The idea for this article came to me when I was listening to some Gorecki on my iPad while heading home on the train. I opened the writer and started jotting down my thoughts just as they occurred to me.
It just has always been my position that Philosophy and Science are not in competition to uncover the secret of reality, and that the attempts by Physicists to paint this dichotomy was self-destructive and not worthy of their time. It is almost as if they are leaving their old enemy of “Religion” alone and picking on a group they don’t think will fight back.
Well we will Physicists, we will. It starts here.
To the physicist reality is explained in terms of a mathematical framework, chosen for its ability to reproduce results. Calculations are seen to be of two types. Those regarding billiard balls (as it was said of Newton’s laws that his rules for the actions of billiard balls were so right, so settled, that any argument over the matter is futile) and those regarding the mysteries of the universe at large (of which we are unsure).
It seems to me that the physicist has invested in an attractive conceit that they cannot bare to face: the presumption that the rules for one are the same as the rules for another. It must necessarily be a presumption because human theories, human understandings, account for 3% or less of the Universe (i.e. the bit light reflects off).
Moreover, the physicist’s theory of reality also includes a presumption, or series of presumptions, regarding the nature of dimensions. That is, how many do we have and how do they work? work on these questions are not separate from the general question (that we call “what is reality?”) that we are trying to answer. This may yet actually completely change the entire question so that any answer not taking dimensions into account is meaningless. To put this in perspective, consider this masterpiece from the great Carl Sagan:
Imagine that Flatland is where we live and our drawings (theories) about flatland are mathematically perfect. Indeed, we could eventually understand that this flatland is huge, millions of miles along each side, and our drawings equally apply all the way from one end of the paper to the other. Even with all this confidence, even with all this mathematical explanation, we are still in Flatland. Our explanation does not explain the nature of reality correctly, or even well, it just works from our perspective.
So, to announce that theories are almost complete and that they have something approaching a grand theory of everything is surely an outlandish exaggeration, as if the missing matter in the universe is a simple, solid and singular unknown. Like the missing matter was all one block of the same stuff, simply explained by the label we give it, “dark matter”. Like, one day, they will find it like a discarded lump of black coal in the bottom of a sack. That it only needs pulling into the light.
Dark matter may yet prove to be something, that is a tangible “thing”, but such a definite label could well be very misleading. Indeed dark matter may not actually be any “thing” at all, merely an aberration and the result of faulty calculations, faulty premises and faulty reasoning from the very ground up.
I used to say to people that any understanding involving the idea of “infinity” was the result of faulty premises. It could equally apply to sentence with “dark matter” in it. If it does exist, and for some reason is exactly what we expected, can we seriously say that the search for the meaning of the order in the Universe is over? What does any of that stuff mean anyway? It has no point to it. The explanation is all the “how”, but what about the real question; that of the “why”?
I have also often remarked that philosophy is not so much to do with having all the answers, but rather about having a better understanding of the questions. For the question is all to the Philosopher, the question means all. With the right question the answer becomes simple and the real answer means something. “Dark matter” is not an answer it is only a cool name for a mystery pretending to be a question. With such a mystery on the table, and in the equation, one cannot but agree that the question is lacking in encompassing the necessary values needed for a correct answer. Such an answer will remain ever beyond our reach as long as the question is “how?” and not “why?”.
Higgs or no Higgs
While that label exists, it fools us into thinking it is a “thing”. “Dark matter” could be a new and different operation of the Universe, a new force, and could suggest the necessity for a paradigm shift in science.
Given such quicksand as the ground under our scientific feet, it is really a bit rich to point at Philosophy and call it “worthless” and “dead”.
Such claims ignore the simple world around us. I listened to a physicist being challenged regarding whether he thought that this damming applied to all branches of Philosophy. Surely, Political Philosophy isn’t dead? Economic Philosophy? Ethical Philosophy? Surely, no one could claim that Religious Philosophy has no relevance in today’s world? Or the Philosophy of Art?
Well no, admitted the scientist, those are still relevant.
It soon turned into a Monty python sketch entitled, “What has Philosophy ever done for us? Well, apart from ethics, morals, politics, economics and the arts?”