23 December 2020

Modern physics built on quicksand?

The title of this post will provoke its immediate dismissal as mere polemic. Be that as it may. Let me continue. University physics departments have been increasingly renamed today as Departments of Physics and Astronomy. This signals a significant shift in the focus of physics since the 19th century, when mechanics and electromagnetic dynamics were at the centre of attention, to cosmology. This cosmology requires not only the use of huge telescopes of all kinds: ocular, radio, electromagnetic and even gravitational, as well as so-called particle colliders such as the LHC in Geneva, but also the application of ever more complex theories, starting with Einsteinian special relativity and general relativity, and even quantum dynamics requiring ever more complex mathematics. As a conservative estimate, a very able student coming from a school with competent maths and science teachers will need at least four years in an undergraduate physics degree plus four years of postgraduate work in physics to learn the mathematical foundations of advanced relativity physics and quantum dynamics. This is a prerequisite for getting comfortable with the complexities of these highly sophisticated mathematized theories of physics. These entrance barriers make of physicists working at the frontiers of modern physics a kind of small, exclusive, intellectual elite that can communicate in an unfiltered way only amongst itself. 

Physicists are therefore proud of having acquired the mathematical background to even understand modern physics. This pride spills over often enough into arrogance and smugness. After all, they are supposed to be the modern keepers of the keys to the secrets of the universe. The many popularizations of modern physics give a rough idea of some of the enigmas of modern physics such as quantum indeterminacy and space-time curvature, but it remains a rough idea that readers cannot seriously deploy in any confidently critical fashion. These critics would be ruled out of bounds, outside their area of competency, by the initiated physicists themselves. 

One could say, this is all to the good, because the physicists oversee their own work internally and mutually criticize it in prestigious peer-reviewed journals. Hence physicists put their reputation on the line if they try to publish nonsense that is either theoretically inconsistent or empirically unverifiable or both. Rigorous internal controls are then said to guarantee falsifiable scientific 'truth'. Scientific endeavour in physics is thus in the hands of competent experts in the best of all possible scientific worlds, even if the rest of us can't follow in detail what they're up to.

But isn't there something fishy going on here? Doesn't the scientific elite of physicists, along with their renowned journals, share a set of pre-given rules for critically judging the worth of scientific discovery? One can often read from physicists themselves that their science's foundations consist of mathematical theories that are treated first as merely hypothetical theoretical models, but that these models then have to be tested and verified by finding the appropriate empirical data to test the model. If the model can account for, that is, explain, the empirical facts given by the data, then it has been verified, at least for now, until new, unexpected empirical facts come along with which the existing model cannot cope. The truth of such mathematical physical models amounts to the correctness in corresponding to the given empirical facts. These empirical facts, in turn, invariably concern movement that the theoretical model needs to accurately predict to prove its mettle as a scientific theory. Hence truth is really only the correct correspondence between model and empirical data relating to movement and change. More succinctly: truth is correctness, and not the unconcealment of the phenomena themselves. Since movement and change are the focus of concern for scientific prediction, the simple phenomena themselves are conceptualized by one-line definitions as a preliminary to moving on to where the action is, namely, the movement of the physical entities concerned. In predicting motion, physics fulfils its raison d'être of usefulness for the mastery of physical motion either in the mind or practically. Empiricism and pragmatism in philosophy and scientific methodology may be regarded as synonyms, and the one is as naïvely dogmatic as the other with respect to its own ontological foundations.

Modern scientific method is ruled by the necessity of testing the validity of hypothetical theoretical models against the experimental data concerning movement and change given by the physical phenomena. Such a procedure is the hallmark of all modern science, which is thoroughly empiricist in nature because it is convinced that theories can be confirmed or confuted by comparing them with empirical data in a circular fashion that, from the outset, rules out questioning the validity of the simple a priori assumptions that already pre-form how the phenomena of concerned are accessed and grasped at all by the scientific mind. This amounts to saying that all modern science is thoroughly clueless as to its own respective ontological foundations, physics no less than economics, biology no less than sociology. It guarantees its own blindness by adhering unquestioningly to an empiricist methodology and epistemology: if the model explains the quantitative empirical facts predictively, it must be true, at least for now (cf. Popperian falsifiability). The implicit ontology of all modern science, including physics, is as naïve and simple-minded as this.

Witness, for instance, the testimony of a sophisticated physicist who has written a very good text book on relativity theory:

"A physical theory, in fact, is a man-made amalgam of concepts, definitions, and laws, constituting a mathematical model for a certain part of nature. It asserts not so much what nature is, but rather what it is like. Agreement with experiment is the most obvious requirement for the usefulness of such a theory. However, no amount of experimental agreement can ever ‘prove’ a theory, partly because no experiment (unless it involves counting only) can ever be infinitely accurate, and partly because we can evidently not test all relevant instances." (Wolfgang Rindler Relativity: Special, General and Cosmological 2nd ed. O.U.P. 2006 p.33)

What is the above-mentioned unconcealment of the phenomena themselves supposed to be, you ask. The phenomena themselves in their revealing themselves of themselves must be hindered, if at all, by the assumed hypotheses of the mathematical physical models. These hypotheses, or underlying postulates must, from the outset (a priori), obscure and distort the view provided by the models based on them. To the present day, physics lavishly praises itself for its mathematization that took off in earnest at the beginning of the 17th century with major contemporaneous figures such as Kepler and Galileo. Galileo is even the author of the leading line of the era's playbook when he pronounces that the laws of nature are written in the language of mathematics. Descartes fills this out to a full-blown script for the modern scientific age in his De Regulae or Rules. This postulation of a mathematized mode of accessing the phenomena of nature is itself not evidence-based, but posited as an (allegedly obvious) axiom entirely for the sake of gaining a purely quantitative, precalculative, predictive power of knowledge over physical motion in a unified way through simple mathematizable laws of motion, namely, Newton's.

To precalculate physical (loco)motion, Newton's laws require the mathematical operation of infinitesimal differentiation with respect to the continuous, real, time variable, t. Without this variable, it cannot even start business. Armed with this assumed 'obvious' mathematization of time, physics was off to the races with unprecedented success, that is, until it hit a road block at the end of the 19th century. Whereas for Newtonian physics, time t was an absolute variable, anomalies in the theory of electromagnetic radiation coupled with the paradoxes of the absoluteness of the movement of electromagnetic radiation (light) in a vacuum in turn forced a relativization of time itself. With Einsteinian relativity, the human being, that is, the scientific observer-subject, was cast as the receiver of electromagnetic signals bearing empirical data at a certain clock-time that the observer-subject registered on his or her clock in the pertinent inertial reference frame. Voilà! Time t had been relativized to the time registered by receipt of an electromagnetic (light) signal in a given frame of reference. 

It had also been spatialized as the path taken by the light bearing the physical information from some event or other in the universe. Such events were of interest especially with a view to calculating the motion of cosmological entities, starting with planets and stars. This spatialized time was tied to the usual three-dimensional spatial co-ordinates by mathematical constraints known as the Lorentz transformation, which resulted in the time of a physical event registered by the clock in one frame being compressed or dilated compared to the time registered by the clock in another frame. Four-dimensional space-time (x,y,z,t) was born with time t becoming the fourth dimension as a continuous, real, linear variable with respect to which equations of motion could still be differentiated. 

The extension of special relativity, in which light moves invariably in a straight line at the absolute speed of light, c, to considering the curvature of the path of light necessitated that the ties between the spatial co-ordinates and the linear time co-ordinate had to be adjusted to account for the curvature of light's path that bore the signal data determining time, t. Hence a curved space-time had to be postulated whose treatment demanded a curved geometry known as differential geometry initially developed by the German mathematician, Bernhard Riemann, who introduced Riemann tensors to cope mathematically with curvature. The focus of theoretical interest remained, of course, the quantities involved and their variation, which could still be captured by (partial and ultimately covariant) differentiation. The phenomena of space and time themselves were taken for granted as self-evident to physical common sense. Only their mathematization was mysterious. For how could space-time be curved?!

Even with the advent of quantum mechanics, whose quantization was forced on physics by anomalies in the theory of electromagnetic radiation, i.e. again: of light, whereupon light (now conceived as nuggets of pure energy, i.e. as absolute, pure, massless movement) could now only be emitted in discrete Planck quanta rather than continuously. This quantization of light in photons led in the 1920s, with Heisenberg and Schrödinger, to the invention of the device of quantum indeterminacy. The motion of sub-atomic particles could no longer be uniquely causally determined, but had only a probability distribution. However, no attempt was made to break with the mathematization of time as a continuous, real, and hence differentiable variable measuring physical movement. The reason is simple: since its inception with Aristotle and his predecessors, physics has always been about investigating the movement of all that is movable, changeable (_kinoumena_). That is the definition of physics: the science of movement, whereby with Aristotle at least, this movement comprised not only locomotion (change of place), but also change of quality, change of quantity and change of entity itself (propagation). Modern mathematized physics started with the simplest kind of movement, namely (loco)motion, that was most amenable to mathematization. To the present day, physics hangs on for dear life to continuous, real, linear, differentiable time, even though the mathematical operation of differentiation itself becomes increasingly round-about, culminating in the covariant differentiation applicable to general relativity theory.

Convenience for the sake of mathematization, however, can hardly be the criterion for choosing a conception of time. (Linear equations in maths are easy to work with; non-linear equations make things complicated.) Nor is it beyond question that time as a phenomenon in its own right is merely derivative of phenomena of movement and motion. A continuous, real variable t is still basically only a counted time counted off one kind of movement or other. This circumstance, in turn, is dictated by physics' undivertible interest in predicting movement, thus gaining calculative power over it. Is the decision regarding the conceptualization of a phenomenon as fundamental and elementary as time to be dictated by the will to power over movement? What if it were instead the case more fitting the truth of phenomena of movement that it is time — now as three-dimensional time — which enables all kinds of movement to be conceived and understood by us humans as movement in the first place? For a modern physicist, such considerations are totally out of bounds because it is a recipe for declaring a modesty with respect to the knowledge claims of physics, instead of puffing oneself up as one who is investigating the deepest truths of the universe and where 'we' supposedly 'came from'. As it turns out, such alleged deep truth amounts to only the correctness of factual observation under certain restrictive assumptions concerning how the phenomena of concern are accessed and conceived. In particular, the violence done to the phenomenon of time ultimately does violence to our very conception of ourselves as human beings. 

We have thus been caught in the inexorable progress of linear time in one dimension as what-beings that (not who) are themselves one-dimensional. We are, however, if we open the question of time, beings exposed to the openness of three-dimensional time that enables our freedom of movement. Without a proper conception of three-dimensional time there can be no well-founded conception of human freedom. By contrast, modern physics is built on ontological quicksand and must be unfrocked as obscuring the view of the phenomena themselves through unbridled mathematization for the sake of its self-aggrandizement.

Further reading: Movement and Time in the Cyberworld


06 December 2020

Zu Albrechts "Der Geldbegriff zwischen Hermeneutik und Phänomenologie"

Sascha Erich Albrecht hat 2018 eine Dissertation mit dem Titel Der Geldbegriff zwischen Hermeneutik und Phänomenologie: Eine kritische Auseinandersetzung mit der Moderne zwischen Martin Heidegger, Alfred Sohn-Rethel und Hannah Arendt eingereicht. Der Autor setzt sich kurz mit einer früheren (2000) Arbeit von mir, Kapital und Technik: Marx und Heidegger, auseinander. (Die neueste Fassung dieses Buches ist von 2015.) Das Hauptanliegen meiner Abhandlung ist es, den grundlegenden Unterschied zwischen dem von Heidegger artikulierten Wesen der Technik (dem sog. "Gestell") und dem Wesen des Kapitals herauszuarbeiten, das ich  — von einer gewissen phänomenologischen Auslegung der berühmten Marxschen Wertformanalyse ausgehend — als das "Gewinnst" in der früheren Arbeit bzw. als das "Gewinnspiel" in der 2015 Ausgabe begreife. Albrecht lehnt diesen kritischen Ansatz ab. Er schreibt dementsprechend gegen Schluß seiner Arbeit:

"Die vorliegende Untersuchung [die Dissertation] legt jedoch nahe, die Entfremdung im Marxismus nach Sohn-Rethel und Heidegger im Wesentlichen als deckungsgleich auszulegen. Dies ermöglicht erst das Zusammenfügen des Marxschen und Heideggerschen Denkens mit Hinblick auf das Geld als Erkenntnisleistung. Da Eldred im Zuge seiner Grundannahme der Unvereinbarkeit der Entfremdung bei Heidegger und Marx dieser Weg versperrt bleibt, sieht er das Geld als Mittel, durch das der Mensch erst die Dinge in einem berechnenden Horizont wahrnimmt. Deutlich wurde jedoch an obiger Stelle, dass die Annahme, das Geld selbst sei der Ursprung der Herausforderung an den Menschen, verkürzt ist. Ausgehend von der Gleichursprünglichkeit von Geld und modernem wissenschaftlichen Denken ist das Geld vielmehr ein Indikator dafür, dass die Herausforderung an den Menschen schon ergangen ist." (S.180f)

Zunächst einmal: Es handelt sich nicht um irgendeine "Grundannahme", sondern um die Hermeneutik von gewissen Phänomenen. Keineswegs will ich behaupten, daß das Geld "erst die Dinge in einem berechnenden Horizont" erscheinen läßt.  "Berechnung" hat zwei grundverschiedene Bedeutungen in zwei wesensverschiedenen phänomenologischen Bewegungsontologien, die ich hier kurz erläutern möchte (siehe aber die vertiefende Lektüre unten).

Deshalb grundsätzlicher: Ich wollte und will gerade diesen Weg zu einer Zusammenfügung des Marxschen und Heideggerschen Denkens versperren! Denn es liegen hier zwei wesentlich unterschiedliche, einfache Paradigmen vor, nämlich: das Paradigma der produktiven, herstellenden Bewegung einerseits und das der Austauschbewegung andererseits. Diese beiden Bewegungsarten haben wesensunterschiedliche Ontologien. Heidegger richtet sein Augenmerk ausschließlich auf das Paradigma der _technae poiaetikae_, das Aristoteles für seine Ontologie der produktiven Bewegung verwendet. Diese Bewegungsontologie behält ihre totalisierende Vorherrschaft über das Denken bis heute. Heideggers kritischer Wesensbegriff der Technik zielt darauf, die geschichtliche Vollendung und Totalisierung der wissenden, berechnenden Herstellung in der heutigen Welt auf den Begriff zu bringen.  Für ihn sowie für die meisten seiner Leser sind _technae poiaetikae_ und _technae_ gleichbedeutend. Damit unterschlägt er stets, daß die Griechen viele verschiedenen _technai_ außer der _technae poiaetikae_ (die produktive, machende, herstellende Kunst wie z.B. das Tischlerhandwerk) — insbesondere die der _technae chraematistikae_, d.h. der geldmachenden Kunst — nicht nur kannten, sondern auch in philosophischen Schriften (vor allem Platons) thematisierten. Mit der _technae chraematistikae_ kommt das Paradigma des Austausches (_metabolae_ in einer seiner zwei grundlegenden Bedeutungen), nämlich des Warenaustausches, als einer nicht-produktiven Bewegungsart ins Spiel. Dieses Austauschspiel auf dem Markt wird im 5. Buch der Nikomachischen Ethik unter der Rubrik "Austauschgerechtigkeit" abgehandelt, und es ist gerade diese Aristotelische Abhandlung, die Marx als eine der Aristotelischen Quellen zur Ausarbeitung seiner Wertformanalyse dient.

Das Warentauschspiel auf dem Markt kann als elementares Paradigma für die Vergesellschaftung der Menschen gelten, wohl gemerkt: eine dinglich vermittelte Vergesellschaftung, deren geschichtliche Entfaltung wir heute in der vollen Blüte des globalen Kapitalismus erfahren. Weder Heidegger noch Aristoteles noch Marx haben die Ontologie des Austauschspiels ausgearbeitet, die ich mit dem Begriff des Gewinnspiels fasse, sofern es wertdinglich vermittelt ist. Das vergesellschaftende Wechselspiel unter den Menschen muß aber nicht wertdinglich vermittelt sein. In diesem Fall rede ich vom "mutually estimative interplay", d.h. vom gegenseitig ein- und wertschätzenden Wechselspiel.

Das gegenseitige Wechselspiel des Wertschätzens und vor allem seine eigentümliche Bewegungontologie als Interplay wird grundsätzlich weder von Heidegger noch von der modernen Wirtschaftswissenschaft gesehen, denn sie bleiben jeweils dem Paradigma und der Ontologie der produktiven, herstellenden Bewegung verhaftet bzw. verpflichtet. Deshalb kann z.B. der Markt in der heutigen Wirtschaftswissenschaft als bloßer "Mechanismus" der effizienten Ressourcenverteilung (miß)verstanden werden, was Albrecht affirmativ zitiert, weil sein Ansatz unwissentlich darin besteht, die wesensverschiedenen Bewegungsontologien zu nivellieren. So übernimmt er kritiklos eine weitverbreitete Selbstdefinition der Wirtschaftswissenschaft, "wonach Wirtschaft der Ausschnitt menschlichen Handelns ist, der in Verfügung über knappe Mittel zur Erfüllung menschlicher Bedürfnisse besteht" (S.181). Diese Definition ist gerade dadurch motiviert, daß die Wirtschaftswissenschaft von Anfang an immer schon auf den Erfolg der Naturwissenschaft geschielt und sich bemüht hat, sich möglichst an das Paradigma und die Ontologie der produktiven, effizienten Bewegung anzupassen, wobei sie allerdings auf die Hilfe von "speziellen mathematisch-statistischen Verfahren" (S.182) angewiesen ist, da eindeutige wirkkausale Beziehungen wie etwa in der Newtonschen Mechanik fehlen. Damit aber wird das Phänomen und die Ontologie des gegenseitig wertschätzenden Wechselspiels und seiner Vermittlung durch den verdinglichten Wert nicht nur unsichtbar, sondern auch unterdrückt. Auf diese Weise tut die Wirtschaftswissenschaft den Phänomenen mutwillig Gewalt an, um dem Paradigma der herstellenden Bewegung treu zu bleiben und ihre Wissensmacht sowie ihren Status als Wissenschaft aufrechtzuerhalten. 

Dem Schein der Wissenschaftlichkeit der Wirtschaftswissenschaft wird dadurch Vorschub geleistet, daß das Medium des verdinglichten Werts, in dem das Gewinnspiel des Kapitalismus gespielt wird, das wertschätzende Wechselspiel unter den Menschen selbst und mit der Natur verschleiert. Stattdessen werden die Wertdinge selbst fetischisiert, sie scheinen, an sich Wert zu besitzen. Deshalb erscheint die Welt des Gewinnspiels im verdinglichten Wertspiegel verkehrt. Die Fehldeutung elementarer Phänomene macht blind und hat verheerende Folgen für die Menschen sowie für die Erde. 

Im  wertdinglich vermittelten Gewinnspiel des Kapitalismus wird der Mensch zum Spieler und verliert seine neuzeitliche Wesensbestimmung als Subjekt, das der Bewegung der Welt zugrunde liegen soll. Die Setzung dieses Sollen ist ein vergebliches normatives bzw. ethisches Unterfangen in unserer heutigen Welt. Vielmehr ist das gegenseitig sich einschätzende, wertschätzende Wechselspiel unter den Menschen immer ein Kräftespiel (power play), — ob wertdinglich vermittelt oder nicht, und ob es füreinander, miteinander oder gegeneinander gespielt wird. Alle Ethik gründet damit in solchem wertschätzenden Kräftespiel, in dem Werte im weitesten Sinn auf dem Spiel stehen. Die Ethik erlangt so ihre ontologische Fundierung dadurch, daß die eigentümliche vergesellschaftende Bewegungsart des gegenseitig wertschätzenden Wechselspiels auf den Begriff gebracht wird.

Vertiefende Lektüre: Kapital und Technik: Marx und Heidegger (2015)

 Social Ontology of Whoness

24 October 2020

Pursuit of Happiness?

 "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness is a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence.[1] The phrase gives three examples of the unalienable rights which the Declaration says have been given to all humans by their creator, and which governments are created to protect." (Wikipedia)

The origin of this famous triad is usually given as "Life, Liberty and Estate" from John Locke's Two Treatises of Government from 1689, although this is disputed among scholars, as the Wikipedia article notes. This dispute among the scholars need not concern us here since usually the line of descent for the triad is assumed to be Locke's Two Treatises and this line has left its firm mark in political-philosophical thinking.

The phrase "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" occurs in a founding document from 1776 for government of the nascent United States, proclaiming "inalienable rights" for all those "men" entering into a compact for government. In Locke's Two Treatises, it is clearly said that “Government has no other end but the preservation of Property”, a man’s property being considered to comprise “his Life, Liberty and Estate”. The preservation of estate thus translates to the pursuit of happiness, i.e. from a more conservative, static connotation (preservation) to a more dynamic connotation of pursuit. Whereas estate is already possessed, happiness has to be striven for, without guarantees of success. Taking the cue from Locke's famous triad, the phrase in the U.S. Declaration translates to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Property.

But what is property? It seems to be obvious: it consists in all the goods and chattels a person owns on the land this person also owns. 'Estate' is 'Anwesen' in German and οὐσία (ousia) in Greek. 'Anwesen' also means 'presence' in German and can be heard both as a noun (i.e. substantive) and a verbal noun, 'presencing'. The Greek οὐσία, on the other hand, is the substantive formed from the feminine present participle for 'to be', thus literally 'beingness'. It is also the concept at the very core of Greek ontology as the first category, signifying the substance and essence of what something is, i.e. its substantive whatness. Read this way, the pursuit of property becomes the striving for substance in thingly possession. A 'man of substance' is therefore understood as a man with substantial propertied estate. Is a man's whoness, however, to be conceived adequately as his standing as a substantial property owner?

Understood in a more dynamic way, however, the striving for property can become the endless striving for possessions that may or may not be successful, although it keeps the striver on his or her toes. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Property translates easily into the twentieth formulation of the so-called American Dream that has served as an advertisement of the desirability of the American way of life, especially for those poor immigrants reaching the shores of the United States as long as, and to the extent that, the government had a welcoming, open-door policy. The American Dream has at least served as one of the justifications for American exceptionalism and its purported 'greatness'.

But what is property apart from being a collection of things owned by a person? What is its essence? The essence only becomes visible by delving below the everyday appearances and turns out to be, as I have unfolded elsewhere (see links below) in extenso, thingified value. What is usually called capitalism is the movement of thingified value through its Protean guises on the way to its augmentation, its accumulation, its bloating. The movement of total global thingified value as capital requires its bearers, its players who are enticed and necessitated to participate in the gainful game by striving for one of the guises of thingly value as income. The most basic income in this gainful game is wages and salaries. The other elementary forms of income are ground-rent, interest and profit of enterprise. A sole trader, for instance, earns both a profit of enterprise and a self-paid wage. These four basic forms of thingly value as income together constitute the total amount of thingified value generated by the gainful game in a given period.

When seen this way, the pursuit of happiness can be deciphered socio-ontologically as the pursuit of income in the gainful game. Each free U.S. citizen has the "inalienable right" to become a player in the gainful game, striving for income without any guarantee of success and often failing to gain sufficient income to live well. All players in the gainful game, whether successful or not, are kept breathlessly in motion and motivated by the gain-promising movement of thingified value itself, bloating itself by continual circular Protean transformation through its various value-form guises. 

Is this supposed to be the American vision of human happiness that is to serve as an ideal to be emulated by the rest of the world?

Further reading: Capital and Technology, Social Ontology of Whoness.


22 October 2020

Turing's test of thinking

The Turing test is perhaps the best-known detail of Alan Turing's work, if only because it is easy to understand. But it also approaches one of the deepest questions by asking whether a digital machine can think like a human being without attempting to prescribe in what human thinking itself consists. It poses only the comparative question concerning whether a digital machine's responses to questions are comparable to, or indistinguishable from, the responses a presumably intelligent human being would give to the same questions.

Wikipedia summarizes as follows: "The test was introduced by Turing in his 1950 paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" while working at the University of Manchester.[4] It opens with the words: "I propose to consider the question, 'Can machines think?'" Because "thinking" is difficult to define, Turing chooses to "replace the question by another, which is closely related to it and is expressed in relatively unambiguous words."[5] Turing describes the new form of the problem in terms of a three-person game called the "imitation game", in which an interrogator asks questions of a man and a woman in another room in order to determine the correct sex of the two players. Turing's new question is: "Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game?"[2] This question, Turing believed, is one that can actually be answered. In the remainder of the paper, he argued against all the major objections to the proposition that "machines can think".[6]" [Note that Turing is concerned with what is "imaginable", i.e. conceivable.]

Significantly, Turing's paper was published in the influential, establishment Mind journal, and the entire discussion in the Wikipedia entry is in terms of the human being conceived as a subject endowed with interior consciousness, as if this question were settled, cut and dried for all time, in fact, as if this question were a non-question that thinking does not have worry about.

One of the best-known objections to the Turing test was formulated by John Searle under the name of the Chinese room. Wikipedia summarizes this objection thus: "John Searle has argued that external behaviour cannot be used to determine if a machine is "actually" thinking or merely "simulating thinking."[36] His Chinese room argument is intended to show that, even if the Turing test is a good operational definition of intelligence, it may not indicate that the machine has a mind, consciousness, or intentionality." [Intentionality is the directedness of the mind toward something.]

Note that Searle's objection rests on the distinction between internal consciousness and external behaviour, a more than obvious objection for any philosopher, like Searle, steeped in and captive to the ontology of subject-object. Without the supposedly self-evident distinction between inside and outside consciousness the objection makes no sense and has no force at all. Searle's Chinese room objection begs the question whether human being itself can be adequately conceived as subjectivity endowed with intelligent internal consciousness at all.

Let us ponder the presupposition that the human being is a subject a little further. Turing's test is set up to test whether a human subject in conversational interplay with a digitized computer operating in line with the algorithmic steps of Universal Turing Machines or, alternatively, with a living human being, conceived as a subject, is able to distinguish reliably between his of her interlocutors. In his paper, Turing is confident that a computer will one day pass the Turing test, becoming indistinguishable from a human interlocutor, thus vindicating Turing's own conception that human thinking is 'nothing other than' the computation of computable numbers somehow by neuronal brain activity.

It is a human subject that [not who] is required to make a judgement about the status of his or her interlocutors: real human being or artificial computer? As subject, the human underlies and is the source of the judgement made. Note that 'sub-ject' means literally 'that which is thrown under'; it is the Latin translation of the ancient Greek ὑποκείμενον (hypokeimenon) which, in turn, means literally 'that which underlies'. [For the Greeks the 'subjects' were what today are called 'objects'. We live in a topsy-turvy world in many respects, that doesn't seem to faze anyone.] It is thus presupposed for the Turing test that the human being underlies the judgement, but is the human being really the underlying, judging, discerning subject in this test situation in which thinking itself is at stake?

The judging, discerning human being already conceives him- or herself reflectively in some way as a human being, and this reflective self-conception in our age will be inevitably as a living being (i.e. a kind of animal) endowed with interior consciousness and a mind embedded in that consciousness vis-à-vis the external world of objects. This self-conception inevitably also includes the preconception that thinking consciousness is somehow located in the brain, perhaps also connected with the rest of the body via the central nervous system. This latter preconception is highly convenient and axiomatic for today's neuroscience with all its ongoing and fast progressing research into the brain in order to 'solve' the problem concerning what constitutes thinking as such. Without the inside/outside distinction there could be no neuroscience. The resolution of this problem goes hand in hand with ceaseless efforts to make Artificial Intelligence. The very endeavour under the name of AI makes no sense at all if there is not already the preconceived conviction that human thinking is basically 'nothing other than' computation, of which Turing himself was convinced.

This leaves open the possibility that, with the advancement of the self-serving conviction that thinking is to be conceived as computation carried out somewhere inside, the behaviour as well as the self-conception of the human him- or herself adapts to that of digital computers running on algorithms, with the consequence that it becomes all the more likely that a machine can pass the Turing test. This eventuality is not a consequence of more and more superb supercomputers with petaFLOPS of computational power being built, but of human beings themselves conceiving themselves more and more as computers. In this scenario, the human subject is thus not only adapting to, but is being absorbed by the cyberworld and thus becoming indistinguishable from a cyborg by thinking their selves as cyborgs. The underlying subject thus becomes in the human mind an algorithmically operated what. The cyberworld here is not only an artificially built electronic network run by algorithms, nor only an electronic medium in which we immerse ourselves, but also, and even prior to its being built as an electronic medium, a conception in the mind, i.e. a state of mind.

Those who promote, who are fired up and excited by the approximation of human being to computational being composed of Universal Turing Machines will presumably be among the first to judge that a computer has passed the Turing test. In so doing, they will be unwittingly begging the question concerning human being itself without even noticing it. In any case, the hermeneutic-ontological conception of human being as animal endowed with intelligent consciousness is no ontological bulwark against this possibility lying on the horizon of our historical future today.

The question, Who is the human being? is not even on today's philosophical agenda. It is dismissed without a second thought if it obliquely crops up somewhere. The reason is that academic philosophy has today become the handmaiden and whore of effective modern science, either stridently defending the unquestioned ontological presuppositions of modern science or timidly and vainly seeking some kind of rapprochement with the more strident and aggressive analytic and post-analytic philosophy that so far maintains its hegemony in the academy.

Related: Interview with Katina Michael.

21 October 2020

Values, rights, power

Ethics are concerned with values and rights with regard to human beings living with one another on the Earth. Values are what we humans value, cherish, treasure, respect, estimate, esteem, starting perhaps with life itself and living well. Rights, on the other hand, are protected values, either by law or aspirationally so, as with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Under the value of life itself, for instance, is the value that children should be spared labour in favour of being educated so as to be better prepared for adult life. This value is then proclaimed aspirationally as a regulative ideal in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as one that ought to be protected for every child on the planet. Or it is also protected and enforced in the laws of certain countries, thus passing from what ought to be to what is the state of affairs. Infringements of rights, their negation, are legion. There are never-ending power struggles of every imaginable kind worldwide to establish values as actually protected and enforced values. 

With regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights there is also dispute among the various cultures over whether they truly deserve universal status. These disputes are fueled not only by non-Western cultures, but especially by political regimes for which the non-acknowledgement and suppression of human rights are convenient in order to exert and maintain power over and control their respective populations. It is plausible to point out that individual human rights are an 'invention' of the West that emerged through thinking on human freedom as individual freedom. In intercultural ethics it is often disputed that such individual freedom as proclaimed and cemented in individual human rights is inapplicable in non-Western cultures. The most visible and contentious example of this is the patriarchal nature of non-Western cultures in which androcratic customs serve to keep women and girls under the thumb of male power. Such androcracy is still very much alive in the West, but it also has long been put into question, at the latest since the 18th century, and the struggle to assert the value of female lives as women's rights has also had some success.

The human being as a human individual living in society is an historical event accompanied by philosophical thinking on human freedom itself within a given age. The individuality of the individual itself emerges through the loosening of feudal bonds of dependence and the ascendancy of capitalist market economists in struggles that threatened and ultimately deposed the political and social power of the feudal nobility. In the place of sociation through social relations of direct hierarchical subordination, sociation came to be mediated increasingly by thingified value in its various forms. The modern individual as an individual is enabled (not caused) by virtue of sociation via thingified value. 

When, in the 17th century, John Locke famously proclaims individual human rights, he does so in an historical context in which thingified value has already assumed a major role in sociating society. But Locke does not see thingified value as thingified value. He sees and thinks it as private property which is one of the phenomenal forms, guises or 'looks' of thingified value. It is therefore not merely incidentally that the idea (εἶδος or 'look') of human rights, as formulated in Locke's famous threesome of rights, includes the right to individually own property. If you own property or, more to the point, if you have at your disposal thingfied value in one of its several  garbs, usually money, you also have the freedom of social movement that reified value affords you as an individual. Money as universal equivalent gives you power over all that is for sale; the more money, the more power. 

Since capitalist market economy has long since become globalized as the gainful game in which almost all of us inhabitants on Earth are players, one can plausibly assert that the historical socio-ontological basis for individuality has today permeated and been established worldwide. Such individuality of human rights may well and does collide with other historical forms of sociation via other cultures' customs of hierarchical personal dependence, notably patriarchal androcracy, under which women and girls live and suffer. Their suffering as such is only visible to the mind against the backdrop of the historically cast individual rights intimately interwoven with sociation through thingified value.

Sociation in any society is accomplished through the interplay among the members of that society according to certain rules of play, namely, the customs of a culture and the power relations structuring the society through political power. Political power wielded by the state today ubiquitously includes the power to raise taxes from the subject-population and also the power to do physical violence to it by means of the police and, if need be, the military. The free interplay among individuals as such may be and is often fettered. Nevertheless, individual human freedom is the freedom of the individual to be the source of its own life-movements in the interplay with other individuals, where here life-movements are conceived very broadly (e.g. whether to have a child or not).

In the interplay with others, you exert your powers of life-movement as does your opposite player. The interplay is therefore necessarily a power interplay. As players in power interplay, you mutually estimate and esteem, i.e. value, each others powers, whether it be appreciatively or depreciatingly. The power interplay is either fair or ugly, fair or foul (cf. Macbeth's witches). It is social power interplay in which values are constituted in the first place. What we value as individual values in living with each other always has a grounding in how values are valued in sociating power interplay. Values are hence grounded in power interplay, just as rights are grounded in values in the sense of protections and guarantees for such rights.

Social freedom itself cannot be thought as such without a conception of sociation in power interplays, that is, through a kind of movement that is social, sociating movement emanating ultimately from individual players (no matter whether they regard themselves as individuals or not). Such power interplay can be seen more clearly when the overlay of customary forms of social power hierarchy is stripped away. Established customary forms of hierarchy, in effect, rig the outcomes of power interplay according to pre-given rules of play. In patriarchal societies, for example, a wife must always subjugate herself to and obey the man of the house. There is no room for a free power interplay, albeit that the woman may well resort to subterfuge and intrigue to get her way in the power interplay behind her lord and master's back.

Individual human rights as proclaimed and enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights therefore do not fall from the sky. Nor are they simply a set of regulative or normative ideals set up and envisaged by individual moral conscience, as Kant would have it. Rather, they have their socio-ontological origins i) in the values valued in a given historical way of living in which thingified value plays a prominent sociating role and ii), moreover, in the sociating power interplays played out. In this sense, one could say that values and rights, and hence ethics and morality themselves, are rooted in social power — and, more particularly, in those movements called power struggles — rather than in ideals.

 

20 October 2020

The way Americans talk

 A: "Thank you so much..."

B: "That's a great question... So, this is going to impact us... "

A: "What are we going to do, moving forward? ..."

B: "The data is, kind of like, disturbing..."

A: "Thank you so much..."

B: "That's a great question... So, this is going to impact us..."

A: "What are we going to do, moving forward? ..."

B: "The data is, like, unsettling..."

A: "Thank you so much..."

B: "That's a great question... So, this is going to impact us..."

A: "What are we going to do, moving forward? ..."

B: "The data is, like, discouraging..."

A: "Thank you so much..."

 

17 October 2020

What is conservative?

 A commonly accepted definition of conservative in both the political and social sense is that those who hold conservative views on the world want to conserve the social status quo. The opposite of conservative is progressive, meaning that those who hold progressive views on the world see and diagnose all sorts of failings in the present social set-up and want to change the status quo for the better. Whereas conservatives are pretty much satisfied with how the world is and will fight actively or passively resist to preserve the current state of affairs, progressives struggle to overcome the inequities of social living. This seems to me to be a tenable basic definition of conservative and its opposite, progressive.

Here, however, I want to take a different, unfamiliar tack by focusing on values, for conservatism is often cast as a desire and striving to conserve certain values characterized as moral and ethical. Such is, for instance, the ethical value of the right to life that is widely comprehensive and open to many different interpretations ranging from the anti-abortionist right of the unborn to live, to the right not be killed by the state under laws of capital punishment. The debates over ethical and moral values rage on. They all relate to how we estimate and esteem each other and/or the Earth, and they are never finally settled as perpetual rights, but subject to ever-renewed social and political struggle.

But what about that other sort of value intimately familiar from everyday life, namely, the value of things, in particular, commodity things sold on the market? Such economic values are normally cordoned off from the 'higher' ethical values as if they were, indeed, values, but of a somewhat lower, grubby status. A cover for this grubbiness is often provided by masking it with the 'high' value of economic freedom, such as the entrepreneurial freedom to set up a profit-making enterprise or the freedom of the consumer to choose among the endless array of goods and services for sale on the market. 

To start with the most elementary: goods and services. They are valued because they are useful for leading your life, such as a hairdresser who styles your hair or an electric shaver for shaving unwanted hair from your body. Usually you buy these services or goods with money for a price. The price paid is a practical, quantitative valuation and estimation of the value of the good or service; it values directly the work providing the service or indirectly the work that went into making the good or and also the contribution that the Earth made either by way of providing raw materials or simply a location for the work to be done.

The good or service is valuable in itself as being useful, but it is also valuable because it can be sold for money which, in turn, can be exchanged in buying something else. This exchange-value, as distinct from use-value, is quantitative in nature and it is also thingly, reified. With this value-thing you can buy anything that can be had for a price, not just goods and services, but also, say, a politician's honesty or a bureaucrat's official permission, both of which are said to be an abuse or illegitimate use of the exchange-power inherent in money. Money-value can also be legitimately exchanged to hire labour power, whose hiring and setting-to-work is at the heart of capitalism. The exchange may be fair or unfair depending on the wages paid and the working conditions.

Value, whose form or 'look' (εἶδος) we clearly understand, can assume many other thingly guises, including landed property, real estate, factories, mines, exquisite works of art, debt claims, shares in publicly traded companies, the option to purchase a commodity in the future. The list goes on and on, but all the derivative guises, forms or 'looks' of thingly value can be traced back to more elementary guises and especially to the monetary form of thingly value as the universal equivalent for anything else of thingly value. Money as the epitome of thingly value obscures and covers up that it is a social power to harness the powers and abilities of people to produce useful goods and services as well as the natural powers of the Earth for the same end.

Conservatives will usually claim that they value and stand for high ethical values they want to conserve and preserve, including traditional rituals and practices. They value the right to life in a certain traditional religious interpretation and also the traditional androcratic form of social living in the family. But underlying all this valuing of the traditional status quo conserving a given way of social living deemed "the best of all possible worlds" there is, almost without exception, the high estimation and valuing of the thingly property they own, along with the prospect of earning future income that, in turn, is thingified in some form of valuable property of whatever kind, even if it be a portfolio of stocks. Those who have property and also good prospects of enhancing and augmenting their property ownership, thus accumulating and 'having' thingified value in one of its myriad guises, have a strong leaning toward wanting to conserve their thingly value above all else. Their ethical and moral values are relegated to a secondary status behind the value of owning property for their own well-being, and this even to the extent of being morally hypocritical, bigoted and corrupt.

This valuing of thingly value over all else makes of conservatives worshippers of a god I call Pleon Exia. His name derives from the ancient Greek word πλεονεξἰα (pleonexia) meaning 'the wish and striving to have more, gain, greed, advantage'. The 'having' part of πλεονεξἰα, namely, -εξἰα, derives from the Greek verb 'to have'. Those who worship this god strive to have more and more and more, and also to savagely fight, with any deceptive rhetorical argument to hand, anything that stands in the way of this striving. Conservatives, in the first place, are those who have more and want to conserve this status above all else, including their 'higher' moral values with which their unbounded desire to have stands in conflict. 

In the second place conservatives are those who aspire and strive to have more, as in the seductive American Dream. Both classes of conservatives want, above all, to conserve their thingly value and all that supports and enhances its acquisition, its appropriation, either by fair means or foul. The foul means consist primarily in unfairly exploiting, and thus misesteeming, the labour power capitalist enterprises hire and also in rabidly exploiting the Earth, thus misesteeming its powers, solely with the aim a generating thingly profits. The thingified nature of value serves to cover up their bigotry in slavishly worshipping Pleon Exia at the cost of treating others (their powers) and the Earth (its natural powers) fairly in a fair and equitable estimation of what they offer. Fairness here is to be thought in the twofold sense of both beauty and fairness in social interplay.

Related: Philorock song Pleon Exia.