Is metaphysics accessible to us?

Abstract: Starting from physical, mental and abstract objects, categories of classical metaphysics, I show that they all have in common to be form/substance fusions, which opens the way to a monistic reality. Not giving in to eliminative reductionism, however, requires reintegrating all these objects into a single dimension: complexity. I briefly explain what is Surimposium, an original theory of this complex dimension. Its answers to the great metaphysical questions are offered in a forthcoming article.

Wicked unanswered questions

Metaphysics deals with the most extraordinary questions about what surrounds us. What is the relationship between the real per se and the mental image we construct of it? Why is there something rather than nothing? Do we have free will? Are mathematical objects invented or discovered? Questions so difficult that some doubt the answers are accessible. Others are more enthusiastic. “There is no principled reason why answers to such questions should not lie within the reach of human minds”, Kjosavik and Serck-Hanssen announce in ‘Metametaphysics And The Sciences Historical And Philosophical Perspectives’, a collective work from 2020.

No principled reason? I ask myself the opposite question: Would there be in principle a reason that the human mind manages to escape from its mental universe and considers itself in a completely independent way, for example that of reality per se? To say so would be more than pretentious. Surely it would suffice to say that we can answer these questions the way the human mind asks them, since after all it owns them. But that would add blindness to the pretension, assuming that only the human mind is capable of generating such metaphysical questions.

When the response is soliTary it is not soliDary with the Whole

No. The mind cannot confine the unknown it encounters within its own process. It is a production of something, and this something did not produce only the mind. Even well posed, metaphysical questions remain largely incomprehensible to minds that have never encountered them. Their understanding is quickly accompanied by a certainty: these questions open the door to an immeasurable unknown. In other words, when a person thinks these questions within range, it means that they have not really measured this range…

Gerontocratically yours

Fortunately Kjosavik and Serck-Hanssen immediately raise the bar and make it clear that it is in observing its own ways about metaphysical questions that the human mind can keep them within reach. To do meta-metaphysics. But I confess my annoyance to see the authors desperately examining the smallest corners of the texts of Kant, Husserl and Frege to support this transcendental edifice. I am not, however, a young philosopher. The merits of the classics are unmistakable; but if their thinking had created a solid metametaphysics, it would be well established today.

The contemporary intellectual population is larger. It hosts a multitude of spirits of the level of the great pioneers mentioned. Statistically, this abundance should be accompanied by truly more innovative ideas. I wonder if they are not only more invisible, drowned in the middle of info-obesity or filtered by the very selective academic purge. Advancing age makes you well placed to criticize the gerontocracy of knowledge.

Nubile breakaway

Here is an example of an original path: Our mind works with dimensions. They interlock or derive from each other. Is there one that could contain them all? No need to look for epistemic dimensions. Too old to trace their origin. Anthropology and ethology provide clues but not demonstrations. God has the answer to everything, but what proof do we have that He personally heard any of our questions?…

As for the ontological dimensions, they are stifled by the scope of space-time. The cosmos is immeasurable to the point of making insignificant what lives there. Yet the human being, with his tiny dimensions, is perhaps the height of its complexity. The complex dimension accounts for our presence better than a spatial diameter of 93 billion light-years. If there is a framework that can contain them all, material as well as virtual, it is the complex dimension. Especially since it is to it that metametaphysics is addressed. Complexity is an unfenced list of meta, which I symbolize with ∑meta.

I will come back to this original path later. Let’s see what Kjosavik, Serck-Hanssen and their collaborators come up with the vigorous pressing of the classics.

The metametaphysics of the classics

All of classical metaphysics revolves around the dualism between physical and mental objects, as well as the way in which the one appears to the other, phenomena in one sense, physical manifestations of mental activity in the other. Metametaphysics then comes down to understanding what this dualism consists of, how is the relationship possible, with in ambush the possibility of invisible worlds, surrounding the reality that we know and capable of shaping it: world of ideals, logic, supra-physical entities, universal laws.

Substance atheists

Frege adds a third category to physical and mental objects: abstractions, objects not present in space-time and not causal. A great inventor of logic, Frege needed a space to house the objects of this way of thinking. Is it really necessary? Some go so far as to dispense with physical objects and reduce them to pure mathematics. Mental objects, on the other hand, are patterns of organization of physical objects, neurons. Can’t we reduce the whole thing to a single category, the so-called abstract objects, which are found at the heart of all reality?

This question refers to that of form and substance. The form is today detailed in the extreme by the sciences while there is no other proof of substance than our experience of being substantial, an illusion for some. Nevertheless, it would be even more illusory to abolish the possibility of a fundamental substance, because our mode of knowledge is limited by its current choices. Science is only about relationships. Metaphysics, our subject, is an unknown. Our faith in matter is threatened but we cannot become substance atheists.

Only epistemic objects

The categories do not apply to the separation between form and substance. Too intricate. One has never been observed without the other. This is the problem of Frege’s abstract objects. They are not “objects”. Impossible to split from a mental object, itself impossible to split from a physical object. Of course, we imagine abstractions that have no counterpart in physical reality, but these abstractions have a physical existence, as activated neural patterns. They are indeed forms entangled with physical objects. There is no need to invent a new space to house them. Our form/substance duo is enough.

Thus Frege’s categories show themselves to be epistemic and not ontological. The true ontology of things is inaccessible and we can only fathom it with the means at our disposal, inside a mind which tends to believe itself a little too universal. Only hope: since these means come from ontology, do they not correspond to something fundamental within this elusive origin?

Towards a truly monistic whole

By basing metaphysics on the form/substance entanglement, we clearly progress beyond the epistemic categories of Kant, Husserl and Frege. Physical, mental and abstract objects are grouped into a single category of form/substance fusional objects. What differentiates them is their level in the complex dimension, which applies to everyone. Form —relational structure— replaces Frege’s abstraction. It is constitutive of every object in reality. While the substance changes status, since the idea that the classics had of it. It becomes the appearance of the constituent elements. It is a substantial appearance to what observes it and which can possibly enter into a relationship with it. Fusion of properties which decides the nature of the possible relations.

This new way of seeing things leads to a truly monistic universe, contrary to the classic categories. Kant, Husserl and Frege had great respect for science but blocked monistic scientific endeavor by maintaining a dualistic or even triadic universe with abstractions. Most contemporary mathematicians still believe with Frege in a world of mathematical ideals. Principles certainly real in the neural imagination and in the form of the physical world, but whose independence leaves one skeptical. Shouldn’t monistic effort instead focus on the relationship between form and substance? How does the web of relationships become matter of experience, and ultimately of consciousness?

The ∑metaphysics of Surimposium

There is today only one theory capable of answering. Only one that takes into account both philosophical and scientific prerequisites. Which does not eliminate any observation, as do illusionists for consciousness or panpsychics for matter. This theory is called Surimposium and takes its name from the form/substance integration, which it renames “surimposition”. It considers any entity as a superposition of layers of complexity. Where’s the originality? In this: Complexity is not seen as a side effect of micromechanisms but as an integral dimension in which things fit. An entity occupies part of the complex dimension as part of the space-time frame. The layers of complexity, at least their attractors because they have no precise limits, are real independent beacons in this dimension.

This is the opposite vision to reductionism, which considers complex aspects as illusions. But illusions for what, for whom? Reductionism removes our minds from reality, while Surimposium reintroduces them, positioned with their consciousness at the tentatively known end of the complex dimension. Another advantage: Surimposium also does not need an ontological end, i.e. an ultimate foundation to things. Whereas the reductionists have the dull anguish of not finding it. They can’t do without it. Without a fundamental micromechanism, everything becomes an illusion. Matter disappears like spirit.

All that sticks in mind is double-sided tape

Each layer of complexity has a form/substance dual aspect. The constitution is not the substance but the fabric of relations between constituent elements. The substance is the fusion resulting from these relations, with its substantial properties. We identify a real entity by these properties, therefore by its substance. All its layers participate in it in an indissoluble way. It is possible to analyze them independently but not to make them independent substances.

The substance is the result of the surimposition of all these layers without exception. This is how entities with similar properties can have different substances. They are similar only on the surface, while the underlying layers build different physiologies. Here is revealed the split between property and substance, between representation and its experience. Our brains can create identical abstractions but we experience them differently because the layering of complexity that created them differs. Observations can be related to thoughts but not the ways in which they are experienced.

Falsifiability is a blindfold on metaphysics

Is this all just lucubration, impossible to prove? Certainly Surimposium, as a theory, does not respect scientific principles. It is not falsifiable. How could it be? Science does not tell the truth. With falsifiability it separates the false from the… non-false. Without saying that it is a truth since the statement refers exclusively to the context of falsifiability. In other words, science weaves a reality point by point, link hooked to the previous one. Like Surimposium in fact, with a difference: What does science make of the unfalsifiable? And of what is rejected by the filter of falsifiability? Science is a bad politician. Its trash can is full of a host of waste, of the left behind. Sometimes mined by science itself years later, washed clean and re-labeled ‘big discovery’. Science is an epistemic mode, and a mode is not all reality. What do we do with the rest? The illusion box is overflowing. Science can’t figure it out.

How could even a shovel as solid as science empty a bottomless box, open to the unknown? Falsifiability is not an answer but a blindfold. It is by lowering it that the metaphysical questions seen in the introduction take on meaning. For some. And it is in the answers that transcendental theories also make sense. Let’s see those of Surimposium in the next article.


Metametaphysics And The Sciences Historical And Philosophical Perspectives, Kjosavik and Serck-Hanssen (ed) 2020

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