Best Possible World: Gateway to the Millennium and Eschaton



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Darwinians often complain that such criticisms are based on a misunderstanding. It is not chance, they say, that bears the explanatory weight in their theory, it is the selection principle. Natural selection is said to act as a ratchet, locking into place the functional gains that are made, so that each new trait can be viewed as a small incremental step with an acceptable probability. But what Darwinians forget is that the way a ratchet increases probabilities and imposes directionality is through its own structure. In the present context, the structure of the ratchet is simply the functional organization of life. Darwinians are only entitled to claim that the explanatory burden of their theory lies on the selection "ratchet," thus avoiding the combinatorial explosion problem, provided that they also acknowledge that the structure of this ratchet consists precisely in the intrinsic functional correlations among the parts of the organism. But now they have merely assumed the very functional organization that they claimed to be able to explain, thus sneaking teleology in by the back door.
Has it really taken us a century and half to finally articulate these most basic facts of life? The Darwinians have been having a free logic lunch all these years. When these chickens come home to roost, it will be a hot time in the coop. Did I say 'two years' from Columbia day? I'm being very generous!

[2/6]
It appears that ISCID (International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design) could be an important resource. It is more open to metaphysical speculation than are the IDers. It does not have a theological agenda, as do the IDers, despite their frequent protests to the contrary. I will be looking out for connections between ISCID and the biosemiotics groups previously discussed. I can't recall having seen this site before now. I may have confused it with one of the many ID sites. I'm going to be looking over the rest of their material. James Barham appears to be the most relevant for me. I gather that the IDers are ambivalent about ISCID. They simply don't know what to make of it. Wait 'til they grok on biosemiotics. The fields of biosemiotics, informational ontology, and complexity theory seem to borrow in part from cybernetics and systems theory (see here, here, etc.(12,000 hits)). I am a bit rusty in this area. The whole game is about transcending the epistemic-ontic divide. It is a very tricky business.


I am struck by Barham's take on reproduction. If he is correct about its being irreducibly normative, that puts normativity at the center of Darwinism. Notice Rex Kerr's response, posted on 2/4:
But by using words like "normative" here, we're immediately in danger of being misled. Does present-day physics and chemistry have the conceptual resources for a complete understanding of how living things work? Yes, as far as they go. It is inconvenient to use the language of physics and chemistry to describe systems of such complexity, though, so we use additional language. Barham seems to be implying that our use of additional language imposes some deep philosophical burden upon us.
Yes, that is precisely Jim's point. Jim's respondents don't quite appreciate the depth of the burden. Perhaps it could stand further explication. I was missing this simple point myself until Jim's remarks hit me over the head with it yesterday.
Biological reproduction is an open ended, indefinable concept. It greatly transcends even the basic concept of copying, which is itself fraught with ambiguity. Just look at the concept of 'copy'. It is an almost entirely normative in meaning, unless taken in a purely abstract, digital context. And if taken in its most abstract form, you would then have to contend with the deep metaphysical issues surrounding Leibniz' Identity of Indiscernibles.
Does that mean that biological reproduction is metaphysical? Yes and no. Any particular instance of it could be perfectly physical or mechanical. But Darwinians are not talking about instances. They do and must appeal to a universal concept of reproduction. Evolution is not an instance of anything. If it is anything at all it is a very general pattern of inheritance.
Darwinians assert that reproduction, along with mutation, is the basic 'mechanism' of evolution:
Reproduction + mutation --> (cause) evolution?
But is reproduction a causal entity? Is it fair to say that hurricanes cause destruction? It is fair for a layperson to say that, but that does not make it a scientific statement. Hurricanes happen and destruction happens, and there is some correlation between the two, but that is not science: it is not cause and effect.
Darwinians claim to understand evolution. Biologists claim to understand reproduction. Let us grant that biologists do have a good grasp of many of the particulars of 'reproduction'. The problem comes when you subsequently attempt to employ 'reproduction' as an ontological or causal entity.
The most that Darwinians can legitimately claim is that reproduction happens and evolution happens, and the two processes seem to be correlated. Who knows where the causality resides?
I am a teleologist. From my perspective evolution causes and comes logically prior to reproduction. It is the primordial, metaphysical necessity of the Telos that causes and ultimately explains the emergence of biological and reproductive phenomena.
My teleological claim is just as much justified by the observed correlation between evolution and reproduction as is the Darwinian claim.
Darwinians appeal to our mechanistic and materialistic sensibilities. Evolution is alleged by them to be reduced to reproduction and mutation, both of which may or may not be further reducible. They postulate a hierarchy of phenomena where all the causation is mechanistic or 'upward'.
Is their claim just a 'facon de parler'? I think not. I think that they think they have worked it all down to the 'brass tacks', to the 'nuts and bolts'. There is nothing in the phenomenon of evolution to suggest whether the causes are upward or downward or both. The only thing to suggest otherwise is the Darwinian appeal to an illegitimate ontology of 'reproduction' and many other emergent entities which are every bit as much epistemic in substance as they are ontic. As such they are neither physical nor mechanical and may not legitimately be appealed to as if they were, or even might be!
James Barham is pointing out that the Darwinians need to get serious about their logic and ontology, after a century and a half of very loose talk.
[The substance of the above argument is posted on the ISCID site.]
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Now may be the time to look at 'evolutionary computing'. The implicit and sometimes explicit claim is that by using the technique of 'natural selection' we can spontaneously produce artificial and perhaps even natural intelligence. Thus might evolutionary computing demonstrate the truth of Darwinism. This could also go a long way toward substantiating the tenets of Transhumanism. Perhaps the force is not with us. It is with artificial life. We had better take a look before it is too late! [This is postponed temporarily in favor of the ISCID forum.]

[2/9]
The conversation on the ISCID forum continued through yesterday. I invited Mark Szlazak to compare and contrast his views with those of Gregg Rosenberg, whom Mark has quoted several times. Gregg shows up on a list of active anti-reductionists that I was putting together back in November.


While waiting for Mark to respond, I might as well attempt my own assessment of Gregg's work. I have only briefly reviewed his book, so first, by way of placing his work in an historical, intellectual context, let me start with some general comments on the status of anti-reductionism.
Active anti-reductionism presently exists in three principal areas. Two of these are driven mainly by philosophical considerations. On the Anglo-American side there is the continuing fall-out from the several failures of the analytical enterprise that arose near the beginning of the last century, which in its turn was an attempt to ground philosophy with a few simple and self-evident truths, rather in the spirit of Descartes and of axiomatic mathematics. Striking form within its ranks, Godel and Quine had managed to effectively derail this enterprise by mid-century. Since then, analytical philosophy has lived on, mainly as a style of thinking and writing. Several people on the above mentioned list pursue their anti-reductionism in the analytical style. Gregg is one of them.
On the 'Continental' side there is a different philosophical story. There it was Kant who set the stage, and it is a more complicated story. Kant's strategy for dealing with Humean skepticism was mostly one of containment. According to his 'critical idealism', only Science could be protected from Hume's skepticism. The attempts to rebuild metaphysics after Kant had to borrow heavily from the few glimmers of his idealism that he allowed to shine through his critical armor. Out of this reconstruction came the doubly contrary Dialectics of Hegel and Marx. What survives now is Phenomenology, which is a curious amalgam of Kant and Descartes. Semiotics has spun itself off from the phenomenological and structuralist traditions. Lacking any firm attachments, it threatens to drift in the analytical direction. This is particularly true of its youngest sibling: biosemiotics.
The third front in anti-reductionism is being driven, ironically, by the Artificial Intelligencers. As noted previously the practical demands of knowledge based systems are forcing its practitioners to take up the ontological enterprise eschewed by their philosophical colleagues. Surprisingly they are launching into this task with some gusto, and even performing some metaphysical peregrinations of their own.
It is no secret that these anti-reductionist efforts are singularly lacking in coherence, both individually and as whole. The is only the strongly implied hope that their patient labors in the analytical trenches will, as it seems to have with their scientific colleagues, reward them eventually with a full blown cosmology that can stand up to, and ultimately surpass that of science. These workers see themselves mainly as revising, reforming and extending the awesome scientific edifice. For now, they labor, barely noticed, in its deepest shadows.
I am skeptical of any analytical effort to resurrect metaphysics. I believe that it is self-defeating. The best that can result is a papering over of the numerous antinomies of materialism and analytical philosophy, along with the grafting of some ungainly appendages. This reformist mentality is not taking seriously the notion of a Kuhnian paradigm shift, and the resulting incommensurability between old and new paradigms. It is somehow hoped that the now bloated analytical apparatus of the old system can be imported, more or less, intact into whatever is to be the new system.
With a new paradigm, we will have to make a new start. The task appears daunting. How could we ever hope to compete with, or even significantly influence, our colleagues on the other side of the metaphysical divide, without strongly emulating their now traditional enterprise?
There is, I believe, only one strategy that is even modestly inviting. This is to appeal to a coherent, comprehensive rationality. One might suppose that this would be a fairly obvious and well-trodden path. However, as my search for fellow sojourners on this path continues in vain, I can only conclude that it is the necessarily radical nature of the resulting rationale that keeps the mere voyeurs at bay. Furthermore, the resulting coherent rationale cuts right across the major metaphysical schools of the past. Someone who is even moderately comfortable within any one of those schools, will not have sufficient desire to venture out across the various metaphysical no-man's-lands that are the gaps between the traditional systems.
Furthermore, one has to also be willing to take on the prophetic and proselytizing burden that goes with any such radical departure from historical norms. This is not merely an intellectual journey. It is a metaphysical journey in the full sense of that word.

[2/16]
Several days later, and the conversation on the ISCID forum still continues. I'll use this space here to collect my thoughts and look ahead. My part of the conversation is with a physicalist and a naturalist. I will try to persuade the physicalist to retreat to naturalism. The next real sticking point will likely be the MIR (mind indep. reality) in view of the apparent depth of time and space, relative to human consciousness. But I would argue that is just a subjective matter of relative degree, as between oranges and apples. Why would it be more difficult to reject the MIRH just given the phenomenal existence of another person, as compared to that of another galaxy? How much more difficult?


In fact, I would argue that our intuition primary intuition of an MIR comes from other people. It is then to the rest of the world that we extend that notion. This is a fact of epistemology.
Suppose that one were a King of Shangri La, with a virtually static history. Where then would the be the MIR? The concept of possible worlds is not live.

[2/22]
I was removed [r] from the ISCID forum last night. That means I am no longer allowed to post a message there. The topic to which I was posting 'thinking matter' was closed at the same time. The postings, however, are supposed to remain in their archive. This was only my second attempt at participating in a forum, not counting the Sarfatti mail list. The last time was eight or nine years ago on the CompuServe UFO forum, which ended in a similar fashion. I doubt that as much time will elapse before I make another such attempt. Each time is a learning experience. Permit me now to collect my thoughts, and rethink my strategy.


Off the top, it appears that I have very little difficulty in significantly stirring an already controversial pot, but how does one poke around a hornets' nest and not get stung? It's not that I am opposed to being stung per se, but in the process of getting stung one usually looses the thread of the discussion, both figuratively and literally in these cases. It is distracting for all involved. It's also like a high-wire act: the balance will always be precarious.
I need to be aware of the 'politics' involved. How much of the politics will simply be reflex reactions, and how much will be deliberated? I need a technique for sounding out the 'political' tendencies of the various parties, to anticipate the optimal point balance. This is not easy when deeply controversial issues are involved, as they are bound to be in the case of religious beliefs. In such cases the participants will harbor many unconscious motivations. A mere sounding-out may trigger the unwanted reactions.
How does all this relate to the Eschaton? I would say that things remain on track for the imminent messianic introduction of the Millennium and subsequent eschaton. Not many more forays like this should solve any problems relative to Internet visibility via Google, and the like. At the same time, in the process of sharpening my rhetorical skills, I can use the intermezzos to tighten up the presentation of these topics here, which still leaves much to be desired. By getting a better feel for the relevant psychology and spiritual politics, I can be more discerning about the optimal targeting of the eschatological message. So I will probably use the next few days here to work out a better outline of my ideas, and then contemplate another testing of the waters.
In the meantime I'll be taking in the Gods and Generals movie -- four hours of it, I am told.

[2/23]
Norms are an inescapable core of reason. They are stronger than mere convention. There have functional and teleological aspects. Thus are norms inescapable in both the physical and life sciences. The normativity cannot be disentangled from the objectivity; and, furthermore, objectivity itself is normative. Mathematics is similarly invested with the norms of reason. The normative methods cannot be removed from the results. There is nothing natural about math. All abstracting is normative.


The normativity of science is reflected in its use of counterfactuality. Modality is essentially normal, and vice versa. Normality is about modality. Causality is both normal and modal.
How are norms unnatural? They are intentional, aesthetic, pragmatic and you name it. They make it possible for us to analyze, reflect and 'objectify' the world. They are often universal. Norms are built into every artifact. They cannot be formalized, but every formality is normative.
Thought cannot escape from its own norms. If there were a non-normative, mind independent reality, we could not know it. Both quantities and qualities are ineluctably normal. Reductionism and analysis are essentially normal. There is no mind independent nature. It would be inconceivable. But are the monster group and big bang normal?
What does the normality of reason imply about AI? Normality comes out of thought; but it cannot be put back into it, certainly not in any piecemeal fashion. Norms like thoughts and language are holistic. Like functions, they cannot be analyzed. They are self-referential.
But what of the BB & MG? Are they not both MIRs? How could they not be? Are they convenient, theoretical fictions?
The past is a fiction. I can be effective only through the present. Time is surely a fiction, especially in its directionality. All events are fictions, especially in their causal aspect. But especially is the luminous (specious?) present a fiction. Consider presence and absence.
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Why, historically, was there never a non-prophetic theism, and ever only one of the other? Rational theism must contend with that history. How do we rationalize around that singularity? There are devotional mysticisms like Krishna consciousness, but there is no story or codification. Historical theism is singular. The prophetic and historical elements must be inseparable. Why only one chosen people? Only one contract? One savior? One God of history? How can full theism be considered rational if it is so rare?
Consider the subjectivity of presence. Also of relationality. But what is reality w/o relations? Even the concept of the real is subjective and modal. It implies an unreal.
If we were so wrong about an MIR, how can we not now be skeptical of God? It is a question of logic and reason. We reason to a source.
Relations are ineluctably normative.
God is just the ultimate norm and normalizer. There must either be an ultimate subject of object. Either God or universe. God is just the BB of norms. All Hubble 'norm' shifts point back there. It is a simple triangulation with norms.
After the big Norm, then we're off to the BPW and eschaton races.
How are norms normally deconstructed? That is not possible with holism.
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Non-reductionism. Any irreducibles would be normative. These also point to a Source, using the self as a stepping stone. Norms, coherence, relations and self are all inseparable. Relations are irreducible and immaterial.
The self is the necessary purveyor of coherence. Those two functions are inseparable.
The imminent deconstruction of science. Ironically it will hinge upon scientific realism. Can we drop back to instrumentalism and conceptualism?
The pragmatics of complexity is forcing us to reconsider ontology.
Why? From the unreasonable effectiveness of math, to that of science and language. The notion of progress is problematic as well.
The incoherence of reductionism. Science has never been comfortable with it.
But there are no isolated irreducibles. Holism reigns there, as well. There is only functional and telic alignment. These point to a supra-mundane telos: a source of coherence.
It may seem like a great stretch, but it could be that the MG is responsible for our psychological projection of the MIR. It could even be associated with a primordial fear of some kind.
All the anomalies of materialism are beginning to come into coherence. We needed to be able to look at the world, modulo atomism.


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Topical Index
2/1/03

Unreasonable Coherence



Unreasonable coherence (0 hits). Are we surprised? Only mildly. By contrast, unreasonable effectiveness has 1,740 hits. This stark contrast of counts indicates to me a curious unwillingness to move from one very promising idea to the next in what ought to be a logical progression. Let us not fear to tread where none have trod, at least not within range of Google. [For more background on this topic please see the pages listed under relational metaphysics.]
My takeoff point is the Coherence Theory of Truth (1,500 hits). But let's back up one more step: Quine & holism (1,700 hits) and see my Quine page and here, etc. It has been just 50 years since 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism'. (In the idiom of the 1930's, I am tempted to say that the interim has been a 'three dog night'. We'll see if we can't warm things up a bit.)
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Despite all our efforts, linguistic, scientific, logical, political, etc., to chop up reality, everything still hangs together to a remarkable degree. What holds the world together? From whence cometh coherence? I have the temerity to suggest that coherence is not merely a human artifice, no more than is the mathematical coherence of physics.
I suggest that there is a strong correlation between the coherence of the world (175 hits) and the unity of consciousness (2,800 hits). If the unity of consciousness is not a total illusion, as many used to allege, then its source is something that we often refer to as the self. If there is indeed an irreducible, immaterial self, then we must look for an irreducible source for the self. And so, logically, we must consider the possibility of a world soul (12,000 hits) which would be the transpersonal source of the self and its cohering world. I submit that this logical progression is now and forever the rational basis of all theism.
The closest approach to a rational theism is to be found in Platonism, and in the closely related Thomism. Hegel made a last ditch, pre-Darwinian effort to resurrect a rational theism. It has fizzled. It is curious that nothing approaching Platonism is to be found further east. The crowning irony is that it is the pantheist traditions of the East which stress a monist metaphysics. The West, despite its rationalism, has been more friendly to dualist and pluralist ontologies. Rationality begins logically in the carving up of the world. If the carving up is not restrained, however, it ends in the reductionistic nihilism that has engulfed modern culture. At some point we have to confront the task of reconstruction. That task has no recourse other than in the logical progression leading to rational theism, as outlined above.
This is the one thesis that I nail to the door of Modernism.
Darwin, more than any other individual, is responsible for modern nihilism. Darwinism remains a powerful force in the world. It embodies a simple minded logic that is compelling to the point of coercion. Its logic leads inexorably to the graveyard of reason, if not of life itself. There is only one way out of this hole that we have dug ourselves into. That is my thesis.
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Now I need to find a likely door for my post-it note. Google has a list of about 50 philosophy forums. About a dozen of these are likely prospects.

[2/25]
Peter Suber also has a list of philosophy forums on his Guide to Philosophy on the Internet. Here is a listing of online religion forums using Google, but I'm finding few if any that would be suitable. The coherence of the world listing yields little of substance. For coherentism (1,700 hits) there are a number of useful links. The standard alternative to coherentism is foundationalism.

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