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Fw: [Unitaryscience] Pythagorean Commitment (1): Foundation of Modern Physics

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  • Roger Anderton
    Roger: I m going to do a few articles to explain Pythagorean Commitment. Below is from an article based on Richard Tarnas The Passion of the Western Mind
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 29, 2006
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      Roger: I'm going to do a few articles to explain Pythagorean Commitment.

      Below is from an article based on Richard Tarnas' The Passion of the Western Mind (Pimlico, 1991) which covers the history of Western thought from ancient Greece onward, with particular attention to religious, at:

      http://www.blog.co.uk/main/index.php/cogitoergo/2005/06/10/the_passion_of_the_western_mind

      "Tarnas does well to point out the irony that it was the Renaissance rediscovery of Plato, a rationalist metaphysician with a strong mystical tendency, which helped to overthrow the scholastic Aristotelian tradition and usher in the modern 'scientific' revolution - even though Aristotle, taken in his own right, was actually by far the more 'scientific' of the two. But Plato's use of the metaphor of the sun, and his (in itself entirely unscientific) Pythagorean commitment to the belief that numbers were at the heart of the order of things, helped to give Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo the concepts they needed to get rid of the old Aristotelean geocentric universe in which an immobile earth was at the centre of things, and replace it with our own modern heliocentric universe."


      Roger: i.e. the Modern Scientific Revolution was based on Pythagorean Commitment which led to the overthrwo of the geocentric theory.

      Note: the article thinks that Pythagorean Commitment is unscientific, while the geocentric theory of Aristotle was scientific. What this means is that the writer believes that the philosophic perspective of the geocentric theory was scientific; the writer might be a Positivist. But anyway, the writer is implying that the philosophic perspective that led to science based upon error of the geocentric theory should still be followed. The writer is in error the correct philosophic perspective for science is that of pythagorean Commitment, and that Commitment led to Boscovich's theory.


      The rest of the article at that web site is not talking about much of interest, but is given below for those wishing to see the context of the important paragraph just quoted.



      ---------

      "The Passion of the Western Mind"
      by luke @ 10/06/05 - 04:16:37
      Richard Tarnas' The Passion of the Western Mind (Pimlico, 1991) covers the history of Western thought from ancient Greece onward, with particular attention to religious, philosophical, and scientific ideas. He follows the conventional periodisation of ancient, medieval, and modern, though he also believes that we have now entered a 'post-modern' era in which the optimistic certainties of modernism regarding the absoluteness and benign character of scientific knowledge have been exploded. From the point of view of my own project, I am less interested in how he explains the transition from one era to another than in how he deals with the emergence of new forms of thought and changes within forms of thought, but these are nevertheless inextricably related issues. Major changes in a way of thinking tend to be accompanied by a change in world-view.

      So how does Tarnas handle these problems? First of all, he is happy to talk in terms of 'modes' of thought, without any apparent reference to others who have used the term, particularly Oakeshott (pp. 19, 54). In his description of Greek thought he does not neglect to mention Aristotle's development of a doctrine of categories in his Metaphysics, and emphasises Aristotle's desire to create an 'encyclopedic' system of sciences that at the same time recognized the existence, indeed the necessity, of 'a plurality of cognitive faculties' for fully experiencing and understanding the world. (pp. 56, 68-70). Moreover, he credits the Greeks with the insight that all forms of thought are conditional, and that thought is dynamic, and there is no end-state to be achieved, even in principle (p. 71).

      One of the great strengths of the book as a whole is the way in which Tarnas continually emphasises the importance of ambiguities and unintended consequences in the history of ideas. Socrates, for example, is described as 'richly ambiguous' (p. 71) ; the concept of 'rich' ambiguities strikes me as one that could be extremely valuable, as ambiguity is often thought of as negative rather than constructive. Perhaps Tarnas is too quick to credit Aristotle's legacy as the separation of science and philosophy, though there again, one might be forced to admit this was the long-term result of Greek thought.

      In his account of medieval thought Tarnas makes use of another spatial metaphor, the 'plane', which is presumably synonymous with the idea of a 'level'. His contention is that the later medieval world underwent a rapid and simultaneous development on a variety of such 'planes' that eventually produced the Renaissance (p. 173). Clearly, the influence of Hegel (whom Tarnas discusses later in the book) is important for his handling of such developments; Tarnas frequently talks in terms of the dialectical development of ideas, and one of his contentions is that major shifts in world-views occur because 'the whole did not cohere', as with the decline of Hellenism. (pp. 87, 117) Tarnas seems to be taking from Hegel the argument that thought undermines itself, a development which he is ulimately inclined to see in organic terms as one of birth, growth, and death. Indeed, this organic analogy takes on great significance for Tarnas in the conclusion to the whole work, where he discusses C20th the psychoanalytic work of Freud, Jung, and Grof.

      Tarnas' own belief in something like the conditionality of all world-views has the benefit of allowing him to treat each of them evenly and respectfully; this is particularly important for his handling of Christianity and the scholastic tradition which as he is well aware fared badly at the hands of the Enlightenment (which was of course still directly engaged with it as an adversary and therefore incapable of taking such a view of it). His description of Christianity as involving the 'explosion of all former categories' (p. 107) seems to me a profound view of what the emergence of this new religion entailed. He is also doubtless correct to highlight the monisitic tendencies of Christianity, which he sees as replacing the pluralistic Greek view referred to above with a hierarchy of forms of thought in which theology was placed firmly at the head. He refers to this development, again in rather Hegelian terms, as 'negating the pluralistic' (p. 153).

      But the consequence of this monism was its self-sundering; the traces of Greek thought that had survived into the Christian world-view set up what he calls on several occasions a 'double-truth universe' in which the literal claims of Biblical religion and the findings of naturalistic observation (particularly astrological observation of the planets in the Ptolemaic tradition) obstinately refused to coincide (pp. 191, 205, 243, 302). While a temporary theologico-philosophical and artistic success was achieved in integrating these ultimately incompatible positions by writers like Aquinas and Dante in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the internal strains involved ultimately proved too great. From within Scholasticism itself, particularly the nominalistic tradition of William of Ockham (p. 203), the ability of observation to validate the truths of religion increasingly began to be questioned.

      Tarnas does well to point out the irony that it was the Renaissance rediscovery of Plato, a rationalist metaphysician with a strong mystical tendency, which helped to overthrow the scholastic Aristotelian tradition and usher in the modern 'scientific' revolution - even though Aristotle, taken in his own right, was actually by far the more 'scientific' of the two. But Plato's use of the metaphor of the sun, and his (in itself entirely unscientific) Pythagorean commitment to the belief that numbers were at the heart of the order of things, helped to give Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo the concepts they needed to get rid of the old Aristotelean geocentric universe in which an immobile earth was at the centre of things, and replace it with our own modern heliocentric universe.

      What this meant was the return of intellectual pluralism (p. 208), in the form of the studia humanitatis. It also involved fresh recognition of the importance of imagination, though Tarnas here makes the important claim that the modern world has been deeply divided over the role of imagination, as in the case of the split between the Enlightened and the Romantic movements, for example. In a way, what he plausibly sees as the positive contribution of post-modernism is the revival of the Romantic project (p. 407) in the sense that intellectual pluralism and imagination have once again been given a prominence that the exclusively scientifically-oriented strand of modernism failed to allow them. Without in anyway denigrating the Western scientific tradition, Tarnas is well aware, following the work of Kuhn and Popper, that even natural science must make use of metaphor; indeed, modern Newtonian science was built on the analogy of mechanism, turning nature into a man-made machine. The point is, of course, that there are no machines in nature, although the analogy was a tremendously fruitful one.

      So the rise of modern natural science, just like the rise of Christianity, involved the development (which was also in some respects a recovery and re-working) of new categories (p. 264). Further spatial metaphors appear in Tarnas' treatment of Bacon and modernity, which he sees as separating the 'realms' or 'domains' of science and religion (p. 274). The thrust of his argument (which also takes in Descartes, Hume, and Kant) is that the modern West (as in the case of the Enlightened-Romantic tension already mentioned) never successfully reconciled these forms of thought, and that the failure to do so was the ultimate source of the disasters of the twentieth century. The idea of the divided soul of the modern West is far from unique to Tarnas, but he does a good job of presenting the case for its existence. Nihilism and existentialism are obvious candidates for explanation in these terms.

      Given the nature of Tarnas' argument, however, one would not expect him to end on this entirely pessimisitic note. Indeed, far from it; he believes that Western thought has the means of its own salvation within itself. Rather like Hegel and Heidegger, he sees the task as one of what he quotes Bellah as calling 'reintegration' (415); of making good the split in the Western psyche without resorting to the kind of monistic scheme that the medieval world attempted and failed to sustain. But unlike Heidegger, who really did end with pessimism, notoriously expressed in his late declaration that 'Only a God can save us', Tarnas believes the process of reconciliation has already begun. As already mentioned, he sees post-modernism as part of this process, and adds feminism and psychoanalytic insights to the list.

      It is this conclusion which is undoubtedly the most controversial aspect of his work. Broadly, I find myself in sympathy with what he takes to be the enduring legacies of Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche - respectively, the insights that the human mind has an active role in structuring this experience, that the way in which it does so is always developing, and that in doing so it necessarily makes use of an irreducible (though not infinite) variety of perspectives (pp. 351, 370, 380-1). I also agree with the idea that it is the Romantic project of what he calls 'the delineation of all aspects of existence' that constitutes the main philosophical challenge (p. 374). I can even go along with the idea that this takes the form of asserting our 'radical kinship with the cosmos' (p. 437), that is, that the problem of the subject/object dualism which has characterised modern thought is that it sets the mind over and against the world when the mind is really just as much part of the world as anything else.

      But where I have my doubts is in Tarnas' endorsement of rebirthing therapy as lending crucial insights necessary to this process of reintegration. Not only is it simply not practical to expect Westerners to relive their birth traumas en masse as a way of solving our problems, I am dubious that what is going on this form of therapy is really as advertised. Tarnas himself has a backround in this sort of thing (he was Director of the Esalen institue, apparently) and is clearly very knowledgeable about psychoanalysis &c., but I wonder if he has not fallen victim to his own rather Aristotelian and Hegelian love of organic metaphor here. Still, the rest of the book is so good that given my own ignorance of the material that he discusses, I am prepared to suspend judgment. And I do find his remarks on the 'masculine' nature of Western thought - the fact that it is a drama that has been played out almost, though not totally, by men - somewhat more plausible.

      Put simply, Tarnas suggests that there is an arc from matriarchal pre-classical society through the classical, medieval, and modern worlds that reaches its completion in post-modernity with a restoration of the recognition of the importance of the feminine element in thought, culture, life in general; it seems to me that he associates this 'feminine' element with the idea of rich ambiguity I mentioned above. The importance of feminism in the C20 West is of course unquestionable; no-one can doubt that the position of women in society changed profoundly during that time. Whether this change will take the metaphysical weight that Tarnas attaches to it is an open question, but it certainly provides something to think about it. And there is no doubt in my mind at all that for anyone running a course related to the history of ideas in the West, at least some and probably all of this book will be very useful; it certainly provides the kind of overview that I wish I had got as an undergraduate.



      c.RJAnderton2006


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