A Matter of Inquiry
This section of the discussion will simply attempt to highlight a number of general issues surrounding the accepted scientific models, which may require some further consideration with a WSE model. However, to be clear from the outset, inquiry is not being used as a disguise to assert some alternative theory, but rather pursues a process of clarification and learning, although such a remit does not mean that accepted ideas cannot be questioned. In 1877, William Clifford published an essay entitled ‘The Ethics of Belief’ and while this essay was not about the ‘belief’ in science, it made an argument for a number of guiding principles, which may have value in any area of human development. Simply, by way of summary, Clifford concluded that:
`it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything on insufficient evidence`
While this principle in this argument has been debated on many levels, we might recognise the difficulty in both developing and maintaining a worldview based on such a strict principle. This difficulty is not because we necessarily disagree with the general argument, but rather in terms of what we, as individuals, will accept as ‘sufficient evidence’ underpinning our beliefs. However, Clifford’s summary argument above was also supported by three basic guidelines, which are paraphrased as follows:
- Duty of Inquiry: It is wrong to believe based on insufficient
evidence, such that doubt and investigation has to precede acceptance
- Weight of Authority: We may believe the statement of
another, if there is evidence of knowledge and truth, so far as it can
- 3. Limits of Inference: We may believe in that which goes beyond our experience, when it is inferred from our experience and the assumption that, what we do not know, is like what we do know.
Of course, in practice, any duty of inquiry may be limited by both the ‘time to learn’ and the ‘ability to learn’, such that most people may simply base their scientific worldview on the accepted weight of authority, which in some cases may be little more than a general consensus of opinion. However, history also tells us that the weight of scientific authority has been constantly overturned as new facts emerged from empirical experiments, such that what is accepted as mainstream science is often only a transitory consensus.
What else might we learn from this historic perspective?
There is a suggestion that we need to recognise and acknowledge when scientific assumption and theory goes beyond the limits of inference, such that the duty of inquiry has to be prioritised over simple acceptance. Of course, this third guideline has presented a specific problem for modern science, which is now often predicated on speculative mathematical models of reality that extend beyond the ability of science to empirically verify. However, in this context, the third guideline may require some further consideration as it is quite possible that quantum reality is actually nothing like what we already know. As such, the third guideline should not necessarily restrict speculative inference, only its acceptance as fact.
Why the caveat?
In the time since Clifford’s essay was first published, science has undergone two fundamental paradigm shifts in the form of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. However, these theories suggest a reality that is nothing like what we know, which now appears to be supported by a weight of authority that few are in a position to question, even if allowed. For it would seem that many now assume that the existing experimental evidence of the last 100 years is simply too overwhelming to be seriously challenged. Of course, there are still those who will point out that these two foundation stones of modern physics, i.e. relativity and quantum field theory, are incompatible, such that science cannot be complete.
So what is the nature of inquiry to be pursued in this section of discussions?
In part, general concern is expressed as to whether a mathematical model of reality, which often appears to circumvent the need for any obvious causal mechanism, can be considered even close to completion. While this is not a denial of the need for mathematical abstraction, especially in the quantum domain, it seems important to recognised that models are, by definition, a necessary simplification of physical reality not its replacement. This abstraction can then be compounded by the semantics of ‘particles’ that have no obvious substance, while the definition of energy [E] is still predicated on the concept of mass [kg] rather than the opposite. Therefore, inquiry is extended into the nature of energy, not only how as a scalar quantity it propagates in space and time, but how many different forms of fundamental energy exist and how differential potential energy levels might be the causal mechanism of all kinematic motion. Finally, inquiry is made into the contradictory nature of light, both as an electromagnetic wave and as a photon particle, which today often remains cloaked within the wave-particle duality debate.