iSoul In the beginning is reality

Metaphysics and science

This post presents excerpts from Pierre Duhem’s The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, first published (in French) in 1906, and translated into English in 1954 (Princeton University Press). See also the following post on Physics and metaphysics.

[I]f the aim of physical theories is to explain experimental laws, theoretical physics is not an autonomous science; it is subordinate to metaphysics. p.10

Now, to make physical theories depend on metaphysics is surely not the way to let them enjoy the privilege of universal consent. p.10

A physical theory reputed to be satisfactory by the sectarians of one metaphysical school will be rejected by the partisans of another school. p.10-11

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Speed of information

Nowadays, we say that the speed of information is the speed of light. That is justified by the rôle of the speed of light in relativity, in which it is the speed of causation. But it is also justified by the use of electromagnetic waves to transmit information between people.

It was not always so. It took much longer for information to travel in the past.

A day’s journey in pre-modern literature, including the Bible, ancient geographers and ethnographers such as Herodotus, is a measurement of distance. In the Bible, it is not precisely defined; the distance has been estimated from 32 to 40 kilometers (20–25 miles). Wikipedia

A critical fact in the world of 1801 was that nothing moved faster than the speed of a horse. No human being, no manufactured item, no bushel of wheat . . . no letter, no information, no idea, order, or instruction of any kind moved faster. Nothing ever had moved any faster.  Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage (Simon & Schuster, 1996), p. 52.

The book A Farewell to Alms includes a table showing how long it took for news of sig­nif­i­cant events to reach London. Faster speeds resulted from the in­ven­tion and de­ploy­ment of the telegraph by 1880:

Speed of Information Travel to London, 1798-1914
Event Year Distance (miles) Days until report Speed (mph)
Battle of the Nile 1798 2073 62 1.4
Battle of Trafalgar 1805 1100 17 2.7
Earthquake, Kutch, India 1819 4118 153 1.1
Treaty of Nanking 1842 5597 84 2.8
Charge of the Light Brigade, Crimea 1854 1646 17 4.0
Indian Mutiny, Delhi Massacre 1857 4176 46 3.8
Treaty of TienSin (China) 1858 5140 82 2.6
Assassination of Lincoln 1865 3674 13 12
Assassination of Archduke Maximilian, Mexico 1867 5545 12 19
Assassination of Alexander II, St. Petersburg 1881 1309 0.46 119
Nobi Earthquake, Japan 1891 5916 1 246


6D invariant interval

Since one may associate either the arclength (travel length) or the arctime (travel time) with direction, one might think that the full coordinates for every event are of the form (s, t, ê), with arclength s, arctime t, and unit vector ê. Since the direction is a function of either the arclength or the arctime, the coordinates would be either (s, t, ê(s)) or (s, t, ê(t)).

However, since s = ∫ || r′(τ) || , where the integral is from 0 to t, and t = ∫ || w′(σ) || , where the integral is from 0 to s (see here), this reduces to either (t, r) or (s, w).

But science seeks unification and so must combine these forms into one. In that case, both s and t are redundant, and the full coordinates for every event are of the form [r, w]. That is, there are three dimensions of space and three dimensions of time. The arclength and arctime are implicit, and may be made explicit through integration.

The standard exposition of special relativity looks at one dimension of space and one dimension of time. This is convenient and makes Δs = Δx and Δt = Δw1. But in general Δs and Δt will either be measured directly or found through integration.

What is the distance-like invariant interval then between two events? The interval in length units (proper length) is (dσ)² = (cdw)² – (dr)²,  where c is the speed of light. The interval in time units (proper time) is (dτ)² = (dw)² – (dr/c)².

This appears different from special relativity because it substitutes the vector dw for the scalar dt. However, the scalar (dt)² = (dw1)² + (dw2)² + (dw3)² so there is no discrepancy.

In order to demonstrate that this interval is invariant for two observers traveling at different rates, one must either convert dw to dt or convert dr to ds, which reduces the six dimensions to four.

The intervals above may be generalized for general relativity with the relation L = cP √(–gμν dxμ dxν), where P is the path, gμν is the metric tensor, and there are six coordinates xμ and xν.

Conventions in science

The main convention of modern science is that it is based on observation only. This convention treats experiments, interventions, and projectiles as if they always happened naturally. Then it is easy to assume, for example, that the transmission and reception of light are at the same speed, a convention promoted as a fact.

It also makes it easy to assume that heavier bodies have the most effect in dynamics, since they move the least and so are seemingly the least impacted. This is like the observer who sees but does not intervene, and so is little impacted by what happens (quantum mechanics nonwithstanding).

But this obscures the fact that scientists do perform experiments and do intervene in various ways – and people in general do, too, as they move about. It also obscures the fact that conventions determine much of science.

Take dynamics, for example. Newton set the convention by taking the ancient concept of gravitation and ignoring its inverse, the ancient concept of levitation. One could as well reverse the convention and take levitation as the standard. That would mean that instead of distance weighted by mass for the bathycenter (Greek bathys, deep) as the center of motion, the weighting is by inverse mass for the ‘pechocenter’ (Greek pechos, shallow) of motion.

It so happens that observation of the Sun orbiting the Earth fits well with the inverse convention. The irony is that science purports to follow observation, but ends up discounting many ordinary observations, not because they are wrong, but because they are against conventions.

Centrist virtue

According to Aristotle (as noted here), the nature of virtue is to seek a mean or middle between extremes, which is an intermediate state between them.

These contrary extremes are often called vices, but that implies the operation of evil, which is contradictory to the good, and should be completely rejected. It would be better to call the contrary opposites semi-virtues as we shall see.

The issue concerns two goods that are contraries in some way so that preferring the one reduces the other and vice versa. In order to affirm both one must seek an intermediate state between them that balances their legitimate value. Let’s look at an example often used:

With respect to acting in the face of danger, courage is a mean between the excess of rashness and the deficiency of cowardice.

That is to say:

With respect to acting in the face of danger, courage is a mean between acting excessively imprudent, which would be rash, and acting excessively prudent, which would be cowardice. Thus courage is a mean between prudence and imprudence in action.

The contraries of prudence and imprudence are not vices, but neither are they virtues to be affirmed in general. In some way they are excessive, or from the opposite perspective, deficient.

Call them semi-virtues, for they are partially virtuous, but are not fully virtuous by themselves. They are imbalanced alternatives to the real virtues.

This is applicable to political life as well. Liberty and equality are both goods that are opposites in some ways. Liberty allows the inequality of abilities and interests to induce inequality in society. Equality stifles these differences, but that entails a loss of liberty.

Thus liberty and equality are semi-virtues in political life. Political virtue is a mean between these contraries. It doesn’t have a name but is a balance between liberty and equality. It is a centrist politics.

One further note concerning virtue ethics and theology: God has no contrary (one might say it’s nonbeing but that’s another way of saying it’s nothing). So in relation to God, there is no middle state. The problem is not contraries but contradictories: good and evil, righteousness and sinfulness, truth and falsehood. The former is to be unreservedly affirmed, and the latter unreservedly rejected.

False Gospels

The false gospel of sensitivity: Christians should always to be sensitive to other people, and never offend them in any way.

It is false because Jesus offended many people.

Matthew 15:12:  Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”

The true gospel itself is offensive. For example:

1 Peter 2:7-8: So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

On the other hand, Christians should not needlessly offend others.

1 Corinthians 10:32: Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God

Oversensitivity and lack of sensitivity are extremes to be avoided.

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Physics of subjects

If a stone rolls down a hill, we would say it is simply following the law of gravitation. It is not “going somewhere” as if it had a destination – that would require nature to have a soul, a view that died out in the early modern period. But if a person or an animal or even a seed pod moves down a hill, we expect it to be going somewhere, to have a destination or purpose.

That is the difference between a subject in motion and an object in motion. At a minimum, an object must have some starting point, at least from our observation, but need not have a destination or purpose for all we know. On the other hand, a subject need not have a known starting point but at a minimum there must be some movement toward a destination or end, else they would not be a subject.

This simple difference leads to a different formulation of space, time, and matter for subjects and objects. Modern physics has been entirely focused on bodies as objects, particles, or waves. In contrast, the physics of subjects will focus on bodies as subjects (somebodies), transicles, and networks.

Since there is a destination, something about its location must be known. At a minimum there must exist a route or path for the subject to traverse to reach their destination. Even if the length of the path is not known, one can at least measure the progress made toward reaching the destination by measuring the space rate of movement, called the pace.

The difference between speed, the time rate of motion, and the pace is the difference between taking space or time as the independent variable. For objects their motion from a point in time is what is given and so time is the independent variable. For subjects space is the independent variable since their movement toward a destination in space is given.

That means for subjects the dependent variable is time, which is measured along with the direction of movement, which results in three dimensions of time. Space is confined to the path of movement, which may be rectified as a line for linear referencing. Examples of a linear reference are the milepoint (MP) and kilometric point (PK) on a map or sign.

Objects have chronologies. Subjects have a destinations. But subjects are like objects in some ways, and objects are like subjects in some ways. For example, a projectile is an object that has been launched by a subject toward a destination.

Mechanistic sciences such as physics study objects. Teleological sciences such as economics study subjects. The physics of subjects is physics for the social sciences.

For more, see the other posts on this website about time-space, with 3D time and 1D space.

Science vs. metaphysics

Modern science began with a turn away from medieval debates about metaphysics to focus on how things happen, rather than a metaphysically-adequate why. This was an indifference to metaphysics, not a deliberate ignorance or repudiation of the subject.

But that began to change in the 19th century with the influence of materialism, secularism, and the professionalization of the sciences, culminating in TH Huxley’s effort to make the sciences “agnostic”. Huxley promoted science against other forms of knowledge, not in addition to them.

Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe. TH Huxley

His intention behind agnosticism was to establish and maintain epistemic merit of science without any unknowable, metaphysical or theological, apparatus. Science is the practice of agnosticism, and for this reason, our best way to knowledge. J. Byun

This is a form of scientism, an assertion that science is the pre-eminent or even the only legitimate source of knowledge. The irony is that scientism implicitly makes a metaphysical claim about the reality that can be known, which is the metaphysics of naturalism.

“Methodological naturalism” is the contemporary term but it amounts to the same thing: science must ignore or repudiate the possibility of other knowledge. Instead, the science community and its promoters should be indifferent to metaphysics so that regardless of whatever metaphysics people accept, they should also accept the claims of science.

Authority of the Bible

The authors of the texts that later became books of the Bible certainly did not think they were writing parts of Scripture. Yet they certainly did think they were writing texts with authority for a particular group of people at a particular time. Others realized later that the texts had a wider audience and a higher authority. In that sense, the various writings became the Scriptures over time.

One of the continuing questions then is to what extent the words written for a particular audience are authoritative for other audiences. This is commonly expressed in the question as to whether every word and sentence is “inspired” but that leads to side matters about theories of inspiration. It is better to focus on the authority of the texts.

The truth of the Scriptures follows from its authority but its authority also presupposes its truth. Those who first recognized their authority had to recognize their truth, too. The two cannot be separated.

The question then is how far down does the authority and truth of the Scriptures go? That is, are each paragraph, each sentence, each word authoritative? Are the grammatical mistakes authoritative? The apparent inconsistencies? The language if not the concepts of archaic knowledge?

It’s best to start with the literary styles and conventions of the time and place of writing. These are not those of today, and are not the way “we” would write. But we should read them in context. Variations in names and spellings were common. Different authors writing of the same events may have a different purpose and take on them, and may adopt a different chronology.

All these are not “mistakes” or “errors” – they are differences, between them or between us and them or between them and other sources. So a correct understanding requires some historical background.

This goes all the way down to the words and grammar. The languages and usages are different from ours. The idioms and forms of expression are different. Some words are obscure. Some grammar is nonstandard. The writer may be writing in a foreign language they don’t understand all that well.

These are all cautions, not criticisms. They do not undermine the authority of the Bible but qualify its interpretation. There is no reason that the authority does not go all the way down.

Some will consider this excessive. After all, what does it matter if a few geographical details are mistaken? Or if some names aren’t right? It’s not for me to say how much it matters because what really matters is whether the Bible is authoritative. If it is, then it’s not for us to limit how far down that authority goes. The text is what we have, and the text is authoritative.

Science and conformity

For the purposes of understanding science it is best to focus on “closed theories” – Heisenberg’s term for theories that are superseded. That’s because we understand the limits of closed theories, so a true evaluation of their content can be made.

This fit well with the old model of academia: focus on a canon of classics, not on the latest hot ideas. Such an education provided time for contemplation and understanding. The humanities were king then, with the arts and sciences following along.

That changed in the 19th century, with the spread of the the Prussian model of education. Universities were to engage in cutting-edge scientific research and teach the latest theories rather than the ideas of the past. The sciences were repositioned to the top of the academic hierarchy and “open” theories were promoted with their seemingly limitless potential to transform society. “It’s all different now” was born.

One problem was that old academic weakness: conformity. A school is not in the position to say “we don’t know” without making students wonder why they are there. Instead, what is taught as knowledge covers everything and is everywhere authoritative.

Academic conformity didn’t much matter when the canon was fixed and the debates focused on the fine points. But when the canon became open and the latest ideas were now in play, academic conformity sought a rapid end to scientific debate. The consensus was formed quickly and doubt silenced.

Science changed. (The humanities did, too, but that’s another story.)

Science today has become more like the old humanities: debate is about the finer points – not the larger questions, which were decided some time ago. Anyone who doubts this is a “science denier”.

The irony is that all the great scientists of past centuries were “science deniers” in this sense. Following the crowd rarely leads to great advances. Like the old Scholasticism arrayed against Galileo, the science establishment has ways to enforce conformity. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.