God of the Philosophers : God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob :: Map : Territory.
My article on ancient atomism appears at Angel Millar’s People of Shambhala website. In particular, I undertake a reading of Lucretius’s great poem On the Nature of Things, a strange mixture of bold speculation that anticipates modern physics and cosmology more interesting perhaps for its fairly concerted critique of sacrificial religion. I offer a sample –
Posterity knows only a little about Lucretius and much of what it knows it gleans from autobiographical references in his poem. The poem itself is paradoxical. Alleging to explicate, for the sake of a potential recruit, the scientific truths discovered by Epicurus, the truths that will redeem life for the one who accepts them, On the Nature of Things couches itself in the language of insistent evangelism, making of its intellectual hero, as George Santayana noted in his study of Lucretius in Three Philosophical Poets, a secular saint. The poem attests a powerful experience on the part of its author, which can only be described as spiritual conversion, which he then wishes to foster in another. Already in the generation just after Epicurus, his followers acquired the habit of referring to him under the honorific of soter or “savior,” an etiquette that imitated in turn a propaganda device of Alexander’s successors, the Ptolemaic and Seleucid dynasts. Lucretius, whose time and place knew the afflictions of political breakdown, picks up this thus slightly tainted habit.
I’ve already shared my complaints about the humanities and the natural sciences; now I’d like to turn to the social sciences. As with these other disciplines, my “problem” with the social sciences has more to do with a general attitude I sense pervading the whole enterprise than with any particular result. That attitude can be summed up in the following statement: the correct way to understand a human being or a social system is to look at it from the point of view of a hostile outsider. The hostile outsider has a privileged perspective. The ways human beings and social organisms understand themselves are illusions; they are unscientific; they are masks behind which hide the reality of structures of oppression, unconscious desires, blind economic or sexual striving. Thus, the skill college students are to learn above all else is critical thinking, which basically means learning to assume the perspective of the hostile outsider. They are to critically question the assumptions of their upbringing (unless, of course, they are from urban Leftist homes). And if the student decides his inherited religion and ethnic loyalties are defensible? Well, then, he obviously hasn’t thought critically enough! The “questioning” of gender roles and inherited tradition has a predetermined outcome.
Needless to say, social scientists–psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists–are, by and large, my political enemies. However, my ultimate objection is philosophical. I don’t disagree that one can study human beings in terms of their psychic desires, or that one can study societies in terms of economic forces and structures of coercion. Nor do I deny that some insights can be drawn from this. What I do deny is that this gives us the ultimate truth about men or communities. It is an exercise in abstraction, of systematically ignoring aspects of the subject in order to more clearly focus on some particular structure of interest. The most important thing about a social practice is how it is experienced and understood by its participants. Even when the things critics claim to find “beneath the surface” are really there, it’s the “surface”–the lived conscious reality–that is most fundamental and most real.
This is even more true when it comes to the study of the individual human being. I myself have had two types of encounters with psychology. (My experiences with the psychiatric profession I’ll save for another post.) First, as a teacher I’ve been exposed to some of the results of research on how people learn. Overall, this work is empirically grounded and consistent with common sense and my own experience. The studies of memory, cognition, visual perception–basically of any type of mental activity that we humans are conscious of performing–also seem relatively healthy by soft science standards (although I am here speaking without much knowledge). On the other hand, as a reactionary I am also exposed to psychological claims purporting to explain my authoritarian, homophobic pathologies. That I might actually have reasons for my beliefs is dismissed out of hand. This type of psychology demands that human behavior have explanations rather than reasons. The explanations involve my unconscious fear of new experiences, my unconscious fear of my father, my unconscious homosexual urges, or some other such unconscious prompting. None of these claims has any credible evidence behind them, and they all clash with the evidence of direct introspection–hence the recurring need for “unconscious” qualifiers.
“The unconscious mind” is one of those things that people are afraid to question for fear of being thought “unscientific”; I’m sure I’ll shock some readers with even the basic observation that “unconscious mind” is a contradiction in terms.
From Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978; English translation, 1987); Book III, Chapter 3, “Mimesis and Sexuality” (Pages 337 – 338)
“If we recognize that the sexual appetite can be affected by the interplay of mimetic interferences, we have no reason to stop at ‘sadism’ and ‘masochism’ in our critique of false psychiatric labels. Let us grant that the subject can no longer obtain sexual satisfaction without involving the violence of the model or a simulation of that violence – and that the instinctual structures we have inherited from the animals, in the sexual domain, can allow themselves to be inflected by the mimetic game. We then have to ask ourselves [whether] these cases of interference are not likely to have a still more decisive effect and give rise to at least some of the forms of homosexuality.
[Here is another of my essays originally posted at Intellectual Conservative and destroyed by leftist hackers. In it, I refer to the evolution in which contemporary atheistic science believes as “Darwinism” or “Darwinian evolution.” This is not the term that most scientists use, but since the word “evolution” has many meanings, and since most scientific enthusiasts of the evolutionary theory originated by Darwin wish to obscure its anti-Christian nature, I have chosen to use a more clear-cut term. Keep in mind also that this essay was written for the general public, not the typical Orthosphere reader.]
Ben Stein’s movie Expelled shines the spotlight on the dispute between Darwinian evolution and its opponents. Although both sides marshal a large array of technical facts, this dispute is really a clash between two fundamentally differing worldviews, that is, basic philosophical systems that people use to interpret all of reality. In fact, the dispute can most accurately be summed up by saying: It’s all about God.
That is, if you can be sure there is no miracle-working God, then something like Darwinian evolution must be correct. But if there is even a chance that such a God exists, then basic intellectual integrity demands that you take seriously the criticisms directed against Darwinism. Continue reading
Let us continue with our exercise of trying to infer natural philosophy conclusions from general features of the laws of physics. Again, our method will be to assume that a symmetry in physical laws indicates that some of the states we conceptually distinguish don’t represent real differences, and that this is telling us something about the underlying objects.
Reading Edward Feser’s article on inertia and how it should be reconciled with Aristotelian natural philosophy got me thinking. What does Newtonian kinematics really mean? Let’s pretend that Newtonian physics is the exact truth and ask what that would imply about the nature of reality. As we know, the rise of quantitative sciences was accompanied by the rise of a reductionistic atomism which the new science was thought to imply. Even today, it is thought a “scientific” way of thinking to suppose
- The only thing that really exists are particles whose only properties are position, velocity, mass, and maybe some other quantities like that.
- Composite bodies are just combinations of these particles, and the particles themselves have some sort of ontological priority over their arrangement. They are “more real” than the forms of composite bodies, which are just consequences of the particles’ positions.
Feser and others have done good work arguing that neither Newtonian physics nor any other conceivable empirical scientific theory prove the above postulates. I think we can go farther and say that they are actually incompatible with Newtonian physics.
Do theistic metaphysical systems such as Thomism or Scotism have any stakes in the findings of the empirical sciences? A discussion of formal causes in science and challenges to the principle of causality.
Reductionist explanation – as, e.g., materialism, or Marxism, or scientism, or for that matter any of the other popular conspiracy theories - is always tempting, for there is generally a grain of truth to it. That’s the only way it could be at all appealing to the questing intellect. Things being all coherent, they must all explain each other; must make sense in terms of each other. Thus may they all be viewed in terms of each other with some profit; and any accurate and adequate formalization of reality must in principle be susceptible to translation into the terms of another formalization likewise accurate and adequate. So it is that we can treat of economic transactions as all physical, and vice versa; or, likewise, treat of economic transactions, and ergo physical transactions, as all moral or aesthetic, and vice versa. We can learn all sorts of interesting and useful things by thinking in this way.
But where such reductionist explanation is taken as the final word – where, i.e., such assertions as ”economics is nothing but scurrying atoms” are bruited about – it is inadequate to the explication of the whole truth in almost all cases. Whenever you hear “x is nothing but y,” cast an especially jaundiced eye. For, no finite set of causes can exhaustively account for all the infinitely many true statements we could form about any subject. And in the final analysis, nature cannot explain itself.
That’s “awesome” in the proper sense — tending to induce awe and wonder. It’s called “The Scale of the Universe,” and it allows you to zoom in or out to view everything from quantum foam to the estimated size of the universe in scale. Behold the overwhelming mystery of creation, in convenient point-and-click format.