THE RAGE AGAINST REASON: GURUS OF POST MODERN IRRATIONALISM

 

Three postmodern styles of philosophizing are: (1) Logical Empiricism; (2) Phenomenology, and (3) Post Modern Anti Science. Only the first style has taken a positive attitude toward science, while the second and third have taken a negative attitude toward it. Charging that science has substituted for the objects of experience abstract mathematical models alien to Erleban, i.e., lived truth, and the third style, Anti Science: Worlds in Post Modern Dress (see Patrick A. Heelan, S.F., Quantum Mechanics and Objectivity (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1965).

 

The great weakness of Logical Empiricism for the other two styles is its systematic neglect of intuition and insight and ultimately reducing science to Eurocentric, culturally relative phenomena. The great defect of phenomenology is its tendency to substitute the “mystery of subjective intuitions for the clarity of public discourse linked to the objective methods of empirical science. The phenomenological style is characterized by dialectical, often polemical, criticism of mathematical methods of natural science and especially by the cult of scientific objectivity.”

 

Practicing scientists have, by and large, redeemed themselves from mere mathematical physics. A phenomenological description of a scientific form of life is one made from the perspective inside human consciousness. It attempts to reach the meaning of structure or the intentionality structure of that form of life as a mode of lived conscious awareness of scientific objects and scientific state of affairs. Human consciousness is never simply self-consciousness, a mere cogito. It is essentially a cogito cogitatem that is a subject open to an environing world of objects given or to be given in experience. The basic structure of human consciousness is, then, a polarity between a subject and a field of objects towards which it is turned intentionally. The objects that terminate the intention of the subject are of course, objects within consciousness, such as the meaning of the term “object.” The study of intentionality or noetic--noematic structures, then becomes in phenomenology the study of the ways objects are constituted as objects present to and in consciousness by functioning of the appropriate intention which characterizes the form of life in question, when this is viewed from inside consciousness as a meaning-bearing activity. The notion of a constituting intention, then, is central to a phenoemnological analysis. In its original Aristotelian sense, intentionality meant the referential character of knowledge. With Husserl, however, intention or constitution took on a more complex meaning eventually embracing the following elements: (1) the objectification of sensory (hyletic) data by unifying them into an empirical object and relating the object so established to one thing; (2) the relating of successive sensory data to a permanent object; (3) the conjoining to an object of the various profiles (abschattingen) which it would present under other circumstances; (4) the projection of the object into an intersubjective field. (Husserl’s Ideen, I, 191B, translated by W.R. Boyer Gibson as Ideas in Murhead Library of Philosophy (London: Allen and Unwin, 1931); his later point of view is found in the “Cartesianischen Meditationes,” translated by Dorian Caien as Cartesian Meditations (Nijhoff, 1960).

 

Various aspects of “Intentionality” will be unfolded in the heading of “objectivity.” In the first place, it is not transparently clear at the start of an investigation into what it is “to do science.” A scientific intentionality structure is like a vector pointing out certain objects (the noemata). Only when the direction of the vector is known, does it become possible to define the nature of the objects towards which the vector points. In our brief encounter with this procedure we will introduce the technical notion of horizon noetic-noematic structure, objectivity, world and reality. The attempt to elucidate and criticize the kind of cognitive intentionality structure implicit (often explicit) in the form of life that characterizes a given type of empirical scientific investigation is called an analysis of the horizon of the science. An intentionality-structure is composed of two aspects correlative to another, a noetic, or subjective aspect and a noematic, or objective aspect.

 

Husserl’s account is found in Ideen I, especially in section 3, chapter 3, pp. 255-276 and in Cartesian Meditations, especially the second meditation (Husserl’s epoche is not widely acknowledged in the academy. This point of view is expounded by Bernard Lonergan in Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (London: Longmans, 1957), which is a study of intentionality-structure though he does not call it that. The noema or object here and now manifesting itself to a knowing subject is revealed in the light of heuristic anticipation to which it corresponds. A noema has the character of reality only in so far as it partakes in the reality of a totally ordered context of actual aid possible objects-- the world. The world, then, is the source of meaning of the term real (see especially J.J. Kockelman’s Phenomenology and The Physical Sciences (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1966). The assertion to be real releases the object as constituted of the subject from the dependence on the subject’s act of constitution of the object, thereby acknowledging that the extra mental reality horizon is not the pure creation of the subject’s intentionality. In this manner we can escape the principle of immanence or total the subjectivity of epistemological and cultural relativism of Wittgenstein’s solipsism.

 

There are various kinds of empirical objects: (1) a pure uninterpreted sense datum; (2) an intellectually categorized sense experience considered as appearance (phenomenal object): an intellectually patterned experience asserted a noumenally real, e.g., a desk is a full empirical object. Empirical objectivity is a type of objectivity we call strict objectivity, a full empirical object directly perceived occupying its own space and possessing a certain spatial unity and permanence in time, i.e., a body.

 

Public objectivity is the property of being an object for the members of a certain community (a community unified by consensus is a paradigm). Public objects are the objects recognized in a certain community and so they possess intersubjective value. About the public communication can take place between the members of the community. The contrary of public objectivity is the privacy, a kind of subjectivity which pertains to those aspects of an individual subject’s activity which cannot be shared with the public at large, either because they cannot be linguistically expressed or because they do not constitute public and empirically established states of affairs in the community’s common world. This is the sense used by Husserl-- “objectively valid results - the phrase after all signifies nothing but results that have been refined by mutual criticism and that now withstand every criticism.” (Cartesian Meditations, p. 5). When scientists call science objective, they usually mean intersubjective validity for the competent section of the scientific community; sometimes, however, the exclusion of all actual relations to human or instrumental communities of observers is also implied. Heisenberg intended this when he wrote in his early empiricist phase--”We can only communicate the cause and results of a measurement, by describing the necessary manual actions and instrumental readings as objective events taking place in the space and time of or anschaung (point of observation). When the subject makes assertions about himself (“I am” - I am a knower at this moment), he is asserting the strict objectivity of the subject as object. This would be meaningless were the subject-object relation always such as to oppose subject to object, as for example, by spatial exteriority/empirical objectivity or by intersubjectivity, public objectivity. The acceptance of strict objectivity as a valid mode of objectivity different from both empirical and public objectivity is entailed by and in turn explains and justifies the objective character of statements made by the subject about himself and his own intentional activity, i.e., the objective character of the subject’s reflexive self--appropriation of himself as a known “Willer” and “Doer.” Here we encounter the horizon of all horizons, which unifies all the particular horizons of reality and makes them to be no more than aspects of one Reality - the World - for - subject. This also entails that the subject is not the object? (For interpretation of Gestalten of sense experience, see Information Theory and Esthetic Perception, (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1966); Abraham Moles, translated by Joel E. Cohen, James J. Gibson, The Senses As Perceptional Systems (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966).

 

In the language of information theory, sensory data serves as a communication channel; on the myth of the giver, see Wilfrid Sellars, “Empiricism and The Philosophy of Mind” Minnesota Studies in The Philosophy of Science, Volume I (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1965, pp. 253-329).

 

From the issue of objectivity we must take note of the meaning of the term “Real” The Real is whatever makes its appearance or could make its appearance directly or indirectly as one of the objects in the world is real and vice versa. The term “Object” must be restricted to the meaning of the class of these attainable within a noetic-noematic intentionality structure. These objects will be public objects. These objects will make their appearance in perception but definite location in the space of perception, a characteristic of an empirical object, might conceivably be lacking to the strict object. An electron of definite momentum is a case in point. But no physical variable is directly perceptible. A physical variable is essentially unrelated to human perception or to the goals of human activity and make itself known to human awareness only through the interpretation of the sensible symbols of its presence.

 

Scientific Horizon and Common Sense Horizons

 

A horizon is the set of ontic realities manifested or capable of being manifested to a human subject within a given noetic-noematic structure. The totality of all horizons is called the world. There is an inseparability between meaning (or sentence) and language (e.g., this is in agreement with the Logical Positivism of Sellars and Carnap). The nature of a thing is not given to us in any absolute fashion, independently that is, of its relationships to other things or to the inquiring subject. The experience always is a complex relational structure involving relations to other things or to human subjects (See especially Mario Bunge’s “Phenomenological Theories” in the work, The Critical Approach to Science and Philosophy: Essays in Honor of Karl R. Popper, edited by M. Bunge, (NY: Free Press, 1964); pp. 231-254).

 

Common sense realities and the scientific realities of physics belong evidently to different horizons of reality. The importance of the distinction between thing- to- subject- for- subject and thing-to-instrument-for-subjectivizes from the prevalence of two widespread beliefs. One is that of Bohr’s and Heisenberg’s, -- only common sense concepts are capable of expressing real states of affairs, and consequently that physical theories like quantum mechanics or the theory of relativity, which departs from the norm of common sense or from the allegedly more refined version of common sense concepts used in classical physics, are incapable of expressing real states of affairs (egs. N. Bohr, Atomic Theory and The Description of Nature (Cambridge University Press, 1961):1.5,8,17,53); and W. Heisenberg, Philosophic Problems of Nuclear Science (London: Faber and Faber, 1952, p. 45 and Physics and Philosophy (NY: Harper, 1958, pp. 44, 144).

 

A related belief also very widespread is that the horizons of scientific reality is no more than an extension of the horizons of common sense objects. Both views attack the character of reality exclusively to objects recognizable by common sense structures of knowing. This viewpoint is a mistake--it precludes moral norms, God talk, the Holy Spirit, True Truth and the entire Christian narrative if it is true or reduces it to non-cognitive irrationality.

 

The difference between common sense concept and scientific concept is summarized in the following proposition: (1) Common Sense Concepts have a logical structure of their own different from those of physics, whether classical or quantum. This logical structure is summarized in the formula that describes common sense horizons as horizons-of-things-to subject-for subject. (2) Physical Concepts, whether classical or quantum, have the logical structure of thing-to-instrument-for subject concepts, and are consequently by definition, unrelated except indirectly through interpretation of observable symbols to perception or to human purposive activity. Scientific physical concepts, then, possess a different logical structure from that of common sense concepts. (3) Physical concepts, no less then common sense concepts, can be used to express real states of affairs. These real states of affairs define a scientific reality horizon, which can be called a horizon-of-thing-to instrument. A physicist uses two languages: a theoretical-explanatory language, which expresses the horizon-thing-to-instrument-for-subject, and an observational language, which describes his commerce with common sense--horizon-of-things-to-subject-for subject.

 

Scientific properties are not essentially by reason of their definition, not directly perceptible to naked human senses, not because they are below and beyond the threshold of sensibility but because as physical variables they are simply not directly related to human senses or purposive activity. “Scientific measurement (?) expresses the function of the measuring instrument is to manifest what is there before (Morgenau) or after (von Neumann) the measuring process takes place.” (H. Morgenau, “Measurement and Quantum States” Philosophy of Science 30 (1963), pp. 138-157; J. Von Neumann, Mathematical Foundation of Quantum Mechanics (Princeton University Press); E. Wigner, “Problem of Measurement,” American Journal of Physics 3 (1963), pp. 6ff.) The measuring process reveals what is the case at the moment when the measurement is made whether or not it is possible in particular cases to extrapolate to earlier or later periods of time. This is the partial truth contained in Heisenberg’s insight that physics ought to concern itself solely with observation events and not with hypothetical unobservable structures (see Heisenberg’s article in Theoretical Physics in The 20th Century: A Memorial Volume to Wolfgang Pauli, edited by M. Feerg and J.F. Weisskopt (NY: Interscience, 1960), pp. 40-47).

 

Reasons for Rejecting Objectivism

 

(1) Every object is an object for a subject; that is, it is revealed by and proportioned to a certain method of inquiry, which connotes a subject which inquires. Objective human knowledge is the outcome of valid human methods of inquiry. What it means to be an object of divine knowledge or an object for the absolute spirit is very much a mystery to us. (2) The obscure is not to be explained by the more obscure--this case, scientific objectivity, which is a form of human objectivity is not elucidated by bringing in the mystery of God’s objective knowledge of the earth. An “objective” account in the sense just mentioned was indeed the implied goal of many classical physicists; it was the Newtonian ideal. (We must reject the phenomenological thesis that objectivism is an inevitable consequence of the scientific outlook. True science mentions the subjectivity of the human knower. The Cartesian objectivism of classical physics is “bad physics” (i.e., Positivism/Scientism as well as bad philosophy). The position that scientific horizons are horizons of thing-to-instrument-for subject is intermediate between Cartesian objectivism and extreme Phenomenological subjectivism).

 

The use of scientific measurement is not a physical use but an information use, the use of a thing or event as a sign to be interpreted in the light of an accepted code (e.g. Paradigm). The relationship between sensible data and their interpretation is essentially the same as those  occuring between signal and message in communication theory. This is quite different from that which exists between a physical cause and a physical effect. Cause and effect belong to physics; signal and massage belong partly to psychology and partly to the science of communication media. What are usually called observable data appear then in this theory as observable symbols, i.e., symbols of something other than themselves of electron momenta of energy levels and other theoretical elements.

 

The theoretical model of physics is always precise as far as mathematical parameters go to an infinity of decimal places, whether it is a deterministic model, as in classical physics, or whether it yields merely the form of a statistical distribution as in quantum physics. The theoretical model in a manner subject generally--is a well-defined statistical distribution. As long as no system can be discerned in these deviations there is no evidence calling for a new and altered systemization on the level of the categorical analysis of the real scientific state of affairs. A virtual statistical element then is always present in the use of theoretical models, even deterministic ones. To quote Max Born:

 

In classical mechanics the statistical method is used for systems of very many individual particles. Our model shows that it is obligatory to use it in every case, even that of a single particle in the simplest conceivable circumstance. (Max Born, “Is Classical Mechanics In Fact Deterministic?” in Physics in My Generation (London: Pergamon Press, 1950, p. 108).

 

A critical realist avoids the two extremes; on the one hand of identifying the real strict object of physical science with sensible data interpreted in common sense terms, and the other of identifying it with theoretical models. The critical realist refuses to identify the realistic aim of science with the construction of theoretical models. The latter point was the explicit aim of Cartesian perspective which produced many influences--historical, philosophical, and not least, scientific--have, to a great measure, been overthrown. It lingers on, however, in the minds of phenomenologists who consider erroneously that the scientific method is irrevocably and irredeemably tied to Cartesianism.

 

What is the terminal object of scientific inquiry? In what does its realistic aspect consist? The terminal object of scientific inquiry is a strict object in the horizon of reality attained by using theoretical models to render intelligible the dynamic pattern of physical interactions between objects of that horizon as manifested in and through the observable symbols produced by the measurement process. Science exercises its realistic function when it uses theoretical models to reveal the interrelatedness of things among themselves.

 

At the end of the adventure we enter the world of post modern anti science: Radical Revisionism--Enemies of Science. Biblical convictions motivated the great Newton, Kepler and, in a psychological sense, even Einstein. “Where this [religious] feeling is absent, there degenerates science into spiritless empiricism (geistlose empirie). Einstein’s autonomous view of science and religion were fused by --”one can be creative in science only by adopting an attitude that is indistinguishable from that of the religious person.” Referring to his own experience, he makes this point quite strongly while discussing the obviously religious examples of Kepler and Newton. Einstein’s motto, chiseled in a foyer of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, has become classical: “Raffiniert ist der Herrgott, doch boshaft ist er nicht.” (“God may be subtle, but he isn’t plain mean”) The term “god” stands for ultimate reality!

 

Dr. James D. Strauss, Professor Emeritus, Lincoln Christian Seminary, Lincoln, IL 62656