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.
A recent interview on NPR, in their “Short Answers to Big Questions” segment, went to special extremes to demonstrate how monumentally bad science journalism is these days. My discussion here will come in two parts, one short, and one a great deal more detailed. The short part will be a quick debunking of supposedly scientific claims from a conventionally scientific standpoint. In particular, statements are made in this interview with absolute confidence that cannot possibly stand up to even the most basic grasp of physical science. The longer discussion will have to do with philosophical criticisms that run beyond most of contemporary science. This is because so much of that science has degenerated into pure model centrism, and consequently fails to ask any of the fundamental questions that need to be raised. The motivating idea behind all of this is the idea of “empty” space.
The offending NPR piece opened with a question about how empty a volume of space would be were there only (say) three atoms or molecules within a volume of about one cubic meter. After a few moments discussion about the volume of molecules of air in a cubic meter at sea level (a discussion that appears to contain an unimportant typographical error), the discussion moves out into space, into deep, deep space. The conversation leads to the following (slightly edited) highly problematic exchange:
if there are points in space with only three atoms per square meter, what fills in the rest? The answer is nothing…
for a physicist, the absence of matter is nothing. I mean there is still space and time there, but you know, there – the absence of matter we consider to be a state of, you know, zero matter, zero energy density, is a way of putting it.
The problems here come at two levels, one of fairly ordinary physics and the other at a deeper philosophical level. I’ll deal with both in turn. Continue reading
This is just a quick shout-out to my friend and colleague, Ronny Desmet, for putting together the papers that were presented at the 2015 International Whitehead conference in the new book, Intuition in Mathematics and Physics: A Whiteheadian Approach, in which yours truly is a contributor.
The articles within are from Section IV, Track 2 of the conference. The table of contents is not yet available at Amazon, so the contributions are as follows:
- Integral Philosophy – An Essay on Speculative Philosophy – Ronald Preston Phipps
- Reflection on Intuition, Physics, and Speculative Philosophy – Timothy E. Eastman
- Whitehead on Intuition – Implications for Science and Civilization – Farzad Mahootian
- Whitehead’s Notion of Intuitive Recognition – Ronny Desmet
- The Beauty of the Two-Color Sphere Problem – Ronny Desmet
- The Complementary Faces of Mathematical Beauty – Jean Paul van Bendegam and Ronny Desmet
- Creating a New Mathematics – Aran Gare
- Whitehead, Intuition, and Radical Empiricism – Gary Herstein
- What Does a Particle Know? Information and Entaglement – Robert J. Valenza
- A Neurobiological Basis of Intuition – Jesse Bettinger
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
“A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” This well known saying is variously and unreliably attributed to a number of persons, from Mark Twain to Winston Churchill. But as long as one is not trying to steal the words for one’s self, it is less important who said a true thing, than that the thing said be true. Credit should be given, of course, when credit is due, and identifiable. But just because, say, Abraham Lincoln said a thing, that thing is not automatically true, any more than if Richard Nixon said something, it is automatically false. Now, it is not an ad hominem to call a liar a liar, nor is it a fallacy to question the credibility of a person whose credibility has been shredded by repeated abuses of the truth. Still, one must be very careful when it comes to either accepting or dismissing a statement merely on account of its source. If you dismiss an alcoholic’s statement that drinking is bad for you, on account of the fact that the person making the statement is an alcoholic (who is still drinking), you’ve committed the tu quoque version of the argumentum ad hominem. If anything, the alcoholic is better situated to speak with genuine expertise on the damage of alcoholism than, say, a more sober member of society.
But to return to our original point, there is an intransigence to falsehoods that is not easily dislodged by anything so inconsequential as reason and truth. There are many psychological studies (I’ll not link to any – they are easy to find) that point out that, for example, climate change denialism – devoid as it is of any shred of valid or scientific justification – nevertheless becomes more stubborn when it is confronted with logic and facts that admit of no rational dispute. The lie, as it were, digs in its boots. I’ll skip over any discussion of those rhetorical techniques that do seem to work, because such methods are not my interest here and it pisses me off that I’d ever have to resort to them. Rather, I want to look at those factors that let the lie out of the starting gate before the truth even knows that there is a race today. In particular, what is it that makes the lie so easy, and the truth so hard? Continue reading
So the other day, I made the error of reading the comments section on a post relating to climate change denial manifested by a certain prominent national politician. One individual complained about the (accurate and entirely valid) use of the word “denier” in reference to this politician. The commenter went on to state something to the effect that, “Scientists generally cheerfully embrace differing opinions.” (I have altered the exact wording so as to eliminate any identifiable markers that might lead back to the person and the comment.)
Now, myself, I find that I tend to look much less stupid than I otherwise might if I resist tossing about terms and concepts in public of which I lack even the barest scintilla of understanding. This is a rule I heartily wish more people would adopt, the above mentioned commenter being a prime example. Anyone with even the littlest, little notion about what science is and how it works – either logically as methodology, or sociologically as practice, to say nothing of both – will instantly recognize such a statement as the childishly fatuous twaddle it obviously happens to be. Yet the doe-eyed naïf who spewed this foolishness was almost certainly being sincere. This got me thinking again about the lunacy that is currently swallowing the federal House of Representatives, and the recent elevation of Paul Ryan to the position of Speaker. You see, the two issues are connected. Continue reading
The “God o’ The Gaps” fallacy is an especially pernicious, yet easily dismissible, form of the argumentum ad ignorantiam. It is pernicious because religious dogmatists, with no interest in or capacity for rational thought, swing this fallacy about with the most abysmally childish enthusiasm, like blind persons with a sledge hammer in an empty field, who fancy themselves to be building a tent city. It is easily dismissible because anyone possessed of nothing more exotic than the mere abstract possibility of intelligence can readily see through it, for no more time or effort than it takes to have such infantilism articulated. All that being said, an analysis of the fallacy does invite some reflections upon the character of explanation, a character which the title of this blog ought suggest is a thing of interest at this site.
This will be a longish argument, so I’ll be breaking it into two parts. In this part, I will discuss the argumentum ad ignorantiam particularly in light of the God o’ The Gaps (which I’ll simply abbreviate “GotG”) variant, and generically mention some of the places it crops up. The argument will show how the concept/idea of God can play no useful role in natural science, even when the GotG fallacy is avoided. In part 2 I’ll turn to what, in many respects, is my primary question: What might the role of “God” in explanation &/or interpretation be? I’ll review (in a crude way) the distinctions between the religious, the theological, and the philosophical uses of the “G” word (although, I’ve already said a bit about this elsewhere.) With that said, let us turn to the argument itself. Continue reading
My colleague Brian asked (some little while ago), “I wondered if you might make some comments on the relationship (assuming there is one) between science and speculative philosophy?” Well, now that the generalized madness that is and was the 2015 International Whitehead Conference is behind me, I finally have time to turn my attention to this and other questions.
There is absolutely a relationship between science and speculative philosophy, and it is worth remembering how that relationship expressed itself in the past: Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton all knew themselves to be engaged IN philosophy when they made their grand, speculative proposals. My answer here, however, will be thoroughly Whiteheadian. Not, however, because I’m a “fan,” but because I believe that Whitehead was substantially correct on the issues he chose to engage, and always interesting, regardless.* Continue reading