The New Reality: The Age of Values

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The New Reality: The Age of Values

By Norman Hirst

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, a new reality is emerging. Its been called a new paradigm, the Age of Aquarius and other names. I think of it as the Age of Values. For the first time in history, we will understand what values are and how essential they are to all life. Value words like “peace” and “justice” are not values any more than the word “cat” is an animal. Hopefully as we go, you’ll understand why this is so.

You might be surprised to know that today’s most commonly held world-view is derived from substance metaphysics, the dominant philosophy of Western civilization and traditional logic. Though few people study metaphysics or logic, culture provides subconscious awareness of both as a foundation for what we all agree is reality.

Metaphysics and logic go together like soup and sandwiches in the disciplines of philosophy and science. Metaphysics tells us what the world is made of and logic tells us how we might think about it. The relationship between these two disciplines is essential to the creation of a world view or what we agree reality is.

The dominant substance metaphysics typically postulates discrete individuality, separateness, classificatory stability and passivity. This metaphysics does not include life. Metaphysics for understanding life would postulate interactive relatedness, wholeness (totality), fluidity, evanescence and activity (agency). There is such a metaphysics. It is called process metaphysics or the philosophy of organisms. Process metaphysics began in ancient Greece with Heraclitus (540 – 480) even before substance metaphysics, but no one knew how to apply it. It became workable in the 20th. Century, notably, with Whitehead’s philosophical treatise called “Process and Reality” ” (the bible for process metaphysics - the philosophy of organism).

Logic remained pretty much as Aristotle developed it until near the end of the 19th Century. Then crises in the foundations of mathematics forced radical changes in logic. More research on logic was done during the 20th century than in all previous human history. Then logic became formal logic. Logic is now expressed in formal systems of which there are many for different purposes. Formal systems are difficult to describe since aside from logicians, mathematicians, physicists and some philosophers very few have experience to help them understand. They are constructed such that every statement is a command rather than a description as in ordinary language. I call them recipes.

The advantage of recipes is they can communicate what can not be said. I have a favorite cake. There is no language by which I can communicate the taste. But if I give you the recipe and you do what it says, you will soon be able to experience the cake for yourself. This is why formalisms guiding inquiry are essential for science. The recipes create new thinking that will expand our experience and awareness beyond what we knew. Further, everyone engaging in the inquiry will be able to share in the same new thinking. The power of science stems from the fact that such a community of observers will together experience the success or failure of the new realms. Any single failure means the entire theory needs revision.

Comparing the elements of reality given by substance metaphysics versus process metaphysics clearly shows substance and process require different ways of thinking. Process metaphysics is an opportunity awaiting exploration. There are now formalisms, recipes, for taking us there.

Given the availability of workable process metaphysics and previously unimaginable advances in logic, humankind is poised to enter a new reality. Will it? I believe it will. Let us examine why I believe so.

I remember, back in the 1950’s, when I graduated from MIT, I thought science was the epitome of enlightenment. There was tremendous power in science. It produced world-changing technologies. To solve a problem, one need only cast it in differential equations. I was shocked when philosopher and mathematician, Alfred N. Whitehead, the author of “Process and Reality”, warned that reality would not be found at the tail end of a “welter of differential equations.” But, as I pursued my inquiry into values, Whitehead’s warning was only the first in an infinite series of shocks as my prior scientific learning collapsed.

I knew there could be no credible science without a formalism to guide inquiry. For physics, the formalism is mathematics. But it seemed to me that mathematics was missing a lot it needed to serve for value inquiry. Knowing that the procedures of mathematics were founded on logic, I began a multiyear study of logic to see if I could find the missing element in Western logics.

I came to realize that mathematics was irrelevant to values. Instead, what is needed are whole new forms of scientific formalisms. The missing elements turn out to be unknown forms of logic now being discovered.

Thinking done with the most common world-view obeys rules that are only applicable to the non-living “thing” reality, rules that stem from substance metaphysics and it’s logic. When people ask me what logic has taught me about how they should think, I tell them, “Don’t think, unless you learn the new logics!” Charles Hartshorne, a leading process philosopher and founder of process theology said, “animals are metaphysically accurate”. Animals don’t have human logic to corrupt their awareness. Now the greatest opportunity for human kind is to overcome its faulty logic to become metaphysically accurate. Perhaps that is why so many today advise against “head-trips.”

Pushing us all into the new reality is the increasing difficulties in understanding today’s realities. In my previous article, I mentioned that quantum mathematics works, but no one knows what the underlying reality is. I could add many examples of failure to understand. In working with computers and artificial intelligence, I saw many great ideas make immediate and impressive progress and then crash. It was as if they hit a stone wall. People have been trying to produce artificial intelligence for half a century without real success. In biology the reductionistic deterministic theories promoting mapping of the human genome have been trashed. The genes are not a blue print for building a human. There is growing recognition that what was thought be to reality, isn’t. But what is?

Remember, the old substance metaphysics called for discrete individuality, separateness, classificatory stability and passivity. This would mean every individual is contained and isolated, unchanging and acted upon rather than acting. Put simply every individual is thought of as a thing. Sometimes I try talking without using the word “thing.” The new process metaphysics calls for interactive relatedness, wholeness (totality), fluidity, evanescence and activity (agency). Individual entities are more typically living and acting.

As long as every individual was a non-acting thing, only fact questions were relevant. We could ask what questions, never why questions. Those of us old enough will remember the TV program “Dragnet” and sergeant Joe Friday saying, “Just the facts mam!” There could only be “a what” as the cause, some objective fact that can be documented. But when individuals are perceived as living and acting, why questions become the most important questions to be asked. The answers are most frequently based on values.

Value words are not values. What, then, are values? Values are processes that form and act as active filters within us moment to moment as we experience our daily affairs. Values are not things, states or facts. When the reality was perceived as “things,” values were named as things outside us to aspire to. In living processes in the new reality, we discover value dynamics and how they form within each of us uniquely as our experience develops in the processes of life. We all have to make decisions without knowing what the long-term consequences will be. Understanding value dynamics will help to guide that process like navigation aids for life. Asking why questions will put you in touch with those value dynamics within. See Inner Tapestry April/May for articles on Value Dynamics. “Where’s The Meaning Part I .” By Skye Hirst.