Here I part ways with Rovelli

© Sidney Harris, The American Scientist, 1977. 
My endorsement, promotion and defense of physicist Carlo Rovelli's Relational Interpretation of quantum mechanics has been very overt and public for years, on Scientific American and other publications. I have also never hid my personal liking and admiration for Rovelli as a scholar and a person: I find him exceptionally thoughtful and open, a bit of a renaissance man, something we so thoroughly miss in a world that often takes its cues from immature nerds passing for intellectual wizards—incomplete human beings who have very narrow relationships with life and themselves, but who happen to excel in fashionable niches or be good at rhetoric.

None of that has changed. I still hold Rovelli in the highest regard and have profound respect for him and his output. But a consequence of this very respect is that I cannot overlook recent output of his with which I also profoundly disagree. The latter is what this post is about. I have made criticisms of Rovelli's latest commitment to certain philosophical ideas in recent interviews and discussions, so I think it is appropriate that I summarize those criticisms in one go-to place. Unlike those about the work of other people I have criticized in this blog, the assessment below—I insist—comes from a place of respect and admiration, not of scorn or patronization.

Rovelli and I are in full agreement when it comes to our view of the nature of physical reality: there is no absolute world of tables and chairs with defined mass, position, momentum, etc., out there, but instead an entirely relational world. The observable properties of all physical systems are entirely relative to the particular vantage point of the observation. Measurement doesn't merely reveal what the properties of a physical system already were immediately prior to the measurement, but brings those properties into existence. In summary, the physical world has no standalone reality. Both Rovelli and I concur that this is the inevitable conclusion from quantum theory and the overwhelming experimental confirmation of its predictions over the past 42 years or so. (Unless, of course, one believes in a de facto infinitude of real physical universes popping up into existence every de facto infinitesimal fraction of a moment, for which we have precisely zero empirical evidence; I believe both Rovelli and I dismiss this alternative as little more than silly fantasy.)

In his original Relational Quantum Mechanics paper of 1996, Rovelli defends the conclusions of quantum mechanics discussed above, but explicitly and deliberately refrains from exploring their philosophical implications. I, on the other hand, am on record—both the popular and academic records—deriving precisely those implications. In my view, if the physical world has no standalone reality and is entirely relational, then there necessarily is a deeper, by definition non-physical but absolute (in the sense of not being relative) layer of reality that grounds the physical world, and of which the physical world is but a measurement image akin to a set of dials. I've known for a while now that Rovelli isn't comfortable with this conclusion of mine, but neither did I expect or require him—as someone approaching the problem from an eminently scientific perspective—to agree with my philosophical exploration of the topic.

Recently, however, Rovelli seems to have gone all the way into philosophical territory. Am I bothered that a scientist is making an incursion into philosophy? Absolutely not! Some scientists do philosophy while believing that they are doing science; that kind of cluelessness is dangerous and reprehensible, but that's not Rovelli's case at all. Perhaps atypically amongst scientists, Rovelli has clarity regarding the difference between science and philosophy and displays great care and thoughtfulness in treading on the latter. So I think it is fantastic that he is daring to do so and wholeheartedly welcome his foray. At the same time, entering philosophy territory does—of course—expose him to hopefully healthy and constructive criticism. This is my intent with the present post.

What Rovelli seems to be now saying is that, although the physical world is constituted of no more than relationships, there is no underlying, non-physical world to ground those relationships. This is problematic for a number of reasons. For one, it immediately runs into infinite regress: if the things that are in relationship are themselves meta-relationships, then those meta-relationships must be constituted by meta-things engaging in relationship. But wait, those meta-things are themselves meta-meta-relationships... You see the point. It's turtles... err, relationships all the way down.

This is surely bad enough, but it isn't the worst part. The worst is this: to speak of pure relationships without non-relational entities to constitute and ground those relationships is literally meaningless, in a semantic sense; there is just no discernible meaning pointed to by the words in this claim, even though the claim itself can be articulated in language. The issue here is analogous to the Cheshire Cat's grin, which stays behind after the Cheshire Cat disappears: there is no meaning in this statement, even though Lewis Carroll was able to articulate it in language, to great effect.

Let me try to illustrate this with an example: movement is a prime instance of a relational phenomenon, one which Rovelli himself uses in his original 1996 paper. Movement, indeed, is always relative: if you are sitting inside a high-speed train, relative to you the train is not moving; but relative to someone standing on a platform, the train is moving at high speed. Movement is relational. With this example in mind, Rovelli essentially maintains that the entire physical world is like movement; it's not made of things with standalone reality, but of relationships. Up until this point I agree wholeheartedly with him, for the theoretical and experimental results simply prove this to be the case. However, Rovelli now proceeds to deny that there is anything that moves. So we end up with a world in which everything is movement but there is nothing that moves. Is this coherent? Does this even have any meaning, in a semantic sense, beyond the words themselves?

How does Rovelli justify this rather surprising proposition? He cites 3rd-century Indian mystic Nāgārjuna, interpreting the latter's writings to mean that there is no ultimate essence to reality except emptiness. So the world is made of movement, although there is nothing that moves, because ultimately the world is empty; it's made of nothing. This surely would sound great in a late-romantic poetry book, but is it reasonable when taken literally? Does it make any explicit sense? After all, when I look around I do see a lot going on. That I deny naive realism doesn't entail or imply that I deny the obvious existence of something.

Although I think and work mostly under the value system of the Western Enlightenment—which takes objective, explicit, unambiguous, logically consistent, conceptually clear, empirically substantiated reasoning to be the reliable path to truth—I am known to admire Indian and Eastern philosophy in general as well. They embody a different avenue to knowledge: that of meditative introspection and self-inquiry, a subjective—as opposed to objective—path of exploration. Kierkegaard referred to the exponents of these two paths as 'geniuses' and 'apostles,' respectively, highlighting their differences.

Personally, I think both paths have their merits and are complementary. I myself have adopted both paths in different works. Although the majority of my output is based on objective reasoning and evidence, I've treaded the subjective path in e.g. my book, More Than Allegory. However, I don't think it is valid to mix and match these paths in the course of defending any particular point of view, because doing so is blatantly inconsistent; it's a way to indulge in confirmation bias. Allow me to elaborate.

Rovelli takes a purely objective path to the conclusion that the physical world is entirely relational. He uses explicit, conceptually clear logical reasoning and empirical evidence to do so. He goes where this reasoning and evidence take him, all the way until a point where the inevitable implication is something he doesn't seem to like: that there must be a deeper, non-physical and non-relational layer to reality, which grounds the relationships that constitute the physical world, giving semantic meaning to the very word 'relationship.' From that point on, Rovelli arbitrarily abandons all post-Enlightenment epistemic values and switches to a vague, ambiguous, hand-waving, second-hand appeal to the mystical insights of someone who is no longer around to clarify what he meant. Never mind that the result is a peculiar Frankenstein monster, neither objective nor subjective; that Rovelli managed to avoid a conclusion he doesn't like—he describes how relieved he was upon reading Nāgārjuna, because the latter freed him from the pressure of having to find out what the underlying essence of reality is—seems satisfactory to him.

It's far from satisfactory to me. The paths of the 'genius' and the 'apostle' are complementary in the sense that, when both are applied in an internally consistent manner and lead to the same conclusion, we get a particularly satisfying kind of reassurance that we are on to something. But switching between these two modes in the course of making a point is entirely akin to changing the rules of the game while it's being played: it's cheating. When Rovelli does this, he puts his subjective preferences ahead of an objective inquiry into nature, and abandons the post-Enlightenment epistemic values that he has been known to champion. We get Rovelli the mystic, the apostle, dressed in a lab coat. This is not okay, not only because it isn't honest—and by this I don't mean that Rovelli is being malicious or deliberately deceptive, just that he seems to be deceiving himself and inadvertently misleading his audience, which has come to expect level-headed objectivity from him—but also because it leads to a literally meaningless conclusion: that the world is made entirely of movement, although there supposedly is nothing that moves.

Not only is it internally inconsistent to mix and match objective and introspective modes, introspective insights are also well-known to be largely ineffable. Therefore, when put to words, they almost invariably fail to capture the salient nuances of the intended point. That's why whole schools of thought in the East (and some in the West) have entirely given up on trying to explain what reality is. Instead, their writings are what Peter Kingsley refers to as forms of 'Μῆτις' (Mêtis) or 'incantation': they are meant not to describe reality, but to trick you into seeing it for yourself; to make you 'trip over' your own conceptual narratives and finally see through them. In weaving these incantations, sages will freely and liberally use contradiction, cognitive dissonance, metaphor, sleight of hand, shocking absurdities pronounced with a solemn face, deliberate inconsistencies, lies and, sure enough, even true statements mixed in; only the desired effect counts (Nisargadatta Maharaj, the Eastern sage I admire the most, contradicts himself several times in each page of I Am That). And I believe this is all epistemically valid because it is entirely consistent with the stated goals. The problem only arises when one fishes out a particular statement from the mystical writings of someone else, interprets it literally—as if it had been written by an 18th-century European philosopher in the finest Apollonian tradition, as opposed to a 3rd-century Indian sage—and then uses it as an arbitrary bridge to change the course of what is otherwise meant as an objective argument. This just doesn't work and should be viewed with at least great suspicion.

Rovelli has been one of the greatest exponents of the post-Enlightenment epistemic values in the 21st century. I regret that he now seems to be so breezily departing from those very values, so as to acquiesce to his own subjective preferences about what nature should or should not be. Subjective, introspective paths of inquiry may even be the royal road to truth, but their value rests precisely in direct, personal insight. I would find it laudable if Rovelli decided to engage in self-inquiry and the whole arsenal of meditative techniques, in order to directly experience the nature of reality for himself; he might then find out that that 'emptiness' is mind at rest, a subject without objects, pregnant with the potential for every conceivable internal relationship. But fishing out statements from someone else's introspective insights is consistent neither with objective reasoning nor with the schools of direct knowing, for the words of the latter were never intended to be used in this manner (again, they were meant as 'incantations,' not descriptions). Instead, it's a disservice to both and dilutes the credibility of the otherwise priceless legacy Carlo Rovelli has been methodically building for decades.
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19 comments:

  1. Hi Bernardo! Are you familiar with Rovelli's take on what consciousness is? I think he is an emergentist in that sense, but I'm not sure. I ask because I like his thoughts on QM and it's always seemed to me that his views are consistent with an idealist position, but when looking for his opinions on the nature of consciousness, I remember having found some ibterviews where he attributes qualia to brain activity in a hardcore materialistic way. Greetings and admiration from an Argentinian fan who loves your work.

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  2. I love the first paragraph, are certain computer nerds writing you private emails again insulting you and your chopraesque claque?

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    1. Mark - Surely Bernardo’s experience and accomplishments in academia and technology, including PhDs in computer science and philosophy, and the work at CERN, provide a solid basis for his frankness in expressing the views you refer to.

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  3. I am literally just now reading Peter Kingsley based on your recommendation Bernardo. At the same time I am currently listening to the audiobook version of Helgoland, Carlos latest work where I this very morning struggled to understand the concept of the “dance of three” (because of the infinite regress you mentioned). This article is very welcome and a joy to read. For me personally, it couldn’t have appeared at a more appropriate time to help me iron out my thoughts!

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  4. Are you familiar with Ilya Prigogine's approach to q.m. based on 'large poincare systems.' It is a kind of 'neo-realism'. He outlines it in 'The End of Certainty.'
    Isabelle Stengers gives a good summary and overview of these question in 'Cosmopolitics II'. She refers to Nancy Cartwright's work 'the measurement problem is an artefact of mathematics.'

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  5. I get Bernardo's point; i.e., inter alia, that "we end up with a world in which everything is movement but there is nothing that moves." I wonder if a simple hyphen would have helped to heal the intellectual wound--had Rovelli spoken of no-thing rather than nothing?

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  6. Bernardo:

    If it is impossible for the experienced world not to exist (which I suspect to be the case) then reality must be essentially relational rather than independently, objectively true. Indeed, the idea of independent objective truth becomes incoherent, because there could be no such thing as "pure consciousness" in itself. Consciousness thus becomes a dialectic between a principle that "tends to awareness" and the projected phenomena which actually (and necessarily) complete its ability to be, in fact, aware. I'm not sure if this is what Rovelli is saying, but if he is, then I think that is essentially correct. The idea of "pure consciousness" doesn't really make any sense.

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    1. :-)))
      'Pure consciousness' is all you've ever had. Everything 'else' has been an abstraction in your consciousness. That people don't see this and, like you, are in fact convinced of the opposite, is one of the greatest psychological mysteries in the history of thought.

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    2. Hi Bernardo. I'm not an enemy. I agree with you on many things and indeed held such a position long before I ever heard of you. And you have succeeded in propagating them with greater rigor and success than I can probably be bothered doing. We had a friendly clash of swords about this one time before, on the old Skeptiko forum, but you will unlikely remember. I was Kai on that forum, and marineboy on the near death forums, and I am very familiar with these topics.

      Like I say, I agree with you on most things. But I differ on a couple of things...this is one of them and also the thing with "alters"...there's no real evidence that DID alters are simultaneous....but I'll leave that for another day.

      You say that "pure conscious is all I've ever had" but in fact, that is only true if we take consciousness to be relational, something after the fashion I described it above. Indeed, all that I have ever had, and all that you have ever had too, is such relational consciousness, because without it there would be nothing to prehend. Consciousness prehending itself without projections isn't coherent, which is exactly my point. This relational dialectic then becomes the necessary "ground of being" because existence cannot (stably) abide without it.

      As soon as you lose this relational dialectic, you lose consciousness, as we do every night in sleep. I am not conscious during sleep unless I am dreaming (ie throwing internalized dialectic phenomena which again lift the ground from pre-awareness to awareness).

      An image or metaphor might help here. Imagine the ground of being to be "mirror stuff", setting aside the literal absurdity of that. Mirror stuff can only become a mirror. However, it is not *actually* a mirror until it has something to reflect (dialectic). This is what I am saying consciousness is, and I'd have to say that I'm pretty confident that I am correct on this :)

      The mirror analogy isn't perfect. Mirrors don't create the objects they reflect, but I am hoping this won't reduce to pedantics. It captures the spirit of the situation correctly, I think. Another metaphor (provided we acknowledge its limitations as just that) a human blastula can become a fully grown human...indeed, that's all it become if its destiny completes itself, but once again it isn't *actually* a fully fledged human until that happens. It can't become anything else...a rhinoceros say, or an oak tree, or a dinner plate. There is only the human that it can become.

      Likewise, when I lapse out of consciousness I lapse back into "consciousness in waiting" which is what the ground of being would be without the world. And this, imo, is why the world has to exist.

      So yes, everything is consciousness, but there is no plenum-like "pure consciousness". Consciousness is made up of the two components I have described: an ontic principle that is an inevitability towards awareness, and projections from that principle which allow it to apprehend itself. Strictly speaking "existence" is irreducibly the play of these two elements. Sometimes people try to argue that a nondialectic consciousness can exist, but even in mystical experiences there is, of necessity, an implicit relation set up, so I don't think so. Happy to discuss this more if you want. In the meantime, keep up the good work!

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    3. I could imagine that we might be unable to get around the fact that even 'Pure consciousness' is a conception somewhat...

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  7. Super precisions !!! Today I "attack" your course part VII (I to VI : done !!)

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  8. Thank you for everything that you do Bernardo. It's quite revolutionary. It impacted a lot of lives, I can tell you that from the first hand.

    Have you heard of David Deutsch perhaps, or read any of his books?

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  9. It is really quite a strange move to go from one type of aproach to another once the possibility of a non-physical reality is discussed. Specially strange if he read Nagarjuna, for the sage did try to use arguments against metaphysical positions, incluiding the existence of substances(where you guys disagree). If he wanted to continue in the more apollinian aproach, the sage that he quotes already had shown a way to do it: show contradictions on the metaphysical positions.

    And, since we are talking about this: i remember a old video of yours, Bernardo, where you defend that our concept of casuality is but a construct that can't really refers to Mind-At-Large. I think that you used as a analogy a snake being seen from a hole with first its head being seen and after its body, creating the error that the head causes the body because it is seem first. Would that indeed be your view?

    Because if so, one could use that to argue that our conceptual diference between substance(in this case, Mind-At-Large) and acident(relations) is also illusory outside our common experience, so there is no need to postulate a reality outside our immediate sense experience. How would you respond?

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  10. Dear Bernardo,
    there is no contemporary philosopher who I am more grateful to than you. Almost every word you utter in almost all occasions rings true to my heart and intellect. And yet I think and feel, that your take on metaphysics might not be the last page of the story.
    I could well imagine that talking of subject and object only makes sense in a relational framework and that the non-relational ontological primary cannot be understood in these terms. I could imagine, that Rovelli´s stance would ultimately end up in some sort of non-substance process ontology where the ontological primary cannot be made sense of in terms of logic, thinking and language. You might only be able to state, “it is” and not even that. Isness. You could only be it but not say anything about it. No-thing would quite be a suitable description of that.
    An ontology however that would spin off from a self-referential strange-looping Being as the ontological primary would be even more parsimonious than a Mind at Large that requires being and awareness in its base. And if an ontology that considers the whole of existence as a non-substantial dissociative process of the ontological base could take all of physics, chemistry and biology as the science of that dissociative process, it might even be explanatory more powerful. I could conceive that exsistence actually is an infinite regress in action.
    An incomprehensible ontological base that cannot even be thought of might not be satisfactory to the intellect. But I would suggest sitting with this fundamental discomfort and let it sink in deeply. Otherwise you might fall prey to corner yourself in a place ten years from now that would remind me of the place where materialist corner themselves today. Your intellectual and social identity is getting intertwined with Idealism after all.
    I could imagine that the whole philosophical enterprise in search for a substance is based on flawed assumptions right from the start. It could be argued that an idealistic approach is swinging the pendulum all the way to the other side. And that balance might be found in a neither-nor and both-and middle ground that gives rise to it all.

    Maybe all of what you are saying is true and simply your conception of Mind at Large has not quite reached the bottom of truth which will never be found…

    Utmost respectful greetings
    Johannes

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  11. Dear Dr. Kastrup,

    Your post was very interesting to me, so I wrote a comment, which turned to be a bit long, so I send it as three complementary comments.

    When you say that “the observable properties of all physical systems are entirely relative to the particular vantage point of the observation”. But then again, what is relative? – the ‘objects’ of observation (the airplane in the sky or just near me; the person I converse with) or the measurements (They are only if I – the measurer – am), which are two different kinds of “relationality”. Quantum mechanics demonstrates that the later are relational. But are the former also? The airplane in the sky and near me is always the same airplane. Saying the ‘airplane’, I don’t mean the object, nor its measurements, but the shared meaning behind the very denotation of that word as consequence of our language application. This is not relational.

    Furthermore, Measurement “brings” the properties of a physical system “into existence”, but not the ‘object’ (the house, the tree, you).

    Furthermore, “brings… into existence…” – this is only a metaphor. We never “witnessed” that. We even cannot infer that. We can say that the experiment will probably show us the same any time we repeat it, but we cannot say (or conclude from that) that ‘measurement’, or for that matter ‘observation’, “bring the results into existence”. I even do not know what ‘bring into existence’ may be (as it is unlike giving birth or sculpturing or having an original idea, namely the singular tint of ‘beginning’ associated with it).
    To sum-up that point, that “the physical world has no standalone reality” cannot be propagated by Rovelli, as far as I can see, as a positive assertion (in a positive tone, so to speak), but only as a negative one, namely that we have no sufficient grounds to assert the former in any coherent way (not maybe, not probably, not ‘sort of…’ – nothing!).

    A fundamental question is: when Rovlli stopped short, in 1996, from drawing any philosophical inference from his scientific assertion/thesis, what made you continue and make this step in the sense of why was this step necessary for you, as such? In other words, what did your philosophical “embrace” or “signification” of the pure scientific theory, rest upon? And I am not referring to your development of your specific version of Idealism as such, but specifically the pretention to provide to a scientific assertion a philosophical supplement? I cannot see that need on any level whatsoever. Perhaps it echoes the subjective, psychological need you ascribe to Rovelli (I return to it below)?

    But there’s more to it: You believe that there should necessarily be deeper, absolute (non-relative) absolute “layer of reality that grounds” the physical relational domain. But pay attention what you did by introducing that “belief” into the discourse: you latently (non-explicitly) switched idioms by introducing the idiom (discourse) of “layer of reality that grounds” which was not merely absent but irrelevant to Rovelli’s original thesis (it was not a part pf his discourse). This is very important. The way you present it, it’s like he made an assertion and first refrained from “completing” it in some possible way, which you did, and then he himself completed it in another way, which is opposite to – and exclusive of – what you did, for which you criticize him. BUT THIS IS NOT WHAT HAPPENED. Let’s me address your arguments in some detail.

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  12. Infinite regress: “if the things that are in relationship are themselves meta-relationships…” – But Rovelli never spoke of ‘things’. For him, consistent with his scientific discourse, there are no ‘things’ whatsoever/anywhere. What he seems to say, if coherence is to be observed, is that “no talk of” underlying reality or domain of being is possible over and above the relational scientific discourse, if only because there is no conceivable means of validating or refuting any assertion to that effect (of the “thingness” of things, which is an empty category not only science-wise but also philosophy-wise). Indeed, it is convenient to circumscribe Rovelli’s 1996 assertions as merely scientific, but if we listen from closer, such “pure” scientific assertion is imbued with delicate (as it were, non-assertive) philosophical resonance. That doesn’t mean that no mystery is left, but that the latter is incorporated into the philosophical shadow of the scientific assertion, followed by absolute reluctance to speak the unspeakable.

    You argue that “to speak of pure relationships without non-relational entities to constitute and ground those relationships is literally meaningless, in a semantic sense”, and proceed to ask (via the ‘movement’ example) whether it is at all coherent that: “…we end up with a world in which everything is movement but there is nothing that moves”. I dare to argue that it does, without resorting to any 3rd century mystics. For that I would go back to the above concept you introduced and bear on without explaining (grounding) its applicability to the discussion (that is why I said above that you did it ‘latently’): “layer of reality that grounds…”. I would argue that by introducing that expression / concept / mode of speech, you yourself commit the flaw for which you criticize Rovelli, namely asserting something which is devoid of any meaning, in a semantic sense (namely beyond the mere possibility to articulate it in language). I will try to explain.

    I would argue that the very application of the notion of “a layer of reality that grounds…” is beyond language in the sense that our language has no feasible way to incorporate what that expression purports to denote. Let me put it this way: given the way we acquire the ability to use language, there is no traceable instance where we could “learn” to use this expression in a semantically meaningful way (except poetically, the same way that being able to say that “nothing is everything” is meaningless except poetically).

    When Rovelli says that ‘everything is movement’ he does not need to follow up and say ‘AND there is nothing that moves’. Only you, as a philosopher, need that and proceed to make that leap. And the pretention to isolate (namely, latently reaffirm) and explore the ‘things’ that science demonstrates not to exist, is indeed a leap even before any attempt to “account” for them. The seeming gap between the scientific dismantling of tables and human organisms into quantum reality, on the one hand, and the total environment of our human interaction (the total sum of objects, things and processes we speak; precisely so: all that we speak, before we “see”, “observe” or ‘interact with”), on the other hand, is, for all we know, at least for now, beyond the scope of physics or any other science. You, as philosopher, take your shot at it, and therefore the burden of persuasion or demonstration rests entirely on you. But you first need to clarify the specific mode of speech you pursue in doing so.

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  13. Unlike yourself, I, personally, reject eastern-kind, mystical attempts at bridging that gap by any kind of introspective reflection. The pretention to bridge a chasm which we even not sure we can properly formulate, and which strikes at (or at least shakes) the very base of our set of tools as curious, exploration-driven creatures, by resorting to “oneself” while employing positive alienation from the spark of reason, seems to me ludicrous. At the same time, when a philosopher like yourself makes a genuine shot at that gap, starting from the assertion that “there must be a deeper, non-physical and non-relational layer to reality, which grounds the relationships that constitute the physical world”, I ask myself two questions: 1) Why “must be”? And 2) If so, what kind of challenge the satisfaction of that need stipulates/imposes? For me, this ‘must be’ element is crucial and very problematic, if only because it was never (and for quite a long time) truly demonstrated. As for the kind of challenge involved, it needs, before anything else, to overcome the flaw you ascribe to Rovelli, namely that of securing that the very enterprise/discussion embarked upon is semantically meaningful and doesn’t have to do, irrespective of its quantitative scope, with speaking beyond our ability to speak {e.g., “mind at rest”; “a subject without objects” or “pregnant with the potential for every conceivable internal relationship”… – and what if a strike of lightning “cuts” that rest or the entire planet on which that rest obviously “harbors” (e.g., poetics) is hit by an gigantic meteorite?}.

    To sum-up, perhaps there are, as you suggest, some psychological drivers behind Rovelli’s (perhaps selective or inconsistent) resort to eastern approaches to deep philosophical puzzles, but this only strengthens my point: for him (while not engaging in his ‘day job’) it is, at best, a psychological need. For you, at least on the face of it, it isn’t, amounting to a confrontation with a genuine problem/puzzle. You argue that there is no discernible meaning pointed to by the words in Rovelli’s claim, even though the claim itself can be articulated in language. I argue that it is nothing other than the ability to speak which enables you to proceed where he, at first, stopped, and later resorted to mysticism. In other words, there is no discernible meaning pointed to by your words regarding a “standalone” layer of reality beyond all-pervasive movement, even though your claim can be articulated in language. Only language allows us to speak of ‘things’ or ‘movement’ as categories. Nevertheless, you ascribe them some kind of essence they don’t possess, and thereafter embark on explicating it. It seems to me that you are able to do so only because we can speak, whereby there is no meaning in that lingual pursuit even though it can be articulated in language.

    If I am wrong or got confused somewhere along the way, I would very much appreciate to know it.

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    1. William James may have put his finger on what lies behind this philosophical divergence. "There are two ways of looking at our duty in the matter of opinion. Believe truth! Shun error! These, we see, are two materially different laws; and by choosing between them we may end by coloring differently our whole intellectual life. We may regard the chase for truth as paramount, and the avoidance of error as secondary; or we may, on the other hand, treat the avoidance of error as more imperative, and let truth take its chance.... We must remember that these feelings of our duty about either truth or error are in any case only expressions of our passional life. Biologically considered, our minds are as ready to grind out falsehood as veracity, and he who says, 'Better go without belief forever than believe a lie!' merely shows his own preponderant private horror of becoming a dupe.... For my own part, I have also a horror of being duped; but I can believe that worse things than being duped may happen to a man in this world..... It is like a general informing his soldiers that it is better to keep out of battle forever than to risk a single wound. Not so are victories either over enemies or over nature gained. Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things. In a world where we are so certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness on their behalf."

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