06 December 2018

Mental degeneracy

The scientific mind, both natural and social,
finds itself in secular degeneration
since the seventeenth century.

Needless to say, it does not notice its dementia,
having long since forgotten the ontological difference
in the mists of its mental oblivion.

Today it is working on artificial intelligence,
progressing to consummate its own superfluity.

Change of mind

With a change of mind,
Changing the world follows
As a matter of course.

26 October 2018

Aristotle on small initial error

In De Caelo Aristotle formulates a thought that has repercussions far beyond the particular context in which it is uttered:

σχεδὸν γὰρ αὓτη πασῶν ἀρχὴ τῶν ἐναντιώσεων τοῖς ἀποφηναμένοις τι περὶ τῆς ὃλης φύσεως καὶ γέγονε καὶ γένοιτ΄ ἄν, εἴπερ καὶ τὸ μικρὸν παραβῆναι τῆς ἀληθείας ἀφισταμένοις γίνεται πόρρω μυριοπλάσιον. (De Caelo I v. 271b7-10)

"This, one could say, is what has been and will [continue to] be the source of all the contradictions among those pronouncing on beings as a whole, since going astray from the truth just a little initially becomes multiplied ten-thousandfold standing far [from the starting-point]." (De Caelo I v. 271b7-10)

The crucial word here is ἀρχὴ, which can be rendered in various ways in English as 'principle', 'starting-point', 'source', 'beginning', especially in the sense that the ἀρχὴ governs what proceeds from it. In the quote, this meaning is apparent because a little error in the principle results in major deviations from the 'truth' further down the line.

In Metaphysics Book Delta, Aristotle provides a definition of the multiple meanings of ἀρχὴ, pointing out that they are all a kind of ὄθεν, i.e. a 'whence'.

Most frequently, this 'whence' is taken in a chronological sense as the source whence something develops in linear time, but this is a restriction that suits the lazy thinking apparent everywhere, for instance, in evolutionary theory.

Or the 'whence' is taken as the starting-point, i.e. the premises, of an argument that proceeds by logical deduction. If your premises are false, so formal logic proclaims, then your conclusions will be fallacious. This is a favourite way of proceeding in mainstream philosophy and elsewhere: arguing for your position.

A deeper signification of ἀρχὴ, however, is the starting-point for thinking through phenomena conceptually. Such a path of thinking has to respect a sequence of thinking in which the concepts of more fundamental and elementary phenomena precede and provide the basis for thinking, i.e. forming adequate concepts for, more complex phenomena with more determinations. This is often called, as in Hegel, moving from the most abstract, simple phenomena step by step to the more concrete phenomena whose concepts require the concepts of simpler phenomena to be properly articulated.

One crucial case in point, which to date philosophical thinking has obstinately ignored, is whether a concept of time must precede the phenomena of movement and change to grasp them adequately, or whether time is a concept that presupposes the phenomenon of movement. The traditional conception of time is the latter: that time is a number lifted off movement by counting it. Hence Aristotle's famous formula for time:
"Time is the number of movement with regard to before and after." 
(ὀ χρόνος ἀριθμὸς κινήσεως κατὰ τὸ πρότερον καὶ ὕστερον ἐστιν. Phys. IV xi 219b2; cf. also De Caelo I ix. 279a15)

Elsewhere, in Aristotle's "before and after" & quantum gravity, I have pointed out that this definition of time is viciously circular. There has to be a deeper, more elementary conception of time on which this definition is based in order to account for the "before and after" in it. I won't repeat here what I have said before.

Here it is important to see that the path on which thinking thinks through phenomena makes a very big difference, and if you choose the wrong starting-point you will end up, down the road, very far from the truth of the phenomena themselves, no matter how clever your theories are. The truth here is not the conclusion of a valid logical argument, but an insight into how the phenomena show, disclose themselves of themselves if you care to look closely enough and do not obscure their self-disclosure with theoretical constructions.

Western thinking's starting with a linear conception of time counted off movement has had enormous repercussions for the trajectory of Western history as a whole, for without it there would be no science, no ἐπιστήμη, and therefore also no global technoscience. We would be on another historical path altogether on which science with its absolute will to efficient power would assume its proper, more modest place.

Further reading A Question of Time.

16 October 2018

Conscious subject plaything of the Zeit-Geist

The conscious subject is supposed to be the bedrock for conceiving human being for all time. Hence, for instance, science speaks unrestrainedly of the evolution over millennia of consciousness in the species of animal called homo sapiens. Humankind is thus conceived as just one among many animal species and given the flattering label of 'wise'. Such putative long-term ontogenetic evolution of consciousness is thought to be somehow a result of, or at least concomitant with, the enlargement of the human brain over long periods of linear time.  Human consciousness is supposed to emerge in linear chronological time through some kind of increase in complexity of the brain's neural interconnections which, in turn, is explained (teleologically) as serving the enhanced survival of the species. Science's conviction is that one day 'we' will scientifically explain the evolutionary emergence of human consciousness on a scientifically materialist basis.

Conceiving human being itself as specifically distinguished from other animal species by intelligent consciousness residing in the conscious subject, however, shows how our self-conception is the plaything of our historical time's own mind, i.e. our shared historical time-mind or Zeit-Geist that here encompasses both the mind and spirit of the times. For, marking the human species with the specific difference of (intelligent, mooded) consciousness, as happened only in the modern age, differs radically from ancient determinations of this hallmark as soul, anima, animus, ψυχή or νοῦς. Talk of the soul, for instance, is out of bounds for today's science. The Christian soul is also conceived in an essentially different way from the Latin anima or the Greek ψυχή.

One consequence of conceiving human being as subjective consciousness is that mind itself becomes individualized, encapsulated in individual, interior consciousness. Such postulated, brain-based, individual consciousnesses 'inside' can then only come together 'outside' through some sort of collectivity of consciousness which modern mainstream philosophy conceives as collective intentionality of will. What this inside/outside dichotomy actually means and how (since, on closer examination, it can be seen that it does not do justice to the phenomena themselves) it can be overcome (as treated in other of my posts and books) remains a hardly noticed ontological problem.

Such a conception of subjective consciousness comes too late, for individual consciousness always already partakes of the mind of our scientifically dominated historical age. The Zeit-Geist is prior to the conception of interior consciousness of individual subjects, for it is the source that has cast human being itself as interiorized consciousness. The casting of human being itself as individual subjectivity endowed with interior consciousness is itself a fairly recent historical event. This hermeneutic casting is not the terminus of history, since, through philosophical thinking, history may have a further twist through recasting. The casting itself can be historically interrogated and revised, thus rescuing human being conceived inappropriately as subjective consciousness from its status as mere plaything of an hegemonic mind-set by paying close attention to certain simple, elementary phenomena that are "hard to see" (Aristotle), i.e. are taken as self-evident and therefore, even after millennia of Western thinking, have yet to come to adequate concepts.

The crucial point in the present context is that the very interiority of consciousness vis-à-vis an objective external world supposedly independent of subjective, individualized consciousness is questionable. Such questioning is anything other than mere scepticism, but forceful interrogation of entrenched clichés in thinking that brings an alternative to light. Despite our age's hegemonic mind-set that is fixated on an absolute will to effective power over all kinds of movements (including even the explanatory power of evolutionary story-telling), the Zeit-Geist retains nevertheless an historical malleability under philosophical interrogation that can transcend such a fixation.

Further reading: A Question of Time: An alternative cast of mind.

   

08 October 2018

Power over whats and whos

In a famous formulation, Aristotle defines power (δύναμις) to be ἀρχή μεταβολῆς ἐν ἄλλῳ ἠ  ᾗ ἄλλο. (Met. Theta 1, 1046a9f), i.e. "a source governing a change in something else or in the same being insofar as it is regarded as something else". This is the metaphysical formula for productive, efficient power to effect a change from a power source that provides the foundational ontology of movement in all Western thinking, and today globally, in all scientifico-technological thinking. All science, i.e. all ἐπιστήμη, from the Greeks on is will to efficient, effective power over all kinds of movement and change. This will is the theological orientation of modern science's onto-theology, i.e. its metaphysics.

This famous formulation can be given a further twist: ἀρχή μεταβολῆς ἐν τινι ἠ τις ᾗ τι, i.e. "a source governing a change in something or in someone regarded as something" or, to bring out the difference between what and who: "a source governing a change in somewhat or in somewho regarded as somewhat". This variant brings to the fore the essential character of epistemic power as a power over whats, or whos insofar as they are seen as whats. For this reason, modern science, born in the seventeenth century as mathematized physics, retained its essential will to power over whats, or whos as whats, when it developed further into the various social sciences such as political economy, psychology and sociology. To fulfil its essential determination as science, all social science has to emulate physics in striving for knowing power over the movements and changes of people by reducing their genuine whoness to a whatness amenable to the will to effective power. The phenomenological violence of this reduction still goes unnoticed today.

This observation enables a better understanding of Heidegger's statement, "The question concerning who the human being is [...] cannot be adequately asked within the domain of traditional metaphysics, which remains essentially ‘physics’." (Die Frage, wer der Mensch ist [...] läßt sich im Bereich der überlieferten Metaphysik, die wesentlich ‚Physik‘ bleibt, nicht zureichend fragen. Martin Heidegger Einführung in die Metaphysik S. 107)

The singleness of the source of effective power in Aristotle's definition nips in the bud any genuine access to the phenomenality of a plurality of whos in power interplay with one another. Such a power interplay precludes establishing a single source of power over whos, i.e. of social power. Rather, social power can only be adequately conceived as mutually estimative power interplays of various kinds. This hermeneutic as remains in oblivion as long as an alternative ontology of movement and change to the Aristotelean ontology of causally efficient movement, which remains tacitly intact throughout all modern science, is not explicitly dismantled and curbed by philosophical thinking in favour of a phenomenally adequate ontology of specifically social, sociating movement and change that brings with it a radically alternative, historical cast of mind.

All kinds of authoritarian politics currently re-emerging across the globe treat people as things, i.e. as whats, to be manipulated, especially by calculating words, in ruthless power games. Likewise, today increasingly aiding authoritarian governments, the cyberworld is bent on algorithmically controlling all the movements of people through so-called 'artificial intelligence' and so-called 'deep learning' by neural networks fed with huge mountains of data. These data, on which the neural networks train, carry all the prejudices and biases of the empirical world, reducing human beings to statistically significant or insignificant data bit-strings, whereas the artificially intelligent algorithms enable an outsourcing and automation of power over people by dictating what they can and cannot do. 'Misjudgements' on the part of these 'intelligent' algorithms can and do have dire consequences.

However, here it is not so much a matter of pointing to dire consequences of algorithmic control and weighing them against those which are beneficial, convenient, entertaining or whatever. Philosophical thinking's task does not amount to a balancing act between upsides and downsides on some kind of ethical see-saw. Rather, already the terms 'artificial intelligence' and 'deep learning' in connection with the concatenation of countless universal Turing machines constituting the cyberworld indicate that we humans have long since become accustomed to thoughtlessly conceiving ourselves as whats, instead of insistently posing the question as to our whoness.  

Further reading: Social Ontology of Whoness and The Digital Cast of Being.

17 September 2018

Degeneracy of mind

Despite all the advances in science and technology (or rather, precisely because of them), our present age is blighted by an ongoing, secular degeneracy of mind that has been progressing for generations. The algorithmization of the world is proceeding apace amidst a thoughtlessness about the nature of the ever-encroaching cyberworld. This thoughtlessness consists primarily and primally in our mind's cluelessness about the ontological cast of world in our present historical age that has culminated in the digital cast of world. Today's mainstream philosophy continues to let us down badly, for it, too, is clueless about what genuine ontology is. It has thoroughly unlearned what ontology was at its inception with Plato and Aristotle, who were the first to articulate the ontological difference, that is, the difference between beings taken in their naked ontic facticity and their mode of being.

Today's philosophers have risible conceptions of both Plato's and Aristotle's thinking because they interpret it by retrojecting the subjectivist ontology of the modern age, with its illusory, irreconcilable split between subject and object, back onto Greek thinking. They remain incarcerated in the ontological cast of the modern age, i.e. our all-enveloping, modern mind-set, clueless about any historical alternative, either past or future.

For instance, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy currently has no entry at all for ontology. Under the entry for "Metaphysics" it deals with ontology as the "science of being as such" without the least mention of the ontological difference. Questions of ontology boil down to whether a certain (kind of) being "exists". Thus we read e.g. the incoherent statement:

"Still, many questions of the new and old metaphysics are not questions of ontology. For example, many participants in the debate over causation are not particularly worried about whether causes and effects exist. Rather, they want to know “in virtue of what” something is a cause or effect."

As if the "what" in "in virtue of what" did not exist!

Under the entry for "Logic and Ontology", again, there is no mention of the ontological difference. Instead, we read:

"But we have at least two parts to the overall philosophical project of ontology, on our preliminary understanding of it: first, say what there is, what exists, what the stuff is reality is made out of, secondly, say what the most general features and relations of these things are."

As if the question of "what exists" could be answered by saying "what the stuff is reality is made out of". This is blatant begging of the question in a materialist direction, foreclosing any interrogation of what it means for anything to exist at all. The question of the very meaning of being itself (and that, under interrogation, this meaning is shown to be ultimately temporal in a genuinely three-dimensional, non-linear way) is not posed at all.

"The second set of problems is that it isn’t so clear what these questions really are. This leads to the philosophical debate about meta-ontology." And what does meta-ontology concern itself with? It "isn’t so clear how to settle questions about what there is, at least not for the kinds of things that have traditionally been of special interest to philosophers: numbers, properties, God, etc." Again, the focus is on whether beings of a certain given kind exist. And whether they exist is always a question of the logical truth of certain propositions, not the disclosive truth of phenomena themselves. Hence the entry's heading, "Logic and Ontology".

The ontological debates within mainstream philosophy are carried on academically as jousts held on pleasant university campi between virtually countless -isms that take up their many and various positions and fight it out on the tournament field employing their chosen tilting strategies. The rules of the contest are implicitly very well-known, and those who transgress the rules are quickly disqualified as not being proper professional academic philosophers.

There is not the least awareness that the categories of subjectivity and objectivity themselves are ontological in nature and, indeed, hermeneutically ontological in an historical way that admits of recasting. Rather, they are taken for granted as unshakeable basis for all philosophical debate and are thoughtlessly retrojected onto Greek thinking and projected onto all possible futures as immutable. No notice is taken of the very concept of 'subject' so crucial to modern ontology meant the precise opposite to the Greeks, for whom the subject (ὑποκείμενον) was precisely what is today called the object. This circumstance should give pause for thought, but it doesn't. Through what hermeneutic-ontological recasting did this historical inversion come about? Rather, dogmatism unfolds with the assertion of such nonsensical claims as calling Aristotle an "objectivist". For instance, I read very recently in a draft paper on an openly accessible academic web-site by a philosophical acquaintance, a retired professor, "Aristotle’s objectivism might be said to be naïve [...] in not being self-consciously and systematically held against any subjectivist contrary". Aristotle's position in the inane battle of the -isms is then labelled "naïve realism" as opposed to a kind of idealism. The very distinction between realism and idealism is itself only a pseudo-distinction generated by the subject-object split in subjectivist metaphysics.

The same analytic philosopher writes, "Words can contingently represent actual substances because they express perceptually based 'affections in the soul' which are likenesses to those things (Aristotle [De Interpretatione] 1984 vol. 1, p. 25). But how exactly is this more fundamental mental representation to be conceived? Aristotle seems to have little to say." No wonder Aristotle has "little to say" on this point, because for Aristotle, 'affections in the soul' are not representations of an external objectivity at all! 'Representatio' (in consciousness) is an ontological concept first introduced by Descartes, which is renamed 'Vorstellung' by Kant. That the Greek ψυχή is translated as "consciousness" in modern-age metaphysics does not instigate any philosophical questioning. This goes unnoticed in the violently thoughtless hermeneutics of reading Aristotle with a dogmatic modern-age mind-set that has closed itself off from the phenomena themselves.
 
Such philosophers are incapable of learning anything whatsoever from Aristotle, for they risibly regard themselves as a priori superior to him. Yet Aristotle is one major source from whom we can (re)learn today what the ontological difference is.

There reigns abysmal ignorance in today's mainstream philosophy regarding ancient Greek philosophy, and the potential inherent in a phenomenological re-reading of it. The ignorance is self-inflicted, for there have been for more than a century valiant and lucid phenomenological endeavours to escape the prison of the modern age's mind. They are ignored, brushed off and suppressed, for they unsettle the status quo by asking too many simple questions. Degeneracy of mind parades as the faithful ally of cutting-edge science and technology without the least inkling that this is a sycophant's role.

Further reading: The Digital Cast of Being and Social Ontology of Whoness.

16 September 2018

Searle's ‘Social Ontology and Political Power’

In his 2003 paper ‘Social Ontology and Political Power’, John R. Searle approaches the problem of the ontology of social power from within subjectivist metaphysics. “The important point to emphasize is that the essence of political power is deontic power. [...] It is a matter of rights, duties, obligations, authorizations, permissions and the like. Such powers have a special ontology.” (All further quotes in double inverted commas are from Searle’s paper.) This “special ontology” is said to reside in “status functions”, as distinct from ‘objective’ “physical functions” such as ‘Rain makes you wet’. Status functions, “imposed” by the “collective intentionality” of human beings “can be represented in the form, ‘X counts as Y in C’”. What enables this collectivity of intention is not a question for Searle, but simply taken as an ontic fact.

The “brute fact” of a physical phenomenon such as expressed in the statement “It is raining” or ‘George is sitting at his desk’ is superimposed with a status that allows, for example, the statement “George W. Bush is president” to fit the model ‘X counts as Y in C’: Bush counts as President in the context of the institutions of democratic elections. “Counts as” here is synonymous with ‘is valid as’ or ‘is recognized as’. Like all analytic philosophy, Searle seeks to locate truth in the logos, i.e. in logical propositions.

The status accorded to Bush through this putative projection of collective intentionality confers on him deontic powers such as the power to command the armed forces, which are obliged (deontically) to obey, or the power to veto legislation which Congress is obliged to acknowledge. Furthermore, Searle asserts, “Where political status functions are concerned it is [sic] almost invariably linguistic.”, an example being the linguistic thought, “He is president”. Hence, according to Searle, political power is constituted “almost invariably” by certain linguistic conventions that confer “rights, duties, obligations, authorizations, permissions and the like”.

Likewise, Searle regards the social power, money, as a thing (paper) accorded a “status function” by convention according to the formula, ‘This paper counts as means of payment (money) in the context of market exchange’. This counting-as-money is presumably accompanied by the linguistic thought, ‘This is money’. Searle’s problematic of social and political power is thus isomorphic with Neo-Kantianism’s (e.g. Heinrich Rickert) account of values, according to which ‘values’ are overlaid over ‘objective reality’, instead of being intrinsic to the being of the entity in question. 'Counting as' is a mere sticker stuck on by analytic philosophy. In Searle’s terminology, such ‘values’ are status functions projected onto “observer-independent”, objective, physical things and physical people by “collective intentionality” and are therefore “observer-dependent”.

The key distinction between “observer-independent” objectivity and “observer-dependent” subjectivity, however, is untenable. Why? Searle’s root concern (a misguided non-question) is with the question “How can there be political reality in a world consisting of physical particles?”. Hence the dichotomy between physical objectivity and social reality, which latter, it is claimed, is “observer-dependent” in the sense that it depends on a projection of “collective intentionality” onto physical things of the kind ‘X counts as Y in C’. But all beings in the world, including bare, physical beings, are ‘counted as’ in the sense that they are understood as, say, “physical particles”. Such understanding-as... is only possible in the modern scientific age within the Cartesian cast of being (which Searle obviously believes is the unquestionable, rock-bottom, scientific truth), and “physical particles” are such only for the scientific subject of the modern age, i.e. ‘physical reality’ is not “observer-independent” and “objective”, but is conceived and cast as such by an historical way of human thinking.

Even the innocuous, brute, factual statement adduced by Searle that “it is raining” depends upon the apophantic as according to which the observed phenomenon of precipitation is understood as rain. There can be no “observer-independent” objectivity because objectivity is such only for a human subject within an historical world that is cast within its own epochal understanding of the world. Moreover, human beings are always already in the world engaged in practices with each other, i.e. in interplay, taking care of their lives, and are never merely subjective consciousnesses separated from objective reality. Rather, they always already share the open 3D-temporal clearing. Moreover, in the context of these practices of interplay, and not merely linguistically through representations in consciousness, individual or collective, they estimate, value and evaluate things and people based first of all upon what they are good for and worth in the context of such daily, individual and shared, practices. The stepwise path in thinking via value (τιμή) as it emerges from the practices of everyday life through to specifically political power has been adopted in the present inquiry to bring the power play among human beings in all its facets socio-ontologically to light. For Searle, mired as he is in subjectivist metaphysics, for which unquestioned ‘collective intentionality’ serves as theological anchor, such a social ontology can make no sense.

Adapted excerpt from Social Ontology of Whoness: Rethinking core phenomena of political philosophy