Monday, 10 October 2011

Aspect 3

Benedict Spinoza's way of describing reality was to say it has two aspects (or attributes in older translations)  which he called Extension and Thought. Today this dualism seems antiquated and rooted in medieval philosophy, but to my mind there is more to it than that. Let’s take his idea further, which perhaps we may Attempt without too much violence to his overall philosophy.

Extension is easily translated to physical reality – anything with extension in space. Thought is more difficult because Spinoza saw it as the thoughts of God, but his God was extremely remote, a kind of eternal logical definition of what the universe is. Let’s translate Though as universal logic, or simply as logic. Nobody has to agree with this by the way, it’s merely a bit of casual exploration.

Aspect 1 – physical reality.
Aspect 2 – logical reality.

We can describe anything we like in terms of Aspect 1 or Aspect 2, but must never try to mix them. Aspect 1 and Aspect 2 describe exactly the same fundamental reality, but they are incommensurate. So we may describe a person in terms of flesh, blood, biochemistry and neuroscience (Aspect 1), or we may define a person logically in terms of behaviour, belief or personality (Aspect 2). In Spinoza’s terms, humans are what he called “modes” of Aspect 1 or Aspect 2, modes being temporary configurations.

Now Spinoza also said that there are an infinite number of other Aspects to reality, but these are entirely beyond our comprehension. Let’s lump them together and call them Aspect 3. In a sense, Aspects are similar to dimensions, which would make us two-dimensional beings in a universe of infinite dimensions. So understanding a person in terms of Aspect 1 and Aspect 2 as described above is an incomplete understanding. Aspect 3 is missing.

It follows that humans cannot have a complete understanding of anything. Nothing. Everything we try to analyse has Aspect 3 missing from the analysis. Aspect 3 is the incomprehensible shadow behind our reality.


rogerh said...

Thanks for the Rorschach Test, I thought it was a tattooed bum. Also for the intro to May Sarton.

Not at all happy with these 'Aspects'. Seems to me Spinoza and other early rationalists were stuck with having to justify God or avoid denying God - to stay alive. The empiricists (excepting Berkeley) had no such need and built a pretty good system. But, as you say, however hard we try there always seems something just over the horizon. I live in hope.

Sam Vega said...

I am confused by two bits of this.

1) Can the two specified aspects be separated? When we think about physical reality, do we not apply logic to objects extended in space, and thereby "mix" these two aspects?

2) If we can't have a complete understanding of anything, does this also apply to the number of aspects? How does Spinoza know that they are infinite in number, rather than just the two we have, or (literally) three, if he needs something to explain the "known unknowns"?

David Duff said...

How odd! By coincidence last night over at 'my place' I touched upon the same, or at least similar, aspects of reality in the clash between classical physics and quantum physics as descriptions of 'our world'. They each contradict the other but (for the time being!) both are correct.

Sam Vega said...

David Duff

And by a further coincidence I make the odd facetious comment on your blog, but under the name of "Whyaxye". It all goes to show that nobody knows whether I am a wave, or a particle.

David Duff said...

Ooooh, Sam, you're a great big butch force field and you know it!

Incidentally, time you actually wrote something on that blog of yours - take 50 lines!

A K Haart said...

rogerh - "early rationalists were stuck with having to justify God or avoid denying God - to stay alive." Yes they were and it shows. Spinoza sailed very close to the wind.

SV - (1) we mix the two aspects because they refer to the same thing, but we shouldn't mix them within a single explanation. (2) It's based on the idea that the universe is infinite and therefore infinitely complex.

DD - yes, I think there is something in this multiple aspects idea, but scientists then to be poor philosophers in my view.