There is a curious correlation between a powerful possibility that our science of physics turned onto a branch line some hundred years ago, and the great political turmoils we are experiencing almost globally right now.
The thesis of this piece is that physics became the doyen amongst the sciences at the turn of the 20th century when Einstein ushered in what we might call The Nuclear Age. This thesis continues by saying that physics and physicists riding high on a new wave of prestige considered it their right to display an over-confidence, and so to lose open-mindedness and therefore a due balance of view in their endeavours.
The thesis goes on to suggest that once again Gandalf’s words ring true; and that; ‘Things were forgotten which should not have been forgotten.’ Prime amongst these things forgotten was how to remind oneself of things which helped keep one’s feet securely on the floor.
Our age, commonly is reckoned to be The Golden Age, an apotheosis for science especially for physics (and now for biology too); being a rebirth, and a re-evaluation, an elevation, in status, in importance and advancement. This perception has now seeped into consciousness everywhere as a commonplace.
Since the fall of the Soviets the twinning of science and business has become virtually complete, and is, and is recognised as, the defining characteristic of our present age. The big money is in technology; and technology is in the big money. For the purposes of what I have to say here this twinning is characterised by an identical pair of endeavours. Let us look at these two identical and formative characteristics of science and business from the point of view a) of their aspiration and ambition and b) of the shared genesis of those aspirations and ambitions.
These twins being of identical character is what leads me to suggest, and I am close to believing that it is the case, that both endeavours took seriously wrong turns onto branch lines about the same time and for the same reasons. The same causes operated on them and the same outcomes have arisen for, and through, both, during the course of their past 100 years.
Further, the dreadful disturbances and upheavals going on currently across the globe, and more so than ever since the turn of the millennium, I venture to say are in large part the upshots of these mistaken paths taken in economic activity and by foremost physicists; and say also that these disturbances have arisen as a result of the directions these endeavours chose to take; as well as being consequent on their subsequent activities and beliefs.
Physics has been hijacked so as to be considered these days very much a branch of mathematics. (See http://www.electricuniverse.info/Introduction ). This hijack has acted so as to abstract the doing of physics so remotely from material experimentation and observation, from doing hard science, and into a belief, almost a faith, that a priori the doing of the sums will solve it all for us. (This presumption of electing for a priori endeavour to perform the vast bulk of such work in itself speaks volumes about the nature of a malaise in our civilisations.)
Physics as it is now being done, is hugely abstracted, almost wholly, from the common sympathy and understanding; and it is as divorced from doing hard science in the classic sense as it is from the general public. The physicists are now technocrats. Their physics is an arcane speculation. They are nearer the realms of celebrities and alchemists than they are to the guys in the local pub.
They are looked upon by lay people as a special breed, a breed not able to be aspired to, so far beyond them that their difference is an otherness.
Their heads ‘knock on a star’. They are, and consider themselves to be, the time’s heroes. The fact is that they are in bed with big business, as are all our higher education establishments globally, whereabouts many of their physicists hold sinecures and draw stipends from the public drawer as well as contracting themselves out to perform directed research works for big bucks from big bucks. The draw of capital and of consumerist riches has absorbed our academies into a vortex towards the probable forthcoming economic eschaton.
On the whole scientists, and physicists particularly, have too much to lose for them to choose to turn themselves around and change utterly from the provincial branch line they chose back in 1900. The money of course is crucial and primary (these days especially; and in large part because of the history of their activities). There is also great kudos in universe-fuls to be lost by any climb-down, any repentance; and so there would be much wailing and gnashing of teeth were a climb-down to be forced upon them. And very possibly one will be forced upon them in the future, whereupon reputations and sinecures will be lost and won anew, and reassessments of kudos largely remade and adjusted.
For the present the community of physicists appears like a circle of the old alchemists, or like that Ptolemy, who just could not give up the idea of an earth-centred universe and so went to absurd lengths to accommodate new observations to old dogmas. Just as with Ptolemy, the axiom that science should stay simple and elegant is being put away in a dusty back drawer in order to save face and embarrassment. Instead of simplicity and elegance, strange postmodern gyres and wobbles are being bolted willy-nilly onto the creaking chassis of an engine on a wrong track, just about to blow, and to break down.
If only we throw enough money at the scientists they can then keep on concocting Heath Robinson universes and partial solutions to things.
Business needs these solutions and these universes, and it needs its pet physicists to keep providing for them the wonder-worlds of adult toys most of us who dwell in the rich nations dally with. It’s a marriage of convenience, so that the money-go-round gets oiled regularly and continues going round. The technocrats churn it out, novelty after novelty and we buy, buy, buy.
Its hook is called vested interest. And just as the victors write the histories so it is that the men and women who had something good to say but were eclipsed by the guys who took us down the wrong line; these men and women as we say, ironically, are now history. We don’t even remember their names; let alone what they were working at discovering and understanding. There is a cache of scientists, physicists, who are dead and gone and forgotten; as being persona non grata in the schoolroom and the library.
Their work and ideas were discredited by a triumphal and totalitarian victory parade by those physicist mathematicians who rode the bandwagon and took over; based on a frail thesis now badly ailing.
The capitalists in the same way won their field; who are the employers, and who are the forces of totalitarianism in our liberal democracies, because the worker leaves behind his/her freedom and freewill, his election and judgement, as he enters the workplace door (it has always been this way); these capitalists hold sway; they say what goes; who may have an account with them and who may not; it is they who say whom they hire and fire; they who lay fardels upon their staff; they who will not be gainsaid; and theirs is the threat to fire or to sideline.
Who amongst those of you who are reading this now has not had galling runs-in with large totalitarian corporations which have insisted on their way and crushed any reasonable and decent request for an accommodation? I doubt anyone with conscience can deny having suffered such incidents?
This present age is touted as The Triumph of Capital, capital having spread globally and its consumerist mutation has defeated all other ideologies; because we, the peoples of the world, sold ourselves out and short and to our plutocratic masters.
Likewise, and is it not merely a nice coincidence, the scientists, the physicists, claim a parallel triumph in their own conceits, and in the popular mind; proclaiming as truth a simplistic and reductionist logical positivist outlook. This is a philosophy which asserts, assaults, assumes, that the world is nothing more than what is obvious to the unreflective senses, and business has turned this darkness to its use by convincing us that the world is utterly for buying and selling.
This materialism has infiltrated the academies and the arts and humanities – the prevalent arts’ and artists’ outlooks are ‘hard-headed’ materialist visions which claim to ‘tell it like it is’ and to be ‘hard-hitting’; but which are little better than commercial ventures raised to reinforce the economic regime and their wealth-creation programmes. Consider: what does ‘tell it like it is’ mean? Clearly it claims to hold a truth-value by way of rhetoric and propaganda only. It’s advertising for the consumerist entrepreneurs, and for their sinecured academies, artists, science and scientists.
So this touted Triumph of Capital and that also of Physics; both are hollow crowns; and it is no lucky coincidence. Having taken the backwoods branch line the cost of going back and getting oneself on a proper course is too high for both.
The crest of the wave on which physics rode to an empty triumph is the same crest which has recommended to us all the virtue and value in, on the one hand, buying in the cheapest and selling in the dearest markets; yet on the other hand and simultaneously recommending that the buyers should be convinced of an ‘added value’ by way of strategic branding and marketing of hyped goods. Thus buyer consumers, whose choice is led by branding, marketing, and advertising, are not able to buy in the cheapest market; since all is being power-sold to them under the premise (disguise) of this vacuous concept of ‘added value’. For whom this power-selling adds value is not specified; because it is added value for the manufacturer, the marketer, the seller; and once again the consumers joe and joanne soap stump up the difference.
In the same way intellectual property rights of sellers are being ‘digitally managed’ by them – in effect, their hands are always on the scales so that they are always weighted in favour of the marketing and branding boys and girls making more money for less value to the buyer.
All the pressure then is to force up, to increment, ‘value’; which is an opposite pressure and direction to the hallowed laissez faire dogma of competition bringing prices to heel. Add to this an economic axiom demanding ever to increase production and sales; to ever be adding new products and services; and you have the engine of capitalist consumerism at work and gradually overheating. These capital guys moreover are on the very same trip as the physicists. That is, they are so far into their rigmarole of forcing the pace, and now having to force the pace, so as to be ever aiming to beat the bogies coming up fast behind them, that for them to stop, consider, turn around, and go back, so as to retrench and recoup ground lost is not an option for them.
And the locking key which secures this whole framework of this weird scenario we have foisted on us; and which turns the lock for capital and for physics: what is it? If we know this we can turn the key ourselves, whichever way we deicide to go.
My understanding of events is that there is/was a bandwagon to be jumped upon and taken charge of; that there were/are enthusiasts and gold-diggers; that money was/is seen to be there/here to be made (as a new TV station out for tender in the UK was famously described by its winning bidder – it was ‘a licence to print money’) ; that above all the wishful seductive and subverting desire was/is to sweep under the carpet a whole host of inconvenient ‘junk’ – which in fact is excellent material which however just will/would not fit the accelerating and commercially vital but essentially impracticable trends – trends by means of which opportunists of short sight today are reaping fatal spoils.
The choice ahead then is possibly for us to eat some humble pie and so relinquish a disastrous course; to turn about and to reconsolidate, salvaging what we are able to; or else for us to stand on our pride and to acknowledge as being of no account all the failings of conduct, belief and above all, of virtue; which have led us down this long and blind obscure branch line into a world of chaos. The end of the line? – where, when, might truth collide in upon our lives?
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