Home > Uncategorized > Your model is consistent? So what?

Your model is consistent? So what?

from Lars Syll

In the realm of science it ought to be considered of little or no value to simply make claims about the model and lose sight of reality.

errorineconomicsThere is a difference between having evidence for some hypothesis and having evidence for the hypothesis relevant for a given purpose. The difference is important because scientific methods tend to be good at addressing hypotheses of a certain kind and not others: scientific methods come with particular applications built into them … The advantage of mathematical modelling is that its method of deriving a result is that of mathematical proof: the conclusion is guaranteed to hold given the assumptions. However, the evidence generated in this way is valid only in abstract model worlds while we would like to evaluate hypotheses about what happens in economies in the real world … The upshot is that valid evidence does not seem to be enough. What we also need is to evaluate the relevance of the evidence in the context of a given purpose.

Even if some people think that there has been a kind of empirical revolution in economics lately, yours truly would still argue that empirical evidence only plays a minor role in economic theory, where models largely function as a substitute for empirical evidence. The one-sided, almost religious, insistence on axiomatic-deductivist modelling as the only scientific activity worthy of pursuing in economics, still roosts the roost. 

Ct7x3eOVMAA25klBut mainstream economists’ belief that theories and models being ‘consistent with’ data will somehow make the theories and models a success story, is nothing but an empty hope. Mere consistency with the facts is never sufficient to prove models or theories true. The fact that the US presently has a president named Donald Trump is ‘consistent with’ the US being a democracy — but that doesn’t in any way whatsoever explain why a witless clown came to be elected to a post previously held by people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Theories and models are always ‘under-determined’ by facts. So a good way to help us choose between different ‘consistent’ theories and models is to actually look at whathappens out there in the economy and why it happens.

History and good ordinary social science can also help us. And if we’re not to busy doing the things we do, but once in a while take a break and do some methodological reflection on whywe do what we do — well, that takes us a long way too.

  1. March 15, 2019 at 12:17 am

    It’s not going to save the mainstream, no matter how many models they make.
    Ellis Winningham says we in the MMT brigade have them on the run and bar the shouting its almost a done deal. Bill Mitchell once told me it wouldn’t happen in his lifetime, but can be more optimistic now for sure.

  2. Frank Salter
    March 15, 2019 at 7:56 am

    The blog states:
    “Theories and models are always ‘under-determined’ by facts. So a good way to help us choose between different ‘consistent’ theories and models is to actually look at what happens out there in the economy and why it happens.”

    The end of the above sentence is a description of what the scientific method seeks to achieve and this is what it does! Valid scientific theory from first principles is how science achieves the goal of deriving abstract empirically valid relationships. Economists clearly do NOT understand this but what is worse they attack valid demonstrations of abstract not-invalidated analysis. My paper “Transient Development” (RWER-81) is a clear demonstration of this tendency. It meets all the requirements of the quality calculus and is obviously an example of a Lakatosian progressive research programme, yet comments by economists have failed to discuss fact but produce prejudiced reactions.

    Only when economists accept valid analysis will economics move from ascientific hypothesising to appropriate theorising. Merely by applying quality calculus to the mathematical model making described in the blog reduces the mass of published work to a mere handful of possibly valid hypotheses. The discussion should be confined to their validity NOT to the mass of irrelevant rubbish found in economic journals.

  3. Helen Sakho
    March 16, 2019 at 2:09 am

    A “science” that cannot cope with the WHAT and the HOW (simple description of a process) cannot be expected to handle the WHY.

    The above cartoon sums it all up. Consistently in wrongfulness is a speciality of rubbish production.

  4. Ikonoclast
    March 17, 2019 at 1:02 am

    It is claimed that Dr. Johnson kicked a stone down the road and stated, “I refute it thus.” In the process he dented the toe of his boot and invented the Argumentum ad lapidem (appeal to the stone) at the same time. He was referring to Bishop Berkeley’s immaterialist or idealist philosophy, set out in the monograph “Principles of Human Knowledge”. Dr. Johnson could have saved the toe of his boot by proclaiming simply ” Berkeley’s model is consistent? So what?” However, we then might have not added the Argumentum ad lapidem to our list of fallacies. Scholars of Greek philosophy may well correct me on that last claim.

    Berkeley’s “Principles of Human Knowledge” is brilliant. It is stylistically clear and demonstrates an impeccable chain of deductions. In its own terms it is irrefutable and fascinating to contemplate. However, it all depends on its founding a priori assumption: the existence of the Christian God of revelation, doctrine and dogma. The conclusions are irrefutable as a possibility, not as a certainty, IFF (if and only if) one accepts the a priori assumption. Those who might claim this is not the clear a priori justification for his entire immaterialist system can refer to the first sentence of Berkeley’s Preface. “What I make clear here, after a long and scrupulous inquiry, seemed to me evidently true, and not unuseful to be known, particularly to those who are tainted by scepticism, or want a demonstration of the existence and immateriality of God, or the natural immortality of the soul.”

    Why do I belabor these issues which seem so far away from economics? Well, it has to do with models… and monism… and ,of course, ontology. I will arrive at these topics. Although somewhat disguised, it is clear that “the existence and immateriality of God” and “the natural immortality of the soul” are the a priori epistemic justifications for Berkeley’s philosophy. These are dogmatic or doctrinal justifications rather than any form of empirical justification. They result in a fascinating ontology which we can recognise today (in our paradigms) as a virtual system.

    Let me be clear I do not adhere to the following imaginative sketch. It is interpolated to illustrate (and amuse) but not to disrespect. To maintain a consistent “ideal world” or virtual world for all human spirits, God must route, coordinate and reconcile all human spirit “agency actions”. This would be much like (in a broad sense) the handshakes, information transfers and management protocols which keep multiple agent versions of an MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing game) synchronised and consistent on all end-user personal computers. Under these conditions, if Berkeley’s Idealism is correct, then God takes the role (in this paradigm) as an MMORPG Super-Server but one which is ever-existent and has also generated all the end users as “terminals” of the system. The entire system is virtual, not real, and in this way Berkeley does away with matter. He identifies (the theory of) matter (proximally) and dualism (more comprehensively) as the conduits for scepticism into people’s minds.

    It is not Berkeley’s Idealism per se which is significant in my view. It is Berkeley’s monism. (Although he still posits a type of dualism in the form of ruling spirit and subject spirit.) Berkeley’s monism, and substance monism in general, solve the connection problem raised by Cartesian dualism. I call it the “transmission problem” because it relates to the issue of the transmission of information, but also of matter and energy between posited categories like ideal and real, mind and body, consciousness and matter. The connection problem becomes a non-problem under an assumption of monism. Full system inter-connectedness can be assumed and then “explained” as brute fact. Observed Laws (or more properly consistently observed relations) are assumed to be consistent and operative throughout the monist system with no secondary (dualist) or tertiary (trialist) etc. systems to be concerned about. In modern terms, it becomes a form of complex system priority monism. If the a priori priority assumption of a sovereign God is left out (which is still a kind of dualism as touched on above) and priority is assigned to the entire system itself (the cosmos) then posited solutions must emerge from considerations of connected systems and the emergent-evolutionary nature of entire system itself. I concede this point is very vague and unsatisfactory.

    Physicalism also attempts the monist solution. Accounting for the complexity of humans (human agents) and their behaviors remains an ongoing research program in physicalist science, specifically in neurology. A single “substance” monistic thesis within this ostensibly physical realm is able to employ all the discovered scientific laws of this realm of investigation, which is orthodoxly called “the physical” in order to explicate this realm.

    However, the argument between idealism and physicalism is really beside the point, once a monist position is adopted. The distinction between so-called physical and so-called non-physical disappears. The argument between Physicalism (materialism) and Idealism (immaterialism) also evaporates as a false dichotomy. This is not a mystical thesis but a completely science-congruent thesis as can be demonstrated. Physicalists or materialists will find that, in practice, I do not differ from them in any point related to accepted, dependable knowledge from the hard sciences. For all practical purposes, I am still a physicalist. My philosophical move to “existent-ism” as opposed to physicalism would really be to do with avoiding a priori assumptions about the essential nature of the existent.

    Since all of existence operates in one system, then it ultimately makes no sense to call this monistic system “physical” as the materialists do or “non-physical” as the idealists do. At this level, Complex System Monism simply asserts that what exists, exists. This is a “brute fact” argument in philosophical terms. It makes no sense to label monistic All-Existence “physical” or “non-physical”. The term “physical” loses meaning when there is nothing which can be termed “non-physical” and vice versa. Such distinctions properly vanish in thorough-going Monism and are revealed simply as the remnants of an archaic philosophical lexicon. What remains for ordered philosophical investigation, for pragmatic scientific investigation and as a guide to practical everyday actions are the dependable laws of relation within the system, meaning between the system elements which themselves are sub-systems.

    What does all this have to do with economics? It is difficult to draw out and I am struggling with it as a layperson in both philosophy and economics. Suffice it to say that I intuited that economics (of all varieties but especially orthodox economics) suffered from fundamental ontological problems. In orthodox economics, the derivation of basic ontological objects looks dubious to say the least. The positing of “unlimited wants”, “scarcity” (economic, ecological or both), “opportunity costs” and “homo economicus”, not to say anything of the construction of property rights and markets looked entirely prescriptive rather than descriptive.

    I have written a little critiquing “unlimited wants”, “scarcity” and “opportunity costs”. It is tentative and I can post it if people wish to see it on this thread. My deeper investigations are far from complete and revolve around the issue of considering how our formal systems and the real systems of the world interact. I needed, as an initial step, to resolve, monistically, an early conclusion that our formal systems are a sub-set of real systems. The solution lay in a consideration from information science, namely that certain real systems are impressed by humans with patterns which can influence other patterns, through human agents of course, but also through machines and automation. It also involved the deduction that formal systems are not ontologically different from real systems but they are epistemoligically different. They contain formal, axiomatic and empirical “assertions of knoweldge” made bu and available to human agents who then act on the models contained therein in an effort to manipulate, control and manage all real systems, in the biosphere anyway.

    This refers back to the statement “Your model is consistent? So what?” Probably, expanded, this statement means “Your model is internally consistent? So what?” or “Your model is externally consistent but only in the most rudimentary and limited ways.” The thing is the model needs to refer to other real systems external to the model. To make the choice binary, we can ask, “How does it refer?”, descriptively or prescriptively? If it refers descriptively it must be correspondent in some degree with external real systems as in the correspondence theory of truth. Russel referred to “isomorphism” implying that the model shares a degree of isomorphism with the modelling. I also develop from other sources the idea that all human understanding or knowledge is developed and exists in models and models only. All our perceptions and “pieces” of knowledge are models ad nothing else. The model itself, developed scientifically, becomes an instrument of science. if the model is prescriptive, then honesty or dishonesty about its prescriptive nature has everything to do with power.

    “All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

    Summarised in this post, all the above sounds very brief and sketchy I know. And indeed, although I have written 75,000 words plus of drafts and notes in my autodidact investigations and analyses, it still feels very sketchy and possibly even dubious, to me.

    To conclude quickly, now imagine my excitement when I discovered that the CasP project was seeking to derive a more objectively supportable ontology of economic objects and producing results. Imagine my fascination when I saw this RWER blog was questioning, wholesale and retail, a whole host of assumptions and conclusions in economics. I thought, “This is where a freethinking brain needs to be, not stuck in the interminable and inconclusive arguments with economic schools which do not even attempt to properly justify their own basic ontological assumptions.”

    • March 17, 2019 at 6:17 pm

      Dear Ikonoclast, in the para beginning “I have written …” you wrote:

      “I needed, as an initial step, to resolve, monistically, an early conclusion that our formal systems are a sub-set of real systems. The solution lay in a consideration from information science, namely that certain real systems are impressed by humans with patterns which can influence other patterns, through human agents of course, but also through machines and automation.”

      May I first say that in about eight years posting here, that is the first time [I have been aware] anyone has even acknowledged the existence of “Information Science”. All I get is “science is what scientists say it is, and it isn’t in the [physical] scientist’s canon”. So thank you.

      Even here, in seeking to resolve “monistically”, you are missing the point that a system isn’t monistic. At the least it is relationships between existing things. In reality, the relationships only exist if [energetic] processes change whatever is passing between the things so the differences are recognisable [i.e. information]. What the physical scientists missed [24 years after Smith’s economics was published] was the discovery of an [electric] circuit, hence a topological circle; which Euclid had long showed, when a model was constructed as a circle, could be completely specified by three points, and hence a triangle. If this formal system is a subset of other systems, there must be at least one other existent, producing a formally minimal but potentially infinite system of four formal subsystems. Electrical engineering advanced first to the Wheatstone Bridge circuit and later the storage of energy circulating in electrical and magnetic circuits reduced the existents of its engineering to just four types of component: resistance to the circulation, capacity for storing it, inductive storage as the circulating electricity generated “Bow-waves” of magnetism, and transducers relating anything else (e.g. pressure or temperature) to one of these. What I’ve been pointing out is that the PID control theory exemplified in autopilots has in addition to its energetic circuit three feedback loops formally related by the same dynamics as resistance, capacitance and inductance, and in Arthur M Young’s “The Geometry of Meaning” (1976, Robert Briggs Associates) you will find these related to Newton’s “Laws of Motion”. I need hardly add that such philosophers, scientists and economists as I come across here, insofar as they understand it, i.e. that as yet they don’t, excuse themselves from trying to by saying “that’s not reality/science/my field”. Yet the point of what I’ve been saying (as – like you – in the economics field a well-informed amateur not paid to say what I am expected to) is that at one level of language the economy, at another economics and at a third the monetary control system) can all be understood by reference to the complex system first formalised in Wheatstone’s Bridge. The chaotic complexity we sailors see out of our windows in everyday life is irrelevant. The point is that one can [near enough] go to or specify any place on the surface of our world with the help of a compass and its four “points”, North, East, South and West. Economists can assure us their seas will find their own level [seeking equilibrium], but our ships don’t find their own ports. We can pursue any economic goal, but we will need a little correction on the way from those better informed about the Present, Past and emerging Future.

      I delighted in your going back to Bishop Berkeley and your distinction between “prescription” and “description”. One can only describe events after they have happened, by which time it is too late to do anything about them. And yes, given what is blatently happening how, “if the model is prescriptive, then honesty or dishonesty about its prescriptive nature has everything to do with power.”

      I’m picking you up on Bishop Berkeley and Dr Johnson, however, because they were well “after the event” of the Reformation. As an old-fashioned Catholic let me draw your attention first to the Prelude of St John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. The story told By this Word was that God loves us as his children, and the historical story told OF the Word was that Christ, as God, showed his love by dying for us, and THAT he was God, by coming back to life, which we can’t do. So the Trinity as a model is not just internally consistent (as in the theory that ice, water and Steam are all forms of H2O at different energy densities: the lower the temperature the more solid they are), but with the facts, as recorded in the literary forms of their day. So what? !t makes all the difference if God was our Creator, and died that we might live. We owe him, but he’s given us another chance by paying off our mortgage: “The wages of sin WERE death”. Rather that than the likes of Trump or – remembering the recent past to help us avoid a similar future – the Kaiser and Churchill, Hitler and Stalin, Thatcher and Regan, Bush and Blair.

      Moving on to Dr Johnson, I’d just read Kenner’s “Chesterton on Paradox” apparently saying Aquinas made a similar remark about 600 years previously: “His cardinal metaphysical principle was “to say very emphatically (with a blow on the table, ‘There IS an Is’ “. It turned out this is a quotation from G K Chesterton’s celebrated [post-Johnson] book “St Thomas Aquinas” (ch.VII, p.133 in my edition) interpreting Aquinas’s starting position. These last chapters are however entirely relevant to your discussion. I’m Heterodox anyway as a Catholic in a Protestant milieu, but Chesterton’s philosophy is paradoxically called “Orthodoxy” (there is a pun in this related to the two dimensionality of orthogonals) and like mine in directly seeing analogues. His early work as an ‘artist turned writer’ focussed on personality differences, leading by 1904 to recognition that the one side of the brain is linguistic and the other visual, producing “words” in different languages for what is directly seen. In my own work on computer databases words become key words indexing the data.
      Adding input/output and an error detecting operating systems (as in emotions), the Wheatstone Bridge system format resurfaces ‘incarnate’ in both human and computer architecture and Jungian personality types resulting (as Chesterton so long ago pointed out) on the insanity of only using half our brain: typically the index and not the images or unseen realities it refers to. In his old age rural community education in “The Outline of Sanity” prefigured the Intermediate Technology of E F Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful”.

      So I’ve brought Chesterton’s realism, updated versions of Critical Realist philosophy of science, Ruskin/the Distributist line of economic thought and my heterodox version of Modern Monetary Theory to RWER. I’d like to hear more about your CasP project. The only possible thing Google has thrown up has been the Centre for the Analysis of Social Policy at Bath, but their acronym uses all capitals.

      • March 17, 2019 at 11:44 pm

        Re the supposed non-existence of Information Science, how about this from John Vertegaal against “How to make economics a relevant science again”:

        “A commonly accepted definition of science is that it’s ‘a study of the physical and natural world using theoretical models and data from experiments or observation’. If the economy [or information science] is an all human-made system of accounts, there is neither anything physical nor natural about that study. Hence economics [and likewise information science] is no science”.

        To which I am going to answer that human kind, with its physically encoded memories and remembered behaviour; its languages and penchant for cooperatively extending the behavioural scope of its memories by sharing accounts of aims, criteria, programs, skills and developments in actuation and instrumentation; is nothing if not both physical and natural.

        What is not natural and therefore not scientific is economists’ study (in defiance of the long-established definition of the word ‘economics’ as human household management) not of what humans now both can and cannot safely do and manage, but how to manipulate algebraic symbols on paper, and fictitiously homogeneous monetarised accounts largely derivative of unfair trading on weakness, compounded with the fraud of misrepresenting loans of non-existent credit as mortgaged debt.

      • Rob Reno
        March 19, 2019 at 1:06 pm

        Dave, can you give a concrete example (biologically) of a “physically encoded memory” grounded in science?

      • Rob Reno
        March 19, 2019 at 1:03 am

        God, showed his love by dying for us … God was our Creator, and died that we might live. We owe him, but he’s given us another chance by paying off our mortgage: “The wages of sin WERE death”. ~ An Old Catholic Parroting Dogma

        “I don’t judge you. I leave that to a wrathful, angry God to do.”
        — Ned Flanders to his wayward neighbor, Homer Simpson

        “The Cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse — a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offense he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith.” (Chalke, Steve. The Redemption of the Cross. In The Atonement Debate: Papers From the London Symposium on the Theology of Atonement (eds. Tidball, Hilborn, and Thacker). London: Zondervan; 2008; pp. 34-45. See: http://a.co/c4UI2OB)

      • Rob Reno
        March 19, 2019 at 1:22 am

        Given a juridical conception of atonement, Jesus had to be God, as St. Anselm demonstrated in his Cur Deus Homo? For only a sacrifice of divine, and therefore infinite, value could give adequate satisfaction for the wrong done by human sin to the creator and lord of the universe; or could meet the inexorable requirements of divine justice, thereby enabling God to regard sinful men and women as just and as fit to be received into the kingdom….

        Here we find, in the familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer and in such parables as that of the prodigal son, the assumption of a direct relationship to God in which all who are truly penitent can ask for and receive forgiveness and new life. The father in the parable did not require a blood sacrifice to appease his sense of justice: as soon as he saw his son returning he ‘had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him … [and said] “For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”‘ (Luke 15:20, 24). And the only condition for God’s forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer is that we also forgive one another.

        This is far removed from the idea that God can forgive sinners only because Jesus has borne our just punishment by his death on the cross, or has somehow by that death satisfied the divine justice. A forgiveness that has to be bought by full payment of the moral debt is not in fact forgiveness at all. But Jesus did speak of the authentic miracle of forgiveness, a miracle not captured in the standard atonement theories. (Hick, John. Disputed Questions. New Haven: Yale University Press; 1993; c1993 p. 95; 98.)

        The atonement doctrine is rooted in ancient superstition and primitive religion. There have been various Christian attempts to justify this belief but all have failed the test of time. Humankind are not the progeny of some fictitious Adam and Eve that brought sin into the world by biting into an apple, but evolutionary creatures. Even within the Catholic tradition this dogma is has been challenged, and in the wider Christian tradition there exists a rich literature challenging this primitive belief.

        The barbarous idea of appeasing an angry God, of propitiating an offended Lord, of winning the favor of Deity through sacrifices and penance and even by the shedding of blood, represents a religion wholly puerile and primitive, a philosophy unworthy of an enlightened age of science and truth. Such beliefs are utterly repulsive to the celestial beings and the divine rulers who serve and reign in the universes. It is an affront to God to believe, hold, or teach that innocent blood must be shed in order to win his favor or to divert the fictitious divine wrath. (http://a.co/0P6OPb7)

        Although Jesus did not die this death on the cross to atone for the racial guilt of mortal man nor to provide some sort of effective approach to an otherwise offended and unforgiving God; even though the Son of Man did not offer himself as a sacrifice to appease the wrath of God and to open the way for sinful man to obtain salvation; notwithstanding that these ideas of atonement and propitiation are erroneous, nonetheless, there are significances attached to this death of Jesus on the cross which should not be overlooked. (http://a.co/6NZhkmG)

  5. Ikonoclast
    March 17, 2019 at 11:18 pm

    It’s not my CasP of course. It stands for “Capitalism as Power”. It’s a research program started by Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan and now conducted at York U., Toronto, as I understand it.

    In referencing George Berkeley, I was referencing an important philosopher in the British Empirical tradition. [1] It was not my intention to derail the thread into religious metaphysics, although in retrospect I can see why that happened. I work from the scientific humanist standpoint. From that statement, you can infer my a priori assumptions.

    Douglas Hofstadter wrote, “The problem is to state a provisional conception of reality which is as far as possible continuous with the goal of traditional metaphysics and which nevertheless is of empirical import.”

    To me, the scientific humanist corollary is: “The problem is to state a new conception of metaphysics which is as far as possible continuous with the hard sciences.” With the benefit of our accumulating scientific knowledge acting as philosophical hindsight, we can see that we need to redevelop metaphysics so it is, as far as possible, contiguous with hard science. A philosophical method must be developed, in my view, which generates inductions from hard science, carries them back into metaphysics and thence helps to reorder metaphysics and connect it to the hard sciences. This, most assuredly from my standpoint, is not a religious metaphysics project.

    If we are going to get to a scientific ontology for economics, which is my concern, we will need to strip metaphysics back, as it were, to a structure as conformable with hard science as possible but which is still flexible enough (especially with respect to complexity, emergence and evolutionary issues) to be taken usefully into the social sciences, of which economics is (perhaps unfortunately) currently preeminent.

    It would take too long to say why in this post but this will consequentially entail reassigning increasing importance to moral philosophy and less to economics per se. While humanists and those of many religious traditions will not be able to agree on a priori assumptions (fundamental beliefs) there will be pragmatic and operable areas of agreement about care for persons, communities and all of living nature on earth and its necessary systems.

    Note 1: Berkeley was an unusual empiricist in method. He reasoned from a position of conscious experience being primary experience, on to a consideration of consciousness of sense impressions and what these impressions might be conveying and implying. Reasoning in this manner, he demonstrated that conscious experience (qualia) of the sense impression was only a truth warrant of the sense experience itself and not proof of anything beyond the sense experience, for example a real material in the apparent external world. It’s an adroit argument, within his system. However, once the material-immaterial split of dualism is abandoned, there remains no way at all to define an existent in substance philosophy terms. Hence, I abandon the material-immaterial split and speak simply of existents and dependable “laws” of relation intrinsic to the cosmos as the largest and holistic complex system. It is related to a systems science approach.

    • March 18, 2019 at 1:34 am

      Ikonoclast, thanks for your info on CasP. I’m don’t think I need to have “Capitalism as Power” rammed down my throat again! Looking back, it seems that in trying to be brief I didn’t make it clear that I have been familiar with Berkeley since being introduced to British Empiricism during my scientific apprenticeship 61 years ago. Apologies for that.

      “To me”, you say, “the scientific humanist corollary is: “The problem is to state a new conception of metaphysics which is as far as possible continuous with the hard sciences.” and later, “While humanists and those of many religious traditions will not be able to agree on a priori assumptions (fundamental beliefs) there will be pragmatic and operable areas of agreement …”.

      My conclusion has been that the new conception metaphysics must take account of energy and processes as well as material things. That the material universe has always existed was the a priori assumption of the early humanistic scientists; that God can take the form of Spirit (life-giving and energetic wind) and has always existed has been the a priori assumption of religious scientists. As the Expanding Universe has given reason to believe energy to have come first, materialists need to accept what they haven’t noticed: that a bridge can be built turning energy into matter by its self-capture in a super-conducting loop. There is no reason why humanists and ‘divines’ (to use the word from the same period) should not agree on this, once they are enabled to see the point. In your Note 1, Berkeley has indeed thrown the material baby out with the bathwater, but my answer to him is that (accepting that the story starts with [God’s] energy and has reached Soddy’s chemistry), Shannon’s Information, its encoding, and our using our own energy in the parallel processing of vision provide the logic and epistemology to justify acceptance of the definition of material substance just given. As a paradigm example of the mechanisms involved in answeriing Berkeley and more significantly Adam Smith’s mentor Hume, consider a battery-powered digital camera fitted with automatic focus of the pixels of the camera. Pattern of information from outside in electromagnetic form are descrambled by sharp focus localising it onto particular pixels, transmitted to memory as digitally encoded pulses, stored by switching and retransmitted etc to an LED screen where the pixels reveal internally the pattern of the external information.

      In effect, I’ve achieved what you ask for in your fifth and sixth paragraphs above. What I haven’t achieved, not least because of complete lack of feedback other than bafflement, has been a way of expressing it well enough to become publishable.

  6. Ikonoclast
    March 20, 2019 at 12:47 am


    I have read all your comments on this thread and on some others. I think there is a great deal of validity to many different aspects of your theses. I also do find some specific areas where I disagree or look at things from another angle. Debate in these areas could be fruitful.

    I refer to your statement “a system isn’t monistic”.

    The issue does go back the definition of a system. In that sense, this is a definitional issue across the board and “monistic” too needs a definition.

    We can take the definition of a system from Wikipedia. (I think the definition is good enough.)

    “A system is a regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming an integrated whole. Every system is delineated by its spatial and temporal boundaries, surrounded and influenced by its environment, described by its structure and purpose and expressed in its functioning.”

    The apprehension that it is an integrated whole according to the extensive definition above and has a definable boundary amounts to a definition of what a monistic system is. Crucially, what passes between boundaries is matter, energy and information. (Of course, matter, energy and information are also passed between subsystem within a larger system).

    As I try to explain it my draft treatise (written solely in an attempt to clarify my own ideas):

    Excerpt 1:

    Complex System Monism does not assert “no parts”. It asserts connection of all parts in one system. A “part” turns out to be a sub-system of the whole system. Monism as an ontological concept declares the oneness or singleness of all existence; a oneness or singleness which consists, under empirical observation followed by the philosophical induction of hypotheses and scientific detection of essential consistencies, in the universality of certain laws across our known and observed cosmos. These laws are observed to connect the whole in the form of relational system parts (sub-systems). (I am referring to hard science Laws.)

    To declare oneness in the system sense (one overall system) is not to declare a lack of differentiation or a lack of “parts” as sub-systems of the system. Such a declaration does not deny functional, “for-most-practical-purposes” distinctness of system components as sub-systems. It does posit consistent, widely-pervading or all-pervading links or influences, interpreted as basic laws; all detectably existing, all of effect and all operating somewhere in the range of close to distant or strong to weak influence. To posit oneness or singleness in this sense is to propose that all of existence is a single complex system. This complex system will be found to consist of n complex sub-systems, sub-systems of sub-systems and so on. When we nominally identify any “object”, “part” or “process” as some kind of apparently discrete existent, or as a discrete existent for some practical purpose, we are really identifying a sub-system of the monistic or whole system.

    To restate, positing overall oneness or singleness of the entire system is not to posit lack of differentiation nor is it to posit lack of connection as links between parts (sub-systems). My personhood may serve as an example. Personhood can be understood at a number of levels. It can be understood physically, psychologically, socially or legally, to name some of the more obvious levels. My physical personhood is the easiest of these to understand as an apparently discrete existent. My physical personhood is customarily called my body. In everyday life, it is clear enough to others and myself where my body begins and ends. Although hairiness presents some boundary demarcation and definitional issues (and “hairiness”, “fuzziness” and indeterminacy of precise boundaries will later be seen to present various ontological and empirical difficulties), my physical boundary is most clearly marked by my skin, which important to note, is both a system boundary and an interface. My commonly assigned property of oneness or singleness as a physical person does not posit lack of differentiation, externally or internally. I am different from other persons and my organs are different each from each.

    My internal, differentiated organs are connected in various ways into a complex system whole; a physiological system. As a process in time, not just as an object or body in a static instant of time, my discrete overall personhood can be viewed as developing, supervening or emerging while it is growing and/or becoming more complex. Eventually in ageing, death and decay, I can be seen as “demerging” or “remerging” depending on which direction that set of processes is to be viewed from. From the viewpoint of other humans, I would, in death and dissolution, be demerging. From the “viewpoint” of the biosphere, world or cosmos, I would, in some senses, be remerging. The term “viewpoint” is here put in quotes to explicitly indicate that no pantheism and no anthropomorphising, mystifying or deifying of the biosphere, world or cosmos, are implied.

    The most nearly correct terms and definitions for processes such as those named above must await further argument. In terms of “emerging”, I refer of course to my initial development and emergence from a mother, before that from a zygote and before that from gametes. It would be possible, in theory, to trace the emergence of my personhood existence even further back to many antecedent processes. The term “antecedent” is to be preferred to the term “cause” for strict philosophical reasons. The full explanation for this is deferred until the main body of the argument.

    Finally, to propose that all of existence is monistically one Complex System is to propose that the Cosmos is one complex, connected system and that the Cosmos is all that there is. The Cosmos may also be termed the Universe or All-Existence. Any proposal of an existent outside proposed All-Existence would simply demonstrate that the original proposed All-Existence was not all of existence by definition. This last in no way masquerades as a profound point. It is a simple definitional point.

    End excerpt 1.

    To address theistic issues and to pragmatically and provisionally place them to one side, I develop a schema for real systems.

    Cosmos || World || Human || Brain || Mind || Formal System

    All these systems are assumed a priori to be real systems. A Real System is any system which “obeys” the discovered Laws of hard science. It doesn’t “obey” our humanly derived scientific laws of course. Rather these scientific laws describe and interrelate dependable observed links and behaviors in the cosmos and its subsystems.

    The double pipe symbol || indicates a system interface through which matter, energy and information can be transferred.

    The schema may also be rendered as;

    Cosmos || World || Humans || Brains || Minds || Formal Systems

    This schema explicitly posits many systems of systems. For example, we can think of a system of human brains, a system of human minds and a system of formal systems.

    Finally, the schema might be represented as follows if we discarded the assumption that the Cosmos is ontologically complete and absolute;

    Absolute ][ Cosmos|| World || Humans || Brains || Minds || Formal Systems

    In the case of schema C, Absolute may mean for example Christian God, Hindu Brahma or any unrevealed or incompletely revealed, un-intuited and unknown form of the Absolute. In this case, a new symbol is required namely “][“ to illustrate that this is not an interface of the same type as the others which are real system interfaces and which can transfer or share (in both directions) matter, energy, information and physical field values. This new interface has unknown properties and perhaps unknowable properties. In turn, everything to the left of the “][“ symbol should be properly regarded as the Absolute and/or its subsystems, if it exists. But “Absolutely induced Physicalism” would still posit that everything right of the “][“ symbol is all physical, save perhaps direct, infrequent Absolute intervention(s) of various kinds: called miracles in some theologies.

    However, once one operationally excludes revelation as a source of information -whether this exclusion is provisional or stronger – one is doing this to limit investigation to the empirical for pragmatic and scientific reasons. Statements about the absolute are not investigable, nor are they provable or refutable. Hence, it can be seen that as far as science and empiricism go, I want to keep my investigations in the zone where empirical evidence is adduceable.

    When it come to moral philosophy matters get more difficult. Matters then revolve around the issue of deontological ethics versus consequentialist ethics (which latter I would prefer to call ontological ethics). As I say, this arena becomes much more difficult to resolve but matters here are as I suggested before. There can be a movement on both sides to find some areas of common agreement in terms of operational ethics for human life on this planet .

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