The Nature of Physical Reality: A Philosophy of Modern Physics

By Henry Margenau | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Metaphysical Requirements on Constructs

5.1. CONSTRUCTS ARE NOT WHOLLY DETERMINED BY PERCEPTION

FROM THE NARROW FIELD of the immediately sensed, experience flows along channels marked by "rules of correspondence" into that freer domain of concepts in which logical operations become possible. If the rules of correspondence were uniquely set by sensory experience and if their correct discernment, effected by contemplation of data without recourse to metasensory principles, satisfied our yearning for understanding, then the term construct as a designation for the counterparts of data would be ill chosen. If, however, the rules are not in themselves unique and if, furthermore, the rules do not settle whether what they define is physically acceptable, the conative flavor of the word recommends its use as proper. In that case other validating principles, not yet considered, must be at work in the cognitive process. The counterparts of sense are then merely suggested by data; they are tentatively offered for examination or provisionally constructed under the guidance of assumed rules of correspondence. We shall endeavor to show that the latter is the case.

The history of science is full of instances which corroborate our view. Selecting a particularly obvious one, we recall that the sensory experience "water" was correlated with a geometrical figure (icosahedron) by Pythagoras, with smooth atoms by Democritus, and is at present correlated with the formula H2O and with all that it implies. This is a paradox if Nature conveys to us predetermined and valid rules of correspondence. Similarly, one cannot follow the development of optics, the changes in our

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