“Nature and the Greeks” by Erwin Schrödinger

Scientists work within a philosophical framework, though it is perhaps not as pronounced as that of philosophers. A scientific theory is an interpretation of empirical data, and it is often the case that numerous theories can describe the same set of data, which one the scientist chooses depends on his/her philosophy. Empirical evidence drives the advance of science by eliminating bad theories, and forcing the scientists to admit their own errors and sometimes take on a completely different perspective (paradigm shift).

Schrödinger explored ancient Greek philosophy because he believed that there might be something wrong with the philosophical foundation that classic physics was built upon. Since quantum theory and the theory of relativity has shaken the foundations of science, it is incentive to revisit the foundations, i.e, the philosophies of the ancient Greeks, in the hope of discovering neglected wisdom and also correcting inveterate errors (preconceived ideas and unwarranted assumptions) which may have been perpetuated.

He divided the great thinkers of antiquity roughly into two groups, Pythagoreans and Ionians (who are connected to the Atomists, the forerunners of modern philosophy). The division is based on their emphasis on reason vs. senses when constructing their worldview.

I’m intrigued by the Pythagorean cosmology. It was based on “unfounded, preconceived ideals of perfection, beauty and simplicity”, and yet it was perhaps closer to the truth than the geo-centric view. It makes me wonder how and why erroneous theories get perpetuated through history whereas the correct ones are obliterated.

Schrödinger lamented that, because man himself (the observer), has been removed from his picture of the world (the observed), “the scientific worldview consists of itself no ethical values, no aesthetical values, not a word about our own ultimate scope or destination.”

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2 thoughts on ““Nature and the Greeks” by Erwin Schrödinger

  1. Pythagoras was, for all practical purposes, a Vedantic philosopher. It’s very likely that he spent time in India, or at the least, interacted with Indian philosophers and mathematicians.

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