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The Center for Philosophy and the Natural Sciences, in affiliation with the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at California State University Sacramento and the Institute of Mathematics at the University of Athens, Greece, engages in research and scholarship that explores the philosophical implications underlying recent innovations in contemporary science, including those occurring in the areas of quantum physics, cosmology, and the study of complex adaptive systems. This exploration is, in part, a speculative philosophical enterprise intended to contribute to the framework of a suitable bridge by which scientific and philosophical concepts might not only be cross-joined, but mutually supported.

In addition to our research, teaching, and publication initiatives, our mission is to foster and enhance the understanding of modern science and its philosophical, cultural, and social implications. Our work in this regard will extend beyond the scholarly community and into the arena of public discourse and public policy. Topics will include the role of science and technology in society, environmental science and policy, bioethics, science education, and other practical applications.

Our two curricular programs exemplify this aspect of our mission:

 

History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) Initiative

In response to increasing student interest in science’s latest answers to the Big Questions, and the growing importance of science in today’s knowledge economy, Sacramento State will join the ranks of top-tier universities offering History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) programs, launching its own HPS Initiative this fall. In the 2014-15 academic year, this initiative is expected to achieve official curricular program status. Sacramento State's HPS Initiative

 
includes new course offerings in the Department of History, a visiting speaker from NASA, graduate student liaisons at Stanford and San Francisco State, the Ultimate Questions Student Discussion Group, and more.  
       
 

CPNS Program for Science and Human Values

U.C. Berkeley - Graduate Theological Union: Starting this spring, the CPNS Program for Science and Human Values, in collaboration with U.C. Berkeley-GTU, will be offering graduate courses that explore the history of religion and modern science. The first of these graduate courses, 'Orthodox Christianity and Modern Science: A Dialogue with the Western Scholastic Tradition' will be taught by Michael Epperson this spring.

 

More broadly, these programs explore the influence of modern science upon the formation and evolution of today’s dominant worldviews--those increasingly potent and increasingly conflicted Weltanschauungen--paradigms depicting the universe and humanity's relation to it. Rapid changes in science and technology have dramatically changed these often competing values landscapes in the past few decades. The contribution of the natural sciences to the formation of modern worldviews as integrative frameworks of understanding is often received passively and absorbed with little critical analysis. Indeed, the physical sciences and the latest technologies borne of them have today become so highly formalized and proprietary that it is often the case that even professional scientists have little understanding of fundamental scientific theories beyond the scope of their own specialties. Thus, as our worldview becomes more and more centered upon science and technology, the average person is strangely expected to understand less and less about that worldview.

Modern physics and cosmology, in particular, entail increasingly specialized and increasingly abstract conceptual formalisms that are now simply stipulated to exceed the compreshension of most people, including the college educated. As a result, the dissemination of quantum mechanics and cosmology into the popular market, though vehicles like The Science Channel and non-academic books written for popular audiences, give moden physics and cosmology the medieval character of fundamental truths revealed via authority, rather than truths that can be reasoned by the common person. Indeed, one could argue that this increasingly accepted view of modern science is, at its essence, an historical regression from the Enlightenment theme of autonomy via reason, so celebrated by modern civilization, back to the medieval theme of heteronomy via authoritative revelation.

With the goal of helping to counter this tendency, CPNS will reach out to broad audiences and suggest practical implications and applications of our research by which one can identify, analyze, and loosen the shackles of those conventional, scientifically inspired worldviews that dominate primarily through uncritical inheritance.

Our mission, then, is both scholarly and pedagogical--theoretical and practical. We will pursue these aspects of our work in complementary fashion, through a variety of initiatives, including:

  • The provision of opportunities for faculty research in the philosophy of science and related areas;
  • The sponsorship of opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration in both research and teaching in the natural sciences and humanities;
  • The provision of resources to enhance the role of science education in the curriculum through the sponsorship of workshops for faculty in any discipline for which the philosophical, cultural, and social implications of modern science are a concern;
  • The provision of scholarly and educational service both within and beyond the University community, including regional educational institutions and the general public;
  • The sponsorship of public lectures and symposia that bring scholars and community members together to facilitate a greater awareness of the philosophical, cultural, and social implications of modern science. These implications will be explored not only as they apply to daily life, but also to public policy initiatives and legislation.
 

From the Director

Since the lines separating philosophy and science have all but vanished with respect to recent explorations of fundamental questions (e.g., string theory, multiverse cosmologies, complexity-emergence theories, the nature of mind, etc…), the modern breakdown of ‘natural philosophy’ into the divorced partners ‘philosophy’ and ‘science’ must be rigorously re-examined.

This re-examination has typically been treated as a cottage industry in academia; but as fundamental scientific theories reach farther and farther toward the deepest questions, both outward and inward, it becomes increasingly clear that the philosophical implications of these scientific theories are not only crucial a posteriori to the proper interpretation of the theories; they are also key a priori to their coherent formulation in the first place. The problem of understanding the boundary between classical and quantum mechanics, for example, has less to do with the physical incompatibility of quantum and classical descriptions of nature than with their philosophical incompatibilities.  Quantum mechanics can technically accommodate classical mechanics without much difficulty by deriving the latter from itself as an epistemic abstraction; but it cannot accommodate the Cartesian-dualistic substance metaphysics by which classical mechanics has reigned as the fundamental description of nature over the past several centuries.

 
Indeed, recent advances in quantum mechanics have revealed that the divorce of modern science and philosophy has its roots, like most divorces, in several key misapprehensions within their original marriage. The union presided over by Descartes and the other early-moderns was not a union of dualities—conceptual and physical, subject and object—but rather a union in dualism: conceptual vs. physical; subject vs. object; epistemology vs. ontology. Though Cartesian dualism and the dominance of mechanistic-materialism that eventually evolved from it were entirely justifiable by the physics of the time, every modern-day attempt to interpret quantum mechanics as merely an incomplete version of classical mechanics has failed. Indeed, in recent decades, both scientific and philosophical examinations of quantum mechanics have shown mechanistic materialism to be a flawed foundation upon which the modern marriage of science and philosophy

was initially built. In the modern quantum theory, there is simply no coherent way to dualistically separate (i.e., as mutually exclusive concepts) the subjective and epistemic aspects of nature from the objective and ontological features. This problem becomes especially acute at the intersection of neuroscience and physics; and more broadly, perhaps, at the intersection of science and ethics.

 

Along with mechanistic materialism, the emphasis of reductionism was a natural byproduct of the dualistic Cartesian philosophy of nature and its evolution to modern science. Accordingly, and perhaps ironically, there have been various attempts to relieve Cartesian dualism by reducing (i.e., explaining away) the objective features of quantum mechanics--and science in general--to sheerly subjective, indeterministic features; and there have likewise been attempts to reduce the subjective and indeterministic features to sheerly objective, deterministic features (e.g. the various hidden variables interpretations of quantum mechanics, Bohm's 'implicate order' concept, or the statistical interpretation of Max Born as a few examples of modernist attempts at such reduction.)

By contrast, we argue that a careful philosophical exploration of the function of the logical order in modern interpretations of quantum physics compels the abandonment of classical, bipolar dualistic understandings of 'determinism vs. indeterminism,'

 

Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) Cherubs Sculpture

'the order of contingent causal relation vs. the order of necessary logical implication,' 'subject vs. object,' 'epistemic vs. ontological,' among other fundamental dualisms. The incoherence underlying the classical understanding of these principle-pairs as bipolar, mutually exclusive features of reality can be relieved if they are instead understood as dipolar, mutually implicative features of fundamental quantum measurement events, where the latter are understood as fundamental units of relation. By this method of dipolar relation it is explicitly recognized that the definition of one principle necessarily requires reference to its counterpart principle. Each relatum constitutive of dipolar conceptual pairs is always contextualized by both the other relatum and the relation as a whole, such that neither the relata (the parts) nor the relation (the whole) can be adequately or meaningfully defined apart from their mutual reference. It is impossible, therefore, to conceptualize one principle in a dipolar pair as fundamental to the other, or likewise to explain away one principle by reduction to its counterpart principle.

The misplaced notion of ‘explaining away’ via scientific reductionism—the idea that scientific descriptions of nature can and will, with sufficient magnification by technology, disclose simple, fundamental, and complete explanations of nature—has become the badge by which most people now identify science, and by which too many scientists now identify themselves.  Despite a long history of potent philosophical admonitions against this conflation of fundamental description and fundamental explanation—a history that goes all the way back to Plato—this traditional conflation has, after many centuries, produced a science frequently costumed, and increasingly perceived, as ‘scientism.’ The adverse effects have not been subtle: the ever-increasing sectarian mistrust of science (recent Federal Court debates on evolution vs. creationism, etc), the stagnating science and religion dialogue in general, and the increasing objectification of human beings as ‘social matter’ in economics and geopolitics, to name but a few of the most acute problems.

CPNS is dedicated to a scientific and philosophical ascent from these pitfalls and an elevation of our cross-disciplinary understanding of nature and its complex interconnections. This dedication is the hallmark feature of the many physicists and philosophers of our research team. To be sure, the research we propose will generate just a first step in this climb; but we believe it is a crucial step, and one which our scholars are especially well-equipped to take. Our goal, ultimately, is to help build a solid scientific and philosophical foundation for the journey.

Michael Epperson
Founder and Director, CPNS
College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
California State University, Sacramento

 

 
Michael Epperson

Founding Director of the Center for Philosophy and the Natural Sciences, Research Professor, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, California State University Sacramento

Elias Zafiris

Senior Research Fellow in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics, Institute of Mathematics, National University of Athens, Greece

Karim Bschir Chair for Philosophy, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich
Stuart Kauffman Professor, Departments of Biochemistry and Mathematics & Senior Researcher, Complex Systems Center, University of Vermont; External Professor, The Santa Fe Institute
Roland Omnès Professor Emeritus, Theoretical Physics University of Paris XI CNRS – French National Center for Scientific Research
Timothy E. Eastman Physicist
NASA - Sciences and Exploration Directorate &
Director, Plasmas International, Silver Spring MD
David R. Finkelstein Professor Emeritus, Department of Physics
Georgia Institute of Technology
Mohsen Shiri-Garakani Associate Professor, Department of Physics
Pace University
Spyridon A. Koutroufinis Institut für Philosophie, Literatur-, Wissenschafts- und Technikgeschichte
Technische Universität Berlin
Henry P. Stapp Physicist
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
George W. Shields Professor, Chair, Department of Philosophy
Kentucky State University
Ronny Desmet Senior Research Fellow, Center for Logic and the Philosophy of Science, Vrije Universiteit, Brussels
Jorge L. Nobo Professor, Department of Philosophy
Washburn University
William M. Kallfelz Asst. Professor, Department of Philosophy
New Mexico State University
Theodore St. John Medical Physicist, Naval Medical Center San Diego
Adjunct Professor, Department of Physics
San Diego State University
Michael Fitzpatrick CPNS Graduate Student Fellow
Department of Philosophy, Stanford University
Miles Andrews CPNS Graduate Student Fellow
Department of Philosophy, San Francisco State University
 
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