Methodological Euclideanism

…One of the strongest pieces of evidence for the falsity of Naturalism is Ontological Euclideanism (OE) which is a rational inference from Methodological Euclideanism (ME). ME observes that the truths of various geometries make no appeal to natural causes, which counts as strong evidence of OE, namely that natural causes are unnecessary. This is justified a posteriori by pointing out the great success of Euclideanism, even in its giving rise to non-Euclidean geometries…

Objection: Stop yer snark! You’re clearly trying to justify theology by comparing it to this nonsensical critique of Naturalism. But theology wants to posit causes of natural events whereas Euclideanism does not want to do so.

Response: (1) We give geometrical accounts of nature all the time. There is even a vast history of persons (Pythagoras, Galileo, Newton, Max Tegmark) who claim this is the only sort of account we can give of nature. (2) One and the same event allows for all three explanations, depending on how it is conceived. Considering the quantity of nature gives us one sort of math, considering other elements of it gives us theology.

Objection: But theology wants to consider nature as both natural and as caused: if it is natural, then methodological naturalism kicks in, and if it is not natural, then we cannot infer the supernatural from it. So the incoherence remains.

Response: If a man uses a hammer or a shotgun, there is no conceptual incoherence in saying both that the hammer is not a human being and that it is performing a human act, whether this is the charitable building of a hospice or the braining of a seal. Nature is supernatural in the same way that hammering is a human act.

Time v. kinesis (pt. 3 – conclusion)

Locke understood time through the succession of events in consciousness.

Objection: The explanation is circular since “succession” requires that we have an idea of time already.

Response: Circularity more vitiates proofs than explanations, but in any case Locke’s assumption is not circular since mental succession is not temporal.  A syllogism or geometrical proof has premises and conclusions but both are given simultaneously, and by “simultaneously” we don’t mean that the proof itself has a temporal dimension. You may have seen all the steps of the argument simultaneously in 2003 but this does not make 2003 a feature of the argument. What is true of inference is also true of narratives, since a thing can’t happen all at once but in order to be a narrative it has to be seen all at once. It’s impossible to see, say, the parable of the prodigal son as a story of forgiveness unless the story is seen as a whole, and it’s meaningless to speak of a structure or point of a narrative apart from a wholeness that cannot be given in the temporal events themselves.

The Broader Theory:

And so we have to make some sort of distinction between the temporal and mental world where the temporal world has succession with time whereas the mental world has succession without time. The mental world is capable of a sort of wholeness that the temporal world is not, and we can call this wholeness “simultaneous” possession which is not the simultaneity of events in time. The temporal world lacks this wholeness because it requires intermediate stages of existence between intelligible terms, and these intermediate stages exclude the co-existence that characterizes the succession of the mental world.  As just argued, these intermediate stages between intelligible forms is time properly speaking, which makes the wholeness of rational-narrative co-existence impossible. In the sense of existence that is proportional to fullness or wholeness, the temporal world exists less than the rational-narrative world.

But this relation of higher and lower modalities of existence is a lesson in all existence relations. The higher serves, illumines, and discloses the lower. The temporal world cannot exist all at once but the simultaneity of thought nevertheless discloses it as it is. While the higher takes things in from the lower (as is articulated in theories of abstraction or recollection) the lower takes far more from the higher since it borrows the wholeness that its temporarily excludes from it.

Time v. kinesis (pt. 2)

-Start here: If mathematical things move they are not in time. We can imagine a secant turning into a tangent, but the derivative takes no time, we can imagine two circles with the same radius being placed on top of each other, but the journey takes no time. Why so? because the intermediate is inessential. If this is right, then time is essentially of the intermediate.

-Magicians exploit the fact that when a thing moves from A to B, the human mind edits out the travel in between. The rational disregards the intermediate, the temporal. Neither logic nor mathematics needs it. How long is modus tollens? Celarent?

-If time is of the intermediate, presentism has something to explain. If “the now” alone is real then time is not. “The nows” are negations of time which only exists between them. Presentism is thus a denial of time, not an opinion about its reality.

-Time marks a hiatus between intelligible things or borrowed intelligibility.

-A-theories want the reality of time to be taken from the now separate from any extension, B-theories from its extension untethered from any now. Both are aspects of its reality as intermediate-to-nows.

-Middles are both constituted by beginnings and ends (A-theories) and divided from them (B-theories).

Time v. kinesis

-Aristotle defines time as a sort of number. It’s any count of the parts of kinesis ordered by things like in front of and behind, stages of development, or relation to the parts of some other motion (a second hand, a pendulum, etc.)

-Making time a number is how A. avoids Zeno’s paradoxes, since time is always actually some unit and never actually a continuously divisible magnitude.

-Time is always many while kinesis is one. An hour can’t mature and a second can’t get to a destination. Both can only repeat.

-Kinesis is one from its goal, fulfillment or specification.

-Calculus or the theory of limits is not a response to Zeno. His theories are critiques of motion and time and approaching a limit is not a motion and takes no time. How long does a derivative take?

-Euclid I.4 is not a motion. How far apart are the triangles? How long does it take?

-Just because you imagine a line moving does not mean that lines move any more than measuring something in a dream makes it just that long.

-Descartes allows two things to be true in dreams: mathematics and the self.

Motion is continuous because it is infinitely divisible but time is continuous because it has no first or minimum unit.

-Time as such has a unit but not a minimum one while motion as such has no unit at all.  This is what A. means when he says that Zeno confuses potential divisions with actual ones. The actual divisions are whatever unit of time one chooses to take and its multiplications, not the potential divisions of motion that allow the time unit to be as small as one pleases.


Berkeleyesque immortality

1.) For Berkeley, a being that exists by itself would have to be a self-perceiver, since what doesn’t perceive itself requires another as a condition of its existence.

2.) The non perceptive thus cannot be self-existent. This includes the inanimate, but also includes mere animal life since sense organs do not perceive themselves. The eye can see pictures or reflections of an eye but neither of these are animate organs (neither can go blind, for example).

3.) To exist by oneself first becomes possible for intelligence and is impossible outside of it.  Some self-perceivers clearly begin to exist, but this “beginning” applies to them so far as they have been concretized in animal, organic existence, which we know from (2) need not characterize every dimension of a self-perceiver.

A Berkeleyesque cosmological argument

(A cosmological argument that operates from the interesting assumption that the universe is a necessary being.) 

C = what is conceivable to some mind. This means inter alia what can play the role of a true premise or conclusion in a coherent and true system. This is why complex numbers, four-dimensional space, and immaterial souls or angels are not picturable but are still C.

U = The totality of physical things. The universe or multiverse, whichever theory pans out. We operate under the hypothesis that it exists necessarily.

Assumption: there is not an infinite history of minds going back as long as there has been a U. As far as anyone can tell, this is wildly true and such minds only go back for a vanishingly small fraction of its existence.

1.)  The possible is C. (axiom)

2.) C exists relative to a mind. (by definition)

3.) U is possible. (look around)

4.) U exists relative to mind. (1, 2, 3)

5.) If U exists relative to a mind that is not necessary then the universe is not necessary.

6.) U exists relative to a mind that exists necessarily. (consequent of 5 is contrary to hypothesis)



From the MP:

Patrick Grim gives something like the following argument. What I know when I know that

1. I am making a mess

is an indexical fact that no one else can know. At most, what someone else can know is that

2. BV is making a mess

or perhaps, pointing to BV, that

3. He is making a mess.

I remember Craig giving an analogous argument, which generalizes to any subjective experience. Nagel’s bat shows that any sensory apparatus has a subjective fingerprint that no outsider can be aware of. But it is either obvious or silly (but which?) to say that God doesn’t know what an itch feels like, and that he is in the same position as we are when we try to imagine what it’s like for a beetle to relish manure.*

The argument has a lot of logical possibilities. There is something incommunicable about the subjective, to be sure, and we need to preserve that. Raising the question of God presses the problem of individuality and existence, which Reichmann showed was the fundamental opposition between Thomas and Scotus. One suspects the problem goes all the way up to the question of the individuality and existence questions of the Trinity, and that this awaits a further development.


*My suspicion is that black widow or praying mantis males would be very offended if their spouse didn’t eat them.



A generalized demarcation problem

The demarcation problem is a name for our failure to identify criteria that can distinguish science from pseudo-science, in spite of there being two such things. In the absence of rational criteria, we get clarity on the difference from various institutional-cultural institutions, like the consensus produced by university gatekeepers though peer review (which generates, by definition, peer pressure), grants, prestige, and other stick-and-carrot means.  Like most institutions we expect it to do reasonably well (or at least better than an every-man-for-himself chaos) though it will come at a cost of group-think, elitism, the occasional witch hunt etc..

The demarcation problem generalizes to our failure to identify any meta-criterion for what counts as legitimate discourse or belief. Kant’s famous attempt to articulate meta-criteria for thought, which concluded to limiting it to an intuition of Euclidean space distinct from linear time turned out to be no limitation at all, and Davidson pointed out that the very idea of a conceptual scheme – a finite scope or limit to human thought that could be determined in advance – requires us to posit a language that is in-principle untranslatable, which is to speak of something that has to meaning. Heraclitus was right – you can’t come to the borders of thought, even if you travel down every road. We simply can’t articulate a domain of acceptable belief in general from which we can identify the auslanders.

This is true of religion as well. By our own resources we can know there are pseudo ones and truer ones, but the degree of clarity we want in this area is going to have to be borrowed from an intellect other than our own. The various religious institutions are attempts to make up for this deficiency in reason and provide us with clearer and more precise articulations of true religion in exactly the same way that we get it in the sciences. That a westerner tends to accept Christianity arises from the same sort of process that makes him tend to accept scientific consensus. He walks within the ambit of various institutions that are designed to help him toward truth, and they almost certainly succeed at this more than he would succeed if left solely to his own lights. Anyone who thinks he can easily identify true science while no one can identify true religion is right in a sense, but he doesn’t recognize how heavily his belief is resting on institutional power.

Scientific institutions are for now more self-confident and declarative whereas religious ones are more self-questioning and pluralist. There are upsides and downsides to either mode of existence. Confidence is fun but it comes at the cost of the things mentioned in the first paragraph; pluralism is prone to doubt and timidity but it comes with benefits too. The wheel of time might very well flip all this around again and we might find ourselves with a more energetic religion that gets to enjoy confidence but loses the benefits of dialogue. Or not. More love of religion doesn’t give me any light to know which one is preferable.

Fleshing out “a necessary being”

Leave it to the imagination and we’ll form only primitive and ridiculous ideas of a necessary being. When I catch my own imagination I’ll find it visualizing contingency by a circle popping onto a screen and then off again, which I guess makes necessity a sort of screen-burner existence. At other times necessity seems to be announcing itself as a sort of extremely durable stuff (diamond would be too distracting or flashy, so maybe something more like the gray plastic they used to make “Unbreakable” brand combs out of.)

All nonsense, of course. Necessity is first of all the rational, which Plato says explicitly in the Timaeus and which Bertrand Russell is assuming when he tells Copleston that necessity is a feature of propositions. This rationality is most evident in mathematics and logic where it is seen as belonging to them as formal (or abstract) systems, and it needs to be extended to some degree beyond these in order to allow for the axiomatic principles that structure various discourses, though we’ve taken to calling these sorts of things “logic”.

But this seems to lead to a crazy idea of a necessary being as a formal or abstract idea. But isn’t such a being supposed to be real and active, and even personal? We encounter the Euthyphro problem in a different application, confused over how the greatest possible being can be both an unchangeable ideal  (a formal abstraction) and also a god (an intelligence or living).

But the answer, as Augustine figured out, was in ourselves, since man himself overcomes the opposition between the abstract and the concrete. My abstractions are concrete as mine and abstract as themselves. It is precisely this that allows you and I to share the same idea, for the same idea is both one between us and wholly contained in two. Human beings in fact have only the most primitive means of overcoming the abstract and concrete: angels can share the very act of their intelligence as such without having to transmute it into some sensible form first, and the divine, as it turns out, shares not just his intelligible act but even his act of existence among Trinitarian persons.

And so “necessary existence” is really communicable existence, i.e. existence that can be shared or taken part in. A “necessary being” is first of all only a logical abstraction which is communicable but does not exist of itself. The human person in which the abstraction exists transcends the opposition between the abstract and concrete by attaining to a mode of existence where his life itself becomes communicable.  Human beings lack necessary existence to the extent that they are closed off from others, and greater degrees of necessity are indexed by transcendent degrees of shared life, at the limit of which we find the Trinity and the communion of saints.

(Q: If you run necessary being through the Fourth Way, and you assume the Trinity is possible, does it follow there is one?)

On despising politics

The Qualifications:

A.) This goes without saying, but the politics of reading and discussing Plato, The Federalist, Marx,  STA’s defense of Mosaic Laws, or even the untelevised statecraft that horsetrades and hears people out is not the politics I’m talking about. And no, it’s not always easy to divide this from televised politics, but I think we can all manage.

B.) Part of this is simply personality – my “A” score is zero. No, seriously zero. 

The Case. 

1.) How can everyone not be disgusted at the vanity of it all? Shift a news cycle, and everything one cared wildly about is deleted and replaced with a new outrage. Weren’t we just at war with Eastasia?

Coheleth’s word vanity was hebel whose first meaning was breath or smoke. The analogy is perfect: smoke oppresses and dominates the senses of everyone in a closed room but floats off harmlessly out of doors. In an artificially restricted consciousness vanities so dominate that they are the only things on your mind, but they’re meant to float off as the harmless waste products that they are.

2.) True political thought (cf. A) is at its best when, holding to a clear principle, it is capable of seeing multiple points of view, presenting them in the best light, and attempting to articulate the justice that each side anticipates. If anything, it is an immunization against televised politics. I can’t imagine anything more opposed to Plato or Publius than pre-packaged totalized ideologies or “arguments” resting on appearance and taboo.

3.) The centerpiece of televised political “thought” is the prediction. It’s been demonstrated that these predictions fare worse than chance, i.e. it would be more rational to base your political predictions on the entrails of birds or flipping a sacred coin than to trust your own cogitations about them. But the deepest problem with these is that they confuse insight with self-fulfilling prophesy. Mary “predicts” that Bill is “coming to take her rights away” because she can see Bill’s character and understand his motiviations. She’s probably partly correct, but she’s also creating conditions that make that action more likely: cutting off solidarity with him, upping the antagonism so that neither side can resolve conflicts except by violence, forcing Bill to find friendship and companionship with the other people Mary thinks are coming for her, etc..

4.) Just as the prediction has found an all but impossible combination of stupidity and fallacy, the gaffe found an all but impossible way to combine irrelevance, uncharity, and lack of imagination. Obama makes an off-mic comment to a donor at a rally and ten years later people still incant it as though it were the deepest, most telling insight into his personality (as opposed to, I dunno, him making conversation, telling someone what they want to hear, a crack made in frustration, a lame attempt to be funny or smart, a momentary emotion that he had no strong desire to act on, a needle in the haystack of even the words he said that day, etc.) ditto this for Dan Quayle reading a cue card with the word “POTATOE”.

5.) I’ve mentioned many times before that what was called politics until about a century ago can’t be compared to what we call politics now since politics is not scalable. The 10,000 citizen association that Aristotle was thinking of when he spoke of man as a political animal, or the Friary or 300 member parish that St. Thomas had in mind when speaking of the common good as the highest good can’t be scaled up six orders of magnitude to the 300,000,000+ modern USA. I take a great deal of pleasure and fulfillment from the smaller social networks I’m a part of, but I’m quite sure that I’m closer to the common good by going to a public debate about a traffic semaphore than in voting in a national election.

6.) Look, on average people buy more stuff when they’re fearful or outraged. The news isn’t informing you, it’s prepping you for commercials.

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