Publicerad i Sans magasin nr 4 2016

I Sans nr 3 2016 skriver Christina Moberg, i sin roll som Vetenskapsakademiens preses, om behovet av en ny upplysningstid och av att bekämpa okunskap, pseduovetenskap och annan ovetskap. Det övergripande budskapet om att tydliggöra och hävda vetenskapens och det faktabaserade förnuftets relevans är behövligt i vår tid.

I sin inledning nämner hon något som är en mindre detalj i sammanhanget, men likväl förtjänar att kommenteras. Hon skriver att "Newton insåg att världen styrs av naturvetenskapliga lagar, inte av en gud." Detta är snarare en modern tolkning av den världsbild Newtons teori gav upphov till än en historisk beskrivning av Newtons egen uppfattning. Det är väl belagt i historiska dokument att Newton inte hade denna uppfattning om gravitationen och dess lagar. Snarare såg han gudomlig, immateriell fysikalisk verkan som nödvändig del i att förklara bland annat gravitationens verkan över stora avstånd liksom planeternas välordnade banor.

Hans teologiska ståndpunkt klassas ofta som deistisk i riktning mot arianism, men med ett tydligt avsteg från deismen med avseende på uppfattningen om Gud som en särskild fysikalisk orsak. Som kontrast hade den tysken filosofen Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz en mer strikt deistisk uppfattning, och diskuterade i en serie brev de teologiska aspekterna av Newtons gravitationsteori med dennes vän Samuel Clarke (dessa brev publicerades senare som del av den berömda Leibniz-Clarke-korrespondensen.) Den som vill fördjupa sig i originaltexter inom detta ämne kan använda sig av den webbplats som Newton Project vid University of Sussex tillhandahåller:


Published 10 February 2016 in New Scientist. 

Mary-Jane Rubenstein writes that modern physics considers it strange to find our universe so hospitable to life, when nearly any other values for the fundamental constants would not have allowed life to form (19/26 December 2015, p 64). A proposed solution to the problem is offered by a multiverse containing many different values of physical constants.

While this is a fair description of contemporary debates in physics, the fact is that we don't know whether there is any meaning to the notion of “fine-tuning” of physical constants. Indeed, if there is only one universe, in what sense can we give meaning to the notion of “fine-tuning of constants”?

An empirical approach fails, because there are no other universes to observe for comparison. A probabilistic approach fails because, at the level of the universe as a whole, probability is not well defined, nor can it be empirically verified.

Whatever we may mean by fine-tuning of constants, it must be rooted in mathematical, aesthetic, philosophical or theological assumptions. 

For example, we may be assuming that the mathematical form of physical laws remain fixed when considering alternative values of physical constants. This gives a privileged status to the physical laws that they need not necessarily have.

There is a clear affinity here between modern physics and philosophical-theological inquiry, fertile ground for asking deep questions about chance, necessity, naturalness, meaning, causality, creation and existence.

Following on from the topic of wisdom technology (cf information and knowledge management technology), there is an emerging and varied philosophical discussion ongoing, concerning modification/enhancement of human constitution and capability. It goes under different names: transhumanism, humanity plus, human enhancement, etc. My impression is that it currently is a movement in the traditional sense with a number of enthusiasts driving it. The output is quite varied, and there is cause for concern over some of the proposals, although surely this general discussion is of great relevance for the future.

Recently, there was some media interest in statements by scientist Stephen Hawking arguing that humanity would need to colonize space for its long-term survival, essentially due to the supposed inability of our species to regulate itself within the bounds of our planet. In somewhat condensed form here is what he had to say:

'I see great danger for the human race. There have been a number of times in the past when survival has been a question of touch and go. The Cuban missile crisis in 1963 is one of these. The frequency of such occasions is likely to increase in the future. We shall need great care and judgment to negotiate them all successfully. But I am an optimist. If we can avoid disaster for the next two centuries our species should be safe as we spread into space. Our population and use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially along with our technical ability to change the environment for good and ill. But our genetic code carries selfish and aggressive instincts that were a survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next 100 years let alone the next thousand or a million. Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain on planet Earth but to spread into space. We have made remarkable progress in the last 100 years but if we want to continue beyond the next 100 years our future is in space.

The Power of Sustainable Thinking

Bob Doppelt – Review by Martin Sahlén

Earthscan, 2008, 218 pp, £16.99 (hardback), ISBN 9781844075959

Given its subtitle of “How to create a positive future for the climate, the planet, your organisation and your life”, you could be forgiven for having high expectations of this book. You might also consider it unlikely to live up to them. However, it largely does, successfully delivering a practical and inspiring vision for change that is applicable in many life situations.

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