I recently had the opportunity to read a rock-your-world type of book in which paradox is a major theme. It is written by my friend, Steve Rosen
, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, College of Staten Island/City University of New York, who has spent much of his life writing about paradox. His other books are listed below, with links. The newest one, however, invites (and might I say “convinces”) the reader to alter her worldview in a necessary and radical way. Generations before ours, for example, had to alter their worldview from an earth-centered one to a heliocentric one. The task for our generation, I believe, is to shift from a separatist worldview in which there are objects in space before perceiving subjects to one in which there is dynamic interpenetration of subject, object, and space. We need to see that we are not separate beings struggling against one another for scarce resources; instead we are profoundly interconnected both with other beings and with those very resources. This book helps us make that shift by providing a philosophical and physical grounding for this new perspective. So I asked Steve to give us a glimpse of what his latest book is about, and here’s what he said.
I’m writing to tell lovers of paradox about a new book of mine called The Self-Evolving Cosmos
(to be put out in the spring by World Scientific Publishing Company). In this work, I offer a fruitfully paradoxical way of thinking about two significant problems confronting modern theoretical physics: the unification of the forces of nature and the evolution of the universe. In bringing out the inadequacies of the prevailing approach to these questions, I demonstrate the need for more than just a new theory. The meanings of space and time themselves need to be radically rethought, and this requires a whole new philosophical foundation. To that end, I turn to the phenomenological writings of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Martin Heidegger. Their paradoxical insights into space and time bring the natural world to life in a manner well suited to the dynamic phenomena of contemporary physics.
In order to align continental thought with problems in physics and cosmology, I make use of topology. Conventionally speaking, this is the branch of mathematics that concerns itself with the properties of geometric figures that stay the same when the figures are stretched or deformed. But there are certain such figures that fly in the face of convention. One topological family in particular turns out to be especially helpful in addressing nature’s evolution and force unification: the Moebius strip, Klein bottle, and their relatives. I have discovered that if you give these enigmatic forms a phenomenological twist and apply them to physics, what comes to light is the interplay of several dialectically interwoven and co-evolving space-time dimensions—the very dimensions involved in unifying nature’s forces and fields in the evolving cosmos.
I am suggesting in general then, that the fusion of physics and philosophy through topological paradox provides novel solutions to some of physics’ deepest theoretical problems. Take as an example the important concept of symmetry. In formulating their cosmological theories, mathematical physicists put symmetry first, building it into their equations on a very deep level. They then try to account for the evolution of the universe by assuming that symmetry somehow is broken, though it is never made entirely clear how this happens. What I show in my book is that the privileging of symmetry is precisely what blocks full understanding of cosmic evolution. As an alternative, I propose the notion of “synsymmetry”: the paradoxical synthesis of symmetry and asymmetry. This idea can be illustrated by considering the relationship between the Moebius strip and the Klein bottle.
At a local cross-section of the Moebius, two distinct sides can be identified, the sides being asymmetric mirror-images of each other. But when the whole length of the surface is taken into account, opposing sides melt into one another to form a single-sided surface. Through this union of opposites, the initial asymmetry is superseded. And yet, while symmetry has been brought to the sides of the Moebius, we now discover that the Moebius strip itself, taken as a whole, is not symmetric. It comes in two mirror-opposed forms, one twisted clockwise, the other counterclockwise. The existence of asymmetric opposition at this new level provides the impetus for a new resolution: oppositely oriented Moebius strips merge to form the Klein bottle. Does the process now end with the establishment of Moebius symmetry? Not at all, since, like the Moebius, the Klein bottle is also asymmetric and possesses a mirror opposite. What we generally have here is an open-ended process that favors neither symmetry nor asymmetry, for every union of opposites that establishes symmetry at the very same time creates new asymmetry!
I propose that this is the way the cosmos evolves. Mainstream theoretical physics insists that the laws of nature must be understood mathematically as invariances or symmetries. The effect of this is to preclude intrinsic evolutionary process so that change must be assumed to come from some mysterious external source (e.g., “spontaneous” symmetry breaking). But in a self-evolving cosmos, the evolution of nature is grasped in terms of laws that are synsymmetric. Here change arises inherently from the paradoxical interplay of symmetry and asymmetry.
Perhaps the most challenging paradox of the self-evolving cosmos is that its description must include the self that describes—the theorist, the analyst, the one who writes these words. This is what the radically recursive phenomena of contemporary physics seem to call for. Physics and cosmogony involve primordial actions in which observer and observed or subject and object inseparably fuse. It therefore seems futile for the analyst of these processes to continue in the classical posture of a detached subject before whom objects are cast. Approaching the phenomena on their own terms, the analyst must enter into them with his or her subjectivity. No longer can s/he remain a disinterested bystander, for her active presence is required to complete the analysis in a concrete way. In ending my book, I explore the need for such a self-referential or reflexive physics. As the exploration proceeds, my writing itself becomes self-referential and, in a paradoxical fashion, I enter into my own text.Other books by Steve Rosen:Topologies of the Flesh: A Multidimensional Exploration of the LifeworldDimensions of Apeiron: A Topological Phenomenology of Space, Time, and IndividuationScience, Paradox, and the Moebius PrincipleThe Moebius Seed
also see an article “Radical Recursion
” on the internet