Tough Questions from Clément Vidal, a Young Researcher in Evolutionary and Scientifically Inspired Philosophy

Clément Vidal is a much-published Belgian Ph.D. candidate in philosophy who is actively studying worldviews.  His website (http://clement.vidal.philosophons.com/ ), of course, includes an analysis of the scientific worldview, which is my main interest (see Vidal, 2008, 2011).  I made a comment to him that he at least needed to read “The Ten Assumptions of Science” before I could review his work.  Which he did, coming up with his reactions and a list of the tough questions often asked of philosophers, which is at the end of the dialog below:           


Sorry for the delay and thanks for your questions.  I will put my comments in brackets.


[Thanks for the reply.  I am afraid that you will have to read "The Scientific Worldview" or "The Ten Assumptions of Science" before we can have a fruitful discussion.]

I have the feeling that we have some disagreements, but would love to clarify if it's indeed the case, and if so, why and about what precisely.  I've read your "ten assumptions of science". As you suggest, please find below some quick comments about them, which, I hope can help to bring a fruitful discussion.

1. MATERIALISM: The external world exists after the observer does not.

This definition has more to do with "objectivity" rather than materialism (the dictionary says: "the doctrine that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications.")  

[You are right.  However, I put it this way so that it would be clear that this primary assumption of science is not personally testable.  As Collingwood maintained, fundamental assumptions are never completely provable and always have opposites.  The opposite, immaterialism, was employed in Berkeley’s famous claim that his chair disappeared after he left the room.  Another famous quote:    “Reality is merely an illusion, although a very persistent one” is attributed to Einstein (although I could not find the original reference).  There is no way to prove that Berkeley or Einstein is wrong even though immaterialism may seem silly to us.  Millions of people believe in immaterialism, and even if Einstein really didn’t say that, it is clearly one of his fundamental assumptions (e.g., massless photons, immaterial fields, etc).  As I explained in detail in “The Scientific Worldview” (TSW) our belief in MATERIALISM means that we can determine what truth is by observing or experimenting with the external world.  BTW: I would change the dictionary definition to this: "the doctrine that nothing exists except matter in motion."  As written, it implies that the movements of matter might exist (they do not; they occur).]    

2. CAUSALITY: All effects have an infinite number of material causes.

Are you referring to the metaphysical idea that "everything has a cause", and therefore that "all effects have an infinite number of material causes"? Otherwise, I never saw a causal model with an infinite number of material causes. Could you please give me an example? 

[This is derived from Bohm (1957), who also assumed at least a microcosmic version of infinity.  With INFINITY, of course, each microcosm contains an infinite number of submicrocosms and is bathed in a macrocosm containing an infinite number of supermicrocosms.  All causal models are just that, models involving a finite number of causes for all effects as in classical mechanics and classical determinism.  We must realize, however, that there always will be generally less significant causes that we are not able to include in a finite model.  CAUSALITY therefore shows why we always have a plus or minus in every analysis.  It fits nicely with our assumption of UNCERTAINTY below.]

3. UNCERTAINTY: It is impossible to know everything about anything, but it is possible to know more about anything.


[Glad you agree. Note how this is “consupponible” with CAUSALITY, INFINITY, and the other assumptions.]

4. INSEPARABILITY: Just as there is no motion without matter, so there is no matter without motion.


5. CONSERVATION: Matter and the motion of matter neither can be created nor destroyed.


[Note that I did not use the philosophically confusing term “energy” here.]

6. COMPLEMENTARITY: All things are subject to divergence and convergence from other things.

This is very vague to me. I would need examples to understand what you mean. Which "things"? Divergence or convergence towards what?

[All things means all things.  Each xyz portion of the infinite universe is either moving toward any other thing or away from that thing.  Read TSW to see the examples.  You could also download and read the SLT-Order Resolution paper from http://scientificphilosophy.com/Downloads/SLTOrder.pdf.]

7. IRREVERSIBILITY: All processes are irreversible.

That's not at all the Newtonian worldview, which is still in many places the common scientific view. In Newtonian dynamics, the equations are reversible. It's only with thermodynamics that we start having some troubles.

[You are entirely right.  It is also a mainstay (along with the assumption of finity) of the current scientific world view, systems philosophy, which supplanted the first scientific world view, classical mechanism.  The equations describe systems that are considered to be completely isolated from their environments.  This ideal situation never occurs in reality, although we can get pretty close.  If we consider both the system (microcosm) and its environment (macrocosm), as we do in univironmental analysis, then no real reaction can be seen as reversible.  As you mentioned, this all becomes more apparent when we do thermodynamics (the second law, for instance, would not even work if perfect isolation were possible).]

8. INFINITY: The universe is infinite, both in the microcosmic and macrocosmic directions.

This is pure metaphysics (cf Kant's Critique of Pure Reason). It is also important to define what we mean by "infinite" in such discussions. Infinity in microscopic direction is in contradiction with quantum mechanics arguing that there is a minimum scale (the Planck scale) and with modern cosmology, where the cosmological constant can be interpreted as a maximum scale (see the work of Laurent Nottale). 

[Again, you are 100% correct.  Because the universe is infinite, all of the “Ten Assumptions of Science,” like their indeterministic opposites are pure metaphysics.  Metaphysics is “that which goes beyond physics.”  The determinist says that which goes beyond physics is just more physics, while the indeterminist says that it is “something” else, often stated as “spirit,” “soul,” “god,” or some other form of oxymoronic “matterless motion.”  Because we assume INFINITY, univironmental determinists deny that there are no “subquantum” levels (see Bohm, 1957) or that the universe is finite as in the Big Bang Theory (BBT).  The assumption of INFINITY is what makes univironmental determinism the ultimate scientific worldview.  We are simply completing the program that Aristarchus and Copernicus only started.  When we are done, cosmogony will be viewed as ridiculous and the BBT will be history.]

9. RELATIVISM: All things have characteristics that make them similar to all other things as well as characteristics that make them dissimilar to all other things.

Ok, it's another version of the principle of indiscernible.

10. INTERCONNECTION: All things are interconnected, that is, between any two objects exist other objects that transmit matter and motion.


[In TTAOS and TSW I show how science and religion (determinism and indeterminism) act as complete opposites in the philosophical struggle.]

I am understanding you correctly that for you science=determinism and religion = indeterminism? If so, the equations are a bit simplistic to my taste. 

[Univironmental determinism, like the classical determinism before it, states that everything that occurs is natural, proceeding from whatever interactions between matter in motion that occurred previously.  Indeterminism says this is not so, and that supernatural occurrences not involving matter in motion are a better explanation.  These differences are simple, although, as part of the philosophical struggle, sophists teach us that it is more complicated than that.  The fancy dances of the indeterministic philosophers are responsible for the brainwashing that produces our “taste.”  These folks are not necessarily religious, just as not all scientists are atheists.  That is why I portrayed the philosophical struggle as one between determinism and indeterminism rather than between science and religion.  Most philosophical thought is a hodgepodge of determinism and indeterminism.  Sartre, for instance, was a notorious atheist, as well as a notorious believer in free will.  With TTAOS in hand, I can spot the logical contradictions hidden in most of these works within a paragraph or two.  You can do the same, and philosophy will be the better for it.]

[Religion has won most of the battles with probably more than 80% of the people believing the most absurd myths, with the Big Bang Theory being the greatest of them.]

I understand that the Big Bang Theory is for you part of religion, that it's a myth. I would agree that many cosmologists are not critical enough about big bang models, but building models of the universe based on empirical data is a scientific activity. 

[Empiricism is a failed philosophy.  One always analyzes data with theoretical ideas in hand.  A pure empiricist would measure the size of every sand grain on the beach.  The problem with the BBT folks is that they do not know which assumptions they are using.  You can ask them for 10 consupponible assumptions that form the foundation of their analytical work, but you will not get an answer.]

 [I guarantee that TSW (or even TTAOS) will change your life.]

That's not my goal in pursuit of rational inquiry. My (explicit) cognitive value here is objectivity; not the psychological or sociological benefits that I could get out of this quest.

[Sorry, but that is not how we operate.  We cannot divorce objectivity from the benefits we get from it.  Why do you care whether you are “objective” or not?  What makes science better than religion, which often claims to be objective as well?  The answer is that science allows us to make better predictions about the external world.  With it, we can determine what is true or false.  This helps us to control our environment to further our continued existence. BTW:  The implied refund guarantee above applies to anyone who actually reads TSW, sends me the receipt, and the marked up copy pointing out its logical errors.]

[I could review your papers at this point, but I don't think that would be of much benefit to you, since we use completely different beginning assumptions.]

I like your attitude to suspend judgment before clarifying our respective assumptions. That's exactly the kind of attitude I'd like to promote amongst philosophers. That's why, in the annex of my paper, I answered very basic philosophical questions to make my position explicit. I would be very curious to see your responses to these big questions. Would you be willing to take up this challenge?


Here are the questions:

(1) What is?

[Matter.  Matter is any xyz portion of the universe that has location with respect to other things in the universe.  Matter contains other things ad infinitum.]

(2) Where does it all come from? 

[From somewhere else.  Only an infinite universe could exist.  In the infinite universe each thing is a combination of other things that have converged temporarily from elsewhere.  Each combination has a finite life, with its various parts eventually diverging elsewhere into the infinite universe.]

(3) Where are we going? 

[Like other things and other species, we have had a beginning as a result of the special convergence of the matter that forms us.  We will have an ending as a result of the divergence of the matter that forms us.  In historical terms, we are in the late juvenile stage of development for our species (TSW, p. 290).  The next 40 years will be the most traumatic for the species as we adjust to the limitations of the macrocosm.  Specifically, we will shift from a rapidly expanding global economy to a steady state economy more in tune with declining rates of population growth.]

(4) What is good and what is evil? 

[They are subjective.  To the rabbit, the fox is evil; to the fox, the rabbit is tasty.  We use those terms to get what we want.  The folks who use them the most are seldom to be trusted.]

(5) How should we act? 

[We should act as though there will be no tomorrow.  Specifically, we should get as much enjoyment out of this wonderful infinite universe as we possibly can.  In all our actions, we should try to uphold the highest ethical standards.  What are these?  Ethics provide the map we use to negotiate the macrocosm.  Each ethical decision is an experiment.  Like all maps, these are humanly derived and not without errors and dead-ends.  Despite the claims of indeterminists, ethics are never absolute, for they are always changing with the changes in the macrocosm.  Thus, under feudalism stoning an adulteress was considered ethical and necessary for enforcing marital loyalty in the community.  Now we do it in more subtle and more complicated ways, although sometimes with a similarly unfortunate end result.]

(6) What is true and what is false? 

[We obtain truth via interaction with the macrocosm through observation or experiment.  Predictions about what might be true or what might be false always have the possibility of being incorrect because of the infinity of factors involved and the underlying unfalsifiable fundamental assumptions necessary for performing the analysis.  Postdictions have a better chance of being true or false.  For example, is it true or false that you sent me an email?  Although one can still quibble about who you are and who I am and the definition of an email, but the answer, of course, is “true.”  As you realize, much of what is currently said to be “true” actually is false.  Social groups require various fabrications to instill and enforce the loyalty necessary for their survival.  Although the infinite universe cannot possibly be expanding, the indeterministic assumptions underlying the contemporary interpretation of the galactic redshift have fostered the Big Bang Theory, the greatest falsehood of the 20th century.  For millions of folks, the BBT is “true” because it fits with their everyday experience interpreted via traditional assumptions.  If you can believe in virgin birth and living after dying, surely you can believe in the universe exploding out of nothing.  Many of the purportedly successful predictions of relativity and the BBT have been made with much simpler math and deterministic assumptions.  These get little press because they don’t fit the indeterministic assumptions that also happen to be the foundation of the religious world view.”]

(7) Where do we start to answer those questions?

[Read “The Scientific Worldview.”  Unlike other philosophical books, TSW first lays out the most important fundamental assumptions and their opposites, and chooses among them based on Collingwood’s (1940) criteria (nonfalsifiability and consupponibility) and their ability to support the general scientific presupposition that “all effects have causes.”  The resulting philosophy (and not coincidently, the universal mechanism of evolution) is univironmental determinism.  It is the ultimate scientific worldview, replacing Newton’s classical mechanism and today’s systems philosophy.  Mechanism tended to overemphasize the outsides of things (the macrocosm) and systems philosophy tended to overemphasize the insides of things (the microcosm).  Univironmental determinism attempts to unify these two viewpoints, claiming that what happens to a microcosm is determined by the matter in motion within and without.  To do so, it must use the assumption of INFINITY (The universe is infinite, both in the microcosmic and macrocosmic directions).]

[BTW: Clément’s answers to the questions are at: 

[True progress in philosophy only can be made by using the scientific worldview exclusively.]

I don't know what "true progress in philosophy" means. Please define. Furthermore, I'm generally skeptical about exclusive methods or worldviews.

[You should be.  After all, you probably have had a smattering of every philosophy imaginable.  To be fair, your instructors probably were required to give equal time to both sides of the determinism-indeterminism debate.  The usual propaganda is this: “there are no right answers.”  That statement is itself part of the struggle.  Both the priest and the head of the AAAS (http://scientificphilosophy.com/letters.html) can agree that there is no conflict between science and religion.  The Templeton Foundation supports the moderation with millions of dollars given to ethically suspect “scientists” who have been known to look for evidence of a “soul” and the efficacy of prayer.  You have a choice. You can continue down that path, producing your own mishmash for which you will be richly rewarded by the powers that be.  Or you can read TSW, “get” its main point, and use univironmental analysis in everything you do thereafter.]   
[On the other hand, if a career in philosophy is your aim, you surely are on the right track.  Good luck in your publication efforts.]

What if my aim is to promote an evolutionary and scientifically inspired philosophy?  

[Read “The Scientific Worldview.”  BTW:  The Progressive Science Institute is always looking for a few good members.]



Bohm, D., 1957, Causality and chance in modern physics: New York, Harper and Brothers, 170 p.

Borchardt, G., 2004, The ten assumptions of science: Toward a new scientific worldview: Lincoln, NE, iUniverse, 125 p. (TTAOS)

Borchardt, G., 2007, The Scientific Worldview: Beyond Newton and Einstein: Lincoln, NE, iUniverse, 411 p. (TSW)

Collingwood, R.G., 1940, An essay on metaphysics: Oxford, Clarendon Press, 354 p.

Vidal, C., 2008, What is a worldview?, in Van Belle, H., and Van der Veken, J., eds., Nieuwheid denken. De wetenschappen en het creatieve aspect van de werkelijkheid: Leuven, Acco.

Vidal, C., 2011, Metaphilosophical Criteria for Worldview Comparison. Working Paper (http://homepages.vub.ac.be/~clvidal/writings/Vidal-Metaphilosophical-Criteria.pdf).]


Rick Doogie said...

Great points, Glenn. And great questions and comments from Clément.
My favorite soundbite-worthy quotes from this discussion are these:
1. "One always analyzes data with theoretical ideas in hand." - What a wonderful world we would have if all scientists, philosophers, and psychologists realized this fact and openly admitted it in their papers.
2. "We cannot divorce objectivity from the benefits we get from it." - Anyone who claims to be in pursuit of "pure truth for the sake of the beauty of pure truth" is either deluded, or more likely, trying to delude others.
I could go on, there were so many good bread crumbs dropped along the path. But, those two were my favorites. Thanks.

Glenn Borchardt said...

Thanks Rick. You sure know how to hit the high points!