Prologue on Science and Philosophy

Prologue on Science and Philosophy

Prologue on Science and Philosophy

With remarks on the evasiveness of Reality by Sir Oliver Lodge as found in "Ether and Reality: A Series of Discourses on the Many Functions of the Ether of Space" 1925


Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
Tennyson, Ulysses


"We live in a Universe of which we know very little: we eke out our knowledge by precarious reasoning. We are apt to confront a special instance with a generalization; as if we should try to establish the fact-otherwise doubtless certain enough-that, say, Oedipus and Moses and Elijah must have died, by the thesis, All men are mortal, and they were men. But admitting the minor premiss, how do we know that their end was not exceptional? The generalization sums up our experience, but proves nothing, i.e. adds nothing to our certainty.

An induction is helpful as a summary, but has no power over a specific instance to the contrary, if such instance were forthcoming. Proof might be based on the known liability of organic matter to degeneration: but apply this to an amoeba and it fails; a lowly organism may be killed, but it need not die. So we might argue thus: -cells may persist, a body is composed of cells, therefore it may persist. Experience disproves the conclusion, it is a non sequitur. Reasoning of a formal kind is based on generalization which may or may not be true; whereas experience can be direct and specific as well as general.

Some things there are however which evade experience, and these are apt to be excluded altogether by the inductive process on which all generalizations are founded. It should be more widely recognized that inductions may be hasty, or may be extended unduly: a single instance, well established, will upset a premature generalization. The force of prejudice, however, may be so strong as to overpower the evidence of our senses, or render us incompetent to recognize their clear indications. As if an unwary naturalist, having unconsciously assumed as a major premiss that all grass is green, might thereafter blind himself to the direct experience that the blade of grass shown him is red. Similarly, many people would insist that communication with the dead is impossible. "The dead know not anything. In that day their thoughts perish." A major premiss is usually a generalization from necessarily imperfect knowledge, an assumption which may be upset by a single authentic specific instance: it has or ought to have no force, save a cautionary one, against direct experience.

The aim of science is not mere formularies or convenient modes of expression, it is or should be truth and reality; we seek, on the evidence of our senses, to form some conception of what Reality is like. But some kinds of reality are evasive; they either never make an impression on our senses, or very seldom. What strongly appeals to us is matter -- material objects in various forms; anything else seems, or really is, a matter of inference. The inference may strike us as of doubtful validity unless we can adduce some direct sensory experience in its favour; and this evidence it may be difficult to receive or attach credence to, in the face of a uniformly established prejudice which we may dignify as a law of nature with no exceptions. So it happens that even direct experience of an exceptional instance, combined with evidence or testimony concerning many such instances, is sometimes powerless to effect conviction. Indeed persons afflicted with what psychoanalysts of the more reasonable variety might call "a materialistic complex" appear constitutionally unable to open their minds to evidence of any non-material or anti-materialistic kind. They straightway deny its authenticity. It makes no impression; they are incompetent to receive it, however cogent; though otherwise and in other directions they are mentally alert and highly qualified intellectually. They exhibit a curious kind of mental aberration or unconscious warp, and yet they are quite unconscious that their perceptive faculty is atrophied in one direction. They have been known to stigmatise as demented those who call their attention to exceptional specific occurrences. But there is no dementia on either side, there is only a kind of obsession; and the obsession is a very natural one, born of a wide knowledge, a broad basis of experience, throughout which such exceptional incidents have not occurred, or at least have not forced themselves upon attention.

We can admit that normal experience displays mind only in association with matter. It is therefore pardonable though illogical to assume that without matter mind cannot exist; in other words, that a physiological organism is an absolute necessity, not only for the display, but for the very existence, of memory, thought, and affection, not withstanding that these attributes make no pretence of being themselves physiological things. Memory is not really a function of matter, though it does seem to have a physical basis or concomitant. Love need not necessarily be associated with protoplasm. Thought is not proven to be a secretion of the brain. We have no right to make that over-hasty generalization: we ought to keep our minds open and be guided by carefully scrutinised facts. This cannot be done without patience and study; and study needs an open mind. Violent assertions, whether positive or negative, are useless, or are only useful for focussing attention: we must be guided by observed facts, not by preconceptions or past experience alone, else would new knowledge be impossible.

Similarly if we make the assertion that all bodies -- bodies of every kind -- must be composed of matter, we are speaking plausibly, but may be generalizing too hastily and leaving out of consideration the possibility that some "bodies" may be composed, either wholly or partially, of Ether. Such an idea would not have occurred to us unless the idea of Ether had been brought to our minds in a multitude of other ways, and unless we had begun to realise something of its reality and its numerous or perhaps innumerable functions. Hitherto it has been almost ignored in Philosophy. That is a defect to be remedied: it is no fault of philosophers. Physics must come to the rescue. Philosophy seeks to unify and comprehend all knowledge, and cannot afford to ignore anything -- certainly not so omnipresent and intense a reality as the Ether of Space. For to know anything thoroughly, nothing accessible must be excluded. It is only because the Ether has seemed inaccessible that it has been neglected. Neglect was inevitable until more was known about it, and hitherto Physicists have not sought to expound what in this direction they know.

Many of us are not even physicists, but just learners: such as both young and old ought to be. Young people must take things piecemeal, and be content at first to learn something about them. They cannot learn all about the, and they cannot philosophise; they do not know enough. Probably none of us know enough to philosophize effectively. Even philosophers have to do their best with less than complete knowledge; and accordingly each makes a system, with which other do not agree. Each however probably catches a glimpse of some aspects of truth, and that is why the history of Philosophy is instructive.

We can all recognize the very certain truth that to know all about any one thing we have to know about a great number of other things. Everything is interlocked; we cannot take a comprehensive survey before we look at the things individually, and we cannot consider individual things fully and completely without a comprehensive survey. Thus there is a difficulty, but it is unavoidable.

In science, as a rule, we concentrate on one aspect, and try to get that clear. Hitherto science has mainly concentrated on the purely material aspect of the Universe; while the philosopher is left to group all aspects together if he can. But there are gaps, which must depend on Science to fill up. And sometimes he has to wait, not always knowing what he is waiting for; not always knowing that there is a great deal to wait for.

Meanwhile life is short, and if we do nothing but wait, no progress is made. Progress can be made, but always tentatively, and with a sense of incompleteness. Everything excluded is a weakness. To exclude the Ether is a terrible weakness: an effort to understand the connexion between mind and matter is hopeless if we exclude the tertium quid, the essential intermediary. To exclude life and mind is another weakness: it is the basis of a materialistic system. To exclude matter is another but less common error, -the basis of a narrow idealism. To over-emphasize conduct as a test for truth is the basis of Pragmatism. To under-estimate conduct and practical affairs is Mysticism. The positive side of all these systems may be strong; the negative side is feeble and misleading.

It is rather like the old controversy between faith and works. All sides must be represented in a complete scheme; and if by reason of frailty we cannot regard all aspects together, then we must regard them piecemeal or seriatim, and there must be division of labour. My business is to emphasize the Ether, and its bearing not only on matter but on life and mind.

To this end I am preparing a book of some size; but inasmuch as the subject continually touches on familiar problems -- not those of physics and philosophy alone but those of humanity in general -- it has been thought well to broadcast and publish separately this general summary of the argument.

I do this the more readily, and with a greater sense of responsibility, because I believe that our present physical knowledge, when properly grasped and accepted, constitutes a beneficent source of power, a fertilizing influence, a body of illustration and parable, which can be drawn upon and used by those whose business it is to deal with still Higher Things. Their congregations may not know enough, they themselves may not know enough, to utilize ascertained facts to the full. If they did, -- if only they could apprehend a tithe of what is now known by specialists, -- their teaching would be suffused with a dominating sense of Reality, in the strength of which they would press froward with an energy and enthusiasm such as were aforetime evoked in one to whom a great experience had been vouchsafed, and who continued not unmindful of the Heavenly Vision. "


"Reality is what everyone is keen to know about. No one wants to be deceived; all are eager for trustworthy information, if it be forthcoming, about both the material and the spiritual worlds, which together seem to constitute the Universe." Sir Oliver Lodge