23 May, 2016

Real Holistic Natural Relations

Photograph by Michael Coldwell

That ubiquitous Dichotomous Pair – Plurality and Holism - does indeed simplify Reality. But in very different ways they modify the Real Natural Relations, which do occur, while, simultaneously, delivering as a completely contradictory pair of views that each convey important, but limited, aspects of that Reality.

Let, us attempt to plumb the depths of this dichotomy, not by merely trying to decide, which option has primacy, but, instead, and more profoundly, by attempting to consider the common premises to both of these contradictory positions.

It isn’t easy, for you would expect that such common premises are not likely to exist, but Hegel’s brilliant researches showed that such do indeed exist, AND their study, criticism and replacement, is, in fact, the ONLY way that such impasses can ever be transcended. For, all other “get-arounds”, though indeed useful, amount only to pragmatic and always “local” frigs.

Let us start, by getting things as simple as we can!

2001 A Space Odyssey

Clearly, Reality is not monolithic: it certainly doesn’t conform to a single, all-embracing principle.

Indeed, the very fact of its evident Evolution, over vast stretches of Time, proves that it must involve opposing factors, that, in the end, are the causes of such developments.

Reality contains multiple entities, with various properties, which associate together to produce other more complex entities, and all of these, at all levels come into contact with, and consequently affect, one another.

It isn’t a static set up at all! Remember, we are dealing with a Reality that goes all the way from the simplest material particles, via a veritable galaxy of both Non- Living and Living Things , and their Evolution, all the way to Mankind, and even Human Thought.

The old classical Laplacian Reductionism will never encompass such a complex, rich and forever developing Reality. The way things are, and how they interact, are certainly not by simple aggregation and the mere Summing of fixed Natural Laws.

The basic question, as Hegel showed, is posed in our discovered Dichotomous Pairs. Do the aspects of Reality merely Sum as the Principle of Plurality avers, or do they always affect one another, as is suggested by the alternative stance of Holism?

Now, the battle between these two stances seemed to have been settled long ago.

For, there is little doubt that Plurality has for some time been the preferred option, and for sound reasons too – yet, those are not the ones usually put forward. Plurality insists that if we can expose and extract a relation from Reality, we have actually uncovered an eternal Natural Law.

It may be acting almost alone in our necessarily farmed Domain of investigation, but it is deemed to be “unchanged” there, from when it is acting in the highly complex situations of totally unfettered Reality. So, those means of revealing such relations are therefore supposed to be entirely valid, and delivering a generally applicable eternal Natural Law. But, that is certainly untrue!

Now, if this is the case, why do I also say that Plurality and all its assumptions are important?

The usual arguments are to do with the possibilities of Prediction and Production, and the fact that the whole of Technology is built upon assuming Plurality. 

2001 A Space Odyssey

But, though that is most certainly true, there is another reason why Plurality is important. It is the fact that unfettered Reality, in certain complex situations will naturally move into situations of Stability, and when it does, Plurality closely approximates to what is discovered there.

Stability is a natural feature of Reality, but paradoxically for purely holistic reasons.

Quite apart from the usually specially arranged simplified (farmed) situations in all scientific investigations, which are our standard basis for both Analysis and Reductionism, there is also a regularly occurring natural mutual arrangement of multiple simultaneous factors which produces a self-maintaining situation, which, for sometimes quite extended periods, keeps things pretty well THE SAME.

But, it isn’t due to an eternal Natural Law at all! It is due to an achieved balance between many simultaneous factors, which, for a time, at least, gives the appearance of a permanently static situation.

Indeed, such situations are very common. But, they are never the same as the usually assumed results of some single eternal Law. It is very different to that idealisation, because it isn’t permanent!

At some point the contributing factors will always get progressively out-of-kilter, and all Stability will eventually dissociate!

Now, because this complex form of Stability occurs time and again, we misinterpret it in terms of our artificially conceived pluralist simplicity, and thus we are totally unable to cope with the dissociation when it occurs! WE simplify this active and complex Stability, with our idealised and invented version as delivered by our beloved Principle of Plurality. Indeed, we treat them as exactly the same, and even extract “eternal Natural Laws” out of them, which is, of course, completely incorrect.

Now, it is this mistaken idea of the true nature of Stability, which causes us to choose Plurality as our “correct stance!”

And coupling this with the natural consequences of Plurality – namely very conceptually useful Analysis and Reductionism, and the assumption was concreted-in as the most important stance to take in studying Reality.

And, for a long while, it did indeed suffice!

Though Holism is undoubtedly more true, just as it stands, it certainly cannot deliver any sort of pragmatic methodology, anything like approaching what Plurality has been developed to allow.

Plurality as a philosophical stance may be profoundly mistaken, but its clever amalgam with pragmatism has found a stance, which can in many carefully arranged and maintained circumstances deliver an enormous amount of valuable productions.

It does not, of course, address Reality directly, but indirectly via a skilled farming of circumstances and imaginative simplification and idealisation (via mathematical forms), it has been a major advance on what it replaced in Mankind’s efforts to understand Reality. 

Farmland from Space NASA

We have to remember that for almost 200,000 years Mankind, as a hunter/gather for most of that time, and a farmer for only the last few thousand years. And, in that vast amount of time, had, via his superior intelligence and Pragmatism, managed not only to survive, and even spread successfully to literally all parts of the Earth, but also latterly to actually prosper.

The method was not to directly address Reality as it actually is, but to “fence-off” an amenable area, and then filter out was wasn’t helpful, and increase what was understandable (as in farming the land), to achieve a situation, which was sufficiently maintained in the best possible way to begin to correctly find out what factors were there.

These methods did not reveal the accurate determinators of Reality, but they did deliver simplified and idealised versions that could be successfully used, as long as the same conditions were maintained in use, as had been available when the “laws” had be “discovered”.

It was the epitome of a pragmatic solution to a seemingly intransigent problem. And, of course, at the time, none of this was available via Holism: it may have been excellent in explanation, but it was inadequate in practical use! So, in spite of the ease with which Plurality can be philosophically demolished, it is, nevertheless, the best stance, so far, for intervening in Reality to achieve chosen ends.

In other words, that dominance rests upon a much more primitive and very old stance – that of Pragmatism – “If it works, it is right!” Indeed, the whole of Science has been constructed upon that Principle, along with the perennial, Pragmatism, and even attempts at explaining what is going on in natural phenomena have to some extent been facilitated by what that approach allows.

BUT, it has to be made absolutely clear, that Plurality is the stance, of the exclusive study of phenomena occurring only within Stability. It is Stability-within-Reality that gives it believability. And, hence, its main and significant failure occurs in situations where Stability fails, and a wholesale collapse takes over, swooping down to a nadir of dissociation, and, if things go right, a following, soaring ascent to a new and different Stability takes over.

Clearly, between the fairly easily modelled periods of Stability, there are the qualitatively different game-changing Emergences, in which all real development occurs. And, without an understanding of which, Reality is simply, and exclusively, separated into Stable chunks, without any means of explaining the trajectory of getting from one to another.

In a nutshell, we have NO idea of how a Stability is either created or destroyed, nor can we explain the transitions between those events. If we, at this slow stage of our own development attempt to start at some beginning, we will most certainly, get it wrong. For, we have hardly begun to tackle such developments effectively.

So we must (and indeed did) start with currently investigatable situations, and work outwards from there. Clearly, the pluralists have a useable methodology when it comes to Stability, but cannot explain its creation, nor its inevitable final dissolution So, it must be these that are the most relevant areas for immediate study!

But, of course, such is much easier said than done, because the actual tempo of developmental changes can be hopelessly out of synch with human tempos, and even lifespans. Important changes can happen so slowly that things appear to be totally static. But, as luck would have it, we can, indeed, find areas of Reality, where the sought-for dramatic changes mesh sufficiently with such human tempos, to be fully experienced in detail, and hence available for serious study. And, this remarkably available example of observable development occurs in Human Society – in its Revolutions!

Societies which have been stable for centuries, and give the appearance of a natural and permanent Stability, can, suddenly, undergo significant crises, which, in certain circumstances, develop into wholesale dissolution, and a following recreation upon a very different basis. 

So, it was in this area that the lessons of Hegelian Dialectics and Dichotomous Pairs could be, and indeed were, employed by philosophers like Karl Marx to begin to understand development in its key Emergent Interludes.

Yet an understanding of both Dissolution and consequent Creation, must be preceded by a thorough understanding of Stability itself.

How can diverse processes relate to one another – not only involving connecting Causes and even Resonances, but also consequent sequences and even self-maintaining cycles of change? Stability has to be where initially independent processes become relevant and even dependant upon one another. Maybe one process took in a resource, and from it delivered a product, which was the necessary resource for another process. So, these will prosper in tandem, so that ultimately chains of such linked processes are possible, as are even loops or cycles of process sequences.

So, without any other imperative, such systems of processes could arise, and, in special circumstances, become self-maintaining – if not permanently, then, at least, in on/off cycles.

Clearly, in situations of increasing complexity, such systems could both arise and persist. Yet, it is much harder to see how they could do so for long.

It may be important here, to take an example from the Evolution of Life, to illustrate what I am trying to reveal. Photosynthesis in plants is just such a self-maintaining system, and it has persisted literally indefinitely, because its Key Initial Resource is Sunlight, which goes on for billions of years.

Such a system effectively becomes permanent, unless an all-embracing cataclysm destroys everything, including the Sun!

Issue 44 now available

This paper is the second in a series of articles to be published here weekly, on the theme of Marxist Philosophical Practice. This work isn’t about Capitalism or Socialism, and certainly says nothing about Economics. This is about Marxism as a philosophical approach, applicable to any field of study, any aspect of reality. The series takes four very different issues in Philosophy and investigates them via this Marxist stance, which is termed Dialectical Materialism.

These papers are also collected as a new issue of the Shape Journal (44) available here

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