Immergence

When a complex orderly phenomenon such as consciousness arises in matter, it is these days often ascribed to a mysterious emergence of properties implicit in those of its material substrates. But really it goes the other way. Consciousness – ordered form in general – does not emerge from the material substrate of our world. It rather immerges thereto, from elsewhere. Novelty of all sorts is added to history from without.

Matter is of course capable of expressing such phenomena, or they could not ever be manifest in it. Consciousness, then, must in that sense be natural to matter. But this would seem to indicate that matter has a rather more interesting and altogether spookier character than it had been our custom to suppose for about 400 years, up until about 1920.

Materialism argues that if you arrange a sufficient quantity of dead pebbles in just the right way, the arrangement will somehow wake up. Put as starkly as that, the notion is absurd. Dedicated to the idea that matter is just dead stuff, committed materialists have responded to the absurdity by rejecting the notion that their own consciousness actually exists.

Other more sensible philosophers of mind have suggested instead that the pebbles may not be altogether dead, after all, but rather somewhat lively: more like seeds, perhaps. This is the panpsychism of Whitehead, Hartshorne, and company, who treat all physical events as moments of experience, broadly construed. The panpsychist suggestion is not that electrons have the same quality, complexity, or depth of experience that animals do, but rather that the exchanges of information that occur in transactions between particles – that is to say, between particular events – such as the transmission of momentum or charge can be treated as exchanges of meaning, as well as of form: as occasions of knowledge or feeling, albeit quite basic.

The idea has appealed to a number of physicists, among them Henry Stapp and John Archibald Wheeler, with his “it from bit,” a neat apothegm capturing the general idea that a quantum of actuality – an it – is a bit of information that has been specified.

Panpsychism – like its progenitor, Aristotelian hylemorphism, or as we could call it in English, it-bit-ism – does furnish a liveliness in matter that is altogether missing from materialism. It proposes that occasions of animal awareness are different from those common to more basic sorts of particles not in kind, but in (vast) degree. It gives us a way to understand how matter could subvene mind, and thus how mind could supervene upon matter, without help from any deus ex machina, and without recourse to mystery. If matter is inherently lively, and mindful (however dull it may usually be), then there would seem to be no insuperable problem treating the matter of our bodies as either alive or conscious. Under the panpsychic or hylemorphic supposition, we can understand the relation of life and mind to matter in a way that does no violence to our most fundamental intuitions about things – that, indeed, harmonizes rather satisfactorily with our chthonic animism: the deep and universal hunch that the world and its denizens are all somehow, and essentially, alive and aware.

We can see that if you arrange lively seeds in just the right way, you’ll get animal awareness. But there’s still a problem: where does that arrangement come from? The particles of which a brain is constituted do not carry in themselves the specifications for that brain. They carry, they embody, only their own formal specifications. Just as a sodium atom can’t be an atom in a molecule of salt without the whole molecule of salt, so a neuron of a brain can’t be of that brain without the brain. The whole can specify its parts, but not vice versa. An arrangement of lively seeds can’t be actual in any one, or therefore any many, of the seeds themselves. The arrangement is different from its seedy constituents.

Complexity theorists cope with this difficulty by recourse to the concept of the strange attractor: a basin in configuration space that, because its surface specifies configurations that are mathematically more stable than those of the surrounding landscape, has the effect of accelerating actualities toward or about its central well. Aristotle’s term for it is entelechy, that nisus in all things toward their telos, their final end, their goal or resting place.

So far so good. The strange attractor or entelechy do not however solve the problem of the origin of form, but rather only name and limn it. To point out that strange attractors are built into the math of this world, so that it everywhere manifests an entelechy toward their (approximate) actualization, is to specify the explanandum, rather than its explanans.

Whence the math of this world? That math cannot explain itself, cannot specify itself. This is a fact of logic – and of metaphysics, too, for math cannot choose, cannot act or effect. Acts can and do all have mathematical character, but math cannot itself characterize acts. Math is not an agent.

The math of this world, then – its form and character – cannot originate from any mundane source, and cannot originate its own concrete instantiations. Thus the forms of our world cannot emerge from it. They must rather immerge to it, and from elsewhere.

About these ads

25 thoughts on “Immergence

  1. Pingback: Immergence | Reaction Times

  2. What about AI? Are computers alive because their particles have elementary consciousness and they are arranged certain way? Or could they be if we arranged them a certain way?

    What you say could explain vegetative and sensory soul but how would you explain intellect and will that are supposed to be immortal part of human soul?

    • The soul is the form of a living being. All of it is immortal, including the form of the body, the vegetative soul and the sensory soul. It’s just that of a totally disembodied human, only the forms of the intellect and will, being essentially immaterial, can continue actually to subsist – can continue to live.

      Every part of the form of an actually living being immerges – not just at its inception in history, but continuously throughout its existential career – including, with respect to humans, the form of the body, the vegetative soul and the sensory soul.

      Thus even if we take a computer to be an assemblage of somewhat aware entities, the assemblage itself cannot be either alive or aware, except insofar as it embodies and implements the form of a live and aware being. The particles of a computer cannot be particles of an aware entity absent the entity that is aware. It is not therefore as though if you just arranged the lively seeds properly, hey presto an aware whole would appear, called from the vasty deep by some magical operation. That is the doctrine of emergence. It might seem that such a thing is possible, just as it is possible for us to assemble a cake – see, the cake really is there! – but it’s not. Reality doesn’t work that way; emergence gets the order of operations backwards. What really happens is that the whole immerges, and then the particles are assembled into it.

      This is the key difference between emergence and immergence.

      I see no reason in principle why a computer could not be both alive and aware. But for this to happen, the life and awareness of the computer, together with the rest of its form, would have to immerge as a coherent whole, as something over and above its lively little constituents, and superordinate thereto. And while this could happen, I see no way that *we* could make it happen. Immergence is really just a cute way to refer to creation. No human, nor any other sort of creature, can create a new being, of any sort whatever. We can arrange what already exists, that’s all. We can shove a lightning rod up into the storm, and lightning is then likely to strike; but while we arranged for the occasion of the lightning strike, we did not arrange for the lightning strike itself.

      When we rearrange things so as to make artifacts, such as computers or baskets, or indeed acts of any sort, we are not creating the facts that result. At most we are participating in their creation. When we clench our fingers into a fist, a new fact appears – the fist – but not a new entity. The fist is not a thing in its own right, but an aspect of a human. It is the human clencher who is a fact in his own right. The facticity of the fist is an aspect of the facticity of the clencher. And a clencher cannot procure his own facticity, his own actuality. Try it: arrange for your next moment of existence to occur. Can’t be done, right? Rather, our being arrives for us, moment by moment, a pure gift from elsewhere; then only may we get to work with it, and on it, so as to specify and implement our acts in some fact or other.

      Human conception is perhaps a fruitful way to think about this. The materialist abortion provider understands the clump of tissue as nothing but an assemblage of chemical constituents that, as assembled, are not substantively different than they were prior to their assemblage. He thinks of a human being as a meat computer. It is this understanding of the human being as nothing but a sack of commoditized chemicals that drives the modern judgement that the inherent dignity of a human person is nil.

      The Christian on the other hand understands the baby as having immerged to this world from some other, as an absolutely novel addition thereto, which enables the participation of its constituent particles in a new living being. If it weren’t for the presence of the baby, of the whole human, his chemical constituents wouldn’t be constituents at all, but free-floating particles. They’d have no integrity, no causal cohesion. There would be nothing there to abort in the first place.

      NB however that in practice there is no such thing as a “free-floating particle.” All worldly particles without exception are involved in wholes of some sort, in systems that subsist superveniently to their material constituents. No particle is an island. This is a different way of saying that no particular event may come to be except as a participant in some whole. No wholes, no parts.

      • Kristor, thanks for further clarification.

        Could we say that particles are alive and aware because their forms are alive and aware? That means the life and awareness always go with the form while matter is always dead and passive. So the panpsychism basically says that particles are never matter alone, they consist of matter and form i.e. hylemorphism as you note in the OP.

        Now, the matter really is spooky. I don’t really get what it is. For example the prime matter. As pure potentiality it is supposed to be a mere concept. Isn’t it strange that when we try to separate matter from form the whole it starts to disappear?

        Funny coincidence – I watched the new Robocop movie recently and it seems to illustrate this topic. A man reduced to his brain and lungs, brain parts rearranged by brain-surgery and drugs, yet he was still able to revert back to its original state. Even the doctor manipulating his brain chemicals had to admit that something was going on there that he knows nothing about. A soul, perhaps?

        Also there was a guy trying to play guitar with his new robotic hands. The doctor was trying to explain that his playing is only a brain activity and has nothing to do with his hands. I rather disagree but that’s another interesting question.

      • It may clarify things to recall another hallowed concept: actuality, which for creatures is equivalent to concreteness. God is assuredly actual, but is not concrete; for, “concrete” means “grown together (into an integral whole from composite factors or constituents),” and God is simple.

        Creatures can be actual without being material. Angels are that way. But things can’t be actual if they are formless. Angels are not material, but they do have forms. Only what is definitely something or other can be real. This is why prime matter, which is the notional capacity to take any form whatever, and is therefore completely indefinite, cannot actually exist. We can think about it abstractly as the capacity of all matter to take forms, but there’s no way to implement formless actuality. To do so would be to actively do nothing at all, and “doing absolutely nothing” is a contradiction in terms.

        Forms themselves are not alive or aware. Only substantial actualities can do anything, including living and knowing. We would not then say that particles are alive or aware because their forms are alive and aware, but rather that their forms as actualized are such as to live and know. It’s just like walking. We would not say that the form of man walks, but rather that the form of man as actualized in a real man is such as to walk.

        A disembodied man, such as those who have died but not yet enjoyed resurrection, is actual, but not material. As immaterial, the only aspects of the form of the human that such a man can actualize are the immaterial will and intellect.

  3. Materialism argues that if you arrange a sufficient quantity of dead pebbles in just the right way, the arrangement will somehow wake up. Put as starkly as that, the notion is absurd.

    Why? Lots of complex objects have properties that the individual elements don’t have. My shirt is striped and has four holes (trunk, neck, arms) but the atoms it is made of aren’t striped and the holes are properties of the topology of connection, not of any individual part.

    It’s weird to see people rehashing debates from the 18the century, but then you guys still want to refight the French Revolution so replaying the vitalism/mechanism debate fits right in.

    • What’s really weird is that you don’t seem to see that in adducing the example of your shirt you are making *exactly* the argument of the post. The individual elements of the shirt cannot account for the properties of the shirt, even in principle. For the properties of the shirt to make their appearance in history, its constituents must participate in some prior principle of order which cannot be supplied by those constituents.

      • I was responding to the passage I quoted. So apparently there is some difference in your head between a “prior principle of order” and a mere “arrangement”. Unfortunately I have no idea what that difference could be.

        Or what “prior” means, for that matter, since it presumably doesn’t mean temporally prior, does it?

        Your bit about abortion providers makes no sense of course unless the abortion provider is equally willing to regard a child or adult as a bag of meat, which they do not in general. That is, you are mischaracterizing your opponent’s position.

      • Throw some pebbles on the floor. However they land, that’s an arrangement. Note that even of such an arrangement we cannot say that its properties are somehow accounted for by those of the pebbles, or arise from them. On the contrary: to account for the arrangement of the pebbles we must refer to the environing inertial situation, that shaped their trajectories.

        Now stack the pebbles into a tetrahedron. You have just influenced their arrangement by introducing into it – by immerging to it – a prior principle of order. It’s still an arrangement, but now it’s also an arrangement that expresses and instantiates a formal order that was not present when you just threw the pebbles on the floor. Your stacking has informed the arrangement of the pebbles, greatly increasing its orderliness.

        The order of the tetrahedron happens in this case to exist virtually in your mind as an idea you want to implement, before you then actualize it with the pebbles, but properly speaking that pre-existence in your mind is precedent rather than prior. “Prior” is not misused of temporal precedence, exactly, because what is prior to x is necessarily precedent to x, but it can introduce confusion. What is really meant by “priority” is logical or metaphysical priority. The form of the tetrahedron exists eternally, so it is indeed temporally precedent to any given temporal locus. But while logical priority is always temporal precedence, temporal precedence is not always logical priority.

        You are correct that many materialists have not thoroughly thought through their materialism. Most of them still have enough connection with reality that they can’t bring themselves to do so, or a fortiori to carry their materialist ideas into practice. Almost all materialists think that they themselves exist, for example. That they do think this way does not mean that their doctrines don’t in fact rule out the existence of persons, as consistent and thoroughgoing materialists readily agree. But healthy-minded people shy away from such thoughts, naturally enough. They make unprincipled exceptions to their doctrines for themselves and those whom they love or hold in regard. As for those others for whom they care nothing, or dislike: not so much. Materialists are generally quite ready to entertain the idea of destroying the low men, as Zippy calls us.

      • @a.morphous:

        You don’t see the question you are begging? You claim there is a shirt, with stripes. How would you defend such a claim against someone who says there are just atoms? What makes the shirt-ness or the stripe-ness?

      • “Materialists make unprincipled exceptions for themselves and their loved ones…”

        Reminds me of someone: Our recently banned friend MyAtheistLife disclosed on his pulic blog that he is an existential nihilist. His existentialism was too strong, polluting his mind, as he suffers due to his mother’s Alzheimer’s, while he is also angry that she prayed to her god for so many years.

        So many unprincipled exceptions. Materialists. Existentialists. Post modernists. Why not just go full nihilist? So much less suffering there. No suffering at all. Nothing.

      • Throw some pebbles on the floor. However they land, that’s an arrangement. Note that even of such an arrangement we cannot say that its properties are somehow accounted for by those of the pebbles, or arise from them. On the contrary: to account for the arrangement of the pebbles we must refer to the environing inertial situation, that shaped their trajectories.

        Aside from the strange jargon of “environing inertial situation”, that is entirely compatible with materialist thought. More so than your variety, I would have thought, which like to posit essences in things that are responsible for their properties.

        Now stack the pebbles into a tetrahedron. You have just influenced their arrangement by introducing into it – by immerging to it – a prior principle of order. It’s still an arrangement, but now it’s also an arrangement that expresses and instantiates a formal order that was not present when you just threw the pebbles on the floor. Your stacking has informed the arrangement of the pebbles, greatly increasing its orderliness.

        So what? The issue is whether that is the only way form and order can arise.

        What is really meant by “priority” is logical or metaphysical priority. The form of the tetrahedron exists eternally, so it is indeed temporally precedent to any given temporal locus. But while logical priority is always temporal precedence, temporal precedence is not always logical priority.

        The form of the tetrahedron may exist eternally. The forms of bookcases, cats, and people, not so much.

        You are correct that many materialists have not thoroughly thought through their materialism.

        I said nothing of the kind.

        Materialists are generally quite ready to entertain the idea of destroying the low men, as Zippy calls us.

        You apparently have some cartoon notion of what materialism involves and entails. Let me know if you want to have a serious discussion.

      • I take it that you yourself are truly interested in a serious discussion. If you are, then why do you so consistently turn to contemptuous sarcasm in your comments? It’s nasty, and ugly. Does it not occur to you that the way a man behaves in public will color the feelings of others towards the proposals he makes? If people see you behaving in an ugly manner, they are likely to think people who think like you are ugly and unattractive. They will not want to be that way themselves. So they’ll reject your ideas. You would do better to be courteous. It’s a more reliable way to win friends and influence people. And it will feel better to you, too.

        If your arguments are strong, and you are confident in them, you’ve no reason not to be courteous. If they are weak, then you do have reason to fall back on ad hominem and snark, there being but little else in rhetoric to which substantive weakness can resort; but in that case, your awareness of that descent should alert you to the weakness of your position, and a proper intellectual honesty should then lead you to abjure your inveterate mockery, and instead to ask for clarification.

        … to account for the arrangement of the pebbles we must refer to the environing inertial situation, that shaped their trajectories.

        Aside from the strange jargon of “environing inertial situation,” that is entirely compatible with materialist thought.

        This should not be surprising, nor is it an argument against other sorts of metaphysics. Materialism is not entirely incompatible with truth – there really is matter out there. But materialism is less adequate to the truth than it needs to be, for matter is not the only sort of thing that is really out there.

        Your stacking has informed the arrangement of the pebbles, greatly increasing its orderliness.

        So what? The issue is whether that is the only way form and order can arise.

        In the preceding paragraph of your comment you seemed to agree with me that “we cannot say that [the] properties [of an arrangement of pebbles are] somehow accounted for by those of the pebbles, or arise from them.” If you do, how then can you disagree that these properties must be accounted for in some other way than by reference to the pebbles themselves?

        The form of the tetrahedron may exist eternally. The forms of bookcases, cats, and people, not so much.

        Not so. If it is possible for my cat Bo to exist, then that possibility – the form of Bo – must have perdured from all eternity. Indeed, if it is possible for Bo to scratch himself on my desk at 1:35 PM Pacific Time on 5/19/14, then it must always have been possible for Bo to do just that, just then and just there. And this is just to say that the form of that scratching act of Bo is eternal, as a potential for realization. If x is ever to be possible, x must always have been possible; and the possibility of x is the potential that the form of x might be actualized.

        You are correct that many materialists have not thoroughly thought through their materialism.

        I said nothing of the kind.

        I was responding to this statement of yours:

        Your bit about abortion providers makes no sense of course unless the abortion provider is equally willing to regard a child or adult as a bag of meat, which they do not in general. That is, you are mischaracterizing your opponent’s position.

        A materialist might not think his precious teenage daughter nothing more than a sack of meat. But that could only be due to the happy fact that he has not followed his materialism through to its inevitable and absurd conclusion that she is just that, and nothing more.

        Materialists who done their homework, on the other hand – i.e., eliminative materialists – must understand all people (including themselves) as bags of meat, which as such may be destroyed, for any reason, or for no reason, without moral scruple or qualm. This is why they are willing to entertain the idea of destroying those who disagree with them, or who otherwise stand in the way of their purposes.

      • Sorry, I honestly don՚t know what I said in that last comment that would count as nasty, ugly, contemptuous sarcasm. My sensibilities must be very coarsened compared to yours.

        Your stacking has informed the arrangement of the pebbles, greatly increasing its orderliness.

        So what? The issue is whether that is the only way form and order can arise.

        In the preceding paragraph of your comment you seemed to agree with me that “we cannot say that [the] properties [of an arrangement of pebbles are] somehow accounted for by those of the pebbles, or arise from them.” If you do, how then can you disagree that these properties must be accounted for in some other way than by reference to the pebbles themselves?

        Wrong disagreement. High-level properties can be accounted for by properties of their components or by properties that are emergent; that is, a function of their arrangement. A rock is gray because all of its particles are gray (more or less); an arch is arch-like not because its components are arches but because of how they are arranged.

        The issue I was talking about is how that arrangement comes to be. You seem to believe it has to be injected from outside, by a human agent or by god. A naturalist believes it can arise spontaneously.

        The form of the tetrahedron may exist eternally. The forms of bookcases, cats, and people, not so much.

        Not so. If it is possible for my cat Bo to exist, then that possibility – the form of Bo – must have perdured from all eternity. …

        I suppose that is one way to look at it, although it implies that there can be no true creativity in either humans or nature. So I don՚t find that point of view very congenial.

        You are correct that many materialists have not thoroughly thought through their materialism.

        I said nothing of the kind.

        I was responding to this statement of yours:

        Your bit about abortion providers makes no sense of course unless the abortion provider is equally willing to regard a child or adult as a bag of meat, which they do not in general. That is, you are mischaracterizing your opponent’s position.

        A materialist might not think his precious teenage daughter nothing more than a sack of meat. But that could only be due to the happy fact that he has not followed his materialism through to its inevitable and absurd conclusion that she is just that, and nothing more.

        You know, this argument has exactly the same form as one that Richard Dawkins and his ilk like to use about religion. They pick the most extreme intellectually stunted version of it they can find (fundamentalism and textual literalism) and then try to collapse all of religion to that absurd extreme, because of course that makes their job easier.

        I don՚t imagine you enjoy this argument if you have encountered it. So, I don՚t enjoy assertions that all materialism is equivalent to eliminative materialism, and if I don՚t see it then I am either stupid or intellectually dishonest.

      • Apology accepted. And reciprocated. My critique of your rhetoric was prompted by your statement that I, “apparently have some cartoon notion of what materialism involves and entails.” Given what you say in the last two paragraphs, I can see now how you might have gained that impression, and how I might have given it. Believe me when I say that I don’t mean to sell materialism short, or to be glib, or cavalier, or pick easy targets. Nor am I unfamiliar with sophisticated materialist arguments. I know them from the inside, as an advocate. I tried very hard indeed to be a materialist. I studied philosophy of mind, cybernetics, computer science, neurophysiology and control system theory. I thought – and still do – that even if there is more to reality than the sciences can ever understand, nevertheless if reality is to be intelligible at all – if, i.e., reality is rational – then every part of it that science is capable of apprehending in the first place has to be intelligible scientifically. Anything less would amount to an admission that the world is neither rational, nor intelligible, and I find that idea horrible.

        Science can apprehend the mind, so mind must be scientifically intelligible; i.e., there must be a way to translate any precise, accurate and complete account of experience into the language of physics, at least in principle. If physics were not adequate to mind, at least in principle, then it could not accommodate mind; and then, there could be no room in the physical world for mind. There is such room, and in that room there is indeed mind, so whatever else it may also be, or however else we may characterize it, mind is at least physical (this is to say no more than that we are embodied; corporeally implemented; incarnate). So even if we don’t have it yet, an adequate physical theory of mind has to be out there, waiting to be discovered. And any attempt to introduce any entity that cannot in principle be translated into the language of physics to the high level account of mind has to be bogus, cheating, a miserable retreat into hand-waving.

        Except for the last two sentences of that paragraph, I still believe all that stuff. Even the penultimate sentence is almost correct: an adequate physical theory *of the physical aspects* of mind has to be out there.

        I tried and tried to shoehorn mind into the terms of physics. I got tantalizingly close, but never succeeded. The closest I could get was dual aspect theory: mind is what it is like to be a brain doing its thing. But this of course means that mind does not actually do anything; i.e., that mind does not really exist. It is at just this bitter edge of course that eliminative materialism bucks up its courage and insists that, yes, mind really doesn’t exist. But this means there is nothing in mind to be explained by any physicalist theory. The elimination of mind eliminates theories that happen only in minds. Eliminativism devours itself.

        And the eliminativist’s insistence that matter is all there is simply and inescapably entails that the eliminative materialist’s daughter is a just sack of meat, which as composed entirely and without remainder of dead particles is altogether dead, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. If there exists nothing but dead particles, then everything is just dead particles, period full stop.

        Now there are many healthy-minded materialists – such, I suppose, as yourself – who naturally and quite rightly shy away from the edge of that nightmare abyss. But it won’t do; not if you are going to remain a materialist. Either you have to step out into that void, or away from materialism altogether. Or fudge, hem, haw – beat a miserable retreat into hand-waving.

        I say this in all charity, having stood myself on the lip of that precipice.

        [The position of the materialist at the edge of the eliminative abyss is just like that of the Christian believer honestly confronting the doctrine of the divine inspiration of the Bible. The Christian must perforce find a way to understand the Bible as the Word of God, and thus inerrant, without doing violence to his most basic intuitions about reality. Either that, or he must if he be consistent eventually reject either his Christianity, or his intuitions. Dawkins and his ilk aim at the hardest sayings of Christianity. As they should, dammit, if they are going to do their job properly. I don’t object to that; for those hardest sayings must be defensible, if true. I object rather to their philosophical illiteracy.]

        Materialism can’t work. Physics cannot furnish a physical account of physics, is the basic problem. It’s all in Gödel. Reducing everything to physics is reducing in the wrong direction. So dual aspect theory must be flipped on its head: the brain is what happens when a mind does its thing. The state of the brain is a relic and artifact of mind; a fossil of mental life. Mental transactions can be translated into the language of physics, yes; but physics supervenes upon metaphysics and logic, and not vice versa; and both metaphysics and logic supervene upon concrete reality, which encompasses them both, and far outpasses them, being itself the infinite formal system.

        The problem is not to shoehorn reality into physics, but the opposite. We don’t need to carve out room in physics for mind; we need to see how physics fits into mind, how mind expresses itself physically (bearing well in mind that there may be other ways that mind expresses itself).

        … an arch is arch-like not because its components are arches but because of how they are arranged.

        The issue I was talking about is how that arrangement comes to be. You seem to believe it has to be injected from outside, by a human agent or by god. A naturalist believes it can arise spontaneously.

        Exactly. You make my argument. The arch is not arch-like because of the properties of its components. It does not arise from those components. The components must be arranged as an arch in order to form an arch. The form of the arch, then, is not to be found in the components: emergence does not happen.

        An arch may certainly arise spontaneously, as has happened many times in Utah; i.e., not because anyone came along and built it, but because water eroded it. It is likewise possible that you could throw a handful of pebbles on the floor and find that when they came to rest they picked out the shape of a letter S. The question is whether the S shape the pebbles formed is information, or noise. If it’s noise, then it is only a semblance, rather than the real deal. If on the other hand it’s signal – if it is really a letter S – then someone sent it (this being the correct intuition behind all augury and all science: that the world is throughly signal, rather than noise; so that reading it off is a matter of tuning your calibrations aright). The natural arches in Utah are noise; their arch-likeness is merely epiphenomenal. Translating into the terms of theology, the natural arches of Utah have the likeness, but not the image of true arches. The cliffs of Utah develop arches now and then the way that broken clocks tell time correctly twice each day.

        If it is possible for my cat Bo to exist, then that possibility – the form of Bo – must have perdured from all eternity. …

        I suppose that is one way to look at it, although it implies that there can be no true creativity in either humans or nature. So I don’t find that point of view very congenial.

        Neither did I, when I first realized it had to be true. Tough luck for Prometheus, right? Them’s the breaks. Now I find it rather thrilling. Instead of thinking that math and logic and music are just stuff we made up, so that they are essentially meaningless noise, I get to think that what we have learned and produced in these domains of discourse amounts to discoveries and realizations of portions of the mind of God, and participations in his understanding. Pretty neat. What’s more, the fact that my cat Bo, and every other corporeal thing, are realizations of eternal forms, means that when George Fox saw the stones of the street as jewels of the living God, he was right. And that’s pretty neat, too; for it means that every instant of life is, literally, infinitely meaningful – provided you’re tuned aright.

      • if reality is to be intelligible at all – if, i.e., reality is rational – then every part of it that science is capable of apprehending in the first place has to be intelligible scientifically.

        Sounds like a tautology, but perhaps I don՚t understand your distinction between “apprehensible” and “intelligible”. If it՚s not tautological, then it՚s just wrong – there is no guarantee that science can explain everything it can perceive.

        I tried and tried to shoehorn mind into the terms of physics.

        Well, there՚s your mistake right there. Consider doing architecture: buildings must obey the laws of physics, but it is not very useful to shoehorn the architecture into physics. Similarly, understanding the mind is most usefully done using mental terminology, with the understanding that we can in theory dig under the mental terminology to udnerstand the causal physical systems underneath. This is what cybernetics, AI, and cognitive science do – albeit pretty crudely at this point.

        Behaviorism (roughly the same as what you are calling eliminativism) was overturned as a psychological theory in favor of cognitive science for precisely this reason. Cognitive science gives us license to talk about hypthosized information-processing structures in the mind. Without that, we have no hope of understanding its complexity. But it isn՚t magic, because we can cash out those information-processing parts in terms of physical mechanisms, or at least we can hope to.

        And the eliminativist’s insistence that matter is all there is simply and inescapably entails that the eliminative materialist’s daughter is a just sack of meat, which as composed entirely and without remainder of dead particles is altogether dead, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. If there exists nothing but dead particles, then everything is just dead particles, period full stop.

        I really do not understand this line of argument. “Meat” is just as much a high-level concept as “daughter”. Why not say that the daughter is really just nothing more than a collection of subatomic particles? In fact daughter is all three of those things at different levels of description. I do not see why this idea is fairly obvious to me and completely untenable for you.

        Instead of thinking that math and logic and music are just stuff we made up, so that they are essentially meaningless noise,

        Say what? You seem to have some self-esteem issues.

        It՚s funny that your view of creativity is entirely compatible with that of an eliminative materialist. They too don՚t believe in human creativity and agency.

        BTW, I think the term “materialism” confuses a lot of people, since it implies that the bottom layer of the universe is “matter”, which sounds like dead lumps. “Naturalism” is a better term. The essence of naturalism is that nature does not require any external (supernatural) agents to create it or make it go or impart structure to it. It doesn՚t make any other metaphysical claims. I՚ve known some of the most ardent naturalists around, and none of them believe that lumps are metaphysically basic – usually if pressed, they say it՚s something like mathematics at the very bottom of the reality stack.

      • … perhaps I don’t understand your distinction between “apprehensible” and “intelligible.” If it’s not tautological, then it’s just wrong – there is no guarantee that science can explain everything it can perceive.

        The idea is that if the world is rational, and thus in principle intelligible, then to the extent that science can apprehend something – can come to be aware of it, can measure it – then that something must in principle be intelligible to science. If the world is not rational, then all bets are off, of course. In that case, science – as true knowledge of universal regularities of nature – is not really possible. Science then would never be more than more or less reliable theory. In practice, that’s just what it is (Popper, Peirce). But unless true knowledge is possible at least in principle, there is no terminus ad quem toward which scientific hypotheses may asymptotically tend. If there be no such tendency, then theory cannot ever be relied upon at all, and we have no science, properly speaking, but rather only natural history.

        I tried and tried to shoehorn mind into the terms of physics.

        Well, there’s your mistake right there. … understanding the mind is most usefully done using mental terminology, with the understanding that we can in theory dig under the mental terminology to understand the causal physical systems underneath.

        Digging under the mental terminology to understand the causal physical systems underneath *is* shoehorning mind into the terms of physics.

        … we can cash out those information-processing parts in terms of physical mechanisms, or at least we can hope to.

        So I thought. Doesn’t work, even under the panpsychist supposition. We’re no better off throwing a bunch of live pebbles on the floor than we were when all we had were dead pebbles. To get a conscious arrangement of pebbles, the *arrangement* must be conscious, an entity in its own right discrete from its constituents. No whole, no constituents, but only disaggregated particles (whether alive or dead).

        “Meat” is just as much a high-level concept as “daughter.” Why not say that the daughter is really just nothing more than a collection of subatomic particles? In fact daughter is all three of those things at different levels of description.

        The daughter has meaty and particular constituents, but is not *the same thing* as those constituents. Her particles and meat participate in her. But if she were not there as an entity discrete from them, there would be no participation. Again, in that case all you’d have is a disaggregated bunch of particles, that had nothing much to do with each other, aside from being located in the same general volume of space.

        Instead of thinking that math and logic and music are just stuff we made up, so that they are essentially meaningless noise,

        Say what? You seem to have some self-esteem issues.

        Has nothing to do with my self-esteem. If I make something up from out of nothing at all – i.e., I create it ex nihilo, as God does – then it’s *nothing more than something I made up.* It isn’t a discovery about reality, any more than the neologism “jish” really refers to something. It isn’t about anything but itself. Nothing probative can therefore be said about it. And probativity is a sine qua non of math and logic (and music, considered as mathematical argumentation). Suggesting that it might have meaning is like suggesting that the acoustic products of a wind chime are music. The sound of a wind chime can be pleasant – i.e., it can “work” for us pragmatically (especially if it is tuned so as to generate pleasant chords no matter which parts of it happen to be sounding) – but it can’t convey meaning, and can tell us nothing about anything except its own state. It can mean itself, but cannot be about anything else. It can be sound, but not music.

        It might be objected that the state of the wind chime is a function of the state of the whole cosmos, so that implicit in its sound is a message about – well, about everything that has ever happened, about the whole system of things, the music of the spheres. This, again, is the intuition behind augury and science: namely, that all things are rationally connected, and form an integral whole; that, as Whitehead says, “each atom is a system of all things.” True! How could it be otherwise? This would not mean that the sounds of the chime are music after all, but it would mean that they are in principle profoundly informative; indeed, it would mean that they, and all other things, are meaningful through and through. But what this entails then is that the logical and mathematical products of the human mind are precisely *not* “just stuff we made up,” but rather as products of reality as a whole therefore really terminant on that reality, referring to it as arising from it. Only thus could the inferences we gather from our experience be even a little bit true, or even false.

        Perhaps it would be going too far to say that stuff we make up is *nothing but* meaningless noise. Yet I would argue that insofar as something we make up is not meaningless noise – LOTR, for example – then to that extent it is something we have discovered, rather than created. For Tolkien to set LOTR to paper, LOTR had to have existed from before all worlds as a possible novel.

        It’s like what Michelangelo said: the statue is really there, waiting in the marble; all he does is reveal it. Many novelists have reported that their fictional characters take on a life of their own, so that it seems to the writer that he is not the author of the work, but rather only a scribe, recording what he has inwardly heard or seen. Mozart and Byrd both said much the same about the experience of composing music. The composition was out there, waiting to be written down; it arrived in their minds fully formed. This is Athene, springing fully grown, fully armed, and dangerous from the head of Zeus.

        I’ve known some of the most ardent naturalists around, and none of them believe that lumps are metaphysically basic – usually if pressed, they say it’s something like mathematics at the very bottom of the reality stack.

        That’s Platonism. I’d agree with it. It has consequences. They are theist. The mathematics at the bottom of the reality stack is called the Logos. It can’t be nothing more than a system of ideas, because ideas can’t have themselves, and can’t effect anything on their own. If the Logos is to influence anything – which is as much as to say, if it really exists – it must be a subsistent actuality.

      • … perhaps I don’t understand your distinction between “apprehensible” and “intelligible.” If it’s not tautological, then it’s just wrong – there is no guarantee that science can explain everything it can perceive.

        The idea is that if the world is rational, and thus in principle intelligible, then to the extent that science can apprehend something – can come to be aware of it, can measure it – then that something must in principle be intelligible to science. If the world is not rational, then all bets are off, of course.

        That sounds just as tautological as the the original. So, I have no idea what you are trying to say.

        It strikes me as a mistake to set up some kind of binary condition of the world being rational or not. The world is full of both structured regularities and randomness; science is good at describing the regularities (and the randomness in statistical terms). So the world is at least partly rational and apprehensible. There is no guarantee that it is in its entirety.

        … we can cash out those information-processing parts in terms of physical mechanisms, or at least we can hope to.

        So I thought. Doesn’t work, even under the panpsychist supposition.

        Panpsychism has nothing to do it, at least, nothing to do with what I was talking about.

        “Meat” is just as much a high-level concept as “daughter.” Why not say that the daughter is really just nothing more than a collection of subatomic particles? In fact daughter is all three of those things at different levels of description.

        The daughter has meaty and particular constituents, but is not *the same thing* as those constituents. Her particles and meat participate in her. But if she were not there as an entity discrete from them, there would be no participation. Again, in that case all you’d have is a disaggregated bunch of particles, that had nothing much to do with each other, aside from being located in the same general volume of space.

        If you are saying that high-level entities exist, and have properties and identities separate from their constituent parts, well, I agree. Not sure what that has to do with God though.

        Instead of thinking that math and logic and music are just stuff we made up, so that they are essentially meaningless noise,

        Say what? You seem to have some self-esteem issues.

        Has nothing to do with my self-esteem. If I make something up from out of nothing at all – i.e., I create it ex nihilo, as God does – then it’s *nothing more than something I made up.* It isn’t a discovery about reality….

        So God is allowed to make things up, but you aren՚t.

        Maybe it՚s not self-esteem, but it is a pretty impoverished conception of the human mind. Hell, it՚s even an impoverished religious conception – are not humans supposed to be made in God՚s image, and thus creators like him?

        It’s like what Michelangelo said: the statue is really there, waiting in the marble; all he does is reveal it.

        Yet oddly we revere Michelangelo, not the quarry.

        I’ve known some of the most ardent naturalists around, and none of them believe that lumps are metaphysically basic – usually if pressed, they say it’s something like mathematics at the very bottom of the reality stack.

        That’s Platonism. I’d agree with it. It has consequences. They are theist. The mathematics at the bottom of the reality stack is called the Logos. It can’t be nothing more than a system of ideas, because ideas can’t have themselves, and can’t effect anything on their own. If the Logos is to influence anything – which is as much as to say, if it really exists – it must be a subsistent actuality.

        Not really, there are plenty of non-theistic versions of Platonism. See Max Tegmark՚s recent book, which also addresses I think whatever “susistent actuality” might mean.

      • It strikes me as a mistake to set up some kind of binary condition of the world being rational or not. The world is full of both structured regularities and randomness; science is good at describing the regularities (and the randomness in statistical terms). So the world is at least partly rational and apprehensible. There is no guarantee that it is in its entirety.

        Phenomena that can be treated statistically or probabilistically are not random. They are orderly. That events are not wholly determined by their antecedents does not mean that they are the least bit uncaused.

        Certainly there is indeed no guarantee that the world is entirely rational (or therefore intelligible). But if it is not – if it anyhow fails at complete causal coherence (which is what we mean when we characterize it as rational) – then it simply does not hang together. It then fails to constitute a world, which is just to say, a coherent causal system. In that case, a basic and necessary presupposition of science is deleted, and so therefore is science.

        “Meat” is just as much a high-level concept as “daughter.” Why not say that the daughter is really just nothing more than a collection of subatomic particles? In fact daughter is all three of those things at different levels of description.

        Yes. But while we can in principle derive the specifications of her meat and molecules from a complete specification of the daughter herself, we can’t do the reverse. We can’t get a daughter by arranging a heap of molecules except by reference to the prior formal specification of the daughter. To get the daughter out of any material substrate, you first need the form of the daughter; you have to know how to arrange the molecules so as to get the daughter, in order to go ahead and arrange the molecules so as to get the daughter.

        If you are saying that high-level entities exist, and have properties and identities separate from their constituent parts, well, I agree. Not sure what that has to do with God though.

        Entities can’t be accounted for only by reference to their constituents. That’s all.

        So God is allowed to make things up, but you aren’t.

        Sure. God is omnipotent; I’m not. That doesn’t mean I am somehow cheated of some dignity I might in justice otherwise have had, or some pleasure I might otherwise have enjoyed. I am what I am; so, I get to do only the sorts of things that such as I can possibly do. After all, there are any number of a.morphous things that you are able to do on account of your peculiar nature and particular station in life, that I cannot. And vice versa. Does that fact somehow unjustly diminish either of us? Of course not.

        Of course, God did not just “make up” logic, math, and the other transcendental truths. He *is* the Truth.

        … are not humans supposed to be made in God’s image, and thus creators like him?

        Images, yes; creators, no. But this should hardly surprise us. In almost every case, an original and its image have quite different natures. A painting of George Washington can’t enjoy a slice of cherry pie the way that George himself might. We are images of God; but we are not God.

        The limit case of course is that Image of God who is indeed God: the Logos. The Son is the perfect image of his Father. In the perfection of that limit case, to which no other similitudes between images and their originals ever approximate, the Image and his Original have the same Nature, and therefore are one being. That’s what happens when two things have exactly the same nature: they turn out to be exactly the same being.

        Yet oddly we revere Michelangelo, not the quarry.

        Rare is the genius who can get over himself, and thus out of his own way, so completely as Michelangelo had to do in order to be able to see the uncarved block as it really is, and so to apprehend its potentials.

        … there are plenty of non-theistic versions of Platonism. See Max Tegmark’s recent book, which also addresses I think whatever “subsistent actuality” might mean.

        I’ve ordered Tegmark’s book, and will read it with interest. It’s always refreshing to encounter the mind of a good, honest and forthright Platonic realist. These are they who, because they see that the Ideas are at the bottom of the ontological stack – that, i.e., the Ideas are the very most real sorts of things there are, the most *subsistent* things there are, so that all other real things are in a way constituted of them – are most willing to commit themselves without embarrassment to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Sooner or later they tend to realize that the Logic of the Logos entails within its realm an inherent and gorgeous hierarchy, whose fons et origo is the One, the Form of the Good, the most subsistent of them all: the ens realissimum, as they call him.

      • Providence is hard at work here tonight. I posted the comment above, then took up the book I am now devouring as slowly as possible, David Bentley Hart’s luminous and penetrating The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, and read the following (p 112 ff):

        Perhaps [it is as] the physical expression of certain immutable mathematical truths that the universe necessarily exists. Its [constituents] may have been created and arranged by a set of laws and formulae so elementary and powerful that they can spontaneously confer existence upon physical reality. At some higher level, then, the universe as a whole may well be necessary, even though at the material level it comprises only contingent things. The cost of such an argument seems, however, rather exorbitant for the committed naturalist. Physical laws, after all, are usually regarded as abstractions that do no more than describe a reality that already exists, and abstract mathematical concepts are usually regarded as rather existentially inert. The moment one ascribes to mathematical functions and laws a rational and ontological power to create, one is talking no longer about nature (in the naturalist sense) at all, but about a metaphysical force capable of generating the physical out of the intellectual: an ideal reality transcendent of and yet able to produce all the material properties of the cosmos, a realm of pure paradigms that is also a creative actuality, an eternal reality that is at once the rational structure of the universe and the power giving it existence. In short, one is talking about the mind of God. I, for one, happen to find that kind of vaguely Pythagorean approach to divine reality extremely appealing, for various reasons; but I sincerely doubt that a truly severe and sinewy atheist, jaws firmly set and eyes fiercely agleam, could really derive much joy from an idealist mysticism of that sort, or happily adopt the strategy of avoiding the word “God” only by periphrastically substituting the word “universe.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s