Our Attunement With Nature and The Foundations of The Sciences.

By Robert Hanna

“It is not both true and false that there at least 5 distinct cloud formations visible above hills or mountains in the distance, viewed across a snowy field with pine trees in the foreground, looking westward, on a late afternoon in February 2018.” (Author’s photograph)

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How exquisitely the individual Mind
(And the progressive powers perhaps no less
Of the whole species) to the external World
Is fitted: — and how exquisitely, too —
Theme this but little heard of among men —
The external World is fitted to the Mind.
(Wordsworth, 1888: ll. 816–821)

1. Introduction

As per the first epigraph at the top of this essay, in the early 1790s Immanuel Kant argued in the Critique of the Power of Judgment (i) that the mutual formal or structural attunement of the rational human mind with the basic forms or structures of natural reality, is directly, and veridically cognized by means of our essentially non-conceptual, disinterested, and pure aesthetic experience of natural beauty, and also (ii) that this mutual attunement, as codified in the metaphysics of transcendental idealism, is presupposed by all theoretical cognition or science whatsoever, whether by means of either “determining judgments,” including truth-evaluable propositional beliefs and statements, and logico-deductive inferences, or by means of “reflecting judgments,” including inductive inferences and abductive inferences (Kant, 2000: pp. 66–68; Ak 5: 179–181). In short, according to Kant, all the formal and natural sciences are grounded in the metaphysics of transcendental idealism, and the primary source of epistemic evidence for this grounding is our essentially non-conceptual, disinterested, and pure aesthetic experience of natural beauty. As per the second epigraph at the top of this essay, in the late 1790s William Wordsworth much more compactly and poetically expressed essentially the same dual thesis in “Home at Grasmere.” For convenience, let’s call this the attunement thesis.

In what follows, I’ll argue (i) that the attunement thesis is true, and (ii) that unless the formal sciences and the natural sciences — principally, logic, mathematics, physics, and biology — (iia) were to acknowledge the truth of the attunement thesis and also (iib) were to incorporate the attunement thesis into their respective repertoires of foundational principles, then those sciences would be metaphysically alienated from natural reality, with nothing for those sciences to be either meaningful about or true of.

2. Manifest Realism and The Non-Isomorphism Problem

Correspondingly, by manifest natural reality I mean the natural world all around us, in which we live, move, and have our being, such that it appears to be F (or G, or whatever) to us, precisely because it actually and truly is F (or G, or whatever), and is therefore is an objective phenomenon.

In this way, manifest natural reality is categorically not that world insofar either (i) it appears to rational human animals only in an illusory or subjectively idiosyncratic way (i.e., “mere appearances,” “mere phenomena,” “subjective appearances,” “subjective phenomena,” “the veil of appearances,” etc.), or (ii) it’s essentially hidden, humanly-unknowable, and therefore is constituted by “things in themselves” or noumena. Indeed, my two-part view about things in themselves or noumena is (iia) that it’s a priori knowable that neither the nature nor the existence or non-existence of things in themselves or noumena are knowable or provable, which is what I call radical agnosticism, and also (iib) that for the purposes of any real (i.e., humanly meaningful) metaphysics, we should simply eliminate such objects and the concepts of such objects by bracketting them out of our metaphysical theorizing, which is what I call methodological eliminativism about things in themselves or noumena (Hanna, 2017).

Assuming the truth of manifest realism, then we must also adopt a broadly-speaking realistic view of the formal and natural sciences, and therefore reject any sort of anti-realism from the outset. So, (i) insofar as the formal and natural sciences are meaningful, and therefore true or false, then they’re really about some things and/or kinds of things, and (ii) insofar as the formal and natural sciences are actually true, then not only must they actually apply to manifest natural reality, they must also actually line up with manifest natural reality, which is to say that they must also be isomorphic with manifest natural reality: that is, the basic forms and structures truly represented by the formal and natural sciences must be exactly the same basic forms and structures that are immanent or inherent in manifest natural reality.

For, suppose that the formal and natural science weren’t isomorphic with manifest natural reality. Then, either (i) it’s the case that although the basic forms and structures of manifest natural reality are maximally lawlike and maximally well-ordered, yet at the same time they’re so overwhelmingly complex that our rational human minds and therefore even our best formal and natural sciences cannot accurately represent those basic forms or structures, not even in principle, or (ii) it’s the case that although the basic forms and structures of manifest natural reality are somewhat lawless and somewhat disorderly, nevertheless they’re at least minimally lawlike and at least minimally well-ordered, yet at the same time they’re still so overwhelmingly complex that our rational human minds and therefore even our best formal and natural sciences cannot accurately represent those basic forms or structures, not even in principle, or else (iii) it’s the case that manifest natural reality is maximally lawless and maximally disorderly so that, yet again, our rational human minds and therefore even our best formal and natural sciences, cannot accurately represent the basic forms and structures of natural reality, not even in principle, precisely because manifest natural reality has no immanent or inherent form or structure whatsoever.

Let’s call this general problem for the sciences — whether it’s due to the possible overwhelming complexity, or the possible maximal lawlessness and disorderliness, of manifest natural reality — the non-isomorphism problem. If any of the skeptical scenarios described by the non-isomorphism problem were true, then the formal and natural sciences would be metaphysically alienated from natural reality, with nothing for those sciences to be either meaningful about or true of.

Notice that although the non-isomorphism problem is indeed a serious skeptical problem, it’s not any one of the many skeptical problems in the classical Cartesian sense (dream skepticism, evil demon skepticism, brain-in-the-vat skepticism, new evil demon skepticism, etc.), all of which presuppose (i) the possibility that only “mere appearances,” “mere phenomena,” “subjective appearances,” “subjective phenomena,” “the veil of appearances,” etc., exist inside our conscious states, and (ii) the corresponding possibilities that either (iia) natural reality simply does not exist or (ii) natural reality exists, but it’s wholly constituted by unknowable things in themselves or noumena, which are entirely different from what they merely appear to be. For all such skeptical problems in the classical Cartesian sense are ruled out from the get-go by my working assumption that manifest realism is true.

3. How To Solve The Non-Isomorphism Problem: The Attunement Thesis

I’ll now spell out those three steps in more detail.

First, we accept weak or counterfactual transcendental idealism, which says the following:

(i) Things-in-themselves/noumena are logically possible, but at the same time it is knowably unknowable and unprovable whether noumena/things-in-themselves exist or not, hence for the purposes of an adequate anthropocentric or “human-faced” metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, they can be ignored (= radical agnosticism and methodological eliminativism about noumena/things-in-themselves).

(ii) Necessarily, all the proper objects of rational human cognition have the same forms or structures as — i.e., they are isomorphic to — the forms or structures that are non-empirically generated by our innately-specified spontaneous cognitive capacities, but at the same time those manifestly real worldly forms or structures are not literally type-identical to those a priori cognitive forms or structures (= the isomorphism-without-type-identity thesis.

(iii) It’s a necessary condition of the existence of the manifestly real world that if some rational human animals were to exist in that world, then they would veridically cognize that world, via either autonomous essentially nonconceptual content or conceptual content, at least to some extent, at least to some extent (= the counterfactual cognizability thesis).

(iv) The manifestly real world has at some earlier times existed without rational human minded animals, or any other minded beings, to know it, and could exist even if no rational human minded animals, or any other minded beings, ever existed to cognize it veridically, even though some rational human animals now actually exist in that manifestly real world (for example, I [R.H.]), who do in fact cognize it veridically, at least to some extent (= the existential thesis).

Here’s a slightly more precise formulation of Weak or Counterfactual Transcendental Idealism’s crucial thesis (iii), the counterfactual cognizability thesis:

Syn Ap □ (∀x) (∃y) [MRWx → {(RHAy & MRWy) □→ VCyx}]

Definitions:

Syn Ap □ = synthetically a priori necessarily

P □→ Q = If P were the case, then Q would be the case

MRWx = x belongs to the manifestly real world

MRWy = y belongs to the manifestly real world

RHAy = y is a rational human animal

VCyx = y veridically cognizes x, at least to some extent = either y veridically cognizes x via autonomous essentially non-conceptual content or y veridically cognizes x via conceptual content, at least to some extent.

Natural Language Translation:

Synthetically a priori necessarily, anything that belongs to the manifestly real world is such that if some rational human animals were to exist in that world, then they would veridically cognize that thing, at least to some extent, via either autonomous essentially non-conceptual content or conceptual content.

Two Crucial Implications:

(1) The counterfactual knowability thesis holds even if no rational human minded animals, or any other minded beings, actually exist, or ever actually existed.

(2) If anything is such that rational human minded animals are unable to cognize it veridically, via autonomous essentially non-conceptual content or conceptual content, at least to some extent — for example, things-in-themselves or noumena — then that thing does not belong to the manifestly real world.

Crucial implication (1) conveys the weak mind-independence and ontic integrity of the manifest[ly real] world. The manifest[ly real] world is what it is, even no minds actually exist or ever actually existed. And crucial implication (2) conveys the weak mind-dependence and inherent knowability of the manifestly real world. The manifest[ly real] world is what it is, only in relation to actual or possible minds like ours. The single upshot of the two crucial implications is that the manifest[ly real] world is as real as anything can ever possibly be, on the reasonable assumption that some luck-resistant, skepticism-resistant rational human knowledge of that world is actual or really possible. (Hanna, 2015: pp. 337–338)

Second, we accept strong non-conceptualism, which says the following:

The theory of rational human cognition, content, and knowledge that I am proposing … is, in part, a “bottom-up” theory about the nature of minded animals that anchors conceptual content in the primitive fact of essentially non-conceptual content. Essentially non-conceptual content … is a kind of mental content that is categorically different from conceptual content, in the sense that both its underlying semantic structure and also its characteristic psychological function or role are inherently distinct from those of conceptual content. Furthermore, essentially non-conceptual content is a kind of mental content that rational human animals or real human persons share with non-rational minded animals, whether non-human (e.g., cats) or human (e.g., infants), who, it seems, do not possess conceptual capacities. So essentially non-conceptual content epitomizes the specifically non-intellectual or sensible,embodied, perception-based, phenomenally conscious side of human mindedness, whereas conceptual content epitomizes the specifically intellectual or discursive, reflective, judgment-based, self-conscious side of human mindedness…. [B]y way of a preliminary or working characterization to have in front of us, I will say that essentially non-conceptual content is mental content that necessarily includes essentially indexical formal spatiotemporal and dynamic representations that are fully sensitive to complex thermodynamic asymmetries in perceptually manifest natural objects and processes, and also that the primary psychological function or role of essentially non-conceptual content is to account for directly referential cognition, and to guide and mediate the sensorimotor processes constitutive of finegrained intentional body movements in rational minded [human] animals. (Hanna, 2015a: p. 25, boldfacing added)

Third, let’s assume that weak transcendental idealism and strong nonconceptualism are both true, and also (i) that by “disinterested” we mean that the mode of cognition is non-practical, in that it’s not primarily or solely motivated by self-interested, purely consequentialist, or even purely moral aims, and (ii) that by “pure” we mean that the mode of cognition is primarily focused on the formal or structural features of aesthetic objects insofar as they immanently inform or structure the specific qualitative characters of those objects, and not primarily or solely focused on those specific qualitative charactes themselves. Granting those definitions, then it’s clearly and distinctly the case that our disinterested and pure aesthetic experience of natural beauty, as a special mode of essentially non-conceptual cognition, self-evidently shows us that there’s a mutual formal or structural attunement of the rational human mind with the basic forms or structures of manifest natural reality, thereby providing phenomenologically necessitating evidence for our sufficiently justified true belief in our attunement with nature.

4. Conclusion

In order to recognize this, we need only consider the sentence quoted in the title of the photographic image displayed at the top of this essay, in relation to the slice of manifest natural reality that’s depicted in the photograph. The sentence is this:

It is not both true and false that there at least 5 distinct cloud formations visible above hills or mountains in the distance, viewed across a snowy field with pine trees in the foreground, looking westward, on a late afternoon in February 2018.

Now, as it actually happens, not only is it the case that the embedded sub-sentence occurring after “It is not both true and false that…,” namely

[T]here at least 5 distinct cloud formations visible above hills or mountains in the distance, viewed across a snowy field with pine trees in the foreground, looking westward, on a late afternoon in February 2018.

is in fact meaningful and true, but also the whole sentences is necessarily logically a priori true, under the universally and necessarily logically a priori true minimal principle of non-contradiction: not every sentence is both true and false (Hanna, 2006b, 2015: ch. 5). Now, in order for the embedded sub-sentence to be meaningful and true, and also for the whole sentence to be meaningful and necessarily logically a priori true, then not only the logical forms of that whole sentence and of its embedded sub-sentence, but also the semantic forms of the mathematical, spatial, temporal, physical, and biological categorematic terms occurring in both of those sentences, have to be isomorphic with manifest natural reality. For if that were not true — if any of the skeptical scenarios in the non-isomorphism problem were true — then logic, mathematics, physics, and biology would be metaphysically alienated from natural reality, with nothing for them to be either meaningful about or true of. Nevertheless, we know that none of these skeptical scenarios is actually true, and therefore we know that the attunement thesis is true, precisely because we’ve already essentially non-conceptually, disinterestedly, and purely aesthetically experienced the natural beauty of the scene depicted in the photograph, in order to be able to assent to the first sentence of this essay.

REFERENCES

(Hanna, 2006b). Hanna, R. Rationality and Logic. Cambridge: MIT Press. Also available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2015). Hanna, R. Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge. THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 5. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. Also available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2017). Hanna, R. “Kant, Radical Agnosticism, and Methodological Eliminativism about Things-in-Themselves.” Contemporary Studies in Kantian Philosophy 2. Available online at URL = <https://www.cckp.space/single-post/2017/05/10/Kant-Radical-Agnosticism-and-Methodological-Eliminativism-about-Things-in-Themselves>. Russian translation in Kantovsky Sbornik 36. Available online at URL = <https://journals.kantiana.ru/eng/kant_collection/3704/10229/>.

(Kant, 2000). Kant, I. Critique of the Power of Judgment. Trans. P. Guyer and E. Matthews. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. Pp. 53–346, Ak 5: 165–485. [1790]

(Wordsworth, 1888). Wordsworth, W. “The Recluse, Part First, Book First — Home at Grasmere.” Available online at URL = <https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Recluse_(Wordsworth)>.

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Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.