Feeling The Possible

Possibility and the possible have long been treated as the bastard third cousins of philosophy. This is true even though there are entire areas and sub-disciplines of formal logic that are nominally dedicated to studying those topics. The problem is that the approaches taken to the nature of the possible (and I will be using that term and “possibility” as more or less interchangeable cognates) as parasitic upon the ideas of “necessity.” In formal terms, possibility and necessity are supposed to stand on equal footing. But in approach and intention, that almost never occurs. This is discouraging, to say the least, since our sense, our feeling, of possibility is a very real aspect of our feeling of reality overall, whereas our only notions of necessity are the abstract, or even recondite, mathematical constructions we make of a thing we can have no experience of whatsoever. Car speeding

Thus, necessity and possibility are traditionally represented with a box and a diamond, respectively. When attached to a sentence, schematically represented by “p” or “r”, then merely asserting “p” becomes the stronger claim of “necessarily p”, or “p is necessarily true,” represented by “p.” Similarly then, “possibly r,” or “r is possibly true” is schematized as “r.” Either can then be treated as a shorthand form for the other using a variation of DeMorgan’s rules: “p = ~◊~p”, and “◊r = ~□~r,” where “~◊~p” reads as “not-possibly not-p” and “~□~r” reads as “not-necessarily not-r.” This is all very handy for when you are doing formal logic, but a little thought might well lead one to doubt that any so mechanical and reductive formulation is capable of actually representing reality. Is necessity real at all? And even if it is, why would it be nothing more than a truth-functional inversion of possibility? Meanwhile, there is nothing mechanical about possibility itself, even as we mechanize – for purposes of convenience – what we end up saying about the possible. Right there is the rub: the reality and what we say about that reality are not the same at all. And while I cannot escape the use of words to do so, it is to the experience of the possible that I now wish to turn. Continue reading

The Myth of The Binary

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I’m going to step out of my comfort zone here and speculate on a topic about which I’ve little real knowledge, and no formal education at all: matters relating to the politically charged, hot-button issues of sex, gender, and identity. Partly, I’m hoping that others more knowledgeable than myself might point out where I’m off track, either a little or a lot. But also, I need a compact, go-to source to address the people who are even more ignorant – or, more frequently, just grotesquely and willfully stupid – than I. In particular, even with my lack of formal background, I believe I can address a few cogent words to what I will call “The Myth of The Binary.”Binary Identity

I perceive three primary axes along which to attack this myth, each of which demonstrates that “binarity” – a term I will also be using – is categorically a myth, and a myth that we are long overdue to reject wholesale. But, because I am an amateur playing in other people’s field, many of the terms I will be using are largely of my own devising, or that I have heard and am using to clarify my own thoughts. Consequently, if one were to do an internet search on these terms, it is anyone’s guess if anything would show up at all, and what (if any) relationship such “hits” would bear to what I’m saying here. However, It is sufficient that the terms I use be treated as “technical” ones, so that my burden is simply to use those terms in a consistent and coherent fashion. “Binarity,” for example, is just a short hand for the Myth of the Binary. The three axes that I will employ to critique the myth are what I will call (1) physical presentation, (2) sexual orientation, and (3) gender identification. Continue reading

What is Populism?

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The question came up on social media, What is populism? I had my own little St. Augustine moment, where I realized that, as long as no one asked me, I knew exactly what I meant by the term, but as soon as someone asked I had no idea. (In fairness to Augustine, his moment was around the significantly more subtle notion of “what is time?”) I could run off to the dictionary and waste people’s time by quoting that, but I won’t. For one thing, the dictionary (like Wikipedia itself) is not the answer to a question (other than “how do I spell this word?”), it is the starting point for asking questions. Further, dictionary answers aren’t always that well considered. Thus, the dictionary will tell you that an ad hominem fallacy occurs any time you say something bad about a person, ignoring the fact that, in order to be an actual fallacy, it must be either irrelevant or untrue (or both). Finally I’ve enough acquaintance with the word “populism” via use – both my own and other peoples – that the dictionary will either tell me nothing new or, like ad hominem, tell me something wrong.Mob action

After I make of quick gloss of the sorts of things that populism is at an absolute minimum, I’ll go on to suggest two different developments of the idea. One development leaves populism as a relatively “morally neutral” political method or technique, while the other will put it squarely in the negatives as a substantially fascist instrument. Neither one of these approaches represents the “truth” about populism, or the “real definition”; they are simply different ways in which the word can be used, ways that should never be conflated. I’ll finish with some thoughts from Whitehead and Dewey about the philosophical underpinnings of the kinds of popular relationalism that strengthen genuine democracy. Continue reading

Mothers of the Disappeared

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Anyone defending Trump’s concentration camps on the ground that “there aren’t gas chambers”, has only convicted themselves of being absolutely morally bankrupt. These same people will still be justifying these concentration camps when there ARE gas chambers.

 

Children Auschwitz

Trump’s recent EO is irrelevant to the above, which was true long before that EO was ever signed. Such persons have shown their true colors. And that EO only nominally stops the further sepAration (note the spelling, which Trump managed to fuck up); it does nothing to address those who have already been herded into the camps, many of whom have long since been entirely lost in the system.

My Boner, My Self

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Ho-hum, another school massacre. But this one shares some connections with our neighbors to the north that merit exploration. One part of those connections introduced the general population to the term “incel”, for “involuntarily celibate.” On the surface, the term means just exactly what it says – one is presently non-sexual in one’s life, while wishing there was (in fact) someone there as a physical partner. This nominally suggests that one is single, but that is not a necessary condition; a person can be in a committed relationship in which the other partner, while present as a person, is not available sexually. (When such a situation is unilaterally imposed, it generally signals the end of the relationship, though bonds of loyalty and commitment will, among decent people, still take a while to break down.) Most people have, I am sure, spent significant amounts of time single and celibate when they’d much rather have been busily involved with one (or more!) other partners. But the notion of “incel” goes far, far, beyond this: it implies a profound injustice imposed from without, and (more importantly) a manifest entitlement to the sexual favors one is not receiving. Hence, “My Boner, My SelfiHaHa

Needless to say, such a collection of beliefs is almost exclusively limited to males. (One can hardly describe such self-absorbed snivelers as “men.”) Thus, both of the above mass murderers were motivated NOT by bullying, but by sexual frustration under the perceived rubric of male sexual entitlement. Dimitrios Pagourtzis stalked and harassed a girl for months before she finally had enough of his unwanted advances and publicly embarrassed him to get him to stop. Her reward for standing up for her own rights and the sanctity of her own person was to be the first victim Pagourtzis murdered. Alek Minassian explicitly identified himself and his murders with the incel “movement.” Both of these sociopaths believed themselves to deserve the sexual favors which they saw the world as unfairly denying to them, and believed that their murderous rampages were a mighty blow in the name of justice. In reality, of course, there are scarcely words in this or any other language capable of heaping upon these worthless excuses the measure of disdain, vituperation, disgust, and contempt that they genuinely deserve. Yet despite these obvious and indisputable facts, there are those who pose as “intellectuals” who variously present (whether explicitly or implicitly) Pagourtzis and Minassian as victims. Rather than say more about the incel infantilism, I want to address the movement’s enablers and apologists and, along the way say a bit about real men and real scholars. The emphasis on men is, again, because males are the overwhelming perpetrators of these crimes, as well as of the public mewling about their poor, neglected wee-wees. But before making any generalizations about “men,” as a collective plurality, let’s contextualize the discussion by establishing some poles between which we might hope to develop a spectrum. For one such pole, let’s start with Jordan Peterson.
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Shut Up and Calculate

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Neil DeGrasse Tyson shares with Stephen Hawing a commitment to demonstrating that lots of schooling will never, by itself, equate to an education (a distinction I’ve explored in a variety of places.) For example, in a bromide from a few years back, Tyson not only dismissed philosophy as being of no value, but insisted that bright students should stay away from it as it is nothing more than a distraction.i Stephen Hawking, for his part, has maintained a long running snark-fest directed at philosophers, notable mainly in that Hawking’s petulance is only exceeded by his ignorance, and the indefensibility of his “arguments”. One must scare quote the word “arguments” in the preceding because neither Tyson nor Hawking have an actual argument, only ex cathedra pronouncements that are to be accepted without question, and in the complete absence of anything like logic, principles, evidence, or facts.Adding Machine

Thus, for example, Hawking vapidly legislates in his recent book, The Grand Design, that, “philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” What Hawking is, in fact, asserting here is that philosophy is only philosophy when it is doing physics. So when it fails to do physics (and actually does philosophy – a subject Hawking knows absolutely nothing about, and imagines himself virtuous for his willful lack of education) then this can only be because philosophy is dead. He declares (in Black Holes and Baby Universes), without a particle of evidence to support his claim that,

There is a subspecies called philosophers of science who ought to be better equipped. But many of them are failed physicists who found it too hard to invent new theories and so took to writing about the philosophy of physics instead. They are still arguing about the scientific theories of the early years of this century, like relativity and quantum mechanics.

and then goes on to pule that, “Maybe I’m being harsh on philosophers, but they have not been very kind to me.”ii This is the sort of childishness one might expect from a 3rd grader, not from a man who held the Lucasian Chair at Cambridge University. In its way, however, it is perfectly representative of an attitude that has consumed much of physics, in which any attempts to ask deeper questions about the issues of contemporary physics are met with the dismissive command to just, “shut up and calculate.” Continue reading

Self-Identity

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I was not an especially “outward looking” or alert youth, working rather to shut the world out rather than invest painful consideration into something that was already almost unbearably painful. But occasionally my habits of thinking would turn themselves outward, to chew on a puzzle that had managed to break through my protective shell and demand my attention. This happened twice that I can recall in high school: the first time, after an especially depressing episode I realized I needed to make a study of reading people – perhaps, more importantly, I realized that I could learn this, and I began picking up clues effectively and rapidly. The second, and first genuinely philosophical moment, was when I “discovered” the “problem of evil” as it related to the born-again Christianity I’d been emotionally bullied into accepting by various members of my family – personal responsibility is a joke, of course, in any world dominated by an omniscient and omnipotent creator god. This began my “angry atheist” phase, which went on for another decade (until I’d actually read a substantial bit of philosophy.)Acropolis1

The third “break through” (second genuinely philosophical one) happened when I was in the army. I was stationed some 18 kliks from what was (at the time) the East German border, in the Central German highlands, as an electronics tech in an Improved HAWK anti-aircraft missile battery. Every year, each such unit chose a squad of people to be sent to NAMFI, Crete, to spend a few days training, culminating in firing a live bird at a drone target. As it happened (then, at least), the entire trip involved several days both before and after the actual training which were free time for the troops to explore the island or, as several of us chose to do, take the ferry from Souda bay to the Piraeus and Athens. So it came to pass that I climbed the steps up the hill of the Acropolis. Except, that’s not quite right. Nobody actually walked on those steps, and it wasn’t out of respect for their antiquity. Continue reading

Making Sense

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Whitehead set out to make sense of things. After witnessing all of his attempts to point out how Einstein’s general theory of relativity failed to make the sense it claimed to make (and still fails to do so, but the model centrists won’t permit empirical evidence to get in the way of their clever mathematics), he arguably decided that he needed to step back from epistemology and philosophy of science, to present a more logically primary argument, in the metaphysical form of his “philosophy of organism.” Whitehead centered his argument on what I and Randy Auxier named “the quantum of explanation,” a logical (rather than ontological) center, around which Whitehead constructed his subtle and complex system of making sense. It has been suggested that Whitehead’s magnum opus, Process and Reality, is one of the five most difficulty works in the Western philosophical canon. I’m not inclined to argue with such a sentiment, since the most that could be credibly argued is that it might be knocked back to sixth place. For my part, I’m not sure what work could manage that feat.No Sense

One of the points that Randy and I tried to emphasize was that the process of “making sense” was itself a rather complex process, in which the most active word in the proceeding is process: this is not an object you hold, but an activity you engage in. So despite my habitual focus upon contemporary science &/or concerns, this is actually as classic an issue as you can find in the Western philosophical canon. (And I just don’t have the expertise to speak with even casual ignorance about the Eastern canon, a source of inestimable insight and subtlety. I am, however, inclined – ignorant as I am – to suspect that what I have to say here can find its analogs in that tradition.) Continue reading

Subject, Object, Person

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“Personalism” is the philosophical position that the first principle in any approach to the world must be that of “person.” Given the habits we have inherited over the years from our scientific (scientistic?) approaches to reality, this might seem like a hopelessly subjective approach to things. But such an attitude is wrong on at least two accounts: first, personalism is NOT the same as “subjectivism” – not by a long shot! The second major flaw is that there is nothing at all “hopeless” about it; indeed, there is a case to be made for its logical necessity. This last point is open to dispute to a degree that the first is not, and I’ll be focusing on this point a bit. Toward the end of this post, and in fulfillment of my priority to keep things Whiteheadian on this blog, I’ll gloss a few areas where Whiteheadians and personalists disagree, and the major point where they overlap. (Spoiler: Whitehead was not a personalist.)

Bluesy

I’ve no idea what picture to use for this post, so here is a picture of my cat, “Bluesy,” who is neither subject nor object, but rather person.

A point of terminology: if, along the way, I have cause to use the term “objectivism,” it should be clearly understood that I am not in any way, shape, or form, referring fatuous pretensions to philosophy. I am merely using the word as a modified form of “objective,” to discuss such forms of emphasis that focus upon the “outer as outer;” a similar caveat holds with respect to the terms “subjective” and “subjectivism.” Continue reading

Nature versus Naturalism

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Nature is that which is studied by physical science. Saying as much does not answer many questions; most particularly, it tells us neither what nature nor science happen to be, only that they are connected as inquiry and thing inquired into. That being said, one can also notice that it is necessary to have some notion or concept of what it is that one is inquiring into, in order for that inquiry to have any sort of systematic or methodologically sound structure. Absent such a concept, inquiry loses any possibility of systematicity, and instead becomes nothing more than random shifting around and arbitrary clutching at straws. Such shifting and clutching will, ideally, eventuate in a more systematic concept of the topic being inquired into, at which point inquiry “moves into a new gear,” and begins to become genuinely organized. Physical science has long since moved past such a phase of randomly poking things with a stick; it has long been operating with a detailed and thoroughly developed concept of nature. But while the sciences have A concept of nature, does that mean they have the best concept of nature? There are reasons to believe that the answer to this question is “no.”Nature

This brings us to the philosophical question of naturalism. Some forms of naturalism take the position that “nature is all there is,” which might seem like a fairly strong metaphysical commitment until one realizes that saying, “nature is all there is,” tells us nothing about what all nature is. So in order to have any cognitive content, any and all forms of naturalism – regardless of whether or not they admit the possibility of anything beyond nature – must, primarily, be a thesis about what nature is. So a form of naturalism will be the source of a concomitant concept of nature. I will state without argument that the two stand in a one-to-one relationship: if “a” form of naturalism resulted in a “family” of concepts of nature, then in reality what we would have is a family of forms of naturalism as well – one member of this latter family for each concept in the former. Continue reading