from The Collected Works
Explaining the Universe with Physics
The following is the transcript of a discussion held at the Thomas More Institute on November 9, 1970. Participants in the conversation were: Eric Voegelin, Eric O’Connor, Charlotte Tansey, and Cathleen Going. This is the second of a five part discussion.
charlotte tansey: You don’t think there are any new spatial experiences?
eric voegelin: You have the problem that if one tries to construct a “physical universe” out of the experience of physics, that doesn’t work. One cannot construct a physical universe. I’ve made a study of that problem in modern physics and I have shown, in the manner of the Kantian aporias, that any attempt to construct the universe on the basis either of Newtonian or of Einsteinian conceptions of time and space runs into logical aporias.
eric o’connor: Basically why?
voegelin: One would have to go through the whole system of the conception of, say, infinite space, infinite time, a homogenous medium as in Newtonian physics.FN When you make assumptions with regard to infinite velocity of movement in that universe you must cover it somehow by a movement faster than light; you have to construct a model of how can it be experienced, and if it can be experienced by such a model, you get into the aporias. Of course, we don’t experience that, in fact. There can’t be any verified model of experience of the universe.
o’connor: You can certainly get a lot of theories. Those are the so-called verified models, but Charlotte is talking about new experiences–
tansey: –which might make a different pattern for symbols.
voegelin: What kind of experience would that be?
tansey: Going to the moon.
voegelin: No–we’ve always had the model of going to the moon. You don’t have to go there in fact.
tansey: I mean the experience of the human size being somehow dwarfed in a new way.
voegelin: Human size isn’t dwarfed in any significant way as compared with the cosmos conceptions of ancient civilization and of the Greeks. Since they had a fairly good idea how far away the sun is from the earth, they were as “dwarfed” as we are.
o’connor: I wonder if I have an example of a new experience. I was waiting for a bit of music on the radio to stop in order to be sure of something, and turn it off. Because I was waiting, I wasn’t relaxed in the time of the music, and I suddenly realized the strain of the waiting. This was a new experience of two times for me.
voegelin: But this is just a question of two orders of time.
o’connor: But still that may be the kind of thing–