Goofing around with PW logic

Say you scroll out all possible worlds before God and he actualizes Q. What happened?

1.) Did one possible world choose another? This can’t be right, since as possible it can’t do anything.

2.) Did something in no possible world make a possible world actual? But, on the PW scheme, this means that something impossible happened.

3.) Did the actual world choose a possible one? But qua actual it is either other than a possible world or not. If other, we get #2; if not, #1.

4.) Is Q the same as God’s actual world or not? Not the same, since one can’t actualize what is already actual. Not other, since we can’t have two things fitting the description of “the actual world”, leaving us to say, for example, that God exists and does not exist in the actual world.


There are tensed statements in possible worlds. Therefore there is one actual clock for all of them. But there isn’t even one clock for us, so there are no tensed statements in possible worlds. So by PW logic,  tensed statements are impossible. Therefore this could not have been written.

Stability of regimes

The ancien régime achieved dynastic stability through the belief and doctrine that social orders arose more or less by nature: kings made kings, nobles made nobles, peasants made peasants. If we zoomed down to consider individuals there was some mobility between the strata (especially through the religious life), but the view from 30,000 feet was of a stable hierarchy with well-defined roles and orders of mediation. The age of revolution rejected all this in its assertion that all are created equal, which was never a claim about intellectual abilities or fitness to rule but most of all a rejection of the idea that human political hierarchies are provided in the way they are provided to bees or termites.

But if nature does’t provide a social animal with his governing structures then it has to provide for himself, hence the rise in theories of political systems in the 18th Century. But a system can never be experienced by a revolutionary the way the ancien régime was experienced by those who lived in it. They experienced the inevitable social anxieties and disappointments as basically natural while we experience them as results of system failures and so in need of fixing. Even if we set up a stable system it will live through its factions, which in turn will intensify the awareness of social anxieties and disappointments and so create either more factions or a constant switching back-and-forth among different ruling parties and philosophies. As Charles Taylor put it, the only infallible prediction one can make about the future of our revolutionary, post ancien regime is that any structure it establishes is fragile, as will be the opposition structure.

There is a continual desire to overcome the intrinsic fragility of post AR structures by myths that they are now established and at least quasi-natural. Our preferred means to do this is a fetishized history-myth prophesizing that human action was guided infallibly to the point of greater and greater (fill in the blank), and that resistance to this magical spirit is futile, backward, and unenlightened. You can believe this or not, but it is exactly the same sort of belief as that kings only bear kings and peasants only birth peasants. The desire to re-establish the stability of the AR is so strong that we’re willing even to accept that we’ve lost the culture war or that, say, the regime as we find it is now is, at last, the one that has been chosen by nature to last a thousand years or has been given free reign to push the logic of its beliefs to their bitter end.

The last paragraph was cynical about attempts to see nature as providing regimes to us through birth or history, but it is probably more reasonable to take any belief we can’t divest ourselves of as rational. We have to carve out some way that nature is giving us social orders. Note that this requires believing more than that nature tosses out people of different talents and it is our job to sort them into the proper slots. In this sense nature is only giving us a potential and not actual regime, and the opinion we can’t shake off requires more than this. In particular, we can’t see nature as providing us with something wicked or contrary to human flourishing, and in this sense the idea that we could “lose the culture war” in the sense of history selecting against what our best lights have determined is right and rational can make no sense and is a misapplication of the metaphor of a culture war.

 

Nature and supernatures

If mind is the paradigm for the supernatural and we follow Aristotle’s account of it, then the natural is actual before acting and the supernatural is not. Mind is not built out of substructure that is put in place and then knows.  In not-knowing mind does not fall back into a stasis or dormancy like an eye before it opens, with a structure in place that is waiting to be used. Mind is a subject in that it does an action, not in the sense that it is a power in some actual thing that remains actual whether we are acting or not. All this obviously rules out it being built out of cells or being the action of a central nervous system.

In nature, the power of the subject to act is in an actual thing before the action is performed; at the height of supernature the subject is only an agent and his action is not an accident; in the middle there is an accident that is not a power in an actual thing before the action of knowing.

This is why nature is in time: something actual must be constantly present to support times both of action and stasis. In the middle we have a sort of moment-time, like the premises of an argument which are discrete but not measured by some actual subject shifting from action to dormancy, and so smearing over all the time from one point to another. At the height of supernature, all division in action falls away, with its action not at one point while it fails to be at another.

Said another way: nature’s being actual before it acts either generates or requires continuous time; mind not being actual before it acts allows for the discrete time of logical connection; God being entirely united and without division in his action is eternity.

Lucretius (3)

We cannot limit the real to some positive-negative sensory axis (sound-silence, visible-darkness, resistant- non-resistant) nor to some set of co-ordinates on these axes through time. Even after we chart everything that can be charted in this way we’re still left with the axis of real-fiction and perhaps theorizable- mysterious (in Chomsky’s sense).

The attempt to set some limits to knowledge might be tractable of we limit ourselves to what we are proportionate to knowing or most adapted to knowing, or to objects about which we can know not just that they are but also what they are and/or how they work. But the attempt to set limits on things we can know in any way is probably pointless and looks to even involve contradiction, i.e. it’s the attempt to both identify something as mysterious and be oblivious to it.

But limiting knowledge to what and/ or how knowledge is something even STA does, and so Naturalism has to be far more ambitious than that. But it’s just this ambition that divides it from being reasonable.

Lucretius (2)

Lucretius’s first move in a defense of Naturalism is to identify the real with the object of touch, and so with what either gives resistance or not. What resists is extended and divisible, and so is analyzed into what one finds after all possible divisions have been made (or the a-tomic) what does not resist is void.

The intuitions Lucretius is working from here are so fundamental that we haven’t yet come to terms with what it means to overturn them. All sensation seems to be just various ways of being struck by things, and all bodies are fundamentally inertial and are busy falling toward one another. This is what Newton saw in the apple.

For all that, our attempts to limit nature to the (even in-principle*) tangible have failed. What resists has mass, and much of the cosmos is massless without being void. I don’t know that we’ve come to terms with the scandal that this presents to our attempts to limit the real to the tangible (or to anything that is even in-principle sensible) but this is where we find ourselves. We can lean heavily on the mathematical description of the massless to diffuse the scandal, but at some point we’re going to have to accept that sensation sets no limit on what can be known even about natural things. This causes a re-alighnment of ancient physics as much as contemporary Naturalism.


*By “in principle” I mean that one can’t just maximize sense power to the point of detecting them.

Lucretius’s Naturalism

Lucretius gives a proof that nothing exists but matter and void:

Whenever something exists, it needs to be something that,
If it comes into contact with something,
no matter how light and insignificant it is,
it will increase it or make it greater…
Or else it will be intangible, and not be the sort of thing
That can resist the passage of something
and this is what we can the void.

nam quod cumque erit, esse aliquid debebit id ipsum
augmine vel grandi vel parvo denique, dum sit;
cui si tactus erit quamvis levis exiguusque,
corporis augebit…
sin intactly erit, nulla de parte quod ullam
rem prohibere queat per se transire meantem,
scilicet hoc id erit, vacuum quod inane vocamus.

De rerum natura, 433-99

This is as good as Naturalist arguments get.

1.) The real = the tangible.

2.) The tangible = what gives resistance or not (in the same way that we hear sounds and silence)

3.) What resists the sense of touch = physical.

4.) What does not resist touch = void.

 

Subtle distortions in the idea of self-love

-Our actions can be universally tinged with evil without being universally corrupted by self-love. Some evils are lacks of self-interest, like the sort of personality that pours itself entirely out on exterior things or cares for the needs of others to the dissipation of the self.

-Even if every evil involves pride not every evil involves a desire to subjugate others to the self. Dissipation and self-corruption is easier if we subjugate everyone – including oneself- to the herd.

-Augustine showed that Scripture’s talk of the the flesh was simply to talk of a human. He was right about this but wrong to shift from what is human to the self, since what is human is both broader than the self and distinguished from it. We should re-write the description of two cities which are divided by one loving God to the contempt of the self and the other loving the self to the contempt of God by replacing “the human” for “the self”. One can love what is human to the contempt of God without exalting himself. Every Naturalist and Secularist does this in their opinion of science, regardless of how egoistic or altruistic they are.

-A closer look at Augustine’s words in CoG XIV. 28 show some nuance:

 [T]wo cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience.

So God is the witness of conscience, i.e. that which we experience as most of all the voice of ourselves.

-But even to switch from self to human will leave off a great deal. The conquest of the sensitive appetite (i.e. the brain) is better understood as a struggle with the self than a struggle with the human. But STA has shown that this is better understood as an attempt to establish the self than to destroy it.

Aristotle’s interaction problem

Aristotle believes that the mind is not a physical entity but derives information from one, which opens him up to the interaction problem. Interestingly, he formulates exactly this problem as the first objection to his theory:

[I]f mind is simple and impassible [i.e. is non-physical] and has nothing in common with anything else [physical], as Anaxagoras says, how can it come to think at all? For interaction between two factors is held to require a precedent community of nature between the factors.

(bracketed text mine.)

Aristotle’s response ties back to the first claim he makes about mind, which can be formalized like this:

1.) Mind detects objects in the world.

2.) One object mind detects is the actual as actual.

3.) No physical organ could detect the actual as actual.

4.) No mind is a physical organ.

Aristotle’s support of #3 is that based on the impossibility of objects being present in the nature of cognitive powers. To the extent that eardrums vibrated by nature they would be worthless for hearing. STA’s theory of medicine gave an illuminating example of this in its theory that the tongue both detected humors in food and could be infected with those same humors during sickness, which made it impossible to taste things as they were (The example is counterfactual for us but no less illustrative). It follows that to detect the actual as such requires being nothing actual by nature. As Aristotle puts it the mind is nothing before it thinks. 

In responding to the interaction problem, he claims:

Have not we already disposed of the difficulty about interaction involving a common element, when we said that mind is in a sense potentially whatever is thinkable, though actually it is nothing until it has thought? What it thinks must be in it just as characters may be said to be on a writing tablet on which as yet nothing actually stands written: this is exactly what happens with mind.

The response can be put in two different forms, both of which turn on the object of mind being the actual as such:

1.) Every interactive system must have an actual structure before it acts

Mind does not have an actual structure before it acts.

2.) Whatever detects the world by interacting with it could not detect the actual as actual

The mind detects the actual as actual.

(Notice that the tabula rasa account of soul means something totally different than it does for Locke. For Aristotle, the point of the metaphor is not to show the vacuity of mind and its dependence on sensation but to show its ontological division from sense cognition.)

Intention and emergence

Take wind as a paradigm for emergence. (1) Something heats the ground, (2) making the air expand and drop in pressure, (3) making an air flow from higher to lower densities.

But the “something” at stage (1) can be the sun on a lake or the firestorm wind made by a bomber squadron, and so the paradigm for emergence is indifferent whether a natural or intentional process leads to an emergent property.

So what would it mean for the intentional as such emerge?  We can’t use a paradigm that allows for both intentional and non-intentional initiation and then say the intentional needs to arise emergently. Said another way, it can’t be the nature of the intentional to arise emergently. But isn’t the whole point of describing the intentional (or consciousness) as emergent to give an account of the sort of thing it is?

Initiating violence

The difference between aggression and defense tempts the belief that initiating violence is always wrong. One difficulty in understanding the claim is that it’s hard to see how violence is not always wrong (since we can use it to defend ourselves) but it is always wrong to initiate it. This would make sense if the initiation gave the action a moral character, e.g. avalanches hitting towns are not moral evils but to initiate such an avalanche would be. But this is not the sort of difference between aggression and defense. So why is it necessarily wrong to start something that isn’t necessarily wrong? Is it just a practical consideration, i.e. when you’re attacked your options are limited? But then the problem rises again – if violence isn’t wrong, what’s wrong with imitating it, and if it is wrong, why is it okay in defense?

The need to reign in aggression-violence while accepting that it is sometimes just leads first to formalizing and centralizing it. We train and designate those who get to wield aggression. But this sort of power designates sovereignty and so sets up ruler-subject relations. One fascinating move in our shift to modern systems of social organization is that we simultaneously tried to centralize violence and to claim that sovereignty was diffused to the whole people.

« Older entries