THEOSOPHY, Vol. 27, No. 8, June, 1939
(Pages 368-372; Size: 16K)
(Part 2 of 2)



AFTER reviewing the impact on scientific thought of the principle of indeterminacy, leading, for some, to the rather occult suggestion that the atom has "free will," Dr. Wallace wonders whether scientists are justified in drawing philosophical conclusions from this discovery. Perhaps this is a specious "freedom" deriving from our ignorance of nature's laws. Does the large-scale order of nature somehow result from the mere caprice of nature's units, or will further study reveal the hidden factors of causation behind the unpredictable movement of the electron around its nucleus? Whatever may be the truth of this matter, the fact is that "there has been a general acceptance of the position that a new orientation is needed in our approach to the physical world, and that the scientist must guide himself accordingly."

Dr. Wallace employs the views of three eminent modern thinkers to show the typical positions taken in this new setting by philosophers of science: Arthur Eddington and Herbert Dingle, physical scientists, and the philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead. For Eddington, the statistics of physical phenomena are but symbols of a hidden reality, causality is but the phenomenal aspect of this mystical ground. He accepts indeterminacy as evidence that there is more to mind and matter than the mechanical operation of cause and effect. Whitehead makes a different approach. While Eddington would say to the scientist, "Your method can not penetrate the realm of consciousness," Whitehead regards all nature as a living unity. He would integrate the world of the scientist with the larger world of the philosopher. To separate organic from inorganic when inwardly they are one is unjustifiable abstraction. Whitehead's idea seems to be that logical rationality is an intrinsic characteristic of the whole, moving toward an end of esthetic harmony. But this philosopher, as Dr. Wallace implies, is notably obscure. Dingle represents the conservative position. Eddington's subjectivity, he thinks, is inconsistent with the belief that scientific investigation has value, while Whitehead's assumption that nature is an organic and rational whole is without proof. From the field of experience the scientist makes abstractions, which are beyond time and causality. By enlarging these concepts we may some day reach one unifying view which will rationalize the whole of nature. We must not theorize upon the facts, however, but start in the limited areas which present knowledge justifies, withholding judgment as to our destination.

These three views, Dr. Wallace finds, have elements in common, although dissimilar in other respects. He says, in summary:

It is very evident, in the first place, that the rigidly mechanistic conception of the universe, as it appeared to an earlier generation of scientists, has lost its force today. It is not in the thinking of the men to whom I have referred, nor to others of similar stature who, too, have gone deeply into the subject. This change has taken place partly because scientists are not prepared to insist on the principle of causality in the face of the recent findings in nuclear physics; but mainly because they are doubtful whether the method of the scientist is adequate to determine the whole of the processes of nature, even in the purely physical realm. There are many who would feel that, when further knowledge has been gained, the mechanical principle may yet prove to be the most adequate interpretation. There are few who would take the position that it is the only interpretation of the phenomena of the inanimate and animate world.

In the second place, there is a growing tendency to treat nature as a whole and to make no separation between the inanimate and animate world. Whatever explanation will ultimately be found to be adequate must prove to be adequate for the living and non-living alike. The mechanists endeavored to apply this principle to the whole of nature, and in so doing reduced man to an automaton. Freedom of choice disappeared in the process; and reason has rebelled against this explanation of the springs of our being. But it is felt that there must be a principle of rational operation of the world, and that man in all his activities, physical, intellectual, spiritual, will be found to fit into the plan as well as does the growing crystal. If there is not a closed system self-determining and working as does a machine, there must be a rational system, which the mind of man may yet be able to understand. The philosopher assumes that such a comprehensive system exists; the scientist feels that the proven area of rational operation is widening, and may some day include the universe in its scope.

These two positions, which seem to be representative of the thinking of our time, namely, that the mechanistic conception of the world is inadequate and that there will in all likelihood be found to be a rational basis applying to the inanimate and animate world alike -- these positions have been taken because of a sense of values which has found inadequate interpretation under the old régime.

It may be noted as significant that the emphasis is on esthetic values, in both Eddington and Whitehead. Possibly this is in instinctive avoidance of the moral problem because of its theological associations. A fine mind naturally dislikes to discuss even by analogy the issues which the bible-pounders have put in so unlovely a dress. But that the problem of good and evil has suffered at the hands of bigots in no wise alters the fact that it is central to all other considerations and must therefore be faced. A philosophy of purpose does not become unnecessary because theology has made teleology unpopular, nor is the ideal of a brotherhood of man any the less needed because it has suffered from unworthy mouthings. Yet, Dr. Wallace's esthetic appreciation of the goal of life is not exclusive of these ideas:
The quality of beauty resides in the essential fitness of things themselves, as in the mind attuned to perceive that fitness. The deeper values are universal, in and through nature, of which man is only a part. It is the great task of science to integrate these eternal values into a rational whole with the external phenomena of nature with which science has been hitherto more immediately concerned. Ultimately there can be no conflict; there can not even be a dualism. If truth has any meaning, it is that there is one truth, expressed it may be through many aspects, but blending into a unified whole. The tools adequate for the work of delving for this comprehensive truth must be shaped for the hands both of the scientist and the philosopher, for they must work together in this great quest.
Dr. Wallace now asks the great question: Do we need more science of the kind we already know, or should we turn to other sources to fill the gap between our present knowledge and the pressing problems of the day?
In the need for clearer thought as to ultimate values which we call good, whether in personal or social relationships, whether as formulated by legislation or by an inner moral law which finds no expression in words, can we advance to clearer criteria by the well-tried method which science has so successfully pursued elsewhere, or must we always be content to say, as the Earl of Listowel has recently said: "Here we turn for guidance, not to science but to the beating of our own hearts and to those great books of poetry, philosophy, and religion in which the finest of men have recorded what life could give in its highest, and happiest and most vivid moments. The sixth book of Plato's Republic, the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul's first letter to the people of Corinth, the Sermon preached by Jesus on the Mount -- such brief communications as these are a better training-ground for those who would direct the affairs of nations than all the voluminous writings of Einstein, a Pavlov, or a Freud"?
However much science may learn about the "how" of things, the question of "why" still remains unanswered. Dr. Wallace refers to the late William McDougall -- in whom the world of scientific thought has lost one of its noblest representatives -- as having pointed out that to solve the problems of values we must define our ends, for the end determines all the values along the way. Every choice of man involves a "value-judgment," which must be made whether or not he has a conscious philosophy of life. Yet the scientist, Dr. Wallace says,
. . . has been concerned with the "how." He has confined himself to it. He has achieved great success in it. But he is beginning to realize that, somehow, the "how" and the "why" are inextricably bound up together, and the answer to the one involves an answer to the other. Ends and means are tied up in the same bundle of life. If he can deal with means alone as a scientist he must deal with ends as a man; but he would wish to use his ability and technique as scientist in the whole field, and not in a part.
The difficulty is perhaps greater than Dr. Wallace perceives. In every scientific description of the how of things there lies a prejudicial although unspoken "why" bearing the overtones of materialism. Even the denial of the materialistic implications of his doctrine by a scientific philosopher is unable to prevent a consistent development of his own first principles. Take for example the statements of Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley on the subject of human evolution. Darwin wrote A. R. Wallace that under the law of the survival of the fittest, "the struggle between races of men depends entirely on intellectual and moral qualities." Huxley in his famous essay, "Evolution and Ethics," affirmed that "Cosmic evolution may teach us how the good and the evil tendencies of man may have come about; but, in itself, it is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before . . . the ethical progress of society depends not upon imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it." Almost as an afterthought, both Darwin and Huxley set up these ethical principles as an act of philosophic faith, imagining, it seems, that they could stand against the enormous weight of the "scientific" arguments to support the theory that evolution is the result of the blind forces of matter. But ethical significance can not suddenly be read into the cosmic process whenever it seems necessary or convenient. The sanctions for a moral order must be more solidly grounded in reality. The ethical ideas of the emergent evolutionists are as anthropomorphically conceived as were the scientific speculations of medieval theologians. Science and ethics must proceed hand in hand from the beginning. Any separation of the two leads inevitably to the development of theories of life which are fundamentally incompatible, one with the other and both with the experiences of life itself.

In the last century theology suffered the inexorable fate of its own intellectual and moral decay. Science now has the opportunity to avoid a similar fate, if it will assume the responsibility of self-criticism and honest confession of ignorance. First, the concealed metaphysics of positivism must be brought out into the open. Scientists must admit that the assumptions of mechanism are wholly unjustified and recognize the bias which they have given all modern study of social problems. They must become fully conscious that scientists, no more than the man in the street, have discovered the ultimate "why" of things, stop posing as authorities in any connection except that of specialized techniques, and participate in a modern democracy of ideas from the same "givens" of experience available to the rest of mankind. It is in this spirit, or something like it, that Dr. Wallace concludes his address:

The time has come, in my judgment, to question the value of the large amount of time which those who are not to be scientists spend in the laboratories of our modern universities. It is not improbable that more might be gained by observation of the method and the enthusiasm of the able teacher of science. But that method and that enthusiasm must in some measure be imparted to all who are to take their share in the work of our modern world.

The second consideration -- and it is even more fundamental -- is that this kind of education is not enough for our time. It is imperative that the young scientist should know something of the problems of the psychologist, the philosopher, the economist, the sociologist and the statesman. Not that he should be familiar with the details of those vast fields; that is not humanly possible. But it is possible, and it is necessary, that he familiarize himself with one of the realms of human relationships and feelings, in order that he may place his science in its setting for modern needs. The value and the influence of the man who works completely apart from, and without knowledge of, the deeper movements of mankind, grows less with the passing years; for he at least will play no part in that widening influence which science must exert on the solution of the problems which confront the human race. In this matter we are in grave danger. One contemplates with disquiet and apprehension the increasing stream of narrow specialists who issue from the institutions of learning into a world that is seeking for other counsel than they can give. We need the men who are imbued with the scientific spirit and who have access to the inner courts of the temple of the mind and the spirit of man. That kind of man must be cultivated in our halls of learning. Can it be that we are failing in our task?

We go forward in the faith that truth is universal, and that ever-widening areas will be mapped and explored. It is a small island from which we set out to chart that great sea. If science is to be our instrument, it must be capable of meeting heavy demands. For we will voyage into the infinite, beyond the last horizon.

Next article:
The Illusion of Separatness

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