Can all sciences be reduced to physics?

Limits of KnowledgeBetter research with theologians and philosophers?

"Physics is an empirical science. It should be objective experience. In this sense, physics researches what can be researched with measuring devices."

Says Harald Lesch, professor at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. As a quantitative natural science, physics functions independently of tradition, culture and ideology, explains the astrophysicist known from science programs:

"A communist theoretical physicist and an imperialist experimental physicist will always understand each other physically. Physics tries to identify natural laws. A law should always be valid everywhere. Nature is a whole."

In the past 100 to 200 years, natural science has been extremely successful: It has explored the vastness of the universe, explained processes in nature, made our lives much more comfortable. And with this, natural science is gaining more and more influence, according to Harald Lesch:

"The point is this translation of basic research into technology: If we thereby grant the natural sciences a kind of universal declaration claim, then of course that means that we are putting our entire world order - in quotation marks - on a technological footing. That there can be no other justification than those that can somehow be mapped with the physical-technological results. "

Experts speak of the reductionist concept of nature: Everything can be described purely causally, every effect has a cause. This goes hand in hand with the claim to be able to grasp and explain the essentials in the world scientifically. From this point of view, anything that cannot be grasped with scientific methods is unreal or insignificant, says Tobias Müller, lecturer in natural philosophy at the Munich University of Philosophy:

"Then, with the success of natural science, these tendencies set in that I can also fully explain people using these means. And reduce them completely to functional-causal relationships, such as the firing of neurons or genes. And that is still the case today topical. Think of the debate about free will. That one says: It is not the person, not the person, that decides, but actually it is the brain that does it. "

Well-known brain researchers such as Gerhard Roth from Bremen and Wolf Singer from Frankfurt believe that the freedom of the human will is a myth. In other words: while someone is still mentally weighing up supposedly different possibilities, his brain has long since made the decision.

"That is a great challenge because we then only see ourselves as determined bio-machines. Up to the point that we would have to talk to each other about whether human life still has any dignity or whether there are human rights. Because then we are ultimately only a complex collection of matter particles. A reductionist view of people would change the whole of society, for example by having to abolish criminal law, because then nobody would have any more responsibility for their actions. "

As a representative of philosophy, Müller emphasizes the strengths of natural science: physics, biology and chemistry could provide very exact and verifiable results. At the same time, however, they would come up against methodological limits: the respective natural science does not describe reality, but reality from a certain perspective.

"I have an example that I always tell my students: If you take a squirrel and drop it and use it to derive the law of distance and time, then you consider this squirrel as a pure ground point in classical mechanics. I blind everything others: That it is alive, that it has a metabolism, that it might be afraid if I do any experiments with it. I exclude all that. There is a focus on the essential questions of physics. "

Tobias Müller and his colleagues want to counter the reductionist concept of nature: In a research project they are exploring the limits of scientific knowledge. Some might find this presumptuous or overbearing. Not so astrophysicist Harald Lesch. He is himself a lecturer at the University of Philosophy in Munich and supports the request.

"Physics is amoral. So amoral in the sense of: There are no moral terms in the laws of nature. There are also no religious terms in the laws of nature. This means that we, as those who do this, are asked to use our understanding and our reason to draw boundaries for ourselves in what we do. "

Scientists could benefit from exchanging ideas with representatives from philosophy and theology, believes Harald Lesch. The interdisciplinary approach could advance physics, biology and chemistry.

"Reality does not just consist of the laboratory situation or the situation of sitting behind a telescope. Anyone who tries to build up a metaphysics, for example, without the phenomenon that there are people who have goals, hopes, visions, will not become the world Explain fully. The most important things in our life are definitely not measurable, but they make up the wonderful moments in life. "

There is one prerequisite, emphasizes Tobias Müller: the search for the limits of natural science must withstand its modern knowledge. That is why the natural philosopher insists that his inquiries make a difference:

"Then that could help to relieve certain branches of research from excessive expectations. Neurosciences, for example, can help develop a medical therapy. And that is the great strength. But when neurosciences say, our job is to show that it is there is no free will or we are looking for the soul or the spirit, then that is a kind of category error, because the natural sciences do not have the categories to look for these questions. "

Müller's goal: Humans should not be reduced to scientific knowledge. If philosophy and science were ready to change their own perspective, that could advance both disciplines - and lead to better research results overall.