activity is not a new delusion?  Apart from appealing to my previous philosophical writings, the preceding passage supplies several details of the answer.  In  a sentence, the instrumental activity provides access to qualitatively new capabilities of experience without needing to make any claim of stable propositional truth.  Indeed, one of the phases of the instrumental activity consists in the development of experiences of contradictory world-states.  By definition, stable propositional truth is inoperative in these world-states.  There may be people who have an emotional dependency on creeds formed from purported stable truths.  The new instrumental activity will not be for them.  Important to retain this aside:  because it anticipates the questions personhood theory will be devoted to.

<28>        The burgeoning of superstition is in fact a contemporary problem.  Especially in the Manhattan of the 1970s.  We live in a period of unprecedented occultist charlatanism, in which the public has accepted the equating of transcendent escape with the merchandizing of pre-scientific superstition for pecuniary gain.  The operation of a sort of Gresham’s Law of the intellect has spoiled the public as an audience for a principled instrumental activity.  But for the well-intentioned reader, I give two criteria by which the instrumental activity can be distinguished from occultist swindles.

a.  Superstition needs to make claims of descriptive truth about intangible objectivities in order to ensnare you.  In fact, its essential maneuver in merchandising its miracles is to demand widened credulity.  Superstition most definitely claims to provide knowledge of a common objective world.  All that is special about the lower forms of superstition is that their validation is entirely a matter of suggestibility.

<29>

b.  Occultist practices may purport to be validated by their ability to train you in new possibilities of experience.  But the occult experiences in question, and the experiences provided by the instrumental activity, are incomparable in regard to “logical” and “evaluational” quality.  So far as I am dimly able to make out, occultism is concerned with the production of a sort of stupor through psychic deprivation, combined with credulity and suggestibility.  (Indeed, the occult “experience” always turns out to be primarily an act of belief in phantoms.)  The achievement of the instrumental activity, on the other hand, is to tangibly objectify “logico-linguistic” anomalies so that they can be analyzed and potentiated.  The instrumental activity does not supplement the ordinary life-world with periods of stupor; it dis-assembles or makes rifts in the ordinary part of life, ultimately making it possible to escape the ordinary life-world and function in a superior life-world.

The remainder of the program is as in the 1978 typescript.