Philosophical Aspects of Modern Science

Philosophical Aspects of Modern Science

Philosophical Aspects of Modern Science

Philosophical Aspects of Modern Science

Excerpt

It is often said that current developments in physical science have no bearing upon philosophical problems, and that the metaphysician may ignore them as lying outside his province. There are, no doubt, good reasons for this view. There is, it is obvious, a sense in which the precise formula for the analysis of matter which happens to be current among physicists at the moment, has little or no metaphysical significance. There is, however another sense in which the work of scientists such as Professor Eddington and Sir James Jeans seems to me to have an important bearing upon metaphysical problems. I will try to make clear what this sense is.

The conceptions of the physical universe sponsored by modern science are changing with extreme rapidity, but the various pictures with which we are presented have at least this feature in common, that they are all extremely remote from the world of common sense, and the later ones are more remote than the earlier. Being different from the world we know, they are imaginatively difficult to conceive. Hence the question arises, What is the real status of these world pictures? Are the objects which physics affirms in any sense independent of the mind of the physicist who conceives them, and, if they are, what is their relation to the objects of the common-sense world? Is a chair, for instance, a square piece of wood resting on four wooden legs, or is it a dance of atoms and electrons which are neither square nor wooden; or is it in some mysterious fashion both at once? And, if it is both at once, what is the relation of the one description to the other?

These questions are, I think, strictly philosophical. For it is the business of philosophy to correlate the evidence collected by the special sciences, and to try to fit it into a coherent scheme of the universe as a whole. Nor is it only . . .

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