Friday, April 10, 2015

L'affirmation de l'âne + non-locality

A criticism of Roberto Mangabeira Unger and Lee Smolin's The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time: A Proposal in Natural Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2015) 

"On aurait pu croire que l'âne, l'animal qui dit I-A, était l'animal 
dionysiaque par excellence. En fait, il n'en est rien; son 
apparence est dionysiaque, mais toute sa réalité chrétienne"
(Deleuze, Nietzsche et la philosophie)

"... as these laws were found to be verified in wider and

wider domains, the idea tended to grow that they have
a universal validity. Laplace, during the eighteenth
century, was one of the first scientists to draw the 
full logical consequences of such an assumption"
(David Bohm, Causality and Chance)

"But what if constant really change?"
(Rupert Sheldrake)

"(...) We doctors know

a hopeless case if—listen: there's a hell
of a good universe next door; let's go"
(e. e. cummings)

"It is happening now, an evolutionary advance that needed only 

the practical mapping of the nervous system onto digital memory. 
It would be the master thrust of cyber-capital, to extend the human 
experience toward infinity as a medium for corporate growth and 
investment, for the accumulation of profits and vigorous reinvestment"
(ironic—DeLillo, Cosmopolis)

"... nous ne sommes plus qu'au bord du monde..."
(Paul Virilio, L'Université du désastre)

"... et ce qu'ils érigent en beauté qui est moins que le vent, et leur
régime estupide des distances et des perspectives..."
(Hervé Guibert)

"... ce vieux réflexe atavique de la tourbe... qui fait de toute
homme de science une sorte d'ennemi-né et inné de tout génie."
(A. Artaud)

1. First, la affirmation de l'author de la critique: these people are all wrong!
But I mean string theorists as well as Smolin and Mangabeira Unger.
The problem lies in a presupposition: "unification of science" (relativity and the standard model of particle physics). Unification of science is l'affirmation de l'âne. It echoes not only in many worlds, but in many books, including the most pedestrian.

2. The book's more central idea that laws and states of affairs can both evolve in cosmology is a very good one. But it leads to the same dead end of string theory, given Unger and Smolin's strict (I mean narrow) understanding of time and mathematics (under the imperative of the unification of science).

2.2 One can find the idea that history is prior to structure in deconstruction, but in deconstruction dichotomies (laws/states of affairs, history/structure, ideal/material) are handle much more consistently, in a way that shows that it is actually impossible simply to cancel out one category for another (and deconstruction demands a profound revision of phenomenology, that is, of occidental conceptions of consciousness, intentionality, and perception—Smolin's qualia, for that matter).

2.3.1 Unger and Smolin’s understanding of time (and becoming) is poor, one-dimensional, and linear (that is, chronological). Even l'âne might not pass. Contrast their view with the views of Bergson or Heidegger. For Bergson, past coexists permanently with the present (the past in its entirety had never really ceased to exist) (see Matière et Memoire). For Heidegger's view, see "Die transzendentale Einbildungskraft und ihr Bezug zur Zeit", section 32 of his Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik.
Unger and Smolin’s conception of history is not compatible with Vico (as Unger sometimes seems to suggest). Vico don't say only that we are able to understand history because history is something we do (it results from our own action). He says that history is the only thing we are able to fully understand. He didn't have any pretention to understanding nature as history.

2.3.2 Unger and Smolin’s understanding of mathematics is also poor. For instance, as much as string theorists, with a slight-of-hand, they merely invert and mask some fundamental issues: the problem is not simply to recognize that mathematics and logic must have limits when applied to temporal phenomena. The problem is rather how can one make sense of the "timeless quality" (p. 16) of mathematics and logic by subsuming them to a one-dimensional and linear (chronological) understanding of time (as change). L'âne crashes or freak out.
It is understandable that the idea of infinite is problematic for them. It is not convincing that they can really make sense of it (kick it out), neither of the idea of a continuum. Smolin at least recognizes that it is going to be difficult to eliminate from physical theory the continuum of complex numbers (in case it were possible to eliminate the continuum of real numbers) (p. 517).
Their understanding of probability is merely epistemological, as for instance when Unger suggests that one cannot use the metaphor of a dice to explain probabilistically "the most general framework" (that is, the cosmos) (p. 159). Even if what we call cosmos were a chaosmos? Mallarmé was not a scientist neither a philosopher and had a much bolder understanding of what is at issue here. (L'âne don't run, but if it were a horse...!)
I wonder if Unger's criticism of marginalism is fair. His understanding of economics, on the other hand, might go along (and not just once) with the conceptions of politicians in Brazil, with whom he associated.

3. Unger and Smolin share with string theorists an obsession: the unification of science, l'affirmation de l'âne. Differently, scientists of the first half of the 20th century (Heisenberg, Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli, but not Einstein) had a much healthier (if stealthy) attitude. They were able to straightforwardly recognize paradoxes and inherent limits in scientific knowledge and practices (in relation to other areas of culture). They all were much more at ease with ideas such as non-local entanglement (Bell inequalities) and indeterminacy. John von Newman is another case that instead of remaining in a defensive attitude, proposed (notwithstanding l'âne) a revision of classical logic in view of the paradoxes in the foundations of both mathematics and quantum physics (people with different agendas all refer positively to von Newman in relation to this point: see Friedman, Dynamics of Reason, p. 122; Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy, p. 156; Susan Haak, Philosophy of Logic, p. 228). One should add Feyerabend, Ludwik Fleck, and perhaps Martin Gardner to the list of people who were able to truly engage with the most paradoxical aspects of science, freeing l'âne from its spell. 

4. All that was said above should be read as an advise that Unger and Smolin (as much as Brian Greene's) direction (and I don't mean merely their arrow-of-time) is wrong-headed. It goes with mainstream academia, which repeats with l'âne (but that beyond eternity). We are just in the beginning of the century, and the situation has approached again the limit once described by Heisenberg in what matters the whole 19th century: 

"The nineteenth century developed an extremely rigid frame for natural science which formed not only science but also the general outlook of great masses of people. This frame was supported by the fundamental concepts of classical physics, space, time, matter and causality; the concept of reality applied to the things or events that we could perceive by our senses or that could be observed by means of the refined tools that technical science had provided. Matter was the primary reality. The progress of science was pictured as a crusade of conquest into the material world. Utility was the watchword of the time... This frame was so narrow and rigid that it was difficult to find a place in it for many concepts of our language that had always belonged to its very substance, for instance, the concepts of mind, of the human soul... It was specially difficult to find in this framework room to those parts of reality that had been the object of the traditional religion and seemed now more or less only imaginary" (Heisenberg, "The Role of Modern Physics in Human Thinking," Physics and Philosophy. London: George Allen & Unwin LTD, 1959, p. 169).

Heisenberg thought that one of "the most important changes brought about by modern physics [read quantum mechanics] results consists in the dissolution of this rigid frame of concepts of the nineteenth century" (Phisics and Philosophy: 170). But alas, l'âne is tougher. I mean, strengthened with the most advanced techniques in pharmacology and biomedicine, it now stands in the middle of this world, on the verge of social and ecological collapse, and whinnies infuriately against any approaching asteroid. It is indeed better to have it at least all alone (and for a very brief moment) than with infinite others.

Anselm Kiefer
Für Ossip Mandelstam:
Das Rauschen der Zeit (1996)
Image from Daniel Arasse's
Anselm Kiefer

Pierre Laurent Aimard/Karlhein Stockhausen's Klavierstück IX:

A documentaire sur Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:

***NEW (Nov/2018):
"If this particle really exists, then it is not just outside the standard model but outside it in a way that nobody anticipated. Just as Newtonian gravity gave way to Einstein's general relativity, the standard model will be superseded. But the replacement will not be any of the favoured candidates that has already been proposed to extend standard model: including supersymmetry, extra dimensions and grand unification theories," Roger Barlow, LHC is hitting a tantalising new particle (The Conversation);


"For D'Espagnat, it is exactly if we consider seriously and realistically certain results of physics that we have to open the two complementary perspectives. D'Espagnat welcomed these complementary perspectives grounding himself on the many violations of CHSH-Bell inequalities obtained experimentally since the 1980s," Alessandro Zir, Luso-Brazilian Encounters of the Sixteenth-Century: A Styles of Thinking Approach (Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 2011, p. 66).
"Since the 1960s... the rigid determinism of old-style physics has given way to a recognition of an inherent spontaneity in nature—through indeterminism at the quantum level, through non-equilibrium thermodynamics, and through the insights of chaos and complexity theories. In cosmology, there has been the recognition of a kind of cosmic unconscious through the discovery of 'dark matter,'the nature of which is utterly obscure, but which nonetheless seems to constitute some 90-99 percent of the matter in the universe. Meanwhile, quantum theory has revealed strange and paradoxical aspects of nature, including the phenomenon of non-locality..." Rupert Sheldrake, Seven Experiments that Could Change the World (Riverhead books, 1995).

"The distance between two particles [in microphysics] is determined by the minimal number of particles necessary to form a chain of coincidences between the given particles" (Max Jammer, Concepts of Space, 1993, 188).
"A profound epistemological analysis of certain quantum-mechanical principles seems to suggest that the traditional conceptions of space and time are perhaps not the most suitable frame for the description of microphysical processes... In his discussion of electron transitions between stationary states within the atom, Niels Bohr already called such processes 'transcending the frame of space and time'" (Jammer, 189).
"Les données de nos perceptions nous conduisent à construire un cadre de l'espace et du temps où toutes nos observations peuvent se localiser. Mais le progrès de la Physique quantique nous amènent à penser que notre cadre de l'espace et du temps [as classically or ordinarily understood] n'est pas adéquat à la véritable description des réalités de l'échelle microscopique" [Louis de Broglie] (Jammer 189).
"[concepts of space and time] arise from, but do not have analogs in, the properties of microscopic particles, in the same way that thermodynamic properties arise as a result of interactions among the many actually existing particles of the universe" [E. J. Zimmerman] (Jammer 238).
"... it has been suspected that the perplexities of quantum phenomena phenomena may arise from the tacit assumption that the notions of length and duration, acquired primarily from experiences in which the average effects of large numbers of quanta are involved, are applicable in the study of individual quanta" [Arthur Stanley Eddington] (Jammer 238).
"A detailed prescription for constructing space according to purely combinatorial principles associated with the spin of particles was put forward in 1971 by Roger Penrose. His point of departure was the awareness that the two basic space-time manifolds of modern physics, the real four-dimensional space-time continuum of relativity and the fictitious infinite-dimensional complex Hilbert-space continuum of quantum mechanics, are unrelated to each other" (Jammer 238-39).
"Geometry in the small would seem to have to be considered as having a foam-like [stochastic] character" [John Archibald Wheeler] (Jammer 240).
"... the idea of using noninteger dimensionalities had been used in statistical physics in the early Seventies... After Benoit B. Mandelbrot had shown that the study of physical phenomena in noninteger-dimensional spaces, or 'fractal dimensions,' is a logically consistent possibility, such investigations gained wider attention" (Jammer, 248).
"That galgaxy-galaxy and cluster-cluster correlations as well as other cosmologically large structures can be studied, preferably in a framework of fractal dimensionalities, has recently been show by Siaochun Luo and David N. Schramm" (Jammer 250).

Now, here lies the WRONG path:
"During the classical period of work on unified field theories in the Thirties and Forties, [theories that unify fundamental forces by postulating space-times of more than four dimensions and incorporate quantum mechanics] became the subject of considerable interest... In some cases, as in the case of Einstein, this work was motivated by the hope that the unobserved fifth dimension could provide hidden variables to eliminate the indeterminacies from quantum mechanics" (Jammer 245).

On entanglement, see also:
The quest to test quantum entanglement (Symmetry);
- Entangled photons make a picture from paradox (Nature);
- Classical Imaging with Undetected Light (Physical Review A);

Other issues:
what is REAL space? what is REAL number?
list of charming scientists/engineers;
- pick a soul (ass you wish);
- The Doors of Perception & the learned foolery of research;
Liste des figures du chaos primordial;
Eduardo Viveiros de Castro: Brazilian Perspectivism?
Interactive while Indifferent—Kinds & Phantasmagoria circa 1900;

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