THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE, #47–The Incredible Shrinking Thinking Man, Or, Cosmic Dignitarianism.

By Robert Hanna

“FUTUREWORLD,” by A. Lee/Unsplash

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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 forty-seventh installment contains sections 4.5 and 4.6.

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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)

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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

0.1 My Aim In This Book

0.2 The Uniscience and Pascal’s Dictum

Chapter 1. Natural Piety: A Kantian Critique of Science

1.0 Kantian Heavy-Duty Enlightenment and The Uniscience

1.1 Kant’s Neo-Aristotelian Natural Power Grid

1.2 Kant, Natural Piety, and The Limits of Science

1.3 From Kant’s Anti-Mechanism to Kantian Anti-Mechanism

1.4 In Defense of Natural Piety

1.5 Scientific Pietism and Scientific Naturalism

1.6 How to Ground Natural Science on Sensibility

1.7 Sensible Science 1: Natural Science Without Natural Mechanism

1.8 Sensible Science 2: Natural Science Without Materialism/Physicalism

1.9 Sensible Science 3: Natural Science Without Scientism

1.10 Frankenscience, the Future of Humanity, and the Future of Science

Chapter 2. This is the Way the World Ends: A Philosophy of Civilization Since 1900, The Rise of Mechanism, and The Emergence of Neo-Organicism

2.0 Introduction

2.1 Wrestling with Modernity: 1900–1940

2.1.1 Six Sociocultural or Sociopolitical Developments

2.1.2 Two Philosophical Developments: Classical Analytic Philosophy and First Wave Organicism

2.1.3 Architectural and Artistic Trends

2.2 The Historical Black Hole, The Mechanistic Mindset, and The Mechanistic Worldview: 1940–1980

2.2.1 Formal and Natural Science After 1945, The Mechanistic Mindset, and The Rise of The Mechanistic Worldview

2.2 The Emergence of Post-Classical Analytic Philosophy

2.2.3 The Two Images Problem and its Consequences

2.2.4 Modernism and Countercurrents in the Arts and Design

2.3 The Philosophical Great Divide, Post-Modernist Cultural Nihilism, and Other Apocalyptic Developments: 1980–2022

2.3.1 The Rise of Po-Mo Philosophy

2.3.2 Po-Mo Architecture: Unconstrained Hybridity

2.3.3 Other Apocalyptic Developments: Crises in Physics and Big Science, and The One-Two Punch

2.4 From The Mechanistic Worldview to Neo-Organicism

2.4.0 Against The Mechanistic Worldview

2.4.1 Seven Arguments Against The Mechanistic Worldview

2.4.1.1 Logical and Mathematical Arguments

2.4.1.2 Physical and Metaphysical Arguments

2.4.1.3 Mentalistic and Agential Arguments

2.4.2 Beyond The Mechanistic Worldview: The Neo-Organicist Worldview

2.4.2.1 The Neo-Organist Thesis 1: Solving The Mind-Body Problem

2.4.2.2 Dynamic Systems Theory and The Dynamic World Picture

2.4.2.3 The Neo-Organicist Thesis 2: Solving The Free Will Problem

2.4.2.4 Dynamic Emergence, Life, Consciousness, and Free Agency

2.4.2.5 How The Mechanical Comes To Be From The Organic

2.5 Neo-Organicism Unbound

2.6 Conclusion

Chapter 3. Thought-Shapers

3.0 Introduction

3.1 A Dual-Content Nonideal Cognitive Semantics for Thought-Shapers

3.2 The Cognitive Dynamics of Thought-Shapers

3.3 Constrictive Thought-Shapers vs. Generative Thought-Shapers

3.4 Some Paradigmatic Classical Examples of Philosophical and Moral or Sociopolitical Constrictive Thought-Shapers, With Accompanying Diagrams

3.5 Thought-Shapers, Mechanism, and Neo-Organicism

3.6 Adverse Cognitive Effects of Mechanical, Constrictive Thought-Shapers

3.7 How Can We Acknowledge Organic Systems and Organic, Generative Thought-Shapers?

3.8 We Must Cultivate Our Global Garden

Chapter 4. How To Complete Physics

4.0 Introduction

4.1 The Incompleteness of Logic, The Incompleteness of Physics, and The Primitive Sourcehood of Rational Human Animals

4.2 Frame-by-Frame: How Early 20th Century Physics Was Shaped by Brownie Cameras and Early Cinema

4.3 How to Complete Quantum Mechanics, Or, What It’s Like To Be A Naturally Creative Bohmian Beable

4.4 Can Physics Explain Physics? Anthropic Principles and Transcendental Idealism

4.5 The Incredible Shrinking Thinking Man, Or, Cosmic Dignitarianism

4.6 Conclusion

Chapter 5. Digital Technology Only Within The Limits of Human Dignity

00. Conclusion: The Point Is To Shape The World

APPENDICES

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. Complementarity, Entanglement, and Nonlocality Pervade Natural Reality at All Scales

Appendix 6. Neo-Organicism and The Rubber Sheet Cosmos

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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4.5 The Incredible Shrinking Thinking Man, Or, Cosmic Dignitarianism

Original poster art for “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” directed by Jack Arnold (1957)

Contemporary physics according to the Standard models of cosmology and particle physics is not only metaphysically/ontologically, epistemically, and explanatorily incomplete: it’s also aesthetically, ecologically, existential-spiritually incomplete. No, and this needs to be emphasized, re-emphasized, and re-re-emphasized, I’m not talking about supplementing contemporary physics by appealing to natural theology or indeed to any kind of “God-talk” (see, e.g., Barrow and Tipler, 1986). Let me explain.

Not so very long ago, in a land not so very far away, I re-watched Jack Arnold’s 1957 B-film masterpiece, The Incredible Shrinking Man (Wikipedia, 2022m), one of the best Cold War/McCarthy era science fiction movies. In addition to expressing — effectively and subtly — that all-too-familiar anxiety about nuclear annihilation and the inherently alienating character of mechanistic, technocratic Big Science, it’s also an ingenious philosophical thought-experiment about physical, biological, and mental scale and size:

If, while preserving our conscious minds, we were somehow reduced to the scale and size of the most basic elements and structure of the all-inclusive natural or physical universe, i.e., the cosmos, then what would it be like for “human, all-too-human” rational animals like us?

Correspondingly, here’s the final voice-over monologue in the movie:

I was continuing to shrink, to become… What? The infinitesimal? What was I? Still a human being? Or was I the man of the future? If there were other bursts of radiation, other clouds drifting across seas and continents, would other beings follow me into this vast new world? So close, the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet, like the closing of a gigantic circle. I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens, the universe, worlds beyond number. [Nature]’s silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of Man’s own limited dimension. I had presumed upon Nature. That existence begins and ends is Man’s conception, not Nature’s. And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away and in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something too. To [Nature], there is no zero. I still exist.[i]

Just to give this striking view a handy philosophical label, I’ll call it cosmic dignitarianism. More specifically, my take on The Incredible Shrinking Man’s thought-experiment is that it demonstrates (i) the inherent complementarity and integration of conscious minds like ours — that is, the conscious minds of rational human animals capable of free agency (Hanna, 2018b; and sub-sub-section 2.4.2.3 above) — with the underlying elements and structure of the cosmos, together with (ii) the profound further recognition that this cosmic complementarity and integration of our conscious rational human minds with the cosmos also fully preserves our human dignity. Hence the movie could also have been called The Incredible Shrinking Thinking Man.

Reflecting further on The Incredible Shrinking Man, however, I realized that the other striking thing about the-incredible-shrinking-thinking-man thought experiment is that it’s the precise directional inverse of the set of conscious-mind-to-cosmos relationships described by Kant’s famous remarks at the end of the Critique of Practical Reason:

[T]wo things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence (Ehrfurcht), the more often and more steadily one reflects on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not need to search for them and merely conjecture them as though they were veiled in obscurity or in the transcendent region beyond my horizon; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence. (CPrR 5: 161–162)

What is Kant getting at here? He discovered the metaphysics of transcendental idealism between the publication of his seminal proto-Critical essay of 1768, “Concerning the Ground of the Ultimate Differentiation of Directions in Space” (DDS 2: 375–383), and 1772. Indeed, the philosophical implications of Kant’s “Directions in Space” essay almost certainly triggered the major proto-Critical philosophical break though that he famously reports when he says in one of the Reflexionen that “the year ’69 gave me great light” (R 5037, 18: 69). More precisely, what Kant had discovered between 1768 and 1772 is what I’ve called transcendental idealism for sensibility (Hanna, 2016b). In 1772, Kant told Marcus Herz that if the human mind conformed to the world, whether phenomenal or noumenal, then a priori knowledge would be impossible (C 10: 130–131); but by 1770 Kant already also held that a priori knowledge of the manifestly real phenomenal world is actual and therefore really possible in mathematics, hence the manifestly real phenomenal world must conform to the non-empirical sensible structure of the human mind, and more specifically must conform to our a priori representations of space and time, since that is what makes mathematics really possible (ID 2: 398–406). So transcendental idealism for sensibility says that the manifestly real apparent or phenomenal world fundamentally conforms to the essentially non-conceptual a priori forms of human sensibility, our representations of space and time.

Kant worked out explicit proofs for transcendental idealism for sensibility in the Inaugural Dissertation and again in the Transcendental Aesthetic in the Critique of Pure Reason. The simplest version of the proof, provided in the Transcendental Aesthetic, is the following —

ARGUMENT 1: Transcendental Idealism for Sensibility

1. Space and time are either (i) things-in-themselves (aka noumena), or (ii) properties of/relations between things-in-themselves, or (iii) transcendentally ideal.

2. If space and time were either things-in-themselves or properties of/relations between things-in-themselves, then a priori mathematical knowledge would be impossible.

3. But mathematical knowledge is actual, via our pure intuitions of space and time, and therefore really possible.

4. Therefore, space and time are transcendentally ideal. (CPR A 23/B37–38, A38–41/B55–58)

Briefly put, Kant’s thesis of transcendental idealism says that the basic structure of the manifestly real apparent or phenomenal world necessarily conforms to the pure or non-empirical (hence a priori) structure of the rational human mind, and not the converse (CPR B xvi-xviii). Or in other words, Kant is saying that the manifestly real apparent or phenomenal world fundamentally conforms to the a priori structure of the rational human mind, and it’s also not the case that the rational human mind fundamentally conforms to the manifestly real apparent or phenomenal world, or indeed to any non-apparent Really Real or noumenal world. So if Kant is right about this, then he’s correctly saying that the world in which we live, move, and have our being (by which I mean the manifestly real apparent or phenomenal natural and social world of our ordinary human existence) is fundamentally dependent on our rational “human, all-too-human” minded nature, and not the converse. If transcendental idealism is true, then we cannot be inherently alienated from the world we are trying to know, as global epistemic skeptics (whether classical Cartesian evil demon skeptics, or new evil demon skeptics [Cohen, 1984]) claim, and rational human knowledge — not only a priori knowledge, but also a posteriori knowledge — is therefore really possible (Hanna, 2015a: esp. chs. 3 and 6–8).

Kantian transcendental idealism for sensibility, when taken together with some central claims of Kantian aesthetics and some self-evident Kantian phenomenology, conjointly provide an argument for this thesis:

The all-inclusive natural or physical universe, aka, the cosmos, together with what I’ll call its proto-dignity, is the metaphysical ground of all rational human animals, especially including our consciousness, our free agency, and our dignity.

This is the very same thesis of cosmic dignitarianism that was yielded by the incredible-shrinking-thinking-man thought experiment, but demonstrated now by inverting the directionality of the set of conscious-mind-to-cosmos relationships. So Kant’s inverted but equally ingenious philosophical thought-experiment in the famous text at the end of the Critique of Practical Reason is what I’ll call the-incredible-expanding-thinking-man.

Correspondingly, I’m now going to present a 12-step argument for the cosmic dignitarianism thesis, that fuses (i) the basic line of argument in the Transcendental Aesthetic of the first Critique (Hanna, 2006: section 6.1, 2014c: lecture 3) with (ii) a Kantian aesthetics of the beautiful and the sublime, insofar as we experience them in the natural environment, as presented in the third Critique, aka the Critique of the Power of Judgment, and also (iii) a Kantian self-evident phenomenology of our experience of “reverence” (Ehrfurcht) for the manifestly real cosmos and for our rational human animal nature, especially including our consciousness, our free agency, and our dignity, at the very end of the second Critique.

ARGUMENT 2: Cosmic Dignitarianism

1. Given the truth of transcendental idealism for sensibility, then we can take fully seriously the sensibility-grounded, conscious evidence provided by the aesthetic experience of beauty in the cosmos, as veridically tracking natural purposive form, without a purpose, in a way that is inherently disinterested and therefore divorced from all possible self-interest (CPJ 5: 204–211).

2. In short, our experience of beauty in the cosmos shows us that the cosmos cannot be and ought not to be regarded or treated purely instrumentally, that is, merely as a means or as a mere thing, and thereby exploited.

3. Given the truth of transcendental idealism for sensibility, and our experience of beauty in the cosmos, then we can also take fully seriously the reverential experience of what Kant calls “the mathematically sublime in nature,” for example, “the starry heavens above me.”

4. To make this kind of reverential experience phenomenologically vivid to yourself, either stand outside on a clear, moonless night at 2:00 am in a place without too many nearby city lights and then look straight up; or perhaps contemplate, for example, Van Gogh’s 1889 masterpiece painting, “The Starry Night”:

5. Now since, according to Kant, via the human experience of the mathematically sublime in nature, the cosmos is thereby experienced as having a specific character and normative value that is expressible only as a transfinite, or non-denumerably infinite, quantity, it follows that the specific character and normative value of the cosmos cannot reduced to any denumerable quantity, no matter how great (CPJ 5: 244–260).

6. Hence the cosmos, experienced as mathematically sublime, cannot have a “market price” and is experienced as beyond price, or priceless, since all “market prices,” or exchangeable economic values (say, monetary values) “related to general human interests and needs” (GMM 4: 434), are expressible only as denumerable (natural number, rational number) quantities, even infinite ones.

7. Otherwise put, the specific character and normative value of the cosmos, experienced by us as mathematically sublime, inherently transcends any economic or otherwise strictly instrumental calculus.

8. Steps 1 to 7 jointly entail what I call the proto-dignity of the cosmos: what do I mean by that?

9. Human dignity, according to Kant, is the absolute, non-denumerably infinite, intrinsic, objective value of human real persons (Hanna, 2018b: chs. 7–8), i.e., rational human animals; now the cosmos isn’t itself a real person, and more specifically it isn’t itself a human real person, and therefore it doesn’t have human dignity per se, since human dignity per se attaches inherently only to human real persons, i.e., rational human animals; nevertheless, the cosmos, reverentially experienced by us as beautiful and sublime, inherently cannot be (without eco-disaster) and inherently ought not to be (without moral scandal) exploited, merely bought or sold, or otherwise treated as a mere capitalist resource or commodity (aka “commodified”).

10. Nevertheless, our rational human animal nature, including our human dignity, itself necessarily belongs to the cosmos.

11. Therefore, transcendental idealism for sensibility, plus the self-evident phenomenology of our reverential experience of beauty/sublimity in the cosmos, (“the starry heavens above me”), plus our equally reverential experience of respect for human dignity (“the moral law within me”), conjointly prove that the cosmos, together with its proto-dignity, is the metaphysical ground of all rational human animals, especially including our consciousness, our free agency, and our dignity.

12. That is: cosmic dignitarianism is true.

Whether we’re incredibly shrinking people or incredibly expanding people, provided that we’re thinking, then the truly important philosophical upshots of Jack Arnold’s and Kant’s thought-experiments are identical: the cosmos is not metaphysically alien to us, as rational human animals with consciousness, free agency, and dignity — on the contrary, for better or worse, the cosmos is our metaphysical home, which is why we must sufficiently respect its proto-dignity. And in this way, physics, biology, mathematics, metaphysics, moral philosophy, social and political philosophy, philosophical aesthetics, eco-philosophy, and existential spirituality all coherently converge.

4.6 Conclusion

With that argument in place, I’ll now turn to a specific application of The Uniscience to a topic of morally, sociopolitically, vitally and indeed existential-spiritually important concern to the modern world, by way of providing an effective and full solution to the problem of science and the modern world: the nature and implications of digital technology.

NOTE

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Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.