Hyperian History Of The World (19th Century, Part 5)
Nietzsche’s radical philosophy signalled the end of an era for philosophy. Just as he had declared that ‘god is dead’, Nietzsche had attacked all manner of ‘idols’, including many greatly respected philosophers. Kant, Hegel and even Leibniz failed to escape Nietzsche’s scathing attacks. Perhaps Nietzsche was (understandably) frustrated by the fact that no religion, no philosophy, no science had succeeded in adequately explaining this reality in which he found himself, and so he felt the need to attack everything, to expose it all as empty and without true meaning.
Of course, Nietzsche’s biggest problem was that he was not a rationalist, and therefore lacked the means to distinguish between what was the real truth and what were empty falsehoods. Yet it was nonetheless true that even the greatest of rationalists, Leibniz, had not been able to truly express his philosophy in the purest rational terms because, as has been discussed, he lacked the mathematics with which to do so. Unfortunately, philosophy after Leibniz had actually seemed to move further and further away from mathematics (with science becoming more and more mathematical after Newton by contrast). Kant had started, in his earlier writings, with a more mathematical, almost scientific view of reality, which he had then rejected in his later, grander philosophy. Even Hegel, whose system was the most ‘complete’, had expressed it in metaphysical terms rather than mathematical, and mathematics was entirely absent in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.
As philosophy became less mathematical and science more so, those seeking to understand reality were perhaps drawn more to science than to philosophy, as science would have seemed more rigorous, despite its basis in irrational empiricism. The problem was, of course, the sundering of academic disciplines. Mathematicians, those who held the keys to existence, were not sufficiently versed in philosophy and, as such, knew not how to use their keys. In the 18th century, Euler had actually discovered the equation which explained and defined all existence, yet had not realised that that is what is was. Unfortunately, no philosopher had made the connection either, yet mathematicians pressed on, making more and more discoveries, the significance of which they continued to fail to grasp.
In the early 19th century, another mathematician came along, Joseph Fourier, who, like Euler, made incredibly important mathematical discoveries, yet knew not their true significance. The biggest problem in philosophy was the mind/matter interaction problem which went back all the way to Descartes. Leibniz had partially solved the mind/matter interaction problem by showing that matter must be ultimately derived from mind, from the monads in his system, and that this must be done via some mathematical operations. Yet Leibniz had not discovered what those operations were.
It wasn’t until the work of Fourier that these mathematical operations were discovered. As he was a mathematician and not a philosopher, Fourier himself did not realise the implications of his own discoveries, but he can nonetheless be counted among humanity’s greatest geniuses by virtue of having made the mathematical discoveries necessary to solve the mind/matter problem.
Euler’s formula had shown that the exponential function could be expressed in terms of sine and cosine waves. Fourier built on this and discovered that every mathematical function can be expressed in terms of these simple waves, sine and cosine waves. From the analysis of these waves, Fourier realised that the same mathematical information can be presented in two completely different ways. Mathematical information can be presented in terms of a frequency domain as well as a space/time domain. Using a mathematical operation, known as the Fourier Transform, one can switch between the two domains.
These mathematical ideas provide the answer to Descartes’s problem. Leibniz had shown that each monad contains infinite energy, and energy is simply a collection of simple waves. The energy within the monads, within the realm of mind, is therefore represented by Fourier’s frequency domain and this same energy can be represented by Fourier’s space/time domain, via Fourier’s Transform, to form the realm of matter. Leibniz had shown that mind and matter were simply two forms of the same thing, and Fourier had (finally) provided the mathematics to show how it worked. Finally it could be shown how mind and matter can interact, by the fact that they are both presenting the same mathematical information in two different ways, related by Fourier’s Transform.
Of course, the true implications of Fourier’s discoveries were not recognised at the time, yet Fourier’s work was still hugely influential, particularly in science and engineering. By failing to utilise mathematics, philosophy was eclipsed by science in the 19th century, as science began to make progressions.
Religion had informed the worldview of the majority of people for so many centuries, yet now science was replacing religion, often offering completely alternative views of reality. In the 19th century this was shown most explicitly by the theories of Charles Darwin. The bible, which had been the source of knowledge for most ordinary people for centuries, simply stated that god had created the world and all the creatures in it. Darwin developed an alternative theory which proved devastating for religion.
Darwin asserted that the huge variety of species of life on Earth had all descended from common ancestors via a process which he called ‘natural selection’. Given that there were variations in the offspring of a species, those individuals which were better adapted to their environment were more likely to survive and reproduce. Therefore, over time, species would develop and evolve in various ways in response to changes in the environment. This theory of evolution was utterly in opposition to the religious ‘creationist’ view as, most significantly, Darwin’s theory required no creator at all.
Of course, there were flaws in the theory. Darwin failed to explain the origin of life itself (how did the first species appear?), he failed to explain exactly how variation occurs (his contemporary Gregor Mendel did explain this with his early genetic theory, but he was all but ignored while Darwin became a celebrity), and, of course, his theory was based solely on his empirical observations, and therefore had no rational basis at all. In fact, upon analysis, one realises that Darwin’s theory is ultimately based upon supposedly ‘random’ changes, some of which just happen to be suited to the environment.
Here the absurdity is revealed. If these changes are random, then every possible change has an equal chance of occurring. Given that only a narrow range of these changes would actually be suited to the environment of a species, the fact that such a variety of species has evolved, often with incredibly specific adaptations, and often over rather short spans of time, seems incredibly lucky. To go from single-celled organisms to the complexity of the human brain via a system of randomness just seems too good to be true.
In fact, a far less famous biologist had already developed a theory of evolution which addresses these problems, long before Darwin, yet these ideas are rarely discussed by scientists today. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s theory of evolution stated that there was some kind of complexifying force which drove evolution up a ladder of increasing complexity. To modern scientists this seems almost mystical and, of course, such a force could never be empirically observed, yet Lamarck’s theory at least accounts for the rapid increase in complexity which could never be achieved via randomness as Darwin later asserted.
The problem was, as ever, that these scientists were not philosophers and were not mathematicians. The three disciplines needed to be used together in order to truly understand reality, yet they had become far too separated.
Compared with the assertions of the bible, however, science certainly seemed to provide more rigorous explanations of reality and the power of religion was forever diminished with these scientific discoveries. Yet, later in the 19th century, even science would begin to show its fragility. Ever since Newton, physicists were happy with their deterministic view of the universe, based upon observable effects guided by simple mathematical laws. Yet it eventually became clear that things were not as simple as Newton had thought.
The most significant physicist of the late 19th century was James Clerk Maxwell, who delivered the first significant blow to the Newtonian view of physics. Maxwell studied both electricity and magnetism and eventually realised that they were simply two different expressions of the same phenomenon, namely light itself. Maxwell showed that both electric and magnetic fields travelled through space as waves moving at the speed of light. This unification of light, electricity and magnetism led to the idea of the electromagnetic spectrum, which Maxwell used to predict the existence of other forms of light such as radio waves.
This was very significant. Radio waves, and other types of light on the electromagnetic spectrum were not observable, yet their existence had been predicted mathematically, via the equations which Maxwell had developed. Whereas Newton had made his observations and then had developed equations to fit them, Maxwell had started with the mathematics and then declared that these waves must exist, without having observed them. This was a major shake-up to scientists who, once so certain of their view of reality, now began to realise that things were not as they had seemed. Physics was ripe for revolution, and in the next century chaos would certainly ensue.
Maxwell showed how science and mathematics were working together to improve their views of reality. Unfortunately they were still very much alienated from philosophy and, as such, there were still major flaws in their theories. Yet, nonetheless, 19th century science shows quite clearly that the reign of irrational religion was over once and for all, as Nietzsche said with his ‘god is dead’. Science would become the new power over the way in which people thought, yet, being based on empiricism, would be just as irrational as religion had been, yet in a far less easy to notice way.
– Brice Merci – hyperian