Reductionism II

I said previously that objective reality is not a mathematical structure. The question arises, what then is the objective reality?

Rather than answering this question, I prefer to dissolve it. The subjective/objective distinction is a confusing one; so I prefer to say that it is a confusion.

By “objective reality,” we mean something which is forever beyond our experience. But we also mean something which, through our experience, we can know everything about. Appearances are all subjective; and objective reality is not an appearance. To take this perspective to the peak of its absurdity, we may consider the final appearance — the appearance which contains all possible knowledge of objective reality, which unites all possible appearances into one. We have to say that the final appearance is distinct from the objective reality. But what is the difference? We have, on the one hand, the experience of everything, and, on the other hand, everything. The two contain the same information; they are isomorphic; but one is visible and unreal, and the other is invisible and real. Why is the visible unreal, and the real invisible, if there is nothing about the real which cannot be rendered visible?

Let us dissolve the subjective/objective confusion. At a given moment, we see some things, and we do not see others. Right now I see a table; but if I turn my head to the left, I will no longer see a table. The table is still there, but I am not looking at it.

What about the distinction between the table and the appearance of the table? What about the fact that the table is made of molecules, whereas this fact isn’t expressed in my visual impression of the table? We resolve the problem in the same way. The molecules are there, but I can’t see them, in the same that way that when I look at a beach from inside an airplane, I can’t see the individual grains of sand.

We have no need for a distinction between subjective and objective. Reductionists need to postulate such a distinction in order to make sense of their philosophy that mathematical structure is all that really exists. They need to say that, for instance, the qualitative “redness” of red is a subjective illusion. But we do not say anything like this; for us, all of the features of our experience are equally real. The appearances are the reality.

The rationalist has become fascinated by a particular aspect of their experience: its mathematical structure. They have become so enamored with it that they want to say that it is everything. It is quite true that mathematical structure is everywhere; but it is not true that it is everything.

What about the lawfulness of the universe? Is it true that everything follows the laws of physics, without ever deviating from them to the slightest degree? It is imaginable that the world could fail to be a mathematical structure, and yet never violate the laws of physics.

Only there is some discomfort in saying this. It feels more right to say either that the world is a mathematical structure, or that it sometimes violates the laws of physics. The middle position feels awkward. And yet, it also feels awkward to say that the world does not follow the laws of physics; because it is clear that usually and for the most part, it does follow the laws of physics. What are we to do about this?

Let us recall that quantum physics is probabilistic. We cannot say, in a quantum physics experiment, exactly what we will observe in a given instant. We can only give statistical patterns that our observations follow. So at the lowest level, the universe does not strictly follow its laws. The “laws of physics” are more accurately called “trends of physics.”

We can expect this quality to propagate up to the larger levels of reality. We can expect atoms and molecules not to strictly follow the laws of chemistry, and organisms not to strictly follow the laws of biology.

As far as I know, this is consistent with experimental observations. As far as I know, experiments in chemistry are usually done with large numbers of atoms and molecules, and the observations are observations of the aggregate behavior of the substances involved. And, as far as I know, every experiment has some degree of experimental error. The usual assumption is that if the experiment were “perfectly performed,” there would be no experimental error; but what if this is wrong? What if the experimental error is a feature of reality?

As for biology, we don’t even have a set of rules which can predict in general the behavior of biological organisms. We don’t understand life.

We can re-interpret the laws of nature as trends of nature. They are not absolute rules, but patterns that things tend to conform to. But it makes little sense to say that there is a single, fixed set of laws, and things always randomly deviate a little bit from those laws without ever deviating radically from them.

But maybe we want to say that things do sometimes deviate radically from those laws.

Supernatural phenomena (telepathy, telekinesis, etc.) would be an example of this. We can also say that the behavior of the higher levels of reality is not reducible to the behavior of the lower levels: it follows additional laws. In particular we want to say this with living organisms: that living organisms follow laws that atoms do not follow.

We want to say this because of our intuition that living organisms are special: that they are somehow different from dead matter. Scientists have installed a bias against this intuition; but we want to take down this bias, and notice the obvious, that living organisms seem special.

We also want to say that humans follow laws that other living organisms do not follow. The same line of thinking justifies this. It is intuitively obvious that humans are special.

Many sets of laws can co-exist, because they fit within each others’ margins of error. Since every set of laws is fuzzy, they can avoid coming into conflict with each other. Note that not every possible combination of law-sets would do this; but we want to say that the laws of our universe do this.

For our view to be complete, we need to offer an answer to the question, why have rationalists not interpreted reality in this way? If reality is not really sharp and rigid, why have rationalists interpreted reality as being sharp and rigid?

I think that some people have an aesthetic taste for simple, precise, and rigid rules, and when they look at the universe, they are interested in finding this. I think that it is not the way the universe is, but the taste for simplicity, precision, and rigidity, that has led rationalists to see the universe’s laws as simple, precise, and rigid.

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