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First Chapter

THE SCIENTIFIC WORLDVIEW

Glenn Borchardt

 

 

Introduction

The question of questions for mankind—the problem which underlies all others, and is more deeply interesting than any other—is the ascertainment of the place which Man occupies in nature and of his relations to the universe of things. Whence our race has come; what are the limits of our power over nature, and of nature's power over us; to what goal we are tending; are the problems which present themselves anew and with undiminished interest to every man born into the world.

-Thomas H. Huxley
[1]

We are all scientists. Life presents us with one problem after another. Each day, we concern ourselves with cause and effect. Each day, we speculate about the reasons for the actions that surround us. We believe that certain actions produce certain effects. Whenever we depend on finding a relationship between cause and effect, we demonstrate belief in causality. To the extent that we believe that causes must be real, material aspects of the world, we profess the philosophy of determinism.

But there is an opposed philosophy, indeterminism, the belief that some effects may not have material causes. We are born indeterminists, knowing little of the causes of effects. It is only by interacting with the real world that we become determinists, in essence, applying the scientific method to all aspects of existence. As we grow, we discard ignorance based on superstition for knowledge based on experience. The process necessarily involves a perpetual conflict between these two ways of viewing the world; each person and each society professes a philosophy containing elements of both.

Once again, the time has come to examine determinism and indeterminism in a systematic way and to choose wisely between them. The compromises with indeterminism that scientists have concocted since the 19th century are getting stale—they are becoming an impediment to progress. Cosmologists have become cosmogonists, naively assuming and unabashedly promulgating the ancient idea that the universe itself had an origin, even though the creation of something from nothing is a religious assumption, not a scientific one. Physicists say that gravitation is due to the “curvature” of “spacetime”, but we have trouble imagining how either of these could be. Chemists claim that the universe is becoming more disordered each day, implying that it will eventually end in chaos. Most of our citizens are still enamored with occult beliefs ranging from the psychic to the astrological. From a strictly scientific perspective, our efforts to appease the religionists have borne strange fruit indeed.

To put science and philosophy back on track, I propose a reopening of the debate between science and religion, which I present here as the struggle between determinism and indeterminism. To be gained from this new rift is a better understanding of the necessarily elusive foundations upon which we build our thought and interpret the external world. To be gained is an improved, internally consistent, and scientific way of viewing the world. Any step in this direction would help us control the technology our culture has spawned.

Each new gadget usually comes with a set of instructions or "philosophy" for its use. It would seem that the modern, scientific world that we are building would require a scientific philosophy for its safe operation. Yet according to Victor Ferkiss, author of Technological Man, “little evidence exists that any scientific world view is taking over the integrating function in our culture, or even that such a world view is commonly shared by those who call themselves scientists.”[2]

The reason for this state of affairs is that the Scientific Worldview is determinism, but the philosophy of our culture is overwhelmingly dominated by indeterminism. Despite its great achievements in research and engineering, the scientific enterprise remains too weak to defend itself against the pervasive power of indeterminism.

Science does not develop in a vacuum. It always reflects the culture from which it grows. That an indeterministic theory such as the "Big Bang" theory of the origin of the universe is taken seriously by most scientists, popularized by the media, and accepted by most of the public, provides a clear illustration of the reciprocal relationship between science and the philosophy of the culture. A change in one produces a change in the other.

Science advances, not just by efforts within the profession, but equally by the philosophical and practical advances made by all members of society. You are part of the environment in which science is performed. What you say and do helps to construct the science as well as the society in which you live. Regardless of your profession, your understanding of the Scientific Worldview will aid in scientific discovery.

While much of what represents science these days is little more than curious trivia, the Scientific Worldview is not. Indeed, when problems mount and stress increases, societies reexamine philosophy with a renewed fervor. First they turn to the familiar indeterministic ways, but because those ways do not, in the end, succeed for the great mass of humanity, they eventually look to the philosophy of determinism. When push comes to shove, when survival is at stake, the philosophy of indeterminism fails us. Prayers do not stop bullets.

Scientists survive professionally by determining cause and effect. They must be determinists, at least within their specialties, or else they cease to be scientists. If you believed that a certain effect had no material cause, then you would not be motivated to look for a cause. You would then cease being a scientist in that area of investigation.

Although scientists may be determinists within their necessarily narrow specialties, they receive little encouragement to be determinists outside them. For scientists to extend publicly the principle of causality to the point of universality they must risk being seen as foolhardy or arrogant. There is also little agreement on just what determinism is and in what way it could be said to be the exclusive basis for the Scientific Worldview. Those who should know, the experts on the philosophy of science, take care to avoid the label "determinist" lest they be banished from academe.

 

Discovering the nature of the Scientific Worldview is no easy task. It cannot be found by summing all scientific specialties, or by polling scientists and averaging the results. The Scientific Worldview, above all, must state its beginning assumptions clearly and from there attempt a coherent unification of the salient facts and a rigorous application of determinism to the world as a whole. It would not be in agreement with every interpretation advanced by every specialist. No explication of it would be accepted by all scientists.

Throughout history, the idea that the universe is governed strictly on deterministic principles reappears embellished with a style and with facts reflecting the culture it addresses. Each time, efforts are made to refute it. Eventually it is suppressed, only to return stronger than before. Humanity today appears to lie at the threshold of physical destruction. Its survival will not be a miracle, but a result of the deterministic actions we will take to forge a new unity among all peoples. The time is ripe for a renaissance of determinism.

Two other world views previously dominated scientific thought.

The first scientific world view, Newtonian mechanics, provided a general, mathematical construct, which despite its overwhelming success had a fatal flaw. It could never be completely successful because it was macrocosmic, that is, it overemphasized the outsides of things. Its preferred instrument was the telescope. For Newtonians, the universe was macrocosmically infinite, but microcosmically finite. Scientific theories based on the Newtonian world view tended to be macrocosmic and fatalistic. Darwin’s mechanism of evolution, for instance, became “natural selection,” in which the environment dominated evolution and the organism was seen as relatively helpless in the survival of the fittest. Natural selection had little to say about why there was anything to select from in the first place.

The second scientific world view, systems theory, was a corrective reaction to Newtonian mechanics. Modern systems theory invariably errs on the microcosmic side; it overemphasizes the insides of things. It tends to stake out a portion of the universe in the effort to study it to the exclusion of all that surrounds it. Its preferred instrument is the microscope. For systems theory the universe may be microcosmically infinite, but macrocosmically finite. Scientific theories based on systems theory tend to be microcosmic and solipsistic. Modern astronomy, for instance, entertains the quintessential systems theory, the Big Bang, in which the universe itself is seen as a solitary system with nothing outside of itself. All it required was the acceptance of Einstein’s absurd assumption of a 4th dimension to satisfy those desperate to evade the infinite and all its philosophical implications.

Organization of the Book

This book consists of five parts: It states THE PHILOSOPHY and its historical development, posits THE ASSUMPTIONS and their indeterministic alternatives, deduces THE METHOD for viewing the world, develops THE ANALYSIS to criticize and to advance theories of the universe, and demonstrates the practical usefulness of explicit determinism in THE CONCLUSIONS.

Part One, THE PHILOSOPHY, considers all philosophies as deterministic in certain aspects and indeterministic in others. A brief sketch of the history of the determinism-indeterminism conflict is presented here as a progressive cycle of action and reaction. Only with new data and an analysis in which we once again see determinism and indeterminism as opposites can we continue to achieve significant advances in the evolution of the continuum.

Part Two, THE ASSUMPTIONS, explains why philosophical arguments seldom persuade the contenders to switch sides: their arguments rest on opposed assumptions. One either believes there are causes for a particular effect or one does not. One either believes that the universe is infinite or one does not. The basic assumptions of science are seldom made explicit in scientific work. Frequently there are two versions of each: one deterministic and the other indeterministic. The assumptions elaborated upon in this part of the book meet two criteria: First, is the assumption deterministic, that is, does it avoid a freewill conclusion? Second, does it avoid contradicting other deterministic assumptions and the data of modern science? The resulting Ten Assumptions of Science (MATERIALISM[3] CAUSALITY, UNCERTAINTY, INSEPARABILITY, CONSERVATION, COMPLEMENTARITY, IRREVERSIBILITY, INFINITY, RELATIVISM, and INTERCONNECTION) are interrelated and consupponible that is, it is logically possible for those who assume any one of them to assume all the rest.

Part Three, THE METHOD, presents the primary abstraction necessary for a coherent view of the world. Instead of considering systems in isolation from the rest of the universe in the usual way, this method insists on their non-isolation. I begin by defining a microcosm as a portion of the universe and redefining a macrocosm as that portion of the universe outside of a particular microcosm. The univironment is that combination of the microcosm and the macrocosm that is responsible for the motion of the microcosm. This way of looking at things amounts to a new philosophy—Univironmental Determinism—which is at once the mechanism of evolution. Unlike natural selection and the currently accepted theory, "neo-Darwinism," Univironmental Determinism explicitly claims that evolution is the process occurring at all times with respect to each electron, atom, cell, organ, organism, species, ecosystem, planet, and galaxy. This perspective stresses the space-time positions of microcosms as the key to understanding evolution. In its practical form, the philosophy of Univironmental Determinism guides univironmental analysis, the human effort to produce testable predictions of the motions of microcosms by considering the motions of matter within their respective microcosms and macrocosms. It is through this method that the world is analyzed in the remainder of the book.

Part Four, THE ANALYSIS, shows how this approach can be used to evaluate current theories in cosmology, biopoesis (the origin of life), biology, and sociology. I show, for example, that the philosophical foundations of the currently popular theory of the Big Bang origin of the universe are clearly indeterministic. Being biased in its overemphasis on the microcosm, the Big Bang theory is the archetype and culmination of "systems philosophy," the scientific world view that has guided science since the beginning of the 20th century. The argument predicts that the rejection of the Big Bang theory and the establishment of its only logical replacement, the Theory of the Infinite Universe, will both require and produce a revolution both in science and philosophy.

Part Five, THE CONCLUSIONS, reviews the implications of Univironmental Determinism, first, in debunking a popular myth, and second, in exploring personal and social philosophy. The Myth of Exceptionalism is the indeterministic hypothesis that even if humanity did evolve from less complex beings, things are different now; certain aspects of its existence are no longer influenced by evolution. In relation to the current debate between determinism and indeterminism, one's position on exceptionalism is decisive. To reject the Myth of Exceptionalism is to reject indeterminism.

The last chapter shows how Univironmental Determinism confronts the doctrine of fatalism with which determinism is so often confused. The case for Univironmental Determinism as the Scientific Worldview is completed here and its utility as a guide to personal and social action is demonstrated. The Scientific Worldview not only helps us understand, but also helps us participate in the great movements of the Social Microcosm of which we are all important parts.

Objectives

The Scientific Worldview is filled with infinite richness and variety. No complete description of it will ever be given. Nevertheless, a basic understanding of this philosophy may be achieved through the specific aims of this book, which are:

1. To present the framework or skeleton upon which the Scientific Worldview can be built.

2. To argue that this framework must necessarily begin with the concepts of the microcosm, the macrocosm, and their relationships to each other.

3. To argue that the essentially dialectical nature of the universe reduces to fundamental and inseparable categories: matter and the motion of matter, concepts that are expandable to include all things and all events.

4. To argue that we are all scientists and to show how the scientific outlook derives from the fundamental assumptions of the Scientific Worldview.

5. To describe and demonstrate the rules for rejecting unscientific beliefs.

6. To give readers an overall impression of the world and their place in it, how it can affect them and how they can affect it.

[1] Huxley, T.H. Man's Place in Nature. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1863, p. 71.

[2] Ferkiss, V.C. Technological Man: The Myth and the Reality. New York: New American, 1969, p. 195.

[3] Each of the Ten Assumptions is represented by a capitalized word, while its opposing assumption is represented by a lower case word in boldface italics.

Modified from:

Borchardt, Glenn, 2007, The Scientific Worldview: Beyond Newton and Einstein: Lincoln, NE, iUniverse, 411 p.

 

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Revised: February 19, 2017.