Friends have inquired about the meaning of "Real Physics," as well as of the subtitle "A Realistic Exploration Into Nature."
Physics comes from the ancient Greek phusis for nature (see full article on etymology). Physics was originally synonymous with natural philosophy, hence the full title of Newton's foundational Principia is Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.
Since Newton's time, what we currently call physics has become exclusively mathematical. This program has found wild success: quantity is a powerful way to describe the material world. But it is not the only way, and in fact it is not the most meaningful way. Quantity alone gives us only nature's dry bones.
Specifying the physics of this blog as "real" signals my intention to "flesh out" our picture of the natural world and our way of exploring nature. It is not so much that science lies to us about nature, but that its presentation is incomplete. The lie is to pretend that science presents us with the full and only truth about nature.
The quotation under the subtitle, “What we call Man's power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument,” comes from C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man.
Without intrinsic meaning, nature has no moral value. If moral values are not part of nature then they are unnatural, which means there are no real constraints on human action. Human rights lose all meaning.
An agenda, perhaps not fully conscious, informs the rejection of intrinsic purpose. Those who deny nature's meaning do so in order to impose their own meaning, and to use this power to manipulate other men. Now, this agenda may not be the original reason they turned to science—in fact they were likely hoodwinked into denying nature's meaning in the first place—but the tenor of modern natural science is so superficial that it is difficult to resist a purely utilitarian attitude toward nature, and eventually toward one's fellow men. At the very least, superficial science itself poses no obstacle to being manipulated and used to manipulate. At worst, the lie of completeness removes meaningful obstacles to manipulation.
Quality, Not Quantity
Purpose is synonymous with meaning. Another way to look at the devaluing of nature is to see how superficial science pretends that nature is purposeless. The fields of ethics and morality study how to reach happiness. "All men seek happiness" is a tautology, even if everyone disagrees what constitutes happiness.
As Aristotle says, it is quality and not quantity that leads to purpose. Denying the reality of qualities, modern science rejects purpose and the possibility of happiness.
The importance of safeguarding the reality of qualities is a subtle point with vast implications. Superficial science would have us believe that the redness of an apple is simply a subjective impression produced by electromagnetic radiation of wavelength 650 nm. On the contrary, if man knows any truth at all, the redness of an apple is a reality that truly exists in the apple. Redness is an objective quality.
To deny the objectivity of qualities is to lock yourself in your mind. If redness is only a subjective impression, if it is produced by the mind in response to physical stimuli, then it is impossible to speak of any two people seeing the same "red." In fact one cannot speak of a knowable objective world. (And to be perfectly consistent, one cannot speak at all; speech implies meaning and truth.)
Science at its truest and wisest cannot deny the reality of qualities, because its touchstone is the sensible, empirical, measurable world. To say that black and white have no reality is to deny the possibility of reading an experimental instrument, and thus to deny the possibility of observation and experiment. As Anthony Rizzi puts it, "we only know quantity through quality" (138).
Very tellingly, if denying quality's reality not only traps individuals in themselves, but also corrodes the bonds between individuals that constitute communities. The belief that each person imposes his own will to create his own reality is very obviously inimical to living in common and seeking a common good.
If there is only quantity, then our system of government, which is predicated on the reality of rights-bearing individuals,1 is meaningless. If there is only quantity, then all is matter in motion. There are no forms, there are no substances, there are no wholes. You and I are not ensouled bodies created in the image of an all-powerful Creator, nor are we simply self-aware bipeds; we are not even animals—as that concept itself is meaningless—but merely an arbitrary agglomeration of matter in motion. Certainly he pulled the lever that caused the explosion that launched the metal projectile that punctured the intervening soft tissues that caused a sudden decrease in blood pressure. But without referring to substances, you can't call it "murder."
1. A more subtle problem, but with more radical implications is that the thought of Locke, et al. that form the matrix of our society presume that we are fundamentally self-sufficient, autonomous individuals. No: we are born dependent into a community of love—the family; it is the family that brings us forth and that forms who we are as persons. If we fail to realize the limitations of these Enlightenment fictions, we will tend to fracture reality to fit that artificial ideal.
C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.
Anthony Rizzi, The Science Before Science (Baton Rouge, LA: IAP Press, 2004).
See also the Nature Institute's "Toward a Science of Qualities"