Useful metaphysics

I envision a new discipline that would be a unique blend of physics, metaphysics and spiritual philosophy combining the analytical approach with the synthetic approach. A practitioner of this new discipline would not be shy about using mathematical language and try as much as possible to produce models of Reality with such explanatory and predictive power that scientists would find those models useful. Practitioners of this new discipline would also strive to establish a rational discourse between the scientists and the spiritual philosophers.

In order to be distinguished as a new discipline the practitioners have to produce models of Reality that are simple, explanatory and predictive. Scientists strive for the same goals but scientific models are necessarily more detailed therefore more complicated. The models produced by the practitioners of the new discipline will emphasize simplicity. Another goal will be to produce models with minimum number of free parameters. The simplest and the most efficient (yielding to calculations) model with the smallest number of free parameters that can explain the widest range of observations will be accepted as the most worthy. The goal is not to compete with physicists and other scientists. The goal is to provide complementary models to deepen our understanding.

People have very different notions of metaphysics. The literal meaning of the word ‘meta’ in ancient Greek was ‘after’ as in what comes after physics or what is beyond physics. In modern usage, however, the word meta usually means an abstraction from another concept that adds to it.

In one particular sense metaphysics can be understood as the abstract aspects of physics pertaining to the essence of physics. More generally, however, metaphysics is the philosophical study of the real. Metaphysics is about ontology.

I use the term Reality to refer to the real. Academics study Reality using the intellectual faculty of the human mind and call their effort metaphysics. Mystics, sufis, yogis, spiritual aspirants of all traditions try to attain Reality using the intuitional faculty of the human mind and call their effort spiritual practice. Somehow, the general public confuse the two distinct paths and refer to the spiritual practice as metaphysics. Clearly, spiritual practice is not metaphysics.

There is confusion between metaphysics and religion as well. Religion is mostly about moral philosophy and social justice and social norms. There is very little spiritual philosophy or metaphysics in religion.

Metaphysics is not to be confused with spiritual philosophy either. The statements of spiritual philosophy are derived from the common expressions of spiritual experiences humans have been having for thousands of years. In spiritual philosophy intuition is more important than intellect but intellect and logic are not ignored. Spiritual philosophy is a rational approach. Spiritual philosophy is also a synthetic approach. Spiritual philosophers blend their intuitive understanding of spirituality with that of others. Spiritual philosophy is based on synthesis. Metaphysics is based on analysis.

In science, a particular theory is tested by experiments conducted by few independent groups. If the experimental results verify the theory then the theory is accepted by all scientists everywhere even though they did not conduct the experiments themselves. In spiritual philosophy the results have to be repeated and verified by every truth seeker. In spiritual philosophy there is no revealed truth. A particular synthesis of spiritual philosophy serves only as a source of inspiration.

Science tries to answer mostly the ‘how’ questions. Metaphysics is interested in the ‘why’ questions. Spiritual philosophy tries to make sense of the spiritual experiences. Scientists try their best to find a rational explanation without attributing the cause to God. This is fine as long as scientists maintain their agnostic stance. But, when they deny the existence of God then they are taking a metaphysical position. Those so-called scientists, by declaring the non-existence of God in serious publications, are practicing pseudoscience.

What is pseudoscience? When you pretend that you are making a scientific statement you are practicing pseudoscience. Existence of God can neither be verified nor falsified. Such statements do not belong in science.

Spiritual philosophy has no problem with the methodology of science which is analysis. Spiritual philosophy leaves the discovery of natural laws to the scientists and accepts the scientific explanations but spiritual philosopher is not satisfied with the intellectual understanding. The spiritual practice is about experiencing the Reality and spiritual philosophy is about the methodology leading to that experience. The methodology of synthesis may lead to that experience. In the process of forming a synthesis, the spiritual philosopher discovers the concepts that are actually relevant in science.

We all agree that pseudoscience is bad but it is not always easy to distinguish between science and pseudoscience. The key word is ‘pretension.’ Pseudoscience pretends to be science. Metaphysics does not pretend to be science. Spiritual philosophy does not pretend either.

If you have a speculative theory and if you clearly state that it is speculative then you are not practicing pseudoscience. You are not pretending that it is science.

There are phases in the development of fundamental physics. In certain periods the experimental findings lead the way and the theory comes later. For example, the theory of electromagnetism was really the generalization and quantification of all the experimental findings.

In other times the theory leads. General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics were not just the generalization and quantification of all the known facts. These theories were based on certain principles that came from human intuition. Experiments confirmed the predictions of these theories much later.

Now, we are in a different phase. In particle physics we have a theory (collection of models) known as the Standard Model which has too many free parameters. To make progress we need help from the experiments but unfortunately the particle physics experiments have reached their technological limits. An order of magnitude improvement in the collision energy of particle beams will take decades to achieve. Astrophysical findings are helping but they will never take the place of direct particle creation experiments.

The crisis in theoretical particle physics makes it necessary to be bolder. This is the time to focus on the conceptual framework of physics. In order to make progress we have to know about the most general (abstract) principles and then try to explain many different phenomena within that general framework with models using minimum number of parameters. This is a tall order.

There will be no progress in theoretical physics unless physicists examine the conceptual foundations of their theories. I am not asking physicists to become religious and develop theories to fit their religious beliefs. I am not saying that! What I am saying is this: we cannot make progress until we understand what electrical charge, spin and invariant mass are. Physicists have been developing theories to answer the ‘how’ questions. In the remainder of the 21st century, physicists will have to turn their attention to the ‘what’ questions.

Science cannot provide a single ‘Theory of Everything.’ Science will provide multiple perspectives. Examples of these perspectives are many: the Field Theory perspective, the String Theory perspective and many more. In the future we will have a different scientific perspective known as the Microvita Theory as well.

I am firmly convinced that Cosmos is whole-connected and unified but there are infinite number of perspectives.

About Suresh Emre

I have worked as a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory. I am a volunteer for the Renaissance Universal movement. My main goal is to inspire the reader to engage in Self-discovery and expansion of consciousness.
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