Whig History of Science


Whig History of Science


Ivor Catt   20may03

In my one hour meeting with Paul Forman in April 2003, I started to broach the subject of the relationship between “Science” and “History of Science”. However, it was not developed.


Funding will be available to historians of science who take a Whig approach; the view that all of the past in science led up to the ideal, the currently funded scientific orthodoxy.


What happens if the hallmark of orthodoxy in science, the journal Nature, publishes an article saying that Science has gone wrong? Is it permissible for a historian of science to dismiss the article as an aberration, and proceed as though it did not exist? Certainly, if he wants to protect his future funding, that is exactly what he should do. In any case, he is a historian of science, not a scientist, so he is able to protest that he lacks the expertise to judge between the majority of funded scientists one the one hand, and the dissident writing in Nature. His acid test will presumably be to tyake his loyalty to the group who secure continued funding for their science, particularly if the dissenting author in Nature is in receipt of no funding for his work.


In all the above, the word “History” could have been replaced by “Sociology”, and the same rules would apply. Like historians, sociologists will go where the money is, or they will cease to exist. Similarly “The Politics of Knowledge in Science”, the title of my lecture to The Ethical Society, London. Although I was invited to lecture on the subject, since I am not in receipt of funding, I continue to not exist in the disciplines “Sociology of Science”, “History of Science” and “Poltics of Knowledge”.


It follows that the only work and commentary that exists in these three disciplines is normative, reinforcing the status quo in science.


Still, a lingering concern remains, over a key normative journal, Nature, having published the dissident article “Where Science has gone wrong”. It is now obvious why its author, Theocharis, is thereafter permanently banned from publishing in every single learned journal.




The Science of Galileo and its New Betrayal

[p97] …. There was no objection to Galileo’s teaching the mathematical theory, so long as he made it clear that its value was instrumental only; that it was nothing but ‘supposition’, as Cardinal Bellarmino put it ….


[p98] Galileo himself, of course, was very ready to stress the superiority of the Copernican system as an instrument of calculation. But at the same time he conjectured, and even believed, that it was a true description of the world; and for him (as for the Church) this was by far the most important aspect of the matter.


…. A decline of religious faith and religious authority [in today’s case academic authority - IC] would result from the new science …. They saw in its success a proof of the power of the human intellect, unaided by divine revelation, to uncover the secrets of our world ….


…. ….


[p100] Few if any of the physicists who have now accepted the instrumentalist view of Cardinal Bellarmino and Bishop Berkeley realize that they have accepted a philosophical theory. Nor do they realise that they have broken with the Galilean tradition. …. Most of them no longer care anyway. What they now care about, as physicists, is (a) nastery of the mathematical formalism, i.e. of the instrument, and (b) its applications; and they care for nothing else. – K R Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, pub. RKP 1963/69




“…. But if the notion of a unique, universal, transcendent truth is now incredible, if the scientific disciplines have now lost much of their legitimacy, …. A ‘space’ is thereby opened for moral judgements.” – Paul Forman, 26jan98, see below.


The coming together of the medaeval church with Paul Forman of 1998 is clarified by the following observation.

When studying the conflict between Galileo and the Church, I was puzzled that one commentator talked about Galileo being opposed by the academics of his day. Thinking this was a mistake, I asked my uncle, Canon R S O Stephens. He replied that in Galileo’s time the academics were the clerics. This throws some light on the behaviour of such as Forman. He is only doing what academics (clerics) did in Galileo’s time; defending academia against scientific advance by using pseudo-philosophical obfuscation.


Instrumentalism and Modern Physics have been used throughout the twentieth century to block scientific advance. Instrumentalism says that the new contending theory is no more true than the theory it seeks to replace, so why should we change? Modern Physics puts Mystery at the heart of science, and so enthrones it as the ruling religion, not science. Together, Instrumentalism and Modern Physics have blocked scientific advance for a century. In my subject, Electromagnetic Theory, no advance has been allowed beyond the position Oliver Heaviside had reached in 1880. [However, most of Heaviside’s insights have been forgotten and/or suppressed; for instance his concept of Energy Current. IC 3oct03.]


The deep motivation for instrumentalism; the idea that the sole value of a theory is its practical results; is that for the academic the key practical result of a theory is its impact on his career and salary. New theory from outside his coterie, and any major advance from anywhere, threatans both, and so must be suppressed, perhaps using bogus instrumentalist “Philosophy of Science” as a cover.


Ivor Catt   20may03

To Bob Park  at opa@aps.org



I spent an hour with Forman in Washington DC a month ago.


The first three paragraphs of the Forman 26jan98  http://www.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/P_Forman.html ***** below seem to contradict his seminal paper *** of 1971 which sharply differentiated between Classical Physics and Modern Physics. I note no mention in Forman 1998 of this schism which is everywhere agreed to have occurred in Science in 1927 (Brussels/Solvay Conference). His 1998 paper can only be vaild if we all agree that pre-Modern Physics is dead. This is exactly the criticism I made of Sokal and his colleagues, and they refused to answer me.


[In Forman 1998, perhaps he uses the word "modernity" when he means "The Enlightenment". Thus, post-modernity would mean post-Enlightenment.]


I have been involved with Theocharis for many years. To sustain such a posture, ignoring 19th century science and assuming that the whole world has gone over to Modern Physics, one has to ignore Theo's article in Nature, "Where Science has gone wrong"  Nature, Vol. 329, No. 6140, pp595-598, 15 October 1987    http://www.ivorcatt.com/2817.htm  . The evidence that Sokal and the rest ignore the core issues is found at  http://www.ivorcatt.com/2925.htm  and discussion of this problem is at http://www.ivorcatt.com/2922.htm . Sokal never admits the switch from 19th Century Science to Modern Physics, and always pretends that he is defending the whole of Science when in fact he is only defending (the indefensible) Modern Physics. He refuses to communicate on this issue; on the assertion that three disciplines, not two, exist; 19th century Science, Modern Physics, and Humanities. He is one of the many who ignore the article at http://www.electromagnetism.demon.co.uk/20001.htm , perhaps because it is beyond his comprehension.


Also relevant is the lecture http://www.electromagnetism.demon.co.uk/w4rlectu.htm  which ends with the proof that absolute facts exist, constructed by Theocharis and Catt. This is continually ignored by proponents of "Modern Physics"(, and is always rejected for publication). They have a duty to refute it, or at least to acknowledge that it exists.


My informant, who attended a lecture by Sokal at Leeds, England, tells me that he turned out to be a lightweight. This also appeared to be the case when Sokal attended a lecture with me in London. Certainly, he will not enter into dialogue.


Theocharis at http://www.electromagnetism.demon.co.uk/zatheo2.htm  probably bears heavily on the present discussion. His new address is in Cyprus, via me.


Should Forman ignore the counter-argument, he will be in good, multifarious company, see http://www.electromagnetism.demon.co.uk/tb12frie.htm . The attack on science is large and powerful. It is central to the end of the Enlightenment currently being pioneered with much dedication and energy, see http://www.ivorcatt.com/28anomp.htm


Ivor Catt     19may03





lecture given on 26jan98

*****In postmodernity the two cultures are one -- and many
Paul Forman

These days, these early days of postmodernity, the two cultures are becoming one. True, in the angry glare of today's so-called 'science wars' it seems as though the world views of the natural scientists and the humanists are drawing even farther apart than C.P. Snow found them to be in the middle of the twentieth century, at the apex of modernity. This, however, is a misimpression. Considered more closely, it is evident that today's 'science wars' were begun by self-anointed paladins of science with the purpose of preventing just that merger, well under way, of the two cultures. Their crusade is directed against a dangerous heresy recently emanating from various fields of humanistic scholarship: denial that there is any rigorous distinction between allegedly objective fact and admittedly subjective value, with the claimed consequence that there is no inherent epistemic disjunction between the natural sciences on the one side and the humanities and social sciences on the other.

Underlying the 'two cultures' concept was the belief, on all sides, in such an intrinsic difference in the modes and results of knowledge production in those two realms. On the side of modern science, belief in that intrinsic difference was essential to the scientist's self conception as pursuing truth in splendid isolation. The crusade against the heretical denial of an innate difference is inspired by fear that, should this belief lapse, the chasm ensuring science's putative isolation from its social and intellectual milieu will close. Thus while implicitly acknowledging that this chasm exists only because it is generally supposed to exist, the paladins of science dread its closure as exposing scientific knowledge production to polluting streams of prejudice, passion, and partisanship springing ceaselessly out of the ground of mundane human existence.

No more than Canute, however, will these crusaders for a pure unconditioned truth turn back the wave which they see sweeping in from the humanistic disciplines and from the outlying undisciplined hosts of popular culture, but which in fact is rising far more consequentially from within the sciences themselves. That broad cultural tide, bearing along all ships regardless of the flags they fly, assigns primacy not to a unique truth, pure and perpetual, but to the act of choice -- social and personal, singular and plural, based on morals and the market. Its consequence is indeed the closing of that one great cultural chasm -- and the opening of innumerable fissures in our cultural landscape, everywhere crevassed by divergent moral values and amoral interests.




…. those such as Gorgias and Feyerabend can fool a lot of people a lot of the time with sophistries like "anything goes". But of course in the long run one thing goes - objective truth. ….

…. to allege that only passionate ideologues (hut not dispassionate scientists) may benefit from the philosophy and methodology of science, is to talk nonsense. Yet sadly this is what many students of science, technology and medicine are taught in universities, and as a result these preposterous and dangerous ideas are becoming widespread within the scientific community. It is an objective of this article to refute these ideas, and argue that the correct epistemology is indispensable in any serious and responsible scientific work. For what is really at stake is nothing less than the future progress of our civilization ….

Now if the notion of objective truth established by observational evidence is disregarded, one is left in a chaos of arbitrary and conflicting opinions, opinions which are equally well- or ill-founded. ….

…. every single bit of painstakingly proven knowledge is frivolously questioned and cynically scoffed at. In the consequent intellectual chaos there results a thick fog of confusion which completely obscures every possible route to further discoveries, and in this way the quest to enlarge knowledge is effectively paralysed. – Theocharis, Nature, 1987 http://www.ivorcatt.com/2817.htm  .



*** The following seems prescient;

".... it is often the case that the same scientist who in one context offers resistance to the antiscientific currents of his milieu, in another context can be found flirting with propositions intimately associated with those same currents. .... the German physicists' predisposition toward acausal laws of nature .... arose as a form of accommodation to their intellectual environment. - Paul Forman, Weimar Culture, Causality, and Quantum Theory, 1918-1927: Adaptation by German Physicists and Mathematicians to a Hostile Intellectual Environment, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, vol 3, 1971






Previous email from Catt to Parks;


I am trying to get to the bottom of Paul Forman. I spent an hour talking with him in Washington DC a month ago.


Forman told me that my summary of his 1971 article about the origin of Modern Physics (a response by scientists to the Germans' shock at losing the first world war, and the need to invent a new "touchy-feely" science [Modern Physics] to keep funding for science going) was accurate, and he agreed with my view, that the counter-argument by Hendry of Imperial London was weak.


Forman told me that even if the origins of Modern Physics were suspect, it did not follow that Modern Physics was unsound. He agreed that from my viewpoint, extremely anti- "Modern Physics", the analysis in his 1971 article thus became just one useful makeweight argument in favour of my case. However, the question arose, why was Forman "defending" Modern Physics? I have since read his lecture http://www.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/P_Forman.html , which on first reading seemed like typical fashionable waffle (post-modern, perhaps Derrida, end of history, etc.) of the kind a historian would produce who wanted to catch the funding falling from the rich "Establishment Science" funding table. The incisiveness of his 1971 key article was in stark contrast to this 1998 waffle.


My position is that "Modern Physics" (= The Copenhagen Interpretation) is fatally flawed at its foundations, and it really gets in the way http://www.ivorcatt.com/2804.htm . I want to enter into discussion with Forman as to the role he thinks History of Science plays vis-a-vis Science. Must the former remain Whig History in order to suck up to fashionable science and so ensure its own funding? However, first I must try to grasp what is going on as indicated by your criticism (below).


I hope you can enlighten me.


Ivor Catt    18may03




http://www.aps.org/WN/WN97/wn051697.html  "Forman, a Smithsonian curator, was the spiritual force behind the ugly antiscience exhibit, Science in American Life (WN 18 Nov 94). He concludes with a sneering account of the inability of physicists and chemists to effect significant change in the exhibit. In that at least he is right (WN 15 Mar 96). The exhibit remains a disaster.

Bob Park can be reached via email at opa@aps.org "





Ivor Catt material is at http://www.ivorcatt.com/