THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE, #40–How Can We Acknowledge Organic Systems and Organic, 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 fortieth installment contains section 3.7.
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
3.7 How Can We Acknowledge Systems and Organic, 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
3.7 How Can We Acknowledge Organic Systems and Organic, Generative Thought-Shapers?
If it’s indeed the case, as I’ve argued in section 3.6, that all mechanical systems and mechanical thought-shapers inherently hide their origins and presuppositions, but only mechanical, constrictive thought-shapers systematically undermine our ability to recognize these origins and presuppositions, and as a consequence yield corresponding shaped thoughts, in the form of persistent and backfire-effect-producing bad, false, or wrong beliefs, then since organic systems and organic, generative thought-shapers are categorically different from and inherently contrary to mechanical systems and mechanical, constrictive thought-shapers, it follows that organic systems and organic, generative thought-shapers must display their origins and presuppositions openly and, as it were, “wear them on their sleeves.” And that in turn makes prima facie good sense: everything that’s inherently organic naturally bears, displays, and purposively utilizes its own evolutionary past — for example, evolutionary phylogenetic facts about species, and also ontogenetic organismic facts about individuals, especially including aging and human episodic memory or skill memory; and it’s also plausibly arguable that for everything that’s inherently organic, its presuppositions are weakly transcendentally ideal, and therefore self-consciously available via transcendental arguments, as a priori conditions of the real possibility of the manifestly real world (Hanna, 2015a: chs. 6–8).
But here’s a prima facie problem to go along with what makes prima facie good sense. If what I’ve been saying about organic systems and organic, generative thought-shapers is true, and especially if organic systems and organic, generative thought-shapers naturally bear and display their origins and their presuppositions openly and “wear them on their sleeves,” then why isn’t everyone already a metaphysical/ontological neo-organicist and a creative, open-minded thinker via organic, generative thought-shapers and their corresponding shaped thoughts, in the form of good, true, and right beliefs? Otherwise put, how did the hegemony of the mechanistic worldview and the endemic cognitive tyranny of the “mind-forg’d manacles” of mechanical, constrictive thought-shapers, and their corresponding shaped thoughts, in the form of bad, false, and wrong beliefs, since the early 20th century, come to be?
It seems to me that the deep diagnosis of this historical, cultural, moral or sociopolitical, and more generally cognitive fact about bad, false, and wrong thinking, and intellectual vice more generally (Cassam, 2015, 2019),[i] must include an appeal to the natural tendency of human reason to pursue and valorize dialetheic noumenal explanations, and correspondingly to ignore and theoretically undermine the authentic or veridical appearances (Erscheinungen), by wrongheadedly turning them into mere or false appearances (Schein) (Hanna, 2017b). Kant’s philosophical method of the critique of pure reason and his empirical realism in the first Critique make that very point; and very similar points are made by the later Wittgenstein — everything we need for the purposes of clear and distinct, true, sound, and creative thinking already lies fully open to our view:
Philosophy simply puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything. — Since everything already lies open to view there is nothing to explain. For what is hidden, for example, is of no interest to us…. One might also give the name “philosophy” to what is possible before all new discoveries and inventions. (Wittgenstein, 1953: §126, p. 50e; see also §92, p. 43e)
But if we simply cannot acknowledge “what already lies open to view,” then that’s because we’ve been historically, culturally, morally, and/or sociopolitically cognitively blinded, imprisoned, and ultimately self-stultified, by our obsession with the noumenal, which, since the early 20th century, has been dominantly and pervasively identified with the mechanistic worldview.
In the late 18th and 19th century, Goethe (especially in The Metamorphosis of Plants), the British Romantic poets, Henry David Thoreau, and the Impressionists all made the excellent point that being truly able to see what already lies right before one’s eyes in the fundamentally organic cosmos requires a special kind of cognitive humility, cognitive openness, and cognitive self-discipline: for example, resolving to live self-reliantly and simply, in the woods beside Walden Pond. As I’ve noted several times already, Wordsworth, Shelley, and Samuel Alexander aptly call that special cognitive attitude or standpoint natural piety:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety. (Wordsworth, 1807)
Earth, ocean, air, belov’d brotherhood!
If our great Mother has imbued my soul
With aught of natural piety to feel
Your love, and recompense the boon with mine. (Shelley, 1816)
I do not mean by natural piety exactly what Wordsworth meant by it–the reverent joy in nature, by which he wished that his days might be bound to each other–though there is enough connection with his interpretation to justify me in using his phrase. The natural piety I am going to speak of is that of the scientific investigator, by which he accepts with loyalty the mysteries which he cannot explain in nature and has no right to try to explain. I may describe it as the habit of knowing when to stop in asking questions of nature.
[T]hat organization which is alive is not merely physico-chemical, though completely resoluble into such terms, but has the new quality of life. No appeal is needed, so far as I can see, to a vital force or even an élan vital. It is enough to note the emergence of the quality, and try to describe what is involved in its conditions…. The living body is also physical and chemical. It surrenders no claim to be considered a part of the physical world. But the new quality of life is neither chemical nor mechanical, but something new.
We may and must observe with care our of what previous conditions these new creations arise. We cannot tell why they should assume these qualities. We can but accept them as we find them, and this acceptance is natural piety. (Alexander, 1939: pp. 299, 310–311, and 306)
As anticipated in earlier chapters, here are some leading 20th and 21st century examples of natural piety: Whitehead’s Concept of Nature (1920); Lloyd Morgan’s Emergent Evolution (1923); Schrödinger’s What is Life (1944); Bohm’s “hidden variables”/pilot wave interpretation of quantum theory (Bohm, 1952; Bohm and Hiley, 1975; Goldstein, 2017); non-equilibrium thermodynamics and complex systems dynamics, as developed by Prigogine and his associates, and by Bernal (Bernal, 1967; Nicolis and Prigogine, 1977; Prigogine and Stengers, 1984; Prigogine, 1997); the autopoietic approach to organismic biologyworked out by Varela and his associates during the 1970s (Varela, Muturana, and Uribe, 1974; Varela, 1979); Bohm’s theory of a cosmological “implicate order” (Bohm, 1982); Thompson’s “mind-in-life” theory, directly inspired by Varela’s work on autopoiesis (Thompson, 2007); new applications of intuitionist mathematics to modeling “time’s arrow,” i.e., its asymmetrically forward flow from the past to the future (Wolchover, 2020); in new processual approaches to biology (Nicholson and Dupré, 2018); and in new work towards the unification of biology and physics (Torday, Miller Jr, and Hanna, 2020).
And corresponding to natural piety in the natural sciences, there’s an analogous, parallel phenomenon in the formal sciences that I call formal piety.Formal piety is exemplified, for example, by Cantor’s mathematics of transfinite or “transcendental” numbers, which bears witness to higher-dimensional infinities (Cantor, 1891, 2019); by Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, which bear witness to the inherently non-logical character of mathematical truth (Gödel, 1931); by Church’s undecidability proof for classical first-order predicate logic, which bears witness to inherently non-recursive character of logical proofs and truths involving polyadic predicates and quantifiers (Church, 1936); by Skolem’s discovery of primitive recursive arithmetic as a specially-restricted fragment of Peano arithmetic that’s consistent, complete, sound, and decidable, which bears witness to the fact that decidability is necessarily restricted to logical domains that lack polyadic quantifiers (Skolem, 1967b); by Tarski’s semantic conception of truth, which bears witness to Gödel-incompleteness and the Liar Paradox alike (Tarski, 1943, 1956), and by the well-ordered set theory created or discovered by Zermelo plus the axiom of choice (Zermelo, 1930, 1967: 139–141, 183–198, 199–215; Potter, 1990: ch. 7),[ii] which bears witness to the paradoxes of naïve set theory.
Corresponding to natural piety in the natural sciences and formal piety in the formal sciences, there’s another analogous, parallel phenomenon in the fine arts — exemplified in literature, for example, by what T.S. Eliot calls “finding the objective correlative” (Eliot, 1920: p. 58) — that I call artistic piety.
Similarly, there’s another analogous, parallel phenomenon in the social sciences and political anthropology — exemplified, for example, by Wilhelm Dilthey’s notion of Verstehen (Makkreel, 2021: esp. section 2.3), by what Wittgenstein calls “agreement (Übereinstimmung) … in form of life (Lebensform)” (Wittgenstein, 1953: , §241, p. 88e) and by what James C. Scott calls metis (Scott, 1998: pp. 309–341)[iii] — that I call social piety.
There’s also another analogous, parallel phenomenon in ethics — exemplified by our recognition of the concepts and facts of human dignity and the highest good — that I call moral piety (see section 5.1 below; and Hanna, 2021d).
And the correlate of all these in neo-organicist metaphysics is what I call metaphysical piety.
For convenience, and in order to distinguish all these modes of piety sharply from religious piety — which, to mix metaphors, is another kettle of fish and also a horse of a different color — I’ll group them together under the general term creative piety.
Creative piety bears witness to the essentially rich structures of organic formal systems, organic artistic systems, organic cosmological systems, organic social systems, organic moral and ethical systems, and organic metaphysical systems. As I’ve already pointed out in the Introduction and section 3.0, creative piety is
the meta-cognitive acknowledgment of specifically how it is that organic, generative thought-shapers radically restructure some or another determinate domain of representational content, thereby revealing new rich structures in that domain, as represented from a higher-order perspective, and produce correspondingly shaped human thoughts that are original insights with respect to that domain.
As I also indicated in the Introduction, possibly the least sophisticated and yet also most vivid example of creative piety is the “overview effect” (White, 1987; Siegel, 2021b), a term which
Frank White coined [in order to] to describe the cognitive shift in awareness that results from the experience of viewing Earth from orbit or the moon … [and how] this experience profoundly affects space travelers’ worldviews — their perceptions of themselves and our planet, and our understanding of the future (AIAA, 2014),
for example, the famous “blue marble” Earth, as seen by the Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972:
And yet again as I also mentioned in the Introduction, in each of its modes, whether sophisticated or unsophisticated, creative piety constitutes a meta-cognitive Gestalt-shift and a “Copernican revolution” in human thinking; and in fact, creative piety is the ultimate human cognitive source of all paradigm shifts and scientific revolutions in Kuhn’s senses of those terms (Kuhn, 1970). Therefore, creative piety belongs with induction, deduction, rational intuition, and abduction, as the fifth and most basic method and mode-of-cognition in the formal and natural sciences; and it is most basic, and provides a cognitive foundation, precisely because the applications of any of the other four methods and modes-of-cognition presuppose the establishment of some or another overarching Kuhnian cognitive framework or paradigm that thought-shapes those applications.
More precisely now, in every one of its modes, creative piety essentially involves taking a critical, reflective standpoint on some or another determinate domain of content, a standpoint that’s at once
(i) higher-dimensional or higher-order — for example, generating a “transcendental” third-dimensional point-of-view out of an array or spreadsheet of that content that’s otherwise merely “flat” or two-dimensional,
(ii) synoptic with respect to the entire determinate domain of content — for example, seeing a landscape as a dynamic three-dimensional contour map from the vantage point of an airplane flying over it, and
(iii) fully critical cognizant of the inherent boundaries or limits of that determinate domain of content,
but also and above all, it
(iv) provides direct cognitive access to a new, inexhaustible, and essentially richer — in structural and informational terms alike — domain of content over and above the “old” content available in the “flat” or two-dimensional determinate domain of content.
Another essential feature of creative piety, arising from the interplay of its four basic elements, is that even though, as per element (iii), it always involves a critical recognition of the inherent boundaries or limits of some determinate domain of content, nevertheless, in view of elements (i) and (ii), it also yields a new kind of unbounded or unlimited cognition of that bounded or limited determinate domain, together with direct cognitive access to that Wittgenstein in the Tractatus, under the rubric of “the mystical” — which for my purposes I’ll interpret as a synonym of “creative piety” — calls “the intuition of the world sub specie aeterni”:
6.45 The intuition (Anschauung) of the world sub specie aeterni is its intuition as a limited (begrenztes) whole.
The feeling (Gefühl) of the world as a limited whole is the mystical (das mystiche). (Wittgenstein, 1981: p. 187)
Moreover, and most importantly, as per element (iv), direct cognitive access to “the mystical” in Wittgenstein’s sense is also a direct cognitive access to a new, inexhaustible, and essentially richer domain of content.
Looking back now at some of the leading examplars of formal piety that I listed earlier in this section, we can see how these four individually necessary and jointly sufficient features of creative piety are satisfied. Via his diagonal proof, Cantor reveals to us the existence of the new, inexhaustible, and essentially richer field of transfinite numbers, and specifically the field of real numbers, over and above the “old” and “flat” denumerably infinite array of the rationals. Via his incompletness theorems, Gödel reveals to us the existence of the new, inexhaustible, and essentially richer non-logical source of mathematical axioms, over and above the “old” and “flat” sources of mechanical, Turing-computable, decidability and non-mechanical, but still syntactically-encoded, provability. Via his semantic conception of truth, Tarski reveals to us the existence of the new, inexhaustible, and essentially richer non-logical, material, or semantic ontology of models or truth-makers, over and above the “old” and “flat” logical, formal, or syntactic ontology of Turing-computable algorithms/recursive functions and non-mechanical rule-governed proof-sequences. And via his well-ordered set theory plus the axiom of choice, Zermelo reveals to us the existence of the new, inexhaustible, and essentially richer non-paradoxical Cantorian hierarchy of denumerably infinite and transfinite sets, all generated by impredicative or self-containing means, via the power set operation.
Correspondingly, also against the backdrop of the four individually necessary and jointly sufficient features of creative piety, here are six examples of artistic piety.
First, perhaps most obviously and literally, Rembrandt and other 17th-century Dutch artists’ highly naturalistic, humanistic, perspectival painting reveals to us the new, inexhaustible, and essentially richer field of the realistic third visual dimension, over and above the “old” and “flat” non-naturalistic, iconographical, two-dimensional visual world of the medieval period and earlier periods.
Second, Piet Mondrian’s early 20th century discovery or invention of pure abstract painting reveals to us the new, inexhaustible, and essentially richer field of multi-dimensional, multi-perspectival, non-representational designs and shapes, over and above the relatively “old” and “flat” exclusively three-dimensional visual world of highly realistic, perspectival, representational painting.
Third, Charles Dickens’s and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 19th century discovery or invention of the polyphonic novel, reveals to us the new, inexhaustible, and essentially richer discursive field of many-voiced narratives, over and above the “old” and “flat” novelistic world of single-voiced narratives.
Fourth, James Joyce’s early 20th century discovery or invention of the stream-of-consciousness novel reveals to us the new, inexhaustible, and essentially richer field of non-linear, highly subjective-standpoint narratives, over and above the “old” and “flat” novelistic world of linear, omniscient-standpoint narratives.
Fifth, Sergei Eisenstein’s early 20th century discovery or invention of montage reveals to us the new, inexhaustible, and essentially richer field of juxtaposed, dialectically contrastive, and dialectically synthetic synchronous or asynchronous framed images, over and above the “old” and “flat” cinematic world of continuously unfolding framed images.
And sixth, German expressionist film-makers’ post-World War I discovery or invention of distorted, hallucinatory, warped cinematic mise en scène reveals to us the new, inexhaustible, and essentially richer field of externalized anxious, psychotic, suffering, tortured, and traumatized psychological states of the film’s main characters, over and above the “old” and “flat” world of non-emotive, non-psychological cinematic mise en scène.
For all these reasons, and in view of the examples I’ve provided, it’s clear and distinct that creative piety can and should be sharply distinguished from the merely Turing-computable, recursive, rote generation of higher-order levels of content from lower-order levels of content, that I’ll dub mechanical meta-cognition. A very good and indeed famous example of mechanical meta-cognition is Russell’s theory of types, which was specifically designed to solve Russell’s Paradox of sets, but which in fact permits the construction of a precise analogue of the original version of the Paradox in terms of Russellian propositions (Russell, 1971; Potter, 2000: ch. 5, esp. section 5.5).
All in all, therefore, achieving the special meta-cognitive attitude and discipline of creative piety is a cognitive, affective, practical, and existential-spiritual revolution. So in this way, for genuine progress in human thinking, feeling, and acting to occur, in any domain — formal-scientific or natural-scientific, applied-artistic or fine-artistic, metaphysical, moral, or sociopolitical — we must emancipate ourselves from the high-modernist, mechanistic worldview and the mind-forg’d manacles of mechanical, constrictive thought-shapers and their corresponding shaped thoughts in the form of bad, false, and wrong beliefs, and thereby achieve the higher-dimensional/higher-order meta-cognitive standpoint of creative piety, by acknowledging organic systems and organic, generative thought-shapers and their corresponding shaped thoughts in the form of good, true, and right beliefs, according to all or any of the modes of creative piety.
[i] Cassam correctly identifies, describes, and catalogues core habits of bad, false, and wrong thinking; but he provides no deeper explanation of them. The theory of inherently mechanical, constrictive (as diametrically opposed to inherently organic, generative) thought-shapers provides this deeper explanation.
[ii] Choice is logically equivalent to the power set operation, which generates the set of all subsets of a given set; and correspondingly, the axiom of choice says that every non-empty set has a set of subsets that’s larger than the membership of the original set.
[iii] “Metis” is Homer’s term in the Odyssey and the Iliad, used to describe Odysseus’s capacity for essentially non-conceptual and non-discursive social and political insight.
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