Comments on BN's 'Toward a New Cosmology of Capitalism'

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Re: Comments on BN's 'Toward a New Cosmology of Capitalism'

Postby Jonathan Nitzan » Sun Apr 07, 2019 4:26 pm

Recursive subsets

In his April 3 note, Ikonoclast writes:

By the way, I agree with every point in J.N's reply now I understand it. It's just the very last sentence which I am having difficulty with. "In other words, in some sense, the entire Complex System is partly embedded in one of its own (somewhat indeterministic and open-ended) subsets…."

Did that sentence mean to say:

"In other words, in some sense, the Complex System of the deterministic autocatalytic sprawl is embedded in the (indeterministic and open-ended) superset (of the biosphere)…." ?

This is a philosophical and logical minefield I feel unqualified to step into, but perhaps I should try to clarify a tiny bit.

I think that, over the past few hundred years, it has become increasingly difficult to disentangle reality (territory) from theory (map).

For millennia (leaving aside the Greek philosophers), ‘reality’ for human beings was mediated through their physical senses. Things that humans could see, hear, touch, smell and taste were real. The development of scientific tools expanded this mediation. With gadgets such as the telescope and microscope, humans started to engage with reality in ways that transcended their direct physical senses. And as the scientific tools evolved, they increasingly incorporated theories. They became what Ulf Martin, following Leibniz, calls, ‘symbolic machines’. [1]

Since symbolic machines are creatures of the human imagination, it follows that the reality they help us observe is partly determined by the way we theorize that very reality. In fact, as Ulf Martin explains, symbolic machines often create and in turn become reality.

Take ‘real GDP’. Economists treat it as part of the objective reality, but that presumable objectivity is based on a specific theory –- namely, the neoclassical theory of perfectly competitive equilibrium among atomistic, rational utility-maximizers (see here and in [2]). In other words, the empirical measure of the social world here is ‘biased’ by the dominant theory of how the world works. In this sense, the dominant theory creates reality in its own image.

In this particular case, the dominant theory leads to a very unreal measure of ‘real GDP; so much so, that the correct acronym of ‘real GDP’ should be changed to AWUGDU -- pronounced 'a-woogdoo' -- for 'Arbitrarily Weighed Unquantifiable Gross Domestic Utility'). And this unreal AWUGDU is our reality....

Since the operational symbolism of science is entangled in the broader deterministic-existentialistic autocatalytic sprawl of capitalism – think of Galileo’s entanglement with the Church’s Ptolemaic dogma, or Darwin’s with Christianity and Western racism as two obvious examples -- it follows that the reality of the Complex System is, at least in part, a subset of the deterministic-existentialistic way we theorize that reality.

The territory is partly enfolded in the map.


[1] Martin, Ulf. 2018. The Autocatalytic Sprawl of Pseudorational Mastery (version 0.12). Working Papers on Capital as Power (2018/04, June): 1-20.

[2] Nitzan, Jonathan. 1989. Price and Quantity Measurements: Theoretical Biases in Empirical Procedures. Working Paper 14/1989, Department of Economics, McGill University, Montreal, pp. 1-24.
Jonathan Nitzan
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Re: Comments on BN's 'Toward a New Cosmology of Capitalism'

Postby Ikonoclast » Wed Apr 10, 2019 2:11 am

From the Perspective of Priority Monism


"These... deliberations...multiply variety,
In a wilderness of mirrors."- Gerontion - T.S. Eliot

I've long thought and stated that, "A theory becomes part of the system it theorizes." This might be close to what you are saying, although your picture (Martin and Nitzan) adds a lot more detail. Taking my statement, it's clear that it applies to the social sciences. It's not clear that it could apply to the fundamental laws of the hard sciences of physics and chemistry. A human theory cannot change the fundamental laws of physics, for example the laws of thermodynamics. Yet human knowledge and theories can fundamentally change the overall system physics and chemistry of the biosphere as in creating elements and chemicals novel to the biosphere, affecting biological entities and forcing climate change (as examples).

A key aphorism of Francis Bacon's from the "Novum Organum" is:

"Towards the effecting of works, all that man can do is to put together or put asunder natural bodies. The rest is done by nature working within."

Today, we would refer to "fundamental laws" but "nature working within" is also a perfectly reasonable characterization. In changing terminology we reflect knowledge advances so that we can more accurately describe phenomena but we do not change the fundamental phenomena in doing so.

From the perspective of Priority Monism, "the whole is prior to the parts". I continue to adhere to the primacy of this (provisional) proposition in my attempt to create a consistent metaphysics. Thence, the issue is how and in what manner novelty emerges in the system under consideration: a very difficult matter to grapple with. In the first chapter of my CSM draft I write;

"Complex System Monism (CSM) does not assert “no parts”. It asserts connection of all parts in one system. Any “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 human empirical observation, followed by philosophical induction of hypotheses and scientific detection of essential consistencies, in the universality of certain fundamental laws across our known and observed cosmos. These laws are observed to connect the whole in the form of relational system parts (sub-systems). “The core tenet of historical monism is not that the whole has no parts, but rather that the whole is prior to its parts.”[3] The whole means “the entire cosmos, the ultimate concrete whole.”[4]

Positing the whole as prior to the parts is consistent with theorised events in early cosmological emergence (e.g. the emergence of atoms) and also consistent with observations of biological evolution (the emergence of new species). New “parts” of priority monist existence arise (emerge or evolve) from the processual operations of the whole. This does not exclude, in theory at least, the emergence of new forms of the fundamental physical laws in very early cosmos evolution. “Even fundamental laws evidently changed form as the big bang cosmos cooled.”[5] However, these fundamental laws now manifest as consistent and durable laws in the universe broadly contemporaneous with human investigation, including signs or information from spacetime distant cosmological events, excepting quite possibly those before the end of the hypothesised cosmic inflationary epoch. In summary, new parts arise as “radical novelty”[6] ."

[3] “Monism: The Priority of the Whole” – Jonathan Schaffer
[4] Ibid.
[5] “Introduction to Philosophy of Complex Systems” – Cliff Hooker.
[6] “Understanding emergence along the lines of self-organization has become so ubiquitous the two terms have just about become synonymous. However, the usual connotations of self-organization result in a misleading account of emergence by downplaying the radical novelty characterizing emergent phenomena. It is this radical novelty which generates the necessary explanatory gap between the antecedent, lower level properties of emergent substrates and the consequent, higher level properties of emergent phenomena. Without this explanatory gap, emergent phenomena are not unpredictable, are not non-deducible, are not irreducible, and thus are not truly emergent. For emergent phenomena to be genuinely emergent, processes of emergence must accomplish the seemingly paradoxical feat of producing an explanatory gap while simultaneously maintaining some degree of continuity with the substrate level.” - Professor Jeffrey A. Goldstein.

The issue seems to come down to the kind of "radical novelty" posited by Professor Jeffrey A. Goldstein. This characterization of "radical novelty" appears to be posited in a particular form by Ulf Martin and Jonathan Nitzan in the case of symbolic machines emerging and in turn becoming part of the re-ordering of reality up to and including the earth's biosphere at least. (The reach beyond the biosphere so far is relatively tenuous.) It seems to me like a phenomenon of recursive subsets substantially taking over or making over the full set (the biosphere).

I have a particular thought about explanatory gaps which has just recently occurred to me. I do not know if it will illumine this discussion. However, I had better try to formulate it properly before trying to post it.
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