Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Contingency of Nature’s Laws

Jeremy Dunham on Humean Lawlessness:
For Meillassoux, time has the ability to bring forth events which have absolutely no connection to the preceding situation. Freed from the principle of sufficient reason, we can be sure that metaphysical questions such as 'why these laws?' and 'where did we come from?' can be answered: 'From nothing. For nothing'. By denying causal power in nature, Meillassoux denies that the future need have any relation to the past and in doing so privileges logic above nature. However, Meillassoux’s explanation of our laws becomes rather like recourse to a Deus ex Machina, albeit a godless one. This becomes clearer in his argument concerning the emergence of conscious perception. One of the most common vitalist arguments against the Humean idea that the universe is nothing more than a contingent multiplicity of unconnected events, is that life could not possibly come from not-life: how could consciousness come from purely lifeless matter? Meillassoux agrees that one cannot 'short of sheer fantasy' find the seeds of the birth of consciousness in matter. Conscious perception, like the laws of nature, must have come ex nihilo—from nothing.


Steve said...

Good find. I liked this quote he pulled from Whitehead:

"Why talk about 'the laws of nature' when what we really mean is the characteristic behaviour of phenomena within certain limits at a given stage of development in a given epoch so far as these can be ascertained?"

Allen said...

Indeed! Interesting to see his acknowledgement of Iain Hamilton Grant and Graham Harmon...who, with Meillassoux and Ray Brassier, make up the original "Speculative Realism" quartet.

I check Graham Harmon's blog regularly to see if he's said anything new about Meillassoux - he has a book on Meillassoux coming out next year I think. But, I don't find his "Object Oriented Philosophy" very compelling.

I bought Brassier's "Nihil Unbound", which had a fairly comprehensible chapter on Meillassoux...but was otherwise impenetrable. Even his "analytical" chapter on Sellars, Churchland, Dennett, and Metzinger was so strangely worded as to require sentence diagrams to decipher. He may have some interesting ideas, but if so I couldn't extract them from his obscurantist prose.

I haven't read anything at all by Iain Grant though.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Hi, Allen. I left a brief reply to you in that thread at Crude's blog.

Allen said...


I posted my not-so-brief response, it's just awaiting Crude's approval.

Allen said...

Okay, it's still not up over there, so I'll just post the response here.

In two parts, to get around the 4096 byte length restriction:

But this presupposes that there is an omni-world validity in the clash between reality being grounded on reasons and reality being grounded on sheer randomness.

Hmmmm. Omni-world validity.

Okay, let's say that all possible worlds exist. And we have World A whose existence and nature is explained by an infinite hierarchy of reasons - and World B, which just exists, for no reason, with no explanation.

Either there is a reason that every possible world exists, in which case the existence of world B is not a purely random event - OR - there is no reason that every possible world exists...in which case the existence of World A *is* a purely random event (despite its infinite hierarchies of causation and explanation).

So I would define reality as "what exists". If all possible worlds exist, then the set of all possible worlds is "reality" - singular.

If some of what exists has a "local" explanation - but that explanation doesn't encompass *all* of what exists...then reality as a whole is still unexplained.

To quote Michael Heller:

"The longing to attain the ultimate explanation lingers in the implications of every scientific theory, even in a fragmentary theory of one part or aspect of the world. For why should only that part, that aspect of the world be comprehensible? It is only a part or an aspect of an entirety, after all, and if that entirety should be unexplainable, then why should only a tiny fragment thereof lend itself to explanation? But consider the reverse: if a tiny part were to elude explanation, it would leave a gap, rip a chasm, in the understanding of the entirety."

SO...it seems to me that there is a clash between reality being grounded on reasons and reality being grounded on sheer randomness.

Either there is a real dilemma between infinite hierarchies and causation, or there is not.

My main point is that once you start asserting reasons for why things are the way they are, you can never stop. Once you start explaining things, you're committed to an infinity of infinitely long explanatory/causal chains.

If you do stop at some sort of first cause or fundamental ontological layer, you might as well have never started. You are effectively admitting (by having declared something "first" or "fundamental" and thus unexplainable in terms of anything else) that ultimately there is no reason for why things are this way instead of some other way.

If there is, then at least one or two "classical" principles of logic abide, namely, identity and non-contradiction.

But what about paraconsistent logic (and the related view of dialetheism), for which the principle of non-contradiction doesn't hold? "A and not A" can be true in paraconsistent systems of logic.

Quoting Graham Priest:

"Though the construction of inconsistent mathematical theories (based on adjunctive paraconsistent logics) is relatively new, there are already a number of inconsistent number theories, linear algebras, category theories; and it is clear that there is much more scope in this area. The theories have not been developed with an eye to their applicability in science—just as classical group theory was not. But once the paraconsistent revolution has been digested, it is by no means implausible to suggest that these theories, or ones like them, may find physical application—just as classical group theory did."

An interesting overview of inconsistent mathematics here.

Allen said...

Part 2:

If, however, you are right that there is no way to defend any abiding logic, why not just say your dilemma is an illusion based on an inferior grasp of a fittingly higher logic?

Well, this comes back to my original questions...what is logic and what is reason?

As I said before:

"If you start with the same assumptions as I do, and make the same inferences, then you will arrive at the same conclusions. That's logic."

Another way to put this is: "If you start with the same beliefs as I do, and your beliefs change in the same way mine do, then you will arrive at the same final beliefs that I do."

From my own experiences, I know that in dreams and hallucinations one can believe very strange things indeed. Given that it is definitively possible to experience such things, could there be actual "worlds" that operate according to dream-logic? If not, why not?

Is there any limit to what can be believed? Are there restrictions on how beliefs can change or what new beliefs can be developed from an initial set of beliefs? If so, what is the nature of these limits and restrictions?

If our beliefs, assumptions, and inferences are *caused* by the underlying nature of reality, then the question becomes "why is reality that way instead of some other way"?

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

It was odd to get a reply from you via email under the name (?) Kelly Morgan heheh.

Thank you for your reply.

My abiding confusion is this: How is an unconditioned ground for all things itself in need of a grounding cause? To ask for the reason for the reason for reality is not to take seriously what "an unconditioned ground" means.

Saying we can't know the reason why reality exists as it exists is like worrying why we can't know why there is a dilemma between reality having a coherent ground vs. not having one. That's just how reality is. It couldn't be otherwise and still be true. The same goes for the law of identity. A thing can't exist without exist, can't be what it is without being what it is. There's no "reason" for that, and hence no reason to seek a reason for it.

My other concern is why your position always resolves into a black and white di-lemma. Suppose I simply do fathom that an unconditioned reason for all things includes its own rationalitym by virtue of its necessity, and simply dismiss your dilemma as a mere case of the "the bewitchment of language"? There is nothing accidental about a necessary being.

Further, is there a reason for the dilemma between nomologicalism and accidentalism? None other than the fact that there just is such a dilemma, by definition. Hence, I am confused why you seem to dissolve everything else in the acid of this dilemma, without subjecting the dilemma itself to that acid.

I admit that I am replying rather hastily, so I think I want more time to re-read your response here and ponder. Something about your argumentation just seems like a retread of the old Parminidean-Heraclitean feud, so I wonder if there is not an old solution to an old confusion in new clothes. There is nothing necessary about my birth, in a notional sense, and yet there is nothing accidental about it, in a metaphysical sense. History is the quintessential human category and seems to transcend this dilemma. I am tracking the great work of Fr Keefe in his Covenantal Theology. Search my blog for past discussions of "Keefe" and "Keefian".

Heller is quite good. I don't know the other author. Very nice interacting with you.


Allen said...

Indeed! There is a method to my madness. More or less.

To ask for the reason for the reason for reality is not to take seriously what "an unconditioned ground" means.

Unconditioned ground in the Kantian sense of the noumenal "what fundamentally exists", whose nature is in no way reflected by the phenomenon of our perceptions and concepts?

My understanding of Kant's view is that the laws of nature, like the truths of mathematics, are knowable precisely because they make no effort to describe the world as it really is but rather prescribe the structure of the world as we experience it. All of our synthetic a priori judgments apply only to the phenomenal realm, not the noumenal. Since "the thing in itself" is entirely independent of our experience of it, we are utterly ignorant of the noumenal realm.

But, why should I assume that any noumenal realm exists outside of my perception? I don't see a need to introduce this extra metaphysical layer. Why do you?

This is my ultimate point. The most reasonable conclusion is that only conscious experience exists. It isn't experience "of" anything external to us, and it isn't "caused by" any underlying process. Conscious experience just exists.

Once you accept that the conscious experience of a rock exists, what purpose does the actual rock serve? It's superfluous. If the rock can "just exist", then the experience of the rock can "just exist" too - entirely independent of the rock.

Once you accept the existence of conscious experiences, what purpose does the brain serve? It's superfluous. If the brain can "just exist", then the experiences supposedly caused by the brain can "just exist" also.

If not, why not?

Suppose I simply do fathom that an unconditioned reason for all things includes its own rationalitym by virtue of its necessity

How can an unconditioned reason be fathomed? Further, it's necessity can't be just assumed, that has to be demonstrated.

There is nothing accidental about a necessary being.

Show me a necessary being and then I'll believe that you might be on to something.

Very nice interacting with you.