Microcosmology: Atom In Jain Philosophy & Modern Science ► 01 ► [1.0] Atom in Modern Science - Introductory

Posted: 26.05.2007

The world is composed of a multitude of things - animate and inanimate. But the two orders of existence known in the modern times as physical and psychical, were not clearly distinguished by the early naive and primitive thought in the West. The recognition of the psychical as an order of existence distinct from the physical belongs to a later stage of intellectual development.

The concept of matter has undergone a great number of changes in the history of human thinking. Different interpretations have been given in different philosophical systems. All these different meanings of the word are still present in our time as the word 'matter'.

The problem of atom, the smallest indivisible unit of matter, is one of the earliest as well as one of the most persistent in the whole range of philosophy of nature, as well as experimental sciences. When experimental sciences, which deal directly with material substances and their properties, investigate the problem, it can do so only through a study of the infinite variety and mutability of the forms of matter. Its fundamental task is the discovery of descriptive formulae, which assist depiction and calculations of various processes and finding some natural laws. The philosophy of nature, on the other hand, does not deal with the particular facts amassed by experiment but with the hypothesis used by experimental science for the co-ordination of those facts. The goal of experimental science is the description of the facts while the goal of philosophy is their interpretation. The difference of aim is, however, not ultimate.

Physical science draws a marked distinction between objects, which are perceived by senses, and consciousness. The following points are generally agreed upon as the distinguishing marks between the two orders:

  1. Physical existence is purely material and is devoid of consciousness, whereas psychical order possesses consciousness.
  2. Physical order is made up of events, which conform rigidly to certain universal laws; the elements of which it is composed always behave in the same surroundings in the same uniform way. Whereas, the sequence of events in psychical order is teleological (i.e. determined by reference to an end or purpose), that of the physical order is mechanical (i.e. determined by the principle of causality).
  3. Every element of physical order fills a position in space and time and is, therefore, perceptible whereas consciousness is imperceptible by the senses.

Thus, we may say that the physical order comprises all existence perceivable by the senses, as an aggregate of events in time and space, linked together by the principle of causality and exhibiting conformity with the laws of physics. From this general characteristics of the physical order arise the fundamental problems of cosmology viz., the real structure of material existence and the ultimate significance of the distinction between the two orders.

In this chapter, we propose to review how the exceedingly primitive way of conceiving the nature of material existence developed stage by stage from the first epoch of Greek philosophy to the sub-atomic physics of modern times. Our discussions, however, will necessarily be quite imperfect and elementary for more reasons than one. Firstly, the facts of which some account must be taken are so numerous and complicated that they would require for their mastery something like an encyclopaedic acquaintance with the whole range of experimental sciences viz, physics, chemistry, etc. Secondly, an adequate interpretation on the cosmological side would demand a familiarity with higher mathematics. Thirdly, full discussion of the divergent views held by the different philosophers and scientists would demand very much more space than we are at liberty to grant in this book. We shall deal with the broad outline of the general principles.

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