17. 28 February 1986


Dear Nancy,

Many thanks for your last: much food for thought, as usual.

   The uncertainty principle you mentioned was Heisenberg's: we can measure either the position or the velocity of a particle. I take this to concern the nature of measurement, not the nature of reality. Personally I wouldn't be too disturbed about the differences between Newtonian and Einsteinian physics. Does anyone seriously dispute the main outlines of either? Again the questions are those of the validity of experimental measurements, aren't they? Nor am I disposed to be sidetracked by the demotion of physical science to mere technology. The mere functional existence of space probes proves (from Latin probo?) that the relevant theoretical physics and astronomy has actually been mastered, in terms of understood and realised scientific principles. Popper is all very well: but Popper couldn't even have given us the zip fastener.

   Of course it's entirely legitimate for scientists themselves to debate what their knowledge actually means: and in such a debate logicians are entitled to intervene (as Susan Stebbing did in the similar perplexities of the 1930s). But I'm sure it won't do for the rest of us to infer that there is some deep quasi-theistic mystery at the heart of the universe which somehow pops up in the supposed gap between Newton and Einstein. A simple explanation seems to be that there are difficult and technical topics, about which philosophical and epistemological perplexities are not unpredictable.

   You're quite right in saying that I'm unfamiliar with Die Kritik der reinen Vernunft, as indeed I have been ever since I first studied it as required reading for the Cambridge tripos. But again I can't feel that the Kantian depths and difficulties about the nature of perception somehow in themselves justify Christian Theology, any more than conceptual difficulties about practical physics. I don't think that we can hope to prove very much by way of an appeal to what we don't understand.

   I'm still jibbing at salvation. Let me try to formulate my problems more precisely. First – just what exactly is it that I and the rest of femina/homo sapiens have been guilty of, or atoned for, or redeemed from? And secondly what difference exactly, has been made in practice by all this atonement redemption, precious blood, etc? How would anything or anyone, anywhere, be otherwise than it now is, in any significant respect, if these universe-shattering redemptions etc. had simply never occurred at all? — as indeed for the more than massive majority of humanity, over the last 5 million years or so, and for all other faiths in the last 2000, they have not.

   Well, pending the reply, I surely should read some Frances Young (though her title surely must be Shall these bones live?).

   Off the train now and into the pub and the stupefying clamour of pop muzak. But at least I have a surface to write on, a firm basis for discourse and commentary.

   That's far more than I'm able to say about the topic of atonement etc. which seems to inspire you but continues to leave me utterly bewildered. It might just as well be in Sanskrit. It's certainly nothing I can recognise as Sams-script. How did God ever come to have this mad obsession with blood? It seems to me that he's the one who needs the redemption, or at least some form of treatment. Perhaps revulsion-therapy would help. Meanwhile I feel that the covenant had better get back into the ark where it belongs, and leave ordinary people in peace.

    Well, you must explain it all to me when we meet. I infer from tie vivacity of your prose that you've found something; as when on Southend pier in my long vanished youth the anglers' bells and lines set up a sudden excitement. But there was often a catch in it in quite the wrong sense.

    Love as ever, E.