Our relationship to miracles and the miraculous is ambivalent. On the one hand, we crave the extraordinary and devour all reports and rumors of the occurrence of an event believed impossible; on the other hand, we fear such events because we perceive the unplanned, unwanted, unforeseen as a threat to our security. By contrast, the attitude of science is unambiguous. It scorns the miracle and mocks all who believe in it. If the validity of the laws of nature does by definition not allow any exception, there can be no miracles. Continue reading (5) The Familiar and the Commonplace
Democratic Antignosis – knowing the limits
In this book, I want to encourage the reader to become aware of the miraculous. However, my approach, will not consist in quoting authorities or presenting mere assertions. Rather, I want to guide the reader by stimulating his or her own approach. Continue reading The Miraculous and its enemies (2)
This is an excerpt from my new book „Das Wunderbare und seine Feinde“. The english translation „The Miraculous and its Enemies” will be completed within a few weeks.Continue reading The Miraculous and its Enemies (1)
No, the question is only stupid because it is thought to be so. Not long ago leading German neurologists like Roth and Singer considered their fellow men expressis verbis naive, if not downright stupid, if they did not want to recognize that from a scientific point of view – man does not possess freedom of will.*1* Their conviction is nothing new. The Babylonians thought that human destiny was completely determined by the stars. Church fathers like Augustin, Luther and Calvin justified their rejection of human freedom with the omniscience of God. To God, the entire future including the thoughts and intentions of men are known since the beginning of creation. Ergo, freedom cannot exist. Philosophers like Democritus, Spinoza, Voltaire, Schopenhauer up to Bertrand Russell also belong to the vocal deniers of freedom. They are opposed by thinkers such as Gottlieb Fichte and Martin Heidegger, who conversely pathetically proclaim freedom. In the middle between these two oppsing camps usually stands the unbiased layman, who has always known to be at the same time free and exposed to multiple constraints. Among the great philosophers who convincingly argued this point of view we find William James, Karl Jaspers, and Karl Popper.*2*
The opposition between these two positions
not only manifests itself in the history of religion and philosophy, it is inherent, as it were, in each of us. When observing other people, we intuitively ask about the motives of their behavior, i.e., about the limits of their freedom and arbitrariness, in order to respond to them in an appropriate way. This is the case with feared adversaries anyway, but even with people we love. The better we know their respective likes and dislikes, the more likely we are to anticipate their reactions, and the less danger there is that there will be friction in dealing with them. In the same way, this object perspective is assumed by a writer of novels who tries to make us understand why his protagonists act just the way they do (he describes the conscious or unconscious compulsions to which their actions obey).
In contrast, we adopt the subject perspective with equal naturalness as soon as we analyze our own personal actions. When spontaneously deciding to make a trip to the Kulm, a nearby mountain, on a beautiful autumn morning – and not, say, two weeks from now – I naturally evaluate this decision as free. It is not forced on me by anyone – not even by my own cherished habits, because I am aware that I can revoke them at any time. Yes, this awareness of one’s own freedom of thought and action goes so far that some people deliberately do the opposite of what others expect of them or even what they expect of themselves.
This twofold perspective
has its reason in two opposing needs, which are fundamental for every single human being as well as for every society. We only gain security in dealing with nature and with other people if we explore their rules and laws ever deeper and further. With regard to nature, we have succeeded so well that we are now able to retrodict the history of the cosmos back to the Big Bang and to predict it until the sun will have burned its hydrogen fuel. But security has never been the only human need. For the child and every human being who has retained his natural curiosity into old age, the unexpected, the surprise, the mystery of existence constitute a constant challenge giving life its charm and its color in the first place. Complete security, i.e. predictability, would enclose us within a straitjacket that suffocates all spontaneity. As long as we live, we constantly look for the attraction of the not yet known, the emergence of things new.*3* A world, in which we would know everything, would be a mere machine, devoid of freedom. It would be dead and frozen.
I venture to say that the need for security on the one hand and for mystery on the other, i.e. for the challenge by the unknown and the new, dominated man from the very beginning of history. They are no more and no less than the two constituent features of the human condition.
The paradox of man’s condition is,
that we alternately strive – with a kind of inner necessity – for security (resulting from the discovery of order) and for freedom. So, these two elementary needs are closely connected with either the two alternatives of the object or the subject perspective. This contrast attains its extreme expression as soon as man appears as a researcher, i.e. when he questions nature and himself not only intuitively like any layman but systematically. Psychology as a science would be of no avail if all our emotional or intellectual reactions were the result of mere chance, so that the researcher would only come across chaos instead of recognizable regularities. The same observation applies to sociology. And, of course, it is only worthwhile for neurological science to investigate the biological foundations of human nature because an abundance of such regularities (partly of a law-like nature) do actually exist.
Just at this point the paradox
reveals itself with particular evidence. The same neurologist who regards man as an object revealing to him an abundance of regularities or even laws, holds the second role of a subject at the same time as he is their active observer and discoverer. In this role, however, he not only feels free – he even has to be so, because otherwise his approach would be subject to an insurmountable contradiction. If the human beings he studies as objects would be determined for him by laws throughout, if, in other words, they would be completely predictable – in popular diction bereft of free will -, then the same must, of course, be true for the observing researcher himself. In other words, he himself would condemn himself to be no more than an automaton controlled by impersonal laws. His own results and scientific statements, even the false ones, would be equally conditioned by impersonal laws. In this case, the distinction of scientifically true in contrast to false statements would, of course, make no sense.
As long as science assumes
that basically all human thinking and acting can be interpreted in a law-like way (provided we would only carry on our research for a long enough period), this paradox is unsolvable, because we are faced with an insurmountable logical contradiction. In our time it is fashionable to deny any credit to purely logical considerations. Scientists prefer to carry out physiological experiments according to Benjamin Libet or turn to quantum physics to clarify the problem in a very elaborate and costly way. But the elementary rules of logic and scientific truth are at the base of all research, so the logical paradox remains crucial, even if its recognition costs us no more than a little more than average thinking ability
We therefore come to a clear conclusion: However numerous the rules or even laws we may still discover in the thinking and acting of human beings, it is nevertheless evident that these rules or laws will never determine them completely. Besides being to a certain degree governed by rules or laws, we act and think out of freedom – that is in an unpredictable way. If most laymen were not intuitively aware of this basic fact, they could derive it from the opposition between subject and object perspectives, both of which are inherent in each of us.
Significant, however, are the contrasts of temperament
and inclination that arise between researchers, especially when it comes to the interpretation of human behavior in history (historiography), politics (political science), society (sociology), and interpersonal relationships (psychology). Since the 19th century up to our days an opposition unfolds here, which manifests itself above all in the readiness (or else the reluctance) to transfer the methods of the exact natural sciences to the sphere of man. Even if the freedom of man or contrary view that he is subject to regularites and laws just like the rest of nature, is not explicitly mentioned, this opposition always remains perceptible in the background. It even leads to heated arguments about what should be considered serious science. I consider these argument as misleading as most of the cockfights between the representatives of freedom versus necessity.
Let us turn to a concrete example:
namely, the controversy about Joseph Henrich, a Harvard professor with much influence among present-day anthropologists. Like no other before him, Henrich tried to explain man and his history in terms of a few characteristics, especially in terms of the density of biological relationships. According to him, Europe owes its unique historical evolution above all to the fact that biological clans, which dominated social life everywhere else in the world, had been suppressed since the fourth century by the marriage and family policy of the catholic church.*4*
The reaction to the theses of the Harvard anthropologist consists in an “aha” experience among those who consider them correct; on the other hand, his opponents consider them all but simplistic – the complex historical reality does not allow to explain the evolution of society and the resulting psychological traits in such a simple way.
In my opinion, this objection misses the purpose of science
All science seeks to explain reality – whether that of external nature or that of man – with as few principles and factors as possible. In his famous “world formula”, Albert Einstein only used three basic entities, namely energy, mass and the speed of light to explain matter. Jared Diamond has attributed to a single factor, namely the germ resistance of Europeans acquired through close cohabitation with domestic animals, a decisive influence on the victory of Europeans over the great empires of the Aztecs and Incas. Michael Mitterauer attributed to a single factor, namely the spread of rye (and oats for horses) in northwestern Europe, a major role in its emergence after the collapse of the Roman Empire.*5*
The fact that Joseph Henrichs regards the elimination of close kinship relations as a decisive factor explaining the uniqueness of European development must also be considered legitimate. It is not the question whether complex historical developments are explained by a multitude of factors, or by only one (monocausal explanation), that vouches for scientific respectability, but whether the explanation is right or wrong (also with regard to the scope attributed to it).
One-dimensional explanations of complex relations are often quite wrong – this makes them suspicious from the outset, but if they turn out to be right, then they meet the ideal of scientific explanation (the demand for greatest possible simplicity) to a special degree. For example, Henrich claims to have come across the following statistical correlation: “The greater the rate of cousin marriage in a province, the higher the rates of corruption and Mafia activity.” This finding is rather challenging because it relates two apparently completely different cultural dimensions: the density of biological relationships on the one hand, crime on the other. After reviewing the figures in different parts of the world, anthropology will have to either accept Henrich’s thesis as accurate or reject it as false (or partially valid only). Even if it turns out to be correct, it does, of course, not tell us anything about the cause of this correlation. One of the two variables could be the cause of the other or a factor that lies outside of both. For Henrich himself, the cause lies in the special clan mentality that results from such close kinship relationships.
The freedom of man,
his complexity and multidimensionality, remains, even if the limits of freedom are sometimes determined by very simple factors. From a scientific point of view, the crucial question always remains one and the same: do the statements in question stand up to scrutiny, are they right or wrong? For example, throughout his history, man has put forward the most ludicrous theories about epidemics. Witchcraft and magic, the wrath of the gods or personal enemies have been blamed, and a myriad of innocent people have been persecuted for such imaginary causes. It was not until the 19th century that the existence of bacteria and even later that of viruses was discovered. This correct monocausal explanation immediately swept away all those wrong and highly complex multicausal explanations of earlier times. As a matter of fact, human freedom may sometimes be limited by a single cause such as bacteria or viruses.
*1* His colleague Lüder Deecke (2012, pos. 1458): “Gerhard Roth, who worked predominantly on salamanders, is trying to persuade us to give up responsibility…. Another neuroscientist, Wolf Singer, an expert of the visual system…. is of the opinion that the principle of responsibility of man is untenable, for in the brain there is no leadership… Wolf Singer draws extensive conclusions for our legal system from his dubious premises, he pleads for the abolition of responsibility.”
*2* In my book “Creative Reason” I tried to extend these arguments in several directions.
*3* The Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski expresses this very beautifully:
The unknown world can be a source of fear, but so can the overly familiar world with its well-known course planned by ourselves… In things we subdued thanks to centuries of dramatic effort, we are no longer able to discover a mythical organization, nor to believe in it seriously. Precisely because they are subdued, harnessed, as it were, before the cart which we know how to steer, the physical energies appear to our gaze a hundredfold more “dehumanized,” more indifferent, in the fullness of futility, although we have just meaningfully integrated them into our projects. We long again for the abandoned unpredictability of things…, we have been longing for it since the 18th century, from the moment that mechanized industry began to transform the surface of the earth”.
And “… complete predictability /is/ a quality fundamentally different from what is familiar to us from relationships with other people…. In encounters with other people, in which we succeed in relaxing the rules of factual exchange and in allowing the spontaneity pulsating on both sides to have its say, the inability to predict, as well as its superfluity, constitutes a specifically human value for us; the predictability of the other person is a quality of the reified relations between us: all spontaneity is creative… ” (my translation of the German edition Kolakowsky1973; p. 97).
*4* In the preceding essay, I examined Henrich’s theses in more detail.
*5* The conversion to new cereal varieties then led to more integrated agriculture with large livestock, deeper plowing of the soil, the use of water mills, and many other consequences.
This is my cover letter to Prof. Mitterauer:
Dear Mr. Mitterauer,
I read your two essays – one on the special path of Europe, the other on endogamous kinship relations – not merely with intellectual profit but with emotional pleasure as well, because they embody that kind of historiography which combines meticulous care in dealing with concrete events with the endeavor to recognize more general connections existing between them. It struck me, of course, that your research on the influence of the catholic church on the development of kinship relations, provides much of the empirical foundation on which Henrich could then pile his lofty edifice (after all, he quotes you 35 times). However, little is left in his work of the numerous reservations and restrictions found in your pages.
I understand your criticism of Joseph Henrich and can imagine your surprise that I respond to it with an essay that first speaks very generally of freedom and necessity. Let me justify this approach in this cover letter.
In our time, I see two tendencies at work which fundamentally change the way history has been understood up to now. While the classical way consisted in taking great, wise, venerable people as models (above all men) and regarding them as the actual demiurges of historical transformations, an altogether different tendency has established itself at the latest with Marx. Now impersonal mechanisms of a social, psychological, political kind were held responsible for historic change. This substitution of the personal by the impersonal was accompanied by what we may call democratic pathos that finds the idea unacceptable that men or women of the past should be considered more credible than the normal man of our time (since we are all basically the same). Such democratic pathos logically culminates in Henrich’s proceedings: People living today are questioned about every imaginable item and their answers then statistically evaluated in order to interpret even past history.
I deal with what I believe to be a second modern tendency in dealing with history when – via the detour of freedom and necessity – I respond to your objection that you cannot accept Henrich’s approach as scientifically serious. Here I do not quite agree. Certainly, his approach would not be scientifically serious if his peers can prove that his generalizations are not empirically justified – that is, false. But there is nothing wrong with generalizations per se – even the most daring ones – from a scientific point of view. More precisely, nothing except that little remains of previous historiography. For what Henrich presents to us is a most alarming assimilation of the human sciences to the natural sciences. The latter may allow themselves to summarize the whole order of nature in one single formula like E = m*c2, because the regularities of nature are laws which from the human perspective are eternally. But this obviously does not apply to the sphere of man and human institutions.
Now, the endeavor to transfer the methods of the natural sciences to those of the mind as well exists since the 17th century – German Romanticism merely repelled it for some time. It is precisely this endeavor which manifests itself in full strength in Henrich’s work. So, it is no surprise that his work too (difficult to read due to constant repetitions) may be summarized in a single formula: Progress = destruction of close relations + psychic factors A, B, C….
As I said before, this endeavor in itself should not be called unscientific. It only becomes so, if one believes to be able to apply such formulas just like those of the natural sciences. What these are meant to achieve, is obvious. Einstein’s world formula gives us immense power. With its help we have tamed the nuclear forces of nature.
But let’s assume that Henrich’s formula is empirically correct. Would it then be possible to use it in the same way in order to exercise power over people and society? For instance, could we provide government with a recipe of the kind: Be careful not to allow marriages between cousins. If you do so, you can be sure that society will develop in the direction of democracy, innovation, etc.?
Just like you, dear Mr. Mitterauer, I harbor the strongest reservations against this new way of using history (which in fact amounts to its abolition). Until recently, people used to look up to great role models for guidance. With immense pleasure I followed Will Durant, a master of this empathetic way of presenting history. But I know a professorial philistine who, to speak with Nietzsche, never discovered more than one or two philological earthworms, but nevertheless allows himself to disparage this encyclopedically educated man as a mere popularizer. He is doubly wrong since Durant is no longer popular at all, nobody reads him anymore, although his time is separated from ours by only one generation.
Now, let me express my real reservation against Henrich, which I omitted in my first essay. Even if his generalizations are not invalidated as empirically wrong, the formulas based on them can never be used for practical purposes like those of the natural sciences. For it is here once more that human freedom comes powerfully into play. If man suffocates under too much order, he longs for chaos (see my quotation from Kolakowski), if around him the world disintegrates in chaos, he longs for nothing so much as for order. To put it in the words of Paul Valéry, two things constantly threaten the world: order and disorder. In this way, he lives with and in opposites – and both condition each other.
A formula of the kind “progress = destruction of close relations” therefore leads us completely astray. At the beginning of the 21st century we are aware that America is no longer a melting pot but threatens to disintegrate into independent ethnic groups. But not only in the US, everywhere in the world ethnic nationalism seems to be on the rise. Moreover, the consequences of progressively loosening all close interpersonal ties become more and more visible as it now even threatens to disintegrate the oldest institution of mankind, namely marriage. Couldn’t we even argue that the dissolution of endogamous ties posed no problem for the very reason that the closest of all, namely marriage, still provided the individual with a sufficient emotional anchorage?
Henrich knows nothing about the dialectics of interdependent opposites, Henrich does not know anything about the conditionality of opposites, and neither do those of his successors who destroy humanities by wanting to transform them into a natural science (because it only partially overlaps with them).
In 1970 Jacques Monod’s seminal book “Le Hasard et la Nécessité” (Chance and Necessity) was published, on the cover of which the renowned biochemist summed up in a single and concise formula the world view that had dominated first Europe and then the entire world since the 17th century. For the objective scientist, so Monod’s message, the world is nothing but chance and necessity. For there is nothing in the world but these two principles alone: on the one hand, necessity representing that order, which the natural sciences explore in the shape of laws, and on the other hand, chance, which denotes the void within this order – in other words, a meaningless nothing with which science does not know what to do. Since Monod established this formula, neurology has made tremendous progress, his book is certainly no longer “up-to-date”, but the view that reality has nothing else to offer but these two dimensions has become even more entrenched. According to a now prevalent view, our world is made of calculable mechanisms of the physical and neuronal world, and the yawning emptiness of meaningless chance.
As human beings we are controlled by emotions and by our intellect – at any time both are invariably involved, even if it sometimes seems as if we are dealing with either purely emotional people or pure intellectuals. A mathematic formula, for example, which to an average person may seem as cold, lifeless and repellent as a prison wall, may produce enchantment and ecstasy in a mathematician who perceives it something extremely beautiful and elegant. In other words, he experiences much the same feelings as a musician who is playing Mozart or Bach. Feelings and the intellect don’t present themselves to us with an either-or, but we may definitely speak of prevailing tendencies.
Let’s get away from the disturbing problems of the present, in order to turn back to those much more basic and lasting ones which concern the nature of man. Mr. Marvin Minsky, you were the leading authority on Artificial Intelligence, glad to meet you in paradise!
It is Noam Chomsky’s merit to have significantly influenced (if not created) a prominent area of modern linguistics by asking the right questions. Continue reading The Hallpike Paper – Universal and Generative grammar – a trend-setting idea or a mental straitjacket?
Philosophy is the art of asking old questions in a new way. Even if everyone is certain that the right solutions to existing problems have once and for all been found, there is always a rebel who discovers the hidden gap in the densely woven web of supposed certainties. He pulls and tears until, all of a sudden, a crack widely opens that tears those finished answers apart. This is no small endeavor. Thomas S. Kuhn has vividly demonstrated how difficult it may be even in the exact natural sciences to seriously shake ready-made theories once they coalesce into what he calls “paradigms”. A whole phalanx of academic Guardians of the Holy Grail is likely to fiercely attack – or more often simply ignore – any rebel.
This is most effectively done in the way described by William James more than a hundred years ago with regard to German academic life. There, he wrote, “the forms are so professionalized that anybody who has gained a teaching chair and written a book, however distorted and excentric, has the legal right to figure forever in the history of the subject like a fly in amber. All later comers have the duty of quoting him and measuring their opinions with his opinion. Such are the rules of the professorial game – they think and write from each other and for each other and at each other exclusively.”
What James said about Germany at the end of the nineteenth century may be applied to academic philosophers at the present time. If the “Grande Dame” has turned into a “Living Zombie” of vanishing significance to the general public, then this is mainly due to professorial inbreeding complained of by James. Of course, it is very important for a history of philosophy to count all the flies, i.e. all those fleeting ideas, secondary thoughts, side blows or footnotes which experts from A to Z may have uttered at some time of their life. But it remains an open question whether this really serves the purpose of philosophy? After all, philosophy is much more than its own history. In its times of glory, it always endeavored to set itself abovehistory, namely to lift the curtain of petrified convictions or prejudices in order to gain a new view of a new reality.
The confusion of true philosophy with mere philosophical history, where people only write “about each other, for each other and against each other”, is of course essentially due to the fact that the humanities lack that basic yardstick, which so effectively prevents the sciences of nature, to conserve even the most “ludicrous and eccentric” views like flies in amber. Whether acceleration occurs in free fall or not can be empirically examined, but how can one empirically refute or confirm the philosophical assertion that without any possible exception all events in nature are determined so that we must declare human freedom to be nothing more than a subjective illusion? It is well-known that this conviction is currently enjoying great popularity among neurologists.
This philosophical prejudice – this paradigm to use the term of Thomas S. Kuhn – has dominated the minds of philosophers and serious scientists for almost four hundred years. It continues to do so among neurologist even today, notwithstanding the findings of quantum physics. Those who protest, saying that so many events arise by sheer coincidence, as, for instance, the fact that I yawn while at the same moment the earth is shaken by quakes, are rebuked for their ignorance. They are lectured that once research has discovered and deciphered all laws of nature, chance would no longer exist.
William James commented on this point too in a remarkable way. “A widespread prejudice says that all the sap has long been squeezed out of the discussion about free will, so that today one can at best repeat stale arguments. But that is a glaring misjudgment… I do not know of any object that offers greater possibilities for new thinking.”
This statement was made more than a hundred years ago, but it seems to me that it has lost nothing of its relevance. I would like to illustrate this point by means of the following conversation between a neurologist and a physicist with regard to the problem of freedom.
The neurologist has a definite position. In view of the fact that brain research is already able to correlate measurable neurological processes with certain thought contents, he is convinced that man is a machine and as such has no claim to freedom. A stone falling to the ground can certainly not be described as free – it simply obeys the law of gravity. This would still be true if the stone had a kind of consciousness so that it imagines the fall to the ground to be caused by its own will (see the similar argument of Spinoza).
The physicist shakes his head unable to agree.
Since quantum physics has accepted chance alongside necessity as equal dimensions in nature, physics knows about the limits of human knowledge, as chance represents the absence of all discernible order. Notwithstanding Einstein maintaining the opposite conviction, we no longer doubt that God (or evolution for that matter) actually does play at dice. In addition to the recognizable orderly architecture of nature, he also created its exact opposite, namely chaos that we are unable to describe or define. As a physicist, he must therefore reject determinism as it postulates a world in which there is nothing but order. The neurologist’s claim that man alone should be an exception to this rule is unacceptable when seen from the vantage point of the natural sciences.
The neurologist disregards the physicist’s objection which he holds to be superficial. He says:
That’s right. On the one hand we are dealing with laws, on the other hand with blind chance. But please, you have all but overlooked the most important point. Natural law excludes freedom, but blind chance does so too! A human action cannot be called free if it follows its cause like any necessary effect, but neither can it be said to be free if it is the arbitrary result of blind chance. We, as neurologists, succeeded in probing into the deepest corners of human brains recognizing everywhere both law and chance, but nowhere did we find what people call human freedom. So, please understand, we have no choice but to regard it as an illusion. Every single thought is either the result of neuronal processes determined by natural laws or is subject to chance.
The physicist nods. Then he says with a barely noticeable smile.
I completely agree to your proposition. The thought you have just expressed is the result of law-bound physiological processes. For this reason, you should regard yourself as an unfree automaton that at this very place and moment cannot possibly put forward any other thought than the one you just uttered. But wait, there is, of course, still one more alternative. Your brain may have worked like a roulette spitting that thought out as a product of blind chance. I accept that too, but please, beware of the consequences! In one case as in the other, your claim is worth nothing as it cannot be held to be either true or false being the product of necessity or chance. However, if I remember right, dear colleague, you insisted that I should regard your assertion as perfectly true?
The neurologist takes a breath, his face reddens. You can tell he’s not only aroused, he’s definitely angry.
Dear sir, sir…, he stammers. Then, finally, he exclaims: Dear Mr. Heisenstein. How dare you confuse the proof of truth with the problem of freedom! These two things have nothing in common, they are fundamentally different, belonging to two separate disciplines! Mixing them wantonly up, you make fun of our whole western world view!
But the physicist remains unmoved and insists on his point of view. Consistent thinking, he says stressing every word, includes the readiness to apply a general theory to all individual cases – that is, also to the neurologist himself. And he concludes with a certain aloofness.
If you really insist on determinism, you are undermining the very truth of your science. We are not allowed to stick to logic only in so far as it corroborates our thesis, we cannot send it to hell as soon as it stops to do so!
He then adds a further remark. The view that man may regard himself determined like a machine suffers from a logical self-contradiction, which the mathematician Kurt Gödel had already demonstrated in an alternative but no less cogent manner. No system, Gödel had proved by purely logical means, can fully explain its own premises. This is only possible from a metasystem on a higher-level.
As you may see, dear colleague, we physicists have quietly abandoned the claim to godlike omniscience. It seems to me you neurologists need a little more time, you’re not yet ready.
The neurologist looks contrite, but obviously he’s not prepared to give up yet.
You will not insinuate, he replies, that a person may think or act freely, if all processes we observe in his brain strictly obey the laws of causality?
Of course not, the physicist answers, the real mystery is and remains chance which we will never explain, because every explanation is based on discernible order. However, our brain is not designed to explain chance: the lack of all discernable order. It is there that we have to look for the mystery of freedom.
This conversation proves, how a paradigm hinders thinking to such an extent that it is quite unable to discern its hidden assumptions and prejudices. In order to maintain his conviction, the determinist is forced to impose a strict prohibition on himself and all others: determinism must not be applied to himself, more precisely, to the truthfulness of his own statements as soon as these too are subjected to the deterministic credo. In such a way, prejudices based on faith rather than knowledge are shielded from objections by means of taboos. In this case, the taboo consists in a strict ban on dealing with the question of truth and the problem of freedom in one and the same breath. They are treated as if belonging to two different spheres of reality.
One is reminded of those gone-by times when highly respectable scholars could argue in all seriousness about the question of how many angels could find a place on the tip of a needle. Rebellious thinkers had to enter the scene and question the very existence of angels before the problem finally disappeared to where it belonged: in the curiosity cabinet of collective mental aberrations. A similar fate awaits the determinism of neurologists, even if the paradigm in question is still defended or half-heartedly avoided – for instance by resorting to so-called “soft determinism”. Like in the above example, this may consist in postulating strict determinism for all physiological processes within the brain, while miraculously liberating the scientist who presents the postulate from its strictures so as to save the truth content of his statement. These are, of course, futile maneuvers much like the attempted rescue of the Ptolemaic world view through the invention of ever new epicycles. In its hard as well as in its soft presentation, determinism is logically untenable – irrespective of whether it refers to non-human nature or to man himself. In the above discussion, the physicist demonstrated this point by means of a proof which I call “contradictory” in chapter IV of my book “Creative Reason – a Synthetic Philosophy of freedom in Nature and Man”, but he could have adduced three more proofs that are equally compelling.
It should be noted that when arguing against the denial of freedom the physicist remained a physicist all the time. In other words, he does not insist on subjective intuition, nor does he refer himself to any higher authority but exclusively relies on the insights of reason. He tries to show that the problem of freedom versus determinism is solvable in a completely rational way, provided that reason does not take refuge behind veils of taboos and dogmas indignantly rejecting basic questions, as did the neurologist.
Love for Wisdom (Philosophy) took by no means a bad advice as it embraced the demand of science for truth. Its opposition to religion in the pre-Socratic era, and again at the time of the Enlightenment in the 18th century, emerged from a deep insight. The search for truth is indeed one of the foundations of human knowledge. Continue reading Bertrand Russell’s Fatal Error – how Analytic Philosophy distorts Human Reason
Philosophy is going through rather hard times at present. Like an old lady of genteel birth, she is still talked about because of her stately demeanor and tremendous self-confidence – just as if she did not know that you’re mocking her as a zombie behind her back. Certainly, philosophy is still present at almost all universities, but you only need to translate her boisterous Greek name into plain English to provoke a condescending smile. What, after all, is left of that ‘Love for Wisdom’? If people are serious about their life, they turn to business, logistics or physics. If they just want to have fun, they don’t care about wisdom at all. Continue reading Love for Wisdom (Philosophy) – Grande Dame or living Zombie?
(The German original, which bears the title Rechts oder Links – das ist die Frage, was published in EuroKalypse Now? (Metropolis 2014) Continue reading Left or Right – is that the question?