Friday, May 9, 2008

More Wilbermania

Stoner is giving me a great opportunity to expand on my thoughts in this area and I thank him it. This is my response to his latest response:

Godel's Incompleteness Theorem essentially says is that for a sufficiently complex system there will be postulates that cannot be proved in the context of that system. He put the stake in the heart of the early 20th century program to develop as quantitative system based on a static handful of axioms that could be used to explain “everything”.

In light of Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem I maintain that consistent, but unprovable postulates should be accepted as premises of the system until either more general postulates encompass them (the separate postulates that all humans are warm-blooded and all birds are warm-blooded are encompassed by the single postulate that warm-blooded animals include all birds and mammals) or contradictory evidence is found (I cannot prove that all swans are white but I can accept it as a premise until I see a non-white one). Godel implies that the rate of postulate consolidation will always lag that of new postulate discovery. This means that the set of premises in such a system is always growing. But I regard this process as asymptotically approaching the objective of complete understanding.

I prefer to consider things in the context of Georg Cantor who established to my satisfaction that it is possible to develop rational postulates about the nature of infinity without having to count to infinity. This “theory precedes experiment" approach (philosophically, this corresponds to rationalism before empiricism) is also how much of physics works these days.

Today leading theoreticians develop models of complex physical systems by integrating and extending more mature theories in a manner that remains consistent with the essence of how things are observed to work. Wilber seems to believe that physics is still operating within the Francis Bacon paradigm. But physics has matured to the point where experiments are done to confirm theories, more often than theories are created to explain experiments. The resultant theoretical models form the basis of a framework that explains (or can be extended to explain) novel phenomena. I ultimately used this approach to develop my framework.

How do I know scientific, materialistic rationalism is the one path of truth? I hope I’ve been clear that I accept that there are multiple paths to the truth, including the spiritual epistemologies. I would ask why Wilber insists that scientific, materialistic rationalism is not a path to the truth? Just to be clear, I do not regard myself as a scientific, materialist but I let their methods inform my approach.

How do I prove my framework according to scientific materialistic rationalist criteria? Rationalism isn’t about proving things, it is about explaining things without requiring untenable leaps of faith. The key to meeting this requirement is the axioms of the framework. If a rational observer perceives these axioms to be irrational, she is free to reject the system upon which they are based. This is where subjectivity threatens to derail rationalism. But this subjectivity is ultimately overcome by consensus building over time. Yes, in the short run this manifests as the academic ‘Good Ole Boy’ network from which Wilber is largely being excluded. But over the long haul, the pull of truth inclines things towards a more impartial outcome.

The academic acceptance problem of spiritual epistemologies in general is based on the fact that they admit to their irrationality up front (be they pre-rational or trans-rational). This is where I find Wilber’s attempts at rationality to be inauthentic. He seems to appreciate that he risks consignment to the personal enlightenment ghetto if he leads with his irrationality and so he puts up a rational smoke screen of citations and jargoning in an effort to get rationalists to take him seriously.

But Wilber cannot hide the irrational core of his system: the ineffable Spirit. This ineffability ultimately leads to the Principle of Explosion, which essentially states that anything is possible once you accept a contradiction. Spirit is the ultimate contradiction. The Principle of Explosion and the Law of Non-contradiction (i.e., a postulate cannot be both true and false at the same time) are lines that few rationalists are willing to cross. I chose to plow right through them and came back with something that is both completely rational and largely consistent with the core principles of spirituality.

There is a petulance to Wilber’s rejection of quantitative rationalism that seems a bit childish to me (there is no denying that ‘flatlander’ is generally used as a pejorative). Did Lisa Randall turn him down for a date or Gregory Chaitin kick sand in his face or what? He is lumping all quantitative rationalists into a derogatory category and yet he insists that people acknowledge the difference between contemporary pre-rational (“New Age”) and trans-rational (“Integral”) non-rationalists. Sure there are know-it-all quantitative thinkers who believe everything can be explained by numbers. But the vanguard of quantitative thought (and rational thought in general) is comprised of many individuals who simply regard the boundary of what we can know as flexible.

Physics has been leaking out of Wilber’s UR quadrant (whose core of atoms and presumably sub-atomic particles, it pretty much owns) into the core of his LR through its increasing integration with cosmology (which owns this quadrant’s core of galaxies, stars and planets). This indicates why the work of physicists and mathematicians should not be discounted in the search for the ultimate truth. Who knows, they may actually find the universe in a grain of sand :-).

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