Periodicals; Mormons; Religious thought; Philosophy and religion
Independent national quarterly established to express Mormon culture and examine the relevance of religion to secular life. It is edited by Mormons who wish to bring their faith into dialogue with human experience as a whole and to foster artistic and scholarly achievement based on their cultural heritage. The journal encourages a variety of viewpoints; although every effort is made to insure accurate scholarship and responsible judgment, the views expressed are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Mormon Church or of the editors.
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Religion and Science: A Symbiosis I 33 physical system without any reference to an observer. The difficulty is most acute with atomic systems, where Heisenberg's uncertainty principle decrees the impossibility of a simultaneous measurement of all the variables needed for a comprehensive picture of the system. Measurements are possible, and they can be integrated into a causal framework, but we cannot mold "these isolated bits of perception and isolated causal chains into an objective model of the event; what fails is the 'objectifiability of nature.'"61 Thus the physicist can no longer sit in the gallery as a disinterested spectator, but has been forced to come on stage with his machine. With the breakdown of mechanism, some theoreticians looked to mathematics as a refuge. "Our quanta/' wrote Arthur Sommerfeld, "remind us of the role that the Pythagorean doctrine seems to have ascribed to the integers, not merely as attributes but as the real essence of the physical phenomena."62 Note well the change: In classical physics, mathematics was used as a shorthand for ordering the representations; now we have a new "idol/' with wave functions and quantum numbers replacing the classical universe of point particles. But here, too, physicists came in for an unpleasant surprise, this time from the mathematician Godel, who proved in an historic paper that even such a simple system as whole number arithmetic cannot have within itself a proof of its consistency.63 Mathematicians and philosophers alike saw in Godel's theorem the end of hope for a complete, self-consistent mathematical model of physical processes. Bertrand Russell, for instance, suggested that "physics is mathematical not because we know so much about the physical world, but because we know so little: it is only its mathematical properties that we can discover."64 Considered by itself, the failure of the mechanical model is certainly not catastrophic. Relativity theory, after all, does not require one to give up mechanism; it asks rather that one pay more careful attention to operational definitions of mass, length and time.65 Even the paradoxical results of quantum mechanics—such as the wave-like behavior of electrons in crystals—might be made perfectly intelligible if one assumed that the electron was a more complicated object than an ordinary billiard ball. Lord Russell's comment, on the other hand, hints at a profound metaphysical inconclusiveness in physics: that there is no self-evident, logical way of choosing an undergirding conceptual framework into which one can integrate particular experimental or theoretical results. That framework must be supplied by the scientist from his own perceptions and intuitions of the underlying realities of nature. When Einstein, for example, renounced the Newtonian ideas of space and time, he did so because he saw in them certain fundamental contradictions which demanded resolution. But he was led to this insight not by logical deduction, but by "intuition, resting on sympathetic understanding of experience," derived, as Einstein himself said, from a "cosmic religious feeling."66 Similarly, the crucial role of symmetry concepts in particle physics could not have been deduced logically from the character of physical laws. Someone with a fundamentally aesthetic view of nature had to postulate the existence of still-undiscovered symmetries in the "zoo" of protons, neutrons and mesons—and then follow that intuition to the discovery of a new kind of order. Thus, just as Gell-Mann's classification of elementary particles on the basis of symmetries might be said to be as much art as science, so Einstein's general theory of relativity "was religion as much as science."67