Now we have the new physics with quantum theory, which is no longer describing "reality." It is describing probable realities. The new physics looks for possible realities, and they are so elusive that no one model can exhaustively account for everything. The indeterminacy of models has replaced earlier certainties. Thus, it grows increasingly difficult to believe in an external world governed by mechanisms that science discloses once and for all. Thoughtful people find themselves with this very up-in-the-air kind of feeling regarding the most basic facts of life. Thus, it is now said that "we live in an age when anything is possible and nothing is certain." This is what some call the "post-modern dilemma."
Sigmund Freud also contributed to the undermining of certainty, especially religious certainty. He stated quite unequivocally that, "An illusion would be to suppose that what science would not give us, we can get elsewhere." Elsewhere, of course, refers to religion. And yet, his own psychoanalytic theory has become a matter of intense debate; has come under the critical scrutiny of the very scientific system he felt would validate his ideas.
This shift away from the study of the "outside" so-called objective world of nature to the "inner" subjective world of the observer, is a hallmark of the new science. As Heisenberg observed, "Even in science, the object of research is no longer nature itself, but man's investigation of nature." As an ancient writer observed, "There is nothing new except what is forgotten." Thus, Heisenberg's insight into the subjectivity of experience was already expressed in the Middle Ages by Thomas Aquinas who said: "Everything which is perceived is perceived in the manner of the perceiver." This is axiomatic; something most philosophers and psychologists take for granted. And yet, we tend to forget this truth; we reify our thoughts and desires, our presuppositions and attachments, and mistake it for a hard and fixed external reality. So, when Heisenberg just says the same thing all over again, it seems even more profound to us now. We think we are observing nature, but what we are observing is our own mind at work. We are observing our own methodology. The Buddha of course, said something quite similar long before Aquinas or Heisenberg. In the
Avatamsaka Sutra, the Buddha said:
The mind is like an artist
It can paint an entire world...
If a person knows the workings of the mind
As it universally creates the world
This person then sees the Buddha
And understands the Buddha's true and actual nature. (Chap. 20)
So, by the mid to late 20th century philosophers of science, like Thomas Kuhn, were beginning to question the notion of science as an objective progression towards truth. In his
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Kuhn observed that science, like religion, becomes heavily encumbered with its own baggage of non-rational procedures. Science much more than we are led to believe by its portrayal in textbooks, comes with its own set of presuppositions, of doctrines, and even heresies.
Kuhn essentially demolished this logical empiricist and purist view that science was the impartial progression towards a universal truth. Instead, he saw it as a series of "paradigms"—a global way of seeing things which is relatively immune from disconfirmation by experience—that were constantly being established and shifting back and forth. One paradigm would hold sway for awhile, only to be bumped out in a "revolution" by another conceptual world view. These paradigms were self-contained and self-perpetuating; they tended to conserve and perpetuate their own ideas, just like religion tends to conserve and perpetuate its own ideas. Everything seems steady and fixed until some revolutionary thinker comes along and causes a radical shift. For example, Galileo, came out in the early 1600's and declared that Copernicus was correct: the earth moves, and the sun is the center of our galaxy. The Church denounced such views as heresies and dangerous to the faith. They forced Galileo to recant during a trial of the Inquisition. Although he was publicly compelled to affirm the existing scientific paradigm, Galileo still defied the authorities. After getting up from his knees, he is said to have mumbled "E pur si muove" (nevertheless it still moves). He was put under house arrest and lived out the rest of his life in seclusion. The world, of course, shifted paradigms to accept the new worldview. The Church, however, lagged behind, and only in 1992 lifted the 1616 ban on the Copernican teaching. Einstein, is another example. His theory of relativity at first was met with skepticism and doubt. So, at first the challengers to the entrenched paradigm are considered heretics. They are denounced; they are seen as quacks, as weirdoes. Finally, however, the evidence becomes overwhelming; their theories became the established dogma or doctrine and we go on until someone else shifts it again.
To be continued