Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 24

Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 23
Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 25
We turn now to look at the Problem of the Central Puzzle facing modern science, because this Central Puzzle is currently being shamelessly ignored by the scientific elite.  Science begins as the expression of a kind of intense curiosity about the discovery of unexpected pattern in the world.  It is a search for a cogent, natural, rational, comfortable, acceptable explanations of this unexpected pattern.  We are talking here about theories which amply convey the message that they are the “real solution” —which one can accept without reservations— about the matter.
The Ancient Greeks looked at the night sky and saw that, while the Sun and Moon  moved on simple tracks, there were tinier (non-twinkling) bodies —the planets— which seemed to wander about.  Further acquaintance over a period of time told them that this “wandering about” was itself surprisingly regular and predictable, but that it did not conform to simple (circular) pathways, like those of the Sun and Moon. Why? What was the explanation?  Eudoxus solved the problem to general satisfaction, by postulating that the motions of the planets were epi-cyclic, the effect of circular motions superimposed onto other circular motions. It was an explanation which seemed right at the time, because the Greeks knew that the bodies observed in the night sky, being “heavenly” bodies, must move on circular trajectories, the circle being the only “perfect curve”. No other “perfect curve” existed (they thought), and nothing less than perfection would be appropriate, of course, for “heavenly” bodies. 
It was, of course, the discovery of Euclidean Geometry, which created this quest for rational, logical explanations.  Euclid had shown that simple, lucid, logical reasoning could lead to new geometrical knowledge underpinned by fully satisfying logical explanations. This lucidity could then then be extended, and applied to explaining observations of surprising geometric pattern “out there”  in nature.   In this way natural science was born.

More than two millennia later we are now blessed with a wonderful accumulation of satisfying explanations plus the scientific knowledge they underpin.  This heritage is based on the principle that a puzzling phenomenon can be explained by postulating invisible tiny constituents with characteristic behaviour patterns which —taken as a whole— imply the phenomenon we observe.

Today’s scientific worldview fields eight main explanatory levels, cells, nuclei, DNA, genes, molecules, atoms, electrons/protons/neutrons, and quarks/leptons. In each case the existence of these entities has been established beyond reasonable doubt: they were achieved by a combination of technological advances in telescopy and triangulations of macro-implications.  

This is “explanation by deconstruction”, and it has acquired a bad name in some religious and humanistic circles, because it has fielded deterministic constituents, which combined, were then supposed fully to “determine” human behaviour…  thus ruling out the possibility of qualities like freewill, authenticity, love, creativity, compassion… (There must be a weak link in this particular argument, because we do evidently possess the human qualities listed.)

But, more broadly, deconstruction works, and it has given us perfectly good explanations of many things like the circulation of the blood, viruses, DNA, molecules…

And there is a rather disconcerting question which is asking to be asked. How many levels of physical reality are there?  Do they go on for ever, or is there a final level which will be eventually discovered at some time in the future? 

Now, if they go on for ever, this means that there will forever be a huge (infinite) majority of levels which we can never know. In other words, we can never see more than an infinitesimal part of the picture.

Science as we know it tries to explain the physical universe, but there has never been any guarantee that explanations are there to be found. Scientists have always had to rely on hunch, faith and determination …in effect assuming that “new light” will be found. The notion that there is an infinity of levels of ever-tinier particles stamps on and, in effect, obliterates this scientific faith. 

So we are driven to the conclusion that there must be a final level of particles. The Ancient Greeks thought that the final level consisted of atoms, but there are several known levels smaller than atoms, and there is no sign yet that we are anywhere near the end of the road.

But some as yet unknown final level must be there. 

In which case it poses the largest, most important, most enigmatic, question facing modern science: whatever could the final level of particles consist of? 

They couldn’t consist of pure energy, because energy has predictable consequences, which would mean that further deconstructions are needed to explain these consequences.

Indeed, they couldn’t exhibit any kind of pattern or structure, because —if so— this pattern or structure would need to be explained, by postulating still tinier levels of particles.

So we are driven, inexorably, to a remarkable conclusion: that these “final particles” must exhibit pure randomness. 

It is also a difficult conclusion, because it means that there is no way in which their “behaviour” can logically account for the behaviours we posit on the penultimate level.

Indeed, this conclusion forces us to an extraordinary hypothesis —that the behaviours we posit on the penultimate and all higher levels must be imposed in some way by an intelligent mind.  There is nowhere else for their structure to come from. This is the key argument which takes us out of the long era of mathematical explanations in science,  into a new era of actimatic explanations.