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- Man or Matter - 6/74 -
through which mankind as a whole, or more exactly Western mankind, has gone in the course of its historical development. Man was not always the 'brain-thinker' he is to-day.7 Directly the separation of the nerve system was completed, and thereby the full clarity of the brain-bound consciousness achieved, man began to concern himself with science in the modern sense.
To understand why this science became restricted to one-eyed, colour-blind observation we need only apply to the human sense system, in particular, what we have learnt concerning man's threefold being.
Sharply distinguished by their respective modes of functioning though they are, the three bodily systems are each spread out through the whole body and are thus to be found everywhere adjacent to each other. Hence, the corresponding three states of consciousness, the sleeping, dreaming and waking, are also everywhere adjacent and woven into one another. It is the predominance of one or other which imparts a particular quality of soul to one or other region of the body. This is clearly shown within the realm of sense activity, itself the most conscious part of the human being. It is sufficient to compare, say, the senses of sight and smell, and to notice in what different degree we are conscious of the impressions they convey, and how differently the corresponding elements of conception, feeling and willing are blended in each. We never turn away as instinctively from objectionable colour arrangement as from an unpleasant smell. How small a part, on the other hand, do the representations of odours play in our recollection of past experiences, compared with those of sight.8 The same is valid in descending measure for all other senses.
Of all senses, the sense of sight has in greatest measure the qualities of a 'conceptual sense'. The experiences which it brings, and these alone, were suitable as a basis for the new science, and even so a further limitation was necessary. For in spite of the special quality of the sense of sight, it is still not free from certain elements of feeling and will - that is, from elements with the character of dream or sleep. The first plays a part in our perception of colour; the second, in observing the forms and perspective ordering of objects we look at.
Here is repeated in a special way the threefold organization of man, for the seeing of colour depends on an organic process apart from the nerve processes and similar to that which takes place between heart and lungs, whilst the seeing of forms and spatial vision depend upon certain movements of the eyeball (quick traversing of the outline of the viewed object with the line of sight, alteration of the angle between the two axes of sight according to distance), in which the eye is active as a sort of outer limb of the body, an activity which enters our consciousness as little as does that of our limbs. It now becomes clear that no world-content obtained in such more or less unconscious ways could be made available for the building of a new scientific world-conception. Only as much as man experiences through the sight of a single, colour-blind eye, could be used.9
If we would understand the role of science in the present phase of human development, we must be ready to apply two entirely different and seemingly contradictory judgments to one and the same historical phenomenon. The fact that something has occurred out of historical necessity - that is, a necessity springing from the very laws of cosmic evolution - does not save it from having a character which, in view of its consequences, must needs be called tragic.
In this era of advanced intellectualism, little understanding of the existence of true tragedy in human existence has survived. As a result, the word 'tragedy' itself has deteriorated in its meaning and is nowadays used mostly as a synonym for 'sad event', 'calamity' 'serious event', even 'crime' (Oxford Diet.). In its original meaning, however, springing from the dramatic poetry of ancient Greece, the word combines the concept of calamity with that of inevitability; the author of the destructive action was not held to be personally responsible for it, since he was caught up in a nexus of circumstances which he could not change.
This is not the place to discuss why tragedy in this sense forms part of man's existence. It suffices to acknowledge that it does and, where it occurs, to observe it with scientific objectivity.
Our considerations, starting from certain statements made by some leading scientific thinkers of our time, have helped us not only to confirm the truth inherent in these statements, but to recognize the facts stated by them as being the outcome of certain laws of evolution and thereby having an historic necessity. This, however, does not mean that man's scientific labours, carried out under the historically given restrictions, great and successful as these labours were and are, have not led to calamitous effects such as we found indicated by Professor Carrel. The sciences of matter have led man into a country that is not his, and the world which he has created by means of scientific research is not only one in which he is a stranger but one which threatens to-day to deprive him of his own existence. The reason is that this world is essentially a world of active forces, and the true nature of these is something which modern man, restricted to his onlooker-consciousness, is positively unable to conceive.
We have taken a first step in diagnosing man's present spiritual condition. A few more steps are required to lead us to the point where we can conceive the therapy he needs.
1 This address and another by the same author are published together under the common title, Wandlungen in den Grundlagen der Naturwissenschaft ('Changes in the foundations of Natural Science'). Heisenberg's name has become known above all by his formulation of the so-called Principle of Indeterminacy.
2 See, in this respect, Faust's dispute with Mephistopheles on the causes responsible for the geological changes of the earth. (Faust II, Act 4)
3 See also Eddington's more elaborate description of this fact in his New Pathways in Science. The above statement, like others of Eddington's, has been Contested from the side of professional philosophy as logically untenable. Our own further discussion will show that it accords with the facts.
4 Both words, kinematics and kinetics, are derivatives of the Greek word kinein, to move. The term 'kinematic' is used when motion is considered abstractly without reference to force or mass. Kinetics is applied kinematics, or, as pointed out above, dynamics treated with kinematic concepts.
5 These last statements will find further illustration in the next two chapters.
6 First published in 1917 in his book Von Seelenrätseln.
7 Homer's men still think with the diaphragm (phrenes). Similarly, the ancient practice of Yoga, as a means of acquiring knowledge, shows that at the time When it flourished man's conceptual activity was felt to be seated elsewhere than in the head.
8 This must not be confused with the fact that a smell may evoke other memories by way of association.
9 For one who endeavours to observe historical facts in the manner here described, it is no mere play of chance that the father of scientific atomism, John Dalton, was by nature colour blind. In fact, colour blindness was known, for a considerable time during the last century, as 'Daltonism', since it was through the publication of Dalton's self-observations that for the first time general attention was drawn to this phenomenon.
The Onlooker's Philosophic Malady
In his isolation as world spectator, the modern philosopher was bound to reach two completely opposite views regarding the objective value of human thought. One of these was given expression in Descartes' famous words: Cogito ergo sum ('I think, therefore I am'). Descartes (1596-1650), rightly described as the inaugurator of modern philosophy, thus held the view that only in his own thought-activity does man find a guarantee of his own existence.
In coming to this view, Descartes took as his starting-point his experience that human consciousness contains only the thought pictures evoked by sense-perception, and yet knows nothing of the how and why of the things responsible for such impressions. He thus found himself compelled, in the first place, to doubt whether any of these things had any objective existence, at all. Hence, there remained over for him only one indubitable item in the entire content of the universe - his own thinking; for were he to doubt even this, he could do so only by again making use of it. From the 'I doubt, therefore I am', he was led in this way to the 'I think, therefore I am'.
The other conception of human thought reached by the onlooker-consciousness was diametrically opposed to that of Descartes, and entirely cancelled its conceptual significance. It was put forward - not long afterwards - by Robert Hooke (1635-1703), the first scientist to make systematic use of the newly invented microscope by means of which he made the fundamental discovery of the cellular structure of plant tissues. It was, indeed, on the strength of his microscopic studies that he boldly undertook to determine the relationship of human thought to objective reality. He published his views in the introduction to his Micrographia, the great work in which, with the lavish help of carefully executed copper engravings, he made his microscopic observations known to the world.
Hooke's line of thought is briefly as follows: In past ages men subscribed to the naive belief that what they have in their consciousness as thought pictures of the world, actually reproduces the real content of that world. The microscope now demonstrates, however, how much the familiar appearance of the world depends on the structure of our sense apparatus; for it reveals a realm just as real as that already known to us, but hitherto concealed from us because it is not accessible to the natural senses. Accordingly, if the microscope can penetrate through the veil of illusion which normally hides a whole world of potentially visible phenomena, it may be that it can even teach us something about the ideas we have hitherto formed concerning the nature of things. Perhaps it can bring us a step nearer the truth in the sphere of thought, as it so obviously has done in that of observation.
Of all the ideas that human reason can form, Hooke considered the simplest and the most fundamental to be the geometrical concepts of point and straight line. Undoubtedly we are able to think these, but the naïve consciousness takes for granted that it also perceives them as objective realities outside itself, so that thoughts and facts correspond to each other. We must now ask, however, if this belief is not due to an optical deception. Let us turn to the microscope and see
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