Metaphysics – Levels of Reality

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It is natural to think of the world as being divided into a hierarchy of levels: on the lowest level there are fundamental particles such as quarks, electrons, photons, etc; at a higher level, atoms and molecules; at a higher levels, cells; at a higher level, organisms; and so on. This video examine various ways we might try to make the notion of levels precise. I then outline Jaegwon Kim’s exclusion argument, which poses a serious problem for the levels picture.


Kaiser Basileus says:

I answered as i followed the video. I hope you'll read them in the reverse order that they're presented here, for clarity, if not alongside the video as it progresses.

Kaiser Basileus says:

Kim's exclusion argument – the mind/brain problem is simple: Brain is a physical understanding of the stuff. Mind is a metaphorical understanding of the patterns of the same stuff. (The Stuff is "Actuality" – the undifferentiated universe beyond what minds can access.) The physical understanding is on the other side of the barrier of transcendence – we can only reference it through replicable sensory experience. The metaphorical understanding is ours to play with but has a certain core ("consensus reality") that must be shared for communication to be meaningfully possible.

Calling it "levels" is problematic here because levels can apply to complexity or biological subservience or literally any other distinction. A "level" is no different than a "dimension" which simply means a scale along which something can be measured. Up or down in physical size is a level, left or right is a dimension… a difference that makes no difference is no difference. The concepts are pragmatically indistinguishable.

The fact that a specific mind is only possible in a specific brain because they're words for different genres of understanding the same stuff also clarifies the impossibility of mind-transfer. The neuronal connections in someone else's physical brain are not capable of supporting the patterns that correspond to your mind. Perhaps a lower-resolution version could be accomplished by using some neurons to hash-check others, or something?

M1 is a metaphorical understanding of P1, not a separate entity. You can call them separately or together "a head event" if you like. If you can understand the difference between sociological, political, emotional, racial, bio-electrical understandings of the same identical person, everything else works with the same mechanics. Brain "causes" mind in the sense of patterns we call mind having to exist in a physical substrate as a prerequisite. Mind "causes" brain in the sense of our understanding of brain being a mind-ensconced idea, meaning having a mind is a prerequisite for having an understanding of what a brain is. It's a yin/yang relationship. This is the root ontology – The Prime Metaphor

As things (each a collection of attributes and/or boundary conditions), mind and brain share the attributes of existence in time and space.

Kaiser Basileus says:

The idea of a fundamental level is, like all words that represent the ultimate, infinite, or perfect (as do those words themselves), can only be a placeholder. There is no "lowest" level of reality because there are no ends in reality. They only exist in language according to our particular intents. Moreover, the entire track record of science is of finding no end to lower levels. This means it is an increasingly unsupportable proposition that we could ever find one, even if such a thing is possible, but there's also no reason to believe it's possible. No human has ever experienced and end to anything, only a change of state from one pattern to another, and the language that corresponds. Infinite precision in any concept is impossible. The word infinity itself means "keep going", it's not a destination, it's a direction.

Zero and nothing always mean lack of something in a specific context, toward a specific intended end. Perfect means "that which we cannot imagine being better". And so forth. The line of transcendence cannot be crossed by definition and words which reference it must be understood in that context. This is the kernel of philosophy.

Kaiser Basileus says:

4) Causal relations are not a distinguishing feature of levels in most ways because everything effects everything else. The purpose in "pattern with a purpose" that all things are, must be particularly constrained in this respect. Change is the universal substrate of the universe and causality is our ability to use external experience to obtain maximum certainty of predictive outcome. In other words, it's what science measures rigorously.

But the problem of causality stretches across levels. The word "why" means many different things. Why is the sky blue? Is it because that's the word we use? because of how light acts? because of how our eyes act? because that's how god made it?

Causality isn't merely inter-level, it's infinitely so in every way, at every scale, including time. There's no difference between an instant and infinity except in range of human purposes. The universe is marbles in a fishbowl. Whenever anything moves, everything else moves around to accommodate it. On the scale we understand that's physical space, but at lower levels energy can become entangled, as it were, and "store" itself as "potential" which is a buffer relative to physical space, allowing infinite causality at a sub-"physical" level without causing infinite apparent affects at the physical causality level of understanding. That may not have made sense as written. I don't have to explain infinite causality very often.

If things are defined as in some sense distinct from causal effects – separate with regard to the purposes at play, then they can be considered causally unique for those purpose, but that doesn't mean they are causally distinct at any other particular level or even at the same level with a different resolution of intent. Your Ebola example mixes levels untenably. Properly deconstructed, "Ebola caused Frank's death." means – the concept of the Ebola virus as a whole includes the specific physical cause of the specific biological change in the levels-more-complex "Frank" which then led to the sequence of events which we stop tracking at a point we call death. That's not at all the same thing as Ebola and Frank being on the same level. Not remotely similar.

The mechanisms explanation is correct but trivial and useless. It's mechanisms all the way down (or up). All your Frank examples are crossing that boundary willy-nilly. There is a further problem in that questions of "why" and "how" are often conflated. "How" simply means the default intent of understanding is mechanistic, whereas "why" usually means that intent is assumed somewhere in the calculus – to what end?

Causality is best understood as a problem of prediction. If we can accurately anticipate a given chain of change from a point we call "cause" to a point we call "effect", it's considered causal.

Kaiser Basileus says:

Level 3 – composition is a necessary and sufficient condition for complexity. If there are many layers of understanding to a thing, it's complex. It's also complex if there are many kinds of thing in it at a single layer. (thing = set of attributes and boundary conditions toward a purpose, ex. below)

Yes, a computer is a higher-order entity than it's parts. That's exactly what/how composition is/means/does/works. I bite that bullet firmly because it's the answer to the whole question.

Because complexity can be across levels or within a level, we cannot merely discuss composition. But we can merely discuss complexity because all composition and talk of levels relates directly to complexity. But, the word "levels" requires less explanation in ordinary speech where whether the level is of scale or complexity or whatever is obvious in context.

These things that are "vague and context dependent" are ALL things. Context is the seed of language. Words can only mean what we use them to mean, which is always contextually pragmatic. The inner kernel of agreed attributes and boundary conditions is the dictionary definition of a word (and whether a particular dictionary is accurate or effective at determining that is a different question).

Even the identical physical stuff is a different Thing in different contexts. An apple to you or i is a several-bit object, but to an apple vendor it is more complex both in kind (number of attributes within the level of reality – size, shape, composition, weight, mass, etc.) and in number of levels (vendor agreements, legal requirements, soil growing conditions, DNA provenance, etc.).

So basically, there is a metaphysical understanding of this that clears it all right up and is composed, pardon the expression, of pretty regular understandings of the words and concepts. In the final analysis, the word complexity is subjective, like all words and concepts – but contingent, not arbitrary.

Kaiser Basileus says:

Aha, i guess i got ahead of you. Part 2 – Complexity. The definition of complexity is simply that which is made up of other parts. The more parts, the more complex. This is not a problem. We can't measure it precisely because the purpose for that specificity is lost after some point and there's no reason anyone would bother. Nothing can be measured that precisely or will ever need to be. Those things for which precision is needful can be measured precisely enough and we have been all along, or the precision of our instruments needs to improve before sufficient precision can be obtained.

The mechanics from which viscosity or whatever are built is irrelevant to how we use the idea now. If we eventually gain a deeper understanding that won't affect the vast majority of the uses for it we have today except in the sense that ongoing increases in precision and understanding affect everything that they touch moving forward.

"More useful to treat them as a whole" is an accurate summation of emergence except that we always experience and understand the higher-order (more complex) ideas first, then poke and prod, examine, manipulate, and understand the layers beneath. It's more accurate to say that emergence is when we deconstruct reality into it's component parts, literally creating a new, more fundamental, more simple understanding, which then inherently raises the relative complexity of all the levels above it. It's kind of like jacking up your house before you move it to higher ground to avoid a flood (the flood being intellectual obsolescence).

Kaiser Basileus says:

Statistical probability is a measure of uncertainty. To say an electron doesn't have a specific size is to say we don't know exactly what an electron Is. We draw the line at what we can measure that doesn't seem to be directly relevant to layers above or below. Of course, the reason an electron is fuzzy is that we are at a high level of observation and comprehension. An electron in a hundred years won't be any more mysterious than a molecule is now. We'll have more precise ways to measure it and a more precise definition to distinguish between it and what are other things. That's all any "thing" is anyhow, a set of attributes and boundary conditions sufficient for a purpose.

Kaiser Basileus says:

Levels or reality are bespoke. They re cut from the whole cloth of what is discovered according to various uses. There's no such thing as an electron per-se, that's just what we call a certain set of attributes and boundary conditions. Size is a stand-in for complexity because all complex objects can be deconstructed into smaller pieces when more information becomes available, just like race, culture, and nation used to be used interchangeably. More details about how various human dynamics were developed necessitating dividing the ideas into different areas for exploration and development. …just like we didn't throw out Newton when Einstein came along, we just distinguished their work from one another according to scale and moved forward. The ultimate answer (which requires reaching bottom, which is not a possible thing) would come from having enough information to integrate all higher-order understandings without a remainder.

In other words, size is a stand-in for complexity. The universe has higher and lower orders of complexity built upon one another in a size-correlated fashion because all simpler things that complex things are made of are smaller than that complex thing. In each individual instance, size is relevant because it's indistinguishable from complexity, but when you start traveling up or down the layers, the layers can change at different rates of size according to how many layers of complexity there are along that path.

Emmanuel Perez says:

Kane do you have a video about ether? If you don't have it you should consider this topic because it is a special kind of immaterial substance. It is a fascinating subject it is more direct into the thesis of this same video that you did without the complications, subjectivities and complexities that were found here.

Emmanuel Perez says:

Have you heard of a term in metaphysics called Neo-carnapianism? It states that the existence of certain things is determined by human subjectivity. For example, you know beef right? You perfectly know the leg of a cow. Well, it turns out that in certain cultures the leg of a cow has different sections with different names which consequently correspond to different possible flavors of the meat. According to a philosopher from the University of Nottingham, in some cultures those sections of the leg of the cow are not known or are simply dismissed because they are considered just part of the leg itself. Ontology is very interesting because it helps us understand human culture a lot better. Some things exists for some while those things even though they are visible don't exist for some others.

I think this can be a possible tool to interpret certain principles in this video about levels of reality. We can think of Neo-Canapianism to consider the ontological value of an entity and how that relates to subjectivity.

Emmanuel Perez says:

This is ontology right?

Kaiser Basileus says:

Causality is just another kind of contingency.

Kaiser Basileus says:

Contingent complexity defines both levels and composition, there is no conflict. Composition is material and levels are pragmatic. They are co-equal, and just like personality attributes, nature sets the absolute limitations (contingency) and everything else is created according to circumstantial purpose.

Kaiser Basileus says:

Just because the properties are simple doesn't mean they exist in a simple substrate. Water molecules alone are less complex than water molecules together. Any relationship creates emergent properties and that's what levels of complexity means.

Kaiser Basileus says:

The type of complexity that matters is a metaphysical question. Every "thing" is a pattern with a purpose and the resolution of the purpose determines the resolution of the pattern. Different levels of complexity that are useful in different ways are different layers.

Kaiser Basileus says:

It's not size, it's contingent levels of complexity. There is a universal taxonomy.

Daenerys Stormborn says:

As Above, So Below…

Curt Doolittle says:

metaphysical levels: commensurability of operations(changes in state) of constant relations. We have not made the intellectual transition to external coincidences of constant relations at increasing scales ( see lie groups). We are stuck in linearity of relations just as pre einsteinian thought was stuck in length. And we are just beginning to change from studying measurements of averages in state to operations possible to cause changes in state. But in generally as always our categories are product of human action < reason < emotion.

Matthew McVeagh says:

I'm not understanding everything you're getting into here, but having heard several of your other epistemology talks I think you're assuming some highly realist form of scientific realism – your question is what in the scientific image is 'really out there'. And I think the resolution of these problems with things like levels is to take a much more instrumentalist approach. None of them are really out there, they're all convenient conceptual frameworks that follow the pattern of observations and discoveries that we can work with at different levels of scale.

Mace Ojala says:

Would you please have references to the causality across levels? I've studied some Bechtel for a philosophy of neurosciences course which covered these kinds of issues, and Wimsatt+Griesemer: "Reproducing Entrenchments to Scaffold Culture: The Central Role of Development in Cultural Evolution" (2007) which is about cultural theory

496c2 says:

"Strings" don't exist.

Alex Meyer says:

Good stuff. Given the counterexamples and arguments against metaphysical levels, are there any compelling arguments for them?

[Harry] Harūn Sa'īd says:

This is a really awesome presentation. I am at uni in the states and I am studying biology. To cut it short, I have had apprehensions about how to best represent selection coefficients and vectors, in the univariate and multivariate cases respectively, given that you could explain them in turns of environmental constraints at the sub-cellular, cellular, organismal, and ecological levels. There are a lot of philosophical discussion circling around the units and levels of selection.
To wrap up, I think that Samir Okasha, if you've heard of him, has a wonderful talk about this problem of levels in particularly of evolutionary biology of which he shows has its parallels in the social sciences. If you could comment that would be swell.
Here's my email if you want to discuss further than YouTube comments, email:

Thanks, and again great vids, keep it up.

Milan R. Vuckovic says:

you are explaining things so good

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