Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Why is a DNA molecule more worthy than a molecule of phosphorus?

aLfrEdo tRifF

I'm almost done with Levi R. Bryant Democracy of objects. Are wholes better than parts? Is a RNA molecule in the same bill of rights as Bucksminsterfullerene (C60)?  Aristotle, a hero for Bryant (and this writer) would definitely vote against democracy in favor of an aristocracy of objects.

In this paragraph (DO, p. 52), Bryant addresses a correlationist1 objection to his argument.
A second line of argument holds that it is impossible to intelligently think a world without men because, in the very act of thinking such a world, we are picturing ourselves present to this world. 
What's the big deal? In physics there is a world without humans. Take the Lagrange/d'Alembert formula:

Σ(Fi − miai) ⋅δri= 0

Each letter here symbolizes what Bryant, following philosopher of science Roy Bhaskar calls "intransitive objects".

F is the total force,
mi is the mass, (Locke, a correlationist in Bryant's book, would agree that "mass" is independent of correlations, i.e., a "primary quality" independent-of-sense-experience).
ai is the acceleration, 
δri is the displacement of the particle,

Particles are part of a bigger system, i.e., the universe. From his entrance in the Encyclopedie:
It is undeniable that all the bodies of which this universe is made up form a single system, whose parts are interdependent and whose interrelations derive from the harmony of the whole.2
D'Alembert would agree with Bhaskar's idea of "open systems," as long as by "open" we understand not observed yet.
(...) the universe is only a vast ocean on whose surface we perceive a few more or less large islands whose connexion with the continent is hidden from us.3
If there is more science to be discovered, there is more to know of science, that is, more future experiments to be performed, more theories to be proposed, more relations between theories (for example, evolutionism now vs. evolutionism in 1900s).

This is not what Bryant necessarily has in mind. By "open" he means "... those where the powers of objects are either not acting or are disguised or hidden by virtue of the intervention of other causes." (DO, p. 48).

I have a problem with this characterization. Let's take it bit by bit:

"powers of objects are either not acting." A power has to always act. Power is acting. A non-acting power is acting (think of dark matter). By presenting the object as not acting, we liberate the object from the constraint of possible (thought?)
The thesis here is that every picture of the world includes ourselves in the picture. However Quentin Mellissoux has convincingly argued such a line of argument leads to a conclusion that the thought of our own death is unintelligible or that we are necessarily immortal.  For if it is true that we cannot think the world without thinking our presence to the world, then it follows that even the thought of our own death requires the presence of our thinking, thereby undermining the possibility of dying.
Wait. Thinking a world without me in it is logically & causally possible. For instance, a sunset in the late Cambrian era seeing from Gondwana. True, it's my thought, but my thought refers to a fact (regardless of our conceptual scheme to refer to it).

Take thinking my after-death, which is precisely Decartes' move in his sixth meditation. Descartes would laugh at the idea that from the fact that the thought of our death requires the presence of our thinking, thinking it undermines the possibility of dying:   
(...) [T]he difference between the body of a living man and that of a dead man is just like the difference between, on the one hand, a machine or other automaton (that is, a self-moving machine) when it is wound-up... and, on the other hand, the same watch or machine when it is broken.4
The motions of a particle or of a rigid body may be either "free" or "constrained"; that is, it may be at liberty to move in any manner in obedience to the applied forces or torques, or there may be present material barriers which limit its linear motion to a certain path or surface, or its rotation to a certain axis. this is the world of physics, a sort of non-correlationist world.

Since anything I will ever experience is a correlation, how can we get to the objects of science if not by observation? Who says that my eye observing (nervous bits of data) and my mental states (neural macroactivity) are not in a sense object-independent?

coming back to DNA and politics:

a DNA molecule contains phosphorus as part of its skeleton,
a DNA molecule is functionally more complex than phosphorus taken as a part,
DNA is politically more worthy than P15.

My proposition makes sense both from a human-centered and non-human-centered point of view.5 DNA is structurally more complex than phosphorous. Is a planet on the same political footing as cosmic dust? A neuron at a par with a mind?

I'm in favor of a subtle meritocracy of objects.

1  The idea according to which we only have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other.   2 Jean d'Alembert, Ronald Grimsley, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1963 (p. 223).  3  idem, (p. 224).  4  R. S. Woolhous, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz: The Concept of Substance in Seventeenth-Century Metaphysics p. 159. This is my tentative picture: 1- there is a human-independent world-picture, presented by the natural sciences, which shows explanatory power and make relevant predictions. 2- Human ontologies remain educated constructions.  3- To be accessed, pre-history needs to be thought, which makes "correlationism" inescapable. The problem remains what to do with that