The Nature of Physical Reality: A Philosophy of Modern Physics

By Henry Margenau | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Ways of Arriving at Reality

2.1. METAPHYSICS OF NATURAL SCIENCE

THE ANALYSIS of this book will lean rather heavily upon science; to present an apology for the scientific slant is ridiculous at a time when everyone marvels at the material success of science in all fields. It is in fact obvious that science should be pressed to say all it can about any problem which is at all susceptible of scientific treatment. But we shall encounter a strange paradox as we turn in that luminous direction: science will tell us what things are real but will refuse to say what is reality.

This need not occasion surprise, for it is well known that scientists, at least in those fields which we call the exact sciences, agree on matters falling in their specific domain but hold widely differing views with regard to reality. Some, like Planck and Einstein, are critical realists, others, notably Eddington and Weyl, are moderate idealists, while Bohr and Heisenberg vaguely display the colors of positivism and rest somewhat indifferent toward our problem. Yet they all would hold that electrons are real and that the luminiferous ether is not. One can practice science without ever committing himself as to reality, without ever using the word real; indeed, as a rule, the less said about reality, the better the quality of the science. Within limits, even a solipsist can be a successful physicist.

The reason for all this is, of course, that the problem is not a physical but a metaphysical one, despite the fact that we are concerned with physical reality. To deny the presence, indeed the necessary presence, of metaphysical elements in any successful science is to be blind to the obvious, although to foster such blindness has become a highly sophisticated endeavor in our time. Many reputable scientists have joined the ranks of the extermi-

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