“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Cosmologist Talks Ontology

Anthony Valentini gets it:

I think there was a philosophical fashion in the 1920s where people were moving away from 19th century materialism and the clockwork universe. In Germany there was a strong movement against British and French enlightenment philosophy. This really began with the rise of romanticism at the end of the 18th century, following the work of Kant, who supposedly said it was impossible for us to ever know the so-called "ding an sich." Many people interpreted Kant as saying you can't really know the world as it is. I think quantum mechanics was influenced by the fallout from this idea-that it's philosophically naive to assume your picture of the world is literally how the world is. This sent people down the slippery slope of subjectivism and by the early 20th century physicists in Austria and Germany had this idea that you shouldn't speculate about what might be hidden behind appearances. You can see that in the late 19th century argument over the existence of atoms. Many people said the idea of atoms was just metaphysics and you should simply deal with what you can observe in the lab.

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