Best Possible World: Gateway to the Millennium and Eschaton



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I doubt that ideas and essences could ever be fully distinguished, and certainly not idealism from essentialism.
At the opposite end of the spectrum would be the anti-essentialism of nominalism and behaviorism.
Perhaps the most significant issue of essentialism concerns the existence of the soul, and closely related to this is the question of personal identity.
It should be noted that Physics has a very strong essentialist bent of a Pythagorean sort.
Not to be abstemious, let me hit on the soul, up front. The reality of the soul derives directly from the reality of God. The reality of God derives from the reality of love. There is a cosmic pecking order. The soul is fairly high on the list, but our essential being or presence is to be found in love. That is the one source of all being. It is conceivable that my soul might come between me and love. In that case the soul has got to go, and it would be the last thing to be jettisoned. People speak of the 'cleansing' of the soul. A cleansed soul is a transparent soul. A transparent soul is a non-existent soul. Cosmic love is the ultimate soul cleanser. It is the singular essence of everything.
All essence and identity derives directly from the requisites of love. Nothing else would make sense, not in a million years.
It's that simple sports fans. Whatever you have learned that does not support this necessary, singular truth is less than worthless. It's what puts everything into a coherent perspective. If you truly understand this, you will never have to understand anything else. Indeed, there is nothing else that can be understood.
Oh dear! Now that I have said everything that can be said, what is there to do? It's all just picking up the pieces: cleaning up around the Ranch, from here on.
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Gyula Klima, in the final section of Contemporary "Essentialism" vs. Aristotelian Essentialism, provides a strong defense of essences. All it takes is one essence to destroy materialism, even if that sole essence happens to be material.
Contemporary materialists are wont to point out that there is no such thing as life, no vital essence. But should we not infer then that it is impossible to die? One could believe that, if one chooses to be absurd. Much too much of our valuable time has been spent playing games with skeptics, usually on their irrational terms.
I like this one: Topological Essentialism, Casati & Varzi. This gets down to the nitty gritty of parts vs. wholes and holes, too. It does make the whole (sic) notion of atomism seem more than a bit silly. If we each had a nickel for every stone placed on the grave of materialism we would all be millionaires. No, we would inherit heaven.
Perhaps, historically, the last political hurrah of materialism will be situated in the 'anti-essentialist' social critiques of some feminists, homosexuals, etc. A prevalent undercurrent of this sentiment is in evidence in this list. This is a misguided, myopic way to confront essential (sic) social problems. There is also some evidence of a corrective response: 'A Critique of Social Constructionism and Postmodern Queer Theory' by Rictor Norton : Essentialism. Let us hope that the cooler heads prevail. In this regard, note The Blank Slate- The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker. Be treated to spectacle of a materialist defending essences. True, Steven is allegedly just talking genetic 'essences' and he does still believe in qualia according to one reviewer. Many strive for coherence, few succeed. It is also eminently debatable whether Darwinism eliminates natural kinds. OK, perhaps this is the next topic.

[11/6]
We'll come back to essentialism soon, and in the meantime take a look at 'Why are natural kinds supposed to stay fixed?' to see some alternatives to Darwinian anti-essentialism.


I want now, however, to consider mental essentialism or conceptualism. This is the part of essentialism and idealism that is the most difficult to refute. It might also be called meaningism. What I believe is fundamental is felt meaning. This is a decidedly holistic view of meaning. The whole problem with Plato was that he had an atomic view of essences. I don't know why. This atomism has been a tremendous drag on idealism since. These atoms of meaning were the seeds of idealism's self-destruction. Hegel's dialectical method should have corrected the atomism, but is was not until the post-reductive holism of Quine that things begin to turn around. It is feeling and reasoning that account for the coherence and holism of essences, not to mention teleology.
This looks like a good introduction: Nominalism, Realism, Conceptualism. Notice especially the incarnational critique of Platonism.
From one perspective, conceptualism is a form of representationalism. How does this relate to reductionism? Are both concepts and representations taken to be reducible?
Realism, Nominalism, and Conceptualism provides a more concise exposition than the one above, and it deals more explicitly with the reduction issue.
Conceptualizing often entails abstracting. From a subjective point of view, the process of abstraction is generally found to be implicit. It seldom explicitly involves verbal analysis. The resulting concepts are holistic and open ended. Dictionary definitions fall far short of capturing our ability to elaborate even simple concepts on the spur of the moment.
More comprehensive is 'Meaning and the Problem of Universals, A Kant-Friesian Approach'.
If a representation or concept is reducible to something else then we need an explanation of how we recognize or process it.
If there is no representation then we have 'direct' realism which, with a bit more candor, would be called magical realism, owing to its explicit lack of explanation.

[11/7]
It should be noted that the modern version of conceptualism is synonymous with the Higher Order Thought Theory of consciousness (HOTT). On the other hand, direct realism is used as a proxy for the connectionist theories of mind.


The question then is whether the HOTT can be given a reductionist interpretation. The fact that the HOTT is prevalent in the AI community would seem ensure its reductionist pedigree. However, the increasingly ontological and metaphysical cast to AI might suggest otherwise. The processing of concepts requires a comprehensive ontological schema. Is such a schema reducible?
Let's get to the nitty-gritty: ontologies & reductionism (523 hits).
What species of reduction would be accomplished in the competent computerized processing of concepts?
Another question is the anti-reductive pedigree of holism. Has it not also become a proxy for connectionism?

[11/8]
I find this to be an interesting paper: Ontological Progress in Science by Burian & Trout. Superficially they make a very modest claim. It is simply that the theoretical entities of science have causal powers. In as much as some of these entities may not be elementary particles, then, by just that much has reductionism been defeated.


1. The ontology of science is intensely compositional and hierarchical.
2. Although much of science is reductionistic, the reductionism in question is generally not eliminative.
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We shall utilize this framework of theses to suggest some preliminary responses to the sceptical arguments of such philosophers as Larry Laudan and Bas van Fraassen against the idea that there is ontological progress in science. There is not space on this occasion to attempt a proper rebuttal of the arguments they employ to undercut scientific realism, but the general line that we would pursue in constructing such rebuttals will become clear in the course of this paper.
We have been greatly influenced by many recent writings attacking and defending scientific realism [1]....
Boy, have I been dumb or what? I never thought of using scientific realism to defeat scientific reductionism and materialism. How could I have been so dense? What is the date of this paper? Who is winning now? Some times my obtuseness takes my breath away. How many times have I conflated scientific realism with scientific materialism? At least twice a day for the last thirty years. I doubt that I'm the only dummy. Has there been a communication breakdown here? I even took a philosophy course that included scientific realism at Maryland in 1977, and I sure don't recall the issue of reductionism. What is going on?
Richard M. Burian and J. D. Trout, "Ontological Progress in Science." The Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 25 (1995): 177-202.
This is Richard's only publication listed as online. Same goes for Jack, but he does have four books listed, all more or less on topic of realism.
Now I am understanding that this realism is the thesis of Naturalism and distinguishes it from Physicalism. It also opposes itself to the reductive Unity of Science thesis.
Take a look at CONTEMPORARY MATERIALISM: A READER Edited by Paul Moser and J.D. Trout (Routledge, 1995). An interesting lineup.
Yet another nail in the coffin of materialism. How much does the cadaver have to stink before we adjourn this wake? Haven't we run out of beer yet?
On the Unity of Science question, undoubtedly people are (deliberately?) conflating the methodological and metaphysical issues.
Burian & Trout put considerable stock in Ian Hacking. Let's look at his book review articles. Sorry, I guess we won't. You have to pay. Am I the only one getting the feeling there is a bit of a blockage here?
Take a look at The Social Construction of What by Ian Hacking (HUP 2000). This reminds me of the Science Wars with physicist Alan Sokal: physicalism -- good, psychologism -- bad! Scientific realism is not allowed to trespass beyond the boundaries carved out by the dictates of the American Physical Society ('We invented the BOMB, or did we discover it?? Don't upset us, and definitely don't confuse us!'). Are those boundaries "physical", Alan? And what about mathematical physics? Is mathematics a "construct", or what?
I feel like I've been missing out on some fun. Nothing like playing catch-up!
Here's a review of Ian's book: 'Phony Science Wars' by Richard Rorty:
Philosophers like Latour and Kuhn, wary of the idea that reality has an intrinsic nature that scientific inquiry is destined to reveal, are inclined to say that science might have done as good a job if it had never come up with either quarks or genes. As they see it, scientific progress is like biological evolution: no particular life-form is destined to emerge, and lots of different ones might have turned out to be equally good at survival.
A useful description of constructivism. And now at length:
....In this view, scientific theories are tools that do a job. They do it well, but some other tools might perhaps have done the same job equally well.
As Hacking says, many scientists find this view absurd. He himself is dubious about it, but he is inclined to be even more dubious about the idea that reality has an intrinsic structure that science accurately describes. These latter doubts are aroused by the notorious, persistent, seemingly insoluble perplexities to which the notion of "intrinsic" gives rise. The most familiar of these is the question How can we ever hope to compare reality as it is in itself, naked and undescribed, with our descriptions of it? Many philosophers have given up on the notions of "intrinsic" and "in itself," as a result of their failure to answer that question.
The stalemate that Hacking brilliantly describes but does not try to break is between many scientists' intuition of the inevitability of quarks and many philosophers' suspicion that the claim of inevitability makes sense only if the idea of the intrinsic structure of reality makes sense. This teeter-totter between conflicting intuitions is, Hacking rightly says, a genuine intellectual problem. Which answer one gives to his third question -- about the source of the stability of the most reliable bits of science -- is likely to be a matter of which side of the seesaw has most recently descended.
These alternating intuitions have been in play ever since Protagoras said "Man is the measure of all things" and Plato rejoined that the measure must instead be something nonhuman, unchanging, and capitalized -- something like The Good, or The Will of God, or The Intrinsic Nature of Physical Reality. Scientists who, like Steven Weinberg, have no doubt that reality has an eternal, unchanging, intrinsic structure which natural science will eventually discover are the heirs of Plato. Philosophers like Kuhn, Latour, and Hacking think that Protagoras had a point, and that the argument is not yet over.
The most vocal and inflamed participants in the so-called science wars are treating the latest version of this fine old philosophical controversy as a big deal. In the very long run, perhaps, it will prove to be one. Maybe someday the idea of human beings answering to an independent authority called How Things Are in Themselves will be obsolete. In a thoroughly de-Platonized, fully Protagorean culture the only answerability human beings would recognize would be to one another. It would never occur to them that "the objective" could mean more than "the agreed-upon upshot of argument." In such a culture we would have as little use for the idea of the intrinsic structure of physical reality as for that of the will of God. We would view both as unfortunate and obsolete social constructions.
Rorty does not mince words here as to his own Protagorean proclivities: I am also on this teeter-totter, tilting toward theism, but realizing that without a Creation you don't got no Creator.
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This has been an interesting discursion, but where does it leave us with reductionism? Obviously reductionism is being given short shrift in the Science Wars, but I submit that it lurks in the arena.
First, we must revisit the divide between the Anglo-American and Continental traditions. I think it's fair to say that the Continental tradition is older, more multicultural and perhaps even 'wiser', certainly more tolerant. Pluralism is its stock-in-trade. Their closest approach to absolutism was in Hegelianism. Descartes was opinionated, but also managed to make the world safe for both Science and Religion. Britain bequeathed us Newton and Darwin, not to mention Hume. The Anglo-American version of pluralism is a dichotomy between scientific absolutism and philosophic skepticism. Yes, we do have a streak of Pragmatism, and now an imported Postmodernism. The Continental pluralism naturally favors phenomenology and existential subjectivism. We Anglos, though, want to be more objective and tough-minded, either in our realism or in our skepticism, but not subjectivism. The frontier spirit of man into the wilderness was part of this tough-mindedness. John Wayne just doesn't make it as a phenomenologist. I can understand from whence John cometh.

[11/9]
Yes, I'm having some difficulty finding the proper focus, but please bear with me. This is not a trivial pursuit. There are uncharted waters here that run deep.


We have discussed the Anglo-American experience in the history of ideas, but there is also an American (US) angle. On the questions of 'creationism' and 'right-to-life' there is a unique US experience. In both cases there is a widespread, emotion laden, political confrontation between contrasting metaphysical views. This dualistic, dichotomous type of division has a long history that has somehow been exacerbated here. Some of that dynamic and psychology may be relevant to the issue of reduction and its ultimate resolution. My gut feeling is that if something does transpire around this issue, there are likely to be some historical parallels; although, if there is a line in the sand, it will have a different direction in a different location.
In the preface to The Social Construction of What Ian Hacking points out that the Science War of Sokal's provenance has generated two very different responses: here and elsewhere. Here it has been blood in the streets, elsewhere it is 'bemusement'.
Also relevant here is the nascent issue of Intelligent Design. This thesis represents a marked advance beyond Creationism, moving somewhat in the direction being suggested in these pages. But still there is an obvious materialistic, or mechanistic emphasis of ID that sets us apart. Their notion of irreducible complexity ought to be suggestive, however. Whether there may ever be a direct intellectual link between that mechanistic irreducibility and this metaphysical irreducibility remains to be seen. It might seem a small step, but it could turn out to be a giant leap. Naturally, I will be paying close attention to the former, to both its substance and its form.
I have been pointing to several related issues and intellectual trends. The question for us is where will the reduction question most likely come to the surface. Somehow the Science War is just missing this mark. How could it come so close without a direct hit?
In the Science War the issue is between social constructivism and reductive realism. The closest thing to our non-reductive realism is found in the neo-rationalism of Fodor and the 'genetic' epistemology Chomsky and Piaget. As noted previously, Dan Dennett has already accused Jerry of providing ammunition for Creationists. I'm not sure how Jerry and his fellow neo-rationalists are reacting to this accusation. I would like to see the Creationists eventually take up this issue, but I'm not holding my breath. It would be preferable to initiate an intellectual discussion, as on these pages, before involving the sectarian interests. Let me reiterate that the heterodox theology involved in immaterialism and neo-rationalism is going to be a major obstacle for any sectarian, and that is probably just as well.
I would rather see the life-science community take up non-reductionism first. However, their escalating confrontation with the sectarians over 'irreducible complexity' may already have rendered that scenario unlikely. Our potential arena is correspondingly small. This has advantages as well as disadvantages.
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Sometimes I forget about Marx, but do recall that I have addressed the Canton branch of the Society for the Study of the Dialectics Nature. Fred Engels was staunchly non-reductive about his materialism. Yet he managed to avoid Platonism. Yes, he was an emergentist but he also believed in the inevitability of history. So there was an element of teleology. How did he avoid the chain of being? What about Darwin? There were supposedly some smart Marxists. But there is a fundamental irrationality here. Does that mean there were a lot of smart people who were blinded by emotion laden ideology. You bet'chya'. Are scientific materialists and non-reductive postmodernists similarly blinded? Well, you tell me:
[I'm doing anti-reductionism, for those of you keeping score]
Emergent Representations: Dialectical Materialism and the Philosophy of Mind -- Joe Faith, 2000
Philosophically speaking, Darwin solved two key problems. He not only naturalised functional explanation in biology but also naturalised normativity, i.e. he found a way of deriving normative properties from non-normative properties - oughts from is’s. Darwin explained why hearts beat and also why hearts ought to beat. He found a way of determining what made a heart a good heart.
In the last chapter I argued that Marx discovered a mechanism underlying social evolution that is analogous to the mechanism that Darwin discovered underlying natural evolution; and showed how we can use this to naturalise functional explanations in sociology. In this chapter I explore whether it is also possible to use the same theory to naturalise social norms, such as our criteria of truth, goodness, and beauty.
If Joe is right, God is wrong. Place your bets, sports fans!

[11/10]


I'm still trying to get a handle on Joe's view of reductionism. So far he is leaning toward Strong AI, which would suggest that any emergence would have to be purely epistemic, which would not even qualify for conceptualism.
[I'll have to break here for Ravens v. Bengals. Don't go away.]

[11/11]


I'm not getting far with Mr. Faith. He obdurately eschews metaphysics. The representational emergentism that he advertises is left dangling. He, of course, rules out skyhooks, but then the existential status of the floating representations is not specified. His realism is strictly pragmatic. I'm under the impression that Engels was metaphysically less timid with his dialectics of nature.
The upshot is that robots stand to acquire conscious minds, given the properly pragmatic engineering input. Joe is down on 'East Coast' theorizing about symbol systems. This puts Joe in the Transhumanist circle and in flagrant violation of any human ethic, worker or otherwise. Is this befuddlement of Marxist thought just sloppy thinking, or another example of intellectual anti-rationalism, as if more of same could possibly serve a purpose.
At best, Joe is a holistic mechanic. I believe that Engels was a bit more ambitious than this.
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Reductionism redux: downward causation. This is good: PHYSICALISM, EMERGENCE AND DOWNWARD CAUSATION -- Richard J. Campbell & Mark H. Bickhard (2001):
The critical point is that quantum field processes have no existence that is independent of their configurations: quantum fields are processes, and can only exist in various patterns. Those patterns come in many sizes, of many different physical and temporal scales, some as large as a human person, or a social institution - but they are all equally patterns of processes. There is no ‘bottoming out’ level in quantum field theory - it is patterns of process all the way down, and all the way up.
That is the rub. To be a reductive physicalist (or an ‘eliminative materialist’) at all, is to believe that ‘higher-level’ entities are nothing other than complex configurations of lower-level entities, in such a way that the higher-level properties and powers are explicable in principle in terms of the properties and powers of the lower-level entities (or at least, determined by them). Consequently, some entity is reducible just in case it is a configuration of lower-level entities. But now the supposed base-level entities are nothing but configurations of process as well! If there is no ‘bottoming out’, there are no bases to which all other phenomena can, even in principle, be reduced. Our reductive physicalist has lost the ground on which he wants to stand. If being configurational makes a property or power epiphenomenal, then everything is an epiphenomenon. That is the reductio ad absurdum of this position.
This is an intelligently provocative restatement of the non-locality of QM. It makes Steven Weinberg's contrary statement in Reductionism Redux (NYRB, 1995) appear disingenuous, to put it euphemistically. Steven certainly knows better. His professional colleagues who silently tolerate such blatantly biased editorializing will not escape censure, either.
Back to Richard and Mark:
Reductionist physicalism is false precisely because there are no elementary physical particles that can serve, in the required sense, as ‘emergence bases’. Since everything is an organization of quantum field processes, more complex organizations of processes can yield emergent properties and powers, but it is the higher-level organization itself that is doing the work, not whatever might be its ‘constituents’. (That is why we earlier emphasized Kim’s invocation of relations and configurations.) Any field view destroys the seduction into a micro-particle reduction because configurational and organizational properties make differences in causal power, not just in the working out of lower-order causal power.
This may be valid, but it needs to be fleshed out. What may be even more significant is their exposure of Jaegwon Kim as favoring at least one substantive form of emergence, and they cite another author with the same opinion. If this holds up, it is the most damaging case against reductionism, yet. Kim is the most thoughtful and conscientious of the reductionists of which I am aware. A far cry from Steve.
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