IS SCIENCE REALLY RATIONAL?

Firstly I must point out that I do not believe that human beings can live entirely rationally and we should be careful to avoid condemning all forms of metaphysics, especially imaginative speculation, as equally “false” using irrelevant scientific arguments. Secondly it is important not to confuse science, a limited and dogmatic set of beliefs which make up a disciplined way of understanding and explaining the world we can observe, with technology, which is the means by which humanly desired outcomes are pursued. Scientific dogma is a set of values that are not absolute but have been institutionalised by secular governments in recent times. This article is greatly influenced by the writings of the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead.

The Ancient Greeks underwent an intellectual revolution which laid the foundations for the Scientific Revolution of the 17th Century. It is hard to appreciate the magnitude of the paradigm shift that took place when the religious world view held by all previous civilisations was challenged by the appearance of the Milesian school of Greek philosophers which began in the 7th Century BCE.

These natural philosophers speculated (without proof) that they were conceptually separate from the gods and the world around them and become the first intellectuals who believed they could “observe” the world and “understand” it. Aristarchus even suggested that the spherical Earth went round the Sun. Prior to this time intellectuals believed that they were embedded in a matrix of magical and/or divine forces. Meanwhile technology proceeded without speculation and ordinary people continued to believe in these influences, as many still do today.

In Science and the Modern World, the radical philosopher of science and mathematician, Alfred North Whitehead, gives an excellent account of the development of science as an essentially irrational world view but which was so successful in providing a framework for technological innovation that the irrational elements of their world view were ignored or repressed from consciousness. This is still very much the case. In Adventures in Ideas he makes a careful distinction between uncontrolled speculative philosophy which transforms fundamental beliefs and the incremental changes in knowledge which take place in government sponsored research and development bureaucracies. Copernicus, Kepler and Einstein are good examples of the former. The scientific establishment does its best to marginalise and ridicule philosophical speculation if it impinges on their territory.

OUR CURRENT RELIGIOUS AND SECULAR WORLD VIEWS ARE FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG

The horrors of the 20th Century destroyed many peoples belief in what the Victorians called “progress”. It was not the primitive, superstitious, uneducated peoples who were responsible both for what happened in 1914-1918, and the unbelievable brutality of the Nazi and Communist regimes that followed. The most educated and scientifically sophisticated people in the world initiated the war and guaranteed disaster with their foolish political engineering at the Treaty of Versailles.

Many people simply refuse to admit that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way we see the world. Others escape into their own private realities or retreat into narrow-minded religious or political fanaticism. Most academics in the universities still act as if the physical universe is a phenomenon that can be observed and measured quite independently of psychological, social or cultural realities.

The catastrophic late medieval division of university studies into the so-called ‘natural sciences’ and humanistic ‘moral’ or ‘human’ sciences is still with us. Influential practitioners of the former have convinced themselves that they are free from any irrational moral bias and practitioners of the latter are convinced there is no connection between the physical sciences and moral philosophies. Social Darwinism, which provided the rationalization for both extreme capitalism and extreme socialism, is neither good science nor good moral philosophy.

MATERIALISM, REDUCTIONISM AND ATOMISM

The philosophy of materialism developed on the foundations laid down by the Greek natural philosophers like Epicurus and Democritus and is a combination of reductionism and atomism which led to great advances in understanding the behaviour of material phenomena. However although materialists show great aversion to metaphysical speculation, their own philosophy is based on the metaphysical beliefs that the study of the parts can lead to an understanding of the whole and that they can be detached from all subjective or supernatural reality as “observers”.

The practical results that follow reducing things down to simpler elements in order to manipulate them through recombination etc, has blinded scientists to the fact that reductionism as a way of describing and understanding complex phenomena is, although useful, essentially irrational. The related scientific dogma of atomism, the belief that there are tiny fundamental identical “building blocks” which make up the universe, is another example of irrational scientific belief. The idea that the universe is made up of ‘things’ which impact on each other is a Greek idea which is both dogmatic and irrational.

THE ORIGINS OF  IRRATIONAL ECONOMIC DETERMINISM AND UTILITARIANISM

Although there is no rational explanation for this belief there is a political/economic explanation. There is a branch of moral philosophy called Utilitarianism. It is crudely moral but it is a metaphysical value system which can provide purpose to human action.

As Europe entered the Renaissance, urbanisation, together with trading and banking, grew rapidly and the ruling elite of land-owning warriors and priestly intellectuals who had mastered the art of administering the agricultural economies were losing their power to a new rising class of bankers, businessmen and manufacturers. The needs of an agricultural civilisation centre around fertility and stable land-ownership. The needs of an industrial society centre on manufacturing technology, the preparation of raw materials and improved transportation. The new rulers needed secular intellectuals and engineers to provide the knowledge to implement these new cultural goals.

During this rapid transition from agriculture to industrialism, which lasted from the 15th until the end of 19th Century, there was no clear moral alternative to Christianity even though belief in its essential dogma was draining away amongst the intellectuals who were not employed by the church. The Protestant Reformation detached many believers from church control and they could now pick and choose which parts of religious dogma they would adhere to.

There was no longer a sophisticated system of explanation for events in life nor any clear direction for which course to choose in planning one’s life meaningfully. Material well-being increasingly replaced spiritual well being. Although of course they were important in religious civilisations, health, wealth, sexual fulfilment and social satisfaction replaced immortality, in both in the afterlife and through offspring in this life, to become the supreme goals of existence or “values” for the new ruling elite of the industrial society.

In the 18th Century England became the world’s first industrialised society. Most intellectuals paid lip service to religion provided it did not interfere with the new moral absolutes of health, wealth, sex and social satisfaction. Religion, even today, has an important role to play in dealing with ultimate mysteries, providing consolation to the grief stricken, structuring parental and sexual live through the family institution and motivating people towards charitable concern for those who are suffering. However as an intellectual explanation for events taking place around them religion receded and was replaced by science, which guaranteed better health, wealth and happiness provided you no longer sought for any deeper meaning.

Secular intellectuals triumphed over sacred intellectuals in the universities and during the 18th Century utilitarianism became very popular. “The greatest happiness of the greatest number” was the doctrine of Jeremy Bentham. The American Constitution, which detached people from control by landowners and  ecclesiastical authorities, similarly emphasised “health, wealth and the pursuit of happiness” as the qualities a government should seek to provide for its people.

SCIENCE WITHOUT GOD

Any attempt to convince reductionist, utilitarian scientists, who have a monopoly of communication of meaning, that they hold outdated irrational beliefs has to be made on their own ground. Attempts to persuade them on philosophical grounds they would dismiss as irrelevant, since they believe that science is purely rational and has no connection with moral philosophy. There have been many such attempts but they have fallen on deaf ears.  I personally believe that a “super-scientific” demonstration is needed that would confront their arrogant claims of rationality and objectivity and reveal the close alliance between science and the utilitarian moral philosophy of the industrialists. It would need to be made as a popular entertainment spectacle without the scientific fraternity being able to prevent it through censorship or ridicule.

The first step in my “culture war” was to demonstrate the truly amazing consequences, which it seems Nietzsche alone fully realised, of living without God.

Earlier scientists simply assumed that God or some other supernatural source provided the “absolute frame” for the physical universe. They were not troubled that that there were no rational comprehensible links between God’s power and the operation of the laws of Nature, though Descartes at least recognised the problem.

Medieval Christian scholastics (like Aquinas with his doctrine of “participation” a feudal rather than absolutist form of divine government) and influenced by both neo-Platonism and Aristotle’s more objective mechanical view, were emphatic that God was not outside the natural universe but was immanent throughout all its parts. “The Great Chain of Being” specified the various levels in the cosmic hierarchy. Whitehead points out that early Christian theologians steeped in Platonic philosophy had managed, through the doctrine of the Trinity, to reconcile the new understanding of God’s nature provided by Jesus as a persuasive Father rather than an autocratic tyrant, with His being in the world as the Son, a sensing, reasoning human being, and with the Holy Spirit guaranteeing that divine immanence remained in the world after the departure of Jesus. This radical new theology of “mutual immanence” which united revelation of the nature of the Father with the example of the Son and the gift of the Holy Spirit, has the potential to encourage free expression of thought and to prevent the separation of God from Nature and from human sensation and feeling. This was a remarkable theological advance on previous human conceptualisations of the nature of reality but the implications were not fully taken up by succeeding theologians.

In a civilisation without any rationally understood links between God, human consciousness and Nature, and where theology is seen as irrelevant to mainstream science, how can any frame of reference be understood as absolute? In all fields of human expression absolutes have been under attack. Relativity theory in physics and postmodernism in the arts and philosophy have paralyzed attempts to provide a coherent world view. In the vacuum fundamentalist religions and authoritarian, nationalistic political parties are flourishing.

TURNING THE WORLD UPSIDE-DOWN

If there is no absolute frame for the universe then is there any proof that world is “north-up” as all the maps in the world show? Of course not! This being the case then it would be quite possible to make an “irrational” decision as to which way up the spherical world should be shown on maps. Obviously no religious authority could be invoked since all the major religions are based on authoritative texts which describe the world as flat and round, or flat and square. So far no major supernatural revelation has been received that the earth is a sphere, let alone which way up God, or the Gods made it. For the needs of agricultural civilisations a flat earth is perfectly adequate. The Renaissance separation of natural and moral philosophies with each set of intellectuals minding their own business left scientists in sole charge of the field of physics.

The northern nations, in the first industrial civilisation, possessed the most capital and the most powerful military and put themselves in the superior geographical position in an emotionally driven irrational act of egotism. In the same way they assume that the Christian calendar (now BCE) should be the world’s standard. What is believed to be rational is usually determined by force. With the end of the European empires and the emergence of powerful industrial nations outside Europe and North America, the question of which way up the world should be shown on maps has now become problematical. The obvious way to settle this issue would be by a collective vote in an international assembly of nations or, even better, through voting in the World Wide Web. There are good reasons (all of them “irrational”) for a change to making maps “South Up”. I estimate that, after making emotional historical appeals to the pride and sense of humour of Latin Americans, Africans, Indians, Chinese and the Islamic peoples, there would be about four to one voting in favour of the change. An important consequence of this ‘thought experiment’ would be to give human beings back the feeling that they are embedded in the universe and not merely observers, and have the power to effect it in other than destructive ways .

Science needs to be cleansed of  unacknowledged irrational elements in such as materialism, reductionism, atomism and the rigid belief that anyone can stand outside the universe and observe it like an impotent deity. Such beliefs certainly have their uses in improving the understanding of the nature and behaviour of material phenomenon etc but these uses are based on values that are irrational. Non-reductionist religious cosmologies like those of Thomas Aquinas (and more recently Tielhard de Chardin) which lack these modern moral absolutes are ultimately more rational, if less useful to the military-industrial establishment, than the rigid, lifeless astrophysical cosmology which is orthodox teaching and dogmatic belief in all the present scientific establishments.

TURNING THE UNIVERSE INSIDE-OUT (THE ULTIMATE ZEN KOAN!)

The proposed experiment to turn the world (and surrounding space) upside down is only a preliminary step in a most important thought experiment which if carried out would certainly produce irrational outrage amongst utilitarian materialists.

I have been trying unsuccessfully since 1972 to provoke interest in another conformal inversion of the spatial coordinates. This is the inside-out model of the universe where the earth is a hollow sphere containing the rest of the universe. Occam’s razor gang is quickly on the scene making the assumption that, following Newton, ballistics and cosmology are much the same thing. A ‘geoperipheral’ model makes calculations of the trajectories of moving objects impossibly complicated. I have never denied this and recommend using the heliocentric model in Euclidean Space for all such calculations. The same argument applies to ballistics and Einstein’s four dimensional space-time model, even for NASA.

One model does not suit all but materialists regard the material aspects of cosmology as the only reality, over-riding all biological, psychological, social or cultural considerations with the exception of “usefulness” to the non-rational aims of those who fund and administer their activities.

MARTIN GARDNER’S REVIEW OF ABDELKADER’S PAPER

A good example of how a leading orthodox apologist for science reacts when confronted with a speculative change of the utilitarian model of the solar system is found in Martin Gardner’s  On The Wild Side  where he reviews a speculative scientific article, Mostafa Abdelkader’s paper “A Geocosmos: Mapping Outer Space into a Hollow Earth”. This was published in 1982 in the reputable journal Speculations in Science and Technology.

Gardner’s review is a classic example of false claims of rationality being made by a respected spokesman for the scientific establishment. Occam’s razor is wielded with panache so that poor Mustafa’s perfectly rational argument for an alternate frame of reference is ridiculed. He is portrayed by Griffin as a religious bigot needing psychotherapy and his perfectly rational argument associated with the tricks of a new age charlatan. Occam’s razor cannot be used on this model unless it is presented as an explanation of the ballistics of the Solar System. The two theories are not “competing for explanatory and predictive power”. For that matter Occam’s razor could not have been used to reject Copernicus’ Heliocentric model, a radical conceptual innovation, on the basis of its predictive power when it appeared. Ptolemaic epicycles were a much more accurate guide to the movement of heavenly bodies. Like the Heliocentric model when it first appeared, the Geoperipheral model has immense explanatory power in cultural, philosophical, aesthetic and spiritual terms.

Abdelkader’s motivation for suggesting a Geoperipheral frame for the Solar System is probably religious rather than utilitarian. Adopting this new frame of reference restores “Heaven” (as the new coordinate centre and singularity) to being the centre of the universe and it is positioned directly overhead for all observers on the Earth’s surface. At no point does he consider his model has any value for calculating orbits or trajectories. His values are not those of providing useful information for the industrial-military complex. There is a history of alternative models of the earth including this one on the internet written by Duane Griffin of Bucknell University, “What Curiosity in The Structure; The Hollow Earth in Science”. This can be found at www.facstaff.bucknell.edu/dgriffin/Research/Griffin-HE_in_science.pdf
However as the title indicates it is a history of “hollow earth” theories which, with the exception of Halley’s 18th Century conjectures, are in no way scientific. It is important to note that in spite of the title he chose for his paper Abdelkader’s model is not really a hollow earth but a rational inversion of the Copernican model, best referred to as Geoperipheral. By association Griffin makes Abdelkader’s model appear as yet another crazy hollow earth like that of Cyrus Teed (the 19th Century American prophet Koresh) and his German imitators of the 1930s. On the title page of the article the words “from Mercator projection to Freudian phantasm” and references to Abdelkader’s “apeirophobia” indicate that rational scientists are prepared to use psycho-babble to dismiss theories they find unsettling.  Essentially Griffin believes that human beings are powerless observers outside the universe whereas it is obvious that we are the thinking part of the universe and can shape it to some extent, to suit our “non-rational ” human wishes.

The point I wish to make is that secular intellectuals when confronted with a rational argument which runs counter to their orthodox utilitarian beliefs react just like religious intellectuals when confronted with rational arguments that upset their religious dogma.

NOTES

For those who are interested in the Geoperipheral model of the universe it appears as a novelty in Newnes Practical Mechanics of 1938.

In 1974 I published a poster with the upside-down world on one side and the inside-out universe with a mathematical explanation on the other. Since then I have been addressing crowds on the topic and have circulated tens of thousands of  these posters. So far I have not heard a word from any intellectual regarding the truth or value of this model. This is in itself a very interesting socio-cultural phenomenon.

Elsewhere on this web-site I have outlined my proposed “Thought Experiment” converging time, space and identity (which includes turning the universe inside-out) as a conceptual art exhibition. This could be performed on the internet making use of computer generated imaging as a virtual “magic spell’. This my way of conducting a culture war; using logic, love and levity. A major shock, like a Zen Buddhist koan, may be the only way to bring about a “paradigm shift” to a cosmology which integrates the radical new theories in the physical and human sciences and closes the vast gaps between them.

Sophisticated readers of this page  with some knowledge of the history and philosophy of science should study Whitehead’s collections of essays, “Science and The  Modern World” and “Adventures in Ideas”. Some rather obscure philosophical chapters can be passed over, however his views on the fundamental nature of reality are stunningly unusual and enlightening. I wish I had come across his work years ago when I began construction of my cosmology. A good guide to his thinking by Richard Lubbock can be found on the Open Directory at http://www3.sympatico.ca/rlubbock/ANW.html

Wizard of New Zealand
February, 2010

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