Daniel Dennet's claim that consciousness is an illusion

  • Daniel Dennet's claim that consciousness is an illusion

    Posted by Zak Safra on May 7, 2023 at 5:40 pm

    Hi everyone,

    Iain has often spoken of his amazement that people take the denial of consciousness seriously. “The one thing we can be certain of”, Iain has said, “and in this Descartes is right, is that we have consciousness”.

    I too, find it hard to understand how the claim can be seriously made. I thought I’d share a lecture by Daniel Dennet gives, to hopefully understand the claim a bit more deeply.

    I confess to really not being a fan of Daniel Dennet’s arguments at all, I think Iain is spot on when he describes left hemisphere delusional thinking, and I think it applies to Daniel Dennet and Richard Dawkins like reductionism.

    Nonetheless — if anyone would like to watch the video, here it is:

    https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_dennett_the_illusion_of_consciousness

    I follow it up with a conversation where Iain touches on the arguments

    https://youtu.be/irsGFt822r4

    Mike Todd replied 9 months, 3 weeks ago 8 Members · 31 Replies
  • 31 Replies
  • Zak Safra

    Member
    May 7, 2023 at 5:45 pm

    I’ll just add, that the conversation between Iain and his new Swedish publishers of TMAHE that I linked, is really superb!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irsGFt822r4&t=290s

  • Don Salmon

    Member
    May 7, 2023 at 7:18 pm

    Hi Zak,

    Thanks for both videos.

    Regarding Dennett, I think David Chalmers provided the clearest rebuttal to Dennett and the other extreme fundamaterialists. He said there’s not really a hard problem of consciousness, there’s a hard problem of matter.

    And since we’ve known for 100 years that matter is not fundamental, here’s the real hard problem:

    What does “physical” mean – and why should we eve believe in it, when there’s no possible way to provide even one bit of scientific evidence that such a concept has any connection with anything that exists?

    All we know directly is consciousness – and no scientific experiment requires the postulate of some purely, mind-independent “stuff” that we abstractly conceive of as “physical.”

    This to me eliminates about 95% of the theories of consciousness that exist today.

    If anyone here can come up with a scientific experiment that shows that something purely material could possibly exist apart from any consciousness (I don’t mean human – I mean a consciousness that is co-extensive with AND transcendent to the physical universe), I’d love to hear the details.

    By the way I just sent this challenge to Dennis Overbye, a long-time science writer for the NY Times. He wrote back a very pleasant response and concluded that whatever else there is, he is convinced there is something that exists outside his head – thereby equating consciousness, as Dennett does, with something produced by the brain.

    But we only know of the brain, as with anything physical, via consciousness, so this is circular reasoning. So I again must caution – I’m speaking of consciousness that is co-extensive with and transcendent to the physical universe.

    Thanks for any suggestions for a scientific experiment that would provide such evidence for anything purely “physical.” (I’d love a definition too, if you can!)

    • Whit Blauvelt

      Member
      May 10, 2023 at 3:13 pm

      Don,

      You question whether a scientific experiment can demonstrate the reality of the physical? Do you have an example of a scientific experiment which does not presuppose that reality? Presupposing the reality of the physical allows us to do science. That science demonstrates high accuracy in predicting the outcomes of experiments which themselves presuppose the reality of the physical.

      If reality were merely a conscious dream, and the physical unreal, the repeatable accuracy of scientific results which presuppose the reality of the physical would be nearly impossible to explain. After all, when we dream, everything in the our dreams is in flux, without the reliable consistency we find in the physical world. Clearly, the physical world is more than a dream.

      That science works so well as it does in so many areas, given that it starts by presupposing the reality of the physical, means that every useful result of science is evidence towards proving the reality of the physical. This does not show there’s nothing in reality beyond the physical, nor that entities with a physical aspect may not also have a non-physical aspect, as in dual-aspect monist theories.

      But to deny the reality of the physical is to deny the very possibility of science. Yet, we have science. McGilchrist’s books have more pages devoted to science than to more RH claims which point beyond it. I very much share his conviction that those RH claims are “substantial.” Yet, he also states repeatedly that the LH does real and valuable work, including especially large parts of science. His goal for us would seem to be to bring the LH back into harmony with the RH’s larger perspective, not to exile the LH, nor science, nor science’s appreciation of physicality.

      • Don Salmon

        Member
        May 10, 2023 at 3:26 pm

        I’ll try to respond to your comments in brackets:

          • You question whether a scientific experiment can demonstrate the reality of the physical? Do you have an example of a scientific experiment which does not presuppose that reality? [IF YOU CAN’T SAY WHAT “PHYSICAL” MEANS, TO PRESUPPOSE IT HAS NO MEANING. WHAT DOES “PHYSICAL” MEAN? I’VE NEVER SEEN ANYONE COME CLOSE TO DEFINING IT WHEN IT REFERS TO AN ONTOLOGICAL OR FUNDAMENTAL REALITY? AND WHEN YOU SAY “PRESUPPOSE THE REALITY OF THE PHYSICAL” YOUR EITHER CONSCIOUSLY OR IMPLICITLY REFRRING TO AN ONTOLOGICAL STUFF. OF COURSE IF YOU JUST MEAN THE ORDINARY DICTIONARY DEFINITION, THE HARD STUFF YOU EXPERIENCE WHEN YOU SLAP A TABLE, OBVIOUSLY THAT’S PHYSICAL AND THAT’S REAL. BUT THAT’S AN EXPERIENCE WITHIN AWARENESS.

            Presupposing the reality of the physical allows us to do science. [IT WOULDN’T MAKE THE SLIGHTEST DIFFERENCE OT THE PRACTICE OF SCIENCE IF YOU PRESUPPOSED THATTHE ONTOLOGICAL REALITY WAS MADE OF LIFE FORCE, MIND FORCE, CONSCIOUSNESS, OR WHATEVER – ALL THAT IS NEEDED IS THE ASUMPTION OF SOMETHING EXTERNAL TO HUMAN EXPERIENCE THAT IS CONSTANT. WHAT IT IS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH PRACTICING SCIENCE. That science demonstrates high accuracy in predicting the outcomes of experiments which themselves presuppose the reality of the physical. WHAT A STRANGE ASSUMPTION – IF WE WERE IN A COLLECTIVE DREAM, THE OUTCOMES WOULD BE EXACTLY THE SAME (there was a scientist ion the late 1800s, I can’t recall his name at the moment, who would set a machine working, then visualize the same machine, measure the friction that occurred in his mind and then measure the friction of the “physical” machine and the measurements were exactly the same]=

            If reality were merely a conscious dream, [WHY ‘MERELY”] and the physical unreal [NOBODY HAS EVER SAID THE “PHYSICAL” IN THE SENSE OF HARD PHYSICAL OBJECTS IS UNREAL; I’M SPEAKING OF “PHYSICAL” AS THE ULTIMATE, FUNDAMENTAL REALITY OF THE UNIERSE, WHICH IS WHAT ALL MATERIALISTS AND PHYSICALISTS MEAN BY IT] the repeatable accuracy of scientific results which presuppose the reality of the physical would be nearly impossible to explain [ONCE AGAIN, YOU ASSUME THAT IF THERE WAS A UNIVERSAL CONSCIOUSNESS, YOU WOULD NOT HAVE REPEATABLE ACCURACY. THE OPPOSITE IS ACTUALLY TRUE – IF THE ULTIMATE “PHYSICAL” REALITY IS NON INTELLIGENT AND NON CONSCIUOS, HOW CAN THERE BE LAWS OF NATURE, AND HOW CAN THEY CONTINUE? ALL OF SCIENCE BECOMES AN UTTER INEXPLICABLE MYSTERY UNDER THIS ASSUMPTION . IT ONLY SEEMS EXPLICABLE IF YOU HAVEN’T TAKEN TIME TO EXAMINE THIS BASIC ONTOLOGIAL ASSUMPTION ABOUT PHYSICALISTY. After all, when we dream, everything in the our dreams is in flux, without the reliable consistency we find in the physical world. Clearly, the physical world is more than a dream. [THE DREAM WAS ONLY AN EXAMPLE TO HELP YOU GET A DIFFERENT SENSE OF THINGS. BUT ALSO, CLEARLY, YOU’RE USING YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE OF DREAMING IN TEH ASSUMPTION ALL DREAMS ARE LIKE THAT. BUT IT’S POSIBLE TO HAVE A COHERENT DREAM LIFE, WITH THE SAME STORY CONTINUING NIGHT AFTER NIGHT. IN FACT, IT’S BEEN SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN – NOT THAT SCIENCE IS NEEDED HERE ] THAT YOU CAN CHOOSE WHEN AND HOW AND WHERE YOU’LL DREAM, YOU CAN ENTER THE DREAM FROM WAKING CONSCIOUSLY ,YOU CAN MEET OTHER PEOPLE IN YOUR DREAMS AND UPON WAKING, SHARE THE SAME EXPERIENCES, AND YOU CAN GAIN INFORMATION ABOUT THE PHYSICAL WORLD, FROM PLACES YOU’VE NEVER BVEEN IN WAKING, IN DREAMS]

            That science works so well as it does in so many areas, given that it starts by presupposing the reality of the physical, means that every useful result of science is evidence towards proving the reality of the physical. YOU’RE REALLY SAYING THE SAME THING OVER AND OVER AGAIN WITHOUT ANY BASIS IN FACT. THERE’S NOTHING ABOUT THE ABSTRACT CONCEPT OF “PHYSICAL” -= WHICH IS REALLIYI NOTHING BUT MEASUREMENTS – THAT GIVES US EVEN THE REMOTEST CLUE AS TO WHY THINGS REPEAT IN PATTERNS. IT WOULD IN FACT BE IMPOSSIBLE, IF THE WORLD WAS AS MATEIRALISTS AND PHYSICALISTS CLAIM, FOR THERE TO BE ANYTHING BUT CHAOS. ORDER ITSELF IS CLEARLY A REFELCTION OF CONSCIOUSENSS, AND IT IS FAR MORE LOGICAL TO ASSUME A UNIVERSAL WORLD OF CONSCIOUSNESS THAN ONE OF ‘MEASUREMENTS” – IF THAT EVEN MAKES SENSE. This does not show there’s nothing in reality beyond the physical, nor that entities with a physical aspect may also have a non-physical aspect, as in dual-aspect monist theories. AS LONG AS YOU HAVEN’T DEFINED PHYSICAL THIS MAKES NO SENSE.

            But to deny the reality of the physical is to deny the very possibility of science. Yet, we have science. McGilchrist’s books have more pages devoted to science than to more RH claims which point beyond it. YOU’RE ASSUMING THAT HIS PAGES DEVOTED TO SCIENCE IN ANY WAY PROVIDE EVIDENCE OF, MUCH LESS PROOF OF, THE EXISTENCE OF SOMETHING THAT STANDS ALONE AND IS COMPETELY NONCONSCIOUS AND ON ITNELLIGENT! I very much share his conviction that those RH claims are “substantial.” Yet, he also states repeatedly that the LH does real and valuable work, including especially large parts of science. His goal for us would seem to be to bring the LH back into harmony with the RH’s larger perspective, not to exile the LH, nor science, nor science’s appreciation of physicality. [THERE IS NO SCIENTIFIC “APPRECIATION” OF PHYSICALITY IN THE ONTOLOGICAL SENSE SINCE NOBODY HAS DEFINED WHAT THAT MEANS AND UNTIL THEY DO SO, IT’S IMPOSSOIBLE TO EVEN CONCEIVE OF HOW SOMETHING THAT IS REALLY NO MORE THAN A COLLECTION OF MEASUREMENTS COULD EXIST ON ITS OWN

        • Mike Todd

          Member
          May 11, 2023 at 11:35 am

          Don and Whit,<div>

          I hope you won’t mind if I share some related thoughts, beginning with a definition.

          Physicalism:

          Physicalism is the view that reality may be exhaustively described by (the equations of) physics. It makes no overt claims about whether reality is fundamentally material in nature. Nevertheless, physics itself posits an exclusive set of properties for its fundaments, which on physicalism are, in toto, the ground of reality; and it may be inferred from these properties that physicalism, as it currently stands, entails that reality is neither fundamentally animate nor fundamentally aware and is therefore, arguably, material in nature.

          The above definition is, of course, my own. However, I believe it more or less aligns with what Bernardo Kastrup, in The Idea of the World, refers to as “mainstream physicalism”. Mainstream physicalism entails scientific materialism. I merely abbreviate this by saying that physicalism entails materialism. By my own (or Kastrup’s) definition, I am not a (mainstream) physicalist.

          As you may be aware, some have attempted more nuanced definitions of physicalism variously inclusive of mind/consciousness/awareness. A few examples of such can be accessed from here:

          https://sentience-research.org/definitions/physicalistic-idealism/

          I confess to having mixed feelings about the utility of these and similar definitions, and for the time being, I choose to set aside physicalism as an inherently problematic term and to simply say that physics, comprehensively but not exhaustively, describes phenomenal reality. On this view, it follows that phenomenal reality, largely but not exclusively, behaves as if it were material in nature.

          I hope you’ll indulge my adding a few more definitions of my own.

          Phenomenal reality:

          Phenomenal reality is the reality humans experience in perception per se or in perception via instrumentation that expands the range or scope of perception. Phenomenal reality is how humans perceive manifestations of fundamental reality or the ground. Independent of perception, these manifestations may be collectively termed noumenal reality.

          Noumenal reality:

          Noumenal reality comprises manifestations, independent of perception, of fundamental reality or the ground. Noumenal reality per se is unavailable to human perception, because human perception is, among other things, a reframing of noumenal reality, specifically, human perception mediates noumenal reality within a spatiotemporal framework. A complementary expression of this would be: phenomenal reality is the reality of emergent spacetime (though perhaps not the reality of quanta, strings etc.)

          Fundamental reality or the ground:

          Fundamental reality is aperspectival, unconditioned – or as I prefer, unmanifested – consciousness; a processual pure awareness. Like noumenal reality per se, it is unavailable to human perception. Unlike noumenal reality, it may be directly experienced, for example, in certain contemplative states.

          (In fact, I believe such states are the only occasions with respect to which reality may be experienced directly, phenomenal reality comprising, as it were, indirect or implicit experiences – note the absence of a negative comparative – and this goes hand in hand with the view that our conceptual framework is metaphorical in nature. I do not say that I or we may directly experience the ground. I quite advisedly say only that it may be experienced, because I believe that in such experiences there is neither I nor we but simply the ground: awareness of awareness. The miracle is that such limited minds as ours are able to retain impressions of these nondual experiences. Atman is Brahman?)

          Inevitably, the above definitions invite the question of the one and the many. I believe that the three tiers of reality outlined above are one. They only ever exist as an arbitrary three in definitions such as mine, abstracted by the artifice of analysis. In a manner which transcends perceptual and conceptual frameworks (though perhaps neither imagination nor intuition), these three tiers represent a whole in which the opposites of manifest and unmanifest, conditioned and unconditioned, differentiated and undifferentiated, perspectival and aperspectival, indirect and direct, process and stasis, the many and the one, as well as an infinity of others, are united. So, from the ground up:

          “The Way bears one.
          The one bears two.
          The two bear three.
          The three bear the ten thousand things.
          The ten thousand things
          carry the yin on their shoulders
          and hold in their arms the yang,
          whose interplay of energy
          makes harmony.”</div><div>

          I hope you’ll indulge my closing with a few thoughts about what else may be tentatively ventured about the ground. Here, I part ways with Vedanta and a few other Eastern approaches, in that I see the ground as more fruitfully contemplated in terms of process than in terms of substance, and also, as much I agree with Vedanta that phenomenal reality is illusory, I don’t as a result conclude that it lacks truth or value and that those things are to be found only by rejecting and transcending Maya.

          It will be easier for all concerned (including myself) if I leave aside discussion of process vs. substance for now. But regarding the truth and value of phenomenal reality:

          To say, as Dennett, Hoffman and many others do, that our perceptions are in some sense illusory is not to say that they are therefore untrue: they are not literally true, that much is a given, but they may still be figuratively true, and for what it’s worth, this latter is my take on the world and ourselves as we experience all of it in perception.

          More specifically, with regards to what I have called direct and indirect experiences of reality, but which might also be termed transcendent and immanent experiences, respectively, I believe there is enormous value in both – in fact, both may be embraced as sacred – and to ponder where the greater or truer value lies is to overlook a great spiritual truth. They carry across to each other, like the two ends of one road there and back again. As Robert Frost put it:

          “I’d like to get away from earth awhile
          And then come back to it and begin over.”
          </div>

          • Don Salmon

            Member
            May 11, 2023 at 11:47 am

            Hi Mike:

            This is really really REALLY good – you sound intimately familiar with the issues and have articulated them extremely well.

            I never got to creating that group I mentioned earlier. I’d much rather start over with this comment of yours – it outlines the issues better than anything I’ve seen in a long time.

            I think we’re actually – you may be surprised, in fundamental agreement, except for one major point which I’ll go into in the new group.

            I’ll call it “FREEING SCIENCE FROM PHYSICALISM”

            • Mike Todd

              Member
              May 11, 2023 at 1:41 pm

              Thanks, Don, that’s very generous. I mostly just wing it. I look forward to the new group; it sounds intriguing.

          • Rodney Marsh

            Member
            May 12, 2023 at 4:08 am

            Thanks Mike, very enlightening…. Nobel Prize winner Frank Wilczek published “Fundamentals : ten keys to reality” in 2021. He gives a summary of current thinking about fundamental particles – quarks etc (technical details https://pdg.lbl.gov/) and his book ends (ch 10) with a very IMG chapter “COMPLEMENTARITY IS MIND-EXPANDING”

            This is the beginning of the chapter:

            “Complementarity, in its most basic form, is the concept that one single thing, when considered from different perspectives, can seem to have very different or even contradictory properties. Complementarity is an attitude toward experiences and problems that I’ve found eye-opening and extremely helpful. It has literally changed my mind. Through it, I’ve become larger: more open to imagination, and more tolerant. Now I’d like to explore with you the mind-expanding insights of complementarity, as I understand them.

            The world is simple and complex, logical and weird, lawful and chaotic. Fundamental understanding does not resolve those dualities. Indeed, as we have seen, it highlights and deepens them. You can’t do justice to physical reality without taking complementarity to heart.” A RH approach…

            Here is the end of the section on complementarity in science:

            “… complete understanding of the fundamental laws, if we ever achieved it, would be neither “the Theory of Everything” nor “the End of Science.”* We would still need complementary descriptions of reality. There would still be plenty of great questions left unanswered, and plenty of great scientific work left to do. There always will be.”

            Wilczek makes no reference to IMG but reaches astoundingly similar philosphical conclustions. To make progress it seems we all must respect the coincidentia oppositorum!

            • Mike Todd

              Member
              May 12, 2023 at 6:52 am

              Thanks so much, Rodney. Wonderful Wilczek quotes and anecdotes have been appearing on my Feed for a while now, and I’ve been meaning to find out more. Now I know a good place to start.<div>
              </div><div>I don’t practice any public religion, but if I had to signpost my private religion, it would be something like “church of the coincidentia oppositorum”. (The Latin lends an air of authority.) My view, to put it more formally, is that the ground is, among other things, an infinity of opposites in posse, and these (and other marks of the ground) find expression in esse in phenomenal reality – I sometimes say, half poetically, that the everyday world carries echoes or rumours of the divine.</div>

      • Don Salmon

        Member
        May 10, 2023 at 5:57 pm

        Hi,

        I thought of something much simpler.

        “Science” as a discipline separate from philosophy didn’t even come into existence prior to the 1830s or so.

        Yet the “assumption” of an orderly universe – one that continues to exist independent of human beings – was present from the start.

        Materialism as an assumption underlying science didn’t come into prominence until the 1860s or so. Prior to that, it was assumed that an omnipresent Divine Reality (which is what “God” was always understood to be until in the modern age “He” was shrunk into this bigger psychopathic ego obsessed with smiting his enemies – we can have another theological discussion about the difference between popular views and mystic views of the ancients, but enough on that for now)

        So for well over 2 centuries, physicists proceeded quite well without any assumption that something purely “physical” was the basis of hte universe.

        As with all traditions around the world, if by “physical” you simply mean that which is substantial, hard to the senses – well of course that’s always been accepted, EVEN BY THE MOST EXTREME IDEALISTS!!! (unless someone is delusional, it’s the most obvious universe experience that we touch objects and they provide resistance).

        So rather than being a requirement, for half the time modern science has been in existence, it simply never occurred to people to think that, unless they believed the world ultimately to be a dead, mechanical place ruled by non conscious ‘stuff” which noboyd has ever seen or for which there is no evidence, the philosophic belief in physicalism was not even entertained, much less required.

        TWO FINAL POINTS

        ONE: RELATION OF LH AND RH, or analysis and intuition

        I’m going to use “analysis” in place of LH and “intuition of the whole” in place of RH. You and several others for some reason think I’m denying analysis in this. I have no idea what I’ve written that leads to this idea. In fact, ON THE BASIS of intuition, I’m making a very in-depth analysis of unexamined assumptions regarding the nature of scientific investigation and the nature of the universe, as well as the meaning of the word “physical” WHEN USED PHILOSOPHICALLY (not referring to sensory experience of tangible objects)

        Taking Iain’s idea that intuition or lived experience should be the “master,” I’m doing a very detailed, in-depth analysis SECONDARY to lived experience. I think the reason you’re having difficulty with these words is you’re taking them primarily as analytic rather than as reflections on direct experience (and the awareness beyond yet containing all experience)

        TWO: THE SIMPLEST WAY POSSIBLE TO GET THIS

        1. What do we know, in direct experience? Forms in awareness (or, “awareness forming”

        2. What is the essential procedure of scientific research? As I was taught it as a psychological researcher, it has just a few primary steps:

        (a) examination of sensory experience

        (b) “Operationalizing” of that experience – operationalize is a fancy word for “take measurements

        (c) Drop all sensory experience and find relationships in those measurements which can be used to make predictions and control whatever aspects of sensory experience I can

        No philosophy at all is needed for this.

        Sir Arthur Eddington put it quite concretely. He described a test question: You have a 2 ton elephant that sides down a hill. Given a particular incline, what is the speed with which the elephant slides down the hill?

        I love the elegance of Eddington’s response. He says any experienced student knows that the first thing you do is eliminate all reference to sensory experience. The “elephant” is gone and in its place, we have a series of mathematical statements representing weight, incline, speed, etc.

        At the end you have measurements.

        What happened in the mid to late 19th century is two things, which are reflected in your comments:

        (1) these measurements led to such dizzying success in technology,it was COMPLETELY forgotten that all measurements began with experience of forms in awareness.

        (2) it was ALSO forgotten that these were merely measurements, and first, the word “materialism” was coined, and about 50 years later, after quantum physics eliminated the idea that matter is a fundamental reality, AND that “energy” (which we also don’t know how to philosophically define – ‘”capacity to work” does not give any ontological insight at all) is ALSO not the fundamental reality, a new word was coined – “physicalism.”

        So we start with the only thing we know as forms in awareness, or awareness forming.

        And we end with the literally delusional idea that the fundamental reality of hte world is a set of measurements.

        This has been compared to the famous 3 card monte trick of street hustlers. Imagine you have a little coin that stands for CONSCIOUSNESS. And you have 3 cards – the matter card, the energy card, and the physical card – and you show the mark the consciousness coin and then put it under the matter card.

        Then you move the cards around real fast and ask the mark, “Ok, which card has the consciousness coin under it?”

        And you know with absolute certainty, no matter what the mark says, they’ll lose, because you secretly removed the consciousness card while they weren’t looking.

        This is what the materialists/physicalists/positivists/naturalists did between the 1860s and 1920s – they unconsciously removed the consciousness coin and then proclaimed, “See, no consciousness.”

        It’s like looking for your glasses when they’re on your nose.

        • Don Salmon

          Member
          May 10, 2023 at 6:01 pm

          Or as short as possible:

          Every time you see the words “matter” or “mind” or “energy” or “physical” or “consciousness” (this would even include our previous discussion about Tao)

          Ask yourself:

          Are you reading the word through an analytic lens, taking it to be an identifiable object or subject?

          Or are you “reading” the word through an intuitive lens, BEGINNING with lived experience?

          For example, from an analytic lens, of course it makes no sense to say “Consciousness is everything” – but that statement is not meant to be seen through an analytic lens – which doesn’t mean you can’t analyze the experience, but if you don’t START with the lived experience, the analysis won’t make sense. Indian and pre-Socratic philosophy always worked this way, starting on a basis of lived experience (Parmenides is rarely understood, because his writings are taking to be pure analysis, whereas they are USING analysis to undo analytic presuppositions in order to open to lived experience, much like Nagarjuna and Shankara, and to a much lesser extent, Heidegger and some of the post modern philosophers – though the latter have only a weak vague connection to lived experience)

          The confusion between these two lenses is why when I get time later this year, I’m going to do little or no writing about this. I find it usually takes anywhere from two to 6 months to shift people out of analytic/objectivist thinking into direct experience. So I’ll be doing almost entirely videos, with music, poetry, animation and SOME analysis but always on the basis of lived experience.

          It took me 6 months with a brilliant STEM student for him to suddenly write and exclaim how astonished he was that it took him that long to see that in a physicalist framework, assuming laws of nature as “causative factors” is completely meaningless.

          Similarly, it took around the same period of time with a philosophy professor from a major university to get to the point where he saw what it meant that the word “physicalism” is completely meaningless.

  • Peter Barus

    Member
    May 7, 2023 at 9:30 pm

    After watching the videos, I want to bring up Walter Freeman III, and Thomas Acquinas.

    Freeman says here that Aquinas got it right, that the mechanized model of brain computation, representation, and information processing is inaccurate and incomplete.

    I’ll think I can attach his paper…


    • Don Salmon

      Member
      May 7, 2023 at 11:06 pm

      Hi Peter:

      Since Freeman is also a physicalist, I don’t quite see how anything he says about the relationship of mind and brain could be substantially more worthwhile than Dennett’s. It still leaves untouched the mystery of how a world of appearances comes into being, how it is in any way orderly, how sentience, feeling,intelligence and awareness arise, why there should any kind of complexification of consciousness as even Stephen J Gould admits occurs in evolution.

      It leaves untouched the biggest question of all, what I referred to earlier in my reference to Chalmer’s idea of “the hard problem of matter.”

      Since at present, science has no explanation (in the philosophic sense) for anything, and has no evidence that some kind of purely physical stuff exists, and all the mysteries I referred to above, as well as the mystery as to why it is that mental health and treatments for mental health remain almost a complete mystery for the purely physicalist approach, why don’t we simply discard our ungrounded, irrational faith in the existence of some purely physical stuff?

      What is the reason for our stubborn attachment to something that we could never even comprehend as existing, and which seems to make virtually everything impossible to understand?

  • Peter Barus

    Member
    May 7, 2023 at 9:32 pm

    –very interested in your thoughts, as I’m citing Freeman in a book, and want to get it right…

    • Don Salmon

      Member
      May 7, 2023 at 11:09 pm

      Just to be clear – when it is said the brain, body and mind are an inviolable unity, I agree with that completely. I’m only taking issue with the idea of some kind of physical stuff existing wholly independent of any kind of mind, awareness or consciousness.

      Nobody has ever come up with a single thought experiment or empirical experiment that could detect the existence of such stuff, and there’s no conceptual need to posit such stuff. Reject the idea entirely and the unity of mind, brain and body becomes the most obvious, self evident thing imaginable.

      The unity of all things is then self evident as well.

    • Don Salmon

      Member
      May 8, 2023 at 9:36 am

      Hi Peter:

      Rodney’s comments sparked some more thoughts and I decided to look up Walter Freeman. As I think I mentioned earlier, I”ve been intrigued by his theories for many years and when I just now looked him up, I remember why.

      Here’s an excerpt from an NIH article on him:

      “Olfactory system neurons sit at subthreshold levels most of the time but engage accelerating excitatory responses just above that level. This character is consistent with systems operating in a sensitive ‘edge of chaos’ regime and allows for quick burst or oscillation development with small increases in inputs. The second feature of the sigmoid non-linearity is the relationship between the slope and an animal’s conscious state (ibid.). When subjects are under anaesthesia, the slope of the sigmoid curve is very shallow; the slope increases with waking and increases still more with alertness.”

      So it turns out Freeman was an engineering student at MIT before going to medical school. I remember when I first took statistics at the undergraduate level (I was auditing the class while teaching music for dance at a nearby college) I happened to have the good fortune of getting to know a mathematical genuis in the class who was also a long time student of the Russian mystic Gurdjieff. We used to have long conversations on the possibility that statistics could provide some profound insights into the process of karma.

      I remember particularly noting that the way karma is described in many Tantric texts seems to resemble complexity and chaos theories regarding evolution (something that Freeman often commented on – I mean chaos theories in large scale evolution, not karma!:>))

      I also remember seeing one Tantric text describing chakras as oscillating vortices of energy, that intensified in direct correlation with physiological activities in the nervous system and psychological development. At a crucial point of tension, there would be a sudden “leap” to a new level of consciousness or deveopment (similar to the one you all perhaps remember around age 10 or 11 when you truly became “self conscious” for the first time and the whole world began to change).

      Notice in the above paragraph the reference to “the edge of chaos” and the quick burst of oscillation development. This reminds me of the way many.psychologists as well as historians like Jean Gebser and Aurobindo Ghose describes massive collective changes in consciousness. Gebser’ evocation of the new consciousness associated with the emergence of perspective in art and the modern tuning that Bach used in his Well Tempered Clavier seems to reflect on a global scale (pun intended) the dynamic activity of the brain that Freeman studied so profoundly.

      But – let’s look at what Freeman and other neuroscientists say about perception (I had to learn how to model this when we learned a computer programming language in grad school for music composition – literally having to figure out the mathematics for each note – describing the precise waveform for each sound).

      Some object in the so called “world” – which neuroscientists tell us we have no direct knowledge of – begins to vibrate, which in turn sets in motion a medium – air, earth, water, etc – wich in tunr sets in motion a diverse set of structures in the inner ear, which is translated to electrical vibrations in the auditory nerve, which is transmitted to various regions of the brain, and

      at that point there is still silence, and of course, no “sound” in the phenomenological sense in the outer world, because sound is a quality – qualia- that only exists as a result of a brain of some kind.

      And where and how that becomes the experience of sound, neither Freeman nor any neuroscientist has yet figured it out

      Barrister and poet Owen Barfield gave what i think is one of the most beautiful illustrations of the strange mysteriousness of this physicalist view of the brain and the world:

      Imagine, he says, a rainbow. Is a rainbow”real” – real nowadays meaning, does it exist “objectively” – if there was no conscious observer.

      Almost everyone agrees, “No.”. You may have light and water vapor of some kind, but without perception, no rainbow. And for all of Walter Freeman’s beautiful mathematical analysis of the neurological basis of perception, the existence of the rainbow – the experience of it – remains, in the physicalist world view – an utter mystery.

      Then Barfield goes on to say, if we take a tree and ask, is it real, everyone will initially say, “Of course it’s real. A tree doesn’t depend on my perception of it.”. This was Dennis Overbye’s objection to my question whether a world exists apart from consciousness.

      But Barfield asks us to look a bit more closely, and use the same analysis we did for the rainbow. What is the “tree” apart from perception?

      If we say the color brown, or white – well, we know that the materialists tell us that brown or white color, or gray or whatever it is, only exists AFTER that complex process of light waves, retinal activity, optical nerve, occipital lobe analysis and transmission of that analysis to other areas of the brain, after which regions of the brain remain “on the edge of chaos” until somehow, miraculously, the perception of color or sound or whatever arises.

      But what about the solid FEELING of the bark ot the tree?

      Same analysis. Whatever percept you describe in the universe, meaning anything any scientist has described in the past several centuries – from subatomic particles to galaxies – if we apply the same neurological analysis, we end up with an utter mystery at the end of these complex brain processe.

      This is insane!

      To end on a lighter note, regarding the insanity of trapping ourselves in a solipsistic view, there’s a story that one time a professor was speaking to an audience about his views of the nature of reality.

      Upon announcing that he was a solipsist, a woman leapt to her feet and proclaimed, “Thank God! I thought I was the only one!!”

  • Rodney Marsh

    Member
    May 8, 2023 at 2:09 am

    Thanks for the wonderful, information in this thread – the videos and the discussion… From the literary end and the Wisdom traditions end I wish to add perspective on Danial Dennett’s views…

    Marilynne Robinson in “The Givenness of Things” (2015) writing on Humanism says “… the spirit of our times is one of joyless urgency, many of us preparing ourselves and our children to be means to inscrutable ends that are utterly not our own.” Then, astoundingly it seems, notes “the antidote to our gloom is to be found in contemporary science.” But NOT, it seems in Neuroscience, because the data gathered is seen to represent the “the whole of reality” and so “seem predisposed to the conclusion there is no “self.” Then says, “But to take a step back. It is absurd for scientists who insist on the category “physical,” and who argue that outside this category nothing exists, to dismiss the reality of the self on the grounds that that its vulnerabilities can be said to place it solidly within this category. How can so basic an error of logic survive and flourish?” I suspect this rejection of the (ludicrous) materialistic reductionist reasoning was written without any familiarity with Iain’s writing. But who would endanger their scientific career by naming the elephant in the room…

    ‘Our talent for division, for seeing the parts, is of staggering importance – second only to our capacity to transcend it, in order to see the whole’ (IG). Seeing the whole and the bits. So Robinson, “But for these scientists it is a business of nuts and bolts, a mechanics of signals and receptors of what no more need be known. Their assertions are immune to objection and proof against information. One they dismiss and the other they ignore”. But then, what would a novelist (from the Humanities!!!) know about hard Neuroscince.

    ‘The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining why any physical state is conscious rather than nonconscious’ (IEP). This problem seems to be intractable to the nuts and bolts approach of the LH. However, we can use a different attention to approach the problem – to question what is meant by ‘physical state’ & to ‘see the whole’ – and once we do that and take a RH approach to reality (Part III ch 20-26) the hard problem does not disappear but is changed by being absorbed into the ‘mystery’ of eternal becoming. What will emerge?

    I had been thinking about the ‘self” from the Wisdom end of thinking. It seem mistaking the map (bits) for the terrain (whole), is a ubiquitous sin. Time for Dennett and Dawkins and others to repent (metanoia – change your mind & go in a different direction). Here is what I wrote in an afternote of my essay of education.

    Does the individual ‘self’ exist?141 This question mimics the question “Does God exist?” These questions are left hemisphere framed category questions based on the presupposition that only ‘things’ exist. Neither the self nor God exist as an object within ‘what is’ and they cannot be dismembered and forensically examined by some separate self-consciousness (ie: me). There is no ‘view from nowhere’, when examining the experience of being and becoming. The material/machine model of reality is not a view from nowhere and is not capable of independently examining lived reality with a view to answering the above ontological questions. Descartes thought that ‘thoughts’ (parts) exist, so a ‘thinker’ (whole) must exist since ‘non-material thought’ must be caused by a ‘thinking me’. He was wrong. This is ‘materialistic’ reasoning and has led Western Philosophy down the ‘ghost in the machine’ rabbit hole and set up more than one ‘hard problem’ to amuse Western philosophers for hundreds of years. McGilchrist has clearly shown that no aspect of reality, when re-presented as a machine with parts to be examined, can live. Such ‘bits’ can only participate in reality when they are re-presented to the RH to be integrated into the flow of life. ‘Dem bones’ (concepts, thoughts, maps or models of being), do not and cannot live. The body/mind category, when applied to a living person, can never describe or understand the experience of a lived life in any meaningful or adequate sense. The rule is that life can only be lived, never examined. Only in the abandonment of a left hemisphere examination of experience (though it is still true that the unexamined life is not worth living). For ‘dem bones’ to live they must first die, then, after disposing of all analysis, words and concepts, return to the open, receptive, unknowing, empty attention to what is (this is living ‘the examined life’). It seems to be a Divine command that only when we say, “…our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, there’s nothing left of us”, then, and only then, will God say, “I’ll breathe my life into you, and you’ll live. Then I’ll lead you back to your own place and you’ll realise that I am God. I’ve said it and I’ll do it. God’s decree.”142 Living as ‘me’ is the examined life, not thinking about my experience of living. With respect to the existence of the ’self’ (or individuated ’soul’ or ’spirit’), the fact that the map is not the terrain (= the ego is not the self) cannot be used to argue that the terrain (self) does not exist. In “The Matter with Things” Iain McGilchrist has provided a wonderful map to reality, but only a reader, through participation in ‘the flow of becoming’ that their individuated unique life is, can ’know’ life. This, of course, as McGilchrist shows, has always been known and taught. After all, the “Buddha did not say, “You don’t exist.” He only said, “You are without self… Your nature is nonself”. Both the concepts of ‘non-self’ and ‘self’ are themselves only notions, words, concepts by which we attempt to systematise and understand our life. These concepts are a locked gate when approaching the experience of reality. As the Buddha said, “We only have these notions, and we suffer because of them”.143 The mystical traditions (apart from Buddhism), emphasise the existence of a ‘true self’ sharply distinguished from the gaggle of false ‘selfs’ we carry with us. These delusions of the ’self’ must die if we are to live. Then when ’trueself-noself’ encounters its own place in what is, there ’enlightenment’ flows. Here there is no separate self-consciouisness only ’pure consciousness’. “We become like the eye that cannot see itself, that sees all”144. For the Oneing of ’self’ with ’being’, Christian mystics speak of union with God – a Oneness at the centre of our image-of-God-true-self with the Being and Becoming of God. Hindu teachers emphasise ’enlightenment’ (Moshka) when the ‘true self ’ (Atman) is released from the cycle of existence (Samsara) to know “I am Brahman“145. All traditions agree that the ‘false-selfs’ must die (be decreated) for the non-self = true-self to emerge. When the non-self and true-self (the image of God self, referred to above) become one there is enlightenment, union with God, Nirvana. This ’state’ is not, however, stasis. Neither is it some ‘thing’ or ‘no-thing’. Rather it is a participation in the flow of being. So, Thich Nhat Hanh (Buddhist tradition) says, “Emptiness does not mean nonexistence. It means interdependent coursing, impermanence, and nonself”146 (McGilchrist could have written that!). Ramana Maharshi (Hindu tradition) regards the central task for each life is to answer the question “Who am I?”. To discover an answer to “Who am I?”, Ramana takes a via negativa or apophatic way (perhaps Daniel Dennett could try this?). After negating options and deciding ‘not this’, ‘not that’, He asks: “I am none of these, then who am I? … that Awareness which alone remains – that I am.”147 For Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton, this (image of God) centre is “a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth … which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. [It] is the pure glory of God in us … It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven.”148 These three traditions concur that the no-self and the self are found together in the ’nothingness’ and ’emptiness’ of ’union’, ‘enlightenment’ and ’pure consciousness’. 149

    141 I wrote on the question of the ’self’ before being informed by reading Mc Gilchrist’s answer to the question: “Should you be yourself?” in ch. 21 of The Matter with Things. Readers would be well advised to read his account for a broadly informed view.

    142 ”Dem bones Dem bones Dem dry bones, Hear the word of the Lord.” …finishing with, ”Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around. Hear the word of the Lord.” Song based on Exekiel 37. Quotes from Ezekiel 37:1-17 (MSG).

    143 Quotes from Your True Home –The Everyday Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh Compiled and edited by Melvin Mcleod

    144 “The Way of Attention” by John Main OSB in The Hunger for Depth and Meaning, ed. by Peter Ng (Singapore: Medio Media, 2007), p 196. Sam Harris makes the same point in “Waking Up – A Guide to Spirituality without Religion” He quotes Douglas Harding’s experience described in On having No Head as “… an unusually clear description of what it’s like to glimpse the nonduality of consciousness.”

    145 ”Whoever knows the self as “I am Brahman,” becomes all this universe.” Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 Ātman (Hinduism) – Wikipedia, Brahma is both creator of all things and all things created – ”This Being (neuter) entered all beings, he became the overlord of all beings.

    That is the Atman (Soul, Self) within and without – yea, within and without!” — Maitri Upanishad 5.2 Brahma – Wikipedia. Sounds a bit like panentheism to me.

    146 Your True Home –The Everyday Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh Compiled and edited by Melvin Mcleod loc 110

    147 “1. Who am I? The … body …, I am not; the … senses …, I am not; the five (organs)… functions speaking, moving, grasping, excreting, and enjoying, I am not; the … airs, (in-breathing, etc.), I am not; even the mind which thinks, I am not; … the residual impressions of objects, and in which there are no objects and no functioning’s, I am not. 2. If I am none of these, then who am I? After negating all of the above-mentioned as ‘not this’, ‘not this’, that Awareness which alone remains – that I am.” Who Am I? (Nan Yar?) The Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi https://www.sriramanamaharshi.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/who_am_I.pdf

    148Quotes from Christ lives, alleluia! — Living Water (thelivingwater.com.au Also, ”Benedictine monk John Main also described this centre beautifully when he wrote that it is in our hearts that Christ prays day and night. “I can describe it only as the stream of love that flows constantly between Jesus and his Father. This stream of love is the Holy Spirit.”

    • Don Salmon

      Member
      May 8, 2023 at 2:54 am

      Hi Rodney:

      All beautiful thoughts. Of course, you’re coming at this from a very different “place” (non-place, if you like) than Peter. It will be interesting to see how he and others see this.

      When talking with people who accept the idea of a purely physical reality – over 50+ years – I find initially taking a very logical/analytic view can be very helpful (I personally think it’s a very LH way to look at things to talk to much of a LH way and RH way – paradox intended – so I tend to steer away from that as well).

      But I’ll just add – I think you may separate the intuitive and analytic a bit too rigidly. I’ve been particularly intrigued by the effort/Grace conundrum you find in all traditions. I think Culadasa (neuroscience professor and Buddhist meditation teacher) gave the simplest integration – “awakening is like an accident. You can’t make it happen but you can make yourself accident-prone.”

      Hence, in Vedanta, we have sravana (listening), manana (thinking, yes – thinking!) and niddhyasana (where thinking stops and intuition begins). Swami Sarvapriyananda has a nice down home way of saying it: “STEP 1: did you HEAR me” (like kids say, “I heard you man”) STEP 2: did you GET IT’ and STEP 3: is it REAL to you?

      But in the Jesuit contemplative tradition, in much of the Kabbalah, even in Zen, most people don’t know it but there are centuries of awakened Zen masters who have written extensive commentaries on Dogen’s writings.

      “Practice” of course is paradoxical. You can’t practice to be what you already are. If you approach this through intellect you’ll end up like the centipede trying to count its legs. But if you let go and go into the heart, you can meditate, pray, do rituals, study, create meditation gardens and all the rest and it’s not a problem at all.

      Finally, I’m REALLY interested in hearing Peter or anyone else’s attempt to describe a scientific experiment that could provide evidence for the existence of something purely physical. Rodney, I think you gave the answer as to why this is impossible, but I think there’s a profound experiential effect – perhaps paradoxically – when you patiently work through it logically.

      I remember SEEING this intuitively all in one moment, when I was 17, and just SAW there was nothing but God. But I kept getting tripped up when I read materialist philosophers.

      Then one day, 17 years later, in 1987, I was reading a book which calmly pointed out that there really are no “laws of nature” – it’s an abstract concept we impose upon the infinite variety of experience. It just hit like a ton of bricks. The whole facade of science as an explanatory mechanism completely fell apart and never came back together. I spent 8 years with 600 world class philosophers, scientists, and other intellectuals on the online Journal of Consciousnss Studies Forum, and despite all I know as a psychologist about defense mechanisms, I just never got over how something that COULD be so simple and SO obvious was completely invisible to such otherwise brilliant people.

      I just wrote a note to a NY Times science writer, Peter Overbye (I think that’s how you spell his name). He just published an essay musing on how satisfying it was to contemplate the end of the universe, when all life has passed and there is a purely physical reality.

      I wrote him a note, first praising his essay, then noting that about 95% of neuroscientists believe all we know of the “universe” is a construction of the brain, yet the same 95% are convinced that whatever the universe is apart from our own consciousness, nobody knows – except we KNOW it’s purely physical, no mind, no consciousness. I added in a postscript after challenging this, that when I suggest perhaps the entire universe exists within consciousness, this does NOT mean it only exists in our own brain!

      And of course – and I’ve seen this hundreds, maybe thousands of times, after explicitly writing this – he writes back and says, “Well, I have to believe the universe exists outside my brain.”

      Fantastic! This is like the story Iain tells of the patient he had with a right hemisphere stroke, who lost the use of his left arm. Iain came to see him in the hospital one day, and saw in him bed, his left arm limp. He said, “How’s the arm doing?”. The patient cheerily responded, “Oh, fine.”. Iain talked with him a bit, trying to see if there was some way he could convey the true condition of the arm to him. Finally, Iain walks over to the patient, lifts the arm and says, “Ok, try to hold it there after I let go.”

      Of course, Iain lets go and the arm drops back with a thud back to the bed. Upon which the patient exclaims, “Oh, THAT arm. That arm belongs to the guy in the bed next to me.”

      • Rodney Marsh

        Member
        May 8, 2023 at 6:54 am

        Thanks for replying Don…. Your thoughts and experience are very valuable. I will patiently absorb your wise words.

  • sjahari hollands

    Member
    May 9, 2023 at 2:45 am

    Rodney, I found your posting above quite fascinating and profound as a way of being.

    Maybe this should be a seperate discussion topic, but I am interested in how all the ideas being presented here dovetail with the ideas coming out of the Jungian field and in particular the phenomenon of synchronicity as explored by Harald Atmanspacher.

    He is a well respected physicist and also writes about panentheism which Iain also subscribes to. His term for this is Neutral Monism.

    The core idea there is that the physical world and the psychic world are both made of the same stuff. They are simply two different manifestations of that stuff. And since they are made of the same stuff they can actually influence each other.

    Archetypes exist in this psychic realm. And it is interesting that they are actually being identified now as real entities by neurobiologists, both in our brains, and also at the cellular level.

    It is these archetypes that create synchronistic events. They do it because they can do it. And I guess occasionally they do it for a purpose.

    Maybe I should post this as a seperate discussion? I think it is very closely related to the ideas being explored through Iain’s work.

    • Zak Safra

      Member
      May 9, 2023 at 4:24 am

      Hello Sjahari

      Could you write more on how archetypes are being found in neurobiology? And if you could also explain more on Jung and synchronicity, I’d be grateful as it’s something I’ve been seeing around but haven’t had a chance to explore.

      Zak

    • Rodney Marsh

      Member
      May 9, 2023 at 5:23 am

      Thanks for your reply sjahari but I must confess my ignorance of any section of brain science. I have entirely relied upon Iain and have no capacity to extend or comment on his conclusions. I have dipped my toes in the ocean of mysticism and have a passing acquaintance with philosophy, but going as far as commenting on things like ‘synchronicity as explored by Harald Atmanspacher’ I know nothing. I know Jung’s ego and archetypes have parallels in mystical thinking, but I do not know who has explored this in relation to the hemisphere hypothesis. So often in these areas (neurobiology, psychology, etc) I think we work via negativa (see the Ramana quote) using science and reason to eliminate various suggestions or finding an interest is sparked for further exploration.

      I too, like Zak would be interested in learning about Jung’s archetypes in relation to the hemispheric hypothesis. You say, “These archetypes that create synchronistic events.” and speak about these archetypes (angels or devils?) having purpose and agency, “They do it because they can do it. And I guess occasionally they do it for a purpose.” I am wary. It sounds like Aldous Huxley’s acceptance of ‘an intermediate world between matter and spirit – that fascinatingly odd and exciting psychic universe, out of which miracles and foreknowledge, ‘spirit communications’ and extra-sensory perceptions make their startling irruptions into ordinary life.” (in “The Perennial Philosophy” p437). Personally, I am sceptical. We have no tools to investigate an alternative universe. I do think however, even if these phenomena are investigateable and investigated it would be difficult to get ‘published’! Having LH methods and presuppositions (eg using segmented time) investigate alter the RH is impossible – but the reverse is life.

  • sjahari hollands

    Member
    May 10, 2023 at 2:32 am

    Hi Rodney and Zak.

    I will find the references. Jung’s highest aspiration was to be a scientist. He wanted his discoveries about the archetypes to be confirmed scientifically and was disappointed that it couldnt happen in his life time. He sensed that this should be possible and predicted that one day it would happen. It has in the last few years. I can give you the references that support this current work.

    My own view is that Iain’s work dovetails perfectly with the ideas I outlined. He is on the same page as Atsmansbacher on this idea of panentheism or Neutral monism.

    Let’s talk about myth and metaphor. Iain is constantly referencing them. They are a reality in the way of life and relationships. We could talk about the myth of the Mother. It exists in us. All of us. It is a way of being in the world.

    To think that the only things that exist are the things we see in the physical world is an attitude of the LH.

    To understand that there is also a world of existence, the world of the psyche, made essentially of the same stuff that the physical world is made of, brings us closer to an understanding of what our lives are about.

    Myths are real. The metaphors in these myths are actually pointing to something that exists. They are a part of reality, just as much as the chair I am sitting on is.

    Jung named these metaphors archetypes. He discovered and described many of them and how they work.

    Sjahari

  • Mike Todd

    Member
    May 10, 2023 at 8:11 am

    My first post – be gentle.<div>
    </div><div>I can’t understand why many people consider Dennett an impressive thinker. To be fair, I haven’t yet had the pleasure of Consciousness Explained, though I may get around to it one day if my reading list comes up short. As for the video, is that really the best he can do? Demonstrating limitations in the human perceptual system in no way undermines consciousness per se; lampooning “what we are conscious of” leaves “that we are conscious” entirely unscathed. More pointedly, it’s arguably the case that our perceptions are in some sense illusory, and I think Donald Hoffman’s approach, explored in The Case Against Reality, is far more compelling (and radical) than Dennett’s rather unremarkable show-and-tell. But again, showing that we are in some sense misled by what we perceive falls far short of showing that we are therefore also misled *that* we perceive, and to suggest otherwise is in the ballpark of category error.</div><div>
    </div><div>Does anyone else feel as though metaphysical materialists, and so-called illusionists in particular, often appear to conflate consciousness with its contents – as if thoughts, feelings and perceptions were the whole story? As I’m sure you may be aware, there’s a growing body of research into meditative “pure awareness” experiences, transcribing the tales of monks and other seasoned travellers to the far-off country where there is neither space nor time nor any trace of self or mind save awareness of awareness. Do the consciousness-deniers have any comments to make about that? No doubt my question makes obvious my innocence in all this, but I also ask from a place of personal interest: I’ve been a daily meditator for some time now and am always looking to expand my learning in that area.</div>

    • Don Salmon

      Member
      May 10, 2023 at 12:41 pm

      HI Mike, great to have a fellow meditator here. You gave a clue to the resolution of this confusion with the phrase “pure awareness.”

      Here’s a meditators take on it:

      What do we know, absolutely, in a self evident way?

      awareness and contents of awareness (I’m using “awareness’ since consciousness is a word which has a great deal of confusion associated with it)

      That’s it. Is there a single reason to assume anything exists outside awareness?

      This gets confusing for people because they think “awareness” is ‘my” awareness and don’t realize “mind” or “consciousness” is different from awareness.

      The phrase PURE awareness makes it a bit clearer:

      Are the contents of Mike’s mind and Don’s mind different?

      Yes.

      Is the AWARENESS within which the contents of MIke’s mind and Don’s mind different?

      Well, let’s not assume anything.

      Now, are there purely material forms if we abstract away awareness altogether?

      THere’s no evidence of such. There can never be, by definition, any evidence of it (because all evidence will appear in awareness)

      So why make the assumption?

      It’s perfectly possible to conduct all scientific experiments with the assumption that the whole universe of experience exists in awareness.

      So actually, neither consciousness nor awareness has to be explained. It’s self evident.

      Now, what about matter and energy? I just looked at a child’s book on physics, and it defined physics as “the study of the interaction of matter and energy.”

      But do scientists actually study some PROCESS called “matter” or “energy”?

      What do scientists study?

      Galileo talked about the distinction of primary and secondary qualities, but nowadays we simply refer to quantities (his “primary qualities) and qualities.

      Scientists ALWAYS start with our qualitative experience (the contents of awareness) and from that, abstract quantities.

      So when you’re asking if matter or energy have standalone existence, you’re asking if measurements have standalone existence.

      Once you see that, you realize, of course not.

      So again, there’s nothing to be explained.

      What needs to be explained is why materialists like Dennett can’t see this!

      If anyone wants to make a philosophic claim that in addition to the pure all pervading, ineffable awareness which takes in all experience, and the contents of awareness, there is something else, and it’s obvious that the assumption of something else is not needed for science (or for any other human endeavor) and the assumption that that something else is utterly unaware and non intelligent, and the introduction of this abstract concept of something else (which in science is nothing but pure measurement) makes it impossible to understand:

      How laws of nature come into being and why they persist without descending into chaos

      how life emerges

      why evolution is an orderly process of increasing complexity BOTH of the organism AND of the consciousness associated with the organism

      how conscious or mind or intelligence or emotion or self awareness emerge at all

      Unless they can answer any of that (and nobody ever has or ever will) there’s no reason to even both with the materialists as they are really, basically, asserting that measurements have standalone existence.

      And when you see it this clearly, you just have to laugh and ask, “How was it that we ever got so confused?

      This is one more thing that might also be helpful:

      Nowadays, in Indian Philosophy, the word “buddhi” refers to intellect, and “manas” to the sense mind or emotional mind,

      But some 3000 years ago, in the Katha Upanishad, “Manas” referred to point like attention, associated with our desires, which takes the world of integrated whole experience and divides it up into objects, into “me” and a separate “world” “out there.”

      “Buddhi” referred to an integrative intelligence which sees the world as a whole (This is roughly LH/manas and “RH/buddhi” but the Sanskrit terms are much richer and are directly related to the Brahman or “God”)

      So our experience is the following;

      senses (“indriyas” in Sanskrit)

      manas (desire-driven point like attention centered on a separate “me” alienated from a world of standalone objects)

      buddhi (integrative intelligence

      And all of this is within – and ultimately, since this is non-dualist, “made of” – Atman, pure infinite awareness.

      The modern materialist like Dennet, lost in Manas, isolates certain limited, measurable aspects of sensory experience, takes those measurements to be real, and then asks, “How do we explain Atman?”

      But it is only by virtue of the Atman that he can ask the question.

      The Kena Upanishad puts it beautifully:

      What is it, that sees through Dennett’s eyes, but which Dennett cannot see?

      What is it, which hears through his ears, but which he cannot hear?

      What is it, which thinks through his mind, but his mind cannot think?

      It is that, That pure Atman which encompasses, constitutes and transcends the entire universe of the contents of our experience.

      • Don Salmon

        Member
        May 10, 2023 at 12:45 pm

        I just thought of one more possible objection.

        people often think that the Indian view is one of idealism (which is ironic, since modern idealist philosophy resulted from the misunderstanding of Indian philosophy among 18th century German idealist philosophers!)

        It is not. So the common objection to idealism (Iain refers to this a lot in his book) that it does not take sufficient account of the reality of matter, does not apply.

        Nowadays, when someone defines panpsychism as an interaction of mind and matter, they’re unconsciously referring to the scientific idea of matter, which as we just saw, is nothing but measurements. Once you see that, you see that Jung and other panpsychists or dual aspect monists are talking nonsense.

        Now, in Indian philosophy, particularly the Tantric, matter is often referred to as sacred. But by “matter” they’re not talking about measurements. Matter is related to mattre – the Mother – the Divine Mother, and all of perceivable matter is considered the Divine Mother, as mind and consciousness are the Father. Awareness is beyond both. (and there are many many levels to this; one may also refer to Siva – pure awareness; and Shakti – pure Divine energy, but that gets into complex realms so I’ll leave it at that.

        • Mike Todd

          Member
          May 10, 2023 at 1:59 pm

          Marvellously put, Don – thankyou.<div>
          </div><div>I wish I were more familiar with the Upanishads. I have several translations, but it’s hard for me to say whether any of them might approach what’s considered authoritative. They vary greatly and some appear to be abridged. Any recommendations would be welcomed. </div><div>
          </div><div>You mentioned panpsychism and dual-aspect monism. Panpsychism strikes me as little more than an hermetic substance dualism – consciousness/awareness in a (subatomic or cosmic) bottle. Dual-aspect monism appeals to a degree, and for a while I fancied my view as such, but I now lean more towards what is conventionally called dialectical monism, albeit one grounded in a processual pure awareness. But, of course, the labels we attach to our metaphysical approaches are (possibly misleading) shortcuts by definition, and as Iain and others have noted, many lengthy trails must be trod to take in something of the whole mountain.</div>

          • Don Salmon

            Member
            May 10, 2023 at 2:10 pm

            Thanks Mike. There’s a lot of VERY smart people in this group. Most of them talk way over my head. Now, i’ve been mistaken for a philosophy professor online, but that’s I think because I’ve only written short comments.

            here’s my personal interest in philosophy:

            I think a purely analytic approach is fantastic when it comes to deconstructing the nonsense of materialism.

            Beyond that, I have no interest, in fact, negative interest. I was a member of Bernardo Kastrup’s online forum starting in 2013, and I along with a number of other meditators LOVED his takedown of materialism and we BEGGED him, “please Bernardo, do NOT try and construct your own philosophy. It’s been done, beautifully (at least as far back as 3000 years) and we don’t need a new one.

            Once you give up materialism, contemplative and meditation are the only way to contact reality. Philosophy – IMHO – just holds you back. I personally like Iain’s works because he hints at practice but he doesn’t really understand it at all. This whole idea he talks about a lot that any suggestion at practice is LH is ITSELF a LH confusion.

            It’s like, “Really??? You don’t think St John of the Cross, Rumi, all the Zen masters of Japan and Chan masters of China (the latter being specialists in seeming to criticize practice, yet their ranks, as with the Taoists, are FILLED with thousands of practices), Rabbi Nachman (great Hasidic master) and yes, even Nisargadatta and Ramana Maharshi (who recommended breathing, chanting, devotional practices and rituals, all kinds of inquiry besides “who am I”), you think they didn’t deal with this paradox of effort vs Grace (which in Japan is called “self effort” vs “other effort” _ the Amida buddha chanters)

            I myself very early on got stuck with Krishnamurti who seemed to always counsel against ANY practice – until about 4 years into it, I found a little booklet where he teaches David E S Young basic Vipassana. After 4 years reading every book of his I could get my hands on, that was it. 46 years and I’ve never read anything else by him.

            Swami Sarvapriyananda tells a great story about this. His favorite Vedantic text is “Ashtavakra Gita.” There’s a McGilchrist-sounding line in it where it says “Your problem is you meditate.” And it keeps saying, “All you need to know is you ARE the Self, the Atman, right now.”

            So a young monk finds that his guru has this book and says, “Well that’s it, I’m not going to practice any more. No meditation, no prayers, no reading, no rituals.

            So Sarvapriyananda says to him, “you said your guru has this book?”

            The monk: “Yes.”

            Swami: “And does your guru meditate?”

            Monk: “yes”

            Swami: “Does he say prayers?”

            Monk: “yes”

            Swami: “Does he perform rituals?”

            Monk, now duly chastened: “Yes, all of that.”

            Swami: “Well, if you hold your teacher in such high regard, I would suggest following his example.

            Moderners have all kinds of silly ideas about contemplative life. Another favorite of mine – some Americans went to visit a renowned Zen master in Japan. When they got to his meditation hall, they saw him bowing before a statue of the Buddha. They were, typically American, horrified.

            “What!!!” they exclaimed. “Bowing to a buddha!! Didn’t the Buddha say if you meet the Buddha on the road, you should kill him? Wouldn’t it be better to spit on the Buddha/”

            The Zen teacher was totally unfazed. he simply looked up for a moment and said, “If you like to spit, then spit. I prefer to bow.”

      • Rodney Marsh

        Member
        May 11, 2023 at 2:03 am

        Thanks Don for this helpful explanation

        I am now ploughing through ch20- 28 and my understanding is that Becoming/Being in Time and Consciousness just are… they fundamental properties of what is and resist analysis at any level.

  • Paul

    Member
    May 10, 2023 at 1:14 pm

    This is a lively an interesting conversation. So many things to consider in all these posts.

    Hi @thaumasmus

    You ask…

    “Does anyone else feel as though metaphysical materialists, and so-called illusionists in particular, often appear to conflate consciousness with its contents – as if thoughts, feelings and perceptions were the whole story?”

    Yes, I do feel precisely this and you have put it very eloquently. I notice, even from highly regarded scholars (including those I have a lot of time for, Karl Friston for example) frequently conflate consciousness with cognition, perception or both.

    It is clear to me in the Dennett video that his premise, that we are machines made up of smaller machines (or a bag of tricks) is self-fulfilling: he suggests this premise and then simply assumes that everything confirms it. He is quite interested in mis-perception of ambiguous presentations but because of the stimuli he’s chosen he completely misses out on elevating his argument.

    He gets closer with the Bellotto that, on approach he discovers has a resolution limit (well I never!) and then follows this catastrophic failure of imagination- he contrasts this with Canaletto whose paintings contain so much detail he can see the clothing. So why doesn’t he extend this and ask, “Why can’t I see the eyelashes in the Canaletto?” In other words, he doesn’t use the very contrast he cites to question his own premises. Instead he abandons the effort at the point he finds an agreement with them.

    But this isn’t even his biggest error here: This is a very large painting and we ‘know’ Bellotto was well aware of exactly how he was applying the paint and the effect it would have at various distances from the canvas. I mean, come on Daniel, Bellotto painted it… With a brush, up close, and then stood back as an observer, probably thousands of times. It does not seem to occur to Dennett that Bellotto was actually hoping this effect would be noticed- that the future observer would notice the transition between meaningless, small detail and the meaningful ‘bigger picture’, to wonder at what that meant in terms of their perception, not just of the painting itself but of the world they live in and perhaps the cosmos itself. I don’t think there could be a more eloquent argument against Dennett’s position than this painting and the questions it asks the observer. And Bernardo Bellotto somehow smuggled it from the 18th Century into Dennett’s video. Bravo Barnardo, bravo!

    To ground this position in the here and now then: employing a paradigm based on ‘meaning’ rather than ‘effect’, the artist’s intention comes into our present. In very important (and I think intended ways) we are in conversation with that artist. I suspect also that if this was not a possibility, no artist would ever stoop to pick up a brush.

    So for me, the lesson here is that the sorts of questions you ask dictate the sorts of answers you get. If I pose questions about the limits of perception, I can generate answers about that. But if I don’t ask questions about meaning then I will not get answers about meaning.

    And I might avoid questions about meaning because I think there is no such thing. I might be Daniel Dannett sitting in my office scripting a TED talk about how I don’t think there is any meaning in the universe because the universe is simply a machine and machines are meaningless. Then get in my car and drive home to an environment simply replete with meaning: my wedding photographs, my dog greeting me, a large bill to pay, an unexpected call from a childhood friend- and still be completely untroubled by my view that all of this meaning is totally illusory.

    Is this actually rational? No, it is not. I propose Dennett’s arguments are simply an artefact of language, of compartmentalisation and categorisation.

    • Mike Todd

      Member
      May 10, 2023 at 2:07 pm

      Thankyou, Paul. I must take my afternoon repose, and it would do your thoughtful comment a disservice to attempt a response before that. More anon.

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