The end of Modernity
“Institutional failure come as a surprise because organisations try to hide their shortcomings. They lean on other, more functional organisations in order to keep up appearances. During civilizational collapse, no organisation can properly hide its own inadequacy, since the whole interdependent ecosystem of institutions is caving in on itself. States, religions, material technologies, and ways of life that once seemed self-sustaining turn out to have been dependent on the invisible subsidy of just a few key institutions. The environment of societal collapse reveals much of the otherwise obscured inner workings of crucial social technologies. After all, to analyse something is to break it apart!”…
— Samo Burja
“There are two kinds of dangers. One is what I just talked about. We have arranged a Society based on Science & Technology in which nobody understands anything about Science & Technology, and this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is sooner or later going to blow up in our faces. I mean, who is running the Science & Technology in a Democracy if people don’t know anything about it? And the second reason that I am worried about is that Science is more than a body of knowledge; it’s a way of thinking. A way of sceptically interrogating the Universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility. If we are not able to ask sceptical questions to interrogate those that tell us that something is true, to be sceptical of those in authority, then we are up for grabs for the next charlatan, political or religious, that comes ambling along. It’s a thing that Jefferson laid great stress on. It wasn’t enough; he said to enshrine some rights in a Constitution or a Bill of Rights. The people had to be educated. They had to practice their scepticism and their education; otherwise, we don’t run the Government, the Government runs us” …
— Carl Sagan, Charlie Rose Show, 27 May 1996
“Virtually all ideologues, of any variety, are fearful and insecure, which is why they are drawn to ideologies that promise prefabricated answers for all circumstances” …
— Jane Jacobs
Modernity arose from ideas emanating from the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Reason from the period commencing around the 14th Century up until the present day.
Through the thoughts of leading enlightenment thinkers such as Descartes (i.e. Cartesian Reason & Logic), John Stuart Mill (Liberty), Wilhelm von Humboldt (Limits of State Action), Thomas Hobbes (Social Contract & Role of State), John Locke (Liberalism), David Hume (Science of Man), and Kant (the Primacy of Human Consciousness), our destiny was increasingly being viewed as something Humans could now shape, control and determine.
“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one understanding without guidance of another.”
— Immanuel Kant — An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment? (1784)
No longer was Humanity constrained by Gods, traditions or natural forces.
By combining concepts such as Liberty & Human Agency, embracing Reason (e.g. Scientific & Economic Rationalism) and evidence (Empiricism) via our Human senses in navigating the Material World, we were now in the driver’s seat to shape and control our material destiny.
“Freedom is Independence of the compulsory Will of another; and in so far as it can co-exist with the Freedom of all according to a universal law, it is the one sole original, inborn right belonging to every man in virtue of his Humanity.”
— Immanuel Kant — General Divisions of the Metaphysic of Morals, The Metaphysics of Morals (1797)
According to John Locke, a power of doing, or forbearing to do, through choices made by the human mind.
The progressive development of such power determines the ultimate reach of our Liberty and destiny.
The essence of which was central to Kant’s notions of Cosmopolitanism (Citizens of the World) and HG Wells 1905 book — A Modern Utopia.
“All the natural capacities of a creature are destined sooner or later to be developed completely and in conformity with their end.”
— Immanuel Kant — First Proposition, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose (1784)
It was a World View grounded in seeing our Material World, our Mind and our Body as predictable Mechanical Cartesian Machines — As highlighted in The Crisis of Western Civilisation in the Age of Entanglement (Part 1) and (Part 2) and Clocks & Clouds.
Classical Newtonian ideas of the Universe being “a great huge clock of intermeshing parts”.
The core axioms of the Scientific Revolution reflected this World View — Reductionism, Determinism and Cause-Effect.
A form of Reason where our Minds were separate from our Bodies (Cartesian Dualism) and our human capacity to think & Reason was the ultimate source of our Truth, Power, Identity and Human’s ultimate progress (a cultural evolution) toward a Cosmopolitan Utopia (refer — Idea of a Universal History from a Cosmopolitical Point of View — Kant).
A Primacy of Human Consciousness — an Idealism where objects of knowledge are held to be in some way dependent on the activity and innate complex mechanical structures of the human mind.
Humans had replaced God as the Creator.
Nature had been reduced to unconscious matter ( materialism) rather than a World where animals and plants were embodied, conscious and alive (i.e. unified (Mental World + Material World) complex evolving dynamic living systems).
Except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power.”
― René Descartes
This potent cocktail of ideas fueled the Industrial, Scientific & Digital Revolutions and saw Scientific & Economic Rationalism secure their seats at the head of Modernity’s Technocratic Utopian table (refer — Synthesis).
A World where other forms of previously legitimate knowledge such as Theology, Philosophy and Ancient Wisdom were increasingly subordinated.
A World where Two Cultures collided and Scientific & Economic Rationalism (forms of Cartesian Reductionism) had apparently overcome all the complexity of our non ergodic Material World, the inherent nature of the Human Condition, our Human Fallibility, need for Requisite Variety (Heterodoxy) and our entangled state with the Material World.
An accelerating drift towards a globalised technocracy that had built Temples of Reason on the core foundations of a Cult of Reason.
Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) were the new lingua franca — international languages more pervasive than Esperanto — of this Global Orthodoxy in pursuit of a Human-centred Utopia such as that envisaged by François Marie Charles Fourie and his socialist utopian ideas in the early 19th Century and later in 1894 by US businessman King Camp Gillette in his pamphlet The Human Drift for a metropolis located on Niagra Falls.
It was primarily an atheistic and anthropocentric philosophy where Gods were no longer worshipped.
Replaced by a guiding principle and devotion to the abstract concept of Reason itself and the infinite potential of Human Knowledge for Human Transformation.
“That Logic has advanced in this sure course, even from the earliest times, is apparent from the fact that, since Aristotle, it has been unable to advance a step, and thus to all appearance has reached its completion”…
— Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)
The beginning of infinity and the gradual emergence of a new language to reflect such a New World Order.
A metamorphosis towards Transhumanism that introduced new concepts such as Computational Biology, Artificial General Intelligence, BioEngineering, Genetic Engineering and Geo-Engineering into a new vocabulary of Modernity.
A Fourth Industrial Revolution.
A God Complex.
“The Cartesian partition has penetrated deeply into the human mind during the three centuries following Descartes, and it will take a long time for it to be replaced by a really different attitude towards the problem of Reality”…
- Werner Heisenberg
Kant, Modernity, and Idealism
Immanuel Kant built on the ideas of Descartes, Spinoza and Liebnitz (Rationalism) and Locke, Berkley and Hume (Empiricism ) to develop an integrated Philosophy that was the beginning of a new era of Modernity.
It was a radical shift in how we made sense of Reality.
Kant argued that the only World we can know is a World created by the innate structure of our Human Minds and that reality was unknowable.
Rather than search for objective Grounds Truths of our Material World ( a Primacy of Existence embraced by philosophers such as Plato), Kant reintroduced subjectivism ( a primacy of consciousness based on the Human Experience and the structures of the mind).
Humans shape and create our concepts of Reality.
A Phenomenological Material World is created through the structures of Human Mental World understanding and experience.
A Primacy of Practical Reason.
A self-centred World.
A World distinct from a Noumenon Material World which is independent of any conceptualisation and perception of the Human Mind.
Knowledge was now a process of creation rather than discovery.
It was a shift away from the philosophy of Rationalism or Empiricism and towards an Integration where our Mental World truths, beliefs & ideas manifest themselves materially (e.g. objects) and abstractly (e.g. culturally) in our Material World.
Experience and perception alone (Tabula Rasa) or abstract synthetic a priori metaphysics content alone was insufficient for Knowledge.
“Metaphysics is a dark ocean without shores or lighthouse, strewn with many a philosophic wreck”
— Immanuel Kant
It was through the processing of our experiences (Material World) via the innate structure of our mind (Mental World) that synthesis could emerge and knowledge arise.
The innate structures of our Mind shaped the World we know.
“Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe…. What we believe determines what we take to be true”…
— David Bohm
A Mental Structure form of consciousness, an Idealism that highlighted the role of the Mind.
Human Minds had replaced God as the creator — the primacy of consciousness — and in doing so re-introduced the subjectivity of human knowledge.
Without recognising this at the time, this Copernicus shift by Kant was corrosive to the “certainty” sought through an Age of Reason and our hope that Cartesian Reason could uncover the absolute truths of our existence illustrated by prevailing notions such as Theories of Everything.
Questions that Hume (i.e. metaphysics & causality) had already begun to ask.
Science and Reason through Kant’s integrated philosophical framework were therefore limited to the surface World, our experiences.
Phenomenological by nature.
The axioms of their validity were therefore conditional on a scepticism and a recognition of our human fallibility given their subjectivity.
Kant, Secular Liberalism and Cosmopolitanism
Kant’s ideas of Human Creation and the Primacy of Human Consciousness became the basis for how we transformed ourselves, determined ourselves and confronted the future in pursuit of a cosmopolitan ideal.
Temples of Reason replaced Temples of Prayer with our Institutions transformed into Institutions whose telos had become Veritas (“Truth”).
A Secular Liberalism emerged where human affairs could be conducted independently of Religon .
Individuals were now the Creator via the Primacy of Human Consciousness and through the evidence of our Senses able to shape, drive and determine our Material destiny.
Nevertheless, a paradox existed between the embracement of such an ideology at an individual level and its impact at a collective Sovereign and ultimately Trans National/Global level.
Had Secular Liberalism begun moving from an Ideology to the only legitimate way of perceiving reality?
An illusion of Objectivity replacing its inherent Subjectivity.
Liberalism via focussing on a Cartesian form of Reason and individualism with inalienable rights ultimately transforms from an individualistic ideology into a universalistic ideology and orthodoxy.
A Liberal Hegemony — A cosmopolitan vision that ignored Kant’s critique of a Cartesian form of Reason (its phenomenological subjectivity), the social nature of humans, the importance of reflexivity, context, and requisite variety in complexity.
With the privatisation of meaning, the coherence of Society became increasingly maintained not through a common set of Mental World Ground Motives & Values but by the regulation of Society through a common vernacular of Scientific & Economic Rationalism, Material World laws, Second Nature Ground Truths and increasing State Action.
A drift towards an autocratic global technocracy and the gradual binding together of the State, Media & Technology.
“Since the narrower or wider community of the peoples of the earth has developed so far that a violation of rights in one place is felt throughout the world, the idea of a cosmopolitan right is not fantastical, high-flown or exaggerated notion. It is a complement to the unwritten code of the civil and international law, necessary for the public rights of mankind in general and thus for the realization of perpetual peace.”…
— Immanuel Kant
An international rules-based order, transnational organisations, the emergence of a Market State, the embracement of more & more technology (a technocracy) and the formation of a Scientific and Economic Rationalism based clerisy where Science was becoming increasingly absolute in its nature (an orthodoxy).
A process of social and tribal consensus rather than of open inquiry, heterodoxy, epistemological humility and learning to learn.
A growing cognitive dissonance .
Without recognising as Kant had identified, the phenomological and subjective nature of Reason.
The axioms of Reasons validity being conditional upon a skepticism and a recognition of our human fallibility (our human condition), we were increasingly replacing:
A search for Ground Truths with absolute Ground Truths
A Heterodoxy with an Orthodoxy
Learning & Open Inquiry with Dogma, Infallibility & Ideology
The Human Condition with a God Complex
The ideas that underpinned the very notions of Modernity had begun to crumble.
A Mental Structure form of consciousness
A World of Clocks but no Clouds
An over reliance on abstract forms of Cartesian Reason — (Reductionism & Abstraction) — (starkly illuminated by The Treachery of Images — Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe) — Rene Magritte)
A narrowing window of human knowledge increasingly anchored in science, economics and technology
A Utopian end state symptomatic of our Primacy of Human Consciousness
The Beginning of Infinity, where Humanity was no longer constrained by Gods, Traditions or Natural forces
A reality where Humans consume, extract and use the Earth as a Natural Resource for our own ends (Utilitarianism)
A materialistic end that justified the means
A set of behaviours, truths and beliefs hard-wired into Modernity and our “New Liberal World Order ”.
An absence of Reflexivity.
The emergence of a Transhumanism
Human Transcendence was the inevitable end state of Modernity and its Ideology.
Human destiny apparently was now in our hands by embracing Reason and Technology — a Transhumanism.
“Transhumanism is the ethics and science of using things like biological and genetic engineering to transform our bodies and make us a more powerful species.”
— Dan Brown
But had Man really become God?
Had we really overcome the inherent nature of the Human Condition in our pursuit of a Modern Utopia?
Was our Material World akin to a Clock?
Were there Limits to Logic?
Were there limits to Reductionism and Determinism?
Limits to Scientific and Economic Rationalism?
Limits to Modernity?
Limits to a Phenomenological Material World overlayed on a Noumenon Material World?
Limits to the Primacy of Human Consciousness vis a vis the Primacy of Existence?
Were cracks beginning to appear in our Temples of Reason and questions emerging as to the Cult of Reason?
In The Age of Entanglement and Why Philosophy matters more than ever in the Age of Entanglement? a range of emergent forces and shifting tectonic plates were identified that highlighted a growing cognitive dissonance with the prevailing Cartesianism Reductionist World View and this Anthropocentric Aethist Materialist philosophy of Modernity.
Quantum Physics, developments in Modal Logic, a renewal in the Philosophy of MetaPhysics, Global Trade, Economics & Finance, the Internet, the finite nature of our Planet, breakthroughs in computation, Information Theory, the emergence of Complexity Science and Cybernetics, developments in our understanding of the nature of Risk (Humans attempts at quantifying uncertainty), and a growing Meaning Crisis were just a few of the factors that were creating a growing cognitive dissonance.
An observation starkly highlighted by 20th Century Austrian British Philosopher Karl Popper’s 1966 essay — “Of Clouds and Clocks: An approach to the problem of rationality and the freedom of man”.
“For one of the things which almost everybody thought had been established by the Newtonian revolution was the following staggering proposition:
“All clouds are clocks-even the most cloudy of clouds”…
— Karl Popper
Rather than viewing the Material World from a balcony of Abstraction & Reductionism where our Mind (Mental World) and Body (Material World) were separated (Cartesian Dualism), we were increasingly entangled.
Dynamic complex living systems are entangled with each other and the Natural World (Material World).
“Human Nature exists and operates in an environment. And it is not ‘in’ that environment as coins are in a box, but as a plant is in the sunlight and soil.”
- John Dewey
Hegel, a new Idealism, Complexity and a further drift toward Integration
“Truth in philosophy means that concept and external reality correspond”…
— Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
German 18th and 19th Century Philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel took the emerging ideas of Kant’s Idealism and Modern Philosophy into a new direction that recognised the complex, entangled and dialectic (Mental World + Material World) nature of Reality.
Hegel’s developed a distinctive version of idealism — absolute idealism — that began breaking down the Cartesian partition between our Mental World and Material World.
The dualisms of mind & body, subject and object and mind & nature were overcome.
Rather than viewing the subject as imposing an a priori Mental World rational concept upon the Material World sensemaking experience, Hegel believed concepts were grounded in the Material World.
Things existed for their Mental World concepts.
A unity of the Mental World concept and reality is the idea.
The idea itself is dynamic, active, self-determining, self-moving, and purposive.
The idea properly exists as life. In life, the body parts are unified for the final cause of actualising the living organism.
Non-organic Nature is also grounded in the concept but is only “latent” and not fully self-determining.
Hegel and a Philosophical Framework for Human History
Similar to Kant it was a philosophical framework that could be applied to how we make sense of Human History.
It diverged from Kant in that alongside the conceptual differences (i.e. existing in Material World vs a Priori Mental World) Hegel did not posit an end to History but saw limits to the self-determining nature of Modernity for transformation.
He saw all life forms as being subject to natural limitations and constraints.
Boundary conditions, our bounded rationality and degrees of freedom.
Humans are embodied creatures, and there is materiality to each one of us.
A connection and entanglement with the natural realm.
“By Nature, man is not what he ought to be; only through a transforming process does he arrive at the truth.”
― Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Philosophy of History
Hegel viewed Human History as an emergent, complex dynamic process of transformation and growth.
A dialectical process of lifelong Learning to Learn and personal transformation through ideas, experience and reflection.
An Idealism — a Geist — a self-conscious reflective life of Mind & Spirit.
A Material World where our ideas become embodied (Second Nature).
“Listen to the forest that grows rather than the tree that falls.”
— Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
For example, the ideas of Freedom, Agency and Self Determination that arose in the 18th Century via movements such as the French Revolution and the development of the US Constitution were dynamic, iterative and emergent complex processes.
“Truth is found neither in the thesis nor the antithesis, but in an emergent synthesis which reconciles the two.”
― Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Hegel not only viewed our Natural World nature as imposing constraints upon Human History, but he also saw our Human ideas (practices, norms, customs etc.) being imprinted on the Material World by Humans — they become embodied — resulting in the notion of Second Nature.
“When we walk the streets at night in safety, it does not strike us that this might be otherwise. This habit of feeling safe has become second nature, and we do not reflect on just how this is due solely to the working of special institutions. Commonplace thinking often has the impression that force holds the state together, but in fact, its only bond is the fundamental sense of order which everybody possesses.”…
— Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Second Nature enables Society to embody and imprint a level of order on our Material World via our ideas, rituals, practices, norms and customs.
“When we walk the streets at night in safety, it does not strike us that this might be otherwise. This habit of feeling safe has become second nature, and we do not reflect on just how this is due solely to the working of special institutions. Commonplace thinking often has the impression that force holds the state together, but in fact its only bond is the fundamental sense of order which everybody possesses.”…
— Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Hegel also understood that this Second Nature sometimes needed to be revisited given the inherent nature of our Material World and its emergent and complex properties.
Through the process of reflection and friction (a cognitive dissonance), we can recognise that something may be inadequate or no longer fit for Human practices, norms and customs — Second Nature — that have been embodied.
It was the beginning of viewing Reality more as an analog organic process of continual learning and change — learning to learn.
“Life itself consists of phases in which the organism falls out of step with the march of surrounding things and then recovers unison with it — either through effort or by some happy chance. And, in a growing life, the recovery is never mere return to a prior state, for it is enriched by the state of disparity and resistance through which it has successfully passed. If the gap between organism and environment is too wide, the creature dies. If its activity is not enhanced by the temporary alienation, it merely subsists. Life grows when a temporary falling out is a transition to a more extensive balance of the energies of the organism with those of the conditions under which it lives.”
- John Dewey
A concept that can be extended to the processes of Scientific Inquiry (in contrast to Scientism) and ideas such as The structure of Scientific Revolutions as outlined in Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 book.
“The progress of science has always been the result of a close interplay between our concepts of the Universe and our observations on Nature. The former can only evolve out of the latter and yet the latter is also conditioned greatly by the former. Thus in our exploration of Nature, the interplay between our concepts and our observations may sometimes lead to totally unexpected aspects among already familiar phenomena”…
— Tsung-Dao Lee
Hegel’s ideas had begun to shift the direction of contemporary Western Philosophy towards a dynamic integration of our Mental World and Material World, recognising the importance of experience & context, the complexity of reality, the phenomena of emergence, our Bounded Rationality, the Limits of Cartesian Reductionist Reason & Logic and the difference between Science ( a process of learning, reflection, friction, experience & open inquiry) and Scientism (a utopian end state & social orthodoxy ).
Hegel had exposed the cracks in our Cartesian Temples of Reason, the Cult of Reason and the Kantian Cosmopolitan Utopian ideas that had provided the bedrock of Modernity.
“Truth in philosophy means that concept and external reality correspond”…
— Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
The night had fallen, and a new Dark Age had begun.
The Primacy of Human Consciousness had just collided with the Primacy of Existence.
“The Dark Ages may return-the Stone Age may return on the gleaming wings of science, and what might now shower immeasurable material blessings upon mankind may even bring about its total destruction. Beware! I say. Time may be short.”
— Winston Churchill