The Limit of Scientific Method

Scientific theory and ideology evolve in historical time. Scientific theories “true” 100 years ago are history. Just so, Newton’s G has evolved into Einstein’s curved spacetime; venerable Standard Model QFT, and classical GRT, the two great pillars of physics are incomplete and incommensurable. Science is not so much truth as it is informed cultural historical opinion.

The nature of “scientific method”—its epistemic process—is inherently inductive and inferential. And the very foundational axioms of its deductive mathematics, logic and  geometries are unproven, unprovable assumptions. The reach of pure reason is here exceeded. The ultimate nature of reality runs deeper than our rational web of concept/belief—deductive and inductive—can penetrate. Objective explanation bottoms out where subjective, contemplative, radically empirical experience/knowledge begins. The spirit of Hume resounds: scientific knowledge has always been, and shall ever remain inferential, provisional and uncertain.

Our 20th century knowledge crisis, the collapse of objective reality that resulted from Lobachevsky’s non-Euclidian geometry, Heisenberg’s uncertainty relations, Quine’s ontological relativity, the Gödel/Rosser Incompleteness Theorems, and Russell’s Paradox has demonstrated this truth about scientific truth for over a century. Let us not expect objective certainty from science when its explanatory ambit precludes it. Scientific knowledge is conceptual and relative. It must not presume an ultimate ontology, to wit, a separate, observer/model-independent, merely objective RWOT. Nor can it produce an ultimate explanatory “theory of everything” (TOE) as to the atomistic forces/interactions of such a world (Boaz 2015a).

Let us then surrender (wu wei), in fear and trembling, our ideological dreams of a mathematically certain, uber-reductionist TOE, a perfectly inclusive objective final theory of everything—of gravity and the two SM forces—that we may proceed with our inchoate pragmatic centrist view (Boaz, “Is a Theory of Everything Logically Possible”, blog,

Kuhnian quantum scientific revolution or no, what has not changed much is four centuries of science’s deep background cultural zeitgeist, namely, foundational Platonic Metaphysical Realism, nor Realism’s ontic handmaid, monistic Scientific Materialism/Physicalism. Notable historical exceptions to this unwholesome furtherance may be our antirealist, ontological relativity champions—Dōgen, Leibnitz, Nietzsche, Bohr, von Neumann, Gödel, Quine, Wheeler, Wigner, Kuhn, Barbour. The great gravitational physicist John Wheeler’s elegy to Scientific Realism: “The universe does not exist ‘out there’, independent of us. We are inescapably involved in bringing about that which appears to be happening”. Again, the problem and opportunity of consciousness. After all, it takes an observing consciousness to “collapse the quantum wave function” and reveal our really real objective realities, “out there”. Or does it?

There is much vertiginous conjecture as to the many ontological interpretations of QFT. For Nick Herbert (1985) there are 21. There is no outbreak of agreement as to the correct one. The prevailing view is the instrumentalist Copenhagen Interpretation of Bohr and Heisenberg. Viable alternatives include the Many Worlds Interpretation, the Bohm/deBroglie Pilot Wave, Ontic Structural Realism and Fuch’s and Cave’s QBism or Quantum Bayesianism (Boaz 2015b).

Clearly, this lack of a settled post-quantum ontology—realist or antirealist—is arresting growth of post-Standard Model physics. QFT/QED must get its hermeneutic house in order if it is to buttress superstrings, or super-symmetry, or other quantized gravity theory—that grand desideratum that is the unification of Einstein’s vast gravity realm with Bohr’s quantum realm of the very small. Large scale structure of physical cosmos—universe or multiverse—is determined at the tiniest quantum scales. Matter—cold dark or hot visible—has both quantum and gravitational fields. Physical reality is both quantum and gravitational in nature—the quantum in the cosmic. The Big Bang regime is described by QFT; black hole entropy, the pre-bang multiverse and fate of large structure, including us, is the realm of GRT. Epistemic unification of these two incomplete pillars of physics/cosmology awaits a propitious quantum ontology.

Bohm’s “implicate order of the vast unbroken whole” (cosmos) is, prior to concept/belief, an ontic unity. In Buddhist Vajrayana’s tantric gloss this unbounded whole is prior and present unity of appearance (form) and its emptiness ground. The epistemic Two Truths of our wisdom traditions—Ultimate Truth, and spacetime form or Relative Truth arising herein—are ever this primordial nondual one truth, numinous whole itself (fundamental kosmos). Therefore, let physicists, cosmologists and their philosophers engage Buddhist philosophy.


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