Descartes’ Placeholders

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Shajan624
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Descartes’ Placeholders

Post by Shajan624 »

Conceiving the universe as composed of two distinct substances res extensa and res cogitans was essential for acquiring reliable knowledge. Mind-matter division was an important step forward in man’s quest to understand the nature of reality. There were gaps in the Cartesian world picture, but they were plugged by integrating 'placeholders' such as the human soul & creator God into the clock-work made of matter.

Why was the mind-matter division a necessary step?

Consider an analogy. Algebraic equations such as x - 1 = 0 are easy to solve. This is not the case for higher degree polynomials. For example, x2 + x + 1 = 0 looks unsolvable. There aren’t any natural number solutions for this equation.

Mathematicians in 16th century came up with the concept of complex numbers to solve such equations. Complex numbers have of two parts, real and imaginary. The real part is a natural number. Imaginary part isn’t. ‘Imaginary’ doesn’t mean unreal, more like ‘impossible to grasp’. Imaginary numbers have no correlates in the world of ordinary experience yet these are very much real and have important applications in science and engineering.

Understanding the world of experience is like solving algebraic equations. Simple problems have self-evident solutions but complex problems need a different approach. Inquisitive minds struggled for centuries to penetrate nature’s secrets. Reliable knowledge could be acquired only after natural philosophers began treating the solutions as having two parts- material & mental, analogous to the real & imaginary parts of a complex number.

Real part of the world of experience was easy to figure out but the imaginary part was problematic. Descartes’ placeholders were a promise to look harder and make them ‘graspable’ in not too distant future. Scientific progress was expected to produce evidence for the missing links. Unfortunately, the model unraveled in no time. Pineal gland, which Descartes believed to be the seat of human soul, turned out to be much less interesting as physiologists investigated its functioning. No evidence for a creator was found when astronomers probed the depths of space.

Descartes’ placeholders were not mere gap fillers to be discarded later. Creator God and human soul were essential for overall consistency of the mechanistic worldview. A clock-work universe made no sense without a creator God who initiated the whole thing. Human body as a machine is consistent with observation only with the postulation of a soul element capable of interacting with the body. Scientific progress in the last 300 years ignored these essential elements of the mechanistic worldview, thereby destroying the consistency of the original model.

Why did science fail to find evidence for Descartes’ placeholders? Looking for something and not finding could mean many things. The stuff looked for may not actually exist or it might take much more effort to find it. These are the most likely reasons but there is another intriguing possibility- the tools employed may not be adequate to identify the object looked for.

That brings us to the question ‘what exactly is scientific knowledge?’ The pivotal role of this question got lost in the circularity of explaining knowledge acquisition as a function of ‘minds’, which no one understood in the first place.

We may never reach an integrated view of nature by undoing mind-matter division. The way forward could be to figure out why Descartes’ placeholders turned out to be invisible to science, and thereby arrive at an appreciation of reality as a complex whole composed of ‘real’ (objectively knowable) quantities and ‘imaginary’ (subjectively experienceable) qualities.
Ben Iscatus
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Re: Descartes’ Placeholders

Post by Ben Iscatus »

Excellent analysis, Shajan. I don't see any way of getting away from the dualism of "what MAL is" and "what MAL does" (thinks, imagines, creates, dreams, wills).
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AshvinP
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Re: Descartes’ Placeholders

Post by AshvinP »

Shajan624 wrote: Fri Aug 13, 2021 1:42 am Conceiving the universe as composed of two distinct substances res extensa and res cogitans was essential for acquiring reliable knowledge. Mind-matter division was an important step forward in man’s quest to understand the nature of reality. There were gaps in the Cartesian world picture, but they were plugged by integrating 'placeholders' such as the human soul & creator God into the clock-work made of matter.

Why was the mind-matter division a necessary step?

Consider an analogy. Algebraic equations such as x - 1 = 0 are easy to solve. This is not the case for higher degree polynomials. For example, x2 + x + 1 = 0 looks unsolvable. There aren’t any natural number solutions for this equation.

Mathematicians in 16th century came up with the concept of complex numbers to solve such equations. Complex numbers have of two parts, real and imaginary. The real part is a natural number. Imaginary part isn’t. ‘Imaginary’ doesn’t mean unreal, more like ‘impossible to grasp’. Imaginary numbers have no correlates in the world of ordinary experience yet these are very much real and have important applications in science and engineering.

Understanding the world of experience is like solving algebraic equations. Simple problems have self-evident solutions but complex problems need a different approach. Inquisitive minds struggled for centuries to penetrate nature’s secrets. Reliable knowledge could be acquired only after natural philosophers began treating the solutions as having two parts- material & mental, analogous to the real & imaginary parts of a complex number.

Real part of the world of experience was easy to figure out but the imaginary part was problematic. Descartes’ placeholders were a promise to look harder and make them ‘graspable’ in not too distant future. Scientific progress was expected to produce evidence for the missing links. Unfortunately, the model unraveled in no time. Pineal gland, which Descartes believed to be the seat of human soul, turned out to be much less interesting as physiologists investigated its functioning. No evidence for a creator was found when astronomers probed the depths of space.

Descartes’ placeholders were not mere gap fillers to be discarded later. Creator God and human soul were essential for overall consistency of the mechanistic worldview. A clock-work universe made no sense without a creator God who initiated the whole thing. Human body as a machine is consistent with observation only with the postulation of a soul element capable of interacting with the body. Scientific progress in the last 300 years ignored these essential elements of the mechanistic worldview, thereby destroying the consistency of the original model.

Why did science fail to find evidence for Descartes’ placeholders? Looking for something and not finding could mean many things. The stuff looked for may not actually exist or it might take much more effort to find it. These are the most likely reasons but there is another intriguing possibility- the tools employed may not be adequate to identify the object looked for.

That brings us to the question ‘what exactly is scientific knowledge?’ The pivotal role of this question got lost in the circularity of explaining knowledge acquisition as a function of ‘minds’, which no one understood in the first place.

We may never reach an integrated view of nature by undoing mind-matter division. The way forward could be to figure out why Descartes’ placeholders turned out to be invisible to science, and thereby arrive at an appreciation of reality as a complex whole composed of ‘real’ (objectively knowable) quantities and ‘imaginary’ (subjectively experienceable) qualities.

All of this confusion is resolved when we take your initial point seriously - math equations are tools for specified aims. When the aim was rigorous study of sense-world, it was the best use of the tool to divide real from imaginary. Now, the aim, or what I propose should be the aim as it is the natural unfolding of experience, is to integrate rigorous sense-world knowledge with rigorous knowledge of spiritual realms. They are, in essence, one and the same. It does no good to continue positing a mind-matter divide in the 21st century. We need to understand the roots of such distinctions, which always leads us to a threefold relation. We can speak about this in terms of "polarity" of spirit-matter and Tri-Unity of spirit-soul-matter, thesis-antithesis-synthesis, past-present-future, and many other similar designations. The key is to understand the essential meanings of those formulations. That is only done by way of much deeper experience-knowledge beyond mere intellect. The latter is only useful to erect a basic foundation from which to launch the more richly meaning quest.
“I began to understand that the goal of psychic development is the Self. There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the Self."
- Jung
ScottRoberts
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Re: Descartes’ Placeholders

Post by ScottRoberts »

For the record (but not really germane to the topic - just saying one needs a better analogy), there is nothing "unnatural" or "mysterious" about so-called imaginary numbers (or particularly "real" about so-called real numbers). It is just an accident of history that they are so called. Multiplication by a real number can be represented as the expansion or contraction of a line from the origin to the multiplicand, and if the multiplier is negative reversing the direction. Multiplication by an imaginary number can be represented by the rotation of that line around the origin, where i rotates 90 degrees. Then i times i means rotating another 90 degrees, which has the same result as multiplying by -1 (reversing direction). So i times i equals -1, so i = sqrt(-1). It is just doing 2-dimensional arithmetic on 2-dimensional numbers.
Shajan624
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Re: Descartes’ Placeholders

Post by Shajan624 »

Ben Iscatus wrote: Fri Aug 13, 2021 11:26 am Excellent analysis, Shajan. I don't see any way of getting away from the dualism of "what MAL is" and "what MAL does" (thinks, imagines, creates, dreams, wills).
Thanks. I think dualism is a reflection of what we are as meta-conscious life forms, but we could transcend our dualist perspective, realize it is rooted in a more fundamental unity.
Shajan624
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Joined: Sun Apr 04, 2021 10:07 am

Re: Descartes’ Placeholders

Post by Shajan624 »

AshvinP wrote: Sat Aug 14, 2021 1:36 pm Now, the aim, or what I propose should be the aim as it is the natural unfolding of experience, is to integrate rigorous sense-world knowledge with rigorous knowledge of spiritual realms. They are, in essence, one and the same.
Agree with the essence of your points, but I am sceptical about ‘rigorous knowledge of spiritual realms’. Of course there were/are rare individuals attaining a deeper insight into the nature of reality but I doubt if such insights could be translated into rigorous knowledge, even whether it is advisable do so. This is the lesson from human history, spiritual wisdom of mystics either getting mis-interpreted or completely forgotten with the passage of time.
Shajan624
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Re: Descartes’ Placeholders

Post by Shajan624 »

ScottRoberts wrote: Sat Aug 14, 2021 10:10 pm For the record (but not really germane to the topic - just saying one needs a better analogy), there is nothing "unnatural" or "mysterious" about so-called imaginary numbers (or particularly "real" about so-called real numbers).
I get your point. There is nothing mysterious about so-called imaginary numbers, they are as real as real can be.. or there are REAL numbers other than the set of ‘real numbers' in number theory!
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AshvinP
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Re: Descartes’ Placeholders

Post by AshvinP »

Shajan624 wrote: Sun Aug 15, 2021 5:56 am
AshvinP wrote: Sat Aug 14, 2021 1:36 pm Now, the aim, or what I propose should be the aim as it is the natural unfolding of experience, is to integrate rigorous sense-world knowledge with rigorous knowledge of spiritual realms. They are, in essence, one and the same.
Agree with the essence of your points, but I am sceptical about ‘rigorous knowledge of spiritual realms’. Of course there were/are rare individuals attaining a deeper insight into the nature of reality but I doubt if such insights could be translated into rigorous knowledge, even whether it is advisable do so. This is the lesson from human history, spiritual wisdom of mystics either getting mis-interpreted or completely forgotten with the passage of time.

We should remember the purpose of history, i e. Memory, is to orient our soul towards the future. It reveals a clear trend of knoweldge of the spiritual, i e. what you call the "insights" and "spiritual wisdom", moving from the select few towards a more 'democratic' dispersal of knowledge. We see that beginning to occur as early as the ancient Egyptian epoch. That is not the political decision of variois people but the structure of Reality unfolding from concentrated knowledge to diffuse knowledge. Each individual now has the capacity to unfold from within many riddles of the Cosmos which were previously guarded by initiates into the mysteries. As for whether this knowlede can be rigorous, there is no reason to assume it cannot be if the inward life we experience is not different in essence from the outward world we perceive, which it is not under all forms of idealism.
“I began to understand that the goal of psychic development is the Self. There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the Self."
- Jung
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