Astronomy holds a prominent place in our search for knowledge, as the vastness of the diamond-strewn night sky provides us intellectual fulfilment as well as joy in our observations. The night sky speaks the universal language of nature that can be understood by all nations of the world. It is serene in style, majestic in presentation and appears virtually unchanged throughout the centuries.
Sky gazing is offering us a whole new perspective of life through a quintessentially classic view of the physical reality. Therefore, whenever we turn our eyes to the grandeur of the night sky, we could be searching for our origin, identity and even the purpose of our life in it. Thus every viewing is a lesson in itself, as it appears to turn our attention unceasingly to one and the same fact in life: in all that immensity we seem to matter less and less. It is, however, an encouraging thought that, even if we appear so insignificant physically, our spirit can transcend the physical reality whenever we try to reach for the stars.
The purpose of this article is not to provide new knowledge about the physical reality, but only to consider certain existing ideas from the perspectives of scientists and philosophers. Such a consideration may provide you, the reader, with a deeper understanding of the perennial problems the physical reality holds.
- Scope of the Article
- Status Quo
- A. Science-based Theories of Reality
- Qualified Realism
- B. Reality and the Human Mind
It is assumed in general that philosophers, scientists, astronomers and even cosmologist, follow a critical path of deductive reasoning from self-evident, first principles, which guarantee certitude that what is deduced is the irrefutable truth, providing the first principles are true.
The first principles run through the major systematic philosophies, and these principles are also expected to be the basis for the critical paths that brought to us the long history of great scientific achievements.
‘However, scientists, cosmologists and philosophers share with other human beings the inalienable privilege of being, on occasion, wrong, which results in a conflict of theories’. (van Fraassen)
‘Such conflicts may also arise in some of those theories that describe the reality of the physical world. These conflicts are attributable mainly to unintentional, natural causes, namely:
- the ever-changing scientific complexity of the physical world,
- the lack of true understanding of its working through the laws of inanimate nature and
- the language used for the definition of concepts and terms in the scientific theories.’ (van Fraassen)
Of these apparent causes of conflict, the most common one is the use of language.
This is what Galileo wrote about the language of nature: ‘The true philosophy is written in that great book of nature, which lies ever open before our eyes, but which no one can read unless he has first learned to understand the language and to know the characters in which it is written.’
The following extracts are from van Fraassen: ‘Similarly to experts of other disciplines, physical scientists and philosophers work traditionally apart from one another. They speak technically two distinctly different languages. Scientists look for causes, while philosophers look for reasons in order to achieve a common goal, the verifiable and objective truth’.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the use of a precise language, physical scientists and philosophers can inadvertently accommodate ambiguous concepts, which may easily lead to conflict with other theories.
‘Paradoxically, however, the main reason for the conflicting theories may not be that they speak two different languages but that, mainly over the past few decades, both scientists and philosophers are trying to speak one common language’.
At the same time, van Fraassen offers some reasons for the peculiarities that are bound to arise from this fusion of two technically different languages. The following are the edited version of those reasons:
- Scientists who have never heard of metaphysics and positivist scientists who use the term ‘metaphysics’ only as a euphemism for unscientific thought both extensively use metaphysical ideas and terms in their theories without understanding their meanings or attempting to define them.
- Although, through the recent ‘merging’ of science with philosophy, spectacular theories were developed – among them the Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics – these are not without their problems. Here again, the nature of the problem lies in the use of abstract philosophical terms. ‘In order to prove their point, some modern-day authors nonchalantly slip in and out of physical reality and into their imaginary “metaphysics” with the greatest of ease and elegance, like their hypothetical “particles” appear and disappear from the “quantum vacuum”.’
- The conceptual revolution in physical sciences endorsed, at least tacitly, the fashionable, metaphysical theorising about almost everything. However, the lack of training in the basic principles of philosophy of many scientists is demonstrated by glaring discrepancies and contradictions in their theories.
- One such example is the oversight of the general principle that ‘…every physical event must have a cause outside itself….’ Sklar also points out that: ‘The failure of universal causation implied by quantum mechanics is part of a much more profound conceptual upheaval forced on us by this theory.’
SCOPE OF THE ARTICLE
This article sets out briefly the major, conflicting theories produced by scientists and philosophers about the physical reality of the world.
The numerous theories were condensed, in this article, into two major groups, these are the: ‘Science-based Theories of Reality’, and the ‘Reality and the Human Mind’. Both play a vital role in the understanding of this article.
The Philosophical View: Apart from the great good that derived from the worldwide movement of ‘Enlightenment’, from the 17th–18th centuries, that transformed the culture of developed nations, it produced two contradictory interests, namely:
- Fierce individualism which displays a culture of scepticism and relativism. Emboldened by the new discoveries of the sciences, it adopted modernist ideas that enlightened ‘reason’ in exchange for mere shadows of the traditional philosophies and values.
- A heightened awareness of human evil that caused all manner of social inequalities and injustices within the society, together with the desire to rectify those.
Although these two interests seem contradictory, they complement one another nicely, insofar as each will result in an illusory perception of the same reality. Furthermore, the proponents of both ideological interests are convinced that their ideas of the ‘light of reason’ can be forced on the world. Hence the cultural contest is not over yet.
The Scientific View: The present state of the scientific view is symbolised by the huge advances made in biology, the physical sciences, astronomy, cosmology, and in the philosophies of physics and other sciences. However, the concept of physical reality, which is used extensively in modern-day scientific publications, remains as elusive as ever, and its precise meaning is still undefined.
Activities of scientists include, in general, inventing and interpreting and/or modifying of evidence-based theories and models. An eminent example for this endeavour is the Standard Cosmological Model. The present scientific achievements include pragmatically realistic theories of the physical entities and events in the Universe, whose theories’ existence is not dependent solely on hypotheses, but on objective experience.
Advocates of Idealism, however, declare the opposite, which is the necessity to abandon the dependence on objectivism. Therefore, we are presented recently with numerous science-based theories that propose rationalism as well as Idealism and thus attempt to describe the same reality of the physical world from two distinct, and conflicting, points of view.
It should be pointed out that when modern scientific theories refer to reality, they basically use the definitions of systematic philosophies, even though they often apply those theories in a somewhat confusing and unrecognisably modified way. Typical examples of words used in such a way, and which are mostly undefined, include metaphysics, abstract and material infinity, infinite space, infinite time and infinite space-time, the infinite Universe, the nature of reality, the essence of life, etc.
‘The activities of philosophers of physics and science are a long way from the pre-Socratic philosophers, and yet, they firmly hold the view that logic and mathematics are important,’ and that…’there is a way of knowing the world that need not rest entirely upon observational or experimental inquiry at its foundations, the method of physical sciences. Thus the role of the modern philosophy is to serve, not as an extension to sciences, but rather as their critical observer.’ (van Fraassen)
The following works were the major sources of information:
- An Introduction to Philosophy by P. J. Glenn
- Modern philosophy by Roger Scruton
- Theory and Truth, and Philosophy and Physics both by Lawrence Sklar
- The Empirical Stance, and Quantum Mechanics both by Bas Van Fraassen.
Logic dictates that any definition of ideas and terms, when based on the idea of truth (i.e. a quasi assignment of values, for the guarantee of understanding the true intent and meaning of a theory), must form an essential part of a particular systematic philosophy. Therefore the precise meanings of ideas and terms for this article have been taken from the philosophy of ‘Qualified Realism’. Conversely, any conflict that may arise among different theories about the physical reality may be attributed mainly to the differences in their definitions of the ideas and terms.
In compliance with the Aristotelian Systematic Philosophy, the following key ideas and terms are described and used for the bases of this article:
Reality: Reality is the configuration of any material substance. It is the objective ‘truth’ of existence of what is perceived by the senses, and logically defined by the judgment of an adequate, human mind, with reference to a physical entity and event, together with its causative relation to the surround. Although it is the product of judgment of a healthy mind, it is also scientifically provable as evidence of physical existence of entities and events.
Appearance: The reality of the world is presented to reason through our sense-experiences. As a rule, a healthy mind has little difficulty in discrediting the senses under normal conditions. It is, however, acknowledged that a clear distinction has to be made between appearance and physical reality, because appearances can be deceptive, and yet, without giving way to unreasonable sceptical doubt.
Perception: Mental images can enter from the physical reality into human consciousness in different ways, and the following is one of them: When we see a physical object, it looks like something. Our apprehension verifies the object in the reality, from which the mind – through comparative judgement – verifies and creates its own corresponding image. It is therefore ultimately the role of the mind to make a clear distinction between physical reality and its illusory perception.
Truth in Reality
In the ontological (metaphysical) sense (i.e. ‘the truth of things’), truth is the product of a healthy, judging mind, when comparing two things, namely a physical object in the reality and its corresponding ‘idea’ formed in the mind, and which idea has been abstracted from the same reality.
The role of the comparative judgement by the mind is of utmost importance to our understanding of how we perceive truth in the physical reality.
Consequently, truth and reality are convertible, that is: every physical and metaphysical ‘being’ is true(because the act of their existence), and every true thing is a real ‘being’. The concept of ‘being’ deserves some clarification. ‘Being’ as such is undefinable because it is an irreducible simplicity. It may be somewhat circumscribed as follows: Whatever exists, either in the physical reality (ens reale), or in the mind (ens rationis), is a ‘being’ with reference to the act of its existence.
On the other hand, every ‘being’ is ‘true‘ because our judgement of comparing ‘it’ in the reality with the idea formed of ‘it’ in the mind, determines it ‘truly’ what it is.
There are no degrees of truth. A thing is either true of necessity, for it is what it is, or it is false.
- There are, however, degrees of falsity. Falsity is all in the mind or in communication with others, whereas truth, in view of evidence, is based on irrefutable reality – just as reason cannot contradict reason, similarly, one truth cannot contradict another truth.
- Truth must be absolute, because, if it is relative and conditional, there is no knowledge worth possessing.
Knowledge: Knowledge the reasoned acceptance of an evidence-based idea or concept, which is provided with the certitude of logic or proof based on scientific evidence.
Scientific Belief: Scientific belief is a reasoned acceptance of intrinsically-compelling evidence provided by a verifiable and acknowledged authority. It is worth noting that, actually, belief presupposes logical understanding.
Free Will: Free will is a conscious process of decision-making, with its foundation in reasoning and argument. (For a definition of consciousness see: ‘Definitions’ in the article of ‘The Anthropocentric Universe’ on this website).
Reasoning: Reasoning is a judgement of evidence, derived from facts in the physical reality, from sources of reliable authority and from the certitude of science.
Evidence: Evidence is a spontaneous and objective apprehension of an idea or theory as the ultimate basis of certitude, whose foundation may be pure reasoning (e.g. mathematics), science or both.
Scientific Theory: Scientific theory is a systematic statement or a description of scientific propositions that we can accept or reject, and believe or disbelieve, on the basis of logical analysis. It is a process of reasoning, through a set of sentences in a vocabulary, which contains a principle of statement about a truth in reality, to be confirmed or denied. This statement is coupled with scientifically falsifiable data having empirical adequacy by representing all (or nearly all) observable phenomena expressed in corresponding terms, hypothesis and models that impart meaning and connect them exclusively with the principal statement. In its conclusion, a theory must reason out the unconditional judgement of truth or falsity of the principal statement.
Scientific Interpretation: ‘Apart from the fact that scientific theories and models may contain an element of hypothesis, sometimes these theories are so incomplete in themselves that they also may require further account of veracity, i.e. some clarification, with or without an additional statement of truth in reality. If this clarification found is still unsatisfactory, then further explanation may be required. Consequently, the weaker a theory or the more hypotheses it contains in the beginning, the more clarifications it will require later on.’ (van Fraassen)
The reader may reflect on the need for numerous ‘interpretations’ of the Quantum Physics, Quantum Cosmology, and several assumptions in the Standard Cosmological Model.
Scientific Models: ‘A successful model is a clear, verifiable representation of a scientific theory. The ultimate aim of a model is to provide a mathematical estimate of how something works. A model should fit truthfully the phenomena it is intended to demonstrate. Any tacit claim of truth that is yet to be qualified may be admissible, providing it is based on a good approximation of an observation or experiment or there is a theoretical (or a computer-generated) extra parameter entered into the mathematical equation.’ (van Fraassen)
‘Models, just like theories, may require constant revisions and or interpretations for incorporating newly acquired ideas or proofs, in order to eliminate as much of the tacit claims as it is achievable within the given scientific parameters and at the historical status quo.’ (van Fraassen)
General Scepticism: ‘Scepticism is a systematic doubt, which identifies the objectivity of all possible grounds for our everyday beliefs…. This doubt extends to scientific knowledge and consequently to the basic ideas of our view of the physical world. The ideas of appearance and perception of reality play an important part in this mental process. The origin of sceptical objectivity goes back to the re-definition of the word “to know”, placing upon it conditions so strict that they could not be satisfied adequately.’ (Scruton)
General Relativism: ‘This theory is the outcome of intellectual impatience with the burden of sceptical arguments, thus to cut through the lengthy disputes, which empowers the individual with any of its favourite ideas and opinions. It tells us that there is no objective truth, not because we doubt knowledge, but because all truth is relative. Some say also that there is no common standard against which competing scientific theories could be measured…. This remark appears to be anything but logical, where everything is relative.’ (Scruton)
A. SCIENCE-BASED THEORIES OF REALITY
There are numerous theories of scientific Realism (whose name is assumed as a collective term only for this article), and they are listed under different names in online and other publications. Therefore, a general outline of those theories will suffice here to characterise the more controversial ideas on which they all seem to agree. The principal theory of scientific Realism is the opposition to its rival theory idealism and its claim that science discovers truth about a theory-independent reality. Realists use metaphysical theorising, while they reject metaphysical ideas.
The Extreme Realists’ View of the Physical World: Realism is characterised by the supremacy of matter that is self-existent and self-sufficient in the physical reality, infinite and absolute, having neither a beginning nor an end. It is only through the material way that we can gain our knowledge of it. Extreme realists deny that there are essential differences among the physical bodies, which they see only as being modifications of one single substance.
The following common ideas run through the extreme theories of Realism in one way or another:
- sense-experience is the ultimate source of knowledge, which is measured by the instruments of science
- matter in motion is the only reality
- reality is the material Universe
- general scepticism affects mathematics and metaphysics
- the knowledge of un-observables is eliminated, yet followers of this theory commit to established sources of knowledge.
Similarly to realism, there are many theories on Idealism that can be found in online and other publications. Here again, as under realism, only the principal ideas are described, on which most idealists seem to agree. The term idealism is used in this article to make it simple to treat them in a collective way.
In general, briefly, there are two major forms of Idealism; these are:
- Objective Idealism: Reality is in some sense independent of the mind. It is objective with relation to the mind.
- Subjective Idealism: There is no physical world, and nothing exists except the mind, yours and mine. Everything is composed of mental states.
It is hard to say which of these theories would be the most important in terms of its effect in shaping the human mind. However, the common idea that runs through all theories of Idealism is their opposition to Realism. Kant stated that: ‘We have the idea of a transcendental reality, a world as it is in itself, seen from no-point of view’. Scruton’s answer to this statement is that ‘… this idea is no more than a shadow cast by thought; we can never grasp it’. In general, these theories of Idealism interact, conflict and/or complement one another from time to time, as the relativistic need dictates the defining and interpreting of any particular idea or theory.
The Extreme Idealist View of the Physical World: Idealism has difficulty with the physical reality of the world. It also fails to recognise the reality of the mind, and, as a consequence, it undermines its own foundation. For, if reality is ultimately reducible to a state of mind (and follows the philosophical process of logical reasoning, i.e. the origin of ideas that come from reality), what criterion do we have left by which we can judge the state of our mind as being reliable or whether an idea produced is a mere illusion?
The Idealistic Scepticism: The extreme way of idealist thinking leads to scepticism of the highest order – which is the ‘radical scepticism’, first practiced by the Greek Sophists, ‘the wise ones’ – because, talking about reality, even by denying it, affirms reality. To put it in another way: A sceptic cannot express any formal statement of truth without contradiction by denying it at the same time.
Scepticism begins by identifying all possible grounds of the basic set of beliefs, which are known as evident truth and form part of our view of the physical world. Sceptics suggest abandoning reason for believing in anything at all. It is inconceivable that the authors and followers of the doctrine of scepticism would see no contradiction in that suggestion: while explaining the intricacies of the human mind, they conclude that we cannot know the nature of anything, including that of the human mind.
If we have no answer to radical scepticism, we have no basis for reasoning that our ordinary beliefs are true. And if we gave up the common sense belief that the physical reality of the world is distinct from ‘me and my concepts of it’, then all certitude of knowledge would have to be abandoned together with our common sense judgement. In other words, without self-evident truth, as used in sciences and philosophy, it would be simply impossible not only to know, but also even to doubt or deny.
Summary of Idealistic Scepticism: ‘Idealistic scepticism is a theory of knowledge, or rather a theory of non-existence of true knowledge, based on the following ideas:
- Our mental faculties often deceive us. Experience is a sufficient proof of this fact.
- We cannot know, but are hopelessly in confusion of doubt and error.
- ‘To know a thing with certitude we must have evidence that the “evidence” is reliable, and that evidence also is reliable, etc. etc. ad infinitum.’ (Glenn)
The Idealistic Relativism: As if scepticism would not be difficult enough to accommodate logically, relativism appears to present an even greater obstacle in our mutual understanding of the use of language.
In the case of relativism, even if we use our own language and use it correctly, we will certainly land ourselves in trouble when we try to discuss the truth in reality, because we can get no further than the truth ‘related to what?’. That is, the truth has to be related to some interpretation. This relativism denies any absolute knowledge and values, because it makes the individual person the measure of truth and reason, the measure of all things.
Paraphrasing Plato: ‘The objectivity of our theories is not jeopardised, if relativism is true only for the relativists. Moreover, in asserting that relativism is true for him, the relativist asserts that it is true for him absolutely. He is committed to absolute truth by the very practice of assertion, which has absolute truth as its goal.’ (van Fraassen)
Scientific Uncertainty: Scientific uncertainty can be encountered mainly in the micro-world of quantum mechanics, which shakes our confidence in the physical reality.
Van Fraassen suggests that the laws of quantum mechanics are the best we have by way of explaining reality and that if we attempt to go behind these laws – to some ‘underlying’ structure – we would simply compound the mystery. Admittedly the theory is strange to us, as some aspects of it are pointed out below.
On the one hand, the laws of Quantum Mechanics are well known and proven by the results, and the every-day practical devices that have been derived from the application of Quantum Mechanics over the past 50 years or so. Some of these are described by Pagels: ‘The transistors, the microchip, lasers, and cryogenic technology, have given rise to entire industries at the vanguard of technical civilisation…’ and ‘The main event was the first human contact with the invisible quantum world and the subsequent biological and computer revolutions.
With the quantum theory the basis for the periodic table of chemical elements, the nature of chemical bond, and molecular chemistry became understood. The underlying physical law necessary for the mathematical theory of a large part of physics and the whole of chemistry are thus completely known’. (H.R. Pagels)
On the other hand, according to many experts, the strangest things are happening in the quantum world. For example that reality depends on the mind of the observer (this is the principal claim of Quantum Mechanics, and that the decaying process of an atom is unobservable until we conduct observations of its energy. Energy, however, which in itself is also unobservable, is a purely abstract quantity, used only for calculations in a mathematical model.
According to the theory of Quantum Mechanics we also have difficulty observing and measuring events in a so-called ‘pure state’ as a prerequisite, because such a state cannot be attained in the reality. If an atom is argued not to be real energy, then where is the boundary of reality?
Scientific uncertainty would be incomplete without looking deeper into the theory of Quantum Mechanics, which is – although a true theory – riddled with hypotheses, and hence, inviting, and even requiring numerous interpretations (see Definitions above).
While trying to establish our sense of reality in the physical world, the bad news is that according to the modern scientific system of Quantum Mechanics, the world is nothing the way it appears in the reality; as if almost everything would be an illusion. Thus we begin to feel a diminishing sense of reality around us when our Newtonian minds are attacked by the brightest scientific brains, offering metaphysical explanations for the physical world, as indicated by the following extracts from the various interpretations of Quantum Mechanics:
- ‘Particles emerge from the quantum vacuum.’
- ‘The ground-state of the Universe is space-time foam.’
- ‘The Universe is an empty-fullness, a fecund nothingness.’; ‘No physical bodies have any intrinsic weight; rather, they are capable of entering into gravitational interactions.’ and ‘Particles have a velocity but no position in our world.’
- ‘We are located at the centre of the Universe.’ (This is a partly superseded theory; still, does the Universe have a centre?)
- ‘The Universe brought forth life in order to exist; ….the very cosmos does not exist unless observed.’ (One wonders who does the observing of the Universe from the outside).
Adding to the above complications, scientists claim that the quantum nature of the Universe is such that we have to revise our entire concept of the physical reality. This suggests that objective reality would be characterised by ‘the annihilation of the particles as they are absorbed into the abyss of vacuum, that is followed by the reappearance of a new set of particles’. Is the physical Universe regenerating itself through an endless process of creation? (See ‘Faith and Reason’)
While considering the question of reality of these sets of particles, one may ask if there is anything tangible left to which to hang on. Particle physicists tell us that the material volume of elementary particles is extremely small when compared with the volume of the atoms that they form. Thus, intimating that the essential nature of any atom is less material than it is ’empty space’.
The basis of any material being is not the ‘matter’ out of which it was formerly believed to have been composed, but an inconceivable ‘energy’ that gives rise to (a ‘condensed’ form of) matter as we perceive it in the reality; although that same matter can disappear at the next moment into the abyss of annihilation. In essence, what quantum physics is teaching us, is that without human consciousness and observation, nothing exists (as far as we know today from our science).
‘The relativistic quantum system cannot be described by precise values of physical quantities in the absence of observation upon that system. In the quantum mechanical world not only determinism but also causal realism is lost’. (Sklar)
Similar references to uncertainties are found in the Standard Cosmological Model. Although this model is riddled with infinities of different varieties, and cosmologists have not yet defined either the physical or philosophical nature of infinity, those ‘infinities’ appear to have solved many contentious assumptions about the nature of various cosmological entities and events, such as energy and matter, space and time, etc.
Einstein remarked in his Theory of General Relativity, (an important part of the Cosmological Model), that: ‘… since time and distance depend on the observer, one cannot have an objective fact regarding a distance between two bodies in space at any given time’.
Also, with regard to the nature of light, Quantum Mechanics interprets that it can be considered as being either particles or waves, and that motion through space and time has no meaning for the photons.
Furthermore, because Einstein adopted the accurately measured speed of light only as an arbitrary figure in his mathematical equations; the dimensions of the Universe of billions of light-years in distances may also be only a pure mental construct. Or are those dimensions of the Universe therefore unreal as these all exist only in the mind of the observer?
Finally, while scientists were working on the Theory of Everything, they came up through their mathematical modelling with the startling discovery that the physical world need not have a beginning, because it came about ‘out of nothing’.
This is only a brief summary of the present state of Idealism that brought to us scepticism, relativism and a general scientific uncertainty about the reality of the physical world.
3. QUALIFIED REALISM
This world view of Qualified Realism is an essential part of the Aristotelian Systematic Philosophy; which is referred to also as the Common Sense Realism. The following major principles form its basis, and are like corner-stones of the verifiable truth in reality.
Outside of the mind only individual objects exist
This principle includes:
- that there are no universal objects, but only individual objects in the physical reality of the world.
- that our understanding of the logical way we form our ideas relies on the following reasoning: the mind, in forming its universal ideas, follows the inner drive of its nature towards the individual object to be known, is able to ‘apprehend’ that idea of an object which truly represents the essence of reality.
- The mind ‘abstracts’ from an individual object only that particular essence, which is universally common to all other identical objects in the physical reality, and generates a mentally acquired knowledge in a mode of ‘universality’ of an idea. Therefore, there are no ‘innate’ ideas without any prior mental reference to the physical reality.
Note by Glenn: ‘The question of “universal ideas” is of utmost importance in the philosophy of Qualified Realism, because it brings with it every major aspects of Ontology (i.e. Metaphysics), the study of being, and the Critical Question, which deals with the trustworthiness of human knowledge, through the truth and the sources of scientific certitude.’
Some important parts of Qualified Realism are summarised in the following statements:
- The rules of logic are based on the logic of a healthy mind.
- There are no innate ideas; all human knowledge is acquired from the physical reality.
- Ideas are the result of the reasoning of the mind, through the process of abstraction from the finding of the senses.
- The result is called the physical idea, being inductive, based on observation of data and experiments. The opposite is the concept of pure, speculative reasoning, being deductive, which is called the mathematical idea.
- Every physical being is compounded of actuality and potentiality.
- Every physical being comprises matter and form that imparts its identity through its attributes.
- Infinity of matter is a contradiction in terms, because of its contingent nature and because matter is dependent on the laws of causality.
B. REALITY AND THE HUMAN MIND
Although the ideas described under this heading form the substance of the Science-based Theories of Reality (described in Section A above), these same ideas nevertheless intend to reinforce the fact that the human mind is inseparably one with the reality, even if it can transcend beyond its physical boundaries. Therefore, it is commonly understood that the healthy mind has an essential, hence legitimate, role to play in the perception and reasoning out of reality in order to formulate its observations into verifiable scientific theories.
Description. There are three major, conflicting theories, as in the Science-based Theories of Reality in Section A above, that describe the role of the human mind with regard to physical reality. These theories are the following:
1) The Mind’s Role in the Philosophy of Realism of the extreme kind
The philosophy of Realism denies that the human mind has a legitimate role in the reasoning process, because:
- it claims that the mind does not exist; it is only a figment, a product of imagination (Is not there an intrinsic contradiction?)
- it denies a legitimate role to the mind, because humans have a sense-bound perception of material complexities; and yet, the followers of this philosophy use the same logical faculty, the mind, for metaphysical reasoning to reach their theories. To them, there is no mind apart from matter.
- consciousness and the concept of person do not exist, hence responsible choices do not exist either.
2) The Mind’s Role in the Philosophy of Idealism of the extreme kind
The philosophy of idealism claims that intuition is the only, and the closest, way we can get to pure thought of the mind. It claims that the mind, with all its imaginative power, has an absolute authority in forming its ideas, with complete disregard for the reality, as if reality would not exist.
Scruton argues: ‘There is a paradox in the extreme idealist doctrine that is the reality is ultimately reducible to states of the mind; The question is: if the world is all a dream, is not the dreamer a part of the world and therefore, a part of the person’s very own dream?’
In addition to the above, he remarks: ‘The physical reality is a mere illusion that one can only escape by abandoning the world of senses through the ever-shrinking consciousness. This abandonment being the highest perfection of mental state, because it transcends the level of reasoning. This mental process represents the first-person’s conscious experience; which says more about the state of mind of the observer than about the reality.’
3) The Mind’s Role in the Philosophy of Qualified Realism:
In the philosophy of Qualified Realism, the human mind is seen as having the following essential properties and major roles in the physical reality:
(i) Forming of Ideas through:
- attention and abstractive power
- judgement (i.e. comparing of ideas with reality)
- reason (i.e. thinking things out).
The philosophy of Qualified Realism makes a clear between the appearance of an object and reality, and claims that illusion is the mistaken identity of appearance.
(ii) Human Consciousness: As stated by Glenn: ‘Human beings have a self-awareness of identity, which is expressed by the simple, universal affirmation of “I am”, that is also a personal affirmation of human existence.’ (Glenn)
(iii) The Human Person: Aristotle thought that the human person: ‘… is an individual and autonomous rational being, having body and mind indivisibly united, possessing understanding and free will. A person has rights and duties first and foremost to oneself, family and higher authorities.’ (Aristotle).
(iv) Human Beings Have Free Will, i.e. humans have the freedom of choice for the attainment of means to the necessary, ultimate end, that is happiness in the physical world. There is an essential interdependence between free will and reason, because without a reasoning mind, free will of choice would be a blind act. And conversely, without free will of choice, not even the basic ideas could be formed by the reasoning mind.
(v) The ‘Ultimate End of Every Human Act’ is the Possession of Happiness. Even a perversely obtained ‘good’, or an ethically evil act, is chosen under the guise of ‘good’; that is, of something that will satisfy. Since the practical judgement of reason is the free will, all our free acts are an acceptance or rejection of natural laws. Thus our norm of morality is the natural laws; which is none other than the ‘Eternal Law’. (Aristotle)
(vi) A Supreme Being: The quintessential part of Qualified Realism is the reasoned acknowledgement of a Supreme Being, whom Aristotle referred to as ‘The Absolute‘. Qualified Realism also claims that it is impossible to prove the existence or non-existence of infinity. Qualified Realism claims that denial of ‘The Absolute’:
- conflicts with reason, because if the Universe had reason for existence in itself, then it would have been created by itself (see definition of causality above)
- conflicts with our best knowledge of the evidence-based contingent nature of the entire Universe, with all the contingent creatures in it (see definition of contingent being; and see the article ‘Faith and Reason’).
(vii ) Qualified Scepticism about the Scientific Theories: This item is an extract from the ‘Theory and Truth’ by Lawrence Sklar, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan, USA.
In addition to the major causes of conflicting theories, Sklar is cautioning us in the following:
‘We ought not to think of our fundamental physical theories as giving us true representation of the world for the following three reasons, namely:
- Concerning the use of “un-observables”, we reach beyond the realm of evidential legitimacy that supports verifiable theories by observational experiment.
- There are doubts about the simple truth of our theories that rest upon the principle that fundamental physical theory is applicable to systems in the real world only after numerous critical “idealisations” have been made. This refers to the complexities of systems in nature, of which all aspects cannot be known and accounted for within a theory.
- There are those doubts about the simple truth of our theories that even our best current fundamental physical theories are likely “to survive” as permanently accepted best theories in the future evolution of science.’ (Sklar)
The reader may ask by now: ‘So, what is reality?’ The answer to this question is profound, and Stephen Hawking’s anthropocentric (or rather paradoxical) words may yet help somewhat to describe it: ‘…It is therefore a law of nature that nature will be observable only when nature is also explicable.’
There is a lot of information available on the Internet and in other publications on the subject of the physically observable, as well as the unobservable, nature of reality. However, the problem with this process is already well known (on the Internet in particular), which is that there are so many theories available between the classics and the ‘unpublishable’ that not even a discerned reader could often make sense out of them.
The reason being that, beside the unintentional causes for discrepancies among the theories, (see Introduction), it is essential that we are able to distinguish genuine science from the glossy promotion of ‘imaginative science’, which is usually driven by intentional, ulterior motives for personal acclaim and/or for financial gain.
Thus, when purely hypothetical arguments are put forward by imaginative theories, to provide the desired ‘scientific’ result, with equal claims to originality and authenticity in their own right, we are (in the absence of a clear guide), tempted to accept the most appealing ones. This is because, as van Fraassen suggests: ‘…as their authors claim “The theory is so beautiful that it must be real.” Others claim that their theory is mathematically-proven accurate (which in itself doesn’t necessarily equate with truth), as well as appear to be clearly right. But what is often overlooked by a reader, or not made clear and proven by these so called elegant theories, just what they are right about.’ (van Fraassen).
The safe way out of this dilemma for a reader is the need to understand the ‘first principles of philosophy’ behind any particular theory. Only through this process the reader may be able to identify the critical ideas and terms to find a logical answer.
The Aristotelian systematic Philosophy groups the first principles according to their association with certain major concepts, such as:
- the laws of thought (the Logical Question)
- the true and certain knowledge (the Critical Question)
- the nature and properties of being (the Ontological Question).
Let Socrates’ eloquent words to Cratylus conclude what this article tried to explain, about the conflicting theories of reality: ‘If this is a battle of words, some claiming to be true and others contending that they are, must there not be a criterion by which to judge their truth? And if we can learn about things both from the words about them and from those things themselves, which is likely to be the clearer and nobler way?’ (van Fraassen).