March 16, 2009

Kant's Philosophy of Science: Part I

Long before Critique of Pure Reason marked his advent to the world philosophical stage, Immanuel Kant was busy pondering the great problems of science and physics. In his work Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens (1755), he deduced the formation of the solar system, resulting in the Kant-Laplace nebular hypothesis; in Physical Monadology (1756) he theorized that substances fill space not by simply existing, but because of teeming sub-particle "spheres of activity" resulting from interactions between attractive and repulsive forces--sound familiar? What's so fascinating about Kant's approach to such complex and resounding issues is his unrelenting metaphysical approach: everything he analyzed was subject to the filter "how does human interpretation affect it?"

Take Newton and Liebnitz, two fellow natural philosophers: both had ideas about the solar system and its makeup, origin, and formation, but with one important difference: Newton succumbed to the idea that, because of its simplistic elegance, the fact that the planets orbited in precisely the same plane was the result of a divine creator; Kant, despite his own notions of God (more on that in a minute), pursued explanation via Liebnitzian mechanical natural law, and succeeded. According to Michael Friedman (who also wrote Kant and the Exact Sciences) in his 2004 introduction to Kant's Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1786), "Kant's conception in the Physical Monadology is an early example of a "dynamical theory of matter," according to which the basic properties of solidity and inpenetrability are not taken as primitive and self-explanatory, but are rather viewed as dervied from an interplay of forces -- here, more specifically, the two fundamental forces of attraction and repulsion, which together determine a limit or boundary beyond which repulsion (and thus inpenetrability) is no longer effective and attraction (representing Newtonian gravitation) then takes over unhindered. This kind of theory exerted a powerful influence in the later part of the eighteenth century, in the work of such thinkers as Boscovich and Priestley, for example, and it can approproately be viewed as an anticipation, of sorts, of the field-theoretic approach to physics developed in the nineteenth century, beginning with the work of Farraday and culminating in Maxwell's theory of electricity and magnetism. In this sense, Kant's own contributions to a dynamical theory of matter had a significant impact on the development of natural science itself, quite apart from the original more metaphysical setting within which it was first articulated."

Back to theology, and the way an eighteenth-century intellect managed to rectify it with advanced scientific and mathematical philosophy, something that most modern-day thinkers rarely do (perhaps that's one more identity to throw at post-modernism: agnostic indifference. Despite his theism, Kant can certainly be given credit for accelerating this movement with Critique of Pure Reason, which famously criticizes the three traditional arguments for God). First, Kant dismissed the Cartesian notion that a perfect being can be deduced from a concept as such--that just because we conceptualize life, nature, reason, or consciousness to be complex beyond organic creation doesn't mean it has to be supernatural. Or, in his terms, "Existence is not a predicate." Second, Kant saw as problematic the Liebnitzian philosophical system as being based on mathematics, a science he felt was confined by human interpretation. Math, like all concepts--regardless of their efficacy--is man-made. Remarkably reinforced by natural physical laws: yes; theoretically accurate to a seemingly impossible degree: yes. Beyond all fallibility, of course not: mankind is incapable of approaching any science as outside our spehere of existence, which makes it moot from an omniscient perspective. Yet, Kant proposed that the infinite symmetry and wonder of nature is inherent to the laws of nature itself, not of an omnitpotent God.

So, a new theistic proof is necessary, and Kant delivers, concluding that dialectical reason has its limits, and in accepting that, man accepts something greater than self. Thus, God becomes reason.

If I can extrapolate: God is reason; reason is consciousness; consiousness is matter; matter is energy; energy is God. Let's rid ourselves of this Bible-based vengeful, judgemental, and misguided overlord premise, hmm? It just makes people crazy.

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