January 9th, 2009

Captive Dreams

Matter and Intellect

"Sensation as a matter for intellect"

The following is an essay by James Chastek at Just Thomism that I found especially interesting.  The text in full follows in the [snip].  Comments of my own may be appended later. 

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A few comments:  

1. Chatsek writes "Sensible, empirical reality in the Kantian sense is not the form of all knowledge, but only the matter of it."  Keep in mind the role of form and matter.  The two are inseparable.  All matter has form [except the elusive protomatter].  "Every thing is some thing."  All forms inform some matter.  "There is no white without a white thing."  In a triangle, the matter is "figure" and the form is "three-sided."  Try to imagine one without the other.   

2. Sensation as matter for intellect.  Meaning the impressions on the senses are the material cause for intellection, the matter upon which the mental teeth chew.  Now, what is the form for intellect?  Reason and logic?  Analogy?  Hmm.  As for efficient and final causes, those would be the motive and the purpose, I suppose.  If I were a philosopher instead of an unemployed management consultant and sometime SF writer, I might give it a shot. 

3. Analogical thinking is apparently in disfavor.  Literalism rules the day.  It informs most modern thought, imho, from religious fundamentalism to reductionist materialism.  The analogy questions have even been dropped from the College Boards.  (Because women scored consistently lower, making the questions sexist.)  I have noticed in a number of debates that to draw an analogy is to run the risk of being accused of drawing an equivalence.  And these are the simplest of allegories, essentially similes.  "A is like B"; or "A is related to B in the way that C is related to D."  (Aha!  So you're saying that A is the same as C!   Well, no...)  Mr. Chastek makes an excellent point with the analogy of EM waves to water waves.  Because they are similar in their waviness does not necessarily imply an aether. 

4. Engineers have a proverb: "If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem will look like a nail."  Mr. Chastek makes the same point about empiricism.  If the only reality is that which has extension and time, then there is no such thing as sound, or pain, or color.  (See Galileo, The Assayer.)
The pain is in the person, not in the needle.  Compression waves in the air are objective because we can measure their size and shape and duration; but sound is a subjective impression.  But to say that Mozart's Clarinet Concerto is nothing more than compression waves in the air is to say nothing very important about Mozart's Clarinet Concerto:

5. For that matter, what's the matter with atoms?  The more we learn about them, the more the lose their shape.  They aren't Bohr's miniature solar systems any more.  Electrons are not little planets, but "probability clouds."  (Now, there's a Kantian object for you!)  Except they're not that, either.  The more we try to understand them, they fuzzier they become.  Chastek elsewhere noted the irony that atoms were hard to grasp from a purely materialist perspective. 
6. Feynman said, "The difficulty (with electrons) really is psychological and exists in the perpetual torment that results from your saying to yourself, "But how can it be like that?" which is a reflection of an uncontrolled but utterly vain desire to see it in terms of something familiar. 
Which is exactly contrary to Aristotle (and to Chastek) but which reflects the persistent confusion of analogy with equivalence.  Aristotle, of course, regarded the familiar, the empirical, as the starting point; not as the ending point. 
  • It's like this. 
  • Sort of. 
  • But not quite. 
and Feynman in a way is complaining about people who stop at the first bullet. 

7. In a way, I wish I were writing Eifelheim now instead of three years ago.  I still don't understand medieval philosophy, but I understand it a great deal better than I did then.  (And then, a great deal better than before I began.  When I first read read a medieval Question, I couldn't figure it out.  It seemed like Buridan (and later Oresme and Aquinas) were arguing on both sides of the Question!  Which they were.  That was the whole idea. 
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