3.187 education and universities, cont. (74)

Wed, 28 Jun 89 21:03:32 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 187. Wednesday, 28 Jun 1989.

Date: Wed, 28 Jun 89 09:03 EDT

Universities and Education
The recent discussion of universities and education suffers from a widespread
attitude of anti-intellectualism in the culture of intellectuals. Such notions
that like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, observers and teachers of human
values cannot do so in a disinterested or value-free manner, stems from an
interpretation of a mathematical formalism that is firstly a misinterpretation
of the one Heisenberg provided, and secondly, a dogmatic belief that
Heisenberg's own interpretation is no mere interpretation but some 'law' of
physics. The mathematical formalism in words is: the product of momentum and
position of micro-particles is more or less equivalent to Planck's quantum
constant. Bohr, in his popular writings, interpreted this mathematical
formalism to mean that the physicst is like the psychologist in that when he
observes nature, he interferes in nature. Humanists, immediately jump in and
say, 'even so-called objective physicts must be subjective, just like us'.
However, Heisenberg provides a more limited interpretation: when we obtain a
precise measurement of position, we cannot obtain an equally precise
measurement of momentum; and, vice versa. That is the Uncertainty. To explain
the Uncertainty in terms of human interfernce in nature, is a gloss that goes
above and beyond the exact statement of Uncertainty. Furthermore, among
physicists there has been a long debate, beginning with Einstein, that
attempted to show that quantum mechanics is incomplete--and that quantum
mechanics cannot be the last word contrary to Heisenberg, Bohr and Born.
The question arises, why do so many humanists jump on the bandwagon of a
philosophical interpretation of quantum mechanics, that is in part a
misinterpretation, and one that is controversial among physicists? Part of the
answer lies in a neo-Hegelian philosophy of 'hyper-rationalism' where
everything we do must be, at bottom, rational and perfect.
So, the anti-intellectual humanists argues: 'Our apparently, imperfect
educational institutions, which in part devote themselves to extra-intellectual
pursuits, such as socialization, networking, leading a life of leisure... and
so forth, must be really perfect, given the appropriate perspective. Moreover,
since intellect is so biased, so subjective, so weak and ineffective, we can
only subliminally dictate to students what we professors believe dogmatically
to be the correct values--and in the end, it is the rational course.'
The anti-dote to anti-intellectualism is to realize that within physics
there are objectivist, and realist interpretations of quantum mechanics.
Also, there are objectivist interpretations of 'interpretation', 'value', and
'understanding'. As a first step to exploring the alternative to
anti-intellecutalism, one might read Karl Popper's three volumes on the
philosophy of quantum mechanics and indeterminism.
In any case, universities do today what institutions of learning have
always done, and done very imperfectly, provide free-zones for intellectual
research into the fundamental problems of human existence in the physical
universe. Unfortunately, what Buber says is true: teachers teach more by what
they don't say, then through what they say. So the teacher who has the
anti-intellectual attitude of disdain towards the life of mind, and who thinks
university teachers have a free ride to show proficiency with little or
meaningless content, or who thinks the university is a big joke, will convey
that attitude to students.
The devil's adovcate for the side of abolishing the university will win
the case by default unless intellectuals adopt a more intellectually honest
attitude towards their self-congratulatory 'philosophies' of physics. I have
attempted a beginning towards developing a framework for an intellectually
honest self-criticism of the culture of intellectuals in a paper that seeks
comments and a publisher. If interested in commenting or reviewing for
possible publication, please contact me.
Sheldon Richmond