Copyright 2012 () Freeman Presson, all rights reserved
I think that modern physics has definitely decided in favor of Plato. In fact the smallest units of matter are not physical objects in the ordinary sense; they are forms, ideas which can be expressed unambiguously only in mathematical language. (Werner Heisenberg, as quoted in The New York Times Book Review of 8 March 1992)
Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real. (Niels Bohr)
In the introduction to his Druid Magic Handbook, John Michael Greer cites Max Weber’s concept of the disenchantment of the Western world, and goes on to deliver a simultaneously stern and entertaining rebuttal of it. This led me to think of the many evidences I have seen of how deeply-embedded a certain kind of 19th-century thinking has become (to show only a few):
- Richard Hinckley Allen’s Star names, their Lore and Meaning has been criticized on many grounds, but I have not seen anyone call out the obvious fact that it tries to explain old star lore with almost no reference to astrology; and without this, I contend that the lore has no meaning.
- Look at the Wikipedia article, or other mainstream references, on Thabit ibn Qurra. They discuss his contributions to mathematics and astronomy at length; they completely fail to mention that he was the last of the truly great Sabian astrological mages, the author of De Imaginibus.
- Similarly for Newton: some sources will mention his esoteric interests in passing now, since they have become so abundantly obvious, but few make it clear that this founder of the Enlightenment, one of the first “modern” scientists, was also very much a Hermetic natural philosopher, who spent about half his waking hours pursuing alchemy and theology. Kepler and Copernicus? Astrologers.
Pagans tend to love the movie Agora, since it has a strong Pagan heroine (Hypatia of Alexandria) trying to resist the ineluctable tide of Christianity. The historical Hypatia was known to be a Neoplatonist, and so would have been very spiritual and pious. The Hypatia in the film is a materialist-atheist and a scientist with a completely modern outlook. Basically, the filmmaker ripped us off, and we cheered about it.
- Even in the infancy of the Newtonian paradise, there was a worm in the apple1, in the form of the lack of a closed solution to the three-body problem. One wonders what good it is to theorize that given enough information and enough computing power, one could accurately simulate the entire history of the Cosmos, if it is that easy to show that the computation requires more matter and energy than the Cosmos itself contains? Ah, well … there are always approximate methods, yes? But see §7 below.
- In 1905 – 1915, Einstein showed that not only is the Newtonian-mechanical Universe a special case, for a certain range of masses and velocities, and that there are some fundamental limits that Newton could not have seen, but that it isn’t even a Euclidean space.
- Based on the work of Boltzmann, Planck, Einstein, Bohr, Dirac, Heisenberg, and others, the various branches of quantum physics simultaneously explained and obscured the subatomic world. Heisenberg uncertainty and quantum indeterminacy definitively destroyed the vision of the computable Universe, while the various results showing quantum entanglement and non-locality re-introduced “spooky action at a distance.”.
- As if that weren’t enough, Kurt Gödel‘s famous 1931 Incompleteness Theorem exposed cracks in the foundations of axiomatic mathematics itself.
- Current cosmologists, in an effort to encompass both Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, have been forced to go all-in in the strangeness game, with parallel worlds and multiverses becoming perfectly normal models to discuss.
- The confidently-expected “Theory of Everything,” the quest for which occupied most of Einstein’s later career, looks further and further away the more patches and workarounds are applied to strings, superstrings, p-branes, and whatever other imponderables occupy the theorists.
- At the dawn of the computer age, some of the mysteries of non-linear dynamical systems were explored, producing what we now call “Chaos Theory,” leading to a better understanding of the nature and limits of stability in systems like our solar system and the Cosmos itself, and also demonstrating that long-term prediction of such systems is inherently impossible, not just computationally difficult. So much for the 1950’s vision of global weather control!
- Apple. Newton. Come ON, are y’all paying no attention whatever?