Science and Philosophy – Part III  

“The intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups…literary intellectuals at one pole – at the other scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists. Between the two a gulf of incomprehension.”

“A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s? “- C.P. Snow (in the 1960s)

S (who does not ‘subscribe to absolutes’):

There is no purpose to life. We are just a huge collection of molecules, much like a river or a forest – except that we are sentient. In the larger scheme of things, none of us matter – we all die and get recycled – unless our technology can keep advancing fast enough, and even that can only last until the heat death of the universe.

There is no transcendent purpose (at least none that I have figured out), but you can create your own purpose to life. You are your mind – which is a consequence of your brain, and you have control over a machine with highly complicated sensors and actuators (your body). And you can do whatever you want with it. But of course, you would want to have some level of comfort – so life in society is almost always necessary. And that requires that you respect the law and work to make enough money to cover your basic needs. What that work is, how long you do that, what you do with the wonderful machine that you have control of – that’s all up to you.

M. May be, in a sense, we are our minds, but there is a conception (not a consensus) that consciousness is beyond the mind, and that the world (bodies and minds) is ‘inside’ it, instead of being the other way around – a number of physicists subscribe to this notion or understanding. Can you call them ‘irrational’?

S. My problem with such ideas is, one can imagine tons of different “realities” that cannot be observed in the physical universe. So I tend to stay away from any consideration of spiritual or other alternate universes unless I find good reason to. I do acknowledge the possibilities, but in the absence of evidence, I’m placing all my bets on the physical universe.

M. I understand, and respect, your position. The evidence for what I am saying is ‘internal’, introspective, but not irrational by any means. Ontology and phenomenology (an orientation or approach within philosophy) deal with this. In principle there are not, cannot be, many realities, only one – one that includes all other ‘realities’. You can call this ‘monism’ or ‘non-duality’, and, of course, it is not science, as this term is ordinarily understood, but philosophy or metaphysics, which includes within itself ‘philosophy of science’, and also ‘philosophy of art’, ‘philosophy of mathematics’, ‘philosophy of mind’, etc.; the scope of philosophy is wider, and its methodology and epistemology are necessarily different from that of science. There certainly can be a convergence between philosophy and science, according to different viewpoints and interests, but the relationship with each other continues to be a disputed territory. It much depends on one’s temperament and up-bringing as to how to view things and weigh whatever evidence one contemplates.

Truly,empirical science doesn’t need the support of philosophy or religion, but neither does philosophy or religion need the support of science: they are neither complementary nor competitive. At most, there can be a harmonious accommodation, or a continuumn, as R. Puligandla (‘Reality and Mysticism’) has suggested.