From arithmetic, geometry and kinematics through mechanics to life.

Steiner’s first lecture of the First Scientific Lecture-Course, the so called, ‘Light course’, given in Stuttgart, on the 23rd December 1919, can be read here and it can be listened to here

He explains how the natural scientists of his day proceeded. They were interested in categorising, looking for causes behind phenomena, and observing phenomena to arrive at the ‘laws’ of nature. Goethe did not proceed in this way. He was not interested in looking for and speculating about unknown causes or categorisation. He looked at nature and observed how it was forever changing and studied this metamorphosis in great detail. He wished to stay within the observable to ask what it could tell him without speculating about any laws or hidden world behind the one observed.

The natural science are forever looking for pointwise forces to explain life. But, according to Steiner, life cannot be explained in this way. Life is formed out of the universal peripheral forces. These forces are not the same as the mechanical pointwise forces which are open to measurement. Steiner explains it thus:

Say you were studying the play of forces in an animal or vegetable embryo or germ-cell; with this method you would never find your way. No doubt it seems an ultimate ideal to the Science of today, to understand even organic phenomena in terms of potentials, of centric forces of some kind. It will be the dawn of a new world-conception in this realm when it is recognized that the thing cannot be done in this way, Phenomena in which Life is working can never be understood in terms of centric forces. Why, in effect, — why not? Diagrammatically, let us here imagine that we are setting out to study transient, living phenomena of Nature in terms of Physics. We look for centres, — to study the potential effects that may go out from such centres. Suppose we find the effect. If I now calculate the potentials, say for the three points a, b and c, I find that a will work thus and thus on A, B and C, or c on A’, B’ and C’; and so on. I should thus get a notion of how the integral effects will be, in a certain sphere, subject to the potentials of such and such centric forces. Yet in this way I could never explain any process involving Life. In effect, the forces that are essential to a living thing have no potential; they are not centric forces. If at a given point d you tried to trace the physical effects due to the influences of a, b and c, you would indeed be referring to the effects to centric forces, and you could do so. But if you want to study the effects of Life you can never do this. For these effects, there are no centres such as a or b or c. Here you will only take the right direction with your thinking when you speak thus: Say that at d there is something alive. I look for the forces to which the life is subject. I shall not find them in a, nor in b, nor in c, nor when I go still farther out. I only find them when as it were I go to the very ends of the world — and, what is more, to the entire circumference at once. Taking my start from d, I should have to go to the outermost ends of the Universe and imagine forces to the working inward from the spherical circumference from all sides, forces which in their interplay unite in d. It is the very opposite of the centric forces with their potentials. How to calculate a potential for what works inward from all sides, from the infinitudes of space? In the attempt, I should have to dismember the forces; one total force would have to be divided into ever smaller portions. Then I should get nearer and nearer the edge of the World: — the force would be completely sundered, and so would all my calculation. Here in effect it is not centric forces; it is cosmic, universal forces that are at work. Here, calculation ceases.

This lecture was given just over a century ago and so the terminology is a bit dated and science has made a vast amount of progress since then, but his points still stand.
The difference between Goethe’s scientific method and the standard methods of natural science is the same difference that separates the practice of Euclidean geometry from that of projective geometry. In the former, lengths and angles are measured and calculated, in the latter there are no measurements as such, it is concerned with the mobility and transformation of form as it is expressed between point and plane.

Goethe takes natural science beyond its self-imposed limits just as projective geometry takes Euclidean geometry beyond its limits.

Feel free to read or listen to the lecture linked to above and comment as you see fit.

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210 thoughts on “From arithmetic, geometry and kinematics through mechanics to life.

  1. In the same way that there cannot be a magnet without a magnetic field, so nothing in the natural world comes into existence without the effect of two forces, the centric and the cosmic, the point-wise and the plane-wise. ” The one exception is what Man makes artificially; man-made machines and mechanical devices” Machines may have a semblance of life but there is no life in them.

    In treating intercellular living complexes as machines we ignore half of reality. Proteins are able to fold in such an intricate way not by centric attractive forces alone but with these in conjunction with inwardly working peripheral cosmic forces.

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  2. Who needs to understand any physics or biology when you can just make it all up?

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  3. Kantian Naturalist:
    Who needs to understand any physics or biology when you can just make it all up?

    I do understand where you are coming from and how a naturalist would find these ideas somewhat incomprehensible.

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  4. CharlieM: I do understand where you are coming from and how a naturalist would find these ideas somewhat incomprehensible.

    You have no understanding of where I’m coming from.

    To even begin to understand where I’m coming from: take any recent book or article that summarizes basic physics and show me where in that book or article are the “centric forces” that Steiner is referring to.

    My objection isn’t that Steiner thinks that biology is irreducible to physics. My objection is that his physics is completely made-up, and so is his biology. And so is everything else.

    It’s pretty much what one would expect from a discipline of Blavatsky’s proto-Nazi occultism, though.

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  5. Kantian Naturalist: My objection isn’t that Steiner thinks that biology is irreducible to physics. My objection is that his physics is completely made-up, and so is his biology. And so is everything else.

    I pretty much agree with this.

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  6. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: I do understand where you are coming from and how a naturalist would find these ideas somewhat incomprehensible.

    You have no understanding of where I’m coming from.

    To even begin to understand where I’m coming from: take any recent book or article that summarizes basic physics and show me where in that book or article are the “centric forces” that Steiner is referring to.

    Centre of Pressure

    The center of pressure is the point where the total sum of a pressure field acts on a body, causing a force to act through that point.

    Centre of Mass

    In physics, the center of mass of a distribution of mass in space (sometimes referred to as the balance point) is the unique point where the weighted relative position of the distributed mass sums to zero.

    Centre of Gravity

    A body’s center of gravity is the point around which the resultant torque due to gravity forces vanishes.

    Newtons Law of Gravitation

    Newton’s law of universal gravitation is usually stated as that every particle attracts every other particle in the universe with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centers.

    From Britannica

    In classical mechanics the laws are initially formulated for point particles in which the dimensions, shapes, and other intrinsic properties of bodies are ignored.

    Cenrifugal and centripetal forces are so named because of their relationship to a central point. Potential difference is a measurement of the voltage difference between two points. Force vectors are line segments drawn between points. The point of origin is the dimensionless centre through which the force is said to act. A fulcrum is a pivot point.

    What is radiation if not emission from a central source?

    By centric forces Steiner means every force that acts through a point.

    My objection isn’t that Steiner thinks that biology is irreducible to physics. My objection is that his physics is completely made-up, and so is his biology. And so is everything else.

    So what is it that he has ‘made up’ in the lecture I linked to?

    It’s pretty much what one would expect from a discipline of Blavatsky’s proto-Nazi occultism, though.

    This is no argument against what he said in the lecture, it is an argument against his character. True or false it has no bearing on this lecture on science and the scientific understanding of life.

    I hope the new year brings you inner happiness no matter what sort of chaotic mess we are witnessing in the world.

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  7. Neil Rickert:

    Kantian Naturalist: My objection isn’t that Steiner thinks that biology is irreducible to physics. My objection is that his physics is completely made-up, and so is his biology. And so is everything else.

    I pretty much agree with this

    I pretty much disagree with this.

    But anyway, lang may yer lum reek. 🙂

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  8. CharlieM,

    Ok, so some theorems of classical mechanics can be modeled by constructing “points”. But points are just geometrical constructions, and not even logically privileged ones. (As Hilary Putnam observed, you can begin with points and define spheres in terms of them, or you can begin with spheres and define points in terms of spheres.)

    Needless to say, I am not arguing that biological systems are “reducible to” classical mechanics. But the differences lie in how different kinds of organization realize different kinds of causal relations (e.g. linear or circular), not by invoking various fictitious forces.

    CharlieM: This is no argument against what he said in the lecture, it is an argument against his character. True or false it has no bearing on this lecture on science and the scientific understanding of life.

    It speaks to why Steiner desperately wants materialism to be false, and what motivates him to invent a metaphysics disconnected from reality in order to legitimize his rejection of materialism.

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  9. Kantian Naturalist,

    I would argue that geometry is also essentially.just made up. A point of infinite smallness? A line of zero thickness? If zero means the absence of existing, then such a line does not exist, as well as something infinitely small also doesn’t exist. Afters all mathematicians argue that .99999….. Is equal to 1. The infinite vanishes. So real spheres can’t be made up of things which don’t exist, and triangles can’t be formed from sides which have no sides.

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  10. Kantian Naturalist: Ok, so some theorems of classical mechanics can be modeled by constructing “points”. But points are just geometrical constructions, and not even logically privileged ones. (As Hilary Putnam observed, you can begin with points and define spheres in terms of them, or you can begin with spheres and define points in terms of spheres.)

    Defining points in terms of spheres or spheres in terms of points ties them to a relativity which is required if they are to be measured in this world of three dimensional space. In this space there are an infinity of points and an infinity of planes. But any one point can be thought of as being a single infinitely small dimensionless entity or it can be thought of as being the common intersection of an infinite number of lines or an infinite number of planes. This is the polarity of point and plane with the line being intermediary.

    It becomes very useful, in fact necessary to imagine the point to be a dimensionless unity, when it is used for measurement in mechanics. Vectors must be related using lines and points not spheres. The industrial revolution would not have been possible without these geometrical constructions as you put it. To work out the relationship between the four forces acting on any flying machine these forces have to be resolved into four vectors.

    We stand upright because the force acting through our centre of gravity does not pass outside the base provided by our feet. As soon as it passes outside we either have to make compensatory adjustments or fall over.

    There is nothing wrong with focusing on the point-wise pole. Mechanical measurements would be impossible without it. But it should not be forgotten that there is another pole. A pole from which measurement is impossible but there would be no form without it.

    Needless to say, I am not arguing that biological systems are “reducible to” classical mechanics. But the differences lie in how different kinds of organization realize different kinds of causal relations (e.g. linear or circular), not by invoking various fictitious forces.

    There is no need to invoke any fictional forces. The use of the word ‘force’ for peripheral influences is unfortunate because they are more field like than force like and the time element becomes a large factor.

    CharlieM: This is no argument against what he said in the lecture, it is an argument against his character. True or false it has no bearing on this lecture on science and the scientific understanding of life.

    It speaks to why Steiner desperately wants materialism to be false, and what motivates him to invent a metaphysics disconnected from reality in order to legitimize his rejection of materialism.

    He didn’t reject materialism in fact it is one of the twelve world-views that he said we needed to embrace. What he wished to do was eliminate the rigidity of thought that a one-sided materialism is in danger of bringing about. He warned against being so entrenched in our habits of thought that we become blind to any other way of thinking.

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  11. phoodoo: to Kantian Naturalist,

    I would argue that geometry is also essentially.just made up. A point of infinite smallness? A line of zero thickness? If zero means the absence of existing, then such a line does not exist, as well as something infinitely small also doesn’t exist. Afters all mathematicians argue that .99999….. Is equal to 1. The infinite vanishes. So real spheres can’t be made up of things which don’t exist, and triangles can’t be formed from sides which have no sides.

    Of course that brings up the question of the ‘particles’ of quantum mechanics. They may have spheres of influence but do they have intrinsic dimensions? Which is more ‘made up’, the world of our experience or the world of quantum physics?

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  12. phoodoo:
    Kantian Naturalist,

    I would argue that geometry is also essentially.just made up.A point of infinite smallness?A line of zero thickness?If zero means the absence of existing,then such a line does not exist,as well as something infinitely small also doesn’t exist.Afters all mathematicians argue that .99999….. Is equal to 1. The infinite vanishes. So real spheres can’t be made up of things which don’t exist,and triangles can’t be formed from sides which have no sides.

    I would say that those are abstractions, which is not to say that they are purely arbitrary or imaginary. Thought which stops at sensible particulars and does not advance beyond them to underlying reality is a failure of thought. And we need mathematics as a conceptual tool in order to go beyond our local contingent perspectives and construct models of the deeper structures of being-becoming.

    CharlieM: Which is more ‘made up’, the world of our experience or the world of quantum physics?

    Neither, and both.

    One can take the world of everyday experience as if it were given, and then tell a story about how quantum mechanics is built up out of it. Or one can take the world of quantum mechanics as given, and then tell a story about how the world of everyday experience is built up out of it.

    But the beginning of genuine understanding is to liberate thought from the very need for a fixed or ultimate given, and accept that both stories are equally true (though in different ways).

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  13. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: Which is more ‘made up’, the world of our experience or the world of quantum physics?

    Neither, and both.

    One can take the world of everyday experience as if it were given, and then tell a story about how quantum mechanics is built up out of it. Or one can take the world of quantum mechanics as given, and then tell a story about how the world of everyday experience is built up out of it.

    But the beginning of genuine understanding is to liberate thought from the very need for a fixed or ultimate given, and accept that both stories are equally true (though in different ways).

    Well I would agree that neither the world of our everyday experience nor the world of quantum mechanics is given. Both require our thinking activity and so both are meaningless without our presence. They have no separate independent being.

    We build up reality by re-attaching the outer world of the senses to the concepts within us. A separation that we produced in the first place. It is purely due to our constitution that the concept triangle and physical representations of triangles are thought to be separate. In reality they are two sides of a unified whole.

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  14. CharlieM: He didn’t reject materialism in fact it is one of the twelve world-views that he said we needed to embrace.

    The following video gives a more full explanation of the point I was making above.

    In the video Twelve Ways of Seeing the World – A discussion of Mario Betti’s work on Rudolf Steiner from 9 Nov 2019, ‘Robert McDermott and Matt Segall summarize and discuss a new book by anthroposophist Mario Betti, Twelve Ways of Seeing the World. The book aims to build on Rudolf Steiner’s understanding of different human worldviews in order to seed the growth of a still fledgling pluralistic society. Achieving a planetary humanity guided by freedom and love out of the ashes of the modern pathologies of fascism, totalitarianism, nationalism, oligarchism, and terrorism (the list goes on) will require more than a shallow, relativistic multiculturalism that settles for mere tolerance. Tolerance can only be a temporary position. Robert and Matt unpack Betti and Steiner’s claim that genuine pluralism requires more than toleration, but a willingness to engage the whole of our being in deep communication with and mutual affirmation of worldviews other than our own.’

    In the video McDermott give one of his favourite quotes from Plato, “Thinking begins when conflicting perceptions arise”.

    This is the Betti book in question, and he drew his inspiration from These Steiner lectures

    From Steiner’s lecture 2:

    There is not merely one conception of the world that can be defended, or justified, but there are twelve. And one must admit that just as many good reasons can be adduced for each and all of them as for any particular one. The world cannot be rightly considered from the one-sided standpoint of one single conception, one single mode of thought; the world discloses itself only to someone who knows that one must look at it from all sides. Just as the sun — if we go by the Copernican conception of the universe — passes through the signs of the Zodiac in order to illuminate the earth from twelve different points, so we must not adopt one standpoint, the standpoint of Idealism, or Sensationalism, or Phenomenalism, or any other conception of the world with a name of this kind; we must be in a position to go all round the world and accustom ourselves to the twelve different standpoints from which it can be contemplated. In terms of thought, all twelve standpoints are fully justifiable.

    Below is a diagram showing a diagram of the twelve basic positions. Of course it is not set in stone.

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  15. I don’t see why there have to be twelve. Why not nine, or 25?

    Anyway, this chart seems to conflate epistemology and metaphysics from the get-go — the distinction between rationalism and sensationalism (= empiricism?) is different in kind from the distinction between idealism and materialism.

    Needless to say I think there is something deeply repugnant in the idea that all of these worldviews are equally justified, because it rests on a fundamentally flawed understanding of what justification is. What makes a worldview rationally acceptable is not its ultimate foundation, because there aren’t any. Rather a worldview is reasonable to the extent that it is maintained with enough of an openness to novelty and to criticism that it can be self-correcting.

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  16. Kantian Naturalist: Rather a worldview is reasonable to the extent that it is maintained with enough of an openness to novelty and to criticism that it can be self-correcting.

    If your map doesn’t match the territory, edit your map.

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  17. Alan Fox: If your map doesn’t match the territory, edit your map.

    Yes. But I’d revise this to make the normative claim explicit: “if one’s map doesn’t match the territory, one ought to revise the map”.

    Unfortunately, most of us refuse to revise our maps when we should, and do so only when all else fails.

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  18. Kantian Naturalist:
    I don’t see why there have to be twelve. Why not nine, or 25?

    Why indeed? In fact in the linked video McDermott says::

    Neither Matt nor I think that its at all evidential that there are 12 world views, a couple of these maybe don’t stand fully on their own and we could definitely think of other worldviews… If we could start it from scratch we might make a different chart.

    Why were there 12 tribes of Israel? Why are there 12 months in the year? Why are there 12 hours on an analogue clock face? Why did Jesus pick twelve disciples? Why are there 12 pairs of cranial nerves? Why is the zodiac divided into 12 sectors?

    Steiner had his reasons for placing 12 philosophical positions as he did. The same reason he formulated a system in which there are 12 senses instead of the usual 5. These 12 positions are just focal points that encompass and merge into a multitude of philosophical positions. For instance because of quantum mechanics, relativity and the like it is more common these days for someone to call themselves a physicalist rather than a materialist. that would place their view on the diagram away from materialism in the direction of mathematism. Physicalism is not mentioned but we can still figure out where it would be placed on the diagram.

    Anyway, this chart seems to conflate epistemology and metaphysics from the get-go — the distinction between rationalism and sensationalism (= empiricism?) is different in kind from the distinction between idealism and materialism.

    He doesn’t equate rationalism and sensationalism with empiricism. Empiricism is more mobile and adaptable than the other two. People do not all share the same level of experience and so individuals can be empiricists in their own way. If a naive realist with no interest in nature was walking through a meadow with a botanist who had a passion for plants their experiences would be vastly different.

    Steiner claimed that everyone is capable of experiencing higher realities and therefore epistemology would apply to the regions so experienced. This would mean that his empiricism includes areas of reality not experienced by most people. Goethe claimed to have empirical knowledge of the archetypal plant, he did not just speculate about it, he experienced it.

    Needless to say I think there is something deeply repugnant in the idea that all of these worldviews are equally justified, because it rests on a fundamentally flawed understanding of what justification is. What makes a worldview rationally acceptable is not its ultimate foundation, because there aren’t any. Rather a worldview is reasonable to the extent that it is maintained with enough of an openness to novelty and to criticism that it can be self-correcting.

    All these worldviews are not equally justified under any circumstance. They all have a limited justification. If we can look to see why and where a particular stance is justified we will have a better understanding of that position.

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  19. Alan Fox: to Kantian Naturalist:

    Kantian Naturalist: Rather a worldview is reasonable to the extent that it is maintained with enough of an openness to novelty and to criticism that it can be self-correcting.

    If your map doesn’t match the territory, edit your map.

    In order to edit the map someone need to go and experience the territory. You cannot just edit the map just because of you beliefs in what the territory is like.

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  20. Kantian Naturalist to alan Fox:

    Alan Fox: If your map doesn’t match the territory, edit your map.

    Yes. But I’d revise this to make the normative claim explicit: “if one’s map doesn’t match the territory, one ought to revise the map”.

    Unfortunately, most of us refuse to revise our maps when we should, and do so only when all else fails.

    Also just because I have covered a certain distance in my travels does not mean that others are the same. Many will have travelled wider and further. Would I be justified in criticising them without making the same journey over that territory?

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  21. CharlieM: If your map doesn’t match the territory, edit your map.

    In order to edit the map someone need to go and experience the territory. You cannot just edit the map just because of you beliefs in what the territory is like.

    Why are you saying this to me, Captain Obvious?

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  22. Alan Fox: CharlieM:

    If your map doesn’t match the territory, edit your map.

    In order to edit the map someone need to go and experience the territory. You cannot just edit the map just because of you beliefs in what the territory is like.

    Why are you saying this to me, Captain Obvious?

    I’m not saying it to you. I wrote it so that it could be read by anyone who is interested. I was just reading what you wrote and putting down some further thoughts that I had. Sorry if it appeared that I was singling you out.

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  23. CharlieM,

    Fair enough but it’s a tad annoying to have a comment addressed to me that seems to be arguing with a point I never made and don’t hold.

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  24. Alan Fox:
    CharlieM,

    Fair enough but it’s a tad annoying to have a comment addressed to me that seems to be arguing with a point I never made and don’t hold.

    Well at least I seem to annoy everyone here in one way or another. 🙁 You’re not alone. 🙂

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  25. Apologies for the formatting errors in one or two of my recent posts.

    In the quote below Alfred North Whitehead discusses space and time in The Concept of Nature

    Space is not merely an ordering of material entities so that any one entity bears certain relations to other material entities. The occupation of space impresses a certain character on each material entity in itself. By reason of its occupation of space matter has extension. By reason of its extension each bit of matter is divisible into parts, and each part is a numerically distinct entity from every other such part. Accordingly it would seem that every material entity is not really one entity. It is an essential multiplicity of entities. There seems to be no stopping this dissociation of matter into multiplicities short of finding each ultimate entity occupying one individual point. This essential multiplicity of material entities is certainly not what is meant by science, nor does it correspond to anything disclosed in sense-awareness. It is absolutely necessary that at a certain stage in this dissociation of matter a halt should be called, and that the material entities thus obtained should be treated as units. The stage of arrest may be arbitrary or may be set by the characteristics of nature; but all reasoning in science ultimately drops its space-analysis and poses to itself the problem, ‘Here is one material entity, what is happening to it as a unit entity?’ Yet this material entity is still retaining its extension, and as thus extended is a mere multiplicity. Thus there is an essential atomic property in nature which is independent of the dissociation of extension. There is something which in itself is one, and which is more than the logical aggregate of entities occupying points within the volume which the unit occupies. Indeed we may well be sceptical as to these ultimate entities at points, and doubt whether there are any such entities at all. They have the suspicious character that we are driven to accept them by abstract logic and not by observed fact.
    Time (in the current philosophy) does not exert the same disintegrating effect on matter which occupies it. If matter occupies a duration of time, the whole matter occupies every part of that duration. Thus the connexion between matter and time differs from the connexion between matter and space as expressed in current scientific philosophy. There is obviously a greater difficulty in conceiving time as the outcome of relations between different bits of matter than there is in the analogous conception of space. At an instant distinct volumes of space are occupied by distinct bits of matter. Accordingly there is so far no intrinsic difficulty in conceiving that space is merely the resultant of relations between the bits of matter. But in the one-dimensional time the same bit of matter occupies different portions of time. Accordingly time would have to be expressible in terms of the relations of a bit of matter with itself. My own view is a belief in the relational theory both of space and of time, and of disbelief in the current form of the relational theory of space which exhibits bits of matter as the relata for spatial relations. The true relata are events. The distinction which I have just pointed out between time and space in their connexion with matter makes it evident that any assimilation of time and space cannot proceed along the traditional line of taking matter as a fundamental element in space-formation.

    Here he highlights the polarity between space and time. Well at least a polarity in the way space and time are thought about with regards to matter. In the search for the fundamental nature of matter it is thought that it should be divided in order to find its limit, Matter is thought to be made up of an infinity of points. Time is thought of as more unified and peripheral. The big bang is thought of as a single event from which all matter originates and begins its journey through time. An individual body consists of a multitude of parts but it is a unity regarding the passage of time. Different parts cannot occupy the same space but they can occupy the same time.

    Euclidean geometry deals with space without regard to time. Projective geometry is concerned with motion and therefore time. To understand living form projective geometry is the more suitable tool.

    Every living being is a polarised unity which can be understood as a spatial body and as a time ‘body’. The unified time ‘body’ is made up of an infinity of spatial bodies.

    Plato as quoted by the notorious Houston Stewart Chamberlain, “From the gods a gift to the human race; this I should reckon to see the one in the many”

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  26. CharlieM: We build up reality by re-attaching the outer world of the senses to the concepts within us. A separation that we produced in the first place. It is purely due to our constitution that the concept triangle and physical representations of triangles are thought to be separate. In reality they are two sides of a unified whole.

    I don’t think this makes much (if any) sense. It’s a confusion to think of “the outer world of the senses” (outer as compared to what? are sensations of hunger or thirst “outer” or “inner”?). Likewise it’s a confusion to think of concepts as “within us” (inside what? our minds? are minds like containers, with insides and outsides?).

    I know you always complain that you’re not a Cartesian, but you are. These are all Cartesian confusions.

    I don’t know what you mean by a separation or unity between “the concept triangle and physical representations of triangles”. This just looks like adding Plato’s hopeless confusion about what concepts are onto Descartes’s hopeless confusion about what minds are.

    Concepts aren’t objects — not even “ideal objects” that are “seen with mind”. Concepts are rules for inference: the concept of triangle just is the totality of correct inferences involving triangles, such as “if ABC is a triangle than ABC is a plane figure” or “if ABC is a Euclidean triangle then the interior sum of its angles cannot be represented by an integer more or less than 180”. The same goes for empirical concepts, such as the concept of a cat or a tree.

    The difference between formal concepts (the concept of a triangle or triangularity) and empirical concepts (the concept of a cat, cat-ness or cat-hood) is that the condition of correct application of formal concepts is never in response to sensory stimuli.

    CharlieM: Here he highlights the polarity between space and time. Well at least a polarity in the way space and time are thought about with regards to matter.

    Whitehead is arguing (correctly, I should add) that the metaphysics that 20th century physics needs is a metaphysics of events, not of objects. In Whitehead’s scientific metaphysics, space and time are constituted by relations between events rather an absolute or fixed background in which material objects are situated. In effect he is urging that general relativity requires a far more radical revision in the metaphysics of physics than Einstein recognized. He’s not talking about “polarity”.

    CharlieM: Euclidean geometry deals with space without regard to time. Projective geometry is concerned with motion and therefore time. To understand living form projective geometry is the more suitable tool.

    This is just false. Projective geometry does not have a temporal or element: the “motion” is just a transformation from one spatial configuration to another. If you want a mathematical treatment of time you need calculus.

    Every living being is a polarised unity which can be understood as a spatial body and as a time ‘body’. The unified time ‘body’ is made up of an infinity of spatial bodies.

    I don’t think this makes any sense. For one thing, all objects are spatial and temporal, so that doesn’t explain what makes life special. For another, there’s no “polarity” of space and time. It is sometimes useful for us to take measurements in space and neglect time, and sometimes useful for us to take measurements in time and neglect space — but our basic mode of experience is spatio-temporal. There’s no “polarity”.

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  27. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: We build up reality by re-attaching the outer world of the senses to the concepts within us. A separation that we produced in the first place. It is purely due to our constitution that the concept triangle and physical representations of triangles are thought to be separate. In reality they are two sides of a unified whole.

    I don’t think this makes much (if any) sense. It’s a confusion to think of “the outer world of the senses” (outer as compared to what? are sensations of hunger or thirst “outer” or “inner”?). Likewise it’s a confusion to think of concepts as “within us” (inside what? our minds? are minds like containers, with insides and outsides?).

    Obviously sensations of hunger and thirst are inner and personal. Nobody but myself can experience my hunger. But a group of people could all experience a sunset. My hunger is dependent on my existence, a sunset is not.

    And you are right concepts are not within us, but it is through our inner thinking that we apprehend concepts. Senses give us experiences within time and space, concepts are not reliant on time and space. The concept triangle is the same today as it will be next century and it will be the same for an astronaut on the moon as it is for you and me.

    I know you always complain that you’re not a Cartesian, but you are. These are all Cartesian confusions.

    As Barfield explains in his introduction to The Case for Anthroposophy, Descartes’ guillotine has and still does profoundly influence thinking within the natural sciences.

    For instance colours are thought to be to be subjective while the vibrations associated with them are considered to be the objective reality behind them.

    Concerning the separation of external matter and psyche that Descartes brought about, Barfield writes:

    … when two people separate, so that one of them can go it alone, it follows as a natural consequence that the other can also go it alone. It might have been expected, then, that, by meticulously disentangling itself from all reference, explicit or implicit, to material factors, the immaterial, as a field of knowledge, would also gain inestimable advantages. That is what did not happen…
    What did happen was well expressed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, when he pointed out in his Aids to Reflection that Descartes, having discovered a technical principle, which “as a fiction of science, it would be difficult to overvalue”, erroneously propounded that principle as a truth of fact. (The principle in question was the necessity of abstracting from corporeal substance all its positive properties, “in order to submit the various phaenomena of moving bodies to geometrical construction”.) And of course the same point has since been made by A. N. Whitehead and others.

    It is perfectly legitimate to research the ‘objective world out there’ for its own sake, but it must be realised that in so doing one is leaving out half of reality.
    Among the concluding remarks in his introduction Barfield writes:

    It is the case that there is to be found in anthroposophy that immemorial understanding of tri-unity in man, in nature and in God, and of God and nature and man, which had long permeated the philosophy and religion of the East, before it continued to survive (often subterraneously) in the West in the doctrines of Platonism, Neo-Platonism, Hermetism, etc.; true that you will find it in Augustine, in pseudo-Dionysius, in Cusanus, in Bruno, in William Blake and a cloud of other witnesses, of whom Boehme is perhaps the outstanding representative. It would be surprising if it were not so. What differentiates anthroposophy from its “traditional” predecessors, both methodologically and in its content, is precisely its “post-revolutionary” status. It is, if you are that way minded, the perennial philosophy; but, if so, it is that philosophy risen again, and in a form determined by its having risen again, from the psychological and spiritual eclipse of the scientific revolution. To resume for a moment the metaphor I adopted at the outset of these remarks, it is because the two blood-relations were wise enough to separate for a spell as “family”, that they are able to come together again in the new and more specifically human relationship of independence, fellowship and love.

    Just how badly is it needed, a genuinely psychosomatic physiology? That is a question the reflective reader will answer for himself.

    There isn’t a separate duality but there is a genuine polarity between the world of the senses and the inner world of our thoughts and feelings. But what unifies this polarity is the realisation that it is our conscious activity that reunite the appropriate concepts with external reality. Ripe strawberries really are red, they are not a conglomeration of atoms radiating vibrations of various frequencies.

    We have been given the ability to unify that which we have torn apart in the first place.

    I’ll continue my reply later.

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  28. CharlieM: And you are right concepts are not within us, but it is through our inner thinking that we apprehend concepts. Senses give us experiences within time and space, concepts are not reliant on time and space. The concept triangle is the same today as it will be next century and it will be the same for an astronaut on the moon as it is for you and me.

    That’s because geometric concepts are defined in axiomatic terms that don’t depend on spatio-temporal particulars; it’s not true of all concepts. Empirical concepts do change their meanings over time as facts about the world change. For example, it used to be a self-evident truth that whales are fish: that is, it used to be that the concept whale was included within the concept fish.

    In other words, it’s a special feature of formal systems that the concepts defined by those systems don’t change in response to novel sensory experiences, and not a general truth about concepts as such.

    CharlieM: Descartes’ guillotine has and still does profoundly influence thinking within the natural sciences.

    For instance colours are thought to be to be subjective while the vibrations associated with them are considered to be the objective reality behind them.

    Descartes thought that geometry allowed us to grasp the underlying structures that we don’t grasp because we use our imagination rather than our intellect, but that a genuine intellectual grasp of underlying structures explained the similarities and differences across variously differently embodied perceptual/imaginative systems.

    He was totally right about that, by the way. His only mistakes were believing that there was no mechanistic explanation for the intellect and that we have libertarian freedom or “free will.” Spinoza corrected him in both respects.

    CharlieM: There isn’t a separate duality but there is a genuine polarity between the world of the senses and the inner world of our thoughts and feelings. But what unifies this polarity is the realisation that it is our conscious activity that reunite the appropriate concepts with external reality. Ripe strawberries really are red, they are not a conglomeration of atoms radiating vibrations of various frequencies.

    We experience ripe strawberries as red because of a fantastically complex process that involves the various wavelengths of photons, the complex molecular properties of the outermost surface, the molecular properties of the opsins embedded in the cones of the primate retina, the kinds and configurations of those cones, how they are connected to the subcortical and cortical components of the visual processing system, and (in humans) the color categories embedded in cultural practices.

    None of this denies that ripe strawberries are red — it explains it.

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  29. Kantian Naturalist: I know you always complain that you’re not a Cartesian, but you are. These are all Cartesian confusions.

    No. I believe in an ultimate unity. Everywhere we look, in all spheres, polarity is obvious. The poles of the earth, growth and decay, birth and death, land and sea, fission and fusion, past and future.

    The polarity between the human nervous system concentrated in the head where the brain is kept as motionless as possible to the limb system which is designed with movement as the primal feature, is connected by the rhythmic cardio/vascular system and respiratory system centred in the chest holding the poles in balance. And yet I am one single individual, my limbs and my head have no meaning as separate entities.

    Concepts aren’t objects — not even “ideal objects” that are “seen with mind”.

    No they aren’t objects, but the concepts I am talking about are objective in the sense that they are independent of our subjectivity.

    Anyway, happy New Year to all when it comes or if has already passed for you. Farewell to the past and hello to the future.
    Wishing you well for 2020

    Image below from the video showing drones over the Highlands

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  30. Neil Rickert: I would say it is idealized, which is not the same as “just made up”.

    Isn’t English your native language Neil? For something to be idealized, it must first exist. It must be real.

    Neil Rickert:…which is not the same as “just made up”.

    Arguable.

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  31. Mung: Isn’t English your native language Neil? For something to be idealized, it must first exist. It must be real.

    Presumably Neil could think that there are really existing triangular-shaped objects, and that our notion of a “perfect triangle” is idealized from those.

    That’s not my own view, but it doesn’t seem crazy to me.

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  32. Kantian Naturalist: Concepts are rules for inference: the concept of triangle just is the totality of correct inferences involving triangles, such as “if ABC is a triangle than ABC is a plane figure” or “if ABC is a Euclidean triangle then the interior sum of its angles cannot be represented by an integer more or less than 180”. The same goes for empirical concepts, such as the concept of a cat or a tree.

    The difference between formal concepts (the concept of a triangle or triangularity) and empirical concepts (the concept of a cat, cat-ness or cat-hood) is that the condition of correct application of formal concepts is never in response to sensory stimuli.

    I don’t think our concept of concepts quite match. It could be because, unlike you I am not a professional philosopher and I’m not using the word as precisely as you would like. I am using the term to mean that by which we come to an inner understanding of our experiences. I consider all concepts to be empirical.

    While walking in the park we passed a lady walking a Scottie dog. My 4 year old grandson exclaimed, “That’s a funny dog”. The lady replied, “Yes, I think so too”. How did he know it was a dog? Because through experience he had acquired the concept “dog”. He is also able to recognise a triangle if I draw one. His concept is sufficient to recognise a triangle when he perceives one. In time he will be able to gain many other concepts and his world of thought will steadily get richer and he will understand how his concept ‘triangle’ will fit in to this overall view he has built up. He doesn’t need to know about Cartesian dimensions, degrees of angle, Euclid or any other related concepts to recognise a triangle when he sees one.

    Just like his concept “dog”, his concept “triangle” will be enhanced when he gains other concepts in which these concepts fit. He has learned both these concepts through experience.

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  33. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: Here he highlights the polarity between space and time. Well at least a polarity in the way space and time are thought about with regards to matter.

    Whitehead is arguing (correctly, I should add) that the metaphysics that 20th century physics needs is a metaphysics of events, not of objects. In Whitehead’s scientific metaphysics, space and time are constituted by relations between events rather an absolute or fixed background in which material objects are situated. In effect he is urging that general relativity requires a far more radical revision in the metaphysics of physics than Einstein recognized. He’s not talking about “polarity”.

    Yes we both seem to agree on reality being about processes rather than things. But even processes have a polarity, a beginning and an end. And this is exactly the way in which Goethe understood plants. They are not things sticking out of the ground, a plant consists of the whole process between germination and death. The process uses material taken from the earth which takes its form from the heavenly peripheral forces mainly from the solar influence. I think Goethe would have approved of Whiteheads view of reality.

    Here Whitehead give his understanding of the relationship between the physical and the conceptual. From The Contextual Index of Process and Reality by Whitehead.

    Page 348: A physical pole is in its own nature exclusive, bounded by contradiction : a conceptual pole is in its own nature all-embracing, unbounded by contradiction. The former derives its share of infinity from the infinity of appetition; the latter derives its share of limitation from the exclusiveness of enjoyment. Thus, by reason of his priority of appetition, there can be but one primordial nature for God; and, by reason of their priority of enjoyment, there must be one history of many actualities in the physical world.

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  34. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: Euclidean geometry deals with space without regard to time. Projective geometry is concerned with motion and therefore time. To understand living form projective geometry is the more suitable tool.

    This is just false. Projective geometry does not have a temporal or element: the “motion” is just a transformation from one spatial configuration to another. If you want a mathematical treatment of time you need calculus.

    One of the best ways to understand projective geometry is by imagining the movements involved. For example to imagine how parallel lines meet at infinity. (In Euclidean geometry they never do meet.) Picture a horizontal line and a point somewhere above it. Imagine a vertical line through the point and the line. Now picture the line moving clockwise centred on the point. this entails the point where it meets the line accelerating along it all the way to infinity and then reappearing on the right hand side of the line. Time is a factor of acceleration.

    Every living being is a polarised unity which can be understood as a spatial body and as a time ‘body’. The unified time ‘body’ is made up of an infinity of spatial bodies.

    I don’t think this makes any sense. For one thing, all objects are spatial and temporal, so that doesn’t explain what makes life special.

    An example of the special nature of life is volition. A pebble will not move because of an intrinsic act of will.

    For another, there’s no “polarity” of space and time. It is sometimes useful for us to take measurements in space and neglect time, and sometimes useful for us to take measurements in time and neglect space — but our basic mode of experience is spatio-temporal. There’s no “polarity”.

    Well we could occupy the same general location at the same time but we could not occupy the same space at the same time. We can share a time but not a space.

    Our thinking is governed by time but not by space.

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  35. CharlieM: I consider all concepts to be empirical.

    I don’t agree with that.

    I see concepts as abstractions.

    Based on your own post, a concept is a set of capabilities. The concept of dog consists of the perceptual capabilities involved in being able to recognize a dog. Those abilities are, unavoidably, individual. We use our own neurons, eyes, etc to recognize a dog. A concept becomes an abstraction only we insist on thingifying it.

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  36. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: And you are right concepts are not within us, but it is through our inner thinking that we apprehend concepts. Senses give us experiences within time and space, concepts are not reliant on time and space. The concept triangle is the same today as it will be next century and it will be the same for an astronaut on the moon as it is for you and me.

    That’s because geometric concepts are defined in axiomatic terms that don’t depend on spatio-temporal particulars; it’s not true of all concepts. Empirical concepts do change their meanings over time as facts about the world change. For example, it used to be a self-evident truth that whales are fish: that is, it used to be that the concept whale was included within the concept fish.

    In other words, it’s a special feature of formal systems that the concepts defined by those systems don’t change in response to novel sensory experiences, and not a general truth about concepts as such

    The projective geometrical concept of parallel lines does rely on time and space. But even though the concept consists of movement and change, the concept itself and all that it holds will not vary with time.

    Of course we can hold mistaken concepts just as we can also have mistaken interpretations of our sense experiences. This is why using concepts of something basic such as a triangle is perfect in trying to get an understanding of concepts in relation to the words we use. Obviously the meaning of the word “fish” depends on the context and has changed over time. We can think about a starfish, silverfish and a sunfish and although they contain the same word our concepts attached to each of them will not be the same save they are all animals.

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  37. CharlieM: I am using the term to mean that by which we come to an inner understanding of our experiences. I consider all concepts to be empirical.

    I don’t know what the word “inner” is doing there. I do think that concepts are necessary for an understanding of experience, whether we’re talking about experiences of the environment (e.g. a woman walking a dog in the park), of one’s own body, or ‘mental experience’.

    One can certainly have thoughts without having the concept of a thought, but without the concept of a thought, one cannot understand oneself to be having thoughts or understand oneself to be a thinking self.

    I don’t consider all concepts to be empirical, because I understand empirical concepts to be concepts which are correctly used in response to sensory stimuli. E.g. one ought to respond to dogs by being disposed to say “that’s a dog!” and if one were to say “that’s a cat!” in response to seeing dogs, then one really hasn’t fully acquired the concept of “dog”

    By contrast, there are no sensory stimuli in response to which the concept of aleph null is used correctly. That’s what makes aleph null a formal concept, rather than an empirical concept.

    CharlieM: Yes we both seem to agree on reality being about processes rather than things. But even processes have a polarity, a beginning and an end.

    This would imply that an eternal or infinite process is a contradiction in terms, which I’m not yet prepared to concede.

    CharlieM: One of the best ways to understand projective geometry is by imagining the movements involved. For example to imagine how parallel lines meet at infinity. (In Euclidean geometry they never do meet.) Picture a horizontal line and a point somewhere above it. Imagine a vertical line through the point and the line. Now picture the line moving clockwise centred on the point. this entails the point where it meets the line accelerating along it all the way to infinity and then reappearing on the right hand side of the line. Time is a factor of acceleration.

    I think you’re confusing the time in which the act of thinking itself unfolds, and time as a parameter of the conceptual system itself. Projective geometry doesn’t involve time any more than any other geometry does, even though one’s thinking does take place in time.

    CharlieM: This is why using concepts of something basic such as a triangle is perfect in trying to get an understanding of concepts in relation to the words we use. Obviously the meaning of the word “fish” depends on the context and has changed over time. We can think about a starfish, silverfish and a sunfish and although they contain the same word our concepts attached to each of them will not be the same save they are all animals.

    I think your attachment to very simple geometry is preventing you from understanding how formal concepts really work. It happens to be the case that one can easily construct a mental image of triangle and it’s not really possible to construct a mental image of a transfinite number. But that’s a fact about how our mental imagery works, not a fact about the meaning of formal concepts.

    Besides which, our understanding of formal concepts like triangle also changes over time. With the discovery of non-Euclidean geometries, we have to recognize that the concept of Euclidean triangle is a species of a genus triangle that also includes non-Euclidean triangles, just like the concept of Euclidean triangle contains Euclidean isosceles triangles, Euclidean equilateral triangles, and Euclidean scalene triangles.

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  38. Neil Rickert: Based on your own post, a concept is a set of capabilities. The concept of dog consists of the perceptual capabilities involved in being able to recognize a dog. Those abilities are, unavoidably, individual. We use our own neurons, eyes, etc to recognize a dog. A concept becomes an abstraction only we insist on thingifying it.

    Do you see a meaningful distinction between how dogs identify each other as dogs and how we as language users use the words “dog”, “Hund”, “chien”, etc?

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  39. Kantian Naturalist: …how dogs identify each other as dogs…

    A question that interests me but maybe a topic for another thread. I’m not even sure the implied premise is accurate.

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  40. Kantian Naturalist: Do you see a meaningful distinction between how dogs identify each other as dogs and how we as language users use the words “dog”, “Hund”, “chien”, etc?

    We don’t know how dogs identify each other as dogs. Nor do we know whether they do identify each other as dogs.

    I expect that we humans divide up the world more finely than do dogs. And, in part, that is made possible by language.

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  41. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: Descartes’ guillotine has and still does profoundly influence thinking within the natural sciences.

    For instance colours are thought to be to be subjective while the vibrations associated with them are considered to be the objective reality behind them.

    Descartes thought that geometry allowed us to grasp the underlying structures that we don’t grasp because we use our imagination rather than our intellect, but that a genuine intellectual grasp of underlying structures explained the similarities and differences across variously differently embodied perceptual/imaginative systems.

    He was totally right about that, by the way. His only mistakes were believing that there was no mechanistic explanation for the intellect and that we have libertarian freedom or “free will.” Spinoza corrected him in both respects.

    We would not be able to have intellectual thinking without mechanisms, but mechanisms do not explain the intellect. Einstein said:

    Since Maxwell’s time Physical Reality has been thought of as represented by continuous fields, governed by partial differential equations, and not capable of any mechanical interpretation. This change in the conception of reality is the most profound and fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton.

    Descartes imagined all of extended space to be filled with matter, the plenum. Faraday thought of extended space as being filled with forces and matter was just the star-like points of focus of these forces. It was thought that through ethereal forces such as these light was transmitted. But they were still seen as mechanical forces, just as electromagnetic fields are of material origin.

    And in applying mathematics to the fields of Faraday, Maxwell ensured that it could all be brought together and measured and manipulated. And of course this opened the way for relativity and quantum mechanics which meant the end of the mechanistic universe of Descartes and Newton.

    Descartes’ view that the one essential property of matter was extension, was believed by Maxwell to be a ‘pernicious heresy’, and he also called Descartes’ doctrine of the collision of bodies ‘ludicrously absurd’ . Info from here © copyright 1997 sonnetsoftware.inc

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  42. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: Descartes’ guillotine has and still does profoundly influence thinking within the natural sciences.

    For instance colours are thought to be to be subjective while the vibrations associated with them are considered to be the objective reality behind them.

    Descartes thought that geometry allowed us to grasp the underlying structures that we don’t grasp because we use our imagination rather than our intellect, but that a genuine intellectual grasp of underlying structures explained the similarities and differences across variously differently embodied perceptual/imaginative systems.

    He was totally right about that, by the way. His only mistakes were believing that there was no mechanistic explanation for the intellect and that we have libertarian freedom or “free will.” Spinoza corrected him in both respects.

    We would not be able to have intellectual thinking without mechanisms, but mechanisms do not explain the intellect. Einstein said:

    Since Maxwell’s time Physical Reality has been thought of as represented by continuous fields, governed by partial differential equations, and not capable of any mechanical interpretation. This change in the conception of reality is the most profound and fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton.

    Descartes imagined all of extended space to be filled with matter, the plenum. Faraday thought of extended space as being filled with forces and matter was just the star-like points of focus of these forces. It was thought that through ethereal forces such as these light was transmitted. But they were still seen as mechanical forces, just as electromagnetic fields are of material origin.

    And in applying mathematics to the fields of Faraday, Maxwell ensured that it could all be brought together and measured and manipulated. And of course this opened the way for relativity and quantum mechanics which meant the end of the mechanistic universe of Descartes and Newton.

    Descartes’ view that the one essential property of matter was extension, was believed by Maxwell to be a ‘pernicious heresy’, and he also called Descartes’ doctrine of the collision of bodies ‘ludicrously absurd’ . (Info from here © copyright 1997 Sonnet Software, Inc., all rights reserved.)

    Free will is not something we have or don’t have. The vast majority, if not all, of our actions are not done in freedom. To act freely means to act out of pure love for the deed without any thought for its consequences with respect to the perpetrator. Who can say they have ever acted in this way?

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  43. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: There isn’t a separate duality but there is a genuine polarity between the world of the senses and the inner world of our thoughts and feelings. But what unifies this polarity is the realisation that it is our conscious activity that reunite the appropriate concepts with external reality. Ripe strawberries really are red, they are not a conglomeration of atoms radiating vibrations of various frequencies.

    We experience ripe strawberries as red because of a fantastically complex process that involves the various wavelengths of photons, the complex molecular properties of the outermost surface, the molecular properties of the opsins embedded in the cones of the primate retina, the kinds and configurations of those cones, how they are connected to the subcortical and cortical components of the visual processing system, and (in humans) the color categories embedded in cultural practices.

    None of this denies that ripe strawberries are red — it explains it.

    Newton believed that all colours are contained in white light. This is patently absurd. Look at white light and you will see no colour. Colour only appears when the light is interfered with in some way. Goethe pointed out that colours were the effect of the interplay of light and darkness. Newton focused his attention on the light while Goethe recognised the polarity of light and dark.

    From experiments Descartes knew that each retina received an inverted image and this was the point where he believed extended nature came to the point where it needed the mind to take the images received and deal with them in a way that would make sense to the consciousness. Here the two independent spheres met.

    I would not restrict the mind in such a way. In my opinion just as the external light comes to us from without so the inner light of our thinking goes out to whatever we are observing in the world. Reality is the result of this polarity. The external world of experience and the world of our understanding are the one reality viewed from opposite directions.

    It is vital that we recognise that the photons and molecules you are talking about are purely models that are used to aid understanding. To treat them as real is, as Barfield said, is to make them into idols.

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  44. CharlieM: We would not be able to have intellectual thinking without mechanisms, but mechanisms do not explain the intellect.

    I don’t see what could possibly justify such confidence.

    CharlieM: And in applying mathematics to the fields of Faraday, Maxwell ensured that it could all be brought together and measured and manipulated. And of course this opened the way for relativity and quantum mechanics which meant the end of the mechanistic universe of Descartes and Newton.

    I don’t understand what you think this means. In what sense is a universe of intangible fields not “mechanistic”? What is your understanding of “mechanistic” such that fields don’t count as “mechanism”?

    +1
  45. CharlieM: Newton believed that all colours are contained in white light. This is patently absurd. Look at white light and you will see no colour. Colour only appears when the light is interfered with in some way. Goethe pointed out that colours were the effect of the interplay of light and darkness. Newton focused his attention on the light while Goethe recognised the polarity of light and dark.

    “Contained within” and “only appearing when interfered with” are complementary concepts. It’s true that the wavelengths associated with colors are mixed in white light, and it’s also true that interfering with white light will cause those wavelengths to become distinguishable.

    I also think you’re missing out on what’s really interesting about the contrast between Newton and Goethe: Newton used a prism to refract white light onto a white surface, whereas Goethe looked at the world through a prism and thus came to see the world differently.

    CharlieM: From experiments Descartes knew that each retina received an inverted image and this was the point where he believed extended nature came to the point where it needed the mind to take the images received and deal with them in a way that would make sense to the consciousness. Here the two independent spheres met.

    This isn’t quite right. Descartes understood that the two retinal images needed to be combined somehow, and he thought this required a single brain structure that wasn’t two fused halves (as the cerebrum and cerebellum are). He thought that the pineal gland would do the trick. And he also thought that the pineal gland was where the material brain and the immaterial soul were able to causally interact.

    But these are separate roles for the pineal gland to play, in Descartes’s story. Even if there weren’t any immaterial soul, there would still be a need to explain how two retinal images are combined to yield a visual experience of one object. Descartes didn’t think that animals had immaterial souls, but he certainly thought that they saw single objects as a result of receiving two retinal images.

    I would not restrict the mind in such a way. In my opinion just as the external light comes to us from without so the inner light of our thinking goes out to whatever we are observing in the world. Reality is the result of this polarity. The external world of experience and the world of our understanding are the one reality viewed from opposite directions.

    This is very pretty-sounding but it’s a poor substitute for philosophy.

    It is vital that we recognise that the photons and molecules you are talking about are purely models that are used to aid understanding. To treat them as real is, as Barfield said, is to make them into idols.

    They are real. Barfield is wrong.

    +1
  46. Neil Rickert:

    CharlieM: I consider all concepts to be empirical.

    I don’t agree with that.

    I see concepts as abstractions.

    I am being a bit sneaky in the way I’m using the word ’empirical’. By empirical I mean based on observation and we are each able to observe what is thought of as a shared outer world. But we can also observe our own thoughts, feelings, mental pictures and concepts. And if we think about all these various observations it starts to become less obvious which ones are private and personal and which ones are shared and public.

    Based on your own post, a concept is a set of capabilities. The concept of dog consists of the perceptual capabilities involved in being able to recognize a dog. Those abilities are, unavoidably, individual. We use our own neurons, eyes, etc to recognize a dog. A concept becomes an abstraction only we insist on thingifying it.

    When you speak of your own neurons have you actually perceived these entities by means of your senses or are you aware of them from a purely conceptual point of view? How do you know of these thingies in your head? 🙂

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