Nature, the infinite machine

Okay, so thought or consciousness is just the action of neurons.

But why exactly does the neuron get to be the term of analysis? Why isn’t the ultimate level of analysis larger (“thought is nothing but the action brain regions / of bodily organs”) or smaller (the parts of the neuron, the chemicals that make it, the electrical charges that make the chemicals, etc.) Even if we can’t answer this, we know that the analysis is more perfect as we go in the downward direction that is, the more we approach some absolute part. This is because analysis just is breaking something apart, and so analysis by its nature sets us on the course for the ultimate part. But what is an ultimate part? Presumably, it is that which is not made from more fundamental parts; nothing of its behavior is explained in relation to the behavior of something more basic.

Now there will always be an epistemological benefit to breaking things apart to find a more basic level. We don’t need to justify the desire of the mind to find more basic parts: it simply enjoys doing so. But this does not resolve the ontological question whether there is in reality some fundamental level that is there to be reached. One response to the question would be to dismiss it as merely empirical: what can we do except look for the fundamental level and then announce when we’ve found it? But this claim, like all empirical claims, is still governed by more basic logical rules: inter alia, it has to be logically possible. Is it?

One impediment to a coherent account of an ultimate part in the physical order arises from the mechanical character of the physical. In physical analysis, we must compare physical behavior to a machine, but this very comparison makes it impossible to have a coherent account of a fundamental level. Machines are conduits: they convert some A into B and so take A for granted. But this prohibits us from having a coherent (i.e. non contradictory) account of an ultimate physical behavior. The mechanical character of the physical means that (as Leibniz already claimed) nature can only be an infinite machine. Physical analysis never reaches a point where we can reconstruct the whole from something that is not itself constructed. Mechanical analysis yields only machines ad infinitum. 

(N.B. I do not raise the question whether this requires matter to be infinitely divisible. For my own part, I don’t think it does. It is not necessary that more fundamental machines be “smaller”, e.g. if one reduced the atom to a field, it is not necessary to view fields as smaller than atoms. In fact, if the atom were a sort of “ripple” in a field, the more basic physical structure would be larger than its epiphenomenal manifestation; more likely though, the whole “smaller than/ larger than” distinction not applicable.)

And yet explanation remains a search for ultimates. Even if the earth rested on a turtle, you couldn’t explain its stability by invoking it. But the physical analysis of an infinite machine – i.e.the physical analysis of the physical – can only yield one turtle after another. The analogous physical process is more interesting, to be sure, but this is only a report on our own feelings toward it. More importantly, the advance to more and more profoundly embedded machines involves an increasing degree of control over the physical world, that is, it makes the physical more and more subordinate to human values.

But the fact that we can see this subordination to human values as a justification for physical analysis (a cure for cancer could justify just about any endeavor) opens the possibility that the very ontological explanation of the infinite machine might be its relation to a field of value, i.e. its relation to will as a power of intellect; with the infinite machine being the reflection of infinite will.

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