An exciting point through which the world is expressing itself

San Francisco is the name of a place that has a lot of ‘romance’ to it.   The historical narrative of its genesis is at the same time, a historical narrative of change going on around the world, the unravelling of the old ways of the old world, the threads of which were being spun into the surprising and exciting artefacts of the new world including this gem of a city on the west coast of North America.  The richness and diversity of the entire world and its deep-rooted cultural traditions is the weave that San Francisco is made of, and those ‘threads’ continue to serve as an electrical connective webbing that makes ‘San Francisco’ a bright point through which the global plenum expresses itself.

Now, it would be a futile exercise to try to capture or ‘simulate’ ‘what San Francisco is’, by basing the simulation on ‘what it does’ and ‘what its people do’ because it is a ‘burning candle’ lit by a continual influx of people from all parts of the world, who are attracted as visitors and settlers.  Its evolution is a process of diffusion in which outside-inward flow predominates over inside-outward flow. [and do things ever really ‘stop’ evolving?]

‘Simulation’ [1] is a term for trying to re-render or ‘imitate’ what a thing is by treating its dynamic as if the development of its form behaviour and organization were ‘locally originating’.  It is our cultural addiction.  Our sciences are based on it.  In fact, it is called ‘rational thought’.

San Francisco is listed by the OECD  (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) as being the 18th city in the world on a local economy basis.  It’s city-level GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was $301 billion in 2008.

The notion of ‘economy’ is keyed to this ‘simulation’ of cities (and states) that re-renders the city or state as a local ‘machine’ or local ‘organism’ with notionally locally originating, internal-process driven development of form, behaviour and organization; i.e. when we speak of something’s production, we impute the sourcing of the production to that ‘thing’ as a simulated ‘local system’ and we generate a corresponding mental image of it, as being locally animated from its interior.

Gone is the ‘burning candle’ image wherein the entity was the place through which the global flow-plenum expresses itself, where the outside-inward influence of the ‘dynamic ground’ predominates over the inside-outward influence of its ‘dynamic figure’.  In its place sits the notional ‘simulation’, wherein the evolving form, behaviour and organization of the simulated entity are imputed to derive fully and solely from processes that operate within its own interior.

The simulation is not the organism.  The map is not the territory.

But, in science and scientific thinking, these simulations of ‘cell’ and ‘organism’ and ‘city’ and ‘state’ are used so often, because of the convenience of their simplicity [which derives from synthetically breaking them out of the dynamic plenum], that we tend to confuse them for ‘reality’.

Now, philosophers of science such as Henri Poincaré [2] have pointed out this ‘pitfall’ very clearly, where we use ‘conventions’ such as an ‘absolute space frame’ to synthetically ‘lift out’ our simulations of a flow-feature within the dynamic spatial plenum and re-render it AS IF IT WERE A ‘LOCAL SYSTEM’ or ‘thing-in-itself’, in which case we have to invent the necessary internal source of animation and processes etc. to ‘keep our notional LOCAL system’ ‘hanging together’ logically.  Poincaré observes;

From them [‘conventions’ such as the absolute space reference frame], indeed, the sciences derive their rigour ; such conventions are the result of the unrestricted activity of the mind, which in this domain recognises no obstacle. For here the mind may affirm because it lays down its own laws ; but let us clearly understand that while these laws are imposed on our science, which otherwise could not exist, they are not imposed on Nature.

Now, what science and its ‘simulations’ allow us to do is, …  instead of understanding ‘San Francisco’ in the context of the world dynamic wherein the people coming into San Francisco and making it what it is, are at the same time ‘unmaking’ the places they come from [a ‘quantum entanglement’ that does not vanish at the point where the old world person reaches his new world destination], San Francisco can instead be understood in local ‘doer-deed’ terms, as if the dynamic were ‘locally originating’ and ‘internal process driven’, a view which is made possible thanks to the imposing of an absolute space frame.  This absolute space frame is what enables the “unrestricted activity of the mind”.  That is, in this absolute space frame we can ‘blow off’ the quantum entanglement and conjugate global-plenum—city relation with its ‘burning candle’ view of the city and resituate the ‘ultimate animating source’ of the city dynamic inside the city, simulating the system in terms of local machinery.

How our simulations do this, how we reduce the animating source from ‘outside-inward-predominating-over-inside-outward’  to ‘inside-outward-predominating-over-outside-inward’ is by means of three ‘assumptions’ as described by Poincare [3]; i.e. the assumption that ‘the present depends only on the immediate past’, the assumption of the simple elementary nature of the animating source, and the assumption of the homogeneity of space.

We do all of this thanks to a notional absolute empty space-frame which becomes the new reference for the city activity instead of the global flow-plenum in which it is a ‘burning-candle-feature’.

The animating source of the city dynamic, in this scientific simulation, is a disembodied God-like subjectivity-in-itself that matches up with the city seen as an absolute locally existing ‘thing-in-itself’.  Our ‘reality’, where this all came from, is the ceaselessly, innovatively unfolding spatial plenum of nature, a dynamic habitat that includes its dynamic inhabitants.  This scientific ‘art’ of simulation enables us to ‘lift out’ particular ‘flow-features’ from the flowing spatial plenum in which they are innately included, and re-render them ‘on their own’ within a notional absolute fixed and empty reference space, the ‘Euclidian space convention’ that Poincaré speaks of.

We are now in the habit of doing this ‘simulating’ to everything, to ourselves, to ‘cells’ and ‘organisms’ and bacteria and viruses, to corporations and sovereign states, imputing to each of them ‘their own economy’, their own ‘locally originating behaviour’, their own ‘internal process driven’ development of form, behaviour and organization.

This is ok, providing that we don’t confuse this over-simplification for ‘reality’, … but we are confusing it for reality, and this is a growing problem and it shows up in how we ‘organize’ ourselves.

In our minds, when we think of the organization within the city of San Francisco as internally sourced and coming from the activity of its people, we are thinking within an absolute space reference frame.  Otherwise, we would have to address the overall transformation of the spatial plenum that San Francisco was a feature within, in the manner that the hurricane is a feature within the transforming atmosphere flow-plenum, and acknowledge the conjugate world-San-Francisco relation [the conjugate habitat-inhabitant relation].

This mental picture of the dynamics of a city or organism as a local system-in-itself, made possible by imposing the convention of absolute space, is only a ‘simulation’.  It is NOT ‘reality’, not the reality of our experience which informs us continually of the unboundedness in nature and the nonlocal sourcing of our living space dynamics [as in Nietzsche’s observation that ‘evolution is a process of diffusion in which outside-inward flow predominates over inside-outward flow.].

Once we start talking in terms of ‘national economies’ and ‘corporate production’ we are lost in this pseudo-reality of simulations wherein the flow-features within an unbounded spatial flow-plenum are broken out on their own, by the simulation, and ‘re-started’ using a notional internal animating source which is nothing other than ‘pure subjectivity’ imputed to reside within each doer-of-deed element within the system.

How does this impact our mode of organizing?

Inside-outward organization is coordinated from a single central point, a ‘centre-of-intention’ and the object is to achieve some doer-deed-based result.  The achievement of the result is the principle that unites everyone’s actions in a ‘co-labor-ative’ fashion.

This organization derives from the ‘simulation’ and since the simulation is a ‘scientific model’ and since such models are becoming more and more sophisticated, only the experts can understand them in depth, and therefore, the experts must take a leading role in directing the organization.    Of course, each city or sovereign state will have its own ‘simulator model’ of its own dynamic along with its own objectives.  This leads to a situation described by evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin;

“ It is one of the contradictions of a democratic society in a highly advanced technological world, … to make rational political decisions, you have to have a knowledge which is accessible only to a very few people.”  [Lewontin continues by noting;] “that different people have different interests, and therefore the struggle is not a moral one, its a political one.  It’s always a political one, and that’s the most important thing you have to recognize… that you may be struggling to make the world go in one direction, … [while] somebody else is struggling to make it go in another direction, and the question is; who has power?  And if there’s a differential in power, and if you haven’t got it and they have, then you have to do something to gain power, which is to organize. “  [see [4] for longer quote]

In other words, the doer-deed worldview is a synthetic world view based on ‘simulations’ that ignores our experienced reality, that the world is a transforming spatial plenum characterized by the continual gathering and regathering of flow-features [that science simulates as local, centre-of-intention-driven systems].  Belief in this doer-deed world view is what has us organize in a top-down, centre-of-intention-driven ‘do-the-deed’ format.   And belief in this doer-deed world view is what puts the scientific experts into the authoritative headquarters of this centre-of-intention-driven organizing format since doer-deed simulations are the core interest of mainstream scientists.

But ‘politics’ was not responsible for the evolution of San Francisco.  San Francisco was not, in itself, a ‘centre-of-intention’ driven development, it developed out of peoples’ interest in it.  Interesting people came and made it interesting attracting more interested people that made it more interesting.  Here we have the difference between Nietzsche’s/Lamarck’s view of evolution in which ‘outside-inward influence predominates over inside-outward influence’, versus Darwin’s view of evolution which coincides with scientific simulations; i.e. where inside-outward influence predominates over outside-inward influence.

In the evolution of San Francisco, people came because they were attracted to the place, in the manner that desert nomads are attracted to oases.  The mayor of San Francisco and his planning commission did not prepare a list and recruit what they felt they needed; i.e. the organization was not inside-outward driven.  It did not happen by ‘reproduction with variation’ as in Darwinism, but by outside-inward influx predominating over inside-outward production.

As Emerson says in ‘The Method of Nature’, the genius of nature [of the global habitat] not only inhabits the organism [San Francisco], it creates it.

And Nietzsche says the same in terms of ‘will-to-power’ and ‘Übermensch’ (overman); i.e. the will-to-power [immanent in the spatial-plenum] not only animates the organism, it pulls it into self-transcendence.

The imagery here, in both cases, is that the evolution of the entity is being pulled from it from the outside-inward; i.e. its apparent inside-outward driven acorn-to-oak-tree material blossoming forth, is secondary to the ‘evolutionary force’ [the inside-outward material growth is local and visible while the  outside-inward evolutionary pull is invisible and nonlocal]   Thus, to simulate material organisms as if they were pushing forth out of themselves, driven by pure internal subjectivity, as made possible in science by imposing a notional absolute space reference frame to split the entity out of its inclusion in an outside-inward evolutionary sourcing flow, is radical over-simplification that should not be confused for reality.

But WE ARE CONFUSING SIMULATIONS FOR REALITY, and this means that the experts are progressively hijacking the centres of authority that organize our behavioural dynamics, and the sense of the approach of an Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ society is getting stronger.

What has been described in the above paragraphs is how we have been reducing our notion of ‘dynamics’ as in ‘physical phenomena’ from cyclical dynamics to simple unidirectional dynamics.   That is, ‘what is being done’ cannot be separated from ‘what is being undone’.  Generation and degeneration are a conjugate pair.  Gathering and regathering of form is a single dynamic with two things going on within it, the emergence of new forms and the collapse of old forms.  We are quick to define and label the new forms; e.g. ‘hurricane Katrina’ and to personify them, which means to ‘scientifically simulate’ them, notionally making them over into ‘local systems with their own locally originating, internal process driven development of form, behaviour and organization’.   In this mental modeling which shifts the pictures into the realm of words and language, the figures are split out of the ‘ground of dynamic spatial-plenum’ in which they are ripple-structures and the overall gestalt is lost.

When one grounds one’s mental modeling in the spatial plenum, this process of gathering and regathering of form is a cyclic process rather than a ‘reproduction’ based sequential lineage as in the simulation world view.

The Missing Medium

As both Kepler [5] and Newton [6] observed, the harmony in the overall spatial-relational web of celestial dynamics transcended explanation by way of the dynamics of the planets, moons, asteroids, comets and stars.  That is, outside-inward influence predominated over inside-outward influence in sourcing the overall harmonies/resonances in the celestial dynamic.  This has been subsequently explained by the new physics in terms of ‘field’ transcending ‘matter’ in its outside-inward shaping influence on the dynamics of material bodies.   In fact, there is a ‘grammatical error’ in the last sentence because, to be consistent with the findings of the new physics, there is no such thing as ‘the dynamics of material bodies’ per se, there is only the dynamics of field in which the dynamics of matter is secondary ‘schaumkommen’ (visual appearance) as Schrödinger observed.    Our focus on material bodies and their movement is only natural since ‘what we can see’ occupies our attention while the upstream animating ‘field’ is invisible and nonlocal.  Nevertheless, it was the invisible and nonlocal ‘fields’ that Lamarck termed ‘les fluides incontenables’ [fluids that can contain but cannot themselves be contained] such as gravity, thermal, electric, magnetic that he identified as the basic evolutionary animating source.

The concept of ‘local existence’ is made possible only by the convention of imposing an absolute space reference frame which is the essence of ‘pure subjectivity’ since it declares the absolute existence of its own being.  Without this mathematical abstraction, our experience can only address movement and ‘existence’ in relative terms; e.g. in terms of forms relative to other forms [See Poincaré, ‘The Relativity of Space’].  There is no hard ground to stand on or to reference to in the real world of our experience, everything is in flux [as Heraclitus said].   Lee Smolin and Carlo Rovelli point out that this is the implication of ‘relativity’ in physics.  In ‘Quantum Gravity’ Rovelli observes;

“In Newtonian and special relativistic physics, if we take away the dynamical entities – particles and fields – what remains is space and time. In general relativistic physics, if we take away the dynamical entities, nothing remains. The space and time of Newton and Minkowski are reinterpreted as a configuration of one of the fields, the gravitational field. This implies that physical entities – particles and fields – are not all immersed in space, and moving in time. They do not live on spacetime. They live, so to say, on one another. It is as if we had observed in the ocean many animals living on an island: animals ‘on’ the island. Then we discover that the island itself is in fact a great whale. Not anymore animals on the island, just animals on animals. Similarly, the universe is not made by fields on spacetime; it is made by fields on fields.”   — Carlo Rovelli, in ‘Quantum Gravity’

Ok, we would all agree that our common habit is to understand the world dynamic in terms of ‘local material beings [objects, quarks, organisms, hurricanes, sovereign states, corporations] and ‘what they do’, so;

What happens to ‘the medium’, the non-material influence immanent in the flowing energy-field?

We know what happens to it when we define and name label hurricanes.  We simply ‘forget about it’ and find it more convenient to model the world in terms of ‘what things do’.

But where does the medium go ‘in general’?

Two researchers that addressed this question and had their research [which is usually put down as ‘heresy’] ‘see the light of day’ are Dennis Gabor [‘Theory of Communications (1946)] and Marshall McLuhan [‘Understanding Media’ etc.].  McLuhan also points to T.S. Eliot whose work, he suggests, ‘came before his’.

Both of these researchers came up with a ‘four-phase cycle’ model of medium, i.e. Gabor’s ‘quadrature’ and McLuhan’s ‘tetrad’.  These models are essentially identical, though Gabor’s is in the field of ‘communications’ and closer to ‘science’ while McLuhan’s is in the field of language and psychology which one might say is ‘closer to art’.  The models are fairly simple even if they have profound and complex implications.

First, recall that both of these researchers started off trying to address the apparent conjugate relation between ‘habitat’ and ‘inhabitant’.  In Gabor’s case, this becomes an issue with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle which is almost a restatement of Heraclitus’ ‘can’t step into the river twice’; i.e. one can separately measure the position and the momentum of a material body but one can’t tie down both measurements as the same time.  In other words, ‘when matter moves, space changes at the same time’.  When the inhabitant moves, the habitat transforms.  Or as some biologists [the ‘heretics’] say, ‘the organism IS the environment’.    In terms of ‘communication theory’, ‘the content is the context’; i.e. content is to context as hurricane is to atmosphere, the figure is ‘included’ in the ground.  Ernst Mach captured this in his principle of space-matter relativity;

“The dynamics of habitat are conditioning the dynamics of the inhabitants at the same time as the dynamics of the inhabitants are conditioning the dynamics of the habitat.”

With McLuhan, it was the same problem but in the context of the social dynamic; i.e. ;

“Many people would be disposed to say that it was not the machine, but what one did with the machine, that was its meaning or message. In terms of the ways in which the machine [of government] altered our relations to one another and ourselves, it mattered not in the least whether it turned out cornflakes or Cadillacs. – Marshall McLuhan, ‘Understanding Media’

When we think of the machine or factory as a local system with its own absolutely subjective internal drive, we do so with the help of an IMPLICIT absolute space reference frame.  But when we actually implement the machinery, we have to enter into an ongoing spatial plenum and use whatever is there, which means that we are altering the dynamic continuum, the ‘real world’ of our experience, in the act of implementing this notion of a factory that comes to our understanding thanks to the unrestricted activity of our mind [thanks to absolute space framing].  This reality, that the only possible approach to ‘doing-our-deeds’ is via transformation of spatial relations in the spatial plenum or spacetime continuum, is what McLuhan is addressing.  The ‘inhabiting-factory IS the habitat’ or, in his words, ‘the medium is the message’.

In the case of both Gabor’s and McLuhan’s work, the task was to devise a new model in which the medium-dynamic predominated over the content-dynamic.

Both came up with a four-phased model in which what scientific simulation calls ‘real’ is now just one of four phases of a single, circular dynamic.

The third phase can be fleshed out next with the help of the point made by Howard Zinn as to how historical narrative content can be seen from two opposite points of view which he calls the ‘executioner’ viewpoint [e.g. the colonizer viewpoint] and the ‘victim’ viewpoint [the ‘colonized people’s’ viewpoint].  This brings out the point that ‘generation’ and ‘de-generation’ are two aspects of the same transformational dynamic.

So, if we ground our view of dynamics in the transformation of the spatial plenum, we can see ‘change’ not as the construction of something entirely new, but as a ‘re-arrangement’ of what is already in the ground of the spatial plenum so that the newly gathering forms cannot be split out from the forms that were already there; i.e. the situation is like the gathering and regathering of storm-cells in the atmosphere or whorls in the fluid flow of the spatial flow-plenum.

The intermediate phases in the circular dynamic correspond to the ‘pull’ that is felt but not seen.  That is, the gravity field is felt but not seen in the sense that acceleration is 90 degrees out of phase with material motion.  On a see-saw, you feel the pull most when you are at the top or bottom of the swing and are not visibly moving at all.  In Gabor’s mathematical treatment, one uses the tradition term associated with complex numbers; i.e. the accelerative phase is the ‘imaginary’ component of the dynamic.  The four phase cycle in Gabor’s communications theory corresponds to the four phases in the dynamic of the two crossed poles of a dynamic the poles at the end of the rotating, pinwheeling rotor [the ‘real’ moving object] are phases 1 and 3  while phases 2 and 4 correspond to the ‘always-orthogonal’ ‘rotating field’ that is ‘pulling’ the rotor around.

This can be compared to the hurricane; i.e. visibly, we are prone to thinking of it as a rotating pinwheel but that aspect is secondary to the ‘rotating flow’ and the rotating flow is inherently in the ground of the spatial-plenum, so they are not simple opposites but instead in a ‘conjugate ground-figure relation’ [or ‘conjugate habitat-inhabitant relation’].  The accelerative phases are not visible in themselves but can be thought of in a pre-to-visible wanting-to-do/wanting-to-undo sense.  Recall in the see-saw example one phase is like ‘loading a spring’ [converting kinetic energy to potential energy] and the opposite phase is like ‘unloading a spring’ [converting potential energy to kinetic energy].

Thus, our view of the hurricane which ‘dropped out’ the REAL animating source immanent in the [missing] ‘medium’ and which was in terms where we personified the local visible rotating pinwheel effect as a local thing-in-itself powered by its own subjectivity, is, in the four phased model, just one of the four phases.  Its opposite phase was the relatively calm ground which it transformed.  That calm ground, like the calm ground of the indigenous peoples, was not ‘nothing’ but was what was being ‘undone’ at the same time as the colonizers were ‘doing’ what they were doing [rearranging the shared living space.].

In McLuhan’s diagramming of the four phases, which re-establishes the medium as the basic animating source, we have the following phases;

Resembling the four-phased quadrature of the dynamo

Again, thinking terms of dynamics as ‘transformation of the habitat/medium’, ‘enhancing’ is what the colonizers historical narrative talks about and what is being ‘obsolesced’ is what the colonized peoples historical narrative talks about.  The ‘intermediate’ phases representing ‘acceleration’ describe the non-visible spring loading and unloading;

McLuhan brings out the four phases with the example of the radio;

Using the example of radio:

  • Enhancement (figure): What the medium amplifies or intensifies. Radio amplifies news and music via sound.
  • Obsolescence (ground): What the medium drives out of prominence. Radio reduces the importance of print and the visual.
  • Retrieval (figure): What the medium recovers which was previously lost. Radio returns the spoken word to the forefront.
  • Reversal (ground): What the medium does when pushed to its limits. Acoustic radio flips into audio-visual TV

The point here is not to be found in the literal examples, but in the general model of transformation in terms of ‘generation’ and ‘degeneration’ and retrieval of figure from ground and the reversal of the ground relative to the figure; i.e. the four phase model that is common to Gabor (communications theory) and McLuhan (media theory).  Both of these theories re-establishing ‘medium’ as the ultimate animating source (UAS) and removing the notion of the ultimate animating source as ‘pure subjectivity’ as in monotheism.


Science has encouraged us to think in terms of ‘simulations’ that ‘lift out’ features in the spatial flow-plenum and re-render them as local machines or local systems with their own locally originating, internal process driven development of form, behaviour and organization.   This implies that pure subjectivity is the ‘ultimate animating source’ (UAS or God) as corresponds with monotheism.

These simulations are born of convenience and they fit well into our language, or perhaps our language demands that we make such reductions.  What we ‘see in them’ is not born out by our experience.   Our experiencing of a hurricane starts with our awareness of being included in the ‘ground’ of the atmosphere spatial-flow-plenum and the cyclic upwelling of convection cells as ‘figures’ within this common ‘ground’.  The emergence of new cells is at the same time, the collapse of old cells.  The new that is brought to the surface is complemented, at the same time by the old that is dropping below the surface.  It is a cyclical process that can be described in terms of one dynamic with four phases.

By confusing scientific simulations for reality, we are organizing ourselves on a top-down basis [we could use such organization in support rather than in a primary role] and increasingly giving experts a predominating hand on the helm.  As a result, the actual transformation of our habitat is like a loose sheet in the wind which, on a sailing vessel, sends it this way then that in frenetic starts and fits.

The focus on the economy signals this confusing of simulation for reality. We, as organisms, humans, cells, corporations, sovereign states, are NOT the local source of our production because we are not really ‘local machines’ but are more like ‘burning candles’ in the spatial plenum.

What scientific simulation does is to capture the ‘candle flames’ and convert them into locally sourced systems by way of simulation, hiding the UAS of the spatial plenum in the process.

There is nothing stopping us from getting out of the dilemma we are in, beyond recognizing that the world portrayed by scientific simulations is not ‘the real world’.   Thus, the science experts are not experts in real world dynamic, only in those dynamics that transpire in a notional absolute space, where dynamics are seen in terms of absolute being of material objects, absolute motion of those objects and constructions based on these.  In the real world of our experience, there is just one world, one spatial-plenum, one spacetime continuum where ‘transformation’ [of spatial relations] is the only possible dynamic, where the city of San Francisco is an emergent whorl in the world-flow that, like all whorls, manifests an evolutionary dynamic in which outside-inward flow predominates over inside-outward flow.  [the acorn-to-oak-tree model where the ultimate animating source is pure subjectivity is a ‘total Fiktion’ given to us by a great man, Aristotle, who gave us other fictions such as that men have more teeth than women and that bodies fall to earth with a speed proportional to their weight].

* * *


[1] Simulation is the imitation of some real thing, state of affairs, or process. The act of simulating something generally entails representing certain key characteristics or behaviours of a selected physical or abstract system. …Simulation can be used to show the eventual real effects of alternative conditions and courses of action. Simulation is also used when the real system cannot be engaged, because it may not be accessible, or it may be dangerous or unacceptable to engage, or it is being designed but not yet built, or it may simply not exist . … Key issues in simulation include acquisition of valid source information about the relevant selection of key characteristics and behaviours, the use of simplifying approximations and assumptions within the simulation, and fidelity and validity of the simulation outcomes.

[2] AUTHOR‘S PREFACE to Science and Hypothesis

To the superficial observer scientific truth is unassailable, the logic of science is infallible ; and if scientific men sometimes make mistakes, it is because they have not understood the rules of the game. Mathematical truths are derived from a few self-evident propositions, by a chain of flawless reasonings ; they are imposed not only on us, but on Nature itself. By them the Creator is fettered, as it were, and His choice is limited to a relatively small number of solutions. A few experiments, therefore, will be sufficient to enable us to determine what choice He has made. From each experiment a number of consequences will follow by a series of mathematical deductions, and in this way each of them will reveal to us a corner of the universe. This, to the minds of most people, and to students who are getting their first ideas of physics, is the origin of certainty in science. This is what they take to be the role of experiment and mathematics. And thus, too, it was understood a hundred years ago by many men of science who dreamed of constructing the world with the aid of the smallest possible amount of material borrowed from experiment.

But upon more mature reflection the position held by hypothesis was seen ; it was recognised that it is as necessary to the experimenter as it is to the mathematician. And then the doubt arose if all these constructions are built on solid foundations. The conclusion was drawn that a breath would bring them to the ground. This sceptical attitude does not escape the charge of superficiality. To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions ; both dispense with the necessity of reflection.

Instead of a summary condemnation we should examine with the utmost care the role of hypothesis ; we shall then recognise not only that it is necessary, but that in most cases it is legitimate. We shall also see that there are several kinds of hypotheses; that some are verifiable, and when once confirmed by experiment become truths of great fertility; that others may be useful to us in fixing our ideas; and finally, that others are hypotheses only in appearance, and reduce to definitions or to conventions in disguise. The latter are to be met with especially in mathematics , and in the sciences to which it is applied. From them, indeed, the sciences derive their rigour ; such conventions are the result of the unrestricted activity of the mind, which in this domain recognises no obstacle. For here the mind may affirm because it lays down its own laws ; but let us clearly understand that while these laws are imposed on our science, which otherwise could not exist, they are not imposed on Nature.  Are they then arbitrary? No; for if they were, they would not be fertile. Experience leaves us our freedom of choice, but it guides us by helping us to discern the most convenient path to follow. Our laws are therefore like those of an absolute monarch, who is wise and consults his council of state. Some people have been struck by this characteristic of free convention which may be recognised in certain fundamental principles of the sciences. Some have set no limits to their generalisations, and at the same time they have forgotten that there is a difference between liberty and the purely arbitrary. So that they are compelled to end in what is called nominalism; they have asked if the savant is not the dupe of his own definitions, and if the world he thinks he has discovered is not simply the creation of his own caprice. 1 Under these conditions science would retain its certainty, but would not attain its object, and would become powerless. Now, we daily see what science is doing for us. This could not be unless it taught us something about reality; the aim of science is not things themselves, as the dogmatists in their simplicity imagine, but the relations between things; outside those relations there is no reality knowable.

Such is the conclusion to which we are led; but to reach that conclusion we must pass in review the series of sciences from arithmetic and geometry to mechanics and experimental physics. What is the nature of mathematical reasoning ? Is it really deductive, as is commonly supposed ? Careful analysis shows us that it is nothing of the kind ; that it participates to some extent in the nature of inductive reasoning, and for that reason it is fruitful. But none the less does it retain its character of absolute rigour ; and this is what must first be shown.

When we know more of this instrument which is placed in the hands of the investigator by mathematics, we have then to analyse another fundamental idea, that of mathematical magnitude. Do we find it in nature, or have we ourselves introduced it ? And if the latter be the case, are we not running a risk of coming to incorrect conclusions all round ? Comparing the rough data of our senses with that extremely complex and subtle conception which mathematicians call magnitude, we are compelled to recognise a divergence. The framework into which we wish to make everything fit is one of our own construction ; but we did not construct it at random, we constructed it by measurement so to speak; and that is why we can fit the facts into it without altering their essential qualities.

Space is another framework which we impose on the world. Whence are the first principles of geometry derived ? Are they imposed on us by logic ? Lobatschewsky, by inventing non-Euclidean geometries, has shown that this is not the case.  Is space revealed to us by our senses ? No ; for the space revealed to us by our senses is absolutely different from the space of geometry. Is geometry derived from experience ? Careful discussion will give the answer no ! We therefore conclude that the principles of geometry are only conventions ; but these conventions are not arbitrary, and if transported into another w ; orld (which I shall call the non-Euclidean world, and which I shall endeavour to describe), we shall find ourselves compelled to adopt more of them.

In mechanics we shall be led to analogous conclusions, and we shall see that the principles of this science, although more directly based on experience, still share the conventional character of the geometrical postulates. So far, nominalism triumphs ; but we now come to the physical sciences, properly so called, and here the scene changes. We meet with hypotheses of another kind, and we fully grasp how fruitful they are.  No doubt at the outset theories seem unsound, and the history of science show s us how ephemeral they are ; but they do not entirely perish, and of each of them some traces still remain. It is these traces which we must try to discover, because in them and in them alone is the true reality. The method of the physical sciences is based upon the induction which leads us to expect the recurrence of a phenomenon when the circumstances which give rise to it are repeated. If all the circumstances could be simultaneously reproduced, this principle could be fearlessly applied ; but this never happens; some of the circumstances will always be missing. Are we absolutely certain that they are unimportant ? Evidently not ! It may be probable, but it cannot be rigorously certain. Hence the importance of the role that is played in the physical sciences by the law of probability. The calculus of probabilities is therefore not merely a recreation, or a guide to the baccarat player; and we must thoroughly examine the principles on which it is based. In this connection I have but very incomplete results to lay before the reader, for the vague instinct which enables us to determine probability almost defies analysis. After a study of the conditions under which the work of the physicist is carried on, I have thought it best to show him at work. For this purpose I have taken instances from the history of optics and of electricity. We shall thus see how the ideas of Fresnel and Maxwell took their rise, and what unconscious hypotheses were made by Ampere and the other founders of electro-dynamics.

[3] Extract from ‘Science and Hypothesis’, Chapter IX, Hypotheses in Physics, Henri Poincare

Origin of Mathematical Physics. Let us go further and study more closely the conditions which have assisted the development of mathematical physics. We recognise at the outset the efforts of men of science have always tended to resolve the complex phenomenon given directly by experiment into a very large number of elementary phenomena, and that in three different ways.

First, with respect to time. Instead of embracing in its entirety the progressive development of a phenomenon, we simply try to connect each moment with the one immediately preceding. We admit that the present state of the world only depends on the immediate past, without being directly influenced, so to speak, by the recollection of a more distant past. Thanks to this postulate, instead of studying directly the whole succession of phenomena, we may confine ourselves to writing down its differential equation; for the laws of Kepler we substitute the law of Newton.

Next, we try to decompose the phenomena in space. What experiment gives us is a confused aggregate of facts spread over a scene of considerable extent. We must try to deduce the elementary phenomenon, which will still be localised in a very small region of space.

A few examples perhaps will make my meaning clearer. If we wished to study in all its complexity the distribution of temperature in a cooling solid, we could never do so. This is simply be cause, if we only reflect that a point in the solid can directly impart some of its heat to a neighbouring point, it will immediately impart that heat only to the nearest points, and it is but gradually that the flow of heat will reach other portions of the solid. The elementary phenomenon is the interchange of heat between two contiguous points. It is strictly localised and relatively simple if, as is natural, we admit that it is not influenced by the temperature of the molecules whose distance apart is small.

I bend a rod: it takes a very complicated form, the direct investigation of which would be impossible. But I can attack the problem, however, if I notice that its flexure is only the resultant of the deformations of the very small elements of the rod, and that the deformation of each of these elements only depends on the forces which are directly applied to it, and not in the least on those which may be acting on the other elements.

In all these examples, which may be increased without difficulty, it is admitted that there is no action at a distance or at great distances. That is an hypothesis. It is not always true, as the law of gravitation proves. It must therefore be verified. If it is confirmed, even approximately, it is valuable, for it helps us to use mathematical physics, at any rate by successive approximations. If it does not stand the test, we must seek something else that is analogous, for there are other means of arriving at the elementary phenomenon. If several bodies act simultaneously, it may happen that their actions are independent, and may be added one to the other, either as vectors or as scalar quantities. The elementary phenomenon is then the action of an isolated body. Or suppose, again, it is a question of small movements, or more generally of small variations which obey the well-known law of mutual or relative independence.  The movement observed will then be decomposed into simple movements for example, sound into its harmonics, and white light into its monochromatic components. When we have discovered in which direction to seek for the elementary phenomena, by what means may we reach it ? First, it will often happen that in order to predict it, or rather in order to predict what is useful to us, it will not be necessary to know its mechanism. The law of great numbers will suffice. Take for example the propagation of heat. Each molecule radiates to wards its neighbour we need not inquire accord ing to what law; and if we make any supposition in this respect, it will be an indifferent hypothesis,  and therefore useless and unverifiable. In fact, by the action of averages and thanks to the symmetry of the medium, all differences are levelled, and, whatever the hypothesis may be, the result is always the same.

The same feature is presented in the theory of elasticity, and in that of capillarity. The neighbouring molecules attract and repel each other, we need not inquire by what law. It is enough for us that this attraction is sensible at small distances only, and that the molecules are very numerous, that the medium is symmetrical, and we have only to let the law of great numbers come into play.

Here again the simplicity of the elementary phenomenon is hidden beneath the complexity of the observable resultant phenomenon; but in its turn this simplicity was only apparent and disguised a very complex mechanism. Evidently the best means of reaching the elementary phenomenon would be experiment. It would be necessary by experimental artifices to dissociate the complex system which nature offers for our investigations and carefully to study the elements as dissociated as possible; for example, natural white light would be decomposed into monochromatic lights by the aid of the prism, and into polarised lights by the aid of the polariser. Unfortunately, that is neither always possible nor always sufficient, and sometimes the mind must run ahead of experiment. I shall only give one example which has always struck me rather forcibly. If I decompose white light, I shall be able to isolate a portion of the spectrum, but however small it may be, it will always be a certain width. In the same way the natural lights which are called monochromatic give us a very fine array, but ray which is not, however, infinitely fine. It might be supposed that in the experimental study of the properties of these natural lights, by operating with finer and finer rays, and passing on at last to the limit, so to speak, we should eventually obtain the properties of a rigorously monochromatic light. That would not be accurate.  I assume that two rays emanate from the same source, that they are first polarised in planes at right angles, that they are then brought back again to the same plane of polarisation, and that we try to obtain interference. If the light were rigorously monochromatic, there would be interference; but with our nearly monochromatic lights, there will be no interference, and that, however narrow the ray may be. For it to be otherwise, the ray would have to be several million times finer than the finest known rays.

Here then we should be led astray by proceeding to the limit. The mind has to run ahead of the experiment, and if it has done so with success, it is because it has allowed itself to be guided by the instinct of simplicity. The knowledge of the elementary fact enables us to state the problem in the form of an equation. It only remains to deduce from it by combination the observable and verifiable complex fact. That is what we call integration, and it is the province of the mathematician. It might be asked, why in physical science generalisation so readily takes the mathematical form. The reason is now easy to see. It is not only because we have to express numerical laws; it is because the observable phenomenon is due to the superposition of a large number of elementary phenomena which are all similar to each other ; and in this way differential equations are quite naturally introduced. It not enough that each elementary phenomenon should obey simple laws: all those that we have to combine must obey the same law; then only is the intervention of mathematics of any use.  Mathematics teaches us, in fact, to combine like with like. Its object is to divine the result of a combination without having to reconstruct that combination element by element. If we have to repeat the same operation several times, mathematics enables us to avoid this repetition by telling the result beforehand by a kind of induction. This I have explained before in the chapter on mathematical reasoning. But for that purpose all these operations must be similar; in the contrary case we must evidently make up our minds to working them out in full one after the other, and mathematics will be useless. It is therefore, thanks to the approximate homogeneity of the matter studied by physicists, that mathematical physics came into existence. In the natural sciences the following conditions are no longer to be found: homogeneity, relative independence of remote parts, simplicity of the elementary fact; and that is why the student of natural science is compelled to have recourse to other modes of generalisation.


Conversations with History: Richard C. Lewontin

Harry Kreisler: -And what is your advice to the general public, … I can hear people watching this say, “well if he can’t understand what’s being said in the NY Times science section, how can I understand it.”   So, what can people, the average person do to be informed citizens in the debates that involve science [genetics, GMO etc.] , policies that are rationalized about science, … through the uses of science.

Richard Lewontin: – Harry, you raise there … one of the most difficult social problems that exist.  And I want to put it in a broader context for a moment before I come back to the specific question that you’re asking because I don’t know the answer to the specific question.   … The founding fathers of our Republic said, essentially, that you can’t have a democratic society if you don’t have an educated electorate.  How can people make democratic decisions about what has to be done unless they have some education.  So we have a public education system.  What the founding fathers never could have imagined is the kind of knowledge that you would have to have in order to make informed decisions.  Let’s talk about the Star Wars project.  I don’t know enough about physics and engineering to decide whether it would work or not.  I have to trust somebody else to tell me. I don’t know enough about physics to make those decisions, I have to trust what Steve Weinberg tells me.  Now, that is a very serious problem.  I’m a scientist and I still have to trust what other people tell me.  So the problem for the public in general is, that in order to make democratic decisions, you have to believe something about ‘elite knowledge’ which is possessed only by a few people.  And, it’s very hard to know what to do about that.   It really… I don’t have a glib answer to that.  It is one of the contradictions of a democratic society in a highly advanced technological world, … to make rational political decisions, you have to have a knowledge which is accessible only to a very few people. [yes, BUT.   the military generals and technology experts may have been the only ones to know for sure what could be done in a shock-and-awe attack on Baghdad, but the ‘technological achievement’ is a doer-deed Fiktion (an over-simplified model) that is overshadowed by the relational transformation it induces in the habitat, included the unintended induced recruiting of thousands of Jihaadists].    And the first rule, I suppose, is, if there are public disagreements, among people who are supposedly equally expert, then you better be careful.  I mean, if they all agree, well you have no choice but to take what they say, I don’t know what else you can do.  But if there’s any disagreement, then listen carefully to what those debates are about, and see if you can figure out who’s coming from where and why.  That’s true for the genome project and things like that.  That’s what killed Star Wars.  Well, I don’t know if ‘that’s’ what killed Star Wars, … that’s what made the public doubtful about it.  Whether that had any effect politically, I don’t know the answer.  Ah, but I have no answer to the question because there are no institutions promoting the public understanding of science, that are widely available to the public that do not obfuscate the issues either by funnelling them through media people who have to [compete to] try to get the space before your eyes and ears, and who are under further control of editorial exigencies and so on, or because they’re the captives of scientists who have their own agendas, … so that the head of the Whitehead Institute will tell us how wonderful everything they do is, because that’s part of the agenda.   I don’t know the answer, I don’t have an answer, I think the answer is ‘listen to me’ [smiles].

Harry Kreisler: You said something with which … this ‘ll be the last question and maybe a brief answer… philosophically, you really believe that… I think you said two things, .. i you want to comment, … you said “men make their own history but not as they choose” [ Lewontin:  I didn’t invent that …] … yeah, I know but it tells us where you are philosophically in your view of human nature.  And you also said, “… it was a responsibility to decide what kind of world you want and make the decisions to move in that direction…”

Lewontin: … if you can.” That’s the problem because the latter one, .. yes, but the context I said them in are important.  You can’t make the world stay still.  It’s going to evolve, species are going to become extinct, the world is going to change, technology is going to change, ah, nature is going to change, nature is changing all the time and so if we’re going to concentrate on influencing things, we should not try to concentrate on holding them the way they are because that’s hopeless.  What we should do, in fact, is to try to concentrate on changing them in a direction that we find ‘better’. The only trouble is that ‘we’ is a heterogeneous collection which includes people with very different interests.  I’m a citizen of the state of Vermont and my fellow townspeople have bumper stickers on their cars that say; “Another Vermonter for Global Warming” cause if you lived in Vermont, you’d like it to be warmer. You know people who own stock in companies that make air conditioning machines might be in favour of global warming.  That’s, in a sense, trivializing the point which is that different people have different interests, and therefore the struggle is not a moral one, its a political one.  It’s always a political one, and that’s the most important thing you have to recognize… that you may be struggling to make the world go in one direction, … somebody else is struggling to make it go in another direction, and the question is; who has power?  And if there’s a differential in power, and you haven’t got it and they have, then you have to do something to gain power, which is to organize.   And I guess, my final word is ‘organize, organize, organize.’

Harry Kreisler: On that note, Professor Lewontin, thank you, very much, for taking the time out of your schedule to be here today.

Richard Lewontin: Thank you, Harry, for talking to me.

* * *

[Comment: Lewontin’s view is clearly ‘inside-outward predominates over outside-inward’.  it is the ‘powerboater view’ of self and community.  on the other hand, the view where outside-inward predominates over inside-outward, the ‘sailboater view’ [amerindian traditionalist view], the dynamics we share inclusion in are inherently greater than our own dynamic capabilities[ i.e. in our sailboater mode, our understanding is that we derive our power and steerage from the habitat-dynamic we are situationally included in], therefore the first priority is to attune to the orchestrating influence of the habitat-dynamic we are included in and put our movements PREDOMINANTLY in the service of cultivating, restoring, sustaining balance and harmony in our conjugate habitat-inhabitant relation, and only secondarily orient to inside-outward driving goals, objectives, destinations.   in the Lewontin view, we start directly from ‘what things do’, from ‘what we can do’, from ‘inside-outward predominating over outside-inward.]

[5] “Now, the ‘harmony-of-the-whole of all the planets contributes more to the perfection of the world than the single harmonies by twos and the pairs of harmonies by the twos of neighbouring planets. For harmony is, so to speak, a spatial volume of unity. A deeper unity yet is presented, when all the planets form a harmony with each another, as when just two at a time harmonize in a dual manner. In the conflict of these harmonies deriving from the dual harmonic line-ups, which the pairs of planets form with each another, the one or the other must give way [nachgeben], so that the harmony-of-the-whole can prevail.”  – Johannes Kepler, ‘Harmonies of the World’

[6]  “… and the planets and comets will constantly pursue their revolutions in orbits given in kind and position, according to the laws above explained ; but though these bodies may, indeed, persevere in their orbits by the mere laws of gravity, yet they could by no means have at first derived the regular position of the orbits themselves from those laws.  . . .  This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”  — Newton, Scholium in the ‘Principia’

“I wish we could derive the rest of the phaenomena of nature by the same kind of reasoning from physical principles; for I am induced by many reasons to suspect that they all may depend upon certain forces by which the particles of bodies, by some causes hitherto unknown, are either mutually impelled towards each other, and cohere in regular figures, or are repelled and recede from each other; which forces being unknown, philosophers have hitherto attempted the search of nature in vain; but I hope the principles laid down will afford some light either to this or some truer method of philosophy.”  —Newton, Author’s Preface in the ‘Principia’.