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Newton’s Inert Universe Lingers on in our Hearts and Minds

April 12, 2021

I want to think a bit about in this post why the Newtonian world view has become so dominant in the Anglo Saxon Western Psyche. Firstly, I want to point out that this perspective still predominates despite of Einstein’s theories of Relativity and despite of the findings of Quantum Mechanics, and even through these theories it still wields great influence. The Quantum Field Theory model of today is basically still the same Newtonian model of atoms crashing into each other and exchanging energy, with a few added tweaks of virtual particle exchange and more technical and mathematical complications to allow for. And Einstein’s true relativistic revolution from the special theory and his original relationalist insights in line with Mach and Poincare, was ultimately rejected or shrugged in the general theory’s new form of absolutism. I read a later article by Einstein from around 1937 recently, and in it you can see that his view is very much that of some sort of positivism. A perspective that has simply been rendered long obsolete in philosophical discourse, yet it lingers on in popular discourse and in some natural science presumptions.

I could indicate this state of affairs in many other ways, of the continued preponderance of the Inert Universe of Newton. The way in which we envisage Thermodynamics is also very much geared towards Newtons idea of the clockwork/mechanical universe, that is slowly running down as its parts wear out and fall apart, like some industrial mechanism. And the understanding of Evolution is geared to make itself consistent with this inert realm by insisting that any evolutionary advances or advantages are a result of pure chance and arbitrary luck. Then you can look at favored theories in cosmology, and regarding earth history and the way they still do experiments in physics today. They favor events where objects collide with each other to explain dinosaurs going extinct and other events of this nature and to explain the existence of the moon. And their favorite experiments still involve smashing particles together and seeing what happens in their particle accelerators. All of this has not moved on hardly at all from the billiard ball inert universe that Newton presented us with all that time ago.

This instrumentalisation of the universe as a dead object to be manipulated is what gave the West some success for a few centuries during the industrial revolution, so we keep going back to it, even now when it has long since passed its advantageousness to us. And like in Max Weber’s analogy of the iron cage, the weapons with which we attacked the world we are now using to attack ourselves, and slowly sucking the life and soul out of our being through layers and layers of bureaucratic and obsessive, neurotic control fuelled by distrust and paranoia of our surrounding world. It is no wonder when the world is thought of as dead and hostile, only there for us to mould how we please, to use as means to our ends, that we tend to become suspicious of that world. And it is inevitable karma that the world will bite back at some point against our controlling machinations. You could say it already is, and has been since and including the world wars, but its a long and protracted battle for sure.

I think the only way out is some sort of appreciation of a new ontological perspective, in which we don’t see the world/universe as a fundamentally cold and dead place, but recognise where it has some inherent life and vitality to it. Reading the work of Paul La Violette, who argues for a new cosmological perspective, where there are not black holes as commonly supposed, at the center of galaxies, but instead there are regions of high energy where matter is spontaneously created and periodically spat out in explosions to seed the whole galaxy with fresh bursts of material. Like a pulsating heart of the galaxy, rather than a cold dark hole. This gives us some hope to reach towards a better perspective on the universe. We keep creating theories to fit the old Newtonian paradigm of dead things colliding with each other and exchanging energy as being the basic physical reality to which all else must be reduced, but I think something has to give in this account sooner or later. We cannot expunge our own souls and life in order to save our theories, we must reject the theories for something more consonant with life and being.

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