THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE, #39– Adverse Cognitive Effects of Mechanical, Constrictive 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-ninth installment contains section 3.6.
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
3.6 Adverse Cognitive Effects of Mechanical, Constrictive 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
3.6 Adverse Cognitive Effects of Mechanical, Constrictive Thought-Shapers
What philosophical insights can we derive from the paradigmatic classical examples of dialetheic and disastrous mechanical, constrictive thought-shapers that I described in section 3.4 and from my explanation of the nature of constrictive thought-shapers in section 3.5? In my view, the philosophical take-away is fourfold.
First, all mechanical thought-shapers inherently hide their own origins and presuppositions. This, in turn is essentially connected with the metaphysics of formal and natural mechanisms. According to my view, all formal and natural mechanisms are (either logically or naturally/nomologically) strongly supervenient on the fundamentally processual and purposive (aka organic) nature of the manifestly real world.
To make this point clearly and distinctly, here are more fairly precise definitions that we’ve seen before (section 126.96.36.199), but we’ll need again as we go forward in the chapter. Strong supervenience (Kim, 1993a: esp. part 1; Horgan, 1993; and Chalmers, 1996: chs. 1–3) is a necessary determination-relation between sets of properties or states of different ontological “levels,” a relation that’s weaker than strict property/state-identity, and is usually taken to be asymmetric, although two-way or bilateral supervenience is also possible. But assuming for the purposes of simpler exposition that strong supervenience is asymmetric, then B-properties/states (= the higher level properties/states) strongly supervene on A-properties/states (= the lower-level properties/states) if and only if (i) for any property/state F among the A-properties/states had by something X, F necessitates X’s also having property/state G among the B-properties/states (upwards necessitation), and (ii) there cannot be a change in any of X’s B-properties/states without a corresponding change in X’s A-properties/states (necessary co-variation). It follows from strong supervenience that any two things X and Y share all their A-properties/states in common only if they share all their B-properties/states in common (indiscriminability). In turn, logical supervenience is a super-strong version of strong supervenience which says that the necessitation relations between the B-properties/states and the A-properties/states are logical and a priori. Or more simply put: The B-properties/states are “nothing more than” and “nothing over and above” the A-properties/states. If logical supervenience holds, then if there were such a being as an omnipotent and omniscient creator-God, and if They were to create and/or know all the A-properties/states, then They would have nothing more to do in order to create and/or know all the B-properties/states. By contrast to logical supervenience, natural or nomological strong supervenience is a modally weaker notion which says that the necessitation relations between the B-properties/states and the A-properties/states are determined by laws of nature, and hold in all and only the worlds in which those natural laws obtain. It’s crucial to recognize that no matter what its level of modal strength, strong supervenience specifies at best a set of extrinsic modal properties and relations (namely, upwards necessitation, necessary co-variation, and indiscriminability) between a thing’s A-properties/states and its B-properties/states, or between any two things’ A-properties/states and B-properties/states. If relations of strong supervenience hold for a thing or things, as such, then there’s no further implication that these are relations of constitution, essence, or efficacious causal power, such that a thing’s or things’ immanent structural characteristics — and in particular, if the thing or things are natural or physical, their efficacious causal powers — depend on these relations. Conversely, if relations of constitution, essence, or causal efficacy do indeed hold for a thing or things, then there’s no further implication that strong supervenience holds for them. In short, the metaphysics of strong supervenience is modally shallow, not modally deep, unlike the real metaphysics of manifestly real constitution, essence, or causality (Hanna, 2017a).
Against that theoretical backdrop, another way of saying that all formal and natural mechanisms are (either logically or naturally/nomologically) strongly supervenient on the fundamentally processual, purposive, and self-organizing (i.e., organic) nature of the manifestly real, all-inclusive natural or physical world — the cosmos — is to say that all formal and natural mechanisms are systematic abstractions from the fundamentally organic nature of the cosmos. For example, in mathematical logic, as Gödel (1931), Church (1936), Turing (1936/1937), Tarski (1943, 1956), and Skolem (1967b), collectively demonstrated, all computable/effectively decidable, consistent, sound, and complete systems of logic are all either truth-functional, contain monadic predicates and quantifiers only (Boolos and Jeffrey, 1989: ch. 25), or are primitive-recursive-arithmetic, and therefore (in effect, logically strongly supervenient) fragments, of systems at least as rich as Principia Mathematica-style systems, containing all the Peano axioms for arithmetic, which are themselves inherently undecidable and incomplete, cannot prove their own consistency or contain their own truth-definitions, and contain polyadic predicates and quantifiers. And in mathematics, as Cantor demonstrated, the natural, whole, and rational number systems are all discontinuous, denumerably infinite, share the same cardinality, and therefore are (in effect, logically strongly supervenient) fragments, of the system of real numbers (Cantor, 1891, 2019; and appendix 3 below). Similarly, as Prigogine demonstrated, thermodynamic systems that obey The 1st and 2nd Laws of Thermodynamics are all closed, non-complex, entropy-enslaved, time-reversible when entropy is maximal at the equilibrium state of the system, and therefore are (in effect, naturally/nomologically strongly supervenient) fragments, of open, complex, non-equilibrium, negentropic, time-irreversible, self-organizing thermodynamic systems (Prigogine, 1997). From the anti-mechanistic/neo-organicist, Prigogine-style point of view, the wrongheaded common claim made by contemporary physicists who are committed to (i) the Standard Models of cosmology and particle physics, and (ii) the thesis that increase in entropy “explains” the asymmetry/ unidirectionality of time, aka time’s arrow, is precisely analogous to the wrongheaded formalist claim that effectively decidable or Turing-computable algorithms and/or recursive functions “explain” logical or mathematical truth. Doubly on the contrary, the asymmetric/unidirectional character of time is an essential feature of open, complex, non-equilibrium, negentropic, time-irreversible, self-organizing thermodynamic systems, just as undecidability and incompleteness, including a logical system’s inability either to prove its own consistency or to contain its own truth-definition, are essential features of all systems of mathematical logic at least as rich as Principia Mathematica-style systems.
Second, it’s precisely the fact that all mechanical systems logically or naturally/nomologically strongly supervene on the fundamentally organic nature of the cosmos, and are systematic abstractions from it, which explains why it is that when mechanical thought-shapers are correctly applied to inherently mechanical domains of content, then they’re lower-bound, limiting cases of organic, generative thought-shapers. Such mechanical thought-shapers are cognitive-semantic fragments of essentially richer organic, generative thought-shapers, just as inherently mechanical domains of content are formal or cosmological fragments of essentially richer organic systems.
Third, if we start out with systematically abstracted or strongly supervenient fragments of formal or cosmological systems, and then mistakenly take them to be concrete and fundamental, as I noted above in section 2.4, then we’ve blindly ignored their metaphysical and ontological origins and presuppositions, and flagrantly committed the explanatory fallacy that Whitehead aptly calls “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness” (Whitehead, 1967: p. 51). But although all formal or natural mechanical systems and all mechanical thought-shapers have this feature of hiding their own origins and presuppositions, due to systematic abstraction or strong supervenience, only mechanical, constrictive thought-shapers systematically undermine our ability to recognize their systematically abstractive or strongly supervenient origins and presuppositions, by locking us into cognitive (whether theoretical, emotional, or practical) routines that are essentially driven by the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. The essentially mechanical, constrictive character of such thought-shapers stems from the fact that they deviously appear as the logically sound upshot of reasoning, while in reality, they appear plausible in this way only if the bogus reasoning that’s supposed to justify them is tacitly and uncritically assumed. All the rational justificatory work has yet to be done, and therefore mechanistic, constrictive thinking is not — as Richard Dawkins notoriously said about neo-Darwinism –“the only game in town” (Dawkins, 2010).
As I also mentioned in section 2.4, a prime example of this adverse cognitive effect, taken from mathematical logic, is systems that are inherently self-contradictory or paradoxical, like the contradictory system described in Frege’s Basic Laws of Arithmetic, which is subject to Russell’s Paradox (set-theoretic paradox), or Principia Mathematica-style systems without Gödel’s incompleteness theorems and/or without Alfred Tarski’s metalinguistic semantic definition of truth (Tarski, 1943, 1956), both of which are subject to versions of the Liar Paradox (truth-theoretic paradox).
Another prime example of this adverse cognitive effect, now taken from contemporary physics, are the paradoxes of relativity and quantum mechanics that depend on the stipulative assumptions (i) that causally efficacious atomic and sub-atomic facts must be composed either of waves or of particles, but not both, and (ii) that the speed of light is an absolute causal limit in the cosmos, and, as a consequence of that, necessarily, all causation is “local,” aka “within the light-cone.” But what if the complementarity of waves and particles, and also the so-called “non-locality” effects, are simply inherent and pervasive features of a fundamentally organic cosmos whose causal powers are not absolutely limited by the speed of light?
And another prime example of this adverse cognitive effect, this time taken from morality and sociopolitics, is the very idea of the modern State — by which I mean the Hobbesian liberal and neoliberal capitalist nation-State, from the 17th century forward to 6am this morning — which builds in as axioms (i) that all people are essentially or by nature egoistic, (ii) that all people are essentially or by nature mutually antagonistic, and (iii) that all people, either in their original uncivilized condition, or whenever they’re left to their own devices, will be immured in the horrific “state of nature,” in which there is inevitably a “war of all against all” and life is catastrophically “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” therefore (iv) all people must be strictly governed by an authoritarian coercive “rule of law,” precisely in order to be able unceasingly to pursue their own self-interest according to decision-theoretic principles, This essentially Hobbesian four-step line of reasoning is captured in a single Gestalt by this very famous thought-shaper, displayed on the title page of the first edition of Hobbes’s 1651 Leviathan:
But these three Hobbesian axioms, and the Hobbesian conclusion drawn from them, are nothing but tragically bad, false, and wrong moral and sociopolitical myths (Hanna, 2017b, 2020c; Bregman, 2020). Moreover, these Hobbesian myths operate as nocebos, i.e., as things, the mere belief in which causes people to be morally worse, or worse off, than they would have been without those beliefs. Indeed, in view of the all-encompassing, tightly-bordered, highly-regimented, and virtually inescapable nature of the modern State, these Hobbesian myths operate as ultimate nocebos (Godwin, 1793: esp. book I; Rel 6: 96–97; Hanna, 2021g).
Fourth, perhaps the most dire adverse cognitive effect of mechanical, constrictive thought-shapers is their impact on beliefs. In order to see this, let’s distinguish between two different kinds of beliefs: (i) adventitious beliefs, bound up with relatively trivial, temporary, or everyday states of affairs and purposes — say, beliefs about various things I have on my “to-do” list for today, and (ii) fundamental beliefs, bound up with worldviews, group identity, and/or personal identity — say, beliefs about morality, society, politics, or metaphysics. Now, it’s easy enough to change one’s mind about adventitious beliefs, and update them. For example, I might believe by looking at the weather app on my smart phone that it’s going to snow this afternoon, so I decide that I won’t go for a walk then; yet when I look outside at that time, it’s sunny and clear, so I change my mind about my earlier belief, update it, and decide to go for a walk then after all. Nevertheless, it’s very and even exceptionally cognitively difficult to change one’s mind about fundamental beliefs, especially those that are bound up with mechanical, constrictive thought-shapers, since they’re inherently inflexible and recursive, and therefore “pre-install” and “groove” human thinking inflexibly, recursively, and intransigently in the corresponding shaped thoughts, in the form of fundamental beliefs.
Moreover — and here’s the crucial point — if one were to change one’s mind about fundamental beliefs, then it would essentially consist in substituting one thought-shaper for another thought-shaper, whether it be (i) substituting a mechanical, constrictive thought-shaper for another mechanical, constrictive thought-shaper, (ii) substituting an organic, generative thought-shaper for another organic, generative thought-shaper, (iii) substituting a mechanical, constrictive thought-shaper for an organic, generative thought-shaper, or (iv) substituting an organic, generative thought-shaper for a mechanical, constrictive thought-shaper. Changing one’s fundamental beliefs according to option (iii), although it would be cognitively pathological — for example, such cognitive substitutions are a characteristic feature of “mind-control” or “thought-control” techniques (Wikipedia, 2022c; Meerloo, 1957) all-too-effectively used by gaslighters, coercive interrogators, and other Big Brothers in the real-world versions of the fictional traditions of George Orwell’s 1949 novel 1984 and John Frankenheimer’s 1962 movie, The Manchurian Candidate — wouldn’t normally be very cognitively difficult or effortful (even if often highly unpleasant) from the human cognitive subject’s first-person point of view. According to empirical studies and fictional accounts alike, such cognitive substitutions, from the human cognitive subject’s first-person point of view, are experienced by the subject as abjectly surrendering their existing organic, generative cognitive repertoire to the gaslighter/coercive interrogator/Big Brother, and passively “letting go.” But by a diametric oppositional contrast to this, what would be most cognitively difficult and effortful of all from the cognitive subject’s first-person point of view, is changing one’s fundamental beliefs according to option (iv). For this kind of cognitive substitution would involve not only a high degree of self-conscious critical awareness, but also a resolute readiness to transform one’s existing worldview, group identity, and/or personal identity radically. Still, as cognitively difficult and effortful as it would be, changing one’s fundamental beliefs according to option (iv) would amount to genuine progress in human thinking.
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