Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 9, No 2 (2013)

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Bridging the “Two Cultures”: Merleau-Ponty and the Crisis in Modern Physics

Steven M Rosen


This paper brings to light the significance of Merleau-Ponty’s thinking for contemporary physics. The point of departure is his 1956–57 Collège de France lectures on Nature, coupled with his reflections on the crisis in modern physics appearing in The Visible and the Invisible. Developments in theoretical physics after his death are then explored and a deepening of the crisis is disclosed. The upshot is that physics’ intractable problems of uncertainty and subject-object interaction can only be addressed by shifting its philosophical base from objectivism to phenomenology, as Merleau-Ponty suggested. Merleau-Ponty’s allusion to “topological space” in The Visible and the Invisible provides a clue for bridging the gap between “hard science” and “soft philosophy.” This lead is pursued in the present paper by employing the paradoxical topology of the Klein bottle. The hope is that, by “softening” physics and “hardening” phenomenology, the “two cultures” (cf. C. P. Snow) can be wed and a new kind of science be born.

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