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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Complementarianism--on the work of Frank Wilczek


When Frank Wilczek (author of A Beautiful Question, Finding Nature's Deep Design) spoke to Krista Tippet he made the perfectly reasonable claim that beauty does not exist “out there,” that it is merely a human perception. He also said, half joking, that when asked his religion he replies, “I am a complementarian”—that he accepts the principle that complementary explanations of phenomena, of being, of the universe may be equally valid though they cannot be deployed simultaneously without mutual contraction, such as the observation that light is both a particle and a wave but must be considered either one or the other for a particular analysis, never both.

So although his claim that beauty is a human perception is perfectly reasonable, it fails to pass muster with his complementarian faith. Beauty may be a human perception and also be out there—in fact, in some sense has to be out there to be perceived. It has to exist neither in itself apart from perception nor wholly as a product of perception. The analogy would be color (so, in a sense, again, light—let there be light). If there were no eyes there would be no color. It would not be true to say color would exist but no one would see it; there would be no color. There would be energy (there would not be light as such). There would be particles and waves and those waves would have lengths even if they could not be measured. But there would be no light and ergo no color. Light becomes light only after it is defined by the eye.

Beauty too, though less clearly boundable than something whose properties include the measurable property of a wave, exists both because it is defined by human experience and also as something to be defined by it. The claims of Wilczek won’t make sense—the claim for instance that “I knew it [a mathematical equation] was true because it was beautiful”—unless the perception of beauty is an actual perception of something. That we feel it as beauty is beside the point just as the fact that we experience a light energy of a certain wavelength as red is beside the point. In its being it is not red. It is red only in the eye. And in its being it may not be beauty—cannot be beauty—but what we experience as beauty does exist, and it does exist as something other than ugliness or messiness.

But what does that fact open up? It certainly opens something.

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