Postmodern Physics and More

Postmodern Physics and More

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Postmodernism has infected technical physics also in subtle ways. Recall that the central theme of postmodernism is that all knowledge is relative. Most of all, scientific knowledge too has no objective or factual validity. It is just another epic story like so many others. So we have a book by Roger Jones (Physics for the Rest of Us) which tells us wisely that the worldview of physics is interesting and that “Physics must be returned to its rightful place among the liberal arts.” Unfortunately, this could be interpreted to mean that physics is simply another myth or metaphor, created by the culture and consciousness of a people. This is the equivalent of saying that the evening news on TV is no different from the sitcoms to follow. Each is just a set of episodes to entertain.

Some physicists are not shy of describing current physics as postmodern physics. Thus, a paper (by Bernard Haisch, Alfonso Rueda & H.E. Puthoff) entitled  E = mc2: A first glimpse of a postmodern physics, in which mass, inertia and gravity arise from underlying electromagnetic process, was published in 1994.

Most textbooks in physics list quantum physics and relativity under modern physics. From these have emerged approaches in physics which may be called postmodern. Traditionally, that is in classical and early twentieth century physics, the goal of physics was to provide adequate explanations for observed phenomena. But by the 1920s Einstein launched a program which had nothing to do with explaining any observed phenomenon. He wanted to formulate a unified field theory: that is, a theory which would unify gravitation and electromagnetism which, to all appearances (i.e. from all observationally researched data), are in no way connected. This was the first instance when a theory was sought for something that did not seem to exist at all. This quest became the central theme of fundamental physics in the twentieth century. It is at the root of the Standard Model as well as of string theories. 

The interpretations of quantum mechanics have given rise to some (what may seem to be) bizarre worldviews which qualify to be called postmodern. Thus we have the Many-Worlds interpretation of Everett III according to which the universe is constantly multi-furcating itself into countless universes, every time an observation is made. One possibility arising from Alain Aspect’s famous experiment is superluminal information transport: that photons can communicate instantaneously with no medium at all, although this has been called into question by some so-called local hidden variable theories.

Another branch of physics, that is truly postmodern, is the physics of consciousness. Physicists write on topics like the Clifford algebra description of consciousness. We also have books dealing with the physics of immortality, the physics of the soul, the Tao of Physics, etc., all written by respectable physicists (i.e. people with advanced degrees in physics).

Given all of this, some have claimed that a paradigm shift has been occurring in science during the past few decades. For example, in biology Darwinian evolution is being challenged, not just by religious fundamentalists, but by some biologists as well.  Science has moved into territories from which it carefully kept away in the past two centuries, like consciousness and ethics; and at least some scientists are beginning to consider possibilities that would have been regarded as way out or taboo or plain silly in the past, like ESP and energy auras.

It is true that there has been a major shift in the attitudes of many philosophers and sociologists, and through their writings, in the minds of the educated public about science. However, as far as working scientists are concerned, especially in the hundreds of normal scientific fields, there has not occurred any noticeable change in methodology or criteria for truth content.  Nor has there been demonstrable change that may be properly described as a significant paradigm shift even in the basic worldviews within the scientific community as a result of postmodern critiques or negative evaluations of science as a collective human enterprise.