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2009-05-20
laws of nature

Hi, I have an inquiry concerning the state of the concept of 'laws of nature' in view of the current revival of interest in mental phenomena and processes.

The modern notion of 'Laws of Nature' asserts that every incident in the universe is governed by a set of over all encompassing laws. Hence, the world is intelligible and science flourishes. Laws of nature are complete, not only for non-living material but also for living creatures as well as human beings.

 Such a notion has been presented in its most clear form in the well-known Laplace statement:

"We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at any given moment knew all of the forces that animate nature and the mutual positions of the beings that compose it, if this intellect were vast enough to submit the data to analysis, could condense into a single formula the movement of the greatest bodies of the universe and that of the lightest atom; for such an intellect nothing could be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes."

The appeal of such a position lies in its simplicity, one formula applies to the whole universe. However, I can decide to move myself, to go out for example, creating movement of the atoms of my body as well as its effects on the surrounding atoms of the environment. In this view, then, my movement was already decided by the state of the atoms of my body at time t, just before my movement. In other wards, such a view not only ignores free will but also ignores the causal relevance of the mental processes that produced my decision to move myself (perception of the external state, feeling bored, taking a decision, etc).

Today physicalists, who are the successors of such a position, admit the existence of such mental processes, a situation that lead to the appearance of the notion of the 'special sciences', along with its 'special laws' that are irreducible to the physical laws. Nevertheless, these special sciences supervene on the physical constituents of reality. Hence, we have laws of physics, laws of chemistry, laws of biology, as well as laws of mental processes. These form together the four basic levels of nature.

The question is, and we are still within the analytic tradition, is there in contemporary literature any endeavor to try to formulate a set of general laws applies equally for all levels of nature, and hence fulfill the simplicity requirment? For example, classical Newtonian laws apply for the macroscopic level, whereas Quantum mechanics applies for the microscopic level, however, despite the apparent difference in formulation and bearing on reality, the first is in fact an approximation of the second. In addition, chaos and complexity theory applies to several levels of nature, whereas rules of randomness apply to all levels of nature.  Can we reach a similar situation relates those different levels of nature within a unified general set of laws of nature? Or such a view, according to current prevailing paradigm, is considered illogical? If so, why? If not, any tentative proposals for such a view? 


2009-05-25
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir
Your query raises a host of issues, and I'll not be able to delve at all deeply into them, but instead will just offer a hint or two.

It is my impression that a new consensus is emerging regarding the "laws of nature". The old (Humean/positivist) view was that natural laws are generalizations of our experience, and a successful prediction of outcomes serves to justify their truth. Today it seems that  we have moved away from this in two ways. One is to  suggest that rather than reify laws (represent them as ontologically real), "laws" are simply properties of matter.

To expand on this a bit, if (because of the exigencies of daily life as well as Enlightenment ideology) we define entities in terms of their persistent properties, which we then proceed rather parochially to categorize as "essential", this reduces things to their intrinsic properties and represents the basis for the conceptual categories we need in order to think and communicate: epistemology here determines ontology. Since change used to be thought of as accidental and arising from external influences, to discover the essential truth of things we must insulate them from outside purturbations. This represents the positivist laboratory model, which defined reality in terms of behaviors arising from intrinsic properties. However, in principle no system is really isolated (to use the thermodynamic term), and closure is now taken to be only a hypothetical limiting case. If in fact all systems are open, then the derivation of laws in the laboratory can only yield a one-sided view, an artifact of our framing of reality in a certain way, not a representation de re natura.

One implication of this is that we have come represent singular-case causation as being fundamental rather than try to explain things by appealing to general laws. There is a considerable literature on single-case causation, and it has profound implications for how we represent our world. I would add that "cause" and "effect", a sufficient and perhaps necessary relation of events, properties or states of affairs, is itself an artifact of our framing of the world. This gets into the complicated subject of time, and I here only suggest that the conventional notion of a causal event leading subsequently to an effect event (and even the notion of "event" itself) is today contentious.

Another issue is that we tend to represent reality as consisting of a hierarchy of emergent levels (rather than nested "systems"), in which each level represents the constraint of a structure upon one or more general, basic, or universal levels (the levels from which the less probable level emerged). This raises problems, however, particularly in regard to how we go about defining the relation of these levels. This is usually discussed in terms of the mind-body problem, but it does not reduce to that alone. This relation of levels is usually described in terms of supervenience, which says, to put it very simply, that an emergent level depends on the base level. However, this begs the question: How can we define or explain the specific properties of an emergent level (such as mind) in terms of its base level (such as neurons)?

People have justifiably criticized positivist reductionism, but there are perhaps alternative kinds of reductionist explanation. Following hints in Jaegwon Kim and elsewhere, it seems that we can indeed reduce an emergent level to its base if we somehow redefine the base in terms other than simply its observable or empirical properties. However, I don't believe this line of investigation has actually been developed, and I'd sure like to hear from others any citations to the contrary.

My own feeling concerning this matter, if you will allow some adventurous speculation, is that we need to redefine levels, not as systems having emergent properties, but as processes, where "process" is defined as a structural constraint on real possibilities (inherited from the more universal levels from which the level of concern emerged) to produce a probability distribution of possible actualizations. That is, a level is a conceptual unity of hypostatized intrinsic and extrinsic properties (like a pointless topology), where intrinsic structure constrains possibilities to yield a real (in physical, not philosophical sense) probability distribution of possible outcomes (actualizations or space-time localizations). I assume here that extrinsic and extrinsic properties are an artificial deconstruction of process due to the limitations of our mind. If this ontology were adopted, then a reductionist explanation of emergent levels seems to become possible because we represent the emergent level as an actualization of possibilities arising from a base-level structural constraint on possibilities that transcend that base level. However, this makes predictions probabilistic rather than unequivocal, which is fine in the "special" sciences, but more troublesome in  physical science, where standard deviation offers a work-around.

I have questions about your "we are still within the analytic tradition", about whether the relevance of chaos and complexity theory is really well-founded, and about "rules of randomness".

Haines Brown

 
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2009-05-26
laws of nature
Reply to Haines Brown

Thanks for your informing comment. My enquiry is quite simple, what is complicated is our current conception of 'Laws of Nature'. Put another way, given contemporary advancement in the field, is it possible to prove that the notion of 'Unified Laws of Nature' is logically inconsistent with the concept of 'Emergent Properties'?

One way out, as you propose, is to try to prove that 'Reductionism' is compatible with the 'Emergent Properties' through the successive levels, which will constitute, in such a view, boundary limits, rather than 'Ontological Limits', so to speak. Leaving aside the theoretical difficulties of such a view, what will be the form of the 'unified laws'? As you mention it would be a sequence of successive probabilistic laws. It seems to me that this view leads to a sort of 'Markov Chain' (a special case of probability theory). But then how would such a view unify Quantum Mechanics with Cell Biology, and Consciousness? the question persists.

As far as I understand your comment, you generally accept the possibility of the unified laws of nature.

With respect to Chaos and Complexity theory (I consider both as one field). Such a field is not yet established in the main current of the discipline, mainly due to resistance of the 'Reductionists'. However, the concept of complexity is well known since Poincare at least, and the problem of the three bodies that is unsolvable in Newtonian Mechanics due to complexity is well known. In addition, several well known names have contributed to the field. I would say that as long as the concept of 'Emergent Properties' along with 'anti-reductionism' is accepted in the field then, complexity as a concept is part of the field, and hence part of the 'Analytic Tradition'.

With respect to 'Rules of Randomness', as you know probability theory is based on the concept of 'Randomness'. Therefore, probabilistic Quantum Mechanics, probabilistic theory of evolution in biology, and probabilistic theories of human behavior (such as economic and social theories) are all based on the concept of 'Randomness'. And since we have developed the 'rules' of such a concept, then we have developed one example of an overall type of general laws for all levels of nature. Hence, the concept of a unified set of laws is not illogical, I think.

However, the question of the form of such laws persist, and I think that one way out is to rely on the concept of 'Structure', where the structure allows for keeping the form while the ontology changes (see for example John Worral's Structure Realism).

S A


2009-05-28
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir
Your reply touched upon a number of points that would be OT for this thread, and so let me address your core concern and then make a brief comment on your other points that should only be pursued, if you are so inclined, under new subject lines.

I apologize for getting too deeply mired in speculation, and so let me rectify that by offering what I take to be a fairly conventional reply. Your question is, can we prove any logical inconsistency between laws of nature and emergent systems?

The conventional notion of emergence is that the properties of the outcome of a process can not be unequivocally predicted from a complete knowledge of its initial state. I'll define"laws of nature" here as either a) universal forces ontologically independent of matter that unequivocally determine the behavior of matter, or b) behavioral properties that are intrinsic to all matter. But, in either case, I take the word "law" to imply a necessity (unequivocal or statistical) rather than sufficiency.

Given this framework, the question then becomes, is the specific outcome of an emergent process necessitated by the empirical properties of its initial state? The answer has to be no because by definition the emergent outcome is not lawfully determined, necessitated or predictable in terms of the empirical properties of its initial  state. 

However, you will observe that I've shifted the argument from a question of logic to one of semantics because I see no reason why the world has to conform to logic, although if we speak of a conclusion as logically (deductively) necessitated by true propositions, then what I suggested might apply to logic as well. In other words, an emergent outcome (if we narrow our view to empirical properties) by definition is not necessitated by an empirical description of the initial state. Besides, if your question seeks to prove a negative (there is no incompatibility), would it not be illogical?

Again, I must emphasize that I see these definitions as contentious, and I adopt them here simply because they seem fairly conventional. It would seem that the relation of an emergent state and its base state is not necessitated and lawful because that is how we define the words.

Of course, we could also pose the question in pragmatic terms: Do reductionist explanations of emergent phenomena work? I think first we have to admit the success of reductionist explanations in science is increasingly remarkable, and  this  might imply that there is something amiss with our conventional notions of logic, law or emergence. I tried to suggest last time that the problem is that empirical prediction tends to be framed in terms of closed systems, while emergence implies open systems. Closed systems lend themselves to reductionist explanation, while emergence can be explained only in terms of open systems. But if we were instead to take the initial state as being open, then it resists any unequivocal empirical definition, and so an unequivocal empirical prediction becomes impossible.

Now as for some of your other points, which should be pursued, if you insist, in other threads.

My hesitation about chaos and complexity theory is not that there are no such systems, but that when people use them to explain other phenomena they are not providing persuasive arguments. A classic example might be Erich Jantsch, The Self-Organizing Universe, where intuition and analogy substitute for solid argumentation.

As for "rules of randomness", I've no idea what rule is being referred to, or what relevance randomness has. In the thermodynamics of closed systems molecular motions are random, but thermodynamics has to do with macro phenomena. Statistical mechanics offers a probabilistic relation of these micro and macro levels, but SM seems limited to situations where molecules having random motion are relevant and not to macro-level domains. To put it simply, outside SM, I don't believe we should drag in molecular motions to account for probabilistic behavior, any more than we should the particle indeterminateness of QM . I assume all phenomena are probabilistic for other reasons, and probabilism is not at all the same as random.

As for structural realism, that notion appears to be subject to several definitions. One of these might be that all we can know for sure are causal relations, and relata cannot be known. I would not embrace such an indeterminant interactionism because it seems to imply that anything goes, and behavior ceases being probabilistic and becomes random--unintelligible.

Haines Brown

2009-06-18
laws of nature
Reply to Haines Brown

My apology for the late reply,

With respect to the concept of 'randomness', in order not to shift our subject toward the issue of the different interpretations of the concept of 'probability' you may consider, for the time being, that the 'rules of randomness' for which I refer, is equal to 'probability theory', on the basis that the later deals with 'random variables'. In any case, as I see it, the term 'probability' reflects an abstract 'idealistic' conception, whereas 'randomness' reflects a description of an aspect of some categories of reality.

In my inquiry I have stated that 'rules of randomness' (= probability theory) apply to every level of reality. This is justified by the fact that potential theory (a paradigmatic case for theoretical physics and applies to heat transfer, electric fields, hydrology, diffusion, etc) accepts the application of the 'Random Walk' process (an advanced formulation in probability theory, also known as the Brownian Motion).

 This is a well-known application, usually justified (incorrectly in my opinion) by the analogy between the numerical solutions of lattice R.W and Laplace second order differential equation. (see for example, "Random Walks and Discrete Potential Theory", Massimo Picardello, proceedings of the conference held in Corona, Italy, June 1997).

So, we use probability theory (=rules of randomness) in Quantum mechanics, Statistical Mechanics, as well as potential theory, in physics, both on the micro and the macro levels, not for approximation but for exact solutions.

On the other hand, my inquiry does not address the issue of the explanation (or definition) of the concept of 'Laws of Nature'. Different views of such a concept include, as you have mentioned, two basic views, namely 1) the Humean 'regularity account, 2) the necessitarian theory and systems view. (this is the traditional view according to: Nancy Cartwright and others, "Laws", 2005).

 However, any 'Law of Nature' should at least (1) be given through some mathematical/logical formulation, (2) be possible, in principle, to be applied to a range of different instances of reality at different times, and (3) allow for predictability within an acceptable scientific degree of accuracy. Within this 'general' sense of the term my inquiry is advanced.

With respect to the issue of the explanation of the 'emergent properties', physicalists such as Dennett, Dretske, Lewis and others, assume that it will be possible in the future, with the advance of science, to explain physically (i.e. through laws of physics) the 'emergent' properties, especially mental processes. "there is no epistemic gap between physical and phenomenal truths; or at least, any apparent epistemic gap is easily closed". (this is "Type A Materialism", according to David Chalmer's "Consciousness and its Place in Nature", 2003).

This view is grounded on the fact that levels of nature are continuous (living cells are constituted of atoms, and human beings are constituted of living cells, and so on), then we can't logically exclude such a position. However, apart from the apparent difficulty of realizing it in view of contemporary advancement of science, it is also logical to consider the other way around.

For if we were to preserve the apparent continuity and interconnectedness in nature we have two ways for formulating 'Laws of  Nature', not one. The first is the reductionist view mentioned above. The second, is the anti-reductionist view (I lack here a positive agreed upon scientific term, and I think that the term 'holistic' is not suitable), which is the subject of my inquiry.

 In this view such levels are subject to overall general laws that are not reducible to laws of physics but in some way compatible with it. This second alternative is grounded on the fact that the same arguments (continuity of levels of nature and advancement of science) apply equally to both ways.

Contrary to these two logical possibilities, the only other alternative is a fragmented world in which there are no general laws, a situation that reminds us with the Postmodernist Worldview, its slogan is Ronald Giere's 'Science without laws!'.

In this view science works through 1) models, 2) symmetries, 3) "the special sciences, ceteris paribus principles and pragmatic laws", 4) "causal principles", and 5) "Powers, capacities and mechanisms". (this is the nontraditional view presented by Cartwright, 2005). 

So, if we see, as you do above as well as many others, that the reductionist solution is not productive then doing just to our inquiry compels us to explore the other logical possibility, which is the anti-reductionist view of the unified laws of nature.

And the first step toward such an exploration is to check out whether such a view has been (or being) explored or not, which is the purpose of this inquiry. If we don't get a negative answer (i.e. it has been explored and proved not productive, or has been proved illogical), then we should proceed to the next step, which is exploring the view itself.

S. A.


 


     





2009-08-03
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir
This discussion is indeed in the analytic tradition, and so it must be barren. Nor is it surprising that it totally ignores my "What is a Natural Law?", Studium Generale, 24, 1971, 1051-66, reprinted in my Science in Flux, Boston Studies, vol 80, 1975. To go forward it is customary to respond to criticism. it will be a pleasure to see mine answered.
Joseph Agassi

2009-08-05
laws of nature
Reply to Joseph Agassi

Antireductionism dates back to the end of the sixties and the beginnings of the seventies of the last century (Fodor, 1965, 1974&Putnam 1965, 1967). And it has been developed through a series of important works through the seventies and the eighties, albeit under sever attack (kim, 1989) and counter attack (Block 1997).

Today, despite we lack valid statistics, the philosophical community, with respect to the explanation of the levels of nature, is divided between reductionists and antireductionists. This means that we have no an agreed upon analytic argument that refutes antireductionism and renders it barren.

My enquiry concerning laws of nature, as stated above, is based on the relatively newly admitted concept of antireductionism, and hence takes it as a basic premise. If we reject antireductionism, we have no such an enquiry.

Hence, there is no point in responding to discussions of laws of nature that are based on rejecting antireductionism. And since such a concept is developed and proliferated, in the form we know it today, during the seventies and eighties, earlier works that are presented in the early seventies, fall inevitably outside such a framework, and hence, there is no point in discussing it.

Such views continue to exist, with different forms, as long as the reductionist program continues. For example, for a recent discussion of the concept of laws of nature in view of the problem of the causal relations of the levels of being, while rejecting antireductionism see, (John Heil's "From an Ontological Point of View", 2003, Clarendon Press - Oxford, Pp. 31 - 50).

The question is, given antireductionism, and hence, given the concept of the special sciences: what logical reason, if any, that makes constructing overall arching set of formal laws that are void of meaning, and that acquire meaning when applied in the specific contexts of the different levels of nature, impossible?

S A     

2010-02-06
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir

First, let me note that the relation between quantum physics and classical mechanics is far more tenuous than Abuzaid Samir supposes. There is no general reduction of classical mechanics to quantum mechanics. (See any discussions of Ehrenfest’s Theorem such as that in Albert Messiah (1968), Quantum Mechanics, Vol. I, pp. 214ff.)


Second, Haines Brown suggests that "rather than reify laws (represent them as ontologically real), ’laws’ are simply properties of matter.” This is certainly representative of much current opinion, let me suggest that it requires some rethinking.

1. There is no contradiction between being ontologically real and being a property. While properties are accidents and not substances, they are quite real and observable. It would require a very peculiar notion of “ontologically real” to see some things that can be discovered by observation of nature to be real while others, such as laws, are not real. The laws are discovered in nature and not invented out of whole cloth. Of course the laws of physics only approximate the laws of nature, but the fact of approximation entails that there is some reality being approximated.

What is true, is that the laws are not material objects. It is a category error to ask for their physical or chemical composition. But, if we grant that whatever acts is real, they are certainly real because absent their operation, the cosmos would behave very differently.

2. If we wish to see the laws as “properties” they are properties in a  far different sense than normal properties such as mass, extension, duration, color, hardness, etc.  All such properties depend for their existence on the substance in which they inhere, or object of which they are predicated. When the object ceases to be, its properties cease with it, even if similar properties are found in its decay products.

The logical and ontological status of laws of nature is quite different. To see this, consider that our knowledge of normal properties is contingent on particular observations, while apply the laws of nature prior to any particular observation. They are (physically) necessary principles of explanation, not contingent observational properties. As universal, they are logically and ontologically prior to any object or specific kind of matter. Indeed, in explaining the cosmological big bang, laws are logically prior to the universe. Thus, objects depend on their operation. They are not dependent on objects as normal properties are.

The fact that, to operate and be observed, laws must be expressed in specific instances of matter, does not prevent them from being logically distinct from normal properties. They are properties only in an analogical sense, and not univocally, for their logical dependences are very different from those of normal properties.

Third, Haines Brown asserts that epistemology determines ontology. Yet, if we consider how concepts arise and are applicable, it is only because certain objective (ontological) situations are capable evoking specific concepts. If this we not the case, we could neither discern certain notes of comprehension in or experience, nor fruitfully apply concepts to some situations and not others. This is not to deny that the particular conceptual space a person has is largely the product of cultural heritage. Nor is it to affirm any kind of Platonism or Neoplatonism. It is merely to say that unless our experience has the objective power to evoke or activate specific concepts we can neither grasp notes of comprehension in our experience no apply our concepts to concrete situations.

Still, we must agree that the same objective situation can be projected into diverse conceptual spaces to yield different, but veridical explanatory models. To take a controversial example, we might (though no one has), explain the behavior of a spider in response to a fly in its web mechanistically. We can also explain it (and many have) teleologically, in terms means ordered to the end of nutrition. The fact that the same reality can be projected in to different conceptual spaces is not an argument that what is so projected is unreal, any more than alternate representations of the same mathematical function impugn the validity of function.

Fourth, Haines Brown touches on “single case causation.” I will only say that the laws of nature do not operate by Humean or accidental causality, which involves separate events, but concurrently by essential causality. (http://xianphil.org/causal_openness.html). This relates to a number of issues, including intentionality and Jaegwon Kim’s reasoning errors in arriving at his Principle of Causal Closure.


Fifth, Abuzaid Samir asked, “is it possible to prove that the notion of 'Unified Laws of Nature' is logically inconsistent with the concept of 'Emergent Properties'?” I think the key to this is two-fold. (1) Properties are epistemologically emergent if we humans cannot predict them. Quantum and chaos theories restrict our ability to predict, and leave many properties emergent in this sense. (2) However things behave, it is tautological that the laws of nature make them behave as they do. The problem is confusing the laws of physics, which are generalizations approximating the actual laws, with the laws of nature themselves, which may be more complex. For example, the actual laws may have multi-body terms that are inoperative in two-body interaction experiments, and so could never be deduced from data on two-bodies interactions. Multi-body interactions would be dynamically emergent. Another possibility is that human intentions perturb the laws of nature to effect willed acts. This would give a nomological compatibilism, but not a determinism by prior physical states. So, the answer depends on what is meant by “'Unified” in “Unified Laws of Nature.” If it merely means that the motions of bodies of all kinds are compatible with the actual laws of nature, this seems tautological.

It should be noted that even unemergent properties are not determined by the initial state alone, but always by the initial state being acted upon by the actual laws of nature. (http://xianphil.org/causal_openness.html)

DFP

2010-02-14
laws of nature
Reply to Dennis Polis

Hi Dennis

I have never said that classical mechanics reduces to quantum mechanics, on the contrary, I have stressed on the differences, here is what I said,

"For example, classical Newtonian laws apply for the macroscopic level, whereas Quantum mechanics applies for the microscopic level, however, despite the apparent difference in formulation and bearing on reality, the first is in fact an approximation of the second."

However, the purpose of my post is not to introduce a new view or even to discuss such a view, for the correct place of such an aim is a research paper. Rather my aim is to find an explanation for the apparent absence of any endeavor or any line of research for new ways to reunify laws of nature after the failure of reducing mental phenomena to physics and the appearance of anti-reductionism. And I think that Philipapers is an ideal medium to introduce such an inquiry. After all, does such a conception of a Unified set of formal laws of nature that is consistent with anti-reductionism is inherently illogical, then why? and if its not illogical, why don't we see any research work in that area? So far there is no explanation to such a situation.

In order to support my inquiry, I will present it from another point of view, which is the relation between the concept of unified laws of nature and symmetry.

Symmetry is viewed as the most essential principle in nature, and consequently all known laws of nature are based on such a ubiquitous principle. For example Joe Rosen writes:

 The point of all that, for the purpose of this book, is to lead to the notion that science – even in its broad conception – not only makes much use of symmetry, but is essentially and fundamentally based on symmetry. Indeed, science rests firmly on the triple foundation of reproducibility, predictability, and reduction, all of which are symmetries, with additional support from analogy and objectivity, which are symmetries too. So it is not much of an exaggeration to claim that science is symmetry. Or perhaps in somewhat more detail, science is our view of nature through symmetry spectacles. (Joe Rosen, 2008, "Symmetry Rules - How Science and Nature Are Founded on Symmetry", Springer, preface VIII)

symmetry in contemporary literature is usually applied to physics, in gauge theories in Quantum mechanics as well as relativity theory. However, science, as such, as mentioned above, is fundamentally based on symmetry, hence, we find symmetry in chemistry (example organic formations), in biology (example, DNA double helix and in evolutionary theory), in human sciences (example economic cycles and equilibrium of supply and demand).

Symmetry is defined as that the situation possesses the possibility of a change that leaves some aspect of the situation unchanged. (Joe Rosen, 2008, P. 1)

In applying such a concept to a physical law, it can be described informally, according to redhead, that the invariant feature is the mathematical form of the law and the symmetry transformations are transformations affecting the variables in terms of which the law is formulated, which leave the form of the law unchanged. (M. L. G. Redhead, 1975, "Symmetry in Intertheory Relations", Synthese 32, P. 78). In short, symmetric laws are formal laws that are applicable to different cases.

Now since symmetry applies to all levels of nature, we can say that symmetry applies horizontally within each level. In other words, contemporary literature views symmetry as fundamental to science only horizontally within each level. On the other hand, the three basic philosophical positions (materialism, dualism and monism) with their subdivisions rest on one basic assumption, which is continuity of nature. For the mental level either reduces to the material level (reductionism) or supervenes on it (anti-reductionism).

If we combine the concept of continuity with the concept of symmetry, it would be quite reasonable to expect that symmetry works also vertically. And since symmetry in mathematical laws means that formal laws apply to different cases, then we should expect that if symmetry works vertically it would generate a set of formal laws of nature that are applicable to the different levels of nature.

The only alternative to this situation is to consider that the mental level is completely separated (discontinuous) form the lower levels. In such a case, it will be quite reasonable to assume that symmetry is inapplicable vertically. Such an assumption is not acceptable, naturally, for at least it leaves the mental phenomena outside the realm of science. Hence, either we accept that symmetry applies vertically, and hence, accept the possibility of a unified set of formal laws of nature, or submit to discontinuity with mental phenomena.   

Again we come to the same conclusion: the possibility of existence of a set of formal unified laws of nature that applies formally to every level of nature, not only the physical. Nevertheless, this time we came to such a conclusion not through logic but through the most essential and fundamental feature of reality, symmetry.

S A


2010-02-20
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir
I think we need to reconsider our stand on unified set of laws.

Unfortunately, we have concluded too soon that this is the way or that is the things really are. Our understanding of the laws of nature is still evolving and new observations are presenting new challenges that we have failed to explain through our current set of theories. What we need is a thorough analysis of our understanding of the fundamental concepts of physics.

If we have to find a way to unify the laws of nature then such unification can occur only at the level of space-time or the field. From here on the diversity starts as the space and time both are relative. 

Principle of relativity demands that all measurements must change proportionally when we move from one frame-of-reference to another. Thus, principle of relativity is another unifying factor that must apply to both - the macro world and the quantum world.

Nature entertains communication only between systems and atom becomes the irreducible element of physical description in the macro world. In the quantum world everything is part of the atom. Therefore, the two worlds are fundamentally different and yet some fundamental laws of nature must be operational in both the worlds. We need to identify these laws of nature. We certainly cannot have two different sets of fundamental laws.

Once we identify the fundamental laws of nature we can identify the factors that differentiate the two worlds.

I think we have already achieved these two objectives; any attempt to generalize all the laws will be futile more because of our observational limitations and not because the way things really are.

2010-02-22
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir
Dennis Polis' post  seems to try to solve the problem of reconciling emergent properties of complex systems with mechanistic laws of nature by definition alone; quote: " However things behave, it is tautological that the laws of nature make them behave as they do." I am reminded of a parent's answer to a child's persistent why questions, "That's just the nature of things." These responses are no more explanatory than invoking God's will. Surely the problem raised by Abuzaid Samir has to do with applying the laws of physics to the phenomena of consciousness, not these hypothetical laws of nature which cannot be challenged, tested or described.


2010-02-24
laws of nature
Reply to Peter Sundt
I am not trying to solve any problem by definition but the problem of imprecise use of language. My point is that the actual laws of nature are defined as dispositions for the acts that do occur. The laws of physics are different, being generalizations that approximate the laws of nature. The laws of nature can have subtle differences from the laws of physics. The history of the laws of physics shows this. The physical law of conservation of energy stated as an equivalence between kinetic and potential mechanical energy. Then heat was added and we got the first law of thermodynamics. Then chemists added chemical binding energy, and physicists added electromagnetic energy. Einstein added mass energy. Now we are looking at dark matter and possible new forms of energy. Our approximations continually improve so the laws of physics are not the laws of nature.

To say that the laws of physics, which are human approximations, control mental processes is a great leap of faith, especially as meta-analysis of telekinetic effects show that mental processes seem to control physical processes with a 4 standard deviation effect. To say the laws of nature control mental processes is not a leap of faith, but tautological. The problem is that it is often thought to be almost tautological that the laws of physics control mental processes, when all we really know is that they are approximations to the real laws of nature.

Dennis Polis

2010-02-24
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir
Hi Abuzaid,

I wonder, with Haines Brown, why it is important to you to remain in the analytic tradition? I am not saying that it has no insights to offer, only that its methodological presuppositions are presuppositions and so it is more constrained than is beneficial for our common project of integrating science, philosophy and religion.

Turning to your comments, first, I want to address the question of symmetry which you raise. It seems to me that you are confusing the technical sense in which the word is used in physics with a broader metaphorical sense which can have no philosophical application without a more precise definition. In physics, symmetry means that if we transform the Hamiltonian by replacing some variable(s) with transformed variable(s). For example, time reversal symmetry means that when we transform t -> -t the form of the Hamiltonian will be unchanged. I do not see how this notion can be related to "horizontal" and "vertical" symmetry, nor do I see how predictability and reduction are symmetries in this sense. I grant that reproducibility involves an invariance in time and space, so that the same dynamics applies at different space-time locations, all other factors being the same.

Also, I do not think that symmetry is as fundamental as you suppose, as parity (spatial reflection) and CP (exchanging particles and antiparticles, and reflecting in space) are known to be only approximate symmetries which are violated in the weak interactions. Further, if CP is violated,  theoretically time-reversal invariance does not hold either. Thus, symmetries are something that cannot be assumed, but must be investigated empirically.

It would help if you would give some concrete examples or possibilities of how you see symmetry helping us with the mind-body problem.

Second, I want to suggest that supervenience is not a rational principle as it is used in the philosophy of mind. Correlation without causality is, but definition accidental, and it is irrational to suppose that accidental relations are universal and fundamental. Supervenience is not dynamically entailed, for that is dynamical reductionism. It is not forced upon us by any set of data or observations. It is merely a way to maintain an a priori materialism absent any rationale for doing so. Thus, I certainly do not see supervenience as equivalent to anti-reductionism.

Let me suggest that intentional states do not supervene on material states because the identical neural state can give rise to different concepts. If so, conceptual differences need not supervene upon neural differences. Antonio Damasio argues that our know­ledge of the external world started as neural representations of body state and evolved into representations of the external world as the source of changes in our body state:

... to ensure body survival as effectively as possible, nature, I suggest, stumbled on a highly effective solution: representing the outside world in terms of the modifications it causes in the body proper, that is representing the environment by modifying the primordial representations of the body proper whenever an interaction between organism and environment takes place. (Descartes's Error, p. 230).

Any representation of a sensory change (a change in body state) is identical with the representation of the environmental state so sensed. (The representation of the change of my retinal state caused by an apple is identical with the visual representation of the apple causing the change in retinal state.) Yet, this one physical representation can support many concepts. We can be aware of the apple we see, of our retina being modified, or of our self as the subject seeing the apple. Since the same neural contents, the same brain state, supports each concept, we can change concepts by refocusing our awareness without needing to change our brain state. Now, it is certainly true that after we become aware of the different aspects we may subsequently engage in different neural processing as a result. But, that is after the instant of awareness and consequent upon it.

Thus, while neural states support intentional states, there is no reason to believe that intention states supervene on neural states or are nomological consequences of them.

Dennis Polis







2010-02-24
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir
I find it very difficult to engage this thread constructively because of the myriad of semantic and logical issues the mind-matter problem always carries with it. So my comment may seem marginal, but at least it is how I try to approach the mind-body problem.

The notion of "supervenience" has always struck me as descriptive rather than explanatory. The observed correlation of property changes at the emergent level and at the base level does not explain the correlation. The usual approach in terms of their causal relation seems to fall flat as explanation. True, causality is another can of worms, but it seems to me that most people understand to be a relation of two events, usually in temporal sequence, in which the first, said to be the cause, has a "necessary" relation with the second, the effect. It is the nature of this necessity that is the problem, and it is usually understood as a deterministic or probablistic correlation that supports a prediction based on the observation of multiple instances. With the mind, however, we are more concerned with a singular causality, and so explanation turns to some inner mechanism that makes the relation a necessary one. Unfortunately, it remains mysterious (and I include in this judgement the property of functionality).

Instead I see the relata in terms of processes rather than as a sequence of events (as Wesley Salmon seems to have defined process). This "process" I suggest is a relation, not of events, tokens, or properties, but of the (real) modalities of actuality, possibility and potency. In such terms, I define process as the constraint of observable structure on possibilities that are actualized thanks to the dissipation of potency. Possibilities are acquired by a given level from the more universal level(s) for which it represents a constraint. The potency for change I see as a probability gradient between what is actual (in terms of structure or energy) and what is possible and more probable. Since actuality is manifest in memory, we see actual structure as the "past" and we see possibility as the future. In short, I'm inclined to define "process" as a probability distribution that we understand by analyzing it in thought as a relation of its three modal aspects.

In these terms, what is spoken of as a causal relation is a non-causal relation of processes, where the structure of the "cause" process constrains the probability distribution of the "effect" process. The important point is that the former does not generate or produce the latter. The observable effect is an actualization of its own possibilities, driven by the dissipation of its probability gradient, and the outcome is constrained rather than caused by the structure of the cause process. In terms of the mind-body problem,  the mind would be an emergent process that must fall within the possibilities of matter (neurons), and is actualized by its dissipation of energy, but beyond this the content of mind cannot be explained as being in any way necessary. Instead, we explain how it is possible and the conditions sufficient for its existence. 

Haines Brown



2010-02-26
laws of nature
Reply to Dennis Polis

Hi Polis,

I think you have a point in much of what you have stated in your rich comment. I agree with you that the methodological presuppositions of the analytic tradition are no more than presuppositions. I partially agree with you about the 'proposed' fundamental status of symmetry. I also partially agree with you that supervenience is not yet fully established rationally. I can give you other obvious reasons about the shortness of the identity thesis (identity between neural states and the corresponding mental states). Moreover, there are good evidence about downward causation (the mental affects the physical), for example the work of Jeffrey Schwarz, Henry Stapp, and Mario Beaugard, 2005, titled "Quantum theory in Neuroscience and Psychology: a Neurophysical Model of Mind/Brain Interaction", which is based on experimental observations not armchair philosophy.

Let me first point out to your notice about the "project of integrating science, philosophy and religion". My own project is not integration but establishing the correct interrelation between the three realms, through introducing the correct demarcation between them and stressing on the differences in methodology.  Hence, I am only interested in the 'Conditions' of the tri-relations that are if violated renders our inquiry into an irresolvable one. The writings of Colin McGinn throw some lights about such a problem in his notions of the limits of philosophy and the mysterious topics. Here I refer to religion as such, not to a particular religion. Some religions might not fulfill such conditions, and hence may be depicted as irrational (in case of confusion with philosophy), and/or unscientific (in case of confusion with science), if philosophy and science are defined within such conditions.

Why I am interested in the analytic tradition? Because despite the possibility of the appearance of other more sophisticated 'Scientific' one, for me it is the basis of modern science. Hence, in order to fulfill my own conditions of the tri-relations between the three realms I rely on the most rigorous one, the analytic tradition. 

Now turning to the other two issues which you raise, symmetry and supervenience and their role in my 'confusing' concepts of horizontal and vertical symmetry.

I will concentrate in this post on symmetry and I will reply to your argument about supervenience afterwards in order to reply to Haines Brown too.

Symmetry is, as much as any other essential concept, cannot be proved scientifically, for science is not about ultimate truth but about methodology. We need not to prove the truth of our statements but only to justify it 'scientifically'. This is the reason for quoting Joe Rosen in his extensive work, in order to 'justify' my postulate through contemporary literature (from leading figures see Van Fraassen, "Laws and Symmetry", 1989). However, if symmetry is not the most fundamental feature of reality it, at least empirically, appears to be fundamental. Without repeating what is already said of the topic, humans are symmetric in shape as much as cars and flowers. True, symmetry is usually applied mathematically in theoretical physics, but if one concept applies both quantitatively and qualitatively why assume that they are two different notions that are conflated. Why not consider it one that accepts application in both modes.

As for 'Horizontal' and 'vertical' symmetry. It is well known that mathematical forms (ex. Laplace equation) apply as scientific laws for different phenomena (such as heat transfer and water flow, etc). Evolutionary theory is symmetric for it applies to different species in different situations. These are symmetries within the same level (the physical, in the first, the biological in the second). And the word 'Level' is almost equal to the word 'horizontal'. There is no confusion here of the technical sense with the metaphorical sense, albeit I agree that the qualitative sense is in need to more precise definition.

Vertical symmetry, on the contrary, is problematic. The reason is that the 'language' of science differs at each level, hence, unless we develop an  overarching language, inevitably we are talking metaphorically if we ever talk about 'vertical' symmetry. For, the meaning of force in physics is essentially different from the meaning of the same term in human life. Nevertheless, we experience (according to some postmodernists, ex. Latour 2000) in a general and qualitative way under complex environment, the laws of reflexivity, attraction and inertia. Which leads to a possible "Latourian 'deep re-description' of the social, developed in terms of a corresponding re-description of Newton's laws of motion using equivalent physico-social forces".

Such a view is certainly counterintuitive but it is not inherently illogical.  After all, history of science reserved for us several cases of counterintuitive principles that worked perfectly well scientifically (think of the quantum postulate).

So the problem, as I believe, is about language, in the final analysis, if we are to consider the view of the anti-reductive formal laws of nature.

S A


2010-03-01
laws of nature
Reply to Haines Brown

Hi,

With respect to the relation of the concept of supervenience and its relation to my inquiry, let's first take a brief look to such a concept in literature.

1-     In its most general form, supervenience is defined as follows: 'To say that a collection of properties, A (e.g., mental properties), supervenes on a second collection of properties, B (e.g., physical properties), is to say that any two things or cases that agree in all B respects also agree in all A respects'. (paul teller, 2009, 'A Companion to Metaphysics', Blackwell)

2-     The concept is unclear. Andrew Bailey comments, 'Discussion of the supervenience relation in the philosophical literature of recent years has become Byzantine in its intricacy and diversity. Subtle modulations of the basic concept have been tooled and retooled with increasing frequency, until supervenience has lost nearly all its original lustre as a simple and powerful tool for cracking open refractory philosophical problems. ("Supervenience and Physicalism",1998 Synthese 117).

3-     The concept is used to support non-reductive physicalism, especially about the mental, and it has been criticized in several ways. "Some saw in supervenience an alternative way to express the idea that the mental is "nothing over and above" the physical. Others find this suggestion obscure. Critics complain broadly that, while supervenience expresses covariation among properties, and sometimes more specific forms of dependence, it does not explain the relevant kind of dependence or covariation. Some such critiques castigate supervenience as a pretty useless notion. Supervenience has proved to be a less powerful and more problematic analytic tool than initially hoped. But the fact that it is so widely cited belies the evaluation as "useless". (paul teller, 2009, 'A Companion to Metaphysics', Blackwell)

Why implement such an immature concept to support the possibility of a unified formal set of laws of nature? Simply, because of the concept of continuity. Nature, in my view, is continuous both horizontally and vertically, nothing appears from no where. The apparent immaturity of the concept leaves for us a room for establishing the correct inter-level relations that is required for such a proposed set of laws of nature.

Dennis Polis's criticism of the concept is correct but it does not help to overcome the problem of continuity. For, if the physical, organic, cellular, and the mental were not continuous in a hierarchical manner, science would not be possible. For me the concept of supervenience is not between the physical and the mental as usually considered but only between each level and the next; moreover, it doesn't not work in the same way in each inter-level relation. Hence, I think, what we really have is at least three (or four if we include the non-organic level)  different types of supervenience. So, we have a supervenience relation at the inter-level 'H2o' between the physical (H and O atoms) and the chemical (the property 'water'). And we have a supervenience relation at the inter-level 'Brain' between the cellular level (the Neurons) and the mental level (the property 'Mind'). But we have no supervenience relation between the physical level (the atoms) and the mental level (the Mind) due to the increasing degree of complexity with each added level.

Haines Brown's process view, as I understand it, comes close to the reasons behind my view of inter-level differences in the nature of the supervenience relations. For, in my opinion, all such levels represent complex non-linear systems that can't be reduced to the classical state. Complex systems are open systems sensitive to initial conditions, in continuous interaction with environment, non-linear (includes feedback), and hence, it is not liable to prediction. Process relations as described by Brown exhibit part of such traits and that is why it helps in understanding the different inter-level supervenience relation of nature.

In other words, the concept of supervenience, as it is introduced in literature, includes implicitly some sort of classical inter-level relations in which such relations are predetermined, whereas in reality such relations are indeterminate, and hence unpredictable. Here some effort is needed in order for such a view to be consistent with the apparent contradiction of the thesis of supervenience with some theoretical positions and experimental observations in cognitive science to which Polis point out. 

S A


2010-03-02
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir
I wish to remark briefly on SA's remarks concerning supervenience, and then on his comment regarding my own contribution.

I concur with his initial three points (the definition in logical terms, its unclarity, its being vacuous). I would only like to add that the debates in the literature are a lot more interesting and readable than comparable debates raised in the past in terms of analytic philosophy. For lurkers who have not had the opportunity to explore the issue, it is probably worth doing. Jaegwon Kim, for example, writes clearly and persuasively (although his positions shifts). That is, while I find little use for the concept, exploring it is a nice little exercise.  What I draw from the discussion of supervenience is a shared intuition that it is necessary to define the base level (or initial state) in such terms that it allows for the emergence of novelty, but there is no consensus how we should go about doing it. Some have proposed that (unobservable) functional properties be included in the description of the base level, but there seem persuave reasons why functional properties are problematic or beg the question. 

As regards my last post, my aim is to replace the assumption that all explanation is causal with explanation in terms of a relation of processes. However, not "process" understood as a sequence of states of affairs or events, for this reduces to a causal explanation. The basic difference between a causal explanation and my processual explanation that the classic causal explanation lends to the cause a capacity to produce the effect, or the base level has the capacity to rive rise to the emergent properties of the outcome or whole, or has something (such as a mark or energy) that is transmitted to the emergent level. What I try to do is to define all levels as being themselves an emergent process, and so a relation of base to emergent level or intitial state of affairs to its outcome is understood as an actualization of a possibility that belonging to the emergent level or outcome, and the initial state or base level only qualifies that result, rather than produce or generate it. A simply way to put this is that causal explanation sees the cause as active agent and the effect as a passive recipient. I see both as active processes. More accurately, I see both "cause" and "effect" as two constraints upon a common shared process (universal dissipation) that in this case have entered into communication.

Now this is rather abstract, but when I try to pin it down, it gets a little hairy. First, it would require a definition of "process". For better or worse, I would define process as the constraint of structure (the past) upon exogenous possibilities (the future possibilities of the more universal level on which it is a constraint), and as driven by an extrinsic probability gradient (the probability differential between an actual and a possible state of affairs in the present). Together, the modalities of actuality (structure), possibility (the future) and potency (motion in the present) are a probability distribution and are how we can represent a probability distribution in thought. Note that assumed here is a scientific realism, a modal realism (not Lewis' plurality of worlds), and a version of presentism.

But, still, just what goes on when two processes enter communication remains unspecified. A fairly uncontentious place to start is to suggest that when two processes (probability distributions) enter into communion, they frame each other, which is to say they localize each other to give possible properties actual values. This is a big subject much discussed and so I won't elaborate on it here. But it still does not go very far into defining just happens in what we conventionally represent in thought as a causal relation.

Second, in conventional causal explanation, the cause dissipates energy as it does work and produces a change in the affected entity. Instead, I see this dissipation as changing the probability distribution of the other process by making one of its hitherto improbable outcomes a) probable and b) actual. The structure of the "causal" process, within the constraint implied by the structure of the affected process (multiplication of probability values) is combined with the probability gradient of the "causal" process to make this improbable possibility very probable. While this way of seeing things puts a little strain on the brain, I think it really describes pretty well what we know is going on.

Note that I've simplified things here for the sake of explanation. The logic of the conception I propose implies that there are no causes and effects, for all processes in communication are both. I suggest that what distinguishes the cause is merely its having a greater probability gradient than the effect, but in principle what is happening in each process is the same. Our sense of temporal assymetry is therefore the effect of the accident of which process has the greatest probability gradient.

Now S.A. brings up non-linear feedback, for which I suppose we can thank Prigogine. However, I'm not comfortable with it. For one thing, non-linearity is used to account for non-equilibrium systems, and how this might relate to "causality" in equililbrium systems or the relation of an emergent level to its base level is obscure. But even on Prigogine's turf, while non-linearity might be adequately descriptive, I'm not sure it is explanatory. That is, non-linearity describes emergence (in the old definition) rather than explain it. However, I defer to those better informed than I do deal with this.    

I don't know that discussions of supervenience imply relations are "predetermined", for it seems to me that they often rely on a black box. However, the word predetermined or determined can be understood in different ways. If the emphasis is on "pre", then would agree to the objection to supervenience. If the emphasis is on "determined", then we must decide between unequivocal (Laplacean) determination, and of course no one buys that, but I don't think the supervenience folks do either. If the determination is probabilistic, I suspect most folks would find it agreeable, but it seems to beg the question as description rather than expose the mechanism of this probabilism.

Incidentally, I was interested in SA's citations. Unfortunately the Teller book is not in Amazon, and I couldn't find the Bailey article in JStor. I'm trying to remember if JStor covers Synthèse. Any idea what my problems could be here?

Haines Brown   

 

2010-03-02
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir
Mr Samir,I am puzzled by your idea that relations among levels depend on their relative proximity, eg in denying that there is a supervenience between Minds and atoms, but there is such a relation between Minds and brains. Doesn't this suppose a very rigid hierarchy and a very firm ontology of levels? Seems to me that the whole notion of levels is very problematic, that levels very possibly only exist as mental constructs to help us make sense of things, and that one can always introduce a new level between two existing ones. Also, regarding your speculations that inter-level relations are non-linear, remember that even chaotic mathematical systems are fully deterministic. I don't know if this fact affects your opinion...

2010-03-24
laws of nature
Reply to Haines Brown

Well, there is a lot to say here, however, I will try to confine the discussion within fruitful limits.

First, I think that the central point here is that when we talk about levels we talk about levels in reality. So we are not talking about a Brain that is confined in a laboratory isolated from interaction with environment, similarly cells we talk about are not isolated form environment. The mark of complex systems is that they are open systems that continuously interact with environment. In this sense, every level in reality (above the basic level) is an open system, hence, complex in nature. Interaction with environment means that the systems' own effects on the exterior invokes changes on its own state (feedback).

With this general remark in mind, I will present my comments on both of your observations above.

Haines Brown describes a process view of inter-level relations that is probabilistic in nature. I agree in general with such a "structural" picture as well as its probabilistic outcome. The difference in my view is that we are not talking about two processes in interaction but about a continuous interaction with a great number of 'other processes'. Any living cell (a structure in a process) is in continuous interaction with a large number of adjacent cells (structures) generating a highly complex probability pattern that can't be calculated in advance. He says that "But, still, just what goes on when two processes enter communication remains unspecified.", admitting the complexity of interaction between just two processes. So think of the relation between several adjacent cells (several processes) that usually perform different tasks generating a very much highly complex interacting whole. Apparently, we are still in need of much work in order to achieve a true scientific picture of the 'processual' - complexity explanation, especially that complexity theory is not mature yet.

For the issue of the 'pre-determination', it is clear that a highly complex picture would make the 'probabilistic' sense of determination meaningless. For all that we can do is to speak about the probabilistic relation only within one inter-level relation. That is why we treat mental illness by reducing the cause of the illness to the function of the neurons (the adjacent level) not the functions of the atoms or molecules (the basic level); and why we explain the function of the living cell by the organization of its DNA (the adjacent level, i.e., the organic) not the organization of its atoms (the basic level).

This brings us to the comment of Peter Sundt about my rigid hierarchy of levels of existence as well as his interpretation of such a hierarchy as a 'mental construct'. I think that the discussion above makes my point clear, we are forced to adopt such a 'rigid' view of hierarchy due to practical reasons. Otherwise, we would be talking about a highly idealized form of hierarchy, which is of no use in reality. Such an ambitious idealized flexible hierarchy which tries to establish a direct relation between the mental and the physical is the source, I think, of the apparent feeling of the uselessness of the concept of supervenience as well as our general feeling that it lacks explanatory power.

 The concept of level is problematic? True, but it is probably essential for science, otherwise how can we differentiate say chemistry from biology from social sciences? Discussion of demarcating levels is complicated; Carl Craver (In Explaining the Brain, 2007 Clarendon Press, P. 171) introduces the following complicated taxonomy. He divides levels into two basic types, levels of science and levels of nature. 'Levels of nature' is divided into levels of causation, levels of size ,and levels of composition. Levels of composition is further subdivided into levels of mereology, levels of aggregativity, levels of mere material/spatial containment, and levels of mechanisms.   

 So, it seems that matters are not settled yet, neither with respect to the nature of supervenience, the nature of levels of existence, emergence, anti-reductionism, nor of course with respect to the question of re-unifying laws of nature.

S A


2010-03-30
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir
Abuzaid, I'm not sure I quite follow your point about pre-determination, but allow me at least to throw more wood on the fire.

What got me worrying about levels years ago was an article by Lazlo Tisza, "Conceptual Structure of Physics", Reviews of Modern Physics, 35.1 (1963), 151-185. He employed analytic philosophy to define domains in terms of conceptual structures, and he came up with mechanics, thermodynamics and quantum mechanics (which he constrasts with biosphere). In accord with the epistemological primacy that has dominated the West in modern times (and seems to be collapsing at present), ontological domains are here an artifact of our mental powers. This kind of position I seek to avoid because of its anthropocentrism.

Today we tend to use the word "level" rather than "system" as a unit of analysis because the former implies a closure or reduction. Closure, it seems now agreed, is only a hypothetical limiting case, and in principle all systems are "open". The problem with this is the implication that the world consists of reified entities, each Self standing in relation to the Other. The word level seems more than just an open system because it also suggests a cosmic coherence. Of course, the nature of this coherence has never been satisfactorily resolved. The idea may have originated in Europe with 16th-century neo-Platonic mysticism (a necessary foundation for the rise of science in Europe), but by the time of Newton (also a mystic) the coherence had become one of unequivocal (mechanistic) and universal lawfulness or rationality (Kant). Today the notion of law seems in trouble, and there has been a shift of explanation to a description of the inner mechanism needed to account for singular change rather than reify the generalizations known as universal laws.

I suspect (but am not sure), that a traditional notion of levels assumed that at each level there were laws that distinguished it from other levels. I suppose folks took these law-levels as emergent in that an emergent level added to the laws that already existed at a more universal level. It has been widely assumed that the lowest and most universal level is that of physics (a version of physicalism). However, if my guess about the tendency regarding laws is correct, to distinguish levels in terms of their characteristic laws is really to beg the question by ignoring the causal mechanism that accounts for their characteristic behaviors.

There is a tradition associated with Vernadsky (although it has deeper roots) that would distinguish three levels that are given such labels as cosmos, biosphere and noosphere. The issue is, can we distinguish these levels in terms of inner causal mechanism of their trajectories? I try to do this, but it opens a hugh and complicated perspective that I can only hint at here.

Justified by an "action foundationalism", I assume a modal realism (not Lewis' Plurality of Worlds) that suggests that necessity and possibilitity are real. That is, without them the world would be quite different (for several reasons I call necessity "actuality"). I do this in order to define "process" as a probability distribution, and we can represent it in thought as having three modal aspects: possibility (an exogenous property inherited from the more universal level on which the level of concern represents a constraint), actuality (a structure localized in space-time), and potency (potency is not a separate modality for, borrowing on thermodynamics, I see it as the effect of the probability gradient between the modalities of actuality and possibility). Well, given this mouthful, it seems that these three aspects are what we represent in thought as time: structure is the present effect of the past, present possibility is the future, and the present is the probability distribution (a process or becoming) that results from the unity of the three modal aspects. This is a kind of actualism, for the "past" and "future" are modalities of present becoming.

Now, to further complicate this mess, I assume that "emergence" is normal (the old sense of the word) because all "systems" are to a degree "open" (that is, everying is part of a level), but I distinguish "spontaneous" emergence where properties of an emergent whole actualize possiblities that are probable in terms of the intrinsic properties of its constituents, and "structural" emergence where the structure of an interface determines the a relation of constitutents that is improbable in terms of their intrinsic properties (i.e., what is called a "far-from-equilibrium" system). My intent here is not to use the distinction of spontaneous and structural emergence to distinguish the levels of cosmos, biospere and noosphere, but to employ them as a tool to expose their inner and distinguishing the three different mechanisms of development. Both kinds of emergence can exist at all three levels. For example, a structural emergence in the cosmic sphere is the tropical storm.

To climb yet further out on this limb, let me suggest that the levels of cosmos, biosphere and noosphere are distinguised by characteristic behaviors arising from the two modal aspects of the process or by their relation. Specifically, the cosmos is governed by the "past", by actual structure. It is constrained by structure to move toward a state that is more probable than what is actual (necessary modality). The biosphere (with possible exception of a virus) is manifest in a far-from-equilbrium system, the structure of which depends on a dissipation of its environment (the cosmos). Rather than being constrained by the past, the biosphere is also constrained by the present, by its state of becoming, and so changes its relation to its environment in order to maintain this far-from-equilibrium state. The noospere is constrained in addition by the future, by  possibility, and its improbable state (improbable in relation to the intrinsic properties of its constituents) is not just maintained but made more improbable. Rather than adjust to circumstance in order to maintain life, it transforms itself to increase the dissipation of circumstance in order to increase its probability gradient, its capacity for action.

Well, I'd better stop because I may have lost you. I tried to suggest that an epistemologically based notion of levels gets out of control. Instead I turn to traditional modal realism to construct a notion of process. I try to define process in terms of three aspects: two modes and their relation, and I relate these three with our temporal sense of past, future and present respectively. Then I try to define the inner mechanism of change to distingush the levels of cosmos, biosphere and noosphere, by whether actuality, potency or possibility constrains behavior.

Haines Brown    

      

2010-04-05
laws of nature
Reply to Haines Brown

Hi,

 Please note that this post might appear somewhat late.

 With respect to the meaning of the term 'predetermined' in my discussion,

Stathis Psillos, in his recent " Philosophy of Science A-Z", 2007, Edinburgh University Press, defines determinism as follows:

 Determinism: Intuitively, the view that the past uniquely determines the future. Laplace characterized determinism as lawful predictability... Freed from the epistemic notion of predictability, determinism is taken to be a claim about universal causation: each and every event has a fully sufficient nomological condition (i.e., a sufficient cause in accordance with universal laws). Determinism, then, denies the existence of objective chance in the world: all events are determined to happen with either probability one or zero. Talk about chances is allowed, but only in so far as it expresses our ignorance of the universal laws and/or the initial conditions. The denial of determinism (indeterminism) does not ipso facto imply the denial of causal connections among events, since there can be probabilistic (or stochastic) causation. Determinism is supposed to be violated in non-classical physics, but it faces problems in classical physics too, since the Laplacian imagery applies only to closed systems. P. 6

 This implies that determinism can be understood according to two basic versions.

1.      The Lablacian version ' that the past uniquely determines the future'. Which may be called the 'strong' version of determinism characterized by a commitment to 'an epistemic notion of predictability, hence, pre-determinism.

2.      The second may be called 'weak determinism', characterized by being 'free from the epistemic notion of predictability', defined as 'a claim about universal causation', hence, metaphysical determinism.

I use the term 'pre-determined' in order to make clear that I am not speaking about the metaphysical view of the concept. For my view about inter-level relations denies determinism in the first sense, while depicting the second as non-explanatory.

Indeterminism understood as probabilistic (or stochastic) causation  appears to be promising, but it faces problems due to the increasing complexity of reality on the higher levels. So, practically speaking, we are forced to consider notions of 'structure', 'processes' and 'complexity' in order to construct a viable form of inter-level relations that can be described as explanatory.

With respect to your discussion about the concept of levels of nature, as well as your view about the 'traditional' modal realism', as I have previously mentioned I confine myself in this thread to the basic question about the possibility of a unified set of laws of nature that is consistent with antireductionism. If such a system of laws is possible then we can proceed to see which construction of the concept of levels can realize such set of unified laws.

It is not clear for me, despite our long discussion, what is your view about such an inquiry, so I very much wish to have your answer to it.

S A


2010-04-06
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir
Abuzaid,

Allow me to reflect on Psillos' definition of determinism. I think he is right to distinguish ontological and epistemological determinism, with predictability clearly belonging to the latter. In the modern western tradition, epistemology was given priority: true statements about the world are constructed (inferred) by the mind from sensory data, and so the world becomes a function of the powers of the mind. I believe there is need for a better justification for this than has so far been offered. In fact, outside the modern West (Aristotle or feudal Europe, for example), the world was believed to be more than can be represented in thought. A little example: St. Augustine in his Confessions said that he very well knew what time is, but could not answer anyone who might ask him what it is.

When it comes to the ontological or metaphysical defintion, I suspect Psillos might be skating on thin ice when he claims that a non-epistemological definition amounts to a claim for universal causality. In historical terms, in the late feudal west (16th century) neo-platonic mysticism became the fashion, and the cosmos was understood to be coherent. This is often cited as a foundation of modern European science, for it claimed, roughly, that all things have some relevance for each other and so natural knowledge is not limited to concrete particulars. However, this cosmic coherence can mean several things, only one of which is universal lawfulness. Folks like Newton and Laplace realized not only that generalization based on experience is possible (hardly a new insight), but that this generalization justified a reification of natural law as an ontologically independent universal force. In recent years, this reification of an epistemological artifact has made people nervous, and so there has been a shift to a singular causality that explains a development by a description of the inner caual mechanism at work in particular situations (this nicely brings the physical and historical sciences into greater accord, although it also has problems).

My point is that there may be several kinds of coherence other than on natural law or on universal causality. As for universal lawfulness, there has also been a coherence based on rationality (Kant) or objective idealism (Hegel), and my own preference is for a coherence based on mutual enabling, that one thing enables another. The point is that there is no a priori reason why coherence must imply natural law, for there are other options and the current trend seems to be away from it. Given the choices, whatever one adopts must be justified. As for universal causality, that seems particularly problematic. It seems quite Eurocentric and ideological, but here I'd only like to argue that it is also an effect of epistemological primacy. In brief, if the world is what we infer from sensations, then the world is reduced to only observable (empirical, local, intrinsic) properties --  properties that can enter a causal relation with our sensory apparatus.  Causality (and deductive logic itself) is an artifact of a closed conceptual or physical frame: the greater the closure, the more will the outcome of a process be unequivocally determined by the intrinsic properties within it. Absolute determinism implies complete closure, which today is considered only a hypothetical limiting case. The modern Western notion of ontology is therefore based on a hypothetical limiting case, not the way things actually are. The weakness of cauality is clearly shown by there being no agreement today over just what causality is, and the reason seems to be that it is epiphenomenonal.

I also wonder about Psillos's implication that a denial of determinism is indeterminism. This issue comes up naturally in efforts to define "constraint". For example, in evolutionary biology, phylogenetic constraint is defined in two ways: a loss of degrees of freedom (probability 0) or reduction of the probability of possible states (probability between 0 and 1). For example, the highway speed limit does not limit my degrees of freedom, but only makes my going excessively fast less probable. The word indeterminism might imply no relation, but there are relations other than those of unequivocal determinism. At the end Psillos seems to be in agreement with some of my points, but he is not emboldened to define "determinism" as just a hypothetical mental construct with limited ontological relevance.   

Not sure if the "two versions" of determinism are yours or belong to Psillos. In any case, the above discussion might suggest that weak determinism/strong determinism is a false dichotomy, simply a reflection of the Self-Other dichotomy pecular to the modern West, which in turn is ideological. The Laplacian strong strong determinism is epistemic and anthropocentric Self-centered; the weak determinism is ontic, Other-centered and is objectivist, positing in a very contradictory fashion that universal closure is the basis of universal coherence!

Sorry to go on at such length over Psillos, and I turn finally to your "pre-determination". You seem to reject both notions of determinism, but I'm not clear what you are offering in its place. Is it a probabilistic causation? Your attitude toward it seems ambivalent, which seems to leave a vacuum, and maybe the whole thing is a fantasy to begin with. The relation of all events seems to be probabilistic in principle, and perhaps we should start with that instead of determinism. Usually discussions of probabilism are epistemic, such as the reliability of prediction (standard deviation), but the issue is, I believe, to explain probabilistic behavior. One approach, the n-body problem, might be that all properties are approximations, such as a reduction of a continuum to integers, or assuming that the mass of a body is located at its center, etc., and these approximations come back to bite us in the butt, or even give rise to wildly divergent trajectories (chaos). But this looks at it epistemologically, not ontologically. In terms of the latter, if properties have specific values, and the outcome is due to them, then it would seem to be unequivocally determinant -- a conclusion neither you or I accept.

This seems why there is a broad sense that there's more to things than just observables. For example, William James' "fringes", Henri Bergson's vital force, a functional property held by the components in an emergent system, Arthur Koestler's holon, David Bohm's implicate order, although all of these are now seen as inadequate. However, my sense is that there's broad agreement that what accounts for both emergent and probabilistic behavior is the presence of unobservable real properties. If so, then whatever these properties might be, they are obviously incompatible with laws.

Laws seem to apply only to a relation of closed systems, where closure is an effect of systems entering into a relation in which one frames the other and gives specific values to its observable properties (this not so odd: a RF wave has specific values such as strength at any particular point, but as a whole its property of strength has no specific value because it is not local). This relation (which I prefer to analyze as "superimposed" processes) are conventionally described as causal. An example of such a causal relation is observation, where the relation of observer and object gives rise to specific values for the properties of that object. Laws therefore seem a generalization of observations, where the observation constructs the data of observation, the values for the properties of the object which are the basis of law. 

I've already run on too long and have not directly addressed your concern for levels. Your assumption that higher levels are more complex strikes me as either ambivalent or a tautology (if I put more eggs into the Easter basket, the basket of eggs has more constituents than it did before). Another issue: just what does your "level" refer to? Cosmos, biosphere, noosphere; quantum mechanics, physics, chemistry; animal, vegetable, mineral; dogs, cats, rats; the rich, middle class, and poor? These examples may imply different notions of "level", and I suspect the place to start is why one notion is more important or more universal or more useful than another.  The word "structure" is also ambivalent. In the physical sciences, it is a closed conception of things that are related in some way, but in the social sciences, it tends to refer just to the relationships, not the related nodes. And the word process is a problem because no one has been able to define it. Except for occasional hints, process generally refers to a temporal sequence of the static states of being of an identity which differs only in terms of accidental properties. This notion srikes me as a philosophical disastor for several reasons (time, entity, essential/accidenal properties).  I agree that we need to define inter-level relations in a way that is explanatory. You seem to hint that the path to follow is analytic philosophy (start with a set of unequivocal and logical concepts such as process, structure and complexity), but I'm not so sure I'd embrace the Cartesian cogito ergo sum, but instead look to action (not in Parsonian sense), where mind and world are not separate entities, but aspect of one process of change and in which we directly experience the unobservable possibilities of things.     

Haines Brown

2010-04-08
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir

                                                            Natural laws:

                              How they work and where to find them

 

 

Definition:      “Natural law” is an old term widely discussed without an official concluding definition. Basically, natural laws are the operating laws of the cosmos, reflecting the cosmic reality. Imagine how planets move in their orbits ( basically in constant speed without intruding other lane), how seasons take turn to rule, how lives go through a cycle from birth to death. These are just some fundamental notions. Natural sciences, physics in particular, are good sources of natural laws.

Human laws, on the other hand, are filled with loopholes. The choice of routes from one point to a destination is wide open. Competition for any specific lane is a free-for-all. The consequence is error and confusion.

            On our social scent, natural laws reflect the interaction of the cosmic flows, the physical environment, and human response.  Without the help of the right cosmic flow, you may work very hard but remain in an endless struggle with little progress.

Wise and successful people (e.g. Plato, Lao Tzu, Isaac Newton, and Thomas Edison) pursue the lead of Natural Laws! By global consensus, I Ching (Yi Jing 易經), the Chinese classic known for its profound wisdom,  has the best collection of natural laws.  However, this precious wisdom has never been accessible to the general public.

            A new book finally puts the I Ching laws into straightforward English, with an easy-to-follow foolproof procedure. Succeed Naturally, the I Ching Way is a breakthrough in I Ching publications, an easy-to-follow guidebook that offers insight into a different way to manage life issues: through the authentic wisdom and natural laws of I Ching.

            As the “Book of Change” I Ching laws are fundamentally about how to meet or make changes naturally successful. The essence of these natural laws can be summarized as below.

 

Rules of Change

 

            1) Flow with natural cycle:

            Change follows a natural cycle like the cycle of the seasons and the rotation of day and night. This rule of “yin and yang taking turn” applies to blessings and disasters, sadness and joy, war and peace, etc. There are silver linings behind the dark cloud and sunshine after storm, all in a natural cycle.

            2) Watch every turn in the natural course:

            Downfall follows the zenith of great success; passion  evaporates after the peak of a bonding relationship; surprising grace surfaces after a long struggle! Take note of how dynasties rise and fall; learn from the lesson of how a frog eventually succeeded to land on safety after churning a bucket of milk into cheese, and keep your hope and spirit up!  Be alert on your position along a natural course and take precautions before a natural turn!

            3) Keep out of complacency:

             Staying in complacency invites trouble! Decisively initiate proper changes for a bad habit to avoid a death trap. Take a decisive big step out of a hopeless situation to avoid being a victim. Take action at the first sign of change before it gets too complicated to manage. Remember the yin and yang interactions.

 

Attitudes for change

 

            The following attitudes are crucial to make proper changes.

1)         Engage in fair play

            I Ching realizes the hard fact of cosmic inequality. We were born unequal! Things are created unequal! Yin and yang forces are interacting with unequal strength. This fundamental inequality calls for the need of fair play.

            For fortunate results, the two forces of yin and yang have to co-exist, to compete on relatively level ground. The overwhelmingly stronger party has to make a proper concession to avoid the foul play from the little guy who is unable to compete with equal strength on transparency basis.

             It is like a powerful dictator has to provide an acceptable living standard to his subjects to avoid a revolution or other disasters from underground foul play. People have to support the government to have a healthy society     

            While foul play is dangerous and short-lived, the weaker party has to team up strength by properly collecting help to fight for long term victory. People eventually pay for their foul play. Getting help is the consistent resounding point in I Ching.

2)         Practice integrity with discretion

            I Ching understand how integrity works and honors integrity with great reservation.  First, we should restrict honesty policy only to good honest people. It would create misfortune when we apply it to the crook. Secondly, practice integrity only to those who appreciate it. A rooster has made itself a nuisance by rigidly reporting time and waking up every one at the same time every day. After all, the rooster remains grounded while other lazy birds fly.

3)         Follow great leaders

             Learn from the wise and follow the successful.

4)         Use prudence to stay centered and to get protected

            Take a central position to buy time to get the right help when you cannot compete on level ground. Minimize loss by all means. Always protect your resources.

5)         Know the limit for possible changes

            The Almighty always has the final voice on our plans. The rule of the Absolute is not for us to bend. Learn to see what we cannot change and draw a line.

           

Acting on Change

 

            1) Avoid confrontation.

 

            To confront is having two yang or yin forces clashing to each other; the result is mutual destruction.   I Ching laws are about yin and yang forces complementing each other.  

            2) Get the right help, act on the right timing, and stay in the right place. However, it does not have a clear answer on how to make it right.  The knowledge belongs to the field of metaphysics, a matter of cosmic energy, hidden part of I Ching laws.

             It took two mysteriously exceptional metaphysicians to unlock the secret codes more than two thousands years after I Ching was written. The codes and the systems were discussed at the beginning of this book. One of systems was introduced in the Path to Good Fortune, one of the author’s publications, as listed in the reference documents.

            It is a highly intellectual serious subject which takes great effort and patience to be proficient. While the knowledge definitely adds a winning edge to our battles, most of us can benefit by adopting the right attitude to practice the laws. Readers, who are serious about their lives and wish to benefit from the knowledge, can refer to the book.

           

 

                                   

 

 

 


2010-04-30
laws of nature
Reply to Lily Chung
This thread is certainly long in tooth and may have exhausted contributors' interest, but Lily Chung introduces quite a different perspective, and so perhaps a reply to her
contribution might be found acceptable.

She focused on the particulars of I Ching, but a reply seems to require an abstraction from them, and so let me try. The argument the I Ching conveys seems to consist
of the following points:

  1. Observation conveys the impression there are universal natural laws and these include patterns of change.
  2. Human activities, because they are only constrained by natural laws, engage human responses to natural change and thus have moral content.
  3. Human action that deviates too widely from the constraint of natural laws invites misfortune.
  4. Therefore human action should be one of caution, adaptation, and "going with the flow."
 
I put aside the fact the political implications embedded here such as I Ching's having arisen from a gentry dominated feudal society, but look at it instead in terms that
are more culturally universal, in terms of natural science.

Undoubtedly observation reveals uniformities in the behavior of natural systems, but there is increasing doubt that such uniformities represent a force of natural law; for
example, the criticisms of Hempel's covering law mode of explanation. Today explanation in natural science is close to that in historical social sciences, which is
based on a description of the causal mechanism at work in particular cases. It seems to me this shift has implications for a moral philosophy in that moral norms are
not legitimated by reference to what is transcendental and external, but are situational. This need not imply moral relativism in the sense that anything goes.

In order to bridge natural law and human behavior, natural law has to be defined very abstractly, and I Ching seems focused on the notion of cycles, that what goes up
must come down. However, this seems too abstract either to be inferred from such disciplines as physics and or to be relevant to human behavior. In natural systems,
cyclic behavior seems more an effect of particular situations rather than universal; knowing that life is cyclic does not help much in moral terms. Let me offer a contrast
to illustrate the point. Here are Buddha's "last words":   "Everything that has been created is subject to decay and death. Everything is transitory; work out your own
salvation with diligence." The first sentence is often equated with the Second Law of Thermodynamics; the second implies that therefore constructive action requires
struggle (I'm not advocating Buddhism here for the following reason).

Thermodynamics suggests that any constructive action is a movement to a less probable state. In fact, in thermodynamic terms, the universal engine of change is
a relation between the modality of actuality (improbable state of affairs in terms of structure or energy), and the modality of a possible state of affairs that is more
probable. However, this implies that humans don't have the power to shape their world, but harness natural forces to do so. This seems far more democratic than  the
European Enlightenment notion that constructive change arises from individual possession of economic power. It is democratic because change is not the result of
empowered individuals, but as a result of people imposing constraints on natural processes, and constraints don't require power. You don't break out in a sweat
running an automatic milling machine. 

To posit human action as best governed by self-constraint and adaption seems to be in tension with actual experience which suggests that struggle is how things get
done. The political context of I Ching is that of a very large and complex social order that was able to gain a degree of coherence in part because of an ideology in which
everyone submits to natural law and the Huang Di, with the moral onus to adapt, adjust, and cooperate. Globalization might suggest that the world today is such a
great complex order, but globalization also brings injustice that can not be eliminated by adapting to the new world order, but by struggling to shape it in a positive
way. Thermodynamics suggests that struggle does not disrupt order, but creates it.

Haines Brown   

2010-05-06
laws of nature
Reply to Haines Brown

Brown,

Please take note that this post might appear late.

In doing philosophy, one needs the following: 1) define and address the problem at hand clearly. 2) break down the general 'big' problem into a sequence of smaller problems. 3) reconstruct the 'general' problem according to the new findings. If not, philosophical analysis would lead to several forms of unproductive extended discussions (such as circular, vicious, infinite regress, misunderstanding, etc).

In our topic, as has been defined in the first post in this thread, we should not go to the second step (such as definitions, admission of new concepts, critique of existing literature, etc) before coming into agreement about the topic in which we are engaged. Following is a restatement of the topic in view of the above discussion:

I-       There are laws. If not, it would be impossible to deal with reality whether on the psychological level (other persons, societies, etc), or on the natural level (other creatures as well as nonliving material).

II-    Nature is continuous. Both horizontally, within each level, and vertically, across levels. If not, nature would be inconsistent and incomprehensible, for human brain receives at the same time information from different categories of nature, using one and the same system of comprehension.

III- (I) and (II), necessitates that laws of nature are in a hierarchical way unified.

IV- There are two basic forms of a unified system of laws, reductive and holistic forms. Reductionism is deterministic, mechanical, upward directed, and causal. Holistic forms are anti-reductive, non-mechanical, upward/downward directed, and probabilistic.

V-    Since the reductive view has proved to be fruitless, the possible unification of laws of nature lies in the other way around, the anti-reductive form, which we should be seeking today.

Such a formulation of the problem is not affected by our opinions and definitions. If we limit ourselves to its conclusion (V), then we can go on into a detailed project. And what we should be looking for is the position of the philosophical community about such a conclusion. Is there a true or logical refutation of such a conclusion? After getting such an answer, it would be possible to proceed.

I hope I made myself clear.

Samir Abuzaid     


2010-05-07
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir
Samir,

Thank you for restating the thesis. I hope my remarks will not imply that you have not stated it clearly or that my adhering to your principles of clarity, logic and coherence are not taken amiss.

> In doing philosophy, one needs the following: 1) define and address the problem at hand clearly. 2) break down the general 'big' problem into a sequence of smaller problems. 3) reconstruct the 'general' problem according
> to the new findings. If ... (expand) not, philosophical analysis would lead to several forms of unproductive extended discussions (such as circular, vicious, infinite regress, misunderstanding, etc).

Your later comments seem to put in doubt your principle (2) here. Let me illustrate. In cosmology, it is not uncommon to suggest that levels represent constraints on more universal levels. If this be true, then analysis
won't work, for you can't infer that more universal level from knowledge of its constraint. Perhaps another example: We generally no longer adhere to the Enlightenment notion of human nature, but see what we are as
shaped in some way by society. If a social whole is emergent, which is to say that its observables cannot be reduced to the observables of individuals, then knowledge of individuals does not explain social wholes.

1. "There are laws" can mean at least two things: a) the epistemic meaning: experience leads to generalizations so universal that we have confidence in making predictions based on them; b) the ontological meaning:
there are universal forces that are independent of matter because the are non-contingent. That we presume laws in explanation and action does decide among these two meanings. I tried to suggest before that the trend
in the philosophy of science is to move from the ontological definition to a singular causality that describes causal mechanisms. All I am saying here is that "there are laws" is ambivalent, and whatever position one
adopts needs to be stated as a presupposition, and if the old positivist epistemological meaning is adopted, it probably needs some justification. 

2. "Nature is continuous." I believe you are right, for 16th-century neoplatonic mysticism, which presumed the coherence of the world seems to have been a precondition of modern science. However, the issue is just what
is the nature of this coherence. As you know, universal laws (ontological definition) have been offered as the basis of this coherence. But there are arguably other approaches (not just mysticism). Hempel's argument that
explanation arises from laws has been generally rejected. If reality consists of emergent processes, laws don't seem relevant except trivially. The laws generated by the 19th century laboratory model seems today only
an artifact of its closure more than de re natura.  In other words, "nature is continuous" really begs questions.

2a. You introduce "level" and presume an inside-outside dichotomy in reference to levels. What justifies these assumptions? You started by saying that one should not introduce new concepts, but it seems you do so
here. Level is an ambivalent term that requires definition before use, and the inside-outside dichotomy seems a hang over from the European Enlightenment. For example, before the Enlightenment people assumed
that things have extrinsic properties that are essential to them, such as people's relation to their god.

3. No idea what you mean by laws being unified hierarchically. If laws are universal, I should think they would be applicable however we choose to chop up reality, horizontally or vertically.

4. Someone I just finished reading (perhaps Robert Klee, Introduction to the Philosophy of Science - not sure) defined your point in terms of three rather than two categories. Something like a) a reductionism says
that emergent levels can be understood in terms of its base level, b) holism, which is that wholes have emergent properties that cannot be so reduced, c) an intermediate position, which he didn't but could have
called "level", that is simultaneously an effect of the base but also of the whole. The idea is not unusual, such as Koestler's holons and Bohm's implicate order. However, as far as I know, no one has provided an
analysis of this intermediate level in physical terms that are persuasive. My point is that the whole matter remains much too vague and unsettled to base an argument on it. For example, there are the quite
different meanings of reductionism: a) all phenenomena can ultimately be explained in terms of physics, b) wholes can be explained in terms of the observable properties of its base, c) emergent wholes can
be explained if the characterization of the base includes unobservables (extrinsic functional properties no longer taken very seriously, but there are others). 

4a. You seem to be reifying the reductionist and emergentist methods, but I'm not sure. In other words, is reductionism how we can study a problem or an ontological statement? The former works well, but the
latter is contentious. I'm not sure how law comes into this unless you are suggesting that emergence is the result of unobservable laws, but it seems that lawfulness contradicts the definition of emergence,
which is that a reductionism in terms of observables is impossible. Why is determinism "upward directed"? If I throw a rock through a window, let's assume for the sake of argument that the process is a
manifestation of mechanistic laws. What does "upward" refer to here? Not sure what a holistic "form" is or why it is probabilistic rather than mechanical. The decay of a radioisotope is probabilistic, but
in what sense is it holistic?  In some sense your generalizations may be right, but they seem rather intuitive at this point.

5. Au contraire. Reductionist methods are highly sucessful in natural science and more so all the time. I might be wrong, but I believe the issue is whether the practical success of a reductionist methodology
should be used to infer ontological implications of a universal nature. I won't argue the point, but I believe that reductionism works because the situation under study is relatively closed, physically and conceptually.
That is, within a given frame, such as the question being asked concerning a limited chunk of the world, a reductionist explanation can approximately work, particularly if the base system is described to include
unobservables (the argument, as I understand it, of Jaegwon Kim).  In my example above of throwing a rock through the window, I framed in in mechanistic terms, and so a reductionist explanation works very well,
and if I broaden the frame to include my unobservable intention, reductionism still works, although it begs the question of what explains my intention.

Re. your conclusion, all problems bring in axioms, concepts, accepted theory, etc. There is no issue that can be stated with a tabula rasa. If these presuppositions are conventional, we usually don't bother
to mention them; if they are not, they must be made explicit and justified. Have you read Imre Lakatos, "Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes", in Lakatos and Alan Musgrave,
Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (1970)? I don't agree with his basic position, but he does a nice job presenting the critical empiricist case.        

What is an anti-reductive form of laws? You loose me here. Laws are not systems or levels, and I don't know what it means to reduce what are probably presumed to be primitives.

Haines Brown




2010-05-14
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir
To me it seems that Lily Chung's post speaks of non-action. This would not be the opposite of struggle but, rather, neither struggle nor non-struggle.  

The view that the world is more than mind cannot quite be illustrated, I think, by reference to St. Augustine's remark about time. The fact that our commonplace notion of time is demonstrably absurd suggests to me that it cannot exist independently of mind.

Regarding universal lawfulness and coherence, specifically a coherence based on rationality (Kant), or objective idealism (Hegel). In both cases I'd rather call this a coherence based on logic, the idea that the universe is in accord with our reason such that any thesis that can be refuted in the dialectic is not true. It seems a more precise and challenging way of presenting it. This approach to metaphysics leads unnerringly to a neutral metaphysical position and so to the unity that grounds Hegel and Bradley's Idealism, a phenomenon that is not an instance of any category, viz. Kant's subject of rational psychology and point of universal origin.   

If weak determinism/strong determinism may be a false dichotomy, simply 'a reflection of the Self-Other dichotomy pecular to the modern West, which in turn is ideological,' (HB)  then perhaps such ideological category-errors cause problems elsewhere also. For a neutral metaphysical position, which is compatabilism writ large, the freewill-determinism dichotomy would not arise. This position would be in accord with Haines Brown's proposal that the mind-world distinction is an error. a view expressed also by his namesake George Spencer, whose Laws of Form deserves a mention if only for the suggestive title. GSB models the basic laws in his 'calculus of indications' (or distinctions),  It may be relevant that he was a close friend of Wei Wu Wei, a name that translates as 'action non-action,' and which takes us back to Lily Chung and the I Ching.   

If we suppose for a moment that they actually do operate, then would the laws that GS Brown describes in LoF count as natural laws here? They're mathematical, psychological and ontological, rather than being just one or the other, but they would be universal laws, and they would arise and operate naturally and inevitably. If so, there would be an argument for broadening the debate in Lily's direction.  

   


 

 




2010-05-17
laws of nature
I hesitated to reply to Peter's Jones' challenging remarks, for I'm not sure I understood his points. But since he addresses me, I suppose I am obliged to do so.

> To me it seems that Lily Chung's post speaks of non-action. This would not be the opposite of struggle but, rather, neither struggle nor non-struggle.

Jones may be right. If struggle and non-struggle imply agency, then another relation could be that of conformity or its opposite, non-conformity. The former is a dynamic relation of agents, while the latter is a knowledge that informs action, whether or not an action is rational in relation to a mental representation of circumstance. I suspect this latter is what I Ching has in mind, given that it is based on divination. But then Jones seems to imply that this is equivalent to the view that the world is more than the content of mind. Does Jones imply that knowledge (via divination or observation) of the world is the world framed by the observer and this implies there's more out there than meets the eye? But this does not seem to escape solipsism. On the other hand, action does necessitate a world beyond thought. An a priori condition of action is that the world has real possibilities and has a potency for change. These are unobservables that also are wider than the world that can be inferred from sensory data (the only possibilities you can observe are those that happen to have been actualized), but are also a priori conditions of action and directly experienced though action.

> The view that the world is more than mind cannot quite be illustrated, I think, by reference to St. Augustine's remark about time. The fact that our commonplace notion ... (expand) of time is demonstrably absurd suggests to me that it cannot exist independently of mind.

Jones looses me here. Does the first sentence mean one cannot prove the world is not an illusion? Well, yes, I suppose, if logic, divination or observation rather than action is the criterion of truth. What if instead action were foundational? That is, instead of focusing on acquisition of knowledge, which I Ching divination implies, changing the world is basic? The focus on knowledge acquisition seems natural for the elite, while an emphasis on action might be natural for the working masses. And, then, what does Augustine's comment on time have to do with it? I take Augustine's remark simply to mean that there are things which are intuitively true but can't be clearly expressed in words. This seems opposite to Jones' point that what is intuitive can be demonstrably false. Is Jones here saying that McTaggert B Time has no scientific justification? If so, I agree. If so, that would imply that the content of mind may not or does not have empirical correspondence with the world.  But if there's no empirical relation between emergent thought and the object of thought, are we left with a supernatural justification of ideas (divination)?  It is widely held today that an explanation of emergence, such as knowledge, requires definining the base level to include unobservables, and only when they are included can there be a determinant relation of thought and the object of thought. However, can we gain direct experience of these unobservables outside that of action? In passive observation, they are only inferred.

Now Jones brings up the issue of free will and determinism without making its relevance explicit. In what sense is compatibilism metaphysically neutral? Neutral in respect to what metaphysical positions? That things are essentially a unity of differences, transcending Self-Other? That a relation to the world is one either of non-action or of struggle? These are conceptually quite different matters, and if they are coherent, that coherence needs to be spelled out lest it remain only intuitive. Now added to the heap is mathematics. I'm no mathematician, and I had not even heard of Spencer-Brown until he was cited by Niklas Luhmann, and in my view, Luhmann's linguistic reductionism is unappealing, and so his recommendation makes Spencer-Brown suspect. Arguably, mathematics is a kind of divination like I Ching. Spencer-Brown's alternative mathematics can have no ontological implications. A given situation can in principle be modeled in a variety of mathematical ways; mathematics is underdetermined by the material world. Then Jones associates Spencer-Brown with Wei Wu Wei. Here again my ignorance is exposed, for I had no idea who he was until I looked him up: he is a theater artist, Daoist writer and artistocratic race horse owner. .

So what we end up with is an intuitive connection between divination, the questionable status of time, a weak determinism (which for the moment I'll assume is probabilistic determinism, in which ase I'd guess it is in conflict with Spencer-Brown's view---a mathematics based on a relation of differences) and finally a Daoist artistocratic perspective. I can see the possibility of some connection among these disparate things, but it is non-operational until these connections are explicit and justified, and there's the rub. For example, can one draw ontological inferences from mathematics? If you can, does divination (whether it be I Ching or mathematics)  do more than describe the world in which we live, without implications for action other than a post facto optimal choice? Is this why the coterie of ideas offered by Jones seem to focus on non-action (inaction) rather than non-struggle, as if non-action were a real option for any but a ruling class.

For the Chinese peasant, struggle in relation to nature was not an option, but the basis of survival, a precondition of life; for the Chinese gentry, on the other hand, the issue was political control or conformity, neither of which, in scientific terms, creates the new value through struggle; so for the gentry it is a question only of of action or inaction that accords with knowledge. My point here is not a sociological reductionism, but only that what seems intuitive from one social location will seem quite unintuitive from another. An obvious escape from this is a universal language, and that would seem to be natural science, since we all experience the natural world. My point is that these intuitive connections have to be represented in scientific terms, not those of mathematics or divination.

Jones has not forgotten that the original issue was the status of universal laws. So my concluding question must be this: if through passive observation, call it divination if you will, can we conclude anything more than that universal laws are merely inferential generalizations based on our limited experience? If so, then in what consists the coherence of the world upon which modern science depends? If that coherence is an artifact of mind that as an emergent phenomenon and therefore no empirical correspondence with the object of thought, how can there be a natural science? Foucault has a lot to say about this, and are we to conclude that Foucault represents a ruling-class perspective, but there others?

Haines Brown

Haines Brown 

2010-05-17
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir

Haines Brown

Thank you for taking so much trouble with my post. I’m only sorry that you felt obliged to do so. I’m well out of depths on some of the issues here but I’ll do my best to respond. There’s too many points to deal with all at once so I’ll be selective. If it is is innapropriate here to wander off into mysticism like this please tell me.

I didn’t fully understand your comment on struggle and agency, but I had a few thoughts while reading it. I don’t think it is possible to escape solipsism. This is because I do not think solipsism is true or false. It is a positive metaphysical position and mine is neutral. For my view the reason we cannot falsify solipsism or its opposite would be that both are logically absurd. This would be the case for all such dilemmas. All selective conclusions about the world as a whole would be undecidable (Kant) for this reason.

I do not fully understand the Taoist or more generally ‘mystical,’ view of action and agency, but it would not be that action necessitates a world beyond thought, or not in quite the way I think you mean. What we normally call action would be a conditioned response, not a self-originated event that changes the world. (Gurdjieff tells Ouspensky that in order to know how to do it is necessary to know how to be, and that generally speaking human beings are robots.) True action would originate beyond the world of thought, I think, but not ‘out there’ somewhere.

In order to avoid struggle it would be necessary to struggle to avoid it. To really avoid struggle it would be necessary to struggle or not struggle as the circumstances dictate without any care for which one it is. This is the roughly the idea of struggling without struggling, or not-struggling without not-struggling.

HB "Does Jones imply that knowledge (via divination or observation) of the world is the world framed by the observer and this implies there's more out there than meets the eye?"

I meant to imply that there’s more in here than meets the eye. My view would be that it’s possible to transcend observation and know that there is more to the world than we can observe or conceive. Or perhaps less, depending on which way we look at it. Clearly there’s more to the world than the world framed by the observer, for there is also the observer.


My comment about St. Augustine was simpler than it may have looked. I was suggesting that A’s inability to conceive of time was not evidence that there is something outside of mind, (which is what I thought you were proposing), since this inability can be intepreted as proving that time is not outside of mind. My apologies if this is not what you were proposing. I was interested in what you said about this but couldn’t quite see what you meant.

HB "Now Jones brings up the issue of free will and determinism without making its relevance explicit. In what sense is compatibilism metaphysically neutral?"

Sorry about that. I may be misusing a technical term here but this is what I meant. For a neutral position Freewill and Determinism would be compatible. The distinction between these extremes, if it is reified rather than seen as distinguishing two sides of the same coin, would embody a category error and both horns of the dilemma would be false. This would be the case for all metaphysical dilemmas. Like Butler’s Professors of Unreason we would opt for the ‘illogical mean’ and avoid the absurd extremes. This would be mysticism’s universal solvent for the problems of philosophy, including the mind-matter problem.

HB "Neutral in respect to what metaphysical positions?"

In respect to all positive positions, where a positive position is the claim that the universe is this rather than that in any case. Hence the via negativa.

It is not the case that Spencer Brown’s mathematics have no ontological implications. He models the ontology of Buddhism and Taoism, more generally that of the wisdom traditions, and (for I spotted your article on the topic), of many shaman.

Wu Wei Wu, aka Terence Grey, is a fascinating person. I feel it necessary to defend his honour. He inspired Ramesh Balsekar, who writes this about action. None of it would have anything to so with idle ruling classes and struggling peasants, it would be the same for everyone.



"Living volitionally, with volition, with a sense of personal doership, is the bondage. Would, therefore, living non-volitionally be the way in which the sage lives? But the doing and the not-doing - the positive doing and the negative not-doing - are both aspects of ‘doing’. How then can the sage be said to be living non-volitionally? Perhaps the more accurate description would be that the sage is totally aware that he does not live his life (either volitionally or non-volitionally) but that his life - and everyone else’s life - is being lived.

What this means is that no one can live volitionally or otherwise; that, indeed, ‘volition’ is the essence of the ‘ego’, an expression of the ‘me’ concept, created by ‘divine hypnosis’ so that the ‘lila’ of life can happen. It is this ‘volition’ or sense of personal doership in the subjective chain of cause-and-effect which produces satisfaction or frustration in the conceptual individual.

Again, what this means is that it is a joke to believe that you are supposed to give up volition as an act of volition! ‘Let go’ - who is to let go? The ‘letting-go’ can only happen as a result of the clear understanding of the difference between what-we-are and what-we-appear-to-be. And then, non-volitional life or being-lived naturally becomes wu wei, spontaneous living, living without the unnecessary burden of volition. Why carry your luggage when you are being transported in a vehicle?"
 

HB "So my concluding question must be this: if through passive observation, call it divination if you will, can we conclude anything more than that universal laws are merely inferential generalizations based on our limited experience?"

I think not, but would like more time to ponder this one. If I understand what you mean by the word, I’d say that for more data we would have to go beyond divination.

HB "If so, then in what consists the coherence of the world upon which modern science depends? If that coherence is an artifact of mind that as an emergent phenomenon and therefore no empirical correspondence with the object of thought, how can there be a natural science?"

It is at least equally possible that thoughts and the objects of thought arise in dependence on one another. This would be my guess, so I’d say that Spencer Brown was promoting natural science. The phrase ‘unnatural science’ seems to me to be an oxymoron. Nor am I promoting anything other than natural science. But a lot would depend on what ‘natural’ means here.

As to the question I posed, which was not an idle one, even if Spencer Brown’s model of the laws of form is wrong it seems reasonable to ask whether they would qualify as natural laws. It’s the definition of ‘natural’ that I find difficult, not that of ‘law’.

Please don't feel obliged to reply at any length. I had some time on my hands. . 

PJ


2010-05-17
laws of nature
> I didn’t fully understand your comment on struggle and agency,...

It rested on the assumption that to produce change takes work. By agent, I meant that a thing or person changes the world in some way.

> I don’t think it is possible to escape solipsism. This is because I do not think solipsism is true or false. It is a positive metaphysical position and mine is neutral. For my view the reason we cannot falsify solipsism or its opposite would be that both are logically absurd. This would be the case for all such dilemmas. All selective conclusions about the world as a whole would be undecidable (Kant) for this reason.

We are on different tracks. By solipsism I meant the view that if knowledge of the world is socially constructed, in the absence of further argument that specifies the relation of thought and world, it ends being solipsistic. So I agree that it is neither true or false, but for a different reason. But I also don't think it is a positive metaphysical position, but merely the likely effect of a particular social analysis. There's nothing "logical" or unlogical about it, although that may be true of the outlook that gave rise to it. 

> but it would not be that action necessitates a world beyond thought, or not in quite the way I think you mean. What we normally call action would be a conditioned response, not a self-originated event that changes the world.

I did not quite suggest that action necessitates a world beyond thought, but that there were modalities about the world that are necessary for action to occur. I take action to be foundational, which is to say that it is fundamental in life and does in fact occur, and quite independently of thought. If I touch something hot, I withdraw from it, and the conscious brain has nothing to do with it. I observe that my arm moves, but it moved independently of that observation and thought. Whether making action foundational is possible or wise is another issue. The fact that I act means that I affect the world, such as moving my arm from the heat, and this takes work. A precondition of the world being changed is that it can change, which is the modality of potency. That this change is a change in properties, means that the world can exist in a state different from what it already is, and this is the modality of possibility (I'd make an argument for the modality of actuality as well, but it gets rather too hairy in the present context). The point is that if action is foundational, its condition is the world having real modalities. I've belabored this a bit, for while it was for millennia the consensus, in the modern West until recently it was denied and so remains contentious.

I don't undersatnd your distinction of conditioned response and self-origination. If I get a cold beer, that is a response conditioned by my being thirsty, or my taste for beer, or a whim. I can't think of an unconditioned response. Insanity? No, Freud or Jung certainly discussed conditions that would account for such action; a friend, now dead, told me he had a chemical imbalance. A whim is an action conditioned by an intention that has little if any obvious condition, but it still is constrained by the possibilities of my brain and body. If self-origination means arising from conscious thought, then there are actions which clearly do not (my example of touching the hot object), but the action is still processed by the brain and is conditioned by synapses, nervous system, musculature, tactile senses, etc.

 >  True action would originate beyond the world of thought, I think, but not ‘out there’ somewhere.

I'm not sure what "true" action is. If the the storm blows off the shingle, it acts on the shingle. Human beings act as well, and sometimes it is informed by knowledge or emotion, sometimes by the operation of mind, sometimes the mind is simply a neural connection. Off hand, all strike me as "true" action, and I've no idea what non-true action might be. All human action, I believe, involves the spinal chord or its brain extension. Some action involves conscious thought and some does not, and so I don't know why you preclude intentional thought as an impetus for action. Although a matter too complicated to enter into here, my position is that self-consciousness is an emergent extrinsic property of thought. That is, it is "anchored" to the structure of the brain, but does not reduce to it.   

> In order to avoid struggle it would be necessary to struggle to avoid it. To really avoid struggle it would be necessary to struggle or not struggle as the circumstances dictate without any care for which one it is. This is the roughly the idea of struggling without struggling, or not-struggling without not-struggling.

I get a vague idea of what you are getting at, but I'm not very sympathetic.. While I can struggle to override an otherwise natural implus and choose not to struggle, this is still struggle (a good part of the body's dissipation of energy as heat comes from the brain). But I suspect this is not what you meant. In my example, it implies I do care which course I take, such as not giving in to a socially undesirable habit like road rage. I'd argue that human society and human individuals are far from equilibrium systems that cannot maintain structure without a continual dissipation of energy. You imply there is a state that does not engage struggle; I reply that this runs counter to thermodynamics.

>  My comment about St. Augustine was simpler than it may have looked. I was suggesting that A’s inability to conceive of time was not evidence that there is something outside of mind, (which is what I thought you were proposing), since this inability can be intepreted as proving that time is not outside of mind. My apologies if this is not what you were proposing. I was interested in what you said about this but couldn’t quite see what you meant.

All this gets complicated. Augustine explicitly said that he knew there is time, but he could not describe it to someone else. It was I who made the inference that there's more to the world than can be represented through analytical language. Augustine did not seem to doubt the existence of time, but I see no indication he suggested that it is only a mental construct responding to the limitations of mind. He was only saying that language was not up to it. The problem with time being a primitive is that not only is there no evidence for it, but if our frame is wide enough, it is not primitive, but a function of relative velocity.   

> For a neutral position Freewill and Determinism would be compatible. The distinction between these extremes, if it is reified rather than seen as distinguishing two sides of the same coin, would embody a category error and both horns of the dilemma would be false. This would be the case for all metaphysical dilemmas. Like Butler’s Professors of Unreason we would opt for the ‘illogical mean’ and avoid the absurd extremes. This would be mysticism’s universal solvent for the problems of philosophy, including the mind-matter problem.

To be honest, I've never understood why folks have seen a problem trying to reconcile free will and determinism. For over a century, people seem to acknowledge the existence of probabilistic processes, and today it seems that everything represents a probalistic process to some extent. If so, clearly the determination of circumstance only constrains the operation of will, and there's no incompatibility at all. What clouds this issue is the tendency of many to define "constraint" as a removal of degrees of freedom (probability 0 or 1) rather than shaping a probability distribution (probability between 0 and 1). That is, it is a metaphysical dilemna, not a physical one. True, if we presume a metaphysical contradiction, the only way out is mysticism, but I see no reason to presume the categorial contradiction of determination and indetermination.

> HB "Neutral in respect to what metaphysical positions?"

> In respect to all positive positions, where a positive position is the claim that the universe is this rather than that in any case. Hence the via negativa.

Sorry to admit it, but my brain is beginning to fry. Of course, many reasonably adopt a deflationary theory of truth which says that truth is not a property of statements. Also, there's a problem with any correpondence theory of truth in that the statement is an emergent with quite different properties than the object it indexes. I might say the sky is blue, but "blue" is not a property of the sky. Models, analogs, bridge laws have all failed to overcome this chasm. If you are saying there is no empirical relation between the content of thought and the world it purports to represent, I'd agree, but this does not mean there is no relation. In fact, I do argue that there is a relation, and I call it processual superposition. As the term suggests, the argument is rather esoteric.

> It is not the case that Spencer Brown’s mathematics have no ontological implications. He models the ontology of Buddhism and Taoism, more generally that of the wisdom traditions, and (for I spotted your article on the topic), of many shaman.

So which is it? Does Spencer-Brown's mathematics claim to say something about what the universe is, or are you saying such a position impossible? I injected a rather provocative statement that mathematics is a kind of divination. Well, maybe this goes too far. But then how do you know that mathematics has ontological implications? While Buddhism probably has ontological implications, that Brown "models" his math on it does not mean his math has ontological implications. Perhaps an example will help. The Pythagorean Theorem allows us to determine the value of an unknown from the known value of two variables. Is this conceptual triangle ontological? Even if there are such things as triangles independent of thought, the curvature of space, which is real however small it may by, suggests that the theorem is not absolutely correct.  Also, if multiple mathematical systems can apply to a given situation, then, as I suggested before, they are underdetermined by the data.

> Wu Wei Wu, aka Terence Grey, is a fascinating person. I feel it necessary to defend his honour. He inspired Ramesh Balsekar, who writes this about action. None of it would have anything to so with idle ruling classes and struggling peasants, it would be the same for everyone.

I'm still trying to get a handle on your position. You are saying that knowledge is not constrained by social location. Is that because you are saying this because there's no relation between knowledge and the world to begin with? But if mental life is authomous, how is it that you are able to communicate with me? You are using socially conventional signs and symbols to communicate and so the content of what you communicate is constrained by them, by externaliteis. If so, why not social location?

Just a little sanity check here. You appear to suggest that a mysticism allows us to transcend conceptual contradictions that are the source of pain or frustration. No doubt, but the context of this thread are natural laws, and that suggests the need to represent this trascendence in physical terms. That is what I've been trying to do. I should think the mystic would find no objection to that if it succeeds.

> It is at least equally possible that thoughts and the objects of thought arise in dependence on one another. This would be my guess, so I’d say that Spencer Brown was promoting natural science. The phrase ‘unnatural science’ seems to me to be an oxymoron. Nor am I promoting anything other than natural science. But a lot would depend on what ‘natural’ means here.

Not sure, but we may agree here. I'd argue that the three real modalities of processes are all extrinsic. So, by a framing, such as in observation, a real probability distribution is actualized unequivocally; possible properties acquire specific values. This is not as off-the-wall as it might first appear. Everything we know stands in a relation, and so unrelated entity is esoteric. What do we know of that has no relation? Well, perhaps subatomic particles. But are they not probability distributions, such as the possible relation of mass and position, that collapse upon measurement? All real things above that level apparently do stand in a relation with other things, whether it be the constituents of an atom, gravitational, causal, or observational, relations, and this relation actualizes specific structure. I'd love to hear some counterarguments here, for I'm skating on thin ice.

>   As to the question I posed, which was not an idle one, even if Spencer Brown’s model of the laws of form is wrong it seems reasonable to ask whether they would qualify as natural laws. It’s the definition of ‘natural’ that I find difficult, not that of ‘law’.

I'm probably in sympathy with you here. The word "natural" (as opposed to artificial) usually means what is independent of mind, and it might seem I have just argued that nothing is natural. However, my example above was of empirical properties that are actualized through a relation, and I would not reduce processes to just empirical properties, for actuality is only one modality. Also, not all relations are observational, and that means that the relation of things unknown to us create an actual modeality for each other. I suspect where we share ground is thet the logical or conceptual categories in terms of which we conventionally think are not just constraints, but actually inhibiting. Creative thought calls for their transcendence. Here we part ways. You see the engine of that transcendence to be thought itself, which roughtly comes down to mystical insight; while my action foundationalism holds that this transcendence must remain physically based and new categories must be physically liberating, not just phychologically liberating.

Haines.

2010-05-18
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir
I must admit to being a bit lost, but I'll do my best. 

I think we are at cross-purposes on action and change. You say, 'If I touch something hot, I withdraw from it, and the conscious brain has nothing to do with it.' But in this case there is no action that changes the world, just the uninterrupted operation of the laws of causation. The assumption that to produce change takes work is one thing, the assumption that we are agents capable of changing the world is an extra asssumption. Balsekar's point is that there is no agent, just the illusion of agency. The idea would be that we do interact with the world, but that those interactions are usually so conditioned as to render us rocks falling down a hill. We may have motives for our actions, but those motives are usually conditioned such that our actions are merely the natural effects of previous causes. It would be a question of distinguishing freely chosen action from conditioned responses. But I'm not sure this addresses your point.  

> We are on different tracks. By solipsism I meant the view that if knowledge of the world is socially constructed, in the absence of further argument that specifies the relation of thought and world, it ends being solipsistic.

Ah. I could agree that that the world may be socially constructed, in the sense of being a collaboration, (by way of Spencer Brown's laws), but not knowledge of the world. Knowledge is never social, so I can't see the significance of the way it's constructed. But again, I need more time to think. For me solipsism refers to our inability to be sure we aren't making the world up in our minds, and much of what we call knowledge is of things whose existence we cannot establish.  

> I don't understand your distinction of conditioned response and self-origination.

I think this one takes us too far from the topic and it's beyond my competence to give a sensible reply, so I'll skip on.  

> I don't know why you preclude intentional thought as an impetus for action. Although a matter too complicated to enter into here, my position is that self-consciousness is an emergent extrinsic property of thought. That is, it is "anchored" to the structure of the brain, but does not reduce to it. 
 
No, I don't preclude it. But the fact that we intend to act does not mean that the action is caused by us and in a manner that puts us in a different category from a rock tumbling down a hill. We can choose to do what we intend, but can we choose what we intend to do?

>  You imply there is a state that does not engage struggle; I reply that this runs counter to thermodynamics. 

Does not thermodynamics allow for a rest state?  

Regarding Augustine, I wasn't commenting on him, only his citation, and nor do I think he suggested that time is only a mental construct. I'm with you on time not being primitive. Wouldn't it be an objection to your view that if action requires time then action is not primitive? 

To me probabalistic processes would have no bearing on the freewill question. The Dice Man is not acting freely once the the dice have been thrown. (I've seen some good arguments against the possibility of saving freewill by reference to both indeterminism and probabilistic processes, but can't remember whose they were).    

> True, if we presume a metaphysical contradiction, the only way out is mysticism, but I see no reason to presume the categorial contradiction of determination and indetermination.
 
I was opposing freewill to determinism, which is a rather different case. There are no metaphysical contradictions in mysticism, and if determinism/indeterminism can be formulated as a contradiction it would not be a metaphysical one but linguistic/conceptual.
 
 > If you are saying there is no empirical relation between the content of thought and the world it purports to represent, I'd agree, but this does not mean there is no relation. In fact, I do argue that there is a relation, and I call it processual superposition. As the term suggests, the argument is rather esoteric.

No, I definitely didn't mean to suggest this. Processual superposition sounds interesting. Could you expand? Is it something to do with Whitehead?   

> So which is it? Does Spencer-Brown's mathematics claim to say something about what the universe is ... 

That was his intention. For the mystic, universes arise by a process of distinction-making or symmetry-breaking as modelled by Brown in his calculus. Mysticism being what it is, this means that we can see his calculus as modelling the ontology, psychology and epistemology of the universe. Crucially, there would be no subject/object distinction, nor one between 'me' and 'my world.' The relation between all things would be one of identity.    

> I injected a rather provocative statement that mathematics is a kind of divination.

Yes. I liked that. Spencer Brown says a bit about this. I would have picked it up but I'm not sure exactly what you mean by 'divination.'  

> But then how do you know that mathematics has ontological implications? While Buddhism probably has ontological implications, that Brown "models" his math on it does not mean his math has ontological implications.

Quite so. But his mathematics is not modelled on Buddhism, both are modelled on the universe. Whether it's an accurate model is not easy to establish, but I believe it is possible to demonstrate that it is the best model available if we use the usual philosophical/scientific criteria for judging models. Proving that mathematics has ontological implications may be difficult but experience suggests that it does.    

> Perhaps an example will help. The Pythagorean Theorem allows us to determine the value of an unknown from the known value of two variables. Is this conceptual triangle ontological? Even if there are such things as triangles independent of thought, the curvature of space, which is real however small it may by, suggests that the theorem is not absolutely correct.  

Not sure that examples help here. Theorems can be incorrect while still allowing mathematics to have ontological implications. We have to assume that the mathematics is being done properly. But it may not be a relevant issue. Spencer Brown does not use mathematics to prove anything about the world, but to show how the world may be modelled by it. For a logical proof that his mathematics really does model our ontology we would have to look to, say, Bradley or Nagarjuna or, less forcefully, Kant and Hegel.

> I'm still trying to get a handle on your position. You are saying that knowledge is not constrained by social location. Is that because you are saying this because there's no relation between knowledge and the world to begin with? 

I'm also still trying to get a handle on it. It's slippery. The confusion here is probably to do with what we mean by knowledge. Relative knowledge, or knowledge of relative things, is constrained by all sorts of things. But knowledge of the kind that the Buddhist or Taoist is concerned with is not. In principle this is something that nothing can prevent us knowing, since it is sefl-knowledge. But self-knowledge would, at the limit at least, also be knowledge of the world as a whole, since Kant's subject of rational psychology would be its point of origin. It's my impression that Kant slipped up in not noticing that it's the same phenomenon in both cases, given that he defines them identically. Hegel did not make this mistake.

> Just a little sanity check here. You appear to suggest that a mysticism allows us to transcend conceptual contradictions that are the source of pain or frustration. No doubt, but the context of this thread are natural laws, and that suggests the need to represent this transcendence in physical terms. That is what I've been trying to do. I should think the mystic would find no objection to that if it succeeds.

Why must natural laws be grounded in the physical? Are non-corporeal phenomena never natural? I'd say that natural laws cannot be adequately represented in purely physical terms, nor Nature itself.

> Not sure, but we may agree here. I'd argue that the three real modalities of processes are all extrinsic. So, by a framing, such as in observation, a real probability distribution is actualized unequivocally; possible properties acquire specific values. This is not as off-the-wall as it might first appear. Everything we know stands in a relation, and so unrelated entity is esoteric. What do we know of that has no relation?

Hence Buddhism doctrine of dependent origination, or consciousness studies' 'relative phenomenalism.' Lao-tsu tells us that the laws of nature are determined by the laws of heaven, which in turn are a consequence of the Tao being what it is. Everything would be related. But the relationship between psycho-physical phenomena and their origin would not be of the same kind as that between those phenomena.    

> I'm probably in sympathy with you here. The word "natural" (as opposed to artificial) usually means what is independent of mind, and it might seem I have just argued that nothing is natural. 

Well yes, it does seem like that. I find this definition of 'natural' impossible. It embodies a whopping and unjustifiable assumption. Perhaps I misunderstand.   

> I suspect where we share ground is thet the logical or conceptual categories in terms of which we conventionally think are not just constraints, but actually inhibiting. Creative thought calls for their transcendence. Here we part ways. You see the engine of that transcendence to be thought itself, which roughtly comes down to mystical insight; while my action foundationalism holds that this transcendence must remain physically based and new categories must be physically liberating, not just phychologically liberating.

Surely it is the case a priori that transcendence would not involve new categories. Otherwise we'd be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. In a way I'd agree that the engine of that transcendence is thought, but the transcendence of thought.is the goal, for thought requires categories. Mysticism can appear to be an exploration of epistemology and psychology only, but it is first and foremost the study of ontology.  It is the search for the phenomenon that lies beyond de Cusa's 'coincidence of contradictories,' the point of origin for Spencer Brown's existential calculus.

Getting back to the laws of nature, it would be this phenomenon from which the laws ineluctably arise, for ontological and strictly natural reasons. That is to say, the physical world would be emergent or epiphenomenal, and (as for physicalism, I think) the basic laws would be in place prior to the psycho-physical world, and the reason for its emergence. 

Sometimes I think that mysticism is more confident that the universe is law governed than physics.  

Peter

   

  



   

2010-05-18
laws of nature
> I think we are at cross-purposes on action and change. You say, 'If I touch something hot, I withdraw from it, and the conscious brain has nothing to do with it.' But in this case there is no action that changes the ... (expand) world, just the uninterrupted operation of the laws of causation. The assumption that to produce change takes work is one thing, the assumption that we are agents capable of changing the world is an extra asssumption. Balsekar's point is that there is no agent, just the illusion of agency. The idea would be that we do interact with the world, but that those interactions are usually so conditioned as to render us rocks falling down a hill. We may have motives for our actions, but those motives are usually conditioned such that our actions are merely the natural effects of previous causes. It would be a question of distinguishing freely chosen action from conditioned responses. But I'm not sure this addresses your point. 

One "cross-purpose" seems to involve the meaning of action. You object to my example, which might not have been ideal, but to elaborate: my arm moved, and so the world changed. Perhaps the notion of human volition is clouding things. A rock rolling down a hill dissipates gravity as heat. I would call that movement an action and call the rock its local agent (the dissipation is the real agent). Is such a usage of action and agent acceptable to you? My dictionary speaks of one body acting on another. If my brain causes me to quickly withdraw my burnt arm, but I accidentally knock over my glass of wine, that would be an action that changes the world. So what is the difference with my brain causing my arm to move? Is not my brain and its emergent property of thought as real and material as any other body?

As for whether we are agents, I guess I'm too dense to grasp the point. When I accidentally knocked over the wine glass, was I not an agent? I suspect the issue here is over the "I". But in none of my examples is an ego involved, just a brain acting like a machine that responds to sensory inputs. Undoubtedly our activity is determined in a variety of ways, by our bodily and mental powers, by emotions, etc. If this is agreeable, then the issue may be the word "determine," and here we may indeed be at "cross purposes."  My position here is that determination in the sense of an absolutely unequivocal outcome simply does not exist, but all things are processes, and in principle all determination is probabilistic, a "weak determination." Determining factors are in this case influences that affect the probability distribution of possible outcomes. If you do not buy this, then we are indeed at cross purposes. If you do accept it, then it seems to reconcile free will and determinism: determinations constrain the probable outcome of freewill, but does not prevent its operation and effect.

There is yet another issue. My discussion so far assumes "free" will, and yet what exactly does this word free mean? To be absolutely free of any determination, including my intentions, my wants, my tastes, seems to reduce freedom to randomness, and that won't due. Why not is a tricky issue, but basically it implies that the will is supernatural. So to back off from this, there are determinations that seem to us external (the I.R.S.) and some are internal (emotion), and some associated with the ego (intentionality). If it is possible to think of the ego or self-consciousness as an emergent effect of thought and thought as an emergent effect of brain, then ego is not supernatural and being real and material can be a determination of action, albeit constrained by other determinations. I'm not sure where in all this we part ways, but it's probably important to pin down.

> Ah. I could agree that that the world may be socially constructed, in the sense of being a collaboration, (by way of Spencer Brown's laws), but not knowledge of the world. Knowledge is never social, so I can't see the significance of the way it's constructed.

Here I'm a bit mystified. Knowledge is never social? I've no idea what you mean. I'm writing in the English language, but it was not my own invention (in which case you would have no idea what all these scribblings mean), but knowledge is part of culture, socially transmitted patterns of behavior and symbol systems. Is your point that culture is not manifest except in individuals? Generally, of course not, but this is not odd. If society is an emergent system, which everyone seems to agree it is, it gives rise to what are called systemic properties that do not reduce to its base (individuals). But few emergent systems have a physical boundary upon which are embedded systemic properties, and they are instead manifest in its constituents. These systemic properties acquired by system constituents are other than the intrinsic properties of those constituents. If I refer to the history of the Calusa state of South Bimini, it is not knowledge I discovered, but what I learned from others. While there is a website on the subject, which is a mechanism of social transmission, that knowledge is also manifest in my memory of that social knowledge. So I need an explication of your point that knowledge is never social. Reminds me of a story: Frederick the Great, "Stupor Mundi", was raised in Sicily and thus as a youth embued Arabic scientific curiosity. He wondered whether babies said "Mama" by nature or by nurture. So he ordered a baby put in a barrel and had a nurse, sworn to silence, to feed it through a bung hole and to listen to see if the baby spontaneously said "Mama." The extent to which knowledge initially arises from individual action or from socially transmitted culture remains contentious (Vernadsky debate), but surely as adults, it is a mix of both, although I'll bet the overwhelming bulk of things you know you learned from others rather than by trial and error.

I skip a couple points because I think the issues involved have already come up.

 >  > You imply there is a state that does not engage struggle; I reply that this runs counter to thermodynamics. 

> Does not thermodynamics allow for a rest state?  

To address this, we need to distinguish practical situations from matters of principle. The latter is important because it engages ontology and ontology often defines what is practical. Suppose I had a quartz crystal on my shelf. It is an equilibrium system that will last indefinitely in practical terms, but definitely will not last in principle. All sorts of contingencies over the course of billions of years will deconstruct it and ultimately the (widely assumed) Heat Death of the universe. So in cosmic time, the crystal is a process. It is "stable" because the bonds forming its structure are probable; it is unstable in the long run because it structure, being structure, is improbable must eventually dissipate. So, my orginal point here is this: while we are surrounded by structures that are often relatively stable, in the long run no structure is ultimately stable, and so it is better to base an ontology (and epistemology) on this assumption. So, thermodynamics allows for apparent temporary rest states, but no state is really at rest, and ultimately thermodynamcs means all states dissipate. A lack of change is only approximate and temporary. 

> Wouldn't it be an objection to your view that if action requires time then action is not primitive?

My reply would be too complicated to elaborate here. The upshot is that I do not assume that action takes time. I would deny the reality of time other than as a mental tactic to avoid the contradiction of Being and Becoming.

> >  If you are saying there is no empirical relation between the content of thought and the world it purports to represent, I'd agree, but this does not mean there is no relation. In fact, I do argue that there is a relation, and I call it processual superposition. As the term suggests, the argument is rather esoteric.

> No, I definitely didn't mean to suggest this. Processual superposition sounds interesting. Could you expand? Is it something to do with Whitehead?  

Uncertain of your intent here. Are you disagreeing with me by suggesting that there _is_ an empirical relation of a base level and an emergent level, or more specically,of thought and the world it represents?

Processual superposition is very complicated. I'll be brief, although I'm also sure cryptic. First, I assume a modal realism (not in sense of Lewis' multiple worlds, but a traditional modal realism that says that possibility, potency and actuality are real in that they make a difference independent of human cognition). Second, I assume that all things are emergent processes (using an older definition of emergence that includes novelty as well as unpredictability). When two processes enter a relation, it is a relation of their three modalities, not just their actualities as in causality. The three modalities of any process are: a) "exogenous" possibility, which is the possibilites inherited from the more universal processes on which it represents a constraint. I choose the word "exogenous" to make clear these possibilities are independent of the process of concern and are inherited, but since the process of concern is a contraint on them, they remain accessible to it. b) "extrinsic" potency I is borrowed from thermodynamics: the ultimate engine of change is a probability gradient between an actual state, a  structure that is improbable by definiltion, and its more probable alternative states. Since the structure constrains exogenous possibilities, potency is a relation with the resulting locally anchored probability distribution.
c) Actuality---a word I substitue for the more conventional "necessity", is the effect of a relation of processes, where the structure of one localizes the other process, actualizing its probability distribution locally and unequivocally. The the actual properties of things are not intrinsic, but the suggestion they are extrinsic may be counterintuitive, although easily defended. Note that each modality is a relation: possiblity is a relation of the local with the more universal; potency is the relation of the local actuality with possibility constrained by structure to be locally probable alternative states, and actuality is a relation of the potency and actuality modalities of two processes. So, when two processes enter a relation, The structure of one constrains the probability distribution of the other, which alters it and localizes it as emergent actual properties which are both novel and predictable to the extent the process is conceptually or  physically closed. The dissipation of the probability gradient .of each process drives the emergent actualization of the other.

There are some counter-intuitive aspects in all this. One is that it implies things don't really have intrinsic properties, but only in relation to something else. My reply is that nearly everything we know is a structure having  relations, even if that relation is the frame imposed by observation, which I see as just another case of processual superposition. Are there things that don't stand in relation? I suppose elementary particles, but are they not probability distributions that acquire actual properties only when framed? Another such point is that here there is no temporal assymetrical "cause" and  "effect," for each process is both; their relation is symmetrical in principle. In ordinary language, things are necessarily changed by their effect on others. Here, what we might conveniently represent as the cause is simply the process that has the greatest probability distribution to drive change in the other process. Note also that time does not come in and, contrary to conventional  causal explanation, the relation of the processes is symmetric in principle. With the aside that my term "superposition" is borrowed from quantum mechanics but does not necessily imply an equivalence, this is a "short" definition, which obviously must raise a host of questions.  

All this has nothing to do with Whitehead, but is meant to offer an alternative to his notion of process. I also sharply disagree with perhaps now the standard treatment of the subject by Rescher.

> Quite so. But his mathematics is not modelled on Buddhism, both are modelled on the universe. Whether it's an accurate model is not easy to establish, but I believe it is possible to demonstrate that it is the best model available if we use the usual philosophical/scientific criteria for judging models. Proving that mathematics has ontological implications may be difficult but experience suggests that it does.

Sorry to say so, but are you not begging the question? I don't know how seriously you mean this contentious word "model"? The word "model theory" is used in math, but it refers to properties of mathematics and does not imply anything about the relation of math and the physical world. More generally, model seems to mean a relation of structures in which the parameters of one can be translated (bridging rules) into parameters of the other. For example, an abstraction from concrete particulars to bring out the dynamics of a situation. How we model the world is a mental operation that translates the world into terms we consider intelligible or useful. But this says nothing at all about the nature of the world. For example, if models are based on observables (such as inferred unobservables), it systematically excludes two of the three modalities I introduced above. A similar problem is that the historian offers statements about the past that he claims have truth value, even though the past does not exist except as some accidental stable structures that are part of "present" actuality and he calls evidence. So my problem, which has nothing to do with accuracy, is that models seem to be an epistemological tool that begs the question of the correpondence of such a model what what it purports to represent. For example, if a given cosmic phenomen can be modeled mathematically in a variety of ways that are felt to be truthful, then one of those models can't be said to mirror the world when there are many mirrors reflecting different images (a problem usually discussed in relation to explanation of probabilistic outcomes). I admit my ignorance in such matters, and your further guidance is needed. To what "experience" do you refer? Some examples might be helpful.

> Not sure that examples help here. Theorems can be incorrect while still allowing mathematics to have ontological implications. We have to assume that the mathematics is being done properly. But it may not be a relevant issue. Spencer Brown does not use mathematics to prove anything about the world, but to show how the world may be modelled by it. For a logical proof that his mathematics really does model our ontology we would have to look to, say, Bradley or Nagarjuna or, less forcefully, Kant and Hegel. 

Not sure I quite follow. OK, maybe concrete example won't help, but that remark is telling. If Spencer-Brown only shows how the world can be modelled and does not try to impose an ontology, then that seems to be my point. You then suggest that while ontological implications was not Spencer-Brown's concern, you mention a set of other philosophers that do have that concern. As for the Bradley, at some point, over half a century ago, I encountered him in some philosophy course, and I assume idealism is no longer viable. He no longer seems a significant thinker. As for Nagarjuna, he and Hegel are the ones for whom I have greater sympathy, although in the case of the former, much more the naturalistic teachings at the Nalanda University well after his time. I could make a link between Nagarjuna and my own position, although I'm not sure what would be gained by it. As for Kant, he did suggest that mathematical statements are synthetic a priori, but this view carries little weight, for it is not only a non-empirical truth, but a truth not anchored in matter. That is, it is irrelevant to natural law. My discussion brought up two modalities, possibility and potency, that are unobservable. But, with the exception of elementary particles, they are anchored on actual structure and so can be inferred to some extent from observed change. Kant is an idealist, and so basically concerned with the supernatural as far as I am concerned. Hegel, on the other hand, did anchor the ideal in matter, but it seems to me here the objective idea is a priori and matter merely its manifestation. The difference with my position is that I take matter as a priori in that it constrains possibilities as a probability distribution and is one pole of the probability gradient, the dissipation of which ultimately drives all change. All these folks (maybe except Nagarjuna) are idealists, not in the sense that there are aspects of reality that are unobservable yet real, but in the sense of an ontological dualism, and that way madness lies. Let me add that I'm just speculating in all this and I have no expertise in such matters. But I wonder: are you saying that concrete examples will not help because you are not taking about matter, ontological monism, but about a different ontological category?

> I'm also still trying to get a handle on it. It's slippery. The confusion here is probably to do with what we mean by knowledge. Relative knowledge, or knowledge of relative things, is constrained by all sorts of things. But knowledge of the kind that the Buddhist or Taoist is concerned with is not. In principle this is something that nothing can prevent us knowing, since it is sefl-knowledge. But self-knowledge would, at the limit at least, also be knowledge of the world as a whole, since Kant's subject of rational psychology would be its point of origin.

I'm not too sympathetic with this line of argument. True, relative knowledge is constrained by all sorts of things, but I have problem with this other kind of knowledge. You characterize it only by association, rather than define it (perhaps you would argue it is categorically undefinable). Apparently it is associated with, reduces to, or is simply self-knowledge.  OK, then my question is, why is self-knowledge not constrained? To put it simply, my sense of self is likely quite other than what people think of me, and so who, if anyone, is right? If I'm an egoist, I have an inflated notion of self, but then is that notion not constrained by my psychic state? I concede that knowledge of self may be "direct", but does that make it accurate or true? If so, why? But then you equate self-knowledge with knowledge of the world. This, as you surely must acknowledge is a stretch. What justification for it is there? For example if all knowledge is constructed (here not socially, but individually), it makes knowledge a function of self, but perhaps for that reason is one-sided or partial. But, vs. Peirce, you counter with an appeal to Kant and Hegel. Both assumed that the world is itself rational, and since the mind is rational, the world becomes intelligible. This seems opposite to the argument that because we know the mind and it constructs knowledge and is all about the world that is knowable.

> > I'm probably in sympathy with you here. The word "natural" (as opposed to artificial) usually means what is independent of mind, and it might seem I have just argued that nothing is natural. 

> Well yes, it does seem like that. I find this definition of 'natural' impossible. It embodies a whopping and unjustifiable assumption. Perhaps I misunderstand.  

I'm trying to figure out if this is a deep issue or only a matter of words. I may have clouded the issue above. I see everything as natural (and so the word ends meaning nothing), and by "artificial" I should have said that it refers to natural things constructed by natural man. I'm not sure that Hegel assumed his objective idealism referred to what is "unnatural", but only non-material. Materialism is easy: a) old meaning as battle flag against idealism was a postion of ontological monism; b) more current meaning is that all reality is compatible, related pontentially or in fact, coherent. I don't see much use for the word "naturalism" today beyond materialism, and you don't think much of it either, but apparently for the opposite reason that it precludes something true or real. Is this the "assumption" to which you object? It would be useful to know, in straightforward terms, just what do you think that assumption is.

> > I suspect where we share ground is that the logical or conceptual categories in terms of which we conventionally think are not just constraints, but actually inhibiting. Creative thought calls for their transcendence. Here we part ways. You see the engine of that transcendence to be thought itself, which roughly comes down to mystical insight; while my action foundationalism holds that this transcendence must remain physically based and new categories must be physically liberating, not just phychologically liberating.

> Surely it is the case a priori that transcendence would not involve new categories. Otherwise we'd be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. In a way I'd agree that the engine of that transcendence is thought, but the transcendence of thought.is the goal, for thought requires categories. Mysticism can appear to be an exploration of epistemology and psychology only, but it is first and foremost the study of ontology.  It is the search for the phenomenon that lies beyond de Cusa's 'coincidence of contradictories,' the point of origin for Spencer Brown's existential calculus.

Oops, this seems a step back. I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that there are situations involving contradictory categories that are can be transcended mystically. I did not mean to imply that all mystrical transcendence engages contradictory categories. For example, Sufi Islam. What I should have said is that when there are conceptual contradictions, such as the Christian Trinity or such as the modern West's set (inside-outside, whole-part, past-future, being-becoming, self-other, cause-effect), they are transcended by imaginative thought or by action. But your objection is less for this generalization than with categories per se, and the transcendence is a transcendence of thinking in terms of categories. Am I right here? You've implied as much all along, but I failed to rise to your challenge: must we think in terms of categories, or at least represent everything that way?

It's a good question, and I don't think it outrageous, for much of my thought is not in terms of categories however simple they may be. Let me give you an example, my writing the previous paragraph was interrupted by a telephone call from my neice, whom I've only met once before and she is about to visit. If I were to tell you about my neice, such as her being strikingly beautiful, lives in Switzerland, etc., I would naturally employ categories to do so. But when she called, flooding my mind were an emotion (joy of hearing from her) and an image, and as we spoke she was present, not as the Other, but as a unity. My impression is that while these are thoughts, they are not obviously defined by categories, although I need categories to tell you about them. So not all thought is in terms of categories, but this brings us back to Augustine on time: he has an intuitive sense of what time is but can't say what it is in terms of categories in order to communicate that intuition to others. So what do I conclude from this example? There are mental states that lack categories, but they cannot be communicated, cannot contribute to the fund of social knowledge that enables the mental and physical development of myself and others, cannot be relevant to science (the context of the original question). This leaves certain troubling questions. Is this mental content that escapes categorization only a narcistic self-absorption? No, for the feelings I had when speaking with my neice were authentic, true, and important, and did not serve just me, but were part of my social being. As such, thought associated with social being can be a source of development (class solidarity, for example, is a source of real possibility). But this, apparently, is not your point. So my question is, is this higher consciousness, that need not involve categories, and therefore (generally) cannot be communicated and contribute to the development of others, limited to merely a psychic liberation? Not a liberation in terms of the world or self-development in worldly terms, but merely from mental limitation? Is this internal liberation then simply because there were mental handicaps to begin with that troubled the soul, and so what is gained is a feeling of greater peace? If so, I assume its utility depends on how much Angst was present in the first place. If so, my instinctive response is to deal with the Angst rather than merely excape it, as might someone taking drugs.

>  Getting back to the laws of nature, it would be this phenomenon from which the laws ineluctably arise, for ontological and strictly natural reasons. That is to say, the physical world would be emergent or epiphenomenal, and (as for physicalism, I think) the basic laws would be in place prior to the psycho-physical world, and the reason for its emergence. 

> Sometimes I think that mysticism is more confident that the universe is law governed than physics. 

Yes, we should get back to it because mysticism or idle speculation is not particularly appropriate in this forum (I just assume that no one else is reading this long thread and so doesn't realize how far it has strayed). If mysticism refers to a non-contingent psychic state, it can have nothing to do with any laws of nature as they are usually understood, but with rationality, which is quite else. I get the feeling in regard to, say, the I Ching, that the mental representation of "laws" are to some extent inferred from experience. They are not just cooked up in a vacuum. Then it creates a psychic state to establish a relation of the mind of self with the order of nature in a way that is somehow helpful. But it seems that the way nature works (better than the dubious word "laws", which I suggested before seem a reification without ontic foundation) is still inferred from observation, and the enlightenment is a development of mental or spiritual life intended to cope better with the way the world apparently works. This does not seem to have any ontological implication beyond what is inferred from observation. I think you make a mistake here to reintroduce "laws" into this because it can only obscure the issue, which instead is really about what the world is like or how it works and the relation of mind to it. For example, everyone has a pretty good idea of how the world works and most people don't drag laws into it (well, maybe Murphy's Law ;-). The issue of laws and conceptual categories is the special and picky concern of scientists and philosophers who are in the business of inventing problems in order to make a living.  Most people assume that the world is a priori to thought about it and that consciousness arises from experience. Is this what you are saying? If so, how is it relevant?

As for your concluding remark, what you say may be true. I know a lot of religious fundamentalists who are very certain about things, far more than scientists. I used to think that a measure of the progress of science is the growth of ignorance (growing awareness of how much we don't know), but the mark of progress in religion is the growth of certainty. So I conclude with a perhaps nasty question: what distinguishes the mysticism you have been trying to define from religious faith?

Haines     

2010-05-20
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir

It seems that for you ‘action’ is anything that happens, and you would say that a rock is an agent if it is rolling down a hill. This means that everything that happens is the result of the action of an agent. If this is what ‘action’ and ‘agent’ mean then I agree with what you say about them. But I associate agents with volition. This is why I’m able to agree with Balsekar that we are not agents when our ego is in charge of our actions, since our egos are at the mercy of causal forces. I need to rephrase this idea though, if we are to use your definition of the terms. But, yes, I can see that if we use your terminology then when you accidently knock over a wineglass you would be an agent. Everything would an agent. The wine glass would the agent that interrupted the action of your arm.

I’m okay with the idea that all determination is probabilistic. There’s many a slip between cup and lip etc. But I don’t see how this has any bearing on the reconciliation of freewill and determinism. I've never gone for the idea that quantum level uncertainty allows for the operation of volition in the causal chain.

> There is yet another issue. My discussion so far assumes "free" will, and yet what exactly does this word free mean? To be absolutely free of any determination, including my intentions, my wants, my tastes, seems to reduce freedom to randomness, and that won't due. Why not is a tricky issue, but basically it implies that the will is supernatural.

Yes! In this way Schroedinger concludes from an analysis of freewill that he is God. He found this the only way to reconcile freewill and determination. So do I, although I’m uncomfortable with the term ‘God’ and do not think that anything is supernatural. I prefer ‘supramundane’, for reasons discussed by Jim Stone in another thread here.

> If it is possible to think of the ego or self-consciousness as an emergent effect of thought and thought as an emergent effect of brain, then ego is not supernatural and being real and material can be a determination of action, albeit constrained by other determinations. I'm not sure where in all this we part ways, but it's probably important to pin down.

I’m okay with the idea that ego, self-consciousness and thought are emergent effects of brain, and if they are this would not affect my view of freewill etc. But I wouldn’t be okay with the idea that there is nothing more to consciousness than the emergent affect of brains. And I thing it likely that the ego is so contrained as to be incapable of being an intiator of action rather than just a responder to circumstances. 

> Here I'm a bit mystified. Knowledge is never social? I've no idea what you mean. I'm writing in the English language, but it was not my own invention (in which case you would have no idea what all these scribblings mean), but knowledge is part of culture, socially transmitted patterns of behavior and symbol systems.

Patterns of behaviour and symbol systems may be cultural, but the knowledge of them is surely in people’s heads. For me knowledge is not a sentence in a book but a sentence someone has read, understood and remembered. I know that the word is often used in other ways, so that ‘social knowledge’ is possible, but it’s sloppy terminology in my view. Society doesn’t know anything. (This is not the view that culture is only manifest in individuals).

> So I need an explication of your point that knowledge is never social…

Thanks for the story. The barrel seems like a forerunner of Skinner’s black box. The transmission of knowledge is not at issue, however, but where it resides. I agree that most (relative) knowledge is socially tranmsmitted. Libraries are social artefacts. But it’s the author or reader of a book that has the knowledge, not the book. I can make no sense of the idea that a society can know something.

> Suppose I had a quartz crystal on my shelf. It is an equilibrium system that will last indefinitely in practical terms, but definitely will not last in principle. All sorts of contingencies over the course of billions of years will deconstruct it and ultimately the (widely assumed) Heat Death of the universe. So in cosmic time, the crystal is a process. It is "stable" because the bonds forming its structure are probable; it is unstable in the long run because it structure, being structure, is improbable must eventually dissipate. So, my orginal point here is this: while we are surrounded by structures that are often relatively stable, in the long run no structure is ultimately stable, and so it is better to base an ontology (and epistemology) on this assumption. So, thermodynamics allows for apparent temporary rest states, but no state is really at rest, and ultimately thermodynamcs means all states dissipate. A lack of change is only approximate and temporary.

I would agree that strutures are emergent and subject to decay and dissolution. My ontology is not grounded on a structure, however, but on the unchanging reality proposed by Parmenides, Aristotle, Peirce, Schroedinger, Taoism, Buddhism et al. This is not a structure but maximally simple, Plotinus’ Simplex, and the origin of structure. This would be the only phenomenon that is truly in a rest state, while also the cause of all activity.

> Uncertain of your intent here. Are you disagreeing with me by suggesting that there _is_ an empirical relation of a base level and an emergent level, or more specically, of thought and the world it represents?

I was agreeing with you that all phenomena are related, and assuming that ‘empirically’ related means causally related. The relationship between thought and the world it represents would be inextricably and even existentially related, so that each would exist in dependence on the other. 

I can see that it would take me a long time to grasp the idea of processual superposition, but I don’t have any objections to anything you said about it at first reading. One question, which might just reveal my failure to understand, would be whether the assumption of modal realism is necessary to the rest of the idea. Cannot human cognition simply be part of the process?

> There are some counter-intuitive aspects in all this. One is that it implies things don't really have intrinsic properties, but only in relation to something else.

Doesn’t seem couterintuitive to me. This is the Buddhist idea of emptiness, or the vedic idea of the voidness of phenomenon. It is a solution for the problem of attributes.

> Are there things that don't stand in relation? I suppose elementary particles, but are they not probability distributions that acquire actual properties only when framed? Another such point is that here there is no temporal assymetrical "cause" and "effect," for each process is both; their relation is symmetrical in principle.

I joined this chat partly because I found your ideas very similar to those of mysticism. The symmetry of cause and effect would be another example of the similarity. A neutral metaphysical position does away with these distinctions.

> I don't know how seriously you mean this contentious word "model"? The word "model theory" is used in math, but it refers to properties of mathematics and does not imply anything about the relation of math and the physical world.

Yes, I agreed with you earlier on this. A model is not a proof.

> To what "experience" do you refer? Some examples might be helpful.

I always mean something simple but the words can get messy. I just meant that when I add one apple to another apple then I have two apples, just as I would if I modelled this event on paper. In this way experience seems to show that the world follows rules that can be modelled by a mathematical calculus. I thought physics more or less took this for grantedm but there are subtleties I might be missing. .

> If Spencer-Brown only shows how the world can be modelled and does not try to impose an ontology, then that seems to be my point. You then suggest that while ontological implications was not Spencer-Brown's concern, you mention a set of other philosophers that do have that concern.

That's not quite what I meant. Spencer Brown was very concerned with ontology, almost entirely in fact. But he did not try to prove that his model is ‘true,’ just show that it works, while Bradley and Nagarjuna present logical proofs of its correspondance to actuality without making the model.

> As for the Bradley, at some point, over half a century ago, I encountered him in some philosophy course, and I assume idealism is no longer viable. He no longer seems a significant thinker.

Alas, poor Francis. He gets a raw deal in my opinion. Appearance and Reality is out of print, and it took me months to find a good copy. Unbelievable. Why is absolute idealism no longer viable? Has something happened to descredit it? Bradley proves, or attempts to prove, that the universe is a unity. This view is as viable now as it was when Hegel proposed it, or, come to that, when it was first written down in the Hindu Upanishads. .

> As for Nagarjuna, he and Hegel are the ones for whom I have greater sympathy, although in the case of the former, much more the naturalistic teachings at the Nalanda University well after his time. I could make a link between Nagarjuna and my own position, although I'm not sure what would be gained by it.

Yes, that’s what I concluded from your earlier posts here.

> Kant is an idealist, and so basically concerned with the supernatural as far as I am concerned. Hegel, on the other hand, did anchor the ideal in matter, but it seems to me here the objective idea is a priori and matter merely its manifestation. The difference with my position is that I take matter as a priori in that it constrains possibilities as a probability distribution and is one pole of the probability gradient, the dissipation of which ultimately drives all change. All these folks (maybe except Nagarjuna) are idealists, not in the sense that there are aspects of reality that are unobservable yet real, but in the sense of an ontological dualism, and that way madness lies.

All forms of dualism would be madness for my view, and I agree that Kant never quite reached as far as Hegel and Nagarjuna. But he stopped only one step short, which is a lot closer than most do, so I count him as being on my team.

> I wonder: are you saying that concrete examples will not help because you are not taking about matter, ontological monism, but about a different ontological category?

As Bradley points out, monism is dualism in light disguise. The view that the universe is a unity is not monism. I’m talking about a category that is not an instance of a category, viz. Kant’s subject of rational psychology, Bradley’s and Hegel’s unity, Nagarjuna’s Nibbana etc.. I’ve argued elsewhere that this is the missing ingredient in our mind-matter theories identified by David Chalmers. 

> True, relative knowledge is constrained by all sorts of things, but I have problem with this other kind of knowledge. You characterize it only by association, rather than define it (perhaps you would argue it is categorically undefinable). Apparently it is associated with, reduces to, or is simply self-knowledge. OK, then my question is, why is self-knowledge not constrained? To put it simply, my sense of self is likely quite other than what people think of me, and so who, if anyone, is right? If I'm an egoist, I have an inflated notion of self, but then is that notion not constrained by my psychic state? ...  I concede that knowledge of self may be "direct", but does that make it accurate or true? If so, why? But then you equate self-knowledge with knowledge of the world. This, as you surely must acknowledge is a stretch. What justification for it is there?

Sorry. My fault. ‘Self-knowledge’ was a misleading phrase. I didn’t mean knowledge of self for, as you say, the self would be a relative phenomenon. I meant knowledge of Self, where the upper case ‘S’ denotes something prior to the self to which you refer. Mysticism claims that any study of self will lead beyone self to this prior phenomenon, exactly as Kant proposes. At the limit it would lead to the realisation that the self does not exist. This knowledge would be available to everyone equally, in principle, and although individual circumstances may dictate the difficulty of acquiring it, it would not be a matter of whether we are rich or poor, free or imprisoned, etc. For a trivial example, a knowledge of pain is not social and is freely avaible to everyone.

For Aristotle true knowledge is identical with its object, and this would be my view also. For such knowledge there is no possibility of error since there is no calculation or interpretation required. I think Kantians call this ‘non-intuitive immediate knowledge,’ but not everyone uses this terminolgy in the same way so I won’t call it that.

I’m unable to justify the claim that such knowledge can be knowledge of the world but it is one of the central claim of mysticism, and it would be an ineluctable consequence of the unity of the world. I’d prefer to call it knowledge by identity. ‘The truth lies beyond is and is not,’ says Lao-tsu. ‘How do I know this? By looking inside myself.’ So the best I can do for justification is point to the world’s thriving wisdom traditions, where this claim is ubiquitous, and to our failure to show that their worldview is incorrect.

> For example if all knowledge is constructed (here not socially, but individually), it makes knowledge a function of self, but perhaps for that reason is one-sided or partial. But, vs. Peirce, you counter with an appeal to Kant and Hegel. Both assumed that the world is itself rational, and since the mind is rational, the world becomes intelligible. This seems opposite to the argument that because we know the mind and it constructs knowledge and is all about the world that is knowable.

Not sure what’s being got at here. I usually agree with Peirce about everything. I don’t think I’m making the argument referred to in the final sentence.

> I'm trying to figure out if this is a deep issue or only a matter of words. I may have clouded the issue above. I see everything as natural (and so the word ends meaning nothing), and by "artificial" I should have said that it refers to natural things constructed by natural man. I'm not sure that Hegel assumed his objective idealism referred to what is "unnatural", but only non-material. Materialism is easy: a) old meaning as battle flag against idealism was a postion of ontological monism; b) more current meaning is that all reality is compatible, related pontentially or in fact, coherent. I don't see much use for the word "naturalism" today beyond materialism, and you don't think much of it either, but apparently for the opposite reason that it precludes something true or real. Is this the "assumption" to which you object? It would be useful to know, in straightforward terms, just what do you think that assumption is.

Probably just words. By a certain definition ‘natural’ would preclude something true or real (in my view), but as you say we don’t have to use that definition. We could just say that whatever is true or real is natural and leave it at that. The trouble is that materialism (in your first sense) is often elided with naturalism, and to do this is to make a wild and utterly ad hoc assumption. So it seems we agree about naturalism. By your second definition of materialism I would be one, which makes me wonder how many materialists would be happy with this definition. Is the term often used in this way? I wasn’t aware of this.

> I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that there are situations involving contradictory categories that are can be transcended mystically. I did not mean to imply that all mystrical transcendence engages contradictory categories. For example, Sufi Islam. What I should have said is that when there are conceptual contradictions, such as the Christian Trinity or such as the modern West's set (inside-outside, whole-part, past-future, being-becoming, self-other, cause-effect), they are transcended by imaginative thought or by action. But your objection is less for this generalization than with categories per se, and the transcendence is a transcendence of thinking in terms of categories. Am I right here? You've implied as much all along, but I failed to rise to your challenge: must we think in terms of categories, or at least represent everything that way?

As I understand it, mysticism claims that the world as whole is a unity and as such transcends all categories. That is to say, ‘enlightenment’ would involve the realisation that no categories are primitive. Or, equivalently, as Kant put it, that what is primitive is not categorizeable. All positive metaphysical position would be logically absurd because they are not correct. Carnap would be wrong. 

It seems to me that thought requires categories. Certainly language does. These would not be transcended in imaginative thought for all thought would be imaginative. The idea would be to see what’s left when the thoughts, feelings, concepts etc are taken away. What’s left, according to mysticism, is what’s real. This is what I interpret Kant as implying and Hegel as proposing,

> ….much of my thought is not in terms of categories however simple they may be. Let me give you an example, my writing the previous paragraph was interrupted by a telephone call from my neice, whom I've only met once before and she is about to visit. If I were to tell you about my neice, such as her being strikingly beautiful, lives in Switzerland, etc., I would naturally employ categories to do so. But when she called, flooding my mind were an emotion (joy of hearing from her) and an image, and as we spoke she was present, not as the Other, but as a unity.

I think the response to this may be to say that all your thoughts depend on categories, and that your sense of identity is an intuition of the fundamental truth that all categories are illusory, emergent or epihenomenal. This intuition would occur because at some level you already know that you and your daughter are identical (at a primitve level) but are suffering from a Socratic memory loss. Hence non-intuitive knowledge would be remembered knowledge, knowledge we will always have access to by retracing our steps through the study of our own psychology and ontology. Nobody can show that this is our situation, but the practices of the wisdom traditions are designed to help us to verify that it is. Perhaps a key observation here would be that for mysticism nothing really exists, so that the distinction betyween ‘you’ and ‘your daughter’ (when it is reified) would be a category error. 

> My impression is that while these are thoughts, they are not obviously defined by categories, although I need categories to tell you about them. So not all thought is in terms of categories, …

Surely there is a distinction to be made between what is and is-not a thought? For mysticism thoughts would be unreal, so even this would not be a primitive distinction. I don’t think you’ve given an example of a thought that is not dependent on categories, so will stick to my guns.

> This leaves certain troubling questions. Is this mental content that escapes categorization only a narcistic self-absorption? No, for the feelings I had when speaking with my neice were authentic, true, and important, and did not serve just me, but were part of my social being.

For me society does not have intuitions. It would be your consciousness, awareness, being or whatever that had this intuition, and it was pre-thought. Only later did you think, ‘I have this intuition.’ I have no doubt whatsoever that the feelings you had were authentic, true and important, and bear considerable reflection.

>Yes, we should get back to it because mysticism or idle speculation is not particularly appropriate in this forum (I just assume that no one else is reading this long thread and so doesn't realize how far it has strayed).

Well, I don’t think it has strayed at all. Only if we arbitrarily dismiss the mystic view on natural law has it strayed.

> If mysticism refers to a non-contingent psychic state, it can have nothing to do with any laws of nature as they are usually understood, but with rationality, which is quite else.

That’s a big ‘if.’ From my perspective you’re making an illigitimate distinction betrween a physic state and a physical state. I’m referring to a state that is neither. Mysticism trumps psychology.

> The issue of laws and conceptual categories is the special and picky concern of scientists and philosophers who are in the business of inventing problems in order to make a living. Most people assume that the world is a priori to thought about it and that consciousness arises from experience. Is this what you are saying? If so, how is it relevant?

Definitely not. My entire view rests on the falsity of the idea that the world is prior to thought. But not just human thought.

> I know a lot of religious fundamentalists who are very certain about things, far more than scientists. I used to think that a measure of the progress of science is the growth of ignorance (growing awareness of how much we don't know), but the mark of progress in religion is the growth of certainty. So I conclude with a perhaps nasty question: what distinguishes the mysticism you have been trying to define from religious faith?

That’s a very fair question and not at all nasty one. It’s the one I set out to answer a few years ago with a literature review. The trouble is that although I now have an answer I don’t know how to give it briefly enough for this thread. I could point to an essay in the archive here if you’re interested, and would love it if someone started a thread to challenge or explore it. By the house standards it’s poorly written but I can’t do any better for an answer to your question. No pressure, life’s too short to read everything.

I’ve very much enjoyed discussing these things with you and have learnt much, but I improperly hijacked the discussion and will now start easing out of it if that’s okay with you. These things need a thread of their own. My apologies to the OP.

Peter


2010-05-20
laws of nature
Peter, I glanced at your final remark before replying, and I fully agree that we should keep this interminable personal dialog under control. As much as I have enjoyed and benefited form it, I will do my best to reply to only critical matters, and then as briefly as possible. I don't know that I Ching "hijacked" the thread, for there's clearly a central issue of the relation of transcendence and law. This is my feeling, but perhaps most others would disagree and find it all irrelevant.

>  If this is what ‘action’ and ‘agent’ mean then ... (expand) I agree with what you say about them. But I associate agents with volition. This is why I’m able to agree with Balsekar that we are not agents when our ego is in charge of our actions, since our egos are at the mercy of causal forces.

I presumed intentional action was a kind of the action of one body on another (my action on the world is constrained by the structure in part of my knowledge of the world). I reject Jaspers' assumption that the mental and spiritual are different ontological categories than matter. I can't agree with Bhaskar that an ego-driven action puts us at the mercy of causal forces. This strikes me too much of a Kantian hangover. To some extent Heidegger in Sein und Zeit felt that the reconciliation of actuality and possibility was process, and while I differ with him on some basics, I believe the point is obvious and simple and practical and is much more perceptive than studies of process such as Whitehead or Rescher, who are trapped by logic (closed system thinking).

>  I’m okay with the idea that all determination is probabilistic. There’s many a slip between cup and lip etc. But I don’t see how this has any bearing on the reconciliation of freewill and determinism. I've never gone for the idea that quantum level uncertainty allows for the operation of volition in the causal chain.

You are not letting me slide by your remarks for the sake of brevity ;-). The basic issue here is that most discussion of probabilism is empiricist, has to do with the observation of probabilistic outcomes after the fact. My position was ontological: things act probabilistically independently of our consciousness, and we can explain it through the relation of observable actuality and unobservable possibility. That is, I don't infer possibilities from their past actualizations, for such an inference is necessarily only a subset of possibilities. We discover possiblities through action, but cannot say just what they are specifically. Given our feeling this dialog is getting out of hand, I can't elaborate, but in short I feel it changes what we mean by scientific explanation. Not that causal explanation is wrong, but is a limiting case.

>  Society doesn’t know anything. (This is not the view that culture is only manifest in individuals).

This is a delicate issue. A system has "systemic properties". Generally they are felt to be real and so the system is real. For example, in World Systems Theory, the cyclic behavior of markets is taken as evidence that there is an economy as a whole, although it is manifest only locally as cyclic prices. These systemic properties are usually new properties acquried by the system's constituents and are unpredictable in terms of their observables. You may rightly object that society is not a human being with a brain, but that systemic properties (culture) are manifest in individual minds does not mean that society does not hold and transmit these systemic properties (culture), which are accessible to individuals and do not reduce to the culture of individuals. Society does not "know" anything, but holds knowledge in the sense that it is an emergent effect of the knowledge of its members which cannot be reduced to the sum of their knowledges. Perhaps I could say that society deposits its knowledge in the consciousness of individuals, but does not reduce to them.

>  One question, which might just reveal my failure to understand, would be whether the assumption of modal realism is necessary to the rest of the idea [of processual superposition]. Cannot human cognition simply be part of the process?

My point about processual superpostion is that it is how things work, indepdently of cognition (phenomenalism). So, is human cognition a part of it? I'd say, No, it is an example. But if the aim is to explain emergent consciousness, then it can be done (in my prejudiced view) in terms of a superposition of processes (I think from my previous remarks you can fill in the blanks here if you like).

> I always mean something simple [by experience] but the words can get messy. I just meant that when I add one apple to another apple then I have two apples, just as I would if I modelled this event on paper. In this way experience seems to show that the world follows rules that can be modelled by a mathematical calculus. I thought physics more or less took this for grantedm but there are subtleties I might be missing. .

When you put two apples on the table, they mathematically add up to two apples. But they are two apples only becasue of a subjective frame, such as an exclusion of the apples in the basket next to the table from which the apples were drawn. So there is a mathematical statement about their unity (adds up to two), but they have no relation with each other, and so this unity is an artifice, not emergent except in thought. I see no physical law here in effect outside consciousness. The coexistence of the two apples on the table has no effect on either of them (other than an insignificant mutual gravity ;-).

> Why is absolute idealism no longer viable? Has something happened to descredit it?

A good question for which I have no answer. One thing seems certain, it is not a matter for proof or logic. I suspect global social culture is materialistic, and the only area where objective idealism might be relevant is on the personal level. That is, is objective idealism operational at the social level; is it necessary or useful when we address social problems? Largely not. I suspect the reason is seems useful or necessary is that certain people find it may be relevant to inner personal problems.

> As Bradley points out, monism is dualism in light disguise. The view that the universe is a unity is not monism. I’m talking about a category that is not an instance of a category, viz. Kant’s subject of rational psychology, Bradley’s and Hegel’s unity, Nagarjuna’s Nibbana etc.. I’ve argued elsewhere that this is the missing ingredient in our mind-matter theories identified by David Chalmers.

I think I understand Bradley's point, but don't agree with it. What is meant by the universe as a "whole"? It can mean several things. It can refer to all that is in the universe, and I don't think this is a problematic concept or implies any ontological bifurcation. If it refers to emergent properties characteristic of and therefore constituting a whole, then I see no problem with that, either. If such can be said to be true, then there is wholeness, but one that emerges from its base level rather than represent an ontological other. However, to say the universe has a trajectory from Big Bang to Heat Death is our mental construction, for its past and future are not actual and time may not exist. Our mind constructs such a trajectory, but that does not make it real and so does not imply an ontological division. It posits an idea, but not the ideal.

>   I didn’t mean knowledge of self for, as you say, the self would be a relative phenomenon. I meant knowledge of Self, where the upper case ‘S’ denotes something prior to the self to which you refer.

This seems to be a pecularily western problem. Philosophers point to Plato, but I'd rather see it as acquiring pathological form with the European Enlightenment. The problem of self defined in terms of the intrinsic properties of self, raises the issue of its relation to what is other (Husserl, Jaspers, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche), for the determination of other contradicts the essential nature of self. In my view, the self/Self distinction is only a function of context. While Self might be an a priori real category and self an a posterii instance, this smacks too much of Kant for me to digest. The notion that contemplation of self leads beyond self is quite conventional among the philosophers I mentioned and is not peculiar to eastern mysticism. Heidegger, for example, thought that we might deconstruct the history of philosophy to reach back to the pre-Socratics to recover their awareness of the ground of being. My own objection to this is that the possibility from which being is an actualization is always anchored in being and thus accessible to us today, and our ability to grasp that possibility is won through establishing what Heiddeger called a "caring" relation with other persons who offer possiblities for our own becoming (vs. Foucault), and rather than look to the past (where there are no living people, but only dead evidence, despite Dilthey), we can do better by accessing the possiblities of the present, for we are more developed (less probable) than people in the past. Etc. Etc.

> I’m unable to justify the claim that such knowledge can be knowledge of the world but it is one of the central claim of mysticism...

And yet it is an important point. If an emergent level depends on its base level, although can't be empirically reduced to it, then we have the probem of what explains supervenience, which as far as I know no one has resolved. But, on the principle that fools step in where others fear to tread, I have an intuition that the relation between the base and emergent level is one of improbability. The more improbable the base, the more improbable can the emergent level be. This has some useful or pracitical implications, but it remains an intuition that I need to think more about about to justify. So I avoid the whole mysticism issue altogether to explain transcendence in naturalistic terms. That is why my ears picked up on your reference Nalanda University (or at least Nagarjuna), for to some extent this is what it did.

> By your second definition of materialism I would be one, which makes me wonder how many materialists would be happy with this definition. Is the term often used in this way? I wasn’t aware of this.

Nope, I'm guilty of taking some license here. I get a rough impression that in the popular mind it is often a kind of physicalism, but in the scientific literature, where it shows up often enough, I suspect it is closer to my first definition---an exclusion of objective idealism. My second definition is not, I believe, the convention, but it seems implicit in where things are currently headed. For example, Kim, the top dog when it comes to mind-body relation, says mind is supervenient on brain. While he waffles on just what that relation is, it nevertheless is a kind of non-causal relation that he is after. I suggested a relation of enabling because I read more and more about how possibility is the engine of change. Not just in thermodynamics, but see for example, the brief remarks of Peter Martin. 2007. ``Probability as a physical Motive.'' Letter to the editor, Entropy no. 9:42--57.

I skip quite a bit or your material here, not out of disrespect, but because it seems relatively limited to the mystical experience.

 > > I know a lot of religious fundamentalists who are very certain about things, far more than scientists. I used to think that a measure of the progress of science is the growth of ignorance (growing awareness of how much we don't know), but the mark of progress in religion is the growth of certainty. So I conclude with a perhaps nasty question: what distinguishes the mysticism you have been trying to define from religious faith?

> That’s a very fair question and not at all nasty one. It’s the one I set out to answer a few years ago with a literature review. The trouble is that although I now have an answer I don’t know how to give it briefly enough for this thread. I could point to an essay in the archive here if you’re interested, and would love it if someone started a thread to challenge or explore it.

I'd be interested in knowing to what essay you refer. If science and daily life are confined to what are contingent, would religion and mysticism be thereby excluded and fall into the same category by this negation?

Haines Brown (who failed to keep things as short and sweet as promised).

2010-05-21
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir
Oh dear. I want to reply to all that. I'll try to be ruthless. 

A major point of disgareement seems to be the relationship between the mental the spiritual. Just to be clear, I would have three categories, mind, matter and the real, where the first two could be combined under Bradley's Appearance.

> Perhaps I could say that society deposits its knowledge in the consciousness of individuals, but does not reduce to them.

I could live with that, but I'd still prefer to say that individuals deposit their knowledge in society. Perhaps it's the same idea in effect.

> When you put two apples on the table, they mathematically add up to two apples. But they are two apples only becasue of a subjective frame, such as an exclusion of the apples in the basket next to the table from which the apples were drawn. So there is a mathematical statement about their unity (adds up to two), but they have no relation with each other, and so this unity is an artifice, not emergent except in thought. 

Ah yes.  But does this really make any difference? The whole point of a model is that it leave things out. It does at least seem that the world works mathematically when we take a partial view of it. By 'mathematically' I'd also mean 'logically.'  That is, the world would hold no suprises for the ideal reasoner.   

> Why is absolute idealism no longer viable? Has something happened to descredit it?

>> A good question for which I have no answer. One thing seems certain, it is not a matter for proof or logic.

If there is one issue to keep alive here I'd like it to be this one. I couldn't really disagree more. I'm not sure that Bradley's proof is successful, it's highly discursive, unlike Nagarjuna's, but I'm sure any faults in it can be fixed. You seem to see objective idealism as a personal choice, while it's proponents claim it is a cosmological scheme. Would it be useful when we address social problems? I don't see many social problems among Buddhists. Absolute idealism is a doctrine of non-harm since if it accurately describes our situation this would be the only rational response to it.  

> I think I understand Bradley's point, but don't agree with it. What is meant by the universe as a "whole"? It can mean several things. It can refer to all that is in the universe, and I don't think this is a problematic concept or implies any ontological bifurcation. 

Another subtle issue that there's no time for. Stating that the world as a whole refers to everything that is in it would be like saying that the set of all sets refers to everything in that set.  This is clearly inadequate. A paradox arises from the distinction between container and contained. The 'world as a whole' must include both and would transcend this distinction. In this sense 'world as a whole' may be a meta-mathematical concept. This would be Paul Davies' view, or close to it. which he describes by reference to Rucker's Mindscape, the class of all ideas. Bradley is very good on the difficulty of conceptualising the world as a whole where it is truly a unity, and not just the contents of something not included.   

>  The notion that contemplation of self leads beyond self is quite conventional among the philosophers I mentioned and is not peculiar to eastern mysticism. Heidegger, for example, thought that we might deconstruct the history of philosophy to reach back to the pre-Socratics to recover their awareness of the ground of being.

I generally agree with Heidegger on metaphysics and Being, but the idea we can recover the idea of Being from reading books seems very odd to me. Anyway, countless modern philosophers cover the same ground as the pre-Socratics.   

> My own objection to this is that the possibility from which being is an actualization is always anchored in being and thus accessible to us today, and our ability to grasp that possibility is won through establishing what Heiddeger called a "caring" relation with other persons who offer possiblities for our own becoming (vs. Foucault), and rather than look to the past (where there are no living people, but only dead evidence, despite Dilthey), we can do better by accessing the possiblities of the present, for we are more developed (less probable) than people in the past. Etc. Etc.

Here I agree with your view and also the view to which you object, on the basis that all roads lead to Rome. 

>If an emergent level depends on its base level, although can't be empirically reduced to it, then we have the probem of what explains supervenience, which as far as I know no one has resolved. 

I'm afraid I also fear treading here. The topic is too technical for me. Perhaps I could risk referring back to your point about the unity of a system of apples depending on an external observer.   

> I'd be interested in knowing to what essay you refer. If science and daily life are confined to what are contingent, would religion and mysticism be thereby excluded and fall into the same category by this negation?

I can only speak for myself here, and would say that science, daily life, religion and mysticism are useful categories but really all the same thing.  

I worry that I shouldn't have pushed my essay on you but it's the only philosophical essay I've written, or may ever write, and I'd love to get some feedback. I thought it would be okay to mention it in this quiet backwater. The execution is poor, but the ideas should stand up to analysis. Professors of philosophy were definitely not my target reader. My target reader was me at the time I started looking into the topics and couldn't find anything like it. It's here http://philpapers.org/archive/JONFMT.1.pdf 

Peter  

2010-05-21
laws of nature
Reply to Abuzaid Samir
> Please take note that this post might appear late.

Samir, not as retarded as my own reply ;-)

You list some axioms and deductions, but none do I find particularly persuasive. Allow me to elaborate.

> I-       There are laws. If not, it would be impossible to deal with reality whether on the psychological level (other persons, societies, etc), or on the natural level (other creatures as well as nonliving material).

I assume you here infer an ontological belief from human activity. The logic here requires it to be an axiom rather than a postulate, for the former is a universal. I assume here you are talking about intentional action, a confidence that our actions are likely to be efficacious in relation to our intentions. This omits actions that are deterministic (blinking my eyes), or are expressive (kissing my granddaughter). Creative action is complicated and I put it aside, for one can just as well argue that all action is creative as well as its being micro-determined. So what this comes down to is my intentional action to produce change in the world entails a preduction that I can predict that outcome.

The issue is, what ontological implications can we infer from this? All it requires is a set of experiences that are similar and therefore produce confidence that similar actions in the future will yield similar results. I'm not sure that we can draw such ontological implications. First, all situations are framed or constructed, and clearly the predictability might be a function of that frame. For example, the inference of universal laws from the 19th century laboratory model is an artifact of its high degree of closure. To the extent the laboratory is open, outcomes begin to be less predictable. Second, in your axiom, you are inferring a universal from a finite number of observations, which does not seem to stand up very well in terms of logic.  Third, I worry about ontological categories here, although less sure. That is, if all matter is contingent, what is the ontological status of laws that are universal and thus not contingent? Fourth, if drawing inferences from observation is an emergent process, then the resulting knowledge can't be reduced to the world observed, can't be the basis of universal statements of fact.

It seems to me that universal laws are really only universal generalizations which may be reliable, but not ontologically true. That is, it seems there is a danger of reifying a universal abstraction. Why a danger? One might be that it could be implicitly ontologically dualist: what is contingent such as matters, and what is not, such as laws. Also, I believe, that ontological assumptions deeply influence what we mean by satisfactory explanation beyond a closed frame. In a closed situation, causal laws may be useful, but closure seems a special case, or better, a hypothetical limiting case. The danger is that the reified law becomes may be explanatory only for closed situations and offers a handy force for change that evades the need to define causal mechanisms. 
    
> II-    Nature is continuous. Both horizontally, within each level, and vertically, across levels. If not, nature would be inconsistent and incomprehensible, for human brain receives at the same time information from different categories of nature, using one and the same system of comprehension.

I'm not sure nature is "continuous", but probably we would agree on the word "coherent". It is clear that the axiom of coherence (originally based on neoPlantonic mysticism, then on Kant's rationality, finally on univerasl laws) has been fundamental in the development of Western science. However, given that these three source of coherence have become problematic, it might be easier to infer ontology from action, not the success of action, but the preconditions of action, which does not depend on outcomes. If action is defined in terms of outcomes. such as intentional action leads to predictable outcomes, like laws, it is an inference from a limited body of experience. Also, the word "continuous" or "coherent" begs for definition. Do all things stand in an empirical relation? Obviously not, or at least we would have to make an extreme case for it, such as a hypothetical fleck of matter at the edge of the universe being subject to gravitation. Emergent phenomena (in the sense of unpredictable relation of base level and emergent level) give rise to properties at those levels that apparently have no empirical relation. There is a dependency, but no empirical correlation.
 
Second, the notion of "level" begs the question. As opposed to "system", I suppose level brings in extrinstic properties, and such properties imply a relation that is empirically undefinable (if defined, they become part of the system). What defines this "continuity" both within a level and between levels? Laws? If so, then (II.) seems not an axiom, but an inference of (I.). Your point that nature is inconsistent only makes sense in terms of a presumed universality of laws, for empirically nature is anything but consistent. But even in terms of laws, , for laws (regular behaviors) seem a function of granularity. For example, laws of QM seem to contradict the laws that we experience in daily life; social laws don't seem much related to natural laws (vs. Hanson); cosmic laws such as Special Relativity don't seem relevant to laws of our daily lives. Maybe we might reduce all levels of laws to those of just one level, such as reducing all laws to those of QM. Well, that has not been done and probable can't be done. Reducing all laws to Newtonian mechanics (physicalism) has had its appeal, but not these days. Why not reduce all laws to the emergent processes we see in bio-evolution and human society? Why don't we, as you may imply here, reduce every phenomon to a mental construct, as in phenomenalism? However, if there are different kinds of domains (or levels) that have their peculiar properties and behaviors, how or why do we privilege one domain over others by presuming to reduce them to it? If we don't do this, what then of global coherence?  One way out might be to claim that each level represents a constraint on a more universal level. While this may have some pragmatic appeal, what level is then most universal? QM? Cosmology? My own feeling is that while all levels are constraints on a more universal level, and so there is a hierarchy, what is most universal is not a constraint or level, but universal possibility such as a perfect vacuum. 

I skip there, for you offers a deduction from premises I find to be problematic.

>  IV- There are two basic forms of a unified system of laws, reductive and holistic forms. Reductionism is deterministic, mechanical, upward directed, and causal. Holistic forms are anti-reductive, non-mechanical, upward/downward directed, and probabilistic.

This strikes me as put in a way that is not ideal. A minor point: what does it mean to say that laws have "forms"? The reductive/holistitic dichotomy, although not unconventional, may engage incompatible conceptual categories. Holism is an ontological statement concerning the relation of systemic properties to that of its parts; reductionism is an methodological or epistemological statement. More importantly, the word reductionism is highly ambivalent. The more general usage is that emergent observables can't be explained as the causal effect of base-level observables, but there's an important position (Kim, for example), that emergent observables can be explained in terms of the base level only if that level includes unobservables. The old approach was to include in the base what were called "functional" properties, but it seems this approach has fallen on hard times. I get some feeling that many presume (and I'm sympathetic)  that the base has to be defined to include real possibilities. If so, then emergence of properties or behaviors that characterize a whole can be reduced, but only by adopting a modal realism. It means that what defines satisfactory "explanation" must change.

Another problem with your formulation here, is that it doesn't make much sense to me. There seems a confusion about a typology of law and the physics of systems. A base level can give rise to novel properties that are predictable, such as crystal formation, or to properties that are also unpredictable (as in emergent levels). The "whole", the level of systemic properties, can certainly have a mechanistic effect on its constituents, such as in negative or positive feedback. Such feedback can give rise to non-linear relations and thus to periodic or chaotic behavior that is entirely mechanistic. So the epistemological dichotomy may be that of emergent systems (unpredictable outcomes) or mechanical systems (predictable outcomes). I prefer an ontological dichotomy. For example, a level is defined in part (exluding extrinsic properties) as having improbable systemic properties, known as "emergence", and its opposite movement toward greater probability, "dissipation". Does this contradiction violate the assumed global coherence? Well, thermodynamics suggests it does not, for here emergence and dissipation are interdependent and form a unity called a "thermodynamic engine".

 > V-    Since the reductive view has proved to be fruitless, the possible unification of laws of nature lies in the other way around, the anti-reductive form, which we should be seeking today.

This fruitlessness does not seem to be an inference of your earlier points. Roughly you distinguished mechanistic and emergent relations, but you did not show that the former is somehow wrong or inadequate. Furthermore, it seems that in fact reductive explanations are broadly successfull and becoming more so all the time. I suspect, but have not investigated the issue, that when folks say that their reductionist method is successful they refer to systems that are relatively closed, physically or conceptually. All scientific programs are framed physically and conceptually, and that framing yields predictable outcomes, which are not false, but merely one-sided. On the other hand, some sciences, called historical sciences, focus on emergent phenomena, are not framed in the same way, and here, while mechanical explanation fails, there is a different kind of explanation that presumes possibilities are accessible (whatever their ontological status is presumed to be), and explanation is in terms of the actualization of these possibilities or probabilities (abduction, retrodiction, etc. rather than prediction).

Incidentally, I agree with your conclusion, but not how you got to it.  

> Such a formulation of the problem is not affected by our opinions and definitions. If we limit ourselves to its conclusion (V), then we can go on into a detailed project. And what we should be looking for is the position of the philosophical community about such a conclusion. Is there a true or logical refutation of such a conclusion? After getting such an answer, it would be possible to proceed.

This worries me too. Is the old positivist objectivism creeping in here? It seems that a growing consensus is that that world is not independent of its observer and this need not imply the radical scepticism that the world is only a social construct. Any science frames the object of investigation, but going further into this would entail a lot of discussion. As far as your saying that (V.) offers a foundation, I disagree to some extent, for I would rather see the study of systems that are closed conceptually and physically as a limiting case for the study of emergent phenomena. While this is an important and fruitful case, it neverthess seems a special case of the the explanation of the emergent systems studied by the historical sciences. Contrary to you, I don't see this as either-or, but as a continuum, one hypothetical pole of which is mechanistic explanation with absolutely unequivocal determinism, and the other being the unconstrained possibility of the perfect vacuum.

Haines Brown