Postmodern Philosophy and the Scientific Turn


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<P>What can come of a scientific engagement with postmodern philosophy? Some scientists have claimed that the social sciences and humanities have nothing to contribute, except perhaps peripherally, to their research. Dorothea E. Olkowski shows that the historic link between science and philosophy, mathematics itself, plays a fundamental role in the development of the worldviews that drive both fields. Focusing on language, its expression of worldview and usage, she develops a phenomenological account of human thought and action to explicate the role of philosophy in the sciences. Olkowski proposes a model of phenomenology, both scientific and philosophical, that helps make sense of reality and composes an ethics for dealing with unpredictability in our world.</P>
<P>Preface: Postmodern Philosophy<BR>Acknowledgements<BR>1. Nature Calls: Scientific Worldviews and the Sokal Hoax<BR>2. The Natural Contract and the Archimedean World View<BR>3. Semi-Free: Thermodynamics, Probability and the New Worldview<BR>4. Burning Man: The Influence of Non-Equilibrium Thermodynamics and the Science of Flow<BR>5. Philosophy’s Extra-scientific Messages<BR>6. Love’s Ontology: Ethics Beyond the Limits of Classical Science<BR>Notes<BR>Bibliography<BR>Index</P>



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Published 23 April 2012
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EAN13 9780253001146
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Olkowski, Dorothea.  Postmodern philosophy and the scientific turn / Dorothea E. Olkowski.  p. cm.  Includes bibliographical references and index.  ISBN 978-0-253-00112-2 (cl : alk. paper — ISBN 978-0-253-00119-1 (pb : alk. paper — ISBN 978-0-253-00114-6 (eb 1. Philosophy and science. 2. Postmodernism. 3. Phenomenology. 4. Science—Philosophy. I. Title.  B67.O425 2012  190.9’04—dc23 2011034963 1 2 3 4 5 17 16 15 14 13 12
Dedicated to CONSTANTIN BOUNDAS, True Philosopher and True Friend
“Whatever is not explicitly forbidden is possible.”
1. NATURE CALLS: Scientific Worldviews and the Sokal Hoax
3. SEMI-FREE: Thermodynamics, Probability, and the New Worldview 4. BURNING MAN: The Influence of Nonequilibrium Thermodynamics and the Science of Flow 5. PHILOSOPHY’S EXTRA-SCIENTIFIC MESSAGES
6. LOVE’S ONTOLOGY: Ethics Beyond the Limits of Classical Science
The object of this study is the condition of knowledge in the most highly developed societies. I have decided to use the wordpostmodernto describe that condition … it designates the state of our culture following the transformations which, since the end of the nineteenth century, have altered the game rules for science, literature, and the arts.
—Jean-Francois Lyotard,The Postmodern Condition, A Report on Knowledge
A book that sets out to engage with the topic of postmodern philosophy and the scientific turn might seem rather curious. Why refer to postmodern philosophy and not, for example, poststructuralist philosophy? What do we mean by the phrasescientific turn? Continental philosophers are familiar with the idea that a group of highly influential European philosophers rejected the claims of phenomenology and hermeneutics by making what is widely understood to be alinguistic turn. How then is it possible for continental philosophy to have taken a scientific turn? These and related questions are the subject of this inquiry. Perhaps we may open up our inquiry by briefly examining these questions in relation to more general trends in philosophy, trends that arose out of the separation of philosophy from natural science and mathematics, both of which had once been thoroughly embedded in philosophical practices. Correlative to these trends, we might also remind ourselves of the various separations that took place within philosophy itself. Phenomenology, it appears, arose at least partly as a rejection of logical positivism and functionalism. Postmodern philosophy, in turn, sought to distinguish itself from phenomenological presuppositions and methods. What might be surprising is that at least some postmodern philosophies did so by turning back toward a version of formalism, which we have referred to as functionalism. Let us begin by examining precisely this surprising turn, which is, we will maintain, the scientific turn. Philosophers of science credit Descartes with the notion of a feedback loop, which operates to justify theories and facts. Descartes believed that mathematics is a pure 1 product of reason, reducible to purely logical relations, yet applicable to the world. Descartes’s difficulty was in finding a connection between the pure intelligible realm and the world. He argued that when we develop a theory based on observation we are perfectly 2 justified in relying on further observations to support and sustain the theory. The problem that this situation, this “Cartesian Circuit,” presents is that of circularity between observation, theory, and observation again. It appears that there is no solid justification of the theory insofar assomething extra-logical must be the precondition of all such 3 knowledge. The situation today remains quite similar. Jean-François Lyotard has argued that to the extent science must legitimate the rules of its own game and produce a legitimation discourse, that discourse has always been philosophy. According to Lyotard, the term “modern” refers to any science that appeals to a grand narrative of philosophy as its 4 metadiscourse, even though that metadiscourse itself must in turn be justified. By contrast, what Lyotard calls the postmodern condition of knowledge evinces incredulity toward all such metanarratives, especially those grounded in metaphysical philosophy, and in Lyotard’s analysis, this has precipitated a turn toward what have been 5 called “language games.” Briefly, this implies that postmoderns participate in communities whose cultural conventions are given to them. Words perform certainfunctions in this
system and users are trained to observe these conventions. In this system, semantics is 6 given in the cultural syntax. But here too, the necessity of justification arises. Cultural conventions orient and justify individual language use, but what justifies cultural conventions? Lacking any grand metanarratives, postmoderns, it appears, have turned to a formalist justification. This is what has been called thelinguistic turn, the process by which 7 the philosophical model of consciousness was replaced with a model of the sign. Both analytic and continental philosophy made this turn to the study of language itself, scouring it for alleged prejudices underlying reasoning processes, ensuring that language as a whole satisfies strictly linguistic criteria, while ignoring individual language use as irrelevant, since 8 “unidentifiable subjective contributions” remain external to language and its conventions. This arose as part of an attack on representation. Specifically, as Manfred Frank has noted, the linguistic turn is linked to the idea that speech designates andrepresentssimple ideas and immediate impressions, as well as connections between them established by reason. Against this, Ferdinand de Saussure and Ludwig Wittgenstein, among others, embraced a system in which the idea of a thought, perception, or representation 9 independent of language arises from pure abstraction. Different thoughts are thus an effect of expression, the manner in which significant units are combined and recombined, thereby unifying thought and speech. In this system there is no thought without speech and so the limits of knowing are one with the limits of speaking. Language systems are thereby intersubjective and transindividual. However, the meaning of intersubjectivity is altered, referring not to communication between subjects but merely to semantics; intersubjectivity is now no more than a matter of how one masters a language and how one has that 10 mastery affirmed. The connection between Saussurian-Wittgensteinian poststructuralism and postmodernism lies roughly in the idea of a function. A word can have significance only insofar as it has a function. So, for example, the sentence “I know I feel fine” means precisely the same as “I feel fine.” The word “know” serves no function here and is 11 therefore meaningless. As Frank points out, the difference in this regard between analytic philosophy and poststructuralism is that the former insist on formal semantics, the treatment of language as an algebra of symbols whose meaning derives solely from 12 symbolic relations. In its most extreme formulations, syntax is or produces all the semantics one needs. Poststructuralism similarly transforms philosophy into semiology, the 13 theory of signs. However, although addressing postmodernism and the scientific turn calls for us to take poststructuralism into account, insofar as we are examining the mathematical and scientific frameworks that influenced continental philosophy, we will utilize the term “postmodern” to discuss primarily the philosophies that are of interest in this regard, that is, those philosophies modeled on formal semantics or taking their cue from the limitations of formal semantics. According to the mathematician Vladimir Tasi , it was the dream of modern science and the accompanying culture of modernism to eliminate the “Cartesian Circuit,” that is, to eliminate metaphysical illusion as well as what are called “intuitions” and to replace them 14 with positivist explanations, meaning logical constructs of immediate experience. Formalists and functionalists hotly deny that intuitions can be a source of mathematical objects. Intuitionism in mathematics is the position that we can perceive mathematical 15 objects, like sets, in a manner similar to our perception of objects in our world. It is a position that we will examine in some detail in this work as it is closely linked with the philosophical position of phenomenology. Philosophers are familiar with Immanuel Kant’s concept of an a priori intuition of space and time as the condition of the possibility of the experience of objects. As mathematicians
have noted, these intuitions are the form of our experience, a conceptual framework that describes them, but also a necessity in that we cannot have an experience of a physical 16 object without intuition. Left to its own devices, reason can generate opposing and contradictory statements, known as antinomies, therefore mathematical knowledge requires 17 that our concepts correspond to possible experiences. Nevertheless, the question arises, how is it that we know that intuitions shape our experience, since like any object, we know only ourselves in space and time? Kant and other philosophers have argued that we have an awareness of ourselves (the object = x) that arises with each of our acts of consciousness. Similarly, Edmund Husserl famously argued that passive synthesis, or what he often referred to as passive intuition, is the necessary basis of the genesis of existent physical 18 things. It is a genesis that begins “in ‘early infancy,’ … [when] the field of perception that gives beforehand does not as yet contain anything that, in a mere look, might be explicated 19 as a physical thing.” We adult meditating egos are capable of penetrating into formations antecedent to the intentional constituents of experiential phenomena. There, we discover that the ego has an environment of objects arising from an original becoming acquainted, a primal instituting whereby everything now affecting that developed ego has arisen from infancy in a genesis, a universal principle of passive genesis Husserl calls, somewhat 20 boldly, association. As with the temporal synthesis, this is not, of course, the empiricist 21 concept of association, subject to “naturalistic distortions.” The form of internal time, the subjective process, is not connected part by part externally but is immanently associated. This will be the case for passive genesis as well. If time is the stage, the passive genesis is the action on that stage. Here association receives new fundamental forms that allow us to make sense of continuity. These forms are sensuous, a sensuous configuration in coexistence and a sensuous configuration in succession designating an innate and a priori realm without which no ego is 22 understandable. It is the realm of temporality; for Husserl, it is the realm of everything new. For the already developed ego, there are certainly constituted objectivities, an objective universe, a fixed ontological structure. But for immanent temporality and 23 sensuous, receptive life, the new arises and takes shape. This is implicit in the formulation that while consciousness constitutes partly explicit objects, various moments and parts of those objects that have not yet come into relief may yet be taken into account as affecting the ego. We can see how commensurate Husserl’s position is with that of the mathematical intuitionists, and this reminds us that Husserl’s PhD was in mathematics. In mathematics, “Intuitionists accept the ‘obviousness’ of mathematical entities and place them on par with 24 objects such as chairs and tables.” From this it follows that for intuitionists, we perceive mathematical objects like sets in the same way that we perceive ordinary objects in the world. “Gödel suggests that ‘we do have something like a perception of the objects of set theory, as is seen from the fact that the axioms force themselves upon us as being 25 true.’” So it is not the perceiver who determines the truth of her perceptions, rather it is the perceptions themselves, through their perceptibility, that bring their own truth into perception. For intuitionists, mathematics, like art, is created and not discovered, and “the role of a creator is best exhibited when the mathematician has to exhibit proof for all 26 existential mathematical assertions.” Nevertheless, the dream to end the Cartesian Circuit and to eliminate intuitions was the shared provenance of logical empiricism and logical positivism, which chose to treat mathematics as purely symbolic manipulation, meaningless in relation to reality, and