In my previous publications I have begun the presentation of a new theory of the structure of the physical universe which has emerged as a result of a careful and critical reexamination of basic physical processes on which I have been engaged for more than a quarter of a century. In all essential respects this new theory is just the kind of a product that the scientific world would like to have. It is a unified theory; all of the principles governing all sub-divisions of physical activity are deduced from the same premises: two fundamental postulates as to the nature of space and time. It is a self-consistent theory; there are no internal contradictions or inconsistencies. It is an accurate theory; all of the deductions from the postulates are in full agreement with the results of observation and measurement, within the margin of accuracy of the latter or, at least, are not inconsistent with any of these results. It is an unequivocal theory; the consequences of the postulates are specific and definite and at no point are there any recourse to a “postulate of impotence” or other evasive device to avoid admitting a discrepancy. It is a rational theory; it provides definite and specific explanations for everything that happens, without calling upon ad hoc forces or transcendental agencies. It is a complete theory; the logical and unavoidable consequences of the postulates describe, both qualitatively and quantitatively, a complete theoretical universe, and it is not necessary to utilize any supplementary or auxiliary assumptions, nor is it necessary to introduce the results of observation as a foundation for the theoretical structure, because the theoretical deductions from the postulates provide for the existence of the various physical phenomena—matter, radiation, electrical and magnetic phenomena, gravitation, etc.,—as well as establishing the relations between these entities.
The appearance of a new and revolutionary theory of this kind, one which is actually a complete and comprehensive inter-related system of theories, rather than a single theory of limited applicability, and which is free from the weaknesses and contradictions of existing theories, thereby enabling physical science to overcome the serious difficulties with which it is now faced in many areas, is by no means an unexpected phenomenon. As expressed by Dirac, “Most physicists… are inclined to think one master idea will be discovered that will solve all these problems (of present-day science) together.” It is also generally realized that this “master idea” will involve some radical modification of existing thought. Dirac warns us specifically that the “unexpected new development” which he predicts may require a “drastic change in our physical picture,” and he goes on to point out that the need for such a change implies the existence of serious conceptual defects in current theories: “This would mean that in our present attempts to think of a new physical picture we are setting our imaginations to work in terms of inadequate physical concepts.”4
But those who agree in principle that existing ideas must be drastically modified—a category that, as Dirac says, includes “most physicists”—are not nearly so willing to accept any specific proposal, regardless of its credentials, because any really new idea will inevitably conflict with some cherished belief of long standing. From a purely logical viewpoint, the items listed in the first paragraph come about as near as we can expect to get to an ideal theory but, as a rule, scientists are inclined to add one more requirement: the new theory must not disturb existing habits of thought in any more than minor and incidental respects. Some attempts have even been made to set this up as a scientific “principle.” Ernest Hutten, for example, expresses the sentiment in this way: “certain logical requirements must be met when theories are constructed. A new theory is to be constructed so that it contains the previous theory as a lower approximation.”5 This sounds more reasonable than a flat refusal to entertain any new basic idea, but it amounts to the same thing; it is a demand that the new theory refrain from disturbing fundamental ideas, that it be an extension or modification of the theory that it replaces, not a substitute for it. Heisenberg makes it even more clear in the following statement that the modern physicist, if he concedes anything at all, will limit his concession to inches:
Indeed there could apparently be no objection to an assumption that, say, the radium atom possesses hitherto unknown properties which accurately define the time of emission and the direction of an alpha particle. However, a more detailed analysis shows that such an assumption would force us to consider as wrong those very statements of quantum theory, which allow an accurate mathematical prediction of experimental results. We have, so far, had every reason to rely on those parts of quantum mechanics.6
Here we have a plain statement of the present-day physicist’s position: he will not listen to any proposal that would force him to give up basic ideas that have met with much success. No doubt the average layman will be inclined to sympathize with this stand, and the reaction of many reviewers to the contentions advanced in my previous books shows the same attitude. As one of them puts it, his “main criticism” of The Case Against the Nuclear Atom is that I have emphasized “every weak point and apparent failure” of the nuclear theory and have paid little attention to its successes.7 All of these individuals, laymen, reviewers, and eminent physicists alike are missing the point. It is the weaknesses and failures of a theory that determine its ultimate fate, not its successes. From the standpoint of ultimate survival, its successes, however great they may have been, are wholly irrelevant. Even Hutten, who wants to perpetuate existing theories by incorporating them into their successors, admits that whatever successes these theories may have achieved are no guarantee of validity. “False theories,” he says, “may be quite successful, particularly if they are vague and their meaning cannot be given clearly.”8
In the final analysis, the validity of a theory cannot be judged by what it has done; the crucial test is what, if anything, it fails to do. Present-day physicists are quick to recognize this point in application to the theories of their predecessors. The Ptolemaic theories of astronomy, for instance, met all of the demands upon them for more than a thousand years, a record of achievement that far surpasses anything that a modern theory has to offer, yet they were ultimately superseded because improved observational facilities brought new demands which these theories could not meet. Newton’s gravitational theory, the most successful physical theory of all time—one which, in spite of some loss of glory in recent years, still remains the basis for all practical work in its field—was elbowed aside despite its impressive record, simply because a challenger seemed to offer better explanations for certain obscure phenomena, the true significance of which is still a matter of controversy.
But this principle that a theory cannot rely on past successes and must meet all present-day requirements in order to survive, which seems so clear to the physicists in application to the theories of Ptolemy, Newton, and other scientists of past eras, is not recognized as applying to their own theories. Even though the reviewer admits that “weak points and apparent failures” exist in the nuclear theory, he contends that the successes of the theory warrant its retention. Even though Heisenberg concedes that only “parts” of quantum theory have been successful and that the success is purely mathematical, he still wants to veto any new thought that would “force us to consider as wrong” the basic tenets of the theory.
Unfortunately, this requirement that the physicists wish to impose, the requirement that a new theory must be evolutionary, not revolutionary, and must leave present basic concepts intact, is wholly unrealistic. We cannot have progress without change, and if we propose to take a big step forward, as in this case where we propose to substitute a unified, all-embracing theoretical system for many independent or semi-independent theories of limited scope, there must necessarily be some substantial changes in basic concepts, however distasteful this prospect may be to individuals who resent being forced out of the comfortable groove of familiar thought. The physicists who cling to the hope that “drastic changes” can take place without disturbing any of their cherished ideas of long standing are simply daydreaming. The mere existence of difficulties which are serious enough to give rise to frequent predictions of “drastic changes” is sufficient evidence to show that there is something wrong with the foundations of existing physical theories and that mere tinkering with these theories will not suffice. There must be a major change that goes all the way down to the root of the trouble.
As Thomas Kuhn characterizes the transition from the old to the new in basic physical theory in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, this change is not
one achieved by an articulation or extension of the old paradigm. Rather it is a reconstruction of the field from new fundamentals, a reconstruction that changes some of the field’s most elementary theoretical generalizations…. When the transition is complete, the profession will have changed its view of the field, its methods, and its goals.9
The new theoretical system, which I am presenting in the current series of publications, involves a major reconstruction of the type to which Kuhn refers, one which is particularly drastic inasmuch as this system is something of a totally different nature from anything previously formulated. I am not presenting a new theory of atomic structure, or a new theory of gravitation, or a new theory of the cosmic rays, or a new theory of electricity and magnetism; I am presenting a theory of the physical universe from which complete, consistent, and inter-related explanations of atomic structure, gravitation, the cosmic rays, electricity and magnetism, etc., can be derived. It is not, strictly speaking, a new theory of the universe, because nothing of this nature has ever been developed before. No previous theory has come anywhere near covering the full range of phenomena accessible to observation with existing facilities, to say nothing of dealing with the currently inaccessible and as yet observationally unknown phenomena which must also come within the scope of a complete theory of the physical universe.
I realize, of course, that even if I were not challenging some of the most cherished ideas of the scientific profession, far-reaching claims such as those which I am making on behalf of my new system in the foregoing paragraphs would be looked upon with disfavor, if not outright hostility, in scientific circles. Progress in the scientific field consists primarily of successive small advances, with long periods of testing and verification—and occasionally some minor retreats—intervening between the forward steps. Caution and modesty in making claims for new developments have thus come to be regarded as important scientific virtues and broad claims are looked upon as savoring of non-science or pseudo-science. In deference to this prevailing attitude I would be inclined to tone down the presentation and deliberately understate the case for the new system were it not for the fact that this would be, in effect, a gross misrepresentation of what I am offering. When I first undertook this investigation I was aiming at a much more modest goal, but since the ultimate product turned out to be a comprehensive theory of the universe, I do not believe that I am justified in presenting it in any other light than that of a comprehensive theory of the universe.
Furthermore, I have no choice but to emphasize the fact that the agreement between the results of observation and my new theoretical system, the Reciprocal System, as I call it, because its distinguishing characteristic is the concept of a general reciprocal relation between space and time, is full and complete, since anything short of this would completely undermine the method of proof upon which I am relying to establish the validity of the system. What I am prepared to do is to demonstrate that the mathematical probability of any error in the basic structure of the system is negligible. This can only be done if the structure is specific and unequivocal so that it can be checked against experience, far-reaching so that it can be tested in an extremely large number and variety of applications, and absolutely free from conflict with any positively known fact so that the cumulative effect of the individual tests will establish an overwhelming probability that no conflict exists anywhere. Under these circumstances even a modest amount of modesty would be fatal. Thus I have no option but to present the system in its true colors, and to assert positively and categorically that this system complies fully and explicitly with all of the foregoing requirements for proof by the probability method, and that I am prepared to demonstrate this compliance.
Not only is this the first unified theory of the universe, and the only major physical theory that is prepared to prove its validity; it has another characteristic that should recommend it to those who, like Louis de Broglie, find themselves somewhat bewildered by “theories which, for the moment, strike one as having been lost in abstraction.”10 The Reciprocal System portrays the universe as basically simple, understandable, and wholly rational.
There is no scientific basis upon which we can justify a contention that the universe must have these characteristics, but they are commonly recognized as desirable, and even the scientists who feel that they are forced to abandon one or more of them in the construction of new theories do so regretfully and with a sense of loss. Niels Bohr, for example, admitted that the “resignations” of this kind that had to be made in the development of quantum theory “might well be regarded as a frustration of the hopes, which formed the starting point of the atomic conceptions.”11 But modern science has reconciled itself to frustration and has come to the conclusion that an understandable general theory is unattainable. “Insistence on the postulate of complete logical clarification would make science impossible,”12 says Heisenberg. We are even told that for further progress we must give up whatever small degree of comprehensibility still remains in modern theory. Capek, for instance, contends that “A radical abandonment of visual and imaginative models in modern physics is absolutely imperative if the meaning of the present crisis in physics is not to escape us entirely.”13
This present work does what Heisenberg claims is impossible: it presents a theory derived in a clear and logical manner from definite and unequivocal initial postulates, one that is both consistent with all experience and fully understandable in all of its aspects. Furthermore, in defiance of Capek’s dictum, it lends itself readily to representation by pictures and models. For example, the structure of the atom, as it emerges from the theoretical development can be quite clearly represented by nothing more than two pieces of cardboard, as will be brought out in the subsequent discussion. I do not by any means contend that the new theoretical structure is so simple that anyone should grasp it in its entirety at first sight. But, unlike “modern physics,” the Reciprocal System has no aspects, which are inherently vague or incomprehensible, and there is nothing in the theory itself, which should stand in the way of a clear understanding. Whatever difficulty may be experienced in this respect will be due to roadblocks set up by previous commitments to other lines of thought. As expressed by Dyson:
The reason why new concepts in any branch of science are hard to grasp is always the same; contemporary scientists try to picture the new concept in terms of ideas, which existed before.14
At this juncture the question naturally arises, Just how was this accomplished? How is it possible for the Reciprocal System to attain a full agreement with experience without sacrificing any of these desirable features—simplicity, understandability, and rationality—when modern physics has had to sacrifice all of them to attain a partial agreement with experience? The details of the methods that were utilized will be discussed later, particularly in Chapter IV, but it is possible to summarize the answers to such questions as the foregoing by borrowing an expression from Bridgman and saying that what this new work has done, in essence, is to widen the horizons of physical theory.
One of the unfortunate consequences of the inability of modern science to arrive at logical and rational solutions of its major problems has been the emergence of a tendency to lay the blame on nature itself rather than on the inadequacies of the theorists’ efforts. As expressed by Bridgman in the statement to which reference has just been made:
The revolution that now confronts us arises from the recent discovery of new facts, the only interpretation of which is that our conviction that nature is understandable and subject to law arose from the narrowness of our horizons, and that if we sufficiently extend our range we shall find that nature is intrinsically and in its elements neither understandable nor subject to law.15
The difficulty here is that Bridgman (together with the community of physicists whose views he is expressing) has failed to distinguish between experimental horizons and theoretical horizons. Nature is rational and understandable when the horizons of the theories by which man endeavors to reach an understanding of that which he observes are coextensive with his experimental and observational horizons. A century ago this was true. At that time the experimental range did not extend beyond the region in which the physical laws formulated by Newton and his successors—the so-called “classical laws”—are valid, and as a result the known physical phenomena were, in general, understandable and capable of explicit theoretical representation. Subsequently the advance of experimental science has carried observational knowledge into entirely new areas, and it has been found that in these areas the classical relations no longer hold good. Modern physicists have therefore attempted to find laws of wider scope and greater generality, but they have found it impossible to secure this wider coverage and also maintain the clear and unequivocal nature of the classical relations. As Bridgman says, the only interpretation which they have been able to place on these facts is that nature is not inherently rational or understandable, and modern theories have therefore been constructed without regard for these two qualities which had previously been regarded as prime requisites.
Not everyone is content to accept this situation. Erwin Schrodinger, for instance, says that “In the face of this crisis (in physical theory), many maintain that no objective picture of reality is possible. However, the optimists among us (of whom I consider myself one) look upon this view as a philosophical extravagance born of despair.”16 Louis de Broglie tells us explicitly, “What seemed to me to be eminently desirable was… a return to precise space-time representations, which could give a clear picture of what they were supposed to portray.”17 W. H. Watson comments on this viewpoint as follows:
de Broglie knows that experimental physics deals with no figment of the imagination but with the real world in which we live. Physical theory must come to terms with the actualities on which we depend when we investigate nature. Accordingly, de Broglie is not disposed to accept the wave-particle duality without imagining a physical mechanism that can transport an electron, for example, from its source to the place where it is detected.18
Watson quotes an admission by L. Rosenfeld of Copenhagen that “young physicists are raising doubts about the correctness of the basic ideas of quantum mechanics,” and points out that “The reason… is probably the simple one that they are dissatisfied with these ideas, at least as presented in accordance with current fashion.”19 No more than a very elementary knowledge of human nature is required in order to realize that such a reaction is inevitable. A baffled generation of physicists may renounce the understandability of nature in an “extravagance born of despair,” as Schrodinger puts it, but they cannot enforce this renunciation upon the next generation. Alexandre Koyre states this case very clearly:
Thus I believe that we are entitled to conclude, tentatively, at least, that (i) the positivistic phase of renouncement, or resignation, is only a kind of retreat position, and it is always a temporary one; (ii) although the human mind, in its pursuit of knowledge, repeatedly assumes this attitude, it does not accept it as final—at least it has never done so until now, and (iii) sooner or later it ceases to make a virtue of necessity and congratulates itself on its defeat. Sooner or later it comes back to the allegedly unprofitable, impossible, or meaningless task and tries to find a causal and real explanation of the accepted and established laws.20
The present investigation has done just exactly this. Refusing to accept defeat as final, it has “come back to the allegedly unprofitable, impossible, and meaningless task” and has found it profitable, possible, and meaningful. According to the findings of this investigation, nature is just as logical and rational in the far-out regions as it is in the everyday world of our normal experience, and it can be just as understandable if the horizons of theory are extended far enough to encompass those regions that have recently been penetrated by the experimenter and the observer. This is what modern theorists have failed to do. However incredible it may be to those who have been taught from childhood to regard modern physics—particularly Relativity and the quantum theories—as profound revolutions in scientific thought, it is nevertheless true that the universe which appears in the theories of Einstein, Bohr, and Heisenberg is the same universe for which Newton’s Laws were fashioned. The theorist still remains within the old horizons while the man in the laboratory is now exploring the regions beyond the rim.
Modern scientists have added many details, to be sure, and there have been some significant changes in viewpoints, but basically the object of modern scientific study is the same universe that Newton visualized. Whatever modifications have been made have not been in the direction of extending the theoretical horizons, but in the direction of making the theories more “abstract,” a currently popular euphemism for “vague.” Einstein postulates relations between space and time that are altogether foreign to Newton’s ideas, and he has deprived the magnitudes of these entities of much of the permanence that Newton attributed to them, but nevertheless Einstein’s space and time are the same space and time with which Newton worked. The relativist’s definition of these entities, his assumption of the “unidirectional, one-valued, one-dimensional character of the time continuum”21 and his corresponding assumption as to the inherent nature of space would have met with Newton’s full approval. Similarly, the quantum theorist has managed to get waves and particles gloriously tangled up, but “wave” and “particle” are concepts from Newton’s universe. Heisenberg has turned the thoughts of the atomic physicists into some wholly new channels with his Principle of Uncertainty which asserts, among other things, that a particle cannot have both a specific momentum and a specific position, but here again “momentum” and “position” have the same meaning to Heisenberg that they did to Newton.
In short, modern theories do not pretend to do anything more than generalize the classical theories. Quantum mechanics, says Bohr, “may be regarded as a natural generalization of the classical mechanics.”22 And his comment on Relativity is that “Einstein succeeded in remoulding and generalizing the whole edifice of classical physics.”23 The world of Newton was a world of motion in space and modern physics still treats the universe as a world of motion in space. As Bohr clearly admits, the originators of present-day physical theory cannot even conceive of anything else. “It lies in the nature of physical observations,” he says, “that all experience must ultimately be expressed in terms of classical concepts.”24 The “extension of our range” of which Bridgman speaks are in the experimental realm only. The theorists are still confined within the horizons of Newton, and they are still trying to explain events beyond those horizons by “generalizations” of the classical laws applying to Newton’s world. Thoughtful observers have not failed to recognize and comment upon this situation. Bertrand Russell, for instance, has this to say:
The findings of science had somewhat upset the rigid and closed Newtonian view of the world. But instead of trying to enlarge this view, scientists have on the whole been content to handle their problems with the help of mathematical theories that produce adequate results when suitably interpreted.25
Unfortunately, these mathematical theories, or any other theories which do not have the benefit of the “enlarged view” of the universe to which Russell refers simply cannot make the newly discovered physical events understandable, nor can they lead to rational laws which these events will follow. It is inevitable that the harder the physicists try to fit these theories to the facts, the more confused and vague the theories have to be made, and the more convinced the theorists become that “the world is not intrinsically reasonable or understandable.”26
What the Reciprocal System does, so far as the classical laws are concerned, is not to generalize them, but to delimit their field of applicability. Within these limits, the new system says, the classical laws (with slight modifications in certain cases) are not merely approximations to some more comprehensive and more widely applicable laws, as modern physics considers them, they are complete and accurate representations of the physical facts. Newton’s Laws of Motion, for instance, are fully and exactly applicable to all motion in space. But the findings of the present investigation have disclosed that there are changes in physical relations other than motion in space, and where the observed phenomena are due to changes of this nature, partially, as in motion at high velocities, or wholly, as in events at the atomic level, an entirely new set of concepts and laws, related to but distinct from the concepts and laws of classical physics, must be applied. In terms of the preceding discussion, the new system has pushed back the horizons of physical theory to include all types of changes in physical relationships, not merely motion in space. Once this is done law and order return to the realm of nature, and we are back to a rational universe—not to Newton’s universe, but to one which is equally simple and understandable, even though much more extensive.
In the remainder of this volume, together with the preceding volumes in the series, the evidence confirming the statements in the foregoing pages is presented. In most cases the presentation is conclusive in itself. When a positive and unequivocal statement is made, there is no need for any argument to establish that it is positive and unequivocal; when the last page is reached and no ad hoc assumption, express or implied, has been encountered, there is no need for any further proof that ad hoc assumptions are not utilized in the work; when all major subdivisions of physical science have been treated in substantial detail, there is no need for argument as to whether the theory is complete and comprehensive; and so on. The crucial issue that does require some consideration is whether the new theoretical system is, as I contend, a true and accurate representation of the physical universe.
Just offhand this would seem to be a clear-cut issue which could quite readily be put to a decisive test, and if we were operating in an intellectual vacuum, so that a decision could be made without reference to past history or to personal preferences and prejudices, this would no doubt be true. But long years of dealing with theories which are not true and accurate representations of the facts have introduced some strange elements into the thought of the scientific profession. In principle the situation is clear enough. As expressed by Philipp Frank:
Among scientists it is taken for granted that a theory “should” be accepted if and only if it is “true”, to be true means in this context to be in agreement with the observable facts that can be logically derived from the theory.27
If the scientific community actually carried out in practice what Funk tells us in the foregoing statement that they take for granted in principle, there would be no need for this present discussion. Alter the prescribed tests have been made it would be evident that the Reciprocal System is “true” in the scientific sense, whereas the theories with which it disagrees range from hypotheses that are plausible but have little, if any, factual support, or hypotheses which yield correct mathematical results but are unsupported in their conceptual aspects, all the way down to theories that are openly and seriously in conflict with firmly established facts. But application of this criterion rarely yields unequivocal results in current practice, because, as Frank goes on to say:
It has never happened that all the conclusions drawn from a theory have agreed with the observable facts…. We never have one theory that is in full agreement but several theories that are in partial agreement, and we have to determine the final theory by a compromise.
Thus, while the test of agreement with experience is accepted in principle as something that would apply under ideal conditions, it has in practice fallen into disuse and scientists are at present psychologically unprepared to deal with an innovation, which claims full agreement with observation. When a new theory appears, the possibility of applying the standard criterion directly to determine the validity of the theory is seldom considered, and the question “Is this theory true?” is seldom asked. Instead, the point at issue is regarded as a contest between the new theory and the currently accepted ideas, which that theory seeks to supplant, and the question to be answered is considered to be “Which of these theories is the better?”
In its earlier stages this change in attitude did not involve any significant departure from the policy of basing the evaluation of theories and concepts on their agreement with the facts. What actually took place was that both the new and the old ideas were checked against the facts so far as this was possible, but since each of the rival theories failed to meet one or more of the tests, and science provided no criterion by which to judge the relative weights to be given to the different discrepancies, philosophical or other outside considerations were called upon to furnish such criteria. During this era philosophy, science and common sense were regarded as compatible and harmonious, on the whole. Indeed, physics was identified as “natural philosophy” and one of the most popular definitions of science in general characterized it as “organized common sense.”
Recent developments in science have altered this situation very drastically. Modern physical science has arrived at many conclusions which, in the words of Tolman, are “in direct opposition to the requirements of so-called common sense”28 and which are almost equally objectionable from the viewpoint of philosophy. Since the scientists realize that they are highly vulnerable to criticisms based on philosophical grounds and still more vulnerable to criticism based on common sense, they have been able to defend their positions only by denying the applicability of philosophical and common sense principles to scientific matters. Without any common ground on which to meet, arguments over these debatable issues have become highly partisan conflicts in which scientists are arrayed against non-scientists. In the process of closing ranks for the defense of scientific conclusions against the attackers from the outside, there has been a tendency to lose sight of the valid scientific to the currently accepted conclusions and, in effect, to make conformity with the orthodox views a test of loyalty to the profession. Even the most eminent scientists have not been exempt. It is well known that Einstein was practically relegated to the sidelines during his later years because of his unwillingness to concur in some of the generally held viewpoints, and Louis de Broglie speaks quite frankly of abandoning his attempts to reconcile wave mechanics with “traditional physics and the idea of causality” because of “the hostility they elicited from other theoretical physicists.”29
A natural but unfortunate result of this identification of the currently accepted theories with professional solidarity has been that the theories which are the weakest, and have therefore been subjected to the most frequent and most violent attacks are the most jealously guarded and most strongly defended against criticism of any nature, scientific or otherwise. These cherished products of modern ingenuity are in conflict with the facts of observation and experiment at many points, and if the number and seriousness of these conflicts were to be accepted as a criterion of the lack of validity of these theories, in accordance with previous scientific practice, the theories would have to be relegated to the status of unproved and improbable hypotheses. “How long would the great physical theories of the past have lasted were they riddled with formal inelegancies and inconsistencies of the sort embodied in both renormalized and unrenormalized quantum theory?”, asks Norwood R. Hanson, and he gives us his judgment: “Not very long, I submit.”30 Hence, in order to preserve the position of preeminence into which these theories have been elevated, present-day physicists have repudiated the concept of scientific “truth,” defined as agreement with experience, and have substituted a most unusual concept, tailor-made to reinforce the defense of their embattled theories. To get a good view of this remarkable new concept, let us consider the following statements:
Nor can a theory be true or false; it is in any case relevant to a highly selected group of data—usually with the recalcitrant ones ignored. (Mc Vittie)31.
We do not speak of theories and postulates as probable or improbable, but as correct or incorrect relative to a given state of scientific knowledge, or perhaps as approximations to a more exacting theory either known or not yet known. (Margenau)32
The relativist dissolves the concept of truth by teaching that what is “true” depends on the point of view of the subject. (don Weizsacker and Juilfs)33
All of these authors are taking the stand that the existing situation requires accepting theories as “correct” even though they cannot qualify as scientifically “true.” This, of course, accomplishes the desired purpose simply and neatly. No matter how many discrepancies between theory and experience may prevent one of these ingenious modern products from being classified as scientifically “true,” it is accepted doctrine and hence it is “correct” by virtue of a definition, which equates correctness with general acceptance. The existing “state of scientific knowledge” is the sum total of currently accepted ideas, and since the theory under consideration is one of these ideas, it is automatically “correct relative to the existing state of scientific knowledge.”
But when this definition of “correct” is substituted for that which is scientifically “true,” then there is no longer any criterion by which the true theory can be recognized when and if it appears. Since this true theory necessarily differs from existing doctrine, it is, by definition, “incorrect,” and has no different standing than a theory, which is wholly at odds with the facts. What this doctrine actually does is to put the stamp of official approval on the widespread inclination to accord nothing but a summary dismissal to any new idea which offers any significant challenge to accepted habits of thought. It is particularly disconcerting to the originator of a new theoretical structure such as the Reciprocal System which is prepared to meet the requirement of full agreement with experience—the requirement that is, in principle, supposed to establish it as “true” in the scientific sense—only to find that this criterion has been replaced by the requirement of being “correct relative to the present state of scientific knowledge”: a requirement that the new system cannot meet simply because it represents an advance in the state of scientific knowledge.
”But why, after all, should scientific truth be a static concept?”, asks Margenau.34 The situation which now confronts the new system being discussed in this volume shows why. If truth is not a static concept then we have no adequate means by which to evaluate progress toward that truth, or toward that “more exacting theory” to which Margenau refers. The whole effect of the change that has been made in the “official” criteria in recent times is to substitute conformity to accepted doctrine for the degree of approximation to the truth as the test to be applied to new ideas, and to make general acceptance virtually the equivalent of proof.
Feyerabend has subjected this modern practice to a very penetrating criticism. He points out that the refusal to admit any new theories unless they “either contain the theories already used in this domain, or are at least consistent with them inside the domain” does not eliminate a theory “because it is in disagreement with the facts; it eliminates it because it is in disagreement with another theory, with a theory, moreover, whose confirming instances it shares. It thereby makes the as yet untested part of that theory a measure of validity. ”35
This present volume is not a treatise on scientific methods and procedures, but the particular policies of present-day science that have been discussed in the preceding pages constitute a serious obstacle to an accurate evaluation of the theoretical structure that is being presented herein. It is therefore not only appropriate but essential to bring out the true nature of these policies, so that the reader who finds the conclusions of this work at variance with some of the assertions of Relativity, or the quantum theories, or some other segment of so-called “modern physics” will realize that these theories do not even claim to be true; when we penetrate the “fog” which, as de Broglie says, surrounds them, we find that they are merely “correct relative to the existing state of scientific knowledge”: a state defined by Relativity, quantum theory, etc., and they make no pretense of being in full agreement with the facts of experience. At the very most, all that they can legitimately claim is some sort of an interim status. As Dirac summarizes the situation:
The present stage of physical theory is merely a steppingstone toward the better stages we shall have in the future. One can be quite sure that there will be better stages simply because of the difficulties that occur in the physics of today.4
There is, of course, ample justification for using incomplete and incorrect theories for whatever purposes they may serve, pending the development of something better, as long as scientists do not succumb to the ever-present temptation of elevating these theories to the status of established facts simply because they are the best instruments of thought currently at hand. If the real status of such theories—”stepping-stones,” stopgaps, or whatever we may call them—is kept in mind they will not stand in the way of new developments. Hanson expresses the true scientific viewpoint in a comment on a statement by another scientist in which quantum theory was characterized as “uniformly successful.” Although himself a strong supporter of the Copenhagen doctrine, Hanson points out that this flattering description is far from correct; that, in fact, “quantum theory is conceptually imperfect” and “very far from being uniformly successful,” but that he and his colleagues are standing behind it because it is “the only extant theory capable of dealing seriously with microphenomena.” He then goes on to say:
One must distinguish those moments in the history of physics when two equally well-developed theories have competed to furnish the “best” explanation of a phenomenon from those quite different periods during which scientists have available to them but one workable theory without even an intelligible alternative anywhere nearby. Such is the present state of quantum theory.30
It is in order to suggest that we have now arrived at another of those “moments in the history of physics” when there are two well-developed theories available. As matters now stand, the Reciprocal System cannot claim to have gone into the mathematical details of some physical processes as extensively as quantum theory. On the other hand, it has done much more in other mathematical areas that quantum theory purports to cover—for instance, there is nothing in quantum theory that is at all comparable to the inter-atomic distance expression derived from the postulates of the new system—and it has developed the conceptual aspects of all of these processes to a degree that is far in advance of the bare minimum that quantum theory offers. And, of course, quantum theory cannot compete at all from the standpoint of the extent of coverage. At best, it is a theory applicable to a limited portion of the universe, whereas the Reciprocal System is a theoretical structure applicable to the entire universe. Furthermore, the future outlook is much more favorable for the new system. An immense amount of scientific time and effort has already been applied to the development of the quantum ideas over many decades, and the limitations to which quantum theory is now subject are those of a full-grown conceptual scheme, essentially permanent, barring some radical change in the foundations of the theory. On the other hand, the limits of the present development of the Reciprocal System simply reflect the comparatively minuscule amount of time that has thus far been applied to this development, and there is a wide open field for future extension of the application of the new system.