Mathematical Models of Human Communities: Randomness

Posted October 14th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: communal human being, Freedom and Structure in Human Life, Magical ways of thought, Mathematical models, Narratives and truth

In my last two essays I posted, Mathematical Models of Human Communities: Parts and Wholes and Mathematical Models of Human Communities: We Live in Narratives, Not in Models, I acknowledged the usefulness and potential truthfulness of mathematical models but claimed we need to consider wider aspects of this world and of all of Creation. In particular, I discussed in the first of those essays, very briefly, the ways in which many complex systems, those of physical spacetime and—with near certainty—those of human social relationships, have global properties which don’t fully come from summing up local properties. In the second essay, I discussed, with equal brevity, the nature of one of those global aspects of complex systems and especially human communities—they are stories or narratives with the properties which we expect in novels or tales and which don’t come from mathematical models as such.

At the same time, the reader should keep in mind that I believe our `mathematical’ understanding of this world can be expanded greatly by further use of the proper mathematical fields and ways of thought such as those fields of geometry which deal in qualities rather than quantities. There are also the fields of geometry, such as differential geometry, which have the power to deal separately with local and global properties.

I’ll continue to respond to specific quotes from a book, Sociodynamics: A Systematic Approach to Mathematical Modelling in the Social Sciences (Wolfgang Weidlich, Dover Publications, 2006), which does a good job of dealing with the power and limitations of mathematical modeling in the `social sciences’.

On page 155, the author writes:

Historical and/or social phase-transitions are by definition revolutionary events in which the macrovariables of the system change their whole dynamical mode. A necessary concomitant circumstance of such a phase-transition is the appearance of critical fluctuations. These critical fluctuations are crucial for deciding the question which direction the path of the system will take at the cross-roads. In our case they are decisive for the question whether the political system will remain a liberal democratic one or whether it tumbles into the new totalitarian phase.

However—and this is the essential argument—the critical fluctuations are of random nature and are neither predictable by the research of historians, nor by the macroequations of any mathematical model! At best the full set of macrovariables and (not predictable) fluctuating microvariables which both together are causative for the concrete course of historical events at a phase-transition can be recognized by historians only retrospectively.

Therefor the general conclusion must be: In the rare cases of historical phase-transitions fluctuations become decisive (in contrast to smoothly and continuously evolving situations). These fluctuations consist of thoughts, decisions and activities of one or a few persons in key-positions in a global situation on the verge of a possible phase-transition.

This does of course not mean, that the continuous—to a high degree “calculable” and therefore predictable—macrovariables would be unimportant. In the contrary! They lead to the “revolutionary situation”, i.e. into the vicinity of a destabilizable situation where “everything can happen“. However, at the phase-transition these macrovariables are insufficient to make the further course of events predictable!

Weidlich tells us, “the critical fluctuations are of random nature.” True enough, but what is random nature? I’ve dealt with this issue before and have claimed in various ways that the usual definition of such terms seems to smell a bit of the occult, even of outright superstition.

In February of 2010, I published a slightly updated post I had first published on my other blog, Randomness as a Sign of God’s Presence, in September of 2007. In the updated post, Randomness as a Sign of God’s Presence, Prior Post Updated to 2010, I wrote:

One of the most important, if little noticed, intellectual events of modern times is the development of a rational understanding of randomness to potentially replace an ancient understanding which is surprising mystical for such an important concept in modern mathematics and other fields of modern science. Based on that rational understanding, I made the following claims in my first published book, To See a World in a Grain of Sand:

  • Only God can make a truly random number, and
  • Only God can act in a truly random way

What is this all about? The short story is:

Algorithmic information theory, deals with degrees of randomness more than with perfect randomness because we can’t produce a random number. Nor do we have the slightest reason to believe that nature can produce a random number or any movement or change that corresponds to pure randomness — unless God interjects that randomness. It seems to me to be an open question whether God could even do that without violating the integrity of His own Creation. See the ending to the story of Noah in the book of Genesis for an early discussion into God’s promise to honor His Creation. I’d say that promise was inherent in the sort of Creation He chose to bring into being.

In any case, Chaitin’s major result in many ways was a surprisingly simple proof — by the standards of modern mathematics — that every number is random. No number has a pattern. This doesn’t mean that 1.22222… or 1.25 are random nor does it mean that they aren’t numbers. It means that those numbers and similar finitely describable numbers represent a vanishingly small point on the number line. It turns out that all numbers with patterns, all the numbers of our elegant and well-ordered mathematics, add up to a vanishingly small length on the number line. It also means we can’t generate a truly random number yet there are so many random numbers that the infinities of numbers with some patterns are overwhelmed. In the sense of that field of modern mathematics called ‘measure theory’, there are essentially no numbers with patterns in relation to the totality of numbers, ‘all’ of which are true random numbers.

What does this mean? As the mathematician Marc Kac (pronounced ‘cats’) said in the early 1970s when the ideas of Chaitin and Kolmogorov were becoming known: “Now we know what a random number is. It’s a fact.” I quote from memory.

This is the basic insight lying behind my claim that God created the truths of Creation, the truths from which our physical universe is shaped. The number line is a set of facts rather than a construction as Pythagoras and his successors have thought. Elegance in the Pythagorean sense, order in the sense of the theorist of Intelligent design, and randomness in the mystical sense of a typical Darwinist philosopher, play no part in rational mathematics.

One of my college professors put it in a slightly different way. He told us that all of probability theory can be enfolded into a fully deterministic Measure Theory without losing any content. Still another way to express this insight is: probability theory is useful mostly as an introduction to measure theory, though many don’t really go beyond the simple applications which can be taught using decks of cards or pairs of dice or bins of colored balls. A naive and pseudo-rational version of mystical randomness remains valid as a teaching tool. What is remarkable is the number of people who learn their probability and statistics from this viewpoint, never move on from the mystical viewpoint, and yet advocate a fully deterministic understanding of our complex world.

From facts come—sometimes—patterns. We’ve become somewhat accustomed, by way of terribly vulgarized mathematics and biology and other sciences, to the idea that patterns come from `randomness’ or `chaos’. Something of an overview can be communicated to those who have not heard of Poincare or Hadamard or Duhem, Ruelle or Smale or Prigogine and to those who don’t know what a nonlinear equation is; we should wonder what sense these people make of it. We are at a more complex transition point than the one noted by Oystein Ore, prominent number theorist and teacher (see Number Theory and Its History republished by Dover Publications in 1988): in the 14th century or so, long division was coming into use and was considered to be a topic for mathematical geniuses, well beyond those even of more normal high intelligence. Nowadays, we start learning long division in mass education elementary schools, though many still have trouble with it and some can never master it even to the point of figuring how much per pound a roast costs if 4.5 pounds costs $25.

The main point is that a shift from a `mystical’ or `irrational’ understanding, or misunderstanding, of probability theory to a more rational understanding of measure theory changes little except to clear our minds of rubbish and to allow us to move on. The famous distributions of probability theory (Poisson and binomial and so on) remain as does the remarkable tendency for disorder, mystical randomness or factuality, to produce patterns. Those who see a Creation and those who see a Universe barren of divine presence can continue their debates, perhaps on a somewhat more rational level. The various arguments remain equally strong or weak.

Moreover, most scientists including physicists such as Weidlich and many evolutionary biologists and certainly most geneticists use the term `random’ without qualification but seem to be using that term in the more modern sense—that of algorithmic complexity theory. And, to be quite fair, I think many philosophers and historians and scientists and engineers have always interpreted `randomness’ in terms of factuality or even some sort of complexity. After all, there is nothing non-deterministic about those standards teaching tools in probability theory, cards and dice and bins of colored balls.

We’ve allowed our thinking to be constrained and distorted by popular misunderstandings of such terms as `random’ and `deterministic’ and `non-deterministic’. To a certain extent, this deep confusion has even spread into our understandings of `factuality’ and `causality’.

Mathematical Models of Human Communities: We Live in Narratives, Not in Models

Posted October 9th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: Christian in the universe of Einstein, Freedom and Structure in Human Life, Narratives and truth

In the last essay I posted, Mathematical Models of Human Communities: Local and Global Processes, I discussed briefly my oft-stated opinion that we need to model human nature, personal and communal, by a model (qualitative and quantitative) which is much like those of the theory of general relativity where local regions of space and time are, so to speak, Euclidean and Newtonian, while larger regions of space and time (with great mass also being a form of `larger’) are curved into some non-Euclidean and relativistic geometry. Even such a model doesn’t do the `whole’ job. That model of human nature must be seen as a general model of particular entities interacting in what we might call narratives or stories and much of what is important is found in those narratives or stories.

That prior posting was written as a response to specific comments by the physicist Wolfgang Weidlich in his book, Sociodynamics: A Systematic Approach to Mathematical Modelling in the Social Sciences (Dover Publications, 2006), which was an effort to develop a model of some aspects of human communities. I’ll continue responding to specific comments made by Weidlich in that book. As is my custom, I’ll be playing off a work worthy of respect in order to take a discussion in the direction of my worldview, a sort-of Thomistic philosophy expanded to explicitly consider modern empirical knowledge, including both the ways in which the ideas of St Thomas Aquinas on human nature are enriched and complexified by drawing upon the insights of modern evolutionary biology and brain sciences and also the ways in which the ideas of St John the Evangelist on the primacy of relationships over stuff are enriched and complexified by drawing upon the insights of quantum physics and modern mathematics.

In this short essay, I’ll move on to deal with narratives, stories, which aren’t even parts of this world so much as they are the world and certainly even our human lives, individual and communal.

On page 149, Weidlich writes:

These large scale transitions in societies [such as that from the liberal Wiemar republic system to the totalitarian Nazi system] are mostly of a tragic nature. They include the breakdown of a whole political system, the liquidation of its established institutions etc, and for the people involved as witnesses and/or active or passive participants it means a break in their personal biography, and in the worst case of the arisal of a violent totalitarian regime it can mean concentration camp and death for its victims.

Each of such large scale phase-transitions is of course a unique event in so far as it will never recur in exactly the same form. however, in each event of this kind there appear universal structures of human character and social behaviour which play an essential role in enabling political phase-transitions.

“[U]nique event[.]” Indeed. I emphasize this is Weidlich’s term and I’ll claim without qualification he is right to use such a term. We’re dealing with unique events in a story moving forward. Whatever might be the truth or legend of tales, sometimes egomaniacal boasts, of genocidal brutality in the Hebraic books of the Bible, none of those ruthless men were Hitler. Nor were the Mongols under Genghis Khan and his descendants much the Nazis though they did share a brutal attitude toward other human beings. Ruthless killers they were, but they followed different ways of killing, different ways of being cruel to survivors. And the brutality of the Medieval Mongols was differently motivated from that of the 20th century Nazis.

The title of this essay says much: We live in narratives, not models. Models, whether those of modern physics or social sciences, can tell us much about some specific aspects or specific types of flows of events in a narrative of a human life, whether that of an individual or a community. Models, as they are generally understood and are generally built, can’t reproduce the richness and complexity, the “uniqueness” and “randomness” of our human lives. So far, no one has even managed to built a model true to the more quantitative narrative of the physical universe. Such will likely occur and maybe soon, but the point is the difficulty of even a `straightforward’ model of physical processes of a more complex sort.

There is such a thing as reality. Some would wish to override reality with selected pieces or aspects of reality from which they would construct all that exists or at least pretend to do so. In reality, in the universe as human beings know it and as it can reliably be described to truly be, narratives exist and are not limited to what can be found in the algorithms of human models. Those narratives include “unique events” and also “random events” (sometimes, but not always being the same events). Sometimes those events are such that they can be used to enrich a model going forward. Sometimes not; sometimes they are of a nature beyond the mainstream discipline of modeling. I’m arguing for the expansion of our understanding of reality to include what might be called the qualitative tools of mathematics and some of those can be added to models, but only at the expense of making those models at least somewhat indeterminate and at least somewhat non-quantitative. And, even then, we don’t know if our knowledge of being, abstract and concrete, is great enough for us to produce a proper encapsulation of this universe, of this world which is this universe seen in light of God’s purposes for it, and of all of Creation.

I have used the word `encapsulation’ as I often do in my discussions of the nature of the human mind and how it forms. “What do we know?” “What is knowledge?”

What we know is not some sort of rules, axiomatic knowledge independent of Creation and to be applied to Creation to bring it into order. What we know is what is, though that is a simplistic description of a very complex process of shaping our minds to created being and its various processes and—most importantly—its relationships. We encapsulate reality and then can sometimes enter into a recursive process of understanding more complex parts of reality by building them up from simpler parts. This secondary process can be taken seriously only when it matches our encapsulation of reality, that is—our minds, and then perhaps adds to the richness and complexity of that encapsulation.

Our most basic knowledge, common sense and intuition, is what is put into our heads by the evolutionary processes which selected our ancestors for their ability to respond properly to their immediate environments and more. These selection processes resulted in a brain that assumes much that is useful about our environments and more—as we began to see the abstract forms of being from which those environments are shaped. Some of those assumptions are true only in qualified ways and some at least point to greater truths, though I think we know not enough to be sure what is an absolute truth.

Knowledge is some sort of model, qualitative and quantitative, of reality, of created being. Knowledge, true knowledge, is drawn from reality and encapsulates that reality in various ways and in various realms of created being. Sometimes, as I stated above, this process of drawing and encapsulating has occurred in the evolution of our species and sometimes it occurs in our individual lives or our communal lives, though many individuals and communities can be said to more truly mis-know reality and not just in the sense of being in an early stage of development and learning.

I’ve spoken of different realms of being, ranging from this highly concrete world of things which is being shaped from a more abstract realm of being, which is itself being shaped from a still more abstract realm of being, right back to the most abstract realm of being I can conjecture—the realm of truths which God manifested as the raw stuff of Creation. Our world, this concrete realm of things and thing-like relationships, is also the realm of narratives. There are the narratives sketched by cosmologists and evolutionary biologists and all sorts of historians, from those specializing in prehistory to those specializing in last week’s events. There are far greater narratives, some even having or hinting of moral purposes.

We’ve crossed over to realms where God’s presence is more personal in a meaningful sense; the Almighty is no longer some sort of mathematician or physicist or engineer who might well be the Deity of many Enlightenment thinkers. The basic structure of spacetime has been shaped, the other stuffs of thing-like being have been made—protons and electrons and all that. When our universe came into being, God began to show Himself a story-teller and a participant in the stories He tells. I’ve already mentioned the truths God manifested as the raw stuff of this Creation, but what is the purpose of it all? So far as we can currently see, Creation relentlessly moves toward the concrete, the particular and even the peculiar. The power which drives this story and its many stories might well come from the Enlightenment Deity or the Godhead of a higher pagan, but stories move toward particularity and even the potential of personhood, toward a meeting with the Triune God, three Persons in one divine Nature. The possibility of persons in the form of mortal creatures and the possibility of stories with moral meanings arise during this process, the process by which Christ and His Father and Their Spirit are revealed as the true Creator.

We human beings must ask: “What sort of Creation, Cosmos if you prefer, has the abstract stuff of personhood and stories?” and we Christians answer: “A Creation of a Personal Creator.”

I’ll freely admit that there is no way to prove my answer in the way of an experiment in physics or chemistry but that matters little because we can’t prove the universe or the world which arises from it. We can only accept it on its own terms and try to understand. We need to also explain stories and persons on their own terms and not reduce them to the physical stuff and physical relationships in which they are truly embodied but to which they aren’t limited. I’m certainly not arguing fora supernatural souls but rather for what might be called natural souls: much that is so important about human nature, individual and communal, and also important about even the physical universe in its greater scope is to be found in the totality of created being, abstract and concrete. We understand not by trying to reduce the world in terms of scientific myths created by those who would explain by biology or physics what must be explained by first accepting reality, Creation, on its own terms, encapsulating it in our own minds and as our own minds, and then realizing that the encapsulation (of, for example, human nature) is the understanding, is the explanation. But it is an encapsulation which makes sense only as part of far greater encapsulations which consider all that we can discover about created being and all that is built into the very physical stuff of our brains and our entire bodies.

The ultimate in particularity is a person, an entity which is self-aware and seems to hint, however lightly, of a greater sustainability and even one without any necessary end. Death intrudes, casting doubt upon our hopes or pretenses of possessing true life, life without end even if it had a beginning. We must remember that `death’ as a human concept is a result of our self-awareness, the very self-awareness that brings the possibility of being images of our Creator and even of sharing His life. Our awareness of death also raises the possibility of the greatest of blessings, a sharing of the life of God.

Let me restate my position in even more explicitly Christian terms. From God comes terribly abstract truths manifested as the raw stuff of Creation, of created being of all forms and all combinations. This is somewhat analogous to God in His divine nature, that is—Creation viewed as stuff is somewhat the image of God’s Nature. But the Lord set in motion processes by which abstract being becomes particularized, eventually becoming thing-like being of a somewhat abstract sort, muons and baryons and leptons and so forth, which develops and evolves toward concrete forms.

We can imagine, in a highly disciplined way, what might be the stage just one step more abstract than the thing-like being of this universe. That is, we can speak of the strange and abstract form of being which is described in the works of Schrodinger and Heisenberg and their successors, abstract and mathematical being which `collapses’ to thing-like being. More than `described’, I think there is a strong sense in which those mathematical formalisms are that being from which the physical stuff of this universe is shaped.

One product of the particularization of abstract being to concrete being, followed by the processes of concrete being evolving and developing, is the human animal which has some of the properties of a person and the potential to become more truly a person. At this point, what was analogous to the divine nature of God has produced biological beings analogous to the Son of God, a divine Person. This is the ultimate goal of these processes of shaping more particular forms of being—to produce a world and a species into which the Son could be incarnated, emptying Himself, learning the discipline appropriate to a mere human creature, and offering His own Self back to the Father. This theological analogy would imply a situation discussed, in an aphoristic style, by Wittgenstein: if we succeed in penetrating to the smallest components of this universe, we might find that foundational level is supported by the whole of the universe. From that extremely abstract stuff which is the raw stuff of created being and which is analogous to the nature of God arises the possibility of person-like creatures, creatures which can maybe become true persons by way of sharing the life of God.

There are those who examine human life, communal or personal, from the viewpoint of an empirical scientist recognizing the validity of only knowledge which can be validated by the standards of physics or biology or perhaps history. Some will claim that only this bottom-up knowledge can be accepted, denying in the process much knowledge of the global nature of processes not yet completed. There are also parallel misconceptions among Christian thinkers, including those who deny the validity of natural theology just because they think of nature only as this thing-like stuff and these processes which arise from matter and its self-interactions. In realizing that greater sophistication and complexity is needed in our understanding of Creation—even in the restricted sense of `Nature’ in its traditional sense, we pass by the limiting idea that the whole is but a complicated assemblage of parts and thus not capable of coherence or unity or completeness. Under the limiting and non-Christian viewpoint, the universe is not capable of being a world; a human animal is not capable of being a human person

This is to say that a reductionistic form of respect for empirical reality will fail to see a world forming from a universe, a human person forming from a human animal, a morally meaningful narrative forming from interactions of the entities of thing-like being. Neither a universe nor a human animal can achieve, even in principle, the coherence and unity and completeness toward which they seemingly strive.

The world does form from the universe, itself a rather remarkable entity. A human being does form from a human animal, itself a rather remarkable entity. Greater stories, stories with deep meanings, arise from mere tales—themselves remarkable—of interacting entities reducible to `mere’ physical processes.

We live those stories and live in those stories; we seem not only wrong but also rather silly when we deny such to be the case.

Mathematical Models of Human Communities: Parts and Wholes

Posted October 1st, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: communal human being, Mathematical models, mathematics, Narratives and truth

In Sociodynamics: A Systematic Approach to Mathematical Modelling in the Social Sciences (Dover Publications, 2006), the physicist Wolfgang Weidlich develops a model of some aspects of human communities; his model is developed bottom-up in a manner similar to the development of a model of an industrial process or of (allegedly) well-defined human activities. Weidlich is wise enough to qualify his efforts by acknowledging that there are aspects of human communities which can’t be modeled in a quantitative manner.

Weidlich engages in what I would consider traditional modeling, an activity running pretty much parallel to the modeling of an industrial process such as the mixing of gases or liquids or even the modeling of a more complex system where multiple processes are involved as well as human workers. It is also a form of modeling which assumes the whole is the sum of its parts, though undoubtedly many `emergent’ properties can arise in a complex, sophisticated model. Again, Weidlich freely admits and intelligently discusses some of the ways in which the whole is greater than and different from the sum of its parts, but this type of methodology tends to separate a complex entity into sorts of being which are hard to again see as one entity. Sometimes, this will be a matter of separating the local (such as the individuals) and the global (the communities). In fact, in some of the somewhat successful models of economies of or other aspects of complex human communities, the individual disappears. In other somewhat successful models, such as that of Weidlich, the individuals are summed up in an additive way that isn’t quite convincing.

I’m advocating the use of models in which the local and the global are somewhat separate but are part of one coherent model, as in a Riemannian manifold where the geometry in a small region of a point is Euclidean, that of a Euclidean plane tangent to the point, but the manifold has a global geometry which might be very complex and very much non-Euclidean. There is nothing in Weidlich’s model which can truly be labeled as `global’ and this is true also of other models I’ve discussed in recently published essays.

I’m not advocating a direct use of the differential geometrical techniques which have worked so well in science and engineering—most famously in the general theory of relativity. I’m advocating rather a step towards the realm of the most abstract form of created being, the truths which the Almighty manifested as the raw stuff of Creation. Since these realms of being have complicated relationships in themselves and with other realms, then we have to work in a manner largely empirical. learning about reality from reality, learning how to think by observing how the objects of our thought actually behave. Let me take a situation, that of the American people and the United States. In a recent essay, Do We Need Conflict to “Drive the Rise of Ultrasociality”?, I wrote:

A people can be nonviolent and well-meaning in the small but, in the large, as a people, can be murderous and thieving war-mongerers. In recent centuries, some of the most violent nations have been those with populations made up of individuals who are law-abiding and even somewhat gentle by historical standards: Germany in 1914-1945, Japan in the 1920s through the 1940s, Great Britain during the years of Empire and a bit beyond, the United States through much of its existence as loosely connected colonies up to now and still going strong though maybe about to run out of gas.

The global (national) properties of Americans in the form of the American people are much different from the local (personal) properties. This difference between, say, the individual and the community is perhaps necessary and likely to be a good thing in many cases, but not in this case. More importantly for now, we should recognize that a qualitative (think of traditional historical or political analysis) or quantitative model of a complex human community can’t be built up by simply summing up the behavior of the individual members of the community. On the other hand, models such as that of Turchin and colleagues (which I discussed in Mathematical Models of Human History: Are They Plausible? and Do We Need Conflict to “Drive the Rise of Ultrasociality”?q) succeed in exploring specific aspects of human communities by modeling those human communities as independent entities with no relationship to the individual members of those communities. In the end, much is missing. The model of Turchin as his colleagues can tell us Central Asian nomadic warriors had a great effect on the development of complex societies in the Fertile Crescent and then upon the expansion of such complexity into other regions. They don’t tell us, aren’t set up to tell us, what qualities separate the barbarians who destroy and leave from those who conquer and stay as successful rulers. There is much else they can’t tell about many important matters different from, perhaps at a finer-grain, than the geographical spread of civilizations and military technology.

Again: I’m advocating that we try to develop models of human being, individual and communal, by abstracting from the more sophisticated models of physical science such as that used in the general theory of relativity where local regions of space are Euclidean and larger regions are curved in non-Euclidean ways. There might be a model in the state-space (undefined as yet in any authoritative way) in which regions around a single state (of a single entity?) are Euclidean and larger regions might have a non-Euclidean geometry. As is true of the general theory of relativity, large might include larger mass as well as larger distance. Other possibilities will likely arise.

Do We Need Conflict to “Drive the Rise of Ultrasociality”?

Posted September 19th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: Uncategorized

Please accept my apologies for any confusion or incoherence. This is a line of thought in the early stages of development.

Razib Khan, a geneticist, published an article in his blog which I’ve discussed before—see Mathematical Models of Human History: Are They Plausible?. Khan’s article, Modeling World History in Math Is Possible, is a commentary upon an article summarizing results of a research project, an effort to build a simple mathematical model of the development of complex societies: War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies. That simple model is very convincing in some ways, but I’m now going to provide the beginning of an argument that we need far better understandings of human nature, of individual and communal human being. I’ve been trying to make this argument and even trying to provide pointers to one possible better understanding over the previous 8 years but I’m now trying to put more energy and time into this general effort.

Khan’s article briefly discussed another idea which supplements the main theme that much of the pattern of civilization birth and growth on Eurasia and north Africa can be explained by the raids and invasions of nomadic, horse-borne warriors from the grasslands of central Asia. The sedentary, prosperous peoples under attack either developed their own complex, centralized societies or did so under the rule of those nomadic warriors. In addition, Khan tells us:

A second broader issue that Turchin has promoted is the idea of inter-group competition driving the rise of ultrasociality. In other words, cooperative societies stocked with highly social and altruistic individuals simply eliminated earlier forms of social organization which relied more on individual self interest. He is keen to not allow the argument to reduce down to `group selection,’ but rather to focus on the abstraction of multi-level selection more generally. Conflict and warfare are obviously key drivers of this culturally Darwinian process. But I wonder where that leaves us at the end of history? Perhaps without an external threat imposing cohesion and inducing norms to regulate and punish selfish strategies anomie will reign?

I’m not sure how to proceed; regular readers might have picked up that this is the primary goal of my efforts—trying to figure out how to develop proper and properly rich and properly complex ways of describing and analyzing human communities. All of this within the context of a worldview which is a response to both Christian revelation and modern empirical knowledge. See How a Christian Finds Metaphysical Truths in Empirical Reality for some discussion of this problem. I’m proposing that the concrete, thing-like being of this world is shaped from more abstract forms of being including that described in the formalisms of modern physics and mathematics. This wouldn’t end with one level of abstract being generating our concrete, thing-like stuff but would work level by level back to the truths God manifested as the raw stuff of this Creation. At various levels, some different sorts of created being become one in analogy to similar unifications in particle physics. The chart in the above referenced essay, How a Christian Finds Metaphysical Truths in Empirical Reality, displays in a very simple way what is involved in this way of thinking about created being.

So, let’s consider biological selection processes, including “multi-level selection” processes. In at least a trivial way, but I think a meaningful way, those processes take place in a space of some abstract sort, but not a space necessarily more abstract than those an engineer will assume when he designs a machine of complex motions nor more abstract than a space in which an economy operates. In the case of a space describing human nature, through which the factual path of human evolution has traveled, we would have the characteristics—cognitive power, hand-skills, language skills, social inclinations—of the individuals.

So we have perhaps something like an f(x1(t), x2(t),…) in which time perhaps plays the role of an independent parameter. This can be readily seen as—possibly—a manifold which may not have much in the way of fully quantifiable geometric properties but might be `solvable’ in terms of qualitative properties. I’m proposing such is true—see Adopting Mathematical Reasoning in Non-quantitative Fields of Thought. The current thinking, even among some of the founders of group-selection theory, is that the selection processes upon `ultrasocial’ creatures are not group processes but rather multi-level processes in which individuals are selected for their social inclinations and behaviors. Seen from my more abstract perspective, the distinction between `group’ and `multi-level’ might be more a matter of choosing how to state the problem.

Evolutionary biologists and geneticists have become experts in some very advanced statistical techniques but they might wish to think where physicists would be if they just analyzed the data of quantum events and gravitational events by statistics rather than moving to greater abstractions. All sciences have their own proper ways of exploring and analyzing the empirical world, but I suspect we’ll be finding that practitioners in many fields of study would be wise to treat their data in terms of state-spaces with the potential to borrow from the powerful, and often qualitative, techniques of modern geometry—many of those techniques being already well-developed in the physical sciences including engineering. This might be one way of dealing with evidence that individual entities in a grouping might be part of higher level entities with their own separate, if sometimes more abstract, existence. Looking at the geometric structure formed by all those functions mentioned above, the small regions formed around points would be the individuals and would be described by many of the quantitative and qualitative tools of basic differential geometry while the communities would be the global properties explored over the previous half-century or so by mathematicians.

The issue which motivated this essay is the importance or even the basic role of conflict in the evolution and development of human social traits and of specific forms of community. Do we need conflict between communities or between communities and individual outsiders, war?, to draw our communities into more tightly bound forms? If so, can we divert our aggressive tendencies in more fruitful directions? Wars might be more a cancer than a healthy part of the evolutionary and development processes, but that is a very uncertain line of thought. Wars, violent behavior in general, might also be indications of an underlying need not being otherwise met; in other words, we might be able to overcome our `need’ for war by proper understandings of our own human nature, individual and communal, and by proper responses to the world in light of that better understanding of our own selves. Currently, we have no satisfactory ways of discussing this or related issues which allows much in the way of convincing descriptions of the situation. We certainly have little clue about how to replace war by better behaviors.

I’m producing no more than suggestions, not even well-formed potential answers to the question raised in Turchin’s research and Khan’s article and I don’t plan to provide an answer anytime soon. There’s too much basic work to be done in understanding the nature of this concrete world and its relationships to the abstract realms of being from which it was shaped. As I’ve already mentioned, the most successful works of this sort already in a mature form are the mathematical formalisms of quantum mechanics and general relativity and little work has been done in even speculating on other realms of abstract being which generate the other aspects and traits of this concrete realm of created being. See one of my older essays which I often link to, Shaping Our Minds to Reality, for my responses to the difficulties a Cambridge professor had in convincing elite physics majors that a vector isn’t an arrow, at least not to a theoretical physicist, but rather a mathematical object with certain transformation properties. John Polkinghorne, who was an Anglican priest when he wrote about that problem, also noted that physicists still don’t `understand’ quantum mechanics and won’t until it becomes a part of their basic thought processes. I claim physicists will understand quantum mechanics when they accept it rather than trying to `explain’ it in terms of a less adequate understanding of physical reality. I’d suggest that many similar `bits’ of understanding will occur when empirical scientists in many fields accept the reality of the abstract being from which concrete, thing-like being is shaped. Our abstract thoughts are no more and no less than approximations to that abstract being.

Communal human being is built upon genetic family lines and individual human being is a particularization of such genetic family lines. Communal human being culminates in the Body of Christ but there are a multitude of communal structures between the individual and the Body of Christ. It’s not even a simple building process since an individual will be a part of a multitude of communities which play the role of organs in a living creature. The Body of Christ is a complex entity though it might have some aspects which can be modeled well without considering its complex make-up, especially in early stages of human social evolution when we deal with very simple egalitarian hunter-forager societies or tribes/kingdoms with well-defined hierarchies. Simpler sorts of mathematical models—simple in the sense of non-complex though they might be complicated—might work well for looking at the global or communal aspects of early human being. Looking at human being in this more sophisticated way won’t even shoot down any ideas of hierarchies being adequate for organizing and running human communities, it will simply render hierarchies irrelevant—in the Catholic Church as well as in political communities. This isn’t to say there won’t be any authority, but it will be the authority of a smaller-scale community which has a particular role to play in a larger-scale community.

We need more sophisticated models of human nature, richer and more complex, to understand such complex communities as the nation-states of the United States and Russia and China in 2014. Such models are also needed for the other various communities, inside and cutting across nation-states, such as the religious communities of Christianity and Judaism and Islam and others. Even such ephemeral communities as those of physicists or musical composers could be better understood. Political scientists and economists and historians and other social scientists have done some good and convincing work in understanding aspects of these various communities but no one can really speak intelligently of what it is that forms when human beings gather, in some way if only through journals or over the Internet, to some purpose general or specific. I suspect we are seeing the concretization of abstract being of a certain type but this becomes more plausible if some more sophisticated model, of the type I’m advocating, is shown to work in modeling the evolutionary and developmental processes of something which can be labeled `human being’.

As it is, we’re stuck in a rut where we try to understand even very large-scale human communities by way of phenomenological models or by way of reasoning which pretty much assumes a community is some simple additive function of its individual members. I claim that a community is neither separate from its members nor is it just the sum of those members. It is more like the physical universe which is both what it contains and also has its own properties—see A Universe is More than it Contains for a discussion of PJE Peebles’ point that straightforward applications of physical laws show that, in a universe governed by general relativity, the law of the conservation of energy doesn’t hold for the universe as a whole even if it holds at all regions in that universe. (Or read Peebles entire book, Principles of Physical Cosmology if you wish.) Even more to my point, spacetime at the level of the universe (and in some sorts of fairly small regions, such as black-holes) is non-Euclidean though it is Euclidean in most small regions. This is one sign of a manifold in the sense of differential geometry. To stay with physics for a moment: physics can be Newtonian at small regions while Einsteinian at larger regions because what happens in the small happens, so to speak, on a Euclidean plane tangent to the manifold which has the properties described by the general theory of relativity. Something analogous would be true under the very vague model I’m proposing the human nature, individual and communal.

Let me discuss briefly a particular problem which shows the difficulties of taking a community as a straightforward sum of individuals. A people can be nonviolent and well-meaning in the small but, in the large, as a people, can be murderous and thieving war-mongerers. In recent centuries, some of the most violent nations have been those with populations made up of individuals who are law-abiding and even somewhat gentle by historical standards: Germany in 1914-1945, Japan in the 1920s through the 1940s, Great Britain during the years of Empire and a bit beyond, the United States through much of its existence as loosely connected colonies up to now and still going strong though maybe about to run out of gas. We Americans tend to be generous and even somewhat self-sacrificing as individuals or as small communities such as church or synagogue congregations, fraternal organizations or professional societies. We are quite likable much of the time, genial, and inclined to get along with others. As a nation, we have proven ourselves from at least King Phillip’s War to be a people not only violent but self-righteous in our violence. See The Need for Abstractions in Moral Self-understanding for a discussion of this issue in a way important to the general effort to understand how communities are formed and deformed.

As I noted above, there is not complete separation of individual and communal human being nor is communal human being just a sum of individual human being. The evil done by the American state in such places as Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine is generally supported by majorities of the American people at least until they are personally hurt in some way, though those American citizens are rarely full of hatred. Yet, we Americans are often self-righteous and morally irresponsible in forming viewpoints—see Dumber Every Day, With Beer in Hand and War on TV. I also had discussed this general issue of American moral irresponsibility (and failure to develop the character traits important for life in complex communities) recently in the essay The Interior Richness Which Lies in a Civilized Man. The brutality of Americans as a people certainly draws upon moral weaknesses, including cowardice, of individual Americans but it seems to be the trait of an entity which is not just a sum of those individual Americans taught by war-profiteers and morally-twisted ideologists to fear anyone they wish to attack. Our predatory economy and polity seem to be as much the cause than the effect; they are global properties of an ill-formed human community.

We Americans have utterly failed to shape a morally good national community but we really can’t even describe such a community in a plausible way—nor can the best of social scientists. Sometimes we can see somewhat firm outlines of such a community in history but no one has succeeded in abstracting from this historical knowledge much in the way of useful knowledge. We can’t identify with certainty aspects of communities subject to study in numerical terms nor in more general mathematical terms—see Adopting Mathematical Reasoning in Non-quantitative Fields of Thought. Models such as that of Turchin and his colleagues would show the growth of the historically unique American Empire as colors on the globe and would probably have trouble dealing with the premature ending of this Empire because this mismatch between a parochial population with local virtues and a nation-state with great, worldly power isn’t something that such models could deal with. There is nothing in models such as those used by Turchin and his colleagues which indicates how a people well-behaved as individuals engage systematically in brutal warfare. Communal human being is completely separated from individual human being. It’s as if the universe not only had its own properties but worked in such a way as to have nothing to do with stars and galaxies and gas clouds and so forth. In fact, simple physical cosmological models can be built upon such a basis and provide some serious insights but ultimately they don’t depict the universe in its completeness: an entity on its own and also made up of all those stars and so forth. Even more to the point, it’s as if we were to treat an human being as a freestanding entity having nothing to do with all those genes and metabolic processes.

I suggest that this is a clear case where our conceptual and mathematical understandings and related tools in social sciences are grossly inadequate, not at all capable of dealing with our human world grown so immensely complex and so immensely massive in terms of a `mass’ which bends our human spaces; neither I nor anyone else can currently define that mass. We need new understandings and tools and we need specifically to have understandings and tools which recognize the existence of local (individuals and—maybe—small communities) and global (larger human communities) aspects to the totality of human being.

Natural Law or Natural Suggestions or Natural Illusions?

Posted September 8th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: Freedom and Structure in Human Life, Human nature, Moral nature

Peter Frost has published a good essay in which he deals with human moral nature. The essay can be found at Does Natural Law Exist?. I vaguely anticipated this discussion in my previous essay, The Interior Richness Which Lies in a Civilized Man.

Frost defines natural law as teaching:

All people are born with a natural sense of right and wrong, and it is only later, through vice or degeneration, that some can no longer correctly tell the two apart.

There are both pagan and Christian justifications for such beliefs and, as Frost notes with obvious respect, they were once quite plausible. Despite my belief in absolute truths, I claim that natural law instincts are the result of human evolution, that is, the shaping of our ancestors in response to their environments. Any particular manifestation of natural law is the result of human being responding to our world in philosophical and theological and political and pedagogical ways. These responses are necessarily limited by the current understandings of our world and—at least to a Christian—of all of Creation. This creates the likelihood of “fighting the previous moral equivalent of war” each time that something changes drastically or each time we reach a point where small changes have built up without proper responses. We love security and stability and only start changing when forced to do so, not when change first seems plausible and desirable. This is not to deny that the understandings produced in certain ages were insightful and powerful, maybe even the best understandings possible to those ages.

In that spirit Aquinas is acknowledged by Frost as having provided:

a compromise that divided Natural Law into general precepts and secondary precepts. The former are known to all men but can be hindered “on account of concupiscence or some other passion.” The latter “can be blotted out from the human heart, either by evil persuasions [..] or by vicious customs and corrupt habits, as among some men, theft, and even unnatural vices, as the Apostle states (Rom. i), were not esteemed sinful.” [See Frost's article for reference to quote from Thomas Aquinas.]

I’ll continue developing this theme but Frost seems to reason as if the enhancements made up to now to human understandings of our own moral natures and to the rules which might govern those natures—if such rules exist—were the only ones possible and, if they fail, will force us to deny that there is a possible understanding of absolute moral truths and a possible manifestation in our own natures.

Since I began thinking seriously about these issues, perhaps 25 years ago, I’ve had a problem with the status of natural law though I accord it the respect that Frost also accords; in addition, I think natural law reasoning—properly implemented—is the proper way to understand the `best’ which human beings can achieve. We simply have to recognize that our understanding of human moral nature and of moral truths are tentative in the same way as the physicist’s understanding of physical reality.

Frost points out, consistent with the complaints of many social conservatives, that Christian moral thought and moral action has decayed from its prior glory into a rather weak-kneed effort to avoid insulting others. After speaking of anthropologists who wish to avoid being judgmental about such behaviors as cannibalism, Frost tells us:

The noble savage is still alive and well. Strangely enough, this kind of thinking has seeped even into the missionary mindset, as I discovered during my last few years at the United Church of Canada. I was surprised to learn just how little our mission work involved teaching of Christian morality:

“Do you talk to these people about the Christian faith?”

“Not unless they specifically request it.”

“Do you at least have Christian literature on display?”

“No, we’re not allowed to do that.”

Things aren’t much better in the fundamentalist churches. I remember attending a Pentecostal presentation on “the cause of Third World Poverty.” I thought the talk would focus on cultural values. Instead, we were told that the cause is…lack of infrastructure. The Third World is poor because it doesn’t have enough roads, bridges, and buildings.

Much of the problem with modern Christians didn’t start as a loss of faith but rather, in my usual terms, as a refusal to make peace with empirical reality. As such thinkers as Melville and Hawthorne noted, this is essentially a rebellion against the Creator. This was my theme as I began to think through these issues in a more organized way 25 years ago, but I myself was having trouble making peace with metaphysics, more generally—with abstract thought. Peter Frost seems to me to have a greater respect for past accomplishments of abstract thinkers than I had but he seems to think that the recent failure to make better sense of the world after Darwin and Einstein means that it’s not possible to do again what Aristotle and Augustine and Aquinas did for their ages. Yet, he sees much with great clarity:

Christianity has been killed by its success. It has so thoroughly imposed its norms of behavior that we now assume them to be human nature. If some people act contrary to those norms, it’s because they’re “sick” or “deprived.” Or perhaps something is misleading us and they’re really acting just like everyone else.

In terms suited to my analysis, Frost’s insight becomes:

Christians had inherited an understanding of reality, a worldview, which was well-tuned to reality—as it was known and understood around 1700 or perhaps 1800. In recent centuries, knowledge of empirical reality increased rapidly and Christian leaders, intellectual and spiritual, utterly failed to produce an updated Christian understanding of Creation. What we have is a patchwork of dissonant beliefs, the revealed truths of the Bible expressed in words whose meanings have changed over time and especially under the pressure of the modern enrichment and complexification of our knowledge of Creation along with that knowledge itself. Some of the Medieval Scholastics, including Aquinas, claimed quite plausibly that most of what we know of God comes to us through His effects in Creation or, as I prefer to state it: most of what we know of God comes through our proper sharing in the thoughts He manifested in created being.

Done properly, as Augustine and Aquinas did in their historical contexts, recovering a good understanding of Creation is a more complex process than imposing our thoughts upon Creation and more complex than simply taking our more or less direct knowledge and understandings of empirical reality as being normative or as being dismissive of the very possibility of absolute moral truths. We need to make better use of that empirical knowledge by seeing in it better knowledge of the abstract being from which the concrete is shaped. We need to see more clearly, as one example, that realm of abstract being we can sort of see in the equations of quantum mechanics and can with, far greater uncertainty, conjecture from the relationships in general relativity and in evolutionary biology and also history.

See Four Kinds of Knowledge for my understanding of the actual unity of knowledge of created being and the practical need for specialized fields of knowledge; it is that practical need which leads us to specialize as physicists or anthropologists or philosophers or retailers or plumbers. Frost is open to the goodness and truth in ways of thought outside of his field of anthropology and the closely related fields of evolutionary biology and genetics, but he has to rely upon specialists in fields such as metaphysics who have not done a good enough job of making sense of the whole ball of wax in light of the discoveries in recent centuries of biology and mathematics and so on. Those who think of themselves as modern, scientific-minding men and women don’t see that any effort to understand this universe without having a good understanding of what Christians call created being—that greater understanding being of Creation as a whole, is much like the effort of physicists and other physical scientists to understand the things of our world one by one without having an understanding of the nature of this world in its more or less purely physical aspects. It was Einstein who gave us a universe with his general theory of relativity and allowed the development of more unified and more consistent and more complete understandings of the concrete realms of Creation. It was Einstein’s work including his work, and the work of Bohr and Schrodinger and so on, in quantum mechanics which pointed to realms of more abstract being from which concrete being is shaped. We should never forget that Plato and others anticipated some of this but we should also never forget that this deeper understanding of thing-like being gave us the possibilities of more exact understandings, more convincing understandings of both concrete and abstract being.

Christian theologians and philosophers have failed to make peace with empirical reality, that is—with God’s Creation, starting with this concrete realm of thing-like being and that failure has led to utter cluelessness in any efforts to restate Christian truths and to reformulate Christian speculations so that they are consistent with what we now know of the Creator’s actual work. As a result, Christian thinkers including philosophers and theologians have turned their fields into the studies of past creative efforts and have failed to deal with our new knowledge of the thoughts which God manifested in this concrete realm of Creation, have also failed to move on to dealing with more abstract realms of Creation. Metaphysics and the higher level forms of theology which are founded upon metaphysics are effectively discounted as important parts of Christian thought.

It might seem funny to accuse theologians and philosophers of the mistake of undervaluing metaphysical thought, abstract thought in general. They seem quite comfortable with Plato and Aristotle, Plotinus and Augustine, Aquinas and maybe a good selection of modern philosophers. The problem is that Aquinas was right when he told us that the first science (metaphysics) uses the positive sciences (physics, biology, and so on). Modern empirical knowledge indicates rather strongly that, for example, matter is far richer and far more complex than the Greeks or the Medieval Scholastics or Kant and other Enlightenment philosophers thought it to be. For now, our best understanding of matter is given to us by way of quantum physics and related specialized fields. This means that even the Christian understandings of the Sacraments, in which matter play a central role, are nothing more than fairy tales, once plausible understandings kept alive by the barbarian and semi-pagan descendants of Augustine and Anselm and Aquinas and Galileo—I agree with Stanley Jaki, the Benedictine priest and polymath, who claimed Galileo to be a better Christian theologian than the Churchmen who opposed him. In any case, how can a sacramental Christian speak rationally about the Real Presence upon the alter if he doesn’t really understand what bread and wine are and has not a clue about their relationships to the ever more abstract realms of being which culminate in the truths God manifested as the raw stuff of all created being?

To me, on a quite conceptual level, moral philosophy and theology is a bit like mathematical physics or similar sorts of sciences; this is to say that moral thinking should include a respect for empirical reality but also analyses and speculations which try to draw out the abstract being from which our messy world of things was shaped. (See How a Christian Finds Metaphysical Truths in Empirical Reality for another effort to explain my thoughts on this and related issues.)

And there’s the rub. Metaphysics does matter. If you’ve tried to make sense of concrete, thing-like being entirely on its own terms, you’ve missed much of what it is. Remember that protons and electron and neutrinos and so forth are manifestations of some strange, abstract sort of being which we can’t perceive but we can think about it using the equations of quantum mechanics and by trying to form concepts based upon those equations. In other words, we have to move to a realm at least one step more abstract than those equations to find a realm of created being in which the qualitative and quantitative are one. In an older essay, Shaping Our Minds to Reality, I responded to some comments made by John Polkinghorne, Anglican priest and respected physicist, on the problems modern physicists have in understanding the fundamental nature of `quantum levels of reality’, a problem basically caused by our difficulties in shaping our thoughts to reality. We try instead to force our pre-existing schemes of thought even upon strange, new facts from empirical reality.

I’m certainly not saying that moral rules can be derived by contemplation of metaphysical realms—that is one major mistake made by even some great thinkers over the centuries. It’s also a mistake to take empirical reality as being normative or anti-normative. Much of my work has turned into an effort to show the possibility of an answer which makes sense of this concrete realm as a part of a greater Creation. Human nature is embodied but our very bodies were shaped from all that concrete created being shaped in turn from abstract forms of being which we can sort of see, almost against our wills, in quantum mechanics and the general theory of relativity and in the evolutionary and developmental narratives given to us by modern biology and other sciences. I use the historically proper definition of science as a disciplined field of study and so the prior statement refers also to history and the study of the human arts and even such `practical’ fields as politics and business management.

Metaphysics can guide us, even in understanding empirical reality because the concrete created being of empirical reality is shaped from more abstract forms of created being and those more abstract forms of being can be reached and somewhat understood by way of abstract reasoning, metaphysical and mathematical and logical. At the same time, we aren’t born with minds which can magically receive metaphysical or mathematical or logical truths. Because of very complex brains and bodies suited to those brains, we can shape minds by way of responses to reality. We can shape powerful and insightful minds by way of honest and courageous responses. The same can be said of moral natures.

Though human minds develop by way of responses to a messy world, they do reach truths, even truths so extraordinary as “There are infinities larger than the ordinary infinity of {1,2,3,4,…}.” Human minds have not drawn these truths out of some Platonic realm we can magically access through mind-stuff, nor have they drawn these truths out of concrete, thing-like being in a direct way. They have worked slowly, over the centuries, in response to hints of the abstract being from which rocks and rattlesnakes are shaped. They have worked recursively, applying their speculative ideas on abstract being to concrete being and starting to adjust their speculations when necessary.

As we shape our own individual and communal human beings, we create richer and more complex forms of created being. There is something new under the sun, not only with the potential of each individual human being as he develops through his life but also with the potential of each human community. We can certainly see great good which was shaped in ancient Athens, a different great good which was shaped in ancient Jerusalem, and still something different again—great and good—which was shaped in ancient Rome.

Our moral natures develop in a similar way to the parts of our minds which search for mathematical truths. Our moral natures are shaped as we respond, actively respond, to a messy world but we, through our minds and moral natures, also can reach truths which seem extraordinary to those still capable of wonder. It’s a process quite different from simply applying a pre-existing schema about proper forms of, say, sexual relationships. We are particular creatures with particular sexual natures, particular forms of care for our young, and this makes our sexual natures a bit, shall we say, empirical rather than ethereal. But, my general worldview leads me to propose our empirical sexual natures are shaped from more abstract created being, itself shaped from still more abstract created being and going right back to the truths God manifested as the raw stuff of Creation. It’s only possible to see those truths with a mind of the sort which forms by way of good training in the context of a sufficiently rich and complex human community, ideally, a civilization. Even then, things can go horribly wrong.

Some truths can be deployed as lines in a formal proof leading inevitably to a set conclusion, but the greater part of truths in this Creation, so far as I can tell, are of the sort to be shaped into rich and complex forms of complex being. An example? How about the abstract forms of being we know only through the formalisms of quantum mechanics. From such abstract forms of being are shaped the components of matter and energy. As Aquinas said, to the annoyance of many: “Things are true.” They aren’t true in the sense of being the conclusions to arguments or of being necessary or absolute. They are true in being shaped from successively more abstract realms of created being, culminating in the truths God manifested as the raw stuff of Creation.

Here are links to four essays I’ve written which deal with realms of abstract being as part of the goal of understanding human being:

The Interior Richness Which Lies in a Civilized Man

Posted September 1st, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: Biological evolution, civilization, communal human being, Freedom and Structure in Human Life, genes, honesty in perception, Human nature

Peter Frost, dissident anthropologist, wrote about some issues in the matter I’ve considered in recent blog essays—the formation of complex societies. See Mathematical Models of Human History: Are They Plausible? and A Different Model of the Growth of Centralized States in History.

Frost’s article, The Agricultural Revolution That Wasn’t, looks at the broader issue of how large groups of people of people form from bands of hunter-gatherers. I think it worth the short time it takes to read Frost’s entire article and to start reading his essays and articles published at Ron Unz’s website for the internet writings of solid, dissident thinkers.

Frost has this to say about the general conditions of human life as complex, large-scale human communities (civilizations or proto-civilizations) were developing:

About 10,000 years ago, the pace of human genetic evolution rose a hundred-fold [see original article for reference]. Our ancestors were no longer adapting to slowly changing physical environments. They were adapting to rapidly evolving cultural environments.

What, exactly, caused this speed-up? The usual answer is the shift from hunting and gathering to farming, which in turn caused other changes. People were becoming sedentary and living in ever larger communities: villages, towns, and finally cities. Farming also produced a food surplus to be stored for future use, thereby providing powerful men with the means to bankroll a growing number of servants, soldiers, and other hangers-on. Thus began the formation of early states. And thus ended the primitive equality of hunter-gatherers.

But is that the whole story? Was farming the trigger for this chain of events? Or did something earlier get things going? More and more anthropologists are taking a closer look at what happened just before the advent of farming, a period called the “Broad Spectrum Revolution”[.]

If you haven’t been keeping up with at least the general discoveries in the overlapping fields of genetics and paleontology, you might wish to reread the above quote and think about it, especially the discovery that the older claim that we are stone-age ape-men in civilized drag is only a highly qualified truth. In the above quotation, Frost makes it sound as if natural selection continues to work as it always did but now the selective processes are relative to the ability to survive and reproduce in a complex human community in which individuals are sheltered from predators and some natural disasters. In fact, this is clearly true, but the power of selection seems diluted by the survival beyond the age of reproduction in a civilization of many not adapted to civilized life. Charity, the need for large amounts of labor who might work more effectively if they aren’t `cultured’, and perhaps other factors allow the reproduction of many who simply don’t get this business of civilization.

With my limited knowledge of the workings of genes, I have to believe that keeping so many alive at least long enough to reproduce, diluting the effects of bad luck as well as lack of fit to civilized life, has to increase the variety in the human gene pool.

Frost also tells us:

Farming thus came on the heels of a broader cultural, behavioral, and even psychological revolution. It is this broader change, rather than farming alone, that probably caused many supposedly farming-related events, such as the rapid spread of certain agricultural peoples into territories that formerly belonged to hunter-gatherers.

Frost tells us that some hunter-gatherers were, and are, willing to retreat rather than become part of this new-fangled way of living:

One of my professors, Bernard Arcand, would talk to us about the hunter-gatherers of Upper Amazonia and their indifference to farming. They saw it as something akin to slavery and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to stay put in one place and toil in the fields all day. Attempts to teach them the benefits of farming typically failed. Benefits? What benefits?

There has to be a change in mental makeup before farming becomes possible. People must become willing to exchange short-term pain for long-term gain. They must accept monotony and sedentary living. They must live in larger communities with people who are not necessarily close kin. And they must get used to bland, nutrient-poor food.

Some of those who don’t like civilization live down the street. Some are in our armies or in our more dangerous occupations and may well more than pull their weight, yet, on the whole, we’ve got a real problem in the modern world. This “change in mental makeup” is rather extensive and has to take place deep within us and also in our more superficial aspects before civilization takes and we settle down as men and women capable of behaving properly and amusing ourselves properly—to put it in a grossly oversimplified way. We have to learn how to gain some richness in life by way of active participation in various arts or religious rites or story-telling or… If there are some who have mental makeups not suited to life in a complex civilization, then they might simply be passive creatures who watch the spectacles around them or on their video screens or they might engage in various activities such as crime on one scale or another to gain the goods and at least qualified prestige they can’t gain by making music or art or producing artisan-quality furniture or supervising a complex industrial process or taking proper risks in new business ventures or… People not capable (for whatever reason) of actively amusing themselves, in substantial solitary or communal activities, might be ready for such exciting activities as wars; they might participate in riots—perhaps starting as demonstrations for a good cause; they might engage in sex for excitement (see one of my early essays— Raising the Ante on Passion: Nabokov and Gibson); they might use drugs to escape life in a community unsuited to one’s needs or desires; and so forth. Some of these activities are self-destructive and some do serious damage to individual others or to communities; some may even be parts of sociopathic behavior.

We don’t seem to be a happy people. We flock toward entertainment of a juvenile sort, often enough a perverse and juvenile sort. We glorify those who refuse to grow up and become morally responsible civilized men. We are half-assed citizens of complex states requiring far better than that and then we have the nerve to get upset when our governments fill up with self-serving scoundrels. We Americans and some other men of the West perhaps show our worst sides, at least over the past 60 or 70 years, in the behavior we put up with, and often cheer on, in our leaders in the international realm. We react self-righteously to imagined or wrongly attributed acts against us and then don’t even feel bad about the thousands or hundreds of thousands who are killed, the communities left without fresh water or power systems, and so on. We drink another beer and just remember they “hate us for our freedoms” and feel to be a righteously exceptional people—see Dumber Every Day, With Beer in Hand and War on TV. We common folk send our pennies and dollars over to help Haitians or Indonesians after some natural disaster or to help others to build schools and hospitals and churches even as we remain blind to our politicians’ and bankers’ theft of the wealth of entire countries.

It could be argued, even by those so suspicious of the central-planning mentality as I am, that we need some conscious awareness, if vague, of what is wrong and of where we can head and how we can better form our children and our own selves to take proper advantage of the complex and multi-sided benefits of civilization. In fact, in saying this I speak not of central planning but rather of numerous individuals and communities engaging in well thought-out experiments in living and in making our livings.

I’m going to end with a suggestion I’ll pursue in my next essay, which I’m writing in response to some good analysis and speculation in another essay by Frost, Does Natural Law Exist?, just published on Ron Unz’s website today (2014/09/01). My suggestion is that participation in more complex communities, of which civilization is the most complex we know, actually requires a greater and richer development of the individual, including a richer sort of self-directedness which is tied to higher level thinking skills capable of dealing with messy situations which can’t be handled by simple rules-based thinking. This isn’t a plea for any sort of radical individualism, for sure. I know quite well a lot of human beings can’t do the research and independent thinking necessary to understand the complex problems of modern human life, but those who can’t should have rich enough, complex enough, thoughts to be able to recognize those who have bothered to learn about these issues and can maybe generate some ideas, if they be no more than an interesting creative movie or a piece of folk music that speaks of the experiences of an American soldier or Marine in Afghanistan. By now, a lot of smart men and women who aren’t scholars or creative artists or theologians should realize those in authority in the institutions of our age are not up to the job of dealing with our problems.

Rebellion Against Reality is a Sin and a Moral Fault

Posted August 25th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: Body of Christ, Christian in the universe of Einstein, communal human being, honesty in perception, Narratives and truth

Christians are bound to recognize that the God of Jesus Christ is truly Lord and truly Creator. We are bound to do our best to honestly and courageously and faithfully respond to God’s Creation as we can best know it and as we come into contact with it.

To turn away from Creation or to attempt to impose your own dreams or schemes upon Creation rather than properly responding is an act of rebellion against God, that is, an act of rebellion from the Christian viewpoint. It is also a serious moral fault and courts practical consequences—to virtuous pagans and others as well as to Christians. In my updated Thomistic terms, I think of this rebellion as a refusal to make peace with empirical reality. (See the freely downloadable book, Making Peace with Empirical Reality which is also the name of a part in the much larger collection of essays, Acts of Being: Selected Weblog Writings From 2006 to 2013. An update of this more complete collection will be coming after end of year 2014.) This refusal to make peace with empirical reality can be an understandable response to a sometimes brutal Creation, but it cannot be sustained without falling into a rebellion against God. Certainly, a major human institution or country or civilization falls into a state of moral disorder and courts disaster by sustaining such a rebellion.

As Jeremiah pointed out in explicit terms, if you know that God has willed that your very country be conquered and your people enslaved, then you have to give in to that will of God. It is rare, to say the least, that the members of a community would be asked by a true prophet of God to surrender their entire community, men and women and children, Temple and home and stores of food and gold, to a brutal and greedy conqueror. Lesser surrenders to political or military subjugation by brutes or simply those who hate your people are sometimes mandated by bad situations. A lesser form of this surrender might well be the fate of the American people if they continue to tolerate leaders who abuse other peoples with American power. We will need to surrender our (quite irrational and historically unjustified) claim to being an `exceptional people’. I think this is already happening and our leader class (power-elite or whatever) is not going down gracefully because they have nothing to contribute to the world but a brutal willingness to use the firepower made possible by American wealth and to use it even against the most defenseless of civilian targets.

How can we understand the sort of rebellion against reality, against the most blunt of facts let alone against reasonable, but speculative, understandings of that reality? Is it a form of Idealism? That article in the link defines Idealism in these terms:

[T]he group of philosophies which assert that reality, or reality as we can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. Epistemologically, idealism manifests as a skepticism about the possibility of knowing any mind-independent thing. In a sociological sense, idealism emphasizes how human ideas—especially beliefs and values—shape society. As an ontological doctrine, idealism goes further, asserting that all entities are composed of mind or spirit. Idealism thus rejects physicalist and dualist theories that fail to ascribe priority to the mind. [Footnotes can be found in the original.]

Presented in these abstract terms, Idealism would seem to be a concern of ivory-tower philosophers. It’s certainly not clear why it would be a problem for Christians or for Americans, Christian and non-Christian. In fact, my view of God manifesting His thoughts as created being of which we are a part and from which we form valid thoughts by way of responses obscures, but in a useful way, the difference between `mind’ and `reality’. By way of a higher level understanding made possible by an `encapsulation’ of reality as a substantial part of our own minds, we can expand our understandings of reality to include larger pieces of Creation. By way of emphasis upon mental activity, my claims bear a somewhat askew but close resemblance to at least a possible form of Idealism. The difference is that valid mental constructs in my worldview are formed by honest and courageous responses to reality, in the small or in the large. Creation itself corresponds to our minds (most completely and most perfectly to the communal mind of the Body of Christ) because our minds correspond to Creation as we best know it. Actually, there is a time-lag which brings about the possibility of serious problems, some of which are realized pretty well in the modern world, especially in the Christian churches and in the countries of the West. Our understanding is always based upon yesterday’s responses and the knowledge formed by those responses. When, for example, the physical and mathematical sciences have advanced so fast as to conflict with our knowledge from yesterday, then our general understandings of Creation are out of synch with our best, and perhaps only partially digested, knowledge of empirical reality. The same can also happen when knowledge of abstract realms, such as mathematical understandings of infinity, has advanced too rapidly to have been properly absorbed by philosophers and theologians, historians and biologists, poets and novelists, clergymen and believers, politicians and citizens.

What does all this mean? Perhaps that Wikipedia article, Idealism, can shed some more light through a passage dealing with more ordinary usage of the term:

In ordinary use, as when speaking of Woodrow Wilson’s political idealism, it generally suggests the priority of ideals, principles, values, and goals over concrete realities. Idealists are understood to represent the world as it might or should be, unlike pragmatists, who focus on the world as it presently is.

The above statement is a large-scale simplification of the sort found in my essays. I like it.

For the rest of this essay, I’ll use the term `Idealism’ for this `vulgar Idealism’ and I’ll ask, “Why is Idealism wrong?”

Idealism assumes that the truth is found in our heads, and perhaps in our hearts. In most cases, this is not a conclusion from personal contemplations or perhaps debates with friends or others. In most cases, this is a result of the very processes I advocate. We form our minds in responses to reality, but nearly all boys and girls form their minds by responding, usually in affirmation, to what they are taught by Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, minister or priest or rabbi and religious teacher, movies and formal schooling. Some are born with a tendency to rebellion which is one of those traits dangerous, or even self-destructive, in some circumstances but valuable to society if not to the rebellious human being in other circumstances. Most tend to absorb what they are taught explicitly or implicitly. Turning the communal mind is akin to turning an oil tanker—it takes a good number of miles or years.

We hold “ideals, principles, values, and goals” and believe them to be absolutes because we adopted them or they were pushed into our heads or—more realistically—both, starting with the very first attitudes we picked up as infants. When reality seems to differ from our absolutes, we go with our absolutes. I could say it’s even broader than the above list by including even facts. We hold ideas of what “must have” happened during, say, World War II or the Vietnam War or the campus protests during the late 1960s and early 1970s or Watergate. Those fairy-tales, sometimes with as nasty an edge as any from Soviet propaganda, overrule any potential facts which present themselves to our senses or minds. Americans are so good and pure in the mind of these juvenile patriots that they don’t even question what really happened when we hear of Vietnamese or Afghan villagers, sometimes with weapons in their hands, being killed by Americans carrying heavy arms. Who was in whose backyard? Who was carrying military rifles and explosives near whose children? We don’t even question the meaning of the context; we know any villager who killed an American soldier was clearly one of those gooks who have no respect for human life or a raghead who hates us for our freedoms.

More generally, that refusal to accept God’s Creation on its own terms—terms set by God in His freely chosen role as Creator—is an act of defiance against God. This doesn’t mean we’re called to accept our fates in some passive way; it does mean we are called to respond to God’s Creation rather than to attempt to impose our own rules upon that great Work of all works. We play within God’s rules which include the 5th Commandment so spectacularly violated by the United States and its allies since the dominant countries of the West decided to fight the gangster regimes of Hitler and Stalin by becoming more skilled gangsters.

God’s rules also include the rules covered by modern physics and mathematics and the general principles of evolution and development which are so central to physical cosmology as well as biology and history and sociology and creative writing. Even highly educated scientists are having trouble learning how to truly accept all of this new empirical knowledge, and the theories built upon it; even philosophers with flexible minds can’t readily make the strangeness of quantum physics a natural part of their thinking though it is quantum physics that is true and our minds which are wrong or at least inadequate. (See Shaping Our Minds to Reality for my responses to some powerful insights by John Polkinghorne, physicist and Anglican priest.)

Our worldviews, our overall understandings of all that exists, are largely matters of speculation and are necessarily limited and impoverished compared to Creation, but we should be careful to avoid willful wrongheadedness. We should also avoid wrongheadedness in our understandings of lesser realms of Creation, such as the history or moral standing of our country. Our understandings are limited and impoverished because of the ways in which an imperfect creature has to learn over time, his own lifetime and the generations over which develop the communal human beings into which an individual human being integrates his own individual being while yet keeping it and remaining himself. To be wrongheaded is to be morally culpable for willful ignorance and the resulting stupidity—however inherently intelligent those ignorant and stupid human beings often are. The ultimate wrongheadedness is to willfully misunderstand the very meaning of God’s Creation, imposing our own—often self-righteousness—schemes or failing to courageously respond to signs that we need to rethink some matters and come to a somewhat different understanding of what is, for example, the Body of Christ. In Christian terms, this is a sin as well as a serious and dangerous moral fault. In terms of virtuous paganism (think Aristotle), this is still a serious moral fault. It’s not a simple mistake, it is an effort to impose your own preferences upon God’s manifested thoughts, even an effort to assert the superiority of your own `moral vision’ over the work of God.

Human beings can be in a state of seeming rebellion against reality, or at least in a state of separation from reality, for a variety of reasons which might carry no moral culpability or only partial culpability. A schizophrenic who weaves fantastic tales of being a disinherited granddaughter of a very wealthy man, only half believing it herself—if even half, isn’t evil. A seemingly sane President or Vice-President of the United States who weaves fantastic tales of vast international conspiracies against Americans—“They hate us for our freedoms?”—is evil, no less though he believes his own fables. American citizens who continue to follow men who present only updated or even more outlandish versions of these fantastic tales are in a state of sin or moral fault after these decades of Cold War followed by a “Clash of Civilizations” and the huge body count, disproportionately composed of the Vietnamese villagers we were `saving’ and all those Iraqi children evil enough to live under the rule of an American bastard our leaders no longer wanted.

Let me step back and speak in terms of centuries. The current separation of the intellects, or communal minds, of the West from reality are a highly possible, though not necessary, result of the rejection of evidence that God’s Creation doesn’t correspond to the ideas held by those who persecuted Galileo who was trying to respond openly and honestly to that evidence. (In this, I simplify by using the most prominent martyr to the truth of God’s Creation as a symbol.) To be sure, however stupid some of Galileo’s persecutors were, they were the holders of what were honorable and quite plausible speculations on the nature of this concrete realm and of what might lie outside of it. Plausible but wrong as it turned out, though we should allow some sympathy for those with inflexible minds and rigorous training in a worldview about to be superseded. But, mostly, we should criticize them strongly for not even losing their confidence in their worldview in the face of strong evidence it was not adequate for understanding empirical knowledge in even the early decades of the “Age of Discovery”—they were willing enough to profit from the new lands being discovered where no new lands should have been by their mainstream understanding of geography.

As it turns out, Galileo himself knew that some of the great contributors to that ultimately wrongful understanding, such as the Christians Augustine and Jerome and Thomas Aquinas, taught that reality is the ultimate judge of our understanding of reality—to put it in a modern way. Popes and other Christians can criticize the modern tendency to impose fairy-tales upon reality, evil fairy-tales when it comes to the Nazis, but that is a tendency first born in the Catholic Church’s intellectual and ecclesiastical institutions in the so-called Renaissance and then developed in parallel in the corresponding Protestant and secular institutions of the West. Reject reality in favor of your own dreams and schemes and reality might reject you. Sadly, in the short-term, the victims might be quite innocent and not even involved in the struggles to maintain an outmoded worldview or to establish a new one to the tastes of men willfully separated from reality.

A Different Model of the Growth of Centralized States in History

Posted August 18th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: civilization, history, transitions of civilizations, Unity of knowledge

Shortly after I published my essay, Mathematical Models of Human History: Are They Plausible?, on the use of mathematical models in history, I saw an article by Stephanie Pappas summarizing some results of work done by Simon Powers, “a postdoctoral researcher in ecology and evolution at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.” Powers is working on the initial concentration of power in a despotic hierarchy and will next be moving on to try to deal with the next stage in which a large-scale state arises, but the results of his initial work point to the possibility of producing a different understanding from that found in the article Modeling World History in Math Is Possible by Khan, an article discussing War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies by the research team led by Turchin.

The article about Powers’ work, Origins of Hierarchy: How Egyptian Pharaohs Rose to Power, points to the possibility that:

[V]oluntary leadership arises when leaders give enough benefits to their followers at the outset, Powers said. If leaders give their people an advantage in producing food, the people will follow them, he added.


[L]eadership turns to despotism when two factors arise. The first is the growth of population density and size, which follows naturally from an organized, agricultural society.

“It basically becomes hard for individuals to stop following the leader,” Powers said. “As the density of the population grows, there is less free land available.”

If we consider this analysis and the analysis I discussed in that prior essay, Mathematical Models of Human History: Are They Plausible?. we are getting into some potential useful confusion. Powers is developing an explanation based upon internal factors (advantages coming from strong leaders and then maybe the difficulties of escaping control by those leaders) while Turchin and colleagues were concerned with external factors (starting with the conquest by or reaction against nomadic horsemen of the grasslands of central Asia).

Let me add another bit of useful confusion by referring back to an essay I published on this blog in 2011: Be Obnoxious and Be Our Leader. According to the study I comment upon, rude and pushy rule-breakers are perceived as already having power and human beings take them more seriously as leaders or potential leaders.

There are going to be no clean, sharply defined answers to the questions of human community-formation or, more in line with my worldview, questions of the creation and shaping of human communal being. This means there will be no answers corresponding to, say, the thermodynamics of gas in a piston which can compress or relax. There likely will be many quantitative models which will help us deal with specific aspects of human social or political or economic behavior but those will work only if they are part of a more general framework of what might be labeled qualitative models, though subject to the disciplined analyses to be found in certain fields of mathematics—see Mathematical Models of Human History: Are They Plausible?, already referenced above. For some very general discussion in light of quotations from some highly regarded mathematicians, see Adopting Mathematical Reasoning in Non-quantitative Fields of Thought.

I’m reluctant to speculate too much on what might eventually work to produce a deeper and more exact understanding of human nature both individual and communal but I have a very vague image on the edge of my mind of a single entity which is like a manifold—that is subject to well-defined analyses in each `small region’, `locally’, where the proper analyses might be quantitative or qualitative. An odd chimera indeed, but that is what we seem to be—as individual human beings or as communal human beings.

And we must remember that we are human beings, entities which are unified and coherent and complete—no matter how imperfectly so. Our knowledge of our own being should be knowledge of such an entity and not just a handwaving explanation which points toward a quantitative model here and a qualitative explanation there.

Mathematical Models of Human History: Are They Plausible?

Posted August 11th, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: civilization, Freedom and Structure in Human Life, history

I’m not an unqualified supporter of quantitative modeling in the social sciences, most certainly do I have my doubts about modeling in history. It’s a dangerous business and the results have been spotty at best. Yet, it could work for some sorts of analyses and doing it in a disciplined way would allow rejection or modification of the model. We can read about a seemingly successful application of quantitative modeling technique as applied to the spread of large-scale societies, proto-states and states, in the region of Europe and Asia and Africa. That successful application is discussed in an article by a geneticist, Razib Khan, who blogs at Ron Unz’s website, The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection and subtitled: A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media.

Khan’s article, Modeling World History in Math Is Possible, is a commentary upon an article summarizing results of a research project: War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies.

Khan displays six graphs in his article which he says show “the major result: a model with only a few simple parameters was incredibly good at fitting the genuine growth and evolution of complex societies over 3,000 years.” (Actually, both Khan’s article and that by Peter Turchin and the other researchers make it clear they are interested in the spread of sophisticated military technology and centralized political systems of the sort we would call `states’.)

This model of an important part of human history is essentially a model covering external environments, such as proximity to the types of grasslands which nurture nomadic and semi-nomadic horsemen who have developed much of the military technology and fighting methods of Eurasia and northern Africa and have forced the development of other military technologies and fighting methods.

The model was used to predict “the historical distribution of large-scale societies in Afroeurasia during 1,500 BCE-1,500 CE” and to also develop maps “indicating the frequency and distribution of large-scale societies.” The authors were interested in such matters because of their concern with the large size which can support rational bureaucracies and sophisticated educational systems. Again, the model produced the right results based upon the assumptions about the importance of nomadic horsemen from the great grassland regions in initiating the movement toward advanced military technology and large societies with centralized political, bureaucratic systems. Apparently, their model was successful in regions such as south China and Europe which were not directly contiguous to such grasslands because the model allowed for the diffusion of military technology into, say, most of Europe from the Near Eastern and northern African regions which were contiguous to such regions and were sometimes conquered and were sometimes able to adopt the horsemen’s military technology or perhaps to develop their own superior military technology which allowed, along with the political controls which are part of what we know as `states’, successful defense against the horsemen such as the Mongols and Turkmen and Berber peoples.

Neither the authors nor Khan are making a claim that human history is deterministic in a simpleminded way. They are simply claiming that such models can allow a more exact understanding and an objective way of testing claims about human history. (In another article, Human History Is Both Contingent and Inevitable, Khan argues for a far more sophisticated view in which the world is contingent in some ways and fully determined in other ways. Still other articles on his blog take up similar issues.)

I endorse the development of well-formed quantitative models, though I feel they will only be useful, and only avoid misleading the naive, for very well-formed ideas which can be tested and clearly rejected or modified or accepted. The problem, and it’s related to the more general form of the problem the researchers dealt with, is that no one has the sort of overview available in gravitational theory (the theory of general relativity) or other fields of physics where very successful quantitative models are made possible by criteria the models should meet. Without a greater understanding, it can be dangerous to rely too heavily on models because they produce `accurate’ answers to specific questions or to questions under particular conditions. I’ve read a couple introductory works on mathematical modeling and found the practitioners who develop models over a variety of domains to be more skeptical than would be true of other mathematicians or scientists. Models which are built by rigorous application of physical laws should work but those which are built upon empirical results often break when different facts are considered or when the future simply proves different from the past or present.

Yet, the model of the growth of large-scale societies under consideration seems to deal well with the initialization of one very important process: the formation of centralized states with sophisticated military technology.

But, again, we have to be wary of answers to questions about human history which merely preserve the known phenomena. We moderns tend to misunderstand the history of human science and human thought and to think there was some reason the ancient and Medieval thinkers could have realized it was `wrong’ to place the Earth at the center of the Cosmos as they knew it. (There were speculative developments of alternative models but no clear arguments why they might be superior.) The models of the Cosmos overthrown by Kepler and Galileo and Newton were quite successful, especially the mathematically rigorous model originally developed by the Macedonian-Egyptian mathematician Ptolemy. Those pre-Galilean models preserved the known phenomena and, in fact, were quite successful in predicting the movements of planets and could have been extended, in principle, to planetary moons and comets and the like at the cost of greater complexity. Ultimately, modern physics overthrew Ptolemaic models of the relative movements of the Sun and planets because it had far greater power than was necessary to merely provide a more economical model of the Solar system. Modern physics, beginning in a systematic way with Newton’s dynamics, has proven itself to be both a qualitative and quantitative understanding of certain very important aspects of concrete being. It was not any gains in model accuracy of planetary movements that forced the adoption of Newtonian dynamics but rather the fact that Newton’s physics worked as well with cannon balls as it did with predicting the movements of the moon.

This was the modern re-adoption and rational modification of the ancient program of understanding all that exists by a single system of thought.

Arguably, and I tend to think this way, physics as we know it is—or can, in principle, be corrected and expanded to be—a complete understanding of aspects of concrete being, including at least the quantitative aspects. That doesn’t mean physics is a `complete’ understanding of concrete or thing-like being, nor will any human science be a complete understanding of any specific realm of concrete being. In fact, the abstract being from which thing-like being was shaped is still here with us and continues to interact with the more abstract sorts of being from which it was shaped. This concrete realm of concrete being is not yet complete and is being made richer and more complex even by very acts of human exploration of Creation and by all other relationships which continue to bring concrete being into existence and to shape it.

Let me end with a few comments about what I think will be involved in providing a wider understanding for human nature as part of a greater Creation; such a wider understanding will give us not magical answers to every question about human history or human moral problems but rather a general context in which our human being is set as well as ways of properly phrasing our questions and properly developing our proposed answers.

I think we have to keep in mind that there are deterministic forms of relationships and contingent forms of relationships. There is a different balance of such relationships, and differing relationships in their details, for each of: individual human being, communal human being, and external environments. In addition, human being both individual and communal have a peculiar and very important type of contingency—that which is part of moral freedom.

I discussed the quest to gain a “more exact understanding” of man in a book I published in 2013, A More Exact Understanding of Human Being, which is available for free downloading. The title is from Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger):

Modernity is not simply a historically-datable cultural phenomenon; in reality it requires a new focus, a more exact understanding of the nature of man. [Pope Benedict XVI, in a speech given on 2008/06/07 to participants in the sixth European Symposium of University Professors, which was held in Rome from 2008/06/04 to 2008/06/07 on the theme: "Broadening the Horizons of Reason. Prospects for Philosophy".]

I would recommend a review or first-time reading of one of my recent essays: Adopting Mathematical Reasoning in Non-quantitative Fields of Thought.

What is an Explanation?: The Basic Stuff of Created Being

Posted August 1st, 2014 by Loyd L Fueston
Categories: being, Body of Christ, Christian in the universe of Einstein, Christian theology, metaphysics, Mind

In a recent essay, What is an Explanation?: The Context of Thought and Language, I opened up a line of discussion which might provide a new view of some of my basic ideas, a view which might lead me to more fruitful explorations and perhaps others to better understandings of what I’m trying to do along with perhaps encouraging them to develop their own ideas on how this work of re-understanding God’s Creation should be done by Christians or others who see order in being. I’ve found that sometimes I can better understand my own written thoughts if I re-express them in different terms or from different viewpoints.

Let me start with an example from mathematics which I consider to be the study of a peculiar, very abstract from of being from which this concrete world was, in part, shaped. Very serious mathematicians of a philosophical bent of mind were trying in the late 1800s into the early 1900s to found mathematics upon logical bedrock, some of them intending to do so by first showing a few logical rules could generate the natural numbers. Those mathematicians set up proposed systems, the best of which developed elaborate machinery which included terms such as x(0), x(1), x(2), etc. The idea was to start with nil or zero and declare a successor element to zero, “1”, and then to declare a successor element to 1, “2”, and so forth. The problem, and it was missed at first by even such brilliant thinkers as Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead, was that the natural numbers [0, 1, 2, 3...] were used as indices for symbols meant to build up the set of natural numbers from very simple thoughts of a logical sort. They had assumed the very ordering and counting processes they were trying to prove legitimate and so ended an effort to find an easy way to build at least natural numbers from the basic building blocks of nil and a successor operation. [A minor point---mathematicians don't seem to agree as to whether or not `0' belongs in the natural numbers.]

One brilliant mathematician from that time made a particularly interesting claim, used in recent years as the title of a book written by the physicist, Stephen Hawking. The original words of Leopold Kronecker, a 19th century mathematician of great accomplishment, were: “God made the natural numbers [or integers according to some translators, but negative numbers add some complications to these efforts], all else is the work of man.” He “believed in the reduction of all mathematics to arguments involving only the integers and a finite number of steps.” Like the Pythagoreans, Kronecker didn’t even believe in the irrational numbers, let alone the likes of Cantor’s transfinite numbers.

Kronecker believed in the integers (or natural numbers) as the building blocks, along with well-defined finite operations, of all mathematics. I say that there are no building blocks as such—for what it’s worth, I’m much more open than Kronecker and his followers to non-finite operations in proofs and other mathematical activities. I even believe in Cantor’s transfinite numbers and other strange entities from abstract being.

Mathematics is the study of some types of abstract being, which types have increased greatly in the Modern Age. What is most important for this discussion is that mathematics concerns relationships and I’ll claim those relationships generate the number `9′ and those, perhaps with a few others, also generate the number pi (3.14159…). So it is that I can claim that Russell and Whitehead and their colleagues in the decades around 1900 were on the right path except that they had too impoverished a sense of relationship as they tried to generate numbers from only a successor relationship. In fact, what is needed is the entirety of the sets of relationships which are dealt with in number theory and that implies the task misunderstood by those brilliant thinkers is ultimately no more and no less than the field of mathematics in its entirely. (Stated this way, my program seems to be similar to that of the researchers working on Category theory except that I’m considering mathematics and any possible abstractions covering multiple fields to be real, if very abstract, being. Essentially, I’m trying to understand mathematics as part of a program to understand all forms of created being. I’m a metaphysician and theologian rather than a technical mathematician. Or physicist. Or historian.)

How is mathematics to be understood? By doing it.

How is life to be understood? By living it.

How is the universe to be understood? By living in it, by exploring it, by thinking clearly and exactly about it.

How is the world to be understood? By seeing the universe in light of God’s purposes or perhaps the moral order seen by many including some atheists and pagans.

This points to an answer, at least currently plausible, to the question: How can we explain created being?

I’ve denied there are fundamental building-blocks as such and the task arises to develop a new program which will be part of a new civilization or perhaps a revived Western Civilization. This program will itself help define the the intellect or communal mind of the citizens of this new or revived civilization. Furthermore, as a Christian, I’ll claim this intellect to be that of the pilgrim Body of Christ, an intellect to be completed and perfected in the world of the resurrect—as so much will be completed and perfected.

I’ll take a stab at understanding this program and can promise I’ll not yet be clear and exact. That will take years, and perhaps multiple generations, of effort.

Multiple streams of abstract created being have fed into this world:

  1. some abstract being shaped into matter and energy and fields,
  2. some remaining relatively abstract in the form of relationships which change over time and are called stories or narratives, and
  3. some remaining relatively abstract in the form of relationships we ourselves detect, and use, as our minds or souls.

Our universe can be defined as being made of mostly, perhaps entirely, the concrete stuff in the first item above. But our universe becomes a world when we also consider the more abstract stuff which I sometimes simplify (or perhaps oversimplify) as being the manifestation of God’s purposes or moral order or even rationality or reason to someone like Einstein.

I certainly think the above list is incomplete but I have no intention of building lists which are likely to have arbitrary elements until I can develop some more powerful tools, or at least point others to more powerful tools, to bring all of this into a more clear and more exact focus.

For now… We talk and scientists do their research as if there are building blocks of concrete entities, such as rattlesnakes and stars. And human beings and bricks. These concrete entities exist in spacetime, well described so far by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. These concrete entities are made of layers of successively more particular, that is—more concrete, bits of matter. (Many physicists would advocate speaking of energy in the sense of energy-matter—E=MC^2—rather than matter; make the substitution if you wish.) So far as concrete forms of being go, we can actually describe and quantify the transition from the most concrete of abstract being to truer concrete being. This description and quantification is the work of quantum physicists and all others (such as computer chip designers) who use the field. (Unfortunately, the systems of equations are not generally solvable by known techniques, but some powerful results have come from even the so-far limited successes of applying quantum physics in the real world. And, from a fundamental viewpoint, experiments can be done which prove quantum physics works to an extreme level of accuracy.)

Stars are complex entities, swirling magnetic fields and plasma encircling matter dense enough to undergo nuclear fusion—and this is a rather grotesque oversimplification. Rattlesnakes are complex entities, DNA and RNA and mitochondria and other forms of flesh and blood—all interacting in a remarkably complex metabolism which is something like a self-regulating system so long as you consider the environment of the rattlesnake to be part of the system—but this is also an oversimplification. Human beings have all the complexity of rattlesnakes plus they form minds which are complex systems of concrete and abstract relationships—this is perhaps the greatest of these oversimplifications. All of these entities come together in stories and in one great story that is the world.

Relationships. We assume that human communities form by way of relationships, though we often assume wrongly it’s the softer and more sentimental relationships—love in various forms—which are crucial in forming strong human communities. In fact, it’s something of a truism among modern sociologists that the strongest bonds in human communities are those of dependencies.

In any case, I already noted above that I consider relationships to be primary over stuff. Stuff is formed from relationships, as we are told both by the Bible and by quantum physics. (See Einstein and Bohr’s debate on the meaning of reality and Quantum Mechanics and Moral Formation: Part 1 for my early discussions of this issue.)

I’d like to speculate further but I’m trying to be cautious for now as I am not confident yet that I know how to advance to the next level of understanding. More powerful tools are needed and I’m exploring in the fields of geometry and topology, especially as used by modern physicists. Maybe I’m choosing the wrong tools. If so, someone will come along to show it can be done with some fancy group theory or just simple forms of category theory or whatever.

There is something that comes to mind which might help others to bring these claims of mine into better focus. We might be able to imagine, or at least think ourselves to imagine, particles as having the sort of existence as to be able to exist independent of a greater universe—other than perhaps some sort of spacetime. I think we fool ourselves into imagining an isolated particle, let alone an isolated human being, but I can certainly convince myself that I can do so, even when I don’t really believe myself.

The most fundamental relationships of our concrete universe, those of spacetime as described by the General Theory of Relativity and those of matter-energy as described by quantum physics, had to pretty much come into existence in their current form and to remain in existence for our concrete universe to come into existence and remain in existence. Without that full package of relationships, there couldn’t have been, couldn’t be, a single electron or neutron or electromagnetic field.

If I’m right, our ability to imagine particles existing apart from the entire universe as we know it is delusionary, though understandable. This is to say we can look at a rock and seemingly strip away all that is around it so that only the rock exists, but this is an error, perhaps useful, in our imaginative thinking. Everything gets still messier when we consider the other forms of abstract being which shape concrete entities by way of relationships, and thus do show up in physical manifestations that are explorable and maybe even quantifiable—such as brain structures.

So what could it mean to `explain’ the concrete being of this universe in terms of `elementary particles’ or the like? For the most part, it’s a good strategy for exploring the concrete stuff of this universe but it’s ultimately misleading. Such thinkers as Wittgenstein were close to the truth in proposing the search for the smallest building blocks would lead to the universe in its totality. My enhancement of this claim is, for now—merely, to point to relationships as being definitive of this concrete universe and to take all that creates or shapes concrete being as true being.

This isn’t entirely a new claim. Some scientists and philosophers and thinkers in other fields have proposed related ideas, though more than a bit cowardly in following up on the implications. The uniqueness of my claim lies in its context as part of a greater understanding of this concrete universe as a part of a Creation, the work of the God of Jesus Christ, a Creation which must be understood by hard work, investigation of empirical reality by open-minded theologians as well as poets and novelists and historians and painters and music-composers as well as physicists and chemists and geometers and evolutionary biologists and engineers and politicians responsive to reality. And so on. To a Christian such as me, this must all be understood in light of Christian revelation, that is, this universe is part of a Creation which was intended, and is intending in the Thomistic sense, to be the place of birth and growth of the Body of Christ—including the Incarnate Son of God and there is another world which will be the home for time without end of that Body when it contains all those resurrected to share the life of the Son of God.

An explanation of the world, the universe seen in its greater order even ordered to God’s purposes, can’t rely just any ideas of elementary relationships or elementary particles. Elementary relationships exist early—as a complex body of relationships—and then elementary particles come to be. Both of these are an early part of a narrative in which higher-level relationships and particles and then complex, concrete entities come into existence and begin to shape matter into complex entities, including galaxies and gorillas.

For a very preliminary discussion of some of my efforts to find more powerful tools for a more clear and more exact understanding of created being, abstract and concrete, see my recent essay: Adopting Mathematical Reasoning in Non-quantitative Fields of Thought.