The Limits of Physics: A View from the Greatest Forgotten Intellectual of the Nineteenth Century

The late nineteenth-century controversy over the limits of knowledge has generally been described as a crisis from which science has never escaped. My research supports the opposite interpretation. The initiator of the controversy, Emil du Bois-Reymond, was a physiologist who worked his whole life against the forces of obscurantism, whether they came from the Catholic and Conservative Right or from the scientistic and millenarian Left. Du Bois-Reymond’s agnosticism toward the ultimate nature of mind and matter must therefore be seen as an endorsement, and not a rejection, of his faith in reason.