Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Absolute Beneath the Relative by Stanley L. Jaki

I own several, in fact, nearly all, of Fr. Jaki's books and I consider «The Absolute Beneath the Relative» (ABR) to be one of his best essay collections (others include «Chance or Reality?», «The Only Chaos», «Limits of a Limitless Science», «Patterns or Principles», «The Gist of Catholicism», et c.). The contents of ABR are as follows:

1. The absolute beneath the relative: Reflections on Einstein's theories
2. The impasse of Planck's epistemology
3. The metaphysics of discovery and the rediscovery of metaphysics
4. God and man's science: A view of creation
5. Brain, mind and computers
6. The role physics in psychology: Prospect in retrospect
7. Order in nature and society: Open or specific?
8. Scientific ethics and ethical science
9. The physics of impetus and the impetus of Koran
10. The last century of science: Progress, problems, and prospects
11. Science and censorship: Hélène Duhem and the publication of the Système du monde
12. Monkeys and machine guns: Evolution, Darwinism, and Christianity
13. The demythologization of science
14. Science and hope

I consider chapters 1, 3, 5, 9, 11 and 13 to be among the best in the book, and not simply for their own merits but also because they capture some important insights of Fr. Jaki's works perhaps easily missed in his larger books (or, indeed, hard to find simply because the books themselves are rare!).

If you're interested in cognitive science issues, and want a thorough Jakian take on it, for diachronic consistency you should first read «The Relevance of Physics», then the first four chapters of the 1989 edition of Jaki's «Brain, Mind, and Computers» (BMC), then chapter 5 of ABR, and then the last (fifth) chapter and the epilogue of (BMC).

ABR's chapter 9 is particularly intriguing not only, again, for its contents, but also because when Fr. Jaki read it at a Middle Eastern university, he was shouted at on stage and threatened by audience members (faithful adherents, all, of the religion of peace, mind you).

Chapter 10 in ABR throws light on an obscure and curiously neglected matter in the history of science, namely, the efforts of Hélène Duhem to get published her late father's magnum opus, the ten-volume «Système du monde». (The chapter title is a slight play on another of Fr. Jaki's books, «Uneasy Genius», about the life and work of Msgr. Duhem himself.) This episode is important not only because it deals with the scandalous neglect of one of the most important contributions to the history of science, ever (viz., Duhem's «Système»), but also because it gives lots of potential fodder, in our increasingly feminized age, for a heroically feminist historiography of science.

Be advised that my paperback copy of ABR has a grave printing error, to wit, every two pages of the last chapter are blank. I don't know if this is the case for (m)any other paperback copies or for hardback copies, but the cost of a hardback copy is, right now (19 Sept 07), prohibitively expensive, so if you have a problem, just do as I did: photocopy the missing pages, cut them to size, and glue them in the book.

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