Our understanding of the cosmos

4 mins read

By Amir Suhail Wani –

Bacon, as Rupert Sheldrake reminds us in his book The Science Delusion, wanted to secure for science the same place as was erstwhile occupied by religion – Christianity, to be precise. What became of that dream is another story of writing air on air. But science did succeed in securing for itself a niche which it has come to maintain at least for the last four centuries. History is an amazing maze and how various socio-economic and political factors conspire to make or mar any particular phenomenon is seen nowhere with such diversity and explicitness as in history. When Renaissance took off in Europe, scientific breakthroughs, economic empowerment, ideological enlightenment all seemed to happen together.

Science, which powered the fuel engines and trams of Europe became an apple of the eye, particularly for those in power, for it multiplied their power and resources. No wonder, science came to enjoy state sponsorship and support, with newer breeds of the “Power -Knowledge” nexus emerging on the scene. While technocrats were busy polishing their inventions, perfecting science for the ends of Capitalism and Imperialism, the philosophers and few scientists working with pure sciences were deeply thinking about the implications of scientific revelations. It so happens not just to common, untrained masses, but with men of learning and specialisation too that they become so much so accustomed to conformity and “yes man” attitude, that they even modify their observations and genuine findings to meet consensus and community standards.

Thomas Kuhn and Bruno Latour’s works stand witness to this tendency of scientists’ succumbing to peer pressure, prevalent paradigm and herd thinking. The incident of Einstein’s dropping out of Cosmological constant from his theory provides a stark instance of this otherwise unscientific behaviour.

 So, the philosophers and scientific thinkers of the late post-renaissance era seem to have consensually acceded to the empiricist epistemology and thus inevitably to materialist ontology. The era of science proved to be the era of transmutation of Quality into Quantity. This, to date, seems to be the most grievous epistemological error committed by scientists of the Renaissance and following eras. The crass dream of tailoring nature – with all its diversity to the size of Classical Mechanics governed by rigidly deterministic, non-volitional mathematical abstractions had the exact impact as expressed by John Keats when he said, Newton destroyed the poetry of the rainbow. 

The problem with Science, Religion and therefore with any enterprise of Epidemiological order is that once these constructs pass beyond their legitimate contours, they start revealing fallacious, and at times ridiculous results. Make religion bear witness to Scientific facts, and you shall witness the resultant mess. As noted above, the scientific zeal of reducing quality to quantity was one such erroneous instance. By the token of the same brave mistake, scientists took it for granted for the entire nature, with its all attendant normal and paranormal phenomenon as the legitimate field of scientific investigation.

But bounded by their scientific instruments of enquiry as they were, the scientists, with the single stroke of a pen rejected all those realms and realities that lie outside the scope of microscope and telescope. This attitude by default implied the negation of transcendence and rendering the entire hierarchy of Being into the single slide of material realism. We have recently come to realise the fallacy of enterprise aiming to reduce the entire spectrum of existence to its material dimension. With the arrival of concepts like emergent evolution, creative evolution, holon theory, the materialist mistake has come to the fore more explicitly.

But in the Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, drunk by the power of empiricism driven material philosophy as scientists were, they were naive enough to look through the pitfalls of materialism. This dogmatic belief in one-dimensional epistemology ignited the spirit of rebellion in scientists against all those qualitative phenomena that denied quantitative reductionism. This position ipso facto moved religion, God, transcendence and higher realms of being to the peripheries of discourse till they were finally shed off as vestiges of bygone tradition. But this science-driven paradigm, before it could succumb and devour like a black hole its glory had generated a cascade of social and existential issues. The new scientific paradigm, as it expanded its area of concern rendered human life meaningless reducing man to a useless passion, a stranger in the universe and tearing apart the fabric of social normativity, nullifying values, ideals and even the basic premises on which stood the entire structure of society. It was partly in reaction to these abrasions that romanticism, as a movement in literature rose to the occasion, bringing under its aegis the concrete subjective human experiences, which were otherwise banished by science. It was again the same historical-intellectual context in which Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer pitched their doctrines of subjectivity and raw form of existential theology.

Let it be reiterated that while there were few who still, in the spirit of heroic pessimism, tried to counterbalance the scene by assigning to science the realm of matter and nature and to religion the realm of mind and divine. This dichotomy had its graver consequences, even though there existed another group that reduced everything to matter – forerunners of reductionism. Reductionism pitched its case for the abolition of the hierarchy of being and actively pursued the cause of portraying the immaterial phenomenon as a mere epiphenomenon of the material substructure. This, in turn, implied that reductionists envisaged entire reality as material and discarded all notions, phenomenon and explanations that took account of the supra-material realm. While materialists were busy carrying out this empiricist epistemology driven reductionist project, they collided against a contradiction that they have left unattended to the date. All reductionist attempts are driven by the faith and vision that it is very much an Ontological possibility to explain higher in terms of the lower. This axiom has almost been the defining feature of modern science with its attendant applications. Scientists have, for long, now adopted this as the standard view that the whole is entirely expressible and describable in terms of its constituent parts. No wonder that in recent times particle physics and molecular biology have turned out to be standard paradigms for explaining and understanding the Universe and life.

But the question that stands out like a Jinni in the bottle is whether it is truly possible to explain the higher in terms of the lower, organism in terms of cells, cells in terms of biomolecules, biomolecules in terms of complex organic compounds ed Infinitum. The intellectually sincere answer to this question has to be in the negative not only on account that whole is different from the parts in terms of properties, but each level of organisation is accompanied by sophistication and complexities, not explainable and reducible to the constituent parts. It so appears that as matter coalesces to form complex and higher-order structures, it simultaneously is imbued with properties unknown to lower levels of the organisation. But the reductionist stubbornness, as is the standard practice in mainstream science, not only leaves things unexplained but yields conclusions that are humorously contradictory. The fallacy of reductionism and its accompanying misgivings to science and human life shall be investigated in the sequel.

(Amir Suhail Wani is a Kashmir based freelancer, Comparative Studies Scholar, and R&D Engineer with SA Power Utilities Pvt Ltd. Feedback at amirkas2016@gmail.com)

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