Monday, June 07, 2010

Response to "A Brief History of Time" Post

S. P. Lunger responded to the original post on "A Brief History of Time". Blogger is doing funny things to the both of us. His response was repeated five times. As I was attempting to delete the extras, it removed all of them. So, I'll repeat his question here and then respond. S. P. said,

I'm curious what you mean by Physicists over-emphasizing physics in explaining the Universe. Are you appealing to the Science for it's realm, Philosophy/Religion for its realm? Or do I misunderstand you?

Sorry to be so vague. My statement was influenced by something I read some four years ago in Nancey Murphy's Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda. And I was referring to what might be considered physics chauvinism as against the other sciences. When I originally read the following passage, I was taken aback and felt a little defensive. But now I am more of a convert to the point of view, despite my having three physics degrees. From Chapter 6 Metaphysical Holism and Divine Action and the section Scientific Developments she writes:

It is now becoming widely recognized by scientists working at a variety of levels in the hierachy of the sciences that while analysis and reduction are important aspects of scientific enquiry, they do not yield a complete or adequate account of the natural world. In simple terms, one has to consider not only the parts of an entity but also its interactions with its environment in order to understand it. Since the entity plus its environment is a more complex system than the entity itself (and therefore higher in the hierarchical ordering of systems), this means that a "top-down" analysis must be considered in addition to a "bottom-up"analysis.

Science writer Silvan Schweber claims that recognition of the failure of the reductionist program has contributed to a crisis in physical theory:

'A deep sense of unease permeates the physical sciences. We are in a time of great change. . . . The underlying assumptions of physics research have shifted. Traditionally, physics has been highly reductionist, analyzing nature in terms of smaller and smaller building blocks and revealing underlying, unifying fundamental laws. In the past this grand vision has bound the subdisciplines together. Now, however, the reductionist approach that has been the hallmark of theoretical physics in the 20th century is being superseded by the investigation of emergent phenomena. . . .

The conceptual dimension of the crisis has its roots in the seeming failure of the reductionist approach, in particular its difficulties accounting for the existence of objective emergent properties. ' (ref according to Murphy is - Silvan S. Schweber, "Physics, Community and the Crisis in Physical Theory, " Physics Today (Nov. 1993) p 34-40.

My current opinion is that though there is plenty to be learned regarding things at the quark level and below, and despite how fascinating and mathematically beautiful string theory is, and how astrophysics continues to astound us, we can nevertheless learn about the fundamental nature of reality by exploring conceptual developments in biology and elsewhere. And we can derive benefit from other formerly distinct disciplines like philosophy, religion, and literature.

The emergent and relational nature of reality seems to me fundamental and I'd like to learn more about it.


S.P. Lunger said...

Thank-you for the clarification and fascinating thoughts. I am equally fascinated with the fact that you have three physics degrees. I'm glad I asked as I could have assumed you were rehearsing a tired (to me) mantra that there are some things that are not under the purview of science and science should just admit that and leave religion alone. I'm relieved to see your clarification go in a much different direction and bring with it significant food for thought.

Steve said...

There are some fascinating things developing out there. For an interesting read that fits neither the evangelical nor classic liberal take on things there is "Christology and Science" by F. LeRon Shults. There is no watering down of science in it that I could tell and that is impressive. I may post some snippets when I get a chance. Time to follow that lead and read some of his other works. Though the last one attempted was inscrutable. Would like to read more Nancey Murphy but the books are quite expensive. Just bought a Kindle and that will help some. My BS and MS were in Physics. The PhD in Engineering Physics. My research and development activities usually involve measuring things using lasers and fiber optics. Have always found psychology to be interesting and used to subscribe to Psychology Today in the 80's. But, alas, there is only so much time to try and read and keep up with things.

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