Tuesday 4 July 2023

The fatal problem of mapping abstract metaphysics onto this-world (the advantage of a metaphysics of Beings)

It may seem strange that I keep hammering-away at a metaphysics that regards Beings as the fundamental 'unit' of reality; but this comes at the end of some decades of trying to make the available, conventional metaphysical assertions 'work' in my life, in 'real life'. 

All the mainstream systems of metaphysics since the ancient Greeks invented the subject, have been abstract: that is, they posit some real-reality behind this world, of which there are no assume-able examples in this world we inhabit. 

And there is never a way by which we can confidently map the abstract metaphysical schema onto the minutiae of this-world - or interpret the specifics this world in terms of exact aspects of the metaphysics. 

For me this has, in the end, always proved to be a fatal problem. Sooner or later; I have had to discard all such theories. 

For example, Plato's theory of eternal, timeless ideas behind the mutable actualities of this world. We can discuss these ideals with parable-like worked examples (as Plato does), but cannot point to any actual ideal that for-sure explains any specific thing in this world - because the relationship between the ideal and worldly is not knowable within the metaphysical system. Indeed, a qualitative difference between this temporal world and the eternal-real-ideal, is the basis of the metaphysics. 

More clearly, the forms of Aristotle - that were adopted by Aquinas - are abstractions that explain what we observe in this world - but what is a "for sure" example of a form? How can I tell what is the form at work in any particular instance of this world? 

A more recent example derived from Aristotle is Rupert Sheldrake's adaptation of these Aristotelian forms as Morphogenetic Fields - which exist and act everywhere. These can be posited as explanations, but cannot be known directly. We cannot observe a morphogenetic field, nor say which exist or how many exist, nor describe and discuss the nature and scope of a specific morphogenetic field. 

A further abstract entity I engaged-with was Systems, as found in Luhmann's Systems Theory - Indeed, I  got very deep into this form of explanation, and published quite a lot of work under its influence.

Yet the Systems of Systems Theory are abstractions. It is not possible (not possible within the realm of Systems Theory) to know whether some phenomenon in this world is, or is not, A System. Indeed, it is part of Systems theory that knowledge is only possible within Systems - so one System can only infer another. And even within Systems, a knowing sub-System can only infer about the System as a whole, based upon finite sampling and finite complexity of processing. 

Nor can we identify what are the real abstract Systems - we cannot count them, nor classify them - their reality is wholly hypothetical. 

Thus when I attempted to explain any particular thing in terms of Systems Theory, I could only guess at what System or Systems - or no System at all! - were involved in this phenomenon.

In other words; as is usual with abstract metaphysics, we cannot map abstractions onto everyday reality, nor can we discover what specific everyday instances are instances of particular abstractions - whether ideal/ form or morphogenetic field. And these 'cannot's - these limitations - are fundamental to the metaphysics themselves. 

In other words; the metaphysical theory itself includes among assumptions that its relationship to this world cannot be known.  

The great advantage I find about a metaphysics based on beings, is that while I do not know all Beings nor all about Beings; I do know the identity several Beings for sure: starting with Myself!

I am sure that I am a Being - and (almost) equally sure that several members of my family are Beings. So there is a real world and direct mapping of metaphysics onto reality - that cannot be matched by any abstract metaphysical System. 

For me this ability to map the theory onto experienced-reality is a very powerful, indeed decisive, difference between positing systems like those of Plato/ Aristotle/ Aquinas/ Sheldrake/ Luhmann - and what I am doing with the metaphysics of Beings.


Francis Berger said...

Know the identities of several Beings starting with yourself? I dunno, Bruce. That sounds esoteric. Maybe even Gnostic.

Probably safer to stick to a metaphysics of force fields, eternal ideals toward which everything aspires, or the creation of everything from nothing. Natch.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - Ha!

But maybe that's right? Maybe its safer to believe the approved/ official consensus - that's sure to be well-motivated and has usually proved true, after all...

Epimetheus said...

Abstract concepts are of the brain. The consideration of other Beings is of the heart.

Deogolwulf said...

The "systems" of Plato/ Aristotle/ Aquinas/ Sheldrake are also based on beings. (What else could they be based on?) They are also concerned with trying to understand beings. (What else could they be concerned with?) Platonism stresses that the whole being is more fundamentally real than the parts. It is top-down, not bottom-up, hence why it is utterly at odds with every kind of reductionism or atomism. Abstractions are taken from reality, from beings, from our experiences thereof, and help us to map some of the non-empirical, either by reasoning to the inherently and thus permanently non-empirical (i.e., the non-material, thus the realm of metaphysics), or by generalising to the not-yet-experienced concrete particulars of everyday reality. In doing the latter, we scribble in the blanks of the map: here be particular beings of a kind not yet particularly known to our experience. From our metaphysics and our expectations, you and I place abstractions onto the map of everyday reality all the time, whether or not we acknowledge or scorn them, and neither of us would be able to find our way without doing so. Scorning abstractions leads us astray no less than reifying them.

Bruce Charlton said...

@D "The "systems" of Plato/ Aristotle/ Aquinas/ Sheldrake are also based on beings. "

No, they aren't! Not in the metaphysical sense I mean. I am trying to recapture the (God-given) intuitions of the universal unconscious and spontaneous animism of childhood - but consciously and by choice.

Bruce Charlton said...

the outrigger has left a comment:

"Do you consider your metaphysics of beings less abstract than a metaphysics of things or processes, or that it makes for better abstractions?


"A post prior to this one induced me to check out the etymology of agnostic. It is of fairly recent coin, T.H. Huxley, and he meant it as a-Gnostic.

"Coleridge snippets appreciated.

"And. When searching for a biography of Ronald Fisher I found his name on a list of Royal Society Copley medal winners. From 1731 to 2021 they were awarded to individuals, or not at all. In 2022 it was awarded to an Oxford-AstraZeneca Team "for rapidly developing and deploying a birdemic peck."

Bruce Charlton said...

@outrigger - Interesting stuff.

I wrote that real science was already dead back in 2012 - the Copley medal proves it, because that isn't just mediocre science, it is not science At All - and, as you imply, real science cannot be done by a team (two at most).

But the Royal Society has been for many years just a branch of the civil service - nearly all its funding is direct from the UK government. It is long-since maximally-converged.

The answer to your question is " less abstract than a metaphysics of things or processes".