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from The Collected Works
Absolute Space and Relativity
Mathematical Physics and Ontology
The loss of the concrete is substantially a spiritual disease. With the thinning out of faith into a reverential attitude toward symbols, the meaning of the symbols themselves is thinned out to propositions the truth of which has to be demonstrated by reason.
As a residuum of reality there remains only the structure and content of consciousness, that is, of a self no longer open toward transcendental reality. This general pneumo-pathological state, which in itself may occur and has occurred in other periods of history, receives its specific coloration as a result of the coincident rise of mathematical physics.
A new world-filling reality, emerging from Galilean and Cartesian physics and systematized in Newtonian mechanics, is ready to substitute for God and his creation. The new science, on principle, is a science only of phenomenal nature; that the edifice of science could assume ontological functions is a result of the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness.”
This fallacy becomes the vehicle of the trend toward materialism in the sense of a worldview wherein all realms of being are reduced to the one and true reality of matter. The pathos of this view, insofar as it is carried by the new science itself, is expressed in the anecdote of Napoleon and Laplace: when questioned by Napoleon whether, indeed, he had not mentioned God in his Mécanique céleste, Laplace answered proudly, “I have no use for this hypothesis!” The mechanism of matter extends infinitely, and God has been squeezed out of his world.
When the issue is stated in such bald language, it seems almost unbelievable that the movement of enlightened scientism could have the strength and duration that it actually had and still has, and that it should have taken the work of generations of thinkers to dissolve such crude mistakes of thought. We do not intend to diminish this impression. Reading the literature of this movement is an ordeal to the infidel and causes him the same exasperation as the reading of Marxist or National Socialist literature.
It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that the authors are particularly deficient in intellectual capacity. Their inability to handle elementary speculative problems rather illustrates that there is no limit to intellectual disorder once the nosos of the spirit has corroded the personality of the thinker.