Saturday, February 16, 2008

Homeostatic Balance - In Philosophy, Science, Psychology, Politics, Economics, Law, Religion - Is The Bridge Between Epistemology, Ethics, and Action

Good epistemology is like a plane with good, strong wheels. It has to be well grounded - i.e., have good contact with the ground - before it can take off properly and fly and/or return safely from its flight. Bad epistemology is like a plane with no wheels or bad wheels; it has no good contact with the ground (unless and/or until it crashes).

A philosopher too has to be properly grounded before he or she can fly. In this regard, I am not only talking about the philosophers who call themselves philosophers. I am talking about all of us. Because like it or not - formally or informally, overtly or covertly, academically or practically - we are all philosophers. We all have to come up with some sort of understanding of ourselves and the world we live in, what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong, what is real and what is not, and how we should proceed in the world - what type of choices we should make, and/or want to make.

So again - whether we like it or not - we are all philosophers.

And all philosophy starts with epistemology. We have to be properly grounded before we can fly. We have to observe before we reason. We have to know what is real before we search for the ideal. Existence before essense - Sartre, I believe, said that. Being before becoming - I think Fritz Perls might have said that. Realism before idealism, epistemology before ethics, observation before reason...in all cases, the horse before the cart, not the cart before the horse. There is a proper order to things and processes.

Personally, I would even say philosophy before science - you have to examine science's assumptions and narcissistic biases before it can fly - and science before spirituality and religion - again, look to the ground before you look to the sky. You have to be properly grounded and be able to crawl, walk and then run before you can fly.

Many philosophers have argued that you cannot connect epistemology (what is) to ethics (what should be). I disagree with that. You look at the world around you, what is happening in it, how things work, how things function, before man's intervention, and you can see a number of different but related things: that things are linked to each other, that some things are attracted to each other and connect with each other, while other things reject each other and either separate and/or compete with each other. You see that there is life and death, living and dying, growth and decay. You see that the world is full of 'opposites' - plus and minuses, hot and cold, wet and dry, water and fire, earth and sky, males and females, attraction and rejection, union and separation, alkaline and acidic, too much and too little...You see that the world is precariously balanced and that changes have a domino effect that may impact a whole series of changes down the line. In personal circles, things that affect your brother or sister affect you, things that affect your father or mother affect you, things that affect your community affect you, things that are passed in law affect you, things that happen in the economy affect you, that your positive and negative experiences affect you, things that happen in your environment affect you, things that happen half way around the world can affect you, whether it's the weather or whether it's war.

It is impossible to understand the world properly and ourselves properly without understanding the principle of 'homeostatic balance'. (See W.B. Cannon's 'The Wisdom of the Body', 1932). The meeting ground of epistemology and ethics is the principle of homeostatic balance.

You cannot talk about either epistemology or ethics without talking about the principle of homestatic balance. Many of our earliest philosophers - West and East - saw that: Anaximander, Heraclitus, Plato to some extent, Confuscius, the Han Philosophers ('yin', 'yang'...) and others that I am not aware of in the East.

This is the reasoning behind the 'dialectic' as made famous by Hegel and Marx but at least partly pre-empted by other philosophers before them from ancient Greece and China as already mentioned to the German precursors of Hegel and Marx -- specifically, Kant and Fichte, and as romanticized by the 'natural philosophy' of Schelling both before and after Hegel's famous treatise -- 'The Phenomenology of Spirit'.

The main impetus of the dialectic -- which can also be viewed as a 'trialectic' (more on this in a minute) was/is that 'causes' don't generally just work one way - but rather two ways, three ways, and/or many ways. For every action there is a reaction which 'causes' (or 'influences') another action which in turn causes or influences another reaction...and so on ad infinitum...And this is only working on one or two dimensions...add other dimensions and things become even more complicated...Nothing is simple or one-sided when it comes to 'causes'.

This principle of 'dual causality' - the dialectic - or even 'multiple dual causality' or 'pluralist' (multiple) causality works not only outside of us in the world around us but also inside of us as well - in our own bodies and psyches.

Nietzsche saw this in his firt book, 'The Birth of Tragedy' (a precursor to the Freudian Birth of Psychoanalysis' with Nietzsche's distinction between 'Dionysian impulse' and 'Apollonian ethics and restraint' both influencing and foreshadowing Freud's later work. Freud continued Nietzsche's line of post-Hegelian, dualistic and dialectic reasoning (the 'id' vs. the 'superego'), Jung too, (the 'persona' vs. the 'shadow'), and Perls too, again in a slightly different but largely similar post-Hegelian, post-Nietzchean dialectic way, (the 'topdog' vs. the 'underdog'),

Cannon's 'The Wisdom of the Body' and his idea of homeostatic balance was a very important evolutionary development that sandwiched the work of biologists and psychologists alike...with philosophers like me following up the rear and connecting the dots...A particular line of philosophy, biology, and psychology were all working from and with the same principle - the principle of homeostatic balance which also could and can be re-wroded as 'dialectical balance' or 'dialectical homeostatic balance'. In other words, if there is one underlying principle to the process of life starting with the phenomenon of 'copulation', it is the principle of 'working the dialectic' or 'working the opposite ends of a bi-polarity spectrum towards the middle in order to achieve 'homeostatic balance' or in my words, killing two birds with one stone - integrating the philosophy of the dialectic with the biological and psychological principle of homeostatic balance - you have what might be called 'dialectical-homeostatic balance'. In other words, man - and all other life forms too - is contantly working the dialectic - an 'exchange program' of either 'uncivil force' or 'civil debate' (and/or any combination of both) in order to achieve an either narcissistic (one-sided) or more 'utilitarian' (many sided) homeostatic balance.

Back to epistemology. There are some epistemological philosophers - indeed, some of our most famous and cherished philosophers - who tried to epistemologically fly before they could crawl, walk, and run. Parmenides and Plato are two of the guiltiest culprits in this regard. Descartes and Spinoza - as much as I like Spinoza - were not far behind. Any philosopher who tried to 'reason' without 'observing with the senses' first was putting the cart before the horse. We call these types of epistemologists 'idealistic epistemologists' (Parmenides, Plato...) or 'Rationalists' (Descartes, Spinoza...). These are the epistemologists who tried to fly before they could crawl, walk, or run. They tried to 'bipass sensory observation'. Their main argument was that sensory observation was flawed - thus, the rationale for 'bipassing' it and trying to use 'logic and reason' alone to get to an 'idealistic' or 'rational' epistemology. Big mistake. It was a recipe for epistelogical pathology and disaster waiting to happen. (Parmenides was Plato's pathological influence in the realm of epistemology - and the consequence was Plato's theory of 'Ideal Forms'.)

Aristotle went a long way towards compenating for, and correcting, the epistemological pathologies and disasters of Parmenides and Plato. Aristotle was more like the Pre-Socratics (Thales, Anaximander, Heraclitus...but not Parmenides) in that he started with sensory observation, and then moved up the 'latter of abstraction' to 'reason and logic', 'causes', 'universals', and 'ethics'. In contrast, Plato 'philosophized from the sky' without having any 'epistemological roots and/or wheels on the ground. This was Plato's biggest weakness as a philosopher - and particularly as an epistemologist. Epistemology needs to be emprically based on sensory observation before reason and logic. Plato dismissed sensory observation - and in effect, physics and biology - and this was his greatest undoing as a philosophy. Plato - at least in terms of his philosophy - was a man who was alienated from the physical world around him, and/or dismissed the world around him for its imperfections. And this in turn caused the greatest imperfections in his philosophy. A man or woman alienated from the biology and physics of the earth is a man or woman alienated from the biology and physics of him or herself. And this in turn will affect - adversely at least to my way of thinking - the person's psychology, spirituality, and soul. Both epistemologically and ethically speaking, there needs to be a dialectic (mutual) influence between biology and physics on the one hand and psychology, philosphy, politics, law, econimics, art and culture...on the other hand. Either extreme - idealism without realism or realism without idealism, or biology and physics without philosophy and psychology or philosophy and psychology without biology and physics, or spirituality and religion without science or science without spirituality and religion, or self-assertion without social sensitivity or social sensitivity without self-assertion - will create a one-sided extremist philosophical pathology headed for self-destruction.

The truth is important relative to epistemology. Balance (homeostasis, equilibrium) is important relative to ethics. Here is where epistemology and ethics meet. Biologically speaking. Physically speaking. Philosophically speaking. Psychologically speaking. Medically speaking. Politically speaking. Economically speaking. Legally speaking. Relgiously speaking. In every case, the meeting point of epistemology and ethics revolves around the principle of homeostatic balance or equilibrium. Within ourselves. And outside ourselves in a social, community, political, economic, business, friendship, medical, and religious context. 'Humanistic-existentialism' demands the meeting point between self-assertion and social sensitivity.

Many others - more intelligent than me - have said this in similar and/or different ways. I am just summarizing 2700 years of both Western and Eastern philosophy. This is the goal of DGB Post-Hegelian Philosophy. Hegel said that 'The real is the rational and the rational is the real.' I don't entirely agree with this assertion. Man's rationality - and particularity the 'rationality of balance' - can easily be corrupted and pathologized by his one-sided longing for narcissistic (or anti-narcissistic) extremism (sex, violence, drugs, food, egotism, selfishness, greed, money, righteousness, religion - anything taken way too far...). But in the end, all forms of extremism usually lead you down a path of self-destruction.

Which brings us back to either God's (Religion's) and/or Nature's (Science's) and Philosophy's and Psychology's and Politics and Economics' and Law's Ultimate Truth: Homeostatic Balance as worked on, negotated, and achieved through the dialectic and ideally (in the case of man) democratic process (call this 'dialectic chemistry' if you will) is The Great Uniter of opposite qualities, processes, structures, and people in life. We've heard and probably experienced that 'opposites attract'. We also know that 'opposites can repel'. We can learn much from 'opposite theories' and 'opposite lifestyles'. There is a holy place for 'differential unity' or 'unified differences'. We just have to be creative enough and work hard enough to find it. Mutual rejection is easy. Tit for tat. 'My way or the highway.' It is the person and/or the people who can work through their individual differences to a place of creative, integrative, differential unity -- these are the true leaders and geniuses in life. Religiously and/or spiritually speaking, God is the bridge through the dialectic to differential unity.

dgb, Feb. 16th, 2008, briefly modified, Nov. 23rd, 2009.

1 comment:

Tor Hershman said...
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