Inspiration for a future physics

You may privately consider my formulations of the tacit assumptions to be caricatures which do not correspond to your own convictions about value, or art, or the meaning of things in the world.

You the reader, yourself, may or may not make these ten assumptions. But I suspect, even if you believe that you are free of them, or rise above them — that, in fact, to an extent which may surprise you, it is these assumptions which inform your underlying picture of yourself and your place in the world.

It is my view that the mechanistic view does exist in most of us as a mild form of practical certainty, while the more life-centered or spiritual beliefs do not — they are more like empty decoration on the surface, which are not capable of having any coherent impact, because they do not all make practical sense together with everything else. In this sense, once again, I take the view that people are still caught in the mechanistic paradigm. No matter what people say, they often continue to behave as if these assumptions are true. There is no practical certainty attached to the other more spiritual views, which lead directly to different behavior; so once again the residue of behavior suggests that the ten assumptions are what is, in fact, controlling our mental picture of ourselves and of the universe.

Nevertheless, even at the very moment of trying to preserve some thread of a connection to the value of existence — some way of doing it the homage which the intensity of feeling it evokes demands — in almost every attempt, the modern person is prevented from embracing his own feelings in any full sense, because today’s cosmology and the undercurrents I have tried to articulate in the ten tacit assumptions simply don’t allow it.

Sad as it is to insist on it, I believe we must admit to ourselves that, broadly speaking, some version of these ten tacit assumptions does represent the general ultra-mechanistic tradition of 20th-century science and technology, especially as this tradition has impact on questions of value and art, and on the art of building. These tacit assumptions form the mental prison which we currently inhabit; they are the origin of the meaningless world-picture which quietly makes people depressed and alienated. Even though we may kick, and rail, and protest that we are after all connected to some deeper substance, this system of assumptions is the current view of the universe in which we live.

Yet nearly every sensitive person who examines his own feelings carefully will recognize that he experience great discomfort in the framework of these tacit assumptions. Who has not had the feeling, listening to a Mozart’s 40th symphony, or to Bach’s B-minor Mass, that something magnificent is happening, that in some inner sense, the heavens are opening, and that this structure of sound somehow reaches in and hits the heart? But no matter how deep this feeling, the mechanistic cosmology contained in the ten assumptions of the last few pages is not consistent with it. According to this mechanistic cosmology, the Mozart is a soothing pattern of sound which happens (for physiological or cognitive reasons) to be soothing. Perhaps it activates some pleasure center in the brain. But certainly this cosmology cannot admit, or formulate, the idea that Mozart somehow strikes to the core of the cosmos… and that our pleasure in it happens because we recognize this fact, and take part in it. Thus the Mozart is, in the mechanistic framework, ultimately considered trivial. Whether it gives pleasure or not, it certainly does not in any physicist’s sense strike to the core of existence.

Until now, this kind of problem has not been thought of as a serious problem by physicists. The lack of a serious answer to the question: What is happening when you hear a piece of Mozart? Has not been seen as a problem in physics. If it has been seen at all, it has been seen as a minor problem in applied psychology, certainly not as a clue to a possible mismatch between the current physical picture of the world, and the way the world really is. But that is the whole problem. […]

This is the underlying belief shared widely, sometimes perhaps unconsciously, by many educated people in society. Physics has constructed a picture of reality, which purports to be a picture of everything and the way that everything really is — yet it fails to incorporate fundamental experience, and fundamental intuitions. We experience the fact, intuitively, that the Mozart seems to have something essential in it. But the present theory of physics cannot make sense of it.

So far, within the framework of physics, this mismatch between feeling and theory has been ignored. But look what happens as a result. What it means is that we have a certain experience, momentary perhaps, something we consider a haze of emotion… a feeling we recognize as deep, as vitally important… it lasts for a few seconds, perhaps even for a few minutes… and then our rude cosmology dismisses it.

It happens even with the beauty of a flower at the roadside. Looking at this flower, again the feeling strikes: the knowledge that in this miracle, somehow, lies the whole beauty of the world. But again, because there is no room for this thought in our cosmology, we brush away the thought, dismiss it as too soft, too romantic… and come back once again to our harsh reality in which space is neutral, the flower is neutral, we are neutral, all well-behaved machines, following the rules of our creation and behavior. The ultra-mechanist cosmology we have taken in with our 20th-century mother’s milk therefore cuts across our experience constantly. It forces us to dismiss, treat lightly, all those precious feelings we have, of meaning int he world, of something wonderful… and replaces it by a dull, gray, matter-of-factness which is not matter-of-fact at all, but was invented by Descartes and others of his time, and is now merely mouthed by us because we do not know of an alternative.

For an artist the situation is perhaps even worse. It is only possible to make things well, and deeply, out of the feelings that a deeper consciousness ignites. But here again, the old cosmology refuses to allow it in. Once again, if we want to retain our picture of the world, as it has been presented to us by physics and biology, we must constantly attack, invade, undermine, refuse, these feelings. And on the other hand, if someone does choose to live perpetually in the knowledge of these feelings, then the old cosmology itself must be forced out, and this person then lives without a forceful or coherent scientific picture of the world. Is it any wonder that some of those we call artists, during the period of this cosmology, become insane, are forced to turn their backs upon the world?

(Pages 20-21)

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