Tuesday, September 30, 2014

quentin meillassoux's dicey theocracy


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i found this sentence is an essay entitled "Potentiality and Virtuality," by french philosopher quentin meillassoux*:
... It is possible rationally to envisage that the constants (of nature) could effectively change for no reason whatsoever.
rationally? sure, but not everything that is rational needs to be possible. anyhow,

meillassoux is referring to david hume's so-called "problem,"i.e., our knowledge of contingent truths can only be grounded in our experience, but the principle of the uniformity of nature is buttressed in by inductive evidence, and the only way to justify our inductive apparatus rests on empty redundant uniformity: things have been this way so far. once you free coercion from necessity, anything can happen. meillassoux is excited with the prospect: "(it) leads us to envisage a contingency so radical that it would incorporate all the conceivable futures of the present laws." basically, anything can happen in the next 5 hours.    

so, meillassoux 1- presents his view of hume's problem, (above, in red) which amounts to dropping real necessity in favor of logical necessity. 2- leibniz's Principle of Sufficient Reason is turned upside down, vacated of its "metaphysical exigency of persistence." instead of the principle offering the best reason for the actual world, it only plays by the rules of logical possibilities (in leibnizian: anything is possible, provided that is not self-contradictory).

next, meillassoux uses the mallarmean metaphor coup de dés, to suggest that universal laws are equivalent to a loaded universal die (the implication is that laws obey a "hidden necessity"). suppose a set of possibilities where a throw of a die settles the issue: "face" means that laws are contingent. since the result is always the same, the die must be loaded. then, he uses cantor's theorem to suggest that there is no way to choose from a supposed set of stable constants vs. a set of contingencies.

there are two options: 1- a weak version, that is unable to demonstrate real necessity but that such presupposition of necessity is of no use to support the stability of the world. 2- a strong speculative version that maintains the contingency of such laws. this meillassoux calls the NON-ALL. 

how does it work?

axiomatically! but this is not enough. you cannot do science with deduction alone, induction is essential for scientific hypotheses, which is already limited (rationally) from meillassoux's doxa.

meillassoux is calling the shots (like a theós) positing what he refers to as "detotalizing the possible" or "... liberating time from all legal subordination" whatever that means.

from these super-decisions we get "potentiality," i.e., "non-actualized cases of an indexed set of possibilities under the condition of a given law" and "virtuality, " i.e., "the property of every set of cases of emerging within a becoming which is not dominated by any pre-constituted totality of possibles." **

big words, posited with theocratic authority (all, in the name of conceivability).

but wait, laws don't change every instant.

why not? according to meillassoux, if laws don't change capriciously, this is a proof that "the persistence of the universe seems consequentially to break all laws of probability."

is this kosher?

leibniz again: probabilities don't happen in a vacuum. probabilities are in the universe, not outside it.

if physical laws seem permanent it is because permanence (i.e., order, centrality, objectivity, explanation, prediction, necessity or counterfactuality) is also a condition of this set of ALL probabilities.

as alfred whitehead tried so hard to argue against hume, maybe the reason there is such a persistence in things is a proof of at least one law: causation.


true, leibniz's Principle of Sufficient Reason has been attacked in numerous ways, which we cannot explain here.

meillasoux wants the principle to support the "logical exigency of consistency."

in other words, logical possibility. so, the only support of causality in philosophy is reason. but this deflationary view of reality leaves us frailly svelte: reason and only reason.

what is real if reality cannot limit reason in any way?

here is another meillassouxianism: "The refusal of the Principle of Sufficient Reason is not a refusal of reason, but the discovery of the power of chaos." but what is chaos exactly? a definition of chaos appears in After Finitude, p. 64: "... nothing would seem impossible, not even unthinkable." meillassoux is sort of going back to the cartesian mistake on conceivability, i.e., everything that is conceivable is possible (by the way, meillassoux has hinted at the idea of creation ex nihilo).

are there any limits against this meillassouxian futuristic chaos?

i propose a few prospects: noether’s theorem, pauli’s exclusion principle, einstein’s relativity, lorentz transformations.

none of which may be of interest for meillassoux; he has hinted at a devaluation of the empirical sciences a style of neo-rationalism also proposed by his teacher badiou.
The persistence of the laws of the universe seems consequently to break all laws of probability: for if the laws are effectively contingent, it seems that they must frequently manifest such contingencies.
i take meillassoux coup de dés to suggest that there is a first throw all throws have to measure against, i.e., the big bang.

let's take an alternative route: suppose that in 2514 water turns into waTTer (i.e., a yellowish piss-like liquid that needs to be purified for human use). the bizarre shift brings the world economy to the brink of collapse. suddenly, in 2516 it all goes back to pre-waTTer status: h20! since the w-shift (as they call it) happens every two years, physicists suddenly make room for hypotheses in super-string theory, accommodating w-shift as so farhidden properties in dark matter, which by now are quite paradigmatic (this is more or less goodman's "grue" paradox).

(to be continued)

___________
* laws are connected with lots of other things, such as counterfactual conditionals, causality, generality and necessity, etc. first, a law cannot be just a regularity because some regularities are accidental. so, whether something is a law cannot be an feature of it. rather, something is a law when it is part of a systematic account of the world. laws must be comprehensive, not detached members, dangling alone, unrelated to the rest of the laws. systematicity points to elegance, order, universality, centrality, objectivity, explanation and prediction, necessity or counterfactuality. ** are you a humean? then your universe is composed of discrete events, which are not connected to one another. imagine we cut a sausage into endless discrete bits. a consequence is that the idea of necessity is in the head. how? force of habit. on the other hand, science is only interested in phenomena. this means that science is interested in regularities of observable phenomena. the humean retorts that there are no laws behind the regularities. from meillassoux's essay, one gathers he agrees with hume that the fact that there are no necessary connections imply there are no laws.

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