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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Kantian reason is a barren woman who cannot bear an issue

Evolution - A Metaphysical Discussion Chapter XIV of "Narad's Arrival at Madra", SAICE, 2006.
By R.Y. Deshpande
While there is nothing uncertain about the uncertainty principle, the indeterminacy proposition starts becoming ominous. If in the open world the future remains genuinely ambiguous and is not predetermined by the past, is not influenced by it, then the question is:
  • what is it that shapes the course of the unfolding events?
  • What is it that gives push to things? Is there some kind of freewill in the physical nature, giving rise to this "open"-ness?
  • And even if there is that freewill in it, by what process does it bring about whatever it wills?
  • In that eventuality, inconscient and insensitive matter would no more remain dumb and stupid and brutish. Or, is it that at the microscopic level there is freedom which gets robbed off in the gross physical?
  • If so, again, by what kind of mechanism?
  • The original word for indeterminacy or uncertainty in German actually means fuzziness. Can fuzziness have motivation or urge or freewill?

But then if it were there, it would be talking not only non-science but also non-philosophy. Nor in this situation would Fritjof Capra's Tao of Physics bear any meaning or sense. To speak of this fuzziness as freewill and connecting it with the dance of Shiva is either not to understand either, or it is simply a misplaced enthusiasm for mystical interpretation of the physical world. Whether it is physics or philosophy, perhaps we should go to the Upanishadic statement of Goethe wherein he asserts the primal reality as "ever changing and yet preserving itself, near and far and far and near, and so shaping and re-shaping itself." That primal reality indeed is the real source of authentic freewill and it is that which can provide the real push to things. Not in the lower nature but in the active functioning of the primal reality can the true meaning of time in manifestation be grasped. It will also remove from our mind the hundred dualisms that occupy it.

Yet, notwithstanding Kant, the dualism between rationalism and empiricism continues to haunt us. Its reflection in quantum physics is seen in the positions taken by Niels Bohr and Einstein. Einstein held that an idea or theory should be correct per se if it is founded on acceptable logical principles; it is the crudeness of our mental approach that demands proofs based on observation. The theory of relativity itself is a good example of this view, that its verification came much later than when it was given. Not only verification; it brought about a radical change in our social organisations when it found its use in the Second World War in the form of the atomic weapon. Such could indeed be the power of pure reason. Based on suchlike convictions he refused to accept the quantum mechanical formulation which was strongly advocated by Bohr. Its empirical basis was not sufficient for Einstein to subscribe to it. He always considered it to be a provisional way of looking at things. Today we might not be talking about this Bohr-Einstein debate at all, but then the problem fundamentally remains unsolved; but perhaps empiricism is a surer way for the organic mind to depend upon. Matter is the touchstone for Idea, if Idea has to have authentic contents and significance in the context of the physical world.
Kant saw that while the rationalist held the view that we could understand the world by careful use of reason, the empiricist argued that all of our knowledge must be firmly grounded in experience. The former "guarantees the indubitability of our knowledge but leaves serious questions about its practical content"; in the latter, "practical content is secured, but it turns out that we can be certain of very little." Both approaches have failed, Kant supposed, because both are premised on the same mistaken assumption.
Immanuel Kant was born in Konigsberg, studied at its university, and worked there as a tutor and professor for more than forty years, never travelling more than fifty miles from home. Although his outward life was one of legendary calm and regularity, Kant's intellectual work easily justified his own claim to have effected a Copernican revolution in philosophy. The upshot of his discovery is that, "the possibility of human knowledge presupposes the active participation of the human mind." Which means, "it is we who render all experience coherent as scientific knowledge. But regulative principles of this sort hold only for the world as we know it, and since metaphysical propositions seek a truth beyond all experience, they cannot be established within the bounds of reason."
While making a distinction between pure and empirical knowledge, in his introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason Kant writes: "There can be no doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience." In the order of time we have no knowledge antecedent to experience, and with experience all our knowledge begins. But though all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it all arises out of experience. Continuing further, he speaks of the idea of transcendental philosophy as follows:
"Experience is, beyond all doubt, the first product to which our understanding gives rise, in working up the raw material of sensible impressions. Experience is therefore our first instruction, and in its progress is so inexhaustible in new information, that there will never be any lack of new knowledge that can be thus ingathered. Nevertheless, it is by no means the sole field to which our understanding is confined. For it may well be that even our empirical knowledge is made up of what we receive through impressions and of what our own faculty of knowledge (sensible impressions serving merely as the occasion) supplies from itself. If our faculty of knowledge makes any such addition, it may be that we are not in a position to distinguish it from the raw material, until with long practice of attention we have become skilled in separating it. This, then, is a question which at least calls for closer examination, and does not allow of any off-hand answer: --whether there is any knowledge that is thus independent of experience and even of all impressions of the senses. Such knowledge is entitled a priori, and distinguished from the empirical, which has its sources a posteriori, that is, in experience. Experience tells us, indeed, what is, but not that it must necessarily be so, and not otherwise. It therefore gives us no true universality; and reason, which is so insistent upon this kind of knowledge, is therefore more stimulated by it than satisfied. Such universal modes of knowledge, which at the same time possess the character of inner necessity, must in themselves, independently of experience, be clear and certain. They are therefore entitled knowledge a priori; whereas, on the other hand, that which is borrowed solely from experience is, as we say, known only a posteriori, or empirically."
But then in the preface to the first edition of his Critique, Kant points out the limitations of pure reason: "Human reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer." If human reason is burdened with questions which it cannot answer, and if empirical knowledge is of a subordinate kind, then there has to be another faculty taking us beyond reason. Contrast this with Thomas Paine's infallible or unerring reason as the preventer of errors, "the most formidable weapon against errors." Indeed, notwithstanding the fact that we live in the Age of Reason, it seems that our true progress lies in our going beyond reason because reason is burdened with a thousand questions which it cannot answer. "Reason was the helper, Reason is the bar," says one of Sri Aurobindo's aphorisms.^5 In the same context we also have: "Evolution is not finished; reason is not the last word nor the reasoning animal the supreme figure of Nature. As man emerged out of the animal, so out of man the superman emerges." Man is a reasoning animal but it seems he is not really a reasonable animal and therefore must outgrow himself.
We have thus mechanistic linear theories of existence in which stand queuing up the events or processes; we have infructuose notions of time that is again unidirectional; we have question-burdened intelligence or wisdom accustomed to sequential mode of thinking; we have sense-perceived empiricism with all the shortcomings and grossness of the tools of our knowledge. Nowhere we see the hidden motivating agent. If it is Chaos and Necessity in science, it could be the Idea without the driving Daemon in philosophy, or at best a kind of resistless Becoming propelled by itself. The Kantian reason is a barren woman who cannot bear an issue. While in all these formulations the aspect of the Self stands out prominently in one way or the other, the conspicuous absence of Nature or Prakriti becomes discomforting. Not cerebral hypothesisation but an active driving force, a swift and many-mooded consciousness has to be present to give breathing life to all that is. If life is meaningless in the absence of thought, thought without life has no locomotive thrust. There is a necessity to postulate an in-built propelling agent to account for what gets unfolded in the sequence of things and events. We do see the glimpses of it in Bergson's Elan vital or Nietzsche's will-to-power or Samuel Alexander's nisus.
For Bergson "life is the absolute temporal movement informed by duration and retained in memory." But life has to also encounter practical situations. Which means, in life both continuity and discontinuity are simultaneously present. His Creative Evolution sets itself to look into these aspects. If the phenomenon of change leads to evolution, its causes must be explored. His argument consists of four main steps.
  • First, he shows that there must be an original common impulse which explains the creation of all living species; this is his famous vital impulse (Elan vital).
  • Second, the diversity resulting from evolution must be accounted for as well. If the original impulse is common to all life, then there must also be a principle of divergence and differentiation that explains evolution; this is Bergson's tendency theory.
  • Third, the two main diverging tendencies that account for evolution can ultimately be identified as instinct on the one hand and intelligence on the other. Human knowledge results from the form and the structure of intelligence which consists precisely in an analytic, external, hence essentially practical and spatialised approach to the world. Unlike instinct, human intelligence is therefore unable to attain to the essence of life in its duration. The paradoxical situation of humanity must therefore be overcome.
  • So, fourth, the effort of intuition what allows us to place ourselves back within the original creative impulse so as to overcome the numerous obstacles that stand in the way of true knowledge. The concept of vital impulse gives rise to the possibility of creativity entering into the otherwise mechanistic approach. Yet the vital impulse itself could become mechanistic, in which case the diversity one witnesses all around would remain unexplained. posted by Debashish on Fri 10 Nov 2006 09:39 AM PST Permanent Link

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