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

  1. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: Now if we allow a validity to this way of thinking instead of thinking about various wavelengths associated with light we remain within the phenomena and study it as it is we observe that it has certain qualities.

    Nope. This is delusion

    So in your opinion colours can have quantities but not qualities? Or are you saying that they do have qualities but studying them will tell us nothing about reality?

    In what way am I deluded?

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  2. CharlieM: So do you think that there are people who are in a position to do so?

    Not from their own sole perspective. We can report our perceptions and those reports can be used to build hypotheses. See my link to Dennett.

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  3. CharlieM: Dennett’s idea here is a step towards Barfield’s idea of “final participation” as progressing from an “onlooker consciousness”. Final participation is a position in which the perceivers knows that they perceive and their standpoint has a great deal to do with how the perception is interpreted. The object under study can never be isolated from the perceiver.

    Well, you see the problem.

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  4. CharlieM: So in your opinion colours can have quantities but not qualities?

    I think there are ways of describing colours both quantitively and qualititively. How else would colour matching and paint blending work.

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  5. CharlieM: In what way am I deluded?

    You said it youself:
    Dennett’s idea here is a step towards Barfield’s idea of “final participation” as progressing from an “onlooker consciousness”. Final participation is a position in which the perceivers knows that they perceive and their standpoint has a great deal to do with how the perception is interpreted. The object under study can never be isolated from the perceiver.

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  6. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: If I look at a dog, I recognise it because combinations of sensations are brought together in my brain.

    Confident assertion. Are you sure about this? How did you decide a “dog” is a dog?

    Good question.

    I decided through a process of learning, memory retrieval, thinking and visual perception. My idea “dog”, my visual image of the hairy moving object coming out of my neighbours house, and my memories of this happening in the past all come together to allow me to make this confident assertion.

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  7. CharlieM, You don’t think the main element was learning to call a dog (the reality on the end of a lead) a dog (the word)? We perceive the world through our senses but categorise and share the experiences linguistically.

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  8. Corneel: So you were not conceived by your parents but cooked up by an Intelligent Designer? Perhaps He should have gone a bit more easy on the nuts.

    Just because stuff happens to you, doesn’t mean you have much control over it. And don’t be so greedy over them nuts. You got plenty.

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  9. DNA_Jock to : Alan Fox,

    Ah yes: those are terpenes! Strange how many complicated naturally-occurring molecules are made up from the same branched C5 building block. It’s almost as if…

    …chemistry is geared towards producing life in all its various forms.

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  10. Kantian Naturalist:

    Kantian Naturalist: I don’t know if you picked up on this, but the bit you quoted “tiny, indivisible, ultimate particles . . . from which everything is composed” is exactly the view that Ladyman and Ross think we must reject if we are to take the science seriously.

    CharlieM: Yes I did pick up on that. That’s why I added the bit about their beliefs. Ladyman and Ross obviously think that in general modern scientists believe in “tiny, indivisible, ultimate particles”.

    I don’t think that’s quite right. Ladyman and Ross think that philosophers who claim to be “naturalists” or “physicalists” tend to believe very silly things about quantum mechanics. Their point was that a correct understanding of quantum mechanics undermines belief in tiny, divisible, ultimate particles.

    Okay. But the general population seem to be slow to grasp the implications of quantum mechanics. Searching for fundamental physical reality involves recognising the polarity of point-wise, infinitesimal, matter and plane-wise, infinite, peripheral, fields. It took quite a lot of probing in the direction of the point before the periphery became apparent and exclaimed, “remember me, I’ve been feeling a bit neglected”.

    Though they don’t put their point in historical terms, one could also put it as follows: if a naturalist is someone who accepts contemporary fundamental physics as their ontology, then a naturalist should not be an Epicurean.

    I don’t see why they shouldn’t be compatible. Didn’t Epicurus believe in matter as particulate and multiple while the void was an infinite unity? One could not exist without the other.

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  11. CharlieM: I don’t see why they shouldn’t be compatible. Didn’t Epicurus believe in matter as particulate and multiple while the void was an infinite unity? One could not exist without the other.

    They aren’t compatible for the following reason: a naturalist is someone who accepts contemporary fundamental physics as their ontology. But contemporary fundamental physics shows that the very idea of ‘atoms’ as tiny little billiard balls, colliding with each other, is completely mistaken. Therefore, a naturalist should not be an Epicurean.

    CharlieM: Searching for fundamental physical reality involves recognising the polarity of point-wise, infinitesimal, matter and plane-wise, infinite, peripheral, fields. It took quite a lot of probing in the direction of the point before the periphery became apparent and exclaimed, “remember me, I’ve been feeling a bit neglected”.

    This interpretation of the history of physics looks like sheer nonsense to me. But whatever, enjoy your nonsense. It seems to give you intellectual sustenance, and we all need that.

    As for me, I’ve read enough Steiner from your many voluminous quotes that I have no interest in reading any more.

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  12. CharlieM,

    I think it will not surprise you that I am in agreement with Helmholtz. In that article, “Goethe’s Scientific Researches,” Helmholtz remarks as follows:

    But this step into the region of abstract conceptions, which must necessarily be taken, if we wish to penetrate to the causes of phenomena, scares the poet away. In writing a poem he has been accustomed to look, as it were, right into the subject, and to reproduce his intuition without formulating any of the steps that led him to it. And his success is proportionate to the vividness of his intuition. Such is the fashion in which he would have Nature attacked. But the natural philosopher insists on transporting him to a world of invisible atoms and movements, of attractive and repulsive forces, whose intricate actions and reactions, though governed by strict laws, can scarcely be taken in at a glance. To him the impressions of sense are not an irrefragable authority; he examines what claim they have to be trusted . . . the result of such examinations, as at present understood, is that the organs of sense do indeed give us information about external effects produced on them, but convey these effects to our consciousness in a totally different form, so that the character of a sensuous perception depends not so much on the properties of the object perceived as on those of the organ by which we receive the information. . . . We see that science has arrived at an estimate of the senses very different from that which was present to the poet’s mind.

    Interestingly, Helmholtz goes on to point out that one of the reasons why Goethe thought that Newton’s theory of light was absurd was that in Goethe’s time, electricity had not yet been discovered, and as a result, no one was in the slightest position to start figuring out how nerves work.

    In any event: my view is that despite Goethe’s towering genius as a poet and phenomenologist of nature, he was not in any sense a scientist. The scientific attitude as represented here by Helmholtz consists of inquiring how external objects cause our sense-impressions, rather than taking sense-impressions as disclosing how things really are.

    But does it follow, therefore, that a Helmholtzian psycho-physicist must regard the world of the senses as unreal, as illusion? Absolutely not! This is, I think, the real error of the whole Steinerian project: to infer that if the world of the physicist is regarded as what’s ultimately real, then the world of the phenomenologist (the world as experienced) is illusory. This does not follow.

    A Helmholtzian psycho-physicist can (and should!) regard the world of the senses as objectively real but also relative to a perspective. The world of the senses that the poet intuits and the phenomenologist describes is exactly how external objects appear to animals with our kind of evolved neurophysiology. It is not illusory or ‘mere appearance’.

    In fact I suspect that Steiner’s error here is not understanding the crucial difference between Erscheinung and Schein. Schopenhauer also makes this blunder. The former, Erscheinung, is appearings — how things look to beings that have minds like ours. The latter, Schein, is illusion. These are not at all the same kind of thing. The fact that the cover of my book only looks blue to me because I have trichomatic vision does not put the color of the book’s cover in the same category as mirages or hallucinations.

    The difference between the world of immediate sense-perception and the world of scientific models is neither that the former is ‘illusion’ and the latter is ‘real’ nor the inverse, that the world of the senses is what is concrete and real and the latter is mere abstraction.

    Rather, the difference is between reality as seen from a very limited perspective and reality as seen from a more encompassing, more inclusive perspective.

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  13. Kantian Naturalist:

    Although Ladyman has admitted to viewing quantum mechanics as in some way fundamental.

    Not “in some way”. Ladyman is very clear in his formulation of what the fundamentality of quantum mechanics consists in. I discussed that here.

    Ladyman and Ross are also very clear that, by their criterion, quantum mechanics and general relativity are equally fundamental. The fact that those theories are also logically incompatible is one of the most fascinating and perplexing problems in contemporary scientific metaphysics. (Sadly I don’t have the mathematics to understand philosophy of physics, which is one of the reasons I stick to philosophy of mind, history of philosophy, and political philosophy.)

    In the the book you have brought to my attention (thanks for that), the authors:

    deny the local supervenience of the mental on the physical, the token identity of mental states and physical states, the existence of a hierarchy of ‘levels of reality’, and the claim that all causation is physical causation.

    They do believe in the “primacy of physics and physicalism in the loosest sense”.

    As far as I can tell Ladyman believes space at its most fundamental is brought to light in quantum mechanics and time at its most fundamental is revealed by general relativity. That makes sense to me and ties in nicely with my understanding of the polarity between point and plane.

    I do think that Ladyman places great faith in modern science and is quite selective in the things he questions and doubts. But I’m sure I’ll enjoy taking a closer look at that book and making an attempt at understanding their arguments.

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  14. Kantian Naturalist:

    Can you imagine the amount of genetic changes that would be required for a terrestrial mammal to morph into a dolphin, or for the general form of a lizard to morph into a icthyosaur? All the internal and external changes that would be required while all of the transitional forms would need to be viable enough to produce the ongoing generations? All those contemporaneous just so stories?

    Populations don’t have the luxury of picking one specific trait at a time and playing about with it. Everything is much more integrated and interconnected.

    Except that we know that genetic changes don’t happen “atomically” — this mutation here, that mutation there, etc. The discovery that genomes are tightly interconnected, so that changes in a small set of regulatory genes can have sweeping, cascading ripple effects, should make evolutionary transitions easier to imagine. And this is something that we’ve known about since the 1980s. (I learned to think in holistic terms by reading Susan Oyama as undergrad in the early 1990s.)

    And that is why “regulatory” genes need to tightly regulated themselves.

    Taking a look at some of Susan Oyama’s ideas, she has been saying the same things that I have said more recently here. She is no supporter of genetic determinism nor of gene centrism.

    In Nature = f(nurture): A review of Oyama’s The Ontogeny of Information: Developmental Systems and Evolution Bryan Midgley and Edward Morris wrote:

    The first of Oyama’s three propositions concerns what is inherited. Everyone, including Oyama, agrees that genes are inherited. The problem is that most everyone also agrees that only genes are inherited. For Oyama, what is inherited needs to be broadened beyond mere “naked DNA strands” (Oyama, 1982, p.118). As she notes, “[Inheritance]is not limited to genes, or even to germ cells, but includes developmentally relevant aspects of the surround” (Oyama,1989, p.26). For Oyama, inheritance includes all factors-physical, chemical, biological, environmental, or behavioral that participate in prenatal and post-natal development. Among the factors she cites as inherited, other than genes, are “cell structure,””intra-cellular chemicals,” “extracellular environment,” “parental reproductive system,” “self-stimulation by the organism itself,” “immediate physical environment,” “conspecifics and members of other species,” and “climate, food sources, [and] other aspects of the external environment” (Oyama,1989, pp.27-28). Oyama’s point is that genes never function in isolation and that we therefore need to look to factors that serve their context.

    They quote her directly saying:

    In describing the three information systems in a fertilized egg (nuclear DNA, regionalized cytoplasmic macromolecules, and the “cytoskeletal matrix” or cellular structure), they (Raff & Kaufman) show that the initial developmental system includes (but, I would argue, is not limited to) the organism’s genome, complex cell structures and messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) that derives from the mother’s genome, not the embryo’s own. In sea urchin embryos, the latter two parts of the system can bring development a surprising distance. Changes in cell shape, assembly of cilia and synthesis of hatching enzymes will proceed all the way to the blastula stage, without any transcription of the embryo’s own genes. Again and again these authors cite research showing the regulation of gene activity by temperature, cytoplasmic constitution and a host of other factors.

    I’m not sure how you stand on the subject of inheritance and the role of genes.

    Kantian Naturalist: More generally, there’s a whole rich tradition of holistic thinking, of which Goethe is certainly one part, which goes back to Aristotle, and which we also find in Leibniz, Kant, Goethe, Hegel, Marx, William James, Dewey, the Gestalt psychologists, cybernetics, evo-devo, enactivism in cognitive science, etc.

    There have indeed been some prominent holistic thinkers throughout history.

    CharlieM: Yes the similarity of form of different levels goes deeper than any causal relationship between them. The underlying unity is in the formulae that generate them.

    Kantian Naturalist: Fractals are purely mathematical structures, so there cannot be any causal interactions. But precisely for this reason, they are only tools to be used in modeling what happens in the actual world, which does involve causal interactions.

    Math(s) is the tool, fractal patterns are what is observed. Fractals can be seen throughout the natural and human world. We can marvel at the ubiquity of these self-similar patterns repeating through many levels. We can see that there is a lawfulness to these patterns without trying to discover any hidden causes behind them.

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  15. DNA_Jock to Nonlin’org: The baking analogy is a better one: the gene product list is your list of ingredients, but the finished product contains a wealth of molecular variety. If you wish to understand how to make the cake, the list of ingredients is the wholly necessary first step.

    In the recipe analogy the genes are the list of ingredients but they do not contain the instructions as to how the dish is prepared and cooked. The organism uses the genes at its disposal to “cook” itself. Self-basting turkeys have nothing on us 🙂

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  16. DNA_Jock:

    CharlieM: As I kept on repeating in other threads, there is no such thing as a bare genome.

    Yes, you have gone on and on about that. Two things:
    A) your assertion is completely and utterly irrelevant. As has been explained to you multiple times.
    B) (and this is entirely secondary) your assertion is, in fact, wrong. Naked DNA exists in nature, and it becomes incorporated into genomes. That’s been going on for billions of years. Not that it matters
    I may not have bothered pointing (B) out to you because of, you know, point (A).
    So, no evidence then, just your assertions.

    Can you give me an example of naked (isolated) DNA in nature? I’m here to learn.

    Even in viral uncoating The DNA is not “naked”.

    Genome uncoating is a complicated multi-step process that depends on a series of consecutive cues. These often take place in different subcellular compartments or depend on diverse host-factors. The nature of these cues can be very diverse and have recently been classified as “receptor driven”, “chemical”, or “mechanical”

    You are the expert so I’m waiting to be convinced.

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  17. CharlieM: Can you give me an example of naked (isolated) DNA in nature? I’m here to learn.

    Okay. So when text shows up as blue, it is a link. For instance, the word “wrong” in the comment you are replying to. If you click on the link, you will find information that answers your question.

    CharlieM: You are the expert so I’m waiting to be convinced.

    Are you now?

    CharlieM: In the recipe analogy the genes are the list of ingredients but they do not contain the instructions as to how the dish is prepared and cooked.

    Yes, and this is where the analogy breaks down, since the genes do contain the instructions as to how the dish is prepared: the gene products act on each other. I did point this out to nonlin upthread.

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  18. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: Would you say that this applies to statistical correlations in the likes of genetics and evolutionary theories? What are your views on this? I am asking as I would be interested to hear your views on this. It’s not meant as a criticism.

    Statistical correlations with regard to patterns in the actual world tell us where causal relations may be. But since correlation does not entail causation, we need something else besides correlation to generate knowledge of causal relations. That’s where experimentation, intervention, and manipulation are absolutely crucial: that’s what allows us to disambiguate correlation from causation, by prising apart entangled causal relations and determining which patterns are due to how the world is and which patterns are due to our own cognitive biases and habits

    Studying cause and effect is a good way to go about understanding physics and mechanics, but is it the best way to go about understanding life? Quite often living processes are so convoluted, teleological and interdependent that trying to work out causes only leads to confusion. It might help when trying to understand precise particulars, but not when trying to understand life in general.

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  19. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: He explains what words such as “idea” and “theory” would have meant to ancient Greek thinkers. It is imperative that this is taken into account when trying to understand what these ancient philosophers were saying.

    Was this intended as a criticism of what I’m saying here? I assure you, I’ve studied ancient Greek philosophy in its linguistic and historical context.

    No, it was intended as a general comment to anyone who may be reading this.

    Pythagoras would have had a very different understanding of mathematics than we do today.

    Indeed — not least of which is that Greek mathematics was almost exclusively geometry, with a strong emphasis on proofs as what could be constructed by drawing lines in the sand. They didn’t think of mathematics as involving the manipulation of symbols, and they regarded mathematics and logic as two almost entirely intellectual projects. The 20th century project of showing how to construct arithmetic out of symbolic logic would have made no sense to them at all.

    Yes, there is a fair bit of difference between studying form geometrically and studying it algebraically. Algebra comes more to the fore when people begin to think more abstractly. The theorem of Pythagoras can be learned through just using arithmetic on the measurements of lengths without having any recognition of what they stand for. Symbols can be manipulated and answers obtained without any thoughts about the reality behind them.

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  20. CharlieM: Symbols can be manipulated and answers obtained without any thoughts about the reality behind them.

    Hmm. Does reality need a rule book? We model reality, sometimes very accurately, using mathematics. Does that explain reality?

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  21. Kantian Naturalist:

    Steiner did not make the sharp distinctions you seem to think he did.

    My objections to Steiner are not based on any sharp distinctions I am attributing to him. My objections to Steiner are based on the fact that his interpretations of Hellenistic philosophy are not accurate.

    And you know this because your interpretation is accurate?

    Scepticism about reaching truth through thinking was more apparent in later thinkers such as Pyrrho than in Plato. Earlier Anaxagoras had claimed that nous (world reason according to Steiner) was the fundamental unity. There was a gradual transition from a participatory consciousness where experience precluded the need for speculation to later times when individual thinking replaced this consciousness. And with this type of thinking came doubt about the nature of reality. The ascension of personal thinking brought with it an awareness of contradictions in the world of experience.

    Anaxagoras was, one might say, a “scientific creationist”: he articulated a model of the causal processes whereby Mind organizes the elements into a cosmos, an organized whole. Talking about “participatory consciousness” isn’t helpful for understanding what Anaxagoras did or his place in the history of Greek thought.

    It is helpful in that it places in context the Greek thinkers around the time of Anagagoras. According to Barfield, by the time of the appearance of the pre-Socratic philosophers “participatory consciousness” was reaching the end of its existence as the mainstream position. This was the beginning of the consciousness that lead to our modern everyday consciousness. In pre-historic times it would not have occurred to the average person to enquire as to what the sun was made of. They knew that the sun was the being that gave them and all the creatures around them life. It was Ra, Surya, Helios, whose light was the bringer of life.

    Plato can be seen as the fulcrum, the turning point. Before him Socrates and the pre-Socratics, still connected to an age of myths and stories which told of a world everywhere populated by beings that controlled natural events and processes. And after him Aristotle who inspired the modern thinkers to ask questions about how the physical world was constructed and came to be.

    I’ll just note that Steiner never used the term “original participation”. That phrase was coined by Barfield.

    I don’t think that it’s really fair to say that Pyrrho was more skeptical than Plato. In Plato’s ‘later’ dialogues he examines very closely what is wrong with the idea of the Forms or eidoi that play a prominent role in his better known dialogues.

    I would say that Pyrrhonism brought doubt to a new level.

    Skepticism is itself a philosophical doctrine.

    If you like, in the same sense that atheism is a religion.

    Fair point.

    It is not purely a stream of decline, there is also an accompanying contemporaneous ascent.

    I don’t see why it’s useful to talk about “decline” or “ascent”. Both metaphors are just getting in the way of understanding the history of philosophy.

    Look at the history of anything and you will find all sorts of examples of decline and ascent. One empire declines and falls and another comes to the fore. The amount of people living in the countryside declines while urban populations grow. Don’t you think it useful to look at overall trends in developmental processes?

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  22. DNA_Jock:

    Green only appears when the two coloured edges come together. Why don’t the colours spread out equally as soon as the light leaves the prism?

    They do spread out equally.

    Are you sure about that? Rather than looking at the image cast at one specific distance from the prism, look at the coloured rays as they progress away from the prism.

    Here is a video of demonstrations of how light can be manipulated using prisms and mirrors. The experimenter calls the well known light spectrum, the Newton spectrum, and the complimentary spectrum the Goethe spectrum. His experiment with the two mirrors shows how the purple (magenta) ray of the Goethe spectrum is also seen to be monochromatic.

    He says::

    Rays of light are just images as are the rays of shadow. The images and their colours are in light, are produced from light, and are mediated by light, but they are not light itself.

    Light is primal. What we can see as colours has been produced by light but it is not light. What we can measure as electromagnetic waves has been produced by light but it is not light. Light is invisible and undetectable in itself. What is detectable is the image or effect of its interaction with material substance.

    He references the Norwegian physicist Tolger Holtsmark who has been quoted as saying:

    Newton thought that he explained the existence of the spectrum by means of a physical model of the light, whereas he in fact used an image of the spectrum to explain one possible physical model of the light.

    Light is as different from its image as you are from your reflection in a mirror.

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  23. CharlieM: DNA_Jock:

    Green only appears when the two coloured edges come together. Why don’t the colours spread out equally as soon as the light leaves the prism?

    They do spread out equally.

    Are you sure about that?

    Yes, yes I am.
    I even linked back to our previous discussion on this very subject, in which I was responding to your ‘magenta ray’ video. As I wrote then:

    I will say that the refraction of the “ray” of magenta is kinda cool, but all of these effects are the (easily explained) results of inadequately-collimated light.

    and

    Only if you are working with inadequately collimated light.
    Use collimated light (y’know, like a sane person would) and you can explain all the effects of your video (and more) as being the result of good old-fashioned Newtonian optics. Easy way to get collimated light: punch a hole in a window blind to get a beautiful parallel beam of sunlight. Put THAT through a prism and you’ll get ROYGBIV at all distances.

    So your citing that same video to support your assertion that rays do not spread out equally is just sad.

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  24. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: I am pointing out that our perception of shapes and colours is only possible in the mid range between light and dark.

    Frankly, I suggest you are in no position to point anything out regarding human perception, as your only qualification (as is mine) is being human. Dennett was on to something with his Heterophenomenology.

    You are saying that because I am a human with the ability to perceive, this disqualifies me from talking about human perception?

    According to Dennett colour vision is an illusion and we have a manifest illusion of consciousness.

    On this subject Steiner has this to say:

    Physiology shows that there can be no direct knowledge even of the effects which objects produce on our sense organs. Through following up the processes which occur in our own bodies, the physiologist finds that, even in the sense organs, the effects of the external movement are transformed in the most manifold ways. We can see this most clearly in the case of eye and ear. Both are very complicated organs which modify the external stimulus considerably before they conduct it to the corresponding nerve. From the peripheral end of the nerve the already modified stimulus is then conducted to the brain. Only now can the central organs be stimulated. Therefore it is concluded that the external process undergoes a series of transformations before it reaches consciousness. What goes on in the brain is connected by so many intermediate links with the external process, that any similarity to the latter is out of the question. What the brain ultimately transmits to the soul is neither external processes, nor processes in the sense organs, but only such as occur in the brain. But even these are not perceived directly by the soul. What we finally have in consciousness are not brain processes at all, but sensations. My sensation of red has absolutely no similarity to the process which occurs in the brain when I sense red. The redness, again, only appears as an effect in the soul, and the brain process is merely its cause. This is why Hartmann says, “What the subject perceives, therefore, are always only modifications of his own psychical states and nothing else.” (see fn 5) When I have the sensations, however, they are as yet very far from being grouped into what I perceive as “things”. Only single sensations can be transmitted to me by the brain. The sensations of hardness and softness are transmitted to me by the sense of touch, those of color and light by the sense of sight. Yet all these are to be found united in one and the same object. This unification, therefore, can only be brought about by the soul itself; that is, the soul combines the separate sensations, mediated through the brain, into bodies. My brain conveys to me singly, and by widely different paths, the visual, tactile, and auditory sensations which the soul then combines into the mental picture of a trumpet. It is just this very last link in a process (the mental picture of the trumpet) which for my consciousness is the very first thing that is given. In it nothing can any longer be found of what exists outside me and originally made an impression on my senses. The external object has been entirely lost on the way to the brain and through the brain to the soul.

    It would be hard to find in the history of human culture another edifice of thought which has been built up with greater ingenuity, and which yet, on closer analysis, collapses into nothing. Let us look a little closer at the way it has been constructed. One starts with what is given in naïve consciousness, with the thing as perceived. Then one shows that none of the qualities which we find in this thing would exist for us had we no sense organs. No eye — no color. Therefore the color is not yet present in that which affects the eye. It arises first through the interaction of the eye and the object. The latter is, therefore, colorless. But neither is the color in the eye, for in the eye there is only a chemical or physical process which is first conducted by the optic nerve to the brain, and there initiates another process. Even this is not yet the color. That is only produced in the soul by means of the brain process. Even then it does not yet enter my consciousness, but is first transferred by the soul to a body in the external world. There, upon this body, I finally believe myself to perceive it. We have traveled in a complete circle. We became conscious of a colored body. That is the first thing. Here the thought operation starts. If I had no eye, the body would be, for me, colorless. I cannot therefore attribute the color to the body. I start on the search for it. I look for it in the eye — in vain; in the nerve — in vain; in the brain — in vain once more; in the soul — here I find it indeed, but not attached to the body. I find the colored body again only on returning to my starting point. The circle is completed. I believe that I am cognizing as a product of my soul that which the naïve man regards as existing outside him, in space.

    As long as one stops here everything seems to fit beautifully. But we must go over the whole thing again from the beginning. Hitherto I have been dealing with something — the external percept — of which, from my naïve standpoint, I have had until now a totally wrong conception. I thought that the percept, just as I perceive it, had objective existence. But now I observe that it disappears together with my mental picture, that it is only a modification of my inner state of soul. Have I, then, any right at all to start from it in my arguments? Can I say of it that it acts on my soul? I must henceforth treat the table, of which formerly I believed that it acted on me and produced a mental picture of itself in me, as itself a mental picture. But from this it follows logically that my sense organs and the processes in them are also merely subjective. I have no right to speak of a real eye but only of my mental picture of the eye. Exactly the same is true of the nerve paths, and the brain process, and no less of the process in the soul itself, through which things are supposed to be built up out of the chaos of manifold sensations. If, assuming the truth of the first circle of argumentation, I run through the steps of my act of cognition once more, the latter reveals itself as a tissue of mental pictures which, as such, cannot act on one another. I cannot say that my mental picture of the object acts on my mental picture of the eye, and that from this interaction my mental picture of color results. Nor is it necessary that I should say this. For as soon as I see clearly that my sense organs and their activity, my nerve and soul processes, can also be known to me only through perception, the train of thought which I have outlined reveals itself in its full absurdity. It is quite true that I can have no percept without the corresponding sense organ. But just as little can I be aware of a sense organ without perception. From the percept of a table I can pass to the eye which sees it, or the nerves in the skin which touch it, but what takes place in these I can, in turn, learn only from perception. And then I soon notice that there is no trace of similarity between the process which takes place in the eye and the color which I perceive. I cannot eliminate my color percept by pointing to the process which takes place in the eye during this perception. No more can I rediscover the color in the nerve or brain processes. I only add new percepts, localized within the organism, to the first percept, which the naïve man localizes outside his organism. I merely pass from one percept to another.

    Moreover there is a gap in the whole argument. I can follow the processes in my organism up to those in my brain, even though my assumptions become more and more hypothetical as I approach the central processes of the brain. The path of external observation ceases with the process in my brain, more particularly with the process which I should observe if I could deal with the brain using the instruments and methods of physics and chemistry. The path of inner observation begins with the sensation, and continues up to the building of things out of the material of sensation. At the point of transition from brain process to sensation, the path of observation is interrupted.

    The way of thinking here described, known as critical idealism, in contrast to the standpoint of naïve consciousness known as naïve realism, makes the mistake of characterizing the one percept as mental picture while taking the other in the very same sense as does the naïve realism which it apparently refutes. It wants to prove that percepts have the character of mental pictures by naïvely accepting the percepts connected with one’s own organism as objectively valid facts; and over and above this, it fails to see that it confuses two spheres of observation, between which it can find no connection

    Here Steiner is telling us in his long winded way that Dennett has no right to speak of neurons and brains as he does. The illusion that is my eye transmits to the illusion that is my brain a representation of the illusion that I experience as red.

    If consciousness and colours are illusions then so are brains and bodies.

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  25. There are a few things that Dennett says that I could agree with. For instance:

    He believes that human conscious is as different from animal consciousness as language is from bird song. “You can’t tell lies or write poetry in birdsong. It does not have the representational power.”

    He disapproves of the habit of comparing intelligent animals such as crows and octopuses to humans. He designates this as the “Beatrix Potter syndrome”.

    He believes that locomoting organisms such as plankton and jellyfish, are pretty much out of control. A shark is a controller, it controls itself, but we human beings are autonomous in a very strong sense. We can become responsible, moral agents and free will is something we can strive to achieve.

    That is a progression which I would agree is evident.

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  26. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: Now if we allow a validity to this way of thinking instead of thinking about various wavelengths associated with light we remain within the phenomena and study it as it is we observe that it has certain qualities.

    Nope. This is delusion.

    And would you say that it is a delusion to concentrate on the study the organisms living in a particular area without concerning oneself with their genomes? Simply studying how they interact.

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  27. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: If I look at a dog, I recognise it because combinations of sensations are brought together in my brain.

    Confident assertion. Are you sure about this?

    No, I’m not. I should have said brought together in my mind. I am not conscious of my brain processes while I am engaged in perceiving and even after the event when I bring it up in memory. I have never seen my brain nor felt my brain.

    How did you decide a “dog” is a dog?

    Because of the concepts I have gathered through experience.

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  28. CharlieM: You are saying that because I am a human with the ability to perceive, this disqualifies me from talking about human perception

    Yes, though this applies to any entity. Any sentient entity is incapable of comprehending, deconstructing, constructing an entity equally complex as itself. I may have already mentioned this.

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  29. CharlieM,
    You’re wearing out my scroll wheel. Why not just précis whatever points you think the text is making and just provide the link? I’m not the first to complain about walls of text.

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  30. CharlieM: How did you decide a “dog” is a dog?

    Because of the concepts I have gathered through experience.

    I don’t believe you. Where did you get the word “dog”? How do you associate it with canis familiaris? How do we categorize dog from not-dog. There’s more to it, I feel.

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  31. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: I don’t see why they shouldn’t be compatible. Didn’t Epicurus believe in matter as particulate and multiple while the void was an infinite unity? One could not exist without the other.

    They aren’t compatible for the following reason: a naturalist is someone who accepts contemporary fundamental physics as their ontology. But contemporary fundamental physics shows that the very idea of ‘atoms’ as tiny little billiard balls, colliding with each other, is completely mistaken. Therefore, a naturalist should not be an Epicurean.

    I’m sure Epicureans had a variety of beliefs about particulars as do naturalists, so It’s possible that some people thought of themselves as both. There have been plenty of naturalists around who thought in terms of protons and electrons as billiard balls. But it’s not a point I would spend much time arguing over.

    CharlieM: Searching for fundamental physical reality involves recognising the polarity of point-wise, infinitesimal, matter and plane-wise, infinite, peripheral, fields. It took quite a lot of probing in the direction of the point before the periphery became apparent and exclaimed, “remember me, I’ve been feeling a bit neglected”.

    This interpretation of the history of physics looks like sheer nonsense to me. But whatever, enjoy your nonsense. It seems to give you intellectual sustenance, and we all need that.

    One of the things I’m thinking of here is the centuries of the dominance of Euclidean geometry before projective geometry began to show up. Another is the way that matter was dealt with as though space and time were just the backdrops in which it operated.

    As for me, I’ve read enough Steiner from your many voluminous quotes that I have no interest in reading any more.

    As is your right.

    Because most of his lectures were transcribed (which he was reluctant to sanction), there is a tremendous amount of material available. I think he would have preferred it if only his written works were made available for future reading.

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  32. CharlieM: He believes that human conscious is as different from animal consciousness as language is from bird song.

    I’m not convinced that they are all that different.

    “You can’t tell lies or write poetry in birdsong. It does not have the representational power.”

    Not being a bird, I’m unable to evaluate that. Maybe the birds have love songs. How could we tell?

    I think Dennett is overstating what he knows.

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  33. CharlieM: Here Steiner is telling us in his long winded way that Dennett has no right to speak of neurons and brains as he does. The illusion that is my eye transmits to the illusion that is my brain a representation of the illusion that I experience as red.

    If consciousness and colours are illusions then so are brains and bodies.

    I’ll grant the possibility that Steiner was reasonably well-informed about the contours of neo-Kantian epistemology and 19th century neurophysiology. But epistemology and neurophysiology have advanced significantly since then.

    I do think, based on my own extensive study of Kant and of neuroscience, that “naive realism” must be abandoned as a theory of perception. But I don’t think that what Steiner calls “critical idealism” is the only other game in town.

    My own view is a version of what’s called “critical realism”: we do not experience things in themselves, but we can know them. (In this respect the rationalists, especially Spinoza, were basically right.)

    The trick is to demystify the intellect, so that instead of “intellectual intuition”, we can tell a story about how communities of inquirers can, via increasingly more sophisticated technology and increasingly sophisticated language (i.e. advanced mathematics), construct progressively better models of things in themselves, so that our best scientific theories can be understood as asymptotically approximating the noumenal.

    It is true that accepting this means giving up on a very clumsy “experience = knowledge” classical empiricism, but I’m happy with that. I’m probably much closer to neorationalism than to any kind of empiricism these days, at least with regard to theoretical philosophy.

    In practical philosophy (ethical and political theory) we must take into account the human good; in theoretical philosophy we must reach for a broader and deeper vantage point than that which is ‘human, all too human’.

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  34. Kantian Naturalist: CharlieM,

    I think it will not surprise you that I am in agreement with Helmholtz. In that article, “Goethe’s Scientific Researches,” Helmholtz remarks as follows:

    But this step into the region of abstract conceptions, which must necessarily be taken, if we wish to penetrate to the causes of phenomena, scares the poet away. In writing a poem he has been accustomed to look, as it were, right into the subject, and to reproduce his intuition without formulating any of the steps that led him to it. And his success is proportionate to the vividness of his intuition. Such is the fashion in which he would have Nature attacked. But the natural philosopher insists on transporting him to a world of invisible atoms and movements, of attractive and repulsive forces, whose intricate actions and reactions, though governed by strict laws, can scarcely be taken in at a glance. To him the impressions of sense are not an irrefragable authority; he examines what claim they have to be trusted . . . the result of such examinations, as at present understood, is that the organs of sense do indeed give us information about external effects produced on them, but convey these effects to our consciousness in a totally different form, so that the character of a sensuous perception depends not so much on the properties of the object perceived as on those of the organ by which we receive the information. . . . We see that science has arrived at an estimate of the senses very different from that which was present to the poet’s mind.

    Interestingly, Helmholtz goes on to point out that one of the reasons why Goethe thought that Newton’s theory of light was absurd was that in Goethe’s time, electricity had not yet been discovered, and as a result, no one was in the slightest position to start figuring out how nerves work.

    In any event: my view is that despite Goethe’s towering genius as a poet and phenomenologist of nature, he was not in any sense a scientist. The scientific attitude as represented here by Helmholtz consists of inquiring how external objects cause our sense-impressions, rather than taking sense-impressions as disclosing how things really are.

    The difference between how Goethe proceeded and how Helmholtz proceeded is informative of the contrast between a holistic outlook and a reductionist outlook.

    Helmholtz would like to separate everything out into cause and effect, From the observed world he imagines behind it a world of spinning atoms and forces which is taken to be the fundamental reality. But this sub microscopic world can only be modelled using mental pictures taken from sense experience. Take away the mental pictures and all that is left is pure mathematics.

    Goethe proceed in the opposite direction. He doesn’t want to speculate on what is behind the senses. He wants to use his senses in a way that they will display more than they at first reveal. How does he do this? By using his thinking mind. If he gathers together as many sense experiences in time and space of the object under study he can then use his mind to interrelate all these experiences and by this means get an overall view of the natural processes as they take place in reality. He went far beyond just accepting what his senses were telling him.

    So these were two contrasting methods of enquiry, the former reductive and the latter connective.

    But does it follow, therefore, that a Helmholtzian psycho-physicist must regard the world of the senses as unreal, as illusion? Absolutely not! This is, I think, the real error of the whole Steinerian project: to infer that if the world of the physicist is regarded as what’s ultimately real, then the world of the phenomenologist (the world as experienced) is illusory. This does not follow.

    That is not what Steiner inferred. He was more concerned that the sub microscopic world of the physicist, because it can only be imagined in terms of macroscopic entities, would be thought of as being like that in reality. Rather than accusing physicists of believing the macro world to be illusionary he saw the danger of them portraying the sub microscopic world appearing to be just a miniaturized version of the macroscopic world.

    A Helmholtzian psycho-physicist can (and should!) regard the world of the senses as objectively real but also relative to a perspective. The world of the senses that the poet intuits and the phenomenologist describes is exactly how external objects appear to animals with our kind of evolved neurophysiology. It is not illusory or ‘mere appearance’.

    Reality comes in stages when the subject makes connections which gives a meaningful contextual whole her or his sense experiences.

    In fact I suspect that Steiner’s error here is not understanding the crucial difference between Erscheinung and Schein. Schopenhauer also makes this blunder. The former, Erscheinung, is appearings — how things look to beings that have minds like ours. The latter, Schein, is illusion. These are not at all the same kind of thing. The fact that the cover of my book only looks blue to me because I have trichomatic vision does not put the color of the book’s cover in the same category as mirages or hallucinations.

    The difference between the world of immediate sense-perception and the world of scientific models is neither that the former is ‘illusion’ and the latter is ‘real’ nor the inverse, that the world of the senses is what is concrete and real and the latter is mere abstraction.

    Rather, the difference is between reality as seen from a very limited perspective and reality as seen from a more encompassing, more inclusive perspective

    In order to judge Steiner on these matter you would be required to read and understand what he is saying in his basic books such as “The Philosophy of Freedom”, at the very least. I know you are not prepared to do this.

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  35. The difference between how Goethe proceeded and how Helmholtz proceeded is informative of the contrast between a holistic outlook and a reductionist outlook.

    Sure, if you want to use the words “holistic” and “reductionist” in a way that doesn’t make sense.

    Helmholtz would like to separate everything out into cause and effect, From the observed world he imagines behind it a world of spinning atoms and forces which is taken to be the fundamental reality. But this sub microscopic world can only be modelled using mental pictures taken from sense experience. Take away the mental pictures and all that is left is pure mathematics.

    Mental pictures are a useful crutch when teaching science to children in schools, but that doesn’t describe how physicists or psychologists go about their business as scientists. In doing science, what matters are the law-governed or law-like relations between the components of the model that explains the data that have been collected in measurements.

    Goethe proceed in the opposite direction. He doesn’t want to speculate on what is behind the senses. He wants to use his senses in a way that they will display more than they at first reveal. How does he do this? By using his thinking mind. If he gathers together as many sense experiences in time and space of the object under study he can then use his mind to interrelate all these experiences and by this means get an overall view of the natural processes as they take place in reality. He went far beyond just accepting what his senses were telling him.

    Yes, I get that. I have read Goethe, you know. I understand his method as a poet and as a lover of nature. What we’re arguing about is whether this method deserves to be called scientific.

    In order to judge Steiner on these matter you would be required to read and understand what he is saying in his basic books such as “The Philosophy of Freedom”, at the very least. I know you are not prepared to do this.

    I’ve read every passage of Steiner’s you have posted or linked to.

    I understand quite well the historical context in which he’s writing because I have read Helmholtz and Schopenhauer, so I’m actually in a good position to determine whether his contributions to philosophy are worthwhile.

    I don’t think they are, because I don’t think he understands the epistemological issues that he’s talking about. I think his description of “critical idealism” shows a fairly basic misunderstanding of Kant, and I think that he doesn’t understand why naive realism is badly confused.

    Direct realism may be good for art but it’s bad for epistemology. Either Steiner doesn’t see the difference, or he doesn’t care. Neither is a good look.

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  36. DNA_Jock:

    CharlieM: Can you give me an example of naked (isolated) DNA in nature? I’m here to learn.

    Okay. So when text shows up as blue, it is a link. For instance, the word “wrong” in the comment you are replying to. If you click on the link, you will find information that answers your question.

    Your link did not actually use the term “naked DNA” but it does seem that competent bacteria do consume DNA fragments that are lying around. And there seems to be plenty of it. And as Craig Venter has said it is an inert chemical and so it would just be lying around at the mercy of external forces.

    CharlieM: You are the expert so I’m waiting to be convinced.

    Are you now?

    Yes. And searching “naked DNA” has convinced me that it wherever you look DNA is there.

    For instance From the video, “Science Happy Hour: Naked DNA in Seawater” Dr. Jesse Ausubel relates that they sampled water from an area in the vicinity of New York and they found 60 000 bits of DNA in one quarter cup of water. He tells us that DNA is everywhere. It is in ponds, rivers, lakes, oceans and in the air. Now I would class this as organic waste. But nature never wastes any of her produce, so unlike the ocean’s plastics, I’m sure it will be getting consumed and recycled by all sorts of organisms.

    I seem to recall someone mentioning that the fluid around cells has been found to contain sections of DNA floating around. I don’t remember who it was, it could have been J-Mac or Phoodoo.

    So is it legitimate to distinguish living DNA from dead DNA?Naked DNA can do nothing in isolation, burst a cell open and even fragments of chromatin can do nothing, they are inert, dead. But these fragments can be and are being used by living organisms. An extreme example is Deinococcus radiodurans. Again Craig Venter tells us it can take 3 million rads of radiation and not be killed. Its chromosome gets blown apart, but after 12 to 24 hours it stitches its genome back together exactly as it was before, and it starts replicating again.

    Jumbled up DNA floating free is incapable of doing anything in isolation but an organism is capable of taking its jumbled up DNA and bring it back to life.

    CharlieM: In the recipe analogy the genes are the list of ingredients but they do not contain the instructions as to how the dish is prepared and cooked.

    Yes, and this is where the analogy breaks down, since the genes do contain the instructions as to how the dish is prepared: the gene products act on each other. I did point this out to nonlin upthread.

    Genes contain the templates for making strings of amino acids. Coordinating the processes comes from a higher level.

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  37. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: Symbols can be manipulated and answers obtained without any thoughts about the reality behind them.

    Hmm. Does reality need a rule book? We model reality, sometimes very accurately, using mathematics. Does that explain reality?

    It helps. Are there really such a thing as parallel lines? Do they ever meet?

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  38. DNA_Jock:

    CharlieM:
    Green only appears when the two coloured edges come together. Why don’t the colours spread out equally as soon as the light leaves the prism?

    They do spread out equally.

    Are you sure about that?

    Yes, yes I am.
    I even linked back to our previous discussion on this very subject, in which I was responding to your ‘magenta ray’ video. As I wrote then:

    I will say that the refraction of the “ray” of magenta is kinda cool, but all of these effects are the (easily explained) results of inadequately-collimated light.

    and

    Only if you are working with inadequately collimated light.
    Use collimated light (y’know, like a sane person would) and you can explain all the effects of your video (and more) as being the result of good old-fashioned Newtonian optics. Easy way to get collimated light: punch a hole in a window blind to get a beautiful parallel beam of sunlight. Put THAT through a prism and you’ll get ROYGBIV at all distances.

    So your citing that same video to support your assertion that rays do not spread out equally is just sad.

    With your focus on collimated light you seem to think what I am talking about is due to chromatic aberration. It has nothing to do with that.

    The image shown below has been taken from this article. The white I am talking about can be seen at position ! and this is with a parallel beam of light. It would seem that Newton was aware of this.

    They say in the article:

    The most common choice for the spectrum cross section that is recognized as Newtonian is position 2, with the greatest diversity of colours. This particular position is also the foundation for one aspect of the theoretical assumption that white light is heterogeneous (the other will be covered in Sect. 7). Please note that at position 1, white is in the middle, and it can only be explained as being due to the “mixing” of different colours if position 2 is given the greater importance and relevance, and is used to explain the appearance of position 1, after the fact. This was precisely what was done by Newton, and is pointed out by Ribe: “More significantly, Newton’s explanation of the white image appears not when the original experiment is presented, but near the end of Book I, some 100 pages later. Newton thus reveals the complexity of the prismatic phenomena only after he has established his theory.” Greater weightage for position 2 cannot be theoretically assumed—it would have to be established, with a clear experimental justification.

    The beam can be narrowed further and the central white area would get smaller accordingly but it would not disappear completely.

    The article also goes into detail about the production of magenta from the dark spectrum with an accompanying image.

    Why did Newton arrange his experiment to position his equipment at the point where all the colours were spread with no black or white showing on the cast image (position 2) taking no account of the other positions?

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  39. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: You are saying that because I am a human with the ability to perceive, this disqualifies me from talking about human perception

    Yes, though this applies to any entity. Any sentient entity is incapable of comprehending, deconstructing, constructing an entity equally complex as itself. I may have already mentioned this.

    So you leave no room for degrees of comprehension? We can either comprehend fully or not at all?

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  40. Alan Fox:
    CharlieM,
    You’re wearing out my scroll wheel. Why not just précis whatever points you think the text is making and just provide the link? I’m not the first to complain about walls of text.

    May I suggest you alternate the finger you use to scroll. That way your fingers get a good workout while you ignore the text. You’ll soon be opening ring pulls with ease using any finger you like. 🙂

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  41. Alan Fox:

    Alan Fox: How did you decide a “dog” is a dog?

    CharlieM: Because of the concepts I have gathered through experience.

    I don’t believe you. Where did you get the word “dog”? How do you associate it with canis familiaris? How do we categorize dog from not-dog. There’s more to it, I feel.

    There definitely is a great deal to it. While using the word “dog” to signify the entity in front of me I have knowledge of a multitude of concepts even if they are not focused in my consciousness at the time. Concepts such as language, speech, mammal, living being, quadruped, quantity, classification, mental image, senses, symbol, communication, reflection and so on. I gather all these concepts through life experiences. On the other hand I know that the dog cannot and indeed has no need to communicate all of these concepts to others.

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  42. Neil Rickert:

    CharlieM: He believes that human conscious is as different from animal consciousness as language is from bird song.

    I’m not convinced that they are all that different.

    I don’t think you are giving self-conscious, rational, reflective thinking its due.

    Dennett: “You can’t tell lies or write poetry in birdsong. It does not have the representational power.”

    Not being a bird, I’m unable to evaluate that. Maybe the birds have love songs. How could we tell?

    I’m sure they do have love songs. But what evidence do you have that they can analyse these songs, understand how they form the notes, know the processes by which other animals hear the song, give meanings to the individual notes in the same way that individual words in poetry have their own meanings?

    I think Dennett is overstating what he knows

    And maybe you are understating what knowledge has been gained through experiences with and experimentation on animals.

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  43. to Kantian Naturalist,

    I would prefer to give your comments some thought before responding, so I’ll mull over what you say overnight and do my best to reply tomorrow.

    I do know that Steiner has said that when he was at school he realised that the teacher of one subject was just reading straight out of the text book. So he got hold of Kant’s, “Critique of Pure Reason” (If my memory serves me well), tore the pages out and interleaved them into the textbook so he could study it in class and catch up with the subject of the lesson at his convenience. I have no doubt that he did take the time to study Kant intensively.

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  44. CharlieM: With your focus on collimated light you seem to think what I am talking about is due to chromatic aberration. It has nothing to do with that.

    Splutter! Well, we agree on one thing: this has nothing to do with chromatic aberration. Your lack of understanding of basic optics is duly noted.

    The image shown below has been taken from this article. The white I am talking about can be seen at position ! and this is with a parallel beam of light. It would seem that Newton was aware of this.

    Yes, he was, and he noted that it was the predicted consequence of inadequately collimated light. I am curious about the grey area in your image. Does it actually exist?
    The image below has been taken from the wall of my basement. The adequately collimated light I am talking about can be seen to the left. You will note that ROYGBIV can be seen at all distances from the prism.
    You should check out what people can do with diffraction gratings!

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  45. CharlieM: I don’t think you are giving self-conscious, rational, reflective thinking its due.

    Of course I am. However, neither you nor Dennett are giving bird songs their due.

    I have no doubt that human language is far more valuable than bird songs — if you evaluate from a human perspective. But what if you evaluate from a bird perspective.

    My real point is that we do not have absolute standards by which we can settle such questions.

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  46. CharlieM: It helps.

    It helps whom (as my pedantic retired English teacher friend would say)?

    CharlieM: Are there really such a thing as parallel lines? Do they ever meet?

    No. Therefore they can neither meet nor not meet. Cretan logic for you.

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  47. CharlieM:

    Yes, though this applies to any entity. Any sentient entity is incapable of comprehending, deconstructing, constructing an entity equally complex as itself. I may have already mentioned this.

    So you leave no room for degrees of comprehension? We can either comprehend fully or not at all?

    Fair point. But I have always argued against binarism. In our understanding, we approach reality asymptotically. Degrees of accuracy, with a pie-slice of ignorance. Trouble us we don’t know what we don’t know and can’t know what we can’t know.

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  48. CharlieM,

    Well, you could try italic tags instead of blockquote (which I find less easy to read in long passages). You could emphasize phrases that you thought pertinent, add line-breaks.

    Your reference to ring-pulls reminds me of an event long ago that happened to me in Portsmouth involving a dead cat, cans of beer, family relationships, the Royal Navy and fleas. I’ll spare you.

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  49. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: Here Steiner is telling us in his long winded way that Dennett has no right to speak of neurons and brains as he does. The illusion that is my eye transmits to the illusion that is my brain a representation of the illusion that I experience as red.

    If consciousness and colours are illusions then so are brains and bodies.

    I’ll grant the possibility that Steiner was reasonably well-informed about the contours of neo-Kantian epistemology and 19th century neurophysiology. But epistemology and neurophysiology have advanced significantly since then.

    I do think, based on my own extensive study of Kant and of neuroscience, that “naive realism” must be abandoned as a theory of perception. But I don’t think that what Steiner calls “critical idealism” is the only other game in town.

    No but it was what he was criticising for using the same reasoning that I have attributed to Dennett above.

    And Steiner argues in “The Philosophy of Freedom” that we can be naive realists about one thing, and only one thing, that we experience; and that is thinking. Why? Because under normal circumstances we arrive at the concept of an entity separately from our perceiving it. We must join the two together. I see a dog but I cannot know it’s a dog without having the concept “dog”. With thinking the perception and the concept of it are one and the same thing. We add nothing new through the concept.

    My own view is a version of what’s called “critical realism”: we do not experience things in themselves, but we can know them. (In this respect the rationalists, especially Spinoza, were basically right.)

    The trick is to demystify the intellect, so that instead of “intellectual intuition”, we can tell a story about how communities of inquirers can, via increasingly more sophisticated technology and increasingly sophisticated language (i.e. advanced mathematics), construct progressively better models of things in themselves, so that our best scientific theories can be understood as asymptotically approximating the noumenal.

    Maybe it’s possible that it is a mistaken way of picturing the world to make the division, as Kant did and you are doing, between “thing” (phenomenon) and “thing-in-itself” (noumenon).

    Steiner believes that this came about through a one-sided Platonism.

    He believed that Descartes like Bacon suffered from this one-sided Platonic mode of thought. It brought about a doubt in impartial observation of nature. People who thought like Descartes wished to derive all knowledge from pure reason as it was believed the senses can deceive us. Their system was supposed to be built up similar to that of Euclidean geometry, built up from simple, true premises. In his Ethics Spinoza takes a number of conceptions and builds up a system of reasoned truths. For him the essence of reality is expressed in thought and reason; reality cannot be derived from sense perception. Kant also mistrusts the world of sense perception.

    Steiner attributes to Kant three preconceptions
    1. There exists necessary truths through thought which are free from experience.
    2. Experience cannot give necessary truths.
    3. Through thought ideas are added to single perceptions.

    Kant believed that it is humans who bring spatial and temporal order to the objects of perception. He is only aware of impressions not the objects in themselves. We are only aware of our own sensations and our knowledge is limited to them. Plato believed that essential, eternal truth lay in the ideas, Kant believed that ideas only give us a limited knowledge. So for Kant, the ideas of freedom, immortality, and the divine world order can only be gained through faith. Kant believes the ideas are restricted to the mind, Goethe believed the ideas are in the perceived world if only the mind would grasp them.

    Steiner concludes:

    The Kantian world-conception can only appear to Goethe’s in the following light: the Kantian world-conception has not arisen as the result of the removal of old errors, nor of a free, original penetration into reality, but as the result of a logical interblending of acquired and inherited philosophical and religious preconceptions. It could only emanate from a mind where the sense of the living, creative activity in Nature has remained in an undeveloped condition. And it could only influence minds that also suffered from the same defect. The far-reaching influence which Kant’s mode of thought exercised on his contemporaries proves to what an extent they were living under the ban(ner) of a one-sided Platonism.

    It is true that accepting this means giving up on a very clumsy “experience = knowledge” classical empiricism, but I’m happy with that. I’m probably much closer to neorationalism than to any kind of empiricism these days, at least with regard to theoretical philosophy.

    In practical philosophy (ethical and political theory) we must take into account the human good; in theoretical philosophy we must reach for a broader and deeper vantage point than that which is ‘human, all too human’.

    Goethe took his empirical studies of the outer world and continued this empiricism into his inner world. For him his ideas were not something that he had created, they were inner discoveries which have more objectivity than anything he could perceive in nature. His rationalism was at the same time empiricism.

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