Contradiction and Hope

In Human Existence–Contradiction and Hope, Walter Strolz traces the origins of the modern scientific viewpoint. He follows it through Descartes, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and Heisenberg.

Werner Heisenberg formulated an “uncertainty principle” to describe how the scientific view of nature is influenced by the experimenter’s intentions, insofar as the application of his method changes how an object is measured. Heisenberg proposed that the position and momentum of a particular atomic object at a particular moment in time cannot both be precisely determined: the method of determining either measurement destroys the validity of the other.

Heisenberg saw this as a significant shift in the relationship between humans and nature. With Newtonian or classical physics, we could say that we were completely objective, confronting the nonhuman Nature; but with atomic physics, it becomes clear that we are confronting our own mathematical theories.

Heisenberg concludes his reflections on the reasons why man no longer meets nature but merely sees before himself a “construct of our relationship to nature” with this recognition: Herewith natural science’s world concept ceases to be an actual natural scientific one.

This is not actually new to the 20th century; it goes all the way back to the Renaissance and Galileo. The 20th-century manifestations are merely the logical result.

Modern science is a technical construct, a hall of mirrors showing progressively smaller recursive images of itself. The technologies of measurement, data-gathering, data-recording, information storage and retrieval, probability, statistics, and mathematical theory serve to enclose the believer in modern science in a tight cocoon. It may be predictive, but that doesn’t make it “real”; it is still idealistic in outlook.

It represents technological refinement, and it shows itself through precise control of new technology. It is not, to that extent, “naturalistic.” Is that bad? Not necessarily. However, it is hypocritical to claim to be “naturalistic” and “empirical” when you are not.

Naturalism means accepting the existing world as it is, without imposing on it a presupposed framework. I say that this natural world is made by God, and whereas I can try to understand it through my own reasoning, I do not claim to know everything about it. I cannot know it in all its massive extent throughout space and time, in accordance with manmade laws that are too numerous and complex in themselves, yet cannot possibly provide an exact description of everything in the universe.

This is naturalism and empiricism: to know what the ground of your being is, to know that your life is contingent and transient in itself, and to reject preconceptions about the universe. I reject the arrogance and stupidity of people who do not themselves understand the inadequate mathematical and theoretical constructs that they claim fully determine every created thing. They are self-limiting, insular, artificial, solipsistic, and without hope. If they can ever break out of their little manmade cocoons, they might find the true glory of nature, which is a pale reflection of the glory of its creator.

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2 thoughts on “Contradiction and Hope

  1. Heisenberg saw this as a significant shift in the relationship between humans and nature.

    I’ve been looking for a physicist to admit to me that there’s nothing deep about the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, other than what it tells we can’t know.

    If your instruments can’t be smaller than what you’re trying to probe, it only makes sense that you’re going to disrupt the object you’re probing too much to get both velocity and position information out of your instrument.

    I thought I read in a textbook by a reputable physicist an admission of sort of what I’m saying, but I can’t find where I think I read it.

  2. I think it actually is simply a commonsense principle, as you say. Heisenberg sometimes got a little mystical, which is why he gets quoted by writers like Fritjof Capra and Robert Anton Wilson.

    The problem is that there are only so many kinds of things you can throw at other things and still reliably measure the reaction. At the atomic level, the relative energy levels start to become a problem.

    The underlying truth of Heisenberg’s philosophical statement is that a scientist cannot know every important datapoint for every particle at any given time.

    This is a problem for mechanical determinism and thus for the science groupies who claim that everything can be known through direct observation. They are lying.

Instigate some pointless rambling

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