Stanley Jaki on Einstein’s Failure

‘The year of that Slovay Congress, was, it is well to recall, the year in which Heisenberg gave his derivation of the principle of indeterminacy concerning measurements in physics. One can therefore in a sense understand Einstein’s tactics in taking on the Copenhagen interpretation at its nerve center, which consisted in the insistence that measurements were inconceivable without someone doing them. Thus it would be argued that the act of measurement, which in one way or another implied pointer readings and therefore a reliance on light quanta, deprived the measurement of absolute precision. Such insistence when elevated into a first principle became equivalent to withdrawing into a citadel. Once confined to measurements within that citadel, one could declare that physical theory was limited to the measurable and therefore had no need of hidden variables. Withdrawal into that citadel also meant the the viewing of anything outside it as unreal. It was such a citadel that Einstein wanted to conquer from within, by trying to devise a thought experiment in which absolute precision was in principle possible. He was bound to fail for the very reason that no measurement is possible without observation. But it did not follow from this that knowledge of reality was equivalent to measuring it with absolute precision. Philosophically the citadel in question did not represent the full range of man’s knowing reality, and it certainly did not represent the full range of modern physics. Einstein’s own theory of relativity was a case in point, and all members of the Copenhagen school could have been forced to admit that it was a telling case.’ (Stanley Jaki, ‘The Road of Science and the Ways to God’, p. 209)


Fr. Stanley Jaki on the Rationality of the Universe

‘To what has already been said about Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Planck, and Einstein, or rather about the manner in which they pressed forward toward their great discoveries and held fast to them, one could add many other examples, each a rebuttal of the empiricist slighting of the mind. Unlike two generations ago, it is no longer without risk to present Oersted, Faraday, Helmholtz, Clausius, Maxwell and Hertz as discoverers going about their business in an empiricist fashion. Enough is known about the puzzlement of such professedly nonmetaphysicist physicists, like Bohr, Born, Heisenberg , and Dirac, to permit one to shrug off the empiricists’ interpretation of twentieth-century physics – which also has on its roster Schrodinger, de Broglie, Compton, and others whose votes were never cast in favor of empiricism. All these great figures of exact science gave the lie, if not with their words at least with their deeds, to an empiricism restricting the reach of the mind to what is directly observable. Whether they peered into the realm of the very small or the very large, they were led by the conviction that greater than what is seen through the instrument is the act of looking through it. It was their confidence in the act of looking, in which the sensory reveals the rationality of its objectivity, that made them follow a Copernicus in reaching out for the vistas of a coherent universe, a target which empiricism cannot secure. Like Copernicus, they had fear only of those willing to use but their physical eyes. Theirs had always been that assurance about the ability of the mind to find an ever-deeper rationality in the physical universe which can be felt on every page of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus – an assurance they had to have if they were to succeed in unfolding that deeper rationality. Its objectivity was one side of a coin and the other side was their personal commitment to it. Separated from the physical universe, that commitment would turn into a mere urge; without that commitment the physical realm could never appear a universe, that is, a totality of coherent things and processes. (Stanley Jaki, ‘The Roads of Science and the Ways to God,’ p. 249)

Stanley Jaki on Science, Einstein, Wonder, Realism, Kant and Theology

‘Einstein was not the only giant among modern physicists to recognize that wonderment was the heart of scientific understanding and that no wonderment was meaningful if that understanding did not carry one to an objectively existing physical reality. Nor was Einstein the only one among those giants to lapse back on occasion into Kantianism while reflecting on that wonderment.  He spoke not simply the world but “the world of our sense experiences” as he declared that “the fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle.” Nay, in the very same context he credited Kant “with the great realization” that “the setting up of a real external world would be senseless without that comprehensibility.” On Einstein’s part this implied a curious lapse of memory, for he had already dismissed Kant’s a priori categories of comprehensibility sixteen years earlier, during his famous visit in Paris in 1922. Voicing his wonderment about the comprehensibility of the world, and about the same time Einstein did, de Broglie similarly fell back on Kantianism as he noted that “the great wonder in the progress of science is that it has revealed to us a certain agreement between our though and things, a certain possibility of grasping, with the assistance of the resources of our intelligence and the rules of our reason, the profound relations existing between phenomena.” What is Kantian here is the implicit belief that the mind has rules which it can know without knowing the world. Moreover, modern science made it clear that the true resource of reason is to be in intimate union with reality and not to impose itself, a la Kant, on reality. A reason which tries to act in terms of Kants precepts deprives itself of the right to remark with de Broglie: ‘We are not sufficiently astonishment by the fact that any science may be possible.”

Such a wonder is not something that can be understood in terms of science itself because, to recall an incisive remark by Gilson, “the question posed about the possibility of science in general is not susceptible of a scientific answer because this implies the existence of science for its own justification. The answer to the possibility of science can therefore only come from metaphysics, though only from a metaphysics not yet detached by Kant from its moderate touch with reality and not yet divested if itself, under Hume’s guidance, by a purely instinctive, naive reveling in the flow of sensory data. Of course, if a physicist does not wish to consider the possibility that the mind is capable of understanding reality because both mind and reality are the products of the One who disposed everything according to “weight, measure and number,” then the very same physicist must rest satisfied with what Gilson called “the paradoxical experience of the unintelligibility of intelligibility”.  Einstein, who was resolved not to” fall into the hands of priests,” was indeed forced to claim that “the very fact that the totality of our sense experience is such that by our means of thinking…it can be put in order…is a fact which leaves us in awe, but which we shall never understand.” The real flaw in this attempt to escape the Ultimate is that it vitiates the reasonableness of the awe in question. Clearly, if one does not wish to hear the highest answer of metaphysics, one should not delight in raising its deepest question.

Any resort to Kantian epistemology in order to escape the full logic of a realist metaphysic is discredited not only by the marvel which modern science provokes about the mind’s understanding of the world in general.’ (Stanley Jaki, ‘The Roads of Science and the Ways to God,’ p. 258-259)

Jaki’s penetrating remarks carry remarkable weight today, when realism and any notions of an objective reality is subject to scorn. For my part I count myself fully in line with Jaki’s moderate realism.