mission statement

  • The Consortium for Philosophy and the Natural Sciences, in affiliation with the Department of History at California State University Sacramento, engages in research and scholarship that explores the historical and 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 undergraduate programmatic activities, our mission is to foster and enhance the understanding of modern science and its philosophical, historical, cultural, and social implications. Our work in this regard extends beyond the scholarly community and into the arena of education and public discourse. Topics include history and philosophy of science, science and technology in society, bioethics, science education, and other practical applications.

    More broadly, we explore the influence of modern science upon the formation and evolution of today’s dominant worldviews--those increasingly potent and increasingly conflicted 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 born of them have today become so highly formalized and proprietary that it is often the case that even professional scientists have only a vague 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 ever more specialized and abstract conceptual formalisms that are now simply stipulated to exceed the comprehension 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 books written for popular audiences--often incorporated into high school and even college humanities courses by professors with no capacity for critical evaluation of the material--give modern physics and cosmology the medieval character of exotic 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, for these audiences, 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, unquestionable revelation.

    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 history and 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
    • 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 for their proper interpretation (most notably in the case of quantum mechanics, for example); they are also key 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, most notably, Bohm's 'implicate order' concept.)

      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 ultimate 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 politicized mistrust of science in recent years, even in the face of a global pandemic, the stagnating science and religion dialogue, and the increasing objectification of human beings as ‘social matter’ in economics and geopolitics, are 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. With our research, university curricula, and programmatic activities, our goal is to help build a solid scientific and philosophical foundation for the journey.

      Michael Epperson
      Founding Director, CPNS
      California State University, Sacramento