A while ago I recommended Ulrich Mohrhoff’s recent book The World According to Quantum Mechnics. This is a mathematical text book yet also a philosophical statement, since a specific philosophical interpretation of the mathematics is endorsed, namely that of Sri Aurbindo and the Hindu Upanishads. It can be read, therefore, as an attempt to reconcile science and philosophy. This extract presents the view of Smolin and Einstein on the relationship between these areas of knowledge and study. It seems a correct view to me.
‘Lee Smolin, in his “The Trouble with Physics” laments the loss of a generation for theoretical physics, the first one since the late 19th century to pass without a major theoretical breakthrough that has been empirically verified. Smolin blames this sorry state of affairs on a variety of factors, including the sociology of a discipline where funding and hiring priorities are set by a small number of intellectually inbred practitioners. Ironically, one of Smolin’s culprits is the dearth of interest in and appreciation of philosophy among contemporary physicists. This quote is from Smolin’s book:
“I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today — and even professional scientists — seem to me like someone who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historical and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is — in my opinion — the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth.” (Albert Einstein)’
It seems odd that Einstein is so widely admired in physics and so seldom emulated. It must be at least possible that any lack of progress is connected with this failure to examine the bigger picture. The generation that included the quantum pioneers were able to think broadly and independently of their prejudices, and with considerable courage, but somehow this ability has, on average, withered away over time.
I wonder if this is because the philosophy department has been so hopeless at dealing with quantum theory. If I were a physicist perhaps I would likewise despair at the failure of the philosophy of the Western universities to deal with the discoveries of physics, and likewise make the hasty assumption that there would be nothing to be learnt from the philosophers. It would be an easy mistake to make.
But it would definitely be a mistake. The failure of one philosophy is a proof by abduction of the philosophy that remains. Mohrhoff and others have shown that a philosophy of nonduality would be capable of interpreting quantum theory for a fundamental theory, just as Schrodinger long ago proposed. What physicists usually miss, or so it seems to me, is that the failure of Western academic philosophy is an important result of analysis, and one that guides us like an arrow to the only viable alternative.