Physical science is in a crisis

It had to happen.  Sooner or later, as technology began to rapidly expand, scientists were bound to observe phenomena they could not explain — not now, perhaps not ever.  

There are a number of examples of this.  The most recent one in the news involves the working hypothesis called, for lack of a better term, "dark matter."  Dark matter, if it exists, would explain why gravity is observed to behave in ways not consistent with established physics.  Therefore, scientists inserted the idea of dark matter into their calculations, to serve as that explanation, and everything worked splendidly — for a time.

Huge sums of money, time, and effort have been spent in the attempt to actually detect dark matter.  From high-altitude satellites to the enormous depths of underground mine shafts, scientists have invented sophisticated equipment to detect and describe the elusive particles of dark matter.  After all, it must exist.  It has to.  Its gravity is observable, so it must be there.

Now scientists are faced with the unsettling prospect of considering that, after all that hard work, dark matter might not exist.  Perhaps worse yet, gravity might be better explained by what some considered to be a fringe theory: Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MoND).  Time and further research will tell.

The most basic assumption in science is that everything is physical.  The assumption is that, if it is not physical, either it does not exist, or it is of no consequence to our understanding of physical reality.  In either case, it's the same result.

That physicalist assumption has held sway for so long that many of the most prominent scientists are welded to it, yet at the same time, physicalism itself has had problems from the beginning.  A new generation of scientists is beginning to notice those problems.

First and foremost among them is one so obvious that we may only rarely give it any thought.  It is thought itself.  Science has never been able to explain how unconscious matter can become organized into brains that exhibit consciousness.  This thing called consciousness is arguably the greatest mystery in science.  While science can describe the outward appearance of it, it cannot begin to explain your inward experience of consciousness.

A strong case can be made, and in some quarters is made, that the brain does not give rise to consciousness, as a radio transmitter might give rise to radio waves — but instead, the brain is more like the radio itself, receiving consciousness from outside physical reality.

 While from the physicalist perspective, this is utter foolishness, the assumptions of physicalism are beginning to fall apart due to scientific observations of physical reality.

A striking example is what is known as the fine tuning of the physical universe.  In purely physicalist terms, there is no reason why the universe should support life, and indeed, the odds against it being able to do so are mathematically staggering.  To answer the anthropic argument, even if the universe could by chance support life, there is no scientific reason why it should support life in any but the most primitive ways.  The odds are overwhelming that our planet should provide bare levels of subsistence.  Our physical senses should not be so exactly coordinated with the phenomena of light and sound waves that we are able to become scientists.  Yet they are, despite crushing odds against that.

The fact is that the universe acts as it would if it were designed to support us, our civilization, and our technology.  The evidence of design is, if not utterly overwhelming, certainly strong enough to create a plausible paradigm that competes credibly with physicalism.  It would explain so much.

Image via Pexels.

If you experience technical problems, please write to