30 August, 2012
A View from the Bridge
How Mankind Finally Began to Join his Islands of Understanding
One aspect of Man’s long struggle to understand the World that he inhabits has to be the unavoidable abstractions, simplifications, constructions and diversions without which very little could be and initially was, achievable. For that World, though full of Form and the promise of explicability, was, at the very same time, complex, changing and laced with inexplicable crises and changes of direction. And it did not always give up its secrets very easily!
So, after many tens, if not hundreds, of millennia, Man realised that most of his World was currently beyond his ability to make sense of it, and he turned to one area that seemed stable and unchanging – the Heavens. And though he didn’t at that time actually understand the contents of the night sky, he did manage to extract patterns from it and begin to be able to predict heavenly occurrences before they happened. There was Order there!
Now, this was a very small part of what he desired to know and understand, and he finally realised that when he couldn’t find such reliable areas as the Heavens had afforded him, he would have to find ways of both simplifying things in Reality and “holding it still” (keeping it the same) for long enough for its hidden forms to also be revealed and even extracted. And after a very long period in which his gains had been extremely minimal, Man found the means to begin to do this in particularly conducive areas, and the conquest of Reality finally began in earnest and even accelerate.
But, we should be clear that in contrast to the usual conception of the process, the Found Path was not a simple cumulative build-up of truths, whether evident or hidden, into an ever more extensive aggregation of solid gains, which would ultimately cover absolutely everything. Indeed, Mankind did not, and certainly could never, deal in Absolute Truth!
The only available gains were definitely only relative, and beset by simplification and error. And, most important of all, they required an essential partial tailoring of local sections of Reality into conceivable and useable Forms to make any sense at all!
But intelligent and careful observation and even a radical simplification of Reality alone were never sufficient!
Mankind had to farm situations to make them simpler and more easily discerned formally and even more importantly, actually firmly controlled. And the principles, which were generalised from these types of investigations were handle-able categories, into which all phenomena were at first organised and later force-fitted.
Of course, arbitrary self-kid was certainly NOT the intention, and it would be more accurate to say that Reality was extensively and effectively farmed (or modified and controlled) to ensure both easier extractions and fruitful and accurate predictions to desired and planned outcomes: localities of Reality were isolated, simplified and improved to make the task much easier.
In spite of many misconceptions, and inaccurate abstractions, Mankind did indeed advance his knowledge, and made the most of his extractions by always improving his conceptions to maximise their Objective Content – in spite of error, salient points of truth were included!
Now, this particular aspect of the whole process was, without doubt, an absolutely brilliant achievement: for it enabled a Part of Reality, Man himself, with clearly inadequate means at that time, to “pull himself up by his own bootlaces”. And in spite of constant errors, build in enough of this commodity to enable reliable USE of his conceptions to be possible. In effect Man learned to judge his own theories and explanations in terms of their aspects or fragments of the Truth, so that they could be effectively used.
What this meant was that though theories could be incorrect, they were neither completely arbitrary, nor were they pure invention. They involved certain glimpses of the Truth within them: they were artificial receptacles containing germs of Truth. And therefore in carefully arranged situations, they could be made to deliver intended outcomes.
Such achievements are totally breathtaking in what they enabled Man to do.
But, because of this necessary diversion – the pragmatic, rather than the profoundly explaining methodology predominated, and the true nature of Reality was often significantly misunderstood.
It was as if God was a farmer like ourselves, and made the World out of the very extractions that we were also able to achieve.
We called our extracted relations Laws, and conceived of the World as entirely DUE to the playing out of these basic “God-given” rules. Of course, we knew that most of these driving essences were not yet “in our hands”, but we believed that we knew how to achieve them given sufficient time.
A developable conception of the World was thus constructed, but it was actually upside down! Laws were seen as producing Reality, rather than Reality producing the Laws. We conceived of Reality solely in terms of these Natural Laws, which produced absolutely everything. And such a standpoint led to a series of important and mistaken basic principles such as those of Plurality and Reductionism.
NOTE: To say “mistaken” is not the most appropriate description, however, for both of these principles were extremely productive, and certainly led to many major gains. But, they were confined to either natural or artificially constructed situations, and are most accurately described as “Truths of Stability”, when it was naturally available or could be artificially arranged to exist.
And for many centuries there appeared to be no contradiction between Concrete Reality (as conceived of in the above manner) and the idea of God. For where did the many Natural Laws come from? Were they eternal, and had God settled upon them, and set the World into motion entirely governed by these Laws alone?
What Mankind had achieved, was definitely an advance on all prior conceptions in living things, but he too was also an animal, and his competence in dealing with the World, and ensuring his success as a species were essentially pragmatic gains rather than those delivering true understanding.
The perfect lion cannot be said to prosper because it understands its World, but because it has been appropriately selected to prosper within it. And in spite of a colossal step change in Conscious Thought, it didn’t, and indeed couldn’t, emerge in ready-made perfection.
It was entirely new and initially all its advantages were only to be measured relative to all Mankind’s competitors, prey and predators.
It was the “skilled workman’s” intelligence that initially developed, and more philosophical thought arrived very much later in this development. It couldn’t be the other way round!
Perhaps an example will clarify this trajectory.
Plurality was an arrived-at principle, which saw every discernible Whole as analysable into its constituent Parts, and even the properties of the Whole might be explained adequately by those of its Parts.
But, absolutely crucially these components were always seen as entirely separable – that is they could extracted from their context without in any way changing their essential nature: they could be separated without loss. In deed, this principle was so unassailable, that the process allowed a very informative reverse application – the adding of these Parts together to make the original Whole, and this meant that Analysis had also delivered Synthesis as its natural reverse process.
Clearly, if this Principle were totally true, the process of Analysis would be the most perfect Route to Understanding, for every Part could itself also be subjected to the same sort of Analysis, and ultimately it could, at last, terminate on arriving at eternal, immutable and fundamental components of everything that exists at all levels of complexity.
So Plurality begat Reductionism, and legitimised the Farming Technique of simplification and the conversion of Limited Situations to expose and extract these separable Parts. It was surely the best Route to a Full Understanding!
The weaknesses of Plurality were often contrasted with its supposed direct opposite – Holism, which denied absolutely the separability of all discernable Parts, and suggested instead that everything affected, and indeed modified, everything else, so that the Pluralist Methods of restriction and control to “expose” the crucial (and separable) Parts was a misleading myth.
In contrast, it was surely the full and active context that made a Part what it was, and such isolation, restrictions and modifications to any context would necessarily change the given Part into something else, determined by the modified context.
Now exactly how much change was involved was, of course, vital! And to prove the point completely, the pluralist analysis had always to be subsequently used ONLY within the same context from which it was extracted – what we term The Domain of Applicability!
What Mankind had developed was a strategy for holding down limited and modified locations from which reliable extractions could be made, and in which they also had to be used. The crucial thing was the constancy of the Domain: it must not be allowed to vary significantly!
Man imposed his own stability upon a holistic World in order to be able to analyse, extract and predict parts of it, and mine a measure of Objective Content there from. Of course, he was also confirmed in his beliefs in this regard, by the fact that natural stabilities were extremely frequent (if decidedly temporary), so that he felt that “the World was like that”, and hence his methods were entirely legitimate. Indeed, he had no trouble with his necessary regime of restrictions, for he considered that “unfettered Reality” involved a complex mix of these separate-able Parts, and his techniques were merely to expose selected ones, with multiple overlays to confuse the issue.
And it also must be made clear that there was a tendency for Stability to establish itself literally everywhere, while the seemingly natural consequences of its alternative – an entirely holistic World, was seen to lead only to total Chaos – with all contending factors (or Parts) getting absolutely nowhere. This was obviously useless as a conception and was dumped in favour of a pluralist World.
NOTE: Yet such naturally arrived at Stabilities did NOT mean that the contributions involved were entirely separable: it could occur due to the combined effects of modified factors arriving at a state of stability in a self supporting higher system.
Indeed, such a conception was very much more informative than some mechanist idea of stability, for in that real stability, the mutual modifications would arrive at a balance, a self-imposed state, caused by its in built mutual modifications. You can have a natural form of progress – an evolution of Reality. But as with all such directly contradictory dichotomies, neither is ever the truth!
The Clockwork Orange was as incorrect as the chaotic Universe. There were obvious processes of change taking place, and though natural stabilities were clearly self maintaining, and hence could persist for relatively long periods, they were NEVER eternal, and crucial Revolutionary Events did happen in which prior stabilities could be overthrown, and entirely new ones established at a higher level.
Scientists who studied Life could not avoid these imperatives for long, especially when allied to that unanswerable catalogue of evident and significant changes – Geology. The timescale of the lessons in the rocks proved to be in millions of years, and even billions of years, in particular parts of the currently exposed surface of the earth. And even in the citadel of Stability – Physics, problems began to arise in, on the one hand, the world of the extremely small, and on the other, in the world of the colossally large – in the stars which exploded in Supernovae with galaxy-sized emissions of light and energy.
It was becoming clear that changes (sometimes of colossal sizes) did indeed occur, and attempts were made to allow these changes as a normal part of Stability. But they were steadfastly seen as very slow-paced, and the consensus explanation was usually of tiny incremental changes within Stability that “added up” to a significant Qualitative Change. So, the generally agreed approach in Science was not threatened. Change was either slow (but according to determinative laws), or was caused by outside influences, such as collisions by asteroids or comets. The trouble is that such “tidying” did NOT match the evidence when it was carefully uncovered, studied and measured. The most blatant non-conforming evidence was that of the “supposed” Evolution of Life obtained from Geology.
Now great efforts were made to explain these changes incrementally, but in Pagel’s great statistical processing of such available data, he proved that Speciation – the appearance of totally new species, had to be caused by a Single Event: somehow all the significant changes had to happen within a single, revolutionary Event. And, this confirmed the intuitive standpoint of most evolutionary biologists. Qualitative Change was NEVER the result of incremental changes within Stability, which imperceptibly came up to, and then passed, some critical threshold that identified the point of birth of the new species. People were able to hide behind this conceptual frig, because the durations of these transitions were so short, that they were invisible in the fossil record in the rocks. Such changes could only be the result of a major crisis event, in which the stabilities were no longer sustainable, and collapsed entirely. Indeed, the actual cause for change was NEVER the Impulse of the New (as was usually supposed), but the inadequacies of the Old. Speciation is always the result of a crisis and collapse. The New didn’t grow up entirely and unobstructed within the bosom of the Old Stability at all! Indeed, it was totally prohibited from doing so by the defensive/aggressive “policemen-processes” of each and every stability.
An important confirmation of the necessary crisis conception is surely the phenomenon of Adaptive Radiation, wherein a whole diverse bunch of alternative speciations are seen to arise from a single ancestor line. For though this makes sense following a collapse, it doesn’t do so as a successful victory of a whole diverse group of parallel speciations.
They could only begin to construct freely entirely new possible routes in the unfettered Chaos left by the collapse of the Old. These crucial, yet invisible Events became known as Emergences, and all the crucial cases were Events such as the Origin of Life on Earth, and that of Consciousness in Man.
But these were only the large, evident peaks that had to be explained. At very tiny, but higher, Levels such Emergences were always happening. Indeed, the philosopher Hegel, who made major contributions in this area, correctly identified Human Thought as the arena in which Emergences were always happening.
In the brain of the Thinker there can exceptionally be almost Permanent Revolution. Perhaps the most extensive and important contribution to this general area was in the much narrower region of the Social Development of Mankind itself, where Revolutions occurred, which dismantled the Old Regimes entirely, and made possible the entirely New.
Indeed, Hegel’s best and most profoundly–thinking disciple, Karl Marx, turned his investigations into an analysis of Class Society, with its internal Class Conflicts and the inevitability of Social Revolution, though NOT, it should be added, the inevitability of such Revolutions being successful.
Yet generally, such an approach, particularly in Science was very rare indeed. And the vast majority of scientists carried on with their now well-established and successful pluralistic philosophy and methods.
EXCEPT, of course, that even there, it increasingly proved inadequate in what heretofore had been its banker areas – in the search for elementary particles.
The shaky bridges over the tumultuous seas of Turbulence and Change were proving ever more inadequate!
For, the natural consequence of a pluralist standpoint could only lead to increasing specialisation into ever smaller areas of arranged stabilities, which unavoidably became ever more isolated from each other, and, most importantly of all, for the construction of any coherent and comprehensive overall view.
All that could be termed universal was the generally applied pluralist methodology, which was possible because the whole method led away from Reality and into a study of Pure Form alone – and the region so defined – Ideality is indeed universal, but deals only in Pure Form and nothing else.
And, the transitions between these specialised areas became ever more difficult to deal with, and shrank into a set of thresholds with leaps to the new area when these were transgressed. NO trajectory from one to the other was ever delivered: their methods made that sort of “explanation” impossible, so they banned all attempts to do so as illegitimate following the Victory of the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory at Solvay in 1927.
As an Information Technology expert in Higher Educations (In Hong King, Glasgow and London), I allocated to myself the remit of assisting all post graduate investigations by involving computers and tailor-made computer programming. I was daily moving from one area of stable ground to another, and was only successful because I subordinated myself to the objectives of the served discipline and the researchers who sought my help. And, it didn’t take very long to find that I was regularly moving in an unpopulated land.
Most parachuted-in experts did NOT serve the objectives of those they were supposed to be assisting, but, on the contrary, ended up turning the “served” research upon its head, and converting it into a new branch of their own specialism. Such interventions were not only unhelpful, but also clearly both counter-productive and even damaging, and rarely led to anything significant.
But, the strategy, which I had discovered and settled upon, had very different outcomes. In a relatively short period of half a dozen years the I.T. involvement in several disciplines had allowed significant advances to be achieved by the primary researchers, working in their own disciplines and following their own chosen lines of research. And due to these successes, this particular “servant” was ensured of a rapid series of better posts, finally achieving a professorial level at a College of London University. The reasons were in the quality of the service that was given to primary researchers, and the willingness to subordinate himself to their objectives and to learn as much as he could about them.
Slowly, in addition to a richer knowledge in widely separated disciplines, there also arose an alternative overview of all these diverse and currently separated areas.
This scientist found himself in a position to make significant contributions within the served disciplines, and crucially changing his standpoint from deep within a single isolated subject stability, to one consciously positioned upon the bridges between many disciplines.
Indeed a View from the Bridge!
This was the only view that could throw a necessary light upon the defining differences of the individual disciplines, and, most crucially, the never questioned assumptions and principles that were the source of many long standing contradictions and indeed barriers to further developments.