On the Ultron and The Foundations of Things (1974)

by George Anastaplo

What seems to be missing in the current scientific enterprise is a systematic inquiry into its presuppositions and purposes.  That is, the limits of modern science do not seem to be properly recognized.  Bertrand Russell has been quoted as saying, “Physics is mathematical not because we know so much about the physical world, but because we know so little: it is only its mathematical properties that we can discover.”  But the significance of this observation is not generally appreciated—as one learns upon trying to persuade competent physicists to join one in presenting a course devoted to a careful reading of Aristotle’s Physics [where, among other things, an extended examination of the meaning of cause can be found].  Is there any reason to doubt that physicists will, if they continue as they have in the Twentieth Century, achieve again and again “decisive breakthroughs” in dividing subatomic “particles”?  But what future, or genuine understanding, is there in that?  I believe it would be fruitful for physicists—that is, for a few of the more imaginative among them—to consider seriously the nature of what we can call the “ultron.”  What must this ultimate particle be like (if, indeed, it is a particle and not an idea or a principle)?  For is not an “ultron” implied by the endeavors of our physicists, by their recourse to more and more ingenious (and expensive) equipment and experiments?  Or are we to assume an infinite regress (sometimes called progress) and no standing place or starting place?  Or, to put this question still another way, what is it that permits the universe to be and to be (if it is) intelligible?

Sources:   See George Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker:  From Shakespeare to Joyce (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1983), 252-55, 474.  See also, George Anastaplo, The Bible:   Respectful Readings (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2008), 332-33.  Is recourse to the ultron an echo of the ancient Greek reliance on the atom? Copied from George Anastaplo, Reflections on Life, Death, and the Constitution, (University Press of Kentucky, 2009), p. 250.

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