Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Matter is the Ultimate Abstraction, Mind the Ultimate Concretion

Back to Ultimate Reality and how it gets that way. First, I think we can stipulate that it is either changeless or changing. For Plato, change and truth were essentially antithetical, which is why he sought reality outside the transient appearances of the world.

Inside his cave, all is shadow and movement, but outside the cave are the pure and unchanging forms. These forms can be trusted because they are always the same, whereas the world keeps changing on us. Thus, in the Platonic view, science deals only with the circumstances of the cave, while philosophy addresses what goes on outside.

Now, what is metaphysics? At least in the Whitehead/Hartshorne tradition, it is the study of those principles that simply Cannot Not Be True. Therefore, everything we perceive and experience (for there is no a priori reason to place "matter" above "experience") will be a special case of these more general principles.

Some people believe it is possible to think coherently without metaphysics, but they are asses. They are so naive and lacking in self-awareness that there is no reason to waste a moment arguing with them. For in fact, any statement about reality betrays any number of hidden assumptions. Thus, to deny metaphysics is to affirm it.

I was thinking about this the other day in reading Ridley's Evolution of Everything. Here he is, at once insisting that free will is an illusion, and yet, trying to convince us that this is the case. So which is it: are we free to assent to truth, or not?

Although free will is self-evident -- for it reveals itself to be so in any meaningful communication -- it is also easy to prove (onto)logically. Yes, things have causes. However, there are so many causes that go into being human -- literally millions of them -- that this equates to being undetermined by them.

What I mean is that the causes are many -- even infinitely many, considering our billions (or is it trillions?) of neural interconnections, not to mention whatever is going on at the quantum level.

And yet we -- assuming we are healthy, AKA whole -- are one. Now, how does that even happen? In other words, how do the trillions of causes harmoniously resolve themselves into one effect, if that effect isn't its own (at least partial) cause of those effects?

I always remember something Whitehead wrote back in 1925, and I've never heard it refuted: that

"an electron within a living body is different from an electron outside it, by reason of the plan of the body. The electron blindly runs either within or without the body; but it runs within the body in accordance with its character within the body; that is to say, in accordance with the general plan of the body, and this plan includes its mental state" (emphasis mine).

Therefore, biology (or organism) by definition transcends physics: you can't get to the former solely by way of the latter.

A reductionist such as Ridley pretends that we are only a consequence of lower causes such as chemicals and genes and instincts, when there is actually a two-way causation, from the bottom up and top down. This ubiquitous dual causation is another cosmic complementarity.

But I ask you: of the two forms of causation, which must be primary? Is it even intellectually conceivable that those trillions of causes could result in the simplest and most unitary experience of them all, I AM? Indeed, without this latter, it is not even possible to entertain the idea of causality.

Ultimately, we would say that, just as being is an abstraction from becoming, part is an abstraction from whole, and material and efficient causation are abstractions from formal and final causation.

Indeed, matter itself is an abstraction from something that is always flowing and always interiorly related. There is no such thing as an unambiguous bit of exterior matter, right here and right now, unrelated to everything else.

This only highlights how any form of ideology -- whether political or religious or scientistic -- is really an idolatry, or an elevation of some abstraction to the concrete reality.

This is precisely the burden Obama's little mind labors under, such that he can no longer even perceive concrete reality. In other words, he is trapped inside an ideological abstraction that forces concrete facts to comport with it.

And people say the second commandment is irrelevant!

Again: matter itself is an abstraction. Therefore, what is actually concrete?

What is concrete and undeniable is organism. To paraphrase Whitehead, biology is the study of large organisms, while physics is the study of small ones. Indeed, thanks to relativity and quantum physics, we now understand that cosmology is the study of the largest organism (excluding God, i.e., the metacosmic organism of the Trinity).

Where were we?

I'll just close off with a relevant quote by Hartshorne:

[T]he stimuli moulding an experience are many.... but all this multiplicity of influences is to produce a single unitary experience, yours or mine right now, let us say.

The effect is one; the causes, however, are many, literally hundreds of thousands, billions even, considering the cells in our brains, for example. This vast multitude of factors must flow together to produce a single new entity, the experience of the moment.

I also wanted to say something about how the so-called quantum world below is actually outside us, while the starry expanse is inside, but maybe we'll get to that tomorrow, when I regather my many thoughts into another one post.


wild said...

"There is still a notion that the agnostic can remain secure of this world, so long as he does not wish to be what is called 'other-worldly.'...It is not true. The questions of the sceptic strike direct at the heart of this our human life...There could not be a better example than...the determinist as a demagogue; shouting to a mob of millions that no man ought to be blamed for anything he did, because it was all heredity and environment. Logically, it would stop a man in the act of saying “Thank you” to somebody for passing the mustard. For how could he be praised for passing the mustard, if he could not be blamed for not passing the mustard?"

The Autobiography of G.K.Chesterton. p.180.

Van Harvey said...

"Some people believe it is possible to think coherently without metaphysics, but they are asses. They are so naive and lacking in self-awareness that there is no reason to waste a moment arguing with them. For in fact, any statement about reality betrays any number of hidden assumptions. Thus, to deny metaphysics is to affirm it."

Nothing to add, just wanted to see it again.

And maybe mfassize part of it.

mushroom said...

I have no choice but believe in free will.

mushroom said...

The Whitehead quote is just astonishing because I want to reject it, but the more I think about it, the more I know it has to be true.

Gagdad Bob said...

Think about a molecule of H2O in a waterfall, which follows the pattern of the flow of water.

Kansas Fan said...

Dude, it's like we're all dust in the wind!

Can I buy some pot from you?

julie said...

My kids have been watching videos of marble runs on Youtube; they find it endlessly fascinating, and the more marbles the better. The marbles, as they flow downhill, may go any number of ways depending on the shape and size of the run, but even if they seem occasionally to do something surprising, they all end up in the same place. Free will is as if a number of those marbles acted to remove themselves from the confines of the run, and indeed even managed to oppose the ever-present pull of gravity.

Gagdad Bob said...

I just completed the math and determined that there is no time for a post. Unusually early day today.

Van Harvey said...

Math is bad.

julie said...

Worse, it's problematic.

Also, the only acceptable answer is "ekwality".

Snarky Popemobile said...

The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:1-16
Biblia Sacra Vulgata Clementina Version

"Truly cursed are those who love to show mercy. For they will not be able to show mercy. And truly cursed are those who wish to maintain the status quo. For they will bring about the end of the world."

Jesus had climbed a mountain to pray. But realizing that different people and groups were having conflicts, as he prayed, he distinguished one gripe from another. And seeing something good not just in all of their complaints but also goodness in the striving itself, he decided to recognize it as such with a brilliant piece of oratory. With his oration, he fathered a new branch of the Abrahamic religion, one which would enable people to preach, to sue, to threaten, and even to make war, in a holy way. And after he had given his judgment in this manner, his apprentices, his students, and those who emulated him (whether they emulated him knowingly or not), all stopped their quarreling for a moment and agreed with one another, because of him. For, having the best interests of the common people at heart, he had climbed a mountain, so as to be able to look out over them. And opening his mouth, he cleared a way for them to enter heaven, saying,

“Truly blesséd are those whose prayers go unanswered. For they will be the answer to prayers. Truly blesséd are those who share. For they will have everything in their possession. Truly blesséd are those who shed tears. For they will console. Truly blesséd are those who hunger and thirst for the bread and wine of mercy and justice. For they will sow the grain and grow the grapes. Truly blesséd are those who love the world the most. For they will love god the most. Truly blesséd are those who are oppressed. For they will be the best rulers of all. Truly blesséd are those who maintain the status quo. For they will bring about the kingdom of God.

“Blesséd truly are you when you are curséd, and acquitted truly are you when you are prosecuted. For understood truly are you, although every lie about you is believed, because of me. So jump for joy, because in the world to come, your reward ought to be very great, for thus they have persecuted all the prophets who came before you.

“On the other hand, truly cursed are those who hope for little. For they will receive much more than they want. Truly cursed are those who love equality. For they will have rule. Truly cursed are those who take pride in being responsible. For they will be made to be carefree. Truly cursed are those who hunger and thirst for the bread and wine of mercy and justice. For they will sow the grain and grow the grapes. Truly cursed are those who love to forgive wrongs. For they will be given the opportunity. Truly cursed are those who believe in charity. For they will do some very charitable acts. Truly cursed are those who wish to be without sin. For they will commit the greatest sin. Truly cursed are those who are magnanimous. For they will obtain retribution when they are wronged.

Snarky Popemobile said...

“Cursed are you when you are truly blesséd, and sentenced are you when you are truly pardoned. For when they lie by saying each of these things has been given to you by me as a curse, they are telling the truth. So jump for joy, because although in the world to come your suffering will be beyond measure, in heaven your reward must be very great, for thus they have persecuted all the saints who came before you.

“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Denied all good things, you are worth all good things, because you believe all good things. You speak with beauty, you see with beauty, you sustain all beauty, because you are schooled in beauty. You are a city of exemplars. And a city cannot hide itself on mountaintop such as that.”

And then it seemed to Christ for moment that he was all alone.

“It will not hide on this mountaintop, at least.”

And right then he noticed that his mountaintop was more like a hillock. But he still continued to speak:

“Even if the salt was useless, why was it salted on something? It is worth more than nothing, or else it would be excommunicated and crushed like a serpent underfoot. A household does not light a lantern, only to cover it in a hillock of dirt. No, a light which is lit, sits in a chandelier, to light a room, for all who are in the house. So may your light shine before all men, so that they may see the miracle of your good works, and envy you your Father who is in heaven.”