Nothing or Something?

What exactly is nothing?  Great question.  Here is a good answer.  This answer also goes to the point that narrative/world-view/faith encompasses everything, even our view of agreed upon facts or those thought to be commonly held.  They are commonly held only after a meta-narrative has been in place and established long enough for a way of reasoning and “seeing” allows such to become conventional wisdom or the very air that we breathe.  Something first had to happen so that we could “see” that such was the case.  We forget that modern science and the scientific method came about through a paradigm shift of changing world-views/narratives/faiths–and that shift was from an ancient Greek/Pre-Christian narrative to a Christian or Biblical narrative.  What is commonly held now, wasn’t always.  In other words, to say that we can all agree that reason, observation, testing, deduction, and the methodologies associated with modern science can predict and explain much about nature, in 2013, presently, means nothing unless we consider that such was only made possible by a shift in world-view or a way of “seeing” things differently.  We simply now live in that stream.  We do not get to narrative after the “commonly held” stuff.  Narrative comes always before us–we always arrive after or mid-stream as it were.
“Affirming the real as intelligible and reasonable allows us to resist the overpowering reductionism of many scientific claims. While not intrinsic to science per se, scientific explanations are often driven by the claims that a particular phenomenon is “nothing but” a set of underlying states. The approach is a by-product of thinking that reality is already-out-there-now, so the closer I look, the more intense my gaze, the more and more detail and the smaller things I see. Indeed, even when the things we are seeking are so small we shall never actually “see” them in any meaningful sense, we still maintain this myth of knowing. Within this frame of reference, every science is thought to be just a set of footnotes to the most basic science of all – probably particle physics, which gives us the ultimate “building blocks” of reality.
In fact, the reductionist paradigm fails even at the sub-atomic level. We are often told that a nucleus of an atom is comprised of protons and neutrons. This basic model of the atom was developed in the early-twentieth century when protons and neutrons were thought to be basic building blocks of matter.
But there is something wrong even with this account. A bare neutron has a half-life of about eleven and a half minutes. Over time it decays into a proton, an electron and a neutrino. However, once inside the nucleus of an atom, this basic property of the neutron ceases to function. Its integration into the higher order intelligibility of the atomic nucleus changes its properties. The higher order reality has modified the lower order constituent. Indeed if this did not happen there would be no stable atomic nuclei, no stable chemical substances, and we would not exist.
One consequence of what Lonergan calls “intellectual conversion” is, as I have tried to demonstrate, a breaking of the hold on our imaginations of the aggressive scientific reductionism that dominates much of the discussion around science and religion. Such a reductionism is a metaphysical stance, one not “proven” by science, and in fact one which runs counter to a scientific commitment to intelligence (hypothesis formation) and reason (verification) [emphasis added].
Once we move from a conception of reality as already-out-there-now, to one where reality is uncovered through intelligent grasp and reasonable affirmation, reductionism loses its force. Further, we are able to affirm the reality of our human world of meanings and values without seeing them as just “nothing more than” some underlying more “real” reality.”
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1 Response to Nothing or Something?

  1. Burk Braun says:


    This is hilarious. How do theists deal with the “anxiety of contingency”? They don't test or deal with reality at all. It is all models all the time- no experiments. That certainly takes care of that!

    God is like interest rates? This is more comedy. An admission that god as no extra-social existence. It is a social convention, cooked up for our convenience and use. I understand that fully, but I doubt you realize what you are taking on board here.

    Likewise, our whole world of meanings, values, and institutions… we cook them all up, and they are variously extremely useful. But no one claims that interest rates or contract law is a “real” part of the universe. It is a real part of our socially constructed lives, and so is religion. And so is atheism.


    On your own post, sometimes ways of seeing things are … correct. We are now seeing the earth as round. I assume that will stand the test of time and is something not only a passing fad but a .. fact. So whether we believed crap before is not terribly informative or determinative. The idea is to drop those models in favor of more accurate ones, in correspondence with reality.

    The quote on neutrons hardly indicts reductionism- we wouldn't know anything about neutrons either naked or clothed without it. Your problems with reductionism are psychological phantasms- it is a simple matter of thinking in detail about relationships, causes, etc. Not of dismissing any holistic and emergent properties, but rather learning more about those, too, by composition. In your world, god is the ultimate reductionist, attending to every sparrow that falls, among much else. Every time you cite the bible to prove by some scriptural detail some theological point, you engage in reductionism .. it is inescapable.

    Now, if you want to escape analytic thought entirely and just utter affirmations all the time .. that would be your choice. And intellectually, that would be fideism.

    Thanks- This post is very informative on your world view. The idea that interest rates, and dollars, and contracts .. are real is very interesting in its analogy to god. Who would imagine that interest rates could create the universe? Only a Wall Streeter!

    Incidentally, your pasts posts on key topics rarely put any issue to rest- they are unsystematic and more polemical & sentimental than analytical. So don't be surprised if the same points keep coming back.


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