Beginning in the 1970s and culminating in the first two decades of the 21st century, there has been a marked shift in the sciences from a predominantly reductionist and mechanistic approach to a broader and more holistic viewpoint. It goes without saying that such a shift in point of view will have significant implications, not only for the sciences but for our concepts of nature and of human beings. The present essay is an attempt to assess the significance of this (...) change in the focus of the sciences and to describe the nature of its components. Originally, it had a far more limited scope, that of comparing two of the parts of the new nonreductionist stance: brain plasticity and biological systems theory. Unfortunately, my understanding of one of these factors (systems theory) turned out to be incorrect, while the section on brain plasticity was incomplete. The result of this dual realization is an essay of far greater scope, taking in both new developments in the sciences far beyond that of plasticity, and reassessing the content and impact of systems theory, which is greater than I had thought. I will begin with a study of systems theory, dealing first with the unexpected mathematics which made its present status possible. Then I will deal with its history, which reaches back over a century. One of the confusions into which we are liable to fall is to fail to distinguish the old systems theory from the new. This is even more likely because the two versions of the theory have many features in common. (shrink)
The author informs us that he would have preferred to title his book Time, the Forgotten Dimension. It is not, he cautions, that scientists fail to consider time or forget to include the term "t" in their equations. But, he insists, from Thales to Einstein and even to Planck and Schroedinger, Western thought has been dominated by the tendency to treat time as a kind of illusion or appearance cloaking a timeless reality. This tendency, taken at the extreme, would treat (...) past, present, and future as if they coexisted and deny to irreversibility, indeterminacy, and creativity the slightest shred of reality. The author, an important contributor to recent "nonequilibrium" thermodynamics, believes that this age-old tendency has finally run its course and needs to be supplemented by a newer and potentially more fruitful tendency to "take time seriously": that is, to study irreversibility and indeterminacy on their own terms, as fundamental features of the real world. The result, he argues, may be the resolution of many heretofore unresolvable problems. (shrink)
The following introduction offers a broad survey of the history of quantum physics. It then outlines the position of each contributor in this Special Focus Section concerning the collapse of the quantum wave function and defines three important terms (Hilbert space, Schrödinger’s cat, and decoherence) used in discussing this topic.