Science with and without primary causes

A-T theorists might be right that contemporary science does not register formal and final causes (though the mathematical character of scientific law is formal causality, so…) but they should be more interested and concerned in the far more significant fact that science does not register primary and secondary causes, whether agent/ instrumental, equivocal/univocal, or universal/particular. Identifying the primary/secondary relation was the whole point of pre-Galilean physics and it gave structure to the whole scientific procedure. Aristotle’s geocentric view of the cosmos, for example, wasn’t an attempt to map out the space of the cosmos but to articulate the orders of universal causes. He wouldn’t have seen figuring out our distance from the sun as a scientific triumph nor as playing a role in a scientific account of the world.  Ditto for a precise mathematical account of the arc of a projectile. The point was to identify a causal chain of some genus, terminating in the universal cause of that genus.

Contemporary accounts of nature rule out the discovery of primary causes for two reasons: (a) mathematization requires that all events occur in a homogeneous space-temporal domain and (b) science sees its job as modeling interactive systems or at least as finding correlations of events that follow some algebraic law. The times when someone trained in A-T science might be tempted to find primary causes in contemporary sciences tend to be times when they are incapable of explaining what they means. Kinetic energy seems to count as some sort of universal cause of change of place, but the kinetic energy is not defined in a way that allows us to answer the question. since no one can say if it is just a mathematical convenience, a cause of motion, an effect of being in motion, or a dozen other things. Physicists do not regard it as a scientific question to wonder whether kinetic energy is in motion with the body it moves or whether it caused motion without being in motion, though this would have been perhaps the chief question that Aristotle would be interested in answering.

One response to this is that Aristotle asked questions that have proved intractable. The best we can hope for is a description of interactions and not an account of the being of things in a universal way, in the way that an artist explains not just this artwork but art as such. Nominalists might claim that these problems are intractable since there are no genera of things to serve as objects of action. This objection would conflict with science positing all sorts of unified genera (what else would force or energy explain?) though perhaps the incoherence we encounter in asking ontological questions about scientific objects arises in part because of this Nominalist presupposition.


Eating and teleology

hypothesis: Eating is immoral without natural teleology and an order of being.

Eating requires killing life forms. This can only be moral if it is a case of using the life form appropriately, but to do so requires its very existence is ordered to another’s use.* Absent this, eating is simply a matter of might makes right.

Objection: If the very existence of something was ordered to our use, being eaten is one of its fulfillments. But what we observe is everything trying to preserve itself. Gazelles run away and plants develop pesticides. They don’t offer themselves or some of their number for the use of others.

Objection: Morality is species-relative, e.g. whether cannibalism, abandonment of children, sterilization, etc. are contrary to flourishing depend on the animal in question.  We cannot assume an extra-species morality to judge the action of one species on another.


*We’re setting aside utilitarian justifications, though they can be viewed as consistent with this account.

Epistemological Pluralism

Naturalism is an epistemological monism, or a claim that being is only known in one way. This still allows us to know math and logic in ways different than the physical world, but only under the assumption that these forms, while objective, are not real beings (an idea with a long history reaching back to Aristotle’s critique of mathematical forms.) Morality also has to be either unreal or Naturalist, though its unreality might be of the sort that the “is-ought” distinction is trying to describe. There are also various attempts to distinguish nature (that is, the real) and the social/cultural, which seems to push this idea of “objective, but not real” about as far as we are ready to let it go.

Comparing different findings from one method, however, is not the same thing as to see the method in the field of possible explanatory tools, and so any epistemological monism will have to build some bridge from the domain in which its outcomes are matters of pride to the domain where the method itself can be evaluated in relation to other methods. The pragmatist criterion seems very attractive here: the method just is justified by its results. One weakness to this approach is that epistemological pluralism does not require that there be method B can compete with method A in A’s own domain, nor does it even require that it give knowledge as extensive, clear, or well-defined as A does. Almost all Medievals were pluralists, but none would argue that the knowledges were equal in any interesting respect.


Unifying hypothesis for A and B theories

B-Theorists say that all times co-exist, but they don’t say that all times co-exist at one time. In this sense they seem to agree with A-theorists, who also see it as impossible for all times to exist at one time but who see this as connected to the fact that times can’t co-exist at all.

B-Theorists deny the passage of time but keep its order, but the only way to make this the right sort of order is to make it spacial. But this is to illicitly assume the time that is required for spacial order since spacial wholes have to be together at one time in order to be together at all: you can never have a car if you busily assemble it while some demon behind you just as busily undoes your work.

Let’s assume, as the lit seems to bear out, that A-theory has lost the argument against B. This leaves us having to specify some non-temporal domain in which all the times of the B-theory can co-exist. Notice that if we do this we also discover a rapprochement between the two theories, since our need to unify all times in the non-temporal means that the A-theory is true so far as time is considered in itself, apart from this non-temporal ground of unity. This can both explain why B-theory must ultimately win out and why its success ends up preserving the truth of A-theory.

Any non-temporal ground of all time is eternal in a robust sense, but there is a long history of seeing this ground not as God but as a world-soul, an option that Teske proves Augustine was open to. Our own intellectual climate would probably prefer to call the ground divine. Any account, however, makes put human life and this non-temporal ground  itself and this non-temporal ground in dialogue about the world we find around us. In fact, so far as truth and being are one the world around us just is this dialogue.

The selfless actions of sinners

In an effort to prove that no sinner loves himself, STA first notes that one sense of “myself” is simply as a living entity, and in this sense all persons love themselves so far as they eat, sleep, drink, etc. He then describes the self of preeminence, which is a self one can discover in the way that armies are named by their generals. To say that Lee advanced on Hooker at the battle of Chancellorsville or that Patton advanced on Berlin is to see the self as what commands in concert with its subordinates. In this second sense, the human person is a self so far as one part of him rules the drives which can either dominate reason or be trained into supporting it and giving it force.

In this second sense one is only a self when he is not divided or at odds with himself, since a self is one thing and divided things aren’t. Any opposition between emotional drives and rational awareness of the good eliminates the self in this second sense, and therefore leaves literally no self at all for the sinner to love. The students joked that to take self in this way means there is no one in Hell and everyone is a saint. There’s something to this, though it might be better to appreciate how “selfless action”, “selfless love” and “love of self” have entirely different senses for the sinner and the saint.

The double blind Full-Libet experiment

Hypothesis: A Laplacian demon, i.e. a being who can correctly predict all future actions, contradicts our actual experience of following instructions with some failure rate.

Set up: You are in a room with two buttons, A and B. This is the same set-up Soon’s free-will experiment, but the instructions are different.

Instructions: You are told that you will have to push a button every 30 seconds, and that you will have fifty trials. The clock will start when a sheet of paper comes out of a slit in the wall that says A or B. Your instructions are to push the opposite of whatever letter comes out.

The Apparatus: the first set of fifty trials is with a random letter generator. The second set of trials is with letters generated by a Laplacian demon who knows the wave function of the universe and so knows in advance what button will be pushed and so prints out the letter.

The Results: In the first set of trials, which we can confirm with actual experience, the success rate is close to 100%, but, the world being what it is, there is a 2% mistake rate in the responses. In the second set of trials the success rate is necessarily 0%. In the first set of trials, subject report feelings of boredom, mild indifference, continual daydreaming, etc. The feelings expressed in the second trial might be any or all of the following: some say they suddenly developed a pathological desire to subvert the commands of the experiment, others express feelings of being alienated from their bodies, trying to press one button and having their hand fly in the other direction, others insist that they did follow instructions and consider you completely crazy for suggesting otherwise, even though you can point to video evidence of them failing to follow the rules of the experiment, etc.

The Third Trial: Run the trial a third time, this time giving the randomly generated letter to the subject and giving the Laplacian letter to the experimenter. Observe all the trials where the two generate the same number, and interate the experiment until one has fifty trials. Our actual experience tells us that the subject will have a 98% success rate, but our theoretical Laplacian demon tells us that the success rate should be necessarily 0%. Since asserting that the random-number generator and the demon will never have the same response would make the error-rate necessarily disappear and cannot explain our actual experience of failures, the theoretical postulation of a Laplacian demon contradicts our actual experience. Q.E.D.

The Full-Libet experiment

I need a better name for it.

The Experiment: A Laplacian demon with exhaustive knowledge of the wave function of the universe hands you a sheet of paper that specifies whether you will be standing or not standing 30 seconds from now. He repeats the experiment ten times. You are entirely aware of everything the machine is trying to do, and you are hostile to its intentions. Will his predictions be necessarily true, that is, true no matter what you think about the matter?

Sean Carroll, for all his attempts to juggle clarity and nuance, is committed to saying yes. Einstein just said yes flat out. I’m constitutionally incapable of taking a “yes” as anything other than a reductio ad absurdum of any premise logically connected to it.

A failure of the Full-Libet limits the domain of physical law to those motions not initiated by intelligence. Given the infinitesimally small percentage of motions in the universe that fit this description, this is in one sense an insignificant qualification.



“Happy for infinity years”

“The problem with heaven” says Sean Carroll “is that it’s a place you can go to and be happy forever – For infinity years!” (see 42:16) This is impossible, however, since even under ideal circumstances boredom and lassitude set in. Any pleasure eventually loses its novelty and becomes stale, which applies just as much to the lower hedonistic pleasures as to the more refined pleasures of perfecting and exercising a skill. Even if we could go to heaven we would all eventually pine for annihilation. Borges speaks of being horrified by the prospect of immortality for similar reasons, and it isn’t hard to find older persons who are ready to die not out of desire to flee from pain or debilitation but simply because they feel they’ve lived long enough.

That Carroll describes a popular and to some extent even theological account of heaven is beyond doubt. What other heaven can there be for art, whether on the ceiling of a byzantine cathedral or a two-star movie? But to kill off such a heaven cuts both ways: we can either take it as Carroll wants to, as a call to return to the natural universe and to find our contentment there, or we can double down and try to articulate a more adequate account of how heaven could actually be something desirable. That said, to take Carroll’s suggestion is to see the natural universe itself as exactly the “heaven” of the popular imagination, as just one infinite entropy-cascade of time stretching from infinity to infinity in which all our pleasures eventually go stale. The critique of heaven, in other words, is just as much a critique of nature, though nature is presumably more pointless for lacking the ideal conditions of pop-heaven and since it isn’t created (pointlessly, as it turns out) for human happiness. Nature’s only advantage on pop-heaven is death, which everyone eventually would end up pining for in the face of the boredom and pointlessness of it all.

All this raises the ante for anyone who would insist that human life is meaningful in a way that is more ultimate than an opportunity to grab what pleasures we can before the boredom sets in. Meaning of this deeper sort requires human beings to have an amphibious life which exists now embryonically in time but only to develop its abilities to live outside of it. Failing to develop these abilities doesn’t lead to annihilation but to exactly the sort of “heaven” that is either immediately or eventually some ring of hell.


The mover from educare to conari

In ways that were partly known and partly tacit, Mathematical physics shifted away from Aristotelian physics by going from an idea of mobile bodies as eductus to being conatus. 

Eductus: The best translation is “to raise”, i.e. to raise a crop, a pet, or a child. “To culture” also works, whether one is talking about practices that civilize or that grow bacteria (and agri-culture simply adds to “culture” the word for “field”).

In Aristotle, motion was seen as reducing to a natural impulse to do something that needed to be directed, channeled, and sometimes supplemented by the work of external agents. Natural things were fundamentally intrinsic tendencies to certain outcomes, though they depended on external agents to supply material, energy, and sometimes information about how to execute their operations. The paradigm natural motion is cultivation, and so the one closest to nature is the farmer or teacher.

Contatus: Here we have the familiar word “forced” with the corresponding noun vis or just “force”. Nature as an intrinsic tendency to some outcome drops entirely away, so much so that there is no word in post Newtonian physics for what receives force. Physical causality is entirely a ergo, and the paradigm natural motion is one billiard ball striking another. Any idea of cultivation has very much dropped away, and the closest person to nature is the engineer.

The point of rupture was our account of change of place. All sides see changes of place as somehow fundamental, and the loss of any meaningful sense of natural place left Newton to conclude that motion was fundamentally without any intrinsic tendency. There can be no intrinsic tendency to something that does not exist even as a limit or ideal, and since nature is fundamentally mobile (which Aristotle would also agree with) there is fundamentally an absence of intrinsic tendency to anything. For Aristotle, change of place was fundamental only among changes while change as such was always subordinate to some term: it is a be-coming that lost all intelligibility and even ontological possibility apart from some stable state either inside or outside of time.


The gods of frustrated discourse

-Since Newton, the only gods suggested by physical science have been je ne sais quoi. Calling them “god(s) in the gaps” might not be entirely fair since Newton, at least, thought that given his best guess about the initial conditions of the universe and the laws in play, he had to posit a fine-tuned orbit generator. But even this god is formally a failure to explain and so is a frustration and not a fulfillment of discourse.

-Steiger may have meant his book God: the failed hypothesis as atheist polemic, but it might just as well be taken as theist purification. Theists have no use for the gods that science suggests through its aporia and dispels through progress.

-True, Aristotle does come to an idea of a god from a purely physical science, but his argument is very different:

1.) The universe requires some mover with infinite power. 

Aristotle has a proof that motion is necessarily infinite, and in the absence of a mover with infinite actual power it would be possible for motion to cease.

2.) Infinite power cannot exist in a finite body. 

Infinite energy must be able to move anything, but it is possible for any finite body not to be able to move another (say, one that is bigger, or one that it fails to be in contact with)

3.) All bodies are finite. 

Bodies are formally specified by their limits.

4.) The universe requires some non-bodily mover with infinite power 

The argument, though gorgeous, wasn’t very popular and most Aristotelians transitioned to purely metaphysical proofs. But it’s obviously not the god of frustrated explanation. Nevertheless, the proof turns on very strong modal operators in 1 and 2, and the dialectical character of modern science does not seem to be able to claim this sort of necessity for its objects.

-Physical science’s suggestions of divinity are confirmations of the idea that, just as gratia naturam perficit et non tollit, so also God cannot enter a discourse as something that frustrates explanation but only as completing it.


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