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Appendix D

Logical Positivism

Logical Positivism is the name of a philosophical doctrine first promulgated during the 1920's by a group known as the Vienna Circle in the city of that name. The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus of Ludwig Wittgenstein, published in 1921, is the seminal text from which grew its formal presentation. It is uncompromisingly materialist in outlook, and is today, in the guise of dialectical materialism, the only formally accepted philosophical basis of modern science. All who desire formal academic recognition as scientists must avow its tenets.

The name is a terse summary of the underlying ideas, which assume a materialist viewpoint. The word logical indicates the purely rational nature of its discourse, which allows of nothing that cannot be derived from a process of mechanical connectedness. The word positivism indicates that whatever cannot be so derived must therefore be positively denied. This violates a fundamental principle of logic, the impossibility of proving a negative proposition. For example, the statement "Blue daisies do not exist" can never be proven, since only omniscience could guarantee its truth. This innate contradiction is ignored by Logical Positivists, and demonstrates the arrogance and conceit typical of their personalities and attitudes. The topic is best explained with recourse to history.

The beginning of modern objective experimental science is usually traced to the sixteenth century. An alternative opinion places it somewhat earlier, the twelfth century or thereabouts. It was then that clocks made their appearance in the lives of ordinary citizens, who had previously adjusted the daily round to the motions of the Sun and Moon. The concept of time as something fixed, invariable and quantifiable had until then largely been the prerogative of the Church, and it was only monks who rose from sleep at the tolling of a bell rather than the rising of the Sun. During the next few centuries, town hall clocks became an increasingly common feature of the wealthier boroughs, and the convenience of organizing one's affairs according to fixed times and fixed places prompted a gradual acceptance of measured time instead of "natural" time. This marked an important conceptual leap for the man in the street, and this concept of and attitude to time is today taken for granted by all industrial nations.

By the time Newton published his Principia in the seventeenth century, the framework of a mechanistic worldview was already in place, albeit tempered with the opinion that the laws by which it operated had been laid down by God at the beginning of Creation. Science was tolerated so long as its doctrines did not conflict with religious interpretations, as Galileo found to his cost for his undue enthusiasm for a heliocentric universe. About a century later, Laplace postulated that a knowledge of the positions and velocities of all particles in the Universe would permit an unfailing certainty as to all future events. Any phenomenon deriving from known causes is said to be determined by those causes, and arguments as to the validity of various forms of Determinism have raged ever since, as have claims of its scientific validation.

Darwinian evolution can be interpreted as a form of biological determinism, and this undoubtedly has some validity - we are all, in greater or lesser degree, both victims and beneficiaries of our individual biology. It is a further, and surely unjustified step then to insist that we are only and inevitably a consequence of that single cause; that all other causes are either secondary or non-existent. As the problems under investigation by Science grew more profound and complex, the greatest recurring difficulty could always be traced to various aspects of consciousness. The technique of ignoring consciousness as a causative agent and focussing on behaviour - seeing form for substance - proved ever and again successful in devising new experiments, and the more successful experiments could be interpreted as favouring this objective position - perhaps unsurprisingly.

These movements did not go unnoticed by philosophers. Impressed by the power of the scientific method and the certainty of Empiricism, they began demanding the formulation of a philosophy which exhibited scientific rigour and logical consistency. In contrast to the ex cathedra pronouncements and impassioned prejudices of ecclesiastical doctrine, many of which had become embarassingly dated, Empiricists had demonstrated a reasoned alternative based on common sense and daily experience. Recognition of the power of inductive logic led many to suppose it the zenith of human intellectual development, and, in the vanities of the time, of universal creation. From these arose the Positivist schools, which not only confine themselves to the data of experience, rejecting all a priori assumptions and metaphysical speculation, but deride the latter as meaningless. It is this proactive attitude, to use a modern term, which identifies the Positivist; he is not content to ignore those things which are regarded as irrelevant or mistaken, but must actively and positively denounce and deny them, hence the appelation. As a reaction to the often brutal intellectual confinement of past times, these were tolerable responses, even if lacking restraint.

However, during the initial decades of this century, a heady alliance between philosophers, psychologists and physicists resulted in the Vienna circle of the 1920's, which, through the writings of Wittgenstein and others, promulgated the ideas which eventually coalesced into Logical Positivism, a school of thought which interprets these ideas in their most uncompromising extreme. Having helped father the child, scientists embracing this philosophy were eager to promote its supremacy.

Matters came to a head in 1927, the year of the Fifth Solvay Conference. This was a gathering of the leading physicists of the time at a regular meeting to discuss topics of current interest. A group known as the Copenhagen School had formulated an interpretation of experimental results denying all realities other than physical matter and energies. Such a denial violates a fundamental principle of logic, the impossibility of proving a negative proposition, as explained above, but being in accord with the dominant philosophy of the time, carried a wholly unjustifued authority and persuasiveness. Bohr, Heisenberg, and others of the Copenhagen School urged this interpretation upon the assembly. Others such as Einstein and Born who entertained more diverse, liberal and often spiritual views were defeated by the adoption of Logical Positivism as the only formally-accepted philosophical foundation of Physics - and, by implication, of all truly "hard" science.

At the time, this was of little consequence to the world at large, being seen as a decision taken by a group of boffins with little or no impact on the real world. All of that changed in 1945, when the blast of the atomic bomb raised physicists to the pinnacle of intellectual authority, a completely unjustified position which they never deserved, but still occupy today. Along with them came their equally unjustified philosophical opinions, and so it was that dialectical materialism became the dominant intellectual attitude of the West, and eventually of the whole world.

The Copenhagen Interpretation of Physics, as it is known, is still unassailable academic doctrine today, and is the basis of the confident assertions by the scientifically semiliterate of Science's ability to defy logic and prove a multitude of negatives: God does not exist, telepathy is impossible, Man is alone in the Universe, and so forth. The confidence emboldening such pronouncements comes neither from experimental evidence nor logical induction, but from the power of belief in an old and hallowed tradition. Having undertaken to diminish Religion to superstitious impotence, Science has been obliged by its own success to fill the seat thus vacated, and so has itself become a religion equally as intolerant and bigoted as its predecessor. As useful as it may once have been, Logical Positivism has by now outlived both its usefulness and its credibility. Science must seek a wider and more enlightened philosophy if it is ever to confront modern reality.