Space, time and causality in Kant’s and Schopenhauer’s philosophy, and in physics. The role of our consciousness.

Authors

Abstract

Are Kant and Schopenhauer right after all? Are the evolutionary  philosophers wrong who claim that our mind accurately reflects the objective world? It seems that our mind has evolved in adaptation to the objective world, but only as far as is necessary to survive in the immediate environment. In other words, our mind is faulty; space, time and causality are ‘working tools’ to find our way in daily life, but our mind cannot accurately perceive the real essence of the objective world, which does not lie in space and time and is not causal. All our ideas about this ‘spooky’ world are indirect, derived by means of complicated mathematics from experiments that explore only the objective world but say nothing about the subjective (conscious) side of it.

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Since the first beginnings of Western science in ancient Greece, philosophers speculated about the outside world. Democritus assumed that the world was not really what it appears to be, but that there was reality only in atoms and the void. Galileo Galilei, Descartes and Newton did not believe that the world is what it appears to be. According to John Locke (1689), all knowledge is acquired by experience through sensory perceptions. He distinguished primary and secondary qualities: the former are properties which are independent of the observer and include solidity, extension, motion, and numbers. The latter are properties which are produced by sensations in the observer, such as colour, smell and sound, and do not provide objective facts about nature. Or: primary qualities can be measured, secondary ones are purely subjective. He did not accept that there are innate ideas. David Hume (1739) believed that we can only know objects of experience and relations of ideas.  Our belief in causality results from habit, the experience of  ‘constant conjunction’. We have no conception of the self, we are only bundles of sensations. Berkeley and Leibniz among others doubted that primary qualities are really properties of the world, and Immanuel Kant (1781) claimed that  space and time, as well as causality, are categories of our mind, i.e., features which are necessary to form experience.  The thing in itself (the noumena), which is the ground for the phenomena experienced by us, cannot be perceived by us. Schopenhauer (1818), in his ‘Welt als Wille und Vorstellung’ agreed with Kant concerning the categories of our mind, but goes further in saying that the experienced phenomena and the thing in itself are different sides of the same ‘coin’, and that we do indeed have access to the thing in itself, because we are not only objects of perception, but also subjects who do the perceiving. He identified the thing in itself as essentially Will. I refer to it as consciousness (See also Remarks below).

Some later philosophers (e.g., Bernard Rensch), under the impression of the theory of evolution, suggested that our mind has evolved in adaptation to the external world, the environment, and that the categories of our mind, space, time and causality, therefore reflect real characteristics of the objective world.

Here I suggest that the latter proposition, that our mind has evolved in adaptation to the objective world and therefore reflects it, may be faulty. Particle physics has taught us that energy/matter is quite different from the solidity of matter earlier claimed to exist and experienced by us (how many neutrinos pass through our body every second without being noticed, for example?), and the phenomenon of entanglement, found by quantum physics, suggests that space and time are not real characteristics of the world. When two particles, located far apart even in different galaxies, are entangled, an action affecting one of them will immediately, without any time delay, affect the other, seemingly in contradiction to the Theory of Relativity. Einstein did not accept this postulate of quantum physics  and referred to is as the ‘spooky action at a distance’. However, the phenomenon has now repeatedly been shown experimentally to exist (although not yet at galactic dimensions!). If particles in the real world are entangled, they are not separated in time or space.

Is this evidence that Kant and Schopenhauer were right after all? Are the evolutionary  philosophers wrong who claim that our mind accurately reflects the objective world? It seems that our mind has evolved in adaptation to the objective world, but only as far as is necessary to survive in the immediate environment. In other words, our mind is faulty; space, time and causality are ‘working tools’ to find our way in daily life, but our mind cannot accurately perceive the real essence of the objective world, which does not lie in space and time and is not causal. All our ideas about this ‘spooky’ world are indirect, derived by means of complicated mathematics from experiments that explore only the objective world but say nothing about the subjective (conscious) side of it.

I put this up for discussion.

 

References

John Locke (1689). Essay concerning human understanding.

David Hume (1739). A treatise on human nature.

Immanuel Kant (1781). Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Engl.transl. Critique of pure reason).

[Also: Prolegomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik die als Wissenschaft wird auftreten können (1783) (Engl.transl. Prolegomena to any future metaphysics that will be able to present itself as science.]

Arthur Schopenhauer (1818). Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (Engl. transl. The world as will and representation).

Bernhard Rensch (1968). Biophilosophie (Engl. transl. Biophilosophy 1971).

 

 

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Two entangled particles trying to become disentangled (decoherence in the physicists’ jargon). Only in the eye of the observer? © Klaus Rohde

Remarks: “Die einzig mögliche Interpretation ist, dass das Bewusstsein die sozusagen ‘andere, subjektive Seite’ bestimmter (wenn nicht aller) Nervenprozesse ist: ein Physiologe misst was sich im Nervensystem abspielt, und das Individuum erlebt, was er misst. Oder: Bewusstsein kann nur subjektiv empfunden werden, und nur Analogieschlüsse erlauben mir, auch bei anderen Menschen und Tieren ein Bewusstsein anzunehmen. –  Dies hat enorme Konsequenzen für unser Weltbild. Es existiert eine Welt der physikalisch/chemikalischen Prozesse, die wir beobachten und messen können, und daneben eine Welt des Bewusstseins, die man nur empfinden kann. In der körperlichen Welt herrschen strenge (vielleicht kausale) Gesetzmässigkeiten, in der subjektiven Welt fühlen wir uns frei, meinen wir könnten machen was wir wollen. Da die physikalisch/chemische Welt ‘unsterblich’ ist (???? zumindest vom big bang bis zum vielleicht nächsten) ist auch das Bewusstsein unsterblich, da es ja mit der körperlichen Welt verbunden ist.” Zitat aus https://krohde.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/das-leben-ist-zerbrechlich-warum-lebe-ich-die-verbindung-das-bewusstseins-und-der-physischen-welt/

Stephen Wolfram, the famous inventor of  Mathematica, Wolfram|Alpha and the Wolfram Language, and author of  A New Kind of Science, recently  published his very interesting views of what he calls ‘consciousness’. However, he discusses not consciousness which, according to him, is located in (not clearly defined) ‘souls’, but the physical correlates of it, namely intelligence and  neural networks, as well as artificial intelligence, the history and importance of symbolic languages, etc. See here:  http://edge.org/conversation/stephen_wolfram-ai-the-future-of-civilization

A quote:

‘Here’s one of my scenarios that I’m curious about. Let’s say there’s a time when human consciousness is readily uploadable into digital form, virtualized and so on, and pretty soon we have a box of a trillion souls. …………This question of realizing that there isn’t this distinction between intelligence and mere computation leads you to imagine the future of civilization ends up being the box of trillion souls, and then what is the purpose of that?’

13 Comments

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  1. ontologicalrealist

    You wrote,” All our ideas about this ‘spooky’ world are indirect, derived by means of complicated mathematics from experiments that explore only the objective world”
    What do you mean by ‘objective world’? What is ‘non objective world’?

    • Klaus Rohde

      I gave an answer in the Remarks above (in German, I translate it here)
      ‘“Die einzig mögliche Interpretation ist, dass das Bewusstsein die sozusagen ‘andere, subjektive Seite’ bestimmter (wenn nicht aller) Nervenprozesse ist: ein Physiologe misst was sich im Nervensystem abspielt, und das Individuum erlebt, was er misst. Oder: Bewusstsein kann nur subjektiv empfunden werden, und nur Analogieschlüsse erlauben mir, auch bei anderen Menschen und Tieren ein Bewusstsein anzunehmen.’

      “The only possible explanation is that consciousness is so to say the other, ‘subjective side’ of certain (if not all) nervous processes: a physiologist measures what is happening in the nervous system, and the individual experiences what he measures. Or: consciousness can only be experienced subjectively, and only analogue conclusions permit me to assume that other humans and animals have consciousness”.

      And:
      “Es existiert eine Welt der physikalisch/chemikalischen Prozesse, die wir beobachten und messen können, und daneben eine Welt des Bewusstseins, die man nur empfinden kann. In der körperlichen Welt herrschen strenge (vielleicht kausale) Gesetzmässigkeiten, in der subjektiven Welt fühlen wir uns frei, meinen wir könnten machen was wir wollen.”

      “There exists a world of physical/chemical processes, which we can observe and measure, and a world of consciousness, which we can only experience (sense). In the physical world there are strict (perhaps causal) laws, in the subjective world we feel free and believe that we can do what we want.”

      • ontologicalrealist

        No, I don’t understand German, wish I could.

        I am not clear, do you mean by “objective world” what Kant called ‘phenomenal world’ or not?

  2. ontologicalrealist

    Thanks Dr. Rohde for your clear answer.

    Do you think that what Kant calls “noumenal world” exists?

    • Klaus Rohde

      I tend to agree with Schopenhauer that we can indeed say something about the Ding-an-sich, the noumenal world in Kant’s terminology. Schopenhauer calls it the Will, I prefer to refer to it as consciousness. So, briefly put, the answer to your question is: yes, it does, it is consciousness, which obviously exists. It is indeed the only thing of which we can say with absolute assurance that it exists.

  3. ontologicalrealist

    ” It is indeed the only thing of which we can say with absolute assurance that it exists.”

    Can you say with absolute assurance only that your consciousness exists or can you also say with absolute assurance that your neighbour’s consciousness also exists?

    • Klaus Rohde

      I can say with absolute assurance only that my consciousness exists. Assuming consciousness in others is based purely on analogue conclusions (most likely in other humans, still very likely in other vertebrates related to us, still likely in less closely related vertebrates, ????invertebrates etc.).

  4. ontologicalrealist

    Thanks. It seems to me to be true that assuming consciousness in others is based on analogue conclusions.

    Most people do not like my sharp questions. I appreciate that you are patient and kind enough to bear with me.

    I suppose that you are familiar with Erwin Schrodinger. I find him very interesting too.

    -OR-

    • Klaus Rohde

      Yes, I have Schrödinger’s Was ist Leben? (What is life?), I think this is the exact title.
      Thanks for your questions, it is always stimulating to have discussions with somebody who is genuinely interested. How did you get to philosophy?

  5. ontologicalrealist

    I have read three of his books. one is What is life?, another is My view of the world, and the third one I have forgotten the exact name but it is mostly about the ancient Greek philosophy.
    I am much impressed by the very high quality of his mind.

    One thing I can assure you is that I am certainly genuinely and deeply interested in the epistemology of Kant, Schopenhauer and other like minded thinkers.

    Have you written any thing on this subject?

    By the way when I click on the link below on my site which you had posted, it seems to not to work.

    https://wordpress.com/post/krohde.wordpress.com/3535

    • Klaus Rohde

      I just clicked on the link above and it worked. You will find my other posts on philosophy subjects if you click on philosophy or schopenhauer just below the title of this post.

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