PROCESS PANEGYRIC

Troythulu the Skeptophrenic Blogger, must think I’m mad.  I respond to some of the posts on his blog, but I don’t seem to respond directly-my responses have a non sequitur feeling.  The reason I respond is because the ideas in some of his posts are as close as they can be to mine, but just far enough way to make it very satisfying to attempt to build a bridge between the skeptical point of view and mine.  Thus the non sequitur feeling of my responses.  I wonder if he feels the same way?

I suppose partly in response to something I wrote, Troythulu blogged that “it is often claimed by those who seek to misrepresent science…that science is no more epistemically valid than religion, because both rely on prior assumptions as the basis for their arguments and conclusions.”  He also says that supernaturalistic religion is based on faith, dogma, and people and books that claim to be ultimate authorities without giving arguments or evidence, etc.  (the entire post is HERE).  Rather than responding directly to this, I launched into a Process Panegyric.  I posted it here because I think it’s interesting to see that a more subtle and informed metaphysical point of view can produce a more robust and satisfying scientific view, as well as a more satisfying religious view:

PROCESS PANEGYRIC:

My thinking is derived from Whiteheadian ideas, and Troythulu’s post had me immediately turning to Science & the Modern World and “Modes of Thought,” two great little books by Whitehead.  If you logically analyze our experience in the world, and refuse to ignore any of it, and consider what science and theology have to say about the world, you may come to the conclusion, as Whitehead did, that much of the universe is beyond our ken.  This doesn’t mean we should give up-on the contrary it means we should redouble our efforts at understanding the world-but it also means we should open our minds and free ourselves from our small thinking (whether we’re a Scientist or a Religionist).  Part of the point here, by the way, is that a holistic and robust science doesn’t conflict with an informed and wide religious point of view, especially when both are based on a Process philosophical/theological ontology.

NARROW SCIENCE AND OUTDATED ONTOLOGIES:

When we conceive of science too narrowly, and don’t open our minds to the larger picture, then, ironically, scientific thought itself is too narrow for the facts it must explain.  Fundamental assumptions which are unconsciously presupposed necessarily deliver a limited number of philosophic systems and possible worldviews.  For example, the mechanistic theory of nature was the orthodox creed of physical science from 500 BCE until the 19th century, and for 2,000 years it never occurred to anyone that things could be different.  Aristotle posited “quality” over “relatedness” and it remained that way ever since-the world was based on material things which were taken as independently existing substances.  In the modern period, Descartes focused on res vera (as a result of Aristotle), and the substances with qualities were explainable only in terms of themselves, and were analyzed by dividing them up into clear and distinct sensory experiences, visual, auditory, tactile, etc.  This is the unconsciously presupposed common sense notion of the world.  The primary datum of experience is a windowless hunk of stuff, only externally related to other clear and distinct hunks of stuff.  Of course, to explain the other half of our experience, we had to add “mind” to the “matter” and “subjective” to the “objective” (and a host of other distinctions as well).  Descartes gave the material side of reality to Science, and gave God the task of presiding over the mental and subjective world.

MATTER AS “SOLID STUFF” AND “SIMPLE LOCATION:”

Given this philosophical view, matter/energy can be said to be only here in spacetime without reference to other spacetime regions.  Also, given our experience in the world, it means that reality is divided up into objective and subjective.  Subjective qualities then inhere only in the human nervous system…there’s no such thing as “red” in nature itself-there’s only a wavelength on the EM spectrum.  Nature is dull, scentless, colorless…just the meaningless, purposeless hurrying here and there of simply located material stuff.  (Whitehead talks about this in terms of the “Fallacy of Simple Location” and the “Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.”)  But how fundamental are those materialistic/matter/energy based truths?

BASEBALL BATS ABOUT THE HEAD:

If they’re ultimately fundamental, then relativity and quantum theory don’t make sense-and we don’t need to get too esoteric, because memory, induction, and even ideas like inertia don’t make sense either.  But we know about the reality of relativity, quantum, human memory, induction, and that at some fundamental level the universe must have continuity.  Considering all the developments in science since Faraday, Maxwell, and their gang in the 19th century, Science itself has discarded every single feature of that commonsense worldview!  Science didn’t do away with “hard material stuff” and human senses, of course, but it did do away with those as FUNDAMENTAL.  Yes, it behooves me to use a baseball bat as if it’s ultimately some hard, material thing to whack an attacker on the head, thereby saving my own skin, but if I think the bat is ultimately made up of hard windowless externally-related atoms, then I’m not very astute scientifically nor metaphysically.  The whole of science revolves around the question of the nature of enduring organisms.

“ORGANISM” RATHER THAN “STUFF:”

Rather than thinking of matter/energy as ultimately real, Whitehead holds that the event (an “actual entity” or “actual occasion”) is the unit of things ultimately real.  An actual entity is an organism that grows, matures, and perishes trillions of times per second on a sub-sub quantum level.  (I use the phrase “grows, matures, and perishes” VERY loosely.)  This process describes our entire universe of science, theology, etc.  Actual entities are the final end, the final reality.  Organism takes the place of matter/energy.  E.g., strings (in the sense of string and M-theory) are ultimately “made up” of actual entities.  OK, I’ve just compressed a 400 page book (Process and Reality-nice summary HERE) into the last six sentences, so it’s not really a convincing argument, I know.

IT’S NONSENSE UNTIL IT’S NOT:

Back to science and religion, coming from an open-minded and synoptic point of view, a clashing of doctrines is not a disaster but an opportunity.  When observations don’t fit scientific theory, we don’t hush it up and hope it goes away.  It’s easy to stick to your guns by ignoring half the evidence.  Whenever our system can’t explain something (whether it’s a scientific or theological system) is termed “utter nonsense.”  Regarding science, when Einstein came along and showed that the fundamental tenets of science were incomplete, we didn’t say, “Well, there’s another defeat for science!” Wherever science has contact with facts, science is going to be modified as thought advances.  Similarly, wherever religion has contact with scientific facts, religion is going to be modified as scientific thought advances.  The same with any other domain of human endeavor, not just religion.

Of course, the assumption here is that science and religion don’t attempt to describe the same thing in the same way.  Those who believe that will argue ad infinitum because the reality is science and religion are two different ways of looking at the world-science shouldn’t try to give spiritual meaning and religion shouldn’t try to dictate scientific fact.  (Nice article in Mother Jones: “When Science and Religion Collide or Why Einstein Wasn’t an Atheist“)

FUNDAMENTAL ASSUMPTIONS:

Now, this is a STRETCH, I know, but back up to where I mentioned that “Fundamental assumptions which are unconsciously presupposed necessarily deliver a limited number of philosophic systems:”  When we assume a worldview (how we define “mind,” “matter,” “God,” “religion,” “space,” “time,” “energy,” etc.) we necessarily pre-define our possible outcomes.  If we hold to a reductionistic, deterministic, sensationistic worldview it simply isn’t possible for us to arrive at a more subtle way to conceive both science and religion.  This “more subtle” way allows science and religion to each come into their true power: a reductionistic, deterministic scientific view can’t do justice to the scientific facts, and a classical theistic, supernaturalistic theological view is worthless for religion.  This isn’t to say that science and religion somehow both become the same (e.g., the Intelligent Design debacle, etc.); they each retain their particular view, yet both focus on different aspects of a total truth.

CAUSE & EFFECT AND IMMUTABLE LAWS:

For example, Troy mentioned cause and effect: a reductionistic science can’t explain cause/effect, but actual entities concresing trillions of times per second can explain it (and the process view also explains the relation of time, space, and human mind’s relation to the world in a way that material science and religion can’t).

One more thing in an already too long post:  Troy mentioned Constancy has never been empirically falsified (which is connected to the constancy of physical law), but laws are empirically observed, and so we can only assume that they are universal.  Laws only DESCRIBE the results of the configurations and relations of the fundamental entities in the universe-laws don’t DICTATE the relations.  There is no logical reason why those relations have to remain the same-in fact quantum theory says it’s just a matter of time before they change, and when those relations do change, even subtly, then the law will change.  Again, the RELATIONS are primary; the law only DESCRIBES the relations!

CRUNCHES, BOUNCES, AND RIPS:

Also please realize that I agree that for all intents and purposes natural law doesn’t change because one of the things that define what Whitehead calls our “Cosmic epoch” is our laws, but my point is that OUTSIDE the Cosmic epoch, laws will in fact most likely be different.  By “outside” I mean everything PRIOR to the Electroweak epoch (i.e., the Augustinian era, the Planck Epoch, and the Grand unification epoch) and AFTER the fate (i.e., the Big Crunch, Big Bounce, Big Rip, etc.).  Now you may ask why I’m even talking about that, because life as we know it will end, but the point is that physical law can (and most likely does) change, if you look at the larger scale.

Aloha!

2 comments on “PROCESS PANEGYRIC

  1. Hi Aliman, I actually got the idea for the post you mentioned from an article written by Steven Novella on the SGU Rogues Gallery blog, and added a bit from ideas sparked by reading about the Creation Museum in Kentucky, in an issue of Skeptical Inquirer, and from that, statements made by a creationist and an biologist that were interviewed for the article. The misrepresentation of science bit was primarily in reference the views of some of the more disingenuous, and vocal, creationists. There’s a good friend of mine who is religious, but what separates him from the run-of-the-mill creationists is that he sees no conflict with the idea of Creation with that of Evolution, that you don’t have to argue from a false dichotomy and say that they are mutually exclusive. In fact, my main beef is with those who claim epistemic superiority over other belief systems, especially those findings of science which run counter to their belief, and even the definition of science itself, the subversion of science to faith. There was a while back, the case in Kansas when the state public school board at one point voted to change the definition of science from ‘an ongoing method of investigating the natural world,’ to ‘an ongoing method of investigation.’ Massimo Pigliucci, in an interview with the panel-members of the Skeptics’ Guide podcast (episode 3), mentioned the idea of there being two sorts of unexplainable phenomena: Those which have no logical explanation, and those that do, but due to human limits in logic and understanding, these explanations are currently unreachable, barring new developments in our ability to ‘know’ the universe. An analogy for this (and this is probably a poor one…) is the idea of a dog trying to understand calculus, which just isn’t (probably) going to happen without major improvements in the dog’s capacity for abstract thought and reasoning ability. Make no mistake, I really appreciate the comments you post, and your own blog entries: they stimulate thought, and show me that I’m not just preaching to the choir, or engaging in one-sided diatribes, which achieve nothing. I think that if everybody thought the same way I do, it would probably drive me mad with boredom. I like the idea of a more holistic, rather than purely deterministic/reductionist science, as I think that the latter is not necessarily wrong, just incomplete. I personally feel that science and philosophy can and should complement and inform each other, my view being that science without philosophy has no way of knowing what its methodology and criteria for investigation should be, and philosophy uninformed by science, or any other factual basis, is simply groundless speculation. You are correct in that we simply assume the constancy/universality of physical laws, and this might at some point be falsified, through better investigative tools. Though this probably limits science more than it should, that could change, and allow greater versatility at some future date, though it’s the best our paltry, infantile, but precious science can so far manage. Here’s hoping that will change someday, with a revolution of knowledge and understanding, much more complete in scope, unrivaled by anything in the past few millennia since the great Ionian philosophers began the first stirrings of knowledge Alexandria and ancient Greece. Good post, Aliman, once again, you’ve really got me thinking, and that’s a good thing. Aloha.

  2. Great! I appreciate your view…we’re in the same ballpark.

    I have some issue with “phenomena which have no logical explanation.” A phenomenon is, well, a phenomenon. (In Whiteheadian language, all actual entities have an “actual world” and all prehend–there’s necessarily causality. Also, his Ontological Principle entails that everything must, necessarily, have a reason for it’s existence (and that reason is found in an actual entity). This isn’t just a dogmatic statement, it must be true, necessarily.)

    That a logical explanation is currently unreachable, of course, is fine. That’s a large class of phenomena.

    Aloha!

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