Thursday, July 15, 2021

Just the Facts

I feel like I should explain myself. Most of what I write is me tangling with things beyond my ken. But there are some things that I know.

From the distance of Chinese tradition, it is easier to see the continuities of the West, broadly construed. I have taken some time and care to learn the Chinese traditions.

From that perspective, there looks to be a straight line, for instance, from Plato and his imagined archetypal truths which could be induced Socratically as though they were already there, through to monotheism and God's laws, then pivoting at Christ away from anger and toward love.

This was all disrupted in a way by Darwin, and that incredibly recently. 

Now it would be nature's laws, not God's, though as recently as Newton, scientists were working within the God's-world paradigm. We have been excited by truths elicited from the evident facts revealed by the scientific method. We have been excited by the power that these truths have granted us. We have learned to manipulate the world around us. And how!

I admit that I have been intrigued by critical theorists and radical thinkers who advance various forms of constructivism as a more general science than the one practiced by our evidence-based objectivists. I identify myself as an ethnoepistemologist recently, in distinction from thinkers like Richard Rorty, apparently. For Rorty and many others philosophy just plainly is a Western phenomenon; its proof, science. For an ethnoepistemologist, all ways of making meaning are radically equivalent. 

But it would be just plain insane to take this to the extent that creationists do. If one drives across the so-called "flyover" states, one may hear on the radio very intelligent-sounding people preaching creationism to the extent that God planted the dinosaurs to trick us. There is far worse than that. I was already very concerned way back when Bo Gritz was running for president. And he might have been sane in comparison to Trump. 

For me facts have the same ontological status as artifacts. You can't deny them, but you can't understand them either without constructing some superstructure of theory. Reality is just about as inaccessible as history is, which is to say not exactly inaccessible. 

We know scientific reality in a way now exposed as similar to historic methodology. We can't touch or see or feel any of the most important artifacts now, which are only available to us by means of complex instrumentation. What is returned to us by our instruments are fuzzy artifacts, as worn by lack of handling as are the ones we might dig up.

We call subatomic entities "particles," which is, at best, a metaphor. Something is real there, but it is revealed to us only as a statistical artifact. We rate signal versus noise and call it good. 

And right there is where cultural relativity creeps in. One might have stopped when it was already clear that this quest for some ultimate structure of subatomic physics would recede eternally like a fractal shoreline. One might have stopped at the point that probability waves were said to collapse upon observation. That had to mean that the observer was implicated in reality.

But we in the West refused to go there. As though ultimate responsibility had to be left to God, even though we didn't believe in Him anymore.

And one day long long ago while living aboard an old wooden sailboat that I'd rebuilt, it did hit me, in a moment of manic insanity, I'm sure, that emotion was also not some construction unique to humans, but that it had as much (or as little) solid reality as those subatomic particles did. Emotion is part of objective reality, and not just "inside" us as humans. 

I defined emotion as motion without force. That would mean without exchange of particles, as our current version of the Standard Model of physics would describe reality. That is even while that model remains incomplete, since we have yet to observe gravitons, even though we did recently "observe" gravity waves. That puts us halfway there, in a way, although there is a lot more to it than that.

I once did think that gravity is love, and there is some power to that metaphor. But no, love is attraction, and hate is repulsion and somebody far more advanced in these things than I am could, I'm certain, build an entire science upon that fact.

The "physical" structure of such relations - those not defined by forces - is conceptual and not perceptual, but both structures must exist everywhere at all times for there to be any reality at all. Which would mean, of course, that mind also is omnipresent in the cosmos, and precedes time just as physics must, if we remove the Big Bang, which of course we can't. Yet. 

I move closer to Chinese "cosmology" with these thoughts. A cosmology which never did depend on complex instrumentation, any more than Plato did. I don't see God there, but I do see mind apart from mankind. There is meaning in random, for instance, but that it is beyond the limits of mind to know. Our mind.

And that is why I have been known to claim that natural law is an analog to language, when trying to communicate beyond our earth. It can tell us a lot, but not everything. There is no completeness, Godel Escher, Bach.

Natural law is a start and the universe is vast. Before we can go any further - toward rescuing our planet home, or making contact with other life, we have to learn to take responsibility for our reality. It is comforting to me that we don't have to take ontological responsibility. That's my difference with Benjamin H. Bratton. He seems to see no choice. I see only choice.

But the choices we may make concern only human survival and can only go so far. If I drink wine, it seems that I would choose a statistically shorter life. More so if I smoke. And if humans fail to forsake neoliberal unregulated capitalism, the consequences are still more certain. Our home is gone and so are we much more rapidly than we can say 'get go.' 

That seems more like relinquishing control than to take it. And relinquishing may be the more responsible thing to do.

But for sure, no more than I can make myself immortal can we make humanity eternal, nor should we want to. We are just simply not that great. Demonstrably so. But we should at least get our act together long enough to usher in what might be post-human.

My post-humanism is probably not what yours is, if you're a fan of digital. Even when your technology -enhanced post-humanism is full of celebrations of diversity and feminism. My post-human is built more of culture than of individuals. The individuals will adapt and evolve and from that will come our post-human reality. 

I would see love develop faster than intellect. We shall then be ready for what comes next; in just the proportion that we learn to care for the least among us will we learn to take part in a cosmos so much greater than we are. 

We are never disconnected from that cosmos until the instant that we start believing that our digital fantasies are more real than reality. That's what zero/one logic means. You can't live in Platonic ideal reality, but we sure do keep trying.

We are very trying. Just now, I'm sure that's how cosmos feels toward us. Whatever cosmos is, it's alive and we are part of it. If we choose to be. Choose immortality as we now are and we won't become a has-been. We will never have been at all. There will be no artifact of our existence, because no-one will care to look for it. And because we will have become as dead as a rock, even though it might hide beautiful crystals of failed logic.

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