THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE, #36–Constrictive Thought-Shapers vs. Generative Thought-Shapers.
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–including the BIBLIOGRAPHY–of THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE HERE.
This thirty-sixth installment contains section 3.3.
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
3.3 Constrictive Thought-Shapers vs. Generative 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
Appendix 1. A Neo-Organicist Turn in Formal Science: The Case of Mathematical Logic
Appendix 2. A Neo-Organicist Note on The Löwenheim-Skolem Theorem and “Skolem’s Paradox”
Appendix 3. A Neo-Organicist Approach to The Nature of Motion
Appendix 4. Sensible Set Theory
Appendix 5. Neo-Organicism and The Rubber Sheet Cosmos
3.3 Constrictive Thought-Shapers vs. Generative Thought-Shapers
The theory of thought-shapers, aka TTS, is smoothly continuous with and indeed an extension of the theory of social-institutional mind-shaping and life-shaping that Michelle Maiese and I presented and defended in our book, The Mind-Body Politic. In that book, we argued (i) that mind-shaping and life-shaping in human social institutions is essentially embodied and directly revealed in bodily comportment, and (ii) that there’s a crucial distinction between (iia) social institutions that shape our essentially embodied minds/lives in destructive, deforming ways, and (iib) social institutions that shape our essentially embodied minds/lives in constructive, enabling ways, where the difference between destructive, deforming ways and constructive, enabling ways is cashed out in terms of either frustrating and undermining,or else promoting and sustaining,the satisfaction of true human needs (Maiese and Hanna, 2019: esp. chs. 1–3 and 6–8; see also section 5.4.1 below).
As regards our thesis (i) and TTS, Maiese and I are building on the essential embodiment theory of the mind-body relation, aka EET, as presented and defended in Embodied Minds in Action (Hanna and Maiese, 2009) and as I briefly re-presented and re-defended it in section 2.4 above. Again, according to EET, the mental-physical relation is a two-way necessary complementarity, that is, a mental-to-physical and physical-to-mental necessary equivalence that captures the manifestly real essence of minded animals like us. So in a nutshell, EET says that the conscious minds of animals are necessarily and completely embodied in those animals, and that the conscious mind of an animal is the global dynamic immanent structure of the living organismic body of that very animal, a structure that inherently activates and guides the animal’s causally efficacious biological powers — or as Aristotle puts it in his own terminology: “the soul (anima) is the first actuality of a natural body that has life potentially”(Aristotle, 1968: II.i.412a22). Hence EET is committed to a dynamicist, neo-organicist, and processualist version of neo-Aristotelian hylomorphism about the mind-body relation (Hanna and Maiese, 2009: esp. chs. 1–2 and 6–8).
The direct implication of applying EET to thought-shapers, via the cognitive semantics of essentially non-conceptual content, is that thought-shapers are directly revealed in action-poised bodily comportment. Since thought-shapers are immediately manifested in action-poised bodily comportment, then they’re essentially not hidden like a ghostly beetle inside an inner Cartesian box, accessible only to infallible introspection. Or in other words, via the essential embodiment of the human mind, thought-shapers are intersubjectively observable, as well as being phenomenologically observable. This is an extremely important point in relation to the history of empirical psychology, and in particular to the in-principle unresolvable “imageless thought” controversy that significantly motivated the overthrow of classical 19th century introspectionist psychology by behaviorism in the early 20th century (Kusch, 1999). And in these connections, there are also significant parallels between TTS and the breakthrough work on cognition, embodiment, and enactivity carried out by Mark Johnson and George Lakoff, in Johnson’s The Body in the Mind (Johnson, 1990) and also in Lakoff’s and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By (Lakoff and Johnson, 2003).
Mirroring and extending Maiese’s and my thesis (ii) in The Mind-Body Politic, there’s a corresponding basic distinction in my theory of thought-shapers between: (iia*) thought-shapers that shape our conceptual thinking in destructive, deforming ways, which we call constrictive thought-shapers, and (iib*) thought-shapers that shape our conceptual thinking in constructive, enabling ways, which we call generative thought-shapers. But what, more precisely, is the difference between constrictive and generative thought-shapers?
A starting point for explaining this difference is that Platonic images, Baconian Idols, Marxian ideology, Wittgensteinian pictures, at least some Pepperian root metaphors for metaphysical worldviews,[i] and persistent false beliefs and misinformation, are all vivid examples of constrictive thought-shapers. In this way, constrictive thought-shapers typically “pre-install” and “groove” people’s thinking not only pre-reflectively and non-self-consciously, but also, and above all, by operating essentially as what William Blake called mind-forg’d manacles:
In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear. (Blake, 1794: lines 5–8)
More specifically, then, constrictive thought-shapers, in a mostly pre-reflective and non-self-conscious way, lock human thinking into false dogmatic assumptions and presuppositions, and into repetitive, uncreative, and unproductive routines, that inevitably lead to contradictions, dilemmas, paradoxes, and vicious circles in philosophical, formal-scientific, and natural-scientific thinking (aka dialetheias) (CPR A293–704/B249–732; Priest, 1987, 1998), and to conflicts, crashes, crises, and cul de sacs (aka disasters) in artistic, moral, and sociopolitical thinking.
On the formal-scientific side, constrictive dialetheic thought-shapers enable the highly problematic shaped thought that completeness (i.e., the logical property such that all true sentences are provable) overrides consistency (i.e., the logical property that no sentence — or at least, in its minimal version, not every sentence [Putnam, 1983; Hanna, 2006: ch. 2, 2015: ch. 5] — is both true and false), by virtue of the logical facts (i) that dialetheic sentences are both true and false (aka “truth-value gluts”) and (ii) that every sentence whatsoever is a logical consequence of a dialetheic sentence, and therefore every sentence whatsoever (call it S) is provable from a dialetheic sentence (call it S*) by means of two simple steps of disjunction-addition (“if S*, then [S* or S]”) and disjunction-elimination (“if [S* or S] and not-S*, then S”). Since, however, the negation of S, not-S, is also derivable by the same two-step proof-method, then every sentence whatsoever is both true and false, a logically nihilistic result that’s rightly called Explosion. Now, it’s possible to prevent Explosion, and heed at least the minimal principle of non-contradiction, by adding some special axioms or axioms, and still retain dialetheism, which is called dialetheic paraconsistent logic. But, that even only a restricted range of sentences S should follow logically from S*, by that two-step proof-method, is rationally unacceptable, not only on grounds of relevance — the meaning of any such S need have no conceptual or intensional connection at all with the meaning of S* — but also on alethic grounds: the truth or falsity of any such S need have no semantic or extensional connection at all with the “glutted” truth-value of S*.
On the moral side of constrictive truth-shapers, and to return to an earlier example, this means that although Kant’s idea of a moral catechism (or, more broadly, moral education) is prima facie a fine idea, it also runs the risk of imposing a set of moral views on students, in an authoritarian, moralistic, and/or coercive way, instead of priming their capacities for generative thinking and free agency.
By a diametrically opposed contrast to constrictive thought-shapers, generative thought-shapers, by “post-installing” human thinking in inherently “re-configurable and re-patternable grooves,”[ii] thereby self-consciously unlock, liberate, and sustain creative and productive human thinking. A characteristic feature of generative thought-shapers is that they possess not only effective, true, flexible application to a proper domain of content, but also effective, true, flexible re-application or repurposing, across several or even unrestrictedly many different domains of content, yet without being infinitely malleable, ambiguous, or vague. I’ve already proposed that the mental representation of David Foster Wallace’s “the-fish-&-the-water” allegory/parable is a paradigmatic generative thought-shaper in recent and contemporary moral or sociopolitical culture, and I’ll come back again to this allegory/parable briefly at the end of section 3.7. In the meantime, here are three other more detailed examples of generative thought-shapers, taken from two instructively different areas of cognitive activity and different domains of content — namely, mathematics or mathematical logic, and architecture — including variations across non-empirical (formal, a priori) and empirical (material, a posteriori) cognition.
1. Cantor’s Diagonalization Argument
A paradigmatic classical example of a generative thought-shaper in the formal sciences is Georg Cantor’s famous diagonalization argument (aka Cantor’s topological proof) for the existence of transfinite numbers, i.e., non-denumerable infinities, i.e., infinite sets that cannot be put into a 1–1 correspondence with the infinite set of natural numbers (Cantor, 1891, 2019). How did Cantor do this? Let’s assume that the set of natural numbers (aka the positive integers, i.e., 1, 2, 3 …) is infinite: then a set of numbers is denumerably infinite if and only if it can be put into a 1–1 correspondence with the set of natural numbers. It turns out, perhaps surprisingly, that the whole numbers (i.e., 0, 1, 2, 3 …) and also the integers (the whole numbers and their negative mirror) and the rational numbers (i.e., the integers plus all repeating and terminating decimals), and all sets of numbers based on basic (i.e., primitive recursive) mathematical operations over the rationals, have the same cardinality (i.e., counting-number-osity) as the natural numbers, because they can be paired 1–1 with the natural numbers. Cantor created a method for displaying a top-down vertical list of all the number sequences in the system of positive rational numbers (and since the negative numbers are just a mirror of the positive ones, they don’t differ except in their being marked as negative). Then he constructed or “drew” a diagonal line across the list. Since, by hypothesis, a complete list contains all the rationals, and there are infinitely many rationals, then the infinite number picked out by the diagonal isn’t on the list, hence its cardinality is non-denumerable but still infinite, aka transfinite. Moreover, because the list is a two-dimensional array, and since the constructed diagonal line that runs across it systematically picks out a number that is not displayed within the two-dimensional space of the array, then it in effect represents a third and higher spatial dimension over and above the two-dimensional array. So, in effect, transfinite numbers are higher-dimensional numbers.
Decisive positive evidence for the generativity of Cantor’s diagonalization thought-shaper is Kurt Gödel’s famous argument for the incompleteness of mathematical logic (Gödel, 1931), where “mathematical logic” is understood as per Whitehead’s and Russell’s Principia Mathematica, and essentially similar systems, which include the basic axioms of Peano arithmetic, together with the primitive recursive functions over the natural numbers. Using the method now known as “Gödel-numbering” and thereby mapping the definition of truth into the logical system itself, and exploiting the Liar paradox, Gödel brilliantly repurposes Cantor’s diagonal or topological proof strategy by demonstrating the existence of some (by hypothesis, given the assumption of completeness) true sentences that, in effect, say of themselves:
“I’m undecidable and unprovable, therefore false.”
In order to retain consistency, therefore, all such logical systems must be incomplete and unable to prove their own consistency, so that truth-determination for those systems and their truth-definitions, alike, must occur outside those systems themselves. Now, compare and contrast the generatively thought-shaped thinking expressed by Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, which retains the constraint of consistency and rejects completeness, so that there must be an inexhaustible non-logical source of true mathematical axioms (Feferman, 2006: p. 16), with the constrictively thought-shaped thinking expressed by dialetheic paraconsistent logic, which rejects the universal constraint of consistency, and retains completeness, so that (almost) anything goes. It’s just like the difference between the ontologically rich yet carefully-constrained processual and non-local realistic “beables” of the Bohmian “hidden variables”/pilot wave interpretation of quantum mechanics (Bohm, 1952; Bohm and Hiley, 1974; Bell, 1987b; Goldstein, 2017) on the one hand, versus the flatfooted subjective idealism of the Bohrian/Copenhagen interpretation (Faye, 2019) or the (as it were) advanced-capitalist ontological overproduction of the many-worlds interpretation (Vaidman, 2021) on the other. I’ll have more to say about Bohmian mechanics in chapter 4. But in the meantime, I think that the logico-mathematically creative and rational superiority of Gödel-incompleteness over dialetheism is self-evident.
2. Architectural Sketching
Another example of a generative thought-shaper is the mental representation of a rough architectural sketch. Seen from the viewpoint of intellectualism, the sketch is vague, indeterminate, and incomplete. It does not bear a one-to-one correspondence to what it intends to represent. Again, if we fall back into the language of idealized, strict propositional thinking, the sketch cannot but be incomplete and lacking in multiple respects. However, the mistake lies in misconstruing what a sketch actually is. First, it’s not a proposition. Second, it’s not a faithful, figurative representation of a building or other object that’s either realized or is yet-to-come. Contrariwise to both of these, it’s a dynamic diagram which traces various aspects that might at some point belong to the building or that stand out. By playing around with the aspects that are included and those that are excluded, a new picture emerges in which the present elements enter into a new dialectical relationship. They offset and illuminate each other, as well as the voids and blanks between them. As such, they are apposites, setting of new causal and normative chains of reasoning in the observer (Cross, 2007). One could also call this “presence” or “making visible” (Noë, 2012). Observers have to take the drawing “into their possession,” in the sense that they must explore the drawing, and takes its representational contents as point of departure for forming beliefs (Zumthor, 2014). This relationship is not merely or even primarily intellectual or ratiocinative: it’s just as much, or even moreso, essentially embodied, emotive, and agential, as immersing oneself in a movie or other narrative artwork. One must “dwell” in the drawing in order to tease out its hidden potentials, and to allow it to become a thought-shaper, partially causing, forming, and guiding one’s thinking on a given subject (Polanyi, 1967). The sketch — like the architectural diagrams discussed earlier and also directly below — has processual and topological properties: it allows one to “freeze time” and to retain some aspects while deleting others; simultaneously, its topology can constantly be reworked, reversed, and modified (Whyte and Ewenstein, 2010). More generally, the mental representation of a sketch is as much a processual instrument as it is a static representation.
3. Architectural Diagrams
Another — this time, digital — example of generative thought-shapers is the use of mental representations of external context-sensitive/indexical architectural diagrams, although their parameters remain largely the same across contexts. The architectural diagrams utilized by UNStudio and Zaha Hadid architects are examples of images that are malleable without being vague. On the one hand, they contain a package of principles and relations. But on the other, they can also be adapted to almost any actual-world context. Architectural diagrams hold certain topological relations fixed, but these relations are so fluid that they do not seems to exist at all. As such, the diagram typically hides the part of its content that would reveal it to be a thought-shaper. It appears as a handy and flexible tool that can be applied to a host of situations, but its very internal structure almost invisibly pre-structures the domains of content to which it is applied. We can see some of the ideological surplus in one of the remarks that Van Berkel and Bos make about diagrams:
The design model integrates several elements, rather than providing the designer with one important paradigm. It does not simply state “surface” or “fold,” but instrumentalizes such concepts to incorporate the real ingredients of a real work in architecture. (van Berkel and Bos, 2008: p. 21)
To appear neutral is ingrained in its very nature as a generative thought-shaping diagram; yet it’s precisely this characteristic also responsible for its efficacy in practice.
As we’ll see in the next two sections, however, thought-shapers always also assume a worldview and an associated Pepperian “root-metaphor” — even if they themselves typically hide the premises, origins, and presuppositions of the worldview/root metaphor they covertly assume. An illustration of this feature can be found in a description of Peter Eisenmann’s architectural design procedures:
[P]eter’s notion of form generation was a kind of iterative — one might even say, although actually I don’t think he would say this — recursive process. It’s really more additive, where you begin with a geometric primitive and them through a series of geometrical operation of displacements and slippages, over the course of these different iterations the objects gains greater complexity, such that all the information from the previous stages is embedded in the object. (Allen, 2017: p. 395)
Although Eisenmann’s diagrams are generated by Turing-computable operations, they look as if they transcend computability and extend into some kind of new architectural creativity (i.e., a “new ontological domain” of creativity only accessible to the designing mind), and to that extent, they hide their inherently mechanical nature. An even more striking case of the same phenomenon is the fluid-and-organic-looking yet also computer-generated diagrams by Zaha Hadid Architects:
[i] Pepper identifies at least six different worldviews or “world hypotheses”: animism, mysticism, formism, mechanism, contextualism, and organicism: see (Pepper, 1942: chs. VI to XI). In my view, only organicism — or more precisely, only neo-organicism — is a philosophically, scientifically, artistically, morally, and sociopolitically fully adequate worldview, and therefore only its root metaphor — the organism — is a fully generative thought-shaper. As a consequence, the root metaphors associated with animism, mysticism, formism, mechanism, and contextualism are all, to some degree, constrictive thought-shapers; and the natural automaton or natural machine, the root metaphor associated with the mechanistic worldview, is the most constrictive.
[ii] It’s initially tempting to use the term “reprogrammable” as an analogy or metaphor here, because it’s so familiar and vivid from our contemporary ubiquitous use of digital technology. But that term falsely implies the computational theory of mind, which actually applies only to mechanical thought-shapers, as we’ll see in section 3.5 below.
[iii] The shapes are parametrically defined and can be transformed infinitely. Each visual representation gives rise to a new foreground/background relationship in the perceived object, yielding an oscillation between determination and reflection.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 709
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