Blogging my thoughts:
Science should not Step
Out of Bounds
(In the Light of Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge)
Dennis Overbye in his article “There’s More to Nothing than We Knew” in the Science Times, reacts to Lawrence M. Krauss’ book, A Universe from Nothing, writing that physicists and cosmologists like Krauss are going into philosophical and theological territory. “He joins the chorus of his fellow physicists and cosmologists, who have been pushing into sacred ground proclaiming more and more loudly in the last few years that science can explain how something – namely our star-spangled cosmos – could be born from, if not nothing, something very close to it. And God, they argue, is not part of the equation.”(D1)
When such scientists say that God is not part of the equation, then it is difficult to follow how they can say they are pushing onto “sacred ground.” It is true that God creates out of nothing, creatio ex nihilo in Latin. Under human auspices you cannot get something out of nothing, or in Latin, ex nihilo nihil fit. It is a pretty heady thing to understand and theorize out there at the edge of material reality, but because scientists observe these wonders, does it mean that they author and create what they are observing or theorizing? I think not.
To get into philosophical territory, we could use Heraclitus, Parmenides or Hegel. Let’s take Hegel. Scientists are exploring the deepest determinations of being and nothingness. In Hegel’s logic, when every last possible determination is subtracted from the category of being, a pure “isness” is left that is identical with nothing, the second category of his dialectic. And when nothing passes into being or something, he discovered his third category, becoming. What Hegel was discovering in his dialectic of thought was the possibility of equating being and nothing and the passage of one to another as the third category, returning from something to nothing or building up from nothing to something. Philosophers have broken the ground for and worked out this thought-capacity, which scientists are unconsciously using.
Now Krauss as well as Overbye do not make the distinction drawn by Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) between focal awareness and subsidiary awareness, focal knowledge and subsidiary knowledge. Like Thomas Kuhn, who in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions points out that the actual history of scientific discovery and its history as presented by scientists is very different,  Polanyi shows that underlying the process of scientific discovery is not only empiricism, experimentation, and the scientific method, but also the search for truth, understanding, and other personal and human values shared in common, often in a subsidiary realm beneath the scientific focus of attention, awareness, and knowledge.
Krauss as well as Overbye (except for the perspicuity of his last question in the article) turn their focal attention to what physicists and cosmologists can say about nothing. They are not aware of the subsidiary motion of their thought and the comprehensive activity and motion of their thought by which they can describe the deepest determinations, of which science is capable of finding for some being, whether of quantum particles or some kind of dark energy in the nothing they are thinking about.
Of course, when I place our focus on their thought, I disrupt the matter that they are investigating and the meaning of their thoughts. But along with most scientists, they lose sight of the subsidiary thought processes that make their scientific knowledge possible as well as eclipsing themselves, who are the thinkers of these thoughts. That’s why Overbye’s question at the end is a clincher: “But who is or was the dreamer?” (D3)
Reading this article, don’t become bewitched by the verbal magic. Remember that philosophers have developed the words, concepts, and categories in which scientists think!
Dr. Krauss finds three different kinds of nothingness. 1) That of empty space: it is, however, filled with energy, vibrating electro-magnetic fields and so-called virtual particles dancing in and out of existence from borrowed energy consisting of randomness that characterizes reality on the smallest scales, according to the rules of quantum theory.
2) There is nothing even without space and time. “Following a similar quantum logic, theorists have proposed that whole universes, little bubbles of space and time, could pop into existence, like bubbles in boiling water, out of nothing.” (D3)
Then 3) There is even a deeper nothing, in which even the laws of physics are absent. “Where do those laws come from? Are they born with the universe, or is the universe born in accordance with them?” Overbye asks. (D3) Overbye criticizes Krauss for turning to multiverse theory, where nearly an infinite assemblage of universes, could each have its own randomly determined rules, particles, and forces that present solutions to the equations of string theory – the alleged theory of everything (and that Overbye feels could explain anything). (D3)
Now it is obvious that Krauss is finding deeper and deeper determinations of being and nothingness and his interchange of particles, bubbles of space and time, or even universes and thinking them through the thought-distinctions that long ago, Hegel, Parmenides, and Heraclitus worked out for him. The scientist’s focal attention, however, is on his scientific description, but he could not discover it, present it, or even think it, without thought and without his own existence as a thinker of those thoughts, of which he is unaware because they are subsidiary to his focal attention. (This insight comes from understanding the comprehensive nature of Polanyi’s theory of personal knowledge.)
Scientists with their focal attention fixed for knowledge on the very edge of the material, physical universe, have left their conscious thinking, their own selves, their values, and their history, in which they could pronounce these theories, far behind.
Now because Lawrence Krauss knows that God creates out of nothing and now he can almost take what is the philosophical term, “nothing,” and put it under a microscope – he argues that “God is not part of the equation.”
Here is where Polanyi, a scientist-become-philosopher, comes in again. Polanyi uses a metaphor of a machine to point out that the deepest analysis of the chemistry and physics of the machine will never give you a clue to why the engineers made it and nor about what purpose it was made to carry out. Thus as much as in the flight from the personal and the divine, such scientists feel they are pushing into the sacred and into the territory of philosophy and theology, they are working on the level of chemistry and physics. Therefore it is not in their competence to make judgments about who the thinker, the dreamer – to use Overbye’s word, nor what the spiritual reality of this world is. Human history, thought, morality, and the spiritual dimension is a level of reality that scientists methodologically ruled out for the sake of the space-time, quantifiability, and measurability of the scientific enterprise. Now such scientists cannot suddenly make a claim about the totality of reality, when from the get-go, they have methodologically agreed not to consider a significant or even the most important level of reality.
Because of the scientific method, the historical, the thought world, the realm of morals, and the spiritual realities are unspecifiable for science. They have become the subsidiary dimension of the scientific focus. According to Polanyi, the higher of the two levels of reality is unspecifiable in terms of the lower. Thus science is not competent to make pronouncement about the purpose of human life on earth, the course of history, morality, and our life before God, because they are all unspecifiable on the rung of reality that science investigates.
 New York Times, (February 21, 2012), pages D1 and D3.
 Michael Polanyi, The Study of Man, (University of Chicago Press, 1959), page 30: “We may say that when we comprehend a particular set of items as parts of a whole, the focus of our attention is shifted from the hitherto uncomprehended particulars to the understanding of their joint meaning. This shift of meaning does not make us lose sight of the particulars, since one can see a whole only by seeing its parts, but it changes altogether the manner in which we are aware of the particulars. We become aware of them now in terms of the whole on which we have fixed our attention. I shall call this subsidiary awareness of the particulars, by contrast to a focal awareness which would fix attention on the particulars in themselves, and not as parts of a whole. I shall also speak correspondingly of subsidiary knowledge of such items, as distinct from a focal Knowledge of the same items.
 Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, (University of Chicago Press, 1962).
 Ibid. “The depreciation of historical fact is deeply, and probably functionally, ingrained in the ideology of the scientific profession, the same profession that places the highest value upon factual details of other sorts.” (page 137) and in rejecting previous scientific paradigms by means of textbooks, scientists renounce the books in which those paradigms were embodied, “The result is a sometimes drastic distortion of the scientist’s perception of his discipline’s past.” (page 166) Interestingly enough, Thomas Kuhn compares science to theology, (pages 135 and 165) where a new paradigm has to be accepted on faith, (157) scientists have to be converted into accepting it, (149) and “Far more clearly than the immediate experience from which they in part derive, operations and measurements are paradigm-determined.” (125)
 Michael Polanyi, The Study of Man, (University of Chicago Press, 1959), page 30.
 I believe that laws were first social determinations, which scientist then transposed onto the regularities of nature. But what sense do they make when nature is completely random and irregular?
 See Micael Polanyi’s post-critical philosophy in Personal Knowledge, (Harper Torchbooks, Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1958-1964) in 428 pages.
 “Take a watch to pieces and examine, however carefully, its separate parts in turn, you will never come across the principles by which the watch keeps time.” Michael Polanyi, page 47.
 Michael Polanyi, page 45: “Dismemberment of a comprehensive entity produces incomprehension of it and in this sense the entity is logically unspecifiable in terms of its particulars.” (Polanyi’s italics)
 In his book, Science, Faith, and Society: a Searching Examination of Meaning and Nature of Scientific Inquiry, (University of Chicago Press, 1946), Michael Polanyi writes, “The denial of all spiritual reality is not only false but incapable of consumption.” (page 78)
 Ibid., page 59.
 Otto F. Kernberg, in his book, The Inseparable Nature of Love and Aggression: Clinical and Theoretical Perspectives, (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2012), writes of three vertices of reality, delineating one vertex for science, one for religion and values, and one for art, much like I posited levels of reality, material or natural and spiritual. Kernberg, like Polanyi, writes of an emerging spiritual realm, which he affirms and respects as a scientist. Scientists, who deny the existence of God and the spiritual vertex of reality, on the basis of science, end by falsifying science by making it a Weltanschauung. (page 381) Kernberg shows how Freud’s atheism made him reject the religious basis of morality and base it on rationality, thus contradicting his own deepest convictions about the power of the irrational unconscious over humanity. (page 353)