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)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Stephen Barr & Alexander Sich - Science and Faith Conference

This is an excellent talk! Theoretical particle physicist Dr. Stephen Barr reminds me of a theist version of Feynman! I really enjoyed his description of how relativity theory has corroborated St. Augustine's theory of time in his Confessions, which said:
For what is time? Who can easily and briefly explain it? Who even in thought can comprehend it, even to the pronouncing of a word concerning it? But what in speaking do we refer to more familiarly and knowingly than time? And certainly we understand when we speak of it; we understand also when we hear it spoken of by another. What, then, is time? If no one ask of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not. Yet I say with confidence, that I know that if nothing passed away, there would not be past time; and if nothing were coming, there would not be future time; and if nothing were, there would not be present time. Those two times, therefore, past and future, how are they, when even the past now is not; and the future is not as yet? But should the present be always present, and should it not pass into time past, time truly it could not be, but eternity. If, then, time present—if it be time—only comes into existence because it passes into time past, how do we say that even this is, whose cause of being is that it shall not be—namely, so that we cannot truly say that time is, unless because it tends not to be?
—St. Augustine's Confessions XI, ch. 14
I also enjoyed Dr. Barr's God/creation, author/book analogy to illustrate primary versus secondary causality.

Dr. Sich's response at the end of Dr. Barr's talk includes a very good, trenchant polemic against the Copenhagen interpretation.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Edward Feser & Jonathan Sanford - Science and Faith Conference

Natural Philosophy Must be Grounded in the Philosophy of Nature, Not Natural Science by Dr. Edward Feser

I'm not sure Aristotelian Thomists would agree. What do you think?

Friday, January 6, 2012

How to Get Ideas

    "If you want to be more creative," wrote the [child] psychologist Jean Piaget, "stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society."
    J. Robert Oppenheimer agreed: "There are children playing in the streets who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago." [This corroborates Nihil est in intellectu quod prius in sensu!]
    Thomas Edison agreed too: "The greatest invention in the world is the mind of a child."     So did Will Durant: "…the child knows as much of cosmic truth as Einstein did in the ecstasy of his final formula." [Although the former and latter are cœnoscopic and ideoscopic knowledge, respectively]
    Which is curiously close to what Albert Einstein himself said: "I sometimes ask myself how it came about that I was the one to develop the theory of relativity. The reason, I think, is that a normal adult never stops to think about problems of time and space. These are things that he has thought of as a child. But my intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time only when I had already grown up."
    "Kids are natural-born scientists," said Carl Sagan. "First of all, they ask the deep scientific questions: Why is the moon round? Why is the sky blue? What's a dream? Why do we have toes? What's the birthday of the world? By the time they get into high school, they hardly ever ask questions like that."
    "Children enter school as question marks and leave as periods," agreed Neil Postman.
    Become a question mark again.
How to Get Ideas (p. 27-30) by Foster & Corby

Cœnoscopy versus Ideoscopy

Searching the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the world's largest dictionary, I was surprised the OED lacks the following philosophical words:
  • ideoscopy (sometimes spelled idioscopy)
  • cenoscopy (sometimes spelled cœnoscopy)
    • Plus all the derivatives: ideoscopic, cenoscopic, etc.
The American philosopher Charles Peirce gives a good definition of these terms (C.P. 1.238–242):

§4. The Divisions of Science 

238. [...] All knowledge whatever comes from observation; but different sciences are observational in such radically different ways that the kind of information derived from the observation of one department of science (say natural history) could not possibly afford the information required of observation by another branch (say mathematics). [...]
239. I recognize two branches of science: Theoretical, whose purpose is simply and solely knowledge of God's truth; and Practical, for the uses of life. In Branch I, I recognize two subbranches, of which, at present, I consider only the first, [the sciences of discovery]. Among the theoretical sciences [of discovery], I distinguish three classes, all resting upon observation, but being observational in very different senses.†P1
240. The first is mathematics, which does not undertake to ascertain any matter of fact whatever, but merely posits hypotheses, and traces out their consequences. It is observational, in so far as it makes constructions in the imagination according to abstract precepts, and then observes these imaginary objects, finding in them relations of parts not specified in the precept of construction. This is truly observation, yet certainly in a very peculiar sense; and no other kind of observation would at all answer the purpose of mathematics.†P2
241. Class II is philosophy, which deals with positive truth, indeed, yet contents itself with observations such as come within the range of every man's normal experience, and for the most part in every waking hour of his life. Hence Bentham calls this class, coenoscopic.†1 These observations escape the untrained eye precisely because they permeate our whole lives, just as a man who never takes off his blue spectacles soon ceases to see the blue tinge. Evidently, therefore, no microscope or sensitive film would be of the least use in this class. The observation is observation in a peculiar, yet perfectly legitimate, sense. If philosophy glances now and then at the results of special sciences, it is only as a sort of condiment to excite its own proper observation.
242. Class III is Bentham's idioscopic†2; that is, the special sciences, depending upon special observation, which travel or other exploration, or some assistance to the senses, either instrumental or given by training, together with unusual diligence, has put within the power of its students. This class manifestly divides itself into two subclasses, the physical and the psychical sciences; [...]
†P1 Some catholic writers recognize sciences resting upon authority. No doubt, everybody of good sense believes some things substantially because he has been brought up to do so; but according to my conception of what science is, that is not science. Indeed, belief proper has nothing to do with science. [Baldassare] Lablanca [Dialettica, vol. II, lib. IV, c. 1, 1875] admits a class of documentary sciences. This is more plausible; although, as that author admits, documentary evidence enters into every science, while nothing can have rested wholly on documentary evidence to the original authors of the documents. He reckons as documentary sciences, history, linguistics, political economy, statistics, and geography. But it is quite plain that these do not form a natural group; especially since this geography must include physical geography.
†P2 Many writers of France (as Comte and Ribot), and of Germany (as Schopenhauer and Wundt), and a few in England (as Cave), have given mathematics the first place among the sciences, contrary to the doctrine of Plato and Aristotle, which has caused so many to place it below philosophy in point of abstractness. I mention this to show that I am taking no revolutionary position here: I am open to charges enough of heresy to answer to, to make me desire to avoid those that can be avoided.
†1 "Coenoscopic . . . from two Greek words, one of which signifies common — things belonging to others in common; the other looking to. By coenoscopic ontology, then, is designated that part of the science which takes for its subject those properties which are considered as possessed in common by all the individuals belonging to the class which the name ontology is employed to designate, i.e. by all individuals." The Works of Jeremy Bentham, Edinburgh, 1843, viii, 83, footnote.
†2 "Idioscopic . . . from two Greek words, the first of which signifies peculiar. In Idioscopic ontology, then, we have that branch of art and science which takes for its subject such properties as are considered as peculiar to different classes of beings, some to one such class, some to another." Ibid.
See also the semiotician John Deely's Purely Objective Reality (2009) for more on the difference and similarities between ideoscopy and cœnoscopy, which is relevant to understand how modern science relates to our sense perception of the world.

The OED seems interested in adding the entries, since they quickly responded:
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Medieval Scholars Applied Math to Physics

The Medieval scholars had no aversion to applying mathematics to physics, which they classified as a "middle sciences," and which, because of their "conclusions about physical matter from mathematical principles, are reckoned rather among the mathematical sciences, though, as to their matter they have more in common with physical [i.e., natural-philosophical] sciences." (Summa Theologica II-II, q. 9, a. 2 ad 3).

Here are some physicists we rarely hear about because of the myth that the Middle Ages were "dark ages":
  • The medieval scientist Thomas Bradwardine determined in 1300 that for uniformly accelerated objects, d = ½ a t², which Fr. de Soto, O.P., (b. ca. 1494) applied to free-falling objects. (Before Galileo!)
  • Jean Buridan (d. ca. 1359) invented the momentum equation: p = m v. Some have proposed naming the unit of momentum after him, where 1 B = 1 kg m/s.
  • The French Bishop Nicole Oresme (d. 1382) determined mean speed theorem of uniformly accelerated body: vavg = vf / 2.
  • Bishop Oresme posed the famous Gedankenexperiment: “I posit that the Earth is pierced clear through and that we can see through a great hole farther and farther right up to the other end where the antipodes [poles] would be if the whole of this Earth were inhabited; I say, first of all, that if we dropped a stone through this hole, it would fall and pass beyond the center of the earth, going straight on toward the other side for a certain limited distance, and that then it would turn back going beyond the center on this side of the Earth; afterward, it would fall back again, going beyond the center but not so far as before; it would go and come this way several times with a reduction of its reflex motions until finally it would come to rest as the center of the Earth....” Quoted by K. V. Magruder from Le Livre du Ciel et due Monde (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968), translated by D. Menut, pg. 573.
  • Bishop Oresme wrote (before Galilean relativity): “If air were enclosed in a moving ship, it would seem to the person situated in this air that it was not moved.” Book of the Heavens, Book II chapter 25, from Grant, A Source Book of Medieval Science, pg. 505, Harvard, 1974