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.

Classical Theology vs. Process Theology

Process Theology is a different way to think about God. It is very different from Classical Theology, and it makes much more sense than Classical Theology. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, just trying to make people aware that there is another way to look at reality:

Classical Theology is what we’re all familiar with: God created the world from nothing, controls most things (“What did we do wrong to deserve this…?”), judges souls and sends them to damnation or paradise, is all-powerful (omnipotent), is all-knowing (omniscient), is all good (omnibeneficent), knows the future, in fact, God DETERMINES the future, etc. God runs the whole show, and our role is to try to figure it out God’s will, and hope God is on our side in the end, and hope that God doesn’t have a bad road in store for us in the future. God puts huge obstacles on some people’s paths, while God lets others sail along smoothly. We can’t know or figure out why. That’s just how it is.

But Classical Theology leaves an entire universe of questions unanswered, and even worse, leaves these questions unanswerable even in principle.

One such example is the “Problem of Evil:” It’s a LOGICAL CONTRADICTION to believe that there is an omnipotent and omnibeneficent God, and that evil befalls innocent people in the world. If God was all-powerful and all-good, there’s no way God COULD LOGICALLY permit evil things. And when we say God could not “logically permit” such a thing, and when we say it’s a “logical contradiction,” we mean it in an absolute sense. God cannot logically create a square circle, regardless of God’s infinite power, infinite intelligence, infinite ability and skill, etc. It’s illogical and simply can’t be done by God or anything else. It’s the same with the “problem of evil;” it’s logically impossible for evil to occur, given the meaning of the words “all-good,” “all-powerful,” and “evil.” But clearly evil does occur.

There are a dozen or more fundamental problems like these. These problems are the main cause of atheism today.

Process Theology, on the other hand, conceives God differently from the start, and thus the problems in Classical Theology aren’t found in Process Theology. Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne (and some others throughout history) set this theology out most clearly. The basic idea is that God is not omnipotent. Rather, God genuinely “surrenders” some power to creatures. And because of this, God thus “co-creates” reality along with creatures. This means that God and creatures determine reality together; God doesn’t solely determine someone’s fate. So when someone gets into a car wreck it’s not God’s fault. God is all-good, and all-knowing, and thus God knows you have to replace your windshield wipers. Thus God bombards you with guidance (“replace your windshield wipers…”) and the person ignores it, thus eventually the distorted visibility in the rain causes an accident. God didn’t cause the accident.

God communicates with creatures through what Whitehead called “the divine lure.” At the base of reality, at the sub-sub quantum level if you will, God is continually “feeding” God’s perfect vision of the world to creatures (humans, animals, etc.). We have the ability to pick up on this lure or guidance. “Replace your wipers…Take that job…Don’t take that job…Eat healthy food…Take Elm Street…Treat your co-workers with respect…” Each creature is free to tune into God’s will or to tune God out. In my opinion, the latihan is a way to tune directly into this guidance that Whitehead and Hartshorne talk about.

God isn’t “a being,” but like everything else God is “a becoming.” God is ubiquitous and not locatable in spacetime. God is everywhere, all the time, at the base of reality. This is not Pantheism, BTW. The closest theological view is called Panentheism.

On Process Theology, God didn’t create the universe. The “stuff” of existence (whatever that is) has always existed. Science is a good explanation (although a very limited explanation) of what happened. Our current universe big-banged into existence 15 billion years ago. The wider stuff, “before” our universe was born, and “after” our universe finally dies out, has always existed. Nothing was ever ultimately “created” thus God doesn’t create from nothing (again, it’s entirely illogical and impossible for anything or anyone or any God to create a thing without something with which to create it). There’s no damnation or paradise model, and God doesn’t sit in judgment. God doesn’t control things but guides things and it’s up to creatures to respond to the guidance or not. God is the source of Order and Value in the process. That’s why it’s called “process” theology and “process” philosophy, because there are ultimately no “things” and no “beings” but only “processes” and “becomings.”

God doesn’t know the future because there IS no future to even know. “The future” as an actuality doesn’t exist. All that exists is past and present. God and creatures, together, create the present. The word “future” is just a word and doesn’t point to any kind of reality.

On Process Theology, our task is to be fully in the moment, feeling the divine lure, and dealing with the elements in our experience that work against us actuating that Divine vision. What a HUGE task!!!

Technically speaking, what human beings call “God” is what Whitehead called the three “Formative Elements:” Creativity, Potentiality, and God. The Formative Elements can’t exist apart from each other. But they are not “actual” thus they don’t “exist” like a chair or table exists. (Thus, arguably, there is no issue or dispute about “whether God exists” like there is in Classical Theology.) The Formative Elements are non-actual and non-temporal. Again, I can’t argue this here, but when you do a deep logical analysis of what is actual and temporal, you see there must be something which is non-actual and non-temporal. Whitehead does most of this analysis in a small book called “Religion in the Making.”

Just some thoughts this Saturday night.

Aloha!

Materialism, Mechanism, and Evidence

Materialism is inconsistent with the evidence, if we take “materialism” to mean a “mechanistic view of nature.”

A.  What do I mean by a “mechanistic view of nature?”

1–The questionable idea that all causation between real entities (ultimate units of nature) must ONLY be efficient causation (as opposed to final);

2–The questionable idea that what are actually composite entities (humans, rocks, pencils, etc.) are taken to be real and final entities;

3–The questionable idea that there’s only one type of causal relation, and this causal relation is an external relation (as opposed to the view that there are two kinds of causal relations, external and internal);

4–Given 1-3 above, the questionable conclusion that all real entities are devoid of any kind of “experience” or “prehension” or “primitive feeling” or a “receiving data into the constitution” of another entity.  (I.e., the parts of the world are utterly separated from each other at the fundamental level.)

In other words, the entities of materialism are actual, but they’re “vacuous actualities.”  They are totally inert, inactive, dormant, idle, and lifeless.  They are exactly like a rock or a pencil–completely passive–unless they are thrown at something and move it by striking it (purely an external relation, and purely efficient causation).  (Note that the non-materialist or non-mechanistic view (the process philosophical view) DOES NOT espouse that actualities express CONSCIOUSNESS!  Self-awareness and consciousness come 15 billion years later in the form of animal nervous systems.  Self-awareness and consciousness are entirely different from prehension or primitive experience or internal relations.) The paradigm of the mechanistic view, of course, is David Hume’s is mechanistic cosmology (started by the “material” side of Descartes’ ontology).  Hume’s view spawned positivism, behaviorism, and sensate empiricism (and other related worldviews which were picked up by the scientific community starting in the 19th century).

B.  The mechanistic view of nature is inconsistent with the evidence in about a googol different ways.  I will only mention one or two.

First, the mechanistic view provides no logical basis for causation/induction.  We feel that we are causal agents and that thus we cause things.  We also feel that things in the environment cause other things.  Science (induction) is based on this assumption.  There’s a lot of evidence for induction.  But as Hume argued (in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding) on the mechanistic view, causation is impossible.  Further, no one yet has countered Hume’s argument, and in principle it CAN’T be shown to be false–simply put, Hume’s arguments (with his ontological assumptions) were 100% right.  This is why Quine, Ayer, and Putnam have all said that Hume cannot be logically countered, but we just have to “give up” and be logically inconsistent for the time being, because “science works.”  Maybe Hume will be answered some day, they say, but not now.  Also, Colin McGinn has said that the mind-body problem and the problem of causation are “cognitively closed” to humans, where this means there IS a solution, but our brains cannot comprehend the solution.  Indeed, science works, but just not in the way Hume and others think it works!

Second, there are some scientific reasons why mechanism as a worldview isn’t adequate.  The mechanistic view gives no reason why there should be anything like gravitational stresses between purely externally-related actualities (Whitehead argues this in his book “Modes of Thought”).  A corollary is that the flow of time itself makes little sense such that it’s an “accident” (a contingency) rather than being essential (necessary) in relation to actual entities (I think Whitehead argues this on p. 50 of his book “Science and the Modern World,” as well as in “Modes of Thought”); another corollary is that purpose (as well as sentience itself) has no place in the mechanistic cosmological scheme.  One of my favorite quotes from Whitehead (it’s in Function of Reason) is, “Scientists animated by the purpose of proving that they are purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study.”  As David Griffin says, it is hopelessly futile to explain complexities like human experience and behavior purely in terms of a mechanistic view with the locomotions and external relations of vacuous actualities.

BTW, for those who want to dismiss this entire post because they think physics “proves” there’s no such thing as prehensive or experiential action at the most fundamental level, they should realize that physics itself takes no position about the nature of the final actualities of the world.  The current range/scope of scientific investigation cannot (yet) address this question.

Now, of course, if by “materialism” you mean something different than a purely mechanistic worldview, then that’s an entirely different story.  Some people try to argue that materialism can still mean that the ultimate actualities of the universe are internally related, prehensive etc. (especially given evidence in quantum mechanics), but this doesn’t really keep with the spirit of “materialism” does it?  (No pun intended about the “spirit of materialism.”)  Webster’s says materialism is “a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter.”  Note that the word “matter” is critical in this definition.

Of course, if one is utterly wedded to the word “matter” they may redefine “matter:”  The argument can be made that matter is ultimately energy, and that energy is ultimately prehensive.  On this definition, energy/matter is not limited to external relations, and is dynamic and internally related to itself.  But nevertheless “matter” (in this sense defined) is still fundamental.  OK, I certainly buy this argument.  It’s essentially Whitehead’s argument; one thing he’s doing is redefining matter.

Aloha

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!

YOU: Static Stuff or Dynamic Process?

Click for new article by Olav Bryant Smith: The Social Self of Whitehead’s Organic Philosophy

This is a new way of thinking about “a self” and about reality in general:

From the Introduction:  “Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophy has commonly become known as process philosophy. Whitehead himself regarded his philosophy as the philosophy of organism. His organic philosophy is understood through various types of process that occur in the becoming of actual organic entities in relationship with one another. Whitehead’s conception of the self is one that provides an alternative foundation for psychology, helps to make sense of personal identity over time amidst a series of changing experiences, and offers a ground for understanding an ethic based on shared bonds between self and world. The mind-body problem is solved in the philosophy of organism, and a ground for understanding the lived body is provided.”

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!

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.”

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.

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:

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#1: (TGT): Let’s Begin…Two Great Truths: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith (TGT)

This is a discussion of David Ray Griffin’s book: “Two Great Truths: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith” (here identified by “TGT”) with a foreward by Howard J. Van Till.

It’s all over the media, in synagogues, mosques, churches, scientific labs, and universities everywhere: there’s gigantic conflict between science and religion.  Well, of course there is!  It’s a huge and direct conflict, after all, EVERYBODY knows it is.  (Argumentum ad Populum)  Well, David Ray Griffin (and process philosophy/theology in general) would rather delve deeper into both science and religion and take a more informed, synoptic view.

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