Monday, February 7, 2011

Why We Bother...

I have been - well, I cannot use the word "swamped" since it is a matter of snow. I wonder how the Greeks would have said it? AH, well, anyway, all I can offer you today is two small but very deep chunks for your meditation:
Having treated the scientific ideas of earlier centuries as myths, the men of the Enlightenment had to fall victim to the inner logic of such a stance, and as a result, they treated their own ideas on science as dogmas. Thus, while they painted in black and white the relative merits of the pre-Galilean and post-Galilean phases of science, they failed to notice the often gross imperfections of the early phase of classical physics. Complaisance, however, is not the key for unlocking the meaning of history. Nor is the task of achieving a scientifically enlightened and truly human culture so simple a proposition as the Age of Enlightenment would have had us believe. In our own times the expectation of an age of greater awareness, the hope for a unification of the two cultures will remain just a dream as long as those speaking of physics do not acknowledge at least in principle what R. Dugas wrote as a final remark in his History of Mechanics: Nothing is futile in scientific matters, not even the contemplation of the past. For this embodies the lesson of our vagaries, our scruples, our illusions, and our errors. Science did not progress by that harmonious path, the illusion of which is easily created after the event. The direct knowledge of the old works, however they may be outstripped today, can only enrich the perspective of the future which opens before us.

That a historian of physics should reach such a conclusion is natural, but there is no lack, either, of prominent physicists who have voiced similar appraisals of historical studies in physics. The reconstitution of the knowledge and theoretical concepts of the past was in De Broglie's view the means that makes us "privy to the very basis of science and enables us to see it in perspective."

[SLJ The Relevance of Physics 512]
The second, perhaps one of the most pungent lines I have have read in the last month, is not quoted in SLJ to my knowledge. I would not even have recalled reading it before, but I happened to find one of my old business cards with the bibliographic reference jotted on the back. I had NO IDEA what it referred to, and went to look it up, and found this. I offer it for your careful consideration, and delight:
All science is derived from self-evident and therefore "seen" principles; wherefore all objects of science must needs be, in a fashion, seen. ... it may happen that what is an object of vision or scientific knowledge for one man, even in the state of a wayfarer, is, for another man, an object of faith, because he does not know it by demonstration.
[St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica II-II Q1 A5]
I know, Aquinas meant "Science Writ Larger" (not "large" as SLJ always said) since it means any true (formal) work of human knowledge.... and yet it IS true (a fortiori) about Science, in the sense of Physics and so forth. It is the mystic sense of true and penetrating vision that Chesterton refers to here:
the object of my school is to show how many extraordinary things even a lazy and ordinary man may see if he can spur himself to the single activity of seeing.
[GKC Tremendous Trifles 6]
Oh yes! If you want a starting book on Jaki, start with his Chesterton a Seer of Science And for some profound insights of Chesterton on science, see his book on Aquinas.

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