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Thursday, March 10, 2016


I've been reading Time Reborn by physicist Lee Smolin and can't wait to finish it before commenting on it because it affects my thinking in Out of the Box. It is also a corollary to my last reflections on science and religion.

1. Relationalism. I thought I discovered relationalism, which I identified with the postmodern turn from modernity with its absolute timeless space (Newton) and its relative spacetime (Einstein). I conjectured that the new paradigm for thinking rejects both the absolute and the relative, whether in science or in ethics/politics, for the relational. The real is not made up of singular entities to which we give names, but of relationships within a dynamically changing symbolic system. No thing has reality except in relationship to other beings within a dynamically evolving universe. I knew I was following and even cited my antecedent teachers for this notion. But here is Smolin naming it. "Oh well, great minds..... "

2. Postmodernism. My approach is to accept that we are entering the postmodern world and to extol the opportunities as well as the dangers of that. However, Smolin echoes many others in making postmodernism a sort of heresy, a sort of a rejection of modernism that goes too far. So I see that there is a possibility of misunderstanding in my embrace of postmodernism that I must keep aware of. Maybe I need to add a chapter on post-postmodernism to clarify my differences from this popular dismissal of postmodernism.

3. Consciousness. Smolin treats consciousness as an afterthought. I would not expect a neuroscientist, much less a physicist, to deal with consciousness except to describe and identify the particles (cells, neurons, synapses, chemicals) that make it possible. Until, that is, they turn to philosophy, i.e. reflecting on the symbolic activity of science which comes up with its products (models, thoughts, ideas, formulas, theories). And Smolin often makes that turn to philosophy.

I have learned to distinguish the symbolic act of thinking from its products as a way of closing the separation of subjective consciousness from objective reality that characterizes modernity. Subjective consciousness cannot be caught except in the act. For as soon as you catch it, it no longer is--unless you loop back to the act of catching it. And so on to infinity. Oh, it's there alright--in the thinking act out to the world. In the human body thinking.  It is there connected to general consciousness from past to future. Call it the personal soul or collective world spirit! But consciousness will never be an object of science or any other human activity because it is the intersubjectivity that make objectivity possible.

Phenomenology is the discipline to notice and describe consciousness. Like Buddhist meditation, phenomenology attempts to see things as they are appearing, words in the act of uttering, the world as it is being created through symbols. Some have called consciousness the "mystery of existence" because of its allusiveness to categorization and objectification. It is not a problem to be solved in the world because it is what creates the world.

4. Thinking in time. Smolin shows how modern science from Galileo to Einstein removed time from nature. He shows how contemporary science is bringing it back. By making time the foundation of reality, he dispenses with immutable natural laws with their determinism in mathematical space. There is no timeless space or being. He opens science and all thinking to genuine novelty. This means the evolution of laws and an indeterminate future. He also shows that space itself emerges, that nature is not fixed in structure or content, and that the universe is the unfolding of time itself. He hopes, not in some grand theory that will last forever, to explain the universe. He sees science, and perhaps human existence, as a continuous adventure in which we never appropriate or even approximate, as Hawkins said, "the mind of God." For there is no such mind.

He shows how, by thinking in time, by getting past modernist timelessness, we can not only discover a new paradigm for science, but also for economics and politics in which are still stuck in the illusion of fixed laws. He affirms that the rebirth of time in our thinking will get us past the obstacles we have created to deal with climate change, inequity, and government.

Heiddegar and his followers characterized human existence as temporality. In other words, we humans when we act consciously in the world bring time into the world. Since humanity is an emergent being in nature, we are both carriers of time to nature and instances of the time in nature that is already there. Thinking in time, is a new imagination, that makes possible a new science to solve some of the problems that have arisen in modern science. Thinking in time also makes possible a new theology by which we can reinterpret many of the teachings and symbols of the past to make sense in our post-postmodern world towards solving many of the problems in ecology, economy, and politics.

That we can imagine the new--and how we do so--makes all the difference in the world.

1 comment:

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