17 A Philosophical Postlude

Chapter XVI

A Philosophical Postlude

It is both interesting and significant that the traditional home of college courses on “Space and Time” is the Philosophy Department, not the Scientific School. In order to appreciate to the full extent what a strange situation this actually is, we might compare the task of science in systematizing our knowledge of the universe to some physical construction project—the construction of a building, let us say. Before a building can be started, there are many things to be done; there has to be a decision to build, a site has to be selected, financing must be arranged, and so on, all of which are necessary, yet not, strictly speaking, part of the actual building construction. These items are analogous to the normal tasks of the philosophers in connection with science. It is their job to take care of the preliminaries, which precede the actual construction of the framework of physical theory by the scientists.

But space and time do not belong in this category at all. In terms of the building analogy, they correspond to the bricks of which the building is to be constructed. They are essential elements in the physical structure of the universe, the study of which constitutes the primary task of science, and they cannot legitimately be relegated to any other discipline, no matter how closely related. In leaving the foundations of their theoretical structure to the philosophers, scientists are putting themselves in the same position in which engineers would be placed if they left the construction of the foundations of their structures to the financiers.

The truth is, of course, that space and time have not been left to the philosophers because of any feeling on the part of scientists that they belong in the Philosophy Department. Science has simply been at a loss to know what to do with them, because the available knowledge as to their nature and properties has been too meager and too uncertain to permit treating them by normal scientific methods. The philosophers have therefore acquired these subjects by default, not because they are non-scientific or meta-scientific, but because they are hard to pin down specifically. Space and time are scientific de jure (According to law), but in present-day practice they are philosophical de facto. One of the accomplishments of the Reciprocal System has been to bring space and time back into science where they belong. As pointed out in connection with the cosmic ray discussion, a very important advantage of a complete theoretical system of this kind is that it can be verified in its entirety by tests carried out in the areas accessible to accurate observation, and after this is done, its application can be extended to relatively unknown regions with the assurance that its conclusions are equally valid in these regions. Thus we can determine exactly what roles space and time play in the theoretical RS universe and since we have established the identity of this universe and the observed physical universe, we then know that these are also the roles of space and time in the physical universe. What are space and time’ is an age-old question that has produced an amazing variety of answers, few of which are even vaguely scientific.

What are time and space? They are the names for ways of conducting certain measurements. (Whitehead)130

Time has been interpreted in an almost infinite variety of ways and no one single statement can do more than picture it from one point of view. (Merriam)131

The universe changes, and time is a process that brings new out of old. (Schlegel)132

A physicist nowadays thinks of space as a collection of relations of a special kind between objects. (Thomson)133

The idea of time in its most primitive form is probably the recognition of an order of sequence in our states of consciousness. (Maxwell)134

In recent science time is treated as an additional dimension of space. (Hering)135

Space-Time is the stuff of which matter and all things are specifications. (Alexander)136

“Time is the independent variable in the laws of mechanics.” This is the very best definition that can be given of time. (Margenau)137

The long-standing conflict between the supporters of the absolute and relational theories of space and time is an outgrowth of this uncertainty as to the true nature of these entities. Whether space and time are logically prior to events or are determined by events has been a bone of contention for more than two thousand years, but now that the Reciprocal System gives us a definite and unequivocal answer to the basic question, neither of these theories can be accepted in its entirety. Space and time in the RS universe are the two reciprocal aspects of motion. But “events” as the term is customarily used in this context, are motions of one kind or another. Space and time, then, are neither relational, in the sense of being determined by events, nor absolute, as defined by Newton. There is a general framework of the universe, an extension space, generated by translational motion, which is essentially equivalent to Newton’s absolute space, but other types of motion also have spatial aspects, and extension space is therefore only one phase of space in general. The absolute and relational concepts over which the long argument has raged are simply inadequate to comprehend the full range of time and space.

The question as to whether space and time are finite or infinite is another, which previously existing theories have been unable to answer conclusively. The existence of zero space and zero time is generally conceded and no controversy has ever developed over these concepts comparable to that which has raged over the question as to the existence of infinite space or time, but the development of the Reciprocal System now shows that the two are simply different aspects of the same thing. Infinite space is equivalent to zero time and vice versa. To most scientists, the ability of an object to remain stationary in space, relatively if not absolutely, seems altogether logical, yet the new theoretical system says that this involves infinite time; that is, no motion at all is equivalent to taking infinite time to move one unit in space. In the new system all other manifestations of infinite space and time have essentially this same character.

It should be noted, however, that whether the universe is finite or infinite in extent is an altogether different question. Undisplaced space-time is the physical equivalent of nothing at all, and when we speak of the universe we normally refer not to space-time as such, but to the aggregate of those space-time displacements which manifest themselves primarily as matter or c-matter. As we have seen, the existence of matter is limited in time; that is, the giant galaxies into which the oldest matter in the material sector collects ultimately explode and initiate a process, which converts the old matter into new cosmic matter. The existence of cosmic matter is similarly limited in space. We must therefore conclude that the universe, as herein defined, is finite in extent, even though the space and time in which it exists and of which it is composed are, in a sense, infinite.

As brought out in Chapter XIV, the new findings also indicate that the universe is in a steady state rather than undergoing any one-way process of evolution. A special word of caution is appropriate at this point. Decision between the evolutionary and continuous cosmological theories does not have any implications at all with reference to the question as to whether or not an act of creation has taken place. There has been a tendency on the part of the theologians and scientists with strong religious beliefs to favor an evolutionary hypothesis on the ground that this implies a beginning of the universe, which can be correlated with creation, whereas a hypothesis that pictures the universe as without beginning and without end seems to conflict with the creation doctrine. The truth is, however, that neither hypothesis has any bearing on the creation issue one way or the other. If the present epoch of the universe originated with an explosion as postulated by Lemaitre, this is still not a beginning; the problem of the origin of the material, which exploded, still remains. The evolutionary hypothesis does not, in any way, resolve the creation problem.

Neither does the steady state hypothesis complicate it. There is no visible reason why the creation of a universe that remains in a steady state after it is created should be any less plausible than the creation of an evolutionary universe. In some respects the findings of this work actually simplify the creation issue. The hotly debated question as to what was happening before the creation, for instance, no longer has any significance, since it is evident that, if the creation occurred, it was space-time itself that was created, as St. Augustine contended centuries ago, and hence the concept of “before” did not acquire any meaning until the creation took place.

What the Reciprocal System has done with respect to the issues that have been discussed thus far in this chapter (excluding the question of creation, which is outside the realm of science) is to remove them from philosophy, put them back into science where they belong de jure, and fit them into their proper places in the definite and specific theoretical framework that has been constructed for the universe as a whole. But the clarification that has been accomplished in this area where philosophy and science have to some degree overlapped is not all that the new development has accomplished of interest to philosophers. Another thing that it has done is to throw some additional light on the application of philosophy to science.

One of the noteworthy facts about modern science is that some of its most spectacular and widely hailed results have been achieved by the use of methods or concepts, which have been opposed, or at least disapproved, by the philosophers. (For present purposes we are excluding from this category those individuals whose aim is to derive a philosophy from science rather than to apply philosophical principles to science.) The following statements bring out the nature of some of these differences of opinion:

The divergences between physicists and philosophers have become very clear recently. We have only to glance at the discussions about space, time and causality connected with relativity and the quantum theory to see this. (Frank)138

When we start postulating strange things about the world, justifying our choice not by explaining the matter properly but resorting to a mystique, we should beware. We know that our knowledge and experience are limited, but that is not reason enough for our being imposed on to accept formulas for interpreting successful technical inventions when the interpretation strains language and seems not to make sense to us. (Watson)139

I believe that the conceptual structure of quantum mechanics today is as unhealthy as the conceptual structure of the calculus was at the time Berkeley’s famous criticism was issued. (Putnam)140

There is no reason whatever why a future atomic theory should not return to a more classical outlook without contradicting actual experiment, or without leaving out facts already known and accounted for by wave mechanics. (Feyerabend)141

The conceptions introduced by Einstein must accordingly be admired to the extent that they constitute a powerful physicomathematical synthesis; but they must be rejected if given properly philosophical meaning. (Marilain)142

The physicist has made his choice in rejecting as basically incorrect the classical description of motion. The philosopher has not always been willing to follow him. (Margenau)143

Primitive notions such as those of time and space… always trouble the philosopher, who dislikes seeing elaborate structures reared on shaky foundations. (Lindsay)144

Quantum physics, I submit, presents a strong case against traditional logic. (Waismann)145 There is no convincing instance of the alleged need to change the laws of logic in order to achieve better conformity of theory and fact. (Feigl)146

The old conflict between absolute and relational space, while still alive in philosophic discussions, is settled and dead in science. (Margenau)147 What men of one generation are pleased to regard as satisfactorily settled may be questioned by a succeeding one so the philosopher is not disposed to accept the confidence of the scientist with his enthusiasm. (Watson)148

The astounding thing about these conflicts between the conclusions of the philosophers and those of the scientists is that in every one of the instances cited, the findings of this present investigation are that the philosophers are right, or partially so, and the scientists are wrong. This does not imply that the philosophers are always right when there is a conflict of this kind. The foregoing list is by no means a complete catalog of such conflicts, nor is it necessarily true that the opinions of the authors quoted are representative of the majority opinion in the particular field; this is merely a sample collected somewhat randomly from the literature of the two professions. But there is enough evidence here to indicate that the broad general principles of philosophy, in spite of their largely intuitive and unverifiable nature, provide more reliable guidelines than many of the conclusions of present-day science.

However distasteful this conclusion may be to the scientific profession, it is not entirely unprecedented. Heisenberg, who can hardly be described as prejudiced against the scientific viewpoint, has are rived at much the same conclusions with respect to the relative reliability of the language forms of scientific usage as compared to those in common use. In this connection he comments: “The concepts of natural language, vaguely defined as they are, seem to be more stable in the expansion of knowledge than the precise terms of scientific language, derived as an idealization from only limited groups of phenomena.”149 The underlying principle is the same in both cases: a vague, but essentially correct, formulation is more reliable than a precise, but erroneous, formulation.

It does not follow that philosophy is inherently more trustworthy than science. On the contrary, science has an important advantage in that a reasonable degree of certainty attaches to many of its findings, and the zone of certainty is continually growing—indeed, the primary objective of the present work is to contribute toward this result. Where science can speak with certainty, it speaks authoritatively. The conflicts such as those cited do not arise in this zone; they occur in those areas where science is positive without being certain, areas, which are particularly extensive in so-called “modern” science.

As Heisenberg points out in the statement just quoted, scientific conclusions rest on a very narrow base; they are derived from “only limited groups of phenomena.” It logically follows, therefore, that an extraordinary degree of care ought to be taken in the critical examination of these conclusions in order to make certain that they are at least consistent with the limited number of facts which are available for comparison before accepting them on anything more than a tentative basis. Even this special attention to the verification process would not entirely compensate for the inadequacy of the basic data, but it would at least make a contribution toward that result. However, the modern scientist rejects this view of the situation and takes the stand that his methods and procedures are so powerful that the conclusions, which he reaches, are incontestable and should be exempt from the necessity of confirmation. The following quotation from Margenau expresses this present-day viewpoint:

Though it may seem strange to the logician, scientists are none too meticulous in their demands for sufficiency in the number of validating instances…. Reliance upon the logical coherence of his conceptions exempts the scientist from the need of exhaustive “verification. There is an important sense in which a theory is more than the class of sentences it can generate, and the awareness of this transcendency inclines scientists to unhesitating acceptance of a theory after it has been subjected to a number of tests which are wholly inadequate statistically.150

Just why the “conceptions” of the physical scientist should be inherently more “logically coherent” than those of anyone else is rather difficult to understand. The ancient jest about the individual who does not have to prove that he is right because he freely admits it seems to have here made its appearance in all seriousness. The point that Margenau and his colleagues are overlooking is that sound or “coherent” reasoning does not guarantee sound conclusions; on the contrary, the better the reasoning process the more certain it is to arrive at the wrong conclusions if, as in this instance, it starts from the wrong premises. The revolutionary” conclusions of modern physics are wholly dependent on the premise that all possible alternatives to these conclusions have been located, examined, and rejected. As this present work demonstrates, this premise is altogether false. There are other alternatives in every case, and the completely unexpected nature of most of them is a graphic demonstration of the fact that the scope of the human mind is still severely limited. No system of human thought, scientific or otherwise, has yet reached the stage where it is completely self-sufficient. It is not yet possible to be sure that all aspects of any particular issue, or all alternative explanations of any particular situation, have been covered, or that the chain of reasoning that has been utilized is flawless.

The preceding pages are full of instances that confirm the foregoing statements and illustrate the fallibility of scientific conclusions. For hundreds of years scientists have been convinced that gravitation must either be due to action at a distance or else must be propagated through a medium, or the equivalent of a medium, at a finite velocity. The most careful study of the situation by the most capable men in the profession over a long period of time has failed to produce any other plausible alternative, and this has been accepted as a clear indication that no such alternative exists. But in all of this scientific consideration of the problem it has been taken for granted that gravitation is an action of one mass upon another, and the investigators have been unable to rise far enough out of the traditional channels of thought to realize that this is not necessarily true; that it is merely an assumption suggested by the observed phenomena. By widening the horizons of thought to take other possibilities into account this present development has been able to produce a logical, consistent, and workable alternative in this case where modern science has been positive that there was no alternative.

Essentially the same thing has happened with respect to the problem of explaining the constant velocity of light. Scientists have been completely convinced that they have made a “thorough-going analysis of all conceivable alternatives,”56 and have therefore concluded that Relativity, which seems to be the most plausible of these ’“conceivable alternatives” must be correct. Here again many of the things that are taken for granted in the consideration of the problem are merely assumptions, but the investigators have been unable to visualize the possibility that one or more of these assumptions might be in error. As in the case of gravitation, this work has taken a broader view of the situation and has found that by so doing it becomes possible here, also, to discover a logical, consistent, and workable alternative where present-day science is positive that no alternative is “conceivable.”

Since these and the many other similar instances that can be found in the preceding pages clearly demonstrate that the human mind, be it scientific or non-scientific, has not yet reached the point where it can safely assume that it has exhausted the possibilities in any such investigation, it follows that the negative conclusions of science are inherently unreliable. Statement of an established positive principle in negative form is entirely acceptable. The statement that a perpetual motion machine is impossible, for example, is actually an expression of a firmly established conservation law. But when science says that it is impossible in principle to assign both a definite position and a definite momentum to a particle, or that it is impossible to detect absolute velocity, or that it is impossible to find any causal relationship leading to the radioactive disintegration of a particular atom, or makes some other statement of this nature, it is making an assertion which rests entirely on the premise that what scientists have not been able to do cannot be done: an inferential claim to infallibility that is not only completely unwarranted but highly presumptuous.

There is nothing particularly unusual about rationalizing failure to solve a problem by advancing the contention that the problem is insoluble—every schoolboy tries this technique when he meets his first difficult arithmetic assignment. The astounding fact in this particular case is that the scientific profession is not only getting away with this preposterous excuse for failure to reach its objectives, but is also well on the road to persuading (or browbeating) the philosophers into modifying or eliminating the long-standing philosophical principles which so clearly brand the most highly publicized conclusions of modern science as illogical and untenable. “The problem,” says Hesse, “has been to make sense of the apparently paradoxical statements which physicists have been led to make in formulating the new theories.”151 In this strange situation, those who cannot “make sense” of their theories, and find that these theories cannot qualify as logical or reasonable, are attempting (and to a considerable degree succeeding in the attempt) to force a redefinition of logic and reason.

Even the originators and the strong supporters of these modern theories freely admit that they strain credulity to the utmost and border on the absurd. Heisenberg, for example, speaking of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory, says:

It was not a solution, which one could easily accept…. I repealed to myself again and again the question: Can nature possibly be as absurd as it seemed to us in these atomic experiments?152

The present general acceptance of these Copenhagen doctrines by the physicists does not mean that the logical situation has changed in any way. The explanations, which they offer, are just as absurd as Heisenberg found them originally, but the physicists simply feel that they have no other choice. As James B. Conant puts it, they “have learned to live with a paradox that once seemed intolerable.”153

The argument which is relied upon to support such inherently implausible theories and to justify the contention that it is nature that is absurd, rather than the products of the theorists, is always the alleged lack of any alternative. “There is no other way,”88 as Einstein puts it. All through the literature of modern science this same argument is repeated over and over again. It echoes as a familiar refrain in the statements quoted in the earlier pages. “There was and there is now no alternative,”70 asserts Millikan. “There are no physical laws to tell us—and there cannot be,”116 contends Bronowski. Physicists have made “a thorough-going analysis of all conceivable alternatives,”56 reports Sherwin. The “only interpretation” of newly discovered facts, says Bridgman, is “that nature is intrinsically and in its elements neither understandable nor subject to law.”15 There is no “’intelligible alternative” currently available, hence we must accept present-day theories even though they are “conceptually imperfect” and “riddled with inconsistencies,”30 Hanson tells us.

It cannot be denied that there is a certain amount of force to this argument when it is used as Hanson is using it, not in support of current theory per se, but as a reason for utilizing such theory pending the possible development of something better. But no matter how it is used, it is a very vulnerable argument, since it is immediately and utterly demolished as soon as the allegedly non-existent alternative is produced. The presentation of such alternatives in this work has therefore destroyed the foundation of the argument in favor of accepting the conclusions of “modern physics’, in spite of their numerous and serious shortcomings.

From this standpoint it is entirely irrelevant whether or not the reader of the preceding pages is convinced by the case therein presented and is willing to concede the validity of the new theoretical system. The mere production of a logical and self-consistent alternative automatically invalidates the contention that no such alternative exists, and overturns all theories that rest upon such a contention. The kind of a wholesale demolition of claims of this nature that has been carried out in this work goes even farther; it demonstrates that any contention that there are no more alternatives is unsound; that the human race has not yet arrived at that degree of infallibility which would make it legitimate to assert that all possible alternatives have already been examined.

Philosophers already knew this—it is the kind of a conclusion that is readily derived from philosophical considerations—and it is unfortunate that they have not been more outspoken in their criticism of scientific doctrines that justify the advocacy of irrational theories on the ground that there is no “intelligible alternative”. Feyerabend makes this comment:

Philosophers of science… have become rather tame (or beat) and are much more prepared to change their ideas in accordance with the latest discoveries of the historians, or the latest fashion of the contemporary scientific enterprise. This is very regrettable, indeed, for it considerably decreases the number of the rational critics of the scientific enterprise.154

The findings of this present work now provide some strong reinforcement for those who take their stand on sound logical and rational principles. Here the great handicap of science, the very narrow factual base on which each of its conclusions rests, a base “derived from only limited groups of phenomena,” as Heisenberg puts it, is overcome by the construction of a completely integrated theoretical structure which has the support of an enormous number of positively known facts derived from all types of physical phenomena. The Reciprocal System is thus far better equipped than any of its predecessors to take issue with philosophical principles should this be required but, as could safely be predicted from elementary considerations based on the concept of a rational universe, when science thus puts its own house in order there is no longer any point at issue. The findings of the present development are completely in harmony with both philosophy and common sense.

In every case where present-day science insists that we must accept illogical, unreasonable, and paradoxical conclusions because there are no alternatives, this work has produced sound, logical and consistent alternatives. There is no longer any justification for the contention that we must accept an incomprehensible wave-particle duality, that we must abandon the concept of absolute magnitudes, that we must give up the idea of causality, and so on. The position of those philosophers who have always opposed the uncontrolled excursions of science into realms of fantasy beyond the reach of sound philosophical and common sense principles is thus fully vindicated. In retrospect, the words of some of these individuals have a distinctly prophetic ring. Consider the following from Maritain, for example:

Metaphysics… renders mathematical physics the essential service of protecting it against distortions that would be almost inevitable without it; above all against the harmful illusion that leads it to regard itself as a philosophy of nature and to believe that things begin to exist only when they are measured by our instruments.155

In view of the great amount of discussion, both in scientific and in philosophical circles, about the issue of determinism, it may be well to emphasize that the return to strict causality in the Reciprocal System does not imply a deterministic universe. The two concepts are often confused in current thought. As Lindsay says, ’“There is some disagreement among scientists about the concept of causality. Among many it is essentially equivalent to the notion of determinism.”156 But the statement that A causes B does not include the assertion that all features of B are determined by A. The latter is determinism; the former is causality.

This distinction is somewhat obscured in a universe composed of “things”—entities that are essentially permanent. Determinism, in the Laplacian sense, visualizes the behavior of all entities in the universe as analogous to the behavior of the molecules of a gaseous aggregate, where it theoretically would be possible (assuming an isolated system) to specify the conditions at any future time if the initial conditions were given. But we do not live in a universe of permanent “things“; we live in a universe of motion, and the existence, in this universe, of transformation processes by which the various combinations of motion that constitute the entities of the physical universe change their forms and identities rules out determinism.

Causality can be maintained through a series of such processes, but not determinism, as the properties of entity A are not the same as those of the entity B into which it is transformed, and hence directional specifications cannot be carried forward from one phase to the next, nor is it always possible to specify what form the product will take. The photon, for example, is transformed into thermal motion when absorbed by matter. Later, that thermal motion is again transformed into another photon of radiation. A complete causal chain is maintained. The absorption of the photon causes a minute increase in the thermal motion of the matter, and hence in its temperature. The increased temperature then causes the radiation from this aggregate of matter to be speeded up to the extent of emitting one additional photon. But the deterministic connection is broken. The direction of the incident photon has no bearing at all on the direction of the emitted photon, the latter being determined entirely by probability considerations. The Reciprocal System introduces a host of new transformation processes which operate in a similar manner—transformations of one kind of a particle into another, transformations of matter into radiation or kinetic energy, transformations of motion in space into motion in time, and so on—and each of these processes breaks the deterministic relation, even though it maintains the causal connection.

Like the emission of a photon, the emission of an electron, a radioactive particle, or some other unit, is always due to a specific cause, but just as in the case of the photon, there is some aspect of the emission process, which is indeterminate. The photon actually has no direction of its own, because it has no independent motion (aside from the vibratory motion that makes it a photon). The translational motion, which we observe is supplied by the progression of space-time, and since the progression, is scalar, the direction which the photon will take is purely a matter of chance. Whether or not it will ultimately impinge on some particular distant object is therefore a question of probability; the original influence can cause emission but it cannot determine where the photon goes.

This is a much different picture of the situation than the one we get from modern physics, which denies the existence of specific identifiable causes for events at the microphysical level. In the words of Bridgman, Whenever he (the physicist) penetrates to the atomic or electronic level in his analysis, he finds things acting in a way for which he can assign no cause, for which he can never assign a cause, and for which the concept of cause has no meaning, if Heisenberg’s principle is right. This means nothing more nor less than that the law of cause and effect must be given up.157

However bravely the modern physicist may talk for publication, this is not the kind of a situation that any believer in the rationality of the universe as a whole can contemplate with equanimity, and Bridgman reveals his own disquietude about the subject in the following rather plaintive statement:

The physicist thus finds himself in a world from which the bottom has dropped clean out; as he penetrates deeper and deeper it eludes him and fades away by the highly unsportsmanlike device of just becoming meaningless. No refinement of measurement will avail to carry him beyond the portals of this shadowy domain, which he cannot even mention without logical inconsistency.158

The findings of this present work now give the scientist an opportunity to escape from this awkward dilemma; they enable him to maintain strict scientific conformity with the facts of observation while remaining wholly within the bounds of logic and rationality. From a scientific standpoint, the most significant thing about the new theoretical system presented in this work, the Reciprocal System is that it is in agreement with all positively known facts or, at least, is not inconsistent with any of them. From a philosophical standpoint, its most significant feature is that it is in harmony with nature; it does not picture nature as “absurd,” or “meaningless,” or “paradoxical.” It defines a universe that is logical, orderly, and rational, and that is readily understandable in all of its details, if a reasonable effort is made to look at natural processes as they actually exist, not in some artificial context imposed by human preferences and prejudices.