• apokrisis
    2.5k
    A key part of the holist position is that the top down causality is something real because it shapes the parts.

    So where does sand get its shape so that it might compose a beach? How does it get roundish, smoothed and graded by size? What higher constraints lead to the formation of every particle of sand.

    Holism stresses the hierarchical fact that parts are made to fit the whole via development, an approach to a common limit. Parts become in fact parts as their initial irregularity or degrees of freedom are regulated so that they become as identical as matters in the construction of the whole.

    An army needs to take raw recruits and turn them into soldiers. Young men with irregular natures must be regularised so they can function as parts of a fighting machine. And once a soldier, always a soldier.

    It is this fact about holism - the parts themselves get developed by the whole - that make supervenience and determinism bunk in a systems logic context. Or rather, the parts can be deterministic only to the degree the whole has an interest or concern in making them that.

    Grains of sand are still irregular rather than exact spheres. They only need to be roughly spherical and reasonably small to meet the Second Law's goal of maximising erosion. To produce perfectly round and perfectly matched grains would require self-defeating care.

    Same with soldiers. They only need to approach an acceptable average.

    So because the parts must be shaped to fit, perfect determinism is an ideal and in fact there always remains an irreducible uncertainty or indeterminism at the local scale on which any system is being composed.

    This has turned out to be true even of fundamental physics of course. The indeterminism of the quantum is irreducible. And that means everything that wants to build itself up from that ground can't be clockwork determinism. It can only be clockwork on average.
  • apokrisis
    2.5k
    Another way to see what is going on with reductionism as ontology is how it regards time. It constructs action in a way that conceals issues of development, indeterminism and local emergence.

    So time divides into past, present and future. For the holist, the present is the definite boundary between past and future - the point where a history of events forms a fixed global context of constraints. And in doing so, that weight of the past is what shapes a future of definite possibility. It fixes the set of local freedoms which are shortly to be expressed in some particular direction.

    So determinism in this view is evolutionary. The reason a billiard ball is so predictable is because, as a mass, all its possibilities have been shaved down to simplest possible symmetries. It has been machined to roll freely in a straight line in simulation of an ideal Newtonian body. It doesn't have bumps on its surface that might knock it off a path or add haphazard friction to its roll. And while in reality no billiard ball could actually be so perfect, we can certainly manufacture balls that are good enough for a context like playing a game or spinning a convincing analogy.

    So note the sly trick that Newtonian reductionism is pulling off when it comes to space as a dimensionality too. There is a holistic constraint at play - the global symmetries of translations and rotations which define inertial motion. The symmetries encode a perfect formal limit towards which all roughness and irregularity of material objects can approach ... as it sheds that very particularity in conforming to the ideal.

    Anyway, holism takes the developmental view of time where the present is where the global state of constraint - a history - can be said to determine the future to the degree some set of possibilities, some set of directional freedoms, have been made concrete and definite. One could well be attempting to play billiards with some bunch of small rocks. You can imagine how haphazard the resulting game would be. But still, to the extent that the results remain predictable, the history is determining the future.

    So the present is the moment which is the line drawn between this idea of global constraint - the shaping hand of the whole - and then the future which consists of the expression of the resulting degrees of freedom ... which can be highly shaped and so approaching the symmetry ideals encoded in our matching notions of material spatiality, or still quite irregular and unshaped and so rather unpredictable and random. It becomes, conversely, impossibly hard to point to something in the past, something in history, which was a particular cause of that random event.

    When it comes to models of spontaneous symmetry breaking - symmetry talk again being the deepest level of metaphysics because it goes directly to the issue of global form - the reductionist is forced to admit that "a fluctuation" made the difference. In other words, the pencil balanced perfectly on its point had to fall in some direction as "anything" would have had the same consequence of tipping its balance. No event could be too small to break the symmetry.

    The reductionist then takes a very diferent view of time. It is now all about a present moment that ticks along a spatialised notion of temporal flow in a deterministic clockwork of one step following another. The past becomes unreal. The future is still to be realised. The only truly real thing is the present instant.

    So reductionism secures absolute determinism by cancelling away any notions of emergence, development, chance or freedom. Both the laws of nature, its fundamental forms, and its initial conditions, its local material state, are imagined as being fixed and unalterable at the beginning of time. Existence begins in counterfactual definiteness and so progression unfolds like logical clockwork.

    Reality is a machine that is essentially timeless. There is only a now that is real in being the sum of all that is causal. An ecosystem never had a choice as its fate was dictated by the laws and the momenta of a collection of particles that obtained in the first instant of the Big Bang.

    So reductionism is the flattened view of time. It reduces existence to a synchronic theory of presentism or simultaneity where everything is already always fixed and there is no real development or indeterminism. And that is a really useful, really simplifying, way of imagining reality. You don't have to keep wondering about what is the law at the moment, or what are the spontaneitities that might derail our calculations when striking a billiard ball.

    But holism is the larger view. And so it sees time in terms of a past that creates a downward acting, degree of freedom shaping, state of global constraint. Then within that is a future of freedoms to be expressed. There remains some element of fundamental chance or spontaneity that may end up making a difference, rewriting what seemed to be inevitable history's "next step".

    To holism, quantum indeterminacy is not a surprise. It is a prediction. Uncertainty has to be irreducible, even if the world is a system with the purpose of reducing that uncertainty to a pragmatic minimum.
  • Janus
    3.8k
    A key part of the holist position is that the top down causality is something real because it shapes the parts.apokrisis

    But wouldn't a holistic physicalist want to say that the top down causality is really nothing more than an emergent manifestation of the interactions of physical particles and forces? What else could they admit as actual existents?

    According to that view, it would be granted that top down causation is something we cannot exhaustively model in terms of those interaction, but that it would be the limited nature of our modelling capability (or for that matter any modeling capacity) when it comes to complexity, that explains that inability, wouldn't it? Kind of analogous to the 'Three Body Problem' writ large?
  • apokrisis
    2.5k
    Again, top down is real because it really does shape the parts. However the parts are real as well as - in the long run, as an averaged outcome - their collective action must manifest as that constraining whole.

    So it is a triadic or hierarchical action. Each is the cause of the emergence of the other.

    And you can see that in fundamental physics now. Quantum physics is contextual and thermally decoherent. The whole does on the whole shape events down to wavefunction level. But then spontaneity takes over with the actual collapse of a physical event. History gets written with an irreducible dollop of localised indeterminism. The context itself is being rebuilt as some running story of classical events that have now definitely happened and so act as a constraint on all further quantumness.

    The reductionist can now insert himself in the conversation with his presentism and clockwork notions of causality. But the deeper quantum picture is of a world that is self constructing because of a mutuality between its local and global scales. It starts in a strongly quantum state of indeterminacy at the Big Bang and then evolves its way - decohering/dissipating uncertainty - until becoming as classical as possible as the Heat Death.

    At the Heat Death, the Universe is left as nothing but a structure of holographic bounds populated by the cold fizzle of the black-body photons they must radiate as event horizons.

    So actually, the basic cosmological picture now is quantum thermodynamic. Classicality only "exists" as the limit of that metaphysics. The mutuality between parts and wholes - between holographic or informational event horizons and black body quantum radiation - is explicit in the new formalisms of cosmological explanation.
  • Janus
    3.8k


    The notion of a triadic relation of "interindependence" (Pannikar) makes the most sense to me. It can be (and has been) conceptualized in so many ways: 'body, mind and spirit' or 'matter, sign and relation' or 'creation, preservation and transformation', being just three examples.

    This idea runs all through the history of human thought; both eastern and western; which makes sense; you would expect the deep structures of human thought to reflect the deep structures of reality since thought is not separate from, but integral to, reality.

    For me, the notion of immanence alone is not sufficient; it fails to become fully coherent without its obverse: transcendence. So again there is a trinity: immanence, transcendence and the relation between them.
  • apokrisis
    2.5k
    Radical trinity might seem the same thing as pansemiosis from a structural view, but there is a big difference.

    As you say, your approach wants to make a virtue of that which can't be immanently explained - the transcendent cause that is the divine form and telos. So the mystery of the triadic relation is maximised. It explains the least in terms of a naturalistic metaphysics predicated on the search for causal self-organisation.

    Pansemiosis does the opposite by minimising the transcendental element - the first cause or prime mover. Now that mystical bit is understood in terms of a foundational vagueness, or firstness, or Apeiron. It is pure unformed potential and not a big daddy in the sky.

    So that foundational "materiality" is not explained immanently by pansemiosis. It is a given coming from "outside". But it is also the very least imaginable kind of "divine cause" in being literally less than nothing.

    So in terms of metaphysical reasoning, it can lay claim to being the best model of triadic systems causation - if you apply the epistemic constraint of demanding a scheme with the least possible transcendent mystery or uncertainty.

    But hey, I get it. Most folk are really into mystery. :)
  • Janus
    3.8k
    It is pure unformed potential and not a big daddy in the sky.apokrisis

    Yes, but I would say an adequate notion of the Father just is a notion of "pure unformed potential" and certainly not any "sky daddy". The latter is a naïve hypostatization.

    But hey, I get it. Most folk are really into mystery. :)apokrisis

    Some of the best things in life: art. music. poetry, religion, ethics and philosophy itself find their roots in mystery. Science is also one of the best things, but it does not, at least in its methodological dimension, find its roots in mystery, well, at least not when it comes to the harder sciences. As the sciences become 'softer' they begin to approach the arts, and mystery becomes ineliminable. It would be truly horrible if all mystery could be eliminated from human life; luckily it never will be!
  • apokrisis
    2.5k
    Yes, but I would say an adequate notion of the father just is a notion of "pure unformed potential" and certainly not any "sky daddy". The latter is a naïve hypostatization.Janus

    Great. And so this fundamental potential has no connotations of inherent mindfulness or consciousness or purpose for you? Or at least - this being my position - it has the least possible so far as that is imaginable?

    I mean theism always wants the fundamental to be special in that fashion. So it is surprising to find a theistic framework that truly argues for the least possible divinity in the origination of humanity and the cosmos.

    Some of the best things in life: art. music. poetry, religion, ethics and philosophy itself find their roots in mystery.Janus

    This is clearly where our worldviews differ completely. All these things are creative semiotic habits - the new things that language allows us to do in terms of reality modelling.

    Sure, fiction can be fun, but there is no essential mystery in how it is created or why - psychologically - it is enjoyable.

    And mathematical science is the most purely creative act of imagination. It goes way beyond every other sociocultural effort of telling the truth of things in terms of complete abstractions. In the modern world, all those other activities you mentioned have become a reaction to whatever science happens to be suggesting at some time in its emergent development.
  • Janus
    3.8k
    Great. And so this fundamental potential has no connotations of inherent mindfulness or consciousness or purpose for you? Or at least - this being my position - it has the least possible so far as that is imaginable?apokrisis

    I would say we cannot form any adequate notion of divine purposiveness, because any such attempt will result in an anthropomorphic model of purposiveness; a projection of the way we intuitively understand our own animating impulses onto the cosmos, or what we might imagine lies "behind" the cosmos.

    This is clearly where our worldviews differ completely. All these things are creative semiotic habits - the new things that language allows us to do in terms of reality modelling.

    Sure, fiction can be fun, but there is no essential mystery in how it is created or why - psychologically - it is enjoyable.
    apokrisis

    I agree that in one sense the arts are cultivated semiotic "habits"; that is the obvious practical dimension of the discipline of ever more skilful production. But the source of the imaginative and aesthetic side, which may go all the way from banal to unspeakably profound, remains nonetheless a mystery that cannot be eliminated.

    We do not know this profundity discursively but rather affectively, imaginatively, intuitively. Why demand that everything should be discursively explained, when that is clearly impossible? And then why go on to dismiss what cannot be discursively explained as being of no consequence, as positivistic thinking does, when what cannot be explained is clearly a dimension of the greatest importance in human life. "Man does not live by bread alone".

    Of course if you simply have no 'feel' for mystery, and the great value of "unknowing" then it is understandable that it will hold no interest for you. :)
  • apokrisis
    2.5k
    But what is so objectionable in enjoying dispelling mysteries then? Seeking explanations is not the same thing as "demanding" them. Nor is uncertainty minimisation "dismissing" mystery.

    You know that your argument must be in trouble when you have to revert to these kinds of rhetorical flourishes, this use of loaded terms, to do the heavy lifting.

    I am defending pragmaticism. You are pretending to attack authoritarianism. Yes, that rhetorical strategy is going to win you points with the uncritical. Who isn't against authority these days. :s But still, it is my Peircean pragmatism that you need to be addressing so far as this actual argument goes.
  • Janus
    3.8k


    There's certainly nothing wrong in dispelling mysteries when it comes to empirical enquiry. And I'm not "attacking authoritarianism" or pretending to attack it, but rather questioning the justification of reason that bases itself upon empirical observation that purports to explain (and explain away) that which is beyond its ambit.

    The sense of impenetrable mystery is a matter of experience, and I am speaking from experience. I don't expect anyone who doesn't have that experience to understand, much less be convinced, by what I say. I don't believe philosophy properly consists in rigorous argumentation at all, but rather in invitations to think about the world in new and more imaginative ways; it is more art than science.

    With this kind of philosophical thinking it is not a matter of being right or wrong, in some intersubjectively determinable sense, but of finding ideas that are transformative for creative understanding; ideas that work, in other words. As I understand it that is actually the essence of pragmatism. The valuing of imaginatively, creatively and spiritually transformative ideas is not a merely epistemic matter as it is with science; which of course is also pragmatic in terms of its set of more purely utilitarian concerns.
  • Galuchat
    300
    So in terms of metaphysical reasoning, it [pansemiosis] can lay claim to being the best model of triadic systems causation - if you apply the epistemic constraint of demanding a scheme with the least possible transcendent mystery or uncertainty...But hey, I get it. Most folk are really into mystery. — apokrisis

    Most scientists should be "into" complete explanations which transcend spatiotemporal domains. Since human beings are natural, living, psychophysical unities, and pansemiosis only describes physical phenomena, pansemiosis is an incomplete (i.e., reductionist) explanation of nature as a whole.
  • apokrisis
    2.5k
    What are you trying to say?
  • Galuchat
    300
    What are you not understanding?
  • apokrisis
    2.5k
    What transcendent thing is semiosis missing, given it covers both information and dynamics?
  • Galuchat
    300
    What transcendent thing is semiosis missing, given it covers both information and dynamics? — apokrisis

    The subject is pansemiosis, not semiosis. Sorry, I'm not interested in playing word games. Enjoy yourself!
  • apokrisis
    2.5k
    I see you realise your error. But even physio-semiosis would combine information and dynamics.
  • Harry Hindu
    749
    So where does sand get its shape so that it might compose a beach? How does it get roundish, smoothed and graded by size? What higher constraints lead to the formation of every particle of sand.apokrisis
    Natural selection. Organisms are shaped by natural selection. Planets are shaped by natural selection. Sand gets it's shape from natural selection. Natural selection, in this sense, is the process of environmental feedback acting on an individual and the individual's influence on the rest of the environment.
  • mcdoodle
    890
    A bunch of billiard ballsPneumenon

    On the wiseass front...it's always struck me as surprising that the classic example (who first cited it?) is 'billiard balls'. This places the entire motion of the balls in a framework that is wider than the balls, and in a culture derived from France and England, and ultimately dependent, as my great uncle Ludwig might say with glee, on the rules of a game.

    From this wiseass angle the reductionist and irreductionist seem part of the same narrow perspective.
  • MikeL
    638
    Natural selection, in this sense, is the process of environmental feedback acting on an individual and the individual's influence on the rest of the environment.Harry Hindu

    Hi Harry,
    I am assuming that by Natural Selection you are referring to the Survival of the Fittest model.
    The problem I can see with Natural Selection, defined by Survival of the Fittest, is that it is a culling operation. I am sure that there were times in Earth's history when an impossible leap was needed by life so that it either perished from existence completely or it survived. If we simply culled all life because no variant could make the leap, life would have died out many times in Earth's history. To make the impossible leap requires that life is not clinging on to survival with its bare teeth but has an excess capacity to throw out variants. That is, it must be have a creative potential beyond what is demanded by survival of the fittest models. The difference is subtle in its distinction but enormous in its ramifications. And we know that time after time, when the environment gets nasty, life bounces back. What did that guy say on Jurassic Park - Nature finds a way?
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