Tuesday, 22 August 2000

Modern Science and Religion (1931)

From The Philosopher, Volume. IX, 1931 
 

 

MODERN SCIENCE AND RELIGION

By C. E. M. Joad



2015 The Editor adds.

Since his fall from public esteem to public disgrace (over fare-dodging) Cyril Edwin Mitchinson Joad has always been something of a dubious figure in philosophy. Was the star of the BBC radio program, The Brains Trust, a great thinker – or a charlatan? In this paper, which was read out at one of the Philosophical Society’s meetings in London, as well as reprinted in both The Philosopher and the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Joad adopts the kind of lecture style that would be familiar to many studying academic philosophy both then and indeed now – see A (2) c (ii), as he says at one point (and why is Part II so tiny?), a self-conscious posturing that makes it easy to overlook his actual ideas. In fact, professionally speaking, he was much more successful when he spoke informally and across the range of issues and disciplines. Indeed, the ‘real philosophers’ and scientists also gracing the Society’s affairs at this time, such as Russell and Schödinger, adopt a far more accessible, indeed more entertaining style, as they make points that would in due course take root in the philosophical literature.

So does something of substance remain here, when the clever distinctions and references are stripped away? And did it, perhaps, help that Joad, in reality, was an outsider, as he argued that:

Physics has thus created for itself a closed circle, the entities with which it deals, potentials, intervals, scales or clocks, matter, and mass, momentum and stress being ultimately defined in terms of each other; what lies outside the circle is unknown to physics, and science is incapable of dealing with it.
In the 21st century, with highly abstract scientific models trumping empirical studies in many areas from quantum science to cosmology, Joad’s paper may yet be worth re-reading.



It is often asserted that recent developments in physical science have no bearing upon philosophical problems, and that the metaphysician may ignore them as lying outside his province. There is, no doubt, much to be said for this point of view. In a strict sense the precise formula for the analysis of matter, which happens to be current among physicists at the moment, may have little or no metaphysical significance.

There is, however, another sense in which the work of men like Eddington and Jeans seems to me to have important implications for the metaphysician, although there is considerable difficulty in determining what precisely these implications are. It is, I think, usually held that their tendency is idealist, a view which is certainly taken by Eddington himself. Whether or not this view is, as I believe and shall try to show, mistaken, recent developments in physical science have an important, although indirect, bearing upon our conception of the nature of reality. In particular, it may, I think, be plausibly argued that they have by implication rehabilitated - if, indeed, it ever stood in need of rehabilitation - the objectivity of the religious consciousness, and guaranteed the revelatory character of its deliverances.

This rather unexpected result has come about in the following way. Science until recent years has been dominated by the notion that to be real a thing must be of the same nature as that which we can, or theoretically could, see and touch. Hence, to inquire into the nature of the things we saw and touched, to analyze them into their elements and atoms, was to deal directly with reality; to apprehend values or to enjoy religious experience was to wander in a world of shadows.

Common sense, under the influence of science, took the same view; to use the eye of the body to view the physical world was to acquaint oneself with what was real; to use that of the soul to see visions was to become the victim of illusion. And the views of the universe to which the visions led had, it was urged, no objective reality. Parallel with this belief that the real must be a substance tangible and visible, was the belief that it must be subject to the laws which were observed to operate in the physical world - that it must work, in short, like a machine. As Eddington puts it, nineteenth - century science was disposed, as soon as it ‘scented a piece of mechanism, to exclaim, 'Here we are getting to bedrock. This is what things should resolve themselves into. This is ultimate reality.' The implication was that whatever did not show itself amenable to mechanistic causation - value, for example, or the feeling of moral obligation, or the sense of Deity - was not quite real.

The present position is different. Science in abandoning the conception that to be real a thing must be like the entities which physics studies, and the conception that to be real is to work like a machine, has removed the grounds, such as they were, for treating the worlds revealed in sense perception and in religious and aesthetic experience as something less than real, or as owing such reality as they possessed to their dependence upon the knowing mind. The result is that sense perception and the religious consciousness are alike rehabilitated as modes of directly apprehending an objective reality revealed as external to apprehension. Such, at least, is the view I should wish to maintain.

But the reaction against the claims of nineteenth century science goes farther than this. There is a tendency in many quarters to compare unfavourably the indirect and symbolic character of the physicist's knowledge with the directness and certainty of moral, aesthetic, and still more of mystical experience. I do not mean that the physicist's world is not taken as real, but there is a tendency to regard its reality as merely subjective in some sense in which the world revealed to the religious consciousness is objective. The Victorian scientist believed that the external world studied by scientific methods was objectively real; science was, therefore, revelatory in its nature.

This view is no longer held at any rate with the old simplicity. ‘What has happened to science is that the conception of revelation has been removed from it’ [i.e., from science], and the world of science is in consequence now asserted in many quarters to be as subjective as the deliverances of the religious consciousness were once thought to be by scientists. And not only the world of science, for modern physics is commonly held to favour, if not to necessitate, an idealist view of perception and to relegate the world of sense perception to a status of dependence upon the sense organs, as the world of physics is dependent upon the mind of the perceiver. Here, as I shall try to show, the reaction against the claim to objective reality of the external world revealed to us in sensory experience and analysed by science goes too far. If the results of modern physics are employed, as in some quarter they are, to discredit the objectivity of the physicist's and even of the familiar world, as compared with the world revealed to the aesthetic or the religious consciousness, they are, I feel, being misapplied.

My position, therefore, may be briefly stated as follows. Nineteenth century science conceived of the universe in such a way as to throw doubt upon the objectivity of the deliverances of the moral, aesthetic, and religious consciousness; twentieth - century science, while tending to validate them, throws doubt upon the objectivity of the worlds studied by science and known in sensory experience. There is, however, in fact no need to doubt the objective and independent character of the scientist's or of the familiar world, any more than that of the world of the artist or the mystic, and the conclusions of physics afford no ground for doing so. I propose, therefore, in the first place to summarize the considerations advanced by scientists which bear upon the issue, and in the second to indicate a metaphysical view which, while doing full justice to these considerations, refuses to regard them as constituting a sufficient justification for a subjective attitude to the worlds of sensory experience or scientific knowledge.

Part II

The considerations in question may be summarized under three heads.

(1) There is Eddington's insistence on the symbolic character of our knowledge of the physical world. A scientist talks of the aether or the electron, but, if you ask him what such expressions mean, he will point to a number of symbols and specify a set of mathematical equations which they satisfy. That which the symbols symbolize is an unknown x. Science, as Eddington in a famous essay has shown, is concerned not with things in themselves, but only with the measurable aspects of things, and measurability is a category of the human intellect. Physics has thus created for itself a closed circle, the entities with which it deals, potentials, intervals, scales or clocks, matter, and mass, momentum and stress being ultimately defined in terms of each other; what lies outside the circle is unknown to physics, and science is incapable of dealing with it. In other words the measurable aspect of things, to which the results of physics apply, is an abstraction from their total reality, and the physicist's world is therefore an abstraction from the real world. All scientific method involves, it is said, abstractions of a similar kind.

(2) Atomic theory suggests that we never know a piece of matter directly. Matter consists of atoms; yet we only know an atom in terms of the effects of changes in the alleged atom upon the surrounding spatio-temporal environment. These changes are ultimately analyzable into changes in pieces of matter, that is to say in atoms, these changes again being known in terms of their effects upon other atoms, and so on indefinitely. At no point do we achieve a direct knowledge of matter.

(3) A consideration of the machinery of perception only reinforces this conclusion. A ray of light starting from a so-called material object impinges on the retina, stimulates a nerve centre and starts a series of physical and chemical changes which ultimately reach the brain. Upon their impact on the brain there ensues a mystery, the result of which is the psychological experience of seeing the object. But what actually causes us to be psychologically aware are the events taking place in our bodies. The external object is merely an inference from the fact that the body is being stimulated in a certain way. Thus the material world is the result of a prolonged and possibly precarious set of inferences.


Part III

What status in the light of these and similar considerations are we to assign to the world which science studies, and what is its relation to the world* known in sense perception and revealed to religious insight. Two alternative metaphysical hypotheses seem to be possible.

(A) We may regard scientific knowledge*, sensory experience and mystical insight as three different ways of exploring the same reality.
Reality is, we shall say, a unity and scientific knowledge, sensory experience and religious insight present it to us under different aspects.

Or (B) we may hold that there are different orders or realms of reality, and that sensory experience and mystical insight are, as Plato would say, set over against different objects. And not only sensory experience and mystical insight, but also the intellectual activity of thinking and reasoning which is the source of scientific knowledge, which, on this view, will also have to be accommodated with its own special objects.

On view (A), then, the differences will be on the side of the subject; we shall affirm, that is to say, that there are different ways of knowing the same thing; on view (B) they will be on the side of the object, and we shall affirm that there is one way of apprehending different things. The view, which seems to me to be on the right lines, is view (B). I will, however, first state the considerations in favour of the former view, and then the main objections to it.

(A). (1) Modern physical science undoubtedly has a Kantian tendency; its tendency is, that is to say, to look upon the physical world with which it deals as a phenomenal aspect of an under - lying reality. The world of science is, it is alleged, rational only because the human mind makes it so. There is no reason to suppose that it exists independently of that mind; it is in no sense the world as it would appear to a being who added nothing to what he perceived and could see things as they are in them - selves. The inference is that the world as seen by science is not the world as it really is.

Science, as Eddington asserts, deals with symbols; but it does not know what the symbols stand for. Hence the reality of things is represented as a mysterious x which gives rise to different sets of phenomena as it comes into contact with the human consciousness or rather with different aspects of consciousness. I say ‘different sets of phenomena’, because it is fairly clear that, while the status of chairs and tables on the one hand, and that of atoms and electrons on the other' is, on this view, phenomenal, the symbolic status of sensory objects is clearly different from the symbolic status of scientific objects. The scientist, after all, does not experience atoms and electrons, potentials and intervals in space time with his sense organs; they are inferred from the entities which he does, and the entities which he does experience, whether regarded as chairs and tables or as sense data, must, if they too are symbols, be symbols of a different order, from scientific objects.

When a modern scientist speaks of the physicist's world (or of the world which physics studies [or selects or constructs], the various expressions being used indifferently) as a closed system, or a frame of reference, or a set of symbolic formulae, it is to be presumed that he refers not to the world of changing data he experiences with his senses, but to the world about which he thinks. Hence the world of physics, like that of mathematics, may be conceived as a way in which reality appears to an intellectual or cognizing faculty. And the claim to validity of mystical experience will, on this view, presuppose the exercise of some other faculty, presumably intuitive in character, to which reality will appear as value. This result may be represented as follows:

i) Sense data or physical objects
ii) Scientific objects
iii) Value

{are the result of impact of reality upon, way in which reality appears to, or aspect of reality presented to}

{which in turn is part of (i) the sense organs (ii) the mind (iii) the intuitive or religious consciousness.}

A . (2) This view accords very well with the monistic implications which underlie the writings of modern scientists. While the distinction which they tend to introduce between a noumenal and a phenomenal world is Kantian, their conception of the noumenal world, Professor Eddington's mysterious x, for example, has Hegelian affinities. There is a tendency to regard it (a) as real in some sense in which the scientific world is not; (b) as mental; (c) as continuous with the apprehension of it, the subject - object distinction being in such apprehension transcended.

Is a natural corollary of the view that both scientific and perceptual knowledge are symbolic and indirect in some sense in which some other type of knowledge, that of the mystic, for example, is direct. On the assumption we are considering that reality is a unity such that the same real is revealed to us under different aspects in all types of apprehension, it is difficult not to draw from the statements of modern physicists the inference that scientific knowledge is a confused or partial apprehension of this reality or an apprehension at a lower grade than, e.g., mystical experience, and that the world studied by the former is an appearance only of the reality which is directly revealed to the latter. So much, at least, the insistence on the arbitrarily selective character of scientific method seems to imply.

If, for example, Eddington is right in his assertion that science is concerned only with the measurable aspect of things, it would seem to follow that this aspect is only an appearance, one among many possible appearances of a reality that underlies it, and that to take this aspect as independently real, and knowledge of it as giving information about an independent reality is to fall a victim to error. I do not wish to suggest that scientists make this error, if error it is.

On the contrary, the view that the concrete basis of all scientific abstraction is something that science can never itself grasp seems to be matter of increasing agreement among modern scientists. Again the constantly reiterated emphasis on the fact that science, dealing as it does with symbols, has no means of probing to the reality beneath them, implies, although the implication is not always drawn, that the symbolic world being called into existence as it were by the scientist's preoccupation with it, has no reality except what is conferred upon it by the categories of the scientific mind.

It is x as it appears to a certain specialized mode of apprehension. The suggestion is then slipped in that the sensory world is an appearance to another similarly specialised mode, an appearance which is similarly an abstraction. This line of thought presupposes and is confirmed by a general criticism of scientific method which is very common in the modern literature of the subject. Scientific method abstracts, analyses and classifies; therefore, it is urged, science is unable to deal with wholes, with individuality or with value. Grant that reality is in some sense a whole, in some sense individual and in some sense value, and the conclusion is borne in on us that reality must needs slip through the meshes of scientific analysis. The following are examples of the arguments and illustrations which are used to establish this position.

(i) A living organism is generally admitted to be different from a machine. One of the reasons for so regarding it is that it is not completely analyzable in terms of its parts ; it is a collection of parts, but it is also more than the collection of its parts. Among many considerations advanced in support of this view may be cited Professor J. S. Haldane's argument from the co-ordinating activity which he emphasizes as a distinguishing feature of the living organism, an activity which conduces to the ‘ maintenance of normal vital activities ‘ and ensures the preservation and proper functioning of ‘living structure.’

This activity is not the activity of any part; hence a description of the organism in terms of its parts must, of necessity, ignore it. The conclusion is that the differentiating characteristic of the living organism, being a characteristic of the whole, is not one with which science can deal; hence, it is said, biological science tends inevitably to be mechanistic. The conclusion applicable to all living things applies, it is urged, with particular force to human personality.

In current philosophical literature on the subject of personality three points emerge: personality is a characteristic of the whole; it, therefore, eludes scientific treatment; nevertheless it is that in which the reality of the human being may be legitimately said to consist.

Let us suppose that the various accounts which science gives of a living, human organism are collated. There is the physiologist's account in terms of bones and blood and nerves, the chemist's in terms of the elements and molecules of which the bones, blood and nerves are composed, and the physicist's in terms of the atoms and electrons of which the elements are composed.

At the other end of the scale, there is the psychologist's in terms of images and sensations. There is economic man, there is man from the point of view of the biologist and from that of the anthropologist, and there is the median man of the statistician. To say that each of these accounts gives information only about a specialised aspect of a human being is to state a commonplace. What is more to the point is the assertion that, even if all the accounts were collated in such a way as to form a theoretically complete survey of all that the sciences could tell us about a human being, the collated accounts would still not give us the truth about him, for the reason that man as a personality would be left out of the survey.

The personality of a man is, it is said, that which emerges only in the whole, of which the aspects studied by the sciences are abstracted fragments. Scientific method is, therefore, unable to grasp it. The way to know a man as a personality is the way of familiarity in acquaintanceship and still more of affection in friendship. It is the way of sympathy and understanding, which, instead of standing outside what is known, enters into it and in virtue of its feeling with and for it, is rendered temporarily one with that for and with which it feels. (ii) That science is unable to deal with individuality is also implied by the considerations outlined above. An additional argument in this connection is, however, derived from the fact of classification as the method of science. All science, it is said, begins with classification; it is essential to its method that the objects with which it deals should be sorted out into different boxes or pigeon holes, and that it should then be able to treat the objects falling within each pigeon hole as if they were the same. To quote an instance given by a recent writer * on scientific method : -
If the scientific mind is faced with five hundred balls of all shades of grey from pure black to pure white, it will separate them into groups of greys, but these are discontinuous, whereas from the common - sense point of view one could not have less than five hundred groups, for all the balls are by definition different . . . Even in the case of two black balls, the scientific mind will sweep them into the same box, unconscious of the fact that one of them is slightly less of a sphere than the other, if it happens at the moment to be interested in blackness and not globularity.
Hence, to treat the objects classified together as if they were the same, means to treat them as if certain differences which they actually exhibit are, from the point of view of the particular purpose in view, irrelevant. Scientific procedure is, therefore, conditioned by an ‘as if’. The scientist says, in effect, ‘Let us suppose that we shall get on best by concentrating all our atttention upon a particular aspect of an object, and ignoring all the other other aspects as being irrelevant to our immediate purpose. Let us then classify the object with other objects which possess in common with it the aspect in question, even although they may possess other aspects which are different, and see what conclusion we can reach about the objects so classified.’

The suggestion is then made that the results achieved are not, in fact, results about the concrete objects which the scientist began by classifying; what they really give information about is their hypostatized common aspect. Provided the initial ‘as if’ is remembered no harm is done, but because of the ‘as if’ scientific method, in so far as it purports to give an account of what things ‘really are,’ is, it is held, vitiated from the start. It is vitiated by the fact that in order to proceed it must classify, and in order to classify it must treat individual things not as individual things but as examples falling within a class. But everything is itself and not something else; it is, that is to say, individual and unique, so that what is regarded as ‘an arbitrary falsification of the object's nature’ is a necessary condition of its being classified.

In extreme cases this falsification for the purpose of classification is obvious. Mr. Needham quotes the case of French railway trucks labelled with the inscription ‘Hommes 40. Chevaux 16’. The aspect of a man under which he can be classified as a unit which, with 39 other units of the same kind, occupies a space equivalent to that occupied by sixteen horses, such space being identical with the holding capacity of a certain class of railway truck, is, no doubt, truly an aspect of him, but it is not, it is obvious, that in which his individuality resides. To treat him, therefore, under that aspect alone, or as if he were that aspect alone, is to destroy his individuality - so much, at least, in the extreme case is clear. What is not so generally recognized is that all scientific method, involving as it necessarily does a process of classification according to aspects selected as being immediately relevant, involves a similar obliteration of individuality. If, then, the reality of a thing resides in its individuality, science is once again seen to be unfitted to grasp reality.

(iii) The inability of scientific method to give an account of value may be most clearly seen in relation to music. I will take as an example the processes involved in the appreciation of a Bach Fugue. Bach presumably conceived a musical idea (the ambiguity of this expression must be pardoned; I am not here concerned with the true interpretation of the aesthetic process) as a result of which a message travelled along the nerve fibres running down his arm to his finger tips, as a result of which certain forces of electrical attraction and repulsion were set in motion between the atoms constituting the extreme ends of his finger tips and those constituting the keys of, let us say, a harpsichord.

Strings were plucked and sound waves travelled out into the atmosphere and impinged upon Bach's eardrums. The eardrums were caused to vibrate and the vibrations travelling through the middle ears reached the cochleas of the inner ears. Here they caused certain wave - like disturbances in the fluids contained in the cochleas, as a result of which the cilia, long hairs ranged along the inner bones of the cochleas, were swayed to and fro; the motion of the swaying cilia transmitted certain neural impulses to Bach's brain, as a result of which, or partly as a result of which he experienced the psychological sensation of hearing the music.

Presuming that he approved of what he heard, we may suppose him to have made a series of black marks upon white paper, the score. This procedure would again involve a whole set of complicated physical processes some of which physiologists, neurologists and physicists would be able to analyse. The score is copied and recopied until some two hundred years afterwards somebody reads it - a complicated set of visual, neural processes being thereby involved - plays it, thereby setting in motion electrical, atomic processes similar to those referred to above, and causes a succession of sound waves to travel through the atmosphere. These, impinging upon my ear drums, stimulate the machinery of cochlea, cilia and so forth, with the result that I in my turn experience the sensation of hearing the music.

Now so to describe the processes involved in the appreciation of the fugue is, it is obvious, to leave out everything that matters, since the aesthetic effect is no more describable in physiological than the cause of it is describable in physical terms. It is significant in this connection that, if the actual notes of which the theme is composed are struck at random upon the piano, there is no aesthetic effect. It is only when they are arranged in a certain way that they affect the auditor aesthetically. Yet the form of arrangement, in which the essence of the matter seems to lie, escapes scientific analysis. The upshot is that the world that science studies is not significant in the sense in which the world we know in aesthetic experience is significant; and to be non - significant is for many philosophers to be not fully real.

(b) There is one kind of apprehension which, as Eddington has pointed out, escapes the symbolic framework, of sense experience and scientific knowledge. This is the knowledge which we have of ourselves. To penetrate by the methods of science into the nature of a human being is, he says, to reach a merely symbolic description. But we have an acquaintance with the ‘mental and spiritual nature of ourselves known in our minds by an intimate contact transcending the methods of physics’.

What more natural than to suppose that a non-symbolic knowledge of the nature of any other entity, if we could only attain to it, would reveal it also as mental and spiritual in nature ? It is only symbolic knowledge of things that represents them as material. ‘Mind,’ Eddington concludes, ‘is the first and most direct thing in our experience; all else is remote inference.'

It is a natural corollary that it is in spiritual activity rather than in scientific knowledge that we penetrate through to a reality which, lying behind the changing show of facts upon which our minds feed and the stimuli which release the play of our sensations and feelings, is itself spiritual.

(c) This last consideration suggests the view that there is a special faculty by means of which the inner reality of things, which eludes the classifying and analyzing methods of science, is known. Of this faculty various accounts are given according to the kind of subject matter with which it happens to be concerned; it is variously described as mystical insight, aesthetic consciousness, inner conviction and guiding light, but under all these guises it has recognizably the same properties.

These properties are notably those of directness and immediacy, and it is in virtue of these properties that it is contrasted with the scientific intellect which is held to be indirect and roundabout. It is, indeed, chiefly by reference to the intellect of which it is the antithesis that it is described, and the accounts which are given of it are strongly reminiscent of Bergson's treatment of intuition. For this reason perhaps the best general epithet which may be used to describe it is ‘intuitive’. I have not space to enter upon a detailed account of this alleged intuitive way of knowing: four characteristics of it may, however, be briefly mentioned.

(i) It is immediate and direct. Professor Eddington in this connection makes use of the analogy of seeing a joke. The treatment of a joke by strict scientific methods would involve taking the sentence or sentences in which it is enunciated to pieces, carefully examining their constituent parts, identifying its origins, recognizing it in the light of this examination and identification as an example of the species ‘joke,’ and then - well, then, logically one should proceed to laugh. The fact that after this preliminary process one would not do anything of the kind is a sufficient testimony to the truism that the way to appreciate humour is not the way of science. One either sees a joke or one does not; if one sees it, one sees it immediately, and one's seeing is independent of the processes of analysis and classification which scientifically would be necessary to establish its authenticity as a joke. One sees it, in fact, intuitively.

(ii) It is its own authority and carries with it the guarantee of its own authenticity. For the truths which we know intuitively no reasons can be adduced, because it is not by a process of reasoning that they are reached. The fact that we frequently find it necessary subsequently to produce arguments in their favour only bears witness to the truth of Bradley's dictum that if ‘ metaphysics is the finding of bad reasons for what we believe upon instinct, to find these reasons is no less an instinct’. But the process by which intuitive truth is reached is logically divorced from the later process of rationalisation by means of which it is supported.

(iii) In intuitive knowledge instead of standing outside the object, as the scientist does, the knower identifies himself with it. I have already touched upon this aspect of the intuitive faculty in the course of the discussion of the nature of our knowledge of a personality; it is but a step from the position there described to the view of spiritual activity as involving a fusion with its object, in which separation between the self and the not - self is transcended and the self is merged in the reality it knows.

There is enlisted in support of this view a strong vein of mystical tradition especially from the East, which insists that in addition to sense experience and to the knowledge gained by the intellect, there is the knowledge of the spirit. And this is less a way of knowing than a way of being, for to apprehend reality with the spirit is to be one with it. Apart from this, there is and always has been, the suggestion that to know things intuiitively is to penetrate into their being, to get under their skins as it were, in a sense in which to know them intellectually is to remain outside them.

Bergson's philosophy has had great influence in popularizing this view, and has given it a modern flavour. The intellect knows only the external forms of things; intuitively we penetrate their being. And it is, as we have seen, in the knowledge of another personality, in aesthetic and, above all, in religious experience that this self - transcendence is said to be achieved.

(iv) Fourthly, the faculty is said to be a natural human attribute, as natural and universal as the sense of sight or hearing, so that, lacking it, a person may be justifiably regarded as being, in virtue of his lack, not fully and completely a human being. It is, moreover, preeminently the faculty which assures us of the meaning and significance of things, so that without its assurance we should be justified in concluding that the universe is, as it appears to mechanistic science, without point or purpose; and not only of meaning and significance, but of a divine meaning and a personal significance.

I will take two quotations from Professor Eddington in illustration of these two points.
There are some to whom the sense of a divine presence irradiating the soul is one of the most obvious things of experience. In their view a man without this sense is to be regarded as we regard a man wvithout asense of humour. The absence is a kind of mental deficiency. (My italics.)

If we have no such sense then it would seem that riot only religion, but the physical world and all faith in reason totter in insecurity.
The general conclusion of this line of argument is that reality is fundamentally spiritual, and that science gives us onlv a symbolical description or presents us with only a symbolical appearance (both phrases are used indifferently) of a reality whose nature is revealed more truly to an intuitive faculty in religious and mystical experience. This reality is a unity; it includes value and personality and is probably itself a personality. Accounts of the nature of the reality which is established by these methods will be found in the final chapters of such books as The Nature of the Physical Universe, by Professor Eddington, and The Mysterious Universe, by Sir James Jeans. In these chapters eminent scientists, having completed the task of description and analysis of the external world explored by physics, proceed to speculate about the nature of the universe as a whole.

The accounts are not as clear as could be wished. I will, however, summarize their main features to the best of my ability, taking them in turn. (i) Professor Eddington describes the fundamental reality as ‘ mind-stuff’. This is continuous with consciousness, but is normally below the level of consciousness; it rises, however, into occasional peaks or islands, which are conscious minds.

The account of the relation of the ‘mind stuff ‘ to the familiar world and to the world of science is con - fused and often contradictory, but normally the worlds of science and of sense are regarded as its phenomenal aspects. The relation of the underlying reality to the knowing mind is also variously described. It is (a) conceived as a subject-object relation, the underlying reality being revealed to mind but conceived as independent of it. Reasons for regarding it in this light are found in the fact of ‘the spirit's yearning towards God’ (for a guarantee of an objective counterpart to this yearning we are referred to the inner conviction of which I have already spoken [see A (2) c (ii)], and in an analogy between our knowledge of ‘reality’ and our knowledge of the world of sense.

The analogy is as follows: The world of science impinges upon our sense organs and causes them to construct the familiar world. The world of science is thus the objective core of the world of sense; it is that which, when brought into contact with our minds, sets going their constructional activity. Similarly, the ‘bare external qualities of the spiritual world’ have been ‘transmuted into a religious colour by our spiritual faculty’. There is thus an objective and revealed core in the mystical experience, from which the intuitive faculty of the mystic proceeds to construct his mystic's world.

(b) Traces of a more subjective attitude, however, soon begin to appear. Professor Eddington frequently speaks of the underlying reality as continuous with our own consciousneses. There are, for example, passages in which consciousness is said ‘to have its roots in’ the background, which is the underlying real world. Reality, therefore, is not that which our consciousness finds so much as that in which our consciousness is found. ‘In this background’, we are told, ‘we must find first, our own personality, and then, perhaps, a greater personality’. The ‘greater personality’ is later personified as God. If both God and our own personalities form part of the same background, it is natural to infer that their relation to each other is a relation of communion, if not of continuity. Hence, for an objective core of mystical experience known by mind but independent of it, we must now substitute a community between knowing spirit and the reality which it knows.

(c) But Professor Eddington occasionally lapses into a more extreme type of subjectivism, according to which the underlying spiritual world is represented as a projection or externalization of our own consciousnesses. ‘We have’. he suggests, ‘to build’ (my italics) ‘the spiritual world out of symbols taken from our own personality’ and again, ‘In the mystical feeling the truth is apprehended from within and is, as it should be, a part of ourselves’.

More significant still is a remarkable passage in which, having interpreted our feeling for nature as the attribution ‘of a significance to the scene which is not there,’ and pointed out that the physical characteristics of the external world are put there by the mind as well as its significance, he concludes that the mystical attributes of the world are also ‘here in the mind' (my italics).

Value, then, and significance are on this view just as much and just as little subjective as time and space and the characteristics of the physical world, which, if Professor Eddington's interpretation of physics is correct, is equivalent to saying that they are completely subjective. It is not clear whether Professor Eddington would apply this third conception to Deity.

(ii) For Sir James Jeans the underlying reality is a mathematical mind, in which the world of science is a thought. The steps by which he reaches this view are as follows:

(a) The universe shows itself more amenable to analysis in terms of mathematical concepts than in terms of those appropriate to any other science. It is more like a mathematical formula than a machine, a living organism, a moral concept, or a work of art. The further we penetrate into the reality of the external world, the more mathematical does it appear.

(b) Mathematical knowledge is a priori. We have discovered mathematics, not empirically by observation of and deduction from the workings of nature, but by following the operations of our own reasons and reflecting upon their implications.

(c) Having drawn up the rules of the mathematical game for ourselves in isolation from outside things, we turn to the external world and find that it obeys them. It works, in other words, according to the same laws as those we have discovered for ourselves.

(c) This is a surprising fact, since the universe might have been meaningless to us. What is its significance ? That both our own minds and the external universe originate in a mathematical mind, which has constructed both.

The argument so far purports to show only that the world was created by a mathematician. The further step, that it is a thought in a mathematician's mind, consists of a deduction from the assertion that the universe is exhaustively analyzable in terms of mathematical concepts. If we could push our mathematical analysis far enough, we should, according to Sir James Jeans, find no residue of brute fact left outside the scope of mathematical law; we should find only mathematical law. Mathematical concepts and mathematical laws are mental; therefore, the universe is mental. There is, then, an argument on Berkleyan lines to distinguish the world we perceive from the worlds we can imagine. The latter exist in our minds only; the former derives its actuality from the fact that it is also being thought by a universal mind. Therefore, the external world is a thought in a universal consciousness, and the reality that underlies it is God's mind.

Objections to (A). - I do not feel convinced that the conclusions of modern science do, in fact, necessitate the sort of view of the universe just summarized. Moreover, there are a number of well - known objections to which any view of this type is exposed. I will mention four of them.

(1) The view that there is one and only one type of reality of which we have different modes of apprehension, or which we know in different ways, implies something perilously like the ‘faculty psychology’ now generally abandoned. A reality which being one nevertheless appears in different ways, inevitably provokes the question ‘Why does it so appear ?’ And it is difficult not to answer ‘Because we apprehend it with different faculties.’ The language commonly employed to describe the difference between intellectual, sensory and intuitive forms of knowledge does in fact suggest this view.

Now I cannot find in myself any faculty or activity of intuition which is other than a faculty of intellect, which is other again than a faculty of sense perception. I can find only an activity of knowing which acquaints me with different types of object, and which, whether exercised in sense perception, scientific inquiry, or religious experience, remains the same activity throughout.

(2) The view implies that the objects of sense and of science are not real in some sense in which the objects of religious experience are real. The reasons for this view are ostensibly derived from modern physics. But, as Professor Moore has pointed out, scientific knowledge is itself founded upon and checked by sensory experiences such as that of seeing a red patch. None of the conclusions, therefore, at which it arrives has a higher degree of certainty than the premises from which it starts. It follows that no conclusions suggested by science can be used to invalidate the authenticity, the directly revelatory character of the experience involved in seeing a red patch. If there is not a red patch there for me to see, or if I do not in fact directly and truly see it, then the arguments upon which the structure of physics is based fall to the ground. It follows that there is nothing in what science has to tell us about the universe to throw doubt upon the authenticity of sensory experience properly interpreted, or to suggest the view that the objects of such experience are not real objects.

(3) If, as most scientists do, we hold a dualistic theory of knowledge as regards sensory experience, we must hold it throughout. If the activity of knowing is other than its object in sense experience, it must also be other than its object in thinking, and other than its object in mystical experience. To postulate a special faculty of intuition which is such that in exercising it we behave in an entirely different way from that in which we behave on any other occasion, by ceasing to be ourselves and becoming merged in or identified with something else, is to make a very drastic assumption. Unless we are prepared to make this assumption we must, I think, conclude that the object of religious experience is distinct from the experience and remains distinct. Aesthetic experience is generally held to be akin to religious experience; yet there certainly does not seem to be any reason to suppose that, when I enjoy a Bach fugue, I do in any sense become it.

(4) There is, moreover, a strong tradition in favour of the view that the mystical experience is itself dualistic. The view of the mystical consciousness as contemplating a reality which is other than itself, and whose otherness, whose other worldliness in fact, is conceived as definitely an ingredient in its character as an object of veneration can enlist in its support just as imposing testimony as the monistic view. The testimony of the Western mystics is indeed definitely in its favour, so much so that we find von Hugel protesting against a monistic conception of the mystical experience as derogatory to the dignity of the object and so of the experience that contemplates it.

(5) Many of the arguments by which view (A) is supported seem to me to be fallacious. I can only briefly mention a few of the fallacies involved.

(alpha) Let us consider what is involved by the suggestions that the worlds of science and of sense are unreal in some sense in which the underlying reality is real, coupled as it is with the assumption that reality is a unity. Two alternatives are possible: either the mind creates these semi-real worlds at will or it does not. If (i) it does, then (alpha) we are committed to an extreme subjectivism which envisages mind as creating its own objects of knowledge and projecting them into the external world. But if the mind possesses this power of creating objects for itself, how are we to assign limits to its exercise? By what right do we assert of anything we know that it is not merely a projection of our own consciousnesses? If we cannot safely make this assertion, then there is no ground for resisting the view that the underlying reality is itself such a projection. I have quoted passages from Professor Eddington's book, unguarded passages it may be, in which he explicitly says that we build this reality for ourselves, and the fact that this view of the underlying reality finds expression so easily in explicit statement, indicates the subjectivism which lurks implicitly in this whole way of thinking. If it is unable to assert of any object of knowledge that it is other than a mental projection, the view has, it is obvious, no means of resisting a logical reduction to Solipsism.

(beta) If we make the worlds of science and of sense as we please carving them out of a homogeneous mind stuff or a featureless flux of spatiotemporal events, why, it may be asked, do we make them as we do? Experience certainly seems to bring me continually into contact with a world of facts, which restrict my activities and thwart my wishes. If the facts are alien and given, this is explicable; if I have made them by articulating a featureless and infinitely malleable medium, it is not.

(ii) We are driven, then, to the view that the underlying reality is not featureless, but contains within itself the seeds or germs of the distinctions and features that we discern. It is, in other words, qualitatively differentiated by the capacity for generating the world's both of science and of sense. These admittedly may not exist in reality in precisely the forms in which we know them; the mind in other words may work up the distinctions which are given to constitute the objects of the familiar world, and the entities whose existence the scientist asserts; but, if we accept this hypothesis, the distinctions are nonetheless given. And not only distinctions which are the grounds of the worlds of science and sense, but of just those particular worlds with just those qualitatively differentiated features which do in fact appear. It follows that reality is qualified initially by all the differentiating features we discern in it; but in this event it is many and not a unity, and the reasons for regarding the worlds of science and sense as phenomenal aspects of an underlying unity disappear.

(b) And is there in any event any good ground for so regarding them? The various arguments summarized in A (2) (a) (i) - (iii) above, which base themselves upon the abstractive and analytical methods of science, certainly do not constitute such a ground. That living organisms exhibit as whole characteristics which are not those of any part may be agreed; it is also possible that these characteristics cannot be known by the methods of science. It does, not, therefore, follow either that the wholes are more real than their parts, or that the parts do not in fact possess the characteristics which science catalogues, or that, when science catalogues the characteristics, it does not give us true knowledge about them.

That science, in so far as it classifies, is unable to grasp the individuality of things, is probably true; it is also probably true that it cannot give any account of their aesthetic significance. But the common qualities of things in virtue of which science classifies them are really their qualities, and no reasons are given for supposing that the knowledge which science obtains about the things so classified does not constitute important information about their natures. As for aesthetic significance, it is true that an account of the physiological and physical processes which must occur before we can listen to a Bach fugue, is irrelevant to the fact of our appreciation. But there is no reason to suppose that the processes do not occur, or that they are not fully real in some sense in which the aesthetic quality which characterizes or emerges upon their combination is real, merely because they do not happen to interest or excite us. Science admittedly gives us no information about the aesthetic quality of a Fugue; but the fact that it does not is no reason for supposing that that about which it does give us information is not a factor of what is, although it may suggest that it is a factor of a different order.

The fact must not be overlooked that that which is significant, or has significance in the realm of aesthetics, is a work of art, that is, a collection of material particles. It is about this collection that science gives us information. If we were to say that the collection is in some sense unreal, it is difficult to see how it can be credited with the possession of a quality of aesthetic significance which is real. Whatever the conception of degrees or levels of reality may mean - and I for one cannot attach any meaning to it - the same thing cannot, I imagine, at the same time possess qualities which are at different levels of reality. I conclude that the fact that the world of science is a world of objects which lack both individuality and significance, if they do in fact lack them, is no reason for regarding that world as either merely phenomenal or as completely subjective, any more than the fact that its methods are those of classification and analysis is a reason for supposing that they do not give us true knowledge about the nature of what independently is.

(c) I have not space in which to criticize the accounts of the underlying reality given by Professor Eddington; it must be sufficient to point to the fact that they presuppose a number of different and inconsistent relations between reality and the mind that knows it. There is also, as Professor Dawes Hicks has pointed out, considerable difficulty in determining whether Professor Eddington means by reality, mind stuff, a personal God, atoms and electrons, or mathematical relations and relata. A word may be added on the argument of Sir James Jeans. This seems to me to rest upon a fallacy. Even if it were a fact - and I imagine that it is exceedingly doubtful whether it is - that the behaviour of the universe was more readily explicable in terms of mathematical concepts than in those appropriate to any other science or department of human mental activity, it would not appear that any of the conclusions which Sir James Jeans bases upon the fact do really follow from it. For:

(a) the universe might appear to work mathematically because we had put mathematics into it. It would on this hypothesis be only to the phenomenal world, upon which we had imposed our mental categories, that mathematical concepts would be applicable. Noumenal reality would be non-mathematical.

(b) There is no reason to suppose that we found out mathematics entirely by ourselves, and that observation of the behaviour of the outside world was not a necessary, even if it was not a sufficient condition, for mathematical knowledge.

(c) Even if, as Sir James Jeans supposes, both the physical world and our minds work mathematically, and even if God created both, it would not therefore follow that His mind was mathematical. The world is undoubtedly evil, and so, too, are men's minds, but nobody bases upon this fact an argument for supposing that God is evil.

(d) The world cannot be completely analyzed in terms of mathematical laws and concepts, because there must always be a something which is given, and given in the sense of being just given, left over to obey the laws and to which the concepts apply. This ‘given’ must itself be other than the laws and concepts which apply to it and describe its behaviour.

B. I have endeavoured to give some of the objections which seem to me to attach to the metaphysical alternative which I have called A, according to which the existence of an underlying real world, which is both mental and a unity, is conceived to be a corollary of modern physics.

I do not wish to assert that there is no such world; I am concerned merely to combat the view that, if there is, it is noumenal in some sense in which the worlds of science and of sensory experience are phenomenal, real in some sense in which they are unreal, and that the implications of modern physics require it. Nor do I wish to deny that modern physics has important implications for religion. I consider, however, that these implications are negative rather than positive. Nineteenth-century science claimed that the mechanical, physical world whose existence it asserted was the universe; it claimed also that science was the sole method of obtaining true information about the universe. It followed that, if science was right, religion was a fiction; it did not bring the human spirit into contact with an extra-human reality; it merely projected its fears and hopes upon the empty canvas of the universe.

Twentieth-century science has abandoned the claim that the world it explores has an exclusive title to be called real; moreover, it no longer holds that science is our sole mode of approach to reality. Thus the religious view of the universe again becomes one of which, the scientist may take cognisance. I do not mean that science has validated religion; I do not even wish to suggest that it affords any reason for thinking religion to be true. I have, indeed, offered certain criticisms of the meta - physical speculations of those scientists who hold that it does. I am content to point out that the reasons which science formerly gave for thinking that it cannot be true are no longer reasons, and religion may, therefore, again be treated on merits. Science, in a word, has cleared the boards of the universe for religion; but it has no contribution to offer to the writing of the play. The metaphysical view to which, as it seems to me, the development of modern physics point is the one I have indicated by hypothesis

(B). Reality, I should say, is plural; it contains a number of different spheres or realms; each of these spheres or realms is equally real, and the difference between what are called different types of experience is not an intrinsic difference, initrinsic, that is to say, to the mental activities involved, but arises from the difference between the various kinds of objects with which the mind is in contact. There is on this view no sense in which the worlds to which science and sensory experience introduce us are subjective.

On the contrary, all types of experience are in essence revelatory. The arguments in favour of holding that sensory experience brings us into touch with a world of objects which are other than our experience of them are those with which realist philosophers have made us familiar. We are directly aware of a world of sense data; physical objects may or may not be known in sensory experience - on this point opinions differ - red patches certainly are, and they are independent of being known. What, then, is the order of reality to which, on this view, scientific objects belong ? It is important to emphasize the point that scientific objects are not apprehended in sensory experience.

Nevertheless they are indubitably objects of consciousness; to think about an atom is assuredly to think about something, if only because thinking about an atom is a different experience from thinking about an electron. Unless, therefore, we are to hold that the status of the physicists' world is adjectival in the sense of being a state of the knowing mind, we must attribute to it substantial existence as an object of thought independent of the knowing mind. Yet the physicists' world is not and probably never will be experienced. It seems convenient, at this point, to make use of arguments of the German school of intentional psychology and assign to the world of physics, that is to say to the entities such as intervals in space - time, electrons, protons, gravitational mass, inertia, and so forth of which physicists speak, a status similar to that ascribed by Meinong to his ‘ third realm,’ which is neither mental nor physical, a realm which is usually held to be the appropriate abiding place of universals, and which might, I suggest, be extended to accommodate the world of physics. Our awareness of this world is, I suggest, called thinking, just as our awareness of the physical world is called sensory experience.

I have endeavoured to argue elsewhere that what are called physical objects also belong to this third realm, and that our knowledge of the so - called physical world always takes the form of the direct apprehension of sense - data. On this view the function of material sense - data is to turn the attention of the mind to the material world of thought. The attention of minds at a certain level of development is directed to the awareness of non-material physical objects; that of minds at a higher level of development at which, to use a common expression, they begin to be influenced by non-practical interests, is directed to the awareness of the non - material scientific world. Whether, in other words, the visual datum which is a patch of light makes one think of a street lamp or of the properties of light rays, depends upon the level of one's mental development and the purpose by which one's immediate apprehension of the datum is inspired.

I should argue further that mind, continually developing as evolution proceeds, has now reached a point at which it is becoming capable of the awareness of a new order or sphere of reality which is what we call the realm of value. Knowledge of this realm comes to us at present uncertainly and intermittently in the form of aesthetic, moral and religious experience. Of these forms of experience the aesthetic is, I should say, the easiest to come by, the religious the most moving. Only the mystics, who, rightly considered, are biological ‘ sports,’ precocious children of evolution, in whom mind has evolved at a level beyond the normal of the race, are capable of the awareness of this world in any continuous degree.

Along these lines it seems to me to be possible to maintain that sense experience, scientific knowledge, and mystical insight all give us knowledge of reality, without implying either:

(1) that the worlds of science and of sense are in some unexplained way phenomenal or unreal,
(2) or that the subject - object relation which is involved in our knowledge of the atom or of the table, is transcended when we hear a Fugue, see a sunset, or experience an intimation of deity, so that mind, ceasing to be itself, becomes one with what it knows,
(3) or that the reality of which we are conscious in mystical and religious experience is continuous with and belongs to the same order of reality as the mind which knows it.

I find it difficult to conclude, without protesting against the implication of this last view. It seems to me that an object is worthy of reverence, not because of its kinship with, but because of its difference from myself. I believe that in aesthetic and mystical experience the mind is brought into contact with an extra-human reality, but that the contact remains that of knower and known. To go further and to insist that the mind is continuous, or even that it becomes one with that which it knows, would by implication degrade the object, by infecting it with the partialities and imperfections of the subject. This view quickly degenerates in practice into an anthropomorphism which, by interpreting religious experience as an extension of the self in continuity or community of being with the not self, imposes the nature of the self upon the not self, and so limits our hopes and aspirations to what are, in the long run, purely human values.



See also: ‘Philosophy for All’ by Robert Hill and Richard Symond’s 21st century retrospective on Joad: Philosophical Treasure or Third Class Socrates?

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