Friday, November 11, 2011

Science and the Metaphysics of Theism (Philadelphia, 1997)

"It is more or less commonplace to speak of the crisis which has been caused by the progress of the natural sciences in the last few centuries. The crisis is due, it is asserted, to the incompatibility between the conclusions of natural science about the world in which we live and the realm of higher values of ideal and spiritual qualities....This effect of modern science has...set the main problems for modern philosophy. How is science to be accepted and yet the realm of values to be conserved?" (Dewey, 1929, p. 40-41)

In order to deal with the modern crisis as described above, perhaps it would be useful to address its foundation. Does science indeed pose such a dilemma for the philosophical "realm of values"? Distinguishing between the mechanistic and materialistic assumptions of science and the findings upon which they are based, the following tentative proposition comes to light: rheostasis (Mrosovsky, 1990) may be a unifying principle of science and philosophy, in which case the answer to the preceding question would be no.

Before exploring the viability of this possibility and some of its philosophical and practical implications, clarification of the concept of rheostasis and the fuzziness which it entails is warranted. The realm of applicability will then be generalized from physiology to neuroscience and physics, as epistemological and metaphysical insights emerge. Ultimately, the modern paradigm of science will be viewed from a soteriological perspective with respect to the dialectie between practical and pure reason.

Given that an adequate description or discussion of any of the relevant factors is well beyond the scope of the present paper, this work is intended to be a preliminary philosophical sketch rather than a technical explication. As such, phenomena have been explained on a cursory level in order to provide the alternative perspective that an integrative approach affords. Moreover, it is through the power of analogy, not reduction, that the analysis may be revelatory.

Realms of Rheostasis
Life Sustaining Function
What is rheostasis? Rheostasis is based on the concept of homeostasis. Homeostasis(1), in turn, is a ubiquitous physiological phenomenon which may be generally defined as "the process by which the body's substances and characteristics (such as temperature and glucose levels) are maintained at their optimal level" (Carlson, 1991, p. 617). Given Bernard's (1878) initial insight about the body's sustenance of the "milieu interieur" and Cannon's (1929) recognition of the dynamic nature of the homeostatic process, Mrosovsky (1990) has introduced the term rheostasis to emphasize the variable nature of homeostatic levels. For the purposes of this discussion, this intrinsic variability will be referred to as an element of fuzziness. In other words, fuzziness indicates freedom to vary within optimal limits, and rheostasis refers to the regulative homeostatic drive towards these fuzzy optimal levels of functioning.

Information and Thought
"Since science has made the trouble, the cure ought to be found in an examination of the nature of knowledge, of the conditions which make science possible" (Dewey, 1929, p. 41). Thus we turn to the blossoming field of neuroscience for epistemological insight, considering its fundamental tenet that all behavior, including thoughts and therefore knowledge, reflects physiological functioning of the brain (Kandel, Schwartz, and Jessell, 1991). More specifically, we turn to the neuron as the brain's structural and functional unit for processing and transmitting information.

What do the billions of nerve cells of the brain have in common? Although there are exceptions, e.g. spontaneously active cells and local interneurons without axons, most neurons share similar electrical signalling properties (Kandel, Schwartz, and Jessell, 1991). Generally speaking, the cell membrane may be described to serve rheostatic functioning by regulating the transmission of molecules, e.g. Na+, K+, Cl- ions, between the internal and external cellular environment, thus creating an electrochemical gradient across the membrane. For example, in a typical neuron the resulting membrane potential is maintained around -65mV +/-10mV (at the axon hillock) at rest (Kandel, Schwartz, and Jessell, 1991). This level is maintained in part by the active pumping in and out of Na+ and K+, respectively (Kandel, Schwartz, and Jessell, 1991). Toleration of a range of variability indicates fuzziness, and active regulation of ionic conductances reflects the rheostatic nature of the membrane potential.

When the cell is depolarized (descreases in negativity) beyond the given range or threshold, an action potential (electrical impulse) is propagated in an all-or-none fashion such that the shape (amplitude and duration) of the signal is always the same irrespective of stimulus variation (Kandel, Schwartz, and Jessell, 1991). As such, information is conveyed by the rate of firing. Information may be conveyed by the average number of action potential spikes fired in a single neuron or across neural populations within a given time period (Koch, 1997). Note, however, that the intervals between individual spikes, which vary randomly within limits, may also be informative (Koch, 1997). Such patterns are consistent with the concept of fuzzy variation and rheostatic regression. Furthermore, excitatory (depolarizing) and inhibitory (hyperpolarizing) postsynaptic potentials also depend upon temporal and spatial summation of signals from many presynaptic neurons in order to reach threshold and produce an integrated response. In other words, the interconnection of many components is also critical for the processing of complex information (Kandel, Schwartz, and Jessell, 1991). Nonetheless, deviation beyond rheostatic limits of the resting potential results in a stereotyped response, i.e. the all-or-none action potential.

Action potentials are transduced across synapses, the specialized junction between neurons (Koch, 1997). With respect to rheostasis among networks of neurons, synaptic plasticity may play a vital role, particularly in two ways. First, in wha tis referred to as short-term synaptic plasticity, individual synapses adapt to relative increases or decreases in presynaptic input (Koch, 1997). Second, the temporal synchrony of presynaptic spikes and backwards propagating action potentials may affect both the weight of the synapses and the consequent rheostatic level of the network (Koch, 1997). If the presynaptic input precedes the back-propagating action potential, then the weight of the synpatic connection is strengthened resulting in long-term potentiation. If the order is reversed, then the synaptic weight is decreased and long-term depression ensues. This kind of behavior emphasizes the dynamic nature of rheostatic levels.

Gravitation and Uncertainty
"Probably the most powerful single assumption that contributes most to the progress of biology is the assumption that everything animals can do the atoms can do. . . . " (Feynman, 1965, p. 165). So we move next to a consideration of physics. As Einstein's special and general theories of relativity attest, perspective is vital for understanding. Nevertheless, relativity begs for a higher sense of order. Therein lies the beauty of rheostasis. Reconceptualization of Newton's gravitational force and Einstein's gravitational field in terms of rheostasis leads to the conclusion that space-time may not only be relative but rheostatic! Moreover, given the equivalence of mass and energy and the law of the conservation of energy, the concept of rheostasis emphasizes the significance of interrelationships rather than a material root cause.

Although rheostasis may reflect a generalizable phenomenon, the interpretation of the gravitational field as a rheostatic level would be somewhat meaningless unless it provided for further insight. As such, what potential does the proposition herald of resolving relativity with quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle? The applicability of the concept of rheostasis to quantum mechanics becomes clear if one recalls the element of fuzziness which it entails. To the extent that regulated levels are fuzzy, the behavior (position and velocity) of individual particles may vary, indicating a degree of unpredictability. Nevertheless, beyond the micro-level of indeterminate individual instances (in space-time), a consistent pattern of events emerges. This pattern is taken to reflect rheostasis.(2)  Explanations of wave-particle duality and collapse of the wave function may be used to illustrate the point.(3)

For example, in the two-slit interference experiment, sub-atomic particles are emitted through a slit on a screen. When a second slit is opened, an interference pattern is produced, even though the "particles" are still only being emitted through one slit. The mechanical explanation is that there is a wave-particle duality, since waves which interfere with one another and then pass through both slits would produce a similar pattern of results. Alternatively, in a hidden variable theory that is consistent with the empirical predictions of quantum mechanics, Bohm and Hiley (1991) describe an association between particles and quantum fields(4) which are affected by the opening of the second slit, consequently changing the quantum potential(5) (i.e. hidden variable) beyond the initial screen, thereby producing the interference patterns. The rheostatic interpretation is a reconceptualization of the explanation given by Bohm, in which the quantum field represents a rheostatic level and the quantum potential reflects rheostasis. Accordingly, theories of gravitation and quantum mechanics may both be described in terms of rheostatic levels and drives.

Next, let us take the case of Schrödinger's cat in order to address collapse of the wave function, or in other words, to address the problem of conceptualizing how an indefinite state can lead to a definite result. Imagine a cat trapped in a closed room with a Geiger counter containing a trace of radioactive material. There is a 50 percent probability(6) that the radioactive nuclei will decay after one hour. Above is a hammer and a flask with prussic acid. If the nuclei decay, the counter will click and the hammer will fall, breaking the flask and killing the cat instantly. In order to know whether the cat is dead or alive after the hour, we must look into the room. According to quantum theory, two possibilities exist (Heisenberg, 1930): 1) an assumption of causation based upon mathematical laws precludes an unambiguous description of the nuclei as being in a state of decay or non-decay, i.e. fuzziness is entailed, or 2) the state of the nuclei may be described in terms of decay or non-decay, granted the uncertainty principle, according to which the process or context of observation affects what is being observed.

Schrödinger's cat may successively introduce both possibilities in the following manner: even if there is an element of fuzziness (here refined to imply intrinsic ambiguity) between states of decay and non-decay, observation of the cat enters the context of the state of the radioactive nuclei so that the consequent condition deviates rheostatic bounds, producing a definite result, i.e. life or death of the cat. In other words, despite possible initial ambiguity, the uncertainty principle (Heisenberg, 1930) asserts that observation affects the context of what is being measured such that rheostatic limits are crossed, resulting in a stereotyped response. The situation would be analogous to neural rheostatic toleration of excitatory and inhibitory postsynaptic potentials, which only produce an all-or-none action potential when a given threshold of excitation has been reached. In this way, indefiniteness or fuzziness within a rheostatic system may lead to a definite result, or to reiterate, collapse of the wave function may be explained in rheostatic terms.

But what about instances in which measurement and the uncertainty principle are not considered to be critical factors? For example, in an experiment by Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen (1935), atom A and atome B are separated in distance when a molecule is split, so that the measurement of the spin of A allows for the prediction of the spin of B in a well-defined state (Bohm and Hiley, 1991). Measurement only relates to B indirectly through the measurement of A. So what might explain the correlation between the spins of A and B? Bohm and Hiley (1991) account for the correlation in terms of a context-dependent nonlocal quantum potential, which here again may be considered rheostatic.(7) The spins of A and B would then be related through the maintenance of a nonlocal rheostatic level. But how might the nonlocality of such an effect be justified?

Given that in order for a local hidden variable theory to apply, Bell's inequality must be satisfied (Bohm and Hiley, 1991), Aspect, Dalibran, and Roger (1982) conducted an experiment in which pairs of photons are conducted from opposite sides of calcium atoms to a pair of polarization filters by randomly oriented rapidly changing switches. Since the switches ae not correlated with one another, the behavior of the pairs of particles would not be expected to be related beyond chance, or in others words, the particles are expected to behave independently of one another. However, when one particlce reaches the corresponding filter on its side, the other particle reaches the given filter on the othe side more often than would be predicted by chance, so Bell's inequalities are not met. These results, along with a more recent proof of the contradiction between nonlocality and quantum mechanics which does not rely on inequalities, imply the possibility of a nonlocal hidden variable theory (Bohm and Hiley, 1991).

The next question is whether a nonlocal hidden variable theory would necessarily violate the special theory of relativity, according to which all motion is relative and particles may not communicate with one another instantaneously or faster than the speed of light. The rheostatic reconceptualization of the quantum potential theory would be consistent with the special theory of relativity, as the following example illustrates. Imagine a see-saw with a light shining from each end. Whether viewed from directly above or anywhere else, and regardless of which end moves up or down, changes in the angles of illumination reaching a given point from each end will appear to be simultaneous by virtue of their reciprocal relationship. Likewise, according to the rheostatic reconceptualization of the quantum potential theory explained by Bohm and Hiley (1991), the apparent coincidence of changes in states would represent perturbations of a rheostatic level (e.g. changes in quantum fields) which reflects the rheostatic nature (e.g. quantum potential) of relationships within a given context. In this case communication between particles becomes irrelevant, and relative motion does not affect the perceived nature of the phenomenon. Thus the concept of rheostasis may provide a heuristic for resolving quantum mechanics with the special and general theories of relativity.(8)

Philosophical Implications
A Priori Knowledge and the Categorical Imperative
"But the principles must be about something; the principle of the conservation of energy relates to the energy of something, and the quantum mechanical laws are quantum mechanical laws about something--and all these principles added together still do not tell us what the content is of the nature that we are talking about" (Feynman, 1965, p. 149). So we return to the initial question of where the findings of modern science have left us in terms of philosophical insight and values. What does the notion of rheostasis as a unifying principle imply about ways of knowing, being, and interacting?

Just as life itself and the energy emitted from stars may both be explained in cmmon terms, e.g. particle interaction (Feynman, 1965), Kant found common guidance in "the starry heaven above. . . and the moral law within." Whence the commonality? Perhaps it is seeded in a priori principles manifest in both pure and practical reason. This point merits considerable clarification. Kant differentiates between practical and pure reason and thus between pragmatic and moral law derived, respectively, from subjective sensation and a priori knowledge. He asserts that "[practical] reason would overstep all its bounds if it ventured to explain how pure reason can be practical, which would be exactly the same problem as to explain how freedom is possible" (Kant, 1781, p. 79). However, as Reichenbach (1965) points out, although there may be truth or validity to the distinction of practical reason from pure reason in terms of its realization based upon sensibility(9), Kant draws his conclusions about its limitations based upon the science of his times. Granted the fuzziness entailed by rheostasis and the a priori nature of neural rheostasis as the basis of thought and sustenance of life, the concept of rheostasis applied in this paper based upon speculative reason and the findings of modern science suggests an alternative perspective.

In contrast to a jigsaw puzzle, Bohm and Hiley (1991) use the analogy of a hologram to describe implicate order in which each element contains the image of the whole; the appearance of the hologram may be strengthened by each additional component, but the integrity of the whole remains consistent. Likewise, the notion of rheostasis implies implicate order by virtue of its consistent reflection in nature, and the fuzziness entailed reflects inherent freedom to vary. Thus to the extent that the concept of rheostasis is generalizable, a system of both freedom and order may be described. Furthermore, various levels or manifestations of rheostasis, e.g. gravitation and quantum mechanics, allude to the interrelationship of various natural phenomena, suggesting unpredictability at the individual level but ultimate order in terms of a greater whole. In a similar vein with respect to human beings and the larger society, it is through this ultimate order that justice may prevail and from which moral law may be derived. In this sense, principles of science, e.g. rheostasis, based upon practical reason and derived through sensation may lead to the same conclusions as pure reason and moral law, i.e. to the categorical imperative. In other words, practical and pure reason may both be a priori in nature and thus ultimately lead to convergent conclusions. Indeed, in a rheostatic system, individual behavior may vary, but actions which deviate rheostatic bounds for optimal functioning have definite consequences which may affect interrelationships at a broader level, reinforcing the edict to act "so that I could at the same time will that my maxim should become a universal law" (Kant, 1785, p. 17). In this sense, the imperative is categorical to the extent that personal consequences are disregarded, and goodness is determined by the sake of the act.

The Metaphysics of Theism
Does an understanding of natural phenomena in terms of rheostasis herald a significance beyond reason and morality? Within the philosophical realm of values, what are the implications for theology, or more specifically, for the metaphysics of theism? In particular, Oakes (1996, p. 315) poses the following question: "how can the canonical theistic conception of the Ultimately Real--of a (Personal) Being who is absolutely limitless or infinite--fail to constitute the conception of a Being who comprises (includes, incorporates) everything that there is?" How does the notion of rheostasis relate to an understanding of God?

Using the analogies of a painter and his painting and a dancer and her dance to illustrate the difference between pervasive and exhaustive immanence, respectively, Oakes (1996) asks how God, though transcendent, could fail to be exhaustively immanent according to the traditional theistic conception of unlimited Being. With the analogies of the painter, the dancer, and the previously described hologram in mind, we turn to the following analysis in reference to rheostasis. To the extent that rheostasis entails freedom and order and thereby justice and beauty and in the sense that these qualities are ultimately divine, God may be immanent at every level of being, as in the implicate order of a hologram. By virtue of these qualities and given that the notion of rheostasis implies a closed (but dynamic) system, a Divine Creator may be inferred in the way that a sublime painting may be attributed to a masterful painter. Morever, the existence of the cosmos may depend upon these rheostatic and essentially divine characteristics (freedom and order, justice and beauty) as a dance depends upon the motion of the dancer. Therefore, the conflict between metaphysical transcendence and exhaustive immanence may be resolved if Being is understood in terms of essential qualities rather than material existence.(10) This returns us to a shift from the scientific quest for a material root cause to the significance of understanding the nature of interrelationships.

"The search for the 'one', for the final source of understanding, has probably been the origin of both religion and science. But the scientific method developed in the 16th and 17th centuries, the interest in details which can be checked experimentally, has for a long time carried science on a different path" (Heisenberg, 1970, p. 36). This paper has been a speculative attempt to address the apparent tension between modern science and the philosophical realm of values. In order to do so, the notion of rheostasis has been applied as a unifying principle of science and philosophy.

Given a reinterpretation of some major modern scientific findings (e.g. neural functioning, gravitation, and quantum mechanics) in terms of rheostasis, many apparent conflicts between science and philosophy may be conceptually resolved. In particular, both natural and moral law may be resolved by the notion of rheostasis, which may reflect a priori knowledge but which may also be realized through speculative reason based on sensation. In other words, rheostasis may exist in terms of a priori knowledge but may also be empirically derived a posteriori. In this case, the modern dilemma posed for philosophy may be considered to represent the assumptions rather than conclusions of science in the sense that the rheostatic conclusions of modern science converge with the metaphysics of ethics and theism.

Therefore, "that, as mere speculation, [metaphysic] serves rather to keep off error than to extend knowledge does not detract from its value, but on the contrary, confers upon it dignity and authority by that censorship which secures general order and harmony, ay, the well-being of the scientific commonwealth, and prevents its persevering and successful labourers from losing sight of the highest aim, the general happiness of all mankind" (Kant, 1781, p. 540). However, in contrast to Kant and given the present state of science and society, we conclude that the necessity of an unconditional practical law such as the categorical imperative may not only be explainable in terms of reason, but may ultimately and inevitably be derived through the dialectic between pure and practical reason to the extent that rheostasis is a priori in nature.

(1) As noted by Henderson (1925) and Cannon (1929), physiological homeostasis differs from chemical equilibrium in that the former is actively maintained, whereas the latter tends toward stagnation.

(2) In this sense, rheostatic tendencies may be reflected in Gaussian distributions and patterns of central tendency, particularly in reference to the central limit theorem.

(3) Note that the regularity of wave patterns may represent rheostatic tendencies in which the peaks and valleys indicate the degree of fuzziness.

(4) A field may generally be defined as the domain throughout which a force operates. Note that space-time may represent the fuzzy union of two sets, such that the set representing space includes phenomena such as blackholes, the set representing time indicates a vacuum, and the fuzzy intersection of space and time may include instances of both to varying degrees, thus representing the observable universe of discourse. // According to this interpretation, space-time would be the field throughout which rheostasis operates, and therefore, the application of fuzzy logic to quantum mechanics would be consistent with a cardinality of two (space and time), (McGoveran, 1981; Birkoff and von Neumann, 1936).

(5) Potential here refers to the transfer of energy required to move an event from a given point toward a given field of force, or more specifically, toward a given rheostatic level; rheostasis refers to the implicit force.

(6) Note that this notion of probability is based upon an assumption of discretely defined states or sets.

(7) More specifically, Bohn and Hiley (1991) point out that according to conditions of the Dirac equation, the magnetic moment associated with spin is a context-dependent nonlocalized potential which depends on the quantum field. In other words, the magnetic moment of a point particle may be described as rheostatic and dependent on the rheostatic level.

(8) In this way, rheostasis may explain the symmetry implicated in the interaction of gauge fields (Belokurov and Shirkov, 1990).

(9) Kant (1785) describes rational knowledge as being comprised of formal and material knowledge, the latte of which, based on sensibility, refers to natural and moral philosophy and in turn to speculative and practical reason or the laws of nature and the laws of freedom, respectively. However, the general distinction between pure and practical reason seems to be based upon the primary distinction between formal and material knowledge; the term "practical" would then be ambiguous.

(10) This argument also addresses the issue of pantheism in nature. God may be manifest in nature, but monotheism is implied by the singularity of rheostasis as a concept.

"The blindly executive will, however, is nothing but the objectively creative potency of the understanding itself: Thought is Force, and Force is Substance. The absolute 'full-filling' of Thought-in-Itself, therefore, or the embodiment of the Ideal in the Real, is the eternal self-legislation of Thought-in-Itself into Thought-into-Being--of the subjective relational system into the objective relational system of the Real Universe. The ground of this realization can only be the inherent and uncreated fitness of the Absolute Ideal to Be--that is, to become the Absolute Real; and the perception of this absolute fitness of the Ideal to become the Real--a profoundly ethical perception--is the ground of the Eternal Creative Act. Here, then, the infinite organism manifests itself essentially as Moral Being--as a universe whose absolute foundation is Moral Law, of such absolutely self-inherent sanctity that the creative understanding itself obeys it and the whole fabric of creation embodies and enforces it; and the moral nature of man, derived from this moral nature of the universe itself, is the august revelation of the infinite purity, rectitude, and holiness of God."  [Francis Ellingwood Abbot. Scientific Theism. (London: MacMillan and Co., 1885), p. 206.]

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