Extending the Vocabulary of Science|
by Arthur M. Young
Science was defined by Eddington as the study of the relationship strucure of the universe. Since Eddington there has been much concern about including the observer, and Wheeler goes further to say that the observer also participates. Not only does he observe the result of an experiment, he also participates when he sets up the experiment. More recently he adds that the observation did not imply consciousness because it could be done by a robot.
This struck me as mistaken because it would follow that a dead leaf could fulfill the role of observer because it had acted in this capacity when it absorbed photons -- when it was part of the tree. Such activity was part of the relationship structure of nature and did not imply or involve consciousness or whatever that was introduced, or thought to be introduced, by a human observer. True, the leaf observed the photon, but it did not go into the epistemological implications.
In another sense we could agree that a robot could make the observation, but a scientist would have to observe the robot. Thus a photograph can register a particle event (such as pair creation), but the film is a means used by the scientist to assist his work.
But why is Wheeler trying to dismiss the implications of an observer by saying it could be done by a robot?
I get the impression it is because the vocabulary of science does not include observers and their activity. If science is relationship structure such as can be displayed on a map, a blueprint, or a mathematical formula such as y = f(x) -- that is, a statement that tells you what y is if you know x -- let us take it at that.
We can now introduce the vocabulary of astrology, the modes of being expressed in the signs of the zodiac. There are 12 signs, consisting of three modalities, each of four elements. I would like to begin with the three modalities -- mutable, cardinal, and fixed. Mutable would have to do with relationship, cardinal with actions, and fixed with states or results of actions. Their nearest equivalent in modern thought are the threefold of the psychologist Hamilton, who distinguished between cognitive, conative, and affective. The mutable signs would certainly include what Hamilton called cognitive; the cardinal signs, which are actions, would include conative ("making an effort" -- Webster); and fixed would correlate to affective (fixed in astrology means "formally established," as in photography where the film, having been developed, is placed in a "fixing solution" which preserves it).
Such a vocabulary applied to the observer of the relationship structure of science would accommodate three aspects -- the relationship structure of the map, the act of observing it, and the conclusion, the significance of what is observed.
Now even if we put no credence in the use of astrology, we must concede that its vocabulary is more inclusive than that of science. Relationship structure, which we can translate as self-contained relationship (a square has four sides; Chicago is between New York and San Francisco, etc.), is but part of a whole which in this case can be
1. data (the map)
2. observation (the action which makes use of the map)
3. significance (the result, or meaning)
If science replies by saying that such elaboration is anthropomorphic, has nothing to do with science, we can still ask, how is it that science involves human activity? Not only do scientists observe the result of experiments; they create new experiments, learn something from them, and in technology make devices based on scientific findings -- telephones, electric lights, etc.
As for the third term, what Hamilton calls affective, I have seen it stated that science deals with changes of state. Even if we were to dismiss practical application as not part of theoretical science we could not overlook that changes of state occur and that science deals with what brings them about. In fact the study of cause and effect, which science includes, is another reminder of this threefold of relation, action, and result.
So if the threefold of mutable, cardinal, and fixed have relevance as a vocabulary for science, what about the fourfold? Here the vocabulary of science fares better, since it already includes the distinction between the map and the territory, although this distinction is often neglected. The biologist Bateson in his Ecology of Mind deals with this distinction, showing that nature does not consist only of material objects, it includes elaborate relationships between them. Nature has, as it were, a mind of its own.
But the vocabulary of astrology provides not two distinctions but four. The simplest way to make these two extra "aspects" apparent is to ask science what it considers the world to be. The answer of science is that the world it studies is objective. It does not concern itself with the subjective aspects that people project; the latter are illusions that must be discounted if we are to get a true view, a valid account of the universe.
This affords a clue. The objects of nature -- atoms, molecules, etc. -- and the relations between their weights, dimensions, chemical properties, position, velocity, even their significance, are all objective.
That would imply that what it leaves out or even dismisses is not objective. This can include what is projective as well as what is subjective. An animal is motivated by hunger. Can we dismiss hunger as subjective? Or what about any force -- is a force objective? It's certainly "out there"; it extends to infinity, it has no boundary, it is different at different points in space. But it is hardly objective.
One of my friends insisted his dreams were objective; he saw them. But would anyone else see them? He agreed that they could not, and somewhat reluctantly admitted that they were therefore not objective. One might say the same of his purpose, despite the fact that we say, "What is your objective?" when we mean purpose. But that is not what science means by objective. It means rather something that can be perceived by the senses, by more than one person, and it has great trouble with forces.
Eddington said that force is an "elusive concept." I would say it's not a concept at all. It is certainly an important constituent of the world, but it is not an objective constituent. Nor is it subjective. One would certainly say the force of gravity that holds the earth in its orbit around the sun and the moon in its orbit around the earth is "out there." The force of an explosion, the force of the exploding mixture of gas and air in the engine of an automobile, is out there. We can see and measure its effect, but it is not a material object.
Perhaps I am belaboring this point, but it is very critical now in science because science is beginning to realize that forces do not conform to the objectivity required by science, and science is trying to make it so by attributing it to particles: "Gravity is due to a shower of gravitons," which somehow cause attraction rather than pushing apart, and would cause evaporation of the proton (despite the finding that the half life of the proton is trillions of times greater than the age of the universe).
Here again we have a case of a limitation in the vocabulary of science. There is no accommodation for what is projective -- yet we can see this even in the famous answer of Samuel Johnson to Bishop Berkeley's statement that physical objects were an illusion. "I refute him thus," said Johnson, kicking a stone. The stone was indeed an object, but without the ject (throw) of Samuel's kick the object would not have been perceived.
The vocabulary of astrology includes these projective aspects. They are the fire and water signs, and precede the objective air and earth signs. And even if we reject astrology altogether we should be able to perceive their intrinsic logic. Why? Because when science emphasizes objects to account for the cosmos, it must tell us how the object got there in the first place. A distinctive feature of objects is that they are separate; otherwise we could not speak of relations between them. They must be separate in space or we could not tell one from another. We need objects to see relationship. Our notion of time depends on something that changes: a tree grows, a child becomes mature. We could say that motion requires time, but we can also say that time requires change; if nothing changes there would be no need of time. We need objects to describe causality.
I am suggesting that we need a more inclusive vocabulary than that of science, and this need is provided by the "elements" fire and water. What is missing in science with its limitation to objectivity is what I call projective, the dynamic that causes motion, and what is much more important, evolution.
But evolution comes later, and we first need to supply the dynamic to complete the picture. As we said, science does deal with forces, but makes the mistake of explaining forces as due to objects, whereas since it is forces that precede objects we cannot expect objects to account for them.
This takes us to an interesting question. Why does science want to explain force as due to objects? Here we recognize that objects were not present at the beginning of the cosmos; they began after it was well established. It was science that began with objects, with planets moving around the earth, but in a complicated way -- sometimes going one way and then going backwards, what is now called retrograde motion. There was a problem in this odd behavior of objects.
Science began when Copernicus suggested that this complex motion could be better accounted for by thinking of planets as revolving around the sun rather than around the earth. It was because the earth too was revolving that their motion seemed so complex. Supported by the more accurate observations of Tycho Brahe, Kepler was able to go a step further and show that their motion could be explained by exact laws which accounted for their motion in ellipses rather than perfect circles. Newton, "standing," as he said, "on the shoulders of giants," was able to devise his fluxions -- the rate of change of position (velocity) and the rate of change of velocity (acceleration).
Newton's fluxions are now called the calculus, and it was this calculus that provided the foundation for science. By his recognition that acceleration times mass equaled force he gave formal recognition to force. It was this formal recognition that could accommodate the non-objective component, force, which Eddington referred to as an "elusive concept." The derivatives became the basis for the other measure formulae of science.
But before going on with the progress of science let me point out that this origin of science in the discovery of the laws of planetary motion came about after the universe was well under way. There were separate objects moving according to laws. The power and elegance of this formalism was so impressive that science became convinced that the universe was founded on certainty and law. Later when quantum phenomena indicated to the contrary -- first that probability, then that outright uncertainty, were basic -- science was unable to appreciate the true role of law as means rather than as first cause.
Since that time science has worked its way back through molecules and atoms to what are called particles, the proton and electron, but are poles of a force. So we have something projective, and note that while electrical force was discovered long after its much weaker grandchild, gravitation, it is prior to the objects that obey laws. So great is this force that it has to be neutralized before objects can come to be. The first atom, hydrogen, is possible only when proton and electron join up, neutralizing one another's charge to form an atom.
In other words, the laws of classical physics, which were based on the interaction of inert particles, billiard balls, do not necessarily apply to the early stages of cosmogenesis, and not to its later stages, by which I mean life and consciousness. These later stages can use laws. Laws therefore are not basic, they are means and apply only to the objective world.
But the formalism of Newton, and the laws which govern the motion of inert objects, plus the elegant order of the atomic kingdom, so influenced science that the use of statistics in thermodymanics, and later of probabilities in the Schroedinger wave function, were not accorded the significance they should have received, as indicating quite different emphasis -- forces instead of particles, and probability replacing laws.
Here the protons and electrons that account for the properties of atoms with such elegance are themselves without identity. Rather than being particles, they are, as I said, the poles of the electromagnetic force, an enormous force 1039 times gravity -- as much larger than gravity as the universe is larger than the proton. This gives force the predominant role in the subatomic realm.
This force, as we said, is projective, not objective, and at first was not questioned. Recently, however, rather than question its assumption that the world of science is objective, science has chosen to account for forces as due to a shower of particles.
But science has two objective components, one being objects and the other the laws that prescribe their behavior -- the objects particular, and the laws general. We would therefore expect another projective aspect to complete the quadruplicity. This is fire, which is projective -- and as I hope to show, particular. But since fire is even more difficult to conceptualize than is force, I will ask my reader to bear with me while I take still another route to this quest of first cause. Most accounts would warn that this ultimate source, this first cause, is ineffable, nameless, and consider it sacrilege to even attempt its description: "If you see the Buddha in the street, kill him." But I can at least provide a space for this essence, and avoid the error of misplaced concreteness by leaving it blank.
This other route is simple, perhaps too simple; but its very simplicity recommends its employment for the pursuit of first cause.
What we are dealing with is fourness, the four elements of ancient teachings. What is the simplest possible way to describe or represent 4? Why not four points?
If we take four points not in the same plane and join them by lines, we get a tetrahedron, a figure that is the simplest solid and occupies three dimensions.
If we now take three points not on the same line, we get a triangle, a figure which requires two dimensions. Or it could be a circle, also requiring two dimensions.
Next would be to take two points, which would indicate a line; but note that we cannot mark ends on this line because to end it we have to cut it off, and this would require another dimension for the cutoff lines. So the two points indicate an infinite line which has direction and extension.
Finally we would end with a point. A point has no extension, but it does have all the angles. It might be thought that a circle is necessary to describe angle; but if we look into this we find that the required circle can be of any size, very large or very small. In fact the circle could be infinitely small and still have all the angles.
Let us now apply this metaphor of points to "reality," or perhaps I should say to the generation of what we call reality. The tetrahedron or solid can represent the objective world, consisting as it does of objects with outer boundaries which exist in space and time.
The three points determine a plane, and thus can stand for the world of forms -- formulas and principles which describe the relationship structure of the objective world. While it lacks the dimension of depth of the three-dimensional world, it can, by three views, front, side, and plan view, describe any object (as in architect's drawings or blueprints).
There is also a sense in which it is general; a drawing or concept is to the object it represents as a class is to its members. In this sense too we use a map, which can serve its function for any number of trips between different places. What is the difference between the map and the territory? The map has a freedom that the territory lacks. If you're in the territory you're "on the spot," as it were.
This is related to the fact that the map is on a different scale from the territory. If the map were as large as the territory it would be useless. So while the map itself doesn't give the scale and is thus deficient, this deficit is an advantage in that you can get from the map the comprehensive view of the whole which can assist a trip that you might make.
Perhaps the most important contribution of this two-dimensionality is the circle. The circle establishes an inside and an outside. We mentioned earlier that the forces and even the particles in the nuclear realm had no identity. The circle provides the possibility of identity. It is interesting that it also makes possible the enclosure of force.
Here I should not speak of the levels or stages of the theory of process, but I'll mention (parenthetically) that it is the circle that makes possible the third substage of each kingdom. For example in animals it makes possible the stomach of the coelenterates, the first animals to have this organ. In plants it makes possible the embryophyta, the first plants to separate the function of growth from that of creating the next generation. For man this substage manifests as the first occurrence of the self-conscious ego.
As for two points, it might be thought that this would establish length. But as we said it cannot do this because that would require cutoff lines to make it objective. The extension here is not an objective and measurable distance because one of the points is the self. This is implied by the fact that it is projective, a relation involving the self. It is longing, rather than length. Here again we have the verb to long for, rather than the noun length -- which echoes what we said about to matter as a verb as compared with the noun matter.
To think of this twoness as "longing" helps uncover the profound implications of this ultra simple description of stages as point, line, plane, and solid. Another name for this stage, a level of cosmogenesis, is the word "binding," which is not just the binding implied by the enormous foces which come into existence here, but also applies to any manifestation of the monad or what I'm here calling the point.
Included in this description we could say there can be more than one longing, but such longings cannot occur at the same time; one will replace the other. It is not until we have three points that we have the space in which to compare longings, and this implies that the cutoff lines we referred to are not available until we have two dimensions.
Such cutoff lines bring to mind the Greek myth of Cronos, who is directed by Gaia to cut off the testicles of Uranus, thus terminating his activity -- "stop and think." In other myths this is the "immobilized" tree god.
We can now approach the ultimate point -- which I prefer to regard as inaccessible and have the authority of physics to support me because of Planck's constant. This tells us that energy times time is a constant. To get a point in time, which would be an infinitely short duration, we would have to expend infinite energy. This applies also to infinitely short distances. To get a probe that will be small enough to explore the nucleus, which has a radius of about 10-13 centimeters, we need a supercollider costing about a billion, or 109, dollars. Since it costs about $30 to measure 10-3 centimeters, the cost of measurement varies inversely as the distance.
But no matter how small a point we get there are the same number of angles around the point as there are around a large circle -- it is a different dimension, one outside of space and time. It is known to physics as uncertainty, and while its energy component can be very small (it can also be very large) it contains all the angles.
While light has a measurable frequency, and when this is known, a measurable energy, its direction except in special applications is unknown. A physical object, whether an electron or a mouse, has a limited uncertainty. The electron's position is described as a probability fog; the mouse, if placed in a known position at instant1, can be anywhere within, say, five feet of this position one second later. Light released at a given moment can be anywhere within 186,000 miles a second later.
But why are we talking about light? Because light is the inhabitant of the domain I've represented as the point. The domain represented by two points is force, or longing. Here with light we have what is even more basic, the quantum of action, alias uncertainty
-- and I would add alias freedom, or free will.
This and force are the two projective aspects which complement and complete the two objective aspects to which science confines its attention. But they are as much part of science as are the objective factors. Forces have been recognized by science since Kepler, who, lacking any precedent for the notion of force, referred to it as anima mundi, "soul of the world" -- and now I am forced to refer to soul, which has been ousted by science, as the force which animates not just people, but the world itself. It is that longing that makes the world go, makes us be born, be born again and again, always at the behest of the ineffable spirit, the purpose that would make us wise as gods.
But there is still a great mystery. Why are there two forces -- electromagnetic and gravitation? I am not troubled by the so-called strong and weak forces described by current science. I have reasons to suppose that strong and weak forces are due to magnetism. Magnetic force can be shown to be proportional to the inverse fourth power of the distance, which makes it short-range, and I can think of no other force that is short-range.
When we then say that the strong force is associated with the proton and the weak force with the electron, and recall that the Compton wave length, a distance associated with both the proton and the electron and known to have a ratio of 1836 (the ratio of the wave length of the photons which create them), we can predict that the weak force is 1/(1836)4, or 1.13 x 10-13 times the strong force. This is about as close to the known value of their ratio (given as 10-13) as measurement can determine -- more I cannot say.
©1996 Anodos Foundation