Starry, Starry Night

Lawrence LeShan and Henry Margenau. Einstein's Space and Van Gogh's Sky: Physical Reality and Beyond. Harvester Press, 1982.

A critique of reductionism in physics and human affairs. The authors trace the development of the idea of a single reality governing all domains of experience, to the eighteenth century idea of the rational cosmos created by the one rational God, who made all things in the same way. This view, they believe, is incorrect: different domains of experience inhabit different 'realities', which cannot be reduced, one to another. One consequence of this is that attempts to explain 'psychical' experiences in physical terms is seen as an error.

While closely reasoned, and persuasive in parts, the authors ultimately fail to convince this reviewer. Cohen for example, in arguing that a man working in an office, living with a loved wife, praying for a child's health, etc. is inhabiting different realities, seems in error. The man is surely perceiving reality in different ways, yet however he perceives reality he must surely react to certain events in the same way. If in contemplation of the beloved or distraction over the child he steps in front of a car the result is the same at least to outside observers.

A more useful exploration might be to suggest that most domains of experience can be 'explained' at several different perceptions of reality; some of which are highly insightful, others of which are supremely uninteresting: e.g. an 'explanation' of Van Gogh's art in terms of allergy to cheese.

But even this may not be universally true. It Is possible to imagine a situation in which it could be shown that Van Gogh only produced his great art in periods of spiritual anguish which occurred after eatlng cheese. It would have been supremely important to Van Gogh to Inform him of this, so that he could make a free choice as to whether or not to carry on eatlng cheese!

A demanding and thought-provoking book, and a good antidote to some of the pop physics-cum-parapsychology we get: but very technical in parts. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 18, January 1984.

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