Stephen Edelglass, George Maier, Hans Gerbert And John Davy, The Marriage of Sense and Thought: Imaginative Participation in Science, (Lindisfarne Books, 1997) is a book attempting to produce a major revolution in physical science thinking. The philosophical theme is that science since Galileo has tended to reject the existence of secondary qualities, colours, tastes, feelings etc in favour of primarily qualities - size, shape, weight, velocity - that which can be "objectively" quantified mathematically. Arguably much mathematics developed under the motivation to explain physical phenomena "objectively". An example is Newton's development of the calculus to give a precise mathematical description of the laws of motion.

 

 

Although the denial of the "subjective" generated results in physics, the world of objects existing independently of human consciousness began to break down with the advent of quantum mechanics. This is the idea that energy levels in physical systems such as atoms and sub-atomic particles such as electrons are discrete or quantised, rather than continuous.

 

Max Planck in 1900 founded quantum theory to account for black body radiation, this being electromagnetic radiation emitted from a black body, a hypothetical body absorbing all of the radiation falling on it (thus having an absorptance and emissivity of 1). Energy is emitted in quanta equal to hv, where h is the Planck constant (6.626176 x 10-34Js) and v is the frequency of radiation.

 

Explanation of the photoelectric effect also required a revision of classical physics. The photoelectric effect is concerned with the emission of electrons from the surface of a metal illuminated by light. It was found that light of a short wavelength could displace electrons from the metal but waves of a long wavelength could not. The quantum explanation was that light was emitted in quanta, photons, rather than a wave, with the energy E being E=hf, where F is the lights and h the Planck constant. But other experiments such as the "two slit experiment" indicated that light also had wave properties. Hence the wave-particle duality was established, blurring the distinction between waves and fields.

 

The mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics involved representing a subatomic particle such as an electron by a complex number (the square root of -1), giving a wave function ψ. The square of the absolute value of the wave function ψ,  i.e. 1ψ12 gives the probability of finding an electron (or other particle) at a point p. The mathematics of the quantum theory also led to the Heisenberg uncertainty relations, that the position and momentum, and energy and time of a particle can only be predicted to a specific level. The very act of locating a particle altered its location by transferring energy to it. Some physicists then went on to say that particles did not have a classical location at all, but were smeared out in space. Indeed, things in the world exist in a superposition of states according to the mathematics of quantum mechanics, and only assume a real state when a measurement/observation is performed, quite unlike classical mechanics. This introduces the observer into the basic structure of the universe, as acts of observation collapse the wave packet.

 

Edelglass (et al) explain all of this in detail and draw the obvious philosophical conclusions that there is a role for mind in the basic physical understanding of the universe. However they go much further in showing, that even the classical physicists were wrong in rejecting the role of secondary qualities in understanding the world. Their principal point is that at some level secondary qualities are necessary to make sense of primary qualities, to identify them, even for basic mechanical actions. An object devoid of all secondary qualities such as colour would become unidentifiable and hence not capable of scientific detection: "If we enquire into how we conceive a given spatial world of discrete, solid objects within the objectivists conception, we cannot logically continue to picture such a reality to be anything other than silent, devoid of colour, and neither hot nor cold. We cannot even picture it as dark. Birds do not sing, unless by singing we mean that they emit soundless song. Their feathers are neither vibrant nor dull of hue. There is no fragrance emanating from the flowers in the field in which they grow". (p.116)

 

Scientific materialism, the authors show, is thus self-undermining, because the world of experimental verification irreducibly depends upon secondary qualities, and sense perceptions. As they say in conclusion: "the elements of the bodily-spatial world to which physics limits its consideration are objectively no more real - or less real - then the non-spatial sense percepts of which human beings are also aware. Or, to put it another way, colour and sound are just as real as are physical form and weight. They deserve to be taken just as seriously". (p.121)

 

Edelglass (et al) in conclusion refer to Rudolf Steiner, who in works such as The Science of Knowing and Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path: A Philosophy of Freedom, saw the distinction between that which is experienced through thinking and that experienced through the senses as fundamental to human nature and the ground of our freedom because it is only from having a sense of “inner" and "outer" that the Self can arise.