The narrator begins to elaborate on Phaedrus’s quest for the “ghost of rationality.” He reproduces a quote from Albert Einstein that details the different factors that motivate people to pursue science: ambition, commitment to the utilitarian good, and, most profound of all, the pure desire to escape into the eternal, rational world. Phaedrus is a member of the latter group.
Phaedrus’s commitment to understanding the ins and outs of scientific reason comes as a result of his desire not to use science as a means to a particular end, but because he views the realm of science as an essential component of his understanding of life itself.
By age 15, Phaedrus had already completed a year of university biochemistry. He becomes fascinated by the formation of hypotheses—potential explanations for a phenomenon—because they appear to be supplied neither by nature nor by the mind of the scientist alone. He concludes that any phenomenon can be explained by infinite possible hypotheses. This conclusion discredits the scientific method as a route to decisive truth; moreover, as more scientific thought is conducted, more hypotheses arise, and established scientific truths are refuted and revised at a faster pace. Thus, sustained application of the scientific method actually makes stable truth harder to attain.
This epiphany marks a serious crisis for Phaedrus. Until this moment, the scientific method has informed his entire view of the world. Now that he has realized that some facets of experience cannot be suitably explained by the scientific method, he must search for a way to comprehend the larger truths that lie outside the grasp of his reasoning.
Phaedrus reasons that this use of the scientific method showcases a harmful deficiency in the state of reason—one that causes many social problems. He becomes disenchanted with his academic pursuits, and fails out of the university at age 17. From there, he begins to drift “laterally” in search of truth, no longer searching for truth directly before him.
Phaedrus’s crisis of reason dramatically alters the course of his life. Out of his realization of the inadequacy of scientific thought comes a determination to explore alternative—and perhaps more true—means of understanding the world.