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Sunday 9 October 2011

On so called scientific knowledge – V

Marxists who consider themselves to be scientists in spite of Popper who said that Marxism is not a science as it cannot be falsified, are very fond of quoting Marx who had said that "all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided." The outward appearance is “grasped” through the five sense organs, with of course the mind playing a significant role though the scientists often emphasise the importance of the five senses, and what this statement means is that what is grasped through the five sense organs is not the essence. Many if not all empiricists would begin with the assumption that there is an external world for us to grasp and acquiring knowledge begins with sense experience. However, they would not concede that perceptions of the outside world cannot be experienced without conceptions. The empiricists would assume with Russell that there is something called “bluishness” that exists independent of any observers. However, this is a hollow statement like that on existence of the Newtonian absolute space. Newton may not have formulated the term absolute space but he had some notion of it.

The absolute space in a Newtonian sense is a space devoid of any matter or radiation and that includes observers. Thus there is nothing in a Newtonian absolute space and without observers how would one know that there is an absolute space, through direct experience? The absolute space very often considered to be the first inertial frame of reference (the other inertial frames of reference are considered to be moving with uniform velocities with respect to one another as well as with respect to the absolute space) in which Newton’s laws of motion are valid cannot be observed. The moment an observer “enters” the absolute space, it ceases to be an absolute space as there is matter (and of course mind whether one minds it or not) and Newton has given a concept that cannot be observed. Absolute space and inertial frames of reference are only abstract concepts and all that can be said is that an inertial frame of reference is a frame of reference in which Newton’s Laws are valid! This is in contrast to the usual instructions given at schools and universities where it is said that Newton’s Laws are valid only in inertial frames of reference.

There cannot be any bluishness without an observer with a mind who has constructed the concept of bluishness. There is no perception without conception and those who try to separate perception from conception and assume that there is perception without conception will come across many difficulties. Can there be a perception of bluishness without the concept of bluishness? If there is an external world independent of the observers then could anybody establish this “fact” without resorting to the concept of an external world? The external world itself is a conception and nothing “exists” independent of the conceptions created by the human beings and others with minds. It should be pointed out that concepts do not have to be expressed in terms of words and children and non human animals who cannot speak have concepts expressed in mental pictures.

Now let us go back to Marx. According to him there is the sensory perceptible world but that is not the essence. The essence cannot be grasped through the five sense organs and one has to contemplate with abstract concepts in grasping the essence of “things”. Now how are we to know that what we have grasped with abstract concepts is the essence of “things”. There is only one way according to empiricists and that is to compare deductions of the abstract concepts or “science” with the empirical world which is only an outward appearance! Newton formulated the theory of gravitation which was assumed to be the essence of “things” at least as far as falling of coconuts and apples, and which could not be felt with our sense organs in spite of a Cambridge education. Gravitation can be “felt” only with the mind without any sensory perceptions in the western sense and the essence of gravity had to be checked with comparing its deductions with sensory perceptible appearances such as the motion of the planets around the sun and advance of the perihelion (the perihelion also moves without itself remaining static) of Mercury. Now the question is whether advance of the perihelion is only an outward appearance. According to Marxian science, one assumes that what one observes is only an outward appearance, then goes “deep” into formulate a “theory” to understand the essence of things and comes back to outward appearances to check the theory or the essence of the “things”. The scientists “including Marxists” are very fond of telling the world that the results of experiments based on deductions from theories have to be checked with the “outside world” without realising that outward appearances become the ultimate judge in their scheme, which they had first rejected as non science being just outward appearances. How does one formulate science without appealing to so called non science?

This is a contradiction very often ignored by the western scientists. The so called outward appearances are not science and the essence or the science is expressed in theories and concepts which may or may not be abstract but the “science” has to be tested in order to know that it is the “essence” or truth or whatever, using the so called outward appearances. There could be very few concrete theories as any general theory has to be abstract and abstract theories can be grasped only with the mind without appealing to observations using the (five) sense organs. Unless somebody comes out with a way of checking abstract theories without appealing to observations western science cannot get rid of this contradiction. Bhavana and Yogic exercises may be one way of testing as well as formulating abstract theories and we should not scorn these methods as means of “acquiring” or creating knowledge.

As an example of the process of abstract thinking consider the generalisation from mangoes to objects. A mango is a very concrete concept and mangos can be observed. A mango can be seen, touched, tasted and sniffed if one wants to. Now consider the concept of a fruit, which is an abstract concept though many people would not realize it. One cannot see, touch, taste or smell a fruit in general, as there is no fruit as such that “exists” in a concrete form. A fruit can be a mango, an apple, a banana, ( amba, damba, narang, kesel or any such thing) and one cannot visualize a fruit as such. A fruit is an abstract concept but an abstract concept that many people can grasp. It has to be mentioned that a fruit cannot be visualised, and it is only a mental concept that we have formed by abstracting or generalizing amba, damba, narang, kesel etc. Now humans who are capable of abstracting have not stopped at the concept of a fruit. They have come out with the more abstract concept of an object. An object could not only be a fruit, but a flower, a table, a chair etc. Is there anybody who could visualize an object? In Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics we throw objects out of windows or project them without even thinking whether it is a mango or a coconut. When Galileo or his friend dropped two iron balls or whatever, from the leaning tower of Pisa two objects were dropped and not mere balls.

Galileo’s observation was a generalized observation in the sense that whether one drops balls, coconuts or apples they come down with the same acceleration, near the surface of the earth. It was true even for feathers provided they were dropped in a vacuum. Of course Galileo did not create a vacuum in Pisa but left to the imagination of those present to create a vacuum in their minds. Thus Galileo’s experiment though considered to be very simple and concrete involving balls and towers, it was not so. From balls and towers he generalized and declared in an abstract way that OBJECTS (no balls) dropped from a HEIGHT (no towers) ANYWHERE (not Pisa) close to the surface of the earth would fall with the same acceleration.

Copyright Prof. Nalin De Silva