Announcing My Cosmic Orientation
Some people will say: big deal. It's not as if we didn't already know you were "different." Why, when you were a little boy, you even enjoyed dressing up as Alfred North Whitehead. Honestly, who did you think you were fooling?
So it's not really a case of being converted from one orientation to another. Rather, it's more a case of being "reminded" of what I already think; or, of making explicit what is implicit. It is much more an exercise in recollection than in assimilating something new, and of trying to develop a completely consistent view of things.
Having said that, I cannot say I am a Whiteheadian, nor am I a Hartshornean. There are still many details that need to be worked out, in order to reconcile process and Tradition. As we are about to discuss, Hartshorne says many things that bang my interior gong. However, he often says them in a slightly irritating way. He can be way too dismissive of tradition, not to mention of scripture, revelation, miracles, and other elements of religion as concretely understood and practiced. He is not especially charitable toward people with whom he disagrees, and there is hardly a whiff of the sacred or holy in his writings.
Rather, even when Hartshorne is talking about theology, he sounds more philosophical. More generally, it is as if he wants to reduce all of theology to natural theology. His God can appear so diminished that he hardly seems worthy of worship. But I think that is an example of an area that can be tweaked into a more expansive perspective.
On the positive side, I think the process view is definitely the way to go if we want to reconcile religion and science -- and everything else, for that matter. It furnishes a paradigm in which everything can be understood as a necessary consequence of everything else.
For Hartshorne, a world without God is literally unthinkable. That suits religious people just fine. However, such people will generally be uncomfortable with the corollary -- that so too is God without a world unthinkable! This is because creativity is elevated to the transcendental of transcendentals. God must create, on pain of violating his own nature. Another way of saying it is that God is free, and freedom is the absence of determination that makes creation possible.
Speaking of universal paradigms, let's begin with a discussion of Hartshorne's view of metaphysics. The book I'm working on is part of a series on "systematic philosophy," defined as "any philosophical enterprise that functions with a perspective from which everything can be addressed" (emphasis mine).
In short, we want to understand everything in such a way that nothing important is left out, or explained away, or subjected to question-begging reductionism. Thus -- to cite one obvious example -- any form of materialism is ruled out at the start, since it simply cannot cope with mind.
And on a more subtle level, Hartshorne points out that materialism is entirely abstract. Superficially one might think of it as overly concrete, but it's the opposite: the notion of "pure matter" is unalloyed abstraction, untethered to any human experience (or even experienceable experience). Thus, "matter"
"is just a word for our ignorance," and "the main charge against materialism is not that it fails to explain mind, but rather that it fails to explain anything. It merely tells us to pay attention to the spatial properties of things" (Hartshorne).
It is also to confuse prediction with understanding, so the same critique applies to determinism. Any form of radical determinism -- whether natural or supernatural -- is pure nonsense. It is a human construct, certainly not a divine one.
And yet, it is a perennial seduction for man, whether in the form of "predestination," or Islamic occasionalism, or physical determinism. For example, I ran across this article at Scientific American about a physicist who rejects the idea that "God plays dice," and believes that the indeterminism of quantum physics is just an illusory superstructure over a deeper realm of classical, local determinacy.
It is amazing to see the contortions one must go through in order to consistently maintain such a view -- and here it doesn't matter if one is a physicist or theologian, for the attempt to deny the reality of freedom in the cosmos results in some ugly-ass pretzel logic. Professor ’t Hooft
"thinks the notorious randomness of quantum mechanics is just a front. Underneath, the world obeys perfectly sensible rules." Now, why does be believe this? No reason. Just because he does. The idea bangs his gong, just as process bangs mine. The only difference is, he's wasting his life. Which I mean literally, since he believes in a scientific (or scientistic) version of predestination called "superdeterminism," in which
"free will is an illusion. Worse, actually. Even regular determinism -- without the 'super' -- subverts our sense of free will. Through the laws of physics, you can trace every choice you make to the arrangement of matter at the dawn of time."
But "Superdeterminism adds a twist of the knife. Not only is everything you do preordained, the universe reaches into your brain and stops you from doing an experiment that would reveal its true nature. The universe is not just set up in advance. It is set up in advance to fool you."
Ironically, this reminds me of creationists who insist that dinosaur bones are just there to fool us.
Has it not occurred to the professor that if the cosmos is "set up in advance" to fool us, there is no special exemption for him?
This goes to a much deeper metaphysical issue surrounding the whole idea of necessity. For Hartshorne, there is no such thing as necessity in the absence of its "complementary ultimate," contingency. Necessity is another word for determinism, and is therefore just another purely human abstraction. In point of fact, nothing is necessary except for God. And even God's a priori necessity is an abstraction compared to his concrete actuality.
In other words -- and I guess this is an example of one of Hartshorne's controversial positions -- God surely must be. However, the precise manner in which he is is undetermined -- just as it is for any other person! Descartes could say "I think, therefore I am." But who or what is this "I" that supposedly is? Just because I exist, it hardly means that I exist as a kind of static entity. If we believe that, we have once again been seduced into the realm of human abstraction, which is not the same as transcendence per se.
It seems that this seduction is rooted in the Greek idea that complete immutability and independence is superior to change, dependence, and receptivity. To "receive" is to be passive, and to be passive is bad. But passivity is how we learn about the world. We do not, as do the leftists, actively superimpose some ideological superstructure on the world. That is indeed "active," but is it good? No, because it renders knowledge of reality impossible.
So there are good and bad forms of both independence and dependence. This resonates with me, because this is one of the measures of psychological growth, one of the vectors of maturity. A completely independent person would be a kind of monster, unmoved by human sympathy, incapable of love or knowledge. At the other extreme is an infantile or childish dependence that prevents individuation from the family, tribe, or culture. Rather, what we want to see is mature dependence, which has much in common with what we know of as grown-up love.
I take 'metaphysics' to be the central concern of philosophy, meaning by the term the search for 'universal and necessary truths of existence'.... An unconditionally necessary truth... is one whose denial does not make coherent sense...., [involving] conceptions so ultimate and general that anything conceivable is a special case of them. --Hartshorne
To be continued. After all, it's a process, not a thing.