By Stuart Kauffman
We may be at a time when our scientific world view is about to undergo a radical transformation. Recently, physicist Stephen Hawking wrote an article entitled, "Godel and the End of Physics." His concern is that no finite set of laws may suffice to describe the evolution of the universe, and with it, I add, the biosphere, econosphere, human cultural evolution and history.
I hope in this and forthcoming discussions to explore a new issue in Western born science: Do laws sufficiently describe the becoming of the universe and all in it? If not, as I believe, what does such a failure of sufficiency portend? If the becoming of the universe is partially beyond natural law, the issue is deeply important: The way the world becomes may be ever creative and open. Its implications touch all aspects of our lives and humanity as we move toward a co-evolving ecology of world civilizations, need a sharable sense of the sacred, a global ethic, and a deeper understanding of ourselves, living forward not only not knowing what will happen, but not even knowing what can happen. As we will see, if right, we live forward into Mystery. A partially lawless reality has very large practical consequences for our lives. How could it not?
Perhaps as Heraclitus said about 2700 years ago, the world does bubble forth.
If we are to discuss this, we must first understand the basic framework welded by physics since Descartes, Galileo and Newton. The first modern summary of this view was put forth by French mathematician, Laplace, in Napoleon's time: Given a vast computing system that knew the positions, velocities and masses of all the particles in the universe, this computer could, using Newton's laws, compute the entire future and past of the universe. This claim is the essence of what is called "reductionism", the framework of science in which we in much of the "first world" live.
Add quantum mechanics, general relativity, and the Standard Model of particle physics, and one has most of contemporary reductionistic physics. Despite its stunning successes, reductionism is now doubted by Nobel Laureate physicists Philip Anderson, in "More is Different", Science, 1972, and Robert Laughlin in A Different Universe: The universe from the bottom down, 2005.
There are at least five major features of Laplace's claim: 1) The universe evolves deterministically, because Newton's laws are deterministic and time reversible. 2) All that exists in the universe are particles in motion. 3) All that happens in the universe is fully describable by natural laws. 4) Those laws capture what Aristotle called "efficient causes", the sculptor chiseling the statue, so all that occurs in the universe is due to efficient causes. 5) There exists at least one language, here Newton's laws, capable of fully describing the universe.
I shall doubt all these claims in our further discussions. The first claim is in serious doubt due to quantum mechanics, which, on the famous Copenhagen interpretation due largely to Niels Bohr, and the Born rule, asserts that at the quantum level particles obey the Schrodinger equation whose amplitudes, when squared, give the probabilities of events, but those events happen fully by chance - acausally. The universe is not deterministic at the quantum level.
A preamble: These discussions will often be exploratory, take side trips, may sometimes be confused and confusing, may sometimes be dead ends, but I do sense, and glimpse enough, to believe that they are important and hope you will join me in thinking through the issues. Perhaps a quite new view of reality can be envisioned.