Monday, March 16, 2009

You Can't Have It Both Ways

French physicist Bernard d'Espagnat has been awarded the 2009 Templeton Prize.

Award organizers said his work in quantum physics revealed a reality beyond science that spirituality and art could help to partly grasp.

Really now!

D'Espagnat, a former senior physicist at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva and professor at French and United States universities, argues in his books that modern quantum physics shows that ultimate reality cannot be described.

Classical physics developed by Isaac Newton believes it can describe the world through laws of nature that it knows or will discover. But quantum physics shows that tiny particles defy this logic and can act in indeterminate ways.

D'Espagnat says this points toward a reality beyond the reach of empirical science. The human intuitions in art, music and spirituality can bring us closer to this ultimate reality, but it is so mysterious we cannot know or even imagine it.

So how does "art, music, and spirituality" help in such a case? Because they are not constrained to show that what they propose is valid? That they require no empirical evidence to reflect the degree of correctness of their ideas? That they can simply make things up as they go along?

It boggles my mind that there are people who think that the ability to SPECULATE without any need for verification can actually provide such answers to these questions. They seem to ignore the fact that when one makes such speculations that isn't constrained to be verified, these so-called answers are NOT UNIQUE. There are tons of various speculations that claim to go beyond science. How is one to know which is more valid than the other? Is it ultimately a matter of personal tastes and style? Then what's the point?

Besides, if we truly can't comprehend or will ever know the "ultimate reality", then "art, music, and spirituality" can't know either.

There are just so many things wrong with this piece. For example:

Although they cannot be tested, the intuitions people have when they are moved by great art or by spiritual beliefs help them grasp a bit more of ultimate reality, d'Espagnat said.

Er.. hello? Intuition has never been shown to be WRONG? Since when does intuition trump over empirical evidence? And again, if people's intuition are "moved" by great art and spiritual beliefs, then all you spiritual people should come up with one consistent ideas, because right now all of you are going in a million different directions. When you guys have fought it out and picked the winner, come and talk to us.



OilIsMastery said...

The followers of Newton and Einstein have always rejected the scientific method:

"It is the theory that determines what can be observed." -- Albert Einstein, mathematician, 1926

Anonymous said...

I agree with your sentiments. Part of the problem, I feel, is that people - this d'Espagnat fellow included - still get stuck on the notion of absolute truth, and this makes them dissatisfied with the tentative/provisional nature of scientific conclusions. They seem to imagine that the latter is a flaw. While absolute truth almost certainly exists (or else what would be the point in doing science?), the human reality is, unfortunately, that we must all process information via a limited sensory apparatus - and whatever extensions we build on that (lab instruments etc). How we know is more important than what we know, for then we can correct ourselves and add to knowledge. The scientific method has done this quite effectively as it has emphasised observation, scepticism, reason, independent inquiry and verification. If history is any guide, this method of acquiring knowledge is vastly superior to any other human beings have ever devised.
I am also quite fed up with people using quantum mechanics as an excuse for some mystical nonsense. I suppose I can't blame them entirely for it, though, since the founders of the thing were as guilty as anyone.

ZapperZ said...

"The followers of Newton and Einstein have always rejected the scientific method:

"It is the theory that determines what can be observed." -- Albert Einstein, mathematician, 1926"

Come again? And since when did Einstein became a mathematician?

What does "theory that determines what can be observed" have anything to do with not observing the scientific method? We always depends on theory to know what physical observable that we are measuring. This is nothing new. But why is this "unscientific"?