I hold a number of beliefs about the world that seem inconsistent and these beliefs do not concern the world of my everyday life, where concepts and principles are (and should be) vague, things are in a constant state of tension and the term “inconsistency” is just as vaguely applicable. Instead, the beliefs I mean are those that lie at the conceptual and interpretative basis of our physical theories about the world, especially at the microscopic level. Here the possibility for inconsistency, logically defined as the impossibility of two propositions to be true at the same time, of two beliefs (or their statement) becomes more clear-cut as the beliefs grow sharper.
It is the simple purpose of this blog to get clearer about a number of these latter beliefs and see in what form, and if at all, they can sustain another or simply co-exist independently. To give the whole thing at least somewhat of a red thread (which it is doomed to lose, I know myself well enough to predict this), let me say that what I want to concentrate on in the following is this question: How can we talk (without being naively realist) about the way, in which systems are ontologically constituted by their mutual interactions?
As may be indicated by the words in italics, some of the major topics and people in this blog will be: Meaningful demarcation of “systems” (in epistemology, semantics and ontology) and “intersystematic relationships”, Wittgenstein; actuality, potentiality and phenomenology (Heidegger, Sartre); Information theory and complexity; self-reference and -sustainance, the “global” and “local” applicability of concepts and ways of coping with regresses a la Zenon, reductionism and emergentism; holism.
Finally, there are two obvious reasons for me to present these texts in public: Firstly, I can use my vanity to make sure that I write the texts with the reader in mind (who himself will, naturally, take all his criticisms about the text as a further confirmation of the quite tremendous stupidity of their author) and consequently be careful with my formulation of things and their (the texts’) readability. Secondly, I hope to get feedback by people. That’s what blogs are there for (beyond exhibitionism), no?
To start off, it seems best to play with open cards and simply enumerate some of the beliefs I currently hold, for whatever reason, and see how I would formulate them at this early moment, to give you a feeling of what I am talking about:
1. It is a natural but “harmful” consequence of our mechanisms of abstraction in language that the results are “over-ambitiously abstracted”, in the sense that, for example, the dichotomies that result from abstractions suggest possible ways for the world to be like by spanning a field between extremes, where this field in fact is much larger than what is actually case. I heard a nice way of paraphrasing this, at least that’s what I made of it, in a recent lecture on buddhist philosophy: “Atomism is both necessary and false…” (I should at this point note that I am not a rainbow quantum guy, I am certainly not). Another, different way of formulating a similar idea I have read years ago is in Adorno, where he asks why, by the act of subsuming a number of elements under a category, this category, by this very act, was somehow promoted from the objects it contains.
2. There is, at least on the level of microscopic physics, nothing but actuality, by which I mean that things can only “be” but not “possibly be”. Whether or not things can “not be”, I have not decided. This implies that counterfactual reasoning on microphysical entities cannot be meaningfully employed just as little as talk about possible worlds.
3. The world is holistic, by which I only mean that the whole contains more than the sum of its parts. Still, we cannot know what we mean when we talk about the “whole”. I am also very much convinced that we can formulate holism better than in the above way.
3.1 The world, as a whole, is somehow self-sustaining. This is important for top-down questions of “the whole”. For a self-sustaining universe the concept of “outside the universe” is meaningless and criticism cannot arise. The self-sustainance is particularly important here in that sustainance implies a being held together of the universe by itself.
3.2. The question how a “cut” or “caesura” is required to acquire meaning, is very important, particularly with respect to the possible loci of this cut: Is it to be found only in language or can we place it into the ontological realm?
4. I believe that the phenomenological concepts of intentionality and transcendence are very, very important and under-rated in physics: A system is nothing but the totality of its effects on its environment, its being-in-the-world (I try to make of Sartre’s stuff the last thing he would have wanted anybody to do, I completely ignore and misunderstand his point…everything goes)
5. I believe in the following reading of Humean supervenience: The world consists of (actual) particulars the (monadic?) properties of which induce dynamics (not necessarily deterministic) that allow for the formulation of laws as generally true (and instantiated) facts, without however, imposing an element of necessity to these laws that is not equivalently present in the properties. In other words: In any way, in which the question about the primacy of the particularly true as opposed to the universally true is not trivialised by the logical equivalence of the two possibilities, the particularly true is primary.
6. Any way of splitting the world into parts involves a saturation of the information that can be stored in /extracted from this part, at least for a fixed context.
7. The existence of “configurational” (as opposed to either logical or spatio-temporal) neighbourhoods induces locality constraints on the propagation of information/effects, as partly captured by field theories.
8. Stable structures are perceived because they result from a constructive interference between the perceiving and the perceived system. Thus, while all modes of “oscillation” in the interaction are allowed, only the constructive ones do not suffer decay. 8.1 This last point is an example for the fruitful application of eliminative arguments: Rather than saying only what (and nothing else) is possible, we should focus on no-go-arguments that say only what is not possible (but everything else is).
9. Non-linear, chaotic, “spontaneous” events are key to understanding the re-establishment of dynamics in a universe that otherwise would tend towards stasis through global symmetry.
Now these are only some of those beliefs I am worried about, but I can imagine that only from skimming through them a lot of tensions become apparent. All of these points require further motivation and explication and, if everything goes according to plan, they will. So let’s see what this turns into.