A Precedent

The violent reaction on the recent development of modern physics can only be understood when one realizes that here the foundations of physics have started moving; and that this motion has caused the feeling that the ground would be cut from science.

— Werner Heisenberg

When we look at life today, it seems things are going out of control. We see institutions that are crumbling, traditional values that are often disregarded, and governments and other organizations that are unable to effectively address the serious problems we face. We wonder how the future will turn out, when so many events in the present are so disturbing. We feel the old rules no longer apply, but we don’t seem to have a clue about what the new rules are. If there are any.

But we are not alone with this outlook. In the early 20th century, many scientists experienced similar feelings. The very foundations of scientific thought were rocked by discoveries in the field of physics. The old rules, which had been accepted for centuries, were found to be inconsistent with reality. It has taken many years to develop new rules, and the work isn’t done yet. But the emerging body of knowledge in fields such as quantum physics, chaos, and complexity presents us with clues about the real way nature works.

As in physics, our world has dramatically changed in the past 100 years. Just as modern technology has enabled scientists to learn more about the make up and workings of matter, modern technology has enabled us to learn more about the make up and workings of the world we live in.

Most people in 1900 knew less about what was happening 100 miles from where they lived then we know now about events on the other side of the world. Life was simple then because there was no widespread knowledge of viable alternatives to local customs and beliefs. People were born into a culture with an accepted set of values, and that was what they believed for the rest of their lives.

In today’s global village, it is impossible to believe in a set of values without knowing that there are many others in the world who believe just as deeply in other sets of values. Belief in the rightness of a particular way of life has become less a matter of tradition or fate and more a matter of individual choice. In such a world, we are each confronted with a question that was rarely asked before: why do we believe what we believe? Confronted with so much change and uncertainty in our lives, we are left without a framework with which to answer this question.

If modern science has shared our sense of upheaval, perhaps we can use its emerging principles to create a new framework for understanding our world and our beliefs. After all, science does more than just provide the tools that lead to the technologies that affect our lives in so many ways. Science also provides a framework by which we understand our world and our place in it. If we describe events in terms of causes and effects, we are manifesting a sense of dynamics that classical science established for us. If we view ourselves as “cogs in a machine,” we are reflecting the mechanical paradigm embodied in classical scientific thought.

Just as science has had to redefine its world, its findings can help us redefine ours. This site, in exploring the social and cultural implications of recent scientific thought, is dedicated to the search for the “new rules” for living in today’s world. It is offered as a small contribution to the necessary dialogue about the values by which we should live.

Welcome to the Quantum Age. 

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