The End of Mechanism, #7–Sensible Science 1: Natural Science Without Natural Mechanism.
By Robert Hanna
Table of Contents
VII. Sensible Science 1: Natural Science Without Natural Mechanism
VIII. Sensible Science 2: Natural Science Without Physicalism
IX. Sensible Science 3: Natural Science Without Scientism
X. Frankenscience, the Future of Humanity, and the Future of Science
This installment contains section VII.
But can you can also read or download a .pdf version of the complete essay HERE.
VII. Sensible Science 1: Natural Science Without Natural Mechanism
24. According to what I’ve been calling Kant’s anti-mechanism, there is a fundamental ontological and metaphysical difference between
(i) natural mechanisms, that is, deterministic, mechanistic processes in nature, and
(ii) natural purposes, that is, spontaneous, teleological, self-organizing, living organismic processes in nature, including mental processes, all of which are also self-organizing, living, organismic processes:
[L]ife is the subjective condition of all our possible experience. (Prol 4: 335).
[T]he mind is for itself entirely life (the principle of life itself). (CPJ 5: 278)
But although natural science can and actually does know natural mechanisms, it cannot know natural purposes, as this thrice-quoted text asserts:
It is quite certain that we can never adequately come to know the organized beings and their internal possibility in accordance with merely mechanical principles of nature, let alone explain them; and this is so certain that we can boldly say that it would be absurd for humans to make an attempt or to hope that there could ever arise a Newton who could make comprehensible even the generation of a blade of grass according to natural laws that no intention has ordered; rather we must absolutely deny this insight to human beings. (CPJ5: 400)
Hence, according to Kant in the second half of the third Critique, although natural science cannot know the difference between natural mechanisms and natural purposes, it must also investigate nature as if there were a real difference between them, as a regulative Idea for the purposes of a coherent and progressive natural-scientific investigation of nature.
25. Now although this “regulative” (hypothetical-practical) conception of natural purposes is not “constitutive” (assertoric-theoretical), nevertheless it also directly entails the synthetic a priori subjunctive conditional truth that necessarily, if natural purposes were to exist, then universal natural mechanism would be false.
But since Strong Kantian Non-Conceptualism is true, we can also advance from Kant’s necessary subjunctive conditional thesis to a corresponding assertoric thesis that I’ve been calling Kantian anti-mechanism.
According to Kantian anti-mechanism, although natural science cannot know either natural purposes or the difference between natural mechanisms and natural purposes, nevertheless we human cognizers can and actually do also have veridical essentially non-conceptual cognition of natural purposes, by means of the “feeling of life” in our aesthetic experience of the beautiful and the sublime in nature (CPJ 5: 204).
In this way, natural purposes actually exist in manifestly real nature, because we actually exist in manifestly real nature and because we veridically feel our own life and we are living organisms: therefore, not everything in veridically apparent or manifestly real nature is a natural mechanism.
26. Since we actually exist in veridically apparent or manifestly real nature, and we are natural purposes, and since it is not only the case,
(i) according to the third section of the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, that we must conceive ourselves under a regulative Idea of our own free agency and act as if we were transcendentally and practically free,
and also not only the case
(ii) according to the third Postulate of Pure Practical Reason in the Critique of Practical Reason, that we must have moral faith (Glaube) in our freedom,
but also the case,
(iii) according to the “Fact of Reason” in the second Critique, that we have a direct essentially non-conceptual awareness of our own freedom,
then it follows directly, according to what I have called Kant’s biological theory of freedom[i] and have also called his Embodied Agency Theory of free will and practical agency, in chapter 8 of Kant, Science and Human Nature, that
(iv) transcendental, practical, and autonomous freedom really and truly exist in the manifestly real world, as biological facts about our own lives, at the source of our self-determining, creative agency.
More specifically, just as conscious, intentional, affective, desiderative, volitional mind is essentially a mechanistically/deterministically and physicalistically irreducible form of life, so too our self-determining, creative, deeply free agentive sourcehood is essentially a mechanistically/deterministically and physicalistically irreducible form of life.
Or in other words, as per Kant’s biological theory of freedom and Embodied Agency Theory of free will and practical agency, Kant is an anti-mechanistic/organicist source incompatibilist.
27. According to Kant in the first Critique and in the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, matter is essentially a nomologically-governed totality of dynamic attractive and repulsive forces.
Moreover, in the unfinished Transition from the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science to Physics project contained in the Opus postumum, Kant argues in the so-called “Aether Deduction” that an a priori material condition of the possibility of experience is an actual material correlate of the supersensible substrate, namely, the universal dynamic aether, as the unified totality of attractive and repulsive forces, as the dual causal source of inert matter (natural mechanisms) and also natural purposes (living organisms) alike (OP 21: 206–233).
Kant’s universal dynamic aether is, in effect, what we would now call “fields of force” or “energy flows.”
Indeed, viewed in this retrospective light, with 20–20 philosophical hindsight, it is clear that Kant’s dynamic aether theory is fully compatible with contemporary quantum field theory, holding fixed and bracketting the standard competing interpretations of the quantum phenomena and quantum mechanics.
In turn, the universal dynamic aether minimally obeys the Conservation Laws and Turing-computability, in the sense that it is universally compatible/consistent with the Conservation Laws, and also the basic constraints of Turing-computability, in that it can be simulated post hoc on a universal Turing-machine, given a complete set of discrete physical “digits” over which computation occurs, and holding all the general laws of nature fixed; and to the extent that natural processes are necessarily nomologically determined by the Conservation Laws, together with all the settled quantity-of-energy facts about the past, and also Turing-computable from those laws and facts, then those processes are natural mechanisms.
Nevertheless, just because X is metaphysically compatible/consistent with Y, it does not follow that Y necessarily determines X.
Therefore, just because a natural process in the universal dynamic aether is metaphysically compatible/consistent with the Conservation Laws and Turing-computability, it does not follow that it is a natural mechanism.
A natural process in the universal dynamic aether is a natural mechanism if and only if it is necessarily determined by the Conservation Laws, together with all the settled quantity-of-energy facts about the past, and Turing-computable from those laws and facts.
Or in other words, any natural process within the dynamic aether is a natural mechanism if and only if it is inherently governed by the Conservation Laws and Turing-computable algorithms.
But if the existence and specific character of any given natural process within the universal dynamic aether are minimally in conformity with the Conservation Laws and Turing-computability, then it need not be a natural mechanism. Indeed, it is really possible for that natural process to be a natural purpose, while still minimally obeying the Conservation Laws and the basic constraints of Turing-computability, that is, post hoc simulation on a universal Turing-machine, given a complete set of discrete physical “digits” for computing over, and holding all the general laws of nature fixed.
A natural purpose, via its spontaneity, therefore, does not bring more matter or energy into the world, which would violate the Laws: on the contrary, it only brings irreducibly new and uncomputable self-organizing forms of the universal dynamic aether into the world, which is still minimally in conformity with the Conservation Laws, and post hoc simulation on a Turing-machine.
It increases the amount of structural “information” in the world in an uncomputable way, but does not increase the amount of matter or energy.
This in turn suggests a Kantian anti-mechanist advertising slogan:
Reverse entropy!: just do it.
Like an artistic genius, who “gives the law to nature,” spontaneous natural purposes, including especially including free minded animal intentional agents, creatively self-organize, but they are not causa sui.
28. We already know from the first section of the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals that there is a categorical distinction between
(i) choice and action that is minimally in conformity with the Categorical Imperative, and
(ii) choice and action that is inherently governed by the Categorical Imperative.
Therefore, the distinction between
(i*) natural processes that are minimally in conformity with causal natural laws, and
(ii*) natural processes that are inherently governed by causal natural laws,
is simply a theoretical-nomic Kantian generalization of that Kantian practical-nomic distinction.
In any case, in the Opus postumum, as we just saw, according to Kant, the universal dynamic aether is also the synthetic a priori real metaphysical ground of organismic life, mind, and freedom, insofar as the irreducible structures of organismic life, mind, and freedom emerge in intrinsic-relational orientable space and through intrinsic-relational irreversible time.
Because the metaphysical grounding of life, mind, and freedom in the universal dynamic aether is synthetic a priori and based on natural purposes in intrinsic-relational orientable space and intrinsic-relational irreversible time, then, over and above their compatibility/consistency with the Conservation Laws and post hoc Turing-simulation, this is what I call dynamic emergence, as opposed to supervenient emergence, which, sharply unlike dynamic emergence, is inherently insensitive to manifest essence, spatiotemporal asymmetry, and spatiotemporal spread/duration, and also fully open to either physicalist reduction (logical supervenience) or causal-explanatory exclusion/epiphenomenalism (nomological supervenience).[ii]
In dynamic emergence, novel irreducible structure is immanently integrated with existing simpler structures, in essentially the same way that the irreducible but inherently more complex systems of the real numbers and complex numbers occur between the systems of the rational numbers and natural numbers, not “over and above” the rational numbers and natural numbers.[iii]
By sharp contrast, superveniently emergent properties, as extrinsic properties, merely metaphysically “pop out” of their supervenience-bases, and dualistically-epiphenomenally exist “over and above” those bases.
Notice that in the mathematical analogy, Turing-computability operates via the primitive recursive functions characteristic of the rational and natural number systems: therefore Turing-computation runs on top of the novel integrated complex and real number structures, which are the deeper, “mathematically efficacious” structures.
Or in other words, Turing-computation is “mathematically epiphenomenal” in relation to the complex and real number structures.
Hence, by analogy, in dynamic emergence it’s the simpler pre-emergent natural processes and structures that are dualistic-epiphenomenal in the new complex thermodynamic system, “running on top of” everything else, not the more complex novel integrated immanent structures, which are the causally efficacious structures in the new system.
In supervenient or “pop-out” emergence, it is precisely the other way around.
Therefore, by the time of his post-Critical period after 1787, Kant is (more or less) explicitly committed to the following dual or two-part robustly non-reductive real-metaphysical continuity/grounding thesis:
(i) mind-in-life = mind is irreducibly metaphysically grounded in life = life metaphysically contains all that is needed for the dynamic emergence of mind, but in a less complex form — “mind is for itself entirely life (the principle of life itself),” and
(ii) life-in-unversal-dynamic-aether (aka life-in-energy) = life is irreducibly metaphysically grounded in the universal dynamic aether (energy) = the universal dynamic aether metaphysically contains all that is needed for the dynamic emergence of life, but in a less complex form.
29. In order to understand them all correctly, we should explicitly compare and contrast
(i) Kant’s or Kantian dynamic emergentism, mind-in-life, and life-in-universal-dynamic-aether theses (aka Kant’s dynamic world conception), with
(ii) hylozoism, which says that everything in nature is alive, and with
(iii) panpsychism or panexperientialism, which says that everything in nature is conscious or protoconscious, that is, everything in nature has either phenomenal states or subjective experiences of some sort.
According to Kant’s dynamic world conception,
(ia) not everything in nature is either alive or has consciousness/intentionality, or freedom, but also
(ib) necessarily, there is nothing in nature that could not, in principle, become a part of life or conscious/intentional mind, or freedom, that is, necessarily, everything in nature is inherently open to the real possibility of life, conscious/intentional mind, and freedom, and
(ic) life, mind, and freedom dynamically emerge in orientable space and over irreversible time, as irreducible forms of the universal dynamic aether (energy), as dynamic complexity increases.
It should also be noted, before moving on, that hylozoism and panpsychism or panexperientialism are not metaphysically “crazy” theses: they are merely too strong.
It seems fairly unlikely that rocks and beer bottles have life or consciousness or proto-consciousness, whether macroscopically or microscopically.
But hylozoism and panpsychism/panexperientialism are on the metaphysical side of the angels, because at least they acknowledge that the “conceptual dualisms” of
(i) inherently-matter-excluding mind vs. inherently-mind-excluding matter, and
(ii) inherently-matter-excluding life vs. inherently life-excluding matter,
really and truly are metaphysically “crazy,” since they deny what is phenomenologically self-evident: the essential embodiment of our minds.
So, diametrically on the contrary, only the dogmatic belief in scientific naturalism, especially including the sub-theses of universal natural mechanism and physicalism, makes hylozoism and panpsychism/panexperientialism seem metaphysically “crazy.”
30. But what is even more directly to the point, since we are, phenomenologically self-evidently, minded and alive and essentially embodied beings, then clearly it is actually scientific naturalism that is metaphysically “crazy,” since it denies what is phenomenologically self-evident in our own first-person case of essentially embodied consciousness, intentionality, caring, and rationality: mind-in-life and life-in-matter/energy, hence mind-in-matter/energy.
Everything is thermodynamically energetic, potentially or actually: free agency is a complex form of life, mind is a complex form of life, and life is a complex form of energy.
What is phenomenologically self-evident, then, is universal dynamicism, and metaphysical continuity, all the way through nature, from free agency to matter=energy.
Dualism and materialism/physicalism are therefore phenomenologically self-evidently bonkers.
Or in other words, scientific naturalism fails the basic metaphysical evidential criterion of phenomenological adequacy.[iv]
For convenience, I cite Kant’s works infratextually in parentheses. The citations include both an abbreviation of the English title and the corresponding volume and page numbers in the standard “Akademie” edition of Kant’s works: Kants gesammelte Schriften, edited by the Königlich Preussischen (now Deutschen) Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: G. Reimer [now de Gruyter], 1902-). For references to the first Critique, I follow the common practice of giving page numbers from the A (1781) and B (1787) German editions only. Because the Akademie edition contains only the B edition of the first Critique, I have also consulted the following German composite edition: Kritik der reinen Vernunft, ed. W. Weischedel, Immanuel Kant Werkausgabe III (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1968). I generally follow the standard English translations of Kant’s works, but have occasionally modified them where appropriate. Here is a list of the relevant abbreviations and English translations of works directly relevant to this essay:
CPJ Critique of the Power of Judgment. Trans. P. Guyer and E. Matthews. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000.
CPR Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. P. Guyer and A. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.
CPrR Critique of Practical Reason. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996, pp. 139–272.
GMM Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy, pp. 43–108.
DS “Concerning the Ultimate Ground of the Differentiation of Directions in Space,” in Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy, 1755–1770. Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 361–372.
DSS “Dreams of a Spirit Seer Elucidated by Dreams of Metaphysics,” in Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy, 1755–1770. Pp. 301–359.
ID “On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World (Inaugural Dissertation).” In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755–1770. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 373–416.
MFNS Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Trans. M. Friedman. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.
OP Immanuel Kant: Opus postumum. Trans. E. Förster and M. Rosen. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993.
OPA “The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God.”Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy 1755–1770. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 107–201.
Prol Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Trans. G. Hatfield. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.
Rel Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Trans. A. Wood and G. di Giovanni. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. Pp. 57–215.
WiE “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy, pp. 17–22.
[i] See R. Hanna, “Freedom, Teleology, and Rational Causation,” Kant Yearbook 1 (2009): 99–142.
[ii] See R. Hanna and M. Maiese, Embodied Minds in Action (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2009), ch. 8.
[iii] I owe this extremely insightful mathematical analogy to Tim Dolch, and also the basic idea about the non-reductive life-in-matter-&/or-energy metaphysical continuity.
[iv] See R. Hanna, Preface and General Introduction (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 1) (New York: Nova Science, 2018), part 1, section 1.3, pp. 3–6, also available online in preview, HERE.
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