Prof. Dr. Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker and the editor of this volume, Prof. Dr. Konrad Raiser (1998). Ó The Weizsäcker Family represented by Dr. - PDF

Prof. Dr. Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker and the editor of this volume, Prof. Dr. Konrad Raiser (1998). Ó The Weizsäcker Family represented by Dr. Elisabeth Raiser who granted permission to use this photo

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Prof. Dr. Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker and the editor of this volume, Prof. Dr. Konrad Raiser (1998). Ó The Weizsäcker Family represented by Dr. Elisabeth Raiser who granted permission to use this photo Chapter 2 Self-Portrait This self-portrait, instead of presenting the author s philosophic positions in abstracto, attempts to throw light on the path that has led him to these philosophic positions. 1 Do we learn and find our philosophy, or have we recognized it as that which somehow we have always known? 2.1 Preparation For my twelfth birthday, in June 1924, I wished for and got a rotating celestial chart that could be adjusted to the day and hour. Shortly after that, we left Basel, where my father was German consul, for our summer vacation. We went to a secluded pension, Mont Crosin, in the Jura Mountains near Berne. The Swiss Independence Day was celebrated there, as usual, with fireworks on the evening of August 1. There was an outdoor ball for pension guests that began with a long polonaise. At one point the long line of dancers separated, and I managed to lose the young lady I was dancing with. I escaped from the crowd into the magical, warm, starry night with my celestial chart. The experience of such a night cannot be described in words; I can only give the residual thoughts after the memory has faded. God was present, somehow, in the indescribable magnificence of that starry night. Concurrently, I was aware that stars are balls of gas consisting of atoms and 1 This text was first published in English in: C.F. von Weizsäcker: The Ambivalence of Progress (New York: Paragon House, 1988): 1 30; the German original is part of C.F. von Weizsäcker: Der Garten des Menschlichen (München: Hanser Verlag 1977): All rights of the Weizsäcker Bequest were transferred to the Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker Society, a nonprofit society whose executive chairman, Dr. Bruno Redeker, granted permission in March 2014 to use selected texts of Carl Friedrich von Weizsaecker. See also the website on this book on Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, at: \ v._weizsaecker.htm[. K. Raiser (ed.), Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker: Major Texts on Religion, SpringerBriefs on Pioneers in Science and Practice 24, DOI: / _2, Ó The Author(s) 8 2 Self-Portrait obeying the laws of physics. The tension between these two truths must not be irresolvable. But how could they be reconciled? Is it possible to find the reflection of the glory of God also in the laws of physics? I had begun, perhaps a year earlier, to read the New Testament. The truth of the Sermon on the Mount had deeply affected and disturbed me. If it was true, my life was false; perhaps all our lives were false. During a long talk with my mother I defended to the verge of tears the duty to refuse military service because of the commandment Thou shalt not kill. During a night of intense religious experience, I had vowed to devote my life to the service of God. I cautiously added If He should call me. I could only imagine becoming a minister in service to God, and yet I wanted to become an astronomer. My situation could perhaps best be described as the moral law above me and the starry heaven within me. I still had to learn that, once we begin to listen, God is always calling; and later, that God is neither above nor within but that I am in God. My family comes from Württemberg. My father became a naval officer in 1900, and switched to the diplomatic corps in 1920, two professions that serve the state beyond its borders. My mother, as a young girl, had rather imagined herself doing social work, not being a diplomat s wife; she fulfilled the requirements of his career sans peur et sans reproche with a humanity that is not always customary in that profession. Afterwards, during the 23 years of widowhood to the present, she cared for the old and sick in the family and stayed young by making excessive demands upon herself. There are ministers, scholars, civil servants, and military officers among my ancestors. The Weizsäckers were millers in Hohenlohe and, later, theologians. My grandfather Carl Weizsäcker, a jurist, was the last primeminister of the Kingdom of Württemberg. On August 1, 1914, he said to his family, This war will end with a revolution. He supposedly also said, My fortune is lost. The fortune had been accumulated through decades of saving from modest civil-servant salaries to provide security for children and grandchildren. His prophecies proved accurate. After World War I, the corpulent, and rather short-tempered, old man took me, a little boy, for walks in the forests around Stuttgart. We gathered mushrooms for the family table, and he would occasionally stop to make some wise and witty remark on the occasion of finding a parliament of mushrooms. 2.1 Preparation 9 Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker (1914) with his mother. Ó The Weizsäcker Family represented by Dr. Elisabeth Raiser who granted permission to use this photo My father also liked to go on walks with me and talk about history and politics. In school, I was absorbed in history and indoctrinated my younger brothers and sisters. I thought about the best form of government and decided it would be a constitutional monarchy. In my fantasy land my friends and family were given roles, and there was foreign policy and wars; the leading statesman resembled, although contrary to my father s taste, Mussolini (of whom I knew hardly more than that he existed). 10 2 Self-Portrait Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker (1916). Ó The Weizsäcker Family represented by Dr. Elisabeth Raiser who granted permission to use this photo As I grew older, two of my uncles played very important roles. My father s brother Viktor, the philosophical doctor, whose anthropological medicine is still not understood today, opened for me essentially important horizons. For decades, I worried about certain remarks by him, such as, I believe the law of causality is a neurosis. My mother s brother, Fritz von Graevenitz, followed the family tradition, first as an officer, but after the war as a sculptor in accordance with his nature. He was a man who was newly enraptured each day by the magic and deep laws of beauty. 2.1 Preparation 11 Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker with his mother, his sister Elisabeth and his two brothers Heinrich and Richard (1926). Ó The Weizsäcker Family represented by Dr. Elisabeth Raiser who granted permission to use this photo 12 2 Self-Portrait Then, my father was transferred to Copenhagen. At 14 years of age, while cycling in the Danish woods, I believed I could perceive the secret of life in nature around me, virtually down to spinning atoms. I began to think about the relationship between truth and beauty. For a while, the phrase, beauty is subjective truth and truth objective beauty, seemed helpful to me. Afterwards, while having to make long, tiresome walks through the city during the damp, dark, and cold autumn, I thought that since truth was every-where, I should be able, with the right subjective attitude, to also find beauty everywhere. Thus, I discovered beauty in a spot of sunlight on a green copper roof and in the smell of fish in a basement grocery store. On an excursion to Lund on a magnificently bright, clear, sunny December day, I concluded that the natural laws that are valid for atoms are not those that are valid for visible bodies, but that the latter ones must be the consequence of the former. Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker with his father and his brother Richard (1926). Ó The Weizsäcker Family represented by Dr. Elisabeth Raiser who granted permission to use this photo A few days later, my mother invited to our house the 25 year-old Werner Heisenberg. She had met him during a music evening where he played piano and amicably argued with her about the youth movement. This visit determined my direction in life. I was not only fascinated by the almost mad brilliance of the recent fundamental discoveries, which the rather shy, unassuming, blond young man radiated; his superiority in every field, including skiing and chess, was healthy and sobering for my enormous ambition and arrogance. He advised me and tested 2.1 Preparation 13 my mathematical ability, finding it barely adequate. I was soon convinced that theoretical physics was the science where I could find the answers to my questions about astronomy. When I discovered, in my final gymnasium year, that the field that actually attracted me most was called philosophy, I was tempted to study that. He was of the opinion that to practice philosophy relevant to the twentieth century one had to know physics; that one would learn physics only by practicing it and that one could succeed best in physics before the age of thirty and best in philosophy after 50 years of age. I followed his advice, studied theoretical physics, and have never regretted it. A few months after Heisenberg s first visit to our house, my father was assigned to Berlin. I was waiting there for the beginning of the school year when, in April 1927, Heisenberg sent me a postcard saying that he was traveling through Berlin to Munich in a few days and that I could meet him at the Stettiner railway station in Berlin and accompany him in a taxi to the Anhalter station. In that taxi he told me of his yet-to-be-published uncertainty principle. Then he boarded the train and was gone. The following days were spent walking around Berlin reflecting about what he had told me. I had a continual dispute with my mother who upheld that freedom of will was a moral postulate to be defended against my physically defined determinism. I could never seriously consider the possibility of separating nature and the person. But now I saw that they could perhaps be united in a manner still mysterious to me. However, to achieve this, I first had to understand physics. I thought, If I would now run into Einstein on the street, I would recognize him and, overcoming my shyness, address him and ask him what he thought about Heisenberg s theories. But he must have walked other streets, and I never met him. Sometime later I suddenly realized with a brief, but profound shock that I was no longer tied to the religious faith of my childhood. I was less troubled by the well known conflict between church and science. To take the example of the debate about miracles: on the one hand one could apply the psychology of eyewitness accounts to reports of miracles; on the other hand, empirically verifiable natural laws are discovered under certain experimental conditions. In the presence of someone divinely inspired, still other laws could prevail. Finally, the tendency of confirming religious truth through breaches in the divine order of nature appeared rather impious to me. Historical criticism went much deeper. To have been raised a Lutheran cannot be considered an argument for the correctness of Lutheranism; to have been baptized a Christian is not proof of the falsity of Oriental religions; to have come from a religious tradition is not proof of the truth of religion. It still amazes me that there are educated, religious people who have not completed this simple thought process and are therefore helpless when confronted with the convenient arguments of antireligious rationalism. I was now in the difficult situation of having to regain and redefine the religious experience for myself. 14 2 Self-Portrait This sketch of my development, of what I attribute to the circumstances of birth and upbringing, ends here. I will now pursue general problems, leaving aside much of my private life Philosophy..When I was 16 years old, I was inwardly no longer connected to the Christian Church, but I came early to the conclusion that there is no sense in leaving the place where one has found oneself already; I have always been, and not unwillingly, a member of the Lutheran Church. But as much as the New Testament meant to me, the church meant little, or so it seemed to me to my disappointment. In the fields of my search, in ethics and mysticism, it did not challenge me; it made no demands on me, neither with regard to the Sermon on the Mount nor the Gospel according to St. John. At the university, I heard Johannes Wach s lecture on Asian religions. I read the Chinese classics in Wilhelm s translations, especially the short, gemlike texts of Tshuang Tsis, and the discourses of Buddha in K.E. Neumann s translation. One must read this so slowly that one breathes along with these teachings, whose beginning soothes, whose middle soothes, and whose end soothes. Since then, I have felt more at home spiritually in Asia than in Europe, though fully aware of the deep cultural differences. I knew there are individuals there who see and who are. The decisive religious influence by a living person came, for a long time, from Alastair, a highly gifted artist, a lover and mystic, a relentless self-examiner, and a man who always was in need of help. Today, 60 years after his brief fame, his drawings are again found on the art market. The way he played piano, sang, and danced, though, is lost to us. The countless translations, from which he tried for decades to make a living in pension rooms under flowers and silk, are scattered like his own verse. I never met the challenge that this relationship with a man two decades older than me meant to me, and I have painfully learned from it what I could hardly have learned otherwise. Like many who were close to him, I could never translate what was to be learned in his presence into thoughts or deeds, and thus I refer here to influences that were of less importance but easier to translate than his own. 2 The original text of this self-portrait continues with sections dealing with philosophical physics, politics and philosophy which have been left out in this selection that concentrates on religion. The text here continues with the final pages of the section on philosophy. The full text of the self-portrait is included in the first volume of this series. (s. Ulrich Bartosch (Ed.): Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker: Pioneer of Physics, Philosophy, Religion, Politics and Peace Research. Springer Briefs on Pioneers in Science and Practice No. 21). 2.2 Philosophy 15 Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker with his future wife (1936). Ó The Weizsäcker Family represented by Dr. Elisabeth Raiser who granted permission to use this photo In 1938 I was a guest at a retreat of the Lutheran St. Michael s Brotherhood in Marburg. I saw that I could not belong to this community, but I am grateful for the week of experiencing their liturgical order of the day. Liturgy and regularity impart something to the deep layers, not penetrated by willful reasoning, which, at least for me, is as necessary as food and drink. I have not been involved in any permanent liturgical community, because I have never found them to be connected to the modern consciousness that I needed. However, I have adopted the regular habit of daily morning meditation. I have never studied meditation formally, because I never met a teacher who challenged my intelligence enough, and perhaps because of my urge for independence. This is against the rules, dangerous and not recommended to others. I have never attempted to go to extremes in meditation, but rather have let come whatever came. Yet, I could not live without this regular retreat into quietness. The often held opinion that meditation is narcissism and exists in opposition to involvement with other people is an error whose existence is difficult to understand. To be sure, there are also, though rarely, contemplative ways of living that do more good to others through inaction or even without human contact than through any activities. The distortions of this rare gift and the many dangers related to the opening up of unconscious sources may have led to this error. 16 2 Self-Portrait Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker with colleagues (1937). Ó The Weizsäcker Family represented by Dr. Elisabeth Raiser who granted permission to use this photo My relationship to the church normalized itself only after the war, when I learned how to appreciate everyday life. I am grateful for that decisive step to the American Christians, who were immediately prepared to help our country. The scientific colleagues abroad, the old friends (with the exception of Teller), initially investigated whether our relationship to the Nazis made us worthy of a new partnership; and who could blame them for this? But the Christians knew that we are all sinners, and were there without questioning. Love creates love, exactly because it is undeserved. But I owe my relationship to theology almost exclusively to one man, who was not an academically trained theologian: the mathematician Günther Howe, whom I had met in Marburg in He talked to me about the relationship between the thoughts of Bohr and Barth and organized, for 10 years after the war, conversations between physicists and theologians. Here I learned the language of theology. Howe expected more from the church than I and thus suffered more from it; I learned from his suffering what it was all about. Now the scholarship of the Old Testament, the most believable aspect of learned theological 2.2 Philosophy 17 work that I know, opened to me a 1000-year-long history that, especially in the calls to repentance of the prophets, still concerns us directly. It helped me to understand the historical situation of Christianity. I needed this when I sat with Howe in two church commissions, an ecumenical and a German one, about the ethics and politics of nuclear weapons. I learned to understand the judgments and attitudes of the church through the situation of its representatives. I learned to make reasonable political use of the good will of the church which maintained a distance from the general corruption and conflicts of interest. And it became easier for me to let quotations from the teachings of Jesus, always so vivid in my mind, slip into a conversation in such a way that they suited the concrete situation. Portrait photo of the 27 year old Dr. Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker (1939). Ó The Weizsäcker Family represented by Dr. Elisabeth Raiser who granted permission to use this photo I could now also interpret the Sermon on the Mount to a certain degree, in the sense that I could connect it with my modern consciousness. It contains at least three layers of reality. The outermost is the universal ethic of the golden rule. This has certainly never been thought out more precisely than in the practical 18 2 Self-Portrait philosophy of Kant. It does not impose this or that commandment, but the form of the universality of commandments: Let your behavior be guided by principles that you would want to be the guiding principles of all humankind. The Sermon on the Mount can be understood everywhere because it appeals to what makes people human. The second layer is the revelation of convictions as the place of ethical decisions. To fulfill the commandment does not mean that I do not actually murder my brother, but that I love him. This but I say unto you reveals our reality and its contrast even to the commandments consciously accepted by us. We humans have again and again avoided this unbearable tension. The specific danger of the church is the zeal of good works, also the good work of having the correct faith. Luther recognized the escapist aspect of this zeal. The works also cover deviations from literalism, from the strictness of the universal commandment. The scientific view of humans finally tends to side with his causally understandable psychic reality over against the commandment. But the commandment is the condition for the existence of human society; it is the truth, whose embodiment is peace. History is a chain of deserved suffering for disobeying the commandment. And the experience that the church calls penance could teach us, just as does the experience of psycho
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