presented at the
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN METAPHYSICS
This presentation aims at characterizing science and metaphysics and their relationship as it has changed in the past and as it continues to change. A general and more unifying description of the interface between them is given to provide a background or framework from which to consider new science topics and issues. This presentation is not an exhaustive explanation or study of the relationship between science and metaphysics; it reflects more of a personal quest for understanding. As such it borrows heavily from several texts which are referenced at the end of the paper.
Science and metaphysics have had a relationship that is roughly depicted in Figure 1.
BRIEF HISTORY OF PHYSICAL SCIENCE
Euclidean geometry formed the foundation of modern mathematics. This dealt with such abstract notions as 'points', 'lines', 'planes', etc. all in the absence of mass. Other milestones included Decartes' fundamental work on algebra in the 17th century, followed by the invention of calculus independently by both Leibniz and Newton. These events gave tremendous impetus to the power of methodology. The application of this conceptual approach in Newton's mechanics then set physics upon the path that we know today.
Newton's views became deeply ingrained in Western culture and were embraced wholeheartedly during the Industrial Revolution - a time of fantastic confidence - and the triumph of materialism. Newton's mechanics established a clear connection between cause and effect, and the mechanistic account required that matter move in accordance with strict mathematical laws and according to local causality. Local causality is the idea that what you do has consequences only nearby and that any consequence at a distance will be weaker and will arrive there only after the time permitted by the speed of light. Newton treated matter as passive and inert. The world was viewed as an intricate mechanism operating in an orderly, predictable way (1).
Newton's laws dealt primarily with the force of gravity as it acted upon moving bodies in the Earth's gravitational field. His models were unable to explain the behavior of electricity and magnetism in later years (2). Electricity and magnetism were brought into the field of mathematical theorization by Maxwell. His work, showing the interrelationship of electricity and magnetism, introduced the concept of force fields.
Science up to this point reflected the philosophy of materialism (and indeed, mainstream science and society still do today). Others have called the underlying philosophy 'reductionism', where it is considered that the whole can be understood by an analysis of the parts.
It is difficult to overstate the impact that the Newtonian physical images have had in shaping our world view (1). Acceptance of the Newtonian view represented a further movement away from religious explanations of the mystical forces that moved humans through life and, just as mysteriously, through sickness and death (2). It took human function out of the realm of the divine and into the mechanistic world that scientists could understand and manipulate. Table 1 lists several characteristics of Newtonian science. It will be seen that each of these entries changed in some fashion due to the theory and findings of quantum mechanics.
Table 1. Characteristics of Newtonian physics and Quantum Mechanics
Beginning of New Physics - Planck and Einstein
In 1905 Albert Einstein, at the age of 26, wrote five significant papers, three of which were pivotal in the development of physics. The first, which won him the Nobel Prize in 1921, described the quantum nature of light. Einstein's theory was that light is composed of tiny particles, called photons. Whereas Planck described the processes of energy absorption and emission, Einstein went further and theorized that energy itself was quantized - coming in discrete packets or quanta. In the photoelectric effect, light hits an electron as if billiard balls were hitting each other. Wave theory predicts that there is a time delay before the flow of electrons occurs, contrary to the experimental results. The immediate emission of electrons and other observations were explained by Einstein's photon theory of light. His theory substantiated Planck's revolutionary discovery and demonstrated that light is made of particles, or photons, and that the photons of high-frequency light have more energy than the photons of low-frequency light.
Thus Planck and Einstein laid the groundwork for quantum mechanics, but it was not until 1927 that it took full form. In what follows, some selected events are described in more detail to provide an understanding of the nature of quantum mechanics.
Indications of Wave and Particle Nature of Light
To access the entire paper, click here.