It was noticed by the ancient Greeks already, that
sensation is the main, and maybe the only, source of our knowledge.
In the new time, Berkley and Hume stressed this in a very strong
manner: things are our sensations.
But rationalists still believed that some crucial ideas are inborn
and have nothing to do with the imperfection of our sense organs.
Kant synthesized empiricism and rationalism by seeing
knowledge as organization of sensations by our mind. Space, time, and
other categories are not given us in sensations. They are our
forms of perception, the way we organize sensations. This is how
the synthetic judgments a priory become possible. They speak
about the methods of our mind which are inborn and do not depend
From the cybernetic point of view, sensations are at the
input of our cognitive apparatus, the nervous system. This input
is then processed by a huge hierarchical system. As the signals
move up in the hierarchy, sensations become perceptions, and then
conceptions (there are no sharp boundaries, of course). How much
is coming from the reality, the sensations, and how much from the
way we process them?
Kant considered the categories as a sort of final, ultimate,
because they are rooted in the way our brains are made. The
only possible geometry for him was Euclidean geometry.
And here comes the non-euclidean geometry of Lobachevsky.
This could be a disaster if we did not interpret Kant's ideas from
a modern point of view.
We see no contradiction
between the use of inborn ways of analysis of sensation and
the refusal to take these ways as the only possible and
universally applicable. We cannot change
our brain (for the time being, at least),
but we can construct world models which are counter-intuitive to
We have two cybernetic systems which make world models: our
brain, with its neuronal models, and our language, in which we
create symbolic models of the world. The latter are certainly
based on the former. But the question remains open: at what level
of the neuronal hierarchy do the symbolic models take up?
Compare mathematics and classical mechanics. Mathematics
deals with objects called symbolic expressions (like numbers, for
example). They are simple linear structures. We use our nervous
system to identify some symbols as "the same". For example, this
symbol: A is the same as this: A. Another thing we want is to
know that if you add a symbol B to A, and to another A you add
another B, then the results, i.e. AB, will be identical again.
The totality of such elementary facts could hardly be codified,
exactly because of their basic nature. They are not eliminable.
Even if we pick up a number of axioms about symbolic expressions,
as we do, e.g., in the theory of semi-groups, we shall still use
rules of inference to prove new facts about them, and since the
rules and the formal proofs are again symbolic expressions, we
shall rely again on the basic facts about symbolic expressions in
the original informal way.
In classical mechanics we use much more of our neuronal
world models. There is a three-dimensional space; there is time;
there are the concepts of continuity, a material body, of cause
and effect, and more.
Mach and Einstein would be, probably, impossible without
Kant. They used the Kantian principle of separating elementary
facts of sensations and organizing these facts into a conceptual
scheme. But the physicists went further. Einstein moved from
the intuitive space-time picture given by the classical mechanics
down to the level of separate measurements, and reorganized
the measurements into a different space, the four-dimensional space-time
of the relativity theory. This space-time is now as
counterintuitive as it was in 1905, even though we have accustomed to it.
Hence what we call the paradoxes of the relativity theory. But
they do not bother us. We use a bit less of neuronal
models, and a bit more of symbolic models, that is all.
In quantum mechanics, the physicists went even further. They
rejected the idea of a material body located in the space-time
continuum. The space-time continuum is left as a mathematical
construct, and this construct serves the purposes of relating
micro and macro-phenomena, where it has the familiar classical
interpretation. But material bodies lost their tangible character.
The elementary objective facts are even lower in
the hierarchy than measurements; they are observations
which all occur in the world of macro-objects.
In the relativity theory observations
(measurements) at least belonged to the same universe as the
basic conceptual scheme: the space-time continuum. In quantum
mechanics, on the contrary, there is a gap between what we believe
to really exist, i.e. quantum particles and fields, and
what we take as the basic observable phenomena, which are all
expressed in macroscopical concepts: space, time and causality.
Of course, one can say that in the last analysis every theory
will explain and organize observable facts, and they always will
be macroscopic facts, because we are macroscopic creatures. Thus
a physical theory does not need the concept of ``real existence'';
even if it is a micro-world theory it operates on macro-world
observables. This is formally true. But the question is that of the
structure of a physical theory. We still want our theory to give
an answer to the question: what is REALLY existing? What is the
ultimate reality of physics? This question is not meaningless.
Its meaning is in the quest for a theory which would start with
concepts believed to correspond to that ultimate reality, and
then step by step construct observables from these
``really existing'' things. Somehow, it seems that such a theory
has better chances for success. If we have such a theory, and the real
existence is attributed to some things --- call them ex-why-zeds ---
and the theory is born out by experiment, then we can say that
the ex-why-zeds do really exist and that the world really consists
of ex-why-zeds. Ontologically, this will be as certain as
when we say that the apple is in a bowl on the basis of seeing it
and touching it.
The contemporary quantum mechanics does not meet this requirement.
It starts with space-time continuum, which in no sense
exists. Since Kant we know that it is only a form of our perception.
Suppose we are determined to construct a theory which is
built as required above. How should we go about the construction
of such a theory? We must go further down in the hierarchy of
neuronal concepts, and take them for a basis. Space and time must
not be put in the basis of the theory. They must be constructed
and explained in terms of really existing things.
This is where metaphysics should help us.
The goal of metaphysics is to
create world models which go down and down into the depth of our
experience. The concepts of the higher level of the neuronal
hierarchy are discounted as superficial; attempt is made to
identify the most essential, pervasive, primordial elements of
experience. But this is exactly the program we have just set for
ourselves. Kant's metaphysics had served as the philosophical
basis for the modern theories of physics. We see now that a
further movement down is required. Thus let turn to
the development of metaphysics after Kant.
Two lines of development became most visible: the German
idealism and Hegel in particular; and Schopenhauer.
The Hegelian line contributed to the development of
the theory of evolution, but in terms of ontology and epistemology
did not give
much. It is not analytical. It is a romantic picture of
a striving and struggling world. The basic entities and concepts are
obviously made up, as if created by an artist.
Schopenhauer, on the contrary is analytical. He does not
create a sophisticated picture of the world. He only gives an
answer to the question `what is the world': it is will
Kant introduced the concept of the thing-in-itself for that
which will be left of a thing if we take away everything that we
can learn about it through our sensations. Thus the thing-in-
itself has only one property: to exist independently of the
cognizant subject. This concept is essentially negative; Kant did
not relate it to any kind or any part of human experience. This
was done by Schopenhauer. To the question `what is the thing-in-
itself?' he gave a clear and precise answer: it is will. The
more you think about this answer, the more it looks
like a revelation. My will is something I know from within.
It is part of my
experience. Yet it is absolutely inaccessible to anybody except
myself. Any external observer will know about myself whatever he
can know through his sense organs. Even if he can read my
thoughts and intentions -- literally, by deciphering brain signals --
not perceive my will. He can conclude about the existence of my will
by analogy with his own. He can bend and crush my will through
my body, he can kill it by killing me, but he cannot in any way
perceive my will. And still my will exists. It is a thing-in-
What then is the world as we know it? Schopenhauer answers:
a 'Vorstellung'. This word was first translated into English as
an `idea', and then a `representation'. Both translations are not
very precise. In Russian there is a word for it which is a literal
translation of the German `Vorstellung': `predstavleniye'.
`Vorstellung' is something that is put in front of you.
It is a world picture we create ourselves -- and put in front of us,
so that to some extent it screens the real world. This aspect of
Vorstellung is not properly reflected either in 'idea'
or in 'representation'.
Let us examine the way in which we come to know anything
about the world. It starts with sensations. Sensations are not
things. They do not have reality as things. Their reality is that
of an event, an action. Sensation is an interaction between the
subject and the object, a physical phenomenon. Then the signals
resulting from that interaction start their long path through the
nervous system and the brain. The brain is tremendously complex
system, created for a very narrow goal: to survive, to sustain
the life of the individual creature, and to reproduce the species.
It is for this purpose and from this angle that the brain
processes information from sense organs and forms
its representation of the world.
Experiments with high energy elementary particles
were certainly not included into the goals for which the
brain was created by evolution. Thus it should be no surprise
that our space-time intuition is found to be a very poor
conceptual frame for elementary particles.
We must take from our experience only the most fundamental
aspects, in an expectation that all further organization of
sensations may be radically changed. These most elementary
aspects are: the will, the representation, and the action, which
links the two: action is a manifestation of the will
that changes representation.
Indeed, is it not the physical quantity of action that is
quantized and cannot be less than Plank's constant h, if it is
not zero? Why not see this as an indication that action should
have a higher existential status than space, time, matter? Of
course, it is not immediately clear whether the concept of action
as we understand it intuitively and the physical quantity that
has the dimension of energy by time and called 'action' are one and
the same, or related at all. That the physicists use the word `action' to
denote this quantity could be a misleading coincidence. Yet the
intuitive notion of an action as proportional to the energy spent
(understood intuitively) and the time passed does not seem
unreasonable. Furthermore, it is operators, i.e., actions
in the space of states, that represent observable (real!)
physical quantities in quantum mechanics, and not
the space-time states themselves!
Even if we reject these parallels and intuition as unsafe, it
still remains true that neither space, nor time, nor matter are
characterized by constant indestructible quanta, but
a combination of these: action. Is it not natural to take action
as a basis for the picture of the world --- if not for a
unifying physical theory?
But set aside physics. There is a branch of knowledge, cybernetics,
where action ontology comes naturaly because of its approach
to the description of the world. In cybernetics we abstract from
matter, energy, space, even time. What remains is interdependence
between actions of various kinds.
Communication, control, information -- all these are actions.
Taking action as an ontological
primitive we come to an intuitively acceptable and logically
consistent definition of its basic concepts.