Publication is almost upon us.
“The Quantum of Explanation advances a bold new theory of how explanation ought to be understood in philosophical and cosmological inquiries. Using a complete interpretation of Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophical and mathematical writings and an interpretive structure that is essentially new, Auxier and Herstein argue that Whitehead has never been properly understood, nor has the depth and breadth of his contribution to the human search for knowledge been assimilated by his successors. This important book effectively applies Whitehead’s philosophy to problems in the interpretation of science, empirical knowledge, and nature. It develops a new account of philosophical naturalism that will contribute to the current naturalism debate in both Analytic and Continental philosophy. Auxier and Herstein also draw attention to some of the most important differences between the process theology tradition and Whitehead’s thought, arguing in favor of a Whiteheadian naturalism that is more or less independent of theological concerns. This book offers a clear and comprehensive introduction to Whitehead’s philosophy and is an essential resource for students and scholars interested in American philosophy, the philosophy of mathematics and physics, and issues associated with naturalism, explanation and radical empiricism.”
This author’s profile can be found HERE.
More information on the book can be found HERE.
Let’s just say I’m a little excited.
It is certainly disturbing to see how many people prefer a convenient lie over a disquieting truth. But more importantly, we should make note of how many people will flee in abject terror to the warm, terroristic embrace of a convenient lie when confronted with an indisputable uncertainty, the unavoidable knowing that you do not know. I should get that tattooed somewhere … somewhere where no one will ever see it …
There is a formal structure to at least some kinds of disruptive uncertainty, and that structure is not all that hard to understand. I’ll mostly be discussing that logical structure, which often requires a kind of patience with inconsistency. But I will turn to the psychological issues of those who embrace inconsistency without thought at the end. What I wish to address here are kinds of inconsistency, most importantly noting that there are genuinely and importantly different kinds. I’ll mainly draw on investigations by Nicholas Rescher and Robert Brandom, coupled with developments by Jon Barwise and John Perry. Continue reading
So my last round of musing was on the subject of “emptiness.” Connected to that idea is the concept of “fullness,” of “plenum.” I suspect that one of the primary failures of contemporary metaphysics is misunderstanding which is really which: that is to say, what is really full, and what is really empty. Here again, Whitehead’s process metaphysics offers us important insights. Because how we think of “fullness” – of a thing, a region of space, or whatever – is directly correlated to what we believe to be genuinely real. I argued earlier against the naïve concept of “empty” space, pointing out that not only is that space (according to physics) a broiling froth of micro events and virtual particles, but that it is also densely awash in relational connections to the rest of the universe. Adding to that earlier discussion, one could say that the space itself is a kind of “thing”: it is an event in its own right, it is a process of space relating itself to other spatial events. In this regard, Whitehead rejected the “material aether” that dominated astrophysical thought in the days between James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein (the last quarter of the 19th C. to the first decade or two of the 20th), and argued instead for an “aether of events” as the dominating characteristic of space.
Without assuming – indeed, explicitly denying – any absolute sense of either “emptiness” or “fullness,” what sorts of relative conditions might lead us to characterize one sort of collection as generally more full, and another as comparatively more empty? Well, for that we need a notion of what it is that fills, hence that which is not there when things are empty. My argument is that what “fills” are events and relations. Continue reading
So, what is it that makes something true? (Trust me, this ties in with this post’s title.) If I say that “X is the case,” and it, indeed, turns out that X IS the case, then my saying so was true. Or, rather, the thing I said was true, and my saying it was said truly. (Actually, my saying it was said truly, because I truly said it, regardless of whether what I said was actually true.) But what establishes the connection(s) between my saying it is the case, and its actually being the case? Well, presumably it is reality that makes that establishment; but how is that reality, how is that establishment, established in experience such that the truth-saying and the truth-being converge in a truth making?
Because even as (and insofar) as “the truth is out there,” our having, getting, finding, or whatever, that truth involves a substantial amount of making. If you take the idea of truth seriously, then you must take seriously the fact that we have to go out and make that truth apparent through significant and substantive inquiry. Where this is going (and it will go fast) is that the maker that connects the truth as said with the truth as found, looks a lot like a successful “strategy” in a “game.” This is a formal, logical concept, which brings scientific inquiry into a dirty-dance with that part of formal logic known as model-theory. (Somewhere, somebody has sheet music on this stuff … ) Continue reading
Regardless of what Mick said, it is not on your side.
I’ve been in the position to observe a number of significant transitions of late – from which there will be no coming back – and the thought of time is once again on my mind. Saint Augustine – a fairly bright fellow, for a psychotic authoritarian – mused in his Confessions something to the effect (I quote from memory, so this is only analogously correct) that, “As long as no one asks me, I know what time is; as soon as anyone asks, I have no idea.”
Time is something like THE fundamental mystery. “Intention” is right up there with it, except that intention is a logical/semantical category, whereas time is more about ontology – what genuinely IS (ontology), rather than what must be taken into account for the rational possibility of inquiry and discourse (logic/semantics). Moreover, it is not clear that intentionality (which includes things like “meaning,” “believing,” “interpreting,” “intending,” “wanting,” and so on) has any logical – much less ontological – possibility, that is not already thoroughly infused with time and temporality. Certainly this seems true in the human world; perhaps gods, devils, and their associated helpmates suffer no such limitations. I should add here that persons involved with phenomenological philosophy would require 200 pages of densely packed and, often enough, uninterpretable obfuscation and hand-wringing to ask the above question; but I am not a phenomenologist, and as such I labor under no such constraints. Continue reading
Explanations come in discrete units, logically minimum quanta. It is logically impossible for the situation to be otherwise. We can reason about continua of various different kinds (the “continuum” of the Real numbers being a prominent example, although it is to be noted that within that branch of formal logic known as “model theory,” there are examples of continua that are “more continuous” than even the Real numbers.) But we cannot reason “in” a continuum. Our ideas may have vague boundaries, but they are still unitary quanta, or at least collections of such quanta. Our concepts are even more sharply defined. We assemble these units into larger structures that become arguments (in the good, philosophical sense) and, ideally, explanations. But a continuum gives us nothing to work with. Like trying to nail mercury to the wall, every time we attempt to grasp it, it slips around and away in out grasp, so that either we (1) end up speaking about the continuum itself as a whole, at which point the continuum qua whole has become our quantum, (2) we isolate individual points on the continuum, and these become our quanta as we extrapolate connections amongst them, (3) or, alternatively, we end up spouting nothing but nonsense.
I’ve touched on this subject before. But rather than making coy suggestions in the final paragraph as a rhetorical flourish, I think it time I spoke to the subject more directly. As is often the case, I’ll barely be able to gloss the topic in this post. But, of course, the whole purpose of a blog post is to provide a small quantum of ideas that might lead interested readers off in interesting directions. Continue reading
There is a large, nested, complexly intersecting, multidimensional area of logic known as “modal logic.” Standard (“assertoric” – dealing with comparatively simple assertions) logic essentially forgoes any considerations of the modes (hence, “modal”) in which an assertion is considered to be true or false; it simply is, or it is not (true or false). Modal logics are intended to examine the ways (modes) in which a proposition or assertion might express such truth or falsity. A great deal of very good work has been done in this area of study, but it remains a long way from solving its most basic problems; indeed, most proposed “solutions” do not so much “solve” their problems as strangle them.i I am at once deeply impressed by the technical sophistication of contemporary work on modality, and profoundly dissatisfied with the narrowness of its vision. Because one of the “modes” in which an assertion or proposition might be true or false is whether it is possibly true or false.
I can certainly inundate any interested party with citations, but anyone capable of following those citations would most likely already be familiar with them. It takes years of dedicated study to bootstrap one’s self up through propositional, into quantificational, and finally on to modal logics. On the other hand, it takes nothing more than the most elementary capacity for cognition to instantly see that there is a difference between saying that “X is the case,” and “X might be the case.” Just as we can talk about Jazz without mastering the saxophone, or relativity without deriving proofs related to the Ricci tensor, we can talk about possibility without becoming research mathematicians in formal logic. One might even argue that mastering such mathematics would not ideally equip us to talk about possibility which is, after all, a metaphysical, rather than a mathematical topic. Continue reading
Nine times out of ten (probably closer to ninety-nine times out of one hundred) when someone starts talking about, much less demanding, “proof” – proof of anything – unless they are discussing whiskey, they almost certainly have no idea what they are talking about. This is especially true in the empirical sciences, where various anti- or pseudo-scientific quacks, climate change denialists, creationist ideologues, and others like them, will insist that the fatuous twaddle they are spewing is perfectly reasonable since, after all, they (the quacks) have not been “proven” wrong, while the actual scientific literature has failed to absolutely “prove” its case. These claims are so childish that one must almost wonder if the denialists and others like them might actually know that what they are saying is not just bullshit (that last being a technical, philosophical term), but an outright lie. I am myself, however, disinclined to assign a level of intelligence to people to pull off such a clever conspiracy when nothing else in their lives gives any evidence of such nuanced and incisive reasoning. As a very loose and general rule, people are far for likely to have no idea what they are talking about, as opposed to talking about it very cleverly.
The idea of proof in mathematics (the only venue where non-liquor related uses have any meaning) had become so vexed by the end of the 19th Century, that the field of mathematical logic was, in essence, invented with the purpose of sorting matters out. Matters kept resisting being sorted, and along the way the nose of the mathematical camel got into the philosophical tent, and ended up swallowing philosophical logic whole for some decades that followed. Even today, the issue of how to teach logic, and what logic to teach, has not been particularly well sorted out in philosophy. So what might be said about the nature of proof, such that we do not have to become facile with mathematics, yet can still avoid being gulled by credulously accepting demands for, or putative statements of, proof? Continue reading