Abstract: I assume here that you have read the UniPhiM, a philosophical method with universal claims, and that you have reservations about it. I use a classic rhetoric, the prolepsis, to smash your criticisms before you’ve even said them, bad guy! Which are covered? The method’s lack of celebrity, in the first place. I modestly await a first breakthrough into the brains of the old sages. It is by having read a lot that you spot the really new ideas. Then I respond to the accusation of circularity that lies in wait for any universal theory, but in reality founds it. Finally I explain why the UniPhiM is not a threat either to philosophical diversity or to the scientific method. On the contrary, it inscribes wacky or serious texts in reality without making any a priori difference, and makes the philosophical essay the essential prerequisite for scientific progress.
“Why bother with a universal philosophy? is a question for the pontiffs. I will prefer its negative twin. The Devil seeks to deceive us, but at least he agrees to answer all questions:
- 1 Why are so few people interested in a universal philosophy?
- 2 Take-off with the UniPhiM
- 3 The accusation of circularity
- 4 A universal method authorizes all transcriptions
- 5 Universality of scientific consciousness
Why are so few people interested in a universal philosophy?
We are what surrounds us. Above all, we are the ways of representing the world that are offered to us. A small child is sensory, instinctive, a door open to the world called ‘curiosity’, also open to ways of knowing, ‘greed to know’. But she has not yet separated herself from the world by looking at herself knowing it. She is “in” the world. To see it live, to touch it to feel it, every child is naturally materialistic and most will remain so, adults. They consider reality as an independent block and our senses communicate it without escaping it. The materialist is a child who refuses to escape from the material world. She cannot conceive of parting with it. The idea that the world is above all a mental creation requires a great effort. Brutal banishment of a reality per se that we saw as a kind of giant uterus and which turns out to be a personal simulation…
What do we gain from this immense effort? Nothing really useful. The world is no better explained, it has only lost consistency. This kind of truth takes more assurance than it gives. Materialism, on the contrary, with the power of its ontological look, is frank and effective. It gives our intentions the means to come true. What could be better ? Philosophy, with its teleological look, is almost menacing in comparison. It would like to question the source of our intentions. But what’s the point of this mental autopsy if we’re in tune with our desires? Aren’t we in danger of losing ourselves, of changing into something we don’t really want to be?
Philosophy comes late
Leaving natural materialism is all the more difficult as scientific education installs an extraordinary authority on the world. It obeys us with finger and eye. Should such power be questioned for no great reason? Philosophy is mocked. It “interests complexed boys in search of girls who are stuffed with pedantic speeches in cafes and salons”. But hardly fascinates the athlete, the engineer or the researcher immersed in concrete experiences. To say that matter responds to my will is more gratifying than to say “my mind imagines that matter responds”.
The question of a philosophical method therefore only comes late, when consciousness has sufficiently escaped from materialism and its answers-to-everything to question itself. At least when our personality evolves spontaneously with age. Philosophical necessity can be learned much earlier, or contagious. Here, however, we have not satisfied a natural need. We met a philosopher who absolutely wants to share her dazzle, by instilling questions about life in others. Depending on the result they will have on us, we can see them as enchanting illuminations or harmful ruminations. I have already said the harm I think of teaching philosophy too early.
A magazine to bring out the philosophy of abstruse cobblestones
The philosophical look is poorly coordinated with that of science. It criticizes an ontology that nevertheless functions perfectly. Was I enthusiastic about my science education? I am then inclined to put philosophy away on the dusty shelf of religious and mystical books. We must give credit to a Philosophy Magazine for wanting to get it out of it, by having it comment on the news of human affairs. One regret: editors steeped in classic reading but light in the basic sciences. Can we correctly interpret human psychology by taking as a reference thinkers who did not know what a gene is, or a neuron?
Philosophy is well aware that we plaster our personal simulations on the world, but does it have to save the fanciful in the name of diversity? We must keep this tendency in mind when we listen to it comment on the news…
Take-off with the UniPhiM
Materialism sins by lack of interrogation on our modes of knowledge, and philosophy by lack of observations on the mechanisms of reality. The default option is to focus on epistemic questioning or physicalist observation, depending on the education received, and neglect communication problems. The other option is to choose a method that protects the irreplaceability of each look, and coordinates them.
This is what I proposed with the UniPhiM. This time science selects the teleological views with which it is compatible, and returns the others to the archives. At least one of them must be valid. Otherwise, it is the scientific discourse itself that is suspect. Having understood reality correctly allows us to increase our scope on it, and not reduce us to the little of it whose nature we have rigorously understood.
A universal philosophy bothers academic philosophers and some scientists alike. For the former, it is an attempt to imprison thought. A bit as if I had created a variety of apple combining all the expected qualities and wanted to replace all other varieties with this one. Collapse of diversity.
For some scientists a new universal method threatens the very universality of their method, which is also philosophical in essence —Karl Popper, a philosopher of science, created it. We will see a little later why these threats are non-existent. But first I must answer a more serious objection.
The accusation of circularity
To describe the relationship between mind and physical reality, I can say interchangeably:
a) Physical reality constructs the mind that theorizes it.
b) The mind constructs the rules of physical reality that lead to it.
It doesn’t matter if I choose way (a) or (b) first, I enter a closed reasoning loop. It seems impossible to escape it. Any general theory of reality would therefore necessarily be circular, and thereby flawed. How could a theory validate itself from within itself, without external objectivity? All attempts are tautologies.
There are true tautologies
How to answer that? First, note that there is at least one category of true tautologies: personal theories of consciousness. We have agreed, philosophers of the mind and neuroscientists alike, that each mind is a personal world, an autonomous simulation, known only to its owner. If the owner conceives a theory about her own consciousness and is satisfied with it, it is perfectly valid within the confines of her personal world, whatever that may be. No outside mind can impose its own since it cannot access the same ideally exact knowledge of this world. The theory of consciousness is its own representation.
The accuracy is such that the mind will evolve according to this theory. If, for example, the theory says that consciousness is an illusion, the mind becomes eliminativist, that is to say, it stops believing that its consciousness can ask itself the question of its own existence. Consciousness, as an independent entity, has died out in this personal world. Power of theory in virtual universes…
In practice, minds are not watertight and their evolutions are rarely so predictable. But let us not forget that the mind is an entirely closed world in that it transforms external influences into actors of its own mental scene and that its tautological theory of itself is entirely valid. Let’s not spit on tautologies because we are the ones who are being spit on.
A chain of loops
Circularity weighs on a spirit-matter whole considered as a single global system. Old impasse of reductionism. The universe considered as a bath of particles. A unique system so gigantic that it is not surprising to find some surprises in it. Original arrangements of these particles would suffice to explain our minds.
If like me you find the reflection a bit short, you are looking for additional dimensions to this survey. In the complex dimension, for example, only particles that interact directly with each other are part of the same system. The more complex entities formed by these interactions create their own system, another level of reality.
Circularity as a fundamental principle
This alternative vision to reductionism is increasingly taken up in science today. A system is self-defined by the relationships of its elements within a context. The elementary fundamental principle of reality is the circularity of its organization. But there is always something bigger, a context around this organization. No system is everything. The Universe itself is not Everything, or if one defines the Universe as all that exists, then it would be arbitrary and futile to give it limits.
The n-stroke engine
Circularity is not a trap for reflection. This is the driving force. Both for physical reality and for the mental patterns that represent it. The systems find small stabilities. They loop. Concepts are also small circularities. Different sets of stimuli, neighboring without being quite similar, will excite the same neural pattern. Unifying concept. A leap of reality.
By interacting, circularities create larger ones. The tiering of complexity rises in matter, continues within the mind in the depth of neural networks. Within the mental, the concepts want to mimetic physical interactions. Organizational mimicry. Mental mathematics is a language, which attempts to coordinate with the natural mathematics of physical reality.
It is from these small mental circularities that we can build the representative fabric of reality. Without discontinuity. Virtual tissue is welded to material tissue —neural graphs succeeding levels of neural physiology. All mental circularities are true, since they are self-defining. All concepts are true as definitions of themselves. The truth we seek in them, however, is their exact correspondence to the physical reality they describe. They exist on their own —the virtual is as concrete as any other level of reality— but are they good twins of their role models? This is what makes the quality of our mental representations and their ability to carry out our intentions.
A general theory of reality can start from almost nothing, from dots assembled into lines by neurons connected to retinal cells. Then the lines become complex shapes, are associated with other sensory stimuli, with pure abstractions. The neural loom weaves our inner reality, extends its complex yardage. This fabric extends that of physical reality in the complex dimension. Starting from nothing, at least from nothing virtual, it builds a new world.
A self-created reality
With such a generator, there is no need to assume that there are necessary things at the origin of physical reality. Why bother with assumptions if they are not essential? The world is a self-creation. Its representation is a self-creation. We extend the chain of our small elementary circularities. Without other limits than those we impose on ourselves, for example that of matching physical and mental realities. Useful brakes on the imagination, because loosening them completely can be expensive. Physical reality is dangerous when it becomes too foreign to the mind.
No link in our mental chain is eternal. It disappears with the extinction of the neurons that support it. Fortunately we have learned to transcribe the information elsewhere. Precious writings, which allow to protect and perpetuate the chain. What will you in turn transcribe? What new personal circularities will you add to the great fabric of reality?
Let us return to the accusations of our philosophers and scientists. How could a self-creating theory of reality enclose anything of thought since it is its very mechanism? Circularities, we repeat, are the driving force of the imagination. All the alternative theories to mine also hold concretely in reality. The UniPhiM actually describes how the shelves are formed where they are perched. It does not dispute their validity per se but looks at how far this validity extends, off their shelf. What transcendental claims can they hope for, without restricting them to their scientific reception? How do they appear to the double look that founded UniPhiM?
The impossibility of verifying the validity of a theory, or the restriction of its claims, in no way denigrates its mental reality. It simply becomes a more solitary pattern in the intricate fabric, with no proven match elsewhere. For now. The weaving continues. Without new motives it would be impossible to pursue the fabrication of knowledge, this never-ending mimicry of reality per se.
Scientific success starts from a philosophical excursion
That a mental motive happens to correspond to a level of physical reality and that is the success of a scientific theory. These new contributions do not owe their success to chance. They are closely connected to their neighbors in scientific knowledge, the tightest and most homogeneous part of the complex fabric.
Nevertheless, scientific success comes from a philosophical excursion. First imagine the new concept. It is rare that it is entirely deductible from the precedents. Non-deductibility warns of a leap into the complex dimension. The elements/context system has changed. A mental self-creation takes shape to take care of it. Add a link to the chain.
Two essential dimensions in the complex manifold
I insist on the importance of clearly differentiating in the mind the horizontal and vertical complexities. These two dimensions of complex variety describe completely separate aspects of mental structure. The vertical is the dimension of conceptual hierarchical constitution; the horizontal is the dimension of the mental scene formed at each conceptual level. For example, the neurons that assemble shapes from retinal points do not work on the same level as those that identify people in those shapes.
Language is a world in itself, hierarchized from raw sounds to phonemes then words, sentences, contexts. We experience in consciousness the “stage of language” where the sentences already associated with the context present themselves as bearers of meaning. Conversation is a living scene in which we participate and attend at the same time. It is a scene of horizontal complexity —a sequence of meanings of equivalent level unfolds— on top of a stack of vertical complexity —a constitutive layering of concepts from raw sounds to returned speech.
Complexity of the world flattened into a conscious workspace
The conscious workspace is the floor where the worlds of all mental functions arise. They fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Extensive horizontal scene at the highest peak of the vertical complexity of the brain. It is possible to conceptualize the complexity of matter there, but it is a horizontal representation of it, not a simulation of the true vertical complexity of a material thing, which is why it is impossible to experience oneself like it.
This is the limit of scientific theory. It is only a horizontal simulation of the complex constitution of the thing studied. To check if the simulation is correct, you have to experiment, that is to say, take the thing in its true constitution, as it is experienced in its entirety, and test transformations according to the theory. If the theory is correct, the prediction comes true. The thing goes from one modeled state to another, as expected. The experimenter supposes that the thing experiences itself transformed in the same way, but that only the thing could tell…
Universality of scientific consciousness
The UniPhiM certainly has a universal claim, but you see that it is not a threat to universal science, it is a reformulation of it. A reformulation that makes scientists aware of the way they conceive their physical theories. No more need to be eliminativist with your mind. The scientist is whole again.
In terms of mental structure, philosopher and scientist are of course similar, each having a conscious space and housing their representations there. The vertical dimension of their mental complexity is similar. On the other hand, the horizontal complexity of their conscious spaces is highly contrasted. The pieces of the puzzle differ. For the scientist they are rather mathematical, perfectly interlocked, ultra-realistic. The philosopher is richer in fuzzy, adjustable, preferred, affective pieces. The conscious scenes are diverse, sometimes unable to understand each other, at the top of hierarchies that look more and more alike as one descends towards their base, down to neural physiology.
The philosophical and scientific “feet” walk together, the “antennae” play solo.