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June 11, 2024 2:55 AM   Subscribe

Leibniz’s monadology [pdf, Early Modern Texts], his last attempt to codify his philosophical system, can certainly rival Wolfram’s Ruliad for all encompassing majesty, despite its extreme brevity. Each monad is an individual that reflects the rest of the universe from its own unique point of view. The parts shape the whole and in turn, the whole back-reacts on the parts. Likewise, the Ruliad has similarity to Indra’s Net from The Flower Garland Sutra - a kind of representation of a totality in terms of bejeweled vertices which encode the whole. Each is a vista of the whole. Every possible view is present in the whole. It is interesting to see how this basic idea, in which a totality is decomposed into an interdependent parts, repeats. [arxiv]
posted by HearHere (8 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
i saw wolfram talk a year or so ago and it was profoundly unsatisfying. he did his whole spiel about snowflake formation following rule 34 or somesuch for cellular automata, and seemed utterly disinterested in why that should be the case. then he spent 20 minutes demonstrating his computing language which seemed to amount to googling stuff but in his own syntax.

at some point all the wild theorizing has to be reconciled with reality - it's fine to come up with a framework where interactions (physical, social, psychological, whatever) can be framed in terms of abstract rules, but what is the point unless the framework can also be used to predict future observations. if two things appear to follow rule 34, that seems to imply they share some deeper organizing principle, but for wolfram it seems that the mere fact that there is a rule 34 is the main thing.

there is probably something to the idea that 'everything' can be described by a sufficiently complex system of rules, but that 'everything' also includes things that aren't possible, and the number of impossible things outnumbers the possible things by... a lot. i don't really see how searching through a vast space of valid-but-not-aligned-with-reality rules is an improvement.
posted by logicpunk at 3:54 AM on June 11 [8 favorites]

Thank you logicpunk, because even the summary and abstract of the article was indecipherable to me. I suspect that you summarized where I would have ended up if I could have accessed it.
posted by ihadnotconsideredthat at 6:12 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

Leibniz is a great figure to bring up here because in the late 17th and early 18th centuries complicated machines that could do simple calculations or appear to act on their own ("automata") were the height of technological advancement (a rich aristocrat might have automata fashioned as mythical water creatures placed in a fountain to delight his guests at a party) and so of course that sort of machine is used by Leibniz as an analogy in his arguments.

Just so, the computer is the most advanced machine we have, so of course it forms the limit to the thought of possibility for Wolfram, who sees the world as a massive computation. It's not a coincidence, and is enough for me to think, it can't be right.
posted by dis_integration at 6:30 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]

Leibniz’s monadology [pdf, Early Modern Texts], his last attempt to codify his philosophical system, can certainly rival Wolfram’s Ruliad for all encompassing majesty, despite its extreme brevity.

The framing here is very funny to me. Perhaps this Leibniz guy can rival the great Wolfram!
posted by star gentle uterus at 7:18 AM on June 11 [9 favorites]

"If everything, then everything" is not a workable theory of everything.
posted by wanderingmind at 11:07 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]

Rule 34

(* Please note, not that Rule 34, but the much more boring cellular automaton. Barring the hopefully rare application of the former to the latter. )
posted by mubba at 11:55 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]

Great mathematicians, garbage philosophers. (So bad in Leibniz's case that that Voltaire wrote Candide in large part to ridicule his optimism.)

Leibniz's philosophy of monads commits at least one of Nietzche's four great errors: the error of false causality. Replace "atom" with "monad" in the quote that follows and you can begin to see how:
"All that happened was considered a doing, all doing the effect of a will. The world became to it a multiplicity of doers, a doer, a subject was slipped under all that happened. It was out of himself that man projected his three inner facts, that in which he believed most firmly, the will, the spirit, the ego. He even took the concept of being from the concept of the ego. He posited things as being, as a cause.

"Small wonder that later he always found in things only that which he had put into them. The thing itself, to say it once more, the concept of thing is a mere reflex of the faith and the ego as a cause. And even your atom, my dear mechanists and physicists, how much error, how much rudimentary psychology is still residual in your atom.”

— from Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (ch. 5)
To posit a sub-atomic monad "as an individual that reflects the rest of the universe from its own unique point of view" takes this to the extreme.

The Nietzsche Podcast: 92: The Four Great Errors, May 14, 2024, has a lot to say about this. (The Nietzche Podcase is a truly great philosophy podcast, by the way.) I'll add some context for the above in the details below, but the whole episode is well worth listening for anyone interested in philosophy's move away from the search for universal Truth with a capital T, to the postmodern situation we have today. (Spoiler alert: Descartes' mind-body dualism was a stupid idea and Christianity's sole focus on a world beyond this one is delusional at best.)

Now we come to the second error, the error of false causality. [...] Nietzsche says, if you want to know the actual reason why people possess this faith and causality, he thinks it comes from the realm of the famous inner facts, of which not a single one has so far been proved to be factual.

We believe ourselves to be causal in the act of willing. We thought that here at least we caught causality in the act. [...] Who would have denied that a thought is caused, that the ego causes the thought? So this faith in causality, it comes from our own inner experience of willing. We perceive that our thoughts, our motives, have a cause, which is the ego, and that these motives then cause our actions.

But as Nietzsche says, this is a faith. And that is because it's derived from an intuition. It's derived from a feeling, just a sense that we have, that we're the cause of ourselves, the cause of our actions.

But it's not established by evidence or reasoned argument. It was simply taken as a given that such inner facts are to be taken as true because what could be more of an immediate certainty than our own perceptions and our own inner feelings? But Nietzsche thinks there's a mistake here.

He says that the so-called motive is an error because it is, quote, 'merely a surface phenomenon of consciousness, something alongside the deed that is more likely to cover up the antecedents of the deeds than to represent them, end quote. And Nietzsche says of the alleged origin of our motives, the ego, that it has become, quote, a fable, a fiction, a play on words. It has altogether ceased to think, feel or will,' end quote.

What Nietzsche means here is that the ego is a narrator which gives post hoc explanations for the actions of the organism, which in truth are, quote, unquote, willed by impulses which are unconscious. This notion of the self, first seriously proposed by Nietzsche, would later be expanded into the psychoanalytic school of thought led by Freud, carried on by Jung and many others. So the thinking, feeling and willing does not originate in the ego in this new understanding. [...]

It can also be absent, end quote. So what is our justification for saying the motive is the cause, in other words? The motive accompanies the event, yes.

The motive that we consciously narrate to ourselves accompanies whatever act or deed we are doing. But he says it can also be absent from it. That's a strange thought, taking an action but with no conscious motive.

But nevertheless, I'm sure almost all of us have had something like this experience. I mean, when you do something and then later you come to the realization, I don't know why I did that, right? Shouldn't it be impossible to have that thought?

And yet many people have that thought. Perhaps if we know ourselves fairly well, you might be able to come up with an explanation after the fact, but that wouldn't change having the experience of doing something without being conscious of our motives. And if that's the case, then could conscious motive really be the cause of action?”

Or is it merely an accompanying phenomenon, not the cause? So, in other words, an event happens, several phenomena occur. We have a human action, and accompanying that phenomenon, we have the conscious subject who is taking the action, we have the conscious subject's understanding of their motive for the action.

What is the cause of the action taking place? Nietzsche says that by attributing it to the motive or to the ego consciousness, we've just leapt to an unjustifiable conclusion. In light of Nietzsche's new appraisal of the self that would become powerfully influential on the psychoanalysts, Nietzsche writes, There are no mental causes at all.

The whole of the allegedly empirical evidence for that has gone to the devil.
posted by tovarisch at 1:01 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]

To posit a sub-atomic monad "as an individual that reflects the rest of the universe from its own unique point of view" takes this to the extreme.

I thought this idea resembled how a three-dimensional object is encoded on the surface of hologram, in that each point on the holographic image encodes a reflection of the object as a whole, from the perspective of the point itself.

I have no idea whether that makes sense in the broader monadology, but I've always had a soft spot for Leibniz. So pious an idealist that he's almost embarrassed to be understood. Calculamus! Thanks for the post.
posted by dmh at 2:38 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]

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