Nonclassical Science?

This paper refers to two papers of Vyatscheslaw Stepin, a participant of our INTAS-Project "Human Strategy in Complexity. Philosophical Foundations for a Theory of Evolutionary Systems. I have much agreement with his opinions and I don’t want repeat that. In this text I want to formulate some doubts and questions.

Difference of classical and nonclassical methods *
Is Quantum Theory a nonclassical science in this sense? *
Why the nonclassical method is not such another method than the classical *
Synergetics *

Difference of classical and nonclassical methods

V. Stepin assumes, following L.I.Mandelshtam, that there is an important difference between classical and nonclassical strategies of theoretical investigation.

The classical strategy is characterised by a clear meaning of the used "mathematical magnitudes" and we have at first the link between mathematical magnitudes and real objects and than follows the establishment of the equations, the laws.

The nonclassical, more modern way is another: "Now first of all we try to guess the mathematical apparatus operating magnitudes meaning of which (at least partly) is entirely unclear" (quot.. Mandelshtam). Stepin assumes, that "in order to find laws of a new area of phenomena, we take mathematical expressions for laws of a neighboring correlations between physical magnitudes. the obtained correlations are regarded as hypothetical equations describing new physical processes." (Stepin I, p. 2).

Later in his work Stepin describes the "dialectical way of development" of science (Stepin I, p. 26). Older methods are repeated in the new methods. The difference between classical and nonclassical sciences now contains in the extent of mathematical development before any physical interpretation is given (Stepin I, p. 27).

In his other work Stepin introduces the post-non-classical science, based on "principles of universal evolutionism" (Stepin II, p.1). Self-Organization than is one special period of the developing object. The new sciences are connected with the new general system theory. Whereas Quantum Theory and Relativistic Theory belong to the non-classical sciences, the Theory of non-stationary Universe, Synergetics and the Theory of biological evolution belong to the post-non-classical sciences.

Is Quantum Theory a nonclassical science in this sense?

As we know the Quantum Theory began with the quantum hypothesis of Planck about the prohibition of non whole number energies in a harmonic oscillator. The difference of classical sciences and the "non-classical" Quantum Theory here is, that in classical physics the nature doesn’t jump and in the non-classical quantum world it does. We can follow the historic way of finding the new theory and I think we’ll find no such new strategy, as Stepin assumes (see Heber, Weber 1969).

Yes, in our way we find, that the quantum objects can’t be imagined in classical terms (Bohr). Quantum objects have their own specificity (Stepin, p.2).

Objects of "classical" sciences are "Idealizations" too (mass-points, idealized gases…), but we often forget this. Mass-points or idealized gases are the objects of classical science but we think, that we can imagine them. But who can really imagine a "point"?? I can’t imagine a quantum-object, which whether "is" a particle nor a wave. But really I also can’t imagine the mass-point as the bearer of classical magnitudes (i.e. mass). Already Newton did the step to the non-imaginable objects. Descartes only thought about imaginable "whirls" and their interactions – but Newton introduced non-imaginable forces, which work about great distances. We have to consider, that not the "imaginable picture" is the essential thing in science. Of course in physics we need a reference to the world. But it mustn’t be an "imaginable thing".

Another characteristic of quantum objects is, that they have "a special "two-level" nature" (Stepin I, p. 5-6). Yes, this is an important characteristic. In Quantum Theory we can no longer assume "isolated particles". Renate Wahsner showed that such an imagination is false in classical sciences, too! (Wahsner 1996, S. 39) There is no "isolated planet with its gravity-forces". Gravity forces work/exist merely between physical bodies! The characteristic of one body, its ability to act is no ability of an isolated body – it is an ability of more than one body. But in Classical Physics we don’t failure, if we imagine a mechanizistic "isolated body". In Quantum Theory we do! Classical Physics is not identical with its mechanizistic interpretation – but we can misinterpret it mechanizistically. But we can’t misinterpret Quantum Theory mechanizistically.

Why the nonclassical method is not such another method than the classical

Stepin distinguishes the two methods of science: The classical method since Bacon and Descartes seems "to believe that it is possible to find the only true strict way of cognition which could guarantee formation of true theories in any situations and concerning any objects" (Stepin I, p.1.). But the modern non-classical science turns out from a method which is "to guess the mathematical apparatus operating magnitudes meaning of which … is entirely unclear" (cit. Mandelshtam). But was and is that so in reality of sciences?

This question seems to revive the induction-deduction-debate. The classical science would be (more) inductive, the non-classical (more) deductive. But that isn’t true. There is no such difference. The "classical" science uses analogies, theoretical a priori-assumtions and so on, too – but we are not used to see them. Kepler used speculations about perfect paths (circles) or other trajectories to find his laws. And Newton is a protagonist of the "non-classical" method. The "real" meaning of the new developed limiting values was not clearer than the meaning of quantum-states later! The meaning of some magnitudes (i.e. impulse of turning) was not very clear at the beginning of classical science (see more about the methods of Newton in Guicciardini). We don’t speak about the "world itself" in classical sciences, we use an apriori-space-time-structure (like absolute space and time) and therefore "the structure of the physical reality studied is defined by means of the pattern of measuring" (Stepin I, p.3) also in classical physics. Our "pictures of the world may give the impression that they emerge only after a theory has been formed" (Stepin I, p.3) is valid to the classical science too. The picture of Descartes (effects from near through whirls) looks very different in comparison to Newtons picture (effects from distance). Its worth to remark that the better imaginable picture of Descartes turned out to be false but the abstract picture of Newton is better! But we are used in the "classical" physics and therefore in comparison to that the Quantum Theory seems "nonclassical". If we assume, that the classical physics is more imaginable or more "naturally" as modern physics we are endangered by falling in the trap of "mechanizism" (see Borszeszkowski/Wahsner 1978). Stepin itself writes, that some of the described methods are "not… unusual … in the development of theoretical knowledge" (Stepin I, p. 24).

I think, the content of the described cut between "classical" and "nonclassical" is not given between physics till the 20 century and since the 20 century (Quantum Theory and Relativistic Theory), but between the different forms of research of Nature of Aristotle and Galileo/Newton (with other people in transition like Philopones). What Stepin wrote about "nonclassical" science is valid for all "science" since Galileo and Newton (see Schmutzer, p. 16f.).

Why the so-called "classical" and "nonclassical" sciences seem to be different?

Always there is a great difference of the way of finding the theory and the deductive representation of their results. If you compare the usually imagined way of classical physics and the deductive representation of modern scientists, you can think, that there is such a great difference. But if you compare the historic way of both and the deductive representation (and their systematic prerequisites) you will find more correspondences.

The structure of the logical prerequisites and theories and methods of Classical Mechanics and Electrodynamics and Quantum Theory and Relativistic Theory is not very different. The difference, that Stepin shows is a difference in the interpretation of the Theory. Of the possibility to make (classical) imaginable "pictures". In Quantum Theory and Relativistic Theory it is "an anachronism … to introduce a visual picture" (Stepin I, p.5).

But there is a difference of "worldview" and science itself. Yes, there is a great change in the worldview influenced by Quantum Theory and Relativistic Theory. But we are not allowed to mix the worldview-contents with assumptions about methods of science. I think, when Stepin writes about "the classical methods of yielding the picture of the world, which was created as a visual image of natural interactions" (Stepin I, p.4), he writes about the world-view, not the science itself. It is not valid to identify the "classical science" with a "picture of the world, which was created as a visual image of natural interactions". That would be a mechanizistic interpretation of (classical) science. I know, that misunderstanding of classical sciences is very usually, and the basis of some critics of science. But we have to differ between Newtonian Mechanics as a science and Mechanizism as a world-view (connected with the popularisation by Voltaire).

I think, Stepin wants to emphasise new characteristics of quantum and relativistic and synergetic objects, which are better called "dialectically". To have a "vision of objects as complex, historically developing systems" (Stepin II, p.12) is dialectic thinking! Stepin stresses their difference to "mechanistic" objects. This is the main issue of the endeavour of the interpretation of "nonclassical" and post-nonclassical sciences. He is absolutely right about it. But he uses the false enemy. He is not right, that the "classical" sciences would be less "dialectical". There is a specific method dealing with dialectical contradictions (Borszeszkowski/Wahsner 1989/1996) in science (not philosophy/metaphysics). But this method is the same in classical and in nonclassical (and post-non-classical) sciences, as long they are sciences and not metaphysics!


The aim of the differentiation of classical and non-classical strategies in Stepin’s paper is to use the characterisation of the non-classical science for analysing synergetics and to cause efforts in it.

Abstract-universal conceptions like synergetics are based on analogies. Here it is right that "in order to find laws of a new area of phenomena, we take mathematical expressions for laws of a neighbouring correlations between physical magnitudes. The obtained correlations are regarded as hypothetical equations describing new physical processes." (Stepin I, p. 2). Analogising is a right heuristic method in all sciences (among other methods).

It seems now, that synergetics is lined up beside the other non-classical sciences Quantum Theory and Relativistic Theory. The unity of them is their non-classical method: analogising.

Because the non-classical method needs two steps at least (1. try an analogy, 2. look, if it corresponds to reality), Stepin says that we have to do the second step in synergetics now.

I think, this is a revival of all efforts with "non-classical" and "post-non-classical" paradigms, to find "dialectics" in all phenomena of nature. We have some principles (Engel´s laws of dialectics or principles of synergetics) and try to see all phenomena with those glasses.

If we try to interpret "quantum objects as complicated self-organizing systems" (Stepin I, p.6) we repeat to reinterpret all objects as dialectic ones. I think it is okay – especially against nominalistic and pure analytic conceptions of science. But than we have to specify the opponent in a different way as it is done in Stepin’s paper.

The quoted works of Bohm, Chew and above all Capra (Stepin I, p. 6; Stepin II, p.1) and later of the cosmic and Eastern thinkers show that thinking and especially science is forced in the direction of dialectics – as Lenin had shown in his time. But interpretations (especially of Capra – see Capra 1982/1988) about a Spirit of the Universe, the Universal Tao and so on seem to be very mysterious to me. It has merely a belletristic meaning to me. And to speak not only in a popular speech, but scientifically about "cannibalism in the world of galaxies" (quoted in Stepin II, p. 9) is not seriously. Besides, the reduction of the new paradigm to the "organismic" paradigm for societies can be regressive because it doesn’t consider the special, the new (against merely biological beings) quality of human beings as individuals in their society. In Hegel’s System organismic entities have their place between mechanical and mindful/social entities– I think, we have to consider the right sense of this place. Later in his quotation of Russian cosmic thinkers Stepin remarks that humans are not only part of cosmos, but also a specific factor of its evolution (Stepin II, p. 25).

Therefore I can’t find much improvement in renaming dialectics to "non-classical" and "post-non-classical" and merely to use synergetics as unifying paradigm. Maybe in the western world people doesn’t like "dialectics", because it was used in older "socialist" times in some countries. Capra and Jantsch sound better. I’m very glad, that Stepin uses Russian authors, if he can. (Vernadski instead of Lovelock, whereas Lovelock is an interesting and serious author too). Philosophically a revival of dialectics instead of new words would be the better choice and would give a better framework for the further work. Hegel and the other dialecticians (Schelling…) had already done a lot of work for our questions. We can ask then if our sciences belong to the "logic of essence" (with modifications) or if they can reach the "logic of notion" and so on… We have to discuss the role of the Hegelian system thinking (if it is totalitarian), the role of mankind in nature and so on – but a regression into pure biology, even an evolutionary biology, doesn’t help us (and "Nature isn’t finished yet" wrote Ernst Bloch 1985, p. 807). I think, it would be better not only to change our paradigm from physics to biology, but to society-thinking. Hegel did this. The highest (mostly developed, mostly complex) form of beings will give the best form of thinking – the "comprehension" within the "logic of notion". All other forms of thinking (abstract thinking, scientific thinking) are abstractions from the concrete-universal form of comprehension (see Schlemm 2002). In this "Hegelian paradigm of thinking" the different "classical", "non-classical" and "post-nonclassical" and more types of sciences will find their place too and we’ll get new understanding of them.

If I want to speculate, I think, that the "integral cosmos" (Stepin II, p. 20) can be analogised as "absolute spirit", which is identical with the Hegelian system, with one difference: Stepins "integral cosmos" is based on biological analogies ("noosphere" is still a metaphor within the biological context), and the Hegelian system is based on spirit (finite human mind and the greater infinite spirit, which is to speculative to me). Although I’m a materialist I think that the society as a materialistic entity should be the base of our thinking, not merely a biological metaphor .

The rationality that seems to be new (with openness and communication and not alienated) is the dialectical rationality (therefore Hegel stresses the difference between understanding/"Verstand" and reason/"Vernunft") and belongs to society more than to biology. But because we don’t have an appropriate theory about society, we are not able to transfer its notions and metaphors and methods to other sciences and therefore thinker about wholeness prefer to use biological conceptions to form general theories from it. (Hegel used the notion "idea" to span the sphere from the Absolute to its realisations in non-living nature, living nature and human beings.) Incidentally, "transfer" isn’t a suitable method for philosophy; the transition of ideas can merely have a heuristically meaning. It seems to me that the ideas of the Russian cosmists are very good preserved (and sublated in the threefold Hegelian sense: eliminating, preserving and lifting up ) in the Hegelian philosophy. But this is another issue…

The special quality of the conceptions of self-organization/synergetics is the role of the non-equilibrium, irreversible processes and coherence (Stepin I, p. 9). But the structure of the scientific theories, and the fact, that they have measuring-technique prerequisites and a priori-assumptions, is the same as in "classical" sciences. We use well-defined magnitudes, which are not dialectical-contradictory realities themselves, but which are so defined that the dialectical contradictory is denied in order to set abstract identities, in order to have the possibility do compare and to measure. This "logic of science" is not changed. The assumptions themselves, the prerequisites themselves change. But we have to differ between identity (what is "science" in difference to religion, or mathematics or philosophy) and difference (difference between several scientific conceptions and their development).

We have to differ between such identity and differences – Stepin writes about this in his Paper (Stepin II, p. 13). He thinks about different disciplines of science – I want to ask about the identity and difference of "classical", "non-classical" and "post-non-classical" sciences. What is the identity within the differences? What is "science" in classical, non-classical and post-non-classical sciences? What doesn’t change in structure or logic of sciences; what changes in which way? Can science become completely dialectically at all, or will there stay any difference between "science" and dialectics?



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