SCIENCE AND SANITY - online book

An Introduction To Non-aristotelian Systems And General Semantics.

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the solution of a structural difficulty in the quantum theory, and thus assigning a fourth degree of freedom to the electrons, originated with Goudsmit and Uhlenbeck independently of the work of Compton.4 It is not necessary for our purpose to follow all the further refinements of the classical theories. Suffice it to say that scientists work under uniquely severe mutual supervision, and that any theories advanced in science are taken under consideration only when the new theories agree better with experiments, and when they also prove structurally fruitful in predicting new experimental facts, which again must stand the test of experiment.
The Sommerfeld orbits have proved to be an advance over the older Bohr orbits, but they had also to be refined to take into account that the electron does not seem to revolve around a simple nucleus but around a core consisting of the nucleus and one or more electrons; and so again we had more complex orbits.
For our semantic purpose it is enough to say that to the best of our knowledge (1933), this world appears entirely different from what our primitive ancestors knew thousands of years ago, and perhaps from what the average layman knows today. As the problems of 'sanity' represent problems of semantic adjustment, and adjustment means adjustment to something - in this case to the structures of the world around and in us - it appears imperative that we should take into account the best knowledge we have of these structures.
The few remarks given above about the structure of 'matter' already show unmistakably that the old 'matter' is not so very 'material', so very 'solid', so very definite, as we once assumed it was; but it represents a process. We see that our nervous system, because of its gradual growth and evolution, has developed different levels or strata; our 'knowledge' also has different levels or strata, operative as-a-whole, although different aspects of it can be analysed in terms of order. The reader should realize that because of the old s.r we still 'need' some 'bits' of something to speak about. It is a linguistic semantic consequence of our pre-scientific, el language, which posits absolute 'matter', 'space', and 'time'. Thus, through a process of identification, we ascribe to these terms objective existence. In the old manner of speaking the term 'is' of identity played the main semantic havoc.
In the older days electrons were often taken as 'bits' of something or other. For the layman a 'bit' was identified with 'matter'; and here a great deal of confusion comes to light. Even a 'bit' of something is not necessarily material. Materials, by definition, are supposed to exhibit colour, temperature, hardness , . A 'bit' which did not have these characteristics would not be material by definition.
Although the 'electron' is defined as an electrical charge, in the older days we had the habit of considering the electrons as some definite 'bits' of something, some kind of 'matter'. Through a process of objectification we made them revolve in definite 'orbits', with definite 'velocities'. , which implies the definite application of terms such as 'space' and 'time', derived from macroscopic gross experience, but not necessarily applicable to the sub-atomic levels.