Archive for April, 2008

Yahoo Problem: The blog (The Language Of Freedom) is below the picture

April 29, 2008

This is my attempt to get a blog blogged? If this blog is not below, you must go to blog list because it is above.


The Reciprocal Relationship Of Content/Form Interdependence

April 29, 2008

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Inquiring Minds Want To know—What’s Going On With These Blogs—Are They Random, Directed, Or Something Else?

I think I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. If there’s a common theme running through these blogs, it’s my quest to understand what I don’t understand. That said, in this blog (and next week’s) the suggestion is that I understand something, or, to put it more gently, what I haven’t understood so far, begins to make more sense if understood in the following way:

The subject of freedom is a major theme in my writing. Freedom, depending on its context, means many things to many people. Operationally speaking, though, we first encounter freedom as the freedom to act. Satisfying our biological needs frames this freedom. I associate Aristotle with this freedom because he was the first to recognize, as far as I can tell, the importance of the sensation/understanding connection. Freedom is not just a sensation, however. The freedom to avoid the unpleasant and pursue the pleasant has the indirect effect of creating the environment out of which all other freedoms are expressed.

On another level, a higher level, phenomenological freedom expresses the question that theoretical freedom answers (the freedom to be logically consistent). This answer, scientifically speaking, is verified through its reliable predictions as they relate to our aesthetic experience. This answer, sociologically speaking, allows for behavioral change and emotional growth. In other words, as a dynamic process, freedom (or lack there of) is continually being discovered in the “universal limiting space that defines it.” As knowledge accumulates, for instance, life’s expectations and goals may change. The value and meaning of relationships may change. What at one time was sought for pleasure and comfort may, with increased understanding, become unpleasant, and so on and so forth.

But there is another kind of freedom, one that escapes categorizations. This is Buddhist freedom– a freedom we cannot sense, a freedom that is by definition indeterminate. Even so, paradoxically, much has been said (and written) about this freedom. Fortunately, the Japanese sage, and student of Zen Buddhism, Nishida Kitaro, has discussed Buddhist freedom without venturing outside the “limiting space” framework of freedom.

Nishida went looking for “pure experience” and found it in the “absolute free will” emerging from and returning to absolute nothingness. Since Nishida wanted to communicate this realization, he created his own logic, the logic of basho, because he believed the only way to communicate ultimate reality—true selfhood, was through a rational methodology. To be fair, I think his logic referenced existence more than analysis, but when you need to communicate the reality at the center of the creative world, where “absolute free will” lives in the “eternal now,” analysis by itself just can’t do the job. Anyway, three categories distinguished Nishida’s logic: basho of being, basho of relative nothingness, and basho of absolute nothingness. (Most of my information on Nishida comes from the book, Great Thinkers Of The Eastern World, Ian P. McGreal, Editor, p. 384-5)

For me at least, basho logic seems to be describing three different levels of interconnectivity—the interconnectivity of three different “pulses of freedom.” The basho of being becomes the limiting space of existence while the basho of relative nothingness becomes the defining characteristic of that limitation. The basho of absolute nothingness, on the other hand, is the glue and ultimate reality that Nishida is trying to communicate. In this interconnectivity a dual purpose is at work. As the ground of everything, the logic of basho works to support and restrict all beings. Upon achieving a state of self-realization, however, one experiences the absolute interpenetration of nothingness with all the particular existents in the universe. According to Nishida, everything that Is, is within the interconnectivity of basho, and, at bottom, the “self as basho” identifies itself with all the existents and beings of the world. The “self as basho,” “self as absolute nothingness,’’ wakes to perfect freedom, perfect wisdom and perfect bliss.

The fact that language will not (can not) permit a description of “fully enlightened beings,” is what inspired Nishida to create his basho logic. Was he successful? I cannot say, but I’m glad he tried because the second major theme in my writing is to search out a language rich enough to express all of freedom’s ramifications. Next week’s blog, in fact, will be a good indication of just how far I’ve come in achieving that goal. Like Nishida, I believe that a sufficiently strong freedom language will incorporate logic, albeit a logic referencing existence and analysis, and the concepts of interconnectivity and interpenetration. This language will require also (for me at least) the concepts of transformation and reciprocity, more specifically, the reciprocity that exists structurally in content/form interdependence.

One of the things I’ve found intriguing is how certain conceptual forms can go through various transformations without loosing meaning, e.g. 2 means two, two also means 1+1=2, two also means 4-2= 2. In logic, in a like manner, A and ~A cannot exist at the same time (the law of non-contradiction wherein a statement and its negation cannot both be true and false at the same time), but, ~~A then A (the principle that any proposition implies and is implied by the negation of its negation) is perfectly true, e.g. it is the case that not, not A implies A. Transformations like these are not limited to analysis. For instance, suppose that my own self-awareness was a product of mind and something else. Suppose also that this something else not only defined (formed) self-awareness, but also was responsible for the interconnectivity of my self-awareness across time, which is to say past mind events connect present mind events and present mind events connect future mind events in the same way that form interpenetrates content—the reciprocal relationship of content/form interdependence.

Self-awareness as a structured reciprocal relationship is not simply a product of my imagination; it surfaced for me after reading a book by Jean Piaget. Before I describe what I found in his book on Structuralism, here’s what the Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Vol. 6, p.306) has to say about what he studied: “Piaget examined the development of not only abstract concepts such as classes, relations, and numbers, but also physical concepts like space, time, atomism, conservation and chance, all of which he has regarded as constructed from behavioral activities.” My search for a vocabulary rich enough to describe freedom’s ramifications increased ten fold after reading Piaget.

The Psychologist, Jean Piaget, put the origin of structure and the symbolic content that it generates, in an organisms capacity for action. For Piaget then, the knowledge of our objective and subjective experience begins in the recognition and coordination of sensorimotor activity. By locating the source of cognitive structure in the sensorimotor activity of babies, Piaget opened up the possibility that “structure” was grounded in “nature”– not in “mind.” Through his investigations, he was able to show how the subject and object poles of experience are “products” of experience. In fact, what we typically call “normal cognitive skills,” for Piaget, is a product of necessary developmental stages, i.e. sensorimotor, representational, and formal operative. Only after the individual passes through theses stages does one acquire “normal cognitive skills.” The subject pole and object pole of a child’s experience remains undissociated early in the sensorimotor stage, but after passing through the stage of formal operations the child (8-12 year old), in his/her capacity to invoke reasoned judgments and deductive thought, is then able to conceptualize what is not perceived (e.g. principles of conservation, reversibility, transitivity, etc.). For Piaget then, cognitive-awareness is not something we are born with; rather it is the product of an ongoing developmental process. This is important because it tells us that logic stems from a sort of spontaneous organization of activity,– that the pre-condition for knowledge is an assimilation of a given external into the structures of the subject,– and that out of these subjective structures arise, phoenix like, the genesis of self-awareness. Thus, not only do we find the relationship of context/form interdependence in the ongoing activity of accommodation/assimilation of environment, we also find it in the relationship that binds natural structure to cognitive structure.

The mental event structure that we cognitively experience as “movement into the future” becomes (according to the way I understand Piaget) a product of the externally given context/form interdependent relationship of accommodation/assimilation. In the externally given accommodation/assimilation structure, accommodation is understood to be a change in the assimilated product of environmental interaction, i.e. acting on the past to create a present, and, likewise, assimilation is understood as an action actively reproduced in such a way as to incorporate new (accommodated) objects into one’s own assimilated experience, i.e. actualizing the potential to intelligently navigate a course through an uncertain future, thus, this externally given “structure” of accommodation/assimilation becomes (when subjectively internalized) what Piaget calls the center of functional activity, or, the context/form interdependent experience of “self” moving from past, to present, to future. However, to introduce a caveat that I believe any anthropologist would agree to, the capacity to dissociate one thing from another is itself a product of social evolution. The “self” experience of today is not the “self” experience of archaic people. Social consciousness is intimately connected with its environment, and only gradually, through the process of reification, does that environment become externalized as an object of consciousness. In other words, today what is perceived in clarity and sharpness was, for archaic people, perceived as a relatively undifferentiated whole. The evolution of mind then, in addition to evolving structurally, “in time,” also evolves linearly, “across time.”

The question that still needs to be answered is where exactly is Piaget’s “self” located? According to Piaget, “the center of functional activity is not located in the traditional ‘me space’ that we so often take for granted; nor is it located in the ‘lived space’ that is described in the works of various existentialists; nor is it located in the positivists physico-chemical brain activity,” Nietzsche’s will to power, Marx’s economic determinate, or Durkheim’s normative order etc. Rather, Piaget locates his “constructionist self,” in general terms, “somewhere midway between the nervous system and conscious behavior (because) ‘psychology is first of all a biology.”’ To be more specific, however, Piaget locates the “constructionist self” in the structure of content/form interdependence. Piaget explains:

“But what manner of existence is left, then, for the mind, if it is neither social, nor mental in the subjective sense, nor organic?

…If it is, as Levi-Strauss says, necessary to ‘reintegrate content with form,’ it is no less essential to recall that neither forms nor contents exist per se: in nature as in mathematics every form is content for ‘higher’ forms and every content form of what it ‘contains’….

This uninterrupted process of coordinating and setting in reciprocal relations is the true ‘generator’ of structures as constantly under construction and reconstruction. The subject exists because, to put it very briefly, the being of structures consists in their coming to be, that is, their being ‘under construction.”’ [Piaget, Structuralism, p. 112]

If Piaget is right, and intelligence is an extension of natural structure then intelligence arises, phoenix like, from natural structure, but, suppose intelligence (rather than arising from structure) was, just as Piaget believed, contained in the structure of content/form interdependence, and here’s where it gets somewhat tricky,
what if this content/form interdependence became self-conscious, and, this self-consciousness then became the “start up” of human intelligence, and/or what Piaget calls the
center of functional activity. This is a bit much to take in, to be sure, but that is what I will write about in next week’s blog. In closing, I want to end this blog with a modern day description of self-awareness, one that also upholds the idea that human intelligence is a product of context/form interdependence.

Identifying Jean Paul Sartre’s philosophy as structuralism is, I am aware, pushing the envelope. However, an authority on structuralism has proposed this option (without, I might add, elaborating on it.) “One might go as far as to say…that structuralism is analogous to Sartre’s view of consciousness — it is what it is not, and it is not what it is.” [Jean-Marie Benoist, A Structural Revolution, p. 1] In Sartre’s book Being And Nothingness, his chapter on Being-For-Itself is subtitled “Immediate Structures of the For-Itself.” [Jean-Paul Sartre, Being And Nothingness, p. 119] Structure is not hidden in Sartre; it’s just that on the whole Sartre’s book is a polemic against reading structure as anything more than appearance.

In the representation of Sartre’s thought as “consciousness is what it is not, and it is not what it is,” we find reciprocal movement, the same reciprocal movement encountered, in Piaget’s content/form interdependence. Specifically, Sartre defines the consciousness of the transcending For-itself (our self-space) as: “Consciousness is a being such that in its being, its being is in question in so far as this being implies a being other than itself.” (Ibid. p. 801) [As far as I am concerned this for-itself concept, and much of what is also written in Being And Nothingness, is as much a product of the thought of Simone deBeauvoir, Sartre’s life long confident, as it was the creation of Jean Paul Sartre. Throughout the writing of the book she (PhD in Philosophy) was his sounding board, and editor. Unlike Sartre, she stayed committed to this philosophy until she died.) In an extrapolation on Sartre’s definition of consciousness, Benoist describes the relationship inherent in consciousness as: “it is what it is not, and it is not what it is.” My own reading of this relationship is: being-what-is-not-while-not-being-what-is. In either case, however, we end up with a description of content/form interdependence.

This double movement is represented on many levels in Sartre’s exegesis on being and nothingness. This double movement becomes very specific in Sartre’s description of his pre-reflective Cogito. In so far as we find ”nothingness” at the center of Cogito, consciousness per se must be understood to be set apart from itself, therefore, Sartre’s pre-reflective Cogito will always form one pole of our conscious experience while the “objects” of consciousness will take their place at the other pole of conscious experience. This condition, where the pre-reflective Cogito becomes the preexistent structure for conscious awareness of objects, is another way of arriving at what Piaget called the center of functional activity. Depending on where “you” focus your concern, the content of consciousness is either pushed to the front of consciousness (the unreflective consciousness), or, the object of consciousness is pushed into the background, as the “negation of consciousness” is brought into the foreground (the reflected upon object of consciousness).

Together, our pre-reflective Cogito and the object of consciousness form our conscious experience of the knower-known dyad– content/form interdependence. In so far as this double movement turns on the pivot point of pure negation, the known exists for the knower, but the knower can never be fully known. As self-consciousness rises in consciousness, it is denied the possibility of becoming fully self-aware. This result, the incompleteness of self, brings us back to Sartre’s original definition of consciousness, or, “consciousness is such that in its being its being is in question in so far as this being implies a being other than itself.” This center of functional activity, this content/form interdependence that makes thinking possible, this symbol-generating movement of free thought that emancipates language, myth, science, and morality, pushes and pulls self-awareness down the road that hopefully leads to a more civilized society. In the absence of this center of functional activity, “thinking” is restricted to the manipulation of signs—mere sensual indicators, minus the symbols that carry the significance of those same indicators. In other words, in the absence of this center of functional activity, language becomes severely limited, if not impossible.

Self-consciousness emerges where the center of functional activity– begins. This experience comes with a price. As individuals, we are condemned to be free. In the words of Sartre, we must perpetually “confront the world and self as a lack,” and, because of this, we cannot escape responsibility for our choices. Irregardless of how we choose to act, we must take responsibility for our choice. For Sartre, responsibility lies in the chosen act and therefore can never be separated from the person who chooses. If, on the other hand, we happen to be living in the episteme that the postmodernist Foucault characterized as, “belonging to the questioning of that to which one belongs,” then responsibility becomes absorbed into the power/knowledge relationship of “responsible to whom for what ends.” Certainly Foucault argues this position and, I might add, it is not a coincidence that Foucault characterized the modern episteme as “man’s obsession with what eludes him.” Just as I am sure that Foucault read Sartre, I am also sure that Foucault’s description of epistemes is off the mark and here’s why:

While Sartre has delineated the not-self and the consequences that follow from not-self in our everyday world of social interaction, he stops far short of identifying the structure of his pre-reflective Cogito— the content/form interdependence that constitutes self-awareness—with what Piaget called natural structure. The short answer here is that content/form interdependence encompasses both nature and human consciousness– as the “innate structuring capacity of all structures,” and this will be the subject of next week’s blog.

Horizons Of Self: Mind, Emotions, And Body

April 26, 2008

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Language, politics, morality, and religion originate here. Justice gets done here. Worldviews are created here—the purple quadrant.

This new physics, to be sure, is still in the midst of growing pains, but whatever the outcome, Locke’s concrete material substance is history. In brief, Newton's particles are no more real (or just as real, depending on your point of view) as Locke's appearances. The difference between Newton's particles and sensed qualities is found in our experience of them. The immediate experience of colors, odors, and sounds are just that, immediate experience of color, odor, and sound, however the wavelength of blue light is theoretically designated and indirectly verified. We do not exist a three-term relationship we exist a two-term relationship with the second term being our theoretically postulated, hypothetically designated component of experience while the first term of experience is the immediately sensed determinate portion of the aesthetic continuum,-- which is part of our very being. The immediately sensed component is relative to each individual while the theoretic component is public, exists within our understanding, and therefore is accessible to everybody, everywhere.

We experience our three horizons–emotional life (red), embodied life (pink), and psychological life (yellow)–in their aesthetic immediacy, within which determinate differentiations come and go. In this way, change, and understanding change, is pervasive. Theories follow from questions, and correct theories follow from confirmation of experimental results. In other words, the scientific method is one way to expand our horizons, but that method works best when dealing with physical phenomena, the embodied state (pink horizon). The scientific method is less effective when it comes to expanding our psychological and emotional horizons. However, with education, all three horizons expand. Understanding, whether it comes from the hypothetically conceived, experimentally verified component of our experience, or whether it comes from the “school of hard knocks,” so to speak, still educates.

Here’s how F. S. C. Northrop describes the two-term relationship of a fully known thing: “Both components are equally real and primary, and hence good, the one being the complement of the other… (He states) “To be any complete thing is to be not merely an immediately experienced, aesthetically and emotionally felt thing, but also to be what hypothetically conceived and experimentally verified theory designates.” (The Meeting Of East And West, p. 450) So, we may ask, into what do our self-horizons expand when they expand? In other words, I now want to talk about the blue, green, and purple quadrants in the above diagram. By way of introduction, and to keep the topic focused, here is another person’s take on why the three-term relationship is no longer needed; the physicist Henry Margenau, like Northrop before him, described human experience in terms of a two-term relationship.

In his book, The Nature of Physical Reality, Margenau elaborates on what the theoretic component of our experience entails when he says, “…that we come to knowledge of our experience in two ways—through the mental states of prepositional attitudes and sensation.” He then lumps these attitudes and sensation together in what he calls our P-plane experience—a combination of immediate experience with its significance (immediate experience, or our sensed qualia, is what we experience when we experience the determinate part of the aesthetic continuum, -- the aesthetic component of our experience). In this way we come to "know" the same thing in two different ways, through sensed qualia and through the significance that we attach to this sensed qualia. For Margenau, there are four levels of P-plane significance. Language, with its lexical, syntactical, and contextual designations represents the first level. The second level, science, raises P-plane significance by connecting P-plane experience with the propositional aspects of our cognitive experience via what Margenau calls rules of correspondence—the sensed aspect of what may be inferred or deduced from theoretical postulates. On the third and fourth level of P-plane experience, significance deals with ethical behavior and existential meaning. Here the cognitive connection to P-plane experience does not entail the rigor of analysis that describes the scientific method. But, according to Margenau, this lack of rigor does not impose a lesser degree of significance.

Connecting understanding up with ethical behavior and existential meaning moves P-plane experience out of the blue quadrant—the science of how our body works, and into the purple quadrant,--why we make our body do the things that it does. Here, in the psychological mind quadrant, we are constantly being stimulated, inspired, (and disgusted) by the hermeneutic circle of communication that comprises this quadrant. The independence, integrity, and freedom of the individual,--the groups, organizations, and institutions that the individual participates in, all are encountered in this quadrant. Language, politics, morality, and religion originate here. Justice gets done here. Worldviews are created here. “Approved life styles” are affirmed here. Hamlet gets read, discussed, and criticized here. When our yellow horizon expands, it moves us further into this quadrant, into that place where the scope of human discourse burgeons. In brief, (to quote Lett, speaking to a different context) this is the quadrant “where peo
ple will assign meanings to their activities and experiences and will invest considerable intellectual and emotional currency in the development, expression, and preservation of those meanings.” (James Lett, The Human Enterprise, p.97) But, even though our mind is, so to speak, set free in the purple quadrant (yellow self-horizon), our body remains in the blue quadrant. So, where do we go when our pink horizon (blue quadrant) expands?

If we’re lucky, and say, for instance, that we’re in the middle of a Michigan winter, we pack our bags and ask for directions to Florida. For those of us who can’t quite swing a Florida vacation, however, we continue to punch the cloak, put in our 40 hours per week, and all for the purpose of keeping food on the table, rents and mortgages paid, and a little spending money in our pockets. The blue quadrant is the brick and mortar world we live in. It is also where scientific predictions are confirmed, and, on a more solemn note, where injustice(s) are experienced. Take me, for instance, right now I’m sitting in front of my computer screen and when I look up, I immediately see cinder blocks,-- sand and cement laden material used in the construction of oh well, you name it. Over head I see wrapped steam pipes (engineered no doubt to keep me working and not traipsing off to Florida). I see furniture, a tile floor, and assorted material things, all of which are constructed for the purpose of utility and providing creaturely comfort. Also, (to get back to the less visible stuff), in order to get into my break room at work, I had to shove against an atmosphere pressing against my body with a force of fourteen pounds per square inch, a body which, according to science, constitutes a physical-chemical system, with the particular structure that exhibits itself in a nervous system and cortex-brain. This physical body lives approximately 70 years, dies, and then breaks down into constituent parts—rots. While I’m alive, though, I am presented with voluminous products for use and consumption, and if I am able to invent or market a product that everybody wants, then not only will I be able to go to Florida, I will also be able to buy Florida, or at least Disneyland. But, enough said about the blue quadrant; it’s depressing to note that many intelligent people never get beyond the blue quadrant, i.e. see everything as a by-product of the blue quadrant. (To be continued after next blog)

Commentary On The New Observer/Observed Relationship

April 23, 2008

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We equate social status and privilege to the businessman, engineer, and scientist because they deal with the real world, while musicians, poets, and artists, since they do not deal with the real world, acquire status only after achieving monetary success.

Here’s the labeling, by the numbers, of the above diagram. The above diagramed circles represent a different way to understand the observer/observed relationship. My first description of this diagram appeared before my Conversation In Thin Air blogs began. I guess you could say that I’m adding commentary on that first description now. All in all, this blog and the four after this one (four blogs in two weeks) will pretty much sum up my philosophy of life—and my religion. That means, philosophically speaking, everything will repeat (in one way or another) after I post these five blogs.

Layered Sequencing Of Platforms—Reductionist, Life, Mind—That Constitute Self.

1 R—The reductionist, mass/energy, platform.

2 L—The life, biological/reproductive, platform.

3 M—The mind, symbol/meaning, platform.

4 S—Human self—is not an entity, rather, it is intersubjective boundary horizons

5 The reductionist, physical/cultural, self-boundary.

6 The life, biological/emotional, self-boundary.

7 The mind, psychological, sociocultural, self-boundary of human discourse.

8 The connecting bridge that separates and connects the life platform to the mind platform.

9 The connecting bridge that separates and connects the mind platform to the life platform and to the life platform’s limiting condition—the reductionist platform.

Soon, instead of posting philosophy, I will be back on my bicycle, riding across Canada. That’s the good news; the not so good news is that, you guessed it, more of the same. I thought that since my dialogue in “thin air,” just ended, and a lot of what was said gets carried over into my commentary on the observed/observer relationship, that now would be a good time to post that commentary. Last week I introduced the philosophy of F.S. Northrop. I will expand on those ideas, and, next week, I will talk about the two main themes—freedom and language, — which keeps me writing.

We struggle to become educated and, in the process, obtain reasonable beliefs that endure. However, faced with blatant evidence to the contrary our beliefs may change. In the absence of contradictions, though, emotionally satisfying beliefs are what we choose to believe. If you’re like me, you do not like to waste time thinking about unsubstantiated ideas that turn out to be emotionally unfulfilling. So, here’s a summary of the religious implications that follow from my upcoming blogs,–worldview and approved life style are included here (you decide if they are emotionally satisfying): 1) Religion and science are brought into harmony; that is, they may be equally reverenced without conflict. 2) Because human self-awareness, life, and the physical-chemical processes that support life, are all embedded in divine extensive connection, humans are born with the potential to right the wrongs caused by “ignorance based injustices.” 3) The values used to judge right from wrong follow from the extensive connection process; that is, values used to judge right from wrong are life affirming and freedom affirming values. In other words, in terms of a minimum quality of life, within the prevailing economic realities, no person should be denied the basic necessities of life; and further, sufficient freedoms (within the limits of reasonable expectation) should be in place to allow for meaningful self-expression (the first ten amendments of the United States Constitution are a good place to start). As long as these two conditions are satisfied market competition, within prevailing economic realities, should be permitted. Anything less than this—the minimum standard of living for all human beings, — is an “ignorance based injustice.” 4) And finally, in regards to a religious afterlife: death is not the end, but things like virgins, talks with Jesus, and eternal bliss, are spurious and misplaced expectations.

The “self as vessel” is what I want to talk about now, a vessel hollow enough to contain our present conception of the physical universe…hollow enough to be concerned with the Good, the True, and the Beautiful…hollow enough to hold both the meaning and purpose of life and existence…and, hollow enough to feel hurt, love, and divinity. In the diagram above, the expanding three horizons of our emotional life (red), embodied life (pink), and psychological life or mind (yellow) constitute what I call self.

But, before I continue with my description, I need to digress a bit.

The worldview that most of us grew up with, the world view that is still a dominate force in our culture, is getting old. Just as the Greek classical worldview of Aristotle was replaced by the scientific ideas of physicists of the Enlightenment, so to the scientific ideas of physicists of relativity theory and quantum mechanics provide ample justification to seriously question this
out-dated worldview. I am not suggesting here that new science has replaced old science; the laws of motion are still the laws of motion. However, some things have changed; the relativity of space and time for instance, and the reduction of space to
geometrical presuppositions, the ‘ideal meanings’ that get used in the interpretation of phenomena. This list continues with the uncertainty relationships for smallest particles, the behavior of micro-world particles conforming to laws of probability,–and these changes, at best, complicate matters, and, at worst, contradict the worldview principles that followed naturally from the scientific ideas of physicists of the Enlightenment. In the next few paragraphs, I will take a more measured look at this aging and, for the most part, unquestioned Enlightenment worldview.

Certain consequences followed from Aristotle's philosophy. If the nature of man was to think and develop then all human beings had a common source and a common end. It followed necessarily that man was a social animal who participated in government to more fully develop his moral, religious and political nature. Aristotle's worldview was drastically altered when, in the 16th century, Galileo Galilee demonstrated that moving projectiles did not behave in the way prescribed by Aristotelian science. Galileo's investigations pointed out that sense perceptions were not contained in the objects of nature, but rather they were mere sensations projected on to those objects. The objects themselves were tasteless, colorless, odorless, physical objects. Later, Sir Isaac Newton expanded on that distinction by postulating a time as "flowing uniformly without relation to anything external," and a "space which has the same mathematical and geometrical properties always and everywhere throughout the universe." Sensed space and time was not the invariant space and time that Newton used in his description of the universe.

The political theorist John Locke picked up on this debate when he reasoned: "If my sensed impressions are not given by nature, then they must be somehow created by the interaction of Newton's particles with the person who I am." Thus Locke deduced that the product of material atoms acting on a person, which he labeled mental substance, created sensed experience, or, in other words, sensed experience was the secondary product of the interaction of the material world on a mental substance. That product, Locke called appearance. "If there are sensed qualities," he furthered reasoned, "then there must be a consciousness from which these sensed qualities can materialize," and here Locke made the jump from this consciousness to the divine.

Consciousness, because it was the only thing not mechanistically determined, became for Locke, our link with the divine. From that premise Locke concluded: "No person, group or institution can vouchsafe an individual’s salvation" because it was only through one's free and independent introspection that one could know his own mind. From there Locke went on to write his famous treatise on religious toleration. However, his philosophy spawned other consequences that were less positive. The notion of the "social good," for instance, got shortchanged in Locke's philosophy.

Since Locke had shown man to be a completely autonomous individual while the rest of nature was conceived as a machine working out its inevitable consequences, there was no justification for social man in a social order. The role of government had nothing to do with promoting growth and actualizing human potential, as it did with Aristotle; rather, the sole justification for government was to preserve private property. Not everybody agreed with Locke however.

In Locke's philosophy our knowledge of reality came through the senses and their attendent associations, and these sensations were secondary to the real world; therefore, no knowledge of the real world could be had, only knowledge of our impressions of this world. This contradiction was first pointed out by Bishop Berkeley and later expanded on by David Hume. Everything sensed was a consequence of the interaction of material substance on the mental substance and mental substance, was for Locke, tabula rasa—blank slate. Therefore, all sensed impressions were reduced to what is typically considered to be an illusion. The affect of this consequence is that we equate social status and privilege to the businessman, engineer, and scientist because they deal with the real world, while musicians, poets, and artists, since they do not deal with the real world, are patronized only for their monetary success, otherwise they are considered second class citizens or worse, social parasites.

Because color, taste, odor, etc. are not located in material objects, Locke assumed that sensed qualities had to originate in a mental substance. The observer, material substance, and the nature of appearance—a three-term relationship-- followed from that assumption. Berkeley, Hume, and Kant addressed the inadequacy of that three-term relationship. Locke did not have to create a three-term relationship, however. Instead, he could have said that mathematical space and time are used to give an analytical account of the aesthetic continuum (Northrop's terminology). The observers, and what appears to the observer, are both determinations of this aesthetic continuum. He could have said that, but he didn't because it would have been extremely difficult given the deterministic nature of Newton's physics. Twentieth century physics, on the other hand, burst on the scene with incredible insights, not the least of which was the one that left the men of science pondering the question: What concrete facts are these theories actually describing?

Physics And Chemistry–The “Stuff” Of The Aesthetic Continuum–End Conversation In Thin Air

April 18, 2008

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Sense Perception Connects Us Up To A World That Changes With Our Knowledge Of It

“Shit, Tony, have we been in the same conversation?” Stan exclaimed. “Okay, forget feelings, forget God. Let’s talk science. Specifically, let’s talk about the color blue. Are you saying, Tony, that the wavelength designation of blue light, approximately 475 nanometers, is really the blue color of the sky?”

“It’s not the number, it’s the radiation acting on the cones in the eye that gives us the color blue,” responded Tony.

We’re talking about two different things here,” said Stan. “We’re talking about concepts by postulation and concepts by inspection—about knowing and seeing. The color blue is the stuff that confirms the theory. It is as ‘real’ as the number that identifies its wavelength, but it is different than that number.”

“Oh yeah, well what about a person who is colorblind,” Tony replied. “He sees the same wavelength as you or I, but not the same color.”

“So what,” said Stan. “In that instance the color observed is not an intrinsic property of the sky. It’s a function of the defective rods and cones in the eyeball. No, the ‘aesthetic stuff’ of our perceptual field is real; it’s just that, as Noel says, it changes with our knowledge of it.”

“There’s no point in arguing that one,” responded Noel, “that was Cassirer’s point exactly. Sense perception signifies real stuff—the ‘stuff’ that physics and chemistry measures and transforms. It is not possible to eliminate the subjective element from the sciences. The intellectual operations that ‘objectively’ define the independent properties of things are themselves based on perspective—a relation holding between relatively narrower spheres of our experience of things. There will always be a relation of perspective that conditions our knowledge of things. In truth, all intellectual operations are based on objectively necessary relations that hold for our knowledge of these relations and our knowledge of the world that this knowledge connects us up with. And, all that happens in the real world, not in some creatively imagined, divinely anchored, process reality.”

“We’re not talking about God anymore,” said Stan. “We’re not even talking about Whitehead. We’re talking about F. S. Northrop’s philosophy now.”

“Well, excuse me. I must have been dozing when we made the switch,” Noel responded.

“Northrop’s philosophy is not as complicated,” said Stan. “There’s no God, just the emotional, aesthetic, purely empirical, stuff of immediacy, and the syntactically formulated, postulationally prescribed theories that designate that stuff.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Tony replied, “and now it is my turn to bid you fine fellows ado. And, like my friend Peter before me, I want to thank you all for making my sleeping bag look so delicious. Goodnight.”

“What, you don’t want to hear about Northrop? He’s got some really interesting ideas. His insights speak directly to what we’re talking about.”

“As that philosophical cowboy, Kenny Rogers, likes to sing: ‘You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em,” replied Noel. “Actually, I think its time for me to call it a night too. See you with the sun. Errr, scratch that. See you when I see ya.”

“Well it looks like it’s just you and me kid, or are you calling it a night, too,” said Stan.

“Northrop was another one of my philosophy teacher’s favorite people, but I don’t remember much about him,” I replied.

“Gee, your teacher was doing some interesting work. What was his name anyway?”

“John Gill,” I said.

“Never heard of him. What university did you go to?”

Central Michigan University,” I replied.

“Never heard of that university, either. It’s not a Big Ten school, eh,” said Stan.

“What about Northrop,” I said, “Tell me what he believed?”

“Sure kid,” replied Stan. “But it’s getting late. Anyway, he was, like Whitehead before him, full of ideas on how to make everything fit together. He divided nature up into what he called the differentiated aesthetic continuum and the undifferentiated aesthetic continuum. Northrop’s big thing was bringing Eastern ideas together with Western ideas. His hope was that opposing political ideologies would become less combative once the contradictions in their respective agendas got resolved. In the East, the differentiated aesthetic continuum is valued for its own sake, while in the West its value is reduced to the signs that confirm our scientific knowledge of it. According to Northrop, because of the confusing relationship that exists between the aesthetic continuum and our knowledge of it, ‘ideas of the good’ are different for different cultures. In a nutshell, Northrop argued that if we could only agree on the relationship that exists between the aesthetic continuum and our knowledge of it, world tensions would defuse. That’s a pretty tall order for anybody. Unfortunately, not much has changed. I guess there’s no simple answer to complex problems. Well, that’s about it. I feel my sleeping bag calling me. Are you staying up?”

“For a little while,” I said. “I’m not tired yet.”

“Goodnight then; I’d be throwing another log on that fire if I were you,” replied Stan. “See you in the morning.”


April 12, 2008

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Insofar as occasions conform to their environment, insofar as the “self-aim” conforms to its immediate past, there is determinism, but, insofar as any entity modifies its response through the subjective element of feeling, there is freedom.

Discussion in thin air

“Practical merit was not the only reason religion was important to Whitehead,” said Stan. “It deals with permanence amid change, and for Whitehead that meant connecting the idea of permanence up with the idea of ‘extensive connection’, or the general ordering that takes place in process reality. In other words, God is co-continuous with all the ‘happenings’ of the world.”

“Go tell that to Dostoyevsky,” replied Tony, “As far as he was concerned God was a mass murderer of innocent children.”

“Okay, Tony, for the sake of Dostoyevsky, lets hold God accountable for all the world’s sins,” responded Stan, “but first lets look to see on whose behalf God exists. Remember, occasions are environing events with a self-aim; they represent the creation of novelty and change—and, as such, the entire physical universe is processing its way back to God–the conceptual, eternal, side of God. God is ‘eternal presence’ and bears witness to all past and present occasions. The future, however, is like an unused role of film. Being exposed, it is always in the process of being developed. The untimely deaths of innocents are part of that process, part of the internal constitution of God as God works through the transition from the eternal to the actual, and from the actual back to the eternal. God is the reason for all becoming, and nothing exists that is separate from God. All ‘passing’ is absorbed back into the eternal witness of God.”

“That’s not good enough,” Tony replied, “whose pain or whose suffering, is not the issue. The fact that there is way too much pain and suffering is the issue. With all the pain, cruelty, and injustice in the world, we just can’t let God off the hook, even if, as Whitehead believes, God shares in all of it. Believe me, He would be convicted by a jury of his peers.”

“Tony’s right,” Noel replied, “God has to go.”

“I’m not finished yet,” Stan responded, “there’s more than just witnessing what’s going on here. In fact, there’s a dynamic that shouts out for change. If indeed a retributive justice is called for here, then one has to look no farther then the first mirror to pinpoint the guilty.”

“Hold on! Who’s getting huffy now,” replied Tony, “I didn’t start this. I didn’t ask to be born. I’m just here, doing what I can to stay alive. How the hell can I be held responsible for God’s handiwork?”

“Do you feel sad when you see dying children,” said Stan.

“What’s that supposed to mean; of course I feel sad,” shot back Tony, “but I can’t change it. I block it out of my mind.”

“Well that’s what brands you as guilty,” Stan replied. “It’s the playing out of those self-expressive, self-fulfilling feelings that you can’t avoid that gets you into trouble. Insofar as occasions conform to their environment, insofar as the ‘self-aim’ conforms to its immediate past, there is determinism, but insofar as any entity modifies its response through the subjective element of feeling, there is freedom. Feeling and freedom are codependent for Whitehead, and God is in touch with all feelings. He is there, inside agonizing screams, and He is there in suffering, especially suffering caused by injustice. He is also there, however, in all hopes, joys, and happiness, in addition to fears, regrets, and sorrows. Good feelings move the world forward to a better place. It is feeling that gives subjective aim to occasions. We encounter, in good feelings, the ‘allure of realization.’ It is possible to create a more humane, peaceful, and loving world. Whitehead said as much, and Gandhi told us how to proceed, ‘You must be the change you want to see in the world’—both in life and love.”

“I must say, that’s an interesting brand of pantheism,” responded Tony.

“It’s not pantheism,” replied Stan, “it’s a divinely anchored process reality.”

“You can call it anything you like,” said Tony, “its still pantheism.”

“Not according to Whitehead,” replied Stan, “The future is empty, and in that emptiness resides the freedom to create a better world–the freedom to replace emptiness with ‘goodness.’”

“Or the freedom to create a worse one,” interrupted Noel, “if change is pervasive, it doesn’t have to be good.”

True enough,” replied Stan, “except it is not likely that the same God that is there inside the screams of pain, suffering, and injustice will also be there in the masochistic and sadistic cravings of those individuals who pleasure themselves in that way. If you ask me, that would be a God-
contradiction. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying that all negative feelings will disappear, but striving for that goal is divine. Everything else is just plain human.”

“I don’t know,’ said Noel, “Whitehead’s got himself a hard sell there. The God thing aside, nobody has ever been successful in merging feelings with reason, if indeed that’s what he’s trying to do. I’m afraid I just don’t buy it. It’s not doable. Go ask Plato if you don’t believe me.”

“Not doable because you don’t buy it,” said Stan, “or not doable because it can’t be done?”

“Both,” replied Noel.

“That’s ditto from the scientific point of view,” chimed in Tony, “that’s why in science we make the distinction between primary and secondary qualities. It’s the electromagnetic radiation that makes contact with the eye that turns the sky blue. The color blue is simply the effect of the effect.”

What’s Going On In This Metaphysics Is A Bootstrapping Of Sentient Nature

April 5, 2008

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Whitehead thought of these “prehending entities” as processes of self-formation with “subjective aim”

Discussion in thin air

“I think,” Noel interrupted, “you a victim of your own success, Stan. And, I might add, welcome to the club. We’ve all been there. The hardest lesson we have to learn is when to stop when we’re ahead. Right!”

“You mean you’re disagreeing with me,” Stan replied.

“Well yes, because I didn’t say any of that,” Noel responded, “you’re just getting carried away with your own extrapolations.”

“I am?” said Stan, “But I thought you were insinuating, ideally at least, that the function of the conceptual symbolic form was to reduce everything to number, or at least to the simplest possible abstractions.”

“That’s true enough,” Noel replied. “But I didn’t compare Einstein’s success to Pythagoras’s failure, nor did I remotely imply that between the two theories, there was not much difference.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” said Stan, “I guess I saw it a bit differently. What about Minkowski’s world—a world reduced to numbers? Besides number, the space-time continuum, and the constancy of the velocity of light, what else is left to say about the idea of a ‘fixed and permanent’ realm of objectivity? Anyway, didn’t you say the goal of the conceptual symbolic form was to simplify, simplify to the most necessary relations, simplify to the simplest application of mathematics and law? And didn’t you further say that that determinism must be weighed against the creative aspect of the only symbol-generating animal we know of–man? Did I hear you wrong or what?”

“What’s your point Stan?” replied Noel. “Sure I said those things, but isn’t it a bit of a stretch to link Einstein with Pythagoras, I mean did Pythagoras give us the bomb?

Pythagoras did one better than that,” replied Stan. ”He showed us how to generate harmonies from strings, but don’t get me started on that. It’s not strings were talking about here, it’s symbolic form and function. From that point of view, Pythagoras was doing the very same thing as Einstein, and, if I heard you correctly, even Einstein’s theory will one day get replaced with a new form of symbolic representation, a new theory that will increase our predictive power and broaden the range of our perceptual field. If you ask me, Einstein and Pythagoras were brothers in arms!”

“You win Stan,” responded Noel, “tell me more about what I said.”

“Wouldn’t you know it,” said Stan, “I’ve lost my train of thought. But I do have a few more observations, albeit a little off the topic.”

“Go for it,” said Noel, “it’s time to move on anyway.”

“Well, it’s not totally new,” Stan replied, “its just that when I was listening to your bantering, I felt like I had heard it all before. In my youth I studied Alfred North Whitehead. In fact, he inspired my desire to attend Harvard. He ended his career teaching there. Did you read him Tony?”

“No, I shy away from metaphysics,” responded Tony. “But I know about him. You can’t go to Harvard without becoming familiar with prestigious alumnae.”

“Whitehead spent the first half of his academic career as a Professor of Mathematics,” Stan continued, “ he and Bertrand Russell attempted to prove that the axioms of number theory could be deduced from the premises of formal logic. Their book on that subject, Principia Mathematic, is quite famous. Whitehead also published another book on mathematics in which he formalized a set of rules and theorems, from which the theorems of Euclidean geometry are derivable. All this was done, for the most part, before Einstein published his famous theories. Whitehead, not surprisingly, took a keen interest in Einstein’s published works. And, like Cassirer, he wrote a book on relativity theory; only in his book he disagreed with Einstein. As I recall he didn’t like the elevation of the velocity of light to a law of nature and he was critical of the flexible nature of space. Whitehead’s formalism was based on the premise of uniform space, or more precisely on the ‘non-contingent uniformity in spatial relations.’ As might be expected, in the scientific community, his ideas fell out of favor, but they played a major role in the metaphysics that he developed latter in life. In that metaphysics, Whitehead lifted the ‘process’ out of the philosopher (Kant) and put it squarely back into nature where he felt it belonged. Man, the symbol-generating animal, became instead, the product of process reality.”

“I guess this is as good a time as any to bid you fine fellows ado,” interrupted Peter, “It’s past my bedtime. But thanks for making my sleeping bag look so delicious. See you in the morning.”

“Sleep tight,” Stan replied, and then throwing another log on the campfire, he continued, “what you were saying about ‘organic unities of time’ constituting our inner sense of being really made me t
hink about Whitehead. He too believed that ‘whole movements’ or ‘epochs’ constituted individual unities of experience. He called those unities of experience occasions and then he went on to base his metaphysics on those occasions. For him, occasions came all at once or not at all and ultimately provided nature with a kind of sentience. What’s interesting is that, at their most elementary level, where occasions are overlapping events, they still possessed a kind of sentience. Is anybody familiar with what I am talking about?”

“Yeah, it’s called animism,” replied Noel, “Eh, I’m only joking. Sure I’ve heard of Whitehead’s metaphysics, but I haven’t studied it in any depth. As I recall he turned nature into a kind of sentient being, and thus sidestepped all the epistemological problems that arise in subject-object opposition and in the self-world dichotomy. But, in his philosophy, didn’t he understand occasions as processes of self-development, or even self-creation?”

“Yes, that’s exactly right,” Stan responded. “The idea was that an occasion was a ‘prehending entity’ in active interaction with its whole environment. Whitehead thought of these ‘prehending entities’ as processes of self-formation with ‘subjective aim.’ They began as simple overlapping events, evolved, and, as they say, the rest is history. Right?”

“Of course,” said Noel, “I wouldn’t have it any other way. But, you are aware that teleological explanations of the world are not just history, they’re ancient history! Isn’t that why we call it meta-physics, eh Stan?”

“Don’t forget about the problematic areas of science,” Stan responded. “Whitehead’s metaphysics speaks directly to those issues, especially the ones at the quantum level. Just hear me out.”

“I’m all ears,” replied Noel.

“Just as in quantum theory,” Stan continued, “where physical reality is at best, quasi-continuous, where successive leaps or vibrations of energy fuse together to form physical objects perceived by us as continuous, so too in Whitehead’s occasions we see physical experience taking place in leaps of becoming. His ‘process reality’ moves from becoming to being. For him, potentiality is rendered specific with the becoming of each event. What this all means is that the whole system that we take to be space and time literally grows out of the way that events are systematically related to one another in nature.

“Again, in quantum mechanics, where the discontinuous existence of fundamental particles form the continuous existence of larger physical bodies, in Whitehead’s occasions there is a parallel state of affairs going on. First, elementary events overlap and become part of the actual world. Then these enduring occasions develop into a biosphere full of sentient qualities, which, in turn, develops into this–our present state of affairs, specifically, into the words we are speaking right now. But that is not the end of it. In fact, it doesn’t end. The ‘subjective aim’ of the occasion presses in upon the environing realities of all physical, biological, and psychological phenomena, and in combination with these realities, continues to create a more fully developed reality. Species evolve, and so it goes, one occasion after another, unfolding, pushing this ‘now’ into the past while receiving ‘what is’ and ‘will be,’ again and again. Novelty arises as new forms of self-expression and new vistas of self-fulfillment unfold. Ultimately, what is going on in Whitehead’s metaphysics—in addition to eliminating the subjective /objective split that occurs in the philosophies of Descartes, Locke, and Kant, is a ‘bootstrapping’ of self-development, a bringing into existence a more self-fulfilling, self-expressive, sentient nature.”

“This is getting too ethereal for me,” said Tony. “What’s next, God?”

“Well, yes, that’s exactly right,” responded Stan, “But apart from the God thing, I believe Whitehead’s thought speaks directly to the concerns brought up in this conversation.”

“If you say so, “Noel replied,” but what about God? How did Whitehead perceive God, anyway?”

“Same o, same o,” replied Tony, “as a redeeming father figure.”

“That’s not true,” said Stan, “Well, maybe its a little true, but it’s more complicated than that. Whitehead would be the first to admit that if religion didn’t exist, it would have to be invented. From a sociological point of view, it does too many things for too many people for it not to exist.