More Enchantment in a Good World?

Our World can often seem a special place. In recent posts we have been exploring this Sensation and Judgement (See posts: The Strange Sensation and An Enchanted World). In this post let me present another outstanding case; for really, everyday and every moment is itself a bedazzlement of consciousness.

Let me quickly interject, this efflorescence (to use William Blake’s word) of the world around us is Not always a pleasant thing. I seek to avoid the status of “Pollyanna.” Often the world is lit in tragedy and pain but even then, it is our world, our Quality-Filled panoramic creation. As several philosophers and psychologists have testified, as much as the Natural Scientific Description of the world holds, Our Practical Vision and Belief in the world will be at least Something More or Other Than that hard science description.

(John Singer Sargent’s Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood (1885). Here we have the world reaching an enchantment at the Third Level: One, Nature as Monet’s wife and the wood; Two, Monet representing it; Three, Sargent representing that act of Monet’s representation!
Reality at the third level of Enchantment or Reflection. Representations are circling about and influencing each other. Each is an act of selection among Reality’s infinite options.)

Philosopher and theorist extraordinaire, Dan Dennett has championed what has become known as “Illusionism.” The theory that Evolution has created and sanctioned for us a highly oversimplified, but efficient, take on the world. Let’s face it, our Common Sense approach to the world ‘chunks’ microscopic things in very peculiar and interesting ways— like persons, animate things, macroscopic functioning solids (like carbon and washing machines), liquids (like Chardonnay and water), gases (like oxygen and ‘air’). This way of seeing Phenomena has not done too badly. We have science, democratic rights and values, art and The Ohio State Buckeye football team. Granted, that characterization of Common Sense is selective; Common Sense is also full of bull shit, like belief in gods, ghosts, most Republican Party politics, and sasquatch. Common Sense, though, is also always under the process of revision.

A famous photo of a supposed female Big Foot. Thanks to the Gimlin film.
Donald Trump as the MAGA leader for America. Just another Big Foot!

The goal, here at naturereligionconnection, is to update and rationalize Common Sense. This will involve a demystification of many concepts, such as free will, value, quality, reason, personhood and nature. We must “save the phenomena;” which is the world and ourselves in the way they seem to us, but we must revise our thinking about these SEEMINGS in the most reasonable way. Much of that has already occurred throughout History.


Another Cool Example of Enchantment: more Bird Song, but now with Stravinsky

The Nightingale, who plays the opening role in a morning’s bird-song in Europe and other parts of the world, sings in a manner inspirational to the early Modernest Classical Composer, the Russian, Igor Stravinsky. Here is his Song of The Nightingale.

(This performance lasts over 21 minutes, do not feel obliged to listen to the bulk of it, but it is a worthy piece. Interestingly, this video shows the Musical Notation, the score itself. A Bird’s Song transformed into Human Musical Sound but also into our Written Representation of musical sound.)

(These sounds can also be displayed on an Oscilloscope which changes sound into electrical signals and then displays their pattern graphically. We, humans and other Conscious Creatures, are capable of recognizing, modifying, using and creating Patterns in Nature that are significant to us. We really work Nature over. It’s An Enchantment! Afterall, the story you tell about yourself is who you are, in many ways. It, too, is a Pattern constantly maintained and developed.)

Our Latest Songster: The Nightingale

(More melodic than the Lark, but not nearly the profusion of sound and effort. The Nightingale is known and named for its habit of song starting before The Break of Dawn. It is the first bird to sing each morning in its European, African and Asian habitats. But can it be worthy of Stravinsky or he it? You be the judge, but I can hear the resemblance!)


Bird Song

Do birds enjoy singing? Do birds appreciate the melody of their particular song? Is “song” a good thing? Similarly, do dolphins enjoy swimming? Do dog pups like to wrestle? Does“Play” and “Art” exist to non-human animals? In many ways we would say “Yes, it seems so,” and we would have good grounds for saying that. Afterall, we enjoy singing and melody; we often like to swim and dive, wrestle and frolic. We have the insight to “see” these feelings and activities develop in the creatures of the Tree of Living Things. They seem to grow from some incipient stage to more explicit and full-blown forms. These qualities are a Reflection of ourselves; “They are nature singing our song,” says psychologist Nick Humphrey (see post, A Strange Sensation).

Presentation, presentation! Architecture, landscape, and Interior Design in the nest creation of the male South Pacific Bowerbird.

But how does nature sing our song? Nature starts simply and often with other motives. In biology, it is generally acknowledged that Bird Song starts for very venal reasons. Birds want to attract mates and establish territories. Bird calls do much the same, but they may also warn of danger as with the Blue Jay. These are very Functional motivations. They are not about an enjoyment of the song for the sake of the song itself. Yet as one famous biologist put it, “Nothing transcends itself like nature.” The ‘enjoyment’ of song, for the sake of song itself, is pioneered in birds and maybe realized in humans. We may also add that the enjoyment of color may start in insects, but is more fully realized in the human visual arts.

(Bees have a greater ability to see ultraviolet light but no photoreceptors to allow them to see red. A curious tradeoff.)

In Chapter 3 of Dan Dennett’s book (Breaking the Spell, 2006) on the scientific explanation of Human Religious Practices, Dennett askes “Why Do Good Things Happen?” That is a strange question! He is not asking about some specific ‘good’ occurrence, like the end of WWII for which we know many particular events; he is asking why anything “good” ever happens or exists. “Why do humans fight wars?” begins to get sufficiently broader; but also, “Why does Color exist?” one of our favorite fascinating phenomena here at NatieRel.

Is there an answer to such broad questions? Well, Philosophers have traditionally thought so (see the post series What is a Philosopher.) Religions have also posited Reasons for the occurrence of good things (and bad). In The Iliad, Homer wrote that King Agamemnon offended the goddess Artemis and she prevented the winds from blowing and the Greek fleet from sailing to start the Trojan War. He was forced to sacrifice his daughter to appease the goddess and start the winds, but instigating the ire of his wife. To religion, it’s the gods that are responsible for both good and bad.

(A wild Banana, thought to be very similar to the original banana before cultivation and breeding started some 10,000 years ago in the South Pacific in New Guinea. Its seeds are thick and thorny.)
(The Cavendish Banana is today’s most popular comercial banana. It is seedless. It is entirely dependant on assxual reproduction aided by humans. Human breeding is a form of Coevolution. Humans have made many cultural adaptations in order to make these bananas available almost worldwide, and these bananas have made genetic adaptations.)

Coevolution is the reason good things happen, proposes Dennett, not gods! Coevolution, and not just Evolution, because coevolution involves a specific circular relation or feedback of causes between specific kinds of organisms that stimulates a series of adaptations on each of their part. Dennett cites “the bargain” struck by some plants and animals around 600 million years ago. Seeds happened to become housed in something vaguely like a fruit, something that stored some sugar, an easy energy source for the animal. Over eons, fruits and the animals that sought them, both evolved in sophistication. That is Coevolution. Dennett cites several other examples.

(One of the classic examples of Coevolution is the “arms race” between cheetah and gazelle. Each has evolved greater abilities and characteristics such as speed, agility, camouflage and herd instincts in their historical cycle of interaction.)
(Stotting by gazelle is a display behavior that verges on what we would call play, but probably has more to do with impressing a stalking cheetah. It is, as if, the particular gazelle was saying, “Don’t bother with me, I am very robust.” Stotting is an apparently pointless, but impressive, leap into the air.)


Coevolution is an important cause of increasing complexity in our world. It is in Complexity that Good Things lay. It is also in the break-down of complexity that Evil and decline occur. It is in highly complex Brains that an experience of color occurs along with neural activity. It is in groups of cooperating humans that Language arises and is perpetuated, and then complex Ideologies grow — with gods, democratic rights, free choices, art, and even supposed ethnic and national superiorities.

(If all the matter were evenly distributed through the universe, estimate scientists, there would be 5.9 protons per cubic meter, not even a single atom! And since matter tends to collect around itself via gravity, most empty space is far more empty than that!)

In what we would call empty space, it really is rather empty. No good thing or bad thing happens there, that is the least we can say; maybe we should go further and say, Empty Space is a bad thing if Evil is the degradation of complexity, then this is the bottom layer. So, yes, by comparison to Complex Things and Events, no events at all is really bad. (So, The Holocaust was better than empty space? Maybe what makes The Holocaust massively evil is its disappointment, its betrayal, of all the wonderful accomplishments of humanity at and up to that point in history. We feel a tremendous Guilt with the Holocaust —how could persons have done that to other persons? We feel no such disappointment or guilt concerning empty space.)

In our Complex Living Environment there are vast opportunities for Numerous Creatures and Qualities to Exist and Interact. “Goodness” may be the Maximized Harmony and Coexistence of the greatest number of these. “Goodness” is the harmony of the greatest number of creatures, qualities, and abilities in existence simultaneously in Community. That is at least a good start at a description of it.

Stay tuned for more on The Nature of Goodness———————————————————————–The famous Alfred North Whitehead takes a crack at it.

I WISH WE HAD MORE UNITY IN OUR DIFFERENCES TODAY!!! Logo by Marty!


Revitalizing “The Soul”

I don’t know about you, but my “Soul” could sure use some revitalizing! I have felt rather exhausted, not so much physically, but mentally and “spiritually.” It is not that I am depressed, just worn out; beleaguered by a world in which too much has gone wrong recently. I am looking for some hope once again, and maybe that is all that it is, Feeling Rather Hopeless.

Memories of the Sky, Poem of the Soul by Louis Janmot, 1831. What a beautiful title, and an evocative rendering of it.

British psychologist and philosopher, Nicholas Humphrey, has offered some help in the form of two books: A History of the Mind (1992) and Soul Dust (2011). Metaphysical Hope, we might call it. True, both books are rather old, but still good, and each about 200 pages long. Nice that Humphrey, in writing a history, has respect for our time and forbearance. I hope to follow his example.

A “Soul”? Surely it is farfetched to think that this ancient and regrettably ongoing superstition has any modern beneficial use. Could it possibly accurately help describe our Human Condition? Could it help me shake these blues?

I will go out on a limb, with Humphrey, and suggest that it does. “Soul” has helped return some sparkle to my outlook. This rehabilitation is based (somewhat) in the belief that we humans often ‘know’ or ‘sense’ more than we realize about these “deep,” philosophical and religious issues. The turn of the 19th century German philosopher, Hegel, certainly thought so. He argued that mythology and traditional religion were a dim and eerie form of what an accurate philosophy of the world would look like. Humphrey contends something similar, that philosophical thought and awareness is natural to human beings, at least in some rudimentary forms.

 

Our New Soul

So, Humphrey attempts to revitalize this familiar concept in a rather straightforward way. Of course he jettisons the idea of the soul’s immortality and its immaterial character, but hangs on to what may be the true point of these, the Soul’s Transcendent Character.

The soul is the self, initially “a core self” and then eventually “the Ego” which is a larger and more complex self built from the core. Any self must transcend. It most last from moment to moment, day to day, year to year. It must transcend time, not totally as if godlike, but definitely forming a fairly durable duration. Also, it must transcend space and particular events and bodily faculties. The self is a unifier, an integrator in time and space. “I” have a toe, and the pain in it is equally its pain and mine. I see red, and that sensation is equally an activity at the surface of my retina, various events in my brain, and in general an experience of mine.

This general transcendental character of the self, and especially its supposed immaterial character, is demystified by Humphrey by postulating a Neurological Loop and a progressive sequence of development in it.

But if a Self is a “Soul” why not just stick with “Self”, why up the rhetoric to soul?

Surely some magic must be added, and that is where Quality and diverse qualities enter the story. Humphrey contends that about 300 million years ago, our reptilian ancestors —predecessors to all birds and mammals— evolved a Brain complex enough to “have” Phenomenal Experiences. In other words, it was “like something” to them (these creatures) to be them and to live their life. If they were damaged, they now felt pain, that is what damage was for them. They now experienced color, for example; or even enjoyed the taste of a juicy insect just devoured. Red was no longer just an electromagnetic wavelength responded to, but an experience of redness and also a behavioral response. Food was no longer just a biochemical necessity and a series of biochemical reactions but an activity “savored,” a satiation “appreciated,” a “craving” mitigated. That is what it was “like to them.” It was a new situation for any “thing,” at least in our section of the universe.

An “interiority” was now introduced, contends Humphrey! It was the dawning of not only “selves” and “souls” but also “Minds.” A kind of “interior theater” was established where not only the events that happened to a thing were recorded but they were interpreted and represented as something to me or for me. Qualities “appear” in the world. Perspective was created, and with that a variety of perspectives appeared. There is no perspective without differences of perspective.

Neurologically, the perception of the soul’s or self’s continuity and transcendence is naturalistically understood as an ongoing looping event occurring among the neurons in the brain. “Specialized neural circuits” exist and were selected by nature for their form as shown above. A flowing and continuous reverberation in the brain that takes time and potentially builds on itself. One that thickens and quickens at some points, but also relaxes, slows and thins at others. A loop and series of loops that may possibly offer in physical terms a kind of diagram for what an ongoing self may look like in brain activity, and what self-reflection may be based in. These kinds of self-reflective, varying but continuous events, can be mathematically described; they are called “discrete delay differential attractors.”

Humphrey admits that, in some ways, these neurological contentions are highly speculative and unusual. In effect, he is suggesting a neurological hypothesis based on its logical form, a logical form that has characteristics that seem to resemble the “shape” that consciousness and self-consciousness could take physically to be what it seems to us to be phenomenally. This is unusual, the logic of the problem of consciousness is leading the search for physical, neural, patterns.

In the above diagrams, let us say a sensation has occurred and is recorded in one small section of the brain, some small set of neurons. Its significance is ‘judged’ by the ongoing reaction of neurons around it. If it is a significant sensation, the initial pattern of responding neurons will be repeated and expand into larger sets of neurons that still maintain some of the basic pattern. Somewhat like the flower of a plant, a side-shoot of this activity may split off and ignite a repetition of that pattern in different parts of the brain. All eventually echoing back, returning to the initial sensation, as if a determination of its character and judgment of its significance. In a less significant experience, far less activity would occur but it would still maintain the above continuous, flowing and recursive character.

 

But the magic continues and escalates when a final observation is added. The self is better described as a soul when its absolute uniqueness is recognized. At no other point in all of history — past or future — will the same perspective exist that is The Basis of You. What the world seems like to you, who you seem like to yourself, seems to us to be a complete and irreplaceable creation. Not immortal in its physical existence, but immortal in its uniqueness. It is comparable to other Souls, but incomparable to them in strict identity. A Soul is a world-historically unique collection of Seemings and observations of Seemings themselves. Each is a perspective all its own. “The self comes into being at the moment it has the power to reflect itself,” writes Douglas Hofstadter. This self-reflective loop is what we have come to highly value.

This Unique Approach

This approach was pioneered years ago by Artificial Intelligence researcher Douglas Hofstadter and philosopher Dan Dennett. They co-authored a successful book called The Mind’s I in 1982. Previous to that, Hofstadter wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning and NYTimes Bestseller, Godel, Escher, Bach in 1979. Each book features the new insight that a self, and any “product of Mind,” has a looping, continuously self-referential but varying character.

Godel: Mathematics Turns in on Itself

Mathematician and logician.

In about 1930, Kurt Godel (pronounced with a long “o” and short “e” and equal emphasis on each sylable) proved that self-reference was impossible to avoid in any theory of the basis of mathematics. In response to Bertrand Russell’s and Alfred N. Whitehead’s voluminous Principia Mathematica, which tried to show math as built up from the bottom based on self-evident principles in a kind of pyramid form. Godel proved that all theories of math’s foundations could not have this form but contained Self-Referential Statements. They seemed to ‘hold themselves up by their own bootstraps,’ we could say.

Yes, self- reference or self-reflection is a strange kind of thing. It often leads to paradox. Hofstadter contends Godel’s work was an application to math of linguistic puzzles such as the statement “I am lying.” How are we to take this? Standing alone, and on its face value, it cannot be either True or False! Or, how do we take this pair of statements? “The following sentence is false. The preceding sentence is true.” They are “Strange Loops” that throw us out beyond them in search for further Context, or indicate to us a closed and circular form that is both logical and paradoxical.

 

M. C. Escher: Reality as if Turning in Upon Itself

Hand with Reflecting Sphere, 1935

 

Drawing Hands, 1948

A Dutch graphic artist working in the early to mid 20th century, labored in obscurity until he was almost 70 years old. His works are an exploration of the concepts of infinity, symmetry, reflection, perspective, and tessellation, says Wikipedia. Hofstadter values them as powerful portrayals of the effect of Self-Reflection. Each is a demonstration of a Strangely Looping Process.

(Print Gallery, 1956, lithograph. Said to be one of Escher’s own favorite works. The ‘dead spot’ in the middle of it is Escher’s signature. In 2003 several Dutch mathematicians contended they had “solved” the puzzle of the void. If the work is taken to be drawn on an “elliptic curve over the field of complex numbers” (whatever that means), the void disappears with a continuation of the drawing.)

Hofstadter contends Print Gallery displays three kinds of “inclusion.” The seaside town is “in” the picture being viewed by the boy, the boy and the picture are pictured “in” Escher’s work, and the entire idea of it is “in” Escher’s mind as represented by the void.

Bach: Bouncing a Theme Back Upon Itself in Many Different Ways

Hofstadter uses Bach’s piece A Musical Offering and its historical context as the background for his final example of Reflection, Variation, Recursion, and Self-Enclosure as displayed in his book’s title, Godel, Escher, Bach. I can barely begin a description of this piece’s musical character, but I will try. In the end, I will present a simple example of this musical form that will make sense to all, as it did finally for me.

(Flute Concert in Sanssouci, by A. von Menzel, 1852. The flutist is Frederick the Great of Prussia. Frederick was known as a military strategist but also as one of European history’s most acclaimed patrons of the arts. In 1747, he was finally paid a surprise visit by the now acclaimed eldest Bach, Johann Sebastian. The evening’s program was cancelled and replaced with pieces by Bach and improvisations involving the king. A Musical Offering grew from that, and was later presented to the king in his honor.)

A Musical Offering is a Fugue involving six parts! Reportedly even a four part fugue is difficult and a five part is rare; Bach himself only accomplished several of these in his collection The Well-Tempered Clavier. In a Fugue, each part, or ‘voice’, has a distinct melody to play, but all melodies are craftily designed to fit with each other as all are played at some points simultaneously. In this sense, each note of each part has multiple roles to play; it has its primary role in its own part, but secondary roles in relation to all the additional voices. A Fugue is an intricate work, like a finely woven tapestry.

A Canon is the simplest kind of Fugue, explains Hofstadter, and the simplest kind of Cannon is The Round. We all should be familiar with singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat as a round. That is the simplest Cannon, a variety of voices sing the same song over against and in contrast to itself. It creates a delightful effect.

Here is another noted Round, Frere Jacques. Thanks to the Missoula Valley Youth Choir!

Hostadter’s point is, in all these cases, Nature and Human Nature has ‘twined’ and intertwined itself about itself, and Reflected back itself, in ways that has set a foundation for more complex phenomena to appear to occur at what is called Higher Levels. New Things Happen, based on The Foundations of The Old. Hofstadter: “a higher-level view of a system may contain explanatory power which is absent on the lower level.” Like music, like art, like ethics, like science, all happen at levels beyond the microscopic. Its a more interesting life at this “chunkier” level!

A popular Canon— Pachelbel’s Canon, in two contrasting voices.
Drawing by Marty.

Stay Safe, Stay Connected. The naturereligionconnection.org

 

An Enchanted World

(A follow-up to the post The Strange Sensation, where psychologist and philosopher Nicholas Humphrey contends that we should think of this world as “painted in our soul dust” or “singing our song.” Yes, he believes that the Qualities of our world — its color and smell; its goodness and badness; its joy and sorrow — are all added by Conscious Beings, as if we are painting atop a canvas of molecules, waves and atoms. These Qualities include Complex Actions like singing and writing poems, but also creating scientific theories and testing them. Here, a little bird that is a powerful songster and one of my favorite poets will be featured; both of them helping to recoup some positives in our world already painted in too much sadness and tragedy. Please try to Enjoy!)

(How good is this bird at singing? Really good, and William Blake is not wrong to say, “His little throat labours with inspiration, every feather…vibrates with the effluence Divine.”)

Yes, the world is an amazing place, often. And as amazing as it is, our human response to it is amazing, sometimes. Case in point, The Lark (Eurasian Skylark) and William Blake’s poem, The Lark’s Song. As amazing as this small bird is, Blake’s poem is its equal.

But, it is not an easy poem to read. Let me walk you through it, as I have had some experience reading poems, and teaching students poetry, and have worked with this poem for a while.

Its punctuation is very important. Closely watch the commas for only a slight pause, but a period is a full stop. The semicolon at the end of line two is much the same as a period. Interestingly, there are only two periods; the first occurs at the end of the 13th line. Yes, the first 13 lines are one sentence and should be read as such! No punctuation at the end of a line is no stop in reading at all. So, the spacing is peculiar and important (and I fear it may be distorted on a cell phone), but then so are many things about Bill Blake (Englishman, 1757-1827). Why is “Spring,” “Corn-field,” …”Expanse” and “Bird,” all lines unto themselves? Why is each capitalized? This poem is visual as well as linguistic. It must be read several times, to develop its full impact.

So, here it is. I just love the ending where “the awful Sun…With eyes of soft humility and wonder,…stands still” to watch this little bird sing.

The Lark's Song

Thou hearest the Nightingale begin the Song of
          Spring;
The lark sitting upon his earthly bed, just as the morn
Appears, listens silent, then springing from the waving
          Corn-field, loud
He leads the Choir of Day-trill, trill, trill, trill,
Mounting upon the wing of light into the Great
          Expanse,
Re-echoing against the lovely blue and shining
          heavenly Shell,
His little throat and breast and wings vibrates with the
          effluence Divine.
All nature listens silent to him, and the awful Sun
Stands still upon the Mountain looking on this little
          Bird
With eyes of soft humility and wonder, love, and awe.

Can the lark’s song live up to this hype? Is it an “effluence Divine” to which “All nature listens silent”? Judge for yourself.

(It often seems as if too many sounds are coming from this one mouth! The second section of this video starting at 1:00 is the most convincing to me. A true “effluence Divine,” “His little throat and breast and wing vibrates” with each sound.)

(Illustration from Audubon Society)

Common across Europe, it is the male Skylark that sings. Hovering at about 150-300 feet (50-100m) is where much of the singing occurs (“Mounting upon the wing of light into the Great Expanse,”) and lasts for as much as a minute (“Re-echoing against the lovely blue and shining heavenly Shell”). More prolonged outbursts occur while perched. Many a person is surely correct in NOT finding its song beautiful as much as impressive in its vigor, variety and effusiveness. Surely we must agree, it is a true outpouring!

A small bird, about the size of a robin; it is around 7 in. or 18 cm. It nests on the ground and thus Blake’s line, “The lark sitting on its earthly bed.” Settlers to North America have tried at various times and places to introduce the bird to this continent, but with almost no success. A small colony was established on Vancouver Island in Western Canada, but today it is in serious decline. The skylark is abundant in Europe and Asia, and is not endangered.

The world is often a marvelous place, especially when persons seek to enhance it. Persons or selves can be called “Souls,” contends psychologist and philosopher Nick Humphrey, because of our psychological and metaphysical ability to convert the seeming raw materials of matter into “an enchanted” and “magical” display of Qualities and Abilities. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Skylark; thank you Mr. Blake! Thanks for our physical and metaphysical situation that offers so much and potentially offers more!

The Nightingale: known for its song, especially in the hours just before dawn. Its song ignites the Skylark. It is another bird not at home in the Americas.

No atom ever sings, And though we may roughly associate A Group of Atoms to an event we call Singing, the heart of the song is lost when we do so.

Stay Safe!

Logo by Marty.

The Strange Sensation

(In the series The Philosophical Issues in Everyday Life. What “is” Consciousness? It is the most familiar “thing” and the strangest “thing” all at once! And is it wonderful? —– Thanks to my readers for their patience. I took some time off from this blog this summer to do some reading, some reflection and recharge my batteries. Also, I have some new ideas for the site that will be rolled out soon, I hope.)

Composition VII by Wassily Kandinsky (1913). How do these Colors seem to you?

A strange thing happened the other day. A particularly mysterious sensation did not come over me. Rather, I realized that any sensation is a strange kind of “Thing.” So I really came out on top of this, my feeling of mystery and amazement about sensation was now generalized to my life overall! I don’t know about you but I can use a little more positive spin in my life right now, too many things going wrong in this world of ours. Or is that just my take on things, just my individual sensation?

So what is so strange about having a sensation? Is not sensation and our experience of it the most normal, constant and automatic thing in our lives? Is there really some kind of philosophical issue here, something ‘deep’? I will let English psychologist and philosopher, Nicholas Humphrey, be our guide, using his books A History of the Mind (1992) and Soul Dust (2011).

What’s the Issue?

Well, we talk about sensations and feelings differently than we talk about any other kind of thing. Hell, after all, we all kind of know that sensations are not things that exist outside in the world, but “things” that exist or occur in our head or “mind.” Or so at least traditionally we have been told.

Humphrey points out that we often don’t even try to explain in words what we are experiencing, we simply suggest “Come here and look for yourself” or “Try this (food, for example) for yourself, see what you think.” And for many sensations, feelings and even evaluations, agreement between persons is not necessary at all. “Taste this steak; it is delicious.” “No thanks, I hate red meat.” But we then do not reply, “You are wrong, it is delicious!” It is as if each of us, the individual perceiver, “the person with the front row seat” (Humphrey), the “experiencer,” are the only one with access and authority about these peculiar kinds of ‘objects’ — “a sensation” of delicious or disgusting, “an evaluation” of good or bad, “a perception” of red or green. “It sure seems red to me,” you might say, and who can contradict how it seems to you? A sensation is a ‘thing’ that is a “pure seeming,” we might say.

The Daffodil: “Ten thousand I saw at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.” This is how they seemed to William Wordsworth, that was his feeling.

Humphrey contends that some sensations and feelings are “just beyond words”, “ineffable.” We are rendered “awestruck,” for example, by the sun setting over the ocean. We may try to express this in words, but words fail us. “To stand in awe” is one of the original senses of this term, in other words, speechless. It takes a rare poet or artist to capture a sensation in words. Painter Wassily Kandinsky is quoted concerning our sensation of color: “Color is a power that directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes the hammers, soul is the piano with many strings.” And I will continue Wordsworth’s reflection upon that field of daffodils:

They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude:
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

For most of us, we would just say, “you had to be there.”

So that is peculiar. A sensation and a feeling are only what they are to you, their sole observer. They are a private object of yours. And some sensations demonstrate the truth of this but only in degrees. The sensation of a far off object, barely seen, can be discussed by two observers. It “seems as if it is..,” they say to each other, but as they come nearer and nearer to the object in the world, they come closer to agreement not on how it seems, but on what it is. It is almost a necessity: “Yes, it is a hawk flying high,” they now agree. It no longer seems like anything; it now is. “How do sensations and feelings exist at all?” we might ask. They are a ghostly kind of thing!

Our philosopher and psychologist accentuates this distinction between these ‘inside objects’ and our less paradoxical ‘outside objects.’ With the physicist as the expert on the objectivity of the world around us, Humphrey says that “you perceive a physical object to be something more or other than what the physicist would say it is — a piece of paper as a dollar bill, a pattern in the clouds as the face of a cat.” Yes, a dollar bill as a monetary unit has a very human and social kind of existence, none of which Newton’s three laws can explain or describe. Or, how is your experience of the color red different from the color green? It is very hard to say, and we may be led awkwardly to say things like the quality “redness” is not the quality of green, but saying that red has a different electromagnetic frequency than green does not seem to help describe how they look to us at all.

We may start to get the feeling that there is more to our world than just objects in space. In fact, the Qualities that these internal objects convey to us are commonly held to exist in their own kind of place. We say, they exist “In Mind,” and we only vaguely, roughly and inconclusively associate that with our Brain.

Perceptions, sensations and feelings even exist in their own Time, we tend to think! Some of our experiences “last forever,” we say. “Time slowed down” and though on the clock the event only lasted five minutes, to us “it seemed much longer.” Other experiences seem to pass more quickly than the clock records as ‘true.’ “Time flies when you are having fun,” we say. Yet for many purposes, an exact and objective time is what we use and insist upon. Physicists like to think of the universe in instants. When you clock in and clock out at the factory, no matter how long the day seemed, you only get paid by our objectively agreed-upon standard of time. Is this standard time the only real time, the only true way to think of time?

Well, Humphrey goes so far as to contend that “inner objects” —sensations, feelings, even evaluations (“It is bad.”)— suggest to us the existence of a different world! He sites Plato, the granddaddy of all western abstract thinkers, and his Analogy of The Cave. The world that we humans sense and perceive is “as if” a projection on the wall of a cave —shadows of the real things that we cannot see. The world as it appears to us is an illusion, Humphrey says, by comparison to the world of physics and chemistry. And it is an illusion largely created by ourselves, “a self-illusion”! It is the world as it “is like” to us as conscious human beings. We have a term for this, it is the Phenomenal World.

Lets end this briefly by saying that this is exactly What Consciousness Is. Humphrey follows philosopher Thomas Nagel in his precedent-setting paper, “What Is It Like To Be A Bat,” and agrees that consciousness is just for things to be “like something to us” or for things to be like something to a “subject.Consciousness, feelings, and ideas are ‘objects’ that do not exist in the space and time we often use for other purposes! They exist in the Mind and for a subject; they have their own necessary duration and place. That is a very different kind of objectivity! Sensations, feelings, evaluations are created by us as a “commentary” on the real things of the physical world that impinge upon us, concludes our psychologist.

What Can We Make of This?

Well, Humphrey makes the best of it! The shadow world of Plato, this illusion, becomes “an enchanted world,” he tries to convince us! “Things are singing your song,” Humphrey writes (his emphasis) and he quotes many a poet, artist and mystic as witness. It may be “a philosophical error” to attribute “phenomenal qualities to impersonal objects,” but “what matters is psychological impact, not philosophical rectitude.” The illusion of color, taste, and joy; even pain, disgust, and evil, tend strongly to attach to the things in the world. It is what they seem to be, in themselves, to us. And this illusion sticks, even as we have a growing awareness of our own role in it. “It is indeed you who are the enchanter, you who are, as it were, coloring things with the fairy dust of your own consciousness.”

The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars; and all the World was mine, and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it.

Thomas Traherne, 17th century English poet, Anglican minister, and mystic; quoted by Humphrey

“Interiority”: The World from The Inside of It!

This talk of “inner” objects and “a subject’s unique access and authority” to them leads Humphrey to introduce the idea of “interiority.” It is a cumbersome term but one trying to express a situation we are all very familiar with. My “self,” this GregWW, and your self, who ever you may be, are a sole and only strange kind of thing.

Granted, this subjectivity is tightly associated to a particular living physical body and certainly its brain activity. We are a particular “somebody,” says our psychologist and philosopher; we say and know we are not just “anybody.” But in spite of that, our particular body and our psychological self are not strictly ‘the same.’ Consciousness and subjectivity are More Than and Other Than any physical description of a body or a brain! I am sure that you anticipated this contention in my argument, and Humphrey’s, long ago.

“Interiority”: Is this an early depiction of it at the Lotus Mahal in Hampi, India? Built in the 16th century, the body of the building creates the illusion of a radiating internal unity. Thanks to kevinstandagephotography for all Lotus Mahal photos.

“Interiority” is “the insider’s view” of life that we also seek to describe more objectively, sometimes. This post itself, and Humphrey’s theory in general, are an attempt to square the circle, we might say, to as objectively as possible describe and communicate something that is almost indescribable and so very basic as to be the presupposition of our lives and not a direct topic of it. Nagel is quoted: when we try to eliminate “the content” of experience, “what remains when these are set aside is not merely neutral: it is emphatically positive...The additional positive weight is supplied by experience itself, rather than by any of its content.” Lord Byron writing in the 18th century is quoted: “The great object of life is sensation—to feel that we exist,” and this being the case even with pain as one of our most noted experiences.

So, you are and I am, at first and primarily, what Humphrey calls “a core self.” This self is not a thinking self nor one that is self-aware, but a self that is only starting in that direction. There are several significant characteristics of this rudimentary self.

“Ownership” is one of them. To the core self, many things are considered a part of “itself.” An infant slowly develops a vague sense that “‘these’ (feet or hands) are ‘mine.'” That “‘this’ (pain in the stomach) is ‘mine.'” “Control” is another feature, as the infant’s arms begin to reach out for things, its sensation of Self develops as an awareness of its control of some things but not of others. And finally, there is the state of simply “being there,” which Humphrey describes as “an in-your-face mystery.” The core self is simply “the subjectivity for which the sensation appears.” “I see; I feel.” It is, for us, “a human way of being, he explains, and importantly that is how we refer to ourselves; we are “a Human Being. For a bat, maybe there is a Bat Being. It is the way things are to them; it is how things seem to them!

The mammal-like reptile, the therapsid, lived about 300 million years ago. Humphrey speculates that it may have been them that had a brain complicated enough to have had the first experience of their own sensations.

And this core self —as already contended— is unique and isolated, a “sole and only.” Our core self is just that direct access to sensation, to which there is no other access but through our attempts at communication. And even with this communication — sensation, feeling and even some evaluations retain their absolute privacy. As a self-aware consciousness you are “a closed individuality.” In all of history, in all that has gone before us and all that will come after, there has been and will never be Another You, it seems acceptable to believe. Humphrey says that each of us is “an inescapable singularity.” Contrary to poet John Donne, at the core of our self, we must acknowledge and understand the implications of our isolation: each man, woman and child “is an island entire of himself.”

Now, we do have very good reasons to believe that my sensation of red, for example, is the same or very similar to that of yours, but still we face the psychological and metaphysical reality of the element of absolute individuality. We have faced up to it in many ways, including our great fear and respect for the reality of death. In other ways we do not face it so well, as when we currently and historically speculate about super humans and immortals — gods, ghosts, demons and other scientifically implausible kinds of supposed external objects. With these kind of beliefs, some of us attempt to evade the end that death surely is.

But this is where Humphrey, himself, introduces the possibility of using the term “Soul.” There are other similar terms, like “self” and “person;” each are, like a sensation, an inner object — but Humphrey likes “soul” in spite of its baggage because of its connection to spirituality. For him, Spirituality predates Religion, and the latter is “parasitic” on the former. Our sense of the spiritual is our social recognition and Natural Selection’s recognition of the Value and Importance of “the Insider’s point of view,” of Consciousness, of our sense of an enchanted world.”

A Soul Land?

We started with the simple idea of a sensation or a feeling —“I see red,” “I feel pain”— and end up with “a society of soulsand “a soul land,” argues Humphrey. We will Eventually explore these ideas further, but they are based in an analysis of our current set of beliefs. Many of us do believe in, and live lives that recognize, the irreplaceable and invaluable quality of each individual consciousness and the natural and social apparatuses that support that way of life. This is the “enchanted world,” says Humphrey; but we should ask, is it true? In this realm of “Seemings,” if you can believe it and live according to it, and if other conscious beings do too, then it is true, a truly enchanted world — Our Way Being! That is the answer!

Murnua Street With Women: Kandinsky, 1908. Is this the way Murnua Street really is?
Sensations, perspectives, and life-forms at the Lotus Mahal, India.

Thanks and Stray Safe! The naturereligionconnection.

Strange Talk in “PLAIN TALK” Series: Infinite and Finite Minds!

Russian Cubo Futurism: “The Knife Grinder” by Kazimir Malevich (1913).

Well, my metaphysical speculations hit a high point in The Details Revised post. Many readers will be happy to hear that ‘my thirst has been quenched’ and we can return to more mundane topics. But first (!), I need to think about what was there said. After all, “Strange Talk” should be made “PLAIN TALK” for that series, or at least what best can be done.

I write this follow-up as much for myself as anyone. Our MetaPhysical situation has always been a strange one, so to write a recap of my position for “clarity’s sake” is as necessary as it may be unattainable. Here goes.

Poet Bill Blake was ‘out of this world’ with talents! “God Blessing the Seventh Day” pen and watercolor from 1805. He created his own mythology.

The Infinite Mind

Well, surely this gets me off to the wrong start, the odds are against me “making sense” of an “infinite mind.” Yet, Physics does have a traditional place for this idea! Physicist Sean Carroll* makes this clear in his use of Simone Pierre Laplace’s famous thought experiment ‘commonly’ known as “Laplace’s Demon.” Laplace knew Newton’s Theories better than Newton himself, contends Carroll, because he was born a generation after Newton and studied and thought thoroughly and solely in the Newtonian tradition. The French thought of Laplace as “France’s Newton” and he contended that this Newtonian Point of View assumed a Grand Intelligence that existed outside of the universe and ‘gazed’ at it knowingly and dispassionately.

“The Demon” was able to know the position and the velocity of all the particles of the universe at any single instant. That indeed was an infinite capacity that yielded an infinite payoff: Knowledge of the particle’s positions For All Time, past and future! And moreso, as if that was necessary, this knowledge rendered the Idea of Time irrelevant. Since all was known at once to this Infinite Intelligence, Time was really not a basic part of it. So, No Time, and Everything Worth Knowing about these participles was known at that instant to this “Mind.” It was a Complete Determinism, and if you should happen to feel that The Future existed, it was all locked in and nothing was new about it! Many of his commentators (physicists and philosophers), then and now, thought it frightening and so the infinite intelligence became known as “Laplace’s Demon.”

“Bombbardamento Aero” by Tullio Crali (1932). Futurist Art often has a focus on a bleak future.

It is worth noting that our access to this exulted Perspective occurs only through Mathematics. Though the mathematical relations were not all that complex in Newton’ s time, they surely represented a New Paradigm and a reframing of the old problem of motion both in the “heavens” and here at home. Today, some highly abstract and very complicated math is almost entirely the means to our understanding of the modern physic’s world. “Picturing it” in our normal everyday categories does not work, it is contended.

Physics does take seriously the universe it presents us (and so do I), and often also acknowledges its Paradoxical Character. Carroll makes clear to us that even among physicists there is great disagreement about how to think about, especially, the Quantum Mechanical Theory that they all agree is “accurate” or “true.” Carroll says his favorite is The Multiple Universe Proposal, that Q-Mech works because there are…?

But even for the classical Newtonian Mechanics, its implications were controversial. Laplace’s Demon was a product of that theory’s implications extended beyond our planet and Solar System to the universe at large. Carroll tells us that there never was, nor will there ever be, a mind capable of knowing enough information about the particles of the entire universe, at one moment, and also having the computational power necessary to analyze it. That if we think of that mind as a computer, it would “have to be a computer as big as the universe itself”, he says!

The value of “Laplace’s Demon” was always the point it made “in principle” about our metaphysical situation. Physics has shown us something “true” about the universe that is very disruptive to much of what we also want to believe is “true”. So, don’t blame only me for my “strange talk” and lack of clarity!

A Finite Mind

A Mars Rover, Designed to function largely on its own in carrying out its mission so far from Earth. It is a Finite Mind, in a certain sense.

But if we play along with this idea of The Infinite Mind and The Universe it presents to us, we then have an interesting contrast that can clarify Our Predicament as “Finite Minds.” What might be our limitations, for surely they exist?

If that expansive mind understood the universe as sub-atomic particles and a quantum wave, then A More Limited Mind such as Ours “sees it and understands it” in a more limited yet still effective way. Why would it still be effective? Why not totally illusion?

…..It Is Still A Perspective

The Finite Mind would still be a perspective on the world, but a more limited one. It is, therefore, grounded and not just illusion. It has a limited scope and is not universal in its purview. It is “an innocuous-seeming but secretly profound idea that there are many ways of talking about the world, each of which captures a different aspect of the underlying whole”, writes Carroll.* It does not have the capacities of the Infinite Mind to absorb all the data and process it, so it must Economize and Rationalize. As a Limited Perspective it must only respond to some things as “stimuli” and not to others, and those are what we call “The Information” that is pertinent to it (contends philosopher Dan Dennett). Limitation is the ability to be automatically Selective! And surprisingly, that becomes A Very Good Thing because Why Should We Be Only Interested In The Most Universal Perspective On Things?

These young ladies are clearly not interested in The Most Universal Perspective on this pizza. Not only are they unconcerned with its atomic structure, but they probably are unconcerned with whether you or I (or Julia Childs) would find it as enjoyable. They like it!

…..It Is From A Different Position

No longer would a Mind have the entire universe As Its Object and therefore ‘stand’ outside the universe to understand it and view it all. A Finite Mind is within the Universe and is, therefore, a Participant in it. First, this means it has more limited Objects apparent to its limited Point of View. Second, a finite mind also has Larger Things of which it is a part. It must function in both of these contexts. Ultimately, the largest context is that of the physic’s world, but there may be other mediate contexts. Persons function in their own ways, but also in the ways of all Biological Creatures, and then finally as physical objects of chemistry and physics. For the Finite Mind to be Effective and therefore Real, it must maintain a variety of compatibilities.

There is even the possibility that from a redefined Religious and Moral Perspective a Finite Mind participates in these larger structures. Morality is our participation in, what I have called, The Human Social Organism. Humans are a herd species by design. This is true not only biologically but culturally. “Persons” are formed in a society and are intrinsically connected to other persons even if they are directly removed from their immediate company.

Religion can be our sense of our intrinsic connection to the universe and to reality itself. As much as we modern, secular, educated individuals have learned to appreciate (and dread) our own irrelevance and insignificance to “things” in the broadest sense, it is not completely true! To think and feel ourselves as irrelevant is to, once again, fall prey to confusion. We are not removed from ‘the world’ and gazing at it dispassionately, we are participants in it and full of passions and poignant with a sense of the direction to go and of activity worth accomplishing. This can be our new found religious sense!

…..It Creates A Phenomenal World

The World as It Exists to Physics is not immediately Apparent or Understood to a Finite Mind. Atoms, sub-atomic particles, quantum waves are hidden to it by Perceptions of its own. Things Look Different to us!

Finite Minds have a perspective appropriate to themselves, Their Phenomenal World. “Allegory of Air” by Jan van Kessel (1661). Kessel married into the Bruegel family and carried on many of its remarkable traditions in painting. No atoms or quantum behavior seen here!

Our scope as minds is limited by Our Size and Our Duration, not to mention geographic and historical traditions. Atoms and particles behave far quicker than we do and are much smaller. Finite Minds live in worlds with “Objects of Their Own.” We are well aware of our world of Macroscopic Objects, but also consider that of the paramecium. It is most directly Designed to be aware of its other little competitors, consumers, and food stuffs; when a bulldozer covers over its wooded wetland to prepare for a new housing flat, it will only very indirectly and obliquely have a sense of that monstrous machine and the consequences of it. A Finite Mind has a “Phenomenal World” composed of the objects it is immediately aware of, and surrounded by, in its own terms. In biology, this has been referred to as “the Umwelt” (the self-centered world) of a plant or animal by biologist Jakob von Uexkull in the early 20th century and later adopted into Communication Theory.

…..It Is a Designed Object

But living things are not the only objects we can think of as having a phenomenal world. Computers are designed with great sophistication today. They play winning chess against chess masters and write music in the vein of Bach and Beethoven, and can more competently ‘understand’ language. If a computer attains the point of “seeming” to have sufficient Personality, then will it be a Person? That seems like a totally redundant question. I mean, how do you you known that I am not a computer? I sure seem to be a Person, but am I really?

Image of “Hal” the almost totally cooperative shipmate in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 Space Oddessy”, until he wasn’t! He spoke a lot more like a Person, than he looked!!!

But to defer the answer to that question, the broader issue is the similarity of a Finite Mind and Any Designed Object. We design and make many functional objects. Each is given its own Limited Perspective of ‘the world.’ Each uses that to Function appropriately and to have a Structure organized to do that. Hell, even my door lock carries out its function rather well! But in the terms of physics, my door lock, and myself, have no particular or significant individuality in the great causal background presented to us by that science.

But clearly, here we are. We are a ‘seeming’ whose reality seems hard to deny. If we are to accept the significance of an Infinite Mind, as physic’s would suggest, then we should accept ourselves as more limited Minds with a world and a mode of operation worth regarding.

For Finite Minds, there is more than One Way to ‘see’ The World!
More of Bill Blake at the naturereligionconnection.org! Ya, gotta love it; Sex in the Middle of a Flower! Life is as good as fiction.

Logo by Marty

PLAIN TALK: Revising Our Ideas to Bring Mind Back to Earth as Our Culture

(This is the third post in in the PLAIN TALK series on Mind and Brain. In the previous posts Mind was contended to be Our Society, Culture and Its History. In this post, some of the traditional mystified language used to describe Mind will be revised into language more suitable to today. TRYING TO KEEP IT PLAIN. I hope I didn’t stray too far in post two! Persons are as Real as atoms. )

Let us get to the some of the details of how Mind can be de-mystified and brought back from its immaterial, even Spiritual, Other-Worldly Realm and return it to our participation in Our Society and Culture. This is the modern way to think of Mind.

Revising Our Ideas

An early idea of Transcendence and the creation of new abilities and creatures. ‘God’ as a non-physical ‘person’. God Creating the Birds of the Sky and the Fishes of the Seas, painting by Maerten de Vos (1600) — nice looking fish!

Mind as “non-physical”, as “immaterial and transcendent” becomes Not some kind of place and not a “Spiritual Substance” that rivals “Material Substance”, but the reality that certain qualities and abilities seem to present themselves in only certain situations and appear to us to be more than, qualitatively different than, what was previously perceived to be present. Mind is certain “Emergent” properties and even objects that appear to exist not only beyond the physical, but other baseline contexts. Mind, in this way, is “Original and Creative”; these new qualities and objects simply “appear”. They have a uniqueness and context of their own. They may be associated with some physical events, and especially increasingly complex physical events, but they are not clearly explained in those terms. The status and limitations of this term —Emergence— will be discussed later in this post, but first some examples of it.

Examples of “Emergence”

The qualities and abilities of Life from Non-Life are an obvious case of emergence. We know very well the physical components of life: “CHNOPS” — carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur. Yet mixed together in very remarkable circumstances new qualities and abilities seem to appear. Living things reproduce, repair, modulate themselves. Even the development of simple living things like protists and bacteria into creatures with an organization of three trillion cells and the ability to visit the moon rightly seems miraculous. Multicellularity may be as remarkable as life itself.

One of the most amazing additions attributed to living things is what we call “Experience”. Non-living things lack experience, though we now have some speculative cases of highly sophisticated computers talking, playing great chess and even having self-interest. In the previous “Mind and Brain” post I called experience “the having of a perspective”, “a point of view” and even “making a representation”. These all seem to us to be Emergent Abilities not present in the non-living.

The “Redness” of red. Red as ‘the experience’ of a “color”.

A standard example is our experience of red. The ‘redness’ of red, its color, is traditionally spoken of, and “known”, in relation to other colors. “Color” is a consistent language of its own that we use to characterize and operate in a wide area of our lives. Color forms “a kind of its own”, we say; it is “a different experience” than that of the electromagnetic wave lengths science has discovered or the activity of neurons color can be associated with in the brain.

Pain is similar to color in many of those ways. It is Our Representation of many kinds of situations, but I think it also fair to say that my dog, Nika, feels pain without having many of the other ‘Thoughts or Words” we would have when in pain. I might think, “I am injured” or “I am sick” or “I should not have eaten that large pizza all by myself!” or “I may die!”, but I do not believe Nika does. Her experience of pain is even less articulate than ours; less connected in her awareness to any broader aspects of her life and its prospects.

Having an Experience may no longer be confined to Living Things. Complex artificial circuitry may some day replicate the neural circuitry of the brain and experience may be achieved if a computer is Given Ample Cultural Context within to work. “Hal”, the soft-spoken computer, rebelling against his commanders in 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubric.

It is important to note the idea of “a kind of its own”, and the particular vocabulary with which we speak and act in reference to that kind of thing. “Living things” are “a kind of thing unique unto themselves”. We speak of them as forming a particular context, highlighted by all sorts of “agency” terms where animals and plants have “needs”, “wants”, and even “reasons” for what they do. “Color” is also that kind of context “for us” and it is full of The Information we need to operate successfully using the terms of “color”. The terms we use in connection to”life” are a “road map” of Information to guide our behavior and experience in this area.

The Lawn Mower defense of the Transcendent. A thing that Functions has an Idea behind its parts and their organization. That Idea is what gets the job done through its realization in the parts.

Another example of an Emergent Property is the Purpose of a thing. Things that work are very Mind-like. Anything that functions (my lawn mower) has parts that work together to accomplish that goal, but that goal (cutting grass) and the arrangement of those parts (that Design) is Not one of those parts itself! The parts are The Real Physical Things (four wheels, a blade, a motor, a handle), but Their Purpose and their Design (how they are put together) is Not a real physical thing, it is the arrangement of them; it is “The Idea” ‘behind’ all the functioning parts, or maybe we should say, ‘above’ them. The function or ‘the point of it’, Transcends it (my mower), ‘transcends’ all its particular parts and is a unity of them. In this way, it is more Ideal than Real, we might say. Nowhere can you point at it and say, “There, right there (in front of that back wheel) is “The Meaning-of-It-All Part”, or The Purpose Part of any functioning object!” “Functions”, “purposes”, “goals” are Not as Obvious as the physical pieces that work to “carry them out”! Thus we can think in terms of a “Mind” versus “Matter” distinction, and understand that the goals of things, their purposes and the idea behind them “transcend” them. They are an Emergent aspect of the more concrete object we are trying to understand or use.

There are other such examples of Emergence (if you need them, otherwise go the next section).

The Transcendent Laws of Circularity: D=2r. A good example of what occurs with the help of neurons but not in the vocabulary of neurons. Geometry is its own kind of thing, with a logic in its own terms.

We think it ‘rather common’ (or some might say, “a convenience”) that our concepts of things are as Abstract as they are, but our early ancestral thinkers marveled at these abstractions. For example, Plato, and his fellow Greeks –like Pythagoras– knew very well the mathematical definition of Circularity, and could see for themselves that no potter, wheel-maker or artist ever achieved it in reality. It was an Ideal, from its Greek root,”eidos” meaning “form”, and toward which every one of these crafts-persons strove. They wanted to achieve the ideal circle in one of their products, but also the early Greek mathematicians explored this idea and developed a unique set of terms and discovered the Lawful Relations that constitute Circularity.

Has Plato’s Ideal “chair” finally been created in Reality? I do believe so. Can’t wait to try it!

Plato also considered more common things like “a seat” or “a chair”. Maybe we should be more impressed by these Abstractions, as he was. Around my house, I count about ten sets of objects that could be Classified as “seat”: two rather different couches, a “love” seat, an over-stuffed arm chair, dining room chairs, kitchen stools, folding chairs in the closet, deck chairs …, but nowhere do I, nor did Plato, see the Prototypical Seat, the Grand Archetype of them all, or The Rules that distinguish a seat from a non-seat. It is in the Realm of Ideas, concluded Plato. For us, “chair” is a very human abstraction but it can, in general, point us in the direction of all our various Abstract Abilities To Represent to ourselves the Occurrences of Life. Those are what we call “Mind”.

Plato, like modern scientists, believes we only see “images”or “shadows” of what is Real. His famous “Analogy of the Cave”. (original source of cartoon unknown, crista.info)

These Abstract Concepts and our other Representational Practices, like Language, Math, Science, Art, Politics, challenge the traditional scientific context. We can view these abilities as another instance of Emergence and a further development of Mind. Animals, and even plants —as designed and functional objects — have Mind to a limited degree, an incipient Mind. They “do” complex things, and not everything seems to just happen to them; they have some control. But, they are not aware they do them. Our children are somewhat similar, but Not for long. Socialized and responsible adults participate fully in the way of life of their society and culture. They are normally “held” to be fully responsible and mindful. They need to have Reasons for themselves and be ready to discuss them.

“Emergence” is Jargon

“Emergence” is a term of philosophical art representing our awareness that not all things should be spoken of, and interacted with, under the same set of terms. The living and the non-living; a plant and an animal; selfishness and morality; feeling and thought; a person and a thing; the practical and the theoretical; art and science: All have vocabularies of their own that are seemingly incompatible with the very things we, in our modern western society, contrast them to. “Mind” is a term that is not jargon and is frequently used and commonly accepted. It seems to Represent our intuition that emergence is not only real but that there is a way to bring all these contrasts into an order and live with them. That is what our society and its culture provides, a “road map” through this thicket. But Mind is also our intuition that we keep changing, and often based on these very contrasts. In these posts, I hope to convince you of a more satisfactory organization of these contrasts that preserves the idea and practice of Mind as the emergent phenomena we call Human Society and Culture and its History. It is our primary reality.

(Tomorrow’s post will describe how we try out new things, and we have a dynamic relationship between individual Persons and their society and culture. New things do happen and new things (qualities and abilities) do appear—“Emerge”. Reality should be spoken of as occurring at different levels!)

ART OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION: New Things Can Happen.

The naturereligionconnection.org

PLAIN TALK, Mind and Brain—We Try Out New Things: The Private and the Public

(In “Revising Our Ideas: Mind is Culture”, the Abstract concepts and purposes that are a part of any society became the basis for our belief in Mind. “Emergent” properties and objects “appear” to that society and seem extraordinary. Often, we are right to “see” them (literally) and acknowledge there significance. But our individual beliefs are often and appropriately a matter of Public discussion. It is one of our greatest Values, that our Abstract Beliefs are open to public ratification. Unfortunately too many of us believe that since I believe it and feel it, it must be true. THESE ARE PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES RIGHT BEFORE OUR EYES! 4th post in PLAIN TALK series.)

ADVANCES IN SOCIALIZATION: The Invention of the Modern Classroom. Ya gotta love a good caveperson joke! (thanks to CARTOONSTOCK)

This is what Mind is. The Culture of each Society has Historically arrived at its Abstract Terms and trains it’s members in their application. This is one of the modern ways to think of “Mind”. Mind is more like “a way of life” and this has been an important idea in philosophy but recently reestablished by Wittgenstein.

“Mind” is a collectivity of Brains that are socialized to speak a particular language and function together in a particular society. They form “a higher level” object –“society” — that is “emergent”. It is “more than the sum of its parts”; parts taken as individual humans outside of any culture or socialization. Therefore, this new higher level unit possesses new abilities and an environment appropriate to it. Its individual members are now “Persons”.

ANCIENT SPARTA:”They were not as close to their children as other Greek women…but a mother had pride in her son’s stature as a courageous and strong soldier. “Come home with your shield or upon it”, they told their sons.(from historywiz.com)

The Greeks had their way of life that accomplished many ends and worked well for them in many ways. It was quite different than ours, especially in their approach to nature. They “saw” person-like gods and forces behind natural events.

We no longer believe in that, and have taken the personalities out of much of nature. Today, many of us think nature, in its most abstract and basic form, lacks purposes, feelings, goals, reasons, responsibility or even beauty as inherent to it. It is a contention of our popular, secular and science-based philosophy that these qualities are added to it by ourselves and thus “secondary”. It is only in our operation of ourselves –as minds — that we still rely of these Agency Terms. We think of everyday as having a goal and filled with purposes and the reasons we do things. Curiously, even though physicists and chemists or neuro-scientists will think about the world they discover as lacking Agency, as Persons and decision-making Scientists, they operate by those Ideals.

“Flaps down. We are beginning our approach to runway 3C, over.”

It is to “Mind” that we commonly attribute the added qualities and abilities to the “material world” as presented to us by science. But even here, in Nature and especially “Life”, we feel Agency and Mind has its roots. The flight of a bird, from the bird’s perspective —we might say, is a process of Function and Design (and thus mind-like) and involving the use of Information. Like the pilot of an aircraft, the bird ‘reads’ and adjusts to winds, light, precipitation, speed and terrain. That we look at Biological Nature and “see” this chronicle of Growing Abilities in its creatures is what philosopher Dan Dennett calls “a deep fact”, the kind of fact “to build a theory on.” This deep fact is the support we need to explain our own enhanced abilities. This “deep fact” is not explicitly recognized for its philosophical implications by the science of biology, even though the purposes and functions they analyze in living things are their initial and obvious data.

Edsel Ford thought he had some great ideas. He differed from his father, Henry, in his support of the arts, philanthropy, and left-wing political causes, but his line of autos did not do so well. The “Edsel” lasted three “model” years: ‘58, ‘59, ‘60. It did not sell!

As socialized humans, we become aware of the ideas, purposes, goals in different things and experiences, and the logic that inheres in those vocabularies of color words, geometry terms, aeronautical terms, “persons” etc. We begin to Explicitly acknowledge these unique vocabularies and actions, and begin to explore and develop them. But just because you or I may be aware of something or have an opinion, that is not enough. Self-Aware Individuality is an important and powerful new quality and ability that Persons have, but Culture and Society still has powerful input.

The Private and The Public

Our Brain is a private and individual physical thing; it is just, and only, that thing between your ears or mine. Our Mind is both Private and Individual, but also Public and Social! Socially, even for a private and individual decision such as disliking broccoli, we still say to our kids, “Try it again; it’s especially good in quiche” or “It will grow on you.” Even “I see red” will be questioned if the rest of us are seeing purple. “Is it the light or the angle that is causing the difference?” we say, or “Is he color blind?, we ask.

So, when you say “I have made up my mind”, you are acknowledging your ownership of this decision but also acknowledging your participation in our society. You are prepared to give Reasons to Justify it. Many of our decisions are simply let go as that, as “up to us”. Liking broccoli is one of those, but vegetarianism is somewhat similar and often strenuously and publicly advocated.

Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy arrested in Birmingham, Alabama. Their vision of Equality for all unfortunately still has a way to go.

Individual claims can sometimes overcome public objections. This is a prominent factor in Cultural Change and History. The above examples were of individuals being overridden in there contentions due to the scrutiny of others, the public. The ‘visions’ of an individual can succeed over public objection, too. Elvis’s music eventually was accepted. Dr. King’s vision of equality has made great progress. Picasso’s art is now accepted by all sophisticated viewers. Copernicus’ celestial theory.

“Perry Mason” publicly debunked the claims of many a witness. Their contentions were revealed to be false through his skillful cross-examination.

When someone says, “I killed him in self-defense”, our tendency to allow a Self-Pronunciation to pass as sufficient is not tolerated. The police will question them; they may end up in court: “Prove it!”, “Was his feeling of being in danger justified?” Now, if the accused can convince us of the legitimacy of that claim by giving us other circumstances Of That Same Kind, then we may, and the police may, let it go as self-defense. “He was my business partner and wanted it all for himself”, “He had threatened me before”, all these kind of statements buttress the validity of the self-report.

Maybe the best cases of Mind and the variability of perception are in illusions that can be “taken” either way. Ancient people stood and looked out at the horizon of the ocean and saw a flat line. Today, we go to the beach and most of us say, “I can see the earth curving” as we look out, but it is we who are mistaken. I’ve tried this on my friends. I have brought a carpenters level and held it up to the horizon: The curvature is too minute to be visible, yet they interpret the visual data in this way: “I see it curving.” (Gee, aren’t I fun at the beach!)

Below are some examples demonstrating the fluidity of interpretation.

The famous Duck-Rabbit illusion. Perspective is real and a powerful metaphysical force.
Shifting points of view are the basis for all the individual objects we understand in Nature.

CONCLUSION: Both quantum waves and free and responsible persons are real. It all depends on how you are “looking at ‘the world'”. When something is New, it is a new way of Organizing Things, a new way of considering how to experience things together. Science blurs most of life into one Giant Washed-Out Background of Lawfulness. Mind, as Human Individuals in Cultures, focuses on the Information relevant to a particular point of view that is as much ‘in’ the atoms of the world as the duck and the rabbit are in the lines of that famous illusion. “Nature” has accommodated us, and our cultures and histories, in being that rife with Possibility for us. We are right to think their are many levels of events to be seen, understood, and experienced within it.

(The final post in this series will feature the grandest clash of Mind and Matter. Can Mind push around Matter? Sneak preview, the answer is No! But still I believe in Mind and the power of the Reflection of Persons and their Cultures! “Stay tuned, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel!)

“Da, da, da, da….Da, da, da, da, Batman!” And Robin, “The Boy Wonder!”
Logo by Marty

PLAIN TALK: Does Mind Push Around Atoms?

(This is the fifth post on Mind and Brain in the PLAIN TALK series. The earlier posts established the strange ways we talk about Mind and the different way we consider our Brain. But Mind has been mystified in its early history, and —really— with some good reasons that ‘we’ now overlook. Mind makes all the difference by comparison to matter. It is “Our Perspective” on things and the immediacy of our concerns. In this post, Matter, as the brain and beyond, makes its comeback and sets a stringent bottom line to Life and Mind.)

Throwing the curve ball. Can “Mind” bend the course of atoms? (image from rochester.edu)

Mind is Our Culture and Society and Its History. Science is a vital part of our current culture. It has taken on the role of unrelenting analyst. The Atomic Relations of the world are the reductive residue created by scientific effort from our cultural objects as data. Now, are these atoms “created” or “found”? In the end, I will argue both are true. After all, Mind is our ability to make Representations, and apparently better and better ones. Science is an important representation of ‘the world’. It is, also, a human cultural creation.

We Do Not (Normally) Push Around Atoms, Though We Do Push Around Chairs

The unrelenting analysis of “the occurrences of life” has displayed to us a solid bottom line. The world as Physics and Chemistry is a stern task-master and we understand this in our lives in many ways. Resources are limited, complex organization is hard to find, entropy builds even if you do get something going. The Egyptian pyramids wear away; you and I die. Maybe American Democracy is falling apart, right now, under the pressure of a pandemic, bad leadership and a flagging economy. Material events do limit us, and often do so significantly. It seems that “Mind” is not able to dictate neural patterns in our brain nor swerve the course of atoms.

We rightly do not think of this “chair” as “atoms”. As atoms, this chair loses its individual identity.

Talk of “atoms” is a way we represent some aspects of ‘the world’. It is important to be clear in what contexts this “view of the world” is appropriate.

In my dining room, when I pull in my chair to eat, that chair is not atoms. I am not moving atoms by moving my chair. Nor is the food that I will eat atoms, or my feeling and evaluation that that food tastes “Good!” —as it almost always does at my house. None of these should be thought of as atoms. Of course, they usually are not, and that is appropriate. Our everyday cultural milieu allows ‘chairs’ to be chairs and ‘food’ to look and smell and taste like food should. Additionally, “me” at that table, I am not atoms. I am a Person in that context and when I compliment the cook, I hope they take it personally with, what we call, “a sense of pride and satisfaction.” Also, when I “make love” to my wife, atoms should be the least of my interests.

But there are some other, rather attenuated, ‘everyday contexts’ in which “atom-talk and action” are appropriate. At the CERN Laboratory in Switzerland, persons who are scientists adopt the the talk of atoms and have learned to create, with the use of high technology, environments where atoms Appear and Behave. In hospitals and medical labs, radiation of various kinds are studied and used to understand and cure cancers. These too utilize the perspective of scientific analysis and high tech equipment to alter our everyday environment and bring it in contact with the world as understood as atomic. After all, that is what the atomic bomb is all about! These “levels”, the everyday macro-level and the atomic level, do interact, but in a controlled and limited way.

Mind at the borderline of the macro and atomic levels. The “Fat Man” atom bomb.

At the CERN and in these hospitals, it is fair to say That Mind Does Control Matter. Mind and Matter each need to be given their due within their appropriate “logical space”. When scientists and engineers create atomic circumstances, they do so as parts of our modern society and culture. “Mindfully” they Design and Organize contexts where new things occur. They swerve the course of atomic and sub-atomic particles, though I do not when I pull in my chair in my dining room. Someday, science and technology may advance to the point of Brain Reading Machines, and even equipment to alter the firing on neurons.

I offer two other contexts in which it is appropriate to talk of a notable interaction taking place between the levels. In Contemplation and Decision, I think we can appropriately understand an interaction. Our society is Designed to have many Decision Points throughout each day, each hour. This design has been Sanctioned and Successful; it has been Naturally Selected, after all, if it weren’t how could we be as successful as we are?

At each decision point, I think it fair to characterize the situation as “waiting for input” or “waiting for things to fit together.” The decision-maker pauses, and her “mind” is “running the problem” as basically characterized by her and the social setting: “I am choosing my outfit for the day.” Something “clicks”, a “light comes on”, an “idea comes bubbling up” into consideration and is approved. We acknowledge this blind spot, a hidden moment of intervention . “My decision” is made and my understanding and introspection of it has rightly been limited and comes to an end. From the macroscopic level, I made that decision, and I can only describe it in terms of its own and will defend it in those terms also. I am fine with that; I am free and responsible for it.

In Promises, each party takes the other to be Free and Responsible for it abidance. A promise is at the level of persons. A brain injury would be the intrusion of a “lower level occurrence” into the grounds of “The Promise”.

The second and last context to be considered is Death and Dying. Here we see, experience and understand the dissolution of organization and its active “Functioning”. I have had close contact with a major death four times: my parents, my trusty dog Nika, and an elderly neighbor. Peculiar how, in the latter case, I found her sitting on her couch, in front of her television as I had seen her so many times before. This time cold (literally), grey, statue-like. It was not evident from her expression that any pain had wracked her and her body showed no sign of outward trauma. She just sat there, all the parts seemingly in place but no longer “working”.

Death and Freedom

This very brief consideration of death has re-enforced in my mind the close relation of the concepts of “experience” and “function”. Any kind of functioning that involves some kind of constant or persistent movement of parts has “experience”. Well, almost.

And, our Idea of Freedom is really quite constrained. It is, as if, we have already discovered the reasonable boundaries of “Mind” and “matter”. Most of us do not hope to levitate ourselves, or have ‘psychic powers’ to read the brain (mind?) of others, or even have a “flying carpet”, or live forever; now, some of us merely wish to freely make any decision and be Responsible for it. What do we control about ourselves, really? Must we be like the ancient Gods (the gods that some believe in still) to have any freedom at all? Our idea of Mind is closely aligned with our idea of freedom. It seems we have a real conflict between our various representations of our “selves” and our universe. Yet, I will argue for a very interesting compatibility between Mind and Brain, Mind and Matter.

The interaction of quantum particles. In very specialized circumstances, Persons as scientist and engineers do control the appearance and behavior of these forces. “Mind” can swerve the course of atoms! (thanks to The York Festival of Ideas for the image)

Starting in The Middle

Starting with the world as shown in Physics or Chemistry is not an ideal place to start. In the terms of these sciences, there is no such thing as mind or human culture or life. From the point of view of theoretical physics, an object is not discernible as alive or dead! Philosopher Dan Dennett has commented upon the lengths to which prominent contemporary theorists are going in their efforts to ‘explain’ consciousness and experience. Physicist Roger Penrose is speculating about unique quantum occurrences in the microtubes of neurons. Philosopher Galen Strawson has turned back to the idea of Pan-Psychism, that reality — at its most basic level — has a psychic element to it.

THE NEURON CELL: Do Unique Kinds of Quantum Events Occur Within Them?

I will follow Dennett in contending we need not go to those lengths. In the middle of these issues of “consciousness” and “experience” we have the science of Biology with its keystone, Evolution, and our experience of living creatures. The concept of an organism starts our self-reflection down the road to the idea of “A Designed Object”.

Today, we design and build many things to accomplish many goals. With our modern and fairly sophisticated Common Sense, we can be satisfied to understand, and experience, Goals, Purposes and Designs (an organization that is inherent to its parts) existing in the Biosphere and Human Society. The power of “design” and “organization” should not shock us today.

An Astronaut and the lunar lander, “Eagle”: Two Well Designed Objects.

So, I will start in the middle with the the origin of life and work outward toward the universe as presented to us in physics on one side, and our cultural experience as modern-day persons on the other. As already noted, to start with the objects of physics and chemistry as The Most Real is to already beg the question of “Mind”.

We “know” we are persons with responsibilities and commitments, with purposes to fulfill and goals to try to achieve, with experiences that we have — some private, some public. We know we participate “Mindfully” in these (for if we didn’t we would be said to have “lost our mind” and our social status would be seriously down graded). We know these things Not Scientifically, but Practically. It is The Way We Operate everyday as Persons. In philosophical terms, we would call this Phenomenological Knowledge, not scientific knowledge. It is a description of how we are (the phenomenon) and a defense of its character.

“Flaps down, landing approach initiated!” Our Practical Know-How is endorsed by the Evolutionary Process. It has been Naturally Selected for its effectiveness in reality.

A good example of this Practical Knowledge is our ability to use a language. We really have very little scientific knowledge of how this happens. We do not “know that” (as if pointing) speaking a language involves these specific neurons, in these specific patterns, under these specific conditions, in these specific parts of a brain. All this would be Scientific Knowledge. We are more like a bird flying; we have “know-how”. We experience and actively participate within the use of language by understanding it in its own terms: its labels, concepts, grammar, contexts (its Pragmatics—as Persons participating in a joke, a reprimand, a lecture, a sales pitch). This is the Information of Language and we use it as a participant, just as a bird uses the Information of Flight to fly. To speak a language and to fly, each involves Our Participation in these Structures to Function. We, nor the bird, take an external (scientific) view of the process.

In the Virtuous Circle of Our Personhood, Our Goal is Agreement

I just criticized the “physics over all” position as begging the question of Mind. Ironically, my position assumes the reality of Our Mind, and so is Circular and marshals arguments in support of mind. What else could you Reasonably want? From the point of view of a reasoner, Reasons and reasoning are mindful activities; they are Not “really” causal events in the brain or some causal event even more obliquely related to the physics of the universe! The contrary position attempts to use good reasons to argue for the non-existence of reasons. It takes one set of representations as Un-Represented Reality, and then uses it to declare representation does not exist. That is self-refuting; my position is self-supporting. My position tries to give good reasons for the metaphysical and practical value of good reasons. Dennett has called this argument “a virtuous circle” as opposed to an uninformative or unproductive circular argument.

“To make sense of our lives”, we need to stay within the Virtuous Circle of Our Personhood. This is “Our Selves” as responsible social members in communication and interaction to create our way of life; a way of life much of which we should highly Value. Within this Circle, atoms don’t usually push us around, nor do we usually push them around; they are largely irrelevant. When we “pull in our chair at the table to eat”, that is not In The Terms of Atoms. But our modern and highly sophisticated Representations of “The Occurrences in Life” have created and found situations in which we “know that” ultraviolet wave lengths of light cause cancer, and situations (The Cern Accelerator) in which sub-atomic particles are controlled by us using the terms we take to be appropriate to them. So, in some highly specialized contexts, we do “swerve the course of an atom” and maybe someday we may be able to alter and control neural firings. We do these things For The Sake of Our Advancement — the Purposes we and our society of communicators and participants hold dear; hopefully the progressive trends in that will always be the case, though that is not assured.

League of German Girls dancing at Nazi Party Congress. It is not assured that our cultural institutions will always be used for what many of us, now, would call “The Good”.

Our social and cultural context as Persons is our primary reality. We create contexts that reveal to us the Potential, the Possibilities, available in the particles evolving from the Big Bang. In the Doing of science, religion, art, craft, morality, and philosophy, our goal is to agree with our fellow social and cultural companions. From this position in the middle, human agreement and coordinated action is our most valuable asset. Working within our cultural assets, true beliefs are the ones that most of us agree to.

The “Founding Fathers” of The United States. They had some very good Reasons and some we now wish would have been better. Our Self-Reflection today holds them to some higher standards than even their revolutionary ones! They “made” world history: will we, today, achieve anything of that magnitude? And yet, some of us criticize them for not being more than they were and clamor to pull down their statues.

Some other “Virtuous Circles”

The Nitrogen Cycle: once established tends to be self-perpetuating. Each part of this cycle functions in reference to the others.
A specialized component in the Virtuous Circle of Persons. Virtuous Circles are Self-Reflective in the continuation of their process.

THE KREBBS CYCLE: a self-catalyzing reaction used in the Respiration of each cell. It is at the borderline of life and non-life.

Post seven in this series on “Mind and Brain” will provide “The Details” of these contentions. Matter pushes us around, frequently, but it does so in terms highly appropriate to us: ”wind”, “rain”, “death”, “illness”, “injury”, “hunger”, and “ignorance”. But, Mind has its way with matter upon many occasion. Against the rain, we have raincoats. Against illness we have medicines and hospitals. The truly paradoxical situations are when all characteristics of us are drained from our representations, as in physics and chemistry. It is there that “Mind” stands over against “Matter” in its most startling manner.

(I am not satisfied with this post in several ways. Please allow it to be suggestive, as opposed to ‘air tight’. The following post will try to clarify and more consistently coordinate the distinction of Mind and Matter.)

Plato’s Ideal Chair finally Realized in Our Material World! I can’t wait to try it!
naturereligionconnection.org