I've been rereading this week Fine's The Shaky Game: Einstein, Realism and the Quantum Theory. Now I've long said that overall I have very strong realist tendencies. I think back in college most of my questioning and desire in physics was to find out what really existed and how. I was emphatically a scientific realist and was quite frustrated when I ran up against the limits of physics. (In my naivete in High School I assumed physics would give me all the foundations of reality)
The initial couple of chapters of Fine are quite good and dispel a lot of myths about Einstein that have built up over the decades. A common belief is that Einstein just got too old when Quantum Mechanics was coming onto the forefront. He couldn't change the way he thought about things and therefore got locked into a battle in which he was Quixote tilting at windmills. The reality is quite a bit different. He developed or influenced far more of Quantum Mechanics than I realized. Also his philosophical position and methadology was quite different than I first realized. Yes his fundamental foible was his Spinoza-like view of the universe. He just couldn't take probability as being ontological in any way shape or form. (As an aside many don't realize that when Einstein speaks of God he basically is speaking like Spinoza - something to keep in mind when reading him. His God is anything but the Christian God but is something more akin to the universe itself including all its laws.)
What was most interesting to me was how his philosophy seemed to parallel a lot I've been reading in Peirce of late. Yes there are important differences which I don't want to downplay. However his realism and Peirce's realism seem not that different. Peirce's pragmatic maxim went like this:
Consider what effects that might conceivably have practical bearings you conceive the objects of your conception to have. Then, your conception of those effects is the whole of your conception of the object. (Peirce, 'The Maxim of Pragmatism', CP 5.438)
Peirce of course took this maxim in many ways, utilizing his new advances in logic that he helped develop. But consider the above in relation now to the following analysis of Einstein by Fine.
For Einstein, commitment to realism was commitment to pursuing a specific kind of program for theory construction, one that already included the idea of causality (or determinism), and one that was to be judged on exactly the same basis as any other scientific program; namely, by judging its empirical success over time. A second conclusion that emerges from examining Einstein's realism is that, for him, realism was not at all a cognitive doctrine, a set of specific beliefs about nature (or the like). Rather his realism functions as a motivational stance towards one's scientific life, an attitude that makes science seem worth the effort. But it is supposed to do so, somehow without involving specific cognitive content. (Fine, 7)
In an unpublished manuscript written around 1910, Einstein reiterated this theme, saying that Maxwell's electrodynamics provided only time-averaged values and hence could be viewed as merely an intermediate stage in the development of a theory that would deal with discrete but instantaneous values of quantities like energy. One cannot help noticing the similarity between this line of thought and the well-known analysis of simultaneity that Einstein proposed in the 1905 paper on special relativity. In both cases Einstein examined the way physical concepts are actually applied in order to show that the full range of application was not completely determined. He then went on to develop new rules that extended the concepts into this not-determined area. Although these rules were different from the extrapolations one might make on the basis of then accepted theories, they were nevertheless constrained by requiring that the refined concepts be coextensive with the originals inside the already determined area of application, or at least approximately so. Thus in the background to relativity Einstein noticed options about distant simultaneity, other than the use of infinitely fast signals, which yield the same locally simultaneous events. And behind the quantum postulate Einstein found options about, say, when a particular energy value occurs which yield, in good approximation, the apparent continuity of energy in classical electrodynamics. I would characterize this method as that of examining the limits of application of a concept in order to make room for a constructive theoretical refinement. No doubt Einstein learned the first part of this method from the analysis of concepts in Hume and Mach, but the constructive use of the analysis is characteristically his own. (Fine, 15)
Perhaps I am reading too much into Einstein, but it certainly appears that his approach is very similar to what Peirce defines as the pragmatic method. His disagreement with Bohr was over whether the terms in question (momentum and so forth) were up to the task of Quantum Mechanics and that perhaps new ones ought to be found.
The discussion of space-time is interesting, as I think Einstein was quite willing to throw the entire edifice away were something better to be discovered. (And indeed Fine quotes him as saying that) While perhaps new concepts were necessary (at least Einstein so argued) one must also say that the approach to generating these new concepts was by a close examination of the "gaps" in existing concepts which were not fully determined. (Even if the majority in the physics community felt they were) This approach was what led to special and then general relativity and also enabled Einstein to help build much of the framework of quantum mechanics. (Even if he was very uncomfortable with many of the interpretations of it - likely a result of his Spinoza-like orientation)
I should hasten to add that I don't think Einstein would necessarily agree with what has been done in Quantum Gravity the last 10 years. But I think on several important points Einstein was wrong, even if they aren't necessarily the places Einstein has been taken to be wrong.
For fun a Postmodern paper generator.
Also Slashdot has a "hatchet job" on deconstruction. Typical stuff. A bunch of comp-sci geeks writing about something they don't understand. And since it is complex and they don't understand it, it must be bunk. But there were a few good comments in it. But most of it was rehashing the old Sokal debate.
It's always funny to me how people assume just because they are experts in one field that it means they ought to understand every field. I came from a background of math and physics with some philosophy, but it still took me several years to really understand what was being said by Derrida, Heidegger and others. Admittedly that was in part due to the approach they took to the subject. I halfway wonder if they had avoided Saussure and the remnants of German idealism if things would have been clearer and easier. As I've said before, I think there is a lot in common between Derrida and Peirce. However Derrida is interesting in that he attempts to demonstrate his points. This tends to make his texts confusing or even appear irrational unless you already understand what he is doing.
I hope to have some more things up shortly. I've been working on some of the underlying code of the site but have also been rather busy at work. Well partially so since a lot of my time has been spent waiting for installers and compilers...
In the meantime there is a very interesting discussion on structuralism and Mormon history going on both at Times and Seasons as well and The Metaphysical Elders. I've written a few off hand comments at both. I'm sure the discussion will continue, but it is an interesting topic as I've long been interested in structuralism. Most people are familiar with structural analysis of myth, philosophy, ritual and legend in writings by Eliade, Campbell or even Jung. Eliade in particular is very interesting since he was engrossed in both phenomenology and structuralism - two themes you'll note in these pages even if I adopt a more postmodern approach.
I also just came upon a review Jim Faulconer wrote for FARMS concerning a "deconstructive" reading of Joseph Smith. The book was Poetic Language in Nineteenth Century Mormonism: A Study of Semiotic Phenomenology in Communication and Culture by Michiko Takayama. It was actually a dissertation from 1990, but it still was somewhat interesting given that it attempts to apply Derrida to Joseph Smith. The author unfortunately didn't exactly do a lot of primary research on what Mormons believed - although to be fair many of her topics didn't have very good historical writings on them at the time.
The author attempts to see in Joseph's translations, especially of Egyptian, a kind of poetic play more typical of deconstructive readings. While Jim tears down the arguments of the author, there may be something to all this. Many people, most notably Umberto Eco, have noted a strong parallel between certain strains in Decontruction, Derrida and hermeticism or Kabbalism. As I've mentioned here before, Harold Bloom saw similar elements in Joseph Smith.
One significant figure in the Renaissance who dealt with hieroglyphics was Athanasius Kircher. As I've mentioned before there were some similarities between his work and Joseph's. Not, I hasten to add, enough to make me think they are the same phenomena at work. However from Jim's review, it appears that Takayama attempted to read Joseph's work in those ways. They are poetic, not in the sense of poetry that we find in a sonnet, but in terms of open linguistic play. The way poetry can not be kept to a single univocal reading.
Now the danger, to Mormons, in all this is that we quickly fall into viewing Joseph Smith's inspiration as merely poetic play. Inspired literary genius, to take the view of Harold Bloom. And there are those who are quite comfortable with that view. I mentioned in an other post that Lance Owens has taken Joseph along those lines. More recently Grant Palmer has taken a very similar position, without the Kabbalistic or Hermetic readings of Owens or Bloom.
While I fully ascribe to the view that such a play is possible, there clearly must be more to the play from a Mormon point of view than merely poetics. We do not wish to reduce prophecy to poetry. Prophecy is not just some creative drive greater than our conscious thought that enables us to be literary. The truths can't simply be "truths" of literature. Communication must take place and must be about something.
As I read Jim's review, my sense was that this very notion of "aboutness" or "truth" was forgotten. Derrida certainly attempted to show that truth and reference were far more complex than we'd thought. I don't think he discarded the very notion, however.
In a sense both structuralism (Eliadi) and post-structuralism (Takayama) miss that fundamental element of realism. The truths of religion can not be reduced to the common structures of religious experience. It is not the structures which are most important, but what the structures "point to." Perhaps what is pointed to is unstable and indeterminate. But it is still there.
I wanted to continue the "theme" I started a few days ago concerning the dualism in the scriptures and the approach to salvation we find in Mormonism. These are largely edited from a discussion I'd had over on LDS-Phil a few years back. So it reads a little choppy, but hopefully the point gets across.
When we speak of spirit, we tend to be biased by the past few centuries where our culture has thought in terms of a Cartesian spirit completely "other" than our body. In a sense our body isn't "really" us, but this spirit it. Obviously Mormons don't accept the notion of a Cartesian mind or spirit, but we still are a product of our culture and I think that way of thinking can come naturally. While the Book of Mormon speaks of a spirit, I don't think it ever considers the body as something fundamentally separate the way Descartes or even Aquinas did.
A related issue is that of choosing. Clearly "we" (whatever that is) choose. But what do we choose? The typical way of speaking of this in modern discussions is in terms of specific states of affairs or actions. The Book of Mormon focus, at least as I read it, tends to be different. Rather than speaking of several unique choices, the choices are reduced to two: good or evil. We tend to think of individual "events" and then morally label them good or bad. And of course, that approach is natural and can be found to a degree in the Book of Mormon. However I think that the Book of Mormon fits more into the old debate over a "divided mind."
The article on Paul's "antropology" I mentioned earlier this week touched on these matters somewhat. In the ancient Hellenistic world a divided mind was a mind which oscillated back and forth between two views. To escape this we give our "god mind" reign. We are freed not from choice, but from our divide mind. Paul see himself beholden to the divine because the divine logos is working within him allowing him to act in a lawful fashion. This is actually an old Jewish notion, although clearly Paul is making use of some of the Hellenistic views of psychology of his time. (I notice a lot of Stoic notions, for instance) In his Epistle to the Romans in particular I think he makes use of this. There I think he makes a distinction between being ruled by the law in a primal way and those who see the law in a removed or secondary fashion.
To make an analogy it is the difference between trying to think about how you walk and see all the process you go through or simply walking as we naturally walk. If you have every tried to walk while thinking explicitly about how to walk, you know how difficult it is. Things you are able to do without "thinking" suddenly become laborious and difficult. Try it sometime.
Now one of the big teachings, especially by Alma, is the idea of a restoration. This is taught not only in Alma 11 but also in Alma 40 where all things are restored. The problem that's always appeared to me is one of repitition. I am never fully restored to the same place I once was. No matter what, I've had experiences in the meantime which change the "feel" of everything. I can never be 25 again the way I was at 25. When we speak of our fall in mimicking Adam, it seems that if we are restored, some effects of the fall aren't and can't be taken away. I'll always have the experiences of this life with me. Could I really return to the way things were without forgetting this life entirely? If I don't forget (and clearly the Book of Mormon doesn't think we do) how can I be restored?
Now to bring these things together, I halfway wonder if Heidegger's notion of embodiment won't help us. What is embodied actions? They are actions done in a natural way in which the distinction between us and the action are blurred. When I hammer with a hammer, assuming I'm proficient, I don't think about the hammer. The hammer becomes part of me. We are, in a real sense, one. I think when Paul talks of the law being written in our hearts, he is speaking of us being part of that law, the way the hammer is part of me or the way my car is part of me as I drive down the street. I embody the law and the law embodies me.
I think what this gets to is that our choice isn't a choice among things and our spirit is something far more than merely a spirit body. Rather our spirit ultimately is a kind of unity between us and the things we embody in a more holistic sense. This use can be confusing because, as I said, we're rather biased by our Cartesian culture. Further, within the church, we often use spirit as a short hand for "spirit body" meaning something more physical or ontological. Yet when I drive the car down the road I make no distinction between me and my body. It is all my spirit. Paul's view on choice might be for us to desire the good as the good and not merely a set of goods. We don't simply desire to know what God wants and then consciously choose that. Rather we want a kind of unity with God the way we have a unity with a car or a hammer when we're not conscious of a divide between us and them. We become, for God, a hammer.
The nature of that unity can be taken many ways. It might be habit of doing good in which we mentally work out the patterns of goodness. I think, however, that both Paul and the scriptures suggest something much deeper than that. I don't want to call Paul's teaching mystic, since I think that isn't helpful. Yet there is some action of the spirit as a physical indwelling that goes beyond what I think some limit it to.
Over at the Times and Seasons Blog there was an interesting discussion by Jim Faulconer on Damnation which quickly led into a discussion of dualism in the scriptures and in Mormon rhetoric. The Book of Mormon is notoriously dualistic, speaking only in terms of damnation or salvation. Many wonder how to reconcile this to Mormon understanding of degrees of glory and being rewarded according to our works. Specifically I am thinking of scriptures like Alma's.
For that same spirit that doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to posses your body in that eternal world. (Alma 34:34)
Alma 40:12-14 is even more explicit, adopting very dualistic imagery which admits only good and evil with no gradations in between. Now I don't want to focus on the doctrinal problem of degrees of righteousness verus a good/evil pure dichotomy. I don't think that is much of a problem. Further, as many have pointed out, while Mormons explicitly adopt an ontology of judgement which requires gradations, we speak in dualistic terms. Given that we do this it is a mistake to assume that the ancients couldn't do the same.
What I wish to focus in on is the meaning of this dualism. Specifically Alma's comments about "that same spirit that doth possess your bodies." What spirit is he speaking of? I do not think it is speaking of our "physical" spirits or spirit bodies. Rather I believe that spirit here means inclination. We still use that sense of spirit in our regular speech. We talk of "catching the spirit of the work," or "a spirit of disorder," or even "the spirit of the times." In such vague uses it means a general inclination or set of social intentions. It is that sense which I think characterizes the dualism in both the Book of Mormon and modern Mormonism.
What Benjamin calls the "natural man" is similar to what in Judaism was called the yetzer ra' or the evil inclination. The discussion in the Talmud is remarkably similar to many of the Book of Mormon passages most of us are familiar with. What is most interesting is how one passage in the Talmud shows how the dualism brings about a kind of degree.
It has been taught: R. Jose HaGalili says, The righteous are
swayed by their good inclination, as it says, My heart is slain within me.
The wicked are swayed by their evil inclination, as it says, Transgression speaks to the wicked, I believe, there is no fear of God before his eyes.
Average people are swayed by both inclinations, as it says, Because He stands at the right hand of the needy, to save him from them that judge his soul.
Raba said: People such as we are of the average.
Said Abaye to him: The Master gives no one a chance to live!
Raba further said: The world was created only for either the totally wicked or the totally righteous.
Raba said: Let a man know concerning himself whether he is completely righteous or not!
What is interesting is how this yetzer ra' or evil inclination is tied to an opposition in all things. That is, can good arise from evil, as in the LDS concept of the fall?
Nachman said, In the name of Rabbi Shmu'el: "and behold it was very good" (Gen. 1:31) refers to the YETZER RA'. But can the YETZER RA' be "very good"? Amazingly enough, yes-- were it not for the YETZER RA' no man would build a house, take a wife and father children, or engage in buisness; as Solomon said, "I considered all labor and excellence in work and concluded that it comes from a man's rivalry with his neighbor" (eccl. 4:4). (Gen. Rabbah 9:7)
I think that this notion of a general inclination underlies most Book of Mormon theology. Further I think that a lot of the theology of Alma in places like Alma 40-42 or Alma 34 is itself highly influenced by 2 Nephi 2 and 2 Nephi 9. I think as well that the "two churches" fits into this discussion of the two inclinations.
I introduce this topic because I think it has some important philosophical implications. However I hope to get to those an other day. One other link I wish to point out is an excellent discussion of Paul's "psychology" which I think actually parallels Mormon use of terms rather well. Pauline Anthropology
I've not had time to write much of late, but to introduce a topic I've touched upon and hope to revisit, here's something I'd written to LDS-Phil a few months ago. (Revised slightly from what I posted the other night) Why is the topic of Anselm's argument still relevant? The "Descriptive and Formal Ontology" site offers some great perspectives I think. This all relates to the topic of transcendence that I've been thinking about for a few years and which is, in its way, very key in the history of philosophy and religion.
I was recently reading Marion's article on Anselm's "ontological" argument in Flight of the Gods. I ended up with a few questions about his reading of Anselm and by association the theological turn in philosophy.
Basically Marion points out that Anselm's argument is only called the ontological argument starting with Kant. He argues that it only becomes directly associated with Being and beings with Descartes and is "perfected" with Leibniz. I'll not go through the details of his arguments on that nor how it relates to thinking Being as a being. (Heidegger's so-called onto-theology) Rather I wish to bring up his movement towards negative theology.
One of the moves Marion takes with respect to Anselm's argument is to suggest that by portraying it as "that which nothing greater can be conceived" the argument hinges on negative theology. It doesn't speak of beings or Being at all but rather what can not be spoken. "One must stress this point: God, if there is such a being, can be thought of only as something that we cannot conceive. As a concept, God admits only His very transcendence of any conceivable concept at all." (87) However it is here that Marion makes his glaring error. Anselm ties the "that which nothing greater can be conceived" with God. Yet the negative theology is not of God (of which something positive has been said - that which nothing greater can be conceived) Rather the negative is of this "greater."
This fact suggests that logically the rhetoric of Marion requires that this "nothing can be said of" is that which is greater than God. Now in some theological systems, especially the more mystic oriented ones, this in not at all uncommon. In has, for instance, precedence in Kabbalism. There we have the highest speakable dynamic of God signified by Keter or the crown. This is roughly akin to the One of neoPlatonism. However Kabbalism recognizes an unspeakable beyond this, called the En-Sof and often spoken of using negative theology as nothing. (Or more literally no-thing)
I don't want to focus on Marion too much, since to me much of his language, while denying God as being describes and requires God as being. (Indeed in the quote above he says of God, "if there is such a being.") Further one must note that in the argument, Anselm says, "there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality." Perhaps Marion will bring up the Platonic form of apophasis, acknowledging a possible play on the Platonic difference between logos and nous. For some Platonic commentators direct apprehension is of nous and not logos and thus escapes language. (This is common in the neoPlatonic tradition) We must acknowledge though that for Marion's deconstruction of Anselm the "greater" can not lie in nous either. Anselm explicitly denies this.
My question is of what this implies, if we take Marion's argument seriously. (His argument - not his conclusions) First off it seems to follow Heidegger (against Marion's wishes) and make God absent from this place of pure transcendence. Rather it makes God immanent in an essential way. God must, if we take Anselm seriously, be what is thinkable and not this greater than thought. Further if we take Marion's apparent view of the transcendent as an Other which can not be spoken - the Other of mysticism - it must be the source of all prior even to the Being that emanates in neoPlatonism. God has left and is absent from this place, but apparently still "relates" in a way.
While this movement doesn't necessarily make God a being the way Mormons think of him, it does, I think suggest a problem with the relationship of how one thinks Being and God. If we adopt more of a Heideggarian and Derridean sense of this God being essentially absent then the only place to put God seems to be more in line with a Mormon view.
Perhaps I'm missing something in this. I recognize that this is the exact opposite of what Marion wishes to do. However it seems that his argument leads in the opposite direction of what he wants. Further I recognize that it is in the difference between Being and beings that the real play takes place. I've intentionally not delved into that with the possible result of making some of my comments slightly misleading. Hopefully I'll have some more thoughts on all this soon.