The quest for the concept of 'quality'

Science and reality: fusion, proximity or partnership?

Between the analysis of the mind-body problem and soon that of causality, which are closely linked, it is useful to take stock of the current epistemology of science, and in particular the fundamental: What is the relationship between science and reality? How close are the models?

We will avoid the summary materialism of confusing science and reality, as well as summary idealism that would denigrate the remarkable proximity between the two. The best qualifier for their bond is “partnership”. What are the terms of the contract?

Hooking the real

The real is never entirely unknown. We are part of it. The mind is one portion of reality that observes another. It does this using tools that are the legacy of an old relationship. Our concepts belong to a common fund, property of reality per se and humanity. Each of the human owners seeks to pull the cover to herself, to obtain a more personal control of “reality”, the common fund. But if reality per se does not agree, the mental universe of the human owner becomes solipsistic. It is therefore necessary to frequently question reality, to experiment.

The concepts of the common fund make it possible to approach unknown sectors of reality with an embryo of representation. These are anchors or hooks thrown under the surface of things. If reality recognizes itself in this representation it will bite. Hooked, it behaves according to our good will.

Fundamental for whom or for what?

In physics hooks are the axioms and anchors are the so-called fundamental laws. ‘Fundamental’ is a term inherited from materialism and alludes to a foundation of reality per se. But after our introduction we know that this ‘fundamental’ is to pull the blanket to oneself. The fundamental laws are at best a stable floor from which we can eventually launch new anchors, deeper.

Grinbaum (2007) argues against the fundamental character of axioms used in physics. He assumes that a physical theory chooses its axioms in order to confirm itself, becoming consistent with a fragment of reality. This circularity is not a disadvantage as long as the theorist concedes that axioms are not real, natural.

« If the theory itself does not tell you that the states of the system, or any other variables, are ontic, then do not take them to be ontic. »

Practicing physical theory with this modesty shields it from criticism of its interpretation. This separates it from its interpretation, makes a theoretical individuation of it. It is no longer essential to link it to the rest of the ontic puzzle, to integrate it into the theoretical collective .

The concrete of pragmatism

The present failure to find a monistic theory of reality leads philosophers of science to split reality into planes with proprietary, individual theories. If in addition the physicists manage to hang these plans firmly to each other, it is wonderful. But if they fail, it does not denigrate the models of these plans, since we admit that they are not real. They are mere epistemic tools.

The reality we portray in this way is ours and not the real per se. Why would it be a problem if reality per se accepts our model for the needs we have of it? This is the common pragmatism in scientific research: it does not matter that we have reached the reality per se as long as the experiments confirm the model. Our intervention on reality is a success. Our intentions are being realized.

Separation rather than renunciation

What is not confirmed in this approach is our metaphysical view of reality. The assembly of the puzzle is impossible, the pieces do not coincide. We must renounce the materialist determinist —the world is explained by micromechanisms— as well as panpsychic determinism —the world is explained by a fragmentation of a Great Whole.

Metaphysics is a different terrain, a different way of looking at reality. Our reality works well without metaphysics, because obviously the real per se has its own, is monistic under the heterogeneous masks of our models. The real per se is responsible for connecting our models in the relationship we have with it. Mainly because our tools are integrated with reality. The models are virtual, property of our mind, but our instruments are real, inscribed in the monistic reality. They interact directly with reality per se. It is our representations that dialogue, that use a virtual language instead of an interaction.

Should we stop there? Should we be satisfied with this half-failure, having compartmentalized metaphysics to validate physics, and admit that the metaphysics of reality per se will never be completely accessible since virtual in our mind?

Reintegrating our minds has a dramatic consequence

Not. Because one thing is regularly forgotten by scientists as much as philosophers of science: to achieve a monistic reality we must integrate our mind. Representations included. To have a mental scene, is it to escape from reality? This drift immediately propels us into dualism. We are so used to separating matter and spirit, the real and the virtual, that our thinking is almost dualistic in essence. Declaring oneself monistic, seeking a unified metaphysics of reality, forces a head-to-tail on oneself: we must reinsert our own mind into this reality. Without reducing it to a model of excited neurons. Our metaphysics must include the ‘conscious experience’ plane in the same way as the ‘neural activity’ plane. To renounce to explain one or the other is to return to dualism. Eliminativists are dualists and not monists as they believe.

Reintegrating our mind into reality per se has an immediate and spectacular consequence: Since the mind builds planes of reality to know it, these planes are indeed a property of reality per se. The virtual is stratified so the real is too. We must abandon the idea of a universe-block, a model that stands in an isolated and reductive plane of our mind. How could it explain the qualitative richness of our perceptions, of the knowledge attributed to them? Qualitative phenomena are discrete, hierarchical. It is necessary to determine in reality this discontinuous and qualitative dimension, absent from a simple spatio-temporal framework.

The search for the metaphysics of reality per se is fundamentally the quest for the concept of ‘quality’.


Grinbaum, Alexei – Reconstruction of Quantum Theory, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 2007-jun 23 vol. 58 iss. 3

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