Friday, February 27, 2009

Part 4

The “easy problem/hard Science” has taken us just about as far as it can, to this point, and we’ll come back to them once more before the close. But the whole exercise in the last one—all that heavy lifting of Context and Syntax and carpet tacks—was just so it could get back into the real discussion of lots of philosophers who tackled the same material. Don’t expect any massive justification for taking one guy’s terms and definitions over another’s as well; on this point all I can say is, when I ran across someone who made sense, I went along with him until he stopped making sense. And if that is the only lesson I got from Bergson, it was a good one.

To roundup a posse for this round, we’ll put off introductions until they become pertinent. Meanwhile, let’s restate the case: all we wanted to capture was The Brain, The Mind, The Soul and The Consciousness. Not too ambitious is it? Looking back on the whole, it comes to me the worst of it is sentences that make Faulkner sound like Hemingway. It’s just that, when you start with The Big Questions, the answers always seem to get longer, not better. And then there’s the jargon, filled with discipline-specific terms and references enough to make the average person blanch at the prospect of entering into the dialogue. The awful truth is that's the way it has to be: there are no tow ropes to the top of Everest. For the last time, the point is Language, as a tool, is simply inadequate as we know it. So? That just means we have to know more.

This requires an epic scope to regard the “Big Picture,” even looking at things outside the science frame. This is where philosophers help ... and painters, poets, playwrights, songs, and artists of every stripe. This is how I began investigating the emininence grises and ended up on the wild side. It wasn't Husserl and Phenomenology per se, or that Bergson thinks “intuition” as valuable as the Lever, the Fulcrum or the Inclined Plane or Whitehead et al. hitting on the same conclusions as the present researchers of the "hard" problem, using almost the same terminology. Sure, it's just as likely that they've read the same material as you or had teachers who did, but just as likely that this is the course of thinking which leads to these conclusions. From such august authorities, you’d expect the same sobriety as the mechanics of the Church and State, and Newton too... but among these ephemeral ratiocinationists you find a craziness more often associated with deranged dope fiends or acid heads on a trip into the astral plane, even entering into the extremes of the Nietzschean Superman, and, possibly that of the Siegel and Schuster one as well.

And how do you get there? Logic. Impossible! -- right? Nope. My favorite logician isn't Kant or Wittgenstein or Liebnitz or even Plato -- it's Sherlock Holmes. While some may think of the master of deduction as little more than a pretty fiction, there is still nothing to fault the methods by which he applied his talents to crime in his Gaslight Era world, instead of hanging out at the Diogenes Club like his brother, Mycroft, plotting secret agent schemes for Queen Victoria. What compelled us to his reasoning when we were kids is even more significant in this venue; in answering the questions, the riddle of plots and counterplots and sub-plots out of what, to other eyes, are insignificant bits of junk, ephemera, irrelevant issues, etc., he arrived at his operative maxim, "Eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the solution." Under this maxim, the attitude from here on out will be to stick to the essential terms, take every divergence and test it for Truth or Fallacy, eliminate the weakest argument, and move forward with the attitude that the clearest path through the forest is the right one. (More on this later.)

So, if we're going to use Darwin, then let's use ALL of Darwin, pull back the curtain – so to speak – because every conclusion from now on will rest on these limbs. This is the "tripod", the three legs which have stood the test of time so well, of evolutionary theory: 1) Natural Selection is not "survival of the fittest" but the process by which the species, as a whole, progresses and adapts over time with the following two mechanisms; 2) organisms also make selections; and 3) the environment assists in making these selections. (The organism is US, you and I; let's get that out of the way right away.) But take note, as well, of how similar this reasoning is to the Hegelian Dialectic: species (thesis), change in environment compelling physical alteration of organism (dynamic effect on lifeform – as opposed to static existence – or anti-thesis) and new phylum (synthesis).

It is in this same way, of looking at The Parts and The Whole, then adding in personal perspective, that every creator sees things from a slightly different perspective than the commons, and that in their process – choice of media, cultural references, emotional evocations, etc. – they might overcome prejudices and opinions set in stone and force a fresh confrontation with the aforementioned enigmas. Artists try to describe things that defy rational description, in terms or images that may, or may not, exist. Much to the same end, Philosophers are frequently forced to come up with neologisms to kinda mash-it-up to the point where disparate sides may come together.

Case in point: Teilhard de Chardin was a French Jesuit priest, trained as a paleontologist who was at the discovery of “Peking Man”, who “met the Absolute” while on his way to being decorated for service as a stretcher –bearer during WWI. So much of his thought was considered heresy and censored during his life, his best works were only circulated among progressive clerics similar to samizdats among old Soviet dissidents. In his posthumously published “The Phenomenon of Man,” he tried his damnedest (and, according to the monitum of the Holy Office of 1962, anybody who listened to him would be in danger of a similar fate) to reconcile Christianity and Evolution.

The rock-bottom dogma of Catholic faith is Mankind was redeemed by a single act of divine intercession and that ONLY. (The Passion of the Cross, etc.) Forget the "Monkey Trial" appellation, this is why Scopes v. State, 152 Tenn. 424, 278 S.W. 57 (Tenn. 1925) , remains the watershed reactionary moment of 'Ugly American' values. The evidence the Plaintiff offered (or attempted to offer), his justification, was as much an alternative interpretation as today's “intelligent design,” with the progression of life from cellular slime to homo sapiens constituting "God's Plan.” (Not that Clarence Darrow ever put it in those terms. exactly. But, as Spencer Tracy did, we'll accept it as a factoid.) This would imply humanity was, if not perfectable, certainly improvable in incremental steps and that the Process Itself could be Divine Ordinance as much as the Ten Commandments or the New Testament, and by which progress to Climax Species (“the great reward” or “getting’ up day”, depending upon your profession of faith) would be achieved when human intelligence/soul/consciousness united with all creation/The Creator to become one with the Cosmos (aka: “Heaven” +/-).

The above teleological view of Evolution is actually adapted from Teilhard's, having been formed at just about the same time as the trial. And check it out closely: this is a true synthesis; an attempt to reconcile his Faith with his understanding of Reality. Diverging only slightly from Darwin, he ascribed a human agency to species progress, which, in his view, was an increasingly optional process, as societal isolation and marginalization were seen as becoming huge inhibitors to that culmination, actually making a sideswipe at the possibility that Man, as a species, might have some measure of control over his destiny. That this is straight-up 100% Christian dogma on Free Will, the thing that separates us from the angels – minimum – wasn't his heresy, however. It was the way his work framed the basic messages of Jesus as an all-embracing compassion ("Love Your Enemies" being a more basic tenet than Papal Sees) in the unification of consciousness, which he proposed as an “Omega Point” in the “Noosphere” which would represent the “Christogenesis.”

Too Buddistic?...or too Sci Fi? (I’m not making this up here.)

To recap the recap: Evolution is at the core of everything with respect to living processes; everything else is junk. In the camp of “easy problem/ hard Science” advocates, it can be summed up in the maxim “Form Follows Function”. However, when you bring in an amorphous concept like “consciousness,” exactly how do you measure its contributions to the form of homo sapiens? How much “weight” (mass?) do you give to the Neutrinos of Intellect and Personality? While the word “quale” may be another invention, not so different from Teilhard's, the verifiable data on behavior says that something at least like it does exist, so how does that get factored in?

In the opposing camp—the “hard problem/no easy answers” crowd—you find this dilemma addressed from two positions. On one end, you have the metaphysical implications, interpreting the “deep structure” of the above maxim as "Shape/Configuration Determined By Usage", which leads us back into the linguistics again, and no help there. We know how a physical description works; what we want is the non-physical usage of “Form”; how “thoughts” fit into the organism’s description.

On the other end, you’ve got those who believe thoughts are special communications with God, which negates any other view on the face of it. Their “scientific” angle on "form" is propped up by those few true believers who make a living out of teaching (usually chemistry or biology) at university, and a business of finding textual corollaries in prophesy and scripture to their particular field of expertise (usually funded by "research institutes” closely affiliated with fundamentalist church groups). A perfect example of their grounds for discussion are the "complexity” of the Eye and proteins. According to their view, such mechanisms are so dense with dependent systems immutably intertwined and, as well, impossible to reverse engineer (as if that were a qualification for anything but graduation from a Chinese University with a degree in chop-shop chop-socky), this must be proof of “intelligent design,” that the only way to solve such knotty issues would be to put “God” into them as the Universal Equation Solver. As "equations" go, this one seems more like jumping to conclusions rather than the slow walk to enlightenment. You want a Leap of Faith? Try Kierkegaard. Otherwise, time for a stroll...

This begs the question: Suppose we put Darwin (meaning: his entire body of work and all succeeding generations of discoveries, including the complete fossil record, right up to the summations and popularizations of the whole by Stephen Jay Gould) there instead, does that necessarily negate “God”? Einstein would go for the broader implications, (as he always would) saying something like, Darwin has merely solved one of God’s lesser riddles. This may be an argument that some “intelligent design” spokespersons might accept, but try telling it to a staunch Creationist. They have drawn a line in the sands of Time (or Eden) and say: We shall not cross over. They may think it is Styx with Dis and the Vale of Woe on the other shore. However, their stance is not that different from Moses at the River Jordan, saying ‘I cannot cross into the Promised Land because the voices in my head say: God Said No.’

In those days, he was the Liberator, the Leader of the Tribes. Today we’d say: Dude, get some therapy, ok? So? Who’s right and who’s wrong? Or when's right and how wrong?

This is where some of us might get our ire up. The point is, if the above equation has any validity -- which seems to be that systems so complex could not have evolved naturally and must perforce have been "gifted" by some higher agency -- then try substituting something else equally complex. Like Language. We know about alphabets; we have Sumerian accountant's tablets, like the IRS of the Tigris and Euphrates delta, to decipher. As for speech (the former Babylonian parable aside), we can trace the grunts and gestures, gasps and clicks that were the the precursor to our sesquipedallian feats of oral terpsichore. Naturally. If God made it, why would we have so many petty misunderstandings, let alone armed conflicts? Nope. There is no challenge to what one may “believe” in the above proposition. It is more of a case of asking one how they may ‘think” about something, only to treat it as a verb (an action) and not as a request for a noun (“what are your feelings on the subject”; an opinion). This is about Process, not end product.

“Thinking” is so much more than mere informational processing with emotional responses and physical sensations to create individual perspectives that code into neurotransmitters which become stored in quales to resolve into an integrated experience. We need to put “awareness” in there as well; the amorphous quality of having something which the brain contains but with no specific reference to what it is…much like “Consciousness”. Put them together with “Thinking” and you’d assume it would make us all Captains of our Ships, Masters of our Destinies, right? According to the Church, we are given Free Will to choose God over the Devil (Temptations of the Flesh? – rather odd to see how apropos such a construction is – see * below), and can be just as easily interpreted in Teilhard’s textural points as well. So that would mean we also have the Free Will to change His plan then, don’t we? Does knowledge of a state mean one has control of it? In the case of Anger or Hunger, we can curb our temper or appetite, but Love or Fear? How often have we been made powerless over such issues, despite our knowing full well our utter infatuation is without hope of reciprocity, nor does our dread from some childhood trauma guard our adult selves from its unmerciful attack. In short: feelings aren’t facts. Nope. Anybody who’s ever had to overcome chronic phobias or join a 12-Step program will tell you: just because I may know what’s right doesn’t mean I’m going to do what’s right.

So try to convince your “Form Follows Function” advocates that “Biology is Destiny*”, huh? The latter is the same justification used for the superiority of the Aryan Race, the oppression of women and chattel slavery. Shows to go you how you must be very careful when simplifying stuff for public distribution. Nope. At some point, which is now, you have to cast off from the safe harbors of Darwin's perfectly rational description of organisms, AND that of the certainty of a personal Jesus and admit just how difficult it is to nail down what goes on upstairs. It may not be the work of God the Architect, but if you believe it is all just autonomous processes combined with varying degrees of intellectual influence, you’re not only barking up the wrong tree, you can’t even see the tree bark.

You've got to look for something new, and the best thing we can say, for certain, about the subject, is: the best thing that “thinking” does is creating.

A good example of why I brought up philosophers is that they are, more than anything else, Scientists of the Word, or even Concept, which is already the "spirit" of the "Word" as much as the motivating principle of the "form-er" is the "spirit" of the Law, as opposed to "the letter of the Law", something close to, yet beyond, definition.

This is how Edmund Husserl could publish his first paper on the Psychology of Arithmetic in 1891 (like many another philosopher, he originally wanted to be a mathematician) and go on from there to found the incredibly formula-laden, jargon-heavy school of thought called Phenomenology. (I gloss over Hegel's own dialectical phenomenology as we've already said enough about him, and Husserl was, as well, a transcendentalist. This helps a lot when talking with anti-communists and pro-lifers who want to toss out Hegel because Marx and Engels liked him.) Now this may be dismissed as being too arcane, obtuse and without any application to human existence, but there are other considerations. It is the nature of philosophy to present new ideas in thinking (call them pathways in logic, if you want, through the forest of confusion) that allows/permits/encourages those interested in pursuing fresh approaches to old problems by offering models/devices/formulas which enhance their ability to handle/grasp/visualize (even) the issue at hand.

You will note here that the “slashed” items are there to actually add alternative verbs and nouns, as if to present the same material issues as being raised in the sentence itself. You will also note that the last set refers to very physical actions. This is another trait of philosophers: attempting to concretize abstractions so that lofty examples may have at least some semblance of the reality of everyday life. This is also how they come to their solutions as well, following the scientific methods of classification into Species, Classes, Genres, Phylum, Types, etc., but, instead of using animal/vegetable/mineral substances, they use parts of speech/language/grammars.

And this is how it can work. It was in the early 1900s when Husserl promoted his new outlook of “transcendental phenomenology”. In this, he focuses on “the study of propositional systems in their linguistic manifestations and utterances,” which, in common speak is: the things we want to (intend to) say and the things we do say (how it comes out of our mouth, per se). Pretty ugly huh? Try: Many a slip twixt the cup and the lip! Now doesn’t that sound simple? Well, you have to get through a lot more, including “acts” and “meanings” as propositions (stuff which we "propose" to make happen) and nominal (stuff we "nominate," sort of vote for among candidates, as possible acts) cases, but then you come to ‘sense=meaning’ (read: ‘semantic’) and ‘nonsense=pure grammar’ (read: ‘syntax’) and you end up in a place that starts to look very much like modern research.

Remember this one? “The brain is a semantic engine mimicking a syntactical engine.” But wait, there’s more.

When Husserl starts talking about “logically consistent meaning” in a “an act of continuous perception or intuitive imagination” it seems another opaque bit of blather. Then he mentions “indexical experiences” -- like the statement: “I am here now” -- because they have no subtext or “non-propositional” referent (like alternative or hidden meaning, see?) which could be mistaken as anything other than what they are. (And it is this which became a direct paraphrase to entitle the '60s Flower Child guru Baba Ram Dass' incredibly influential book -- which could be subtitled "The Tao for Dummies" -- Be Here Now.) This messes with Husserl's whole theory as “some meanings are inconsistent for formal-logical reasons, as all analytically false propositions belong to this category…as they conflict with some general material a priori truth, also called ‘essential law’, and this proposition is expressed by the sentence ‘There are perceptual objects whose surface is both (visibly) completely green and completely red at the same time’.” And that's a direct quote, OK? Gobbledeygook? Yes. Don't try to figure it out, just take this away: it echoes something previously discussed.

Remember: “The Liar’s Paradox”? “Any formal system complicated enough to have such axioms will also have some statement which is not provable, nor would its contradiction as well.”

Yup. They both take us all the way back to (for the purposes of this treatise) or forward (in real time) to Dennett (the former) and Godel (the latter) in Part 2! Husserl even takes the aforementioned indexical experience and underscores the problem as one of it being so context-sensitive that a fundamental characteristic of it is “singularity” (“sui generis”)—another neo-physics term, made famous by Steven Hawking. Husserl to Godel to Dennett to Hawking means that there is something being built here, if not in series then certainly IN PARALLEL. See premise #3.

We have a scientist taking a philosopher (or a scientist-philosopher taking a philosopher-scientist) to express a physical (physics) property in the language of speculation and anyone is obliged to say: Well, what evidence do you have they had the same subjects in mind when they chose those words? The one thing you must remember is that when you get your doctorate in science, it ain't called a PhD for nothing. A "doctor of philosophy" means you understand the ideas behind your particular discipline and are very particular about how you choose to discuss it in open forum. Essential terms are going to be repeated for the simplest of reasons: YOU CAN'T TALK ABOUT THE REAL STUFF WITHOUT THEM. (It’s kinda like painting without primary colors, see?)

Now, just because these terms get used by a few different people over the years shouldn’t be called earth-shattering. It is only when you begin to trace the lines of enquiry and thought, realizing that Husserl was a direct influence on Teilhard and probably Godel, and either, both or maybe all on Dennett, you start to see how the invention of these otherwise impenetrable theories could spur on these polymaths and puzzlers to solve their own riddles, using bits of that logic and this science to find out how to describe the indescribable. THEY ARE USING THE SAME "FORMS" (and/or the best available data for their times).

Or, you could just as easily take Husserl ‘s further march that outlines singularity and the “intent horizon” of the indexical experience, being a full 360-degree surroundsound view of “possible worlds” linked together by “a sense of identity through time.” A poet might say an “intent horizon” was merely “the best laid plans”, but the fellow on the corner, primpin’ his ‘fro with a pick, might just say: “What it is, what it was and what it shall be.”

See? If you can break a conjugation down to a streetcorner catchphrase, it can’t be all that wrong. Like what philosophers call Common Sense. And that's not so far from what Henri Bergson would call his elan vital -- Intuition.

At the turn of the last century, Bergson was, for a time, the most influential philosopher of his day. Time and Free Will: An essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness (1889), Creative Evolution (1907), Mind Energy (1919) Duration and Simultaneity: A proposal on the Theories of Einstein (1921) were only a few of his groundbreaking books wherein he tired to absorb the best science of the day and figure out what it meant to the subject at hand. Some of his conclusions, are still quite relevant today, the basic ones being: "We are forced to express ourselves in words and we think, most often, in space," and "We are made as much and more, for action than for thought", and "existence consists in change, change in ripening, ripening in endless self-creation." The latter quote will show how much Bergson was influenced by the Hegelian dialectic of Thesis/Antithesis/Synthesis, which is just about the same thing as the Theory of Evolution. So we aren't really that far from where we started.

"The true inner reality... contains nothing quantitative; the intensity of a psychological state is not a magnitude, nor can it be measured. ... Our inner states form a qualitative continuity; they are prolonged and blended into one another; they are grouped in harmonies, each note of which contains an echo of the whole; they are encircled by an innumerable degradation of halos, which gradually colour the total content of consciousness; they live each in the bosom of his fellow." Now doesn't that sound as close to anything in cognitive research a hundred years later? Or how about a taste of one of Husserl's students, Alfred North Whitehead's process philosophy, that "reality is always in the process of becoming."

Emergent property, right?

And sure -- all old dead white guys in ties. Big deal. Yeah, well being that Bergson was the source for Teilhard, and Husserl, who was the basis for Heidegger who was the basis for Sartre who spawned the Existentialists, which led us Americans to the Beat Generation, et al., ad infinitum... Yeah, it is a big deal. How often have YOU wondered where you got your ideas from? And it is not as if Bergson was the be-all-&-end-all of my aspirations. He's not aged well and had quite a few holes in his progression of arguments, two that spring to mind in particular. The first was based on false reportage (but as this goes against his main premise of direct experience of information, he can be forgiven) and became one of the most often-cited hoaxes in the scientific community next to Piltdown Man. (Gould uses it in almost every book.) The second on incomplete reasoning (a more serious crime). Yet it was in digging out why the latter point didn't work that I got my major revelation.

Which is going to take a little more time...

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