NCIS Member Herstein Reports on NCIS-Supported Paper

Gary Herstein, who was awarded an NCIS Conference Travel Support Grant in Spring 2015, has sent us the following report explaining the premise of his NCIS-supported paper, given at the International Whitehead Conference in June.

"Concerns about the relations between mathematical and physical thinking have occasionally been raised in philosophical and even scientific contexts (Eugene Wigner's essay from 1960, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,” being the most famous of these), but these worries are seldom pursued in any depth. But by ignoring the bases for the connections between mathematical thought and physical reality, physical science has created a situation today where mathematics freely stampedes over physics. This “model centrism,” as I have called it, elevates theory so far above data that it leaves theory empirically vacuous.

In contrast, Whitehead's “radical empiricism” brings the complete relational content of the world into the fullness of experience itself, and thereby gives an account for the connection between mathematics and the world. Coupled with Whitehead's detailed logical account of the process of abstraction, this paper shows how Whitehead's philosophy addresses problems within contemporary physical cosmology relating to the possibility of measurement (which is completely undercut by Einstein's general relativity), and offers insights to how a Whiteheadian approach can serve as a corrective to the promiscuous valorization of models at the expense of data that so thoroughly dogs contemporary theoretical physics."

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