Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Duhem or Chesterton?

I have found what seems to be a startling parallel - or perhaps I might say a convergence of ideas - between Duhem and Chesterton. Even more remarkable, it is a sort of derivative from Darwinian evolution - though it is what we might call a sane form of Darwinian reasoning. It suggests a great mystery, and yet a positive one, since it urges fruitfulness: to me this strongly suggests the great "Analogy of the Body" from St. Paul (1Cor12). See what you think.
-- Dr. Thursday

Here is Duhem:
What is true of all living beings, is also true of scientific doctrines: It is through struggle that selection is made among them; it is the conflict which fragments and sweeps away the false ideas; it is the struggle which forces the right ideas to make more precise and more valid the proofs which they claim to themselves; it is the struggle which forces the fruitful ideas to deliver all their products.

Now this struggle of ideas is impossible if science is entirely in one single locality; when this absolute centralisation is in effect one finds before long in each branch of knowledge only one teacher, and the disciples of that teacher. The teacher, no longer exposed to being contradicted, and long since accustomed to seeing his best ideas received as products of a genius, hardly has any concern to protect himself from an exaggerated confidence in his own judgment, confidence which delivers him defenseless against the habit of making errors. The disciples, receiving their master's teachings as oracles instead of improving them with free discussions through a contact with opposite doctrines, yield to the nonchalant habit of repeating a lesson already learned which ends in no longer being comprehended.

Precisely because we feel how dangerous it would be to let French science reach that point, we desire to see our universities vigorously armed for engaging in a contest with one another. We wish that a doctrine proclaimed in Lyon may see an opposite doctrine rise in Toulouse or Nancy, that a doctrine proclaimed in Paris might develop in Lille or in Bordeaux. We wish that in France each man of science may find at every moment these two essential conditions for scientific work: the freedom which permits him to put forward all his ideas, and the opposition which obliges him to produce only mature ideas.
[PD quoted in SLJ, Uneasy Genius: The Life and Work of Pierre Duhem 133; see my note at the end.]
And here is Chesterton:
Because a man prayed and fasted on the Northern snows, flowers could be flung at his festival in the Southern cities; and because fanatics drank water on the sands of Syria, men could still drink cider in the orchards of England. This is what makes Christendom at once so much more perplexing and so much more interesting than the Pagan empire; just as Amiens Cathedral is not better but more interesting than the Parthenon. If any one wants a modern proof of all this, let him consider the curious fact that, under Christianity, Europe (while remaining a unity) has broken up into individual nations. Patriotism is a perfect example of this deliberate balancing of one emphasis against another emphasis. The instinct of the Pagan empire would have said, "You shall all be Roman citizens, and grow alike; let the German grow less slow and reverent; the Frenchmen less experimental and swift." But the instinct of Christian Europe says, "Let the German remain slow and reverent, that the Frenchman may the more safely be swift and experimental. We will make an equipoise out of these excesses. The absurdity called Germany shall correct the insanity called France."
[GKC Orthodoxy CW1:304]

I might add that Jaki has a caveat about the implications regarding "evolution", and I could add my own. But I think we can examine the ideas here without jumping to any unwarranted conclusions; Chesterton (and Jaki) have plenty to say about Darwin, as they remember to distinguish proper science from improper philosophy - but we shall defer that topic for the time being.

A note about the Duhem quote: There appears to be a typographical error in SLJ's text. In checking the footnote reference, there is a diswcrepancy of pagination, so it seems that the article by Duhem must be what SLJ would note as "1989(13)" and not "1898(12)", but I do not have access to the materials in question to verify. The footnote of the citation gives page 246 for "1898(12)" but the bibliography has "On the General Problem of Chemical Statics", JPhCh 2:1-42 and 91-115. Item 13, however, is "Une soutenance de thèse de doctorat à la Faculté des Sciences de Bordeaux", RPBSOu 244-50 (avril); which agrees with the context of the quotation.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Link to Your Christmas Gift

Courtesy of Dr. Kelly of the Catholic Association of Scientists and Engineers, I have the delight of presenting you with a link to a most startling website...


It offers hiking tours to the sites visited and painted by Pierre Duhem!

Amazing. Delightful. Awesome. How I hope I may go there someday. At least both you and I can have a small glimpse of the natural beauty of Cabrespine...

* * *

My very best wishes for a happy and holy Christmas day and season to you and your family...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Duhem on the relation of the sciences to metaphysics

[Early September 1894, the Third International Scientific Congress of Catholics held in Bruxelles...]

Duhem's hour came the following morning when he attended, in the philosophy section of the Congress, some lectures dealing with topics that touched on the relation of sciences to metaphysics. After the Pere Bulliot, future head of the philosophy department of the Institut Catholique in Paris, had read his paper on the concepts of matter and mass, Duhem asked, not without the promptings of some present, for permission to make a few remarks. Although his remarks were not reported in the Compte rendu of the Congress in the form of a verbatim quotation, the printed text can, partly because of its incisiveness and clarity, be taken for the most part for Duhem's actual words. Duhem, the report begins, 'is convinced that these researches [having for their object the confines of the positive sciences and metaphysics] will, if done wisely and prudently, lead to the reconciliation of Christian philosophy and modern science, but he insists on the extreme difficulty of such studies.' Duhem's reasons were as follows:

Only the principles of the different positive sciences are of interest to philosophers; but, in order to know these principles, it is not enough to read a book of popularization, not even the first chapters of a treatise written by a competent scientist. One does not comprehend the meaning and bearing of the principles on which a science rests except when one has studied that science for years, applied in a thousand ways those principles to particular cases, and mastered in depth the technique of what the Germans call the materials of science.

For example, the obvious sense of Euclid's [parallel] postulate is accessible to a child who studies the first book of geometry. But in order to understand the exact sense of that postulate, to grasp the reasons which give it a special place among the truths of geometry, to see clearly what would become of geometry if that postulate were to be abandoned, one must have a complete mathematical training which requires years of work.

If therefore we want to handle with competence and fruitfully the questions which are of the domain common to metaphysics and to positive science, let us begin with studying the latter for ten, for fifteen years; let us study it, first of all, in itself and for itself, without seeking to put it in harmony with such and such philosophical assertion; then, as we have mastered its principles, applied it in a thousand ways, we can search for its metaphysical meaning which will not fail to accord with true philosophy.

Anyone who would find exaggerated a similar labor must not forget that every hasty, scientifically incorrect solution of one of the problems relating to the common frontiers of science and philosophy, would result in the greatest prejudlce against our cause. The philosophers must imitate the patience of scientists. Once a problem is posed, scientists devote centuries, if necessary, to solving it. They accept only a precise and rigorous solution.

At any rate, the schools we are combatting give us example. The positivist school, the critical school, publish numerous works on the philosophy of science. These works carry the names of the greatest names of European science. We cannot triumph over these schools except by opposing them with researches done by people who, too, are masters of the positive sciences.

[quoted from Compte rendu du Troisième Congrès Scientifique International des Catholiques tenu à Bruxelles du 3 au 8 septembre 1894 (Bruxelles: Société Belge de Librairie, 1895) in Jaki, Uneasy Genius: The Life and Work of Pierre Duhem, 113-4, emphasis added]

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Essential Jaki

What can I possibly mean - "essential Jaki"? The Relevance? (He himself suggests as containing much of his later work, at least in embryonic form. See A Mind's Matter 27.) Or one (or more) of his essay collections? Or his amazing meditations on prayers? Or that tiny little thing on Chesterton? Or perhaps - Science and Creation?

Well, No.

I have no time to fairly and justly give you a recommended selection of his works - so if you are hoping for for an "introduction" to him I must diappoint you, at least for today. But then... perhaps (like some other great writers) almost any of his works are a suitable start. In this he is like the holograms of laser physics, a great analogy to certain even more mystical ideas: any fractional part of a hologram contains a representation of the whole image.

But actually, I was thinking about how one could easily have a "Jaki Advent Retreat" with his incomparable meditations on the Savior, and though there are barely two weeks left before Christmas, I suggest the following texts. (You can always work on obtaining them now, for future use.)

1. Advent and Science - a booklet of four essays
2. The Virgin Birth and the Birth of Science - a booklet with pictures by Blake
3. Catholic Essays - this is a collection but I mean specifically these two: "3. The Creator's Coming" and "4. A Most Holy Night"

You may also add, if you like, his little books on the Litany of Loreto and of St. Joseph, as well as the Magnificat...

I must also suggest his cosmological or Christocentric studies, though it would be to open not a retreat, but the bibliography for a grad-school seminar, and add items like his studies of the Psalms and The Savior of Science - but especially deserving of exploration is the important chapter on Science and the Jews, the seventh in Science and Creation which is called "The Beacon of the Covenant":
In the biblical view God is primarily and ultimately a person, whose most unique characteristic is to reveal His unspeakable transcendence in His most immediate concern for the children of Abraham.
The God of the Bible is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; that is, the God of the Covenant, or a God who freely binds Himself to the welfare of mankind through the mediation of Abraham’s progeny.
[SLJ SC 139]
What a grand statement of What Advent Is All About...

"...a God who freely binds Himself to the welfare of mankind through the mediation of Abraham’s progeny..."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jaki and Advent

Sorry I have fallen behind on our study of The Relevance of Physics; I hope to resume it shortly. Meanwhile, I suggest you get a copy of SLJ's Advent and Science and read it. Here is its beginning.
--Dr. Thursday

It may seem strange to seek a connection between Advent and science, and even stranger if Advent is mainly a matter of sentiments. Yet, undoubtedly, more than any other phase of the liturgical year Advent is the season of that gripping sentiment which is longing. Advent is also replete with the joy of anticipation which in some way surpasses even the joy of possession. Many have observed, and rightly so, that there is something special in the joy of expecting as compared with the joy one feels on coming into possession of what one has eagerly looked for.

What is true of religion, as experienced especially during Advent, is also true of science. The magic of science comes to a large extent from musing about its future marvels and about its promise that man's horizons would forever expand. The feats which science has already achieved along these lines greatly strengthen the confidence that the future has even greater feats in store.
[SLJ Advent and Science 1]

P.S. If you wish for some more seasonal reading material, I have just posted links to some of my past blogg-writings, which includes some unusual observations relating the 20 amino acids to the 20 mysteries of the Rosary.