The Nature of Physical Reality: A Philosophy of Modern Physics

By Henry Margenau | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 15
Reality: A First Outline

15.1. NONPHYSICAL REALITIES

WE HAVE COME a long way from our original task, the quest for physical reality. At first the road seemed clear. To avoid all preconceptions, in particular to escape the traps skillfully set by ontologists all over the terrain we had to travel, we decided to let scientific method be our guide. But now it appears as though scientific method had taken us far off the main road, through all the back alleys of physics, and succeeded admirably in obscuring even the initial glimpse we had of our goal.

Such is the price we have to pay for the original decision. We could have flown to our destination, borrowing one of the balloons so plentifully available around the gasworks of ontology. Given a favorable wind we might have got there quickly. But we should not have known for sure the exact location of reality with respect to other parts of human experience and the territory which surrounds it; nor could we be wholly certain that our landing place was the one we sought.

The epistemological approach we have followed is not without peculiar hazards of its own. Being the slow advance of an earthbound party it may lose itself in some pretty valley far removed from reality; or the searchers, after long and tiring pursuits, may come home and report that their presumed goal does not exist, that it is a mirage, only visible from the upper atmosphere. This last possibility is in fact the greatest danger to which the epistemologist exposes himself. He is constantly tempted to reject all because of the difficulty of establishing any part of reality. This, according to Poincaré, is the other easy way out: "Douter de tout et tout croîre, ce sont deux solutions également faciles."

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