Wolfgang Smith Biography

Mathematician and philosopher of science

Wolfgang Smith (born February 18, 1930) is a mathematician, physicist, philosopher of science, metaphysician, Roman Catholic and member of the Traditionalist School. He has written extensively in the field of differential geometry, as a critic of scientism and as a proponent of a new interpretation of quantum mechanics that draws heavily from medieval ontology and realism.

The End of Quantum Reality, a documentary film about his life and thought, ran in a limited national theatrical release in the U.S. in early 2020.


  • 1 Biography
  • 2 Philosophical work
  • 3 Select bibliography
    • 3.1 Books
    • 3.2 Articles
      • 3.2.1 General
      • 3.2.2 Mathematics
  • 4 See also
  • 5 Notes
  • 6 References


Smith graduated in 1948 from Cornell University with a B.A. in Philosophy, Physics and Mathematics. Two years later he obtained his M.S. in Physics from Purdue University and, some time later, a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Columbia University.

He worked as a physicist in Bell Aircraft Corporation, researching aerodynamics and the problem of atmospheric reentry. He was a mathematics professor at MIT, UCLA and Oregon State University, doing research in the field of differential geometry and publishing in academic journals such as the Transactions of the American Mathematical Society, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Journal of Mathematics, and others. He retired from academic life in 1992.

In parallel with his academic duties, he developed and still develops philosophical inquiries in the fields of metaphysics and the philosophy of science, publishing in specialized journals such as The Thomist and Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies.

Philosophical work

Smith is a member of the Traditionalist School of metaphysics, having contributed extensively to its criticism of modernity while exploring the philosophical underpinnings of the scientific method and emphasizing the idea of bringing science back into the Aristotelian framework of traditional ontological realism.

Identifying with Alfred North Whitehead's critique of the "bifurcationism" and "physical reductionism" of scientism — i.e., the belief that, first, the qualitative properties of the objects of perception ("corporeal" objects) are ultimately distinct from their respective quantitative properties (the "physical" objects studied by the various sciences); and second, that physical objects are in fact all there is, meaning corporeal objects are reduced to their physical counterparts — Smith examines critically in his work Cosmos and Transcendence (1984) the Cartesian roots of modern science.

Proceeding with his critique of scientism in his monograph, The Quantum Enigma (1995), Smith raises the questions of whether the scientific method is in fact dependent on the scientistic philosophy and, if it is not, whether linking it to other philosophical frameworks would provide better solutions to the way physical phenomena are interpreted. Demonstrating that neither the scientific method nor its results require adhering to a scientistic metaphysics, he answers in the negative to the first question, resulting in the conclusion that it is possible to link the scientific method to any underlying ontology, or to none at all. Working then into the second question, he proposes linking the scientific method — and thus the modern sciences — to a non-bifurcationist, non-reductionist metaphysics in the form of a modified Thomistic ontology, showing how such a move resolves the apparent incoherences of quantum mechanics.

According to Smith, this interpretation of quantum mechanics allows for the usage of the hylomorphic concepts of potency and act to properly understand quantum superposition. For example, instead of considering that a photon is "simultaneously a wave and a particle" or "a particle in two distinct positions," one may consider that the photon (or any other physical object) at first does not exist in act, but only in potency; i.e., as "matter" in the hylomorphic meaning of the term, having the potential of becoming "a wave or a particle," or "of being here or there." Whether one of these outcomes will happen to this undifferentiated matter is dependent on the determination imposed upon it by the macroscopic corporeal object that provides its actualization. A photon, thus, would be no more strange for having many potentials than, say, an individual who has the "superposed" potentials of learning French and/or Spanish and/or Greek, all the while reading and/or walking and/or stretching his arms. A further consequence of this interpretation is that a corporeal object and its "associated physical object" are not dichotomized or reduced one to the other anymore but, on the contrary, altogether constitute a whole of which different aspects are dealt with depending upon perspective.

Smith's understanding of the relationship between corporeal and physical objects extends to his interpretation of biology, where he has become an opponent of Darwinian evolution, as the fundamental element in a species would be its form, not its causal history, which evolutionists favor. This leads him to be a supporter of the intelligent design movement, though his own hylomorphic approach is not widely adopted by mainstream intelligent design theorists (who, like evolutionists, also favor causal history, albeit differently).

Smith has also taken a stance towards a relativistic rehabilitation of geocentrism. He does not support a Ptolemaic or medieval geocentrism unequivocally, nor assert that heliocentrism is absolutely false. Rather, he argues that, according to the theory of relativity, both heliocentrism and geocentrism have scientific merit, insofar as scientific observation depends upon the reference frame of the observer. Consequently, any observations made from Earth (or any near-Earth satellites) are in effect geocentric.

Select bibliography


Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Belief (1984)

Theistic Evolution: The Teilhardian Heresy (1988; originally published as Teilhardism and the New Religion)

The Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key (1995)

Ancient Wisdom and Modern Misconceptions: A Critique of Contemporary Scientism (2003; originally published as The Wisdom of Ancient Cosmology)

Christian Gnosis: From Saint Paul to Meister Eckhart (2008)

Science and Myth: With a Response to Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design (2012)

In Quest of Catholicity: Malachi Martin Responds to Wolfgang Smith (2016)

Physics and Vertical Causation: The End of Quantum Reality (2019)

The Vertical Ascent: From Particles to the Tripartite Cosmos and Beyond (2021)



Articles on philosophy, religion, physics and non-mathematical subjects in general:

  • "From Schrödinger's Cat to Thomistic Ontology". The Thomist. 63 (1): 49–63. January 1999. ISSN:0040-6325. OCLC:1645845. Retrieved 2008-04-27.
  • "Celestial Corporeality". Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies. 5 (1). Summer 1999. ISSN:1521-1231. OCLC:39708929.
  • "The plague of scientistic belief". Homiletic and Pastoral Review. April 2000. ISSN:0018-4268. OCLC:5739991. Archived from the original on 2008-04-27. Retrieved 2008-04-27.
  • "The Extrapolated Universe". Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies. 6 (1). Summer 2000. ISSN:1521-1231. OCLC:39708929.
  • "Eddington and the Primacy of the Corporeal". Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies. 6 (2). Winter 2000. ISSN:1521-1231. OCLC:39708929.
  • "Science and Myth: the Hidden Connection" (PDF). Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies. 7 (1). Summer 2001. ISSN:1521-1231. OCLC:39708929.
  • "The Pitfall of Astrophysical Cosmology". Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies. 7 (2). Winter 2001. ISSN:1521-1231. OCLC:39708929.
  • "Esoterism and Cosmology: From Ptolemy to Dante and Cusanus". Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies. 8 (1). Summer 2002. ISSN:1521-1231. OCLC:39708929.
  • "Modern Science and Guénonian Critique". Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies. 9 (2). Winter 2003. ISSN:1521-1231. OCLC:39708929.
  • "The Enigma of Visual Perception". Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies. 10 (1). Summer 2004. ISSN:1521-1231. OCLC:39708929.
  • "Neurons and Mind". Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies. 10 (2). Winter 2004. ISSN:1521-1231. OCLC:39708929.
  • "Review of Journeys East, by Harry Oldmeadow". Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies. 11 (1). Summer 2005. ISSN:1521-1231. OCLC:39708929.
  • "Rama P. Coomaraswamy 1929–2006: In Memoriam". Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies. 12 (2). Fall–Winter 2006. ISSN:1521-1231. OCLC:39708929.
  • "Cosmology in the Face of Gnosis". Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies. 12 (2). Fall–Winter 2006. ISSN:1521-1231. OCLC:39708929.
  • "Transcending the creatio ex nihilo: The Kabbalistic Exegesis". Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies. 13 (1). Spring–Summer 2007. ISSN:1521-1231. OCLC:39708929.
  • "The Wisdom of Christian Kabbalah". Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies. 13 (2). Winter 2007–2008. ISSN:1521-1231. OCLC:39708929.


Academic articles on mathematics signed as "J. Wolfgang Smith":

  • Smith, J. Wolfgang (June 1959). "On Integration of Quasi-Linear Parabolic Equations By Explicit Difference Methods". Transactions of the American Mathematical Society (fee required). 91 (3): 425–43. doi:10.2307/1993257. JSTOR:1993257. OCLC:1480369.
  • Smith, J. Wolfgang (January 15, 1960). "Fundamental Groups on a Lorentz Manifold". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 46 (1): 111–14. Bibcode:1960PNAS...46..111S. doi:10.1073/pnas.46.1.111. JSTOR:70809. OCLC:43473694. PMC:285022. PMID:16590583.
  • Smith, J. Wolfgang (May 1960). "Lorentz Structures on the Plane" (fee required). Transactions of the American Mathematical Society. 95 (2): 226–37. doi:10.2307/1993288. JSTOR:1993288. OCLC:1480369.
  • Smith, J. Wolfgang (October 1960). "Fundamental Groups on a Lorentz Manifold". American Journal of Mathematics (reprint, fee required) |format= requires |url= (help). 82 (4): 873–90. doi:10.2307/2372946. JSTOR:2372946. OCLC:31863589. PMID:16590583.
  • Clifton, Yeaton H; Smith, J. Wolfgang (February 15, 1961). "The Category of Topological Objects". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 47 (2): 190–95. Bibcode:1961PNAS...47..190C. doi:10.1073/pnas.47.2.190. JSTOR:70719. OCLC:43473694. PMC:221651. PMID:16590817.
  • Clifton, Yeaton H.; Smith, J. Wolfgang (December 1962). "Topological Objects and Sheaves" (fee required). Transactions of the American Mathematical Society. 105 (3): 436–52. doi:10.2307/1993730. JSTOR:1993730. OCLC:1480369.
  • Clifton, Yeaton H; Smith, J. Wolfgang (November 15, 1963). "The Euler Class as an Obstruction in the Theory of Foliations". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 50 (5): 949–54. Bibcode:1963PNAS...50..949C. doi:10.1073/pnas.50.5.949. JSTOR:71949. OCLC:43473694. PMC:221954. PMID:16591128.
  • Smith, J. Wolfgang (1966). "The de Rham theorem for general spaces". Tohoku Mathematical Journal. 2nd. 18 (2): 115–37. doi:10.2748/tmj/1178243443. MR:0202154. OCLC:1642556. Zbl:0146.19402.
  • Smith, J. Wolfgang (1968). "An exact sequence for submersions" (PDF). Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society. 74 (2): 233–237. doi:10.1090/S0002-9904-1968-11899-3. MR:0221512. OCLC:4672985.
  • Smith, J. Wolfgang (1969). "Commuting vectorfields on open manifolds" (PDF). Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society. 75 (5): 1013–1017. doi:10.1090/S0002-9904-1969-12343-8. MR:0248867. OCLC:4672985. Zbl:0179.52002.
  • Endicott, Patrick C; Smith, J Wolfgang (1980). "A homology spectral sequence for submersions" (PDF). Pacific Journal of Mathematics. 89 (2): 279–299. doi:10.2140/pjm.1980.89.279. ISSN:0030-8730. MR:0599121. OCLC:1761678. Zbl:0472.55015.
  • Smith, J (1980). "Fiber homology and orientability of maps" (PDF). Pacific Journal of Mathematics. 89 (2): 453–70. doi:10.2140/pjm.1980.89.453. ISSN:0030-8730. MR:0599133. OCLC:1761678. Zbl:0467.55019.

See also

  • Biography portal
  • Philosophy portal
  • Quantum mechanics
  • Philosophy of science
  • Philosophy of physics
  • Interpretation of quantum mechanics
  • Philosophical realism
  • Perennial philosophy
  • Traditionalist School
  • List of American philosophers



    • Nasr, Seyyed Hossein (2005-01-06). "A Review Essay of Wolfgang Smith's The Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key". Islamic Resources. Living Islam. Archived from the original on 2008-04-25.
    • Wallace, William A. (January 1997). The Modeling of Nature: Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Nature in Synthesis. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press. ISBN:978-0-8132-0860-2. OCLC:34284430.
    • Wallace, William A. (July 1997). "Thomism and the Quantum Enigma". The Thomist. 61 (3): 455–468. ISSN:0040-6325. OCLC:1645845. Retrieved 2008-04-27.
    • "An Interview with Wolfgang Smith on Science and Philosophy". The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas in the Light of Jacques Maritain. Inner Explorations. Archived from the original on 2008-04-25.
    • "Wolfgang Smith: Life and Work". World Wisdom. Archived from the original on 2008-04-25.
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