Posts Tagged ‘empirical reality’

Materia Prima

10 December 2012


The Beginning of the End
So this is it for me and Bernard d’Espagnat’s On Physics and Philosophy.

In the final chapter d’Espagnat allows himself to speculate on the philosophical and spiritual importance of his veiled reality (which he capitalizes) in particular, and the results of modern physics in general.

The chapter is entitled “The Ground of Things.”

It is in these concluding sections that d’Espagnat makes his final defence of a materia prima, a mind-independent reality, before the objections of both realists (who concentrate on empirical reality) and antirealists (who say mind is all).

Some of those arguments say there’s no reality-in-itself, some say it exists but is inaccessible, and others say empirical reality is “reality.”

Kant vs d’Espagnat
D’Espagnat believes “the Real” is a mystery as it is (in his opinion) not accessible through discursive knowledge.

He notes Immanuel Kant distinguished between phenomena and “reality-in-itself,” but disagrees with Kant that a mind-independent reality is just a boring “limiting concept” filled with “pure x.”

Cassirer vs d’Espagnat
Ernest Cassirer strongly objected to being content with a “mystery,” which he felt would be an unbearable block to scientific inquiry.

D’Espagnat says when possible the search for clarity is admirable, but the true spirit of science is to follow where the facts lead it.

The quantum entanglement shown in “Aspect-like experiments” (by Alain Aspect and others) are just part of our evolving scientific knowledge.

Materialists vs Mystics
Sometimes one should approach “mystery” the way mystics, poets, or composers have done so (though more often in the past).

Realists (materialists) have no reason to believe they hold all the keys to knowledge, even in principle.

As for the antirealists (and instrumentalists), if they think reality is something we ourselves build up, then mystery can hardly be called an exceptional “illusion.”

Affect vs Effect
The “affective” element of human existence is an aspect that seems to circumvent our rationality.

Kant felt the “affective mind” was not “ordered on concepts” and therefore could shine no light on Being.

D’Espagnat is more sympathetic to Descartes. Thought leads to the self-evidence of existence (“I think, therefore I am”), but d’Espagnat says just as self-evident will be our “joys and pains.”

We base our conjectures on what we know most intimately, and what could be closer to us than our “affective consciousness”?

This too should be able to inform us of Being, perhaps in some circumstances even better than science can.

Realism vs “the Real”
We can take a very realist position and imagine that if mankind disappeared the stars would continue in their courses.

This is an argument for a mind-independent reality—just not the one d’Espagnat has in mind.

D’Espagnat says just because our present existence is usually most conveniently described in realist terms (such as conventional space and time) doesn’t mean the realist position is actually true.

Even particle physicists who use the realist language of minuscule points and well-defined trajectories know that’s not what’s “really” going on.

Radical Idealism vs “the Real”
On the other hand radical idealism believes there is no reality outside the mind.

In other words, there’s no mind-independent reality.

D’Espagnat says his earlier arguments, either based on no miracles or intersubjective agreement (see chapter five) undermine idealism but not his veiled reality position.

Mathematical Realism vs “the Real”
Whether it’s “Pythagorism” or “Mathematical Platonism” there’s a belief that mathematical developments are discovered not created.

Again, this would be a mind-independent reality, but mathematically based.

Physical reality is either grounded on a pre-existing mathematical reality or there’s some strong connection between the two.

D’Espagnat reminds us that quantum formalism refers to observational predictions.

It’s possible “the Real” is mathematically based, but quantum theory isn’t going to get you there.

Brains in a Vat vs “the Real”
D’Espagnat disagrees with Hilary Putnam’s thought experiment that places brains in vats.

Connect electrodes to the brains and some supersmart being could send (in theory) images and other sensations directly to the brain.

Putnam says a vat individual could not truthfully say, “We are brains in a vat.”

That’s because his concept of a vat is based on an illusion.

So there’s no connection between this particular version of a “ground of being” and our knowledge.

D’Espagnat disagrees with the assumption that knowledge springs only from the senses.

Also, Putnam’s imaginary statement refers to specific entities. D’Espagnat’s concept of “the Real” is “conceptually prior to any such description.”

Self-Modification vs “the Real”
Francisco Varela and collaborators proposed “enaction” theory.

The brain’s main function is to modify its internal states rather than reflect the external world.

External reality is neither a projection of our mind’s contents nor the source of those contents.

There’s no need to imagine a “pre-given” reality.

D’Espagnat faults Varela’s book for vague terminology.

Does Varela mean “empirical reality” or “mind-independent reality” when he talks of “reality”?

Is the “subjective” an individual’s subjectivity or intersubjectivity?

D’Espagnat disagrees with Varela’s use of “secondary qualities” such as colour to make his arguments.

Even Varela’s arguments about attention and perception fail to convince d’Espagnat.

The mind may display selective attention but that’s a far cry from proving that mind and world somehow arise together.

Structure vs “the Real”
Some people say there’s no reality-in-itself, some say it exists but is inaccessible, and others say empirical reality is “reality.”

D’Espagnat says arguments against veiled reality will fail if they’re based on discursive (descriptive and rational) knowledge.

In other words, arguments based on what structures we see or don’t see are irrelevant to “the Real” as “the Real” doesn’t have structures in the way we’re accustomed to think of them.

Buddhism vs d’Espagnat
D’Espagnat notes Varela’s frequent references to Buddhism.

Buddhism speaks of “sunyata” or “emptiness” in rejecting objects in the world as intrinsically existing in the way we perceive them.

Furthermore our living “selves” have no absolute existence as individuals.

D’Espagnat hopes his veiled reality viewpoint will interest Buddhists, especially as there’s a pretty thick veil between consciousness and “the Real.”

Heisenberg vs “the Real”
D’Espagnat rejects Werner Heisenberg’s (posthumously published) view that empirical reality is a product of our human-made knowledge.

Heisenberg felt there were various “regions of reality” such that our knowledge of biology, for instance, weren’t entirely dependent on our knowledge of physics.

Heisenberg did think there might be something that’s “truly real,” vaguely reflected upon human consciousness.

However, he felt this level of reality would still be situated within ordinary space and time.

It’s on that count that d’Espagnat rejects Heisenberg’s arguments as irrelevant as “the Real” is not located in space and time.

Pro vs Con
In the end Heisenberg finds arguments both for and against a “ground of things” dubious.

You can argue against a “ground of things” but only in the sense of a “pregiven,” describable “world-per-se.”

D’Espagnat finds the “pro” arguments based on “commonsense” or a pre-existing mathematical reality also unconvincing.

D’Espagnat believes a “more fact-based reasoning” is called for.

Universality vs Events
D’Espagnat says over the past half-century interest in chaos and complexity led some scientists to demote scientific laws and promote the role of the “event,” previously seen as more or less accidental.

He says he argued against rejecting the “universal” in a 1990 book.

He’s more ambivalent about the emphasis on “events,” which he says takes place within empirical reality.

That reflects the way we’re “apprehending the Real” but doesn’t meant that’s what “the Real” is all about.

For instance, we don’t see objects as nonseparable, but that’s what quantum theory tells us.

D’Espagnat says Edgar Morin and others in this school of thought have somewhat retreated from their emphasis on events, complexity, and disorder.

Morin acknowledges that “Aspect-type” experimental results have shown some limitations in his approach.

Nominalism vs “the Real”
D’Espagnat is unimpressed with the revival of nominalism among “cultivated, literary, avant-garde people.”

It’s a belief system promoted in the Middle Ages by William of Ockham and others.

Nominalists nowadays reject the universal while applauding individual initiative, which they feel is a product of individual knowledge.

The problem is that nominalism is an all-encompassing philosophy, referring to all things, not just living beings.

The discrete atoms of classical physics have given way to “collective modes of existence.”

And again such arguments apply to empirical reality not “the Real.”

D’Espagnat vs the “Enlightenment”
D’Espagnat believes many sophisticated members of society are still enthralled by outmoded ideas of the “Enlightenment” (d’Espagnat’s quotes).

D’Espagnat acknowledges that research on chaos and events may eventually back nominalism.

However, he things quantum theory and inseparability will win out.

Spinoza vs “the Real”
D’Espagnat cautions against thinking Spinoza was a committed materialist when he talked of “God, in other words, nature.”

Although Spinoza’s natura naturans sounds like “the Real,” his natura naturata sounds like phenomena.

D’Espagnat does not agree there’s a willful, personal God behind all this, however.

Veiled reality is not “intelligible,” unlike Spinoza’s view of Substance.

Phenomenology vs “the Real”
Classical physics introduced mechanical, then mathematical, idealizations of objects.

How things supposedly “really are” became separated from our “direct experience.”

Quantum theory reintroduced a role for the human mind to account for our experiences.

In some ways quantum theories reinforces phenomenology.

Phenomenology sees an act of creativity in the human mind.

It takes various pieces of sensation and constructs some entity that shares these qualities.

However, on some level the source of these sensations still independently exists.

Quantum theory states that some physical quantities can only be observed through human intervention, thus undermining phenomenology’s belief in independently existing sources of phenomenon.

Modern “Sages” vs “the Real”
In “developed” societies there are “sages” who take rather contradictory views.

They say there is a reality independent of us.

But they also say it’s “obvious” we rely on our perceptions to gain access to that world.

So they conclude it is illogical to speak of an “unreachable” reality.

We should make only statements relying on sense data or tautologies (statements that are always logically true).

However, d’Espagnat continues to oppose the view that our perceptions necessarily reflect reality as it really is.

Our modern “sages” try to combine realism and positivism, converting “reality-per-se” into “observation-per-se.”

But there is no “observation-per-se” as observations involve human intention and selection.

The Describable vs “the Real”
If we reject the materialists’ rejection of “the Real,” does that force us into the camp of the radical idealists?

D’Espagnat says we shouldn’t confuse “the Real” and “the describable.”

First, existence takes precedence over knowledge.

Secondly, there is something that says “no” to any arbitrary constructions of reality.

Third, it’s hard to imagine an “a priori” that evolves.

And fourthly, there are universal laws that make predictions, and it’s hard to envision how laws could do so unless you believe in miracles.

Even Michel Bitbol and Hervé Zwirn have not entirely rejected the concept of “the Real” even as they critique it.

D’Espagnat says thinkers should avoid pushing deductive reasoning into areas where it may not strictly apply.

As a sidenote, d’Espagnat says classical instrumentalism believes a concept’s meaning and “reference,” the collection of data about the concept, are the same.

Even if you replace “data” with “prediction” it’s not a universal position as predictions require a predictor.

And that predictor is some being who’s doing the predicting.

Laws vs “the Real”
Bitbol and Zwirn may move a bit toward Platonism when they acknowledge something may constrain us that is not entirely attributable to us.

However, they believe this “something” is totally inaccessible.

D’Espagnat disagrees, and thinks Plato would disagree too.

“The Real” must have some influence on empirical reality’s structure as Maxwell’s laws (for instance) are obeyed by phenomena.

D’Espagnat’s “extended causality” links not instances of phenomena but rather phenomena and “the Real.”

These structural “extended causes” move beyond Kantian causality and recall Plato’s Ideas.

Structures vs Hints of Structures
D’Espagnat says “the Real” is prior to mind-matter splitting, so the mind may detect hints of the mind’s source, which is “the Real.”

That veiled reality is not the same as the underlying reality described by structural realism.

D’Espagnat says mind-independent reality is not the source of our physical laws. At best these laws are distortions of the “great structures” of “the Real.” At worst they’re just very obscure “traces.”

In the end “the Real” isn’t describable, indescribable, or party describable.

The first two options imply a total presence or lack of description, and the third option implies “the Real” has parts, which isn’t the case, says d’Espagnat.

Conceptualization vs Meaning
If “the Real” can’t be conceptualized can it have any “meaning”?

D’Espagnat cites Zwirn’s argument imagining a creature as far ahead of humans as humans are ahead of dogs or monkeys.

We can conceptualize things that dogs or monkeys can’t, so surely a superhuman being could conceptualize things we can’t.

D’Espagnat believes that poets can allude to things that we somehow know exists even if these concepts can’t be made explicit.

Plato’s Cave vs “the Real”
At first glance Plato’s Cave approximates d’Espagnat’s view of veiled reality.

It suggests the emergence of (shadowy) empirical reality (seen in the cave) from “the Real” (the porters who place their Platonic Ideas in front of the light).

However, the fable doesn’t deal with how consciousness (the prisoners) would have emerged from “the Real.”

Furthermore, “the Real” cannot be separated into parts (while the porters hold separate objects).

We cannot conceptualize “the Real” yet Plato conceptualized his Ideas.

Finally, even without prisoners there’d still be the shadows, while in d’Espagnat’s system phenomena would exist only in relation to consciousness.

Traditional Thought vs “the Real”
D’Espagnat warns against a syncretism of old cultural elements and new philosophical points, but he wonders if “the Real” has any bearing on traditional systems.

Religions speak of an “immorality,” which suggests some absolute time that physics no longer can support.

However, perhaps the other term “eternity” suggests escaping this illusory time.

And perhaps there is a “continuous creation” of Being in a process independent of time.

Heisenberg vs d’Espagnat
Heisenberg, says d’Espagnat, doubted thought could illuminate deep matters as (according to Heisenberg) thought returns to its source.

But d’Espagnat notes that new science has allowed us to move past old science’s viewpoints, such as materialism.

So thought has been able to illuminate some deep matters.

Platonism vs d’Espagnat
D’Espagnat sees similarities between his view of causality and Aristotle’s.

Aristotle was a realist and was concerned with causality not just in the realm of phenomena but in “reality-in-itself.”

Furthermore, Aristotle was not beholden to the idea that causes precede effects.

Instead there could be “final causes” to which things might tend under the influence of Aristotle’s God.

As d’Espagnat’s veiled reality is beyond time, “the Real” could impart such a “final cause” on empirical reality.

Also, Aristotle’s interest in causation beyond mere phenomena reminds d’Espagnat of his own interest in causation between “the Real” and empirical reality.

Aristotle distinguished between “power” and “act” while Newton supposedly saw just “act.”

Aristotle saw matter as the seat of a vague potentiality.

Materia prima is pure potentiality.

“Informed matter” exists on more and more complex levels. Simple beings can be the “matter” for more complex beings.

These complex beings in this process are more “real” as their potentiality is expressed.

Therefore the deep meaning of reality lies not in the tiny components of complex beings, but rather the meaning is the complex beings themselves.

In a similar fashion, in empirical reality the wave functions have an “epistemological reality” at a lower level than, say, macroscopic objects in the wake of decoherence.

Although Heisenberg did not cite decoherence he did ponder the possible role of wave functions as a “materia prima.” Abner Shimony went on exploring this issue.

However, they’ve both admitted it’s hard to formulate these ideas precisely.

Plato vs d’Espagnat
As for Plato, d’Espagnat reminds us of his earlier concerns about the Plato’s Cave.

However, for Plato the deeper meaning was not in the things themselves.

They didn’t reside just in “us” either. He wasn’t a radical idealist.

Platonic Ideas (and his concept of the “Good”) bear resemblance to “the Real.”

However, Platonic Ideas are conceptualizable while “the Real” is not.

Many scientists believe, still, that analyzing more and more sense data will get us closer to the deeper meaning of reality.

However, advances in science have relied on a “rapprochement” between science and a philosophical position (Platonism) that questions such a program.

D’Espagnat notes that “Platonism” is a term nowadays often interpreted as “Pythagorism” with real mathematical objects.

D’Espagnat does not agree with “Pythagorism,” but notes that there’s some relationship between it and Platonism.

Even veiled reality has a smidgeon of Pythagorism in it as empirical reality’s objects are somehow a dim reflection of “the Real.”

Einstein vs d’Espagnat
Albert Einstein appears to have believed “the Real” could in principle be apprehended in its details, even if in practice that was rarely possible.

However, the goal remained to explore this deeper world by discovering universal laws.

Einstein also believed in three levels of religious experience.

The first was based on fear, the second morals, and the third transcends ordinary human views of God.

At this third level, Einstein thought, a sublime order is reflected in nature and in thought.

Even scientific materialists no longer believe the common materialism that the mass media disseminates.

However, there have also been developments that make us question some of Einstein’s philosophical positions.

D’Espagnat sees some compatibility between his views and Einstein’s even if Pythagorism doesn’t have to be entirely correct.

“The Real” does not have to be totally intelligible.

The human mind may tend toward the structures and qualities of “the Real” in the sense that Max Planck had a strong affective experience in his theoretical work.

It’s not necessary that mathematics reveals everything about “the Real.”

Rather, as long as we have some concept of “the Real” that we can tend to, the structures and qualities of the mind may be drawn to it even as it never fully understands it due to the mind’s limitations.

The Spiritual vs the Scientific
Maybe this idea is closer to Einstein’s third-level religious experience rather than a completely knowable “Real.”

The human mind tends to quest and exploration, though never able to fully accomplish what it desires.

Einstein was still grounded in physical materialism.

Later developments in physics have shown us something more human-oriented. We can’t limit Being to just material components.

The mind may somehow “recall” aspects of Being as consciousness is not just a product of matter.

Archetypes of some of our feelings may lie with “the Real.” There’s no way to prove this, or disprove this.

But crucially we can no longer see science as an impediment to the “spiritual impetus that moves mankind,” an impetus, according to Einstein, that makes us desire to live “the whole of what is.”

And it is an impetus that possesses both unity and meaning.

Making an Appearance

8 December 2012


Mind the Details
Bernard d’Espagnat delves into finer and finer distinctions between his veiled reality position and similar (though not identical) views.

The eighteenth chapter of his On Physics and Philosophy is entitled “Objects and Philosophy,” and there’s only one chapter to go after this.

Philosophers vs Consciousness Researchers
D’Espagnat says he takes mostly a philosophical approach in this book.

Philosophers question the basis of our reality while consciousness researchers (such as neurologists) take physical realism as a given (whether they’re conscious of this or not).

Mind vs Reality
Radical idealists, who think mind is “primeval,” may wonder about the relationship between mind and “basic reality.”

Supporters of d’Espagnat’s “veiled reality” or “open realism” approach are even more motivated to investigate.

Truth vs Reality
A physical realist can say that a true statement is “adequate to what reality really is.”

This is the “similitude theory” of truth.

Reality vs Representations
But if we don’t have access to reality as it “really is” then we might say we have access only to “human representations” of “the Real.”

Instead of worrying about whether statements are true to reality you might worry more about the verifiability of statements.

Knowable vs Unknowable Reality
Another problem with the “similitude” approach is that quantum mechanics, the best model of the world we have, fundamentally deals with observational probabilities not plain and simple facts.

Even resorting to a Broglie-Bohm approach doesn’t help as “hidden variables” will be inaccessible to the observer even in principle.

Idealism vs Veiled Reality
A radical idealist or Kantian rejects the similitude approach anyway.

A supporter of the veiled reality approach has to take a somewhat nuanced tact.

Very broad statements about physical constants or “existences prior to knowledge” may hint at “the Real” without claiming to say anything directly about “the Real” as it “really is.”

Appearances vs Veiled Reality
If we’re not supposed to trust in “appearances” then what is reality really like?

We might think that “the Real” is just an updated version of “appearances.”

Or maybe mind-independent reality is so independent that it’s entirely inaccessible.

D’Espagnat says both approaches are too extreme.

Causal Links vs Predictive Laws
We like our ordinary, everyday version of “realism” because it lets us imagine particular cause-and-effect relationships.

It’s easier to explain things when we can point to particular causes rather than just patterns of observational predictions.

D’Espagnat says some causal links are genuine and independent of us, but our interpretation of these links is very much our own.

For instance, causality is closely related in our minds to the notion of “will,” which entails a very anthropomorphic (human-centred) view of reality.

Intersubjective Agreement vs Appearances
But what if a group of humans (and maybe even non-humans!) agree on certain observations?

D’Espagnat says that this agreement combined with rules of observational prediction mean this is our “reality.”

Saying they’re just “appearances” is misleading. It’s a kind of “reality.”

However, modern physics reminds us that humans tend to “reify” (think of the world as a set of objects).

So we still have to keep in mind that empirical reality is not the same as “the Real.”

Empirical Reality vs Mind-Independent Reality
Although d’Espagnat is comfortable with the term “reality” to describe our empirical reality, he says we have to remember these are two “orders” or “levels” of reality.

Empirical reality isn’t just a mere variant on “the Real.”

Identity Theory vs Efflorescence Theory
In some of the more nuanced sections of the chapter d’Espagnat makes a distinction between identity theory and efflorescence theory.

Identity theory states that a genuine sensation or awareness (perhaps even thought in general) is traceable to neurons or their components.

The material aspect of these neurons is the ultimate cause of our sensations.

Efflorescence theory attributes sensations and awareness to “neuronal activity” rather than the material aspects of neurons or their components.

Strong vs Weak Completeness
D’Espagnat’s main line of attack against identity theory is the completeness principle.

In its strong version, quantum mechanics is assumed to be able to describe anything at all.

In its weak version, if any theory can describe something then quantum mechanics can do so as well. This leaves open the concept of hidden variables.

Since quantum mechanics is antirealist it’s hard to imagine how the strong completeness principle is compatible with identity theory.

Even if you take the weak version of the completeness principle all you can conclude is that the identity theory may be true—but we can never show it to be so.

But what if you reject the completeness principle entirely?

If you used the Broglie-Bohm model you’d still have to deal with an entangled wave function, so sensations can’t be attributed just to some limited coordinates of a particular neuron.

Or you can take the Roger Penrose approach by adding nonlinear terms to the Schrödinger equation.

D’Espagnat says that approach may work, but he finds it too ad hoc. It’s also work still at an early stage, yet to face the scrutiny a full theory would need to endure.

Brain vs Neuron States
Now, efflorescence theory relies on neuronal activity not the material aspects of neurons to explain sensation, awareness, and (perhaps) thought itself.

But neurologists believe brain states not neuronal states are what drives awareness. You can’t pinpoint a particular neuron or group of neurons that are responsible.

It’s the collective action spread across the brain that is associated with awareness.

D’Espagnat notes the parallel to quantum entanglement.

Protomentality vs Mentality
Alfred North Whitehead and other thinkers in the past have wondered if simple organisms or even inorganic entities can have awareness?

Abner Shimony’s “potentiality” might satisfy some objections to this concept of protomentality.

Various entities have the potentiality of consciousness, but this potentiality isn’t actualized unless a nervous system is present.

Consciousness vs Components of Consciousness
As a final objection to the efflorescence theory, d’Espagnat says that any component we cite will be part of our empirical reality.

Empirical reality depends on our consciousness.

Therefore how can something that depends on our consciousness be the cause of our consciousness?

D’Espagnat vs The “Received” View
The “received” view that thought is produced by matter is, according to d’Espagnat, “slightly useful” as a model but must be rejected as a plausible philosophical stance.

Relative Quantum States vs Relative Consciousness
Because the observer decides what to measure and how, quantum states are “relative” to these procedures.

However, some quantum rules may be considered “in isolation.” They’re not predictive observational rules and hence don’t involve probability.

They’re more like descriptions.

However, to understand the quantum world you have to consider all quantum rules not just pick and choose the non-probabilistic ones.

D’Espagnat says states of consciousness are somewhat similar.

Definite vs Indefinite States of Consciousness
Imagine a sealed-off laboratory. Paul makes a measurement. His state of consciousness is definite but Peter doesn’t know that until Paul, say, phones him with the measurement.

This is a version of Wigner’s friend, and can be extended over and over again, with an observer outside a sealed room, which contains an observer outside a sealed room, etc.

Peter thinks Paul’s state of consciousness is not just unknown (before the phone call) but also undefined. It’s a superposition of possible results (pointer values, for instance).

Yet once Paul makes the measurement, Paul’s state of consciousness is definite from Paul’s point of view.

Consciousness vs The Absolute
This apparent conflict doesn’t change the fact that physics is all about predicting observations, says d’Espagnat.

However, there’s a related issue.

We shouldn’t think that “predictive states of consciousness” are like some Absolute or can even be a substitute for the Absolute.

Quantum states are relative, and so are states of consciousness.

More precisely, states of consciousness that are predictive are relative.

Physical vs Mental
So we see some sort of “solidarity” between the physical and the mental, but that doesn’t mean the mental can be reduced to the physical.

Wigner’s Friends vs Ultimate Reality
The series of “Wigner’s friends” who occupy increasingly large rooms is suggestive of an ultimate reality that we cannot gain access to. Wigner’s friends don’t have access to the overall wave function.

Predictive vs Non-Predictive Consciousness
However, nothing prevents us from pondering non-predictive states of consciousness.

When Paul makes the observation, his state of consciousness becomes well-defined. It’s no longer predictive.

Veiled Reality vs Co-Emergence
Michel Bitbol, Hervé Zwirn, and other authors speak of thought and empirical reality “co-emerging” at the same time.

It’s a “self-qualifying” process by which structure emerges from an initial and total lack of structure.

D’Espagnat says his veiled reality viewpoint has an “ultimate ground” endowed with general structures even if they are “far from being knowable.”

This ultimate ground may form the basis for not just scientific laws but also creative and mystical endeavours.

Emergence vs Non-Emergence
So, according to d’Espagnat, structures emerge but don’t co-emerge. They pre-exist.

Co-emergence serves merely to connect consciousness and empirical (not ultimate) reality.

D’Espagnat acknowledges that in the past he has talked of consciousness and empirical reality existing “in virtue of one another.”

This does not mean that empirical reality emerged from consciousness.

Furthermore, these words are meant to be evocative rather than a precise philosophical statement.

He reiterates the impossibility of appearances, which depend on consciousness, somehow creating consciousness.

Indexed vs Non-Indexed States of Consciousness
Adopting Bitbol’s terminology, d’Espagnat says some beings may possess non-indexed states of consciousness.

That means these states of consciousness are not relative to any particular experimental setup.

However, these states of consciousness must therefore be non-predictive.

Microscopic vs Macroscopic
An idealized miniature version of a being would be too small to interact with the environment to become predictive.

In the intermediate state between microscopic and macroscopic, such beings could accurately predict one class of observations but would wrongly predict another class of observations.

For macroscopic beings that first class of observations would still be correctly predictable but the second class of observations would be essentially impossible.

These practical observations are conveniently describable in realist language, while the practically impossible observations are not.

So if we want to talk about co-emergence then we should imagine the co-emergence of “public and predictive” states of consciousness and empirical, physical reality.

This co-emergence is constrained by the class of observations that macroscopic beings can perform.

Co-emergence draws from a mind-independent reality that presumably, according to d’Espagnat, is beyond intersubjective description.

And returning to the idea of potentiality, d’Espagnat says that in moving from the microscopic to the macroscopic the “ontological potentiality” of consciousness becomes empirical actuality.

“The Real” is not in itself thought, but can give rise to thought.

One World vs Many Egos
There appears to be one universe but many minds.

Radical idealists have trouble reconciling this situation.

Schrödinger calls this the “arithmetical paradox” and proposed two solutions.

There’s “Leibniz’ fearful doctrine of monads,” and there’s the belief the multiplicity is only apparent.

Schrödinger preferred the second approach, akin to the Upanishads, which states there is unity behind the illusion.

Veiled Reality vs Radical Idealism
The multiple-room experimental setup showed that predictive states of consciousness are relative.

It’s hard to see how all those observers could be part of just one mind.

However, perhaps various observers are making mutually compatible observations, calculable using the general Born rule.

This is the same as one observer making simultaneous measurements.

This sounds compatible with Schrödinger’s viewpoint.

However, that doesn’t solve the problem of the observer in that sealed-off inner room.

It also doesn’t take decoherence into account.

On the other hand, this decoherence also hides any theoretical possibility of discovering contradictions between multiple minds and the quantum structure of physical laws.

D’Espagnat thinks more work needs to be done on this issue.

Traces of the Real

18 November 2012

Traces of Reality

The Process of Elimination
Bernard d’Espagnat gets ever deeper into familiar, and largely friendly, territory.

It’s a chapter about large agreements and small disagreements as these particular critics seem to agree as much as disagree with him.

His major challengers and comrades will be Michel Bitbol and (less prominently) Hervé Zwirn.

Form vs Content
D’Espagnat first examines Bitbol’s “verbal issues” and questions about d’Espagnat’s logical arguments.

Then he moves on to more substantive issues.

Veiled Reality vs Dualism
Bitbol suspects “Veiled Reality” is dualistic.

Classically dualism means there’s mind and there’s matter, though even in Descartes’ time philosophers puzzled how the two could interact.

Materialists later on would say mind is just a manifestation of matter, but d’Espagnot says Bitbol isn’t a materialist.

D’Espagnat says if Bitbol’s objection is about interactions then he’s got it wrong.

D’Espagnot says he doesn’t believe mind and matter are the building blocks of “reality as it really is.”

Instead mind and matter emerge from the ground reality, an “Independent Reality.”

Coming from the same source mind and matter aren’t fundamentally split from each other.

“Veiled Reality” vs Veiled Reality
Next is the issue of whether the term “Veiled Reality” is misleading.

Although d’Espagnat admits the term might suggest a world of objects behind some veil, he said it’s just simply hard to compress the concept into two words.

He admits he used to prefer a “non-watered-down structural realism,” but since then he’s undergone an “evolution” rather than a “revolution.”

Objectivist Language vs Objectivist Philosophy
D’Espagnat says it’s convenient to talk about an instrument dial pointing to a particular spot.

But objectivist language is a matter of convenience, it’s not to taken literally.

D’Espagnat uses that kind of language to talk about “impressions,” not events independent of “the existence of thought.”

In any event, it seems Bitbol acknowledged the misinterpretation and moved on.

D’Espagnat’s approach is an “essentially negative approach” of showing what capital-R “Reality” can’t be: plural, atomistic, embedded in space-time, for instance.

He says Bitbol eventually realized this about d’Espagnat’s position.

Broglie-Bohm vs Dualism
D’Espagnat says the Broglie-Bohm models are logically consistent and follow a mostly “classically dualistic conception.”

But the subject still isn’t “face to face” with the world as there are hidden variables and a “Universal nonseparable wave function.”

Hence Broglie-Bohm isn’t a fully classical dualism.

“A Priori” Dualism vs Observed Dualism
Kant used “a priori” arguments to support his “thing-in-itself.”

But can we use the data of modern physics instead as d’Espagnat has done?

Bitbol said d’Espagnat based his arguments not on quantum mechanics in general.

Rather he based it on a particular interpretation, one that rejects hidden variables.

D’Espagnat says he’s made no secret of that.

Science chooses among various explanations and tends to be wary of “an all-powerful Zeus, for example.”

Bitbol calls these factors “ampliative” criteria.

And even Bitbol acknowledges that Bohm’s theories lead to a “crisis in atomism” with their “nonlocality and contextuality.”

D’Espagnat says nonlocality doesn’t force the “thing-in-itself” to be inaccessible.

But it undermines the hope that “the Real” can be progressively unveiled.

Knowledge Of vs Knowledge About
Bitbol complained that d’Espagnat’s book Veiled Reality talked about “Independent Reality” as “something.”

But wouldn’t that make this supposedly independent reality an empirical reality?

D’Espagnat says he was careful to say the data would have “something to do” with this reality.

It would be knowledge about this reality, but not knowledge of this reality.

To Sketch vs Not to Sketch
Bitbol says Kantian and neo-Kantian philosophers would object to the idea that an “Independent Reality” is “prestructed.”

D’Espagnat says Bitbol needs to do more than just cite possible objectors.

He needs to present an actual argument.

Bitbol says d’Espagnat is implying observed phenomena lets one “sketch” various features of “Independent Reality.”

D’Espagnat says that to talk about sketching is misleading.

By giving up on the “locality principle” he’s also giving up on “sketching” Independent Reality.

Nonetheless d’Espagnat acknowledges that it’s not just a process of elimination.

He does conjecture that observational data may “in a distorted and incomprehensible way” somehow reflect some structures of “the Real.”

Reflected Reality vs Reflected Thought
Bitbol wonders if maybe predictive laws should be considered “distorted reflections” of our own mental contributions rather than of some “Independent Reality.”

D’Espagnat says it’s important to distinguish between what’s sufficient and what’s necessary.

Of course “our perceptive” context is important, but probably not enough to produce those perceptions.

Furthermore, anyone can come up with an interesting principle and follow its consequences.

One can choose to believe all connections between perception and reality are illusory.

But that doesn’t mean you’ve proved your case.

In the end d’Espagnat remains confident of his “prestructure” hypothesis, though it’s “but a plausible and admittedly unverifiable conjecture.”

Evidence vs Other Factors
Bitbol and Zwirn also wondered if one theory could be replaced by another for reasons other than evidence.

D’Espagnat replies that you can’t tweak a “realist local theory” and make it work.

Nonlocality isn’t nudging one theory out of the way—it’s demanding a different theory.

If Zwirn and Bitbol believe perceptions come solely from us, then we could believe in an experimentally refuted theory.

This may be somehow “rational” but a scientist won’t follow such a path that undermines “science and empirical knowledge in general.”

Bitbol proposes some kind of transformation groups that would explain our sensory data’s “structural invariants.”

D’Espagnat thinks the analogy from group theory is inexact.

In any event, it’s not particularly interesting that nonlocality could appear in some “acceptable realist theory.”

What’s important is that it tells us we can never use a local realist theory to explain all of our observed data.

Nonseparability vs Unity
D’Espagnat admits he went too far in saying the nonseparability of Independent Reality implies some kind of unity in that Independent Reality.

He agrees with Bitbol that this statement demands a principle of the excluded middle such that rational categories cover all that is possible.

The transcendent may not be so intelligible.

Instead of Plotinus’s “One” we should think of a unity that is “the absolutely inexpressible” (pantè aporeton).

This view is still consistent with the (unprovable) view that “poetry, music, painting etc.” may provide us with glimpses of “the Real.”

Similarly, physical laws and their mathematical structure may be some sort of “traces” of an underlying structure.

Nonetheless the connection between those traces and that structure “may well be undecipherable.”

This is definitely less than what “structural realism” would expect.

Critic vs Critiqued
D’Espagnat turns from being critiqued to critiquing Bitbol and Zwirn.

He doesn’t see how replacing a static “a priori” with a functional one improves matters.

Either way, how do you explain how Newton’s law of gravity ended up with its precise form?

D’Espagnat says it “partakes very much of utopia” to expect formalism to overcome observation, which is what he thinks Bitbol believes.

An all-encompassing theory of symmetries and so on is unlikely to render it immune to experimental contradiction.

Furthermore, quantum theory’s axioms (a framework theory) may someday be justifiable just on their formal basis.

But those axioms form the basis of quantum theories, and these are theories “in the ordinary sense.”

And it’s those ordinary theories that provide the evidence against locality, for instance.

Because “all men, all civilizations” share the intuition of a reality outside of us, d’Espagnat is willing to give up on Independent Reality only if it’s proved false.

And it’s a conjecture that can’t be proved false.

Maybe some day a conjecture of greater plausibility will supplant the concept of an Independent Reality.

For now, Bitbol’s conjecture doesn’t do that.

Bitbol is reverting to a medieval approach of arguing from the general to the specific, says d’Espagnat.

As for Zwirn, d’Espagnat heartily approves of his analysis of modern science’s conceptual challenges.

D’Espagnat believes Zwirn commits some minor errors in summarizing d’Espagnat’s approach.

It’s not based on “structural realism,” which Zwirn seems to imply.

However, these aren’t a big deal, and the two thinkers agree on much, says d’Espagnat.

In fact, he says Zwirn may have come up with an even more detailed version of “Veiled Reality” than he has.