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Does Quantum Mechanics Undermine the Scientific World-view?

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It is science, we believe, that has lifted us above primitive superstition to obtain verifiable, objective knowledge. Science, the crowning achievement of modern man. Science, unlocking the deepest secrets of the universe. Science, destined to bring the whole of the universe into the human realm of understanding and control.

Science tells us who we are, how we came to be, where we are going. Speaking of another culture, we might describe these prescriptions and these stories about the way of the world as a religion. For ourselves, we call them truth, fact, science-fundamentally different from other cultures' myths. But why?

We accord a privileged status to our stories because we think that the Scientific Method ensures objectivity. Ours is more than a mere religion, we think, because unlike all before it, it rests on verifiable, objective truth. Science is not just another alternative; it encompasses and supersedes all other approaches to knowledge. We can examine dreams or Chinese medicine scientifically. We can perform measurements, we can run double-blind studies, we can test the claims of these other systems of knowledge under controlled conditions. The Scientific Method, we believe, has eliminated cultural bias in prescribing an impartial, reliable way to derive truth from observation.

Could it be that the Scientific Method is not a supra-cultural royal road to truth, but itself embodies our own cultural presuppositions about the universe? Could it be that science itself is a vast elaboration of our society's more general beliefs about the nature of reality?

Our culture is not alone in believing its myths and stories to be special. We think that ours are true for real, while other cultures merely believed theirs to be true. What are our justifications? Perhaps we have simply done as all other cultures have done. Those observations that fit into our basic mythology, we accept as fact. Those interpretations that fit into our conception of self and world, we accept as candidates for scientific legitimacy. Those that do not fit, we hardly bother to consider or verify, prove or disprove, dismissing them as absurdities unworthy even of consideration: "It isn't true because it couldn't be true." It was in that spirit that Galileo's scholarly contemporaries refused to look through his telescope, because they knew Jupiter couldn't have moons.

At bottom, the Scientific Method assumes that there is an objective universe "out there" that we can query experimentally, thus ascertaining the truth or falsity of our theories. Without this assumption, indeed, the whole concept of a "fact" becomes elusive, perhaps even incoherent. (Significantly, the root of the word is the Latin factio, a making or a doing,[3] hinting perhaps at a former ambiguity between existence and perception, being and doing; what is, and what is made. Perhaps facts, like artifacts and manufactures, are made by us.)

The whole of 20th century physics invalidates precisely these principles of objectivity and determinism, [but this stark fact] has not yet sunk into our intuitions. The classical Newtonian world-view has been obsolete for a hundred years, but we have still not absorbed the revolutionary implications of the quantum mechanics that replaced it.

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[In quantum mechanics, it is demonstrably impossible to separate subject from object. Yet, 'objectivity' is fundamental to the scientific definition of truth. This is a deep crisis. Denial that quantum mechanics could have any implications for the nature of mind, or for paranormal science, or for the origin of the universe has led to a censorship of a great deal of telling stories and experimental data, which undermine the traditional scientific world-view.]

The world-view of classical science I describe in this chapter, obsolete though it may be, still informs the dominant beliefs and intuitions of our culture.

- Excerpted from The Ascent of Humanity, by Charles Eisenstein

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Charles Eisenstein is a visionary author, speaker and workshop leader.  His books include Sacred Economics, The Ascent of Humanity, and The Yoga of Eating.
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