Contagious insights 2

April 15, 2010

Can metaphysics succeed where physics has failed? Stephen Mumford is likely to have a hard time explaining by means of metaphysics how scientifically observed "regularities are produced".

Isaac Newton ruined the rainbow's "poetry" by explaining how its colours appear. According to Mumford, Newton's role was to discover that rainbows happen and that the colour bands always occur in the same order. A metaphysician should have told Newton that he was straying from his remit by trying to explain this regularity. But could a metaphysician have pulled the trick more convincingly? Hardly.

Would the disposition of the rainbow to disappear when you walk towards it have been the first step in a metaphysical explanation? One has to report, sadly, that metaphysical methods never achieved much success in deciding how many angels could dance on the point of a needle. Mumford seems to be taking on science's hardest theoretical problems with an inadequate repertoire of basic explanations.

Chris Ormell, PER Group, London.

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