Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 52

Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 51
Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 53

Today there are signs of a widespread fatalistic mood about the collapse of Western Civilised Ethics. It is fuelled by an educational vacuum, i.e. a lapse in the edifying effect of schools, and the casual,  inadequate level of judgment brought by the mass population to politics. A US former president who repeatedly shows little respect for legal decisions doesn’t help.

Rigorous ethics can only spring from an absolutely secure holistic view of the world. Today the godfathers of IT and AI dominate the opinions of billions of people. They are absolutely sure that today’s scientific piecemeal (non-holistic) worldview is correct.  So we are stuck in an intellectual atmosphere which will, if left unchecked, demoralise the human race, demoralise it again, and again…eventually into extinction

Strict monotheistic Religion was the glue which held the human race together for countless centuries.  It has been undermined comprehensively and relentlessly by the astonishing rise of IT and AI during the last thirty years.  Unfortunately religion has an Achilles Heel. The personality cults on which it is ultimately founded cannot survive the tsunami of scepticism, rationality and precision which the IT-AI mindset generates. Each monotheistic religion offers a kind of holistic view of the world based on the supernatural reification of an unique super-individual who is shielded by cast-iron convention from any kind of criticism… in effect a reification of a feudal dictator. 

So what went wrong?

Well non-holistic, piecemeal science has been in place for so long that it has taken-over every last corner of human activity and concern. On a textual level it is much more precise, accurate, organised, credible, cross-referenced, etc. than the hazy ancient narratives we inherit from the past.  They also suffer because they are couched in language which was, no doubt, appropriate at its time, but which now looks primitive and full of fantasy.  

But if the scientific narrative sounds much more credible on a bit-by-bit sharp focus level, it is woefully lacking in overall coherence.  It is more like a vast heap of jumbled information. This is potentially a mental nightmare, because, as a whole, it doesn’t make any kind of over-arching sense.  It imposes an impossible intellectual challenge —to try to harmonise unlimited areas of totally unclubbable know-how— far beyond the capacity of the human mind, or even AI, which is in the last analysis dependent of copy-catting human thought processes. 

What we need, quite desperately, is a new kind of epistemology. We urgently need to query the dominance of ‘piecemeal-ism’ in science. The first pillar of epistemological wisdom today can only be that mathematical modelling is an inherently piecemeal, rigid, inorganic approach to understanding physical reality: which means that it is fundamentally not up to the job of finding a worldview which is scientifically credible and unified. 

The philosophers. who tried hardest to make overall sense of science —and pushed piecemeal mathematical epistemology to the limit— were Karl Popper and Imre Lakatos. But at this “limit” of piecemeal mathematical epistemology, Popper could only offer us the negative picture that the empirical theories of physics were as-yet-unfalsified generalisations. This tells us immediately that science of the piecemeal kind we have today can never serve as a basis for rigorous ethics.

So, do we need rigorous ethics?


We can’t preserve civilisation without rigorous ethics. Already much of the stability it was proud to enjoy has gone. Some well-meaning humanists insist that their ethics is genuine, but they are kidding themselves if they think its foundations are secure. Trying to build a stable civilisation on ‘not-yet-falsified’ scientific opinions is like trying to build a house on quicksands.  

Lakatos managed to fashion an approach which neutralised the deliberately irrational, anti-intellectual notions of Kuhn: but Lakatos, too, was not able to offer any kind of resolution… any kind of over-arching vision about physical reality.

Whatever has gone wrong?

There is a single word answer to this question: mathematics.  It comes along with the much pedalled implicit claim that it is the only possible 100% abstract, rational discipline… and therefore the only possible way to build abstract, rigorous, credible models of reality.

Unfortunately it began with a compromise: it started with the practical, useful, commonsense idea that a tally \ could represent a thing, a building, a dish, a spear, an animal.  Lots of very thoughtful people like Blake and Coleridge, have pointed out that this impoverishes our view of reality from the beginning. Its effect is similar to what would happen if the Royal Academy decreed that all visual art should be based on matchsticks.

Aristotle had a great feel for the nature of reality, and it was one which he was determined not to tie down to mathematics.

Fortunately, thanks to the understanding of ordinary language we owe mainly to Ludwig Wittgenstein,  we now have a much better understanding of how mathematics works. The notion that <<reality is timeless>> is, we can now see, wishful thinking.  Mathematics us of course timeless, because its symbolic objects make no reference to time. If mathematics is the language of reality, then reality is timeless… but most people today can see that this is implausible.

As time passes it becomes more and more implausible. The world is obviously changing all the time: we are being carried along on a tsunami of hasty technological innovation, much of which has been far too little pre-considered.

Fortunately we have now discovered anti-mathematics, which may be described as the study of the logic of transient reality.  It is built on the same principles as mathematics. Its objects are created by reification based on precise definition. They are transient objects, but they are reliable while they last,  and they can last for quite a long time.

It is a much better discipline to model the universe and the amazing  behaviours of living things.