Monday, October 14, 2013

Announcing My Cosmic Orientation

Well, I guess it's time to emerge from the closet and declare my Orientation: I am a process philosopher -- or as least would be if I were a philosopher. So I guess I'm a process blogger. Or in the process of becoming one, since in this view, most nouns are actually quite verblike. But in any event, it's no use trying to hide the truth from myself. I am what I am.

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.

22 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

"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."

And "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."


Wow. it's like he's managed to cram his head up his bum in such a way that he's become a human moebius strip.

10/14/2013 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes. Or Klein Bottle. Which the cosmos could be, so long as it is a kind of eternally flowing and creative Klein Bottle...

10/14/2013 09:44:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

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!

Would Hartshorne see that ontology co-arises with epistemology? That would be getting into Wilber territory, which I know created some spirited discussion months back.

10/14/2013 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Bob, It reminds me a little of a Heinlein short story, I forget the title, about a guy who was born a hermaphrodite and somehow got caught up in time travel; the short of it being that he was both his own mother and his own father.

But anyway, I just don't get how someone who obviously isn't stupid could actually believe something so painfully self-refuting. It even sounds a little paranoid: the universe is MESSING with your HEAD, man!

10/14/2013 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Ted:

I'd need to know more about what Wilber means by that. But I don't think so. Hartshorne would say there are a priori metaphysical truths that are not derived from epistemological facts. I'm pretty sure he would adopt the classical view that epistemology follows ontology, but not in any necessary way, since, for example, not only are the laws of nature contingent, but could conceivably change (something both Whitehead and Hartshorne believed).

10/14/2013 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

not only are the laws of nature contingent, but could conceivably change

Hm. Seems to me that a law of nature, by definition, isn't changeable, though of course our understanding of said laws certainly is. But what do I know?

This also reminds me of some of the discussion about what holds galaxies together, and about dark matter. As I understand it (which is admittedly very poorly), the more we learn about the universe, the more it violates our understanding of how the universe works. So a lot of theories are bandied about, most of which strike me as being the modern equivalent of "a dragon slowly eats the moon every month, then it grows back."

Or more generally, so much of science that supposedly is settled seems to be getting rather violently unsettled, these days.

10/14/2013 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Thanks Bob! That sort of makes sense. Wilber is building a post-metaphysical edifice, with the idea that all a priori truths would need to be epistemologically confirmed and verified (e.g. Buddhist emptiness via meditation). That has its own problems.

I like that God is becoming more a mysterious slippery slope of that Klein Bottle.

10/14/2013 10:25:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Julie--

To say the laws of nature are contingent is another way of saying they are not necessary, and Hartshorne shows that necessity is the same as eternal. So if the laws of nature were eternal, the cosmos would be God. Doesn't mean the laws will change. Just that it cannot be ruled out a priori.

10/14/2013 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Okay, that makes sense. Thanks for clarifying; I can be a bit slow on the uptake some days...

10/14/2013 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Lileks explains process:

"another October marked by the inability of photography to capture the experience of Fall.... The quality of Autumn exists outside the capabilities of recording devices; the camera cannot grasp the essence. It sees color and light, nothing more. A picture of faded leaves can’t communicate the progression of hues that threads through the days; a moment can’t possibly contain the plots that unfold on every branch and vine around you."

Now, just expand that view to all of creation.

10/14/2013 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Converesely, those tyrannical liberals such as Krugman are laboring under the delusion of determinism:

"I [Paulie] didn’t grow up wanting to be a square-jawed individualist or join a heroic quest; I grew up wanting to be Hari Seldon, using my understanding of the mathematics of human behavior to save civilization."

"Translation: I spent my childhood wishing that one day I could use large computer models to govern humanity. 'Saving civilization' is always a euphemism for stomping on its neck. Krugman became an economist so he could advise political prima donnas on how to best shove around the serfs."

10/14/2013 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Sounds like Lileks is channeling the aphorism by Colacho you bring out from time to time: "To be stupid is to believe that it is possible to take a photograph of the place about which a poet sang."

10/14/2013 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Hartshorne would also say that such qualities as those described by Lileks are fully real and "enrich" the divinity.

10/14/2013 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger Magister said...

Stimulating set of reflections, Bob.

God is free, and freedom is the absence of determination that makes creation possible

I should think love has something to do with it. Does Hartshorne ever talk about this?

"the main charge against materialism is not that it fails to explain mind ... It is also to confuse prediction with understanding

Prediction means that causal relationships are grokked sufficiently to establish an airtight operational model. (This is extremely difficult to do.) If you've got such a model, what does "understanding" have that prediction doesn't?

I'd answer, "everything that makes us human."

what we want to see is mature dependence, which has much in common with what we know of as grown-up love.

Have you seen anything written about Tiger Woods and that Voss girl? They're beyond marriage, apparently. The approach I gather is to stimulate each other's inviolable narcissism and call it a relationship for a while anyways. No strings. No dependence. Intimacy only up to a point. Mature.

(shakes head)

10/14/2013 01:24:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, Hartshorne talks about love all the time. In fact, if God is love, and love is what we think it is, then it is difficult to not see God in process terms, because love is the quintessence of active giving and passive receiving, i.e., an exchange.

10/14/2013 01:37:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

Bob, I rarely recommend books for you since you are quite resourceful in that area, but just download this read which may not enter your radar. The author covers Christian mysticism in a very succinct, crisp way, has a chapter on the Spiritual Politics of Jesus (yes, emphatically conservative), and has a blunt style that reminds me of some blogger I know. Anyways, check it out and see if it resonates enough for a peruse.

10/14/2013 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Some parts look intriguing, but he strikes me as more thuggish than blunt. A Raccoon is never vulgar. Except for valid comedic reasons.

10/14/2013 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger Skorpion said...

Plus, the author's name is "L. Ron." Not a good sign at all.

10/14/2013 09:27:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

The guy studied with Herbert Marcuse. While he dropped the ideology, he must have kept the thuggery.

10/15/2013 03:59:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I suppose I'm automatically skeptical of a person who simultaneously claims to be enlightened and drawn to the thought of Jesse Ventura.

Much of what he says about grace is valid, but why call it electricity? And if grace comes from God, I don't think God is impressed by whatever techniques we can come up with to try to provoke it. That always sounds Gnostic, as if "I have the secret that has eluded Christians for 2000 years!" Also, I wouldn't measure progress by "enlightenment," but rather, am I a better person? This is gauged in the traditional way, in terms of growth in love, truth, virtue, wholeness/peace, beauty/creativity, and sanctity.



10/15/2013 07:22:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Yes, all good points. He does make the point that enlightenment is not sufficient. He even brings in some of teachings of Mr. F. Jones, and yet admits the guy was crazy. As you point out, rational good-natured self-interested ego is better than being enlightened any day.

10/15/2013 07:32:00 AM  
Blogger Lysander Spooner said...

http://www.anthonyflood.com/griffineasternorthodoxy.htm

interesting comparsion with process and orthodox theology

http://www.amazon.com/Deep-Religious-Pluralism-David-Griffin/dp/066422914X/ref=sr_1_14?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1381848954&sr=1-14&keywords=david+ray+griffin

interesting chapter debating process vs. traditionalism

10/15/2013 08:01:00 AM  

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