The continuing lack of a unifying cosmology
There has been rekindled interest in various forms of spirituality, schools of religion flourish, seventy percent of scientists readily admit to believing in God in some sense, there is almost a wave to reunite some form of religion, ancient or modern or super-modern, with our understanding of the world. Some forms are invented. Some are combinations of eastern and western, or of primitive with sophisticated. Some of the recent science described above, in section 4, has an almost spiritual tone, or a quasi-spiritual leaning.
But does any of this activity have the capacity to change our world picture, and make it more accurate, more believable, or more able to cement us to the world, more able to unite our knowledge of matter with our feeling of self?
I do not think so. The trouble is that our view of matter is flawed: and nothing about religion or spirituality, as practiced or conceived today, has the power to change it.
Briefly stated, the problem is that the many spiritual suggestions and beliefs which resound in the world today are not coherent with the underlying mechanistic picture of the substance of the world. They are not on the same playing field. Spiritual overlays on our underlying picture are, in my view, insights — hopes, fears, intuitions, aspirations, a mixture of spiritual truths and wishful thinking — but they are insights which do not add to our understanding of the way the universe actually works. They are undoubtedly sincere. But they are not made to square with the underlying mechanical picture. The underlying physical picture has too little room for them, cannot yet accommodate them, has not yet, in my view, been modified to make it possible to include them. The substance which the 20th-century world was made of remained the inert, mechanical space-time of Descartes, Newton and Einstein, of quantum mechanics and the string theorists. This mechanical substance is our cake. So far, our spiritual views and ethical views are only frosting on this cake, which do not penetrate or affect the way the cake works. And make no mistake, quantum mechanics too, though widely heralded as “non-mechanistic”, is still a picture in which everything takes place in the space time of inert substance… the play of configurations, albeit wonderful configurations, on the canvas of inert space and matter.
A conviction about spirituality is not the same as a coherent picture of things in the world within which spirituality or goodness make sense.
It is this ongoing rift between the mechanical-material picture of the world (which we accept as true) and our intuitions about self and spirit (which are intuitively clear but scientifically vague) that has destroyed our architecture. It is destroying us, too. It has destroyed our sense of self-worth. It has destroyed our belief in ourselves. It has destroyed us and our architecture, ultimately, by forcing a collapse of meaning.
In order to have an architecture in which our own lives and the quality of our surroundings, the buildings, too, have meaning, we must find a new form of physics, a modified physics in which self and matter can be reconciled.
Of all the periods in human history, ours is perhaps the period in which architecture has been most barren spiritually, most infected by banality. I myself have become aware only slowly during the last thirty years, of the way that this artistic barrenness follows directly from our contemporary mechanism-inspired cosmology. But I have finally come to believe that it is just the prevailing views we hold about the mechanical nature of the universe which have led directly to a situation in which great buildings — even buildings of true humility — almost cannot be made.
I say that even humble buildings cannot be made, because the infection which comes from our mechanistic cosmology, is mainly one or arbitrariness — and the arbitrariness breeds pretension. In the presence of pretentiousness, true humility is almost impossible. A truly humble cottage even, seems beyond the reach of most builders today.