Saturday, October 10, 2009

Objects, Reality and the Solvitur Ambulando

Following on from my previous blog entry, let us now consider Jaki's take on the first question he raises on the foundations of philosophy:

Does man create reality by having ideas about it or do ideas depend on man's registering reality?

In A Mind's Matter (p. 247), Jaki emphatically answers, "objects are here to object" and concludes that "a mind becomes a knower only to the extent that it resonates to the act whereby each and every object does indeed object".

Jaki develops this further:
The word "object" may indeed carry far more effectively the meaning of the "real" than perhaps any other word. To see this, one merely should seize on the "object" as if its main function should be to object to the mind and keep objecting to it whether the mind pays attention or not. [A Mind's Matter (p. 246)]

The instinctive realist in Einstein certainly gave consideration to this final point as he asked A. Pais whether the moon is there only when one looks at it. (c.f. The Limits of a Limitless Science p. 186). However, Einstein's denial of free will should reflect Jaki's penetrating example of the dissonance that occurs when object in a philosopher's nightlife conflicts with his daytime philosophy:
Diderot was one such philosophe who did not differ from other philosophes in liberally experimenting in free love. It was through his most remembered love-liasons that he discovered the agony which is in store for all who take man for a mere machine and try to be a bit consistent about it. On being asked by his lover, Mme de Maux, whether comets blindly obey the law of gravitation, it suddenly dawned on Diderot that his love for Mme de Maux might then by just as well a blind submission to fate. "It makes me wild," he wrote to her, "to be entangled in a devil of philosophy
that my mind cannot deny and my heart gives the lie to." [The Limits of a Limitless Science (p. 42)]

The sophistry of Zeno certainly entangled him in a devil of philosophy. Diogenes efficiently disposed with one particular sophism of his by walking across a room and in the process gave birth to the philosophical principle of solvitur ambulando. Jaki shows great fondness for variations of this principle which he states "only thorough-bred realists can invoke consistently". [Means to Message (p. 20)]

Jaki frequently makes use of it when discussing the new "quantum" sophistries of reducing reality to sensations. He wonders whether those cosmologists who claim they can produce entire universes by concentrating their consciousnesses experiment first on creating silver dollars by letting some wave functions collapse as they think hard about them. (Numbers Decide p. 40)

Nothing like money woes object on the mind and in this era of failed banks there is a sense deja vu when cosmologists claim that they can set up universes like "a most gigantically dubious World Bank...and from this World Bank they can draw matter equivalent to the mass of the entire universe without first securing the deposit of that amount." (The Limits p. 136) That this practice could only work so long for the financial sector has now become evident.

Of course, for the thorough realist, petty thefts with small quantities of matter (c.f. A Mind's Matter p. 165) are just as serious as the petty thefts of pick-pockets, despite the fact that only the latter object to the mind of both physicists and non-physicists alike:

But quite unbelievable sounds the remark of still another Nobel Laurate, who took exception to my dismissal of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics as based on the anticausal interpretation of Heisenberg's principle. To his credit, he drew the ultimate inference of that interpretation and held that there was no external reality except sensory impressions of what we think to be such a reality. I asked him whether, if a pickpocket had come and taken his wallet, he could still say that his wallet had been stolen, or only say that he had sensory impression of this. He was visably taken aback by my question, but he also admitted that he had no right to say anything else. Being a good friend, I had no heart to drive the dagger deeper by telling him that he should be careful not to complain to the police that he had just had the sensory impression of his wallet been taken from his pocket. [A Mind's Matter (p.167)].

Jaki has also challenged famous names such as the late astronomer W. McCrea who claimed that the stars he saw through his telescope only existed on his retina (The Limits p. 142) and Oppenheim (A Mind's Matter p. 110) amongst others.

By recognising the primacy of objects Fr. Jaki's realist philosophy is rooted to the ground while it reaches for the stars. Jaki's concluding advice to thorough-bred realists is to be savored:

Realism has to be methodical, that is, a continual return to what one has most consciously taken for one's primary step. This is something more than what I said about the importance of the first step taken in any activity. Continual return to that first step, to an ever fresh reconsideration of what it means, of what it implies, is what gives life to one's realism in philosophy. What I would say now is that a true realist, a true objectivist should never tire of taking an ever fresh look at that primary step of his. He should be ready to test it again and again against ever new problems, tasks, and possibilities, in fact against all of one's major concerns. [A Mind's Matter (p. 247)]

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