How do we go about discovering the nature of reality? If the answer was clear, we wouldn't still be questioning the nature of reality. Scientists today generally take a "physicalist" or "materialist" view of reality - that it can be measured, described, and understood. I agree with that, but I think scientists miss the subjectivity biasing their work, as well as the subjectivity necessary for applying science positively to society. Automation and computers have the capacity to eliminate all necessary work so that we can do the things that we most enjoy all day - gardening, sports, cooking and eating, making and consuming art and music, sex, etc. But, people fear automation because the high productivity is just used to enrich the people at the top while those at the bottom get laid off.
I think we can figure out how things work and use that knowledge to move to a better society and world. A better society would be one that prioritizes improving our quality of life. I don't think we live in a society that prioritizes wellbeing at all. We live in a society that prioritizes money. I think that this money-centered society has created a culture of dishonesty, disconnection, division, discontentment, and hate. We focus on luxury, wealth, and status while failing to live in truly fulfilling ways.
The term overdetermination has recently been used by popular Marxists like Professor Emeritus of UMass Amherst Richard Wolff to describe a theory of knowledge and reality. Wolff is a postmodern Marxian economist and thinker. Overdetermination is the idea that everything is composed of many parts which are continually interacting to form a united system. First used by Sigmund Freud to describe of complex cause-effect relationships in dreams, it was taken up by Althusser and later Marxists to describe society. It basically means "complex interactions".
Overdetermination is viewed as a parallel to the "Hegelian dialectic" and its further development into a materialist dialectic by Marx. The dialectic is simply acknowledging duality and interactions of opposites in systems. A circle has both an internal and external component, and humans have both a physical body and mental thoughts at the same time. These contradictory and exclusive things combine to compose the united system.
The overdetermination of postmodern Marxists seems to place an particular emphasis on impartiality regarding theory; it favors theory on the grounds of usefulness, not truthfulness. This is possibly a fine enough approach, if it is indeed useful, which I doubt. I think it would be much more useful to be internally consistent and evidence based.
“The concept of overdetermination rejects all forms of essentialisms whether in or of theory”, that is, whether regarding the nature of reality or knowledge. Overdetermination is truly a bundle of internal contradictions, some of which are apparent and some of which require a bit more scrutiny to uncover. Overdetermination is used to describe and interpret what postmodern Marxians call the “social totality”. In Postmodern Marxian theory, the social totality functions similarly to the idea of reality, a term they obfuscate. The social totality is a composition of interacting parts. They then deduce the idea that no one part is any more or less of a determinant, an “essence”, than another, within this totality. This is the heart of their anti-essentialist theory of reality and society. “No individual or process can exist alone, for each must exist in interactive, constitutive relationships with that which it is not: its Hegelian "other," all the other processes in the socionatural totality… This rejection of independence among social and natural processes means that it is not possible to rank determinations in regard to their qualitative or quantitative importance. Put simply, one cannot affirm a notion of overdetermination and simultaneously hold onto some kind of last-instance economic or noneconomic determinism … there can be no independence of entities one from another” (New Departures in Economic Theory pg. 52, 53). That is just about the extent of the reason; everything is connected; therefore, nothing is independent of anything else. That amounts to this: everything is one thing, therefore there are no individual things to be ranked. They might as well just say that we don’t exist because everything is the same thing, according to overdetermination.
Each part is “equally” necessary for the existence of the whole. This does make sense, but is hardly useful, unless the aim is not to say anything divisive. The whole socio-natural totality can logically be described in those absolute terms, which really posit each part as unindividuated - not a part at all, not spatio-temporally relative, but as a self-contained whole. When conceiving of the whole in absolute terms, differences in space and time are ignored, and the relative parts cease to have a coherent definition and conceptualization. But it is necessary for us to differentiate between the relative and absolute, because we are not the whole, and to understand all of the whole, we have to understand the interaction of the parts.
An event a million light years away, although contingent on the rest of the universe’s existence from the big bang, is a relatively less direct determinant of our planet than are the formations on our end of the universe, like our sun. The concept of relative significance is needed to understand our society and how it works. Our life is indeed contingent on the sun. However, the process of societal change is more directly determined by factors within our society (technology, demographics, human history, psychology) than the relatively unchanging electromagnetic radiation. More rapidly changing phenomena can be linked to more rapidly changing determinants as more direct, because phenomena have certain quantitative features which can be measured: time, distance, force, etc. and which can be ranked according to those measurements. Causality is an experience, and changes which precede other changes and can be physically linked to them are said to be causes. The sun, beating relatively consistently upon us, or the continents, slowly shifting upon the molten rock in Earths' mantle, did not cause my bagel to heat up more directly than the electricity in the toaster. To say that both are equal in the grand scheme of the universe would require me to explain the entire history of the universe just to say how my food was prepared. This is not useful whatsoever.
Claims about the key determinants of knowledge are misguided, according to overdeterminism, because there is no "inter-theoretical truth" at all. This relativism refutes theories’ claims of truth as representing or approximating objective reality, and so refutes objective reality itself. “The general notion of knowledge as accuracy of representation ("mirroring nature") is rejected... We even share the "antifoundationalist" view of Rorty and others that philosophy can be understood as... each producing its respective knowledges and truths with none having any claim that it "accurately represents" the "external objective world" vis-a-vis the others” (Knowledge and Class pg. 18). So, scientific discovery, repeated trials and evidence is merely misguided philosophy for thinking that it can demonstrate more truth than any other theory. Therefore, reality depends on what we think of it. They use this to claim that no theory can be any more accurate than another, and that no theory touches the “essence” of reality or truth because neither exists. Where, then, does the "useful" come from?
Empiricism is the belief that all knowledge originates in experience, and Rationalism is the belief that all knowledge originates from reason, both claim to have identified the singular root cause of knowledge. In a relative sense, those are concepts with more direct influence on the process of discovering truth than other things. Positivism is an epistemology combining both empiricism and rationalism, and is more closely attuned to the scientific method.
I think all reason is experienced, and all experience has a reason, and is reason itself. Some reason doesn't seem reasonable - people make assumptions and judgments that turn out to be false. But, those judgements probably helped them in the past, and came from some legitimate use of the assumption. At the very least, inaccurate views have a reason for existing. The separation between things doesn't allow for a complete and exact appropriation of external objects, but only a partial one, becoming mixed with assumptions to create views that are inaccurate. Becoming more aligned with the external world is the process of reasoning and arriving at knowledge. Alignment is a linear-geometrical analogy, but connection is a more abstract-spatial one. A line cannot exist without continuity. The goal is also to align the past with the present and future.
Empirical sense data alone, qualitative or quantitative, are meaningless because they lack context, comparison, and categorization.
Descriptions of reality depend on and are relative to language, but objects do not change simply by saying something about them. Truth, as a claim with perfect correlation to reality, does not exist. However, there are relatively truer and less true claims according to their degree of correlation with reality. There are some claims that are not backed up or are even contradicted by science - by empirical study and connection of that data with existing understandings - there are some claims that are supported by evidence and reason, although even these are only relatively more accurate, and are not ever completely decisive, and can be overturned. In this way, postmodern epistemological relativism makes sense, but it is brought to an extreme that simply ceases to give any explanation of anything at all, and would therefore result in absolute nihilism and paralysis if taken seriously. Where does use come from - why are some thing more useful than others?
Unsurprisingly, this formulation cannot commit fully to the abandonment of truth and reality. The “social totality” is composed of real, measurable parts, interactions, changes, etc. Reality is not objective, but the “socionatural” reality has special attributes which we can describe.
Rorty declares ontology has made obsolete by postmodern thought, but the postmodern Marxians write, “There is not a reality that serves as the essence of all theory. The different realities conceived within the different theories are overdetermined. This means that these different conceptualizations of realities exist as products of the interaction of all the processes of the social totality” (Knowledge and Class pg.8). In other words, reality is created only in the minds of theorists, the essence of whom is the social totality. Their argument falls into one of misconstruing meanings in order to tiptoe around making any concrete claim. There is a certain historical element of postmodernism which is necessary for understanding it but which will not be touched upon here. It is the history of the prevalence of relativism and the condemnation of “totalizing” epistemological, ontological, and social philosophies, combined with the focus on linguistics and constantly evolving thought and existence.
The postmodernists posit knowledge as meaning, and truth as usefulness. Their theory is self-admittedly no more accurate than any other, “Marxian theory is not relativist in the limited sense of merely standing in front of a plurality of theories and insisting that no objective truth can ever arbitrate among them. It rather seeks to specify the social constitution of that plurality, of the predominance of certain theories within it (including the theory of absolute truth) and of their social consequences” (Knowledge and Class pg. 36). How could we specify the predominance of on theory without making a claim about the truth of reality? If their aim is to expose the mechanics behind social institutions and processes, it is unclear why they would pose an equality among all theories. If their aim is simply to convince people of the usefulness of a certain theory or way of life, it is also unclear how helpful the rejection of reality will be.
Marxism does not claim that the essence of society, or that all of society, can be explained by one process within it. Therefore, there is no need for postmodernists to reject essentialism as described by Marx, only to better understand it.
What Marxists emphasize is the primacy of productive forces on the development of the general form of society, as Marx did. We can discover which parts of society have the most or least effect on other processes, and what the relative-essence of society, or rather of the general form and development of society, is and has been. I claim that the significant shifts in the structure of society can be explained by certain fundamental forces. These fundamental shifts do not predominantly arise from the environment and its effects, even though society is contingent upon them, because nature has been relatively constant through major changes in social existence; the changes have not correlated with changes in societal structure. Neither do these shifts arise predominantly from changes in religion or ideology, which are secondary and subsequent conditions of primary changes in the material life in society. Theories can be thought of and distributed to whomever, but theories only become relatively influential when they conform and enable certain real processes - when they are useful. If ideas were not useful, it would be of no use to hold onto them. These could be very wrong and incorrect ideas, and still useful.
The driver of basic societal change pertains to the reproduction of life, the production of necessities and wealth. The forces of production, the technology and relations of production, create the concrete existence of life in society to which ideology; politics; culture; etc., the general social structures, must necessarily conform. The reproduction of life, and therefore of society, is the basis which guides the form of society. Thought is much more malleable than technological methods, and therefore changes according to physical processes in life.