Theory & Science (2001)

ISSN: 1527-5558

Postmodern Deconstruction Of Newtonian Science:
A Physical-to-social Transposition Of Causality

L. Frederick Zaman III
Neural Engineering Research & Development
Hill AFB


A postmodern 'deconstruction' of basic physical theory is made possible through a physico-social transposition of the Newtonian-based 'event causation' of physical bodies (passive objects), whose inertia, accelerative force, and action-reaction become the 'agent causation' of social beings (active subjects). This deconstruction is a counterfactual that perhaps can validate Steven Lukes' 'three faces of power' in the natural sciences. It shows that the modernist context of mechanism within which scientific discourse is always conducted, in classical physics specifically and the natural sciences generally, is a manifestation of social power in natural science. The psychological basis of this power is an underlying objectivist worldview that metaphysically informs modernity's understanding of physical cause and effect. The physico-social causality thereby established for reinterpreting the natural world reconfigures in a fundamental way the meanings of the words 'social' and 'science.' For it shows how it can be that, in the words of Bruno Latour, 'The social is not a [separate] domain, but only one voice in the assemblies that make up things in this new (very old) political forum: the progressive [from the physical up through the biological and social] composition of the common world.'


Science philosopher Mario Bunge believes that ‘Over the last three decades or so very many universities have been infiltrated, though not yet seized, by the enemies of learning, rigor, and empirical evidence: those who proclaim that there is no objective truth, whence “anything goes,” those who pass off political opinion as science and engage in bogus scholarship. These are not unorthodox original thinkers; they ignore or even scorn rigorous thinking and experimenting altogether. Nor are they misunderstood Galileos punished by the powers that be for proposing daring new truths or methods...They have mounted a Trojan horse inside the academic citadel with the intention of destroying higher culture from within.’

And who are the enemies of science and academic learning of which he speaks? Bunge (paraphrased) continues—The academic enemies of the very raison d’être of the university can be grouped into two bands: the antiscientists, who often call themselves ‘postmodernists,’ who teach that there are no objective and universal truths; and ‘pseudoscientists’ that in the name of academic freedom ‘smuggle in’ fuzzy concepts, wild conjectures, or even ideology as scientific findings (Bunge, 1996:96-97).

Does Bunge give a true assessment of what postmodernists are and what they declare to be true? Or is it simply his declaration of war against a mode of thought that for whatever reason Bunge is unable to comprehend? This paper offers a postmodern ‘deconstruction’ of basic physical theory, which is the cause and effect of classical physics specified by Newton’s laws of motion, that affirms the latter view. This deconstruction of ‘Newtonian text,’ which demonstrates that the presumed causality of external forces in classical physics indeed is a social construct (as postmodern sociology claims all theory to be), refutes the presupposition of natural science about the objectivist foundations of modern scientific discourse. It thus opens up to view what the classical ‘Newtonian text,’ that is Newton’s laws of motion and related theory, fails to mention, excludes or conceals (Rosenau, 1992:117-121).

The means by which this deconstruction is achieved is a physical-to-social transposition of Newtonian theory in which the physical and social become causally intertwined (as suggested by Bruno Latour, 2000; 1999; 1987). A second objective of this paper thus is to demonstrate a transposition of physical theory (event causality) into an equivalent social theory (agent causality), in which the empirical data of science—in classical physics and the natural sciences generally as well as the social sciences—is at once both subjective and objective. And yet a third objective is, at the same time, to effectively ‘deconstruct’ in the reverse direction the Latourian text on the social foundations of the natural; by simultaneously transforming this text and redefining it (Rosenau, 1992:120) in terms that are empirically relevant. This effectively delimits Latourian social text by transforming it from a purely social sociology into a much more comprehensive physical sociology.

Numerous variations on the anti-postmodern theme of Bung’s essay are displayed in The Flight from Science and Reason (Gross, Levitt, and Martin, 1997). Two of the prime movers in this highly vocal opposition to the postmodern view of science and technology are Paul Gross and Norman Levitt (Gross and Levitt, 1994). Labeling the object of their ire the ‘academic left,’ Gross and Levitt claim that the very reason for its (the academic left’s) existence is the ‘assumption that the ideological system sustaining the cultural and material practices of Western European civilization [the methodology and assumptions of the natural sciences] is bankrupt and on the point of collapse’ (p. 4).

On the other hand, the postmodern sociology of science, as practiced by the academic left, suggests that Gross and Levitt—and others of their persuasion sometimes collectively referred to as modernity’s ‘science warriors’—are reinforcing ‘a weird pre-Copernicanism that views the entire social universe as revolving around scientists and that suspects all bodies with slightly eccentric orbits of displaying antiscience tendencies’ (Ross, 1996:11). What seems to be common to both views, then, is the idea that the opposition, whether it is the ‘science warriors’ of natural science (a military force analogy) or the ‘academic left’ of postmodern science studies (a political force analogy), are exercising coercive power rather than reason and objectivity in the promotion of their respective views.

The sociologist Timothy McGettigan (1998), applying Steven Lukes’ concept of the ‘three faces of power’ (1974) to the sociology of science, proposes that ‘good science’—by which he means good sociological science—should consider Lukes’ ‘three faces of power’ in science itself, as a means of applying coercive power towards the acceptance of a given view of science whether modern or postmodern. And from this postmodern perspective thus arises the possibility of coercive power in the natural sciences, as a means of forcing the acceptance of the established worldview of natural science by science students, academia generally, and society at large.

Lukes’ (and McGettigan’s) procedure in the identification of coercive power, wherever it may be expressed, is to first ascertain a conflict of interest between the valid interests of individuals and those of a superordinate institution or organization. The second step is to then identify a relevant ‘counterfactual,’ which as explained by McGettigan (p. 5) is ‘a referent through which one may detect the interruption of an actor’s [true] interests by the imposition of another set of interests.’ The third step is then to identify how this coercive power is thus thricely manifested, through the ‘three faces’ or ‘dimensions’ of power postulated by Lukes.

The view of science and science education given by Alan Cromer (1993; 1997) provides anecdotal evidence for a coercive power in physics, the queen of the natural sciences. The first step, essentially accomplished by Cromer himself, is to identify an innate conflict of interest, between naive students in introductory physics courses and the institution of physics itself. What students initially feel as being their interest, in both themselves and nature, is an egocentric worldview [which as Cromer puts it is ‘a dominant component of the human personality...a basic aspect of the human condition’ (1993:30-34)], which physics instructors proceed to rectify by (supposedly) experimentally demonstrating to the students that the physical world (and by implication all material things therein) is not egocentric in any degree, nor will it ever be shown to be, but rather is entirely mechanistic and devoid of personal interests (pp. 6-17, 181-84, 188-93, 205-7).

The second step in McGettigan’s program then is to develop a ‘counterfactual,’ which will demonstrate that the above interest of naïve physics students in an egocentric world is (or may be) a true interest that has been ‘interrupted’ by the imposition of ‘another set of interests’—the impersonal, mechanistic world of Newtonian physics. This is the present objective. It is hoped that, at the conclusion of this essay, the reader will have in hand the required counterfactual, called ‘subjectivist agent causality’ or SAC, which can show that the Newtonian world of mechanism, here called ‘objectivist event causality’ or OEC, has been arbitrarily imposed on the students of physics, academia generally, and the world at large. (See Audi, 1995 for discussion of agent and event causation.) The third step, which will show how this coercive power of the institution of modern physics is three times manifested, through Lukes’ three faces or dimensions of power, must be addressed elsewhere and perhaps by other authors.

Physico-Social Transposition of Causality

David Bloor (1991:106-110) suggested that those studying the social basis of scientific knowledge will need an alternative mathematics, which will ‘lead us along paths where we would not spontaneously go.’ The alternative calculus of motion for the ‘subjectivist agent causality’ identified here and labeled SAC, which we now briefly consider, can do just that. If the path indicated by SAC is followed, sociologists will travel where indeed they at present do not spontaneously go—towards a mathematical, physico-social theory of agent (vis-à-vis physico-chemical event) causality; and the path that they then will follow, as Bloor insightfully suggests, will at first seem to be very much in error and inadequate. The only reason this will be so, however, is because of the physico-chemical context of ‘objectivist event causality’ (OEC) in which scientific discourse about nature has been arbitrarily set for the past three hundred plus years. The present physico-chemical mind-set of natural science—which is absolutely of no use in the social sciences—must be overcome in the sociological mind, by transposing it into the social domain, if the social sciences are to become competent theoretical sciences.

Once postmodern sociology determines that an alternative path is to be followed, however, towards a more rigorously defined agent (vis-à-vis event) causation, it should rapidly become apparent that, insofar as the ‘humanistic culture’ of academia is concerned at least (the social sciences, humanities and liberal arts), the physico-chemical event causality of the natural sciences is itself in error and wholly inadequate. And thereby can the present causal knowledge of the natural sciences be validated as ‘social text,’ as postmodern sociology claims. The empirical evidence in classical physics, as it was prior to the time of Newton when the university Scholastics’ ‘impetus theory’ (a pre-Newtonian form of SAC) was in vogue, actually is peripheral to the often told ‘story’ about nature’s supposed ‘event causation.’ The objective causality of classical physics as presently constituted in fact is a metaphysically based social text adopted by the natural sciences in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and misidentified as factual.

The postmodern ‘demystification’ of ‘Newtonian text’ given here is based on Newton’s mathematical laws of motion stated both in terms of causality that is event driven (physically based as conventionally understood) and agent driven (socially based as Latour suggests). These dual causalities, formally stated below and labeled OEC (objectivist event causality) and SAC (subjectivist agent causality) respectively, are equivalent in terms of their mathematical representations, operational definition of terms, and empirical significance. The second (SAC) is a Latourian inspired transposition of conventional Newtonian causality (OEC) into the social domain. The insentient, passive objects and physico-chemical forces of OEC are the causality of the physical world understood today, while SAC defines the same world socially in terms of causally equivalent ‘actants’ (Latour’s term) that are sentient and active, and whose physico-social forces may be more useful in a ‘physical sociology’ (Latour, 2000:121) where nature and society—as truly they are—are causally intertwined.

The physico-chemical forces of OEC are the conventional forces described by Newton’s laws of motion for physical events whose origin and application are at different points, and where the intervening distance is bridged through some force field or metaphysically indescribable action-at-a-distance. These forces are externally-directed (mechanistic), spatial (materialist), insensible (insentient), and event-causal. The transposed forces in SAC on the other hand are the forces of agent causation, whose point-of-origin and point-of-application or terminus are one and the same point—the source and terminus are a spatial identity. The physico-social forces of agent causation, obtained by transposition from the conventional event causation of natural science, thus are immanent and always arise within the self-same body accelerated, no matter how far down one goes in reductionist analysis. These forces are self-directed (intentional), non-spatial (immanent), sensible (sentient), and agent-causal. An actant in SAC is thus simultaneously subject and object, at every level of discourse.

1. Transposing Inertia Into the Social Domain

OEC-L1: An ‘object’ (passive, inanimate body) maintains its present state of rest or of uniform motion (conserves its momentum) unless compelled to change that state through physico-chemical forces—which change thus is accomplished via an ‘event causation’ that is completely without awareness or insight.

--which when transformed from ‘event causation’ into an equivalent ‘agent causation’ becomes:

SAC-L1: An ‘actant’ (active, animate body) maintains its present state of rest or ‘uniform motion’ (conserves its momentum) unless directed from within to change that state by physico-social forces—which change is accomplished via an ‘agent causation’ that is perceptive and lawful.

The state of rest or uniform motion of a simple body, or motive state in complex systems, is the same in all systems of classical mechanics whether viewed from OEC in terms of objects, event causality, and physico-chemical forces, or from SAC in terms of actants, agent causality, and physico-social forces. The momentum of a body or system, defined for a simple system as p = mv where v = d(x)/dt in some space (physical space or system configuration space), is thereby conserved [d(p)/dt = 0]. The mass m of an object or actant, where the m thereof is respectively insentient and sentient, tends to maintain a body’s state of motion (momentum p) constant (within either physical space or configuration space). The masses of objects and actants are operationally similar—they both resist any change of momentum.

Momentum in the more general view of SAC is simply the product of that ‘motion’ which is expected (v can be either motion itself or the perception of motion) and that which causes the expected ‘motion’ to be realized (actant ‘mass’ or ‘intentionality’ m), which in complex systems operates within a physico-social configuration space. The actant’s ‘state of motion,’ which its ‘mass’—manifested as intentionality—tends to maintain constant, is perceptual; which state includes not only its perceptions, but also its emotions, cognition, and overt behavior (which are different manifestations of actant ‘motion’). Mind in SAC thus is itself a form of motion (Port and Van Gelder, 1995), manifested through a composite of dynamical states whose modification is through internal motive forces that are physico-social and sentient, rather than physico-chemical and insentient. And all of this is a consequence of the transposition of Newtonian mechanics, from the conventional physico-chemical ‘event causality’ of natural science into an equivalent physico-social ‘agent causality’ for the social sciences.

2. Transposing Force Into the Social Domain

OEC-L2: The time variation or rate of change of momentum p (product of the mass m and velocity v) in the configuration space of an object is proportional to the physico-chemical force F impressed on the object. Thus law 2 states: F = d(p)/dt. If m is constant, this reduces to F = ma where a is the time rate of change of v.

--which when transformed from ‘event causation’ into an equivalent ‘agent causation’ becomes:

SAC-L2: The time variation or rate of change of momentum p (product of the ‘mass’ m and ‘velocity’ v) in the configuration space of an actant is proportional to the physico-social force F acting within. Thus law 2 states: F = d(p)/dt. If m is constant, this reduces to F = ma where a is the time rate of change of v.

The physico-chemical forces and event causality of OEC, and corresponding physico-social forces and agent causality of SAC, are empirically equivalent in all systems of classical mechanics both in terms of their operational definitions and experimental results. The time variation or rate of change in momentum produced by any force, whether physico-chemical or physico-social, is the same because the force itself is quantitatively the same.

The above equations thus apply whether the change in momentum is through forces that are physico-social or physico-chemical. The mass m in these equations is that power within a body, whether object or actant, accessed and made manifest by whatever means, that tends to sustain its ‘velocity’ (or the ‘perception’ thereof). The velocity v in SAC is the expected motion/perception of a body (actant ‘physico-social expectation’) at any time specified as a differential ratio in space over time (whether 3-dimensional Euclidean or system configuration space). The accelerative forces of objects and actants are operationally similar—they both induce a change of momentum in system configuration space (which in the simplest systems can be physical space itself).

3. Transposing Action-Reaction Into the Social Domain

OEC-L3: To every action, or force, there is an equal and opposite reaction, or force. In other words, when one object blindly and without awareness impresses a physico-chemical force on another object, then the second object similarly impresses a numerically equal and oppositely directed force on the first. Thus law 3 for the physico-chemical forces of insentient objects states: F1 = —F2. As previously indicated, these are spatially distributed forces whose point-of-origin (of the causal event) and point-of-application (of the effectual event) are different points in space, the spanning of which is through some action-at-a-distance (non-local action) or force field.

--which when transformed from ‘event causation’ into an equivalent ‘agent causation’ becomes:

SAC-L3: To every physico-social action, or force, there is an equal and opposite reaction, or force. In other words, when a force arises within one actant, then an oppositely directed force also arises within a second actant. Thus law 3 for the physico-social forces of actants states: F1 = —F2 the same as for objects. As previously indicated, these are immanent, self-directed forces whose point-of-origin and point-of-application are always one and the same point in space—an identity (a ‘singularity’ in the language of field theory, as described in Jammer, 1999:261).

The terms immanent and non-spatial are synonyms in SAC—a force that is immanent is non-spatial, meaning a non-dimensional point in space, and vice versa. The spatial interactions of physico-social forces thus are through connected (supervenient) ‘information fields’ to which the forces intentionally and lawfully respond, which may be gravitational, electric, magnetic, electromagnetic, various syntheses of the previous fields, or other information fields yet unknown to science.

For Newton’s third law of motion on action-reaction or reciprocal action then (which in SAC is an empirical manifestation of matter’s sentience), the physico-chemical forces and event causality of insentient objects, and the physico-social forces and agent causality of sentient actants are operationally equivalent in all systems. The origin of the forces F1 and F2 is different in OEC and SAC, but their terminus or point of application is the same. And for either case, when a force F1 acts within and on one body (whether passive object or actant), then a reciprocal force F2 acts oppositely within and on a second body (also whether object or actant). The action-reaction of accelerative forces is operationally similar in OEC and SAC—they both cause a change of momentum to be reciprocated between components in the system configuration space. Law 3 effectively establishes the global conservation of momentum for a system, whether its components are insentient (objects) or sentient (actants).

The three most basic dynamical principles of SAC then, to whatever phenomena applied and at whatever level of analysis conducted, are the inertia, force, and action-reaction of actants. The actant velocity v is its expected ‘motion’ or ‘perception’ (‘physico-social expectation’) at any time, and m is its inertial ‘mass’ or ‘intentionality.’ Anyone in principle can formulate a dynamical theory which applies these basic elements to diverse phenomena, whether they are mechanical, chemical, electromagnetic, biological, sociological, technological or whatever. The only requirement for this application being that the causality apparent can in some way be understood as agent-causal, and describable in terms of a stasis due to inertia and some change due to force. And all such applications will be commensurable with each other, for all will validate—through law 3 on action-reaction—a generalized concept of momentum and its conservation that is at once both physical and social.

In summary, all phenomena that are ‘SAC-mediated’ involve ‘actants’ rather than ‘objects,’ whose forces are physico-social rather than physico-chemical. The forces of all such phenomena are self-directed (intentional), non-spatial (immanent), sensible (sentient), and agent-causal. The underlying causality of these phenomena thus is subjectivist rather than objectivist. The converse phenomena, whose forces are externally-directed (mechanistic), spatial (materialist), insensible (insentient), and event-causal (the polar opposite of physico-social forces), are thus ‘OEC-mediated.’ And these two overarching terms, SAC-mediated and OEC-mediated, will always imply the corresponding attributes.

Latour’S ‘Deep Redescription’

Bruno Latour in ‘When things strike back: a possible contribution of “science studies” to the social sciences’ (Latour 2000) noted that ‘The contribution of the field of science and technology studies (STS) to mainstream sociology has so far been slim because of a misunderstanding about what it means to provide a social explanation for a piece of science or of an artifact.’ The purpose here is to hopefully diminish this misunderstanding by providing a basic example of ‘postmodern science’—a social explanation of that piece of science known as Newton’s laws of motion. This provides insight into what Latour calls a necessary ‘deep redescription of what is a social explanation.’ And through this example, as advocated by Latour, the social sciences perhaps can start to imitate the natural sciences, but in a way very different than before. For a Latourian ‘deep redescription’ of the social, developed in terms of a corresponding redescription of Newton’s laws of motion using equivalent physico-social forces, truly reconfigures the meanings of what it is to be ‘social’ and what it is to do ‘science.’ The redescription of which may allow the practitioners of social science to accomplish—at least in principle—what previously has been limited to the natural sciences.

Newton’s laws conventionally interpreted in objectivist terms, here labeled ‘objectivist event causality’ (OEC), provide an ‘objective linkage’ of facts and fact-based theories that’s based on supposed ‘physico-chemical forces.’ The Latourian ‘deep redescription’ of the social offered here however, called a ‘subjectivist agent causality’ (SAC), reinterprets Newtonian mathematics in subjectivist, agent-causal terms; which provides an alternative ‘subjective linkage’ of facts and fact-based theories for the social sciences. SAC presupposes the existence of corresponding ‘physico-social forces,’ which arise wholly within and respond purposefully to information within the external environment. Such forces are not extended in space as a force field, but rather are a spatial identity whose point-of-origin and point-of-contact are always one and the same point.

A downward linkage of SAC into the physical world implies that: (1) matter’s forces are always self-directed (intentional), non-spatial (immanent), sensible (sentient), and agent-causal rather than externally-directed (mechanistic), spatial (materialist), insensible (insentient), and event-causal, (2) what are regarded as force fields in OEC-mediated phenomena (e.g. in classical physics) are in SAC-mediated phenomena spatially distributed information rather than force, (3) all action in SAC-mediated phenomena is due to forces that are self-directed rather than externally-directed, and sentient rather than insentient, so that intentionality and purposefulness are always present to some degree and at some level in all phenomena whether natural or social. This sociological based interpretation of nature results in a truly physical sociology, rather than a purely social sociology or sociobiology (Latour, 2000:121).

A social explanation of natural phenomena, as told by Latour (Latour 2000:109), replaces some object pertaining to nature by another one pertaining to society, which can be demonstrated to be its true substance. The ‘something else’ of a social origin that replaces some thing or object in nature, in a social explanation of natural phenomena, is necessarily some social function or social factor. What social functions or social factors could possibly lie hidden in nature, waiting for social scientists to uncover? What is it that lies hidden or disguised in nature, which really requires a social rather than natural explanation?

As suggested here, what may need to be ‘replaced’ in nature, in order to establish a social explanation of natural phenomena, is the objectivist concept of insentient ‘physico-chemical force’—by an empirically equivalent sentient ‘physico-social force.’ The resulting theory of SAC-mediated phenomena is subjectivist rather than objectivist, but it nevertheless is Newtonian in form (mathematically) because it still is determined by his laws of motion reinterpreted in social rather than physical terms. Physico-social force is simply that influence or power arising within anyone or anything that responds to information received from the world beyond itself, whose response in turn tends to reciprocally influence the world beyond via information that it itself disseminates in some manner.

The abstract ‘carrier’ of the physico-social force thus conceived, to borrow a concept from particle physics, and in contradistinction to the insentient objects of the objectivist world of OEC, is essentially the Leibnizian ‘monad’ (Rutherford, 1995:124-175)—a term here signifying any material body (or the elements or parts thereof) that exhibits sentient behavior, whether in actuality or only apparently, whether ‘human’ or ‘non-human’ (in Latour’s usage), whether living or non-living. However, Latour’s ‘actant’ is essentially the same thing in SAC and will be used in place of Leibniz’s monad. As interpreted here, the actant: (1) is an innate sentience and intelligence that underlies all existence, (2) is simultaneously both subject and object, (3) is manifested through agent causation rather than event causation, and (4) encompasses both humans and non-humans to include all systems and subsystems thereof down to the elementary particle level. The sentient forces of SAC at the quantum level reduce (via the ‘classical approximation’ of quantum mechanics) to Bohm’s theory of quantum force and thus are consistent with quantum mechanics at that level. This ultimately raises the question of free will and quantum indeterminacy in SAC—are they relevant at the macroscopic level of human existence? This should be addressed elsewhere, however. The same goes for the above mentioned Leibnizian metaphysics, which also is beyond the scope of this paper.

The practitioners of natural science undoubtedly will ask what a theory of SAC-mediated phenomena brings to ‘the table of science,’ other than perhaps a new philosophical perspective of the universe? It should be apparent, however, that what it immediately brings is a certain liberalism of thought and diversity of perspective in science (perhaps even a conceptual multiculturalism) that—if allowed to—might well inspire new lines of thought and research even in the well established disciplines. Indeed, why should SAC—a subjectivist context for the interpretation of natural phenomena—not be allowed in science when properly formulated as an alternative convention or context, given that OEC (the objectivist understanding of physico-chemical forces) now has been demonstrated by modern physics (relativity theory and quantum mechanics) to be a philosophical interpretation of nature?

And why should natural science, if it is a fully objective enterprise, attempt to enforce one philosophical view of nature against others that are equivalent in their mathematics, operational definitions, and experimental results? Particularly when SAC can immediately enlarge the domain of classical physics, in such a way that the principles thereof are useful at even the highest levels of organization in complex systems where ‘agent causation’ is often phenomenally apparent. Furthermore, this enlargement of physical theory can be obtained without the conceptual reduction of complex phenomena to lower levels of activity, which is required by OEC if its event-causal, physico-chemical forces are to be seen as plausible.

What we thus obtain in nature is an apparent physico-social symmetry (Latour, 1999:182-83; Bloor, 1991:175-79), in which material bodies can be interpreted either ‘physically’ in terms of OEC-mediated phenomena or ‘socially’ in terms of SAC-mediated phenomena. The mathematics and operationally defined terms of classical mechanics are the same in either approach, so empirically there is no difference between them as well. The choice is (logically) ours to make, whether to interpret Newton’s mathematical theory either physically through event causation or socially through an equivalent agent causation.

What would Newton say about such things? According to Alan Cromer (1997:32), who quotes Newton on the subject of how we are to study nature, ‘“in philosophical disquisitions, we ought to abstract from our senses, and consider things themselves, distinct from what are only sensible measures of them.” That is, the fundamental principles of the theory must be obtained by a process of abstraction from observations; they aren’t themselves observable.’ What we then have, in SAC and OEC above are two ‘disquisitions’ (formal statements) about matter and motion, one ‘physico-chemical’ (all forces are externally impressed and blind—i.e. without understanding or purpose—as conventionally understood), and one ‘physico-social’ (all forces are immanent and lawfully self-directed towards certain goals and objectives, and in some sense perceptive).

SAC and OEC are formally equivalent, at least in present applications in classical mechanics, and yield the same results. At the higher levels of organization found in more complex systems, however, such as those in biology and sociology, the practical advantage will go to Newtonian mathematics interpreted in the social science context of agent causality. SAC is here inherently more useful than OEC, because the SAC principles of inertia, force, and action-reaction can be defined in terms of agent causality at whatever level of complexity or degree of organization, without first reducing the system to lower levels of organization where behavior can be viewed as event-causal. Representation and analysis in SAC thus in principle can be top-down in complex biological and social systems, rather than bottom-up as most often required in OEC which is manifestly a lower level approach.

Using this approach, the inertia of SAC-mediated phenomena in biological or sociological systems can be defined in terms of internal operations at whatever level needed, which are empirically noted to institute system inertia at that level. And the associated physico-social forces, again at whatever level of complexity or degree of organization, then will be specified in terms of what opposes the system inertia (tends to change the system momentum). And the interaction of these forces will be through spatio-temporal information fields that are gravitational, electrostatic, magnetostatic, electromagnetic, and various derivations thereof. And so in SAC, the mathematical worldview of Isaac Newton is essentially replicated over and over again, at each level of system complexity and for whatever degree of organization. Self-organization in SAC is a tautology rather than emergent phenomenon as it is in OEC, for every system is inherently self-organized in SAC.

Scientists, particularly those in the natural sciences where the only fundamental interpretative context allowed outside of relativity theory and quantum mechanics is OEC, generally seem think that what they do is ‘science’ rather than ‘philosophy.’ Under this classification OEC is science but SAC is some sort of ‘odd philosophy’ that isn’t scientific. But is one truly any less philosophical than the other? The empirical equivalence of SAC and OEC under Newton’s mathematical laws say no. And is one in truth any less rational or objective than the other? Clearly not as well for the same reason. What science since the time of Newton has thus done is to arbitrarily instantiate a particular philosophy while at the same time essentially denying that it has done so. It has arbitrarily raised a particular philosophy (event causality) upon the pedestal of science while at the same time forbidding another philosophy of a different sort (agent causality), all in the name of ‘reason’ and ‘scientific objectivity.’

But now, with the causal symmetry of the physical and social sciences established at an elementary level through SAC, the social sciences can legitimately raise a different philosophy upon the pedestal of science, also in the name of reason and scientific objectivity. For Newton’s mathematical theory of nature in the Principia (Newton, 1995) in truth may be modernity’s ‘mother of all social texts’ that—once the way is shown—can be read in different ways by different cultures; with one culture (the natural sciences for example) reading it within an objectivist, physico-chemical context and another culture (e.g. the social sciences, humanities and liberal arts) putting it in a subjectivist, physico-social context. Nature itself apparently is objectively represented and read through mathematics, while the cultural context within which nature’s mathematics is read establishes what causality the mathematics thus read describes.

The objectivist event causality currently underlying explanations in natural science thus is no more ‘scientific’ that the alternative subjectivist agent causality offered here. OEC and SAC are both deeply philosophical in perspective and equally scientific empirically.

Subjectivist Agent Causation

Now consider a simple ‘physical’ problem in SAC-mediated phenomena, in which two rolling balls collide and rebound. This is a simple example of the application of the espoused ‘principles of physical sociology’ to elementary phenomena in physics. At the moment one ball (B1) moving along a straight line touches another ball (B2) in its path, a physico-social force arising within B1—which in this case is an electric force arising at the ball’s surface—senses B2 at the moment of impact. The force arising within B1 at the surface then reacts to the presence of B2 (through the information field of B2’s surface charges) by deflecting B1 away from B2 in accordance with SAC. The force arising within B1 is immanent, which is to say that it terminates within the same ball and at the very same point at which it arises. Its point-of-origin and point-of-application are an identity, so that no external force reaches out from B1 to B2, or vice-versa. The force within B2 does the same, at the moment of impact it senses B1 and redirects B2, also in accordance with SAC. All physico-social forces in this elementary collision process, which are self-directed, non-spatial, and sentient, therefore change only the motion of the ball in which they arise. There is no action-at-a-distance, and neither are there any external ‘force fields’ involved. The ‘physical sociology’ of this collision is experimentally identical to the conventional mechanical account given by Newton’s laws. Any data collected on this collision thus will support OEC and SAC equally, but their respective cause-and-effect nevertheless are opposed; for one is social and subjectivist while the other is physical and objectivist.

This example shows that Newtonian mathematical theory (his ‘System of the World’ as he puts it in Book 3 of the Principia) can be applied without assuming that the forces physically accelerating a body (actant in SAC, object in OEC) originate external to the body accelerated, nor does the operational definition of the terms therein require this assumption, and neither does the empirical evidence. Only the terminus or point of application of matter’s forces is unambiguously specified by Newton’s mathematics and required by the evidence. The current physico-chemical (i.e. objectivist) account of matter’s forces, in which these forces originate outside of the body, part, or element accelerated, thus is only one possible interpretation. A physico-social (i.e. subjectivist) account of matter in terms of self-directed, immanent, sensible forces thus is valid as well.

But now consider again, how do the physico-social forces immanent within one body sense other bodies, and respond thereto in accordance with SAC? As previously indicated, what are force fields in OEC are in SAC empirically equivalent, physically manifested information fields in space and time. For example, the inverse square laws for Newtonian gravitation and the Coulomb fields of electric charge in SAC constitute geometric information physically distributed in space, which the sentient forces of bodies are aware of and respond to lawfully. So the laws of motion in SAC, along with other laws that define related fields of information (gravitational, electric, magnetic, chemical, etc), fully determine the action of material bodies (actants, sentient beings) imbued with self-directed forces residing wholly within. Each such force immanent within a body (actant) senses the associated information fields produced by other bodies, and reacts thereto in accordance with SAC-L1, 2, and 3 and whatever law determines the spatio-temporal distribution of information pertaining thereto.

Neither intentions nor purposes exist in OEC-mediated phenomena, because OEC forces are event-causal, blind, and wholly without purpose. These are an integral and necessary part of SAC-mediated phenomena, however, because the forces thereof are self-directed and intentional, sentient, and agent-causal. The intent and purpose of nature’s physico-social forces is to simply fulfill the various attractions and oppositions (or whatever) made possible by the associated information fields to which they lawfully and intentionally respond. The intentionality and purposefulness of every force in nature can be defined and understood in social terms at every level of complexity. Whether the things studied are particles in physics, complex molecular systems in biology, the organs and systems of physiological science, the psychosocial manifestations of the person, or the social forces manifested in human collectives (cultural, economic, political, etc.), all in principle can (seemingly) be specified in terms of the dynamics of SAC-mediated phenomena.

A relatively simple version in sociology of the rebounding ball problem illustrates SAC at the level of human interactions. Given a situation where two people acknowledge each other as they walk by, whether positively, negatively, or neutrally, how is this interaction to be qualitatively understood in physico-social terms? Simply put, it is the acknowledgement each gives of the other, which manifests the high level immanent forces comprising the persons involved (‘you’ and ‘me’ within), which interaction is lawfully conducted in accordance with the SAC laws of motion through physico-social information fields (or ‘symbols’ if one prefers) ‘emitted’ behaviorally by each. However, what if one person (P1) happens to ignore the other person (P2) in passing? The SAC laws still apply, though perhaps not so easily understood. The apparent lack of response by P1, which technically is still a “response,” may be reflected in P2 through some internal reaction not directly observable, which may be conscious or not. Also, if the attention of P1 was directed elsewhere and P1 thus wasn’t consciously aware of P2, then no information was consciously received by P1 and no response was consciously made. But P1 nevertheless also experienced an internal psychoneural ‘reaction’ of some kind to P2’s overt action, if only somewhere within the nervous system unconsciously (given that P1 is alive and well). In other words, the various possible actions and reactions (or apparent non-reactions) that can occur in this situation seem to readily fall within the domain of SAC-mediated phenomena.

The ability of humans to disconnect from their surroundings at some level of sensibility, or focus on specific elements thereof, is generally not found in the inanimate, non-biological world except perhaps in things designed by humans and emulating human abilities in some respect. But SAC-L3 on the reciprocity of action nevertheless always applies to human behavior no matter what disconnection is overtly manifested, even if only within the central or peripheral nervous system somewhere, unconsciously. So defining even a simple human interaction in SAC, as we can both mathematically and empirically for the simple rebounding ball problem, obviously will not be an easy thing; but the basic principles nevertheless are the same in both cases.

The sport of soccer provides an example of SAC that perhaps could be analyzed in some detail. The physico-social forces involved are all perceptive, immanent and lie wholly within. No external force is involved, at any level whether the analysis is of the player, ball, or any other element of the game. The forces are immanent ‘all the way down’ to the molecular level of our physical being, and ‘all the way up’ to the topmost level of mind—which itself is a physico-social force. The forces moving the ball about the soccer field, which move the ball in response to its contact with the grass and ground, goalposts or net, the feet (shoes) and other player body parts, are always immanent, self-directed forces arising within the ball. And the same is true of the mental forces of the players—they are all immanent and self-directed.

All interactions occurring between the soccer players and game ball are then through associated fields of geometric information that exist at the elementary physical level—the information fields of gravity, light (electromagnetic field), and the surface fields of electric charges composing the ball, grass and ground, goalposts and nets, and the body of each player. And with each such actant in soccer (player, ball, or whatever), there is an associated intentionality that is at once both physical and social because the distinction between the physical and social is a false dichotomy. It was simply imagined into being by Rene Descartes and others through the mind-matter dichotomy, for the physical and the social are not causally distinct.

‘Team momentum’ in SAC, a well known psychological phenomenon in the sports world, thus may be a real physico-social phenomenon whether in soccer, basketball, football or any other team sport. And its conservation during the game, regarded as a real phenomenon in SAC, means that one team’s gain in momentum—including that of its supporters on the sidelines—is the other team’s loss. Winning from the perspective of SAC may be primarily a matter of which side is able to generate and maintain the greater ‘physico-social momentum’ or PSM, whether in sports, politics, war, business, or whatever. The present cultural conflict in the presently ongoing ‘science wars’ (Ross, 1996) is a case in point. Whichever side ultimately wins this war of the minds in academia will do so because of the PSM that it is able to produce and sustain in the long term. Modern business is yet another example: the advertising industry from the perspective of SAC is simply a mechanism for generating and sustaining the PSM of the business world, which may often be accomplished at the expense (marginalization) of life’s other, non-materialistic aspects. The contemporary marginalization of religious faith could be one example of this. A PSM analysis can show in which cases this actually occurs.

The general perspective of SAC then, in agreement with Bruno Latour, is that ‘The social is not a [separate] domain, but only one voice in the assemblies that make up things in this new (very old) political forum: the progressive composition of the common world.’ Every manifestation of inertia, force, and reciprocal action in nature is at every level of discourse both a physical and social phenomenon. All changes in motion and behavior are brought about by forces that are sentient and arise and remain wholly within the ‘actants’ experiencing change, whether the change is temporary (tactical) or permanent (adaptive). Conversely, all resistance to change is due to actant inertia that also is manifested from within. ‘Conflict resolution’ in SAC then, the cessation or overcoming of opposing physico-social forces of whatever origin, is accomplished in accordance with L1, 2, and 3 properly applied and interpreted directly at the level(s) of physico-social discourse needed. And thereby can the contrariness of self interest and the harmony of mutual interest in nature and society perhaps be understood physico-socially, vis-à-vis physico-chemically.

Several potential applications of SAC to current sociological thought can now be mentioned. It seems that a postmodern theory of the role of symbols in modernity’s material culture, as developed by M. Gottdiener (1995), might be more rigorously grounded in the physico-social forces and information fields of SAC-mediated analysis. Also, a recent proposal by Thomas Burns that rhetoric can serve as a framework for analyzing cultural constraint and change (1999) seemingly has a close affinity to the physico-social dynamics of SAC. He describes at a purely social level a cultural dynamics whose inertia, change, and action-reaction could be based on rhetorical forces that are the sentient forces of SAC. The diverse forces of rhetoric that characterize modern culture thus might be a significant application of the Newtonian explicated ‘physical sociology’ outlined here.

Another SAC application might be ‘The Modern World-System’ of Immanuel Wallerstein (1974), which social system in this application would be founded on forces that are defined in terms of the SAC-mediated laws of inertia, force and action-reaction. The reciprocity of SAC physico-social forces doesn’t necessarily imply cooperative action, however. For the reciprocal action of SAC, as applied to the diverse forces of Wallerstein’s socialist world system, might—in analogy with the interactions of positive and electric charge—be either cooperative (attractive) or antagonistic (repulsive).

More generally it can be supposed that the SAC based interpretation of Newton’s mathematical theory can be applied to what has been called the ‘spatialization of postmodern social theory’ now rapidly gaining ground in sociology, history, and anthropology (Cummings 2000). The various theoretical spaces explored, mapped, charted, contested, colonized, decolonized, or traveled perhaps might be made dynamical using appropriately defined sentient, agent-causal forces operating in related hyper-dimensional, physico-social state or configuration spaces (personal, cultural, economic, scientific, technological, environmental, business, governmental, military, etc.).

Towards a Physical Sociology

Latour identifies two explanations, one conservative and one daring, for the apparent resistance of natural objects to social explanation (Latour 2000:112-117). The conservative explanation, held by the conservative side of the current ‘science wars’ ongoing in academia (those labeled ‘science warriors’ by postmodernists), is simply that the facts of nature escape the social order. The daring one, held by Latour and a few others in philosophy, sociology, and anthropology, is that the origin of this problem lies in the apparent absence of any general feature of natural objects that can be replaced by something of a social nature that is empirically equivalent. The solution suggested here is to simply replace the general concept of a spatial, physico-chemical force with an empirically equivalent non-spatial, physico-social force, through a Latourian deep redescription of that piece of science called Newton’s laws of motion. And on this basis it should be possible for STS to go forward, in a representation and analysis of the actual doing of science, that includes both ‘objects’ and ‘subjects’ within a single framework.

Using SAC (L1, 2, and 3) the phenomena of science in principle are all contained within the boundaries of a generalized Newtonian science that encompasses both the natural and the social. The scientist’s ‘experimental apparatus’ is a system or collective of ‘actants’ (agents in nature) that interact using certain geometric information physically encoded in space by gravitational, electromagnetic or other fields. And the scientist(s) involved in any experiment is (are) the same in principle—another collective of actants that interact with the experimental apparatus through their ‘personal control’ (as agents in nature) of the same information fields (gravitational, electromagnetic, etc.). Both the scientist and his experiment thus can be objectively addressed in scientific terms through a sociology of science that operates within the explanatory framework of SAC-mediated phenomena.

As was suggested by Latour, ‘the adjective “social” now codes, not a substance, nor a domain of reality (by opposition for instance to the natural, or the technical, or the economic), but a way of tying together heterogeneous bundles, by translating some type of entities [physical/mechanical] into another [social/personal]’ (Latour 2000:113). Every phenomenon studied by science then becomes both a personal and social entity in its representation and analysis, whether it is natural (nature itself), technical (the technological apparatus), or social (scientists, engineers, or whomever). Such divisions in SAC are completely arbitrary and unprofitable. Whether the object studied is mechanical, thermodynamic, electromagnetic, biological, sociological or whatever, the mode of representation and analysis can be social and subjectivist rather than physical and objectivist. For the physico-social perspective of the world truly is all encompassing, but the more limited perspective of the physico-chemical is not because it always leaves out the personal and subjective. Indeed, the physico-chemical perspective of event causality entirely leaves out what humans are most concerned with and deal with routinely on a daily basis—human relationships and the causal interface between the ‘human’ and ‘nonhuman.’

Latour has addressed the possibility of a ‘golden age for the social sciences’ (Latour 2000:117-121). However, he suggests that this age may arrive only after the social sciences finally abandon their present, unfruitful imitation of the natural sciences, by pursuing a common world in which sociology becomes a physical sociology, rather than a purely social sociology or sociobiology. The social in this view, quoting Latour once again, ‘is not a domain, but only one voice in the assemblies that make up things in this new (very old) political forum: the progressive composition of the common world.’ And it is this composition of the common world that the theory of SAC-mediated phenomena espoused here deals with directly.

The critical response of natural scientists to the postmodernist sociology of knowledge formulated by David Bloor (1991), Bruno Latour (1987; 1999) and others, as forcefully presented in Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science by Paul Gross and Norman Levitt (1994), is notably hostile. These authors argue that the so-called ‘academic left’ (Bloor, Latour and other ‘left wing’ sociologists) has little insight into the process by which the natural sciences actually create objective knowledge, in which case the academic left’s claim that knowledge in the natural sciences is a ‘social construct’ is based largely on a profound ignorance of objective reality.

The present discourse on the possibility of a Newtonian-based physical sociology, however, through the insight it provides concerning the supposed ‘objectivity’ (or lack thereof) of the conventional objectivist explanation of force given by Newtonian physics (that this is the only way to empirically understand the mathematics and related evidence), suggests something different. It is apparent that Newton’s accelerative forces, as instantiated in his laws of motion (the objectivist interpretation thereof), indeed are a social construct rather than empirical fact. The objectivist basis of matter’s forces given in classical mechanics, contrary to the understanding of physicists and numerous others in modernist society, in truth is not experimentally evident as a matter of fact. The external push and pull of matter’s forces supposedly evident in physical experiments is simply a common sense notion that all physicists since Newton have accepted a priori as being true without questioning whether any alternative interpretations might also be consistent with the same evidence. So, given the alternative subjectivist account allowed by SAC, it now becomes clear that postmodern social theorists—the so-called ‘academic left’—have considerably more insight on the social foundation of scientific knowledge than Gross and Levitt (and other ‘science warriors’ of modernity) will likely ever realize or admit.

This is not to say, however, that all their criticisms are invalid. Many criticisms concerning the past sloppiness of STS in theorizing and drawing of conclusions—which initially is probably unavoidable in something as revolutionary as the postmodern worldview of STS—will likely remain valid (Sokal and Bricmont, 1998). But their basic contention, that natural scientists—because of the technical expertise that they alone possess—know better than postmodern social theorists how our scientific knowledge of nature comes about, can now be seen to be patently untrue.

Natural science admittedly is authoritarian in the sense that it seldom or never gives serious consideration to new, alternative explanations of the empirical data presently explained by existing theories or philosophies, not unless new evidence is introduced that refutes the old way of thinking and supports the new. The ‘king of the hill’ game played by children is very much in evidence in modern science. Alternative accounts of the same data, even if they are empirically equivalent in all respects, will most likely be labeled ‘philosophy’ (something definitely to be avoided in science) and ignored, or even put down if necessary.

The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics (Stenger, 1995) is one example of this authoritarian mind-set of science. The alternative account of Quantum Reality (ontology) offered by David Bohm in his quasi-classical theory of quantum potential (Bohm and Hiley, 1993), for example, is unlikely to gain much ground in physics unless and until new evidence is introduced in favor of Bohm’s theory that refutes the Copenhagen interpretation. The fact that it accounts for the same data as the Copenhagen interpretation, but in a different way that is more consistent conceptually with the principles of classical mechanics, appears to be irrelevant to those in influential circles that are in a position to support the introduction of Bohm’s theory into mainstream quantum physics. It has been labeled ‘philosophy’ by the mainstream, a pejorative term in the vernacular of science, and thereby effectively denied a voice in the actual conduct of modern physics—other than as an alternative mathematical approach to QM (Bub, 1997) whose philosophical implications (concerning the immanent causality of quantum forces as described by Bohm) are simply to be ignored (for example as Bub does in Chapter 6 on Bohmian mechanics).

The attitude that natural scientists generally may demonstrate towards the ‘physical sociology’ outlined here, in which the subjective and objective become one in theory and experiment, and causality is agent-directed rather than event-directed, might be yet another example of the authoritarian mind-set of natural science in operation. The event-directed, objectivist causality of matter established through Newtonian science is acknowledged by modern physics (relativity, quantum mechanics and related disciplines) to be ontologically invalid, but persuading physicists to allow the introduction of an alternative agent-directed, subjectivist account of matter and motion in classical mechanics as a metaphysical alternative to the existing—but known to be invalid—objectivist one, may be a different matter altogether. It could be that the authoritarian mind-set of natural science, particularly physics the ‘queen of the sciences,’ will never allow such a change (if it can be prevented), because to do so would be tantamount to admitting that the founders of modern science in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries simply got it wrong concerning the common sense (metaphysical) view that the external origin of matter’s accelerative forces is immediately observable in nature.

Is there an alternative to the authoritarian mind-set, of science in general and physics in particular? Clearly there is. It is possible in principle to adopt an opposing ‘democratic mind-set’ in which new evidence isn’t necessary for the introduction of alternative accounts or models of the same data. In a democratic mind-set, the same experimental evidence can be used to justify ontologically different but empirically equivalent accounts of the data under consideration. No one plays ‘king of the hill’ in science when the mind-set is democratic rather than authoritarian. All explanations of the same data are welcome and valid. So, if a democratic mind-set were to somehow be available in the natural sciences, then the alternative SAC-mediated theory of phenomena developed here for the social sciences could be introduced into natural science itself as a valid approach to understanding what is real in nature and what is not.

More than anything else, it may be the authoritarian mind-set of natural science that concerns those presently engaged in the sociology of science studies. The conduct of natural science seemingly is non-democratic insofar as it allows place for one version of reality into science (e.g. Newtonian mechanism in classical physics and the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory) while effectively denying any place (in hard-core science) for others with equal experimental validity (for example, David Bohm’s theory of quantum force in which particle causality is essentially subjectivist and agent-causal). But perhaps it isn’t true that natural science is blindly authoritarian concerning the allowance of alternative theories of causality in science proper (vis-à-vis the philosophy of science to which such things are now supposedly—but not actually—relegated). Maybe this is simply an unfortunate misconception on the part of the sociology of science proponents and others not in tune with the inner workings of the natural sciences.

If this latter statement is true, however, then the alternative physico-social, agent-causal concept of nature proposed here provides a golden opportunity for natural science to dispel this misconception once and for all—by simply acknowledging that an objectivist-to-subjectivist transposition, in which the event causality of classical physics becomes an equivalent agent-based social causality, is a valid alternative to the modernist worldview of Newtonian mechanics. Natural science certainly isn’t required to use the suggested physico-social perspective of nature if it wants not to do so—but it nevertheless should be willing to acknowledge that it is legitimate for the social sciences to do so if they (and the biological sciences as well) feel such perspective is needed. If natural scientists, physicists in particular, do anything other than acknowledge this (or adopt it themselves), then they indeed will prove to the outside world the arbitrary and authoritarian—even dictatorial—nature of science.


Levitt spoke of the institutionalization of mathematical illiteracy in academia’s humanistic culture (Levitt, 1997:48), the underlying mechanism of which he feels is difficult to discern. It is not, however. The mechanism responsible, broadly speaking, is the objectivist worldview of the mathematical sciences itself (OEC ideology). If the mathematical sciences had not originally been closely intertwined with the objectivist causality of events adopted by mechanists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as they indeed were intertwined through Newton’s adoption of OEC ideology in the Principia [essentially dictated in his Preface on the supposedly inescapable linkage between mathematics (geometry) and mechanics]; then the mathematics thereof might instead have been informed by the contrary worldview of SAC—which the university Scholastics of Newton’s time might have gladly embraced had Newton given them the opportunity. And the mathematics of the ‘hard-core sciences’ then would in this century have flowed freely with little or no restraint, upward from the natural sciences into the social sciences, humanities and liberal arts.

The ‘mechanism’ restraining the spread of mathematics in academia thus has primarily been mechanism itself—the patently anti-social, anti-humanistic, anti-spiritualistic, and ultimately even anti-philosophical (hard core positivist) metaphysics thereof. Another more theoretical but very much related explanation of this social phenomenon is that the spread of mathematics into the humanistic culture of academia is being strongly resisted through the humanistic-oriented inertia of this culture, which is sustained by the pluralistic, subjectivist value systems thereof. But perhaps one should accept and apply the ‘physical sociology’ offered here, which is simply a deconstructed Newtonian science that delimits empirical science by encompassing the subjective, in order to examine this thesis more closely.

What we then may be observing, in the infamous ‘science wars’ of our time (Ross, 1996), is the beginning of a major conflict between two cultures in academia and society generally, one that can be explicated in the physico-social terms of SAC-mediated phenomena. One culture is the unified, global, objectivist (OEC worldview), materialistic culture of science, technology and business now dominating modern society (à la the ‘evil Galactic Empire’ of George Lucas’ ‘Star Wars’ movies); and the other is a rebellious, pluralistic, subjectivist (SAC worldview), more spiritually oriented culture (à la Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Obi Wan Kinobi, Yoda, Han Solo and others of the ‘rebel alliance’) surviving from earlier, less materialistic times. The ‘death star’ of the evil empire in this Star Wars analogy, symbolizing a spiritual force turned to the ‘dark side,’ could be the dominant ‘scientism’ of modernity—a force that is now enveloping the world, and which seemingly is intent on destroying all opposition (Appleyard, 1992). Indeed, might not this analogy identify a psychological subtext—whether conscious or unconscious—of Lucas’ metaphorical vision?

And the outcome of today’s cultural warfare, between what may be the two opposing, major cultural forces of our day, may determine—as in the Star Wars movie itself—nothing less than the future of science and society as we know them. Thus interpreted, the Star Wars movies are a cinematographic metaphor whose portent for modernity is ominous. They suggest that modern science, technology and business, if they continue to insist on dictating adherence to a ‘New World Order’ that espouses the mechanistic, anti-humanist, and virulently anti-spiritual ideology of OEC, ultimately will be defeated by a ‘rebel alliance’ that may encompass the so-called academic left, extremist environmentalist groups, new age spiritualism, and conservative/fundamentalist religious groups worldwide.


I an indebted to Peter Gibbs and Don and Doran Baker for helpful discussions on physical causality. I am also grateful to Val Lofgreen, Lloyd Allred, Warren Kraft, and Charles McPhee for their interest and support. I am especially grateful to Gary Kelly for his encouragement and unfailing support.


Rebutting the ‘Science Warriors’

In Latour’s postmodern view nature itself, and not just our theories thereof, is at bottom a social and linguistic construct. When this view is applied to the elementary mechanics of Newton’s laws of motion, the inertia, force, and reciprocal action of elementary matter are based on the agent causality of the ‘social’ rather than event causality of the ‘physical.’ These properties, which when viewed in social terms can be regarded as the inertia, force, and action-reaction of elemental spiritual beings or Leibnizian ‘monads’ that are sentient and active rather than blind and passive, then extend upwards to all levels of complexity and organization including the biological and social.

And the sociology of knowledge in science, as suggested by David Bloor, then can be based on an alternative mathematics—which will extend Newtonian mathematics thus reinterpreted directly upwards into the social sciences. The physico-social context thereby established for reinterpreting classical physics reconfigures in a fundamental way the meanings of the words ‘social’ and ‘science.’ For this context shows how it can be that, in the words of Bruno Latour, ‘The social is not a [separate] domain, but only one voice in the assemblies that make up things in this new (very old) political forum: the progressive [from the physical up through the biological and social] composition of the common world.’

This paper thus has ‘deconstructed’ (demystified by transposing it into the empirical terms of Newtonian science) the Latourian view of the social, via its direct application to Newton’s mathematical theory of motion. And thereby it has demonstrated as well that the objectivist presupposition of force on which Newtonian mathematics has been based for the past three hundred years is in reality a ‘social construct’ rather than objective empirical fact. It is apparent that the physical (i.e. objectivist) worldview of classical physics and the natural sciences formulated in Newton’s time, and still operative today in science generally beyond the domains of general relativity and quantum mechanics, actually is not required by the empirical evidence. Social factors (perhaps including blatantly political factors as suggested by some postmodern theorists) were in the beginning, and remain to this day, the real reason for interpreting nature objectivistically.

So, returning now to Mario Bunge’s attempted evisceration of the postmodern view of science: Is postmodernism, when objectively (and subjectively as well) founded as indicated here on a physico-social causality that intertwines nature and society, the enemy of learning, rigor, and empirical evidence he believes it to be? It clearly is not. The only ‘objective truth’ that postmodernism denies, at a fundamental level, is the supposed universal and purely objectivist causality of natural science, which turns out to be neither necessarily universal nor objective. That is, consistent with what postmodernists generally claim, the supposed scientific demonstrations of an objectivist causality in nature are in fact nothing more than mathematically and empirically supported subjective impressions.

Postmodernists, contrary to what Bunge would have us believe, indeed may be ‘unorthodox original thinkers’; and their scholarship (Ross 1996; Galison and Stump 1996), although it may seem to be when one’s view of reality is blinkered by the objectivist (OEC) worldview of natural science, is not bogus when the viewpoint adopted (SAC) is subjectivist. Postmodernists in their own way indeed may be ‘misunderstood Galileos’ (Galileo also did not have a clear view of what Newtonian mechanics was soon to realize, see Cohn 1985:81-126), who have been and are now being punished by the powers that be (McMillen 1997) for proposing daring new truths and methods. And the ‘Trojan horse’ they have mounted inside the academic citadel, if it destroys anything, will destroy only that hostile ideology within academia that obsesses about scientific discourse being conducted within (or at least not openly flaunting) the dominant objectivist, physico-chemical tradition of science.

Bunge’s vitriolic assessment of postmodern thought, unfortunately published through the New York Academy of Sciences, thus is neither truthful nor objective. It is, as his Trojan horse metaphor might suggest, the ‘war cry’ of modernity’s ‘science warriors’ (Gross and Levitt 1994; Gross, Levitt, and Lewis 1997; Cromer 1997; Sokal and Bricmont 1998 and others), who are now rising up against infidels within the academy that would dare make available to science, and to the modern world generally, a new subjectivist, physico-social alternative to the presently instituted objectivist, physico-chemical worldview on which all logic and discourse in natural science—to this date—is ultimately founded.

Norman Levitt, in ‘Mathematics as the Stepchild of Contemporary Culture’ (1997), attributes the current ideological separation of the ‘humanistic culture’ within academia (the social sciences, humanities and liberal arts) from the ‘mathematical sciences’ (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.) to their—the humanistic culture’s—exclusion of the habits of mind associated with careful mathematical thinking. Bluntly stated, Levitt believes that the apparent rejection of the logic and mathematics of science by the academy’s humanistic culture is due largely to lazy, sloppy thinking that simply doesn’t want to be constrained by the precision of mathematical discourse. But what about from the humanistic culture’s standpoint? What might its view be on this matter? Could it be that, considered from the humanistic standpoint, the physico-chemical logic inherent in the mathematical sciences as now constituted is mostly irrelevant to the social sciences, humanities and liberal arts?

The mathematical formulation of OEC (objectivist laws of motion), which is the logical foundation of physical causality as presently interpreted in classical physics and other sciences dependent thereon conceptually, establishes the necessary interpretative background for all mathematical accounts of reality by the sciences. OEC is useful as interpretative background, however, only in a world where every aspect of reality ultimately is the product of some underlying impersonal mechanism that is fundamentally lacking in either humanity or purpose. So, when OEC is the only viewpoint in science that one effectively can take when relating mathematics to the causes and effects of human activities, as presently is the case in the mathematical sciences, then the only conclusion that can be drawn therefrom is that everything pertaining to human existence is impersonal, objectivist, and without purpose or intent—ultimately including even each person’s perceptions, expectations, thoughts, behavior, and social activities. Human existence, from the philosophical perspective of the ‘mathematical sciences’ as presently constituted, is bleak indeed.

So is it surprising to find that the humanistic culture of the academy, including its social sciences, humanities and liberal arts, regards the mechanical, impersonal viewpoint of the mathematical sciences as being alien to their concerns? Isn’t it understandable that the humanities instead prefer to deal with human beings as real, living, breathing (and oftentimes unpredictable) persons rather than well disguised but nevertheless mathematically determined machines?—which may be the reason as well for the current postmodern interest in ‘chaos theory’ (Gross and Levitt 1994:92-106). And the social sciences on their part—might they not feel as well that people must be viewed as having a host of personal attributes (sentience, willfulness, intentionality, purposefulness, etc.) that machines in principle cannot possess (which attributes lie outside the present domain of the hard-core mathematical sciences)? Perhaps the liberal arts perceive something about being human that the mathematical sciences as presently constituted will never understand, and that the present mathematical understanding of man as machine will never explain—such as human awareness of and appreciation for novelty and beauty, and the desire to create the same. Maybe there simply is no way to incorporate any mathematics into the humanistic culture of academia that—whether explicitly or by implication—tells us we are all machines that ultimately obey mathematical laws which allow no room for our subjective, personal existence.

Levitt, concluding his discussion of the negative attitude of the academy’s humanistic culture towards mathematics, points out that there is no ‘royal road’ that will swiftly transport this culture to the ‘state of grace’ now enjoyed by the mathematical sciences. But perhaps he is wrong on this point. Perhaps there is, or could be, such a road—if and when the objectivist context of mathematics in science established by OEC is dropped (as the hard-core requirement it presently is), and the equivalent subjectivist context for the mathematical sciences provided by SAC allowed. Could there then be a ‘royal road’ for academia’s humanistic culture to travel along, towards a mathematical comprehension of the social sciences, humanities and liberal arts? For indeed it was the mathematical formulation of OEC, first established back in the seventeenth century by Isaac Newton, that in essence provided a ‘royal road’ for today’s objectivistically oriented sciences to travel along and attain their present mathematical ‘state of grace.’


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