Why the book?

Science is increasingly important and, at the same time, less and less able to give a good defense of itself and has even spawned its own enemies. Sound philosophy, the sole remedy, is almost unknown. Since science is so attractive to the modern mind and indeed, an integral part of the modern mindset, one ought to start with science and its findings to introduce both the need for philosophy and philosophy itself.  In short, one should utilize the natural attraction of science to introduce philosophy.  Further, in our culture, ironically, only a scientist has the credibility to say where to look for these answers. In addition, a scientist who knows philosophy is uniquely aware of the problems that confront the modern mindset in relation to philosophy. These ingredients, so important for reaching modern man, have not yet been brought together in a book.


An intelligent student of mine once told me he was not sure reality was real. Everything, he said, is merely appearance. Through various interpretations of quantum mechanics, noteworthy scientists have said fundamentally the same thing. Science, the study of nature, is then the study of what? It is as if after a long calculation of shifting things to one side of an equation, one gets “1 = 4” and says, “look what I’ve discovered!” instead of, “yikes, what did I do wrong?” Of course, scientists, while doing their science, implicitly take for granted that what they study exists. But how is it that anyone can deny so self-evident and foundational a thing as the fact that the real is real? Sound philosophy is sorely needed today. Not a branch of linguistics or mathematics or a descriptive science, but a science that reaches the fundamental level of man’s questions.


In his best seller “Brief History of Time,” Stephen Hawking agrees that we have lost the great tradition of philosophy that continued from “Aristotle to Kant.” Although his statement is fundamentally insightful, it is also embarrassing in at least three ways. First, a physicist has to tell us that we need philosophy; one would think philosophers would do this. Instead, many philosophers have left their post in favor of approaches and even end goals that model modern science. Rather than shore up the foundation, they add structures to the sides and top. On the flip side, science’s success has created an atmosphere such that only its representatives would be allowed to say that we need something besides science. Second, Hawking shows no inkling that he understands the completely divergent views that these two thinkers represent. The philosophical idealism of Kant is directly opposed to the realist position of Aristotle. Thirdly, basic elements of Kant’s thought have been thoroughly disproved by the existence of Hawking’s own field: general relativity. Kant thought that Euclidean geometry was the only type of geometry that the human mind could conceive. So successful was Kant’s idea that when the great (one of the greatest ever) mathematician Karl Frederick Gauss was discovering non-Euclidean geometry, he was afraid to publish because of the scorn that would be heaped on him for discovering an impossibility. Of course, the mathematical base on which general relativity is founded is Kant’s impossible non-Euclidean geometry. Thus, Hawking’s words convey the need for philosophy in what he intended to say and the need for sound philosophy in what he seems not aware of saying.
        

Other scientists reveal the need for the scientific community and the people they educate to be exposed to real philosophy. A noted physicist, the late Richard Feynman, recounted his visit to a philosophers’ conference. The event annoyed him because of the way they only played with words. Such an experience with misdirected philosophers was a part of his, as well as other scientists’, general rejection of all philosophy. In “Dreams of a Final Theory,” another renowned physicist, Steven Weinberg dedicates a whole chapter “Against Philosophy.” Of course, he makes use of philosophy, as we all must, in his thought and discussion. In physics and science departments in general, it is not uncommon for the first philosophy, metaphysics, to be thought of as the paradigm of a completely useless pomp filled subject. These views are, in the main, shared by our science-oriented culture though perhaps few would state them so directly as these representatives of science. Such views reveal a profound lack of sensitivity to the very foundations of modern science. The foundation consists of knowledge and understandings that are outside of modern science. Most scientists know these foundational things in an implicit not explicit way, because the work of modern science requires no more.  However, if these underlying realities are not understood and defended, science could be the source of its own demise. One can easily imagine damaging an object if he is not aware of its presence. If the ignorance of these underlying philosophic realities doesn’t undermine science directly, it may undermine the cultural fabric that supports the scientists and the establishments of science. As Aristotle says a little error in the beginning leads to major ones in the end.
        

We need real philosophy, the real science of the first principles of things; we need its wisdom. Techniques and mathematical tools and descriptions that masquerade as philosophy but at best are only tools of philosophy will not do. Yet, the eclipse of philosophic sensitivity is so complete that many scientists think that addressing purely philosophic questions is just an extension of their scientific knowledge with no special effort or study required. To witness this, switch on the TV to see Steven Gould, a well-known biologist, talking about philosophic aspects of evolution as if they are part of the field of biology. Some years ago, I was talking to a researcher in the biology department at Princeton , and he told me that the primary thing that he needs in his study is the idea of evolution. He said he uses this idea in every aspect of his work; the idea, he said, is the one thing his research could not do without. When I pointed out to him that there were some things that were much more important, he violently disagreed. I pointed out, by way of example, that logic is more important because the idea of evolution can only be discussed, formulated and verified by the use of logic. One must trust logic to do any science. Though a very smart man and scientist, it was not till the third or fourth explanation of the point that he understood.  The false conclusions from scientific fact and the presuppositions taught him during his education were habituated in him by years of thinking without consciousness of the philosophical background that science needs. Science for him was first before all else. He would probably never have received the philosophical truth about logic if it had not been couched in a discussion about science.
        

What, then, is needed is not just philosophy, but a presentation of philosophy taking just account of the scientific mindset. This mindset has particular benefits and problems when approaching philosophy. A scientist can make use of examples from science to bring out sound philosophy. In the same vein, the scientist can accurately use false interpretations of scientific concepts, theories and facts to unwind the notions that have set the modern mind on a road of cultural and scientific suicide.


I have been a practicing scientist for 20 years now. I have also studied philosophy for about that same period. However, as a child and teenager, I studied only science and related fields intently. I had a complete scientific education from childhood. In philosophy, however, I did no study. In fact, I had no real knowledge of the existence of such a discipline. If I thought of it at all, it was in the way a colleague of mine (from a different department) revealed after a couple conversations about philosophy. He said, you talk as if philosophy was one thing (i.e. one subject)! Can anyone imagine saying that about physics or chemistry? At that point, I was in very much the position of the average scientist and layman in our science oriented culture. Hence, when I came to study philosophy, I resisted its discipline largely because of tendencies ingrained from my education, most of the causes of which I can now see clearly. As I studied science over the past 20 years, I continually asked myself not only the scientific questions, but also the coupled philosophical questions and applied, and here’s the difference, philosophy to the solution not just science. As a result of my background, I am uniquely qualified to present sound philosophy to this group of our culture. I  wrote the book I would have liked to have read 20 years ago. It is about time that the perennial philosophy blooms again in a field where it has often taken root only where it would not be seen. It is, indeed, paramount because this field, the field of science, is often the only field harvested by our culture. Ancient truths brought to bear on the realities of modern science will help both modern science and, what’s more important, the modern man who does the science.
        

In this book, I uncover the foundations of science; each chapter builds on the previous. In chapters three and four, you 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. As, Dr. Schneider, one of the reviewers of this book, said to me, “I used to believe the things you point to in your book, but now, after reading your book, I know them and no one can take them from me.” Another such reviewer said after reading chapter three, “it seems I should have known all this, because they are things I’ve encountered all my life but I did not really know any of it” The depth may seem vast, but the reader 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.

 

-Anthony Rizzi, Ph.D.

© The Institute for Advanced Physics

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