Feyerabend has often been seen as a purely negative thinker and his self-designations as « anarchist », « Dadaist » and « relativist » have seemed to confirm this impression definitively. However, for those who actually read Feyerabend’s works a quite different image prevails – his books and articles abound in positive suggestions from the very beginning. From the very beginning (cf. « An attempt at a realistic interpretation of experience », published in 1958) his project has been to elaborate a form of realism that would be compatible with and useful for the pursuit of the sciences and capable of situating them in the wider context of a democratic pluralism. One of Feyerabend’s instruments of choice in this endeavour was the practice of what he called « cosmological criticism ». As usual with Feyerabend, the negativity contained in his criticism is subordinated to the positive elaboration of alternatives to the implicit, unconscious worldviews that structure our production of theories and govern our interpretation of them.
In an important essay, « Quantum Theory and Our View of the World » (first published in 1994, and included in Feyerabend’s last but incompleted book: CONQUEST OF ABUNDANCE, p161-177), Feyerabend discusses the unconscious determination of discussions of realism as a testable physical hypothesis by a dogmatic yet largely unspoken worldview that he calls « unitarian realism » (p215). This the one-sided idea that « reality is uniform but ineffable » (215). A conflict between the realist attitude and the practice of science arises with the development of quantum theory where the most plausible approach (that of Bohr, Heisenberg, and Pauli), rejects this uniform realism as no longer going without saying, but as just one possible hypothesis, and moreover one that is falsified by the argumentative and experimental context. We can see in the initial negative reactions of many scientists, including Einstein, that the realist hypothesis is not easily open to such criticism as it is sustained by a realist worldview, what Feyerabend calls « unitarian realism ».
Feyerabend argues that most scientific arguments about realism have a « truncated character » (p172) because the realism under discussion (realism as a testable, and eventually revisable, scientific hypothesis) is not the same as the realism (or lack of it) that determines the discussion (a paricular form of worldview realism, asserting the uniformity and the ineffability of the real). The trick then is to « reveal the underlying worldview and its relation to the realistic hypothesis » (p172). This is where Feyerabend’s cosmological criticism (which could also be called « worldview criticism ») comes in. For a long time Feyerabend favored a collage of Hegel, Mach and Niels Bohr, sometimes privileging one, sometimes another, and often mixing it all with various methodological considerations taken from John Stuart Mill’s ON LIBERTY. In the essay under consideration, Feyerabend goes through his usual argumentative moves to situate the problem even more clearly as usual, concluding this stage with his habitual praise of Bohr. Discussing the experiments that seem to decide against unitarian realism and the resistances to this conclusion, Feyerabend declares:
« we have to embed the troubling experiments into a rival worldview that is stronger than special professional subjects, gives us a reason to rely on them, and agrees with or even demands the negative outcome of the experiments Niels Bohr’s idea of complementarity contains a sketch of such a nonrealistic worldview [Note: « nonrealistic » only in the sense of unitarian realism] that satisfies these requirements » (p172).
However, this time Feyerabend does not stop with Bohr, but pushes the argument further: « Wolfgang Pauli tried to give a more detailed and more complete account » (p172). In the previous post I discussed the 26 year long correspondence-cum-collaboration between Pauli and Jung, that turned on precisely this requirement: to develop a worldview combining both physical and psychological perspectives and experiences in a new whole, a humane yet scientifically rigorous cosmology, that I propose to call « Cosmology X ».
Pauli calls the cosmology he is working towards « unitary », but in a sense different from the uniform realism of the partisans of « objectivity » against complementarity. The way forward is to elaborate « a new (« neutral ») unitary psychophysical language for describing an invisible potential reality that can only be guessed at by its effects, in a symbolic way » (Pauli, letter to Jung, 1952, cited p175). A key feature of this cosmology would be the abandon of the detachment of the objective observer. However, this position is still realist, Pauli does not want to jettison reality, but only to release it from a one-sided and fragmented worldview:
« However to me it is an important and very difficult task of our times to work at building a new idea of reality. This is also what I mean when emphasizing … that science and religion must in some way be related to each other » (Pauli, letter to Markus Fierz, 1948, cited p164).
The new neutral psychophysical language would still be realist but would also have to be indirect, imaginative, « symbolic ». In fact these two features go together for Pauli:
« Pauli envisaged a reality which cannot be directly described but can only be conveyed in an oblique and picturesque way. » (p175).
For Feyerabend, Pauli’s realism is inclusive and pluralist in contrast to unitarian realism that is exclusive and reductive, unfaithful to the facts and to our own nature:
« So far a unitarian realism has succeeded only by excluding large areas of phenomena or by declaring, without proof, that they could be reduced to basic theory, which, in this connection, means elementary particle physics » (p215).
Pauli has not delivered a finished product, but in collaboration with Jung (and many others) has proposed the elements of an unfinished ongoing project, an open-ended cosmology that is potentiallyboth humanly satisfying and physically adequate. Its language is both imaginative and conceptual, and « neutral » only in the sense that it is more inclusive, richer, refusing to exclude or subordinate one side of a disastrous dichotomy in the name of a one-sided worldview.
« Might it not be possible, Pauli asks, to combine our new physics (matter) and psychology (mind, spirit) by means of characters, namely symbols which play a large role in myth, religion, poetry and thus to heal our fragmented culture? » (p175-176).
Feyerabend emphasizes that this unitary worldview is acceptable only if it does not uniformise or homogenise reality, which would amount to a covert return to the exclusion, intolerance and fragmetation it was designed to save us from. He argues for what can only be called a principle of abundance that incites us to admit
« that there are many different kinds of objects and features, that they are related to each other in complex ways, that some of them, such as fashions in architecture, furniture, and dress, reflect human interests while others, though manufactured with the help of complex equipment, seem to be more independent, and that this hierarchy becomes the more obscure the more we try to to remove ourselves from it » (p215).