Skip to comments.The “Cartesian Split” Is a Hallucination; Ergo, We Should Get Rid of It
Posted on 06/12/2005 7:27:56 PM PDT by betty boop
The Cartesian Split Is a Hallucination; Ergo, We Should Get Rid of It
by Jean F. Drew
The Ancient Heritage of Western Science
The history of science goes back at least two and a half millennia, to the pre-Socratics of ancient Greece. Democritus and Leucippus were the fathers of atomic theory at least they were the first thinkers ever to formulate one. Heraclitus was the first thinker to consider what in the modern age developed as the laws of thermodynamics. Likewise Platos Chora, in the myth of the Demiurge (see Timaeus), may have been the very first anticipation of what later would be referred to as the quantum world. Platos great student Aristotle was the first thinker to put science, or natural philosophy as it was then called and ever after was called, until the 17th century, when philosophical positivism became influential on an empirical, experimental basis.
Thus science was born in the ancient world of the classical Greeks. What motivated the great thinkers of this yet-unsurpassed era of human intellectual achievement was the irrepressible, inexhaustible eros, or desire, to understand the Universe, and thereby to understand mans place in it. In this process the Greeks confronted a two-fold problem which Plato spent a lifetime elaborating. On the one hand, the original pull that drew these thinkers into their quest for knowledge of the Universe or Cosmos as the Greeks termed it was ontological. On the other hand, in order for the quest to become intelligible to the thinking subject and thus communicable to others, the engagement of epistemological issues was totally unavoidable.
By ontology we mean the science of being: that is, the science of what is or what exists, how it came to be, and by what rules or laws it is organized. By epistemology we mean the science of knowledge: that is, what can the human mind know, how does it know it and by what means can such knowledge be verified.
To the Greek mind, the Cosmos was a single, unified, living Whole that is ever so much more than the mere sum of its parts. Rather, all of its parts were thought to be ordered and ultimately harmonically, dynamically unified into a single universal body according to a single universal blueprint. Likewise the sum total of true knowledge, or episteme was thought to be an undivided whole.
Fast-Forward to the Sixteenth Century
According to Robert Nadeau and Menas Kafatos, The most fundamental aspect of the Western intellectual tradition is the assumption that there is a fundamental division between the material and the immaterial world or between the realm of matter and the realm of pure mind or spirit. The metaphysical framework based on this assumption is known as ontological dualism. As the word dual implies, the framework is predicated on an ontology, or a conception of the nature of God or being, that assumes reality has two distinct and separable dimensions. The concept of Being as continuous, immutable, and having a prior or separate existence from the world of change dates from the ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides. The same qualities were associated with the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and they were considerably amplified by the role played in theology by Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophy .
Nicholas Copernicus, Galileo, Johannes Kepler, and Isaac Newton were all inheritors of a cultural tradition in which ontological dualism was a primary article of faith. Hence the idealization of the mathematical ideal as a source of communication with God, which dates from Pythagoras, provided a metaphysical foundation for the emerging natural sciences . [T]he creators of classical physics believed that doing physics was a form of communion with the geometrical and mathematical forms resident in the perfect mind of God.1
In the 16th century the great French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher Rene Descartes still recognized an ontological dualism that distinguished between body and mind, matter and spirit. And as Wolfgang Smith points out, Descartes, like Galileo and Newton, is sometimes willing to resolve philosophical difficulties by recourse to Deity.2
Descartes was a passionate champion of the idea of universal mechanics. He strove to lay down the theoretical foundations for a rigorous mechanical science, based upon mathematical principles which would be able to explain the workings of Nature, from the movements of planets to the fine motions associated with animal bodies.3
Descartes world is a mechanical world, made up entirely of res extensa (the later Newtonian matter), moving in space according to mechanical laws. All the rest is to be relegated to res cogitans or thinking substance, which exists in its own right as a kind of spiritual entity.4
On this point Wolfgang Smith observes, It is noteworthy that Descartes came to this res cogitans at the outset of his meditations through the famous cogito ergo sum. It appeared to him as the one and only immediate certainty, whereas the existence of a mechanical universe, external to the res cogitans, was to be arrived at later through a logical argument, in which the idea of God and His veracity plays the leading role.5
As Wolfhart Pannenberg writes, Descartes maintained that the idea of God is the prior condition in the human mind for the possibility of every other idea, even that of the ego itself.6
Thus Smith exclaims, It is indeed a remarkable irony that the basic premise of modern materialism should initially have been founded upon theology!7
Descartes model of the universe as essentially mechanistic constituted only by matter in its motions moving according to the physical laws was taken up by Newton and, in due course, became the preeminent idea in all of modern science up to recent times.
By the eighteenth century, the idea of any metaphysical basis for natural philosophy had increasingly fallen into disrepute. The term itself disappeared from use, replaced by the word science. Mechanics was increasingly regarded as an autonomous science, leaving no role for God. The great French mathematician Pierre-Sinon Laplace was enormously influential in this transition. As Nadeau and Kafatos observe:
Laplace is recognized for eliminating not only the theological component of classical physics but the entire metaphysical component as well. The epistemology of science requires, he said, that we proceed by inductive generalizations from observed facts to hypotheses that are tested by observed conformity of the phenomena. What was unique about Laplaces view of hypotheses was his insistence that we cannot attribute reality to them. Although concepts like force, mass, motion, cause, and laws are obviously present in classical physics, they exist in Laplaces view only as quantities. Physics is concerned, he argued, with quantities that we associate as a matter of convenience with concepts, and the truth about nature are only the quantities.8
Thus the science of Nature is reduced to a quantitative mathematical description. This positivist vision of physical reality denies Nature any meaning other than the mathematical formalism of physical theory employed in its description.
The False Cartesian Split
Here we see the emergence of the full-blown body-mind, matter-spirit Cartesian split, as we have called it. The great success of the mathematically-describable matter side of the epistemological divide evidenced by a long series of brilliant scientific achievements utterly displaced the spirit side and eventually relegated it to virtual oblivion. Science was understood to be about the elucidation of quantities; questions of meaning were no longer relevant.
Thus the current orthodoxy of science reduces to four basis premises: (1) The physical world is made up of inert and changeless matter, and this matter changes only in terms of location in space; (2) the behavior of matter mirrors physical theory and is inherently mathematical; (3) matter as the unchanging unit of physical reality can be exhaustively understood by mechanics, or by the applied mathematics of motion; and (4) the mind of the observer is separate from the observed system of matter, and the ontological bridge between the two is physical law and theory.9
On this formalism, even the mind of the observer is reducible to the operations of physical-chemical laws: The modern-day scientific materialist insists that mind is only the epiphenomenon of the physical-chemical activity of the brain. This conclusion is seemingly inevitable, given the utter collapse of the mind or spirit side of the Cartesian divide, which historically has always connected man to a metaphysical, immaterial reality beyond the physical world. And yet notwithstanding (4) above, this scientific formalism evinces a paradox, a seeming self-contradiction: The formalism requires the observer to be not outside the material system he observes; for the observer himself is completely reducible to its rules. He is just another cog in the universal, physical machine. So how can the observer be separate from the observed system of matter?
I am not aware that this question has been much engaged in recent times. Suffice it to say that this formalism gives short shrift indeed to the problems of mind, consciousness, intelligence, free will, and even human existence per se. And these are the necessary qualities of the observer, in order for there to be an observer.
The grip this formalism has on the biological sciences seems particularly unfortunate. For example, consider a case from embryology:
Geneticists appreciate that cell differentiation utterly depends on cells knowing how to differentiate early on and then somehow remembering that they are different and passing on this vital piece of information to subsequent generations of cells. At the moment, scientists shrug their shoulders as to how this may be accomplished, particularly at such a rapid pace . As for the orchestration of cell processes, biochemists never actually ask the question.10
Notwithstanding, as the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins freely admits, Exactly how [cell division] eventually leads to the development of a baby is a story which will take decades, perhaps centuries, for embryologists to work out. But it is a fact that it does.11
It seems obvious that cells knowing and remembering are not processes that can be conveniently reduced to the comparatively simple operations of physics and chemistry. Nevertheless, this is precisely what Dawkins seems determined to do which is why the needful explanations will take decades, perhaps centuries to work out. The possibility that the explanation cannot be given in terms of the force-field driven reactions of physics and chemistry alone is one that Dawkins seemingly refuses to entertain. But if this observation is valid, then maybe it wouldnt just be decades or centuries, but maybe never, before an elucidation can be given on this basis. It seems a scientific materialist like Dawkins seemingly, simply refuses to entertain this possibility.
Reconciling Biology to the Insights of Quantum Theory
One gets the very strong impression that, today, scientific materialists working in the field of biology, and the Neodarwinists in particular, are extraordinarily resistant to the idea that quantum theory has anything at all to do with their discipline.
And yet everything that we observe in our 4-dimensional (S1 + S2 + S3 + T1) reality rests upon, depends on, what is going on in the microworld of quantum activity.
Quantum theory and also relativity theory for that matter places the observer squarely into the game of reality, in such a way that one is tempted to say that it is the observer himself who constructs the reality he observes.
Moreover, the microworld of quantum theory speaks the language of universal fields, of quantum indeterminacy, of non-local action, of superposition (quantum entanglement), of superluminal velocities, of the primacy of the observer that is, of all sorts of bizarre phenomena which are not at all observable in the macroworld of four-dimensional reality.
Analogically speaking, its as if many present-day biologists wish to look only at that part of the iceberg that surfaces above the waterline, considering that the submerged yet immense depths supporting the icebergs visible tip are irrelevant to their concerns. And then they think they can arrive at an explanation of life and evolution by remaining blind to the deep structure of reality on which everything in the Universe is ultimately based.
Notwithstanding this seeming tendency, consider the following:
-- In the 1920s, the Russian scientist Alexander Gurwitsch postulated that a field, rather than chemicals alone, was probably responsible for the structural formation of the body.12
-- Italian physicist Renato Nobili amassed experimental proof that [field-borne] electromagnetic frequencies occur in animal tissues.13
-- Russian Nobel Prize winner Albert Szent-Gyorgyi postulated that protein cells act as semiconductors, preserving and passing along the energy of electrons as information.14
-- F.-A. Popp postulated a field of electromagnetic radiation as the mechanism that somehow guides the growth of the cellular body.15
And then there is British biologist Rupert Sheldrake, who argues that biochemical processes associated with gene activation and proteins no more explain the development of form than delivering building materials to a building site explains the construction of the house built there.16
Lynne McTaggert writes,
Sheldrake argues Current genetic theory doesnt explain how a developing [living] system can self-regulate, or grow normally in the course of development if a part of the system is added or removed, and doesnt explain how an organism regenerates replacing missing or damaged structures . Sheldrake worked out his hypothesis of formative causation, which states that the forms of self-organizing living things everything from molecules and organisms to societies and even entire galaxies are shaped by morphic fields. These fields have a morphic resonance a cumulative memory of similar systems through cultures and time. So that species of animals and plants remember not only how to look but also how to act. Rupert Sheldrake uses the term morphic fields to describe the self-organizing properties of biological systems, from molecules to bodies to societies. Morphic resonance is, in his view, the influence of like upon like through space and time. He believes these fields (and he thinks there are many of them) are different from electromagnetic fields because they reverberate across generations with an inherent memory of the correct shape and form. The more we learn, the easier it is for others to follow in our footsteps.17
One fact which led to the development of this theory is the remarkable ability organisms have to repair damage. If you cut an oak tree into little pieces, each little piece, properly treated, can grow into a new tree. So from a tiny fragment, you can get a whole. Machines do not do that; they do not have this power of remaining whole if you remove parts of them. Chop a computer up into small pieces and all you get is a broken computer. It does not regenerate into lots of little computers. But if you chop a flatworm into small pieces, each piece can grow into a new flatworm. Another analogy is a magnet. If you chop a magnet into small pieces, you do have lots of small magnets, each with a complete magnetic field. This is a wholistic property that fields have that mechanical systems do not have unless they are associated with fields. Still another example is the hologram, any part of which contains the whole. A hologram is based on interference patterns within the electromagnetic field. Fields thus have a wholistic property which was very attractive to the biologists who developed this concept of morphogenetic fields.18
Hello, can we say field-mediated collective consciousness, anyone? At least as a scientific hypothesis worth pursuing?
The point is, given its presuppositions, Darwinist evolutionary theory has absolutely no use for such a hypothesis: The doctrine calls for random mutation plus natural selection premised on the purely physico-chemical behavior of matter which supposedly explains everything about the evolution of the biota. Forget about fields, forget about information: Its a billiard ball, mechanistic, purely material universe governed by chance unfolding under the exclusive influence of the physical laws. And thats that. End of story.
Which is deliberately to turn ones back to what Niels Bohr recognized as the very nature of quantum theory, which
forces us to regard the space-time coordination and the claim of causality, the union of which characterizes the classical theories, as complementary but exclusive features of the description, symbolizing the idealizations of observation and definition respectively. Just as relativity theory has taught us that the convenience of distinguishing sharply between space and time rests solely on the smallness of the velocities ordinarily met with compared to the speed of light, we learn from the quantum theory that the appropriateness of our visual space-time descriptions depends entirely on the small value of the quantum of action compared to the actions involved in ordinary sense perception. Indeed, in the description of atomic phenomena, the quantum postulate presents us with the task of developing a complementary theory the consistency of which can be judged only by weighing the possibilities of definition and observation.19
Classical physics which arguably deals only with the tip of the iceberg of reality is a workable approximation of the doings of Nature that seems precise only because the largeness of the speed of light and the smallness of the quantum of action give rise to negligible effects. In other words, classical physics and chemistry work just fine at the level of the macroworld.
But the effects produced in the microworld (i.e., the quantum world) and the world described by relativity theory are there nonetheless. Its just that the quantum of action is so small as compared with macroscopic values that obtaining reliable results respecting the behavior of macro-objects is not affected by it. And the speed of light is so great that we need not take it into consideration in most of the macroworld problems that we wish to solve.
Bohr, father of the Copenhagen Intrepretation of quantum mechanics a world-class epistemologist as well as world-class scientist concluded that quantum mechanics [and not classical mechanics, which Bohr regarded as a subset or special case of quantum mechanics] is the complete description, and the measuring instruments in quantum mechanical experiments obey this description. Although we can safely ignore quantum mechanical effects in dealing with macro-level phenomena in most cases because those effects are small enough for practical purposes, we cannot ignore the implications of quantum mechanics on the macro level for the obvious reason that they are there. Bohr argued that since the quantum of action is always present [and always subject to Heisenbergs indeterminacy principle and likewise Cantors incompleteness principle] on the macro level, this requires a final renunciation of the classical ideal of causality and a radical revision of our attitude toward the problem of physical reality.20
The problems of Life, its origin, and laws; and of consciousness, informative communication, intelligence, so far have been devilishly resistant to explanation by the rules of the macroscopic world that is, by the physical and chemical laws alone. Studying the behavior of a classical gas cannot give us much insight into the mysteries of biological self-organization, or explain the ability of living systems to be self-mobilizing, choosing systems. For gases and lifeforms are entirely different orders of being.
The Cartesian Split Is a Hallucination; Ergo, We Should Get Rid of It
It seems that if ever there is to be an explanation of the tricky machinery of Life, it will not be found in classical physics. Quantum physics is what opens up the vast new vistas needed to engage the problem of the emergence of Life, and to explain its behavior.
That, in the opinion of the present writer, is sufficient reason to recognize the so-called Cartesian Split which attempts to divide natural science from the spiritual sciences as a total illusion that wed best be rid of, for two main reasons that presently come to mind.
(1) Quantum theory (and also relativity theory) places preeminent emphasis on the role of the observer. This observer is an intelligent agent. That being the case, he is firmly planted on the Geisteswissenschaften side that is, on the spiritual side and not the Naturwissenschaften side that is the natural sciences side of the Cartesian divide. It seems science needs a better method to re-integrate the observer into its formulations than it now has. It is a profound fallacy to regard the observer as the mere product of physico-chemical actions. The problem of the observer simply cannot be comprehensively, logically understood in such terms.
(2) Each and every one of the eminent, world-class scientists cited in this article was also a world-class philosopher, consciously or unconsciously. Not a single one of them failed to touch on the most fundamental problems of ontology and epistemology. And the insights of each of these great thinkers shaped the evolutionary course of human knowledge of the total episteme or, in the German, the Wissenschaft in the most profound ways.
At the end of the day, it seems profitless to split the knower from the known. For the knower the observer is on the one hand a part and participant of the system that he observes; and on the other, his observation constitutes or has profound implications for the further development of the system he observes.
Yet effecting such a division is exactly the program of the Cartesian Split. Thus the present writer considers the split to be false, and ultimately tending to divide a man against himself as well as dividing man from Nature itself, of which man is plainly, ineluctibly part and participant.
* * * * * * *
1Nadeau, Robert and Menas Kafatos, The Non-Local Universe, p. 83f.
2Smith, Wolfgang, Cosmos and Transcendence, p. 29.
3Smith, op. cit., p. 28.
4Smith, op. cit., p. 29.
5Smith, ibid., p. 29.
6Pannenberg, Wolfhart, Toward a Theology of Nature, p. 42. 7Smith, op. cit., p. 29.
8Nadeau/Kafatos, op. cit., p. 85.
9Nadeau/Kafatos, op. cit., p. 84.
10McTaggert, Lynne, The Field, p. 46.
11McTaggert, Lynne, op. cit., p. 46.
12McTaggert, Lynne, op. cit., p. 47.
13McTaggert, Lynne, op. cit., p. 49.
14McTaggert, Lynne, ibid., p. 49.
15McTaggert, Lynne, op. cit., p. 47.
16McTaggert, Lynne, op. cit., p. 46f.
17McTaggert, Lynne, ibid., p. 46f.
18Sheldrake, Rupert, http://www.sheldrake.org/papers/Morphic/morphic1_paper.html
19Nadeau/Kafatos, op. cit., p. 91.
20Nadeau/Kafatos, ibid., p. 91.
* * * * * * *
copyright 2005 Jean F. Drew. All rights reserved.
PING!!! just in case you-all might find this of interest... and possibly have the time to share your insights....
Sounds like someone's putting Descartes before the Force...
No doubt it's all very interesting at one level or the other.
I had this same realization during my freshman year in college. Then the buzz wore off.
This paper is an excellent example of why thousands of years of philosophy produced little, but just a few lifetimes of application of the rules of science created the modern world.
All the philosophical commentaries on the cell to baby issue went nowhere, to use an example from the paper. But some embryology and the advent of DNA research has made possible an answer to such questions.
Mind alone produces only philosophy - a mind using the scientific method is capable of adding to the accreted total of knowledge. That has made the modern world.
Summary: Philosophers talk. Scientists experiment.
But for quantum gravity. "Ah, there's the rub."
"Summary: Philosophers talk. Scientists experiment."
Good line, and I'll add to that logical line of thought.
"Summary: Philosophers talk. Scientists experiment. Engineers design and build."
Let's ask the eggsperts.
[Oh hell how does eggzactly spell his screen name!!!]
Let's ask an eggspert...
>>>"Summary: Philosophers talk. Scientists experiment. Engineers design and build." <<<
May I offer "Summary: Philosophers talk. Scientists experiment. Engineers over design. Builders build. Customers Complain. Government Taxes. Time and Elements consume."
We both forgot the latter steps - than came the Libroids and lawyers to impose tax and spend programs upon all.
"We both forgot the latter steps - than came the Libroids and lawyers to impose tax and spend programs upon all."
Yeah, they vomit on every creation, don't they? They aren't happy unless they are miserable. ;o)
all this seems to tie in with Roger Penrose and Stu Hameroff's ideas about how the brain works... truly fascinating stuff (Hameroff is/was an anaestesiologist professor at U of Az), Roger Penrose has some pretty good credentials to be backing Hameroff's radical ideas...
BTW, thank you so much for the ping! I'm printing the paper out to reread it and ponder implications.
I like the way you think, spinestein. It's reassuring to know that someone "out there" has gotten the jist of this article right -- that is, has captured its meaning in the spirit in which the communication was intended.
Thank you, oh so very much, for writing!
It would be delightful to hear from you again, MHGinTN. Long time, no see....
Pascal said that there are two ways of thinking: the intuitive mind (esprit de finesse) and the mathematical mind (esprit de geometrie). He thought the intuitive mind was superior to the other and therefore stopped doing math and science and moved on to theology.
I think he got it right. Rather than try to eliminate the difference bewteen these two ways of knowing, let's acknowledge the difference, set them in a hierarchy with theology superior to science, and let people choose which way they want to think. They can even move between the two if they so choose as long as they keep their bearings about which kind of thinking they are doing.
We have already gotten rid of the "Cartesian Split." It's called the American education system. It only creaes the muddled mind. It's been a dismal failure.
Hey!!! who moved my worm-hole???!!!
(Physics, people...not 3rd-grade humor)
I would disagree with this idea. The ensuing Hellenistic age did much more to establish science and the scientific method than the ancients. Russo's book "The Forgotten Revolution" is a good (if a bit pro-Hellenistic) introduction to this era.
I strongly agree - let this be the memorial service for the Cartesian Split so that we can all finally have closure.
Perhaps then we will actually resume making giant leaps in the big issues facing science. As Dallaporta said, it's been far too long since since the last round of "big thinkers" in science.
Is not mythology & philosophy the birth parents of scientific reasoning?
"I think not," replied Descartes.
Then he disappeared.
Boy, you do dig up some really deep stuff; for me, a simpler way to put it is that man can't walk past god without pausing.
Seems to me the most exciting result to come from string theory is the Vafa/Strominger solutions of the Hawking/Beckenstein entropy wrt black holes. This may be helpful with the black hole information question too.
> What if someone came along who could explain existence and the purpose of humankind, in a rational, coherent form ?
Locutus of Borg?
Gautama took care of all that. No substance to matter or to mind. Very modern even now. An illusion, like time, ripples on a pond. Don't ask about the pond; analogies aren't worth the trouble.
It's an intriguing essay, but deeply flawed by the obviously suspect motivations of the author. She evidently takes off with the wrong perspective ('lemme see if I can get the evidence to go where I want to take it' rather than 'lemme see where the evidence takes me') and therefore severely misconstrues the scope of the inquiry and the avenues of inquest.
Gautama reconciled the matter in an altogether different manner, and (for what little it's worth by comparison) my own personal vision takes yet a different direction. But, this essay follows a clearly prebiased trajectory that excludes both, amongst several others. Oh well. The topics raised are of great interest nonetheless!
He missed how Protagoras developed string theory.
(sorry - couldn't resist, lol)
12:40 am on Sunday night is not the time to be reading this. Bookmarked for later read.
I have previously stated that you are not to ping me. If it occurs again I will refer the matter to the moderators.
The 'shrooms Huh? They were always the worst.
I would very much appreciate a source so that I can explore it further. I'm particularly interested in how it relates to Greene's work on Planck scale physics leaving "an observable signature in the cosmic microwave background radiation".
IMHO, because of dualities and mirror symmetry we ought to expect such relationships.
Very, very good!
Ping for later.
Must have seem a boojum...
*sigh* SEEN a boojum...
Perhaps the rejection thereof would qualify.
This is all nonsense.
"Science" -- organized thinking,
rigorous thinking --
was born where ever
sailing cultures exchanged goods
with diverse cultures.
and even Polynesia
(to name just a few)
things. Focusing on the Greeks
is just a structure
has settled on to present
a view of history
that's "cleaned up," without
loose-ends and turns its focus
to "workable" myths.