Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 26

Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 25
Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 27

This is the last Blog for the year 2021 and it raises the question <<How can one convey —within the conventions of measured, serious language— the utmost importance of the conclusions which spring from finding a solution to the hitherto unsolved Central Puzzle of Modern Science?>>

This Puzzle is: Whatever could the entities on the final level of physical deconstruction consist of? 

The solution is also an amazing Synthesis, because a thousand William of Ockham Brownie Points are due, as a result of hugely simplifying the assumptions behind our world-picture of physical reality. The utter hopelessness implied by the fact that no explanation was ever likely of to be found <<Why the Laws of Physics took the Form they Did>>… this has gone.

This is intellectual simplification on a scale not previously considered. Western Civilisation was built on the twin foundations of Belief (mostly Christianity) and Reasoned Mathematics. Both foundations have crumbled badly during the last 120 years. Nietzsche claimed that the Theory of Evolution marked the <<Death of God>>, but if he had been more mathematically-minded he would have realised that the world of Newtonian physics still required a creator God, and that a genuinely evolutionary process could never be incorporated satisfactorily into a mathematical vision of the world —the dominant mode of thinking in science both in 1859 and today. (If the aim of science is to reduce phenomena to mathematical models, which are essentially timeless, there is no room for genuine evolution within this project. Everything that happens is already ordained by the initial axioms, and the results are timeless.  So, although,   Darwin’s Theory knocked a big chunk out of the notion of “God’s handiwork” —by apparently taking away His involvement in the formation of living creatures—  it was not quite the end of the road for Belief.  

The end of the road for Belief did arrive, though in the quarter century 1945-1970, with the Four Whammies —Atomic Power, the Computer, Space travel and DNA. These were four scientific miracles nowhere mentioned in the Bible or even hinted. They knocked the stuffing out of traditional Belief for any intelligent young person.The sudden change of culture was palpable in the 1960s when Winston Churchill, who had been canonised by the previous generations, was now being regarded as a geriactric blimp by the younger generation.

It is evident that a society cannot easily cope with the situation when the glue which held it together for centuries suddenly disappears.  What was needed after 1970 was a project of the highest urgency to discover how society could be managed in the absence of Belief. What we eventually got (in the 1980s) was crude managerialism, a concoction of sticks and carrots based on the twin assumptions that people can be bullied —or induced by dangling material carrots— to fall into line with the leadership of an outfit.  This can only be described as crass materialism being pushed-in as a substitute for previously deeply internalised Belief.

We know that there is a fundamental difference between indicative statements of facts (the way things are) and values (the way we would like them to be)… But indicative statements arising from a dramatic synthesis are in a different case.  Here we have a sense of the final boundaries of human knowledge and it would be extremely foolish for anyone to ignore such boundaries.  Thinking-about values must of course take into account what is possible. The uttermost boundaries of human knowledge are therefore naturally going to affect any sensible person’s values.

This boundary awareness is what we lost in the 1960s. Belief had offered an extremely archaic notion of the uttermost boundaries of human knowledge. They were congenial boundaries, because they projected the qualities of an ideal, caring human super-intelligence onto ‘God’. (For thousands of years the most intelligent people on the planet had accepted that the universe must have been created by an infinite supermind. There was no serious alternative.) The four Whammies blew the credibility of this picture into oblivion.  Science seemed to have won its dialectical battle with religion game, set and match.  

But the Whammies did not replace what they had destroyed. The new “truths” revealed by the science behind these Whammies weren’t positions on the final boundaries of human knowledge. They were, rather, merely practical eye-openers, only partly understood by existing theory.  There was no <<new vision>> about the nature of the world, or the human condition, or the relationship between the two. Karl Popper had shown that ‘truth’ is too strong a word for the accepted equations of science. They are, at best, only <<not yet falsified>> prediction recipes.  

The cybernetic experience of the last sixty years has shown very plainly that some of the qualities we associate with mind can be replicated by machines.  The new Synthesis uses this realisation to explain how a system of actimatic structures built from a field of absolute randomness can produce the phenomenon of human intelligence.  (These actimatic structures are not inert fixtures like those of mathematics, but instead have a vivacity of their own.) In which case this kind of human intelligence can be a self-sustaining reality.  (The animal, plant, and inorganic worlds become necessary by-products of this architecture.)  But the total power of ‘mind’ needed to pull off such structural complexity is much greater than the individual human mind. Clearly there is a blurred interface between our own individual minds and the human mega-mind which is the de facto result of everyone contributing to the whole. We all take a great deal “on trust” from the accumulated wisdom of past generations and today’s well informed sources. (And probably we don’t really appreciate how much we “take over” in this way.)  This is not the same thing as the infinite supermind hazily conjectured in Antiquity, but it is not a million miles away. We are postulating that the unacknowledged “sharing of knowledge” —in which we all participate— creates a de facto mega-mind, much more powerful  than that any single unaided individual can muster.  Mind —let’s remember is the performance of an individual human being with an active brain. The mega-mind is not metaphysics, merely the much larger consolidated performance of millions of individual brains.

The universe the mega-mind can create by selective recognition is not the familiar hostile, impenetrable universe implied by today’s not-yet-falsified-science. It remains awesomely large, and stretches far beyond the limits we could ever visit.  But it is, in the last analysis, a product of human beings, and it is a much more comfortable place to inhabit than the icy abstractions of modern mathematically-mesmerised science.

CHRISTOPHER ORMELL 1st December 2021