Letter to Carlo Rovelli, Director, Quantum Gravity Group
Centre de Physique Théorique (CPT), Aix-Marseille University
Author, Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity (2017)
Re: Appeal from theoretical physics to philosophy for help understanding the meaning of quantum gravity
The approach to the task of physics presented in Reality Is Not What It Seems strikes me as reasonable. This in contrast to the approach propounded by Stephen Hawking, because you acknowledge the limits of experimental science and allow a role for philosophy while he, notoriously, did not. For him, “Philosophy is dead.” For you, it becomes essential.
The occasion to express my thanks and admiration has finally arrived. Today, I submitted a letter to the Mind / Brain Editor of Scientific American commenting on an article by a neuroscientist, Christof Koch. The article, “Tales of the Dying Brain,” prompted my letter because it adheres to the article of faith in sensory perception that has rooted science in subjectivity and irrationality from its very beginning, and I believe the time has come, with your appeal to philosophy, to place it on firmer logical ground.
My letter cites yours and Adam Becker’s recent book, What Is Real? The Unfinished Quest for Meaning in Quantum Physics. Both authors, troubled and confused as Einstein was by matter that doesn’t respect science’s article of faith, appear to believe that a road still lies ahead for traditional physics. You, in particular, breezed by Schroedinger’s observation that science by sensory perception is circular reasoning without reflecting on it, nor did you credit Parmenides and his School of Reason with common sense.
Yet both sources should be taken as prominent red flags for science, for I believe they point in the direction of the “philosophy” that can make sense of quantum gravity. That is, if the “other reality” that I allude to in my letter to Scientific American is understood for what I’ve implied that it is: one of two competing realities, only one of which can be real. Science has been insisting that the incorrect one is real -- matter rather than mind, -- not in service to the truth but in service to its own institutional purposes.
Hawking was unapologetic in championing his profession and made his own and his profession’s bias very clear. It was his, and yours and Becker’s prerogative, to do so. But it comes at a cost. The cost is continuing to lead human understanding down the wrong road, to incorrect conclusions devoid of meaning and purpose. Add to this the cost of not leading human understanding toward correct conclusions that awaken us to meaning and purpose.
Weaning science off rigid dependence on sensory perception must be a paradigm shift too far or it would have happened over a century ago. I do not make light of yours or science’s institutional self-interests. But more than Professor Koch’s article, it is the state of our world that says it’s time for change, and what must change is our thinking. What must change is for theorists in every field, like yourself, to state the obvious: that humanity is succumbing not only to mass irrationality but also to mass extinction, that it’s flawed reasoning that got us here, and we must shift to a new paradigm of thinking before it’s too late.
My letter to Scientific American alludes to attributes of mind -- “intuition” and “reason beyond appearances” – that can access the objectivity this new paradigm will need. They deserve an explanation, and, hopefully, they will get it in the book I’m preparing for publication, tentatively titled The Story of the Child. I have criticized science for overplaying the story of matter when it’s the story of mind that can explain what it’s all about. My book is an attempt, from one individual’s perspective, to explain what it means to “tell the story of mind.”
With integrity, honesty, and humanity, you are no doubt making great progress in your work. I would be honored if my letter to Scientific American, posted on my website, and my book were any help. Quantum gravity has called for help from philosophy, and I am pleased to humbly offer one response.
David C. Harrison
May 31, 2020