LIFE AS POLY-CONTEXTURALITY*1)
A great epoch of scientific tradition is about to end. It has lasted almost two-and-a-half millennia and philosophers and scientists begin to call it the classical period of science. However, there is not yet a clear conception of what basically characterizes the past scientific tradition and what distinguishes it from the era we are about to enter and which might rightly be called the age of trans-classical science. We shall start our reflections with a short analysis of the fundamental difference between the two. It is possible to trace the distinction between the classical and the trans-classical back to deeply hidden metaphysical assumptions about the nature of this Universe.
Everybody knows that the Greeks were the creators of the classic concept of science, and that this concept was first clearly formulated by Aristotle. The dominating intent of the philosophy of Aristotle is, as he himself insisted, purely methodological. He starts from the sharp Platonic distinction between Being and Thought or between object and subject, and poses the question: How can Thought ever know Being in a rigorous and communicable way? The method is-according to the Aristotelian logic-found to be in the deduction of the particular from the general. The general, however, is something which bridges the cleft between the objectivity of Being and the subjectivity of Thought. Despite their infinite variety the particular things that exist in this Universe have something in common that links them ontologically together and that is their ultimate essence: Being, manifesting itself as objective existence. The realness of the objects is always the same at the bottom, although it appears in infinitely differentiated properties. In short: Being is an undifferentiated all-pervading universality and the many things and appearances in this world are only the more or less particular manifestations of an underlying general substance or essence, which is the same in everything that exists in this world. If we are looking for distinctions we have to move into the realm of the particular. Being-in-general shows no distinctions.
On the other hand, as Aristotle points out, when we think we also try to deal with the relation between the general and the particular by either deducing the particular from the general or by inductively ascending from the particular, to the general. Thus Greek philosophy discovered a common link between subjective Thought and objective Reality. It is the general or - as it is better called in its ontological aspect - the universal. The general is, - qua Being, the ultimate substratum of Reality on which everything rests, but at the same time it is the supreme Idea from which all particular thoughts derive.
It follows that we are in possession of something which Leibniz much later called pre-stabilized harmony between our thoughts and Reality. On the one side the general qua Being is the cause of the things and events in this physical world; on the other side the general is the reason from which our ideas and concepts logically follow. The Table I below illustrates this dualism which emerges from the peculiar ambiguity of the general:
It follows, according to Aristotle, that a logical necessity as conceived in the mind of the scientist is the exact image of the objective connection which links Being in general to the particular things in this world and their properties. In other words: Thinking faultlessly will always describe objective Reality in an adequate way. This implies that by following the laws of reason we may accurately postulate the existence of things in this world before we have empirically discovered them. An example in modem physics is the postulation of the existence of elementary particles long before the experimental means are available to demonstrate their reality in a physics lab.
In view of its amazing success in the history of western science, we do not see the slightest reason to quarrel with the Aristotelian theory of epistemology, at least as far as it goes. But this theory-solid as it is within in its own confines-has certain limitations. It has happened again and again in the development of classical science that the latter was confronted with certain phenomena occurring in this world where the answer of the investigating thinker always had to bet that the phenomenon in question could not be explained because of its irrational character. Thus the question arose whether the world we live in is perhaps composed of two antipodal components, one being rational and accurately describable and one irrational and not conceivable by rigorous logical means. It is the characteristic feature of all classic science that the answer to the above question has been emphatically affirmative. Moreover, the source of this irrationality was identified as the subject of cognizance itself. It was pointed out - with some justification that objectivity could not possibly be the source of the irrational; which left only the subject. And since the Aristotelian epistemology required a clear cut distinction within subjectivity between the subject as the carrier or producer of thoughts and the thoughts themselves, it was reasoned that the subject of cognizance could have rational thoughts without being a rational entity itself. To seek the source of irrationality on the side of the subject was quite plausible, because subjects can err and sin but nobody in his right mind would insist that mere objects are capable of sin or error. They just are. In the course of classic tradition the two terms "objective" and "rational" have become practically synonymous.
It is the mark of distinction between the period of classic science and present attempts to establish a concept of trans-classic science that we are nowadays forced to question the theorem of the irrational character of the subject of cognizance. Since Kantīs Critique of Pure Reason we know, at least logically, that certain features of subjectivity can be interpreted in rational terms. And more recently, especially since the advent of cybernetics, it has been demonstrated that certain data that the classic tradition judged to be "spiritual" or "transcendental" can be unmasked as mechanisms. In other words: they are capable of objectivation and technical replication š so they cannot have an irrational root.
However, since we insist that the Aristotelian epistemology is valid as far as it goes, the only way open to us is to ask ourselves whether this basis of knowledge might not be broadened. In order to do so let us go back to the original metaphysical assumption from which Aristotle starts: Everything there is in the Universe shares in the general category of Being. And Being is identically the same in all appearances and varieties of existence. As much as any two things might differ in the predicates or properties that belong to them, they are identical qua Being. Being is the underlying substratum which carries everything and which pervades all there is in exactly the same way. This means: Being per se is - as noted above - in itself totally undifferentiated. It is "symmetrical" having no different properties in different parts of the Universe. The only distinction that can be attributed to it is that it is distinguishable from Nihility or Nothingness. Nothingness and Being are related to each other in such a way that their mutual ontological position is defined by the logical principle of the Tertium Non Datur (TND). Something is or it is not; that is all there is to it in ontology.
It is obvious that the alternative between Being and Nothingness is the absolute widest that our thinking may conceive and we shall call, from now on, a domain which is characterized by an absolutely uniform background and whose limits are determined by an absolutely generalized TND an ontological contexture or contexturality. The role that the TND plays with regard to the concept of a contexture indicates that the structure of such a domain can be exhaustively described by a two-valued logic. At this junction it is important to remember that the TND which encompasses the domain must be the most general that is conceivable because a two-valued logic implies an infinity of TNDīs involving partial negations. If we e.g. pose the alternative "the defendant is guilty or not guilty", then we encounter also a TND of sorts. But the range of terms is rather limited because it extends only to juridical concepts, and it should be pointed out that such a TND does not constitute a genuine contexturality. We make a sharp distinction between the familiar term "context" and "contexture". If we speak in every day language of context we do not imply a universal TND the generality of which cannot be surpassed but we make this very implication when we speak of contexture or contexturality.
We are now ready to see the deep ontological assumption which lies behind the epistemology of Aristotle. It can be formulated as follows: the Universe is, logically speaking, "mono-contextural". Everything there is belongs to the universal contexture of objective Being. And what does not belong to it is just Nothingness.