Archive for June 4th, 2014

Review for Religious

 

Review for Religious

from the journal cover

‘Review for Religious’, which ceased publication in January 2012, was (amongst other things) an important forum for articles and other materials exploring a renewal in the practice and understanding of the Spiritual Exercises and of spiritual direction. The good news is that the full archive of contents is available online for free. Despite the journal’s name the archive is worth browsing by anyone interested in Ignatian spirituality.

The bad news is that the archive is quite hard to use! Each issue (70 years’ worth) is available as a pdf but to tell what is in each issue you have to download and search an Excel spreadsheet. It works but it is cumbersome. For example, searching the Excel article index locates the seminal article by George Aschenbrenner, SJ on the Consciousness Examen (that’s Volume 31, issue 1, 1972, page 14 if you are interested).

Add comment June 4th, 2014

Laws of Nature

the solar system

NASA: the solar system

I recently read an interesting article (Intelligent Design: Humans, Cockroaches, and the Laws of Physics) from 1997 by Victor J. Stenger in which he combats the kind of fine-tuning arguments that are often evinced as ‘proof’ that our universe is carefully set up for the emergence of complex life forms like ourselves. What caught my eye me was his approach to the laws of physics:

‘However, the laws of physics, at least in their formal expressions, are no less human inventions than the laws by which we govern ourselves. They represent our imperfect attempts at economical and useful descriptions of the observations we make with our senses and instruments. This is not to say we subjectively determine how the universe behaves, or that it has no orderly behavior. Few scientists deny that an objective, ordered reality exists that is independent of human life and experience. We simply have to recognize that the concept of “natural law” carries with it certain metaphysical baggage that is tied to our traditional, pre-scientific modes of thought. We are going a step beyond logic to conclude that the existence in the universe of order, which we conventionally label as the laws of nature, implies a cosmic lawgiver.’

The status of laws of nature is an interesting topic in the philosophy of science and opinions are split along two axes. The first concerns whether laws of nature are prescriptive or descriptive, i.e., whether they govern or control the behaviour of their subjects or whether they describe it. Take, for example, the law of gravity: is the law of gravitation an elegant shorthand description of the way bodies behave or is it what makes bodies do what they do? There are two extreme ways of putting this dilemma: gravity is out there in the world or gravity is in scientist’s heads (and books). The mediaevals (who thought a lot about such matters in advance of what we would recognise as real science) talked about relations (pattern, order, structure, etc.) as being either de re or de dictu–a matter of reality or a matter of our speaking and naming reality.

The second parting of the ways over the status of natural law comes when we consider whether they are, so to speak, natural or artificial. How much does is the law of gravity simply ‘read off’ the face of nature and how much is it a projection of human ingenuity and creativity? How you answer says a lot about how you view language, imagination, and the relationship between human beings and the world.

In principle these two dichotomies are independent but in practice many scientists opt for a basically Humean combination: laws that are natural and descriptive. It’s a conjunction that supports a mechanistic worldview and scientific objectivity.

I’m inclined to want to dodge both dichotomies. C. S. Peirce’s semiotic conception of laws or ‘generals’ as cosmic habits is very interesting in this regard. It lets law be a kind of real relation (pattern, form, or structure) having its own proper existence in the cosmos without getting entirely Platonic about them. Peirce believed the relationship between human minds and physical events can only be understood when we understand the operation of signs. Semiotics offers an account of creation and creativity that may be able to avoid the split between the natural and the artificial. In such a scheme the laws of physics would be imaginatively constructed (created) forms which catch the form of reality (creation).

June 4th, 2014


Calendar

June 2014
M T W T F S S
« May   Jul »
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30  

Posts by Month

Posts by Category