THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE, #2–How Uncritical And Unreformed Science Is Literally Killing The Modern World.
By Robert Hanna
This book, THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE: Uniscience and the Modern World, by Robert Hanna, presents and defends a critical philosophy of science and digital technology, and a new and prescient philosophy of nature and human thinking.
It is being made available here in serial format, but you can also download and read or share a .pdf of the complete text of THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE HERE.
This second installment contains section 0.0.
We know the truth not only through our reason but also through our heart. It is through the latter that we know first principles, and reason, which has nothing to do with it, tries in vain to refute them. (Pascal, 1995: #110, p. 28)
If there is any science humankind really needs, it is the one I teach, of how to occupy properly that place in [the world] that is assigned to humankind, and how to learn from it what one must be in order to be human. (Rem 20: 45)
Natural science will one day incorporate the science of humankind, just as the science of humankind will incorporate natural science; there will be a single science. (Marx, 1964: p. 70, translation modified slightly)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A NOTE ON REFERENCES TO KANT’S WORKS
0. Introduction: Science, The Four Horsemen of The New Apocalypse, and The Uniscience
0.0 How Uncritical and Unreformed Science Is Literally Killing The Modern World
Chapter 1. Natural Piety: A Kantian Critique of Science
Chapter 2. This is The Way The Worlds Ends: A Philosophy of Civilization Since 1900, The Rise of Mechanism, and The Emergence of Neo-Organicism
Chapter 3. Thought-Shapers
Chapter 4. How To Complete Physics
Chapter 5. Digital Technology Only Within The Limits of Human Dignity
00. Conclusion: The Point Is To Shape The World
0.0 How Uncritical And Unreformed Science Is Literally Killing The Modern World
In his brilliant, break-through 1925 Lowell Lectures, published as Science and the Modern World (Whitehead, 1967), Alfred North Whitehead worked out a fundamental critique of European formal and natural sciences[i] up through the first two decades of the 20th century, together with a radically reformed conception of those sciences by means of a profoundly original organicist cosmology, and the outlines of a new philosophy of civilization or Kulturphilosophie. Edmund Husserl tackled the same basic set of issues — a fundamental critique of European formal and natural sciences, a radically reformed conception of those sciences, and a new philosophy of civilization — in his unfinished Crisis of European Sciences, written in 1936, but not published until 1954 (Husserl, 1970). Let’s call the shared philosophical target of Whitehead’s and Husserl’s books, the problem of science and the modern world. Husserl’s ideas were absorbed into the mainstream post-World War II phenomenological tradition (Moran, 2012). Nevertheless, not only were Whitehead’s ideas a full century ahead of their time, but also, for various fairly dire world-historical, sociocultural, social-institutional, and more generally sociopolitical reasons, they’ve been mostly ignored since then.[ii]
But now is their time, and just in the nick of time too: during the excrutiatingly slow roll-out and fall-out of the 2020–2022 COVID-19 pandemic, and also caught up in the even slower-rolling disaster of global climate change, so in short, in the very maw and midriff of a new global crisis of civilization (Gare, 2017b). This global crisis updates and repurposes The Four Horsemen of the biblical apocalypse — Conquest, War, Famine, and Death — as The Four Horsemen of The New Apocalypse: (i) large-scale, technocratic corporate capitalism, or, as per the Frankfurt School neo-Marxists, “advanced capitalism,”[iii] (ii) political neoliberalism, especially neofascist neoliberalism, (iii) the digitalization of world culture via digital technology, and (iv) an all-encompassing scientistic, technocratic, materialist or physicalist, ecologically-devastating, philosophical conception of non-human nature and human nature alike: universal formal and natural mechanism, aka the mechanistic worldview.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the epitome and paradigm of a machine, applied as a “root metaphor” (Pepper, 1942) to the universe as a whole, and to all animals more specifically, including human animals, was a clock and its clockwork (see, e.g., Riskin, 2018). In the 19th century, it was a steam engine and its piston-drive (see, e.g., Huxley, 2002). But since the early decades of the 20th century, it has become — and is likely to remain in the foreseeable future — a Turing machine and its operations (Turing, 1936/1937; Church, 1937; Turing, 1950).
So, what is a Turing machine, and what are its operations? Here’s a compact and elegant way of characterizing them:
No human being can write fast enough, or long enough, or small enough, to list all members of a… [d]enumerably infinite set [e.g., the positive integers] by writing out their names, one after another, in some notation. But humans can do something equally useful, in the case of certain [d]enumerably infinite sets: They can give explicit instructions for determining the nth member of the set for an arbitrary finite n. Such instructions are to be given quite explicitly, in a form in which they could be followed by a computing machine, or by a human who is capable of carrying out only very elementary operations on symbols. The problem will remain, that for all but a finite number of values of n it will be physically impossible for any human or any machine to actually carry out the computation, due to limitations on the time available for computation, and on the speed with which single steps of the computation can be carried out, and on the amount of matter in the universe which is available for forming symbols. But it will make for clarity and simplicity if we ignore these limitations, thus working with a notion of computability which goes beyond what actual men or machines can be sure of doing…. The notion of computation can be made precise in many different ways, corresponding to different possible answers to such questions as the following. “Is the computation to be carried out on a linear tape, or on a rectangular grid, or what? If a linear tape is used, is the tape to have a beginning but no end, or is it to be endless in both directions? Are the squares into which the tape is divided to have addresses (like addresses of houses on a street) or are we to keep track of where we are by writing special symbols in suitable squares (as one might mark a trail in the woods by marking trees)? And so-on…. Since there is no end to the possible variations in detailed characterizations of the notions of computability and effectiveness, one must finally accept or reject the thesis [aka “Church’s thesis,” aka “the Church-Turing thesis”] … that the set of functions computable in our sense [i.e., the set of recursive functions] is identical with the set of functions that men or machines would be able to compute by whatever effective method, if limitations on time, speed, and material were overcome. (Boolos and Jeffrey, 1989: pp. 19–20, square-bracketted material added)
And here’s a diagram of one possible kind of Turing machine:
So in other and fewer words, a Turing machine is a digital computer, and its operations are all and only the computations that fall within the scope of recursive functions. Recursive functions, in turn, are step-by-step algorithms, routines, or rule-governed sequences, such that precisely the same algorithm/routine/rule-governed sequence is applied to the result of the preceding step, in a denumerable (countable) sequence, up to some arbitarily-fixed terminal step.
Something that’s absolutely essential to note about Turing machines/digital computers from the very outset, however, is that
certain functions are not computable, and that certain [d]enumerable sets are not effectively (mechanically) [d]enumerable — even if physical limitations on time, speed, and amount of material could somehow be overcome. (Boolos and Jeffrey, 1989: p. 19, square bracketting and boldfacing added)
In particular, it’s logically demonstrable that truth and proof in Peano arithmetic, and also in classical first-order polyadic predicate logic, are not computable (Boolos and Jeffrey, 1989: chs. 10, 15, 16, 21, 22, 28). And more generally, functions over non-denumerable sets (for example, the real numbers) are not computable, precisely because they’re not recursive functions. Therefore, digital computation has inherent formal limits.
Keeping all that in mind, we can now get a fairly firm conceptual grip on the mechanistic worldview. According to the mechanistic worldview, everything in the natural or physical universe taken as a whole, and also in all its basic parts, aka the cosmos, is essentially either a formal automaton or formal machine (i..e, a formal mechanism), or a natural automaton or natural machine (i.e., a natural mechanism). More precisely, the doctrine of universal formal mechanism says that all communicative content, semantic content, logical content, mathematical content, pictorial content, any other kind of representational content, and information more generally, is strictly determined by Turing-computable algorithms and/or recursive functions; and the doctrine of universal natural mechanism says that all the causal powers of everything whatsoever in the cosmos are ultimately fixed by what can be digitally computed on a universal deterministic or indeterministic real-world Turing machine, provided that the following three plausible “causal orderliness” and “decompositionality” assumptions are all satisfied: (i) its causal powers are necessarily determined by the general deterministic or indeterministic causal natural laws, especially including The Conservation Laws, and The 1st and 2nd Laws of Thermodynamics, together with all the settled quantity-of-matter-and/or-energy facts about the past, especially including The Big Bang, (ii) the causal powers of the real-world Turing machine are held fixed under the general causal laws of nature, and (iii) the “digits” over which the real-world Turing machine computes constitute a complete denumerable set of spatiotemporally discrete physical objects. Therefore, if the mechanistic worldview is true, then all organisms are nothing but more-or-less complex biological automata, or “survival machines” (Dawkins, 2006), and in particular we’re nothing but “biochemical puppets” (Harris, 2012) or “moist robots.”[iv]
Correspondingly, the essential character of the uncritical and unreformed sciences as Whitehead and Husserl knew them between the two world wars, but also and especially since the end of World War II, decade after decade, right up to 6 am this morning — is nihilism. By “nihilism,” I mean this:
the psychological, moral, and political attitude or doctrine which says either (i) that nothing in the world has any meaning or value at all (absolute nihilism), or (ii) that nothing in the world has any meaning or value over and above what can be systematically reduced to (iia) what is purely material/physical and essentially non-mental, (iib) what is driven and governed by purely non-teleological causal powers and principles, and (iic) what expresses purely instrumental and essentially egoistic/self-interested or utilitarian/public values (reductive nihilism).
The characteristic nihilism of the uncritical and unreformed sciences is reductive nihilism. More specifically, then, by the essentially reductive-nihilist character of the uncritical and unreformed sciences, I mean the fourth Horseman of The New Apocalypse, the four-part hegemonic ideology[v] of (i) advanced capitalism, (ii) neoliberalism-&-neofascism, (iii) the digitalization of world culture, and (iv) universal formal and natural mechanism, aka the mechanistic worldview, in all its social-institutional and sociopolitical complicity, collaboration, and entanglement with the other three Horsemen. More generally, since 1950, Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” has gradually evolved into what I call the military-industrial-university-digital complex, which in turn is constituted by a worldwide power-elite that thereby controls and guides all nation-States and their governments, that call The Hyper-State.[vi] I call this power-elite “The Hyper-State” because (i) it exists over and above first-order nation-States, as a global social institution, (ii) it’s a State-like social institution that actually possesses more military, industrial, higher-educational, and digital power than any first-order nation-State, or league of such States, and (iii) its authoritarian coercive activities not only mirror those of the governments of first-order States, but also do so in a hypertrophied format that has global scope. So the mechanistic worldview is fully complicit, collaborative, and entangled with the military-industrial-university-digital complex and The Hyper-State alike.
This complicity, collaboration, and entanglement of the reductive-nihilist uncritical and unreformed sciences, along with all their further implications, is The Bad News About Science that’s carried in the saddle-bags of The Four Horsemen. Less figuratively put, it’s the problem of science and the modern world again, but greatly intensified and ramified over the course of the past century. And most bluntly put, here and now, at the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century, the problem is simply that the uncritical and unreformed sciences are literally killing the modern world, and especially the most oppressed and vulnerable among us, in all relevant senses of that phrase: intellectually, aesthetically-&-emotionally, morally, socioculturally, sociopolitically, spiritually, and biophysically/ environmentally, or in a word, existentially, both individually and collectively. Moreover, it’s absolutely crucial to recognize that criticizing and reforming the sciences in this broadly and radically Whiteheadian way, and also, as we’ll soon see, in a broadly and radically Kantian way — not dissimilarly to Husserl, whose Crisis of European Sciences looked to Kant-inspired transcendental phenomenology and to a broadly and radically Kantian conception of human rationality (Hanna, 2014 ) — is not an attack on the rational, moral, and sociopolitical need for “science literacy” (Siegel, 2021a), nor is it in any sense anti-science. On the contrary, it’s robustly pro-science, and at the same time, equally anti-scientistic (Haack, 2017) and anti-anti-science. In other words, and to put it in concrete, simple terms: my view is equally distinct from, and equally opposed to, on the one hand, (i) those sanctimonious lawn-signs that proclaim SCIENCE IS REAL, and science-worship more generally, and on the other hand, (ii) so-called “alternative facts” and “post-truth,”[vii] flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, and climate change denialists. A philosophical, moral, and sociopolitical plague on both their houses. Indeed, these two equally bad, false, and wrong views are nothing but dialectically opposed flip-sides of the same coin: if there hadn’t been scientism, then there wouldn’t have been anti-science as a new counter-enlightenment reaction to it; and without anti-science to beat endlessly with a sanctimonious sociopolitical stick, scientism wouldn’t be glorified on lawn signs and richly rewarded by government funding agencies. Therefore, stripping the uncritical and unreformed sciences of their reductive nihilism, and re-establishing them on neo-organicist foundations, would save and sustain science, just as it would save and sustain the rest of the world.
[i] For the purposes of this book, by “the formal sciences” I mean primarily formal logic and pure mathematics, although statistics, decision theory, and theoretical computer science are also included; and correspondingly, by “the natural sciences” I mean primarily physics, chemistry, and biology, although astronomy, the earth sciences, and the cognitive sciences are also included.
[ii] Mostly, but not entirely. E.g., Hayne Reese and Willis Overton overlook Whitehead and process philosophy in their coverage of organicism in their (1970), a survey article much-used by psychologists up through the end of the 20th century. But that oversight may only reflect East Coast vs. West Coast professional academic biases in the 1960s and early 1970s. At roughly the same time, Whiteheadian process philosophy had a brief popular heyday, and indeed has survived into the 21st century, but not usually in philosophy departments or psychology departments, instead almost exclusively in theology programs or privately funded consciousness-studies institutes, especially in California, e.g., at Claremont. In any case, even despite blinkered neglect by mainstream professional academic philosophers and psychologists, process metaphysics has in fact been productively updated, in a larger theoretical and sociocultural context, by a few prescient philosophers in the 2010s: see, e.g., (Gare, 2011).
[iii] It’s important to contrast advanced capitalism with what I’ll call paleo-capitalism, in which there’s (i) modest individual ownership of private property, sufficient for satisfying and sustaining people’s true human needs and individual tastes, (ii) non-commodifying, non-exploitative, non-wage-enslaving (for example, under a larger system of truly generous universal basic income and universal basic jobs [Hanna, 2018d: sections 3.3–3.4]), eco-sensitive/sustainable, small-scale business enterprises for the production of goods and the provision of services, sufficient for satisfying and sustaining people’s true human needs and individual tastes, (iii) modest individual profit-making accumulation of wealth, sufficient for satisfying and sustaining people’s true human needs and individual tastes, and (iv) modest, non-commodifying, non-exploitative, non-wage-enslaving, collective profit-making and collective profit-sharing enterprises (aka cooperatives), sufficient for satisfying and sustaining workers’ true human needs and individual tastes.
[iv] “Moist robots” is Daniel Dennett’s deflationary epithet for humankind, borrowed from the comic strip Dilbert. See (Schuessler, 2013).
[v] I’m using “a hegemonic ideology” in a broadly Marxist or at least neo-Marxist way, to mean any system of more-or-less mind-controlling, often unreflectively-held, and generally pernicious beliefs, images, and affects that’s imposed, or at least importantly controlled, by a dominant social group that possesses the power of authoritarian coercion.
[vi] I’m borrowing this useful neologism from Otto Paans, who in turn adapted it from the work of Marc Augé and Timothy Morton. The well-known phrase “military-industrial complex,” originally derives from US president Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Farewell Address” in 1961:
[The] conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together. (boldfacing added)
See, e.g., (Wikipedia 2022h). And for the closely-related notion of the deep state, see, e.g., (Herman and Chomsky 1988; and Lofgren 2014). Unfortunately, the neologism I was originally using for the Hyper-State, “the deeper state,” has been irremediably corrupted by the opportunistic, systematic misuse of the term “the deep state” by American right-libertarians since roughly 2016.
[vii] As many have noted, it’s of course profoundly ironic that since the turn of the millennium, Right-libertarians/Trumpist neofascists and Left-postmodernists/identitarian multiculturalists have fully converged in their ideological commitments to cognitive relativism and anti-science.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 619
Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Monday 20 December 2021
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