The Pathos of Distance

The Pathos of Distance

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    What Modern Science Subtracts.


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    Post by Mitra-Sauwelios on Fri Mar 02, 2018 3:04 am

    Richard Feynman: The Beauty of the Flower

    A contact of mine sent me this link, and I watched the vid and commented as follows:

    I do understand the other side as well, though. I mean, supposing it isn't just "artistic" snobbery. There is a difference between the mathematical-scientific understanding and our natural understanding. What I like about his style is its down-to-earthness--he doesn't seem to lose touch with his natural understanding. In fact, the question he raises, from my point of view, is whether a bee also doesn't have a natural understanding, and if it's not essentially or basically the same as ours.

    So then the mathematicians versus physicists thing becomes especially important. Modern science is mathematised science--Cartesian science. The dominant pre-modern science, Aristotelian science, on the other hand, had the formal/final cause as well as the material/efficient cause. And Nietzsche even says that we have no sense for the efficient cause, only for the final cause. Thus Strauss suggests (with Whitehead) that Aristotelian science is more or less the most advanced possible common-sense science ("common sense" is more or less synonymous with "our natural understanding").
    Sorry about the name-dropping. Anyway, I think this line of thought has to do with the concept of the "intentionality" of consciousness (though this is sometimes understood quite non-literally). A bee's natural understanding of a flower is unthinkable without knowing the bee's "intentions" (between quotes because it's at least to some extent an anthropomorphism). And again, Nietzsche even says "nothing is beautiful, only man is beautiful": that is, even our appreciation of flowers must be understood in terms of our intentions with regard to the human equivalent of the flowers and the bees (the Dutch version of "the birds and the bees").

    Don't mistake that last bit for Freudianism.

    Later that night, I wrote the following piece:

    In the meantime, I finished watching that "mathematicians versus physicists" clip, and I watched the clip you sent me again; then I did my daily Holosync, and during the Dive I had these thoughts.

    Feynman says scientific knowledge only adds to the excitement and mystery and the awe of a flower, and that he doesn't understand how it subtracts. The first example he gave of such knowledge was that flowers consist of cells. Now contrary to the flower itself, or rather to the plant whose flower it is, those cells are not organisms in their own right. Single-celled organisms exist, but like plant cells these can again be seen to consist of smaller parts, etc. etc. Early and even middle modern science supposed, like pre-modern science, that the etceteras would stop at the atom (a-tom = un-divided, in-divisible). These were the absolutely smallest bits of matter: fundamental elements. Francis Bacon pictured them as little Cupids (Cupid being a Roman form of Eros).

    Now directly after and inspired by Bacon, Descartes pioneered the mathematisation of science. This revolutionised science, yet until the late nineteenth century I think, modern science retained the "atomistic" idea of the atom. In other words, it retained the materialism of Democritus, and thereby Aristotle's "material cause". It was only by the late nineteenth century that matter was finally reduced to force or, with Einstein, to energy. Now force is basically a very abstract version of Aristotle's "efficient cause" (that which effects the emergence of a certain form in a certain material); Aristotle's examples are in the line of "the sculptor". Nietzsche contended that the concept of force still needed to be completed, by ascribing an "inner world" to it, which he designated as "will to power".

    Now "energy" is an interesting word:

    "Used by Aristotle with a sense of 'actuality, reality, existence' (opposed to 'potential') but this was misunderstood in Late Latin and afterward as 'force of expression,' as the power which calls up realistic mental pictures. Broader meaning of 'power' in English is first recorded 1660s. Scientific use is from 1807."

    The ancient Greek energeia literally means "at-workness", and refers to a being's characteristic activity. It may have been coined by Aristotle (not going to look it up now), and was in any case more or less synonymous with entelecheia, of which I'm pretty sure he did coin it. Entelechy literally means "holding the goal within". A being's characteristic activity, as understood by Aristotle, is the goal that being holds within. In a plant, it's its flowering, its peak of maturity. The flowering plant is the goal of the seed and the sprout alike. A single-celled organism also has such a peak, but plant cells are subordinated to the flowering of the plant.

    Now as I implied before, modern science let go of the formal/final cause, keeping only the material/efficient cause. These are Aristotle's four causes, but as you can see I speak of them as if there are only two: two times two which are interchangeable or at least connected. I've described above how modern science gradually reduced the material to the efficient cause. Well, likewise, the formal and final causes can be collapsed into each other. But first, let us note that the material and the efficient cause are basically "physical" whereas the formal and the final cause are basically "mental". The material cause is for example the marble, the efficient cause is the sculptor's wielding his hammer and chisel, whereas the formal cause is the image of Zeus he has in his head and the final cause is the way that image looks when represented in marble. The finished sculpture is never perfect, or even if it's perfect it's never ideal. The ideal is what the formal cause (eidos or idea) and the final cause (telos) reduce to.

    Modern science, however, is a science without ideals. Its atoms aren't little Cupids, not subjects, but lifeless, mindless objects whose chance collisions are the sole cause of the whole cosmic process (more precisely, they are what that process is at bottom). Its forces are blind forces. There is no "inner world" to them, no "Rich Inner Life". To be sure, quantum physics--which may be considered post-modern science--has done away with the "atomistic" atom, but it still thinks in terms of quanta and mechanisms, not of qualia and organisms.

    "Plato seems[!] to have made the enormous, the grotesque mistake of separating Being from becoming and identifying it with the mathematical abstraction of the Idea. He could never, poor fellow, have seen a bunch of flowers shining with their own inner light and all but quivering under the pressure of the significance with which they were charged; could never have perceived that what rose and iris and carnation so intensely signified was nothing more, and nothing less, than what they were--a transience that was yet eternal life, a perpetual perishing that was at the same time pure Being, a bundle of minute, unique particulars in which, by some unspeakable and yet self-evident paradox, was to be seen the divine source of all existence.
    I continued to look at the flowers, and in their living light I seemed to detect the qualitative equivalent of breathing--but of a breathing without returns to a starting point, with no recurrent ebbs but only a repeated flow from beauty to heightened beauty, from deeper to ever deeper meaning. " (Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception.)

    Note that Huxley speaks of "significance" and "meaning". But significance and meaning to whom? Obviously to what Huxley, in the next paragraph, calls "the blessed Not-I, released for a moment from my throttling embrace". But is that Plato's "pure mind"?

    "The will to power takes the place which the eros--the striving for 'the good in itself'--occupies in Plato's thought. But the eros is not 'the pure mind' (der reine Geist). Whatever may be the relation between the eros and the pure mind according to Plato, in Nietzsche's thought the will to power takes the place of both eros and the pure mind. Accordingly philosophizing becomes a mode or modification of the will to power: it is the most spiritual (der geistigste) will to power; it consists in prescribing to nature what or how it ought to be (aph. 9); it is not love of the true that is independent of will or decision. Whereas according to Plato, the pure mind grasps the truth, according to Nietzsche the impure mind, or a certain kind of pure mind, is the sole source of truth." (Leo Strauss, Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy, "Note on the Plan of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil".)

    Now the subtlety, intimated in the course of Strauss' essay, is that the will to power also takes the place of the good in itself: political philosophy (which Bacon still called "moral philosophy") is not love of the good that is independent of will or decision; the will to power is not good in itself but only inasmuch as it wills or decides that it's good, or the world is not the will to power in itself but only inasmuch as it wills or decides it's will to power... This, however, occurs through the final cause of man:

    "Man reaches his peak through and in the philosopher of the future as the truly complementary man in whom not only man but the rest of existence is justified (aph. 207). [...] His action constitutes the highest form of the most spiritual will to power and therewith the highest form of the will to power." (Strauss, ibid.)

    My most elaborate account of this complementary, justificatory act can be found here (top post):

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    Post by witchdoctor on Sat Mar 03, 2018 7:36 pm

    That was a good read, Mitra-Sauwelios.

    There is a special kind of appreciation for the beauty of nature in the scientific perspective. The feeling that arises from marveling at the apparent perfection in the construction of a thing, which has been referred to at times as scientific awe. I believe that this is what Feynman talks about in his video. By using newer and more refined tools to obtain data which can perfectly explain phenomena that was previously mysterious and perplexing, one encounters scientific awe.

    However, this appreciation is the consequence on science's own concept of "significance" and "meaning", which is dependent on an interpretation of nature by means of readings, phenomena translated into scientific units of measurement, obtained by scientific equipment and sensors.

    This where science subtracts. In determining that only what can be sensed and read can have significance and that which cannot be sensed and read cannot have meaning, and can be considered insignificant. That is a very limiting definition of significance.

    This limitation goes even further when you consider that what we understand as our individual conscious self is a creation of our brain. “Right now, billions of neurons in your brain are working together to generate a conscious experience—and not just any conscious experience, your experience of the world around you and of yourself within it.” The very narrative which we give ourselves from everything we experience, the very thing which we call ourselves is "hallucinated" in a part of our brain and can be switched on and off. When the thing we call ourselves is switched off, ourselves don't cease to exist, we simply have no memory from it, no smell, no taste, nothing to sense it with. All we have is the strangeness of waking up, sometimes a piece of a dream.

    Every time we go outside we are hit with ultraviolet light, which we can't see, smell, taste, or sense in any way. Without an observable phenomena to study, it wasn't until the early 1800s it was discovered that UV exists. Before then, all we had were strange coincidences, like the preference that certain insects have for certain plants.
    Dreams, pieces of dreams are like these strange coincidences. Something that we have no explanation for, from a place where nothing can be sensed or read, and thus can be considered insignificant by science, but that we know... we know... deeply, instinctively inside us, that they do have a meaning. Just as we know from our awe, and I do not mean a scientific awe, but a "spiritual" awe for lack of a better word, that there is something in there, in a flower. There is a harmonious frequence in which all things vibrate, there is a flowing "toward deeper and deeper meaning". That is beauty to me.

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    Post by Satyr on Sun Mar 04, 2018 5:10 am

    Man is mystified by his inability to capture the essence of fluidity in his static representations.
    what's left to him is his own reactions.

    Know Thyself

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