Well, my metaphysical speculations hit a high point in The Details Revised post. Many readers will be happy to hear that ‘my thirst has been quenched’ and we can return to more mundane topics. But first (!), I need to think about what was there said. After all, “Strange Talk” should be made “PLAIN TALK” for that series, or at least what best can be done.
I write this follow-up as much for myself as anyone. Our MetaPhysical situation has always been a strange one, so to write a recap of my position for “clarity’s sake” is as necessary as it may be unattainable. Here goes.
The Infinite Mind
Well, surely this gets me off to the wrong start, the odds are against me “making sense” of an “infinite mind.” Yet, Physics does have a traditional place for this idea! Physicist Sean Carroll* makes this clear in his use of Simone Pierre Laplace’s famous thought experiment ‘commonly’ known as “Laplace’s Demon.” Laplace knew Newton’s Theories better than Newton himself, contends Carroll, because he was born a generation after Newton and studied and thought thoroughly and solely in the Newtonian tradition. The French thought of Laplace as “France’s Newton” and he contended that this Newtonian Point of View assumed a Grand Intelligence that existed outside of the universe and ‘gazed’ at it knowingly and dispassionately.
“The Demon” was able to know the position and the velocity of all the particles of the universe at any single instant. That indeed was an infinite capacity that yielded an infinite payoff: Knowledge of the particle’s positions For All Time, past and future! And moreso, as if that was necessary, this knowledge rendered the Idea of Time irrelevant. Since all was known at once to this Infinite Intelligence, Time was really not a basic part of it. So, No Time, and Everything Worth Knowing about these participles was known at that instant to this “Mind.” It was a Complete Determinism, and if you should happen to feel that The Future existed, it was all locked in and nothing was new about it! Many of his commentators (physicists and philosophers), then and now, thought it frightening and so the infinite intelligence became known as “Laplace’s Demon.”
It is worth noting that our access to this exulted Perspective occurs only through Mathematics. Though the mathematical relations were not all that complex in Newton’ s time, they surely represented a New Paradigm and a reframing of the old problem of motion both in the “heavens” and here at home. Today, some highly abstract and very complicated math is almost entirely the means to our understanding of the modern physic’s world. “Picturing it” in our normal everyday categories does not work, it is contended.
Physics does take seriously the universe it presents us (and so do I), and often also acknowledges its Paradoxical Character. Carroll makes clear to us that even among physicists there is great disagreement about how to think about, especially, the Quantum Mechanical Theory that they all agree is “accurate” or “true.” Carroll says his favorite is The Multiple Universe Proposal, that Q-Mech works because there are…?
But even for the classical Newtonian Mechanics, its implications were controversial. Laplace’s Demon was a product of that theory’s implications extended beyond our planet and Solar System to the universe at large. Carroll tells us that there never was, nor will there ever be, a mind capable of knowing enough information about the particles of the entire universe, at one moment, and also having the computational power necessary to analyze it. That if we think of that mind as a computer, it would “have to be a computer as big as the universe itself”, he says!
The value of “Laplace’s Demon” was always the point it made “in principle” about our metaphysical situation. Physics has shown us something “true” about the universe that is very disruptive to much of what we also want to believe is “true”. So, don’t blame only me for my “strange talk” and lack of clarity!
A Finite Mind
But if we play along with this idea of The Infinite Mind and The Universe it presents to us, we then have an interesting contrast that can clarify Our Predicament as “Finite Minds.” What might be our limitations, for surely they exist?
If that expansive mind understood the universe as sub-atomic particles and a quantum wave, then A More Limited Mind such as Ours “sees it and understands it” in a more limited yet still effective way. Why would it still be effective? Why not totally illusion?
…..It Is Still A Perspective
The Finite Mind would still be a perspective on the world, but a more limited one. It is, therefore, grounded and not just illusion. It has a limited scope and is not universal in its purview. It is “an innocuous-seeming but secretly profound idea that there are many ways of talking about the world, each of which captures a different aspect of the underlying whole”, writes Carroll.* It does not have the capacities of the Infinite Mind to absorb all the data and process it, so it must Economize and Rationalize. As a Limited Perspective it must only respond to some things as “stimuli” and not to others, and those are what we call “The Information” that is pertinent to it (contends philosopher Dan Dennett). Limitation is the ability to be automatically Selective! And surprisingly, that becomes A Very Good Thing because Why Should We Be Only Interested In The Most Universal Perspective On Things?
…..It Is From A Different Position
No longer would a Mind have the entire universe As Its Object and therefore ‘stand’ outside the universe to understand it and view it all. A Finite Mind is within the Universe and is, therefore, a Participant in it. First, this means it has more limited Objects apparent to its limited Point of View. Second, a finite mind also has Larger Things of which it is a part. It must function in both of these contexts. Ultimately, the largest context is that of the physic’s world, but there may be other mediate contexts. Persons function in their own ways, but also in the ways of all Biological Creatures, and then finally as physical objects of chemistry and physics. For the Finite Mind to be Effective and therefore Real, it must maintain a variety of compatibilities.
There is even the possibility that from a redefined Religious and Moral Perspective a Finite Mind participates in these larger structures. Morality is our participation in, what I have called, The Human Social Organism. Humans are a herd species by design. This is true not only biologically but culturally. “Persons” are formed in a society and are intrinsically connected to other persons even if they are directly removed from their immediate company.
Religion can be our sense of our intrinsic connection to the universe and to reality itself. As much as we modern, secular, educated individuals have learned to appreciate (and dread) our own irrelevance and insignificance to “things” in the broadest sense, it is not completely true! To think and feel ourselves as irrelevant is to, once again, fall prey to confusion. We are not removed from ‘the world’ and gazing at it dispassionately, we are participants in it and full of passions and poignant with a sense of the direction to go and of activity worth accomplishing. This can be our new found religious sense!
…..It Creates A Phenomenal World
The World as It Exists to Physics is not immediately Apparent or Understood to a Finite Mind. Atoms, sub-atomic particles, quantum waves are hidden to it by Perceptions of its own. Things Look Different to us!
Our scope as minds is limited by Our Size and Our Duration, not to mention geographic and historical traditions. Atoms and particles behave far quicker than we do and are much smaller. Finite Minds live in worlds with “Objects of Their Own.” We are well aware of our world of Macroscopic Objects, but also consider that of the paramecium. It is most directly Designed to be aware of its other little competitors, consumers, and food stuffs; when a bulldozer covers over its wooded wetland to prepare for a new housing flat, it will only very indirectly and obliquely have a sense of that monstrous machine and the consequences of it. A Finite Mind has a “Phenomenal World” composed of the objects it is immediately aware of, and surrounded by, in its own terms. In biology, this has been referred to as “the Umwelt” (the self-centered world) of a plant or animal by biologist Jakob von Uexkull in the early 20th century and later adopted into Communication Theory.
…..It Is a Designed Object
But living things are not the only objects we can think of as having a phenomenal world. Computers are designed with great sophistication today. They play winning chess against chess masters and write music in the vein of Bach and Beethoven, and can more competently ‘understand’ language. If a computer attains the point of “seeming” to have sufficient Personality, then will it be a Person? That seems like a totally redundant question. I mean, how do you you known that I am not a computer? I sure seem to be a Person, but am I really?
But to defer the answer to that question, the broader issue is the similarity of a Finite Mind and Any Designed Object. We design and make many functional objects. Each is given its own Limited Perspective of ‘the world.’ Each uses that to Function appropriately and to have a Structure organized to do that. Hell, even my door lock carries out its function rather well! But in the terms of physics, my door lock, and myself, have no particular or significant individuality in the great causal background presented to us by that science.
But clearly, here we are. We are a ‘seeming’ whose reality seems hard to deny. If we are to accept the significance of an Infinite Mind, as physic’s would suggest, then we should accept ourselves as more limited Minds with a world and a mode of operation worth regarding.
Logo by Marty