Contradictions

“In formal logic a contradiction is the signal of a defeat, but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress toward a victory.”

~~~Alfred North Whitehead

Scientists use contradiction to overcome old theories. Especially if you’re part of the old guard whose theory has generated the contradiction, you’re in trouble. Your theory is scuttled. This is the basis of good scientific thinking. Out with the old, and in with the new. But there’s a problem with saying that contradiction is a sign of defeat. E.g., the MARS (Materialistic, Atheistic, Reducitonistic, Sensationistic) scientist may claim, “Oh, sorry, the Mind-Body Problem renders your metaphysics contradictory, thus there is no mind, thus Materialism is true.” However, this boarders on scientific hegemony. Should we use a scientific bat to clobber a metaphysical view? Maybe we should use the contradictions in metaphysics (and in religion and spirituality) as an opportunity, just like scientists do. The scientists of the late 19th century kept coming up with contradictory results. Einstein used those contradictions to, as Whitehead would say, “progress toward a victory.” Once Einstein abandoned the ontology of reality as ultimately “stuff” operating in the vacuum of space, a “stuff” that independently moved through time, suddenly, the other shoe dropped. Once the new view of Special Relativity was put into place in 1905, those anomalous scientific results of the past 30 years made good sense.

In philosophy and theology we have hosts of problems and contradictions. The Problem of Evil, the Problem of Induction, the Mind-Body Problem. The problems pile high into the sky. Why? Because we’re still thinking along the lines of the old metaphysics and the old ontology. How can a non-material mind connect with a material body? It’s a huge contradiction. But Materialists haven’t even digested Einstein’s ideas from 100 years ago. In Process metaphysics we’re talking about using the contradictions to make a radically empirical move into a new metaphysics. We’re dumping Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, matter, materialism, dualism, and moving into something new.

What’s new? Well, our old metaphysics forces us into contradiction and problems. We’re all still addicted to a “metaphysics of things.” Whitehead says that we don’t live in a world of “things.” Materialism is dead. We live in a world of “events.” Spaciotemporal events, to be exact. He called them “Actual Occasions.” Once we realize this, and reject a materialistic/reductionistic metaphysics (which derives from the 16th and 17th centuries, by the way!), then most of the contradictions disappear. When we realize the world is event-driven rather than stuff-driven, the other shoe drops. Take the Mind-Body problem. At the fundamental level, mind and body are already connected because what we call matter is only an abstraction of the more real spaciotemporal events–Actual Occasions. Actual Occasions are the final real “things” of the world, and they have internal and nonlocal connections so that primitive “experience” flows at the basic level of reality. All of reality is nonlocally connected, so there’s no problem with mind and body being connected, given that they’re in the same ontological reality.

Importantly, this destroys the old false dilemmas of subject-object, fact-value, and body-spirit. Thus religion, mysticism, spirituality, and morals and values, may be elevated from the level of “mere subjectivity” to their proper ontological place in our everyday experience. The Subjective becomes the Real, also. Contradictions have helped us move toward a victory.

“The God Delusion”

Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” was disappointing.  Not because I’m a theist.  The book never came close to criticizing any of my theological ideas.  Rather, it was disappointing for at least four reasons: 1) There is little actual theology in the book so little substantive theological critique, 2) He’s attacking a silly caricature of religion using fundamentalists like Pat Robertson so again no substantial argument (it’s also hard to tell when he’s joking and when not), 3) He doesn’t address any type of revisionist theology (thus from the process theism point of view the book is irrelevant), and 4) He has a radical, dogmatic, unsophisticated, and uncompromising attitude and thus can’t truly engage his subject.

First, Dawkins has written a book ostensibly about theology and science, but clearly there is little theology in this book.  He quotes Luther, Aquinas, etc., but has NO CLUE of the context.  It’s as if he hasn’t even read the material he’s quoting.  Analogy: commission Benny Hill (I think he’s dead now, but never mind) to write a book on theology, and then read it.  You say, “But Benny Hill knows nothing about theology!”  Exactly.  The discussion that pushed me over the edge (in chapter seven) was one wherein Dawkins was relating how ignorant religion is because of Pat Robertson’s view that hurricane Katrina was caused by God because a lesbian comedian (Ellen DeGeneres) lives in New Orleans.  According to Roberts, God hates lesbians.  Dawkins then thinks this is a nail in the coffin of religion.  Dawkins is good at talking about science, but his arguments about theology are seriously uninformed.  Speaking of arguments, the book is light on actual arguments but heavy on rhetoric.

Second, he has a comedic writing style in this book, and yes it’s engaging, but it’s hard to tell when he is joking because sometimes when he’s clearly not joking he makes ludicrously funny statements.  In chapter two he claims theology isn’t even a discipline.  Anyone, a scientist, a gardener, a chef, can comment on theology just as authoritatively as any “theologian” because it’s all commentary about silliness anyway. He can’t be taken as a serious intellectual when he makes claims like this.  In chapter three a discussion of Pascal’s Wager shows Dawkins entirely misses the mark as he argues it’s better to bet God doesn’t exist, because then you don’t have to “squander your precious time on worshipping him, sacrificing to him, fighting and dying for him.”  The problem with this is, he’s serious.  Oh yes professor, the four or five billion religious persons on the planet are all deluded, running around sacrificing calves and virgins to God, and fighting in wars.  By the way, I’m pointing out specific chapters wherein he mentions these ludicrous ideas, but these same ideas infect the entire book.

Third, the book is shallow in that it addresses only classical theism and leaves revisionist and natural theology untouched.  The focus is clearly and exclusively on supernaturalism.  Take his definition of God from page 52: “A superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it including us.”  I almost fell off my chair.  From a process theology point of view, this definition is ludicrous.  Every idea in the definition, other than “intelligence,” is false.  Talk about the ULTIMATE straw man!  With a definition like this, it’s fairly easy to then go ahead and rip classical theology to shreds.  Dawkins’ entire book is directed at classical theism, and worse, at radical religious fundamentalist classical theism.  Why doesn’t he address more sophisticated revisionist theologies?  Because, he says on p. 15, they are “numerically negligible.”  Sorry professor, you can’t ignore an entire branch of scholarship which addresses the main points of your book and expect to be taken seriously.  Thus, from the point of view of any natural theology, and certainly from the viewpoint of process theology, his argument against religion is irrelevant.

Finally, throughout the whole book we see that Dawkins has a strange friendship with the radical religious fundamentalists he criticizes.  The commonality he shares with them is the same radical, dogmatic, unsophisticated, and uncompromising attitude.  The difference is he’s at the other end of the spectrum by promoting atheism rather than fundamentalist classical theism. For Dawkins, all of religion is simply “wishful thinking,” God is equated with an “orbiting teapot” (from Russell), a “tooth fairy,” and a “Flying Spaghetti Monster.”  Like the religious fundamentalists, Dawkins employs an unsophisticated and even crude approach that is quite disappointing.

Next Read:  “The Dawkins Delusion” by McGrath.

Spirituality/Materialism/Dualism

NORMAL DUALISTIC SITUATION: We normally think of mind and body as different kinds of things. The mind is spiritual and the body is material. Seems simple enough.

PROBLEMS: However, if mind and body are two radically different kinds of things, then this presents a problem. In one guise we call it “The Mind-Body Problem.” How do two utterly different things, one substance and the other spirit, effect each other? A mental decision that we make is a purely mental or spiritual activity. If I decide to eat something sweet, and a moment later I grab a fork and eat half a chocolate cake, then how did that purely mental (non-material, non-physically extended mental event) “cause” my arm to grab the fork, and dig into the cake? The problem is that a decision in my mind or soul doesn’t have anything to “bang up against” in my nervous system or arm. The electrons in my nervous system, which tell my arm’s muscles to move and grab the fork, are material, while my mind or soul, and the “thought,” are non-material. My immaterial mind can’t connect–in any possible way–with my material nervous system and muscles.

Thus it seems that the mind and body are incompatible.

But we do feel–and we do believe–that our minds and bodies interact. How do they interact?

SOLUTIONS: DEMOCRATS vs. REPUBLICANS:  Mind and body are two high level abstractions that are connected by a deeper reality. Here’s an analogy: Mind vs. Body may be like Democrats vs. Republicans. On the surface it seems as if they are incompatible. But there’s a more fundamental reality. The Democrats and the Republicans both tap into a realm of common fundamental values. For example, the value of human life, the value of personal freedom, and the desire to live a good life. It’s similar with mind vs. body. With the advent of electromagnetic theory in the mid-19th century, and General Relativity in 1905, and the quantum mechanics in the 1920’s, Alfred North Whitehead realized that mind and body were connected at a more fundamental level. It became widely known that the supporting basis of matter is energy. But Whitehead doesn’t say that energy connects mind and body. He goes a step further. His speculative claim was that there is something even more primary than energy: at the fundamental level, reality is not spiritual, or energetic, or material stuff. Then what is it? Reality is ultimately a series of spatiotemporal events, or Actual Entities. At the sub-sub quantum level, reality is a flowing process of these spatiotemporal events, each a sort of primitive experiential entity which exists for a fraction of a second, and passes its experience onto the next Actual Entity. Nature is alive! It’s the fundamental level where what we call “matter” and “mind” and “soul” are actually one kind of entity. The spiritual and the material are really different aspects of the one fundamental reality of Actual Entities.

Thus, spirituality (and materiality) are happening right here, right now. But the material realm and the spiritual realm are the same thing. There’s only one reality. Welcome to it!

The End of History–We Know It All?

Another thought provoking Noon Tide Query by Troythulu:  “What doctrine or belief system do you consider to be the most disturbing? The most dangerous?”

Both disturbing and dangerous are folks who think we’re at the end of history–we know it all!

They think “X” can’t exist because science says it can’t (or religion says it can’t–take your pick).  Each epoch thinks they’re at the end of history and each time they’ve been wrong.  There have been at least 5 scientific paradigms since ancient Greece, and the final conclusions of each one have eventually been shown to be incomplete.  Not necessarily false, although in many cases they have, but at the very least incomplete.   In the beginning of the 20th century, most scientists were UTTERLY CONVINCED materialism was true.  By 1950 almost no physicist believed it.  Not only do we now know about the conceptual problems with materialism, but the logical problems alone sent the materialists packing.  Speaking of logic, rather than suspend judgment about something which is logically possible (God, teleportation, etc.), closed-minded people using the flavor-of-the-month epistemological and ontological view, claim to know “X” it’s not possible.  Why?  Blind faith.  For example, most physicists of the 1950’s and 1960’s were totally against the existence of quarks because their limited view of science told them “nothing could be smaller than a proton.”  A broader view of science dictated otherwise, nay, LOGIC itself dictated otherwise, and finally by the mid-1970’s most scientists were on board with quarks.  But for 20 years denial ruled the day because people thought they knew it all–they thought they were at the end of history and that we had it all wrapped up.  Think again, Feynman, et al!!!  (Feynman was BRILLIANT, don’t get me wrong, but history proved his earlier view to be completely in error because he refused to open his mind to wider possibilities.)

Put differently, if you think “X” is impossible, then wait.  Maybe 50 years, maybe 500, but sooner or later our understanding of reality will grow to the point where “X” is shown.  Again, as long as it’s logical.  E.g., an all-good, omnipotent God is illogical, so it’s useless to posit it.  But that doesn’t mean God isn’t possible, of course.  Like Shawn says on the TV program “Psyche” …  Wait For It…..  Wait For It……  !!!

Aloha!

Which has priority to you, objectivity or subjectivity?

Troy, you ask the most fabulous questions!  HERE You asked:

“Which has priority to you, objectivity or subjectivity?”

I know your question is asking about Objectivity considered as impartial or detached fact, considered apart from Subjectivity as a kind of wishful thinking or bias or partiality.  It’s about clear thinking based on objective evidence as opposed to believing something because, well, you darn well WANT to.  But I can’t resist going a bit deeper and talking about the philosophical basis of Subjectivity vs. Objectivity.  The reason is because, on a deeper level, there is less difference between them than it seems.

Consider a different ontology where subject and object aren’t so distinct (process ontology and its accompanying epistemology).  Some of this is paraphrased from A.N. Whitehead’s “Adventures of Ideas” and “Process and Reality.”

The Cartesian appeal to clarity and distinctness, and accompanying radical split between the knower (subject) and the known (object) makes an erroneous assumption that the subject-object relation is the fundamental structural pattern of experience.  This assumption is based on the idea that all perception is based entirely on bodily sense organs, and that all percepta are bare sensa given in the immediate present, and that there’s nothing “real” in the process of the actual perception.  (By “actual perception” means what’s happening at the sub quantum level.)

Whitehead points out if we define ‘perceptions’ as “…experiential functions which arise directly from stimulation of various bodily sense-organs, then the argument ceases…” (AI 178) and he’s willing to accept this definition, but says that while it’s true, it’s only superficial.  That definition of perception relies tacitly on a deeper analysis.  The deeper analysis is that human experience (and perception, and subjects and objects, and everything else) is based on real things called “actual occasions…the final real things of which the world is made up…” A chair or desk is fundamentally actual occasions “…and so is the most trivial puff of existence in far off empty space…” (PR 18).

Objects are linked to subjects and visa-versa, because the only way there can be continuity in nature (such as memory, or even the flow of time) is if at the sub quantum level the constitution of one actual occasion enters into the make-up of the next actual occasion.  Matter/energy has both external AND internal relations with itself.  I.e., because matter “is” energy at a fundamental level, reality is a process of interrelated “drops of experience” pushing their way “into each other” from past, to present, and into the future.  Data is actually passed between them.  Of course, the current ontology thinks about reality like a bunch of pool balls, with bits of matter banging into other bits of matter, primarily enjoying only external relations (and not internal).  But if this is true, there can be no continuity in nature.  (Nor can real causation exist, as Hume argued, and this discontinuity creates a host of other problems for the modern ontology.)

In both PR and AI, Whitehead brilliantly deconstructs Hume’s arguments about causation, and says with ONE TWIST, Hume’s entire argument in Part III of the ‘Treatise of Human Nature’ can be accepted as valid, and Hume’s conclusion can be changed to argue FOR (yes, “for”) causality, not against it!  Why?  Because Hume’s entire set of arguments about ‘custom’ and ‘constant conjunction’ assume that “…one occasion of experience enters into the character of succeeding occasions…” (AI 184).  That’s the one twist.  And it’s really only a variant interpretation of Hume, because Hume’s argument does logically assume it!

I think it’s worth quoting Whitehead (from AI p. 185-6) at length regarding this continuity in nature, because it’s important vis-a-vis Subject and Object.  Remember, this next quote is about occasions of experience in the human brain and nervous system, and he’s talking about memory between events, causality between events, and the flow of time between events:

“The science of physics conceives a natural occasion as a locus of energy… The words electron, proton, photon…matter, empty space, temperature…all point to the fact that physical science recognizes qualitative differences between occasions in respect to the way in which each occasion entertains its energy.  … Energy has recognizable paths through time and space. …  physical energy …must then be conceived as an abstraction from the [fundamental] energy… It is the business of rational thought to describe the more concrete [and fundamental, at the base of reality] fact from which that abstraction is derivable.”

So he’s saying energy as defined by physics is really based on a more fundamental kind of “energy” at the base of reality (yes, he’s speculating!).  Above I said the “split between the knower (subject) and the known (object) makes an erroneous assumption that the subject-object relation is the fundamental structural pattern of experience.”  So, it’s erroneous to think the person, the subject, is an entirely separate “thing” which resides “in here” and has to connect across an ontological gap somehow–has to connect with the world and with objects “out there.”

Look at neuroscience and quantum mechanics.  We’re finding out that we, as subjects, our way of knowing, actually shapes what can be known.  (This is Kant, sort of, but to comment on the accuracy of that is another story…).  As you pointed out, “perfect objectivity is not possible” and Whitehead would say it’s not possible because any ontology which separates knower and known, that makes knowledge somehow entirely objective, makes no sense.  Going back to what I said above, about “the idea that all perception is based entirely on bodily sense organs, and that all percepta are bare sensa given in the immediate present…”  Whitehead would say there’s no such thing as bare, uninterpreted, detached, objective “sense-data” which just floats in from nowhere and is completely disconnected from the knowing subject.  Sense data meet our various bodily organs, and at the sub quantum level enter into and become one with, and are  appropriated by the actual occasions of our bodies, and visa-versa.  Our bodies influence those sense data.  (Again, as we’ve spoke about before, this is why “eye-witness testimony” is the most UNTRUSTWORTHY kind of evidence in court—subject and object can’t be utterly separated.)

Oh, regarding your question, I think Objectivity has a WAY HIGHER priority than mere Subjectivity.  (:

Aloha!

Mathematical Intuition

“Despite their remoteness from sense experience, we do have something like a perception also of the objects of set theory, as is seen from the fact that the axioms force themselves upon us as being true.  I don’t see any reason why we should have less confidence in this kind of perception, i.e., mathematical intuition, than in sense perception.”  (Kurt Godel, in “What is Cantor’s Continuum Problem?”)

Core Doctrine of Process Philosophy #5 (of 10)

I added in a sentence in this explanation which was missing which clarifies the idea of “analyzability:”

Core Doctrine #5: “All enduring individuals are serially ordered societies of momentary ‘occasions of experience’.”   From Griffin, “Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism” (p. 6)

This is how process deals with the issues of efficient and final causality, and freedom vs. determinism.  All things, such as chairs, minds, electrons, and elephants are not actually and fundamentally those things per se, rather they are firstly analyzable into atoms, subatomic particles and quarks, and secondly (actually and fundamentally) they are analyzable into momentary events (occasions of experience), on the most basic level.  Griffin says (p. 6): “…each enduring individual, such as a living cell or a human mind, oscillates between two modes of existence: the subjective mode, in which it exerts final causation or self-determination, and the objective mode, in which is exerts efficient causation upon subsequent events.”

Michio Kaku’s New Blog:

Michio Kaku’s New Blog is Here.

Is Michio Kaku just another WHACKO? NO: Michio Kaku is the co-founder of “string field theory” (a branch of string theory), and continues Einstein’s search to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one unified theory. He holds the Henry Semat Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics and a joint appointment at City College of New York and the Graduate Center of C.U.N.Y. He is also a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. Kaku launched his Big Think blog, “Dr. Kaku’s Universe,” in March 2010.

Core Doctrine of Process Philosophy #1 (of 10)

Over 10 blog entries, I will set out the 10 Core Doctrines of process philosophy (of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne), as given by the process philosopher and theologian David Griffin.

Core Doctrine #1:  Process integrates “…moral, aesthetic, and religious intuitions with the most general doctrines of the sciences into a self-consistent worldview [and considers this] as one of the central tasks of philosophy in our time.”  From: Griffin, David R.  “Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism” (p. 5)

Another way to say this is the integration of science and religion; to be able to put religion in a context that someone who takes science seriously may countenance, and to be able to put science in a context that someone with religious beliefs can countenance.

Review: “Out of Our Heads”

What is the nature of the human mind?  Rather than saying the mind is Simply Located in the brain and gives us access to the world via the five senses, Noe argues we are immersed in a world.  Segall says:  “Only contact with and access to an actual world is sufficient for conscious experience.  Being conscious is something we must do, something we constantly achieve together with others and the help of the world itself.”

Click below for Matt Segall’s book review of

“Out of Our Heads” by Alva Noë

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