What Is There?
My claim is that any systematic attempt to answer this question will land us on the doorstep of God and the Eschaton. Let me provide you with a rough outline of how this comes about. We will then have all the time in the world to refine our answer.
Our main guide will be William of Occam and his infamous 'razor'. That is, we seek ontological parsimony. How is the parsimony to be measured? Let me just say that quality will count for quantity. In other words, coherence will be a necessary component of any strategy of parsimony. Am I thereby giving away the game? That is debatable.
The reductionistic answer used to be 'arbitrary configurations of atoms.' Well, I know of no one who still takes that answer seriously. There are no longer any materialists, per se. There are physicalists and naturalists. If you ask a physicist about physicalism, she will most likely speak in terms of information and probabilities or potentialities. No phenomenon is real until measured, and the results of measurement are strictly informational. Even physicalism is being outmoded, by informationalism, among those who are supposed to know.
Another place to look for reductionists is among the AI professionals. There used to be two camps: the connectionists and the computationalists. For a brief time, connectionism was in ascendancy. All information could be contained in dynamically weighted feedback networks variously elaborated. To make a long story short, there was a slight problem. It was the communication problem. Information is not of any use if it cannot be exchanged. Information is rather like money: its only value is its exchange value.
To exchange information, it has to be chunked. On the lowest level, it is often digitized, but then there also have to be higher level patterns or chunks. The specification of those higher levels becomes very elaborate, very quickly. Protocols abound. Then comes transcription, translation and interpretation. The high end of the AI spectrum consists of competing ontological strategies. There we are, right back on Occam's doorstep. We have seen an example (smoking gun?) of these neo-ontologists speaking of the 'naturalizing of Platonism' at the Stanford Metaphysical Research Lab.
We then have to wonder what opinion the naturalists have of Plato these days. Platonism and naturalism are the opposite ends of the metaphysical spectrum. It would seem that Plato is coming back to haunt them. It must be scary, and this just two days before Halloween. Are there ghosts out there in the ecosystem? The serious naturalists speak of deep ecology and Gaia, and that is just for starters. Our targets though are the armchair, philosophical naturalists. At the minimum they have signed on to the ontology of the sciences. Most physicists that I know are, at least, mathematical realists, i.e. Platonists or Pythagoreans, and that's before you get them started on informationalism.
In short, this is not the high water mark for reductionism. There has been a lot of water over that dam, to amend the metaphor. There is now a veritable spillway.
Where does that leave the rest of us? Struggling to stay afloat on the rising ontological tide. Where is Occam when we need 'im? Unfortunately, Occam is no longer with us. Where are the ontology police? It looks like we will just have to deputize ourselves. All we need is a post-reductionist strategy.
Our postmodern sistren and brethren have thrown up their hands in ontological surrender. For them, any ontological strategy is simply a power-trip. It could also be a truth-trip, but, for the life of them, they can discern no difference. Someone will have to try.
We are left to appeal to emotion and reason. I appeal to both. A rational strategy will start with reason and acknowledge emotion when it is unavoidable.
The first big question concerns monism. Pluralism is, by definition, incoherent. Pluralism is tantamount to a surrender to emotion. We will end up there, that is more or less what the Eschaton is about: ecstatic rapture. But before then we will attempt to exhaust the natural(?) human capacity for reason. Coherence, with Occam's blessing, dictates monism. Materialism has been retired, we are left with immaterialism. Immaterialism is tantamount to idealism, taking into account the pragmatic dictum that what is unknowable or unperceivable won't hurt us.
OK, take a deep breath. The only coherent idealism has ever only been theistic. By the same token, the only coherent theism has ever only been idealistic.
That's all folks. There you have my rough outline of ontology, sans Eschaton. The appeal to the Eschaton is simply the acknowledgment that any unbounded history is incoherent, again virtually by definition. The same goes for the concept of the Best Possible World, of which the Eschaton is a very significant component.
As I keep saying, this in not rocket science. Why are so many of us so reluctant to engage in this most basic of thought processes? If it's not rational, it must be emotional. The Eschaton, et al. are emotion laden. We must deal with that.
Now for the refinements. What is the weakest link in my argument? I submit it is the appeal to coherence. That is the next topic.
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