Cosmos and Transcendence

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* Book: Cosmos and Transcendence Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Belief. By Wolfgang Smith. Angelico Press, 1984 (reprint 2008)



"In the present work, Wolfgang Smith presents an insider's critique of the scientific world-view based upon the sharp but often overlooked distinction between scientific truth and scientistic faith. With elegance and clarity he demonstrates that major tenets promulgated in the name of Science are not in fact scientific truths but rather scientistic speculations - for which there is no evidence at all. Step by step the reader is led to the astonishing realization that the specifically 'modern' world is based intellectually upon nothing more substantial than a syndrome of Promethean myths. But this is only half of what the book accomplishes. Its primary contribution is to recover and reaffirm the deep metaphysical and religious insights that have come down to us through the teachings of Christianity. And herein lies the true worth of this remarkable treatise: having broken the grip of scientistic presuppositions, the author succeeds admirably in bringing to view great truths that had long been obscured."



1 The Idea of the Physical Universe 7

2 The Cartesian Dilemma 21

3 Lost Horizons 39

4 Evolution: Fact and Fantasy 64

5 The Ego and the Beast 95

6 The Deification of the Unconscious 115

7 'Progress' in Retrospect 141




"As THIS BOOK makes compellingly clear, the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century heralded the triumph of a particular philosophical outlook (rationalistic, materialist) with its attendant epistemology (empiricism) and procedures (the 'scientific method').

Contrary to popular assumption, modern science is not simply a disinterested, detached, and value-free mode of inquiry into the material world: it is a complex of disciplines and techniques anchored in culture-bound assumptions about and attitudes to the nature of reality and the proper means whereby material phenomena might be explored, explained, and, perhaps most tellingly, con- trolled. It is, in fact, impossible to separate the methods of modern science from its theories and the ideologies which provide its motive force, and it is to this tangled skein— or as he puts it: to the unverifiable assumptions which the 'verifiable' propositions of science presuppose— that Wolfgang Smith applies the term 'scientism'.

As the book likewise makes clear, the modern scientistic outlook is, in principle, unable to countenance God (by whatever name), who is either repudiated as an obsolete 'hypothesis' or altogether ignored— which amounts to the same thing. Likewise, scientism cannot allow any sense of the sacred, the absence of which is one of the defining characteristics of modernity as a whole. Needless to say, the much-misunderstood issues at stake in the conflict of 'science' and 'religion', or 'modernity' and 'tradition', are immense: our view of what constitutes 'reality', 'human nature', 'life' and 'death', transcendence and immanence, and the relationship of the material world to higher spiritual realities, to mention only some of the most salient. It is to an inquiry into these issues— an interrogation of the orthodoxies of modern science in the light of a traditional wisdom, informed by immutable principles and truths which are neither 'old' nor 'new' but timeless — that Cosmos and Transcendence summons us.

Wolfgang Smith brings to his task a rare combination of qualities and experiences, not the least his ability to move freely between the somewhat arcane worlds of contemporary science and traditional metaphysics. Alongside Dr. Smith's imposing qualifications in mathematics, physics, and philosophy, we find his hard-earned expertise in Platonism, Christian theology, traditional cosmologies, and Oriental metaphysics. His outlook has been enriched both by his diverse professional experiences in the high-tech world of the aerospace industry and in academia, and by his own researches in the course of his far-reaching intellectual and spiritual journeying.

Here is that rare person who is equally at home with Eckhart and Einstein, Heraclitus and Heisenberg! Dr. Smith is no obscurantist, rejecting well-attested scientific facts, nor a sentimental reactionary seeking to 'turn back the clock'. He is a sober-minded scientist and philosopher who has confronted some of the most daunting issues of the age, refusing to surrender to the shibboleths and complacencies of modernity.

In this book Wolfgang Smith excavates the very foundations of modern thought in order to explain the cracks and fissures that are everywhere appearing in what was thought to be the impregnable edifice of 'science'. He also traces the pedigree of some of the most mesmerizing of modern prejudices (the belief in Progress, for instance) and analyzes the intellectual legacy of figures such as Des- cartes, Newton, Darwin, Freud, and Jung, all the while rendering the most abstruse ideas and principles into lucid and elegant prose, intelligible to any receptive reader. Cosmos and Transcendence, which first appeared a quarter of a century ago, is the fruit of many years of fearless intellectual exploration, of deep rumination, and of seasoned judgment. Our era stands in urgent need of the truths and insights yielded by Wolfgang Smith's wide-ranging inquiry, Sophia Perennis is to be commended for bringing a new edition of this profound and exhilarating work within the purview of a new genera- tion of readers."


Wolfgang Smith:

"This book has a twofold purpose, a twofold content: first, it presents a critique of the modern world, and based upon this critique, it seeks to expound a timeless metaphysical wisdom. The sec- ond end presupposes the first: so long as we have not 'broken through the barrier of scientistic belief,' as the subtitle has it, that timeless wisdom — that veritable sophia perennis — remains for us inaccessible.

What I object to fundamentally in the scientistic world-view is that it conceives the external universe to be unperceived and unperceivable. The concrete world, made up of sensory elements, such as color and sound, and indeed of innumerable qualities, is thereby subjectivized, which is to say that it is relegated to the sphere of mind, or if you will, of brain-function. Now, in keeping with major philosophic trends (beginning with Husserl and Whitehead), I regard this subjectivization as both illegitimate and grossly deceptive. My concern, in Cosmos and Transcendence, has been to show, on the one hand, that the subjectivization of the qualities is not a matter of scientific discovery, as one is nowadays prone to assume, but constitutes in fact an unfounded philosophical assumption stipulated by Rene Descartes, and to demonstrate, on the other, that this Cartesian premise contradicts the perennial wisdom of mankind.

On this double basis I could proceed to carry out the twofold intention of the book, as defined above.

And so the matter stood until, a few years later, I became interested in the so-called quantum reality' debate, which had been ongoing since about 1927. What has disturbed physicists and philosophers of science for all these years is that the discoveries of quan- tum theory do not accord with our accustomed notions concerning physical reality, to the point that these findings strike us as paradoxical. What particularly interested me was to ascertain whether the resources of traditional philosophy— I was thinking especially of the Platonist schools— might have something of value to contribute to the debate; and what I discovered, after a period of considerable confusion, came as a surprise: the key to an understanding of quantum theory, 1 now perceived, lies precisely in the recognition that the qualities are not after all subjective, as everyone engaged in the debate had all along assumed. It turns out that once this unfounded Cartesian premise is jettisoned, everything falls into place, and I could write, in The Quantum Enigma, that 'Quantum paradox proves to be Nature's way of refuting a spurious philosophy.'

Thus it came about that what, in Cosmos and Transcendence, had served as the means of disqualifying the scientistic Weltanschauung, has become key to a philosophic understanding of contemporary physics. The fact is that physics can be interpreted on a non-Cartesian basis, and that this reinterpretation constitutes the mandatory rectification which enables us to integrate its positive findings into higher realms of knowing. The very science, thus, which since its inception in the seventeenth century had presented itself as hostile to the traditional wisdom, proves now to be in a way supportive of its claims.

There is however more to be said, for it happens that the afore- said reinterpretation of physics has a vital bearing on just about every fundamental domain of contemporary science. At the risk of speaking in overly condensed terms, and thus incomprehensibly,

I will cite a few examples:

The new understanding of quantum theory reveals a principle of Vertical causation' — a causation which is instantaneous and not determined by antecedent events — which proves to be operative, not only in what physicists term state vector collapse, but in every domain— e.g., that of human art — to which the notion of 'intelligent design' is applicable. The ontological distinction of the physical and the perceivable environment entails a distinction between the terrestrial and the sidereal cosmos, which fundamentally disqualifies the reductionist claims of contemporary astrophysical cosmology. In a universe endowed with real qualities, what has been termed the anthropic principle assumes an entirely new and unsuspected significance. The deconstruction of the Cartesian premise vitally affects the problem of how we perceive, and supports the empirical findings of James Gibson, the Cornell University scientist who astounded the erudite communities with his so-called 'ecological' theory of visual perception. The aforesaid deconstruction likewise affects the mind-body prob- lem in the context of neurophysiology — the so-called 'binding problem'— and permits an integration of neurophysiological findings into the traditional anthropologies.

Let this much suffice to indicate that the removal of the Cartesian premise, and the resultant return to metaphysical normalcy, proves to be seminal in the extreme. What I wish to convey to the reader in this updated Preface is that the book at hand is to be viewed, not so much as the completion of an inquiry, but as a new beginning, a point of departure in the quest for truth."