Does Dominant Science Have an Alternative?
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 2 Mar 2020
Fifty years have passed since I read the commentary of Revelation 13 by Lanza del Vasto (LdV; the unique Western disciple of Gandhi, beyond Mirabehn). The text presents two Beasts that dominate humanity. He saw in them Science and the Machine. (Lanza del Vasto: Les quatre fléaux, Denoel, Paris, 1959, chapter 1, § 27, partially translated in Make straight the Way of the Lord, Knopf, New York, 1974, 225-229). I was impressed by the fidelity of his interpretation to my internal experience of my University studies of Physics; and above all by the sign of servitude imposed by the two Beasts on everyone’s forehead, under penalty of (social) death to resistants.
The critique of science was a workhorse of LdV. Yet, he did not want to abolish science, because in his opinion there exists a positive science, that of the “pure human sciences of any application that is not philosophical or moral” (op. cit., pp. 66-67); and about the science of nature LdV added: “Spiritual life founds science on new foundations (and perhaps another science)” (Lanza del Vasto: “De la Prière” (orig. 1963), Le Grand Retour, Rocher, Monaco, 1993, p 193).
These words directed me to discover an alternative science of nature; my position at University of Naples I allowed me to start a research on this subject.
Because of my mediocrity I hoped to at the most give a simple and small contribution; but now I can say that I have found a solution. I suppose not only scientists and those who study the philosophy of science are interested in knowing it, but whoever, because the (institutional) science of nature has in an authoritarian way changed our lives and is in the process of even more changing them. Furthermore, the science of nature is certainly responsible of great violences, first of all the nuclear bomb. It is noteworthy that, in retrospect, my solution shows that LdV has followed a valid research direction to discover an alternative to modern science.
Revelation 13 gives the Beast the name “666”; and it adds that an understanding of this name “is wisdom”. LdV sees in this name an infinity of numbers: “666 …”, i.e. an infinite mathematical series which is a typical expression of modern mathematics, that in its turn is the foundation of modern scientific thought. This infinite series means that the nature of the Beast is to fascinate men with the promise of a growing beyond all limits.
It is the same idea (a growth to a mythical infinite) by which Gandhi interpreted original sin, in which he believed (Hind Swaraj, Amhedabad, 1909, beginning of chp. X):
Our difficulties come from our very nature. God built the body of man to limit his ambition in [for example] his locomotion; but the man immediately sought to exceed this limit. God has given man an intelligence, so that he can know his Creator. Man has misused this intelligence and forgotten his Creator. I am constructed in such a way that I can only serve my immediate neighbors, but in my pride I believe that I have to make my physical possibilities available to men around the world. By striving to do the impossible, man finds himself in contact with natures and religions so diverse that he is completely helpless.
LdV’s interpretation is confirmed by one of the most important historians of science, Alexandre Koyré (in particular, sees his book From the closed World to the Infinite Universe, U. Maryland P., Baltimore, 1957) Ancient Greeks rejected the notion of infinity (see their refusal of irrational numbers like π, see the ban to navigators in Mediterranean sea on go beyond Hercules’ columns, etc.). Instead, the surprising birth of modern science in the Western world was determined by the introduction of infinity into mathematical thought.
But then, should we, according to LdV, reject the infinity till up to regress to Ancient Greeks’ science? No, because Apocalypse communicates “wisdom” by means of a mathematical series, therefore by means of modern science itself. This fact means that modern science includes in itself an alternative.
Indeed, Koyré (after Aristotle, Leibniz and many others) stressed that there are two kinds of infinity, the potential one (i.e. a step by step process, as children counts natural numbers beyond any a priori limit) and the actual one (the idea that there does exists a maximum natural number, i.e. an “infinite number” in the same way of a finite number, for example 3; or the two points at the end of a straight line conceived as exactly other finite points). In retrospect, the introduction of actual infinity into scientific thinking constituted a hazard; but often it suggested novelties, even wonderful ones (as those obtained by the calculus of infinitesimals).
In addition, Koyré stated that the introduction of the notion of infinity into mathematics has generated a tension to the actual infinity: “Galilei explains reality by means of the ideal [= an idea that can be approximated] …. Descartes and Newton the impossible [= the idea of the actual infinity, conceived as if it were a real thing, irrespectively of any approximation] … Galilei does not it. “( Etudes Galiléens, Hermann, Paris, 1966, p. 276). Therefore, LdV’s interpretation of Apocalypse 13 is well-founded and its underlining the enthralling aspect of actual infinity is exact. Furthermore, it is now clear which in the alternative that can be found within science itself: the alternative concerns the kind of infinity pursued by science.
A fortunate fact for us is that in the last century research on the foundations of mathematics has discovered that modern mathematics is essentially based on actual infinity; yet it is possible to build a mathematics based on potential infinity only. The latter one is grosso modo the mathematics of computers, whose physical operations cannot perform actual infinite. Owing to the great importance of computers in present society, the latter has become as important as the former one.
Furthermore, LdV wrote a phrase which he attributed to the Baghavad Ghita (“Conversion de l’intelligence, du coeur et du corps” (orig. 1954), Le grand retour, Rocher, Monaco, 1993, 16-41, p. 18): “Knowledge [in particular, scientific knowledge] manifests its value with two signs … the Infinity and the Unity”. The first sign is exactly what both LdV and Koyré suggested. I mean the latter sign in a slightly different sense from LdV’, namely as “the organization of Unity”, because we know well, from the time of Euclid’s geometry, that the unity of a scientific theory is achieved by its systematic organization. The organization of this theory is well known, the deductive-axiomatic one, which presents every truth as a theorem derived from few axioms. But there is also another organization of a scientific theory; the one that is aimed at solving a fundamental problem by looking for a new scientific method (see Lavoisier’s classical chemistry, which, without any axiom, suggested a new method – chemical reactions – to solve the problem of knowing all the elements of matter); and therefore its reasoning does not belong to classical deductive logic, but to inductive logic, which is a logic of a non-classical type.
(Surprisingly, at his time LdV wanted to find out a new logic; he called it Novissimum Organon (La Trinité Spirituelle, Denoel, Paris, 1971 pp. 77-78). Unfortunately he ignored that in the last years of his life the progress of mathematical logic had managed to formalize an alternative logic, the intuitionist one (see Wikipedia); which represents inductive reasoning).
At present, non-classical logic, where two negations do not affirm, is as important as the classical one in computer science and beyond. For instance, I discovered that in mechanics Lazare Carnot’s version of inertia principle states that: “Once a body is at rest, by itself does not move; if in motion it does not change its speed and direction”. The version of the same principle through affirmative words is Newton’s: “ a body perseveres [or continues] its motion…”; these affirmative words (“perseveres”, “continues”) are of animistic nature, not scientific. Hence, previous negative (underlined) double negations lack of corresponding affirmative words of scientific nature. In sum, even “the door of modern science” presents two alternative versions according to the two kinds of logic.
We can conclude that scientific knowledge is based on two different and independent dimensions: the mathematical infinity and the logic governing the propositions of a theory organized as a consistent system. Each dimension is severed into two incompatible alternatives; hence it is a dichotomy. A scientist building a new theory bases it on two choices he implicitly takes on the two dichotomies.
In the 70s the non-violent Johan Galtung, founder of Peace Studies, had suggested that there are two “dichotomies” and that the choices on them provide four models of scientific theory: (“Social structure and science structure”, in Ideology and Methodology, Eijlers, Copenaghen, 1976, 13-40, 247-251). Yet, his dichotomies are of a subjective nature (former dichotomy: “or vertical and unequal social relations, or relations of the opposite type”; latter dichotomy: “or uniformity, collectivism or diversity and individuality “); and in the following years he no more developed this idea).
Each pair of choices (out of four pairs) determines a particular model of scientific theory. They can be called by the names of four scientists who suggested the most representative theories based on these pairs of choices: Newton, Descartes, Lazare Carnot, Lagrange. I presented in a more detailed way this interpretation in the paper “A Gandhian Criticism to Modern Science”, Gandhi Marg, n. 231, 2009, pages. 261-276.
LdV came even closer to this interpretation of modern science’s basics as divided into four pairs of choices. In La Trinité Spirituelle (pp. 180-181) he suggested how we can represent our spiritual experience through two drawings; each of them, like a compass, divides the sheet into four parts by means of two crossed segments, the ends of which represent the four choices. The first drawing names the choices as follows: upper / lower and internal / external; the second drawing names the choices as follows: God / Evil and subjective world / objective world.
Daniel Vigne (La Relation Infinie, Cerf, Paris, 2009, p. 659) discovered that his first drawing of this type was of the year 1933. It is evident that the names of these choices generalize in spiritual terms the names of the scientific choices; therefore, the four quadrants of the two drawings of the spiritual experience also represent the above four pairs of choices on the two scientific dichotomies. The common idea at the basis of these representations is that in modern times our head needs a compass to guide its navigation on the sea of so many theories built in so many intellectual domains: this discovery is comparable to that of Flavio Gioia.
In conclusion, science falsely claims to be unitary, a monolith that presents its truths as indisputable. Of course, a stone falls to the ground according to gravitational law; this sentence is true because we have direct experimental evidence. However, a scientific theory includes concepts, principles and mathematical techniques which are all based on infinity; hence, they may be different according to above illustrated four pairs of choices.
According to the two most important Biology historians, Ernst Mayr and Stephen J. Gould, also the foundations of this science present an opposition between Darwinism and Mendelism, i.e. the opposition between the historical vision of the infinite number of millennia of all forms of life in the universe worldwide and the direct and limited knowledge of the parental relationships between successive generations; or rather, after a century, the opposition is between functionalism and structuralism, i.e. a functioning finalized to also infinite targets and the mutual relationships among the elements of a structure. This opposition is similar to the most important one within theoretical physics, that between the Newtonian pair of choice and the Carnotian one.
An example of alternative science is ecology. It was born because of a problem, pollution on Earth caused by the uncontrolled expansion (i.e. towards infinite targets) of human species. To solve it, this science does not claim anything of absolute or mythical nature, but it looks for understanding the mutual connections of life cycles; it does not proceed by means of deductions drawn from a few axioms, but through inductive reasoning aimed at finding possible solutions. Ecology claims limitations on human activity because no natural process grows at infinity; only the human species has introduced the myth of an infinite growth (also in society: the mythical growth of capital, finance, power of arms, etc.).
For too long time dominant science presented itself as enjoying a monopoly of the scientific reason because it claimed to be omniscient (because it applies actual infinity) and absolutely certain (because it reasons through a mechanism of deductions); hence, it despised the other scientific theories, which by avoiding its ambitions, proceeded in an operationally, controllable way and looked for solving a basic problem without a priori certainties. This is the fundamental opposition, between a “celestial” (or platonic or mythical) science and a “terrestrial” (or for us) science.
The lesson to be learned from this intellectual novelty is that science is essentially divided in itself.
But what is valid about science does also apply to scientific-social reality, i.e. technology? In the seventies at the time of energy national programmes, for the first time science and technology showed that they are each divided into at least two distinct parts: either the mythical nuclear plants suggested by nuclear physics, which, being based on actual infinity, promised an infinite quantity of energy; or the sources of soft energy (sun, biomass, geothermal energy, etc.), all suggested by thermodynamic theory, which, being based on elementary mathematics, addresses to choose a source whose production temperature is bounded to be similar to the temperature of final use. We see that these two physical theories are respectively based on Newtonian and Carnotian pairs of choice.
A similar division born within biological technology. Since thirty years technology of agricultural production has been divided according to two addresses: either a functionalist agriculture based on capital’s laws, forcing it to produce GMOs, or “biological” production that at best interprets the evolution of natural cultivations.
Hence, choices precede science and technology, which thus have to be subordinated to an ethics of choices; that is to say that, contrary to current slogan: “To accept with good will the human costs of progress”, science and technology have to subordinated to both ethics and politics, both established by all peoples.
The long debate on limitations to progress has made it clear that there are no objective limitation which is independent from the kind of life we want; only a collective choice can give limitations to science and technology. Here is the crucial point: we must put ethics above science; we have to choose the type of science we want to advance.
In conclusion, at present we have, thanks to LdV, the “wisdom” suggested by Apocalypse 13 because we know how to recognize the essence of the Beast-Science; moreover, we recognize its alternative. This alternative is more human than the dominant one, yet it does not represent an exit out rationality (as Feyerabend seemed to claim); it is a rational enterprise which is formally comparable to the dominant one; it does not give up reason, rather it wants to reduce the maximum social expression of the rationality, scientific world institution, to a pluralist enterprise subordinated to both mankind’s ethics and peaceful relations with nature.
In November 2019 in Hiroshima Pope Francis unreservedly condemned military nuclear energy, even its possession. He is the first world authority to arrive at a drastic condemnation of a scientific and technological result. But today there are no religious nor political organizations capable of imposing an ethics upon science. Hence, it’s our task to fight on this subject; we must oppose the dominant (Newtonian) science and its aberrations, in order to not stop the development of mankind but to give birth to a scientific pluralism.
Prof. Antonino Drago – Member of the TRANSCEND Network, formerly at the University of Naples. Allied of Ark community, he teaches at the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU: I have a Master degree in physics (University of Pisa 1961), I am a follower of the Community of the Ark of Gandhi’s Italian disciple, Lanza del Vasto, I am a conscientious objector, a participant in the Italian campaigns for conscientious objection (1964-1972) and the Campaign for refusing to pay taxes to finance military expenditure (1983-2000). Owing to my long experience in these activities and also my writings on these subjects I was asked by the University of Pisa to teach Nonviolent popular defense in the curriculum of “Science for Peace” (from 2001 to 2012) and also Peacebuilding and Peacekeeping (2009-2013); then by the University of Florence to teach History and Techniques of nonviolence in the curriculum of “Operations of Peace” (2004-2010). I was the first President of the Italian ministerial committee for promoting un-armed and nonviolent civil defense (2004-2005). email@example.com.
Tags: Johan Galtung, Peace Studies, Philosophy, Science
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 2 Mar 2020.
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