MATHEMATICS, PHYSICS AND REALITY
Arthur M. Young
Science could be described as a cooperative undertaking in which the discoveries by individuals are recognized and developed by the many, either through academia and the educational system or through industry and technology. This institutionalization of science has become not only a way of life in providing jobs and producing products, but has had a civilizing influence that crosses national boundaries and unites countries. It provides a mutual interest and a shared language between nations that governments and religious dogmas would keep separate and independent.
However, this universality is accompanied by a different sort of division — the fragmentation of science itself into separate disciplines. While this fragmentation, unlike that of nations and religious sects, does not lead to war, the peaceful coexistence of separate disciplines has the unfortunate result that each discipline becomes a world unto itself, highly specialized and protected by the equivalent of language barriers. When I tried to tell a biologist of the contribution quantum physics could make to biology, he said he'd rather ride a black horse off a cliff at night than venture into quantum physics.
Currently we find ourselves facing new and greater problems: the exhaustion of natural resources; the pollution of the environment, the atmosphere, and the soil; overpopulation; and, even if atomic war can be avoided, the disposal of radioactive waste. These problems are especially difficult because they are long-term. Many result from major benefits. Thus public sanitation, by decreasing infectious disease, has made overpopulation a problem, and the automobile and other labor-saving but energy-dependent devices threaten exhaustion of natural resources, as well as pollution of the atmosphere.
We might expect that the science and technology which have created these problems could now be directed toward solving them. But it soon becomes apparent that the central issue is life — not just its maintenance in the scheme of things, but its significance. Life is not recognized by theoretical science. The central doctrine of science is that life can be reduced to molecules, molecules to atoms, and atoms to particles yet more fundamental. As a consequence, the final authority in science is physics, and now nuclear physics. Nuclear physics seeks to find the answer to everything in multimillion-dollar super-conductive super-colliders that will take years to build. Even if a solution is found to the problem of ultimate particles (which, incidentally, only became a problem because of cyclotrons), the solution will have no bearing on life and the ability of the planet to support life.
So, how are we to get science to put its heart to these problems that affect life? From its current perspective, motivated by fundamental questions like the Big Bang, the recession of galaxies, and the lifetime of the proton (already found to be millions of times longer than the age of the universe), science considers life as a mere accident having no relation to first principles. Consciousness, if recognized at all, is viewed as an epi-phenomenon emerging at a certain stage of organization.
Why does science ignore life? Largely because the formulations which have provided the basis of science — the deterministic formulas of Newton's theory of gravitation and the more recent probabilistic formulations of quantum physics — give no indication that there should be such a thing as life. In fact these formulations are so successful that there is reason to think they will ultimately show that what we call life needs no principles not already recognized by science. With such an assurance, science cannot be expected to treat life as any different from the other marvels that it has gone to such effort to discover and explain.
What I propose to show in the two essays that follow is that when taken together with the findings that have led to quantum physics, the principles that make life possible are already implied in the deterministic formulations of classical physics. The failure to recognize these implications has made it possible for science to retain its obsolete dogma that the world is exclusively objective and that everything can be reduced to particles. It is as though we had been given a flying saucer but were unable to read the directions and so could not operate it.
While the scientist may object to my reference to "errors" in science, and other readers might prefer to think that life has a spiritual origin and is therefore separate from science altogether, let me point out that it is to the credit of science that it can make errors. Without error no learning is possible; the recognition of error is the basis of progress. We should therefore not abandon science. It is the major contribution of modern civilization. We should rather take time to interpret that part of its message that tells us, first, where to find the basis for free will, and second, how free will through evolution develops the power to control matter.
The text that follows consists of two essays, one dealing with mathematics and the other with physics. The essay on mathematics is based mainly on a fundamental discomfort about parts of mathematics which began when I was first exposed to that subject in college in 1925. Since then more exposure to mathematical ideas has not helped, but by thinking about the difficulties and devising alternatives — heresies perhaps — I've relieved my conscience. When I have tried this essay on seasoned mathematicians they have not been impressed, but recently a much younger person read it and said that he too had experienced the same discomforts.
The essay on physics deals primarily with the third derivative and its implications. The third derivative, while important to my other books, has either been obscured by other heresies or rejected for its association with consciousness. A group of young physicists in Berkeley who volunteered to critique the essay in 1989 advised me that it would not gain scientific acceptance unless I omitted reference to consciousness.
It could also be said that the third derivative, which can express "negative friction," deals with energy added to or subtracted from an otherwise closed system, and since the laws of motion apply only when energy is not added to or subtracted from the system, science would no longer apply if a third derivative were admitted. This I deny. The orbit of an artificial satellite can be controlled from the home base, but such control does not violate the laws of nature; it is because of the laws of nature (gravitation) that the control is effective.
In any case I do not depend on this application only; the latter part of the second essay has to do with the question of whether an electron in a circular orbit radiates energy, and how it can do so. This does not involve consciousness, or does it?
Arthur M. Young
— January 1990
Used with the kind permission of Anodos Foundation.