10 November 2023

Psychology, Sociology, Economics & Time

Psychology, sociology and economics are three of the most prominent social sciences in the modern age. Like all the other modern sciences, none of them is inclined to engage with deeper foundational questions regarding its respective discipline. This disinclination is part of the fall-out from the positivist shutdown of the ontological difference that has afflicted all modern science. This shutdown is due to the hubris of the modern mind that it has reached the end of history, where its mental foundations are inconcussable and thus beyond questioning. With regard to the three sciences mentioned, this has far-reaching — if not to say disconcerting — consequences, at least for those who allow themselves to be disconcerted.

To put it bluntly:
i) the science of psychology does not know what the psyche is;
ii) the science of sociology does not know what society is; and
iii) the science of economics does not know what the economy is.

Of course these claims seem preposterous. Everyone has an understanding of what society and the economy are because we are all confronted with their facticity on a daily basis. The psyche, as the third member of this set, is understood hermeneutically as, and thus reduced to, consciousness, and everyone knows what that means. All three social sciences can therefore make do with concise, one-line definitions of their respective objects of scientific investigation and proceed to construct their theoretical models of how these objects move empirically. The models themselves can be verified or falsified by testing their predictions and explanations against the empirical data-facts gathered in a suitable, statistically unbiased way within appropriate, quantifiable margins of error. The models are then said to be 'true' (rather than 'correct') for as long as they correctly model the movement of empirical fact in their respective areas of study, each of which covers myriads of related phenomena inviting inquiry. No difference is made between factual correctness and the truth of the phenomena concerned, that is, how the phenomena themselves are conceived hermeneutically AS such-and-such from the outset, to get any sort of handle on them prior to any theoretical modelling. Again, that no difference is seen between factual correctness and phenomenal truth is one of the casualties of the repression of the ontological difference.

Different kinds of movement 

It is apparent that the theoretical modelling in each of these three social sciences concerns empirical movement, without ever asking what kind (or eidos) of movement is involved in each case. Is movement simply movement, that is, all of one kind, or is the principle of movement pertaining to each of the three sciences different? If the principle of movement were uniform, then the principle of movement in the queen of sciences — namely, physics — could simply be adopted. Not only 'could be', but has been adopted, because the reigning understanding of movement in the modern age is that of effective, causal movement whose ontology has been surreptitiously adopted from Aristotle. 

Modern physics is the science inquiring into, by predictively modelling, the movement of physical entities, i.e. of movable, spatially extended objects. Moreover, this modelling has been rigorously mathematized. Impediments to such modelling have been overcome by ever-increasing refinements in the mathematics employed in the predictive modelling. Hence, since the 17th century, mathematics has developed statistical methods, including multifactorial analysis, to deal with complex situations which are conceived to be moved by multiple causes that cannot be singled out, but nevertheless modelled on the whole over a series of observations to quantify statistical regularity of the movement in question within the limits of a certain quantifiable margin of error. The inexactitude of linear causality is to be compensated by multiple observations and their statistical calculation in terms of means, medians and standard deviations.

In all this theoretical modelling, the phenomenon of time is conceived hermeneutically AS linear, and ultimately AS a simple linear, real variable t, against which the data gathered can be plotted and, preferably, theoretically captured by suitable equations. Hence, e.g. statistical methods of linear regression determine the best fit of a simple line through a mass of scattered data. All this seems very sensible and, in fact, beyond question for the modern social scientist. Efficient causality of movement is assumed, even when it becomes statistically fuzzy. It is overlooked that (the concept of) efficient causality itself goes hand in hand with (the concept of) one-dimensional linear time. (Aside: even in quantum physics, physicists struggle to come to terms mathematically with the indeterminacy of quantum movement generated by the non-commutability of movement-variables. It would seem that the non-commutability upsets the neat succession of moments in linear time.)

But can the movement of the psyche or society or the economy be conceived at all as being governed by causal movement of some kind, no matter how multifactorial, along the time-line? And is the conception of time AS one-dimensionally linear, i.e. as a succession of now-moments along a line stretching to infinity in both directions, without any more tenable alternative(s)? To put a fine point on it: are there phenomenally distinct kinds (eidae) of movement that have to be conceived differently according to a radically different, more open and encompassing conception of time itself?

I sketch now very incompletely the respective principles of movement of the elementary phenomena at the core of the three social sciences named above.

Three-dimensionally temporal movement of the mind in the psyche

First of all, does the psyche move at all? Is it an entity at all? Since it has long been conceived as non-physical, and even as the paradigm of the non-physical, it is no wonder that modern psychology has eschewed any attempt to provide a well-grounded concept of it. Modern psychology has just as little grasp on the phenomenon of consciousness that serves as the substitute for that of the psyche or the soul. The latter is totally out of favour in modern science, which is intent on the material, physical as that which enables quantifiable, preferably mathematizable access to phenomena of interest. Even the contents of consciousness resist a satisfying quantifiable theoretical grasp since they are deemed to be all too subjective vis-à-vis hard, objective, material fact. Hence it is not surprising that modern psychology is all too eager to resort to neuroscientific explanations of psychic phenomena in terms of neuronal movements in the physical, material brain. Finally (neuroscientists breathe a sigh of relief), a reliable, material basis for the psyche can be investigated employing empirical methods and methodology!

If, however, the psyche is non-material and pre-physical, and not even an entity, how can it be characterized? Phenomenally, in the most elementary manner, it is the receptive openness in which all awareness of anything at all can happen. Occurrences of all kinds come to mind and vanish from mind; there is a constant coming and going, a constant presencing and absencing of them from any of the three temporal dimensions comprising past, present and future. I collect such presencing and absencing together as 'essencing' and call all that which essences 'essents'. Thus essents presence and absence (verbally) in the three-dimensional temporal openness of the psyche. This temporal openness, the psyche itself, is thus unmoving, or rather, more precisely, prior to any movement of essents. What moves in the psyche is the coming-to-mind of essents of all kinds for the mind that is able to focus on this or that, more or less fleetingly; that is, the mind focuses on essents presencing in and absencing from its present focus from any of the three temporal dimensions, perhaps not even successively, but all-at-once. This mental movement may be called Vergegenw√§rtigung in German. The mind's focusing is possible as this unifying of essents essencing temporally from the three temporal dimensions. 

Hence we can say that the mind itself moves by hopping between all three temporal dimensions in a more or less coherent, more or less haphazard way. The mind's movement occurs within the non- or premoving openness of the psyche, and this mental movement through three-dimensional time is itself entirely free. Such freedom of mental movement, the freedom to think, is the most elementary concept of human freedom on which all human creativity depends. As for the psyche, it belongs to the three-dimensional temporal openness and, in this sense, is identical with it. The psyche reverberates with three-dimensional time in the full gamut of moods. Like time itself, it is not an entity, nor an essent, but enables all essencing of the mind that itself moves freely. This freedom of mental movement defies any predictive theoretical modelling, since the latter relies, and must rely, on one-dimensional, linear time.

It is therefore not all surprising that modern psychology assiduously avoids any critical engagement with the question: What is the psyche?

Mutually estimative interplay in 3D-time as the core movement of sociation

Secondly, what is the kind of movement characterizing the second modern social science in the above list? We may call the elementary kind of movement at the core of society 'sociation', which is to encompass the kind(s) movement of people 'having to do' or 'sociating' with one another in their social lives. Sociation as a kind of movement cannot be characterized as physical. Physical entities are kinds of 'whats' whose whatness traditionally has been investigated by ontology as the essence of entities. For modern physics, the essence, or whatness, of physical entities is their matter, consisting of elementary physical entities; or the essence of anything is called its DNA, a kind of material molecule. The sociation of people, by contrast, is that of 'whos', whose characteristic sociating movement is that over mutually estimating who each is in a kind of movement I have dubbed 'interplay'. Such sociating movement of mutual estimation includes esteeming ranging over the full gamut of all shades of mutual estimation and esteem from the most appreciative through to the most negative, most depreciative. Social rules of play for appropriate sociative interplay cannot be characterized as physical. Any physical aspects of mutually estimative interplay, such as bowing or shaking hands, smiling or scowling, are sublated (aufgehoben) by such sociation of whos as signs of (mis)estimation. 

Any inquiry into phenomena of sociating interplay cannot be predicated upon predictive modelling of this kind of movement for the simple reason that multiple starting-points of movement — namely multiple individuals — are involved. Rather, the manifold of phenomena associated with mutual estimation and esteem invite attention to understand them in all their nuance and subtlety. Moreover, when whos engage in mutually estimative interplay, they draw on all three temporal dimensions of who each is, was and may become, thus defying any attempt at causal linearization of the movement. Acts of estimation and esteem glide and hop through all three temporal dimensions, and that in a reciprocal way, but a conception of three-dimensional time remains completely unheard-of in sociology.

It may be concluded that sociation as a specific kind of movement remains outside the purview of modern sociology which thus lacks a social ontology of the specific core kind of movement pertaining to it. The closure of the ontological difference through the inauguration of sociology in the 19th century precludes the possibility of unearthing the phenomenality of whoness in contrast to that of whatness, which has been the traditional focus of attention since the Greeks.

Limitless accumulation of thingified value as the determining, cyclical movement of capitalist economy

Thirdly, with regard to the principle of movement of the economy, I will restrict myself to capitalist economy which is the kind of (today: globalized) economy in which we have been immersed for centuries. While modern economics will freely acknowledge that our kind of economy today is capitalist, i) it prefers to speak of a 'free market economy' and ii) it will not engage deeply with questions regarding the nature of capital itself. Instead, it contents itself with a brief, one-line definition of capital that inevitably includes a reference to money. The concept of money in modern economics, however, is restricted to that of its functions, rather than conceiving more deeply what it is, i.e. its whatness, its essence. There is even a tendency in economics to avoid mention of capital altogether by regarding economics (ahistorically) as the science of how to distribute productive resources efficiently over their possible deployments in order to maximize output. According to this definition, the movement of the economy calls for its optimization from the viewpoint of efficiency. It also presupposes that other historical forms of society had an economy as an independent sector definable in the same way, but this is highly questionable.

If the core economic phenomena of money and capital are seriously taken up, then the easily identifiable function of money as store of value leads inevitably to the deeper question: What is monetary value? There is already an intimation of the phenomenon of value in the characteristic movement of society called interplay, since it may also be characterized as mutually estimative valuing. Instead of mutually valuing and estimating who each is, in the elementary economic interplay called exchange, it is a matter of mutually estimating the value of goods and services offered on the market. Goods and services, however, are whats, hence a mutually valuing interplay of 'whats' rather than of their bearers, who may be called 'whos', through which their exchange-value comes about through the interplay itself. Exchange-value is the first form of sociating interplay mediated by thingified value to be investigated in a conceptually connected investigation of the essence of capitalism. Karl Marx was the first to attempt such an investigation with his critique of political economy.

The interplay of earning a living in today's globalized capitalist economy is not restricted to exchange-value, but encompasses further forms of value. The primary value-forms that show themselves through the full gamut of economic interplay are wages, money-capital, gross profit, loan-capital, interest, land, ground-rent. Capital itself can be conceived hermeneutically AS a circuit of thingified value going through a circuit of transformations of value-form in order to generate a surplus called gross profit. This augmentative movement may be called the accumulation (or valorization) of thingified value. Beneath the gainful game of players striving competitively to earn their various types of income lies the determining movement of our global capitalist economy: the accumulation of total global thingified value in a circular movement through its various, interconnected value-forms.

The principle of movement of today's global capitalist economy is thus a simple, circular one subject to the quantitative condition that advanced capital, on the whole, must accumulate. A circle itself is a line, and a movement around a circle can be counted off in linear time. The linear time taken for a capital to complete its circuit is called turnover time. Hence the immense complexity of the myriads of interlocking interplays among the players on the surface of society, that are played out in three-dimensional time, is reduced, or led back to, an accumulative circular movement of thingified value in one-dimensional time. This accumulative movement has no limit and also has no sense other that itself, namely, accumulation; it reigns supreme in our global capitalist economy and insofar is absolute.

The truth of capitalist economy from which the social science of economics shies away is that its principle of movement is the limitless, senseless accumulation of thingified value, albeit a movement prone to continual dislocations and intermittent crises. This deeper truth of capitalism contradicts and undermines the freedom of thingified interplay on the surface of liberal-democratic society with its individualized personal freedoms. Individualized freedom is the converse side of the sociation of dissociated, alienated players via the medium of thingified value. It is therefore no wonder that this truth of capitalism is forcefully repressed, and we make do with a delusory, one-sided conception of freedom.

Further reading: On Human Temporality.

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