Charles University, Prague
|Frei wovon? Was shiert das Zarathustra!
Hell aber soll mir dein
Auge künden: frei wozu?
F. Nietzsche: Also sprach Zarathusta,
La Weltanschauung scientifique est morte! Vive la scientisme!
In the post-revolutionary period, unimpeachable "idiot-ex- perts" came to the fore in the science departments of some institutions, schools and universities. Their unimpeachability often consists only in the fact that they had never been accepted into the Communist Party. They only know their own narrow field. They suspect everything that exceeds the limit of their understanding. As the alumni of ideological training for nonmembers of the party, they substitute political dogmatism with scientific dogmatism - according to 1950's and 1960's science models. They came by their knowledge during their "imprinting days" - and what's more in its provincial, outdated form. In it they found an endurable shelter during the totality, and there they stayed. They cling to this obsolete science convulsively. They do not accept new scientific form from the Western world, but only its bureaucratic deformation. They have become administrators, and this is the only thing that they understand. Freedom from ideological brain-washing they comprehend as freedom from education and thinking. They envy the social sciences, they abhor philosophy.
At the other end of the university spectrum are the post- modernist intellectuals: freedom from the rule of ideology they interpret as liberation from the supremacy of science and the abolition of its monopoly on the truth. They, in fact, know the only form of truth: ideological truth - an imitation of traditional scientific truth. The end of the supremacy of truth over humans they understand as the end of the demands of truth on man. By denying the truth they also deny science, science in any form, all knowledge.
The Snowian chasm between the "dual culture" thus deepens and transforms into an antagonism of two extremes both lacking culture.
The authors of this study claim allegiance to a third group - to those, who have assumed the thankless task of the humanisation of university education, and whose responsibility it is therefore, to proclaim the "happy news" of a new, sagacious form of science, a science that turns to the re-enchanted world, an exploration of nature, a world that organically belongs to the cultural whole, to educatedness, and is linked with philosophy. They give testimony of the new truth. Scientific truth no longer needs to be limiting, definitive, a truth of the alienated this-way- and-not-that-way. They proclaim a truth that is free, revealing and snuggly - a truth that "will free us".
What entitles us to this? How is it that we feel called to talk about truth in this way, to the face of our former teachers and colleagues and in the midst of post-modernist scepticism? How did we come across it? Who are we and where did we come from?
We are the offspring of Fortune - and most of us the spiritual children of Markéta. We would like explain a little about how all this came to happen.
We are some of the few, for whom the totality not only brought oppression and discrimination, but represented an invaluable experience and provided an exceptional space. In contrast to so many others, our expulsion from schools and institutions did not result in spiritual resignation, but in the end proved to be a liberation - a liberation from routine science : we entered a space of playful creativity similar to the Greek scholé, or leisure, with the possibility to stop and think, which is the very premise of philosophy.
Of course, we did not suspect this at first: having left the limelights, having lost our positions and contacts with institutional science, we felt as if we had been immersed into a bottomless emptiness. "The surface will seal over you", one of us had predicted in warning. At that time even this had sounded somewhat promising to the ears of our disappointment and frustration...
Little by little, however, unusual, curious and strange books began descending into this desert, in which there was no access to foreign literature, or even to information about it. Capra, Hofstadter, Gardner, Pirsig, Ruyer, Bohm, Sheldrake, Zukav, Davies, Pagels, Berman, Zee, Gould, Prigogine, Jantsch, Bateson, Koestler, Smullyan, Needleman, Wilber. This was manna from heaven to our intellectual parchedness, which was in danger of slipping into self- satisfied amateurism, or of being stranded in perpetual self- confirmation. It was sent to one of us (Ivan) by a sort of mysterious friend. He called her Markéta (the others thought that this was some Faustian alias) and the two of them apparently had devised a method of delivery, so that the packages escaped the clutches of totalitarian postal inspectors. Those books not only captivated us: they filledus with enthusiasm. They made something vaguely familiar, something long lost close again. "Man hu?", we asked like the ancient Israelites: - what is that?
They were about science - although science it clearly was not - at least of the the kind with which we were familiar. For that the writings were too unfettered, playful and entertaining. However, they were not the result of the popularisation of science either: they were deep, questioning and inspiring.Nor were they a form of philosophy - that is, what is normally considered as philosophy: for pure philosophers it was too scientific. And they were not fiction, nor non-fiction, nor sci-fi. Many of them had been best-sellers in the West. Often we did not know this, which was probably just as well, since it might have frightened us away. As we later found out, many had been accepted in professional circles only after much hesitation - that would not have deterred us.
One thing was sure. These books provided a new, liberating view of nature and the various sciences: mathematics, physics, cosmology, computer science, brain science, biology. They rehabilitated these fields in our eyes, they pointed out their essential features. And so once more we met with science not from the middle or from "behind", but face to face. Liberated from the obligatory following of narrowly technical achievements in reprints, conference proceedings and research reports, released from the burden of teaching responsibilites, administrative duties, important contacts, follow-up letters, refereeing and editorial activities, and the struggle for grants, we could contemplate the whole: before our astonished eyes emerged the science of our youthful ideals. We met with it in the way that we had dreamed about it. It was a science that was the "adventure of discovery", and we met it with a recognition whose accuracy, strictness and liability was not a denial of the discoverer's romanticism. It was a science for which truth still existed, and a truth which was not denied its mystery - a mystery both enticing and exciting.
Please understand this well. Markéta did not send us books which we had ordered, or books that we had thought we needed. To do so would have been further self-confirmation. What we received from Markéta was a step over our horizons, or better still: the books opened up new horizons! The works that Markéta sent us were, in fact, chosen with a prophetic clearsightedness and a discoverer's intuition. But, what is more, they were chosen with a deep understanding for what we needed - and that not only generally, but hic et nunc - here and now and just at the right time. And so quite often a delivery would arrive at a decisive moment, to opportunely solve a certain problem, to enable us to proceed in our own work, to be able to progress a step further. We do not understand how she managed to do this: why, she herself is from quite a different field! In short, there are things in this world, in which knowledge is of no help - true creative guidance is a matter of instinct, and of wisdom. Whether it was by one means or the other, Markéta's care returned a perspective to us that we had almost lost. She made possible an insight, which through an everyday ordinariness had become the illusion of youth. Now that we had been de- professionalised, we gradually came to realise that we were not only liberated from science, but that we had also acquired the freedom towards science.
And so, having left the Egyptian amphorae of the establishment and travelling the 60's and 70's desert of the totality, we were showered with spiritual bread. However, man does not live by bread alone, but also by the companionship at his table. At first, Markéta's messages from the other side of the iron curtain were addressed to Ivan and later to Zdeněk, whose address was safer. However, they belonged to anyone who was willing to receive them and share their treasures with others. Soon these books were known far and wide - decorated with cheerful animal stamps and containing cute and witty dedications of the type:
Nemám šajnu, jestli je to zajímavé, ale je to velky bestseller.
Moc se o něm mluví, ale nevím, jestli Ti poví něco nového.
This is, I think, a bit crazy - but perhaps there is something of interest...
Zdá se to být vášnivý intelekt - tak se na to koukni.
Ahoj Ivane - zdá se mi to a rather confused book, ale je to ohromný bestseller
Ahoj! Není to nové, ale je to a new reprint of a "classic." Snad to už máš ale snad ne.
I think it is a bit too behavioristic - but perhaps there is something of interest.
This, I think, is an example of intellectual confusion - perhaps it is interesting for you and Zdeněk for precisely this reason.
Very clearly written seems deceptively simple perhaps but, I think, many deep insights (perhaps also for Sidek and Jirka)
No nevím - ale snad se koukneš
Rather confused, it seems to me, but occational interesting insights.
I think he is trying to do a bit too much - but there is some lively stuff, it seems...
These weren't there merely to cheer us up - they were challenges, hints, instructions, symbols and signs! Gratefully we gathered these gifts of wisdom each day, as they carried from the heavens the actual sperm of logi. In the end these proved to be the very seeds of Galadriel, germinating not only to please the eye and uplift the spirit, but, in doing so, to also for once renew the face of our decimated country.
This process began in that the seeds linked like souls, founded friendships and strenghthened our spiritual bonds through common interest, enthusiasm and exclusiveness. The books about a new science gave us a common language, a joint view. A common way of thinking began to mature, our friendship was being born - the basis of a new, real culture.
At that time unofficial seminars were springing up in Prague. Even we held them, at first they were secret or at least quite private. Later, as the circle enlarged and the interest of others grew, we organised semi-official to almost public events. In the end we organised entire courses, even symposia. These were initially held under false headings and various pretences. Later we did without these safeguards, despite threats, bans, attempts at disruptions. The scholé of our exile gradually infiltrated through the official structures. Yes - a well-defined school was being created in Prague, similar to those that had sprung up in ancient times in Sicily, in Athens, in Alexandria. We still acknowledge that we were the lucky contemporaries and participants of this historical status nascendi. Now we know that it wasn't simply matter of our psychic or intellectual survival, a spot of relief in our exile, or a mere escape from desperation - an exodus. Rather, it was a matter of a real transition - transitus - like that of the Easter mystery. And we also know that we must not be unfaithful to this archetypal experience of the authentic cultivation of education.
A school had been created. The question remains, however: A school of what? What are we responsible for? Today, this is a fundamental issue - deep rather than philosophical. It is a question of religion: a matter of faith and faithfulness. Or, as we have said, a biblical question: "What is it? - Man hu?"
In illo tempore - during the days of wandering - this was, of course, a purely academic question, posed: what sort of books are these? From our joint attempts to answer this was born the idea that the two of us write a joint paper - a report on a new literary style. Its working title was "Fi-fi", i.e. Phi-Fi - philosophical fiction: philosophical fantasies about science. A good example and starting point to our deliberations and questioning was a book by Gary Zukav, a best-seller in the West, yet completely unknown in our country. This attempt at a "Report" was to remain in the initial stages only, however - the concept and contents of the idea in question changed far too rapidly, as new gifts arrived and as the original past- time turned into a journey of discovery.
The draft of the Report, some fragments of which we have recently unearthed in our pre-revolutionary shelves, begins:
One of us (Ivan) has recently been sent a book by his Canadian friend, titled 'The Dancing Wu Li Masters', with the explanatory subtitle 'An Overview of the New Physics'. There was a note enclosed with the book: " I haven't got a clue if this is interesting, but it's a great best-seller".
The addressee, though a slow and inconsistent reader, devoured those three-hundred or so densely-prin- ted pages in one breath. The same happened with his colleague (Zdeněk). At the same time, the book is not light, relaxing reading. The book gives a solid and well-founded explanation of the key issues of modern physics - from relativity theory through quantum mechanics to Bell's theorem. (...) The author does not describe physics, its findings or methods, but appeals to his reader to dance it, to enter the same logic, the same overviews and attitudes, to play the same game of imagination as the modern physicists - the dancing masters Wu Li (Planck, Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Dirac and others). He leads us to perform this dance on the roads of our own contemp lations - that is, not by means of mathematics, but through natural thought processes. In this way the reader comes to own the very dancing patterns that have profound philosophical meaning.
In another text we have turned the example of Zukav's book into an intellectual phenomenon:
It may often seem to contemporary man that we live at a time of an insiduously creeping intellectual crisis. Scientific findings are lost beyond the horizon of comprehension of those, who are not narrowly trained specialists. Philosophy is also as if it has used up all its ability to test its considerations against the natural experience of all human beings, and having shrouded itself into an exotic jargon (pojmosloví = ?), also becomes a science that is accessible only to a narrow circle of those initiated into this or maybe that particular thought stream. (...)
And all of a sudden we find ourselves witnesses to a peculiar phenomenon: books, whose subject matter is undisputedly scientific, and whose message is philosop hical in the strong sense of the word, are becoming sought-after best-sellers. (...) It is like the redis covery of literary creation on the scale of the Greek poésis, reflecting on and representing that basic activity of a creature gifted with language, which we could characterise as self-directed creative recogni tion, in which knowledge and self-knowledge, practice and theory, observation and intuition are still not fundamenatally differentiated, which intertwine and depend on each other, and each dimension is the means and the environment of the others.
"There seems to be a new literary form in the air - a form that might aptly be called philosophical fiction", writes the American logician Raymond Smullyan in the introduction to his own book of this genre.
It is not simple to define the new literary form verbally, a graphic representation is more apt. It has the shape of a triangle, whose three angles represent three "pure" genres - philosophy, fiction and science:
The area in the triangle represents our Phi-Fi which is a symbiosis of all three forms. Not all fulfill the same role in particular cases. For instance works by Ilya Prigogine lie basically on the segment between science and philosophy, while the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by R. M. Pirsig would typically lie on the segment between fiction and philosophy. One would expect ordinary sci-phi literature to lie between science and philosophy, but in our context we use the word 'fiction' not so much for fabricated story with imaginary characters, but rather for a belletristic or essayistic style:
The essayistic style of Phi-Fi uses stylistic tools which have disappeared from scientific discus sion. Sometimes it is a story, sometimes a dialogue, almost always in a metaphorical language. It is these metaphors, in fact, which teach us to read in a crea tive manner, to form new insights and a new reality. It is then only one step further from the metaphor of lan guage to the metaphor of learning. Thus the discoveries of the new physics, as well as the evolution of physi cal ideas itself, serve as a powerful metaphor for the human cognition. Computer science offers a variety of metaphors for the human mind.
In Phi-Fi literature, which shares an openess to a plurality of interpretations with the belles-lettres, the borderline between fact and fiction is blurred.
We attempted to examine the relationship of this literature to science:
The relationship between philosophy and science is far more symmetrical than it is between science and fiction, for example. Further, it is a different relationship than the ideological interpretation or even the censorship of science on the part of some phi losophical system, or a philosophical opinion based on "scientifically proven facts" - arguments to which we are used. However, inside the triangle we imagine science trying to achieve philosophical self-under- standing through fiction, allowing it to stand back from itself, to realise one's own relationship to natural experience and to seek renewed contact with this experience.
Phi-Fi thus continues the tradition of Naturphilosophie, which also took scientific experience seriously and, in contrast to academic philosophy, also searched for the source of wisdom within nature itself
Naturphilosophie often took flights of fancy by means of exotic speculations, which in the end were foreign both to scientific and daily experience. For this reason scientists regarded it with suspicion and contempt. Phi-Fi on the other hand speaks from the very core of scientists' direct knowledge and from the centre of their everyday experience. This is perhaps because this core of first-rate contemporary science is much closer to natural human experience than ever before. This new scientific thinking and its relation ship to the world is far more open and appropriate than traditional science, not only for the language of phi losophy , but particularly for the concepts, notions and symbols of the oldest and most natural ways of ex pressing of the world and the mythical, religious and mystical self-expression of man himself. (...)
Phi-Fi can encompass more than one scientific dis cipline at one time. It thus enables the unity of the sciences and the unity of knowledge, which as a micro cosm reflect the unity of the macrocosm and also the unity of man and world.
Douglas R. Hofstadter and Raymond Smullyan belonged to our most favourite authors in this genre. Their books are sheer entertainment, they bubble with word plays and paradoxes of logic. A light, playful attitude combined with an intensely felt reality forms the foundation of a way of thinking, which Smullyan calls "crazy philosophies". This is something that traditional intellectuals brought up in the European tradition find quite hard to accept.
Despite its craziness and lightheadedness, the jester-like thought in the style of Phi-Fi is much more internally disciplined and logically united than appears on the surface. This is apparently because the court at which Phi-fi performs its tricks is a court where the rulers, princes and courtiers are scientists, whose thinking is exact, logical and sober. This expe rience, therefore, must necessarily reflect in the dis torted mirror of "crazy philosophy".
The wittiness and lightness of the style presented itself to us not only as an enticement to spoilt readers, but also as one of the roads towards creative knowledge.
We discovered that this was not simply an instance of a new literary genre, but also one of the creation of a new way of thinking and of a new science. Or more exactly: of a new approach to reality, an approach that requires a new way of learning, a new concept of things scientific. Literary- scientific inquiry thus gradually turned into epistemological inquiry, this into ontological inquiry, until finally it became one with our main effort, in which we recognised the effort of the ages. The message of that new science is analogous to that first science of Aristotle: hé próté epistémé. This "sought after knowledge", (epistémé hé zétúmené), should have engaged itself in an investigation of the Being. Aristoteles understood Being as an entity: to on hé on - the entity as being, and examined the question: what is it "to be an entity"? As we know, this is how metaphysics arose, with theoretical learning overcoming natural learning, and in the end resulting in traditional science. If we were today pose this ancient question (Urfrage), after some two and a half thousand years, we do so again in the light of experience of mediaeval metaphysics and new-age science: we formulate it as a question which is the result of natural learning, and one that bypasses the theoretical learning of traditional philosophy and science.
The "new genre" under investigation has shown itself to be the literary expression precisely of this renewed metaphysical questioning. The Urfrage, however, does not come from the mouths of philosophers - where it is constantly ground over ad nauseam - but from the mouths of top natural scientists. And they do not even know how to pose the question, yet they seek an answer to it due to an internal need , and that with an original, authentic immediacy. Natural scientists in quest of ontologies do not examine the nature of Being metaphysically, but naturally - through fýsis. Or at least - so that we should express this new questioning by paraphrasing the old - their question regarding Being is contained in the investigation of the being of Nature - to on hé fýsis, so to say. The entire genre of Phi-Fi could be interpreted as an attempt by thinkers from the ranks of scientists to replace meta-physics by its opposite. By something, that could be jokingly per analogiam be interpreted as "proto-physics", but which could be better characterised as "natural ontology". The seeming heterogeneity of this type of literature finds a common denominator here.
Thanks to Markéta we became witnesses to the birth of a New Natural Philosophy during our inner exile. This philosophy arises from the experience of the natural sciences, but does not stop being the love for wisdom that is linked with the love for learning. What the professional philosophers had been unable to overcome because of their very scholarliness - that is, to proceed beyond metaphysics - was easy for the amateur-thinkers from scientific ranks, and precisely because of their real experience. The most successful of the philosophers have become lost in the mire of post-modernistic scepticism. Scientists, on the other hand, who have naively undertaken this task virtually barehanded, have at least glimpsed the new ontology in reward for their unshakeable belief in reality and their unconditional faithfulness to the truth. It is therefore not surprising that they express this glimpse in a way that resembles none other.
This then is our answer today to the question that we posed at that time. The magazine that we publish is thus not called Phi-Fi, but Sci-Phi: Scientia + Philosophia.
Our journey through the desert has finished. Fata Morgana has become reality. "Markéta" also has cast away her mysterious incognito, she visits us and we love her. The mana has not stopped flowing from her generous hand - however, we hardly have time to collect it! We have not yet reached the Promised Land, we must still wage battle with the inhabitants of Canaan. In the fight against scientism on the one hand, and irrationality on the other, it is necessary to cultivate the new, the natural, based on the experience of the old. We must do so , however, without the help of its unnatural, supernatural thruths. It is a difficult battle - and Markéta still helps us. She sends spiritual weapons. inter arma silent musae, but it is their mother, the patron of philosophers Mnémosyné, who speaks out. And their love: wisdom. Markéta is, and will remain, the personification of both. She is the queen of our hearts. As her pawns we wage a fight with stupidity, a fight that is unequal, yet equal to the Gods',
dennMit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.
Fr.Schiller, Die Jungfrau von Orleans III.6