Descartes wrote the Discourse on Method. Singular, not plural. To this day we assume there ought to be one method to understand nature. But a method is a tool or a road to something. Why assume that there is one tool that can deal with everything, or that there should be only one road to a location? The sort of towns that everyone wants to go to usually have more than one road leading to them.

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5 Comments

  1. Desiderius said,

    August 4, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    “Why assume that there is one tool that can deal with everything…?”

    Well, if certain scientists themselves assume that there is actually a Theory of Everything, then assuming there is a tool that can deal with everything isn’t so much a strecth, no?

  2. matthewjpeterson said,

    August 4, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    Heh. Too true. The “theory of everything”…would make a great title to a sort of B philosophic horror film. “Don’t go out there alone: the theory of everything will envelop you!” Too many theorys of everything floating about out there, actually. Let them swallow each other up.

  3. August 5, 2009 at 7:37 am

    The principle of contradiction is a theory of everything (in the old sense of “theory” which meant “to look on”). For that matter, all of metaphysics is a theory of everything as everything.

    A scientific theory of everything would explain everything so far as it is known scientifically, but to establish that this is to know something absolutely requires sitting in the “armchair” where one is no longer doing experiments or crunching numbers.

  4. August 5, 2009 at 7:46 am

    In metaphysics, ther ehave been theories of everything since Thales. The scientist is disgusted by this sort of knowledge: what good is it to know somethign only so far as it isnot different from anything else!

    I suspect that the theory of everything language was hijacked from a very reasonable desire simply to find a unity between various scientific theories (like relativity and quantum) Fo my own part, I think that as science advances, it will multiply more and more theories which are incompatible, and any discovery of a theory which unifies will only be accidental and partial. The cosmos was made by a mind that is not proportionate to our own, and so there will never be a theory that explains the world as though it were proportional to our intelligence (say, by a single equation). Just as we need to speak about God using terms that are not always comparible (like “wise” and “wisdom”) I think the same thing can be said of his work, though to a lesser degree. The closer we get to the divine mind, the more our knowledge fragments into a multitude of models and theories and analogues.

  5. matthewjpeterson said,

    August 5, 2009 at 9:27 am

    Yah…the “theory of everything” in the philosophic horror film does NOT take the word theory to mean “to look on”, but rather refers to the ability to explain the entirety of the mechanical processes in the universe through some sort of physical or material principle…the ability to reduce all that is physical/mobile to a chemical process, or element, or equation, or super secret particles doing super crazy things, or what have you. I don’t think many scientists wholeheartedly fall into this, but it is always a sort of fantastical temptation of those who study mobile stuff. And not without reason. I get the impression that physicists today are in some sense doing what Thales did on occasion themselves, which is to to live in between the realm of the armchair and the experiment as they seek the causes of what makes the universe tick. (Isn’t there a difference here between those who focused on the elements, of which Thales is one, and the other preSocratics who pointed less to the elements and more on being? I suppose most of em are examples of how the two get mixed up).

    It is something entirely different to mock metaphysics claim to be the study of everything. In trying to write this quick with a foggy memory it occurs to me that we are running out of words that indicate the speculative enterprise.


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