Best Possible World: Gateway to the Millennium and Eschaton



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[later the same day...]
From a search on "intellectual revolution" let me recommend the following Bonus chapter on nutty quantum theories by John McCrone. Quoting from Christof Koch, "...the physicists expect to find the secret of consciousness in some grand, fundamental twist on the laws of nature. In keeping with the great breakthroughs in the basic sciences, they believe the answer should have a deep and beautiful simplicity." But this could be permitted only to come from within the mathematical framework of theoretical physics. Anything that might transcend that framework has no purchase with the physics profession. It would be allowing the tail, mind, to wag the dog, physics. The physicists have been doing the wagging for a long time, and they don't wish to get wagged, thank you very much!

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7/13/02

Funda-Mental

The physicists in the consciousness movement have been trying very hard to find a link between the mystery of the mind and the mystery of the quantum. The most suggestive link is in the measurement process. For instance, the focus of attention on a particular process in the brain might in a bootstrap fashion influence the selection of the states being recorded in our minds. Obviously there is a mismatch in scale between the higher order thought processes involving intentionality and the sub-molecular quantum processes. The problem of maintaining quantum coherence on any reasonable scale is a severe constraint on such speculation.
The mere presence of the quantum does not account for any of the qualities of subjective experience. At best the quantum could serve as a link between the qualitative realm of mind and the quantitative domain of physics. We would still be left with a 'quantum dualism', where the quantum replaces the pineal gland in the Cartesian version of the mind-brain duality.
Despite the absence of any solid results, the speculations of the quantum physicists provide a very important scientific cachet for a resurgence of popular interest in vitalism. We should pause to try to appreciate the extra-scientific motivation for this interest.
It would appear that what molecular biology has taken away from us, the quantum is giving back: that is our ability to believe in a life force. Is our desire for a life force greater even than our need for God? Or is it serving as a politically correct substitute?
I believe that the definitive characterization of this needed force comes from Yoda of Star Wars: 'May the Force be with you.' Notice the personalization of it. What Darwin took away, a quantum savvy Yoda gives back. The 'Force' represents the bottom end of the Great Chain of Being. God is the top end. Each can do double duty. In either case we are not the accidental tourists in an uncaring universe. We are not an epiphenomenon of atoms swerving in the dark. There is something Fundamental about our Being. We are rooted in the very nature of reality. We are not a superfluous flash in the cosmic pan. So reads our deepest longing.

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7/14/02

Funda-Mental (part 2)

Let us explore our 'deepest longing' on the Internet, allowing Google to strut her stuff: vitalism (7400), panpsychism (1700), pantheism (35000), animism (30000), holism (28000), 'conscious universe' (2300), etc. These figures, or course, only show that certain terms are being bandied about on the web.
But consider this data from the point of view of our apocryphal atomistic, mechanistic reductionist. That poor gal might feel besieged. She might feel like road kill on the highway to postmodernism and beyond.
Consider holism: Holism in Artificial Intelligence?, for example. This doesn't sound very touchy-feely, now does it? Is this icon of the New Age being appropriated by the mechanists?
"In the discussion on semantic holism it has been claimed that A.I. is almost entirely holistic. In this paper I show that some of the main lines of research in symbolic artificial intelligence are not holistic...."
Hmmm... What?
As best as I can make it out, this holism is the positing of a relationalism in regard to the meaning of words and sentences. Context dependency is a part of it. At first blush it is a promotion of structure or form over content or substance. If this is a retreat from semantics to syntax, it is a reductionism. Or is it? We still have those relations to account for. Are they internal or external? There's the rub. Obviously I'm going to have to brush up on my syntax, maybe on the next page, or so. Relations are generally taken to be in the eye of the beholder, or are they in the mind's I of the computer? If the orange is ten inches from the apple, someone has to be able to verify that. There have to exist measurement standards, etc. And are the identities of the relata not thereby irreducibly entwined? The deepest metaphysical proclivities of at least some of the meaning holists, such as Willard v. O. Quine, remain notoriously opaque, if I'm not mistaken [but see Quine's Holism]. May the Force be with you, Willard? Later....
Even if it is not with Willard, there are, as you may see, a plethora of other willing subjects out there in Web land.
We are then left to wonder whether this hypothetical, vital, Funda-Mental Force (or glue?), could be blind, given all that it must accomplish by way of evolution and watching out for Luke Skywalker. As at least implied earlier, I have much difficulty conceiving of a non-transcendental panpsychism. Does there not have to be a coherent source or potency beyond space and time? Some great minds have propounded an atheistic pantheism, but are they thereby coherent? And if the pan-Psyche is incoherent, how could we come to comprehend that of It, without at least personalizing Her? Is the babbling brook incoherent? Am I in a questioning mood today?

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7/14/02

Quine's Holism

You know the drill: Quine & Holism.
It is fair to say that Quine was a pivotal figure in 20th Century philosophy. A single slim volume of his at mid century managed to wreak havoc with the Anglo-American analytic tradition. Its repercussions provoke lively debate into this next millennium, even on the Continent.
Yet, Quine was no subversive, anarchist or visionary. He was a Harvard don. He just wanted to set the record straight. He and Niels Bohr were nevertheless the progenitors of what is the single most characteristic concept of our postmodern world.
And what is this concept? Does this have something to do with the $40 billion holistic health industry? What does context dependency have to do with ginseng tea?
It has to do with non-localized, distributed meaning. There may be a private mental language, but words are not thoughts. It is all representation and context. The meaning is not in the sound, it is in the silence between the sounds, to give it a Zen twist. The only real meaning is in what we can live and feel. Fear is in the pit of the stomach, as they say. It is in the shadows.
[7/16/02]
I have been reading Ernest Lapore's Conditions on Understanding Language (c.1995) [listed on Philosophy of Language Links], an attack on the behaviorist, functionalist reduction of semantics to linguistics and syntax. On his view, Quine is one of the reductionists. He cites agreement with Fodor and Dummet in his own metalinguistic, metaphysical approach to a purely mental semantics.
It appears that I will need to review Fodor. According to Christopher Green, Review of Jerry Fodor's 'In Critical Condition', Fodor is a reluctant defender of innate ideas. The fact that Fodor is also a proponent of strong 'computational functionalism' in no way inhibits his thorough going criticism of his 'colleagues'. Innate ideas are not good news for materialists.
Using Fodor as the icon, we may be able to locate a coterie of conscientious objectors to the program of the materialists and reductionists, who nonetheless can speak directly to them. There remains the hope that an argument will emerge that is sufficiently cogent to cause a public rethinking by the intellectual community. If rational theism is to emerge in some rational fashion, this would be its best opportunity.
I'm starting with Fodor's Doing Without What’s Within.
I'll have to return to holism a bit later....

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7/16/02

Jerry Fodor & Co.

In his Doing Without What’s Within..., Fodor's topic is 'nature vs. nurture.' Generally speaking, rationalism and nativism are pitted against empiricism, naturalism and associationism.
Fodor is quite amenable to having his nativism be explained by a genetically inherited computational functionalism, much as Chomsky has been with his innate grammar. I am not aware that either of them has ever spoken favorably of idealism. But both of them are realists concerning ideas, and that is a big step beyond mere materialism.
Once Fodor calls himself a reductionist [but only at heart, too many other things going on] which might square with his computational functionalism, but more frequently he speaks of his rationalism, something not normally considered mechanical or naturalistic. He does repudiate naturalism. It would seem that Jerry is trying to hang out on a slender, multidimensional pinnacle, requiring considerable philosophical dexterity. There is no solid high ground here. His sympathetic colleagues watch mostly form a safe distance as he performs his aerial jousting.
One alternative to computational functionalism is connectionism. It seems to be generally accepted, however, that connectionism is much too mushy in its general construct to be even slightly amenable to the compositionality that is a fundamental characteristic of our thought processes. There is no physical basis for the sequentiality of thought. Another alternative is associationism, going back to the origins of empiricism. It is a recurring glimmer of an idea that has never been able to acquire substance.
One problem facing the computationalists is to explain how their mental tokens can be both representational and causally efficacious at the same time. It seems rather like a preordained harmony. Is this not also the problem of intentionality in general?
Fodor is a long time defender of mentalese or the language of thought hypothesis (LOTH).
[Later: see The Language of Thought Hypothesis -- Murat Aydede. Excerpts:
(A2 ) Representational Theory of Thinking: Mental processes, thinking in particular, consists of causal sequences of tokenings of mental representations."

(B1) representations of the system have a combinatorial syntax and semantics: structurally complex (molecular) representations are systematically built up out of structurally simple (atomic) constituents, and the semantic content of a molecular representation is a function of the semantic content of its atomic constituents together with its syntactic/formal structure, and


(B2) the operations on representations (constituting, as per (A2), the domain of mental processes, thinking) are causally sensitive to the syntactic/formal structure of representations defined by this combinatorial syntax.]
When we think to ourselves we tend to do so in our native tongue, but at a deeper level there is often thought to be a private system of symbols, physically realized in the brain. Many others find the very idea of a private language to be oxymoronic. However, the more widely accepted notion of a universal grammar might also provide a foundation for subliminal symbol processing, if the symbols could be given a more universal aspect. Some aspects of sign language are now being touted as a possible precursor to spoken language.
[Later: It was said that Fodor has been moving toward the functionalism of Dennett. I'm not sure how this should be taken.]
[8/26: but see From Intangibles to Memes]
As you can see, the field of cognitive science remains in a nearly complete disarray, even after much initial promise. It is a scattered collection of half-baked ideas in need of a foundation, and I don't mean the charitable kind. If idealism could make any substantial offer, the cognitivists would hardly be in a position to refuse, and the AI crowd would be likely to take up arms at a moments notice. It would be exciting.
Aren't we in need of a top-down, teleological process? How might that be demonstrated? How could ideas not be associational and teleological at the same time? A monadology of ideas? A mathematical analogy? Ideas vs. numbers. Perhaps all we need is a better search term for Google. Invariably my best ideas are scooped by the web. That's the scoop, throops.
It appears that cognitivism is in a late Ptolemaic phase, and does not know where or how to look for a new sun. Epicycles of the mind.

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7/17/02

'Naturalism in Question'

Please excuse my plagiarizing the title of an alleged to be forthcoming publication of the Harvard University Press. HUP does not publicly acknowledge that this book is in gestation, so I'll take the word of Huw Price and keep my 30+ bucks in my pocket. [And now it is almost here.]
It is my fervent hope that naturalism will be questioned. According to Quentin Smith, in his 'Metaphilosophy of Naturalism', it was Alvin Plantinga's God and Other Minds (1967) which laid the groundwork for the resurgence of of an intellectually respectable theism. Quentin claims that as of the new millennium fully one-quarter to one third of the philosophy professors are avowed theists, and that philosophy of religion is the largest category among the philosophy titles of the Oxford Press.
Gosh, maybe I missed something. Perhaps the Millennium has already arrived. I'm not quite convinced. The last time I checked, religion and science were still keeping each other at arms length, and Quentin acknowledges that:
"... the great majority of naturalist philosophers react by publicly ignoring the increasing desecularizing of philosophy (while privately disparaging theism, without really knowing anything about contemporary analytic philosophy of religion) and proceeding to work in their own area of specialization as if theism, the view of approximately one-quarter or one-third of their field, did not exist."
As it stands, the return of theism to the academy is, so far, just another symptom of our postmodern pluralism. Yes, naturalism has been and is being questioned by some of the best minds available, but evidently not in a manner that has forced a direct response from the naturalists in question.
From my, perhaps limited, vantage on the web, what I see is, for example, 'Deconstructing the Mind' by Stephen Stich (c.1995). In a section called 'Deconstructing a Deconstruction' he forthrightly confesses to the error of his former eliminativist position regarding the mind. Naturally it is only a very subtle error to which he is willing to admit, but sufficient for this significant turnaround, and Stephen was a senior statesman among the eliminativists. I have not been able to assess the impact of his defection on the rank and file, no one is keeping score in public. I am not even aware of a single other instance at this point.
Nonetheless, the hand is writing is on the wall: 'Naturalism is under the gun.' But which gun is it?

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7/19/02

A de facto Dualism



Plantinga and his followers, e.g. the Plantigapage, put their main emphasis on our personal knowledge and experience of God. This follows in the Protestant, existential, I - Thou tradition. There is plenty of analysis, in the modern genre, but little in the way of systematics and virtually no cosmology beyond fairly cursory examinations of the Anthropic Principle.
Our theistic philosophers are focusing on rebutting the backlog of analytical arguments against our putative knowledge of God. Once again, it's possible, to believe in God and still be considered rational.
Is it thereby irrational not to believe in God? No. I know of no instance where these theistic philosophers attack the tenets of materialism, beyond alluding to what is already being debated on the mind-body problem. There is no active theistic angle in that debate. They are sticking to the epistemology, and questions of metaphysics and ontology are avoided.
As long as the traditional Religion vs. Science duality is respected there will be no real confrontations. Earlier I have alluded to the 'Intelligent Designers'. They remain an intellectually isolated, minuscule faction of evangelical scientists who, I believe, are barking (loudly!) up the wrong tree.
My belief is that this duality is unstable. It was unstable before Darwin, and is more so now. However, there will be no new movement until the metaphysical dualism behind the Religion vs. Science duality is questioned. The mind-body debate should provide the opportunity to raise this question, but it will not happen from a global or cosmological perspective until the God question is brought into that debate.
It would then not take much to rock this boat. From my outsider perspective, I can't tell yet what is the source of this remarkable restraint against boat rocking.
[Later:]
One job now would be to go through the Plantinga related sites looking for anyone who might be contemplating any of the of the boat rocking stratagem being outlined here: Google: Plantinga & ??.
It should be noted that , in his 'Metaphilosophy of Naturalism', Quentin Smith, a naturalist, does claim that modern naturalism has been defeated:
Due to the typical attitude of the contemporary naturalist, which is similar to the attitude expressed by Searle in the previous quote, the vast majority of naturalist philosophers have come to hold (since the late 1960s) an unjustified belief in naturalism. Their justifications have been defeated by arguments developed by theistic philosophers, and now naturalist philosophers, for the most part, live in darkness about the justification for naturalism. They may have a true belief in naturalism, but they have no knowledge that naturalism is true since they do not have an undefeated justification for their belief. If naturalism is true, then their belief in naturalism is accidentally true. This philosophical failure (ignoring theism and thereby allowing themselves to become unjustified naturalists) has led to a cultural failure since theists, witnessing this failure, have increasingly become motivated to assume or argue for supernaturalism in their academic work, to an extent that academia has now lost its mainstream secularization.
He, too, is wondering why this news does not get around.
On the other hand, please note that Quentin is the editor of the Philo journal, now in its fifth year:
Philo is the only professional philosophy journal devoted exclusively to criticisms of theism and defenses or developments of naturalism. To facilitate discussion and debate, Philo also publishes defenses of theism and criticisms of naturalism. The interest in naturalism extends to the relevant branches of naturalist philosophy, such as naturalist metaphysics, and especially naturalist ethics.
Obviously we do not have a total blackout. Along these same lines I would also note THE SKEPTICAL THEISM WEBSITE. This site is rather less pessimistic about the state of naturalism.
And also, just from Google: Plantinga & Quentin, there is Scientific Materialism, Intelligent Design, and the Cosmological Argument.
Let's see if the boat is at least heeling just a bit.
[continued on next page]

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7/19/02

Mind-Body & God

What is most noticeable on these pro & con theism sites is the reluctance to take up the mind-body problem:
Google: Plantinga & Quentin & mind-body: 18 hits, including:
Darwin, Mind and Meaning -- Alvin Plantinga
Furthermore, the probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable (i.e., furnish us with a preponderance of true beliefs) on Darwin's dangerous idea is either low or inscrutable (i.e., impossible to estimate). But either gives the devotee of evolutionary naturalism a defeater for the proposition that his cognitive faculties are reliable, a reason for doubting, giving up, rejecting that natural belief. If so, then it also gives him a reason for doubting any beliefs produced by those faculties.
The Argument from Consciousness Refuted -- Conifer
Many Christian philosophers (e.g., Richard Swinburne) advocate a theistic argument which has begun of late to garner considerable popularity in the literature. The argument is one from human consciousness, i.e., it appeals to the phenomenon of human consciousness as its main premise. That phenomenon, so the argument goes, is somehow unlikely or perhaps even impossible on the assumption of atheism (or naturalism).
This latter quote sounds promising:
The Evolution of the Soul by Richard Swinburne (1997 rev.)
Oxford Professor of Religion Richard Swinburne defends substance dualism, a philosophically unpopular account of the mind as far as contemporary academic philosophy is concerned. The so-called "mind-body problem" provides the groundwork for this old philosophical argument, once shared by most of humanity before the secular age emerged. Simply put, substance dualism holds that the brain and the mind are separate entities regularly and causally interacting with each other.
OK, but it is a throwback to a very traditional form of dualism. I'm looking for something more open to new possibilities.

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7/19/02

Theistic Idealism

I am deservedly embarrassed to say that I have just, finally, focused on a significant blind spot of my own. How many others do I have? The founder of the church I attended as a child was the leading light in this defunct movement that I am straining now to see revived. Our sister parish in Pasadena was founded by an ancestor who also founded a well known scientific university that used to bear the family (both sides!) name. The juxtaposition of science and transcendentalism was endemic at that time. Somehow, until I just confirmed it in the Britannica, I was not clear that transcendentalism was just a species of idealism. Another American denomination founded in Boston, Christian Science, was, I used to think, the only ever existing sect of theistic idealism.
The sinister cabal, at least a significant part of it, that conspired to eliminate immaterialism from our collective psyche lies buried in the family plot in Mount Pleasant. Small world! Is not the truth usually hidden in plain sight? It is also to be found in Boston's 'Metaphysical Club', a misnomer if ever there was. What gives? How and why did we drop this ball? Was there too much California Dreamin', or, thinking of Cal Tech and Cambridge, was there not enough? The lion sleeps tonight.
Google: Theistic Idealism (40 (+ 1?) hits). Our work is cut out for us.
Pragmatism (132,000+ ) is the name of the conspiracy. Something funny happened on the way to our manifest destiny. We became the 'gold mountain,' beacon to the aspiring. Are we surprised? Disappointed? Not really. Have faith. It's just another part of the plan. A sometimes tender trap.
Charles S. Peirce (6,040), whose grandson [well, nephew maybe?] was a grade school classmate of mine in Concord, or so I still like to think, was the brains behind the conspiracy, or so we are told. Perhaps we should pick his brain.
But I already know the story behind the story. It was a very short walk across the Charles River Bridge from the college to the 'B' School, that my Dad soon took, awestruck by the Bomb, and the soon to be Best and Brightest, some of whom he would be mentoring there. And while we're into small worlds, you may recall my Dad's 'Manhattan' colleague, Donald. Both he and Charles' Dad specialized in lunar occultations at the nearby Observatory. If that sounds occult, well, you ain't heard nuthin' yet.

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7/21/02

Charles S. Peirce



After working with his Dad on the occultations, Charles became an expert in the logic of relations. How could he possibly have missed relationalism? Or did he? I think we're about to find out.
Moving right along, allow me to use an extended quote: Charles Sanders Peirce | Philosophy- The Integrating Science:
Since, action in the world is so crucial to human life, Peirce was concerned to find the best way to move us from a state of doubt to a state of belief. He outlines three methods that have been used for this purpose: tenacity, authority, a priori rationalism.
The method of tenacity (e.g. faith) is the method of clinging to a belief in the face of contrary evidence, of putting one's head in the sand. The method of authority (e.g. state censorship) is the method of using the power of the state to force people to stay committed to the "correct" belief. The method of a priori rationalism (the legacy of Descartes) is the method of simply deducing from idea to idea, through single threads of inference, without reference to evidence.
These methods, Peirce notes, have problems. Tenacity gives way to the re-evaluation of one's beliefs when confronted with the conflicting opinions of others. Authority, though practically superior to tenacity (because if everyone's beliefs are identical, one is less likely to encounter differences of opinion), cannot rule out that people will compare their beliefs to those of other cultures and eras, and form new doubts. Rationalism, while more respectable and intellectual than the other two methods, makes beliefs a matter of philosophical "fashion". Peirce notes that the history of philosophy is characterized by a pendulum-like swing back and forth between idealism and materialism [italics mine]. People will notice this fact, and -- since their ideas seem to be determined by the "taste" of the era, and not by what is really true -- they will begin to doubt their beliefs.
The main problem with these three methods, Peirce diagnoses, is that the beliefs they lead to are unstable, i.e. they quickly lead to the reappearance of doubts.
"[I]t is necessary," Peirce writes, "that a method should be found by which our beliefs may be determined by nothing human, but by some external permanency -- by something upon which our thinking has no effect." This method is the scientific method, the best method of eliminating doubt. It leads in the long run to the most stable beliefs. One forms hypotheses based on the objective facts and performs experiments to test these hypotheses. One's conclusions are made known to the community of thinkers who can then judge them and, if necessary, offer revisions of them. This process, if fully carried out, is fated ultimately to bring out the absolute truth on all questions.
Ah, yes. Another casualty on the Cartesian road to Certainty. Far more have been killed on this road than any other in history. How could the Best and Brightest be so dense!!
Next topic? As to that 'pendulum', well, whoever swings last, swings longest. Spoken as a true eschatologist.
Did Charlie not notice the oxymoronic flavor of his pragmatic absolutism? What was in that transcendental water in New England? The Bomb and the dinosaur bones do make immaterialism a little hard to swallow, even with full glass of transcendentalism. Absolutism is an occupational hazard for any transcendentalist. The only safeguard in history (just ask our Islamic friends, etc.) has been the incarnation, that very untranscendental (almost obscenely so) irruption into history. With Y2C we have just a necessary reminder of that X-event, and don't you forget it.
The, oh so, modern materialist may honestly plead total ignorance of her transcendental roots.

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7/21/02

C. S. Lewis ('Jack' to his friends, I'm told)

Following a little further down our 'conspiracy' path, we must cross another river from Cambridge, not the Charles to the 'B' School, but over the Cam and through the woods to Jack's idealist Christian cabal at Oxford on Thames.
I guess we're about to find out how in one generation we got from a hot bed of idealist Christians to the trash science of Richard Dawkin's selfish genes and memes. For the love of Christ! Some heads will roll.
Jack is the exception that proves the rule. But what is the rule here?
My guess is that it mostly hinges on the Bomb, and those funny bones. But where was the fear of God? All I've heard from that direction was a fear of Shiva and of Joe, Stalin that is. Was U235 part of the plan? If it were, then we must be some real ornery customers.
Why not just use a deus ex (saucer) machina? Wouldn't that be a lot friendlier, more in keeping with the BPW scenario -- fewer heads rolling? If anyone knew the answer to that it would have been 'Manhattan & MJ12 (Saucer)' Don the Harvard don, and my Dad's erstwhile buddy on the Steering Committee. It's fair to say that I spent the last ten years pursuing that lead, and here I am, still wondering. It was the Bomb that expedited the Internet, in how many different ways? Perhaps we were running a few years late for Y2C, and still are, for that matter. Bomb + Internet >= better than Saucer?! Why, you ask?

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7/21/02

Bomb + Internet >= better than a Saucer?!

If this is correct, then C S Lewis would have been a threat to the plan. If his Christian cabal had infiltrated across the river and across the pond, our Cambridge Pragmatists, the 'B' schoolers, ARPA, and even the Internet bubble, would have been a very different story. The Bomb kept a lot of things under a lid. The Bomb, sans Lewis, planted a very firm wedge this last century between two increasingly influential groups in this country -- the secular, technocratic intelligentsia vs. the fundamentalists . With a Lewis clone on this shore and no Bomb, the Y2C (i.e. second coming) would have had to have been mediated by a Saucer, rather than by this minimalist, 'prime directive' respecting Internet method. Sure, this is a big stretch, but a little cosmic 'pronoia' can go a long way in this game.
[Later: I think I'm trying to say that another Lewis, over here, back then, sans Bomb, might have led to a much less dramatic, more evolutionary paradigm shift toward theistic idealism. The dramatically punctuated shift possible right now is more in harmony with the eschatological drama of the prophetic tradition and with the original X-event. Otherwise we might have needed a deus ex machina to pump up the drama.]
Wouldn't the Saucer have been more fun? You know, the one that the Guy in the white robes gets out of, on the White House lawn, under the TV lights. Blinding! (Like the Greeks used to do in their dramas.) But, no, not more fun, think about it.
We're adults now, not little kids at a cosmic circus. This is the Best Possible World. We are about to be treated to participatory eschatology. Internet spells 'participation'.
The pendulum does swing between materialism and idealism. It has already swung back from materialism almost now to the middle, but it has considerably further to go. We can just pick up with theistic idealism, where we left off about a century ago. We just have to keep nudging that pendulum. The bursting of the economic bubble, the clash of civilizations, there will be plenty of drama. But the real drama will be right here, even on this site, or on one not terribly different. There will be the default immaterialist eschatology 'blog'. Opportunity is knocking. May the best bloke win. Someone will be able to talk to the Fundies and the Eggheads at the same time. No mean feat. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court?

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7/21/02

Idealist Cosmology



Over the years I have come to accept that mine was a lonely struggle against enormous odds, but when a few minutes ago I entered "immaterialist cosmology" into Google and obtained the portentous result of zero hits, even I was taken aback. Google covers, I believe, at least two billion pages. Even a monkey on a typewriter would have done better than that, as a simple calculation ought to show. As of now I am the first person to type that phrase on the web.
If this is not a cause for 'pronoia' I don't know what else could be. This seems reminiscent of an 'ovoid' model of revelation. The truth, like an ovum, has a membrane barrier, and only one sperm is destined to penetrate. That is how the cosmic communication channel is kept optimally noiseless. This also had something to do with the Aquarium's peculiar interaction with the CIA. There is a minimal cosmic conspiracy behind this mini-messianic, second coming, and our friendly spooks at that acronymous agency had to be minimally involved so that history would not repeat that sordid business with Herod and Pilate & Co. Otherwise lightning would strike from the NSA as soon as I hit the Front Page publish icon. I'll try it right now just for the heck of it. Don't switch the dial....
There, see, what'd I tell you. No lightning. Obviously Catfish has done his job. Good work, Ron!
But back to business. Let's try "idealist cosmology" -- four big hits, and I know one of them personally, Amit Goswami, that is, nice fellow. He is or was a physics professor at Oregon (U?) at Eugene, and was visiting family back in DC a few years ago.
There is just a slight problem. Like almost all of our immaterialist colleagues, he suffers from the Blavatsky syndrome. I was a virtual member of theosophy for a few years, but I realized that out of at least subliminal opportunism, Helena P. had compromised the central tenet of coherence, in capitulating to the materialist cosmology. She would have had to have been a saint not to have done that, and, as they say, she weren't no saint! If you don't have coherence, what the heck have you got?? Does this make me a saint? No, just one plucky spermatozoa, looking over his shoulder at the 800 pound gorillas in the wings, and the rest of us six billion beautiful swimmers.
Then what? Do I just sit here on this lonely cloud waiting for the Internet to gestate, gastrulate and what ever else it's supposed to do? Probably not.
There are a few other folk in here, I think. The only almost contemporary, just off the top, was Owen Barfield (1898-1997) (a must see site!). I should do some pages just on him. And don't they also say, at least in Rome, and probably also at McClean, the only good saint is a dead saint! There should be ample opportunity to ponder that little question. Just for now, please note, that before he came over here, Owen was a close friend of Lewis' at Oxford. There was a CS Lewis 'clone' over here, a stealth one compared to his friend Jack. The only weak link may have been the eschatology, but do see his 'final participation.' Also, I guess, he just didn't have that physics chutzpa. There is something about becoming overly familiar with nuclear physics and cosmology that can cause one to grow impatient with the literati. That's my excuse, anyway, for the 'buck has to stop somewhere' mentality.

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7/23/02

Holographic Universe

I almost forgot another recently departed 'saint', Michael Talbot and his 'Holographic Universe' (1991). On the Internet "holographic universe" yields 4,100 hits.
The bottom line for Michael and me is the "return to dreamtime," the final chapter of his book. This phrase comes from the Australian Aborigines, but it is a concept prevalent in shamanism, and in the pantheist or eastern tradition. He points out that the idea that creation is an illusion or Maya is even present in the Jewish tradition. If the world is God's dream then we can't return to the dreamtime because we are already there. What the shaman are referring to is the time when even our waking world was more dream-like. The world is a 'coagulum spiritus', from the alchemical tradition. This would also be an aspect of Barfield's 'final participation'. We take pains to point out that this in not a return to primitive or tribal existence. This is part of the global mind or 'noosphere' leading up to the Omega Point of Teilhard.
According to Michael, the return to dreamtime could be as minimal as a punctuation in the continuing evolution of human consciousness.
Unfortunately, when I search on "return to dreamtime" there are only 18 hits, and none of particular substance. The message from Michael has not penetrated our waking consciousness.

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7/23/02

Teilhard's Omega

"Teilhard & Omega" yields 2300 hits. I have to take issue with Teilhard de Chardin's (1888-1955) mind-matter dualism. At the Omega Point the transcending human spirit leaves the earth behind, rather like a used-up cinder. His spiritual Omega was simply appended to the scientific cosmology without regard for coherence, and so we are left with this unfortunate disposal or perhaps recycling problem. Nonetheless, half an eschaton is probably better than no eschaton at all. Let us see how well the word has gotten out.
All too well, it might seem! It appears that Teilhard's Omega has been hijacked by the technophiles, not a very difficult feat considering Teilhard's infatuation (or was it just a flirtation?) with matter and cosmic evolution. Dualism always threatens to revert to materialism.
The theme of accelerating biological and technological evolution converging on a singularity of some kind is widely entertained: Frank Tipler, Ray Kurzweil, Terrance McKenna, transhumanism, etc.
Just to give you a flavor of our coming attractions I quote from one of my favorite singularity sites:
"We are at far more of a "turning point" than even the one Capra envisions; in possession of far more of a "web of reinforcement" than Baines could hope for; the morphogenetic-field potential is far higher than Sheldrake predicts; the groundswell documented by Ferguson is about to become a tsunami, with a capability to take the planet off hold and close the "vision gap" in a way that is perhaps more comprehensive than conceived by Barbara Marx Hubbard."
It is Terrance's view that the singularity involves the spawning of the psychedelic mushrooms who just use our brains to help them build intergalactic transportation for their own fungal genes, a decidedly comic twist of fate from Dawkin's selfish gene. No doubt the fungi have a more generous complement of DNA than do our own, recently discovered to be, impoverished chromosomes.
Our technotopians have less sense of humor. These cosmic Spinmeisters have taken our worst dystopian nightmare of a mechanized future and given it a sugar, or is that a silicon, coating. Our computers steal our souls and take off for the big Omega in the sky. Quite frankly I would prefer to have my DNA hijacked by a toadstool, than to have my soul stolen by an adding machine on steroids. The former is much more romantic, not to say, psychedelic. The mushrooms are more likely to keep us around for company, and at least we share a carboniferous ancestry.

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7/24/02

Tipler's Omega

If you care to see the best possible secular future, you can piece it together out of these, and take a look at the sponsor too, curious.
But, of all the secular futurists, Frank Tipler stands out, and, incidentally, he and I had the same advisor in graduate school. His vision is the most radical, and, yet, it is only a logical extension of that of his futurist colleagues. He is also the leading expert on Anthropics.
If you follow the anthropic argument to its logical conclusion, you will actually end up in the Aquarium. Frank did not quite manage to take the last couple of steps, or he just did not put 2 and 2 together.
The strong Anthropic principle, as he defines it, states that observers are a necessary aspect of any actual universe. Consider this rationale, which is my own adaptation:
It comes down to the quantum measurement problem. No event is a real event, unless it is observed. Observed by what? There must at least be a record of it. But can this record be temporary? If it is merely temporary, who is to say that it ever existed, when it no longer exists? All physical records are necessarily temporary, because they will eventually be destroyed by entropy. There has to be an external, eternal observer, which is non-physical by definition. In as much as we are aspects or reflections of the cosmic mind, we are that. A major bit of evidence is the lack of any physical explanation for the endurance and accessibility of our seemingly limitless, long-term memories, but we needn't dwell on that just now.
All existence has the teleological imperative to be observed. This should be viewed as a corollary of relationalism. At the Alpha beginning of the universe we have the fine-tuning of the physics. At the Omega end we have the universe being uniformly populated by technologically enhanced observers. Everything of significance is recorded in the cosmic computer which experiences an infinite subjective existence. In fact all of us are 'resurrected' [sic] in the guts of that machine. That is the silicon version of the eschatology of the prophetic tradition, as Frank is anxious to point out.
[7/26 -- Note that just now we have switched back to Frank's merely physical, computer simulated observers.]
In fact, we have no way of knowing whether this now is a real existence, or merely one of those simulated existences. And with only a modicum of reprogramming we could ensure ourselves of the Best Possible (simulated) World.
But then why do we have to bother with all that silicon? Once we realize that the mind-matter balance can tip either way, there is very little need for Frank's materialist story line. In a relational, idealist world, and what other kind can there be, cosmic coherence comes for free. The necessary eternal Self has only to manage to pour its subjective essence into its creaturely reflections. It is no mean feat, but it needs to happen only once in eternity.

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7/25/02

Blood in the Water?



In this age of the Internet, the saving of the world may come down to just pushing the right buttons. A case in point is my catching the scent of blood in the water. I had been using Chalmers and Google to follow the debate on naturalism, but I wasn't entering the right search terms in Google until the day before yesterday. This is when I entered 'naturalism & physicalism'. I began to notice a new tone in the recent postings. I also noticed the absence of response.
I had been relying too much on David Chalmers' listing of online papers on consciousness, and, as I have said before, it was appearing that the debate was getting nowhere. His so-called 'hard problem' was turning out to be a red herring, or perhaps it is just too hard. The real problem was the concomitant dismissal of the 'easy problem', his characterization of which had been too readily accepted by his partisan followers. I too was not paying sufficient attention to the real debate over naturalism.
The real problem with focusing too much on consciousness, from the present perspective, is that it deals only with qualities or 'qualia', and these qualia do not lend themselves to analysis, and thus they do not foment debate as readily as does the linguistic side of our mental capacities.
I am only now beginning to re-scan the first 200 items in the Google search given above. The general tenor of the arguments is that 'folk psychology' is turning out to be a tougher nut to crack than the naturalists had been assuming. The coherence of natural language depends crucially on the presuppositions of folk psychology. To undermine those presuppositions is to undermine the logical foundations of language. The naturalists have been caught trying to saw off the limb upon which they, and we are sitting. The more they try to argue these points, the deeper they dig themselves into this logical hole.
As Quentin Smith has indirectly pointed out, the naturalists are realizing that they are playing a losing hand in this poker game, and so they try to leave the table. They endeavor to return to their more traditional, piecemeal analyses. What seems to be new in just the last few years is that their theistic colleagues, about whom Quentin warns, are picking up the scent of a possible major intellectual victory. For the first time in literally centuries, the intellectual shoe is on the theistic foot.
Is this not a tempest in a teapot? Yes, it is, so far. But it does threaten to spill out into the public arena. Right now it is as if the theistic philosophers, those newly hired, junior faculty members, are not quite able to believe the enormity of the victory that seems to be about to fall into their laps.
This situation goes far beyond the issue of the intellectual liberalism and tolerance of the post-modern ethos. It is now looking as though that liberal stance may have just been a deliberate ploy on the part of the rear guard of the secular intellectual establishment in anticipation of their impending downfall. The crude scientism that still undergirds the superficial posturing of the postmodern' liberals' has never had an ounce of tolerance in its blood.
I am predicting that academic heads will roll. There will be a bloody intellectual battle. The reverberations of which will shake the global psyche in a manner that will recall of prophecies of old. Obviously, the proof can only be in the pudding.
[Later in the day:]
Not until the theists return to the philosophical idealism of the transcendentalists will there be any motive to question the scientific cosmology in toto. Merely sliding back into traditional western dualism will not signal a dramatic shift.
The conservative Christians are far from considering immaterialism, but if their Intelligent Design gambit continues to falter, then a few of them might consider something more radical and comprehensive than metaphysical dualism. That would be a start. Perhaps the sterling credentials of C. S. Lewis will be instrumental in persuading some to take another look at idealism.
[7/31]
I had some success with the 'naturalism & physicalism' search combination, and now I need to find the magical combination that will pick out those on the cutting edge of immaterialism. That would be a major breakthrough for me, and it would seem to be a relatively straightforward task, but the goal eludes me, nonetheless.

From Intangibles to Memes



In a few days I'll be leaving for a couple of weeks, so I will have to cover several topics even more briefly than usual.
Where were we? I last spoke of intangibles and teleology. The connection was that intangibles were most likely to enter into the causal matrix under the guise of final or teleological causes.
The topic of intangibility came up in connection with searching for the cutting edge of immaterialism. If the materialists are unable to eliminate abstractions from reality, then idealism will have its big toe in their door, and the materialists will have to take a much more defensive strategy.
Where abstractions are their most potent is in the phenomenal power of communication and language. One can hardly broach the topic of linguistics without running into Chomsky. His concept of a special human faculty for language that encodes a Universal Grammar is a concept that does not sit well at all with the Darwinists. A major counter offensive against the idea of a language organ has been mounted by the Darwinists, being led by Dennett and Dawkins. Their banner is the 'Constructivist Manifesto'.
As mentioned earlier, Jerry Fodor is the leader of the 'New Rationalists' with his nearly Platonic view of innate ideas. Dennett, in Darwin's Dangerous Idea, sees Fodor, Chomsky and Gould as traitors to the cause of scientific progress. He sees them as being fellow travelers with the creationists. Fortunately for Darwin, the creationists are being very slow to jump into bed with these luminaries. Until Dennett outed these crypto creationists, their subtlety was effective.
Thinking of Fodor's innate ideas got me onto the topic of Dawkins' 'memes'. Considering the source, I had been reluctant to embrace them. The idea of memes seemed to be the antithesis of innate ideas, and to be a reductionistic answer to idealism. But now I am having second thoughts. Perhaps memetics is taking on a life of its own. I understand that Dawkins is becoming wary of his promiscuous intellectual progeny.
Here's the scoop. On the reductionist side one can look as memes as just glorified computer viruses. But that view holds very little water. In the final analysis memes are not strings of code. The consensus view sees no real distinction between memes and ideas. Does this mean that they descend upon us from a Platonic heaven? Yes and no.
I don't mind seeing memes as the atoms of pantheism. Susan Blackmore, in 'The Meme Machine' shocked her academic colleagues by declaring that all of us are just collections of memes. Why not let ideas live? Why follow Plato in supposing that the only good idea is an embalmed idea? Let my ideas live free, again! Our brains are a living colony of neurons. I trust it is not a penal colony. Maybe the Creator is trying to tell us something. The religious establishment likes us to think that we are a penal colony, but maybe we are the colony of God, as every mystic insists.
There is some fundamental logistics to work out here. Let me sleep on it.
[8/9]
During my meme hunting I again landed on Kheper. I particularly recommend The Divinisation Of Matter. It contains some useful eschatology that I would like to return to later.
My being a collection of memes may not be such a bad idea as long as there is an optimal stability and there is a goodly mix of transcendental memes, whatever they might be. Our personas change in significant fashion over a lifetime and over lifetimes if that is applicable. If we allow memes to take on a monadic, microcosmic, holistic, holographic intelligence of their own, that might expedite many things. This would be like object oriented programming and distributed intelligence on a cosmic scale.
The principal logistics issue would be cloning. Do you and I share the same intelligent memes? And how do memes transform themselves? How much of a meme's identity is carried in its external vs. internal relations? How do our individual mind spaces overlap with the universal space of memes? Our individual minds are supposed to be an illusion, after all. We need a mereology of memes.
We are mutually shifting vectors in the Hilbert space of memes. We exist in entangled superpositions that are mutually observational. The cosmic love telos of the rapture is a grandmother meme. They don't get much bigger than that.
[Later:]
We need a morphogenetic theory for memes. From a holistic point of view, they cannot be given discrete identities. There is a meme or a mind field. We then also need a perspectival theory for them. Each meme will see its partners differently. These monads will have windows, no? If one changes they all change, but then there also has to be an atemporal perspective. Each meme would have an interactive time-line.
How does relationalism work in memedom? For the memes, its not what they know, or their content that counts. It is how they relate to the rest. But there must be some substantive content or structure, nonetheless.
How does the concept of Maya play out in memedom? Despite the windows, there must be a lot of mirroring that goes on. How does memory work, or how can it be represented here? How can time be represented? Perhaps there are memes for time and space. Perhaps the monadology would be helpful here. I'm presently reviewing the Stanford entry on Leibniz.
[8/10]
Are memes real? Are patterns real? Only in a holistic, relational sense.
Genes contain real information only in a particular biological context. Memes are much more contextual and holistic.
Are relations real? Mechanical relations are real for a mechanist. Functional relations are real for a functionalist.
Is distributed intelligence real, as in 'Six Characters...'? Is it all parasitical, like memes? It would help if we knew how that worked.
[8/11]
It is said that memes are reductionistic. But are they reducible, and if so, to what? Has anyone ever seen half a meme? How many memes are there? Where are the chemical formulas?
Has there ever been a reduction? Even 'bachelor' has not been reduced. Every word is context dependent. That must mean that there is a substantial manifold of meaning. It is a manifold with a partial life of its own. We are all just parts of it. That is our reduction. This manifold also has its holographic and microcosmic aspects.
But can a thought have meaning outside of a thinker? How are thoughts and memories stored? How communicated? Each idea might just be a perspective on the cosmos. But then there is still a percept and perceiver distinction. Even the lowliest thought has some independence of the thinker. Are we not just the shepherds of our thoughts? And God is our shepherd.
How do we overcome the distinction between perception and projection? There would likely be circularity in the form of feedback. Each thought or being is a temporary node in the stretching of the separational matrix of creation. The stretching relaxes in the frame of the eschaton.
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8/8/02

The Observation Factor



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