Ten tacit assumptions which underlie our present picture of the universe

To underscore the gravity of the need for modification, I shall now describe ten assumptions — tacit, but widely held in today’s world — which must disappear from our world-picture in order to make a vital architecture possible.

Scientists often like to say that the materialist view of present-day science is potentially consistent with nearly any view of ethics or religion because it says nothing about these subjects.

Strictly speaking, the logic of this view can be upheld. But what governs people’s view of the world is not logic, but also what is implied by this logic. This is what I meant to say earlier about the meaninglessness of our present conception of the universe. Strictly speaking, the facts of physics and astrophysics do not imply that the universe is meaningless. But the way these facts are presently drawn, the larger conception of the world which we have formed at the same time we have been forming our physics, does suggest — even strongly imply — that the world is meaningless. It does this, because along with legitimate assumptions that underlie physics and biology, deeper-lying tacit assumptions are also carried in.

Indeed, tacit assumptions have entered our picture of the world so pervasively that it is from them that we have got the picture of the universe that is distressing us. Though they were originally inspired by mechanistic philosophy, they themselves go far beyond the strict discoveries of science. It is these beyond-mechanistic or ultra-mechanistic assumptions which control much of what we say and think and do today, and did say and think and do throughout the 20th century. […]

These ultra-mechanistic assumptions about matter — not strictly justified by mechanistic science itself, but inspired by it and encouraged by it — have shaped our attitude to art and architecture and society and environment.

Ah, the unintended consequences of things we invented…

Tacit assumptions

  1. What is true, is only the body of those facts which can be represented as lifeless mechanisms.
  2. Matters of value in architecture are subjective.
  3. Modern conceptions of human liberty require that all values be viewed as subjective. The subjective nature of value gives the private striving of each individual person — even when vacuous or image-inspired or greed-inspired — the same weight. Attempts to put value on an objective footing are to be viewed with suspicion.
  4. The basic matter of the world is neutral with regard to value. Matter is inert. The universe is made of inert material which blindly follows laws of combination and transformation.
  5. Matter and mind, the objective outer world and the subjective inner world are taken to be two entirely different realms, different in kind, and utterly disconnected.
  6. Art is an intense and powerful social phenomenon, but one that has no deep importance in the physical scheme of things, and therefore no basic role in the structure of the universe.
  7. Ornament and function in a building are separate and unrelated categories.
  8. At a profound level, architecture is irrelevant. The task of building has no special importance, except in so far as it contributes to practical function through engineering, or to material wealth through image.
  9. The intuition that something profound is happening in a great work of art is, in scientific terms, meaningless.
  10. The instinct that there is some kind of deeper meaning in the world is scientifically useless. It has to be ignored as a subject of serious scientific discussion.

I believe these ten assumptions do exist tacitly throughout our everyday lives today. Although thousands of modern books and poems and paintings have helped people assert and affirm their sense of meaning in the world, the world-picture itself, the scientific world-picture, continues to assert the blind meaninglessness of the physical matter in the world, and of the physical matter we ourselves are made of.

Notes mentioning this note

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