In my last article, it may have seemed like I was against science or at least against modern science. That is far from the case. I like science a lot. If it were not for science, I would not be at my computer writing this article. The natural world is an extremely fascinating place, and I am glad that there are people researching and teaching us about it.
What I do have difficulty with is the modern philosophy surrounding science. Science, or the study of the natural world, has been around at least as as far back as we have written records, and most likely had been around long before that. I have written articles discussing Traditional Science and how it is different than Modern Science, but in a very real sense, science is just science. If an atheist scientist, a Christian scientist, a Muslim scientist, or a Jewish scientist mix the same chemicals together, they will all get the same results. Eratosthenes of Cyrene was able to calculate the circumference of the Earth as far back as the 3rd Century B.C.E., and his calculation was in error by about 10 to 15%, depending on the value of the stade, the ancient unit of measurement he used. Yet, in 2012, when the modern scientist, Anthony Abreu Mora, used Eratosthenes’ formula with more accurate data, his result was in error by only 0.16%.
Rather than using the terms Traditional Science and Modern Science, it would probably be more accurate to say Traditional Philosophy and Modern Philosophy. It is from philosophy that the rules for how science is practiced and the beliefs about what science can tell us are derived. The philosophy surrounding science has undergone vast changes over the centuries.
Let us start by looking at Traditional Philosophy as transmitted to us by Plato. While this philosophy is often called Platonian, Plato did not claim to be its originator. Plato said that he was transmitting what he had learned from his teacher, Socrates, who in turn said that he was transmitting wisdom from his own teachers.
In Traditional thought, as transmitted by Plato, there is Fundamental Truth. This Truth lies outside of the world. We learn about Truth through revealed knowledge and through our intuition. Revealed knowledge is knowledge that is given to us from outside of the world. An example of revealed knowledge is the astrological axiom, “as above, so below.” This came from the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus. The intuition referred to is not the lunar faculty that is often called intuition in the modern world, but the solar faculty that comes from our Heart.
When investigating the natural world, or engaging in scientific inquiry, it is permissible, and indeed, desirable, to use knowledge of Fundamental Truth obtained by revelation or intuition in interpreting the results of such inquiry. On the other hand, it is not permissible to use the results of scientific inquiry as knowledge of Fundamental Truth. If the results of scientific inquiry conflicted with knowledge of Fundamental Truth, that was to be expected. Fundamental Truth belonged to the perfect world of the Divine. Scientific inquiry merely revealed facts about the imperfect world of flux and change.
While Plato claimed to be merely transmitting knowledge from his teachers, his student, Aristotle departed from his teachings in significant ways.
While Aristotle still believed in Fundamental Truth, according to his teachings, the natural world was intertwined with that Truth to a significant degree. The enmeshment of the two in this philosophy was so great that one should expect scientific inquiry to reveal the same information that was obtained through revealed knowledge and intuition. Because of this, if the results of research and observation of the material world conflicted with what was thought to be known about Fundamental Truth, this could cast our knowledge of Fundamental Truth into doubt. Knowledge could flow in both directions. Reason was the way in which we could arbitrate differences between our scientific knowledge and our knowledge of Fundamental Truth.
Christian philosophers in the Middle Ages largely adopted Aristotelian philosophy.
The main difference was that in Christian philosophy, conflicts between our knowledge of Fundamental Truth and scientific inquiry were to be arbitrated by Church doctrine and dogma rather than reason. This is why Galileo came into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church. It was not just that the heliocentric model of the solar system challenged Church doctrine, but also that Galileo attempted to give his own interpretation of the Bible based on his findings.
William of Ockham and Nominalism
William of Ockham denied the existence of Fundamental Truth, except for the existence of God, and he also denied that science could tell us anything about God. By the same token, the study of God could tell us nothing about the material world. In effect, Ockham’s philosophy placed an impenetrable barrier between the study of the Divine and the study of the natural world.
Modern Scientific Thought
This brings us to the current state of modern scientific thought.
In the Modern world, the generally accepted academic model is that scientific inquiry is the beginning of knowledge. There is no recognition of revealed knowledge or tradition. Intuition is considered untrustworthy. The rules by which scientific inquiry can be conducted are quite strict.
It is also widely believed that we can derive truth from scientific inquiry using reason. This truth does not rise to the level of Fundamental Truth, and further inquiry may, and often does, change what we believe to be true.
A good example of how scientific inquiry has changed what we believe to be true is in the discipline of quantum physics. For a few centuries after the Enlightenment, there was general consensus as to the mechanics of how things operated in the world. This consensus is now known as Newtonian physics or classical physics, after the famous scientist, Isaac Newton. The problem is that it has now been discovered that Newtonian physics do not work everywhere or all the time. When things get very very small, very very large, or very very fast, the laws of Newtonian physics get thrown out the window.
The most famous experiment in the field of quantum physics concerns the nature of light. This experiment was designed to test whether light was made of particles or if it was a wave, and involved sending light through two slits. If light was a wave, it should go through both slits, and if was made of particles, the individual particles would go through one slit or another.
This experiment yielded strange results. If no one measured the light passing through the slits, light would act like a wave and go through both. If someone did measure each of the slits, light would seem to change into particles, each of which going through one hole or another. It seemed as if light would know whether or not it was being measured, and would change its properties accordingly.
This spawned the field of quantum mechanics or quantum physics, and it seems that the more they research in this field, the stranger and stranger things become.
Let us put the confusing world of quantum physics aside for the moment and talk about simulated worlds. Modern technology has reached the level of sophistication that we have created game worlds that mimic the world we live in. In some of these worlds, activity takes place even during times when no human is actively participating in the world. It is conceivable that these games could reach the level of advancement that the characters in these games become conscious.
This has led to the hypothesis that the world we live in may actually be a simulated world made by more advanced beings. For reasons that I have to admit that I do not fully understand, if we are able to create a simulated world in which the characters are conscious, we are more likely than not to live in a simulated world ourselves.
In the simulated game worlds that we create, in order to save computer memory, the world takes shape as characters interact with it. For example, light would not have to take on definite properties until it was measured, which is exactly what happens in the experiment discussed above. This would also explain many other things that have been discovered in quantum mechanics.
The World Illusion
This brings us full circle to Traditional/ Platonic Thought. Traditions throughout the world, East and West, teach that the world we live in is an illusion, and that the Real World exists outside of it. Many spiritual traditions teach ways to escape the World Illusion.
The rules of modern science do not allow us to consider these Traditional teachings, but the rules of Traditional Science not only allow us to consider them, they require it. It could be said that this shows that the methods of modern science will indeed lead us to Truth, but I do not know that this is exactly accurate. In Traditional teachings, those who seek after Truth earnestly and diligently will find it. The path to Liberation is open to all. It is not the methodology of seeking that is the key, but the intention and desire.
Interestingly enough, many proponents of modern science seem to ignore what is being discovered using their own rules.