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The Limitations of Convergence Theory

The Limitations of Convergence Theory

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Published by Andrew Glynn
A review of a paper by Stephen Heine arguing that a "trans-ethical" perspective adopted by science can answer the critiques of Heidegger and Nishitani.
A review of a paper by Stephen Heine arguing that a "trans-ethical" perspective adopted by science can answer the critiques of Heidegger and Nishitani.

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Published by: Andrew Glynn on Mar 30, 2011
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04/01/2014

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A Response to: Philosophy for an 'Age of Death': The Critique of Science and Technology in Heidegger and Nishitani by Steven Heine

Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0031-8221%28199004%2940%3A2%3C175%3APFA%27OD%3E2.0.CO%3B2-J

Heine’s conclusion in the essay noted above, that a “trans-ethical” perspective needs to be adopted for science to face and overcome critics such as Heidegger and Nishitani, utilizing an ethic derived in some manner from the ideas of scientists involved with convergence theory through something like the uncertainty principle applied ethically, is problematic in a few senses: 1. The proposed “trans-ethical” perspective itself repeats the ontotheological errors at the root of the criticism and then posits a “more” privileged vantage point from which the old privileged vantage points can be soundly criticized. 2. The notion that some sort of ethical “band-aid” could set science aright misses the reality of the ontological criticism involved. 3. Where Heine gets the idea that ethics ever involved certainty, thus making something like an “uncertainty principle” an addition to ethics, is unclear. The pre-ethical “moral law” could of course be absolutely certain, but modern civil and criminal law acknowledges the need for an ethics that accounts for different situations, and acknowledges that the application of law (decidedly an ethical concern) is far from certain of distributing justice in any given instance. “The main argument of Heidegger-Nishitani is that science represents a false objectification based on
inauthentic subjectivity without being aware of its deficiencies. Thus the first step in overcoming this drawback would be for science to acknowledge and accept its flaws.”

This is a simplistic notion of either argument, never mind the assumption that their arguments are the same to begin with. I will deal here primarily with Heidegger’s argument and leave Nishitani’s to someone more versed in the totality of his work. Signs of the inadequacy of Heine’s understanding of Heidegger’s critique are already here apparent in the phrases “false objectification” (a redundant phrase for Heidegger) and “inauthentic subjectivity” (authenticity and inauthenticity are modes of Dasein, which Heidegger sharply distinguishes from any kind of “subjectivity”).
“Previously, science was seen as striving for objective, universal, and predictable knowledge independent of the subject, while the goal of religion was considered subjective, personal, and variable experience unbound by objectivity. The convergence thesis, however, argues that science necessarily contains a subjective component. that is reflected in what John Wheeler calls "the participatory universe,"2 or the notion that reality is not something external, "out there," but an underlying unity simultaneously involving observer and observed, and mind and matter. Because of such a breakthrough, the structure and function of consciousness as much as of the material world can be examined with reference to the principles of quantum physics.

The convergence theorists find significant resonances and parallels between the holistic paradigm of the participatory universe (and other models) and the doctrines of traditional mysticism and Eastern thought as well as contemporary process theology and phenomenology. Renee Weber, for example, argues that the paradigm shift in modern physics is radical and paradoxical in that "the more nearly physics approaches the twenty-first century, the closer it seems to get to the cosmology of the remote past. Thus, the scientific discoveries of our own time are moving us toward ideas indistinguishable from those held by the sages and seers of India and Greece””

There are a number of issues when modern science, even in its “convergent” mode, is compared to ideas from other cultures and epochs. Firstly, it’s not much of an argument to claim that quantum mechanics has similarities to some of Aristotle’s ideas, given that it was Planck’s realization that on a number of crucial points regarding fundamental notions of space and motion Aristotle had been right and “modern” physics up until 1900 had been dead wrong that resulted in his call in 1900 for a quantum mechanics, answered 24 years later by Heisenberg. When you go further afield those types of connections are less easily discovered, but it has been demonstrated in various manners that east and west, as instances of two abstracted poles of “thought”, have always influenced and affected each other. In this case, though, the complexities of cross cultural pollination and the relationship between thinking and “doing science” don’t even need to be examined. The ideas of convergence theorists are simply incapable of addressing the critique made by Heidegger, among others, because they maintain the assumptions at the root of the critique, and rather than put those into question posit further mysterious fictions and invalid distinctions to account for their inability to account for reality with those assumptions in place. The idea of “the participatory universe” retains the features of the ontotheological universe of modern science, with the addition of a further fictional unity “underlying” the initial mathematical projection, mysteriously “involving” observer and observed simultaneously. This idea allows for a “subjective component” to objective scientific ideas. Heine discusses (and to a degree I believe misrepresents) Roger S. Jones’ notions on subjectivity.
“By subjectivity, I am not referring to the effects on scientific thought of the individual tastes, preferences, and prejudices of scientists, which change with time, are influenced by peer pressures, and figure prominently in the formation of scientific paradigms. Rather, I mean the basic role that mind and the self play at some unfathomable level in the workings of the universe. Subjectivity in science has both a personal and impersonal aspect, and fundamentally I mean it to refer to the dependence of the physical world on consciousness. Mind and matter are not separate and distinct, but form an organic whole in my view. To distinguish a subjective from an objective viewpoint is ultimately illusory. Jones's passage highlights two levels of subjectivity in modern science: the personal and the impersonal. The first, or personal subjectivity, is the role of particular commitments that determine the formation and shifting of scientific paradigms. Jones neither dismisses nor denies the existence of this level, but discounts its importance in looking for what is considered a more significant and fundamental dimension.”

“If the subject is truly interconnected with the object in the most essential and "unfathomable" way, then subjectivity necessarily involves a personal or collective decision making that reflects particular preferences and judgments. Jones's suggestion that there is an impersonal, or impartial and value-free, level of subjectivity tends to recreate the ontological deficiency of the earlier scientific paradigm that he and other convergence theorists are criticizing.”

Heidegger’s critique, however, centers on the reduction of the meaningful world to a fictional universe mathematically projected a priori to any theory, observation or experiment, with the resulting abandonment of the sphere of truth and falsity for that of correctness and incorrectness. This reduction in itself resulted in the inappropriate notions of subjectivity and objectivity, among other pseudo problems often discussed as a whole under the rubric of epistemology. Adding to these pseudo problems with a new dualistic type of subjectivity is not an answer to the critique, because the type of subjectivity is not in question at all for Heidegger, subjectivity itself is in question, because it is inherently as fictional as objectivity. The ontological deficiency of both the earlier and the convergent scientific paradigm lies in the separation of observer and observed at all, whether some further mysterious “underlying unity” is postulated along with the separation, particularly when in practice the separation continues to govern every idea and theory, and every factual interpretation of reality. World for Heidegger is finite, in fact world is inseparable from finite Dasein. Not only is it finite, but it is perspectival and horizonal, in a sense of spatiotemporality compared with which that the space-time of science is merely a derivative approximation. Dasein, is, also, always “mine”, in a personal, individual sense, at the same time as for the most part it exists in a shared manner (as the “one”, the “they”, “nobody”). The notions of subjective and objective viewpoints, when deconstructed in this manner, turn out to be simply abstract limit-cases of individual and shared viewpoints. But shared views are as finite, perspectival and horizonal as individual views. Indeed, for the most part commonly held shared viewpoints are less reliable than individual viewpoints, due to the ambiguous manner in which such views are shared. A telling sentence can be found in the quote from Weber, “the more nearly physics approaches the twenty-first century, the closer it seems to get to the cosmology of the remote past” (italics mine). If the universe is a reduction of world, accomplished via mathematical projection from a fundamentally inauthentic vantage point - the vantage point of “nobody”, what is the resulting situation for any cosmology based on that projection? Cosmology is ontotheological hubris based on the assumption that a privileged vantage point from which “reality as a whole” can be projected exists. It is onto-theological because that vantage point, did it exist, could only be described as “god’s view” and is, specifically, the posited vantage point of the Christian theos. It is hubristic because it is then assumed that the scientist, or “science” as a whole, through some mysterious infallibility of science in fact has this vantage point (science’s “self-correcting methods” are often rather self-contradictorily pointed to as

some sort of demonstration of this infallibility). The cosmological principle is nothing more than a statement acknowledging that cosmology has to assume it has this vantage point in order to be meaningful in any way. Further, Heidegger’s critique does not stop at the idea that science in its modern guise only discovers beings (gives truth) in a limited, useful, but ultimately not complete way. For Heidegger, it is modern technology that accomplishes this. Nor does he see modern technology as in any way a result of modern science, rather modern science limps along as best it can to “account for” what technology has always already revealed. As a result, the foundational modern science is not physics, or even mathematics, but accounting. Heisenberg, to his credit, appears to have been fully aware of this state of affairs in the sciences. There is more recently a movement among a fair number of mathematicians and physicists, more aware than their predecessors of the foundations of their disciplines, to relocate theoretical mathematics and physics within the humanities, since an appropriate understanding of those disciplines requires an understanding of the contingent fictions underlying the sciences, and their resulting inability to comment meaningfully on questions of truth. When an understanding of post-Cantorian mathematics and postHeisenbergean physics inherently demonstrates the inability of any of the sciences to live up to their claims as arbiters of truth, it seems perfectly sensible for thinking people in those disciplines to not want their work to be seen as making claims their own work demonstrates it cannot. The ontological critique, then, is not a sideline to an ethical critique. It’s more true to say that modern science is incapable of being ethical in itself (any given scientist may of course be ethical, but as Heisenberg points out, “the fundamental decisions about the use of science must be made not from within science”), because ethics requires a comportment toward reality that modern science does not possess.

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