The Nature of Physical Reality: A Philosophy of Modern Physics

By Henry Margenau | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
What Is Immediately Given?

3.1. THE SCIENTIST AS SPECTATOR OF THE GIVEN

TO MOST SCIENTISTS and to many philosophers, what is immediately given is not a matter for dispute. The desk on which I write, the automobile which is moving past my window, the sun in the sky are objects whose palpable presence must simply be reckoned with. As matters of immediate sensation, they are sources of knowledge, complexes in memory, origins for trains of thought. For most purposes it is quite proper, indeed it is useful, to restrain reflection when it seeks to pass beyond this commonplace; not only does our normal attitude toward our daily tasks involve its unquestioning acceptance; much of science is based on it and proves successful--notably the science called correlational, which confines itself largely to what is given.

But when we begin to analyze the terms with which the immediate is contrasted, terms like knowledge, memory, or thought, certain difficulties appear. Where does sensation end and memory begin? Would mere thoughtless apperception result in our seeing the sun as an external object, or would it yield nothing but a vaguely shaped yellow patch, unobjective as a toothache? It is our intention now to raise these questions in a tentative and general way, only to transform them later into more specific problems to which science in fact gives some answers. Modern physics is based upon a specific answer; it cannot even be understood coherently unless the answer is always remembered. The questions just asked make it desirable that the nature of the immediately given be carefully inspected on philosophic grounds; more importantly, certain phases of modern science such as atomic physics force this task upon us as a necessary condition for all pursuits.

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