The concept of 'relativity' and its implications on the evolution of science.

Relativity is, first and foremost, about 'perception', and in particular, how we perceive the relationship between space and matter.   Traditional science, which builds upon the philosophical views of the early Greek philosophers, including the concepts of matter, space and time of Parmenides, Plato and Aristotle, has assumed the primacy of matter and its assertive behaviours, ignoring any participatory role on the part of 'space' or 'the ether'. 

This 'non-participating space' assumption, which was not 'unanimous' even amongst the Greek philosophers, directly invokes the notion of an 'inertial frame' since to assume the existence of matter is to simultaneously assume some space in which it is 'resident'.  And the assumption of space occupied by independent material entities entails the splitting apart of space-time (the undivided 'space' of our ontogenic experience) into 'space' and 'time' (time which is the same for all, or 'globally synchronous time' as some refer to it.).  By this 'non-participating space' assumption, then, the understanding of physical phenomena is, ultimately, in the sole terms of 'the assertive behaviours of independent causal agents' or 'material kinetics'.

The alternative, 'relativistic' assumption wherein 'space is a participant in physical phenomena' (Einstein's words), avoids the assumptions of 'inertial reference frame' and 'absolute time', which Einstein calls 'frightening ghosts', leaving the 'space-time' of our natural experience intact.   This 'participating space' assumption was the choice of Heraclitus and it puts space-time 'flow' or 'transformation' in the primacy over the notion of material kinetic transactions as the basis for physical phenomena.   This effectively subsumes the 'assertive agent' of the non-relativistic theory with an 'inductive-assertive' agent which can be visualized in terms of a 'vortex' or 'whirpool' in river flow.   The vortex can be seen as an 'agent' which 'acts' out of its 'center' (the eye of the vortex) but it does not have 'sovereign ownership' of its own center as the assertive material agent does, .... its center is purely 'relative', being the center of 'coherency' of a perturbation which can be seen as 'moving through' the material aspect of the medium.  The relativistic agent, then, 'transcends' the non-relativistic 'assertive agent' in that it possesses both inductive and assertive influencing qualities, as in the example of the whirlpool in the river; i.e. the 'eye' of the whirlpool is an inductive agent which has a 'life and dynamic of its own', but its form derives from the organized assertive behaviours of material entities which it induces.

Thus, what is referred to as an 'independent causal agent' in non-relativistic science, can be seen in a new and broader context, wherein it is no longer 'independent' in an absolute sense, but is a participating constituent in a coherent pattern of kinetic activity, and in fact, the notion 'formerly known as a material entity' now appears as a constituent feature of a purely relational pattern of coherency, or as a feature of its 'containing field', and 'motion' is seen in the larger context of 'space-time transformation' in which the notion of 'material kinetics' is a lesser, included notion.  While the notion of 'absolute material entities' as being the 'cause' of physical phenomena limits the non-relativistic model in its descriptive capabilities with respect to 'evolution' to the construction of new forms, ... the relativistic notion of the primacy of 'field form' or relational geometric patterns, allows evolution to be seen in terms of the relational transformation on a nested basis, as in the case of 'vortices within vortices' (each one simultaneously 'referencing' to the containing vortex within which it is an 'included feature').  

While this container-constituent-coevolution view, wherein the container' or 'aither' (the 'field') is in the primacy over the constituent, was the view of Heraclitus and it is the view of the Native American traditionalist and the modern evolutionary biologist ('the organism is its environment') such as Humberto Maturana, Douglas E. Caldwell [1] and Alan Rayner, ... it is difficult for the western mind, which has been thoroughly culturally conditioned to the primacy of matter over 'empty space' to accept.

For example, while we normally think in the 'material primacist' terms of the human body (as a material entity)  'replacing its molecules' every few months, the basic principle of relativity would have us instead think in terms of the 'human system' as an outer-inner nesting of relational patterns within which the material entities are participating constituents.   This does not say that the 'material aspect' of the body is 'not real', it simply says that one cannot think in terms of matter as being 'independent' of its containing space.  Our experience brings to us the notion of  'container-constituent-codynamics' and it is by abstraction that we break out the 'material entities' as 'causal agents' which are 'independent of their containing space'.  Relativity says that this is too much of a generalization, and that we need a 'field' theory which preserves our experiential observation which is in terms of 'space-time transformation' rather than the 'down-and-back-up-again' reconstruction of 'assertive behaviour of independent material-causal agents'.

Relativity essentially says that 'space-matter' is the basic entity and to split it apart is to approximate in a constraining way.  Einstein and Infeld in 'The Evolution of Physics' point out that the notions of relativity and field, rather than being 'improvements' to traditional theory, 'transcend and include' the traditional theory, i.e.;

"To use a comparison, we could say that creating a new theory is not like destroying an old barn and putting a skyscraper in its place.   It is rather like climbing a mountain, gaining new and wider views, discovering unexpected connections between our starting point and its rich environment.  But the point from which we started out still exists and can be seen, although it appears smaller and forms a tiny part of our broad view gained by the mastery of the obstacles on our adventurous way up."

In other words, the notion of 'landscape' is purely implicit and relational (relative), but landscape nevertheless seems to have the capacity to 'evolve' through 'space-time transformation' and this 'geometric evolution' which is purely implicit transcends anything that can be described in terms of 'material kinetics' since it is the evolution of geometric relationships rather than the evolution of explicit material things.  Again, one does not have to debate whether it is the 'landscape' which evolves OR the 'physical features'  (e.g. the mountain is not really a 'thing' but it is a pimple on the lithosphere which is being inductively 'sucked on' by the atmosphere within which it is an included constituent-participant); i.e. the landscape-feature seen in terms of the notion of relativity IS the basic reality rather than one or the other.

Relativity is first of all a conceptual notion and only secondly the mathematical tools used to describe it.  As Einstein made clear, what is needed are 'observer-independent' mathematical tools; i.e. the mathematics of 'field' which have no dependencies on the absolute existence of material entities; i.e.;

"We cannot build physics on the basis of the matter-concept alone.  But the division into matter and field is, after the recognition of the equivalence of mass and energy, something artificial and not clearly defined.  Could we not reject the concept of matter and build a pure field physics?  What impresses our senses as matter is really a great concentration of energy into a comparatively small space.  We could regard matter as the regions in space where the field is extremely strong.  In this way a new philosophical background could be created.  Its final aim would be the explanation of all events in nature by structure laws valid always and everywhere.  A thrown stone is, from this point of view, a changing field, where the states of greatest field intensity travel through space with the velocity of the stone.  There would be no place, in our new physics, for both field and matter, field being the only reality.  This new view is suggested by the great achievements of field physics, by our success in expressing the laws of electricity, magnetism, gravitation in the form of structure laws, and finally by the equivalence of mass and energy."

Resistance to relativity theory in the mainstream scientific community is influenced by the implication of having to 'upgrade' the current mathematical tool kit which is tailored to the 'assertive behaviours of independent causal agents'.   These tools are incapable of 'going the distance' in modeling systems where the 'assertive agent' or 'independent variable' is simultaneously influenced in its assertive behaviour by implicit patterns or 'shape' in its containing space.   Meanwhile, our experience tells us that this 'shape of space' influence is always there, and that when someone takes the last chair at the dinner table, the dynamical patterns of the hungry ones walking around are simultaneously, reciprocally influenced. 

It is only our 'rational' selection and exclusion mental tools which has us 'select out' the assertive act of the person sitting down in the last chair that has us 'start the story telling' from this specific act and specify it in terms of the 'assertive behaviour of independent causal agents'.  Instead, the observer from Mars might see it in terms of 'transformation' wherein certain 'relational patterns' in the manner of the 'eye of weather systems' in the earth's atmosphere, are induced by the 'shape of opportunity' to move into corridors of opportunity, simultaneously, reciprocally transforming the shape of  space' which in turn gates the 'assertive behaviour' of the constituent features of the containing space-time configuration in a continuing evolution.

Caldwell et al describe the situation where the geometrical configuration or 'shape of space' can be observed as being 'what is evolving' [1];

"Until the development of fluorescent molecular probes and confocal laser microscopy, there were few alternatives to isolating microorganisms from their communities prior to laboratory study.  Isolation was necessary to obtain a sufficient amoont of homogeneous cell material for chemical analyses, yet it constrained most laboratory work to the molecular, cellular, or organismic level.  However, fluorescent probes and other molecular techniques now allow the analysis of individual microorganisms without isolation. ... This affords the opportunity to perform community-level laboratory experiments that are not possible with plants and animals due to their large size.  However, inconsistencies between evolutionary ecology, ecosystem ecoloy, microbial ecology, germ theory and information theory make it difficult to formulate testable hypotheses that are relevant in understanding ecology at the community level.  Consideration of communities as units of proliferation (and hence as units of evolution) requires a more generalized theory of life, amenable to the formulation of community-level hypotheses and tests. . . . As an alternative [to the evolution of explicit entities] we suggest a proliferation hypothesis that offers a simpler and more comprehensive explanation of ecology and evolution by recognizing the possibility of propagation and reproductive success at many different levels of biological organization simultaneously (genes, plasmids, cells, organisms, communities, ecosystems, etc.) rather than solely at the level of individual organisms (species populations).  We also suggest that laboratory communities of bacteria may provide one of the few experimental systems readily amenable to the testing of this hypothesis."

Clearly, 'community' is analogous to 'landscape' in the earlier example of the implications of relativity; i.e. it is purely 'container-constituent' relational geometry, and leads one back to the notion of 'field' as being in the primacy over matter (though 'field' and 'matter' are bound together in an outer-inner space-time relationship).  

The resistance to such relativistic hypotheses as proposed by Caldwell et al, on the basis of solid experimental observations, is extremely strong, and the authors have 'suffered' by the public presentation of their views (ridicule, withdrawal of research funding etc.)

Thus, relativity is a notion which is well supported by experience but which demands a transcendent 'inflating' of mainstream scientific concepts and tools, the rebirth of scientific thinking into a new, broader 'story' which includes our current traditional 'matter-over-space' story within in it as the special case wherein the shape of  space is a non-participant in physical phenomena.

The reasons why our mathematical tools are inadequate for 'relativistic inquiry' was well documented by Henri Poincaré in his works 'Science and Hypothesis' and 'Science and Method'.  In the first case, he pointed out that the conception of space needed for models based solely upon 'the assertive behaviour of independent causal agents' was an abstract conception which we imposed on our world view, rather than the 'space of our experience';

"Space is another framework we impose upon the world" . . . " . . . here the mind may affirm because it lays down its own laws; but let us clearly understand that while these laws are imposed on our science, which otherwise could not exist, they are not imposed on Nature." . . . "Euclidian geometry is . . . the simplest, . . . just as the polynomial of the first degree is simpler than a polynomial of the second degree." . . . "the space revealed to us by our senses is absolutely different from the space of geometry." . . . Henri Poincaré

Poincaré's documentation of the inadequacy of traditional mathematical tools in dealing with models which include relativistic space-matter reciprocity is concise and clear, and he shows in his essay 'Le Hasard' ('Chance') how the 'rough edges' from the imposition of standard mathematical tools on topics such as evolution are 'whitewashed' by the use of 'probabality and statistics'.  (Bart Kosko, in 'Fuzzy Thinking' similarly points out how probability and statistics is used to salvage the tools of 'discretist science' when their inadequacy in dealing with non-discrete space-matter substance is encountered, as in the simultaneous membership of an organism in 'community' where both are evolving; i.e. where it is more reasonable to think in terms of the organism as an included feature of community, or 'container-constituent-coevolution etc.).   In Poincaré's words;

 

"It is therefore, thanks to the approximate homogeneity of the matter studied by physicists, that mathematical physics came into existence.  In the natural sciences [biology] one does not find these conditions : homogeneity, relative independence of distant parts, simplicity of the elementary fact; and that is why naturalists are obliged to have recourse in other modes of generalization."  

The reduction of our experiential data, where there is always a simultaneous, reciprocal relationship between the 'shape of space' which induces particular patterns of assertive behaviour (we do not try to sit down at the dinner table in an already occupied chair, nor does an electron try to occupy an orbital seat which is already taken), down to the notion of 'independent causal agents' in non-participating space is done by means of probability and statistics which are directed to the 'imposed' notion of a particular entity or organism (as John Stuart Mill pointed out, when we define and label some'thing', we assert its existence; thus we can impose the notion of an ocean on our scientific view of the world but we cannot impose it on nature and nature sees the ocean as an included aspect of the earth which transforms simultaneously, reciprocally with its containing space.).  In the process of experimental studies of our abstracted 'independent causal agents', and by focusing on 'their' behaviours, we ignore the induced transformation of space associated with their behaviours, extracting only the material-kinetic aspects.   In this manner, we could study the game of pool and derive Newton's laws of motions which tautologically imply a model 'base' of 'assertive behaviours of independent causal agents', but such a statistical look would assume homogeneity of the balls, and would not account for the experiential fact that each ball has a unique identity by virtue of its geometric participation in the shape of its containing space, and when it moves, it simultaneously, reciprocally induces transformation in the shape of its containing space, ... a geometric shape which is the 'reference ground' for the logically viewed assertive behaviours of the balls; i.e. a geometric shape which inductively gates and modulates which assertive actions occur.  The assertive behaviour models speak only in the 'little story' (included story) terms of what statistically happens to the so-called 'independent causal agents', out of the context of the inductive influence of the 'shape of their containing space'.

 

So, the issue of retention of our traditional mathematical tools, which preserve the non-relativistic 'discretist model' wherein physical phenomena are seen as being due solely to 'the assertive behaviour of independent material causal agents', is made possible by the complicit use of the 'probability and statistics tool' (God playing dice).

 

Insight into why we insist on imposing these inadequate non-relativistic models and discretist mathematical tools in 'the natural sciences' (e.g. evolutionary biology) by the suggestions of some science historians of the prevalence of 'gender bias' in our culture.  As Elizabeth Keller says in 'Reflections on Gender and Science' (1985, Yale University Press);

 

"To the extent that such models [models that posit central governing elements] also lend themselves more readily to the kinds of mathematics that have been developed, we need further to ask, What accounts for the kinds of mathematics that have been developed?  Mathematical tractability is a crucial issue, and it is well known that, in all mathematical sciences, models that are tractable tend to prevail.  But might it not be that prior commitments (ideological, if you will) influence not only the models that are felt to be satisfying but also the very analytical tools that are developed?'

In summary, the notion of relativity is that space and matter exist in an inextricable partnership which means that the 'motion' and 'evolution' we perceive in physical phenomena are in terms of 'space-time transformation', rather than 'material kinetics' (material kinetics is a 'little story' included view).  The mathematical tools of traditional science are largely 'discretist' tools relying on the 'homogeneity' of independent variables (ignoring the unique simultaneous, reciprocal relationship between an entity and the shape of its containing space) and are innately inadequate for dealing with relativistic models.  Moving 'outwards' so as to 'deepen' our perception of physical phenomena to where the implicit 'landscape' is in the primacy over its 'constituent entities' is culturally resisted as the implications run deep (.e.g. in management theory, the cultural tradition of the primacy of 'action management over opportunity management' inverts in polarity to 'opportunity management over action management'.

 * * *

 

[1] 'Do Bacterial Communities Transcend Darwinism?', Douglas E. Caldwell, Gideon M. Wolfaardt, Darren R. Korber, and John R. Lawrence, 'Advances in Microbial Ecology', Plenum Press, 1997

 

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