by George Anastaplo
You certainly are Romans who claim that your wars are so fortunate because they are just, and pride yourselves not so much on their outcome, in that you gain the victory, as upon their beginnings, because you do not undertake wars without cause.
Our sampling of accounts of beginnings includes, on this occasion, a poem by Hesiod, a book of the Hebrew Bible, and the work of a contemporary scientist.2 Before we discuss these beginnings we should consider, however briefly, what usually permits the beginning of a recognition of the very idea of “beginning.” The variety in the more or less inspired accounts of beginnings collected here may suggest what if anything is constant, if not “always,” about beginnings.
There may have to be, if only as a practical matter, some change that is visible if there is to be an observation of, or productive speculation about, beginnings. But, on the other hand, for change itself to be noticeable, is not substantial stability required as well?
It also seems that an end is implicit in the notion of beginning.3 End can refer to something temporal, something at the other extremity of the process that starts with the beginning. End can refer as well to the purpose for which something exists or is done. The end of a thing, in both senses of end, may thereby be implied in its beginning.4
The beginning of a thing may assume not only a termination or conclusion. It may assume as well something prior to the beginning, something which brought about a beginning or for the sake of which something begins. We venture here upon the theology of our perhaps most influential ancients, both Greek and Judaic.
Language seems to be needed if there is to be the recognition, to say nothing of the examination, of any beginning. Rationality, or at least the potential for rationality, seems to be required for language. That potential, in turn, seems to depend for its proper realization upon a community, or at least upon that minimum of social cohesiveness provided by the family.5
Poets draw upon, as well as shape, the language of a people. Poetry, however much it (like music) charms audiences by its modes of expression, depends upon and serves an opinion about what the world is like.6 Each of the three works surveyed here stands somewhat alone, instructive though it may be to notice the light cast by each on the other two as we consider what each suggests about beginnings.
Before we delve into the beginnings and doings of particular poets, we should notice (and not only in anticipation of Part Three of this collection) the understanding of things advanced by scientists dedicated to the study of nature. The nature which is studied–the apprehension of which permits scientific inquiry–may imply perpetuity.
That is, a reliance upon nature could mean that there is no temporal beginning to at least some of the things of the world. Why may not matter, if not also the universe itself, be regarded as are, say, numbers and geometrical relations? That is, there are things always available to be discovered, separated out, and studied (by scientists and others), if not even to be manipulated and otherwise used.7
Does nature also suggest purpose or meaning? Some argue that nature can guide us in how we should act. We can, it is said, be helped by nature to make sense of things not only by what we study, but also by how we are shaped by the way we conduct ourselves.8
The poet is usually to be distinguished from the scientist in these matters. We can see here an opposition similar to, if not quite the same as, that identified by Moses Maimonides as existing between the philosophers and those faithful to the Law of Moses, an irreconcilable opposition which rests, it seems, on an opinion as to whether the world had a beginning in time by having been brought into existence out of nothing by God.9 In these matters, the poets tend to be the allies of the Faithful, especially those poets who undertake to describe the bearing of the divine upon human affairs. With these observations we are prepared to turn to Hesiod, a Greek poet who, like the authors of the Hebrew Bible, never uses any word that should be translated by us as nature.10
Part One. Hesiod’s Theogony
The noble voice of Calliope, whom Hesiod called chiefest of the Muses, has sounded steadily since Homer. It has not sounded all of the time, but whenever it has sounded it has given strength to those through whom it spoke. It is the source of great poetry–of great story . . .
–Mark Van Doren11
Although little is known about Hesiod, we may know more about his personal life–as a resident of that part of Greece known as the Boeotia to which his father had emigrated from Asia Minor–than we do about any other author of his time. An encyclopedist records the following additional information:
Hesiod (Greek, Hesiodos; fl. c. 730-700 B.C.E.), one of the earliest recorded Greek poets. The earlier of his two surviving poems, Theogony, is of interest to students of Greek religion as an attempt to catalog the gods in the form of a genealogy, starting with the beginning of the world [this may not be quite so] and describing the power struggles that led to Zeus’s kingship among the gods. . . .
Hesiod’s other poem, Works and Days, is a compendium of moral and practical advice. Here Zeus is prominent as the all-seeing god of righteousness who rewards honesty and industry and punishes injustice.
Also attributed to Hesiod was a poem that actually dated only from the sixth century B.C.E., the Catalog of Women, which dealt with heroic genealogies issuing from unions between gods and mortal women. It enjoyed a status similar to that of the Theogony, but it survives only in fragments.12
A much earlier introduction to Hesiod is provided us by Herodotus, in Fifth Century Greece. He says in his History:
Whence each of [the gods to whom the Greeks sacrifice] came into existence, or whether they were forever, and what kind of shape they had were not known until the day before yesterday, if I may use the expression; for I believe that Homer and Hesiod were four hundred years before my time–and no more than that. It is they who gave to the gods the special names for their descent from their ancestors and divided among them their honors, their arts, and their shapes. Those who are spoken of as poets before Homer and Hesiod were, in my opinion, later born.13
It should be noticed that Herodotus does not say that Homer and Hesiod invented or even discovered the gods, but only that they offered the Greeks a clear picture of the forms, functions, and relationships of the gods.14 It should also be noticed that there remains to this day some uncertainty as to who was earlier, Homer or Hesiod. There may be an instructive uncertainty here: in one sense, Homer is prior, but in another, Hesiod is.15
It should be noticed as well that there is in Homer no systematic account of the beginning of the gods, to say nothing of the beginning of the universe or of cosmic forces. There is not even much attention paid explicitly by Homer to the beginning of the great war in which the Achaeans and the Trojans find themselves. Rather, there is in Homer’s Iliad a detailed account of the beginning of a quarrel, between Achilles and Agamemnon, late in a very long war. This leads to a detailed account of one episode in that war, an extended episode which says much about the overall war, if not also about the world itself.16
Why is not Homer openly concerned about the beginning of things? Is it partly because this does not seem to be a concern of his characters? They take the world, including the gods, as given. Whether or not the gods are really given for Homer personally, he is willing to make them seem so, even as he presents events and results in such a way that few if any of them may require the much-spoken-of gods for them to be understood in human terms. This does not deny that Homer presents events and their consequences in the terms of human beings who are very much open to the gods.17
Much of what Homer, or a particularly gifted predecessor, does can be understood to prepare the way for Hesiod: the language is developed, a poetic meter—the hexameter—is established, and the audience is shaped. This can be said even though Hesiod seems more primitive, and hence earlier, than Homer in some respects, especially with his cataloguing of gods and others.18
We can now look more directly at Hesiod and his beginnings by returning to the account of the Theogony in our encyclopedist:
The cosmogony begins with Chaos (“yawning space”), Earth, [Tartarus,] and Eros (the principle of sexual love–a precondition of genealogical development). The first ruler of the world is Ouranos (“Heaven”). His persistent intercourse with Earth [who had generated him on her own] hinders the birth of his children, the Titans, until Kronos, the youngest, castrates him. Kronos later tries to suppress his own children by swallowing them, but Zeus, the youngest, is saved and makes Kronos regurgitate the others. The younger gods [led by Zeus] defeat the Titans after a ten-year war and consign them to Tartarus, below the earth, so that they no longer play a part in the world’s affairs.19
Our encyclopedist then adds:
This saga of successive rulers is evidently related to mythical accounts known from older Hittite and Babylonian sources. Hesiod’s genealogy names some three hundred gods. Besides cosmic entities (Night, Sea, Rivers, etc.) and gods of myth and cult, it includes personified abstractions such as Strife, Deceit, Victory, and Death. Several alternative theogonies came into existence in the three centuries after Hesiod, but his remained the most widely read.20
Hesiod’s account of the origins of the things that he can see and has heard about culminates in the emergence of the supreme and now supposedly unchallengeable rule of Zeus. Here, as elsewhere, the end may help shape the beginning, providing that by which the poet takes his bearings. Gods other than those Hesiod mentions are worshiped elsewhere, such as the Egyptian divinities, but these, whatever Hesiod may have heard or thought about them, are ignored by him.
Hesiod works, then, with what he observes: the earth beneath, the heaven above (which always keeps its distance), perhaps the under-earth, and those erotic relations among living beings which are so critical for “peopling” the world. Along with these can be observed human beings and “evidences” among the Boeotians, if not among the Greeks at large, of the divine, such as shrines, altars, and stories about the gods, as well as their names. Also to be observed is how things do not stay the same: sometimes considerable effort is needed in order to keep things going; sometimes, however, all the effort immediately available cannot be used effectively to preserve things as they have been. This may suggest that the element of chaos is always near, if not always with, us. Among the vulnerable things, Hesiod could notice, are the gods themselves, as memories and other signs survive of divinities that have been permanently, or at least long, eclipsed.
It can be gathered from Hesiod’s account that it was difficult, if not impossible, to celebrate properly any divinities who appeared before Zeus and his colleagues manifested themselves. That is, Zeus is recognized as responsible for the song and perhaps the poetry critical to any celebrations that are likely to depend upon and endure as extended if not comprehensive accounts of the gods.21 Thus, in order for Hesiod to present his account of the beginnings (or birth) of the gods, he must describe, however briefly, how he himself got to be–that is, how he began as a singer (or, as we would say, as a poet). Without the inspiration available from the Muses, daughters of Zeus, Hesiod would be like most if not all human beings everywhere, merely a “belly” living as little more than an animal dominated by pleasure, fear, and pain.22
Piety, in Hesiod’s time, consists then of celebrating the regime of Zeus, which is comprehensive in its ministering to the potential that human beings have for maturation, understanding, and justice.23
Why does not Hesiod say that the divine is always? Can this be said, with any degree of sustainable plausibility, only about a single unchanging god? Hesiod inherits a theology which includes not only Zeus as dominant, but also a history both of other divinities and of how Zeus’ current ascendancy was established. Perhaps any divine history that is going to be interesting as a story requires a variety of named gods who rise and fall. Almighty Zeus himself first comes to view in the Theogony as Kronion (“son of Knonos”); even he cannot be understood completely on his own.24
It has been noticed that the “Succession Myth” forms the backbone of Hesiod’s Theogony: “It relates how Ouranos was overcome by Kronos, and how Kronos with his Titans was in his turn overcome by Zeus. It is not told as a self-contained piece, but in separate episodes, as each generation of gods arises.”25 An account is given by Hesiod of Ouranos’ eighteen children by Earth and Kronos’ six children by Rhea, before the poet turns to the struggles of Zeus to establish himself and thereafter to secure himself in his rule.26
The overall account begins, as has been said, with Chaos, Earth, Tartarus, and Eros somehow emerging, evidently each of the four separately from the other three, into effective being.27 Nothing seems to be said by Hesiod about what was prior to these four. Nor does anything seem to be said by him about what caused Chaos, Earth, Tartarus, and Eros to come into being, if that is what they did, or to manifest themselves when and where they did.28
There is about Chaos, Earth, Tartarus, and Eros something more durable, if not eternal, than there is about the divinities that come to view, beginning with Ouranos, who is produced by Earth on her own, and followed by the children of Earth and Ouranos, especially Kronos, and followed in turn by the children of Kronos and his sister Rhea, especially Zeus. The sequence begins with Earth’s production of Ouranos (or Heaven or Sky). This makes sense, not only in that the earth provides the stage upon which all of this action takes place, but also in that the sky, as distinguished from all the vastness of the universe, is somehow keyed to the dimensions of the earth, with Ouranos completely covering Earth.29
Nothing is said about “the place” where all of these beings appear. Does their very appearance, “wherever,” establish the place?30 Does Earth emerge to provide a place for gods as well as for human beings? She does produce Ouranos on her own, but not Tartarus and Eros, which emerge after her, perhaps in relation to her. That is, Tartarus’ location is defined by Earth’s. Eros exerts an influence among beings on or near Earth, including among the Olympian gods. Chaos is always there, it seems, perhaps as an alternative. It is after Chaos, or alongside Chaos, but not necessarily out of Chaos, that the generations of divinities and human beings manifest themselves.31
We are left to wonder what it may be, what it is that is “always,” which accounts for the emergence of Chaos and Earth, each of which has the capacity to produce others on its own—those others who will then be able to help engender still others.32
The gods, including those who are supreme for a while, do not emerge independently as Earth seems to do (along with Chaos, Tartarus, and Eros). Instead, the gods who are shown as, in turn, supreme (Ouranos, Kronos, and Zeus) are generated by others.33 We can wonder whether only generated beings can have fates. (Again we might ask, What if anything is it that is “always” which is responsible for the fates?) In their susceptibility to fate the generated gods resemble human beings. Ouranos, Kronos, and perhaps Zeus were fated to be overthrown–and each took measures which (in the case of Ouranos and Kronos) might have made their overthrow even more likely.34
The vulnerability of these deathless gods–Ouranos, Kronos, if not also Zeus–may be related to their having been generated: that is, each has come out of another; they were, before they manifested themselves, confined in another. Perhaps this makes them susceptible to being confined thereafter by adversaries, most obviously so in the case of Kronos. Kronos and his siblings are confined by their father Ouranos in the womb of their mother Earth; Kronos in turn swallows and thereby confines his children, all but Zeus, in his womblike stomach.35
What about the fate of Zeus? He, like Kronos before him, is warned by Earth and Ouranos that a son of his would surpass him. And he, like Ouranos and Kronos before him, takes preventive measures, using in effect the technique relied upon by his grandfather and father, but doing it more effectively. Here is how this is summed up:
Zeus is now elected king of the gods. He apportions their functions, and undertakes a series of marriages to establish order and security in the new regime. His first wife, Metis, is destined to bear a son stronger than Zeus; but Zeus, instead of waiting to swallow the child, as Kronos had done, swallows Metis, thus halting the cycle of succession. (881-929)36
We are left to onder precisely how the prophecy to Zeus had been put. For instance, did it say that if he had a son by Metis, he would be overthrown by him?37 Hesiod does not address this question: one is left to wonder whether it interested him. We do learn that Metis, when she was swallowed by Zeus, was already with child by him–and this is what leads to Athena being born from the head of Zeus.
Perhaps Zeus, in swallowing Metis (or Cleverness?), incorporates prudence within himself, thereby personally becoming something other than what he had been. Perhaps, indeed, Zeus can even be said to have been supplanted in this sense. Does Hesiod understand that the reign of Zeus, perhaps because of his defensive prudence, is dedicated to justice much more than the preceding reigns of Ouranos and Kronos had been?38
It has been said, as we have seen, that succession struggles among the gods dominate the Theogony. Other stories are told, some at considerable length, but the succession struggles provide the core around which the other stories are organized. We see in Homer’s Iliad how Zeus can “physically” threaten the other Olympian gods effectively.39
But Earth cannot be overcome in the way that, say, Ouranos can be. Earth does provide the stage upon or around which all of the named gods act. And it is on Earth that we have seen the eclipse of Zeus since the time of Hesiod and Homer. Does this suggest that Zeus never “really” existed? Or is it a fulfillment of the prophecy about any son that Zeus may have by Metis? Did that son somehow get conceived, in one sense or another of conceived?
There is here a way of accounting for the prophecy to Zeus which a Christian Hesiod might (in the spirit, say, of St. Augustine) try to do something with. That is, something mysterious can be said to have gone on here, of which the pagans could have had no more than intimations, something consistent perhaps with the deification of the Logos recorded in the opening chapter of the Gospel of John, a text in which Greek influences are quite evident.40
Human beings are secondary in the account laid out in the Theogony: there is not evident in that poem the concern with human beings that can be seen elsewhere in inspired texts, such as in the Christian Gospels. The life of human beings is described more in Hesiod’s Works and Days, with much said about everyday life.41 A different succession story may be seen there, with five stages of mortals described.
Five seems to be an inauspicious number for Hesiod, with the fifth stage of mortals on Earth representing quite a decline from the opening golden and silver ages.42 Perhaps five can be seen as well in the development of Theogony, which is a kind of “works and days” survey for the gods: these are the stages, in turn, of (1) Chaos, Earth, Tartarus, and Eros; (2) Ouranos and his progeny; (3) Kronos and his progeny, which may have been, in some ways, the best time for human beings; (4) Zeus and his divine mates and progeny, as well as the progeny of Zeus and other divinities with mortals; and (5) the career, perhaps yet to come (if not already initiated among us) of Zeus’ son by Metis, which would be a departure, if not a decline, from that age of Zeus which Hesiod is commissioned by the Muses to celebrate.43
Thus, the correspondences between Hesiod’s two great poems may be worth exploring. Further correspondences include the fact that there is in both poems the suggestion that femaleness is an affliction among human beings, if not also among the gods. Still, does not femaleness testify to male incompleteness and hence to the vulnerability of the human species? (Is not the female, more than the male, able to produce offspring alone?) Furthermore, Earth and Rhea are critical to the overthrow of Ouranos and Kronos. The Biblical parallels here, going back to the Garden of Eden, can be intriguing.44
The correspondences between Theogony and Works and Days may include indications that the gods are somewhat dependent upon human beings, and not only for sacrifice and worship. When human beings change, especially in the opinions they hold, so may the gods change somehow, if not even disappear. Besides, the gods of Hesiod and Homer are said to have the physical forms, and all too often the passions, of human beings.
We can again be reminded of Maimonides, not least for his insistence that the God of the Bible should never be understood to have a human form or human attributes.45 In addition, we have been taught, “The Bible is the document of the greatest effort ever made to deprive all heavenly bodies of all possibility of divine worship.”46 Even so, we should also be reminded, as has been said, “In the poetry of Homer, Hesiod, and Aeschylus, the myths of the gods are a source of order.”47
We return, as we prepare to close the first part of our inquiry on this occasion, to the question touched upon at the outset of this collection, “On Beginnings”: Is an end implied by any beginning. Is there expected, in the temporal sense, an end to the gods depicted by Hesiod and Homer? And is there, in the sense of the purpose of their existence, an end or aim?
Little, if anything, is suggested in Hesiod about the immortality of human souls, whatever may be understood about those rare mortals, such as Zeus’ son, Heracles, who are eventually transformed into immortals. What should be expected of the cosmos that is described in the Theogony? Should it be expected to continue forever?
Chaos and Earth, we are told in the Theogeny, did come into view, if not into being, evidently on their own. Might they somehow go away eventually, perhaps to return and then to leave over and over? Is there, for example, something about Chaos, Earth, and Eros, if not also about the particular gods generated in Hesiod’s account–is there something which endures, however hidden from view these beings may be from time to time, just as can be said about the Ideas which are perpetually available to be discovered and to shape and nourish reason?48
Although Hesiod and Homer do not seem to recognize and address such questions explicitly, they can be said to have helped prepare the ground for the philosophers who would first discover these and like questions to be so much in the very nature of things that they are properly the end of any account which an inspired poet may offer as a beginning.49
Part Two. The Bible
And Gideon said unto God, “If Thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as Thou hast spoken, behold I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing-floor; if there be dew on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the ground, then shall I know that Thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as Thou hast spoken.” And it was so; for he rose up early on the morrow, and pressed the fleece together, and wrung dew out of the fleece, a bowlful of water. And Gideon said unto God, “Let not Thine anger be kindled against me; and I will speak but this once: let me make trial, I pray Thee, but this once more with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.” And God did so that night; for it was dry upon the fleece only, but there was dew on all the ground.
We need do no more here than remind the reader of beginnings in the Bible, thereby pointing up aspects of the Hesiodic account in Part One of this collection and preparing the ground for the extended scientific account in Part Three. Our principal source here is the first book of the Hebrew Bible, both names of which (in Hebrew and in Greek) refer to origins or beginnings.51
Seven forms of beginnings are either described or anticipated in Genesis. First, there is the beginning of the world itself, as set forth in the first chapter of Genesis.52 Then there is the beginning of the human race, with its twofold creation and its indelible experiences in the Garden of Eden.53 Then there is the beginning of the troubled career of the human race outside of the Garden, starting with the fatal conflict between Cain and Abel and ending with the devastating Flood attributed to human wickedness.54
A new beginning for the human race follows in Genesis after the Flood, leaving the descendants of Noah subject to the Noahide Law that can be said to continue to govern most of mankind.55 Then there is the beginning of the people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who are to have a special relation with God, with profound implications for the rest of the human race.56 Then there is, still in Genesis, an anticipation of the beginning, or liberation from Egypt and Egyptian ways and hence the revitalization, of the people of Israel under the leadership of Moses and his successors who promulgate and administer a comprehensive system of laws for the life and well-being of a designated people.57
Finally there is, also as an anticipation in Genesis, the beginning of the career of the people of Israel in the Promised Land and thereafter, with exiles and returns, with priests and kings, with triumphs and disasters.58
In all seven of these accounts, it seems to be assumed that things cannot be properly understood without some recognition of whatever beginnings they may have had. Each of these accounts has inspired libraries of commentaries, which testifies both to their richness and to their elusiveness.
The first two words of the Septuagint, a pre-Christian Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, are En arché (“In the beginning”).59 Christian theology evidently drew upon this Genesis account by using the same Greek words to open the Gospel of John–but there, instead of the making of the world by God being “in the beginning,” the Word—Logos, or the divine itself—was “in the beginning.”60
This reminds us, if reminder we need, that there is no account in Genesis of the beginning of the divine: the divine seems to have been regarded as existing “always”–and hence as mysterious. We have seen in the Theogony, as we can see in many other such accounts elsewhere, how the gods came into being, whatever there may have always been “somewhere” or “somehow” before the birth of the named gods described by Hesiod.
I turn now–not without an awareness of my limitations as a layman here–to the way that modern science can approach these matters, that way of accounting for things which combines somehow the emergence of the idea of nature in Classical Greece and the almost instinctive respect for rationality in the Bible.61
That is, the world of the Bible–whether the Hebrew Bible or the Greek Bible–is more or less orderly, especially when compared to the worlds of the great non-Biblical religions of the human race. Due recognition should be given to the considerable physical stability as well as to the challenging shrewdness evident in the Bible, both of which may be seen in the career of Gideon. Both of these–in the form of an acceptance of the idea of nature, developed among the Greeks, and of a respect for rational discourse, evident in the Bible–are very much taken for granted by modern science, as well as by its predecessors.62
Part Three. Modern Science
It can scarcely be denied that at the present time physics and philosophy, two sciences of recognized durability, each handed down in a continuous tradition, are estranged from one another; they oppose one another more or less uncomprehendingly. By the Nineteenth Century a real and hence effective mutual understanding between philosophers and physicists concerning the methods, presuppositions, and meaning of physical research had already become basically impossible; this remained true even when both parties, with great goodwill and great earnestness, tried to reach a clear understanding of these issues.
There is in modern cosmology far less of an opportunity than in other sciences to have theories guided and validated either by experiments or by how attempted applications “work.” There is, instead, an unleashing among cosmologists of an imagination, poetic or rhetorical in some respects, that can be a key to professional success. The layman rarely senses how little the cosmologists have available to go on and how much something akin to fantasy has to be relied upon by them. Although most physics today is much more sober, a glance at contemporary cosmology should help the layman, who can be quite uncritical in response to spectacular announcements by scientists, to notice some of the dubious temptations to which all of modern science may be subject.64
Consider, as a particularly dramatic illustration, a remarkably popular book by an English cosmologist—Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.65 His book came to us with the authority–or was it the burden?–of more than two years on the New York Times best-seller list.
An examination of the Hawking book can be a useful way to investigate a few aspects of the character of modern science and what it is that we seek by our ever-growing recourse to science. Are we truly wiser (and not only about beginnings), we must wonder, because of books such as this and the investigations and conjectures they report?66
A Brief History of Time and its remarkable author have been conveniently described for us by the publisher in words that sometimes echo the author’s. I draw here upon the opening and closing paragraphs of the dust jacket of the book (first published in 1988):
Stephen W. Hawking has achieved international prominence as one of the great minds of the twentieth century. Now, for the first time, he has written a popular work exploring the outer limits of our knowledge of astrophysics and the nature of time and the universe. The result is a truly enlightening book: a classic introduction to today’s most important scientific ideas about the cosmos, and a unique opportunity to experience the intellect of one of the most imaginative, influential thinkers of our age.
From the vantage point of the wheelchair where he has spent the last twenty years trapped by Lou Gehrig’s disease, Professor Hawking himself has transformed our view of the universe. His groundbreaking research into black holes offers clues to that elusive moment when the universe was born. Now, in the incisive style which is his trademark, Professor Hawking shows us how mankind’s “world picture” evolved from the time of Aristotle through the 1915 breakthrough of Albert Einstein, to the exciting ideas of today’s prominent young physicists.
. . . A Brief History of Time is a landmark book written for those of us who prefer words to equations. Told by an extraordinary contributor to the ideas of humankind, this is the story of the ultimate quest for knowledge, the ongoing search for the secrets at the heart of time and space.
Stephen W. Hawking is forty-six years old. He was born on the [three-hundredth] anniversary of Galileo’s death, holds Newton’s chair as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, and is widely regarded as the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Einstein.67
This somewhat extravagant description of book and author by the publisher is accentuated by the eerie picture of the author on the cover.
The contents of the Hawking book are further suggested by the following passage on its dust jacket:
Was there a beginning of time? Will there be an end? Is the universe infinite? Or does it have boundaries? With these fundamental questions in mind, Hawking reviews the great theories of the cosmos–and all the puzzles, paradoxes and contradictions still unresolved. With great care he explains Galileo’s and Newton’s discoveries.
Next he takes us step-by-step through Einstein’s general theory of relativity (which concerns the extraordinarily vast) and then moves on to the other great theory of our century, quantum mechanics (which concerns the extraordinarily tiny). And last, he explores the worldwide effort to combine the two into a single quantum theory of gravity, the unified theory, which should resolve all the mysteries left unsolved–and he tells why he believes that momentous discovery is not far off.
Professor Hawking also travels into the exotic realms of deep space, distant galaxies, black holes, quarks, GUTs, particles with “flavors” and “spin,” antimatter, the “arrows of time”–and intrigues us with their unexpected implications. He reveals the unsettling possibilities of time running backward when an expanding universe collapses, a universe with as many as eleven dimensions, a theory of a “no-boundary” universe that may replace the big bang theory and a God who may be increasingly fenced in by new discoveries–who may be the prime mover in the creation of it all.68
Many of the things said here by the publisher about the Hawking book are of general interest to us, commenting as they in effect do upon the modern scientific approach. Hawking’s special interests and theories are likely to pass in time, but the scientific project continues. We may usefully consider that project by observing various features of it as exhibited in this book.
A prominent feature of the scientific project today is its abandonment—perhaps, from its point of view, its necessary abandonment–of what is generally regarded as common sense. The ancient scientist was much more respectful of that common sense, and this is sometimes seen today to have contributed to his limitations. Modern physical scientists consider themselves fortunate to have been liberated from such restraints.69
Still, common sense continues to be relied upon, for much is inherited from our predecessors without our always recognizing it. But since we may not notice what is indeed inherited, we sometimes make inadequate use of it, if only in our efforts to understand what we are doing.70 Modern scientists can seem rather amateurish, therefore, in explaining the basis or presuppositions for the wonderful things they do come up with.
Consider how much common sense, as commonly understood, is still with us even in the most exotic scientific activities today. Elementary observing and counting depend upon ordinary experience. Common sense is needed to direct us to the relevant observations, to determine how many observations suffice,71 and even to assure us that a particular collection of data is from our laboratory assistant, not from, say, our stockbroker. Common sense is needed as well in hooking up equipment, in reading dials, in deciding how accurate one has to be, in sorting out aberrations. In addition, common sense has to be drawn upon in what is to be understood as cause and effect and in what is to be understood as a contradiction, if not also in what the significance of contradictions is.72
I now put my commonsense point in another form: What is the role of judgment in science? Albert Einstein’s old-fashioned reservations about critical modern theories should be taken more seriously than younger scientists today evidently do. God, he insisted, “does not throw dice.”73 If one does not have deep common sense and good judgment, can one be reliably “in tune” with nature and the universe? I will have more to say about this further on.
The ancients (because they had generated far less evidence to work with?) seem to have been more sober than modern scientists in assessments of the alternatives they confronted. The practical judgment of the ancients was more evident even in theoretical matters. We may be more accustomed than they to a kind of madness in speculative work, from which our proliferating science-fiction literature and fantasy films are derivations.74 One consequence of the differences between ancients and moderns is that the rate of change, for reigning theories as well as for everyday practice, was much lower for the ancients than it is for us.
The modern propensity for innovation may be seen in the series of novelties conjured up by Hawking in his relatively short career, some of which novelties have already had to be repudiated by him. Another way of putting this reservation is to say that Hawking is astonishingly brilliant, especially as a puzzle-solver, but not truly thoughtful.75 Still another way of putting all this is to observe that I do not recall another book from a man of his stature with so many questionable comments in it.76 One does not always have the impression of a mature mind at work here. This may be related to the prominence in these matters, as noticed on the dust jacket and reported in the book, of young physicists. The role here of mathematics may also contribute to the overall effect.77
It is important to notice the contributions of modern technology, itself dependent upon and permitted by modern science, in developing scientific discoveries.78 In fact, the character of “discoveries” is likely to be affected by the “character” of the technology relied upon. There may be a self-perpetuating spiral here. Whether such a spiral is up or down remains to be seen.
We should be reminded again and again of how slim the physical evidence is that is usually exploited for the most fanciful cosmological speculations, a practice that can be said to go back to Ptolemy and his colleagues. (The contemporary scientist is apt to observe here that the modern evidence is much better than that which supports either Hesiod or Genesis.) We should also be reminded that the fundamental alternatives about the cosmos, including with respect to its extent and its origins, may have been noticed long, long ago. It does not seem to me that Hawking and his associates appreciate what their predecessors routinely faced up to—and in a sophisticated way.
One consequence of the volatility of modern scientific thought is that bizarre things tend to be promoted, which should not be surprising whenever ingenuity and innovation are constantly encouraged and lavishly rewarded. Radical changes can be made, as with respect to Hubble’s Constant–changes which require stupendous curtailment or enlargement of the estimated age, extent or “population” of the universe. These remarkable changes, which are consistent with a large body of established mathematical theory, can sometimes seem to be made without blinking an eye.79
Hawking does caution against jumping to conclusions; he encourages people to admit their mistakes. But is not much of modern science (or at least those who describe it to the public) peculiarly susceptible to rashness and consequent bad judgment?80 Again, one wonders whether all this is conducive to the sobriety and thoughtfulness that may be necessary for a sound grasp of fundamental issues in science just as in, say, theology.
Hawking may be most obviously a modern scientist in his inability to grasp what predecessors such as Aristotle said, an inability that reveals his own limitations. Whenever he reaches back–if not even to Isaac Newton, certainly to before Newton–, he is apt to be sloppy if not simply wrong.81
Consider, for example, his remarks about why Aristotle believed the earth to be at rest. Aristotle is seen, here as elsewhere, to have been “mystical.”82 There is no recognition here of what we have long been told about the parallax with respect to the fixed stars expected to be observed if the earth is really in a great orbit around the sun, and about the significance of the inability of observers of Aristotle’s day and for centuries thereafter, with their equipment, to detect such parallax. Much of what is said by Hawking about predecessors such as Aristotle and Ptolemy is trivial stuff, evidently picked up from unreliable “pop” history.83 Yet various experts seem to have let him get away with this sort of thing, both before and after publication of this book. Why is that? Because they do not know better themselves? Or because they do not believe it really matters? I suspect there is something of both explanations here.
It is a sign of bad judgment not to be more careful in these matters, not to check things out, and perhaps most important (as Socrates taught us) not to be aware of how much one does not know. It is this bad judgment that contributes to a mode of scientific endeavor that permits, if it does not actually encourage, all kinds of wild things to be tossed around and regarded as profound efforts. Another way of putting these observations is to suggest that all too many competent scientists today do not appreciate that the best of their ancient predecessors may have been at least as intelligent as they are.
The three biographies appended to Hawking’s book confirm that his limitations are not confined to reports on the ancients. In those biographies, three of the modern heroes of science, Einstein, Galileo, and Newton, are dealt with.84 For many readers, the Hawking biographies may be the only extended accounts they will ever have of these men. This is not fair either to these men or to the typical reader. Newton, for example, is dramatized as a sadistic self-seeker.85
An intelligent high school student with access to standard reference works could be expected to do better than Hawking (or his research assistant) does here. Such a student might also ask himself what the purpose of such biographies might be, something which is far from clear in this book. The “history” thereby provided is rather flimsy.86
What, according to Hawking, are scientists really after? One thing that scientists seem to be after, he indicates, is the Nobel Prize. The reader can be surprised by how often Hawking feels compelled to mention that this or that discovery had earned a Nobel.
Related to this may be the use he makes of chance relations, such as the fact that he was born three hundred years after Galileo died.87 Similar connections are made with Newton. We can suspect here the spirit of numerology and astrology, perhaps not surprising in an age when so much is made, and not only by pollsters and other gamblers, of numbers.88
Even as Hawking connects himself with Galileo and Newton, he shows himself “with it” in comments and illustrations which draw upon passing fancies. In all this, in short, a lack of seriousness may be detected.
I have touched upon various things that contribute to the popular success of the book, a success that may be a tribute as well to the recognized eminence of Hawking as a physicist. The successful mixture here of the high and the low is similar to what we can observe in other surprising best-sellers from recognized scholars. In such cases, the authors have previously shown themselves to be capable of much more competent work.89
What do readers get from the Hawking book? They are both flattered and reassured. They are led to believe that they now understand things that they did not understand before or, at least, that they have been exposed to some wonderful things.
But I must wonder if much is gotten in the way of a serious understanding of things. There is much in the book which is serious-sounding, but a good deal of that is really incomprehensible.90 Indeed, much of the book must be unintelligible for most of its purchasers.91 Furthermore, the typical reader is likely to be misled as to what the fundamental alternatives are in facing the cosmological questions that are glanced at in the Hawking book, fundamental alternatives that have been developed long ago and far more competently elsewhere.
Hawking and his colleagues, I have suggested, do not appreciate how naive they can be. They are certainly intelligent, even gifted, hardworking, and imaginative. Yet, I have also suggested, they all too often lack the kind of productive sobriety that obliges one to take the world seriously and that disciplines flights of fancy. They sometimes seem far from accomplished in their grasp of how the thoughtful investigate serious matters, and of how they promulgate their discoveries and conjectures.
Another way of putting my reservations is to suggest that Hawking and his associates do not know what a real book is like.92 One who is not practiced in reading carefully is unlikely to write with the greatest care.93 Is the cosmos of the modern cosmologist as shallow as his book? If it is not, then the modern cosmologist may not be equipped to have a soulful encounter with the cosmos. No doubt, competent scientific work can be done without the utmost seriousness–but are not great souls required for the highest activities?94
It may not be possible to read or write with the greatest care if one is imbued with our modern prejudices. One such prejudice is that of the Enlightenment, as illustrated in the concluding paragraph of the Hawking volume. It is there suggested that “if we do discover a complete theory [which concerns both the extraordinarily vast and the extraordinarily tiny], it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists.” Hawking goes on, “Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist.”95
Such egalitarian sentiments are found elsewhere in the volume as well. This hope or expectation is very much in the Enlightenment tradition, and it may be reflected in the intriguing popularity of this volume. It is not recognized, however, what the limits are as to how many can truly grasp the most serious things. That is, the limits placed here by nature and by circumstances are not taken into account.
Related to this can be the irresponsibility exhibited by all too many intellectuals in how they present what they come to believe. The social, moral and psychic consequences of ideas are not properly assessed.
We have been told that eighty-five percent of all the scientists who have ever lived are alive today. Their influence is evident and so are their marvelous works. But since they are usually no more thoughtful than most of their fellow-citizens, the dubious consequences of many of their innovations, in their intellectual as well as in their technological manifestations, are also evident.
The immaturity, even the not-infrequent juvenile cast of expression, among contemporary scientists may be sanctioned, if not encouraged, by the insulating effects of the mathematics so critical to modern scientific activity. The spirit here is very much that of games, especially of those sports in which much is made of record-keeping and of statistics.96 The childishness evident in contemporary scientific enterprises may well be accompanied by, and depend for success upon, considerable ingenuity and a laudable integrity.
Childishness is not unrelated to the self-centeredness that sometimes seems to be, in principle, at the heart of the scientific method today. Self-centeredness may be seen in the anthropic-principle explanations of the universe as understood by contemporary scientists.97 It sometimes seems to be believed that things exist only if there is, in principle, a human observer.98
Common sense does not say what contemporary cosmologists, if not physicists, generally seem to say, “If I cannot know it, it does not exist–or, at least, it has no consequences.”99 Nor does such a spirit (which can remind one of Plato’s Meno) encourage genuine inquiry, but rather limits us to looking into matters that promise “results.”100 We all know that what appears to be the limits of “knowability” in one generation may be superseded in another–and yet what is “real” is hardly likely to have changed over the years.101
Besides, is it true what is often said by cosmologists, that we cannot possibly know anything about what happened before the Big Bang? May there not have been, for instance, an extraordinary compacting then of the matter that resulted in the Big Bang? What can be known about that, if it did happen? It will not do to say that “events before the big bang can have no consequences,” for informed conjectures about such events, however difficult they may be to grasp “scientifically” and thus to “verify,” can affect the grasp we have of the whole.102
The anthropic-principle explanations taken up by some modern scientists are not of the kind seen in, say, the Book of Genesis. Nor do they seem of the kind which sees reason as vital to the universe, as that to which energy can be said to be naturally moving. One implication of the anthropic-principle approach seems to be that if anything had been even a little different in the laws of physics, conditions would be very hard if not simply impossible for human beings as we know them. This might bear upon the status of the Ideas in the world.103
To argue, as some do, that only the measurable exists so as to be knowable is to make too much of the way–the remarkably productive way–we do happen to approach scientific inquiries today. Hawking recognizes, “In effect, we have redefined the task of science to be the discovery of laws that will enable us to predict events.”104 Various animals effectively “predict” events–and yet they do not seem to understand what is going on.105
The earth, we are often reminded, is no longer regarded as at the center of the universe. It sometimes seems, however, that the centrality of the earth has been replaced by the centrality of the scientist, for whatever he cannot measure does not exist, at least for practical purposes if not also for human understanding. The predictability made so much of by the scientist does rely considerably upon measuring.106
That which can be measured is no doubt important. But if genuine understanding is not truly limited to that, even in scientific endeavors, then for scientists to proceed as they do is to subvert the possibility of human excellence. Reviewers of the Hawking volume do not seem to be aware of the serious epistemological problems left both by what he says and by the way he says it.
I conclude my primary critique of this volume by saying that it is hard for me to see that we know more because of all this. It does not seem to be generally appreciated, I have argued, how slim the evidence is that Hawking builds upon or how even slimmer is all too many scientists’ understanding of what it means to know. The approach and spirit of current cosmology may effectively cut us off from the most thoughtful awareness of the fundamental issues posed by the inquiries touched upon here. There may even be something unnatural in making so much of so little in the way that modern cosmologists “have” to do, exciting though it may sometimes be.107
What, one may well ask, does nature suggest here? Although I will continue to comment upon the Hawking volume, it is only fair, after the criticisms I have presumed to make, to put myself at risk by venturing now some “cosmological” speculations of my own.
Nature, taken by herself, means (to repeat) that there need be neither a beginning nor an end to the universe.108 And this in turn means, as Hawking sometimes seems to recognize, that there need be no beginning of time, however limited the means may be in one set of circumstances or another for measuring or even noticing the passage of time. Nature seen in this way is opposed, at least in spirit, to the professional, not necessarily any personal, self-centeredness of modern scientists. Thus, nature and self-centeredness contend for the central position in the human soul, if not in the universe.109
A somewhat different, perhaps laudable, kind of self-centeredness may also be seen in the goal set by Hawking, which is “to know why we are here and where we come from.”110 Much is made here and elsewhere of the universe as a place in which human beings do live.111 But, as both Hesiod and the Bible (as well as philosophy) have taught us, human beings may not be the highest things in the universe, and so to understand everything primarily in human terms may not give the universe its due.112
Nor may it do to frame a study of the universe, or even of physics, as a history of time. To put it thus may make far too much of process and of human perceptions, not enough either of substance or of principles. This is not to suggest that it is unnatural for time to be made so much of by human beings who are likely to regard themselves as personally vulnerable.
But does not nature also direct us to look for those enduring things by which we can take our bearings as we notice and deal with the transitory? Hawking has in his volume a brief account of the origins of life on earth, with the eventual emergence of mammals.113 This seems to me far easier to grasp than the astronomical, or cosmological, conjectures he and his colleagues offer us, and it was fairly easy to grasp as well (however much it was opposed) when first developed by Charles Darwin and his associates a century ago.114 It also seems to me that this greater ease depends in part upon the fact that nature and a common-sense awareness of things may be closer to the surface of this evolutionary account than they are to the surface of many of the cosmological and other speculations of our physicists.
Is it not far easier to believe that life on earth had a beginning, and even that the earth itself had a beginning, than it is to believe that the universe did? Aristotle evidently believed that the human understanding of things depends upon the opinion that the visible universe is eternal–that is, that it is more or less unchanging.115 Since this evidently is not so, Aristotle seems to be vulnerable. But perhaps a sound intuition was at work in Aristotle, which may be appreciated when we recognize that “visibility” may extend far beyond what he could be immediately aware of in his circumstances.116
In some sense, then, things may always have been as they are now, with a variety of forms available for the enduring substance of the universe. The ancients who looked to cycles–ancients such as some of the Platonists and perhaps Epicurus and Lucretius–may also have been sound in their intuition.117
Hawking talks at times (we have noticed) about a beginning of time with the Big Bang and at other times only about an ascertainable time beginning with the Big Bang. More seems to be made of the former than of the latter, as is reflected in the dust-jacket summary I have quoted. Would not the tenor and force of Hawking’s argument change significantly if the beginning he makes so much of were simply recognized as merely the most recent cataclysmic “beginning,” and as such no more than a useful starting point for our inquiries?
If we take the Big Bang seriously, must we not also consider the implications of something that has been called the Big Crunch–that concentration of “all” matter which eventually led to the Big Bang? And why should we believe that we happen to be the beneficiaries of, or “tuned in” to, the only occasion that this sequence came about? Is not this too self-centered or otherwise unimaginative on our part?118
If, on the other hand, a cyclical pattern of Big Crunches and Big Bangs is assumed, what follows? Whether there was a beginning of time may be intimately related to whether there is a beginning of space. Here we can be reminded of Lucretius and his tireless spear-thrower, repeatedly pushing back the “frontiers” of the universe.119
To argue as I have done just now is to speak from the perspective of human reason–albeit, perhaps, an unsophisticated reason–contemplating nature. We must leave open, at least at this point of our inquiry, the question of whether there is a genuine divine revelation–and, if so, which one of the many revelations that have been offered to the human race it may be– instructing us about a single beginning of time.120
But however beginning-less (and hence infinite?) both time and space may be, it is hard, perhaps impossible, to imagine infinite matter. Do our cosmologists try to imagine that? I am not sure. They do talk about infinite density–the Big Crunch concentration of all matter into one “point”– at the “time” of, that is, culminating in, the Big Bang. If their calculations show all matter in the universe compacted to virtually a point–and if they mean this literally–my natural inclination (a kind of untutored defensiveness?) is to suggest that they had better calculate again. Lucretius was particularly insistent upon the good sense of recognizing what cannot be.121
We are investigating, in effect, the nature of science, that great work of the mind which is distinctively Western both in its origins and in its presuppositions. We should not forget that science must, like all reasoning, begin with premises that cannot themselves be demonstrated. Related to this is the fact that Newton, for example, does not define the matter of which he makes so much. No doubt, he could have done so, but the thing(s) in terms of which he might have defined matter would in turn have had to be left undefined. Perhaps he preferred to leave as his principal undefined premises those things which are sufficiently available to us by our natural grasp of the everyday world.122
The comprehensive account of the universe that the modern cosmologist aims at, as seen in the loose talk at the end of the Hawking volume about knowing “the mind of God,” may be, in principle, impossible to attain. I suspect that it is also impossible to comprehend–that is, to grasp, to describe, or to understand–either the smallest element in the universe or the largest, that is, the universe itself. To try to comprehend them is like trying to demonstrate the premises that one uses. I do not pretend to know whether matter is infinitely divisible (whatever that may mean), but I have long wondered whether any ultimate “particle” can be both found and identified as such.123
I suspect that we see in the celebrated Uncertainty Principle of Werner Heisenberg a reflection of the impossibility of avoiding a dependence upon indemonstrable premises.124 The ambition of modern cosmologists makes them less thoughtful than they might otherwise be, for it keeps them from recognizing and perhaps refining the premises they must inevitably depend upon.
Critical to our Hawking volume is a discussion of Black Holes. One can become particularly aware, upon considering the basis for the imaginative discourses we have had in recent years about Black Holes, how slim the basis for much scientific speculation has indeed had to be.125
Perhaps related to this state of affairs is what is said by modern cosmologists about chaos.126 It is difficult to see, especially if the stuff of the universe does oscillate between Big Crunch and Big Bang, that any state can be considered truly chaotic. I again ask: Is it not possible, if not even probable, that matter, or at least the idea of matter, has always been, and hence has always been susceptible to the same “rules”? Why would the rules ever change, except in accordance with a Rule of Rules, or a Cosmic Constitutionalism?
Chaos may be, therefore, only a way of talking about our unsettling ignorance about any particular state of things. Among the things implicit in each state of things is the eventual emergence not only of life but even of reason. The potential for, if not even an “inclination” toward the emergence of, reasoning is thus always present in the universe.127
But to say that reason always is, in some form or other, does not mean that reason should be able on its own to understand the whole, including why the whole (including reasoning) exists at all. The eternity of the universe probably cannot be demonstrated. But it does seem to be conceivable, whatever that may mean. And it may be vain, if not maddening, to wonder, or to insist upon wondering, why things “have” to exist at all. That is, there may be no place to stand upon in answering (or even in asking?) such a question.128 Again, it is prudent to leave open the possibility of what genuine revelation may be able to teach us, if only now and then or only here and there, about such matters.
Is it not possible that matter has always to be as it is, just as (we might more readily concede) numbers have to be as they are, and perhaps reason (and not only human reason) as well? To what extent, or in what way, reason depends upon matter is another question better left perhaps for another occasion.129
It is possible (I again conjecture) that even the divine, however conceived, might be obliged to accept matter as well as numbers for what they are. One reading of the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis finds matter already in existence when the creation described there begins.130 Also, when the days are being counted during Creation Week, it does not seem that the numbers drawn upon there, culminating in seven, are being created as well at the same time.
It may not make sense, therefore, to pursue very far the inquiry of why matter exists. Numbers can be used in describing the operations of matter–but, I again venture to suggest, we should be careful not to assume that the most important things to be known about anything, including matter, come to view only by way of measurements, with or without experiments.
Numbers can give us the appearance of orderliness and even of comprehensiveness, especially as they are projected indefinitely. But an awareness of important aspects of things may be sacrificed in the process. Consider, for example, the limitations of a census-taker in grasping the spirit of a people. Consider, also, this suggestion by Bertrand Russell: “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.”131
One defect to be guarded against, especially by the more clever and talented among us, is presumptuousness. Presumptuousness is dependent, in part, upon a failure to appreciate what is assumed or presupposed–or, more generally speaking, upon a failure to recognize what has gone before or is always.
Thoughtfulness is needed for the most serious grasp of things. An awareness of one’s limitations can contribute to, even if it does not guarantee, thoughtfulness. Such an awareness is far less likely to be secured if one is presumptuous–if, for example, one has been imbued with scientific doctrines which hold out the prospect of a comprehensive understanding of everything, including the very process and form of that understanding.
Why are people today as interested in cosmology as they evidently are? No doubt they simply want to know about the grandest things. That is natural enough. Perhaps also they seek material confirmation or reassurance about eternal matters, including as they bear upon the standards by which they live and understand. That, too, is natural enough. But does modern cosmology provide the means to grasp these things? Is there not a limit to what can be learned, even by a select few, about such things in this way?
The appeal for us of Hawking’s fortitude and perseverance in the face of great personal adversity is a reflection of our own awareness of, and respect for, the significance and enduring worth of various virtues. Do we not have from him, here, access to something much more solid, even magnificently so, than the cosmological doctrines spun out of the flimsy data that even the most gifted scientists seem destined to have to settle for–and to replace from time to time?132
It is instructive here to be reminded that Socrates moved, in the course of his career, from such inquiries as contemplation of the heavens to a concern primarily with human things.133 It is hardly likely that access to such instruments as electron microscopes and radio telescopes would have induced him to conduct himself otherwise.
To turn to human things, as Socrates says that he did, includes an effort to know oneself. Unless one knows oneself it may be difficult, if not impossible, to know reliably any other thing–for how can one be certain otherwise that one’s own psyche does not distort what one believes one sees or how one reasons about such things?
But as one comes to know oneself and hence what it means to know, one may also learn that the whole cannot be truly and fully known by human beings. This may be one reason Socrates can speak of philosophy or love-of-wisdom, not of wisdom itself, as that which characterizes the thoughtful human being.134
The evident limitations of even the most thoughtful may encourage many human beings to look to some faith in the divine as a way of providing themselves a meaningful universe. But if one is unsettled by the prospect of a universe without beginning, how does recourse to a God also without beginning truly to take care of one’s sense of groundlessness?
It may be said that God is unchanging, while matter, and hence the universe, is always changing, There is a sense, however, in which an eternal material universe, however varied its forms, is as unchanging as a divinity which is forever.135 One may have to look elsewhere, then, for justification of that faith in the divine which has meant so much to so many for so long.
The “mind of God” talk of which much is made in the Hawking volume and elsewhere can seem the essence of presumptuousness. It may be intended as a kind of piety, of course, however misconceived it may be. The fundamental innocence of such statements today is testified to, in effect, by the lack of reproof for these particular statements from most reviewers of the Hawking volume. Evidently this kind of talk is not taken to mean what it might have once been taken to mean.
The perhaps unbridgeable gulf, and hence the prudence of a truce, between Reason and Revelation may not be generally appreciated these days, however fundamental that gulf has been for millennia in Western thought.136 The popular appeal of the Hawking volume may rest in part upon its being perceived as siding, in the name of science, with theology against philosophy, however much Christian theology in the West once considered itself in principle compatible with philosophy, thereby distinguishing itself in still another way from the various “schools” of non-Western thought.
Something of the divine is elicited by the enormous numbers invoked by the cosmologist. Thus we can be told, as if we are being offered a revelation that should mean something to us, that a thousand billion stars have already been accounted for.137 Are not such overwhelming numbers, whether applied to stars or galaxies or distances or time, simply incomprehensible, if not literally, non-sense?
Numbers of this scope do suggest the magnitude of the divine, as traditionally understood. But they may not suggest the awesomeness of the truly holy, partly because they are numbers which are repeatedly being revised, almost (it can sometimes seem) at the whim of the cosmologist.138
How does the mythology of the modern cosmologists compare with the theology of our ancients, whether Greek or Judaic? We have to understand the old better than we now do in order to be able to answer this question–and for that understanding, a grasp of what each of these ways of thinking takes to be the beginning should be useful, if not even essential. Also useful here can be at least an informed awareness of what the non-Western “schools” of thought have revealed across millennia.
Be that as it may, we can see, in the considerable popular response to the kind of story of the universe told in the Hawking volume, why the Bible can be said to be “the document of the greatest effort ever made to deprive all heavenly bodies of all possibility of divine worship.”139
Be that too as it may, we must wonder if the old mythology, if mythology it be, is keyed more to human capacities and expectations than is the new. One reliable model in responding to the speculations of modern cosmologists may well be that of Socrates’ determinedly sober response to the ambitious speculations of Anaxagoras.140
Morale among physical scientists can be high, however much their efforts can remind one at times of the high-minded but ill-fated Children’s Crusade. The enthusiasm of gifted students is stimulated, in large part, by the considerable talents and obvious dedication of their teachers, by the noble hope that the general understanding as well as the material conditions of mankind will be enhanced, and by the plausible perception that much has already been accomplished because of the technology generated by science. The more thoughtful scientists are not unaware of some of the reservations I have sketched on this occasion about the modern scientific project.141 Particularly challenging is the question of what it is that the scientist is entitled to believe and to say on the basis of the evidence that happens to be available to him.142
To what extent should continual examination of the evidence that can be mustered in support of scientific speculation include assessments of the technology to which these speculations have contributed? We can still see, in various parts of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, Roman aqueducts, perhaps often repaired if not rebuilt since antiquity, that carry water as they did thousands of years ago. The technology of the Romans (including in roadbuilding) has continued to work long after the natural sciences of their day were superseded if not even discredited. It is instructive thus to notice that a “theory” may “work”–it may have substantial practical applications–even if not strictly or fully true. Many are the marvels associated with modern science–not least with the technology inspired by and otherwise keyed to modern science–but these marvels should not be taken to validate that science, certainly not to validate it unqualifiedly when it speculates about the beginnings of things. Similar comments can be made about the religious foundations upon which great enterprises have been reared and sustained for centuries, if not even for millennia, all over the world.
A story I once heard at the weekly Physics Department colloquium at the University of Chicago, which I have attended regularly for decades, assures us (as do other stories) that some scientists are alert to the follies to which unbridled speculation can lead: Two American engineers who had made fortunes developed a passion for archaeology. This led them to purchase villas in Rome where they could excavate to their hearts’ content. Their zeal was rewarded. One of the engineers came to the other with exciting news. Excavations on his grounds had turned up some ancient metal strings. This proved, he was pleased to report, that the ancient Romans had invented the telephone as well as the aqueducts for which they were already admired by everybody. The other engineer was inspired by this report to dig further on his own grounds. Eventually, he too had exciting news to report. He had dug all over and had found nothing. “Then why are you so excited?” his friend asked. “Don’t you realize what this means?” came the reply. “The Romans must have invented the radio also!” Scientists intend to remind us by such stories about the difficulty, as well as the allure, of discovering the true beginnings, and hence the very nature, of things, even as we keep in mind these propositions:
Philosophy in the strict and classical sense is quest for the eternal order or for the eternal cause or causes of all things. It presupposes then that there is an eternal and unchangeable order within which History [including the “history” of Big Crunches and Big Bangs?] takes place and which is not in any way affected by History.143
1. Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace, II i, 1 (quoting remarks recorded by Titus Livy from a speech made to the Romans by the Rhodians). See, also, George Anastaplo, “Law & Literature and the Bible: Explorations,” 23 Oklahoma City Law Review 515, 787 (1998).
2. Our scientist, a cosmologist (discussed in Part Three of these remarks, On Beginnings), is not representative of physical scientists today, whose speculations do tend to be much less spectacular. But his kind of cosmology does fit in nicely with the poetic and Biblical accounts considered in Parts One and Two of these remarks, as well as with the “systems” discussed elsewhere in Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy: Seven Introduction to Non-Western Thought (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2002). Although contemporary cosmology may not be representative of disciplines such as “ordinary” physics, it does suggest the direction in which science is moving, with speculations about the most minute and immediate things matching, in their inventiveness, speculations about the grandest and most remote things. See the text at notes 80, 95, and 123 of these remarks.
3. Quintillian, Seneca, and many others have observed that everything ends that has a beginning. See, e.g., Genesis 3: 19. Consider, also, the opening line of T. S. Eliot’s East Coker: “In my beginning is my end.” Consider, as well, the opening lines of his Burnt Norton. See, on these poems, George Anastaplo, “Law & Literature and the Moderns: Explorations,” 20 Northern Illinois University Law Review 251, 539 (2000)
4. Must there be an ultimate “particle”? If not, what (in a particle-theory approach) provides the foundation for such substantial steadiness as we observe and depend upon in the world? So far as we know, and perhaps so far as most of us can imagine, however, all material particles can be divided. If there is an ultimate particle, therefore, is it likely to be material? Rather, may it not be somehow immaterial? And, if so, how is the marvelous transition effected between the immaterial and the material? Do we touch here upon the “mystery” of the relation between soul and body? See notes 117 and 123, below. See, on the soul, Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy, p. 303. See, on the ultron, note 123, below. See, also, Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 332.
5. The languages essential for rationality, as well as for responsible families, seem to depend upon community. This suggests the limits to radical individualism. See the text at note 128 of these remarks.
6. See, on Homer as the educator of Greece, George Anastaplo, The Thinker as Artist: From Homer to Plato & Aristotle (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1997). See, also, the text at note 11 of these remarks.
7. See the text at note 142 of these remarks. See, on nature, ibid., p. 399. See, also, the texts at notes 62, 108, and 115 of these remarks. I have been told that Leopold Kronesker said, “God created the natural numbers [1, 2, 3, etc.]. Everything else is man’s handiwork.” Compare the text at note 129 of these remarks.
8. See, e.g., Leon John Roos, Natural Law and Natural Right in Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle (University of Chicago doctoral dissertation, 1971). See, also, Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy, p. 303.
9. See Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, II, 15 sq.
10. Homer uses nature only once, and that use is curious. See Homer, Odyssey, X, 303. See, also, the text at note 62 of these remarks.
11. Mark Van Doren, The Noble Voice: A Study of Ten Great Poems (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1946), p. xi. See George Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker: From Shakespeare to Joyce (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1983). See, also, note 5, above.
12. Encyclopedia of Religion (New York: Macmillan, 1987), VI, 307-08. See the text at note 47 of these remarks.
13. Herodotus, History, II, 53, David Grene, trans. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).
14. See R. M. Frazer, The Poems of Hesiod (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983), p. 13.
15. See, for a challenging discussion of Hesiod, Seth Benardete, “The First Crisis in First Philosophy,” 18 Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 237 (1995) (New School for Social Research). The instructive Bernadete challenges here begin with the unfortunate opening line, “Virtually everyone knows that Aristotle sometimes lies.” But see note 21, below. See, for (Pythagorean?) reservations about both Homer and Hesiod, Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers (Cambridge, Mass.: Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1925), II, 339 (viii, 21). Compare the poetic epigraph in Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 329.
16. Similarly, in Homer’s Odyssey, the story begins late in the course of Odysseus’ effort to return home. By the sixth book, in this twenty-four-book epic, Odysseus reaches the next-to-last stop on his voyage home. This bears upon whether the Homeric epics were “folk” productions. See Anastaplo, The Thinker as Artist, pp. 367f.
17. See, e.g., ibid., pp. 13f. Virgil’s Aeneid seems critically different in this as in other respects.
18. The Catalogue of Ships, in Book II of Homer’s Iliad (see Anastaplo, The Thinker as Artist, pp. 23, 37-39, 375-77), can be seen as a Boeotian element adopted (and transformed) by Homer. In any event, Homer can be taken to suggest that human beings almost always, if not always, find themselves in the midst of some struggle.
19. Encyclopedia of Religion, VI, 307-08. Dante, in his Divine Comedy, even immobilizes Titans-like beings at the bottom of the Inferno. Elsewhere, as in Homer, Zeus can be referred to as the oldest of the Olympians. Does Zeus, because of his superior power, act and regard himself as the oldest, even though he is sometimes said (in other stories, such as Hesiod’s) to be the youngest of the Olympians?
20. Encyclopedia of Religion, VI, 308. See, on the Babylonian and Hittite sources, “Mesopotamian Thought: The Gilgamesh Epic,” Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy, p. 1.
21. Poets (or prophets, who may sometimes be the same as poets?) had sung of other gods, but not as effectively (that is, not as truly?) as Hesiod can. Thus, as the Muses told Hesiod, the Muses “know how to speak many false things as though they were true.” Hesiod, Theogony 26. Perhaps this helps account for the dubious stories about the gods that have been challenged. See, e.g., Plato, Republic, Books II-III. See, also, Virgil, Aeneid, VI, 893-96. John Milton argues, in his Areopagitica, that the truth is much more likely to prevail than is error in a fair contest. See note 15, above. See, on prophecy, Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy, pp. 389-90. See, also, Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 5.
22. See Hesiod, Theogony 26 sq.
23. See the text at note 47 of these remarks.
24. See Hesiod, Theogony 4. See, also, “Jupiter” in Pierre Bayle’s Dictionary.
25. See M. L. West, ed., Hesiod, Theogony (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), p. 18.
26. See ibid., pp. 17-18.
27. Eros is critical for the generating to be done later by divine as well as by human couples. Tartarus becomes important later as a place to be used by Zeus to confine permanently his defeated challengers. See Hesiod, Theogony 713f. See, also, Virgil, Aeneid, Book VI.
28. Nor is anything said about any other place but Earth and its environs (which could include where the gods are most of the time). See Aristotle, Physics 225a sq. See, also, the text at note 143 of these remarks.
29. See Hesiod, Theogony 126 sq.
30. We recall that the Lord could be referred to, in ancient Hebrew, as “the place.”
31. See, on Chaos, the text at note 126 of these remarks.
32. We have similar questions about what preceded the Big Bang examined in Part Three of these remarks on beginnings.
33. See Hesiod, Theogony 126 sq., 453 sq., 491 sq.
34. They are in this respect like Oedipus, whose (presumptuous?) efforts to avoid his fate may have made that fate come about in the worst possible way. That, too, by the way, is a Boeotian story, and one in which, like the story of Ouranos, a son mates with his mother to produce a much-troubled dynasty. See, on Sophocles’ Oedipus, Anastaplo, On Trial: From Adam & Eve to O.J. Simpson (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2004), p. 444; Anastaplo, The Thinker as Artist, pp. 3, 6-8, 119-28, 400.
35. See note 33, above. See, also, Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy, pp. 75-76.
36. West, ed., Hesiod, Theogony, p. 19.
37. Was this the kind of prophecy that Laius, the father of Oedipus, had had?
38. See the text at note 47 of these remarks.
39. See, e.g., Homer, Iliad, XV, 48 sq.
40. See, on Logos and the Gospel of John, the text at note 60 of these remarks. See, also, Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 151. See, on St. Augustine, Anastaplo, “Teaching, Nature, and the Moral Virtues,” The Great Ideas Today 9f (1997); Anastaplo, “Rome, Piety, and Law: Explorations,” 39 Loyola University of New Orleans Law Review 2, 83 (1993). Furthermore, it can be wondered whether Athena (the ominous “child of Zeus?”) generated that rationalism which eventually underminded the Olympian divinities.
41. See Stephanie A. Nelson, An Honest Living: Farming and Ethics in Hesiod’s “Works and Days” and Vergil’s “Georgics” (University of Chicago doctoral dissertation, 1992).
42. See, on five in Hindu accounts, Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy, p. 67.
43. This is perhaps somewhat like Hesiod’s fellow Boeotian, being commissioned to celebrate the winners of the great athletic games. See Anastaplo, The Thinker as Artist, p. 76. See, also, Anastaplo, The American Moralist: On Law, Ethics, and Government (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1992), pp. 51f. See, as well, note 40, above.
44. Consider, for example, the decisive career of Rebekah. See Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 43. Consider, also, the story about Eros told by “Aristophames” in Plato’s Symposium. See Anastaplo, The Thinker as Artist, p. 171.
45. See Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, I, i sq. See, on Maimonides, Anastaplo, The American Moralist, p. 58. See, also, Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 393.
46. Leo Strauss, Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity, Kenneth Hart Green, ed. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), p. 293. See, for a review of this book, Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 225. See, also, Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy, p. 205, n.4; Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 225. See, as well, the text at note 139 of these remarks.
47. Charles Segal, Dionysian Poetics and Euripides’ “Bacchae” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), p. 339. See, also, the text at notes 12 and 38 of these remarks.
48. See, on the Doctrine of the Ideas, Anastaplo, The Thinker as Artist, pp. 307, 397. See, also, the text at notes 103 and 127 of these remarks.
49. See the text at note 143 of these remarks. Parmenides helped open up the West to nature and hence philosophy. He shows himself, in a Homeric-style poem, introduced to his topics by a goddess. This can remind the reader of Hesiod’s initiation by the Muses. See, on Parmenides “as the first extant author deserving to be called a philosopher in a present-day sense of the word,” David Gallop, ed., Parmenides of Elea (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), p. 3. The evident coextensiveness, for Parmenides, of thinking and being suggests that “beginning,” as distinguished from that which is “always” or eternal, may be for him little more than an illusion, except that the process of change itself may be eternal. See the text at note 116 of these remarks. See, also, note 135, below. See, for a useful introduction to Parmenides and to the Platonic dialogue by that name, Albert Keith Whitaker, Plato’s Parmenides (Newburyport, Mass.: Focus Philosophical Library, 1996). See, also, the discussions of Parmenides by Martin Heidegger, Jacob Klein, Karl Reinhardt, Kurt Riezler, and (it is to be hoped) Joseph Cropsey.
50. Judges 6: 36-40. Compare Judges 6: 14-24.
51. The traditional Hebrew name for this book is In the Beginning. The title Genesis was a much later usage from the Greek. The other four books of the Torah are also called traditionally by the word or words that appear first in the text. See the text at note 59 of these remarks. See, also, Robert Sacks, “The Lion and the Ass: A Commentary on the Book of Genesis,” 8 Interpretation 29f (1980). See, as well, note 40, above.
52. See, e.g., Strauss, Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity, p. 359.
53. See, e.g., Anastaplo, On Trial, p. 5.
54. See, e.g., Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 29.
55. See, e.g., Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 141, Anastaplo, “Lessons for the Student of Law: The Oklahoma Lectures,” 20 Oklahoma City University Law Review 17, 97f (1995):
56. See, e.g., Anastaplo, On Trial, p 115; Anastaplo, The Bible, pp. 43, 57. See, also, note 44, above.
57. See, e.g., Anastaplo, The Bible, pp. 67, 77, 85. See for instructive introductions to the career of Moses, three articles by Jules Gleicher in Interpreation (in 1999, pp. 149-81; in 2003, pp 119-56; in 2004, pp 119-63).
58. See, e.g., Anastaplo, The Bible, pp. 107, 117, 127. Indeed, it can sometimes seem, much of the Hebrew Bible is written for a people that is somehow always “abroad.”
59. Arche is the term evident in such English words as archetype, architect, and architectonic. See note 51, above. Some readers of the Hebrew text have it open, “When God began to create…”
60. Should this be understood as God speaking or thinking? See the text at note 40 of these remarks. Goethe has his Faust open a book and begin to speak thus:
It says: “In the beginning was the Word.”
[Geschrieben steht: “Im Anfang was das Wort!”]
Already I am stopped. It seems absurd.
The Word does not deserve the highest prize,
I must translate it otherwise
If I am well inspired and not blind.
It says: “In the beginning was the Mind [der Sinn]!”
Ponder that first line, wait and see,
Lest you should write too hastily.
Is mind the all-creating source?
It ought to say: “In the beginning there was Force [die Kraft]!”
Yet something warns me as I grasp the pen,
That my translation must be changed again.
The spirit helps me. Now it is exact.
I write: “In the beginning was the Act [die Tat]!”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Walter Kaufman, trans. (Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday & Company, 1963), p. 153. Consider, on the natural tendency toward the animation of matter (and hence the power of “Mind”?), Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 327.
61. See, on miracles in the New Testament, Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 151. See, also, Anastaplo, On Trial, pp, 155f.
62. See, on Gideon, the text at note 50 of these remarks. See, also, note 133, below. Compare Robert Graves, Introduction, Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (London: Paul Hamlyn Limited, 1951), p. 5:
Mythology is the study of whatever religious or heroic legends are so foreign to a student’s experience that he cannot believe them to be true. Hence the English adjective “mythical,” meaning “incredible”; and hence the omission from standard European mythologies, such as this, of all Biblical narratives even when closely paralleled by myths from Persia, Babylonia, Egypt and Greece; and of all hagiological legends.
See Anastaplo, On Trial, pp. 71f, 155f. Most of the major religions of the world, when compared to those grounded in the Bible, can seem rather “wild” to us in the West. See, e.g., notes 20, 42, above. See, for what the West is accustomed to, George Anastaplo, The Christian Heritage: Problems and Prospects (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2010). An exception, although it may not really be a “religion,” is the Confucian way. See, e.g., Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy, Chapter Four. See, also, the text at note 136 of these remarks.
63. Jacob Klein, Lectures and Essays (Annapolis: St. John’s College Press, 1985), p. 1. I have found very helpful the comments made by often quite-critical readers of Part Three of these remarks on beginnings. Those readers include Laurence Berns of St. John’s College, Peter Braunfeld of the University of Illinois, Keith S. Cleveland of Columbia College of Chicago, and Stephen Vanderslice of Louisiana State University, as well as Nikilesh Banerjee, Hellmut Fritzsche, Edward Kibblewhite, Joseph J. O’Gallagher, Robert G. Sachs, and Noel M. Swerdlow of the University of Chicago. See note 109, below.
64. A mature physicist (who is not himself a cosmologist) has told me that one did not hear much if any talk, forty years ago, about the age of the universe; there was little talk then of a “beginning.” But, he insists, observational evidence is now available, primarily because of the work earlier of Edwin Hubble, arguing for the steady expansion of the universe, and because of the discovery in the 1960s of the cosmic background radiation, which suggests a beginning of time–that is, the Big Bang. (This “beginning of time,” we shall see further on, seems to mean to cosmologists today the beginning of knowability. See the text at notes 98-100 of these remarks.) It is hard, this physicist can add, to fathom either a finite universe, in time or space, or an infinite universe, in time. See note 80, below. See, on the risks of imagination, as noticed by Enrico Fermi, the Interpretation book review cited in note 70, below.
As for the prospects of an unending “expansion of the universe” (see note 118, below), consider one implication of the natural animation of matter examined in Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 327: May there even be in matter, because of whatever natural ensoulment there might be, a tendency toward universal “in-gathering”? See, as well, Anastaplo, The Bible, note 758. See, on our “experience” of eternity, Anastaplo, The Christian Heritage, note 600.
65. The full title of the Hawking book is A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. It was first published, by Bantam Books, in 1988, and subsequently revised. See note 89 (end), below. See, for recent speculations about these matters, “Papers from a National Academy of Sciences Colloquium on the Age of the Universe, Dark Matter, and Structure Formation,” 95 Proceedings of the National Academy of Science U.S.A. 1 (1995).
66. See note 107, below. See, also, the text at note 94 of these remarks.
67. See, for “A Brief History of A Brief History,” Stephen Hawking, Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays (New York: Bantam Books, 1993), pp. 33f. See, also, the text at note 87 of these remarks.
68. See, on the challenging mission of combining the extraordinarily vast and the extraordinarily tiny, the text at note 95 of these remarks. See, also, note 1, above, and the text at note 123 of these remarks.
69. Has our “common sense,” if not even our “intuition,” been shaped by such grand innovations as Newton’s “system of the world”? For example, what we accept as his law of inertia can be said to have defied “common sense”: that is, everyday observation is that things moving on earth do come to a stop unless pushed or pulled further. See also notes 116, 126, below. Still, consider how current scientific speculations can be regarded:
Contemporary cosmologists feel free to say anything that pops into their heads. Unhappy examples are everywhere: absurd schemes to model time on the basis of the complex numbers, as in Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time; bizarre and ugly contraptions for cosmic inflation; universes multiplying beyond the reach of observation; white holes, black holes, worm holes, and naked singularities; theories of every stripe and variety, all of them uncorrected by any criticism beyond the trivial.
David Berlinski, “Was There a Big Bang?”, Commentary, February 1998, p. 38. But see note 80, below. See, also, note 131, below.
70. See, e.g., the commentaries in the Joe Sachs translation of Aristotle’s Physics (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995). See, also, my discussion of this useful edition of the Physics in 26 Interpretation 275 (1999). (This review was originally commissioned by the St. John’s College Review, which discovered it could not use it.)
71. Statistical theory is important here, as is a distinction between discovery and verification. Few, if any, rules govern discovery–one inspired conjecture might suffice–while, on the other hand, fairly strict rules may govern what is accepted as verification. Be that as it may, the contemporary physicist can insist that precise measurement is impossible. See note 143, below.
72. See the text at note 121 of these remarks. The Hawking career puts to a severe test the ancient prescription of mens sana in corpore sano. Hawking himself has had to compensate for a dreadful disease for which he was in no way responsible. See Hawking, Black Holes and Baby Universes, pp. 21-26. It is a disease which has made him, in key respects, very much a creature of modernity–not only in his reliance upon more and more technology for survival and communication, but also in his being able to divorce his mental activity to a remarkable degree from bodily activity and hence from the material element. (One can be reminded of René Descrates, one of the founders of modern science, who argued that scientific progress required the investigator to abstract from his body and his circumstances. See Anastaplo, The American Moralist (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1992), pp. 83f. See, also, Anastaplo, “The Forms of Our Knowing: A Somewhat Socratic Introduction,” Part 2, in Douglas A. Ollivant, ed., Jacques Maritain and the Many Ways of Knowing, an American Maritian Association publication (Catholic University of America Press, 2001). One can wonder whether a radical independence from the body contributes to a spectacular imaginative power, if not to even more such power than is called for by the available facts. See note 122, below. Socrates does seem to argue that if the soul withdraws from the body (that is, dies?), it should, if properly prepared while still alive, be able to think better–but such speculations came from a Socrates who always did have a sound body—and his having such a body may have contributed to the sobriety that can be seen underlying even his most imaginative ventures. However impressive Hawking’s intellectual achievements, they are likely to be superseded within decades, given the volatility of modern science, while the remarkable achievements of the spirit that he has exhibited should be celebrated for generations, if not for centuries. See the text at note 132 of these remarks. See, also, note 117, below. Compare Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy, p. 337, n. 36.
73. Consider, for example, this comment by Einstein in a letter to Max Born,
December 12, 1926:
Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the Old One. I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice.
Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times (New York: World Publishing Company, 1971), p. 340. See also ibid., p. 396 (“God is subtle but he is not malicious.”). See, on imagination, note 64, above. See, on the Enlightenment and deism, Edward O. Wilson, “Back from Chaos,” The Atlantic Monthly, March 1998, p. 52. Compare note 89, below. See, as well, note 143, below.
74. See Eva T. H. Brann, The World of the Imagination (Savage, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1991), pp. 603-31. See, also, ibid., pp. 579-600. See, as well, notes 95, 140, below. See, for the rigor employed by the very best of the ancients in using fully the relatively little evidence that was then available about the heavens, Aristotle, De Caelo. See, also, notes 97 and 114, below.
75. The puzzles of modern physicists are largely technological in character and are dictated in various ways by technology, even as solutions tend to expand technology.
76. He starts well enough (on page 1) with the charming story about the tower of turtles, but he is all too often flip thereafter. Consider, for example, what is said about astronauts falling into black holes, about the risks run at a Vatican conference, about such things as Penthouse and Private Eye, about various of the ancients, and about the biographies of great predecessors. I will return to some of these matters. See, also, note 69, above.
77. See Section III of Part Three of these remarks on beginnings. Hawking is said to rely less on mathematics, even in his professional papers, than most of his colleagues. See Jeremy Bernstein, “Cosmology,” New Yorker, June 6, 1988, p. 118.
78. See Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p. 85. The engineering art seems to be a vital part of contemporary physics. See, also, note 75, above.
79. Consider the implications of such changes while the accompanying technology continues to work. Indeed, much of the technology can be opaque. We sometimes “know” that if we do A and B, our result will “always” be C, without our having the least idea why. See, for puzzlement about the attraction of masses, Anastaplo, “Lessons for the Student of Law,” pp. 157-58. See, also, the Conclusion of these remarks on beginnings. See, as well, the text at note 138 of these remarks. See, on Hubble’s Constant and its elusiveness, Donald Goldsmith, Einstein’s Greatest Blunder? The Cosmological Constant and Other Fudge Factors in the Physics of the Universe (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), pp. 90f.
80. A particularly dramatic instance was the Cold Fusion scandal of the late 1980s. But the scientific community itself dealt with this aberration decisively. See, e.g., John R. Huizenga, Cold Fusion: The Scientific Fiasco of the Century (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 1992). Consider, also, this report by the eminent scientist (notes 84 and 107, below) who first popularized contemporary cosmology:
It is conceivable that some of the skeptics will turn out to be right about the big bang theory, but this seems unlikely. [Martin] Rees cautiously gives odds of only 10 to 1 in favor of the big bang, but he quotes Yakov Zeldovitch as saying that the big bang is as certain “as that the Earth goes round the Sun.” At least within the past century, no other major theory that became the consensus view of physicists or astronomers–in the way that the big bang theory has–has ever turned out to be simply wrong. Our theories have often turned out to be valid only in a more limited context than we had thought, or valid for reasons that we had not understood. But they are not simply wrong–not in the way, for instance, that the cosmology of Ptolemy or Dante is wrong. Consensus is forced on us by nature itself, not by some orthodox scientific establishment . . .
Steven Weinberg, “Before the Big Bang,” New York Review of Books, June 12, 1997, p. 20. See also the text at note 125 of these remarks. See, on the “originality” of the moderns, G. M. D. Anastaplo, Book Review, 82 Isis 713 (1991). See, also, note 122, below. See, as well, note 131, below.
81. This seems to be due to a combination of carelessness, ignorance, and presumptuousness. See, e.g., Martin Gardner, “The Ultimate Turtle,” New York Review of Books, June 16, 1998, pp. 17-18. See, also, note 84, below.
82. See, e.g., Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p. 2. See, on Aristotle’s Physics, note 70, above.
83. This is evidently done, in part, to bolster the “history” anticipated in the title for the book. See the text at note 86 of these remarks.
84. Consider these observations by Jeremy Bernstein (“Cosmology,” pp. 121-22):
As much as I like Hawking’s book [A Brief History of Time], I would be remiss if I didn’t point out an important way in which it might be improved. Hawking has a somewhat impressionistic view of the history of recent science. Very few active scientists—[Steven] Weinberg is an exception, and that is one of the reasons why his book [The First Three Minutes] (note 107, below)] is so good–actually take the trouble to read the papers of their early predecessors. A kind of folklore builds up which bears only a tangential relationship to reality, and when someone with the scientific prestige of Hawking repeats these legends it gives them credibility.
85. See Hawking, A Brief History of Time, pp. 181-82. See, for the grandeur of Newton’s work, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Newton’s “Principia” for the Common Reader (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Anastaplo, Book Review, 1997 The Great Ideas Today 448 (1997); Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 301. See, on Newton as a “lion” for Chandrasekhar, Anastaplo, “Thursday Afternoons,” in Kameshwar C. Wali, ed., S. Chandrasekhar: The Man Behind the Legend (London: Imperial College Press, 1997), p. 125. See, also, Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy, pp. 89-90, n. 31. See, as well, note 92, below.
86. See note 83, above. See, also, the text at note 143 of these remarks.
87. See Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p. 116. See, also, the text at note 67 of these remarks.
88. See, e.g., Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist: Notes on the First Amendment (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1971; reprinted by Lexington Books, 2005), pp. 806-08; Anastaplo, “Thursday Afternoons,” p. 126, n. 2.
89. See, e.g., Stephen Hawking, “The Unification of Physics,” The Great Ideas Today 2 (1984). Compare ibid., p. 4:
Einstein spent most of the last forty years of his life trying to construct a unified theory of physics. He failed partly because not enough was known about nuclear forces and partly because he could not accept the limits on our ability to predict events, limits which are implied by the quantum mechanical uncertainty principle. He said: “God does not play dice.” Yet, all the experimental evidence suggests that God does. In any case, we now know a lot more than Einstein did, and there are grounds for cautious optimism that a complete, unified theory is in sight. Were I a gambling man, I would bet even odds that we can find such a theory by the end of this century, if we do not blow ourselves up first.
See note 73, above, the text at note 124 of these remarks; note 143, below, See, also, Anastaplo, “In re Allan Bloom: A Respectful Dissent,” 1988 The Great Ideas Today 252 (1988); Robert L. Stone, ed., Essays on “The Closing of the American Mind” (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1989), pp. 225f, 267f (also available in http://www.anastaplo.wordpress.com); Anastaplo, “‘McCarthyism,’ The Cold War, and Their Aftermath,” 43 South Dakota Law Review 103, 111-13 (and related appendices) (1998). See, as well, Bill Goldstein, “Let Us Now Praise Books Well Sold but Seldom Read,” New York Times, July 15, 2000, p. A19. See, as well, Robert H. Henry, “Anastaplo’s Bible as Legal Literature: A Guide to the Perplexed, or a Perplexing Guide, 23 Oklahoma City Law Review 501, 503 (1998). (It was at my suggestion that Robert L. Stone’s useful Allan Bloom collection was made when it was and published where it was.)
90. Jeremy Bernstein, himself a scientist with literary accomplishments, considers A Brief History of Time “charming and lucid.” “Cosmology,” p. 117. See note 84, above.
91. Compare Hawking, Black Holes and Baby Universes, p. 38.
92. This limitation is reflected in how the typical physics colloquium is presented these days, with an inordinate reliance upon slides and other such visual aids. One exception that I happened to witness during the past decades was a lecture by Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhlar, at the weekly Physics Colloquium at the University of Chicago, which featured his filling of yards of blackboard with mathematical expressions (and all from memory). I was duly impressed, even though a senior physicist muttered to me, as we walked out, “Show-off!” See note 85, above. (It should be recognized that there is far less acrimony evident during these physics colloquia than there is likely to be during biology, humanities, law, philosophy or political science colloquia on the University of Chicago campus.)
93. See Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1952).
94. May not great souls be discerned in scientists such as Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Leo Szilard, Enrico Fermi, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, and perhaps C. F. von Weizsacher, Werner Heisenberg, and Niels Bohr? See note 109, below. See, on Schrodinger, note 131, below. See, as well, on the inclination toward animation (if not even “soulness”) that may be somehow inherent in the matter of the universe, Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 327.
95. Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p. 175. Consider the cautions in Anastaplo, “Scientific Integrity, UFOs, and the Spirit of the Law,” in “Lessons for the Student of Law,” p. 187. See, also, the text at note 74 of these remarks.
96. An illuminating anticipation of the Hawking volume in this respect is James D. Watson’s The Double Helix (New York: Atheneum, 1986), in which the contest for winning the Nobel Prize awaiting an authoritative description of the DNA molecule is vividly presented by one of the exuberant winners. See, on sports today, Anastaplo, “Law & Literature and the Bible,” 23 Oklahoma City University Law Review 515, 860-61 (1998).
97. See Hawking, A Brief History of Time, pp. 124-25:
There are two versions of the anthropic principle, the weak and the strong. The weak anthropic principle states that in a universe that is large or infinite in space and/or time, the conditions necessary for the development of intelligent life will be met only in certain regions that are limited in space and time. The intelligent beings in these regions should therefore not be surprised if they observe that their locality in the universe satisfies the conditions that are necessary for their existence.. . . According [to the strong version of the anthropic principle], there are either many different universes or many different regions of a single universe, each with its own initial configuration and, perhaps, with its own set of laws of science. In most of these universes the conditions would not be right for the development of complicated organisms; only in the few universes that are like ours would intelligent beings develop and ask the question: “Why is the universe the way we see it?” The answer is then simple: If it had been different, we would not be here!
See, also, John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986); Jacques Demaret and Dominique Lambert, Le Principe Anthropique: L’Homme est-il le Centre de l’Univers? (Paris: Armand Colin, 1994); Michael A. Corey, God and the New Cosmology: The Anthropic Argument (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1993); Bernstein, “Cosmology,” p. 118. See, also, the texts accompanying notes 103, 111, and 127 of these remarks. It should be noticed that Hesiod, if not also the creation story in Genesis, can seem rather childish (if not even crippling) to some moderns. See note 74, above.
98. Thus, Hawking can observe (A Brief History of Times, p. 46), “As far as we are concerned, events before the Big Bang can have no consequences.” This can seem to be an inverse of that aspect of the Uncertainty Principle which has the object observed altered by the very act of observing it. See note 124, below. See, also, note 118, below.
Peter Braunfeld has observed, “Although a few of the best mathematicians I know are modest, many of them are just the opposite. Doing mathematics (or science) can be a lonely, risky business, and arrogance can help you to keep at it.”
99. See Brann, The World of the Imagination, p. 175. See, also, note 64, above.
100. Modern scientists sometimes act as if they are bound by the laws of evidence in courts of law. See, on Plato’s Meno, Anastaplo, “Teaching, Nature, and the Moral Virtues,” pp. 2f. Laurence Berns and I have published, with the Focus Publishing Company, a translation of Plato’s Meno (with some commentary).
101. Nor do the things that have been discovered stop “existing” when they happen to be forgotten by all living rational beings for awhile or even “forever”?
102. See the text at note 118 of these remarks.
103. See notes 48, 97, above. See, also, note 126, below.
104. Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p. 173. The sentence quoted concludes, “up to the limits set by the uncertainty principle.” See note 124, below.
105. Human beings, too, can predict events, or can proceed confidently with the predictions by others, that they do not understand.
106. Compare Plato, Republic 602D sq.
107. The most cautious, and hence most reliable, of the popular accounts here still seems to be Steven Weinberg, The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (New York: Basic Books, 1977). See notes 80, 84, above. The University of Chicago physicists I have consulted for the Hawking part of these remarks speak well both of the Weinberg book and of him personally.
108. See, e.g., Plato, Timaeus 27C sq.; Anastaplo, The Thinker as Artist, pp. 279f; note 70, above. See, also, the text at note 7 of these remarks. (I note, for the record, that it is Plato’s Critias that is “unfinished.” Compare Anastaplo, “Lawyers, First Principles, and Contemporary Challenges: Explorations, “19 Northern Illinois Law Review 353, 444 n. 236 (1999).
109. See, on the self, Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, p. 87. See, also, note 94, above. Thus, one of the scientists who read these remarks on beginnings concluded his comments with the (Cartesian?) observation, “The only true beginning and end is our own individual birth and death.”
110. Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p. 13. What would Hawking consider sufficient answers to these questions, and why?
111. See, e.g., ibid., p. 171. See, also, note 97, above.
112. See, also, Plato, Apology of Socrates; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book VI; Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, p. 8; Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker, p. 318.
113. See Hawking, A Brief History of Time, pp. 120-21.
114. The National Academy of Sciences has recently recommended that evolution should be taught in public schools as “the most important concept in modern biology.” See “Scientific Panel Urges Teaching of Evolution,” Chicago Tribune, April 10, 1998, sec. 1, p. 13. See, also, Larry Arnhart, Darwinian Natural Right (Albany: State University of New York, 1998); Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker, pp. 482f. Can the advocates of “creation science” justify settling on any particular story of Creation among the many that have long been available around the world? See the text at note 120 of these remarks. See, also, Anastaplo, The American Moralist, pp. 341-44; note 143, below. Consider, as well, how “evolution” theory is drawn upon in the following 1957 poem, “Sally,” by Sara Prince Anastaplo:
Hooray, hooray, hooray!
Let the old bands play!
The only talking baby is
In this world to stay!
She screeches, she crows,
She works her mouth and toes,
She arches neck and back,
Full of what she knows.
“Last year, gilled, I floated in the dark.
What was really me, except a hungry spark
Coaxing, ‘Become, be-oh-something
‘For a lark’?
“So this spring
I kick and sing.
Finny sisters mild,
Furry brothers wild,
Bow to my choice,
I am a human child!”
Be all this as it may, cosmologists can say, Darwin is easier to understand because his theory is largely qualitative, it doesn’t presuppose a technical facility with sophisticated mathematics. Besides, he is talking about the everyday world, the very world that our common sense was honed to cope with. And, cosmologists would add, it is when we want to think about the world of the subatomic, or the world of galaxies, or the world of unimaginable densities and forces that common sense deserts us, and mathematics is our only tool. Consider here the implications of the observations in Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 327.
115. See Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), p. 8; Klein, Lectures and Essays, pp. 114, 187f. See also the text at note 7 of these remarks. Hawking himself seems open to the possibility, if not even to the likelihood, of a universe without a beginning or an end. See, also, the Hawking book published in 2010 (The Grand Design).
116. See note 49, above. See, also, the text at note 135 of these remarks. Does the discovery that light has a velocity play a role here? Thomas Aquinas and others, including perhaps Galileo, basing themselves on everyday experience, seem to have considered light’s transmission as instantaneous. See Anastaplo, “The Forms of Our Knowing,” part 1. See, also, note 69, above, note 126, below.
117. I have sometimes wondered what sense we can have of, or what “feel” we can have for, the matter that our bodies are composed of–what intuition we can have, if any, of the eternity that that matter has “experienced.” See note 72, above, the text at note 129 of these remarks. Does this contribute to a sense (at least in some) of personal invulnerability? Consider, as well, Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 327 (“Yearnings for the Divine and the Natural Animation of Matter”).
118. Recent conjectures by some cosmologists have the universe expanding indefinitely, thereby making another Big Crunch unlikely, if not impossible. See, e.g., George Johnson, “Once Upon a Time, There Was a Big Bang Theory,” New York Times, March 8, 1998, p. 3 (WK). But even more recent conjectures about the mass of neutrinos can perhaps be taken to suggest otherwise. See, e.g., Simon Singh, “The Proof Is in the Neutrino,” New York Times, June 16, 1998, p. A31. Is it not far too early to be confident about any of these conjectures? See the text at note 138 of these remarks. Perhaps, indeed, the nature of things may be such as to make it impossible, in practice, for human beings, to arrive at a permanent stopping-place. This may be related to the Uncertainty Principle rediscovered in our time by Werner Heisenberg. See note 123, below; the text at note 124 of these remarks. See, also, note 98, above. See, as well, note 64, above.
119. See Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, I, 958 sq.
120. See the book review cited in note 46, above. If one grasps a single cycle of Big Crunch and Big Bang, has one (in principle) grasped them all? See, also, note 114, above, note 126, below. See, as well, Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 327.
121. See Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, I, 72 sq. See, also, ibid., I, 536 sq., V, 55 sq. See, as well, the text at note 72 of these remarks.
Still, it should be noticed that cosmologists may extrapolate the universe back to a point only in the sense of a limit. As long as the universe is finite, it makes sense to them to speak of the laws of physics. But they might not apply these laws to a genuine point.
122. Laurence Berns has observed, in commenting on this passage, “It may be possible to overrate demonstration (even in mathematics). As Leo Strauss once put it, ‘Order and orderliness are very nice, but I prefer illumination.’” See note 72, above.
123. See, on the ultron that I have posited, Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker (1983), pp. 252-53:
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 point? Or, to put this question still another way, what is it that permits the universe to be and to be (if it is) intelligible? To ask such questions is to raise fundamental questions about what Leo Strauss called the “modern project.” [Originally published in 1974.]
See, notes 4, 118, above, note 126, below. Is my ultron akin to the classical “atom”? See, Anastaplo, The Bible, p 327.
It remains to be seen what can be made of recent talk about the minimum length that things may have. Are the dimensions of the ultron thus conjectured? See, e.g., T. D. Lee, “Physics in Terms of Differential Equations,” in J. de Boer, E. Dal, and O. Ulfbeck, eds., The Lessons of Quantum Theory (New York: Elsevier Science Publishers, 1986), p. 181. In any event, there is the question put in Plato’s Theaetetus (203B): “But how can one state the elements of an element?”
124. See, e.g., William C. Price and Seymour S. Chissick, eds., The Uncertainty Principle and Foundations of Quantum Mechanics: A Fifty Years’ Survey (London: John Wiley & Sons, 1977). See, also, Malcolm P. Sharp, “Crosskey, Anastaplo, and Meiklejohn on the United States Constitution,” 20 University of Chicago Law School Record 14, 18 n. 52 (1973). See, as well, notes 98, 118, above.
125. See, e.g., the Anastaplo book review cited in note 85, above, p. 450. See, also, note 80, above. See, on the evidence for black holes, note 131, below.
126. See, on chaos, Part One of these remarks on beginnings. How is contemporary chaos theory related to the talk one hears from some physicists today about many “universes”? The physicists with whom I have discussed such talk have not been receptive to my suggestion that there “must” then be a universe of universes, which “regulates” and accounts for the relations among “universes.” This notion is similar both to the notion of “a Rule of Rules” and to the notion of the ultron (note 123, above); Anastaplo, The Bible, pp. 332-33 (unless Chance is deemed sovereign?). See, also, notes 64, 69, 120, and 123, above; the text accompanying note 135 of these remarks.
127. See note 97, above. See, also, note 48, above. See, as well, Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 327.
128. See the text at note 4 of these remarks.
129. See Anastaplo, The Thinker as Artist, p. 178. See, also, notes 72, 117, above. See, as well, note 7, above. Of course, most people (including most mathematicians?) would insist that matter and numbers exist in somewhat different ways.
130. See Sacks, “The Lion and the Ass,” pp. 32-33. See also Plato, Timaeus 30C,
131. See Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker, p. 252; note 77, above. See, also, Anastaplo, The Bible, pp. 332-33. I was astonished to hear a Nobel Laureate in physics ask, in the course of one of the physics colloquia at the University of Chicago during the 2000-2001 academic year, whether the experiment just described by the speaker provided at last some evidence that black holes actually exist. Evidently not! Scientists do wonder, from time to time, about what is really going on. See, on “alarming prospects” (and anticipations of the cosmic radiation background discovery and current inflation theory?), Erwin Schrödinger, “The Proper Vibrations of the Expanding Universe,” 6 Physica 899 (October 1939).
132. See note 72, above. See, also, Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy, p. 337, n. 36.
133. This redirection of his thought is recalled by Socrates on his last day, as recorded in Plato’s Phaedo. But had he not been obliged to think through a notion of the whole, however provisional, which allowed or accounted for the rationality, however limited it may be, found in the human things? See the text at note 62 of these remarks.
134. See, on what Socrates did know, Anastaplo, “Freedom of Speech and the First Amendment,” 21 Texas Tech Law Review 1941, 1945f (1990).
135. Are we not accustomed to expect the laws of nature to work everywhere and always? See the text at note 116 of these remarks. See, also, notes 49, 126, above. See, as well, Anastaplo, The Bible, p 327.
136. See, e.g., Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker, pp. 265-66. See, also, the text at note 62 of these remarks. See, as well, Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy, pp. 99, 345.
137. See Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p. 37. Others can speak, with apparent confidence, of fifty billion galaxies, still others of a million million (and even more) galaxies.
138. See the text at note 79 of these remarks. See, also, note 118, above.
139. See the text at note 46 of these remarks. See, also, Klein, Lectures and Essays, pp. 109f.
140. See Plato, Phaedo 97B sq. See, also, note 62, above. Has some science fiction literature provided a better mythology than the cosmologists in that such literature may make the cosmos seem more accessible for human beings? See the text at note 74 of these remarks. See, also, as a restrained sample of what the tabloid press can do with modern cosmology, “The Great Debate,” Weekly World News, May 5, 1998, pp. 36f. See, as well, Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy, p. 175, n. Compare William Burton, “The Beginnings of the End: The Omega Factor,” University of Chicago Magazine, April 1998, pp. 20f.
141. See, e.g., note 94, above.
142. See, e.g., Hellmut Fritzsche, “Of Things That Are Not,” in John A. Murley, Robert L. Stone, and William T. Braithwaite, eds., Law and Philosophy: The Practice of Theory (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1992), pp. 3f. I emphasize “him” here because the University of Chicago Physics Colloquim that I am familiar with continues (as it has for decades) to be heavily dominated by males. It may well be that the female psyche is genetically more prudential in accounting for “how things are,” so much so that modern theoretical physics is naturally avoided by women as woefully impractical (however useful its applications often are.) Thus, there has not been, during the past half-century, in the movement by women into physics anything like the rush that there has been into disciplines (once regarded as “naturally male” in this country) as law and medicine. See Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 359, n. 384. See, also, ibid, p. 381, n. 767. See, as well, ibid., p. 41, note 74.
143. Strauss, Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity, p. 471. See note 49, above. The concerns that scientists have about what is and is not established may be seen in the opening paragraphs of a famous paper by Albert Einstein and two colleagues:
Any serious consideration of a physical theory must take into account the
distinction between the objective reality, which is independent of any
theory, and the physical concepts with which the theory operates.
These concepts are intended to correspond with the objective reality,
and by means of these concepts we picture this reality to ourselves.
In attempting to judge the success of a physical theory, we may
ask ourselves two questions: (1) “Is this theory correct?” and (2)
“Is this description given by the theory complete?” It is only in
the case in which positive answers may be given to both of these
questions, that the concepts of the theory may be said to be satisfactory.
The correctness of the theory is judged by the degree of
agreement between the conclusions of the theory and human experience.
This experience which alone enables us to make inferences about reality,
in physics takes the form of experiment and measurement. It is the
second question that we wish to consider here, as applied to quantum
mechanics. Whatever the meaning assigned to the term complete,
the following requirement for a complete theory seems to be a
necessary one: every element of the physical reality must have a
counterpart in the physical theory. We shall call this the condition of
completeness. The second question is thus easily answered, as soon as
we are able to decide what are the elements of the physical reality. The
elements of the physical reality cannot be determined by a priori
philosophical considerations, but must be found by an appeal to results
of experiments and measurements. A comprehensive definition of reality
is, however unnecessary for our purpose. We shall be satisfied with
the following criterion, which we regard as reasonable. If, without in
any way disturbing a system, we can predict with certainty, (i.e., with
probability equal to unity) the value of a physical quantity, then there
exists an element of physical reality corresponding to this physical
quantity. It seems to us that this criterion, while far from exhausting all
possible ways of recognizing a physical reality, at least provides us with
one such way, whenever the conditions set down in it occur.
Regarded not as a necessary, but merely as a sufficient, condition of
reality, this criterion is in agreement with classical as well as quantum-
mechanical ideas of reality.
- Einstein, B. Podolsky, and N. Rosen, “Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?” Physical Review, vol. 47, pp. 777-78 (1935).
We end this inquiry, for the time being, by reminding ourselves of the profound political and social consequences of conflicting presuppositions, even within the West, about human beginnings, as may be seen in the Bible (e.g., Genesis 2:18, 11:1 sq.), Plato (e.g., Symposium 189C sq.), Aristotle (e.g., Politics 1253al sq.), Lucretius, Hobbes/Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Charles Darwin. These disparate consequences are reflected in, for example, the status of “individuality,” ancient and modern. See Anastaplo, The American Moralist, p. 23. See, also, notes 62, 114, above. Such differences may be related, at bottom, to questions about the proper, if not the natural, relation of soul to body. See note 72, above. See, also, Anastaplo, The Bible, p. 347. These and like questions can become even more acute when Westerners and Easterners attempt to understand each other. See, example, Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy (2002). It could be instructive to consider what the published reception, if any, is of my Commentary, The Constitution of 1787 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), which (I am told) is scheduled to be published in China (in a Chinese-language edition).
*These remarks are an expanded version of an article, “On Beginnings,” published in the 1998 volume of The Great Ideas Today and thereafter in George Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy: Seven Introductions to Non-Western Thought (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2002). See George Anastaplo, The Bible: Respectful Readings (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2008), p. 233.