Sunday, 29 March 2020

A Grand Metaphysical Experiment, Part the second!

Everybody still with us? Good. Everybody remembering to wash their hands and not to act like a c***? Even better.
Welcome back to the second part of the third instalment of my highfalutin cosmological speculations. Any readers who may have wafted past this blog before will probably recognise the general drift and even the particular language being used here. Any readers who have hitherto failed to waft in our direction – what in God’s name are you doing with your life? It cannot possibly be as interesting or important as the philosophical musings which regularly occur herein.
Come now, get your act together, stop whatever you’re doing and start paying attention to what we’re doing here. That’s better.
Here, then are the aforementioned cosmological musings; and here, as the heading says, is: 

2. The Story So Far
2.1 Physics and Metaphysics:
It starts with a scientific revolution: when the likes of Einstein, Heisenberg, and Schrodinger changed forever our understanding of the physical universe. Abandoning the mechanistic models of classical physics, that ‘great Newtonian fiction’ as Farrer called it, they supplied instead a new, dynamic conception, one in which even the warp and weft of space-time is vitalised, plays a full part in the mutually conditioning patterns of physical process that we now know is the cosmos.
Of course, a new physics – as Conti never tires of reminding me – demands a new metaphysics. And that is what it got. Farrer and Whitehead refashioned reality in Einstein’s image.  Whitehead’s process organicism found existence to be a matrix, a dynamic correlation of concrete conjunctions. Likewise, Farrer was ready to identify ‘[e]nergy, rather than stuff’ as the basic expression of existence.  The universe we know isn’t made of ‘solid and stupid lumps of physical matter’ banging and crashing about; it’s made of relatively stable patterns of energy or activity, ‘infinitely complicated, minute rhythms of active process.’
Real “being”, then, is no solid-state entity; it is full-blooded being-in-action. And being active, it is also fully interactive, a thing of co-constitutive, better still, inter-constitutive connections, mutual interplay. In Farrer’s Latin phrase, esse est operari.
‘Real “being”,’ here means ‘all real “being”.’ There are, as Conti says, ‘[n]o actualities without full and proper integration with other actualities, themselves in the process of becoming’.
No actualities.
Not even the enquiring agent, as the current trend in so-called ‘scientific determinism’ unconsciously presupposes.
From this, it follows that all our activities, our explorations and explanations, are themselves elements in that matrix of mutuality.
And not accidental ones either.
The universe is the universe it is, because it is constituted by the connections that do, as a matter of fact, constitute it, our acts are as integral to its existence as any and, in truth, every other.
So much Cassirer and Langer tell us: our myths and metaphors, stories and symbol systems, are themselves threads in the warp and weft of interpenetrating forces which is the universe. With a clear eye for the interpenetrative implications of this, Huxley described the universe as the ‘indispensable partner in [all our] mental and spiritual achievements.’

2.2 Analogies and Mythologies – and this is where the story really starts
The next part of the story concerns the analogies from which we construct our narratives about the universe.
Throughout human history, our attempts to navigate and ultimately gain control over the interacting forces of the cosmos have been tied up with our use of symbols to capture and conceptualise them. Our ancestors, Cassirer reminds us, populated the world with spirits and small gods. The branches of Frazer’s Golden Bough hang heavy with the ethnographic evidence, deities who had a hand in every department of human activity; the Romans’ Lares and Penates, for example, who saw that butter churned and bread rose in the oven.  As it was for the Romans, so it is for the modern speculative cosmologist.  Process, force, the whole nexus of space-time relations, all these are analogies. Of course, the astrophysicists’ analogies are not as explicitly personal as the Roman cook’s; but they are drawn from the same source. Where else, indeed, could they be drawn from? Our own capacity to act, to interfere with processes which are not our own, that is our standing example of causal agency.  It is, as even Hume might grudgingly acknowledge, the only instance of causal agency to which we have direct, unmediated access.  As such, it is also, necessarily, the model we use to conceive all others.
To repeat, the astrophysicists’ analogies are not full-bodied personal projects. Where our ancestors saw a multitude of personal agencies at work in the world, we have learned to pay what Farrer called ‘an indefinable discount’ on our analogical extensions. From the analogy of action we have vigorously stripped all the “higher” functions of consciousness and personal agency. Washed in the waters of scientific life, we cleanse our analogue of all but it’s most basic and primal components: energy, process, force.

2.3 Philosophical Psychology – this is where the story really starts
Here’s the next step: the philosophical psychology underpinning all this.
Farrer has given us the key already. Esse est operari: real being is interactive; in our case, consciousness, personal identity, is actualised in what we do. What other reliable criterion of knowledge or reality could there be? After all, without action we couldn’t distinguish ourselves or anyone else from a bunch of shop manikins.
Crucially, the roots of personal identity, of all the activities in which that is embodied, lie in the acts of those who cradled us and cared for us and showed us how to be conscious, active agents in the first place. We’re made to be cared for, as John Macmurray rightly says. The psychological evidence is undeniable. Personality does not spontaneously burst forth, it is invested in us.
It’s not just that we’re taught how to act.
Of course, we are; but also, and more fundamentally, we are taught to act. First, to control the body that is, for the infant, barely under control; then our desires and wishes: we learn to wait our turn, and be polite, and share, and wash occasionally; all the other things that make us bearable to be around.
And we are taught to think, or more precisely we are taught to speak. Talked into talking, we learn, as Farrer put it, to ‘talk silently to the images of the absent, or… pretend to be our own twin, and talk to ourself.’ In other words, we learn to think.  For ‘[t]hought is the interiorisation of dialogue’.
So the image of the other stakes its claim to the structure of those transactions, is internalised, instilling the “self” with what Feuerbach called ‘the inner life of man’. In so doing, the developing self, its needs, activities, and perspectives, are passed through the image of the other.  Being “filtered”, the “self” evaluates and re-evaluates itself, constructing and re-constructing itself, in relation to the other.  In other words, I learn to double myself, play the part of another within me. I become a “self” by learning to put myself in the place of the other, by re-enacting that place, that otherness.  Being Thou unto others, the “self” is, in a favourite Feuerbachian phrase, essentially ‘species being’. 

Come back in approximately another week, dear reader, and, zombie apocalypse permitting, you may well find the final chapter in this little adventure. In the meantime, let’s keep that species being thing going, by which I mean, wash your hands, keep a safe distance, and remember that other people are intrinsic elements of your selfhood. So try not to be a c***. 

Sunday, 22 March 2020

A Grand Metaphysical Experiment, Part the first!

A thousand apologies, dear reader, for the impromptu and almost entirely unexpected hiatus. For a variety of reasons, none of which are coronavirus related, work on this, the greatest intellectual endeavour of all time had to be put on hold for a few weeks. What’s more, I cannot promise that the same or similar isn’t going to happen again in the near future. This time, however, it most certainly will be related to the current plague. Since we appear to be rapidly approaching the End of Days, there are one or two things I should like to get done before starting my new career as a cannibal/toilet paper scavenger/Thunderdome participant. 
In the meantime, however, I present for your entertainment and edification, the third instalment of my highfalutin cosmological speculations. The first, as you may be aware, is my essay, ‘A Convergence of Cosmologies: Personal Analogies in Modern Physics and Modern Metaphysics’ which can be found in Looking at the Sun: New Writings in Modern Personalism, eds. Anna Castriota and Simon Smith (Delaware/Malaga: Vernon Press, 2017). The second, as yet unreconstructed, instalment was presented on this blog some weeks ago under the title ‘Mirror of the Cosmos: Farrerian Reflections on Mind and Nature’. And now here we have, as I say, the third and for the time being last part.
One final thought, before we get down to philosophical business; and apologies if this is a bit off-topic, but if anyone reading this is the kind of steaming tosspot who unnecessarily hoards toilet paper or any other essentials during a time of crisis, while elderly and vulnerable people are left to struggle, kindly piss off and read something else. Your presence is not required here.
It is my sincerest hope that all such people catch cholera or something similar and so decrease the world’s overabundant and entirely surplus population of arseholes. In doing so, you would make the rest of us ever so grateful.

And so, with that out of the way, we present: 

A Grand Metaphysical Experiment
The Convergence of Cosmologies: Reprisal and Finale

1.      What’s it all about, Alfie?
This is about the fundamental fact that we are mythopoeic creatures, mythmakers, driven, apparently, to tell the universe that it is other than it really is. Truth, freedom, humanity and divinity, even the universe itself: these are myths we construct, diagrams we draw, stories we tell. And before anyone thinks about dropping a dismissive “just” or “merely” in front of those myths and stories, thereby disinterring the rotting corpse of rationalist dichotomous thinking, no thank you. We are driven to construct such myths, for only by doing so, and by living our belief in them, can they become true.
We construct narratives about ourselves and our universe so that, as Susan Langer puts it, we can orient ourselves within the universe. Myths which, in effect, embody a principle of predication whereby our thought about the whole wide sweep of creation finds a foothold, enabling us to understand our universe and ourselves.  More than that, they enable us to become ourselves, to become the kind of creature we are. Stories beget stories.
We need myths to be human, to be, as the writer Terry Pratchett so elegantly said, the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.
Myth and symbol, as Langer and Ernst Cassirer recognised, are vital to the development of those most essentially human, activities: talking and knowing. They are the key to understanding the exploratory, explanatory, infinitely extendable, “upwardly” oriented modality of consciousness manifest in both science and religion. Myth and symbol are the very essence of human consciousness and all its great cosmological adventures; myth and symbol and our conscious participation in them.

1.1  A Bit of Background
Before I get carried away, I’d just like to signpost where this mythological turn is coming from. This is the last part of a larger project; some of you’ve already endured bits of it at other conferences. The aim of this project has been to pursue a more perfect alignment of science and religion.
Drawing increasingly on a common storehouse of personal analogies, modern physics and modern metaphysics have begun to converge in ways that practitioners in neither camp fully appreciate. This convergence works itself out in the dialectics of consciousness and the cosmos to which it belongs, quite possibly as the vital element.
The likes of Stephen Jay Gould, and Rupert Sheldrake are the main culprits in this cosmological conspiracy; their scientific writings are rich in anthropic images and metaphysically coloured metaphor. Echoes of Austin Farrer’s interactional metaphysics; its founding construct – what it means to be, or rather to become a person – analogically extended.  Echoes, too, of Ludwig Feuerbach’s anthropo-theology, with its transformative projects, idealised self-conceptions, with which consciousness transacts and extends itself, perhaps infinitely. Together, Farrer and Feuerbach open the way for consciousness to reinvest itself in the cosmological and anthropological projects of scientist and philosopher alike.
But there is more to these echoes than a shared imagery.  There is a deeper synthesis at work here.
Consider, for example, Einstein on the strange but persistent belief that ‘our thoughts and feelings are somehow separate from all the rest.’ Urging us to free ourselves from this ‘optical delusion of… consciousness,’ he gave astrophysics an anthropo-theological flourish, calling it ‘the one issue of true religion’. Or how about the Evolutionary Biologist, Julian Huxley who said, ‘[a]s a result of a thousand million years of evolution the universe is becoming conscious of itself.’
With this in mind, I want to take a minute to recap what’s gone before so that this last stage will make sense.

And if you come back in approximately a week, dear reader, you may find me doing precisely that. In the meantime, I hope everyone stays safe and well as we all prepare for a future as cannibals and scavengers of bog roll. Until next week, keep your distance, wash your hands, and try not to act like a c***.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Challenging Anthropocentrism: Ethical Parity in Material Relations

by Denis Larrivee

26-28 of February 2020, Vatican City: the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life sponsored a conference on the social, ethical, and anthropological issues raised by Artificial Intelligence technologies. Contributing was Denis Larrivee with a poster discussing novel ethical models that normatively equate technical systems with the human being.

Introduction – Revising a Human-Centered Ethics through Techne Anthropology

Artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, synthetic biology, and brain organoids are only a few of many technological achievements likely to alter not only the relation between human beings and technology but also how the human being is himself understood or even altered. This reality has prompted frequent reference to the passing of an age of unfettered technological advance to the beginning of an age of ethical alignment, where the metric of progress is no longer technological capability but human fulfilment. “We need to make sure that these technologies are aligned to humans in terms of our moral values and ethical principles [1].” These Aristotelian and other similar concepts attribute to the human being a value centrality premised on his subjectivity, capacity for morality, and autonomy in the pursuit of the good [2,3]. Paralleling technical advance, however indeed an outcome of it  are challenged to this centrality. These have raised questions about the value structures and ethical systems that flow from human privileging and whether these can and should be replaced in keeping with the enhanced technical capabilities and new material understanding. Current proposals often invoke, for example, a horizontal rather than hierarchical notion of value placement, in which ethical parity is equivalently shared rather than imposed. These proposals premise value contingency on an ‘exceptionless’ criterion that is ontologically neutral and that appeals to a universal techne anthropology. Human ‘exceptionlessness’, however, is itself increasingly challenged by neuroscience at organismal levels of control, revealing the influence of a natural order oriented toward autonomy, self-awareness, and ontological identification. This poster explores the consequences of techne anthropology for ethical theory, ethical praxis, and the ethical subject and posits that its derivative ethical systems fail to account for this natural order and the ontological distinctiveness intrinsic to the human being, who is physically instantiated in global neural operation.

Ethics in an Absence of The Natural Order

Ethical and Philosophical Challenges to Anthropocentrism
Tacitly acknowledged in most research initiatives is an ethical imperative that prioritizes the value of the human being. Termed anthropocentrism, its prioritization places human beings at the apex of organismal life and grounds ethical praxis, thereby promoting human flourishing and restricting harmful interventions. Anthropocentrism, however, has been challenged ethically, for its perceived placement of value in human beings alone [4, 5], and philosophically, as an adequate account of reality [6,7]. Table 1 identifies the major current and historically recent challenges to anthropocentrism, their features and ethical consequences, and movements endorsing their objections. 

Imposing an Order of Techne

The Universality of Techne Anthropology
‘…the doctrine that man is a machine was argued most forcefully in 1751 by de La Mettrie….suggesting there may be no clear distinction between living matter and dead matter…Yet, in spite of the victory of the new quantum theory….the doctrine that man is a machine has perhaps more defenders than before among physicists, biologists, and philosophers; especially in the form of the thesis that man is a computer…’ 
Karl Popper, 1978

Invoking Natural Reality in Value Origins

Addressing the Philosophical Challenge through Neuroscience
Classically, value theory posits that values are situated in a metaphysics of being, populated by entities that are the subject of a predication of qualitative properties. The human being is thereby regarded as an ontologically constitutive, value locus. The ability to manipulate matter, however, has disrupted the association between being and ontology, a conceptual process initiated in Bacon’s and, later, Heidegger’s metaphysics of being. This rupture is reflected in the attribution of value to consciousness (by Derek Parfit) and phenomenology of the emotions (by Eric Scheler) in isolation from the individual. However, neuroscience now shows that cognitive operations emerge from an ontologically constituted entity, the individual, who is instantiated through the mediation of globally directed brain states. These observations reveal that neural organization is governed by metaphysical principles of individuation and qualification; that is, according to a classical metaphysics of being. Hence, in a metaphysics of neuroscience, value contingency rests in the individual as a neurally qualified entity and is differentiated by ontological qualification. Human beings, thereby, occupy the apex of a value hierarchy. Value relations, accordingly, are seen to be structured with respect to oneself, e.g. in the presence of self circuits, [9,10] and between distinguishable entities, e.g. Theory of Mind [11,12]. Intentionalized value relations are maximal when both objects are subjectively aware and are entities in their own right; that is, as individuals with subjectivity and ontological parity. Subject object relations, on the other hand, lack value parity because they exhibit a partial or absence of reciprocity. This value hierarchy is reflected in the physical instantiation of normative relations, seen in many neuroscientific findings extending along a descending hierarchy of value from the greatest (subject-subject) to the least (subject-object). Table 2 illustrates how neuroscientific findings conform to these basic metaphysical influences that shape normative relations in the world.

An Ethics of Enlightened Stewardship:
Ontology in the Natural Order

Ethical parity models presuppose the structuring of lateral and mutually influential normative relations between humans and multiple, technically generated ‘entities’ that share subsets of human properties. On the basis of this last, parity models extend Kant’s Categorical Imperative, adopting a Kingdom of Ends formulation that posits that no entity may be instrumentally used as a means by another - e.g., certain forms of ecoethics [4] - that is, all are invested with equivalent value. Yet the reciprocal and mutual imposition of value does not account for how value is contingent, who can invest it, and what can be done with it. By contrast, relating value to being, that is, to observable reality - evidenced in a metaphysical order revealed by neuroscience, for example - evokes a moral response of ethical supervision that is consistent with external reality []. This model prioritizes the normative position of human beings, but in the context of a metaphysically informed stewardship, that endorses an intrinsic hierarchy of naturally invested values. 

Accepting an Order of Nature

The Order of Nature vs the Order of Biology
‘…the expressions ‘the order of nature’ and ‘the biological order’ must not be confused as identical…biological order is part of that universal empiricism that weighs so heavily on the mind of modern man…and is a product of the human intellect which abstracts its elements from a larger reality….’ 
John Paul II, 1981 

[1] Ethically Aligned Design, First Edition: A Vision for Prioritizing Human Well-being with Autonomous and Intelligent Systems. IEEE Standards Association, 2017
[2] Kant I (1993). Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. By Ellington JW. Hackett Press.
[3] Wojtyla K (2011) Man in the Field of Responsibility. Trans. Kemp KW. South Bend, IN: St Augustine’s Press.
[4] Latour B (1993) We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
[5] Chandler D (2013) The world of attachment: the post-humanist challenge to freedom and necessity Millennium J Inter Studies 41(3):516-534.
[6] Rae G (2014) Heidegger’s influence on posthumanism: the destruction of metaphysics, technology, and the overcoming of anthropocentrism. His Human Sci 27(1):51-69.
[7] Levy N (2011) Neuroethics and the Extended Mind In Sahakian B, Illes J (eds) Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[8] Gillett C (2016) Reductionism and Emergence in Science and Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[9] Damasio A (2012) Self comes to mind: constructing the conscious brain. Pantheon Books, New York
[10] Carroll J (2012) The truth about fiction: biological reality and imaginary lives. Style 46:129-160
[11] Decety J, Cowell JM (2014) Friends or foes: is empathy necessary for moral behavior. Perspectives Psychol 9(5):525-537.
[12] Esfeld M (2004) Quantum entanglement and a metaphysics of relations. Studies Hist Phil Modern Physics 35:601-617.
[13] Rhonheim M (2008) The Perspective of the Acting Person. Washington DC: Catholic University Press.
[14] Habermas J (1984) The Theory of Communicative Action. Boston: Beacon Press
[15] Ranisch R (2012) Impersonalism in bioethics. American J Bioethics. 12(8):40-41.
[16] Pope Francis. Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home. Vatican City: Vatican City Press.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

CfP: Inscriptions Vol. 3, No. 2

Open Invitation

Inscriptions, an international journal of contemporary thinking on art, philosophy, and psychoanalysis, invites contributions to our upcoming open issue (vol. 3, no. 2). We are looking for well-crafted and skilfully written scholarly essays and literary fiction (poetry, aphorisms, short stories, fables, literary essays, etc.).
Inscriptions is an interdisciplinary, double-blind peer-reviewed journal that welcomes all approaches that seek to shed light on current and abiding topics in the domains of art, philosophy, and psychoanalysis. The journal is published online and in print and is indexed by the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Our authors include Wolfgang Schirmacher, Siobhan Doyle, Christopher Norris, and Jørgen Veisland.
Access to content in this journal remains open on the principle that making research freely available to the public supports a greater global exchange of knowledge. We do not charge authors for submission or publication.
Submission instructions: Academic essays should be 3,000 to 4,500 words, while scholarship in the form of interviews, reviews, opinion pieces, etc., may be shorter. We encourage potential authors to submit proposals (150 words) for review prior to their writing/submitting entire full-length manuscripts; include title, institutional affiliation, and a brief author bio with the text of your proposal.
For this upcoming issue we also seek submissions of literary fiction (poetry, aphorisms, short stories, fables, literary essays, etc.), to be reviewed by our Fiction Editor Sally-Ann Murray.
Submissions for volume 3, number 2 (2020) are due by 15 March 2020. For a full overview of our policies for submission, review, and publication, please see our website:

Yours sincerely,
Dr. Torgeir Fjeld
Editor-in-Chief, Inscriptions