Abstraction as Dissection of a Flat “Ontology”: The Illusiveness of Levels (Paper)


…while an ontology based on relations between general types and particular instances is hierarchical, each level representing a different ontological category (organism, species, genera) [or strings, quarks, baryons], an approach in terms of interacting parts and emergent wholes leads to a flat ontology, one made exclusively of unique, singular individuals, differing in spatio-temporal scale but not in ontological status.

The following discussion, however, seeks to go further than DeLanda’s account of hierarchy, extending it to all entities of spatio-temporal entities, thus the interjection of “strings, quarks, baryons” into the quote. That this extension is natural should be clear once van Fraassen’s role in this level-denying consilience. Furthermore, van Fraassen’s account will be employed to illustrate why any level-like organization attributed to the components of an explanation has no bearing on the explanation, and arises due to two things:

1) erroneously clumping together all types of belief statements into a single branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge, and

2) attempting to stratify the causal thicket that is the world, so as conform the produce of scientific enterprise with monism and fundamentalist predilections.

Finally, there is one other way in which the account differs from DeLanda’s flat ontology, when touching upon Kant’s antinomy of teleology: the idea that levels of mechanisms telescopes to a flat ontology, as every part and whole enjoys the same status in a scientific explanation, and only differ in size.


Figure: The larger arrows point toward the conclusion of consilience. The smaller arrows suggest relationships that create cooperation toward the thesis. The blue bubbles represent the positive web of notions that cohere, and the red bubbles are those notions that are excluded from web. The red arrows indicate where the ideas not included in the web arise, and the totality of this paper works toward a final explication as to why these are to be excluded. There are a few thin blue lines that are not included, because they would make a mess of the image, such as a line connecting abstraction and James’ pragmatism. However, the paper (Abstraction as Dissection of a Flat Ontologythrough) endeavors to make these connections clear, for example, quoting James to show that James presents an idea that seems a precursor to Cartwright’s notion of abstraction. (Note: Yellow lines are really blue lines, but are yellow to avoid confusion that might ensue from blue lines passing through blue bubbles. Green lines are to indicate additivity. The red lines denote notions not connected to the web, yet bear some relation to ideas in the web.) 

Speculative String-Cosmologies as Geodesically Incomplete.


Penrose diagrams of de Sitter space in the flat (left) and static (right) slicings that each cover only part of the whole de Sitter space, and that are both geodesically incomplete.

Alan Guth, Alvin Borde and Alexander Vilenkin have argued that within the framework of a future-eternal inflationary multiverse, as well as some more speculative string-cosmologies, all worldlines are geodesically incomplete and, thus, the multiverse has to have a beginning. Unfortunately, if future-eternal inflation is true, all “hypotheses about the ultimate beginning of the universe would become totally divorced from any observable consequences. Since our own pocket universe would be equally likely to lie anywhere on the infinite tree of universes produced by eternal inflation, we would expect to find ourselves arbitrarily far from the beginning. The infinite inflating network would presumably approach some kind of steady state, losing all memory of how it started […] Thus, there would be no way of relating the properties of the ultimate origin to anything that we might observe in today’s universe.” (Guth).

On the other hand, Andrei Linde has argued that the multiverse could be past-eternal, because either all single world lines might have to start somewhere, but not the whole bundle of them (Linde), or there could even exist some (albeit strange) space-times with single past-eternal world lines.

This issue is not settled, and even in those scenarios a global arrow of time may not necessarily exist. However, there are other frameworks possible – and they have even already been developed to some extent, where a future-eternal inflationary multiverse is both not past-eternal and beginningless but arise from some primordial vacuum which is macroscopically time-less. Thus, again, the beginning of some classical space-times is not equivalent with the beginning of everything.

We can even imagine that there is no multiverse, but that the whole (perhaps finite) universe – our universe – once was in a steady state without any macroscopic arrows of time but, due to a statistical fluctuation above a certain threshold value, started to expand  – or to contract, bounce and expand – as a whole and acquired an arrow of time. In such a case the above-mentioned reply, which was based on the spatial distinction of a beginning of some parts of the world and the eternity of the world as a whole, would collapse.

Nevertheless it is necessary to distinguish between the different notions and extensions of the term “universe”. In the simplest case, Kant’s antinomy might be based on an ambiguity of the term “world” (i.e. the difference between “universe” and “multiverse”), but it does not need to; and it was not assumed here that it necessarily does. The temporal part of Kant’s first antinomy was purely about the question whether the macroscopic arrow of time is past-eternal or not. And if it is not past-eternal this does not mean that time and hence the world has an absolute beginning in every respect – it is still possible that there was or is a world with some underlying microscopic time. (By the way, one can also imagine that, even if our arrow of time is past- and/or future-eternal, there might exist “timeless islands” someday: for instance isolated black holes if they would not ultimately radiate away due to quantum effects, or empty static universes if they could split off of our space-time.)

Of course it is possible that firstly a natural principle of plentitude is realized and different multiverses (sets of universes) exist totally independent from each other, and secondly that some of them are truly past-eternal while others have an absolute beginning and others have only local starting points of local arrows of time as it was suggested here. If so, we might not be able to tell in what kind we live in. And this would be irrelevant in the end, because then every possible world is actual and probably exists infinitely often. But we do not know whether such an extreme principle of plentitude does apply or if cosmology is ultimately just and only a matter of pure logical consistency, allowing us finally to calculate the complete architecture of the world by armchair-reasoning.