A Note for My Scientific Colleagues
The most formidable enemy of science today is Subjectivism. Essential to science, as Einstein once observed, is the understanding that the world exists independent of us and of our understanding of it. Against science, subjectivists, especially in the form of deconstructionists, hold that everything is a construct made by us. Physicist Alan Sokal, as you will see in the first chapter, did much to manifest the power currently wielded by the movement. Unfortunately, scientists have not always answered the subjectivist’s in a convincing manner. In some cases, scientists themselves, including leading ones, have for example, claimed via quantum mechanics that the world does not exist when we’re not looking at it. What better way to feed subjectivist belief than to propound that their belief is given by science?
The confusion about the meaning and foundation of science often starts inadvertently early. In my field of physics, for example, sophomore high school students are told to draw the path of an object on an x-y plot; the student plots time on one axis and position of the object on the other. If the object is moving at constant speed, the student draws a line representing the history of the object's motion as it moves, say, from the left side of the room to the right. But note: the student has drawn a picture which represents time as if it is all at once, because, after all, the picture is all at once. In the picture, the object is both at the left and right simultaneously. The path for not making proper distinctions about time is in place. It is the beginning of a process of habituation that can make one think time is reducible or nearly reducible to space. In the process one ignores and later forgets in varying degrees the things that one has deliberately left behind in order to do facilitate analysis. These issues come to a head when one later studies Einstein’s relativity theory, for example.
This book lays the foundation that answers the subjectivists and other objections to science as well as unravels the many misinterpretations of modern science that have arisen. Much of what is said will be readily accepted as obvious, but much also will be very new. The reader will be asked to step back from his particular field of interest and look at its roots and to be careful to distinguish starting points from conclusions. He will need to be willing to broaden his thinking, for each field has its own particular methodology and habits of thought that cannot go unchanged into other arenas. For example, in physics, I am used to thinking in terms of mathematics. I can relate to the sci-fi spoof, Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe, which asks, “What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?” and gives the answer: 42. Part of the answer’s humor derives from the fact that nearly all of what we, as physicists, do demands mathematical answers; yet we do not expect one to that question. In short, we frequently need broader means than the merely mathematical, yet we are not exposed and do not have facility with broader thinking and so we instinctively withdraw from the unfamiliar and try to use our familiar tools. Other fields have parallel issues. Such tendencies, I think, bear close watching. In general, it might be helpful to bear in mind a statement that helped one of my scientific readers better understand how to approach such broader topics, “Don’t dissect the argument down to nothing and try to understand it after you’ve killed it, let yourself understand it then dissect it.” Or in other words, “Don’t hone right away onto the detail, stay back and look for awhile first.”
The book is written to develop the foundation of science in a logical manner that builds each chapter on the previous. In chapters three and four, one will encounter topics and discussions that are little known. Though the subjects will be familiar, the insights into them will be, for nearly all, completely new. The depth may seem vast, but one should resist the temptation to try to understand all at once. I utilize a spiral approach to the topics so that the reader is not expected to grasp a given concept completely in the first encounter. Terminologies and concepts are revisited throughout the book, including in a glossary. The book is written so that the reader, on the first read, can obtain a fundamental understanding and on the second reading deepen that understanding.