25 Red Lion Square,
St. Albans AL3 4JR
Dear Ian Buxton,
We talked at length over a drink after the talk given by Theocharis.
I first met Theo some ten of fifteen years ago, and thought very highly of him. Unfortunately he has painted himself into a corner in one or two ways.
I strongly recommend the article in the journal of the ?Sceptics ? Humanists ? society based on a talk he gave to them some six or twelve months ago, in their Dec/Jan92 issue, which I have just read. Coupled with Theo's article in Nature some three years ago or so, you will get some feel for his position.
I could not for a long time understand why he attacked Popper so strongly, but now I support him in this. However, this is part of a broader attack on the situation in science today. He would not bother to attack the smaller fry like Feyerabend, or only in a cursory way.
For me, the giants are Kuhn, Popper, Polanyi. I turned against Kuhn but came back to him somewhat when I read his THE COPERNICAL REVOLUTION recently, which brought me to a fuller understanding of what his objectives are. (It turns out that motivation modifies the meaning of what one says, in particular the question of whether one is speaking PRESCRIPTIVELY or DESCRIPTIVELY). (The PARADIGM is in Polanyi in his PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE p151, pre-dating Kuhn, and Kuhn ought to reference him in his POSTSCRIPT in THE STRUCTURE OF SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE. So there are real problems with Kuhn's behaviour, but he remains a najor contributor.)
In the same way as (Theo says) Popper became trapped as a foil for Marxism (as did Polanyi), so Theo is trapped as a foil to "Modern Physics" (The Brussels/Solvay 1927 Conference tradition, a mystical cult which has usurped the science of Physics). Theo attacked me many years ago when I made noises which sounded like some of the excesses of Modern Physics, although they were not the same thing at all. In a more healthy climate than today's, one could relax and probe without being attacked for lack of rigour by Theo. However, the massive incursion of professional charlatans on career paths into physics on the "modern physics" bandwagon limits our ability to calmly discuss fundamentals in physics.
Theo will continue to refuse to read Polanyi (as O'Rahilley refused to read Heaviside in electromagnetic theory) because Polanyi is not trapped in the "Realism v Instrumentalism" dialectic. Polanyi is post-Popper, but Theo is trapped in time by attacking Popper. Polanyi is on a much broader canvas, although he also became marginally warped by attacking Marxist science, which was of course a temporary phenomenon.
The problem with Theo is that his iconoclasm may be much better than his original work, so perhaps I should not feel frustrated about him. The task of breaking the Popper stranglehold is an important one.
It is important for you Ian Buxton to be advised that the Modern Physics cult, like Marxism-Stalinism (and received Christianity), is fragile and might implode at any time. I want you to avoid becoming merely a creature of Modern Physics. What role has the intellectual today who has worked for decades on the flaws in Marxism? I worry about the labours of good men becoming valueless if and when modern Physics implodes. To a great degree, Modern Physics has withdrawn into the laager. It could survive for a long time, but today it is not an open scientific terrain, in the traditional scientific manner. The recent excesses of Hawking, Paul Davies and the like, further muddying the distinction between science, religion, pop entertainment and personality cult, might trigger the collapse of modern physics. I am however grateful to Hawking for his recent extraordinary assertion that astrophysics does not overlap particle physics! I already knew that experimental particle physics did not overlap theoretical physics, but I did not know about this further fragmentation. These fellows seem to be very narrow indeed.
I recommend that you use Theo as a guide to some of your further reading. He is on 081 870 6191.