Comparative Examples

Two ways to frame our existence

Materialsim and Idealism are meant to frame a mindset of how we perceive reality and the entirety of our existence. These words can mean things to different people. These examples help clarify the two mindsets.

Example Idealism Materialism
Statisticians Our profession will not be needed in heaven. When we get to heaven all truth will be known and we will not need probabilities and modeling. While here on earth we use statistics to estimate the known and fixed truths (admittedly this is primarily about frequentist statisticians). Heaven is a complex set of interactions between beings endowed with free will. These complex interactions interlaced with time necessitate that God understands and uses probability to plan and organize His kingdom. Probability and faith may be interchangeable words and we believe that our God is a God of faith.
Physisists What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? Steven Hawkings Nature cannot be captured in an single logical or mathematical system. The universe simply is - or better yet, happens. It is unique. To exist is to be in relation to other things that exist and the universe itself has no relation to anything outside of it. Lee Smolin
Mathematician Mathematics is the language God has written the universe in Galileo We enjoy mathematical powers for natural reasons. We develop them at first inspired by nature, eviscerated of time and particularity, and then at a distance from the original sources of our inspiration. Mathematics, however, is smaller, not greater, than nature. It achieves its force through a simplification that we can easily persuade ourselves to mistake for a revelation and liberation. Roberto M. Unger
Grace Understood as stemming from God’s being an excessive, enabling, and absolute exception to the rest of reality. Adam Miller Work and suffering are the two faces of grace. 1) it presents as the ceaseless work required by the multitudes resistance and 2) it presents as the unavoidable suffering imposed by our passibility. Work is grace seen from the perspective of resistance. Suffering is grace seen from the perspective of availability. Classical transcendence does not enable grace, it plugs it. Adam Miller

Lee Smolin

Lee Smolin (born June 6, 1955) is an American theoretical physicist, a faculty member at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, an adjunct professor of physics at the University of Waterloo and a member of the graduate faculty of the philosophy department at the University of Toronto. He has made contributions to quantum gravity theory, in particular the approach known as loop quantum gravity. He also advocates an alternative view on space and time he calls temporal naturalism. His research interests also include cosmology, elementary particle theory, the foundations of quantum mechanics, and theoretical biology.1

Examples of Ideal and Material statements

The following table from Time Reborn frames the implications of holding to idealism (time as an illusion) and materialism (time as the core of reality).

Idealism Materialism
Time is an illusion. Truth and reality are timeless Time is the most real aspect of our perception of the world. Everything that is true and real is such in a moment that is one of a succession of moments.
Space and geometry are real Space is emergent and approximate
Laws of nature are timeless and inexplicable, apart from selection by the anthropic principle. Laws of nature evolve in time and may be explained by their history.
The future is determined by the laws of physics acting on the initial conditions of the universe. The future is not totally predictable, hence partly open.
The history of the universe is, in all its aspects, identical to some mathematical object. Many regularities in nature can be modeled by mathematical theories. But not every property of nature has a mirror in mathematics.
The universe is spatially infinite. Probabilistic predictions are problematic, because they come down to taking the ratio of two infinite quantities. The universe is spatially finite. Probabilities are ordinary relative frequencies.
The initial singularity is the beginning of time (when time is defined at all) and is inexplicable. The Big Bang is actually a bounce which is to be explained by the history of the universe before it.
Our observable universe is one of an infinite collection of simultaneously existing but unobservable universes. Our universe is a stage in a succession of eras of the universe. Fossils. or remnants, of previous eras may be observed in cosmological data.
Equilibrium is the natural state and inevitable fate of the universe. Only small subsystems of our universe come to uniform equilibria; gravitationally bound systems evolve to heterogeneous structured configurations.
The observed complexity and order of the universe is a random accident due to a rare statistical fluctuation. The universe naturally self-organizes to increasing levels of complexity, driven by gravitation.
Quantum mechanics is the final theory and the right interpretation is that there are an infinity of actually existing alternative histories. Quantum mechanics is an approximation of an unknown cosmological theory.

Latour Quotes

Bruno Latour (1947 - 2022) is a prominent French sociologist and philosopher of science known for his work on the social construction of scientific knowledge and the dynamics of scientific practice. Latour argues that truths are not fixed or timeless but are constructed within specific social and historical contexts. He emphasizes the relational nature of knowledge, asserting that truths are shaped by the network of actors, institutions, and practices that participate in their construction.

The world is full of idealists (reductionism)

I taught at Gray in the French provinces for a year. At the end of the winter of 1972, on the road from Dijon to Gray, I was forced to stop, brought to my senses by an overdose of reductionism. A Christian loves a God who is capable of reducing the world to himself because he created it. A Catholic confines the world to the history of the Roman salvation. An astronomer looks for the origins of the universe by deducing its evolution from the Big Bang. A mathematician seeks axioms that imply all the others as corollaries and consequences. A philosopher hopes to find the radical foundation which makes all the rest epiphenomenal. A Hegelian wishes to squeeze from events something already inherent in them. A Kantian reduces things to grains of dust and then reassembles them with synthetic a-priori judgments that are as fecund as a mule. A French engineer attributes potency to calculations, though these come from the practice of an old-boy network. An administrator never tires of looking for officers, followers, and subjects. An intellectual strives to make the “simple” practices and opinions of the vulgar explicit and conscious. A son of the bourgeoisie sees the simple stages of an abstract cycle of wealth in the vine growers, cellarmen, and bookkeepers. A Westerner never tires of shrinking the evolution of species and empires to Cleopatra’s nose, Achilles heel, and Nelson’s blind eve. (PF 162-163)

Nothing can be reduced; everything may be allied

Tired and weary, suddenly I felt that everything was still left out. Christian, philosopher, intellectual, bourgeois, male, provincial, and French, I decided to make space and allow the things which I spoke about the room that they needed to “stand at arm’s length.” I knew nothing, then, of what I am writing now but simply repeated to myself: “Nothing can be reduced to anything else, nothing can be deduced from anything else, everything may be allied to everything else.” This was like an exorcism that defeated demons one by one. It was a wintry sky, and a very blue. I no longer needed to prop it up with a cosmology, put it in a picture, render it in writing, measure it in a meteorological article, or place it on a Titan to prevent it falling on my head. I added it to other skies in other places and reduced none of them to it, and it to none of them. It “stood at arm’s length,” fed, and established itself where it alone defined its place and its aims, neither knowable nor unknowable. It and me, them and us, we mutually defined ourselves. And for the first time in my life I saw things unreduced and free. (PF 163)

All work is political

It takes something like courage to admit that we will never do better than a politician. We contrast his incompetence with the expertise of the well informed, the rigor of the scholar, the clairvoyance of the seer, the insight of the genius, the disinterestedness of the professional, the skill of the craftsman, the taste of the artist, the sound common sense of the ordinary man in the street, the flair of the Indian, the deftness of the cowboy who fires more quickly than his shadow, the perspective and balance of the superior intellectual. Yet no one does any better than the politician. Those others simply have somewhere to hide when they make their mistakes. They can go back and try again. Only the politician is limited to a single shot and has to shoot in public. I challenge anyone to do any better than this, to think any more accurately, or to see any further than the most myopic congressman. (PF 210)

Mediators over commanders

Why always replace one commander with another? Why not recognize once and for all what we have learned over and over again in this book: that action is slightly overtaken by what it acts upon; that it drifts through translation; that an experiment is an event which offers slightly more than its inputs; that chains of mediations are not the same thing as an effortless passage from cause to effect; that transfers of information never occur except through subtle and multiple transformations; that there is no such thing as the imposition of categories upon a formless matter; and that, in the realm of techniques, no one is in command - not because technology is in command, but because, truly, no one, and nothing at all, is in command, not even an anonymous field of force? To be in command, or to master, is a property of neither humans, nor nonhumans, nor even of God (PH 298).

Adam Miller

The real is messy

The good news is that, “as soon as there is no other world, perfection resides in this one” (PF 233). Every object is simply and perfectly whatever that object is. “There is no rear-world behind to be used as a judge of this one” (RS 118). This does not mean that legitimate judgements cannot be made, but it does mean that non-messy, non-provisional, non-concatenated judgements cannot be made. It means that the messiness of these judgements does not stem from our poor access to what is real, but from the messiness of the real itself. SG 47