Science Advisory Committee
While cracks in the metaphysical edifice of scientific materialism continue to widen, there remains a popular scientistic orthodoxy that prides itself upon having secured objectivity by eliminating any trace of intelligent human beings and even sentient organisms from its explanations of the universe. Scientific materialism treats mind and life as peripheral accidents that are ultimately explainable in terms of the mindless, lifeless reduction base of physics. The natural world studied by this scientistic mode of thought has been scrubbed clean of everything qualitative, value-laden, or purposive, leaving behind only what can be quantitatively measured and fed into computer models.
From Whitehead’s point of view, the situation contemporary physics and natural science more generally find themselves in is double-edged. On the one hand, new mathematical methods and more precise measuring instruments have enabled tremendous advances. On the other, despite being forced to demolish the old metaphysical foundations of classical physics in light of new discoveries, no new philosophically coherent foundation has been erected in their place. As he warned almost a century ago, the result is that natural science has “degenerated into a medley of ad hoc hypotheses” (Science and the Modern World, 18).
The strange nature of the universe described in the models of physics is losing all contact with the commonsense experience of human life. “The divergence of the formulae about nature from the appearance of nature,” Whitehead argued, “has robbed the formulae of any explanatory character” (Modes of Thought, 154). He was dissatisfied with the instrumentalization of physical theory and frustrated by the tendency of its materialist popularizers to marshal unexamined and inadequate metaphysics in an attempt at “brilliant feats of explaining away” all those aspects of nature (colors, sounds, feelings, etc.) deemed superfluous or epiphenomenal.
In place of a bifurcated reductionism, Whitehead sought to construct a more adequate metaphysical scheme in terms of which the new scientific discoveries could be understood to hang together with “the general consciousness of what in practice we experience” (Process and Reality, 17). For him, “the red glow of the sunset” that warms the hearts of poets must come to be understood as no less a part of nature than “the molecules and electric waves by which men of science would explain the phenomenon” (The Concept of Nature, 29).
The aim of science is to seek the simplest explanations of complex facts. We are apt to fall into the error of thinking that the facts are simple because simplicity is the goal of our quest. The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, Seek simplicity and distrust it.
–Alfred North Whitehead
The Science Advisory Committee at the Cobb Institute is dedicated to furthering the vision of Whitehead and allied thinkers in an effort to bring forth a more integrated, relational, and experientially adequate approach to natural science and cosmology.
Our primary objectives are:
- To build a network of process-oriented scientists and natural philosophers for the sharing of resources and ideas.
- To record dialogues with process-oriented scientists and natural philosophers that raise awareness about this alternative approach to the study of nature.
- To plan and host online and in-person conferences addressing the intersections of natural science and process-relational philosophy.