Fred L. Polak
A Science in the Making
Surveys and Creates the Future
Elsevier, London, 1971
Scientific models of the future
There is so much literature on the development of scientific thought models that I can more or less confine myself to reproducing a few main ideas as advocated by the great renovators in this field.
The advent of scientific thought models reflects in its historical development the incessant struggle against older, contemporary and even later coercive thought models of philosophical-religious belief and superstition. This is the case not only among the old, in part so-called primitive peoples, but equally so in Europe, until far after the Middle Ages. The irony of history again resides in the fact that precisely these new scientific thought models, liberating the mind from intellectual tyranny and terror in their turn and, at least at the beginning, in spite of themselves, were later to take over the role of the dethroned rulers of dogma, doctrine and orthodoxy. At first spreading a “more” scientific civilization, they were in the long run to elevate “less” scientific ideas to idols.
Human life in inimical nature was long governed by “totem and taboo”. Disease, crop failures and natural disasters were ascribed to angry gods, malignant demons or accursed magical powers. Animal and human sacrifices, priestly rites and sacred mystery services could perhaps propitiate these powers, ruling with extreme arbitrariness and as a rule uncontrolable, in the only effective manner. They were thought to be able to ensure fertility of the soil and victory over the enemy, by an extremely meticulous observance of the regulations applicable in that respect and of “techniques” regarded as the sole effective ones. The catastrophes predicted in particular by comets and eclipses could possibly still be averted at the eleventh hour by a completely correct attitude of mind and by conscious good behavior towards higher powers.
As opposed to this, scientific thought develops in four main lines which at first were separate ones. The first and at the same time one of the oldest developments (1), that of the Babylonians, began precisely with the study of these eclipses and comets and the movement of the planets. The Chaldean priest-astrologers tried to explain these, and even to predict them, by calculating their change, course and appearance as accurately as possible. The three other main lines run respectively from the highly developed pure mathematical thought of the Greeks (2), from the specifically Hellenic mathematical-philosophical minds, which developed in Alexandria in particular (3), and last but not least, from another equally Greek and scientific, non-mathematical but mainly methaphysical intellect (4). It was the last one in particular that was to
combine with Christian theology and to dominate thought rather one-sidedly for nearly twenty successive centuries. That is to say, until the three lines previously drawn were again to be extended into the forcefield of the spirit, viz, until the revolutionary mutation in the mental attitude of the then modern sciences (see below under 5 et seq.).
(1) It is generally known that the Babylonians are regarded as the inventors of astrology, thus standing by the cradle of Western science. Their predictions, although not always completely correct, were understandably famed on account of their astonishing accuracy. Tides, eclipses, floods, influences of the moon, the course of the seasons, the movement of the planets and other successions or changes in or of time - recorded in the “calender” of the “good” and “bad” dates or periods to be expected - could be calculated in advance and predicted as the future.
However, it was not the budding science, but in particular the world view behind it, linked with unscientific belief and superstition, that first enjoyed the privilege of being elevated to a very lengthy, almost ineradicable, reactionary and tyrannical, in brief pre-eminently dogmatic tradition. As a result people in centuries to come continued to regard comets and eclipses in particular as manifest signs of God’s wrath and vengeance. They were the unmistakable harbingers of plague, epidemic, war, revolution, hurricane, famine or other divine scourge. For centuries the outcast and hidden Jews - who most conveniently could almost always be discovered somewhere - were given the blame for these scourges and thus made the scapegoats for them, at one and the same time by way of revenge and expiatory sacrifice. As was rightly required by the Lord Jesus, His name be praised, and the beloved Mother of God, ave Maria. The fact that the Jews usually did not offer the slighest resistance to their oppression and persecution was incidentally clear proof of their criminal intentions, still manifest in full force after their killing of Christ. This cried out for God’s just punishment, with an ice-cold, unsparing cruelty which the God of the Old Testament had in any case Himself declared obligatory against those guilty of sacrilege.
Although the New Testament gave absolute primacy to evangelical love and Christian charity, it was precisely this strict Old Testament thought model, so long applied to others and dissenters, that for centuries found the greatest approval and offered the greatest attraction as the imitation of Christ. Should it happen that now Jews were not available for execution, other heretics, witches, magicians and alchemists, as almost equal stand-ins, had to take over the role of the Jews, and the pogroms were directed against them. The inevitability of this was always based on an intolerant, dogmatic thought model. If necessary, after the occurrence of natural disasters and fatal calamities one could always invoke thoughtful recollection by way of explanation, by pointing out that these disasters tallied exactly with warnings - unfortunately not
taken seriously enough - of remarkable symptoms and indications augured in the firmament. There is no more malleable and suitable a subject for indoctrination or interpretation than a well-guided or misled human memory. With an appeal to heaven all the actions of authorities and vicars on earth, by the grace of God, could be rationalized beforehand or after the event, and thus manipulated as required.
The heavenly and universal macrocosm was a fore-reflection of the earthly and human microcosm. In the physician and natural philosopher Paracelsus (16th century), at the same time one of the great transitional figures towards modern empirical science and astronomy, a religic-cosmic interlacing of ancient astrology and undogmatic theology comes to the fore in the most elevated but now pre-eminently humanistic manner. For Paracelsus this comprehensive knowledge of the universe and of the heavens served to heal men and to restore the divine harmony on earth.
John Knox, pupil of Calvin, reformer of Scotland, however, still adopted in that same sixteenth century the classical view as evidence: he and his followers regarded such phenomena of the heavens as eclipses and comets this time as “a warning to the King to extirpate the Papists”.
Similar feelings also prevailed among Cromwell’s fanatical Puritans in the 17th century. His poetic servant Milton said of an eclipse of the sun that it:
In dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations, and with fear of change
While therefore Milton in democratic fashion treated peoples and princes more or less alike with regard to future astronomical disasters, Shakespeare had in his day made a rather sarcastically relativizing, aristocratic distinction:
When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.
Shakespeare must have been a contemporary of Francis Bacon and Galileo, and Milton lived to see the advent of Newton. These were thus times of great contrast in outlooks on and views of the world.
A considerably longer life was even granted to the original Babylonian astrology, even after the rise and branching-off of scientific astronomy. In Kepler the two branches were still almost inseparably combined.
Admittedly, opposition arose in the Church: Astrological prediction of the future granted destiny-determining power to the planets and to the signs of the zodiac dependent on these, a power which, however, rightly belonged exclusively to God. Augustine thus adduced even all the profane arguments of sceptics and pagan thinkers from Antiquity against it.
However, freethinkers, who no longer recognized the inviolability of the authority of the theocratic church and did not yet recognize the unassailability of that of modern science opted for Ptolemaic astrology. And, after and in spite of Augustine, so did a number of Popes, striving for personal or political reasons for well-founded prescience of the near future. But, of course, they also sided with ancient astrology for other reasons, since Copernican science and modern astronomy evidently collided in their pronouncements with Biblical and ecclesiastical teachings and doctrinal authority.
(2) A second main trend originates from the oldest Greek philosophical and scientific reflection. Once again the theory of numbers developed by Pythagoras of Samos and his advanced geometric research is general knowledge. It is not entirely certain to what extent there were links between the Babylonians and the Pythagoreans, especially as regards the numerical, arithmetical refinement of the theory of numbers. What is certain, however, is that Greek mathematics developed independently towards the side of geometry in particular.
For instance, a Greek adage, [HHC: Greek not reproduced], may be literally interpreted as “God acts always as a geometrician”. This is the Greeks’ aesthetic view of God and the world, no less, but also no more. A view - we have already encountered it - of cosmos and harmony, of music and beauty, of geometrical dimension, order, completeness and artistic-mathematical configuration (circle and centre). Plato conceived of the composite movement of all heavenly bodies as the resultant of uniform circular movements, which it ought to be possible to describe and reproduce mathematically and geometrically.
De Solla Price rightly again stresses this difference between the mathematics of the Babylonians and that of the Greeks, which is in various respects a really fundamental one. The Greek world of ideas was one thought out with strict logic and projected in concrete images, i.e. not so much as with the Babylonians an abstract calculation which was later primarily to lend itself to fusion with a symbolic, algebraic outlook. Using my own terminology, one may also say that the Greek possessed not only a pre-eminently realistic thought model which could be depicted with geometric logic, but also a qualitative, ideal and partly imaginary model of the future as overall conception.
In itself it is interesting to investigate with Price how, throughout the ages, this contrast between analytical calculators and geometric model-builders - incidentally already discovered and elucidated by Poincaré - has continued to exist among scientists and probably will always do so. It is also present for instance between the microphysical model-builders like Rutherford and those nuclear physicists who work mainly with symbolical relations only, with Bohr as the characteristic transitional and key figure between and in the two attitudes of mind.
However, in our context it is more important to see how the above-mentioned type of mathematical (logical-geometric) thought model and at the same time qualitative-imaginary future model of Plato’s in the 4th century B.C. developed into the purest synthesis. This future model is unrealistic and for that very reason essential, since after all it is of cosmic and universal validity. On the other hand the essence thus distilled from it has not been absolutized to such an extent that it hampers free thought and critical discussion in relation to it. For it is these two main representatives of undogmatics which, on the contrary, occupy a central position at many places in the Platonic dialogues.
Nor was this speculative approach to stand in the way of the further development of pure mathematics, especially geometry, since this reached its culmination in the Greek philosopher Euclid in Alexandria in the 3rd century B.C.
(3) About a century after Euclid a further radical development took place - likewise in Alexandria - preceding by more than 15 centuries the reasoning of Francis Bacon. It was Hero who discovered all kinds of scientific applications, including that of various automata and a preliminary design for the steam engine. He was far in advance of his time. The same applied in the 15th century A.D., i.e. the first similar great milestone about 17 centuries after Hero, to his in that respect kindred successor, but at the same time the greatest genius of all times, Leonardo da Vinci.
The most important new development - the third main trend - in the field of mathematics and physics, which had long preceded the one just discussed, began, yet again in Alexandria, during the 2nd century A.D., with Ptolemy. His work, the celebrated Almagest, is the master product of a grandiose synthesis between Babylonian, Greek and Hellenic scientific development. Usually all we remember about Ptolemy from our school days is that in his geocentric system the sun rotates around the earth. It is regrettable that for many years, except in expert circles, only this extremely defective picture of his work, which led to enormous astronomical and scientific progress, has come down to us. Despite the fact that Copernicus, in his revolutionary work “De Revolutionibus Orbium Caelestium”, used Ptolemy first and foremost as the springboard for his new heliocentric view, Ptolemy was in no way a brake on but on the contrary the great and greatest pathfinder for classical science.
(4) This misunderstanding is due above all to the long-standing agreement between, or preparation of, this one wrongly postulated geocentric idea of Ptolemy’s (not his eminent mathematical-astronomical method) and entirely different trends of thought. I mean its coincidence with a couple of other authoritative though non-mathematical-embracing metaphysics of Aristotle, the Stagirite, and on the other the logos, ethos and mythos of Christian theology.
Aristotle, the genius who was the pupil of another genius, Plato, opposes the Pythagorean and Platonic geometric-mathematical mode of thought. This
ultimately places him fairly and squarely against the characteristically Hellenic, neo-Pythagorean and neo-Platonic spirit. Nearly six centuries before Ptolemy the geocentric view is evident in Aristotle. At that time it had for centuries been a self-evident and also completely understandable point of view, the product of general experience and apparently irrefutably confirmed by unanswerable observation. It is tragi-comic that the specifically unempirical thinker Aristotle had to be wrong on that very point on which he did seem empirical.
It is not difficult to collect all kinds of nonsensical pronouncements from the works of Aristotle. For instance, his thesis that women have fewer teeth than men, which is yet another proof of his anti-empirical attitude of mind, a fortiori since he was married twice. He is also said to have posited that children are healthier if conceived in a north wind. “One gathers”, says Russell with his usual biting sarcasm, “that the two Mrs. Aristotle both had to run out and look at the weathercock every evening before going to bed”. But it is equally easy to derive from a study of the works left by Aristotle very great wisdom and even to place him in a number of respects above Plato and Socrates. But we are not concerned here with the transient or lasting value of Aristotle. What interests us in the main is his method of thought with regard to science, and more particularly the way in which this was later rightly or wrongly used, through no fault of his, and, above all, made compulsory for all scientific thought.
One of Aristotle’s convictions was that the heavenly bodies are moved by the gods by virtue of postulated objectives. This view, and that which was later to be called the Ptolemaic, i.e. geocentric world view, fitted beautifully into the Biblical world view. And so Aristotle - in a manner which he would presumably not have wished - was elevated in the Summae of the medieval, theocratic scholasticism on to an unassailable pedestal of absolute authority. This authority was completely confirmed by a divine authority, which was itself confirmed just as irrefutably through an ingenious twist by the theological interpretation and re-creation of the philosophical thought of Aristotle intended for that purpose, and also refined.
In brief, in all those centuries, this invulnerable bulwark of scientific thought - though of course there were exceptions even then 1 - rested on three immovable pillars: 1. the authority of philosophical pious thought as against observation, 2. the authority and the autonomy of God’s will with respect to all events and movement in nature or in the universe with the earth as its centre, 3. the final entelechy imparted by God to His Creation, a purposiveness forming part of creation, and thus expressing itself accordingly in every natural event (on earth and in heaven) and developing in accordance with His postulated Plan or in accordance with His repeated Dispensation, with a progressive movement towards the Completion predetermined and revealed by Him.
(5) It is against all these three views that modern science was to rise up in opposition, at first in many cases unconsciously, unknowingly and, as regards the consequences, usually unintentionally.
The new era is generally considered to begin with Copernicus, although of course he too had his important predecessors in thought. Just as much from a symbolic point of view his work in the “heavenly revolutions” is in any case decidedly pregnant for the spiritual revolution of human thought. Copernicus’ work was dedicated to the Pope, whilst according to a letter printed in it it was recommended by a cardinal and was provided with a foreword by a well-reputed Nuremberg theologian. Whilst the first part still contained the then usual mystic-cosmological observations, according to this same foreword the pure mathematical-astronomical elaborations that followed in the later part were also in complete accordance with the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas.
And yet Copernicus would definitely not have escaped the physical consequences of theological criticism if the work had not appeared shortly after his death in 1543. In 1616 it was placed on the Index.
One should not forget the time in which he lived. The scientization of medical research, for instance, was still considered to be related to witchcraft. Disease and above all lunacy, or what was considered to be such, could be healed only by a cruel treatment for the purpose of driving out the evil spirits from these persons possessed by Satan. Vesalius, the physician from the South Netherlands, was the first to dissect corpses, to the horror of the church. Only through the personal protection of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, whose personal physician he was, did he escape persecution for some considerable time. After the Emperor’s death (in 1558) he was however, accused of witchcraft and condemned.
It is therefore not surprising that Giordano Bruno, who not only took over the Copernican system in all its explicit clarity but also, attaching to it the Christian God and the Bible, as against Aristotle, adopted a particularly free-thinking attitude for those days, had to pay for such a doctrine by death at the stake (1600).
Nor is it surprising that Kepler was refused (Lutheran) communion and that Galileo had to renounce his scientific pronouncements on the orders of the Inquisition, in order to escape Bruno’s fate after conviction and re-imprisonment (1632). Although historical legend has, by way of consolation, left us his famous last words with regard to the motion of the earth, “eppur si muove” as an aphorism.
(6) For Copernicus, who again largely turned back from Aristotle to the Platonic thought model, the essence of the world, which in him again emanated the visionary, imaginary Hellenic intellectual strength and aesthetics, consisted in a mathematically determinable harmony.
Kepler, inspired by this Copernican turnabout, also based himself largely
on the extensive, excellent observations of the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who himself, still largely bound to the Aristotelian way of thought and the Ptolemaic system, did not dare to draw from these observations the radical conclusions arrived at by Kepler.
For Kepler human reason was cognate with divine reason. Mathematical thought was the highest, godlike power granted to man as a rational being by God. All true knowledge is mathematical in nature, which Kepler now interprets as meaning that all that is known consists exclusively in quantitative relations. The geometric mathematics revealed to us by Euclid is the sign and the guarantee that “the human spirit is the circle in which the plane of this worlds intersects the sphere that is God”.
In the thought of Galileo, the founder of mechanics and physical dynamics, the mathematical method likewise occupies a central position. As he argued, “the Book of Nature was written in mathematical language and signs”. He rejected authority as a source of knowledge and as an argument. Like Bacon, he advocated the systematic use of experimentation as a source of experience. However, as a symptom of a typically dogmatic attitude of mind, people refused to look through his telescope to verify his findings.
It is well known how Galileo formulated the task of natural science: “To measure everything that is measurable and to render everything measurable that is not yet so”. Only such science was first-class science, dealing with primary properties of nature and of events - all the rest was automatically secondary. A new coercive thought model had budded, to liberate science from the theological-methaphysical thought models that had previously shackled and Christianized it for centuries.
Only one further philosopher still tried, by a completely split dualism, to escape the already clearly apparent, threatening and practically inevitable consequences of the new science developing into an autonomy for the Christian doctrine of salvation. Descartes argued that a “mathesis universalis” did in fact apply to movement and all relations of matter; they were completely subject to mathematical relations. However, all matters of the spirit were excluded from this. For this ultra-sceptical philosopher, who subjected everything conceivable to his independent and self-assured rational doubt, the divine, which is revealed to all as established forever, was therefore also excluded.
For Newton this exception made for the divine, detached from critical thought, did not hold good at all. New Copernican thought, which had shot up via Kepler to Galileo, and had been further elaborated by Descartes, Gassendi and Huygens, among others, was combined by Newton into one mathematical-physical dynamics. The mechanistic system, in which all processes were governed by one and the same mechanical law, seemed to have been perfected by him for good. Only, in this dynamics a mathematically calculable force at a-distance operated, that of gravitation. The question could not but arise as to who or what moved this force, a question which mathematics itself no longer
seemed capable of answering. As stated, for Newton this formed no problem, but on the contrary, insofar as still necessary, precisely an irrefutable proof. His new theory, the integrated system of law of nature and force of nature, confirmed for him theologically-philosophically with the greatest possible emphasis the existence of God, the ruler over these laws and forces.
(7) However, Newton could not prevent his adherents and imitators from thinking differently about this. This went in stages, with at first God still being recognized as original creative architect and cosmic lawmaker, but no longer as daily engineer and clerk of the works, and finally with complete autonomy being granted to the whole world of physics and astronomy. The law of nature, which grants knowledge to man’s own power, gradually displaced prayer, in which God’s will and sole power was recognized. For the result of the law of nature gave man absolute and exactly calculable certainty, whereas prayer always remained completely uncertain in its result, being entirely incalculable as dependent on divine whim or at least impenetrable power.
Needless to say, this development did not go smoothly. Between Descartes and Newton there stands for instance Hobbes, proponent of an enlightened despotism. He it was who said that thinking is reckoning in words. It was in his day, three centuries ago, that Charles II founded in 1662 the Royal Society, which was to make modern science fashionable.
However, at that time the English Parliament was by no means as modern as its king. The House of Commons set up a committee to examine the causes of the Plague and of the Great Fire, dating from 1665 and 1666 respectively. True, both successive disasters were generally felt to be due to God’s displeasure, but it was not certain what particular offence had led to them. Russell has the following comment on this: “The Committee decided that what most displeased the Lord was the work of Mr. Thomas Hobbes. It was decreed that no work should be published in England. This measure proved effective: there has never since been a Plague or a Great Fire in London. But Charles, who liked Hobbes because Hobbes had taught him mathematics, was annoyed. He, however, was not thought by Parliament to be on intimate terms with Providence”.
(8) But the victory of the new over the old thought did not go all that quickly. The two predecessors of Charles II, James I and the Lord Protector Cromwell, had both still been fanatical persecutors of witchcraft. Even Bacon, as a Member of Parliament, had personally worked on an intensified anti-witch legislation. His contemporary Shakespeare had likewise given a large part to witches in “Macbeth”. The last laws concerning witches were not officially repealed until 1736, and even so for instance John Wesley, the theological leader of the Methodists, still fulminated for many years afterwards against witches. Meanwhile, in France the Encyclopédie had already started
publications in 1751 as a “dictionnaire raisonnée des sciences”, in which Newtonism was preached as an atheistic gospel, which in its turn would drive Rationalism and Enlightenment along.
(9) In 1772 the last volume was published. By then the mathematician-astronomer Laplace had been for a few years a professor, though one of the youngest, at the Ecole Militaire, which in 1787 was combined with the Ecole Normale Supérieure, France’s highest institute of scientific education. Laplace was the founder of the mathematical theory of probability, and later a friend of Napoleon I. Tradition tells us of his answer to the Emperor’s question about his “Traité de Mécanique Céleste”, in which the Creator Spiritus was not mentioned: “Sire, je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là”.
However, perhaps of much weightier influence was Laplace’s equally celebrated world formula, as he called it, according to which one could, thanks to the knowledge of laws of nature acquired and still to be gained, completely fathom and survey the cosmos, including even the future, which would then become entirely predictable.
Thus Laplace, incidentally building on Leibnitz, created a new future model. In his own words, which still deserve the greatest attention today, after 150 years, this picture is sketched as follows:
“Une intelligence qui, pour un instant donné, connaîtrait toutes les forces dont la nature est animée, et la situation respective des êtres qui la composent, si d’ailleurs elle était assez vaste pour soumettre ces données a l’analyse, embrasserait dans la même formule les mouvements des plus grands corps de l’univers et ceux du plus léger atome: rien ne serait incertain pour elle, et l’avenir comme le passé serait present a ses yeux” (my italics).
Here we have, from the beginning of the 19th century, the ideal definition of the nomothetic-physical (or in German terminology physikalisch) thought and future model. It was nomothetic-normative in two respects: it laid down the law to nature; by applying this law, man could completely govern nature. However, just as much at least it also laid down the law to science itself: only strict application of the method connected with this ideal of knowledge could lead to true, future-predicting and empirically verifiable science. Only through that was well-founded practice of science susceptible to reliable and exactly calculable technical application.
(10) This thought model was based on an initially original but gradually increasingly absolutized axiomatic fundamental principle. A postulate which was not critically examined, i.e. which was traditionally authoritarian, in short dogmatic, to which finally eternal value was once again accorded. If in that case God (despite violent opposition to this by among others the 17th century physicist and opponent of alchemy, Robert Boyle) no longer was the daily ruler and intervening governor, indeed even had to be driven ever further back
into a first beginning lying infinitely far behind as Creator and designer-law-maker, then this must ultimately have consequences for current thought. For if it was in fact true that after His Creation God, modestly content with the “rühmen des Ewigen Ehre”, evidently by Nature itself (cf. Newton), had withdrawn in solitary isolation from the hurly-burly of the world as Emeritus with an otium cum dignitate, the ancient Greek conception gained largely in authority again. The newly formed scientific tradition of thought thus led in that respect not forwards but, at least in part, backwards again. For in that case a self-active cosmos had been unmistakably discovered, a cosmos of well-ordered law and regularity, of unequalled and metrically artistic beauty. The observable, scientifically established, exceptionless uniformity and strict natural necessity then represented an indubitably objective reality of universal validity, fulfilling itself in complete autonomy.
Conversely, since this scientific, indubitably true disclosure - or, one may say, new revelation - unquestioning obedience both of the strict laws of nature and of the equally strict scientific method formed a secular twofold commandment for the exploration of the present and the future. An extremely strict commandment to abstain from offences just as unprecedented, indeed almost inconceivable and therefore severely punishable, as those stated in the First and Second Commandments of the Bible.
(11) For nearly a century this orthodox dogmatism, later developing into what is sometimes called scientism, was to prevail practically undisputed over the whole field of the “globus scientarium”. Its future-monopolizing character in particular formed a typical characteristic. It might even be said by way of a paradox that, like Christian theology itself (Kierkegaard) it was to be confirmed all the more strongly in its unshakable certainty precisely by some doubt and uncertainty.
This doubt began to crystallize around 1875. It is often wrongly believed that it was decisively strenghtened by a speech given by the famous French-Swiss-German physiologist Du Bois-Reymond on “Die Grenzen des Naturerkennens”. The opposite was rather the truth. This speech related to our possible, limited knowledge of the first and last things, and also a verdict which he attached to this as to whether knowledge of the future was possible in principle or not. Now strangely enough only his concluding words with regard to certain last future-questions of finity or infinity, viz, the “ignoramus, ignorabimus” (we do not know and we shall never know) have stuck in people’s minds as a constantly repeated adage. However, in the same speech in 1872 he proclaimed with no less self-assurance, indeed even more boldly and exuberantly than Laplace, that an astronomer could not only exactly predict the day on which a fallen comet will again shoot up from the depths of space (an old Babylonian idea), but also that from his scientific equations the exact moment could be derived on which Britain (geological-energetic) would burn its last
coal and moreover that moment at which (theological-historical) the Greek Cross would again adorn the Aya Sophia. Never before had the characteristic future-fixation found such pertinent expression in this scientific ideal. The scientific thought model was elevated with the most absolute self-assurance to a practically all-embracing future model.
Some ten years later the celebrated physiologist and physicist H. von Helmholtz also stressed the strictly deterministic, future-determining character of science as an objectively existing, inescapable “foreign power”. “Wenn wir uns vergewissen können, dass die Bedingungen eingetreten sind, unter denen das Gesetz zu wirken hat, so müssen wir auch den Erfolg eintreten sehen ohne Willkür, ohne Wahl, ohne unser Zutun, mit einer die Dinge der Aussenwelt ebensogut wie unser Wahrnehmen zwingenden Notwendigkeit”.
Such sounds could be heard in the second half and even in the last quarter of the previous century from the mouths of thinkers of very different plumage, but all of equal prominence, also in France, for instance the physiologist Claude Bernard, the historian-philosopher Tame and the chemist Berthelot, with his well-known pronouncement dating from the turn of the century: “le monde n’a plus de secrets”.
Opinions could differ as to whether the very last and the deepest riddles of nature would remain mysteries in the future, would continue to be insoluble for the time being or forever. Was it true to say that, the more the problems of nature were unraveled, the more new mysteries loomed on the endlessly receding horizon of a possible “creatio continua”, an endlessly continuing, even expanding creation? This too was, by the way, a sentiment that had been current in Antiquity. It is exactly this which is expressed in the line from Virgil which many regard as obscure but which to me is completely clear: Numero Deus impare gaudet - the odd numbers are pleasing to God. Pleasing, because the incomprehensibility of at least the odd numbers would compel high-handed man to return to and retire into God’s inscrutable supremacy.
Virgil, however, had miscalculated! Leopold Kronecker, who helped to build the modern mathematical theory of numbers (including the negative, complex, irrational and imaginary numbers much more difficult to understand than odd ones) again gave God in this respect too a much reduced territory. As he put it in his famous saying at the end of the 19th century: “Die ganzen Zahlen hat der liebe Gott gemacht, alles Andere ist Menschenwerk”.
Just as Euclid was overtaken by the later non-Euclidean geometricians, so his pupil Archimedes (2nd century A.D.) was left in the rear as a theoretician of numbers (among other things he invented the number π = pi) by the more modern mathematics and physics, with its greatly expanded, modern theory of numbers. His eureka upon discovering the law of hydrostatics surrounded by a legendary aureole in Antiquity, likewise formed merely a first introduction to the discovery of all later, universally valid, so-called classical laws of nature.
Needless to say, the general theory of science and methodology gradually
linked to the prevailing natural sciences and identified with them, culminating in the extremely deterministic and mechanistic scientism, could not but provoke a reaction, just like any other ism. And this was soon to come as the 20th century dawned. In the German-speaking area it was ushered in by the works of Kirchhoff and Mach, in the French one by those of Boutroux, Duhem and Poincaré, among others, and in the Anglo-Saxon one in particular by the repeatedly reprinted book by Pearson (“The Grammar of Science”), already preceded almost a quarter of a century before by that of the economist and logician Stanley Jevons (“The Principles of Science”, 1874). Together they formed the undogmatic reaction to another and new doctrine, which was itself ultimately to degenerate again into another dogmatic ism, namely that of the initially liberating neo-positivism (of Wittgenstein and Neurath), in turn merging with the symbolic, formalistic mathematical logic (with which the names of Carnap, Hilbert, Russell, Whitehead and Reichenbach, among others, are connected), ending in logicism.
Via this mathematical detour as a special branch a highly important facet of the original, more widely comprehensive idea of the natural law, whose absolute necessity had at least gradually come to be doubted, was strangely enough indirectly strengthened, and indeed with still more force than before. In that respect even scientism was exceeded and ultimately overdrawn again. This was with regard to the aspect of a strictly normative scientific doctrine, with prescriptions that had to be followed quite unconditionally, likewise connected with this causal conformity with natural law. For the universal validity of the natural law entailed that one could count on it completely and absolutely, that, to put it another way, scientific explanation had to be entirely identical with scientific prediction. Through the strictly mathematical development of formal, deductive logic this evident agreement between an eternally repeated past and a future that could be derived from this with certainty was again ensured. The aprioric identity of coercive thought and future model was perfect.
By way of example I may mention the American physicist with the French name, Lecomte du Noüy, who, according to the Introduction to this his “Human Destiny”, which became a best-seller, proceeded from everybody’s responsibility for the future of our Christian civilization, but now based on, and made to tally with, modern science. He continued to define the task of science in general in this as follows: “The aim of science is to foresee, and not, as often has said, to understand. Science describes facts, objects and phenomena minutely, and tries to join them by what we call laws, so as to be able to predict events in the future”. Here the scientific model has again been generalized, on the strength of one given scientific attitude of mind. A random quotation, which could be effortlessly supplemented by many other along the same lines, even dating from today, as will be discussed in detail below.
In brief, the practice of science is, in this view, prediction on the basis of
established conformity with natural law. Accordingly, all that can be recognized as the practice of science is the possession, thanks to an established conformity with natural law, of a capacity predicting with such certainty that, precisely as a result of this, after empirical observation and experimental verification, it proves to possess a universal, objective validity. Physics and mathematical physics were themselves developed into a model of learning and knowledge prescribed by way of general norm, a model that could serve for every science as an example of this highest, inherent, predictive qualification.
Such a coercive model was bound to have far-reaching consequences. Pierre Duhem, an erudite cosmologist and historian of science, who was himself, to judge by various many-sided works, a declared opponent of exaggeration in a coercive sense of the inevitable outcome of the operation of natural law, had already stressed one of these consequences. Before his later mathematical colleague, Oswald Spengler, Duhem already drew attention to the fact that again and again so much striking affinity was perceptible between on the one hand the prevailing scientific image of the world and on the other hand for instance the contemporary systems of government, architectural styles, forms of art and literature, philosophical thought models, etc. In his opinion the only explanation can be that above all this image of the world gave substance to a certain vitality bound to time and space, and evidently as a result found multilateral expression.
This is a theme of particular interest in itself, but one which must be confined here to a single but extremely important main variant: the tremendous influence of this scientific world view on general scientific thought as such.
In this connection the phenomenon which A. N. Whitehead vainly typified as “the dogmatic fallacy” emerged with particular clarity. With a lack of historical knowledge and sense, people repeatedly prove - precisely in this objective practice of science - to fall into a dogmatic trap which closes and crushes the subject of study, or at least temporarily hampers progress. Now what dogmatism does is to freeze all possible and conceivable meanings into one sole admissible meaning, immune to criticism. It is forgotten again and again that the heresy of yesterday is to become the dogma of tomorrow, that the established scientific code of today will be regarded as incorrect, premature or even ridiculous by posterity. Again and again people fail to expose the ever-present methaphysical foundations of modern science; they are opposed to the never-absent implicit postulates of the practice of science being made explicit.
Only thus was it possible that practically everyone, if not for ever then for a very long time, was led astray in almost every field of science by the awe-inspiring expansion of natural science. Unfortunately, so far nobody has attempted to draw up a general theory of relativity for the practice of science itself. Scientists are - and act like - the people who know. In general the history of science, including the countless, oft-repeated scientific aberra-
tions, as the lasting warning of an intellectual “memento mori”, is not over-popular with them. They do not even find sufficient consolation in the discovery that not infrequently the latest scientific error formed the first impetus for new scientific truth. They have reluctantly to admit that in the past a constant change in scientific truths and values, in theses, norms, codes and doctrines has occurred, in view of the historical facts and repeated changes of view. However, as regards today and the future, this possibility and desirability of an uninterrupted, indeed relentlessly progressing change and conversion is usually not anticipated. They are too easily inclined to cling to the existing (or at least assumed) scientific certainty (preferably derived from classical science).
Many scientists are completely unaware that this prevailing, conservative attitude of mind is mainly determined by the past and that they are constantly guilty of an unscientific prejudice. Even less do they possess the requisite capacity of scientific imagination enabling them to realize that posterity will probably take their in part still primitive views no more seriously than we often do in many a respect with regard to our ancestors. In brief, they fall short, as a result of obstinate adherence to what is assumed to be a fixed datum here and now. Despite or perhaps because of the status and authority granted them, they are inadequately equipped with the ability to see things relatively, from a distance, with the humility and self-criticism that are qualities required for the true practice of science. It is the celebrated irony of history that, upon closer examination, the good desired at any price and pursued with all conceivable means, the scientific certainty regarded with such envy and leading to such irrational attitudes of mind, is the very first to collapse.
It might seem superfluous and even rather arrogant to lecture some scientist or the other and to hold out to him the mirror of history, including the history of the future, were it not that in a special branch of science an extremely great and not infrequently unfavorable influence can be and also is exerted far beyond the narrower professional circle by a dogmatic attitude of mind. For that is very much the case with the social sciences and their relation to, or impact on, the development of social reality. The future models discussed so far have all had a far reaching effect in their interrelationship on the social sciences. In their turn the future models of the social sciences thus formed have been of an importance to the development of social dynamics that can hardly be underestimated - they still are, too, even emimently so. In the following chapter we are therefore confronted again with the intense emanations of other and above all of scientific future models in this field. The relation there between dogmatics and prognostics is of the very greatest importance to our time and to the future.
We are not concerned here with a kind of original sin committed by science,
but a sin committed by the neglect or maltreatment of a legacy of the future entrusted to science in good faith.
This legacy of the future is by definition the arch-enemy of every “ancien régime”.
Scientific technology is entirely uninterested in the past; it is exclusively oriented towards the future.
Are socio-scientific thought models capable of absorbing and integrating the new dimension, the mutation of this future?
It is of crucial importance whether, and to what extent, social sciences are really able to anticipate the permanent revolution.