The hypothesis of Denis Diderot

So, what we have is that the analysis of all function should be done in terms of our effort to make every center precious. That means the basic rule of function is simply this: we try to make every part of the world precious, as far as we can. It sounds childish. But it is not.

In our normal Cartesian mode of thought, we try to explain the life we notice in the centers in the world around us as a mechanical result of other conditions. […]

Certainly these things, the patterns, the properties, may play a role in my being able to create life in things. They actually do play a role. But they are far from certain. What is more certain is my “interior” sense of the life. Thus the life is really the primary thing, and the properties are really secondary. Because of the Cartesian scheme, I assume that the life is a construct, and that these primary characteristics are more basic. But this is just an intellectual assumption. And, I believe, under careful scrutiny this assumption shows itself to be untrue.

It is far more accurate, and more simple, to say directly that this window place has life, that I can see that, and that the degree of this life can be directly observed by me.

Thus I must stress that the idea that every part of space has life in some degree does not violate our actual experience. If we look around in the world, at the different parts of space, it is relatively easy to say, “This one has more life, that one has less life.” What is violated is only the picture of space which has been put in our minds by Descartes and by the assumptions of mechanistic science. Descartes specifically described space as a neutral and strictly abstract geometric medium. Almost all of modern physics, with its basis in the algebra and arithmetic of Cartesian geometry, has followed Descartes in this idea. But it is an idea, not an observed fact. It is not empirical. The Cartesian dogma and its assumptions are methodological teachings, useful models. As presently formulated, they are violated by the idea that every part of space has some life. But experience itself is not violated by it.

In Diderot’s view, the hypothesis that matter/space is a neutral machine which, as a machine, has to be able to produce the almost magical qualities we see!

We will understand reality itself better if we can educate ourselves to abandon the mechanistic picture, which doesn’t work, and concentrate on the picture of the living centers — which, no matter how strange to our present-day mentality — actually does work.

#book/The Nature of Order/1 The Phenomenon of Life/11 The awakening of space#

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