16 May, 2013

The Inevitable Idealist Beginnings of Science

At the base of Man’s first thinking-awareness of his surroundings had to be himself!

For this remarkable and intelligent animal had been successfully surviving and even prospering in its world for millions of years. And he knew exactly what he had had to do to achieve that.

So, he began to consciously observe his surroundings, and see them as the deliberate results of a like-thinking, but all-powerful, super being that had produced that World. He was idealising this super being in his own image, and his relations with it as with other human individuals, but more so. Such idealism was the natural mode of early man.

And the resonances between Human relations, and those with a similar but supernatural Being, did not distract Mankind from Reality, but gave social groups sharing common beliefs an increased confidence to deal with it. Religion was a remarkable (and indeed necessary) asset for Early Man. Clans with strong religious beliefs did much better than those without such a coherent and “explanatory” account of the World.


The first extractions from Reality could not be explanatory (as we think of it today), for the reasons for phenomena were not-at-all evident to mere observation. But what was regularly glimpsed, even by casual observation, though not in any way explaining the phenomena, did hint that they conformed to some sort of “determining rules”.

Now, in a world where literally all explanations were inaccessible, the causes of things were regularly put down to the whims of unseen, all-powerful Gods: they were directed to be as they were by some Divine Hand (like Man only writ super large).

So, these glimpses of shape or order, though often transient, did conform to these a priori assumptions of Godlike Power. And when, by perfection (or idealisation), those occasions wherein these Forms were glimpsed, Man found he could sometimes expose them more or less permanently. The very process of idealisation, into a perfect version, which revealed the essential formal rules, would also reveal The Intentions of the Gods.

So clearly today, you cannot criticize any of this, because in the World at that time, and by this remarkable animal at that stage in his development, even that conception was indeed a miraculous achievement.

In contrast to a modern 21st century and scientific view, it was the only way for Man to make any sort of sense out of a difficult World. And, consonant with that approach, the forms increasingly being revealed by what we now call Mathematics were endowed with determining their World, for they were the embodiment of the Directions from the Gods! The purposes of the Gods were to be found everywhere in concrete Reality via their evident Forms.

From all points of view it was an important break through, for it treated distorted and blurred aspects of Reality, now seen as having underlying solid reasons that made them behave as they did.

In spite of being idealist, it was, in a sense, the beginning of a causal standpoint too: it was just homocentrically-endowed to an all-powerful God, rather than being intrinsic to Reality as a self-moving, complex system.

Now, this interpretation of revealed Form as the intentions of the Gods, could not but transform the collection of those Forms as the means by which those intentions were inflicted upon an intrinsically inert matter by those infinitely powerful deities. The Forms became religious, and the Pythagoreans attempted to explain everything in terms of the perfect or ideal conceptions of the Gods.

But, whatever was considered as the primary causations of such things, the actual process of revelation, and the ever deeper study of the idealised forms was considered an end in itself by many investigators, who found increasing rewards in revealing links between these forms. And these links delivered a special sort of truth – that of the eternal relations between such idealised forms, which were irrespective of where in the world they had been extracted from. The forms and their inter-relationships gradually became a new discipline – Mathematics.

Now, the use of its laws led to such an integration for those forms involved in spatial arrangements, which in turn produced what we call Geometry. And the resultant set of the Theorems and Proofs of that section of Mathematics has for millennia termed Euclidian Geometry after the Greek, Euclid had write the whole set down in his book The Elements.

Having managed to find and relate a whole set of formal relations and their laws of manipulation and transformation, which were so evidently sound, it was certain that a related approach would be applied to the statements of fact and relation that people made about all sorts of things.

Could a system, as tight as that in Mathematics, be devised about the Truth and arguments? Indeed, it could be done, and Formal Logic was born.

And, for all situations, where the elements involved did not change, a similar set of rules were established, which straight forwardly revealed contradictions, and hence False Reasoning, as well as deriving sound developments from Banker Truths.

Formal Logic was, and still is, another brilliant discovery-plus-formulation by the Ancient Greeks.

Yet, once again, the restriction to unchanging elements or tenets could be the only bases for such a system, and consequently, it could not be used when things and statements changed into something different. When nothing was fixed, for then Truth quite naturally could change into Falsity, and falsity become Truth. It is a Logic of eternals only!

This brief muse on Mankind’s natural bias towards Idealism shows that it is pointless to criticize those in the past for not having reached the gains of our present time. To understand possible futures for Mankind, we must correctly interpret the trajectory of ideas of the past. It is not judging (or condemning) that is required, but an understanding of the processes of significant change in the developments, and they are never incremental nor linear. Indeed, the real and crucial changes actually reverse direction from one plausible assumption, to its equally plausible opposite. But, with each such significant reversal, the conceived of content is always transformed and taken forwards.

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