Saturday, January 28, 2012

Problems of Cartesianism in Modern Science

Regarding the Guardian article "It's time for science to move on from materialism" that Luboš Motl mentions on The Reference Frame:

The real problem is that modern science unfortunately presupposes a Cartesian philosophy, which not only opposes Aristotelian hylemorphic theory of matter (potency) and form (act) but also introduces the false dichotomy of the res cogitans (thinking thing) that is completely divorced from the res extensa (extended thing, i.e., things with length, breadth, and width); this is Cartesian dualism.

Regarding hylemorphism, the Oxford English Dictionary says:
This use of form (Aristotle's μορφή or εἶδος) and matter (ὕλη) is a metaphorical extension of their popular use. In ordinary speech, a portion of matter, stuff, or material, becomes a 'thing' by virtue of having a particular 'form' or shape; by altering the form, the matter remaining unchanged, we make a new 'thing'. This language, primarily applied only to objects of sense, was in philosophical use extended to objects of thought: every 'thing' or entity was viewed as consisting of two elements, its form by virtue of which it was different from, and its matter which it had in common with, others.
Thus the soul is the form of a living body.

Regarding res cogitans versus res extensa, the Oxford English Dictionary defines res cogitans as "Substance which has or is regarded as having the power of thought; spec. (in Cartesian metaphysics) the human mind viewed as a substance distinct from the material world." Descartes coined the term in his 1641 Meditationes ii. 23:
Sed quid igitur sum? res cogitans: quid est hoc? nempe dubitans, intelligens, affirmans, negans, volens, nolens, imaginans quoque, & sentiens.

[But what therefore am I? A thinking thing: what is this? Certainly a doubting, intelligent, affirming, denying, willing, unwilling, imagining, & sentient thing.]
The Oxford English Dictionary defines res extensa as "Matter, material substance; a material body."

Werner Heisenberg recognized these two problems of Cartesian dualism in his Physics and Philosophy when he wrote that the probability wave concept in quantum mechanics
was a quantitative version of the concept of 'potentia' [potency] in Aristotelian philosophy (p. 41)
and that the
concept of the soul for instance in the philosophy of [Saint] Thomas Aquinas was more natural and less forced than the Cartesian concept of 'res cogitans,' even if we are convinced that the laws of physics and chemistry are strictly valid in living organisms. (p. 80)

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