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Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return to Philosophy
Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return to Philosophy
by Alain Badiou
Edition: Hardcover
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Philosophy at last coming back to life., Feb. 3 2004
In this collection of essays, Alain Badiou addresses the problem of the current end-state in philosophy and attempts to re-invigorate it with something of its older, classical character. He identifies the source of malaise in the major branches of modern philosophy and pleads for an interruption to these practices in order to take a different position and find a way to allow a notion of truth, as opposed to meaning, to re-emerge as a legitimate philosophical concern.
This is not philosophy looking for employment in the face of redundancy. Philosophy has always been a counterbalance to excess and should be so now, in the current political climate. ´¿Interruption´¿ is a key word here, for it is only through this kind of breaking that the word suggests a radical shift back towards truth and not meaning, things and not words.
But philosophy must take a position if this interruption is to take place. Truth is not to be conditioned by any prevalent habits of thought. This is an absolute, for any condition thrust upon it will turn it once again into a familiar pattern that is the province of an existing body of knowledge, and so be removed from philosophical speculation. But this in itself says something about truth, since what now counts as knowledge is defined in statistical terms which smooth over difference and plane down truth to a categorical sameness. Truth must therefore be of a singular character, and the problem is how to universalise it, given that this is a pre-requisite of philosophy. How does the singular maintain its character, faced with the current trends of thought that tend to fold everything into preformed packages?
Statistics are subjectless, but the singular truth, arising in an event, happens to (or calls into being) a subject. Indeed, the subject has long been a casualty in philosophy, and its re-emergence through the notion of event is overdue and welcome.
Truth occurs in an event to a subject, and it cannot fold itself into preformed or known categories. It proceeds in the subject in an act of faith on the one hand, but (being unknown and therefore unsayable) proceeds by chance and adhering to the lessons of the event. What is unnameable thereby becomes a kind of tabula rasa upon which the singular event and subject force their existence, generating something new in the face of the unknown.
This is a crude and much oversimplified account of truth as Badiou outlines it in his essays. He is to be commended for attempting to revitalise philosophy and recognising the need for such a radical departure. But it is not as radical as it at first appears. His notion of the indiscernible is strongly reminiscent of Jasper´¿s notion of Existenz, while his concept of the ´¿count-as-one´¿, the structure of event or situation, is not so different from the notion of an ´¿actual entity´¿ as formulated by Alfred North Whitehead in process philosophy.
The problem is that Badiou is unable to free himself entirely from the tradition which he seeks to interrupt. Consequently, although the claim for truth in the singular state is unconditional, he conditions it nonetheless by assuming that universality is synonymous with thought.
This is the crux of the problem. What he fails to recognise is that the one universal principle which is also singular is the presence of death. It is the most singular event in a life, a feature of existence which is the source of separation and the background which in-forms the structure of Being. For Badiou, death is all too predictably defined in its phenomenal guise as an indifference to existence and a non-event.
Here lies the problem with his philosophy. Without death, there could be no events, for it is in a relation to death that anything at all comes into being. By this I mean that desire, consciousness, striving, unrest, sense of lack, love and even stones would not have any kind of being. Indeed, in the absence of death, there would be no need of sexuality, nor genes by default either, nor any kind of memory structure, and no ´¿innameable´¿.
Certainly, it is unnameable, for it is not an event that is part of experience, but its presence in-forms experience through an inverse of itself. It is not a set among sets. It is not that the barber who shaves the beards of men is not part of the set; it is the error in assuming that the barber is male in the first place. Death is a part of all sets, but does not belong to any set. It is an unspeakable presence that is probably better served by the unconscious than by conscious thought, but only in a form which is an inversion of itself and which consequently generates conscious thought.
Without reference to this inversion, conscious thought acts to suppress it as an agency of change and reduces thought to non-thought. Such suppression is the opposite of Badiou´¿s notion of forcing, and ultimately reduces thought to subjectless non-thought. Ironically, it is in this way that science has come to resemble the very metaphysics it loathes and avoids, and in so doing has created itself on a metaphysics of inertia and neutrality. More seriously, the subscription to scientific methodology in all areas of social concern, usurp the unnameable by assuming death in passive mode and totally phenomenal. In this way, it is easy to adopt a position in which death becomes a solution to many political problems, as witnessed by the inordinate expenditure in military hardware as a way of guaranteeing security.
But for all its flaws, Badiou´¿s cry for interruption, and the basic form of the event, represent an important departure from the current tendencies in philosophy. His ideas have a weight and a seriousness about them that cannot be ignored. They offer a route to involvement in the practical world of affairs in a way that could make a difference to it.

The Making of a Philosopher: My Journey Through Twentieth-Century Philosophy
The Making of a Philosopher: My Journey Through Twentieth-Century Philosophy
by Colin McGinn
Edition: Paperback
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2.0 out of 5 stars autobiography that reveals warts and all, Nov. 25 2003
This book lends itself readily to comparison with Bryan Magee's 'Confessions of a Philosopher' since it follows a similar line - a sense of exasperation with analytic philosophy and the excitement of American philosophy, but there the comparison ends. It is unfortunately a less weighty book in terms of the ideas it explores, and seems to be rooted in only a few strands of philosophical enquiry that are peculiarly British and fixed in the 20th century. Even here, the half page given over to existentialism is not only woefully inadequate, it is a dreadful interpretation that cannot begin to approach the significance of this line of enquiry.
This is hardly surprising. Despite his own protestations, one gets the feeling that whatever modern philosophy has become, or is becoming, it longs to become a science, and knows simultaneously that this could never happen. Despite this quandary, one feels there is a constant pursuit in philosophy to find some logical scheme that could make this happen, just as theories of everything are pursued in science but fated to be forever out of reach. But in the case of philosophy, the elusiveness of this holy grail is threatening philosophy with a sense of its own redundancy.
The irony is that it is the very status of science that philosophy should be challenging, and this is an enquiry notable by its absence in this book. Such a challenge could help invigorate both categories of understanding and could, I feel, throw a better light on traditional problems such as, say, the body/mind dichotomy, and could go further in understanding it than is possible with McGinn's 'mysterians'. These come across as modern day equivalents of the noumenal, the very notion that modern philosophy is striving to move away from, but this seems to be the limit of understanding that is available in philosophy as it is now practiced, and seems to be something of a dead end. That the book ends with a sense of its own futility base on this limit does not speak well for philosophy as a method of enquiry, nor will it endear itself to a wider audience if this is the best it can do. It only helps to further the status of science which often complains of the redundancy of philosophy, and that it must therefore further the cause of understanding without its aid. In this way, science and philosophy both suffer, and the result of it has been a revived dogmatism that has led to the usual apathy and sense of helplessness that is the hallmark of a dogmatic era.
The irony of taking the autobiographical approach to this subject is that it displays the pursuit of philosophy as an incestuous practice, of who is rubbing shoulders with whom. Perhaps that is how ideas have always been engendered, but sadly, philosophy (since it produces nothing useful by its own nature) comes across as an intellectual pastime played amongst its own peers. It may be difficult, but attraction to such a pursuit must have something more to offer than simply learning a specialised language in order to become a club member. There are still rich veins of enquiry to mine, and at the end of this book, I am left with a feeling that this will not occur nor be instigated in the universities.

Mind, Language And Society: Philosophy In The Real World
Mind, Language And Society: Philosophy In The Real World
by John R Searle
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.33
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Archaic thought repeating old wisdom, Nov. 11 2003
This book is subtitled 'Philosophy in the Real World'. This is inaccurate. The real world and ultimate reality, according to Searle, is the world of physics and chemistry and the fields and forces of nature. With his mind made up from the start, this is not philosophy (which would not take such a dogmatic position) but a theory of consciousness according to science.
This is fine if it is what we have come to expect from science, but a tragedy if it represents the philosophical position. It may be that philosophy has succumbed to the pressure and become absorbed into the service of science, but this view of consciousness is notable for its etiolated view of reality, excluding much that is fundamental to an understanding of it.
From its own standpoint as a piece of work concerned with the workings of the mind, it is reasonably clear as far as it goes, and does not say anything that is new or radical when considered alongside the mass of literature that already surrounds it. However, it feigns difference with other writers such as Daniel Dennett since they are more or less of one accord with basic assumptions, or default positions as Searle calls them.
The reason I say this is simple enough. It is odd to hear so much concerning the nature of consciousness, and yet never a reference to death.
There is a simple reason why this is significant. In the absence of death, we would not need to reproduce. In the absence of that, there would be no need to experience desire. Yet the closest Searle manages to get to this is by the metaphor of digestion and the usual comparisons with motor cars.
Of course, desire and consciousness are not the same thing, but the question is, could one arise or emerge without the other. If not, then the presence of death in each molecule of us has an active function, even though it is unconscious.
But these are the real philosophical issues and the fact that they get no mention at all is very worrying. Consciousness is turned into a phenomena like any other inert process that has all reference to death stripped out of it to make it scientifically amenable. Out of this one gets a sense that science is not so much concerned with the nature of reality, but a reality that does not need to consider the concept of death as an activity, which is more illusory than the delusions Searle points out are unreal (such as the experience of being in love).
To discuss consciousness without death as part of its content is virtually a hollow pursuit, for no matter how many properties one may find in it, one is eventually forced to talk of nothing more than brain processes and bio-mechanisms. Such study provides insight that may help in the treatment of brain-damaged patients etc, but this usefulness should not be read as a synonym for understanding, unless we equate philosophy with a kind of science-waiting-in-the-wings. Certainly there are many types of consciousness, and different forms of intention etc, but we should not be fooled into thinking this to be philosophy in the real world, and it does not move our understanding forward by an inch, simply because we have identified many such states. No, this is not philosophy in the real world, but science in an idealised form in a world that is deathless.

Faster Than the Speed Of Light: The Story Of a Scientific Speculation
Faster Than the Speed Of Light: The Story Of a Scientific Speculation
by Joao Magueijo
Edition: Hardcover
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2.0 out of 5 stars Good idea. Pity about the squabbling!, July 25 2003
Radical breakthroughs in scientific thinking are becoming more and more difficult to achieve, not least because any new theories are increasingly concerned with what is at or beyond the limits of measurement and therefore are difficult to ground in the usual way. Consequently, the notion of a variable light speed, seemingly at odds with the basic tenets of special relativity, is highly speculative since such variability could only be detected in an early universe, near or in black holes, or at planck scales of measurement. While theoretical therefore, it is not entirely metaphysical.
Unfortunately, very little time in this book is spent on exploring these speculations in any depth, and could probably account for about fifty of its pages. The larger bulk of the work is dedicated to the task of pouring scorn on the peer review system, the administrative structure of scientific institutions and the semi-political and ego-oriented nature of research. One imagines that the pursuit of knowledge was akin to the pursuit of sports, and that a budding scientist had a useful life of only a handful of years before being put out to grass.
The problem is that the book seems to have been written with this as its main driving force, and it reads like an adolescent's list of grievances against his parents. The book is liberally peppered with four letter words, and it is written in a manner which suggests that the author, after years of insults and ill-treatment, is finally getting his own back.
The author has miscalculated very badly in thinking that the general public are at all bothered by this, and hoodwinks them into purchasing a book about such things under the guise of being concerned with VSL. It may come as a shock to him to discover that most people in the world outside science are not at all interested in this because, frankly, whatever walk of life they may be travelling on, it is not an uncommon experience, and not limited to science institutions. It is part of the fabric of living in the modern world and not a situation peculiar to science alone. But in this respect, he shoots himself in the foot, for he has unwittingly presented the world of science as a modern day priesthood serving the church of knowledge in terms which confirm the views of it by philosophers such as Feyerabend. But it is a church recreating the dogmatic form of religion in which the author aspires to become a kind of rebel bishop, having a say in the creation of new dogmas. It is precisely because he thinks of his professional situation as though it is unique that he presents science in that ironic position of being cut off from reality, by virtue of being concerned with its nature. This was precisely the position of the medieval church that existed in fear for its own survival. Indeed, much of the backbiting and professional theft that passes for the pursuit of knowledge reads more like a psychopathic neurosis, and the writer suffers from it in very large measure. It is a pity, because the subject itself is made to suffer for it, and whether or not VSL ever becomes orthodox thinking, it will not carry this author's grievances as part of its heritage.

Painted Shadow
Painted Shadow
by Carole Seymour-Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 53.00
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2.0 out of 5 stars Unlikely to convince., June 8 2003
Ce commentaire est de: Painted Shadow (Hardcover)
The early twentieth century, particularly between the wars, will no doubt come to be seen as a Renaissance of the modern era in all departments of thought and human activity. Consequently, it is of some interest to view it from the perspective of a Rosencrantz or Guildenstern, and it is this view that is presented to us through the eyes of T. S. Eliot´¿s wife.
Unfortunately, we are no longer in that renaissance, but in a time of disillusionment and dissolution. All the great symbols are worn away, and what remains of major themes is turned into soap opera. The main thrust of this book is to paint a sinister portrait of Eliot and Bertrand Russell, and to create a victim out of the Muse and the power behind the intellectual throne of the day. There are interesting episodes here, which barely throw a small light on the minds of the major players, and it is difficult to believe that it was as incestuous and claustrophobic a community as painted here.
The interpretation of T. S. Eliot´¿s poetry is decidedly suspect. For instance, the hidden laughter of children, so important an image in the Quartets as symbolic of the timeless, is taken here to be derived from ´¿mocking´¿ laughter. It is often second-rate analysis or just plain muddled or wrong.
In order to paint a picture of the forgotten heroine, it is necessary to demote the status of the work to make her image stand out. This is achieved superficially by reducing the motivation of the work to the lowest common denominator, as though it may be derived from some form of closet homosexuality. This is to misunderstand the work as well as the symbolic significance of sexuality. That, unfortunately, is only to be expected these days. The painted picture of the spurned wife is indeed constructed by the author, who depicts her as one blown by the winds of fate in some tragic hurricane, passively standing by as she is robbed of her light that is fed on by others, and without which the poetry and the plays would not have been forthcoming.
Much that is written here is already well-known and has appeared elsewhere. This book, however, hardly emulates or enlightens, and reads more like a re-working to support the rather suspect thesis of the spurned Muse. T. S. Eliot was no saint and was well aware of his failures, condemned by his own words to move from wrong to wrong. This kind of biography sheds little light on those times and judges too harshly and too quickly, as though our hindsight alone is proof of our enlightenment. On the contrary, it is the hallmark of dogmatic thinking which we have moved into, and unfortunately, such tabloid journalese is what passes for erudition these days. I expect it will sell very well.

New British Philosophy: The Interviews
New British Philosophy: The Interviews
by Julian Baggini
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 44.57
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3.0 out of 5 stars Fashions in thought, not matters of moment, April 13 2003
To read poetry is not to read 'about' poetry, and yet it seems that the major concerns of philosophy concern its own 'aboutness', like watching characters in a play looking for a plot. Clearly, even amongst the philosophers interviewed here, there exists a general objection to the professional philosopher increasing their kudos by adding their 'bit' to an academic structure with not much significance ensuing.
Yet when there is some discussion on subject-matter, one is left with a sense of exasperation. It may be valid philosophical speculation to analyse a concept such as vagueness, but my feeling is that the notion of the discrete is more relevant in the quantum realm where its impact is more interesting and pronounced, yet no reference is made to it. Leibniz also analysed the notion of infinitesimals in a way that led to his calculus. What exactly is to be the fruit of an entirely philosophical analysis that does not seem to extend beyond the range of an academic concern with it? Metaphysical concerns do not seem to fare much better, since (as an example) the concepts of time that are discussed seem extremely rudimentary, as if the subject is done and dusted, when in fact the subject is wide open. Post-analytic philosophy, apparently the new direction, reiterates the traditional function of philosophy as a questioner of assumptions, assumes that science is already fully questioned (while we live under the yoke of the same principles of motion that have been kept in place for the best part of 400 years), and then assumes it is its own best-placed arbiter of deciding what assumptions should be questioned in its own house. Nor is there any reference to process philosophy as a vibrant force. (Every major philosopher from the 20th century gets a mention except Whitehead!) Nor is there any reference to the current vacuum in science that is preventing progress in the quantum gravity problem and which is crying out for a greater philosophical involvement, and which is getting none. And this is the major philosophical problem of the 21st century.
Of the interviews given here, those with female philosophers were the most engaging. The later interview concerning the status of artificial intelligence was also of some merit, so perhaps it is not all doom and gloom. However, it does seem that for the most part a great deal of energy is expended in the pursuit of very little, and one is left with a sense of what is the fashion at the moment rather than what are the concerns of greatest moment and urgency. But by and large, it is a commendable read, inciting both a sense of disappointment as well as hope.

Straw Dogs
Straw Dogs
by John Gray
Edition: Hardcover
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Redundant thought in these dogmatic times, March 20 2003
Ce commentaire est de: Straw Dogs (Hardcover)
According to the blurb on the front cover, this book challenges our assumptions about what it is to be human. If that is the case, then this is truly a philosophical work, since the first task of philosophy is precisely that. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The book is an attempt to strip thought of all its illusions to show that ultimately there is nothing much left to find endearing or particularly humanitarian about the human condition, and not much to separate us from other species of animals. This is hardly a novel idea.
To begin with, truth is conceived as something that is the opposite of illusion, and that anything that is not truth is consequently illusion. This is turned into a metaphysical principle effectively, and all of history becomes reconceived in its dark light, revealing that since the dawn of civilisation to the present day, everything has been based on illusions of one sort or another. There are the usual aphorisms about wars being fought because of religious differences and so on. Hardly a novel or radical thought.
This principle becomes what the algorithm is for Daniel Dennett. Gray sees it everywhere and in everything and warps history towards it as though it were some newly discovered dark matter. Philosophers are paraded forward in thumbnail sketches and quickly dispatched as charlatans doing more harm than good. Socrates, for instance, was a shaman, so he has to go. Heidegger's 'Being' is a disguised form of Catholic anthropocentrism, so that too needs to be discredited, as well as for its usual Nazi affiliations. He praises Schopenhauer but criticises Kant, not seeing that the 'Will' in the former is a refinement of the noumenal in the latter. Nor does he mention the function of representation in Schopenhauer, but this is hardly a surprise since it would not support his belief in artificial intelligence. But it is possible he is not aware of this, since what he says about Schopenhauer reads like notes cribbed from Bryan Magee whose understanding of Schopenhauer is far superior. In fact, all these sketches might well have been drawn second-hand from basic philosophy texts. Only those philosophers who side with his etiolated principle receive any praise. In short, he claims philosophy to have been a disguised religion from the outset, which he passionately detests and it all has to go, leaving only science with some sort of torch of truth, whose sole value has more to do with practical necessity than any notions of truth.
The problem is that John Gray fails to recognise science as the application of a metaphysics of inertia, and it is from this that he has drawn his vision of which he is apparently unaware. For instance, it should be no surprise that the world is running out of work or gainful employment, since according to this brand of metaphysics, the purpose of work is to remove the necessity of itself, and so we approach that which is built into the assumptions of the science which he cherishes and does not question, creating a world of people bored witless and hard-pressed to find new distractions. Having dismissed all that has given meaning to Mankind as illusion, this is the only philosophy that remains, and it is this philosophy that John Gray is actually defending, and not questioning.
In a book of less than 200 pages, he often presents his views in short, Wittgensteinian-like statements, but succeeds in mimicking Oscar Wilde on a bad day, 'Ideas of justice are as timeless as fashions in hats.' Perhaps, but fashions are often stylised forms of necessity, to keep our heads dry and warm when facing the elements. Or maybe it is relying on the short attention-span of the reader that likes its philosophy presented in this sound-bite form. Perhaps, but I doubt it. It is simply that there is no more to add.
Far from challenging assumptions, he ends up defending them. In attempting to unmask reality, he has turned himself into a prophet of doom, one of those ringing a bell and sounding the end of time dressed in a sandwich board. Most of the time we ignore them, but in this case we are duped by others into seeing this as 'one of the great works of our time'. This is the worry.
But here is an acid test. Reading a serious philosophy text can often take several weeks, months and sometimes years. This book can be read in just 3 or 4 hours and not a word or idea need be contemplated for longer than it takes to read it. Perhaps the emperor's new clothes were really this sandwich board, and we should at least find the good sense in ourselves to demand more than this from others, and that we should rightly pass them by when they ask us to see what is not there, and divert our eyes from this sterile form of defeatist thought.

What Remains to Be Discovered: Mapping the Secrets of the Universe, the Origins of Life, and the Future of the Human Race
What Remains to Be Discovered: Mapping the Secrets of the Universe, the Origins of Life, and the Future of the Human Race
by John Maddox
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 34.00
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4.0 out of 5 stars The welcome influence of healthy scepticism, Jan. 4 2003
Probably written originally for the 'fin de siecle' market, I suspect this book will have a much longer shelf life. John Maddox has a finely honed sense of what constitutes good science, which is not surprising for the long time editor of the prestigious journal 'Nature'. He writes with authority on a vast array of subjects, and seems comfortable with the complexities of all of them. As a result, he is well qualified to distinguish between what is good science and what is metaphysics.
Why is this important? Many science writers have written books on string theory, evolution, black holes, dark matter, quintessence etc. and have done so as though writing about real entities. It is as if media departments, under pressure from funding agencies for results, have pushed them into proclaiming the reality of their theories, and then sold them onto an unsuspecting public in impressive looking books (often heralded by the supposed cognoscenti who should know better) as the latest discovery. John Maddox makes it his business to pour very cold water on most of them and argues, for instance, that 'putative' or 'tentative' or 'candidate' black holes are not quite the same thing as experimentally established, tried and tested ideas that we normally associate with good science and science practice. This is therefore an extremely timely book, for it is the writers of science that have foisted metaphysics on us as a fait accompli, half suggesting that theories of everything are within our grasp in a short while. In contrast, John Maddox points out that for all our knowledge, we know hardly anything at all about many traditional areas of enquiry such as cell division, and that most of our efforts seem to be spent on the 'naming of parts'. The genome project is a good example, but while that is a huge achievement, knowing how all the parts are put together is an undertaking that will tax our understanding for very many years yet.
What is left to discover is therefore breathtaking, and it is his healthy scepticism that reveals this. The quantum gravity problem, for instance, will not be resolved by the accumulation of data, and points at serious conceptual difficulties of a qualititative rather than quantitative form. Yet if string theory is likely to solve this, it will not be in this century that it will be testable, and at the moment stands as a lone contender that is no better than an educated guess.
But there is a darker side to John Maddox. As editor of Nature, he played a crucial role in the Bienveniste fiasco, in which a magician was employed to discredit homoeopathic experiments which suggested that water could hold a memory of what had been in it, and which had been removed. At such times, healthy scepticism turns into prejudice, and yet still appears to retain its own character. I doubt whether a magician was used to discover the errors of calculation that caused CERN scientists to proclaim prematurely the discovery of the Higgs boson. The irony is that this particle is said to have a nature not dissimilar to that of a homoeopathic remedy, having an effect more by memory than presence. Yet despite such errors, such 'exotic' ideas receive major funding, and are not discredited. When advances in ideas in such areas as homoeopathy are announced, they are the spur to renunciation at any cost, and its absence even of mention is to be noted in this book. Gene structure is based on memory, and we also experience an effect of memory when something or someone is removed from our presence; it is called grief, or sadness. Perhaps such cross-categorial references are distasteful to us, but that is no reason to pillory ideas that are striving for advancement. Such ideas may appear to threaten basic scientific assumptions, but it may well be these that are preventing progress in so many areas. Scepticism is necessary for this to happen, but it so easily disguises itself as something else entirely.
Notwithstanding, this book goes a long way in correcting the focus created by other books concerning science which claim far too much for themselves and for this one fact alone, this is a book well worth the effort of reading.

The Field: The Quest For The Secret Force Of The Universe
The Field: The Quest For The Secret Force Of The Universe
by Lynne Mctaggart
Edition: Hardcover
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good intro to what is at the frontiers., Nov. 10 2002
This is an unusual book because firstly, it explains clearly the implications of some difficult scientific concepts, but does so from the perspective of one not versed in science, who learnt them to see what they had to offer to her own areas of interest. This means that she comes to the subject with an honesty and an innocence that is both refreshing and open. It means that we can be assured that the ideas explained will not be tarnished with the prejudices common to many science writers publishing books for the general public who look over their shoulders for the critical approval of authority, and their subsequent warrant.
But this makes the book both charming and disarming. Certainly science is predisposed to caution while harbouring unspoken prejudices of its own, but the leaps of imagination from the notion of a zero point field to an all-encompassing theory that explains faith-healing, brain functions, collective memory, as well as offering theories of warp drives for interstellar travel among other things is too loose and generalised to exclaim 'Eureka!' but maybe a quiet 'there may be something in it'.
The reason is simple. The notion of working from the quantum small towards the classical large overlooks the fact that there is already an aspect of the small present in the large which is this: the more we know scientifically, the less we know non-scientifically. To try to turn the concept of the zero point field into something graspable as a scientific concept in the large scale would require science to incorporate something of the existential as a working principle, which is excluded from science by its very nature and first principles. In short, the book is methodical and makes its case extremely well as far as it goes, but it lacks the underlying philosophical underpinning that could lend it greater weight.
Even so, it is worthwhile to collect in one volume all those disparate areas of concern to us at the frontiers of thought which collectively demonstrate that we may well have reached the edge of our understanding of the nature of reality with the classical line of approach symbolised by science, but it will require the involvement of thought from other areas apart from science to go further. Unfortunately, as this book ably demonstrates, funding and serious interest in such projects is scarce and limited. Even so, this book is a welcome addition to the growing chorus of dissatisfaction with the rather tired ideas that do nothing more than affirm their own faith in an outworn 300 year old philosophy that is now well past its 'use by' date.

Closure: A Story of Everything
Closure: A Story of Everything
by Hilary Lawson
Edition: Paperback
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2.0 out of 5 stars A deeply flawed theory of everything, May 19 2002
'Closure' is an attempt to plasticise reality, to soften up its dogmatic form not by invoking principles of criticism, rather by showing how criticism of sorts is generated by principles of closure. Briefly, it outlines how our conceptual structures are destined to be incomplete. By aiming them at what is not contained in them (the uncontained referred to as 'openness'), it demonstrates how the aiming process itself impedes total containment which is completion. Consequently, the idea of closure is actually a tension between these two words, openness and closure, which generates our concepts, ideas and perspectives concerning the nature of reality. Closure as such a tension generates further concepts and therefore a nested structure of further closures.
This duologue closure/openness has a distinguished pedigree (although this is never alluded to) which can be traced back to the Greek ideas of the fixed and the loose, is re-invoked by Kant's noumenal (which gets a mention in passing) is improved upon by Schopenhauer's idea of the Will and objectification of the Will, can be found again in existential texts such as Heidegger's Dasein and Sartres' in-itself and for-itself. In particular, it bears a marked resemblance to Whitehead's notion of eternal objects and their prehension in actual occasions. Unfortunately, closure stands against them as a distant poor relation, beginning as a great-grandchild but soon deteriorating into a distant cousin twice removed related by name only, as though it is embarrassed by such an association.
The linguistic analysis is handled well enough, arguing against the inordinate emphasis linguistic philosophy has received in the universities. Closure provides the means to allow it to move beyond itself by developing a method of self-reference within its own terms that is not regressive, and so capable of shedding light in other areas that have been allowed to lie fallow.
But this is where the problems begin. In attempting to move beyond linguistics, closure turns itself from a principle into a theory. It assumes the mantle of a scientific idea by severing ties with the philosophy that gave it life. In so doing, it imagines it has something to offer science, say, which in turn will reply that it already contains closure as part of its working method (through Popperian falsifiability, for instance). In effect, it is teaching grandmother to suck eggs. However, it discredits the philosophical tradition, and that is far more significant. It is as though the idea is looking for approval and reshapes itself into a more acceptable form, in this case a scientific theory, and betrays its own roots. Far more significant, by exchanging allegiances, it is no longer capable of the criticism and the vision that is so sorely needed to loosen up the assumptions we take for granted, and which ironically prevent exactly the kind of closure that closure was originally intended for.
It is most certainly true that we are constrained by historical legacies and physiology, but he makes no mention of the fact that particular systems of thought, perceived as forms of closure, are difficult to alter or overhaul because they represent the interests of the very parties in a position to alter them who defend them from such alteration. Without this particular dimension, closure becomes self-serving, seeing only itself in everything, imagining itself to be a concept like Dawkin's notion of a meme, or Daniel Dennet's algorithm. In effect, it becomes non-critical, and sees only forms of closure without being able to comment or criticise those things it applies itself to. Finance, for instance, is seen as an effective means of intervention which effectively realises a particular form of closure. It becomes a good thing. But then even Stalin and Hitler were not such bad men, as they represented particular forms of closure. The irony is that while he sees the closure in everything and it becomes a myopic view.
This problem is created by the non-political stance of the book, seeing such systems as extensions of child psychology writ large. Perhaps it has more to do with the context of closure reducing all the different things to sameness. This is in marked contrast to the much deeper view of closure inherent in Whitehead's process philosophy, in which sameness is the source of all novelty. Furthermore, these three hundred pages continue to refer to the incompleteness of knowledge, an idea summed up in one short sentence in Whitehead which warns against the dangers of taking the selection for the totality.
The greatest omission of all, however, is that there is not a single reference to an ethical universe. Given its aim to turn itself into a pseudo-scientific theory, this is hardly surprising, since ethics is not a direct brief in the science context. Science at its worst defines ethics in terms of an evolutionary strategy for survival, and this is a view only possible in a perspective that holds itself falsely as a complete theory, or one nearing completion. It does not, however, provide any insight into the riddle of ethics, which has less to do with what can be discovered outside Plato's cave, and more to do with why anyone who manages to leave it should return.
However, reading 'Closure' was a philosophical experience akin to reading Andre Gide's 'Pastoral Symphony' in which compassion for another human being becomes something entirely perverse by the end, and yet the language of description is hardly altered. 'Closure' becomes an ironic work because it is clearly lost on the author, but it is painful for the spectator to watch it develop from the outset, starting life as a philosophical idea full of promise and ending life as a quasi-rational concept with little value and no future. Failure, after all, is the point of closure, and this book is therefore highly successful.

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