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...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Part 3


It is time to consider exactly what it was you were trying to answer, and IN CONTEXT. In “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” series, the penultimate tome was entitled Life, The Universe and Everything... which is pretty close to where these studies have gone. At the beginning, it was just ‘how does the brain function and what does that mean for the mind?' It was this dual ambition that rode the teeter-totter between the "easy problem/hard science" and "hard problem/soft science, philosophical speculation", which sort of slid off into the aforementioned Douglas Adams title question, and, as well as the greater implications.

Like God.

But before going any further, we’ve got to establish some ground rules, some basic premises.

1. The scientific method is employed at all times. (And if you got to have that defined, you really need to go back to page one...or enroll at courses in at Bob Jones University or something.)

2. Equations usually mean balancing substances/properties until some understanding of what measures up against what, the simplest being something like algebra and the most complex along the lines of, say, John Nash's Bargaining problem or such. (You know, "A Beautiful Mind"?) This little bit was copped off a philosophy website and I offer it here unattributed simply to get the juices flowing. "The rules of replacement that we employ here include: De Morgan's Theorems,
Commutation, Association, Distribution, Double Negation, Transposition, Implication, Equivalence, Exportation, and Tautology. These, taken together with the nine rules of inference, adequately secure the completeness of the propositional calculus." See? It ain't all about the numbers.

3. Sort of a take on Premise #2, the thesis here covers the concepts of Parallelism as well as Symmetry. We see how it works in math (fractals and the Mandelbrot series most prominent among many), but this premise is herewith given to establish its constant presence in Nature as a scientific fact (despite some history of fraud; see the notorious case of Ernest Haeckl and his "Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny" scam) in both organic and inorganic matter. We will assume this premise on the basis that it has enough evidence to raise it to the level of a Law for living organisms (such as the Symmetry of DNA and Parallel states of embryonic development), and then, with that support, to note enough observations of the microcosm/macrocosm effect (such as the spherical Symmetry of atoms and planets, star systems and galactic clusters, etc. and the same Parallelism) that we can say a certain degree of similar manifestations will occur at different ends of the scales...with one specific proviso: IN CLASSICAL PHYSICS.

4. NOW, when premise #3 does NOT apply – CLASSICAL VS. QUANTUM – it is not only possible but necessary to describe the Universe (and all subsequent principles and subjects) in terms of both.

It is STRONGLY advised you make note of these because they are going to be constantly referred to by the shorthand of “#(with numeral)”. And often. And in combinations. (Don’t say you weren’t warned.)

Proceeding from premise #3, we begin with The Universe and the Big Bang. To put it semi-biblically, in the beginning, there was a “plasma,” infinitely dense and infinitely hot, but totally without form in the void, as we understand it: neither matter nor energy. So, so far, the King James version, for want of a better word (“logos” actually, but why go there now?), ain’t too far off the mark.

“And God said: 'Let there be Light!'”

Or, as we said: “B-bang!”

So now what?

Energy is what is the first out of the box, E=MC2. It is recorded as also the beginning of TIME & SPACE. (Aside posit: of course, Time & Space – the former is our measurement to the expanding edge of the Universe, the latter is what came in behind the edge… So then, in a 10-D universe, the other 9 or 8 were “unfolding” (or not) in a parallel manner, even, maybe, because Time & Space developed faster, they didn’t. No particular reason to think why not. Michio Kaku (see prev.) has noted that a few of the models of the “other” dimensions – on “branes,” short for membranes – could actually be “nested” within ours on undeveloped-yet-parallels, sort of like the buds on a tree that didn’t bloom. This is, however, all just conjecture...and simile . But more on THAT later as well.)

So, energy reached some “point” of expansion to where it slowed down from the speed of light and became matter. (Remember: E=MC2 also means, if it ain’t going at 186,000 miles per second, it ain’t light, and when you cycle down from ultraviolet to infra-red, eventually you are going to get matter.) You see, matter is what takes up, SPACE, naturally… Perhaps Gravity came into being as the first energy that wasn’t light. Without the intervention of a physicist to say otherwise, it stands to reason that this is the one core property of energy manifest in Matter that we a) know the least about, b) have no identified particle as the carrier of its force, and c) can manipulate the least. And the best reason to believe “gravity as a force” came first is that it is the sole force connected to Mass (E=MC2).

Then, regardless of the other dimensions, this one established the observable phenomena that makes up our understanding of Classical Physics, a/k/a “the Standard Model”. We call it that because it is the one that has stood the premise #1 test since premise #1 has been in use, right up through and including Newton. Then came Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, Godel, Hawking, et al. At this juncture Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, Incompleteness, Uncertainty, all began to enter into the search for elementary particles. And seeing as how this is premise #4, we should stop here and recap.

There’s only been two theories of the cosmos with any premise #1 basis: The Steady State Theory and the Big Bang Theory. The SS claims that all matter and energy that ever was is still here today. However, while that MAY have some support from The First Law of Thermodynamics (a/k/a the Law of Conservation of Mass & Energy, saying, basically, E can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed), The Second Law of Thermodynamics (a/k/a Entropy) says that any closed system will inevitably decay into its lowest energy state. So, if all the Matter & Energy that ever was is still here, when it gets transformed into radiant energy in a star, say, there has to be an accumulation of inert material, exhausted matter, which, occasionally will collapse into white dwarfs or black holes or neutron stars, WHICH ARE ALL VERIFIABLE ENTITIES -- they have been proven to exist. Then, at the very least, the SS is highly improbable just from observable data employed in premise #1.

Now, unless we are going to dispense with the Laws of Intertia – that describe energy as much as bodies at rest or in motion will remain in those states until acted upon by an outside force -- we are compelled to accept that dead matter ain’t going to spontaneously generate MORE energy unless hammered by MORE energy than it contains…which exhausts yet another bit of matter… Unless you believe that a Pertpetual Motion Machine is going to solve our dependency on foreign oil (in which case, I have a patent I would like to show you…), then you’d better reject the Steady State Theory. Everything comes to an end. Period.

So, then the Classical/Standard Model with the Big Bang is the way our “reality” works. Nothing falls up. No one “youngens” like Merlin in “Camelot.” AND THE HEAT-DEATH OF THE UNIVERSE IS INEVITABLE.

But there’s no need to get depressed about it. The fun part is that, in Quanta, you can have particles without mass, faster than the speed of light, can be two places at the same time, etc. If they were brick, we could build some crazy houses…but they aren’t. And that they are all mixed up in a soup of forces BEYOND gravity pretty much means they can do whatever they want in a subatomicverse of superstrings and dark matter and dark energy and Higgs Bosons…

Our existence is governed by a classical model of matter, but only touching upon the classical model of energy when we encounter a doorknob after shuffling across a fiber carpet in the middle of a dry Winter day, try to go into the paint for a layup, or get caught in an A-bomb blast or Chernyobl. These are all cute ways of saying, we don’t really know anything about them at all until it physically affects us. At the Quantum level, we know of the Weak Force, Electromagnetic Force, and Nuclear Force – at least, those are the ones we have identified. That’s why Particle Physicists are betting the farm on the Higgs Boson as the theoretical carrier of Mass – a/k/a, Gravity. Put those two ideas together and consider: what we know about what the impact of Classical/Standard Model physics is on our lives and existences, it stands to reason (again!) that what we DON’T know is what could be doing stuff we couldn’t even conceive of.

Bad sentence, but it should sound clumsy: it is attempting to describe the indescribable, a convoluted way of saying what we don’t know could hurt/help us…but we don’t know…ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES DOWN TO CONSCIOUSNESS!

Why I go to Philosophers like Henri Bergson, for instance, is that he is strict about keeping all philosophy in touch (literally) with the physical world, especially in the construction of concepts in simile and metaphor. Philosophers can do one thing better than scientists: they can parse words/concepts down to the elements of meaning, and that's the only way we are going to be able to talk about anything so greasy and amorphous as the present subject. You see, the brain/mind manipulates/creates thoughts/concepts. What are we doing when we do things in our heads, really? Even the choice of the underlined verbs must be questioned (let alone the use of an italicized concrete noun in a place where only thoughts are supposed to be) for, if talk is cheap, then thoughts are worthless, right?

Hold that Question Mark.

In the “real” world, everyone agrees on Ghandi and MLK, Jr., Democracy and Freedom -- these are expressions of thoughts, beliefs, which are of value and power, but only if enough people get behind them. However, these are examples of a social phenomenon and the psychology of mass movements; an idea shared, an “ideal” idea, and not to be confused with Thought. To capitalize the noun as Thought, then is what we'll do to give it an identity, ok? So then, Thought...does what? Thorny, ain't it? This is why we must to return to philosophers and feed them the toughest nuts, like WHAT DOES “DOES WHAT” mean?

Beyond the obvious fact that there are wide variances, gulfs even, between what I mean when I say something and what you mean using the exact same sentence (phrasing, stress, accent, plus personal associations or colorations of and with the words themselves), Philosophers treat the expression of Thought with the precision of a diamond cutter. So, come down on the “hard problem” and the “soft science” again, of "What is Consciousness?" or “What is Consciousness For?” but describe it as an algebraic statement: VALUE OF "THOUGHT" +/- FUNCTION OF PRODUCT OF "THOUGHT" TO SUM/PRODUCTION – RESOLVE. Pretty clunky, admittedly, but this is something Bergson would take a little time with as he started out as a mathematician, and simply because the end of it asks for variables to be calculated and the middle inquires of the use of some addition/multiplication/division /subtraction – a “function” – operator. In phrasing it this way, as a formula, you can then plug in alternative definitions -- using “value” as “spirituality” or “worth” or “moral” and “function” as “facility” or “usage” or “purpose” and “product” as “thing manifest in reality” or “affect upon reality”– to test the validity of each solution. Yet words do more than numbers, so, when asking, one needs CONTEXT. On these pages, the obvious one is of essential terms of logic, completely dissociated from the societal framework, but insofar as we maintain the right to have the use the definitions of the English Language at our disposal. So let’s just to hold onto one term from the common definition of “value”, and that is “worth”. We can immediately reference stock exchangespeak of “net worth” and “dollars & cents” and “trading”, etc., which is, by & large, the most important “worth” of today: “Wealth.”

Then, when you ask, “are thoughts worthless”, you are putting it in the context of “dreamer”, “wastrel”, “idler”, and other epithets for those who are “lost in thought”, which, in-&-of-itself, is also a prejorative phrase. (And now that I think about it, this could be an apt description of myself. And even, perhaps, the whole reason for this essay as just an attempt to justify my seemingly pointless existence. Valid criticism? Nope. It doesn’t lessen the lesson.)

Now, substitute the term “valueless” for “worthless,” give "valueless" the definition found in premise #1, and apply premise #1 in the context of #2, #3, and #4, and you start to get the uneasy feeling that, maybe, the answer is another question: Electrical, Weak, Nuclear? WHAT FUNCTION? WHICH VALUE? If they can be measured (and they can – as activity in various parts of the cortex responding to stimuli or activity requests by the anatomy, recorded by EEG’s and MRI’s and the like, make meters flicker, you know – that sort of thing), then the answer is: No, not valueless.

Before you dismiss the latter as an exercise in rhetoric, please consider all the previous. Context & Syntax: the former is the placement of ANY THING/noun IN SOME SEQUENCE OF OCCURRENCE. The latter applies solely to LANGUAGE and its transmission. “That remark was taken out of context,” is the wounded cry of the politico caught with his pants down in a men’s room in Wisconsin or somesuch. But you never hear “You got the wrong syntax!" unless you are:

1. a philosopher
2. a professional grammarian or linguist
3. Wm. F. Buckley or that guy in the Times magazine
4. Strunk & White
5. Robert M. Pirsig

…who wrote “Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and spent several years following down an essential remark of Plato’s only to find that, in an expert seminar on the subject itself, even the professor dismissed a minor interpretation of syntax, leaving him wondering why it was so important in the first place, and that is what most people call “a worthless thought,” as the rest of the book became a chronicle of his descent into madness after this apocalypse.

When I was in college, one semester I took a course in Transformational Grammar. Big mistake, but, while much of it was beyond me, the bit about "deep structure" stayed. It was examining exactly how we formed sentences, trying to fix the sequence in which information was assembled to understand at what point, before speech/transmission, the grammar was employed/deployed to determine such things as "subject/object," choice of pronoun over noun, passive or active construction -- all things which the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein attempted to deal with in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

“In rough order, the first half of the book sets forth the following theses:

• The world consists of independent atomic facts — existing states of affairs — out of which larger facts are built.
• Language consists of atomic, and then larger-scale propositions that correspond to these facts by sharing the same "logical form".
• Thought, expressed in language, "pictures" these facts.
• We can analyse our thoughts and sentences to express ("express" as in show, not say) their true logical form.
• Those we cannot so analyze, cannot be meaningfully discussed.
• Philosophy consists of no more than this form of analysis: "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen" ("Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent").”
(The above copied from Wikipedia article, verbaitum.)

But what truly stuck with me were his incredibly beautiful and telling summations of his "picture theory" of propositions: "The world is all that the case is," and "If you can't talk about it, point to it" among others. In the class entitled Transformational Grammar, these were the most valuable lessons, seeing into the very heart of his philosophy in aphoristic and axiomatic messages. As for exactly what Syntax is, I'm not sure we ever got that established to my satisfaction. I remember Noam Chomsky coming to lecture one time. All he wanted to talk about was the Vietnam War; I never got a straight answer about that is all I recall about the Q&A.

Nonetheless, Syntax, then, is not so impenetrable a subject as long as you continue to challenge your preconceived notions that you know what you are saying when all you really know is what you mean. Then, for the purpose of this exposition, we shall, in light of Herr Wittgenstein's previous assignment of "facts" to the "atomic" level, as well assign "syntax" to the Quantum level under this proviso: It is a "force" about which we know very little, but have every reason to believe exists in some as-yet-unidentifiable form.

So, when you are going to use words in unfamiliar settings, you are going to have situations where they might have two meanings. This is why we note that metaphor and simile must be employed only with absolute precision: if you don’t see a “like” or an “as” in there, don’t read something else. This is why you must never confuse the subject/object placement and always accept the fact that if you have any confidence in the Other’s, the author’s, voice, you are going to have to follow it until it leads you astray.

Ok, remember “worthless”? Carry this on one step further. There are processes going on “up there” from recipes for salsa to differential calculus to pick-up lines to carpentry to ____________. “Before I open a file, I want a retainer,” is some attorney’s first reaction to a client’s request. You have billable hours, you don’t waste time on something that doesn’t pay. It is, as Herr W. might typify it, a "case", which is also a framework, which also means that is worthless, in that context. Still, you do need a design before you build anything; even a writer needs an outline sometimes. That is ORGANIZING YOUR THOUGHTS.

However, there is another context, another kind of "organization", one that is not as easily penetrated; it is spontaneous, personal, eccentric and even whimsical When you hear music, the well-tempered scale, harmonic series, drums in rhythms, the pleasure in it comes from your ability to organize noise into major chord resolves, extensions and durations, tonal colors, codas. When you look at a painting, or any architecture of a specific character, you appreciate it in much the same manner. This is a language without syntax; it is emotional, phatic, yet nonetheless COMMUNICATES. In pentecostal churches, there is yet another version of this called glossolia, or "speaking in tongues". What this all refers to, specifically, is "non-sense", but it IS SENSUAL. We might call it "anti-syntax” and get away with it, so how about "anti-context"? No, because WE appreciate, assign values in relationships, when we "place" them alongside each other in Time, in sequence; the habit we cannot kick. What is it that makes Mozart the most art? Structure, organization. So what is it that this has in common with fundamentalist religious praise service, from mantra, chant, witchcraft spells, voodoo & “magical thinking”, prayer & meditation right up to Dr. Creflo S. Dollar's “Gospel of Prosperity”? All the former appeal to the higher functions of the Conscious Mind; all the latter are brain activities best associated with superstition. A prima facie case for contradiction? -- nope, because BOTH offer the same definition of Inspiration!

However, there is yet another context for the latter: Parapsychology, metaphysics, ESP… And, at the same time, because we brought in premise #4, let's also bring in the other variables we don’t have definitions for, a party without more crazy name tags: dark matter, dark energy, Superstrings, Higgs Bosons, 10-dimensional structures, branes…&?

Don’t freak out yet.

Back in the 1960’s, there was the sort of interest in this field which came along with all the other “free thinking” of the time, the zeitgeist, if you will. To investigate the phenomena of ESP, clairvoyance, telekinesis, as well as ghosts, UFO’s, instances of super-normal powers or that ill-defined category of “luck,” there was enough serious consideration given to studies trying to discover patterns of frequency and the most favorable conditions (both physical and behavioral) and personality types – anything to create a STATISTICAL MODEL. The reason for this was that the scientific establishment (based solely in premise #1) would not even consider a study/essay/paper/speculation (whatever) which did not come with some kind of proof. Given that Zener cards and frequency, for instance, could be put into a graph, you could say that a given number of persons exhibited tendencies outside of the control group much the same as – say – the evidence that the more intelligent you are makes you more susceptible to hypnosis, and hence persuasion of a certain kind, in the same manner, and you wouldn’t be wrong…just not very conclusive. In most cases, the best anyone could get was random choice with perhaps a run or two wherein something else happened, a sudden connection or stunning guesswork – but nobody EVER KNEW. However, drop in premise #4 and you may get a different answer.

It was Einstein himself who, in a pure philosophic moment, described his work – the entire body of it – as “a small boy wandering into God’s library, barely tall enough to pull one of the lighter tomes off the lowest shelves, and just smart enough to understand the first few lines of the first page.” Humble, yes. But also precise as anything The Man ever said.

He was talking about LANGUAGE and COMPREHENSION -- Context and Syntax.

Go back to the source of language, the mythic times whereinafter the Tower of Babel, in Western/Christian civilization at least, served an iconic function, a symbolic representation. Scripture has it that this was the biggest punishment after the banishment from Eden; the second fall of Man from grace for daring to challenge the heights of God with our own creations was to jam his communications. (Seems like we should bring in Marshall McLuhan here, but let's wait for that introduction.) Now, substitute “Thought” for “brick & mortar”. Is this starting to take on a new context yet? It doesn’t necessarily mean that the multiplicity of languages is a curse. However, what is startling is that is shows some kind of gut-level knowledge, an inherent or even instinctual feeling, that organized human consciousness is a formidable tool and yeah, like the Irish are fond of saying about whiskey as an invention to keep them from conquering the Earth, maybe…

Part 2

TO RECAP, here is the last graph from pt. 1.

“You’ve got one referring to it as a “thing”, another, as the system that generates the Qualia, and another as the central mechanism that directs how it is employed. THEY ARE ALL DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE SUBJECT WHOLE, see?” Whither Consciousness, then?

Now, to state the obvious: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

…and that’s why the parts have such a hard time regarding the whole.

Say whaaat?

Ok, let’s just deal with this off the top. One explanation of that phenomenon is its analog to a very similar one in Quantum Physics (don’t worry—it gets easier) as described by Kurt Godel in his major thesis, the Incompleteness Theorem, in 1931. To give this context, it was ten years after Heisenberg published his Uncertainty Principle which was ten years after Einstein published his Theory of General Relativity. First, the simple way to understand Godel: “The Liar’s Paradox”: “This statement is false,” or "Everything I say is a lie. I am lying." Now, the hard way: "Any formal system complicated enough to describe itself in provable axioms (the accepted terms and conditions establishing premises) will also have some statement which is not provable, nor would its contradiction be as well." (And part of this mind-bender is that once you find an unprovable statement, you are free to adopt it into the system AND its contradiction as well! So? How about "Everything I say is the truth. I am lying." Huh? Maybe even "God is nothing. Nothing is God." Or maybe a paraphrase of Meister Eckhart: "God is not a being; God is being.") If I were a gambling man, I'd place my money on all the above coming from a bunch of guys getting nuked on primo Viennese coffeehouse crank, as that is exactly how crazy most people sound when jacked up on speed, the ravings of a coke fiend. The only difference?--there was more math than meth to their method. But why were people shocked? Just another nutty professor, right? Check out the vocabulary lesson from the other half of their papers: "...all things are relative...uncertainty...incompleteness..." It's like a whispering campaign of doubt, just about where the last century's Age of Anxiety began.

That is said to say only this: the human brain is the product of Darwinian evolution and, just as animal brains have limitations or strictures (processing of scents over vision, detection of color over motion, instinct-level awareness, etc.) bound by their genetic history and environment, so too are WE limited. Michio Kaku, one of the pre-eminent physicists working in String Theory and 10-dimensional space, has said that the reason humans have trouble visualizing a seven- (let alone TEN-) dimensional universe is that we are barely capable of creating a visual logic for any beyond solid geometry, and probably would have no grasp of the 4th Dimension if it weren’t for Op Art tricks and computer graphics representing the curvature of gravity in Einsteinian space by putting a bowling ball on a plane created by a taut fishing net. We just do not possess the image-processing equipment to understand such concepts. AND THIS is on the same line of argument as Godel: the tool just can’t analyse the tool with the tools.

So what is the tool? Language. (Told you we’d get back to this in a big way.)

I want to break it down to the element here, the one that all the boys and girls on both sides are pretty much in agreement on, summed up by a guy named Daniel Dennett. “The Brain is a semantic engine mimicking a syntactical engine.” So what does this mean? Let me break it down further, as I have come to understand it. The Brain (or Mind, if you will) is a semantic engine (a machine for processing symbolic information, more or less, and giving it “meaning,” which can be as much personal as educational/informational) mimicking a syntactical engine (a machine for processing that information into “meanings in a context”, forms, structures, etc., usually grammatical, when talking about the rules of a particular language, but may also include other less explicable gradations, considerations, etc.). When he uses the term “mimicking”, the root of that is very similar to mime. Now what is it miming? Ok, let's say it may contain the shapes or forms or rituals or motions or patterns of an activity that, while they might be recognizable (or entertaining, if white-faced clowns are what you’re into) by other humans, are nonetheless wholly without any content other than what was just described (i.e., figures, silhouettes, echoes, traces, etc.--stuff that has none of the original meaning).

Is that getting too murky too fast? Think of a cartoon of Batman throwing a batarang, or something. Now give him an empty word balloon. You have a pretty good idea of what he’s doing and why, and probably are right when you think he’s making some snide comment at the Joker, or such. But you are never going to know EXACTLY what should be in that word balloon. Of course, that won’t stop you from trying to fill it in either. And that’s EXACTLY where the troubles begin. As one of the prime "hard problem" researchers, a guy named Edelman, I think, said this of our certain knowledge: “We evolved structures which invented language. But when you add in syntax, all bets are off.” Note, he didn’t say “context” but “syntax” because the former is purely data processing into a set form and the latter is too huge to answer here, even if it IS implicated as part of the former.

So that would give us a symbol-wielding consciousness that seeks “meaning” (perhaps “significance”?) in all things and that, lacking any concrete reference, is just as capable of finding meaning when there is none, manufacturing one to fill the void. Which, I believe, is another term for psychosis. Or religion.

But I digress. And even more right now.

There is also a visual language of images, that’s quite true. It is processed in the very same area of the brain (called Broca’s Area) which processes speech. It is also where there have been discovered a whole new type of cell structures called Mirror Neurons. (Hang with me on this one, its real good!) You’ve heard the rhyme, “Monkey see, monkey do, monkey does the same as you” right? Well, there’s a reason for that. It has been found that there is some common link between aping of apes and certain autistics. It appears that, by imitating the behavior of others, by LITERALLY GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS, they might learn, or accept as an explanation, the actions they see (right down to facial expressions) demystified and, therefore, stripped of confusion. Exactly what is gained for them is unclear (outside of calming down apprehensions, at least for the autistics), but the reward factor is high enough to repeat the behavior, see? And it is these Mirror Neurons which process the same information as the higher-level order of the Empathic Response, lending credence to the idea that our ability to appreciate “the other” in ourselves is founded in how much of what it is that they do we can do as well, or similarly.

Now hold that thought and watch this.

What we all possess, to one degree or another, is the ability to hold information/data in our brains to an extent that the data is assimilated into our core identity, becoming reliable resources which we may summon up on a moment’s notice to perform tasks, amuse ourselves or get into a maudlin sentimental mood over. This is called memory, and the non-experiential stuff Learned Memory. Before we had PDAs, there were file cabinets, and, previous to that, books and libraries, scrolls... When you get into the ages before the printing press (and even for some time after that) however, you had a lot of scholars with access to very few concrete reference books. What they did was to physically memorialize Great Halls of Learning in their brains via the process of creating libraries or cathedrals AS IF MAKING REAL ARCHITECTURE in the deepest recesses of their minds. (I first heard about this from Carl Sagan, actually, many years ago.) By the time of the Renaissance, this (more or less) was the inspiration behind the creation of the Wunderkammer, or Cabinets (or Rooms) of Curiosities, wherein you could display the most outlandish and bizarre collections of objects with the intent of stimulating and exciting the senses with the bounty of possibilities in form, shape, color and ideas found on this planet. (I’d liken it to an acid trip without the acid.) And yes, it was certainly for the wealthy and titled to show off their collections of junk in a psychedelic setting, but they were also seen as legitimate places of meditation and contemplation. However, to get back to their purpose, you’d have someone like, say, Erasmus or St. Augustine or Eckhart, creating this imaginary mansion which you’d enter via a massive portal graven with biblical friezes on the arch, a Latin inscription over the door, a large brass doorknocker in the shape of some kabbalistic letter, entering a foyer whose vault is covered with astrological signs and astronomical charts, walk up a stairwell of portraits of the Caesars or great Philosophers, entering a den or study filled with representational objects for the human anatomy or a kitchen where story problems stand in for mathematical concepts. Without knowing what they were doing, outside of packing their brain with pictograms, they were actually creating mnemonic devices of the highest modern order, comparable to any Random Access Memory devices available today.

Ok. Now back to ye olde image banquette. Part of that is also that symbolic representation can be understood via intuitive logic, from someone opening hands and spreading fingers splayed out to mean the number “ten”. Is it the same as the Roman “X” or the numeral “10”? No, because the former is also the letter “X” or even “X marks the spot” or “Dig HERE!” on a treasure map, and the latter is actually a marker in a base-ten enumeration or counting system. The symbols of “Ten” each come with their own package of associations, bound morphemes as invisible files—some essential, like knowing it comes after “nine” and before “eleven”, some not so: like viruses attached to system files, self-replicating and adding weight and complexity where none is needed, or like spyware, transmitting data that you would rather keep private.

Yeah. When I said language was the problem, even choosing the proper symbols/characters makes it worse. Because: are they your choice, or are you using someone else's choice, that just looked/sounded/seemed right for the job? (“The Brain is a semantic engine mimicking a syntactical engine,” remember? And mirror neurons don't know the difference between your stupidity and my imitation of it.) And what makes it worst is symbols are always mere representations of reality. (And pay attention to this trifle; you’re going to need it.) Right; nothing new there…except, while it MAY be neurotransmitters with which the brain communicates between the maps and quales, it could just as well be personal iconography (flags, family dogs, smoke signals, old teachers or lovers, hieroglyphs, that one big Little League game--take your choice) in the conversations between the various architectures and hierarchies of your own design. So factor in this as well: a symbol that represents something in one brain area/map/quale/studyhall or context represents something entirely different when transmitted to another area/map/quale/studyhall.


I am not trying to make you crazy. It just goes back to Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, again. Now you are beginning to see the “hard problem,” aren’t you?

And so are we--speaking for every voice in your head.

That is a not-so-coy method to lead us to another thing many researchers (including some of the “hard-core demystifiers”) are in agreement upon, evidence supporting the “Fame-In-The-Brain” idea. Going back to the “maps/quales=Personality” formula, it is not too far a stretch for us to examine ourselves for the functional schizophrenia that goes on in our everyday lives which we call “getting along with people.” I don’t have to tell you that we use one set of responses to our boss, another reserved for intimates only, and a general hale-fellow-&-well-met with our peers or perceived lessers. This is standard stuff. It is comparable to opening up a computer program like Photoshop or Microsoft Word and having the same set of palettes and menus come up, the same formatting of documents; these are the pre-sets, the default modes. Well, the brain has the same thing on a different scale, and some researchers have referred to this as maps/quales “vying for celebrity,” wanting to take their turn on the stage, with the rest of the characters in our heads as an audience, in the Cartesian Theater of the mind. So when you get a chance to put in your two cents at the staff conference, it IS truly “Showtime!”

This is how the “hard problem” advocates have come to label the Consciousness as “an Emergent Property”: that which emerges from all of these processes, its manifestation in reality, the real world. All the examples cited here are emergent properties...or maybe discoveries of principles? Whatever. But this is what turns up from evidence borne of recorded personal testimony, direct observations of human existence, and experiments in logic. Perhaps it is not as cool as lab coats and beakers and meters and switches and DNA results, but it is fairly certain, and conclusive, as far as it goes. When you start with Pavlov and end with B.F. Skinner, you can codify the results in a simple formula: S=R+ (Stimulus equals a Positive Response). This is the core of Behaviorism, probably the most exact "soft" science there is. It may not be Evolution, but it ain't completely off that track either. Maybe on a parallel course.

To bring it all together, you may begin to see how behavior describes an Emergent Property that vets out pretty much as a popularity contest among the personality-quales via a process of selecting the right language for the right situation in the right context, based as much upon how you see others responding to a situation as from your own experience. As convoluted as this summary may seem, it is still the best psychological basis for the “easy problem” advocates to say, "We've got it under control, we can handle this", and make their Spartan stand at the Thermopolye of Consciousness. They believe this is enough solid proof to hold off the hordes of pagan Persians, the “soft” scientists, whom they regard more as “meat chauvinists” than they do Darwinists.

I hear you saying, “But, after all this, that and the other, it’s so-so-so…vague.” Of course it’s vague! Hard science gives you hard data and numbers crunched into facts; social science gives you tendencies assumed from observations of repetitions and response curves. Then, when you get into psychology, and you talk about voluntary and involuntary processes, and then the conscious vs. the unconscious…it gets really messy, Bessie!

Time to bring in the philosophers and head ‘em off at the pass!

Part 1

What has been buzzing about in my bonnet of late has been the enormous amount of magazine articles on the above-captioned subject. And, like almost everything in life, it breaks down into two camps. (Isn’t it always the way? And, you see, that’s one of the reasons I read this stuff. Like, you figure, fundamentally, there must be some explanation why things area the way they are. We weren’t all made to like killing each other or causing suffering for each other. Behaviorism, at its core, when you get beyond S=R+ shows that all human beings want the same things: love or regular sex, tenderness/warmth in an embrace not dissimilar to a caring mother’s, being liked and admired, seeing progeny grow--more or less--and prosper, having some form of creative outlet, etc. The difference has to do with how we go about getting those items in a free market society based upon capital acquisition…but enough Marx bothers...)

When it comes to the “Big Question” of What Is Consciousness? or What is the Mind? or What constitutes that which we call a “person”? or Is there a Soul? or I s there a purpose to Life? or What is God? even, you are venturing where only philosophers and religious zealots have dared go. And when you say, we seek it with Science... boy! you are asking for TROUBLE! The most telling schism, of approaches to these imponderables, of divisions into camps, is not, as you might suspect, between the religious and the secular (but it does come in, later), but those taking sides for defining it as the “easy problem” and the those defining it as the “hard problem”.

And to make it more interesting, conversely, it is Hard Science—the guys we used to see with the slide rulers in the plastic pocket protectors—that defines the “easy problem”. They are called Reductionists. This is due to their idea of where to find a resolution; to go after a series of small answers to the Big Question in calculable increments. By breaking it down into a lot of little (comparatively) results, through pure research on the technical end of things, they hope to take all these small answers to connect-the-dots, to find out just what makes up such things as emotions, pleasure, personality, memory, etc.

Charles Darwin is basis of all Reductionism, in methodology if not everything else as well (but more, there, then). It was not anything brand new, but what he got was the kind of breakthrough that shatters all that comes after it. And what was it he did? Having taken tons of tiny bits of data on the voyage of HMS Beagle and meticulously catalogued every scrap, he then mulled over their implications for ten years, finally committing himself to his “big book” only after it looked like he was going to be scooped by another naturalist. There are those who would dispute (viz, c.f.) the validity of everything above, and for them I would suggest you follow the same credo most of us have about parking tickets: You can’t fight City Hall. Less metaphorically, it means, Laws are Laws and the only reason it is still called the “Theory of Evolution” is that that was its name for so many years. (Like Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity—that's been proven over and over, yet no one has renamed it a “law”.)

Since much of what it—the Evolutionary process—involves is semi-dialectic (the Hegelian, famously, being: thesis/antithesis/synthesis) you can diagram it using the proven method of analyzing the relationship between a species and its environment. The living habitat changes (weather, climate shift, predation increase/decrease, geography alteration, etc.), forcing mutation. The mutations are in a variety of forms and the best survive and the rest die off – either through diminished reproduction or insufficient adaptation. And it is the adapted strain that becomes the new species. This is the classic Darwinian process, displaying -- as close to truth, to law, as one can be -- that all changes to the organism were and are at the furtherance of the service of Life; the capital "L" signifying the Big Concept, not the puny critter itself. Consciousness (and not just initial caps but another purposeful big "C"), then, as seen through the perspective of natural selection, could be defined as a survival-enhancing mechanism.

Ok. So This is getting pretty heavy already, right? Well, it’s just to establish the ground rules, and illustrative of my first point is this bit of graffiti I saw on the bus. (Odd place, you'd think, but I've actually seen better spontaneous wisdom than on the trains, although I do enjoy the brush-strokes underground more...) It quoted Alexander Pope's maxim: "The proper study of Man is Man," but with a twist: "The proper study of Man is zoos." I thought that was a real knee-slapper, but more, contained the same grain of truth aforementioned. If you start with the fact that we are carbon-based lifeforms, then mammals, then Homo see where I'm going with this, yes? We are the end product of a long evolutionary line, top of the food chain—if going out to restaurants is your idea of what a climax species should be doing with its crown.

What this sets up is the anthropological/biological basis for study. The standard-bearer of the Reductionists was, up until his death, Francis Crick (of Watson and Crick, DNA, remember?) and his partner, Christian Koch. And, being practical guys, they only called it "easy" because they were dealing with cause-&-effect, measurements, predictability and all its attendant tools of physicality and precision. So one of their earliest discoveries came about from one such technique: the MRI mapping of areas of the brain to discover their interconnectivity (indicating which ones become active in response to sense-oriented stimuli, which ones get used by high-order functions like feelings of compassion as opposed to which are active in REM-state, etc.), proving how neural nets/cell assemblies or “maps” work in concert. The maps are seen as having ongoing parallel signaling with massive parallel connections, and this ‘conversation’ (if you will) between the maps yields an integrated experience, a “scene” of primal consciousness called a Quale, which is something like a Memory. Another way of looking at it is parts of the brain generate maps of the organism interacting with its environment and it is the ‘conversation’ among the maps that continuously tell the ‘story’ of the organism, which is another way of saying, This is our Personality, more or less. If you like formulas (and who doesn’t?) it would look like: QUALE = MEMORY (+/-) and ALL QUALES (in conversation) = PERSONALITY (+/-).

As for the effects of certain neurotransmitters to induce repeatable states, we’ve known about seronin and serotonin for years, how dopamine lives up to its name as the ultimate pleasure pusher, and such. But there’s been a recent experiment by Swiss doctors who have been able to reproduce the same effects reported as “near-death experiences” -- that of hovering over one’s body in the operating room or the ambulance, etc. -- by toggling on/off the areas which govern vision and bodily sensations. This really ups the ante when you can create mystical transcendence via a couple of zaps.

And, when you get into both the affect and the effect of the powers of Language on just about ever aspect of existence, then you are bordering on the grayest area of grey matter gravy. (But more on this later, as well.)

Science (being, classically, nothing more than the study of things which can be proven by repetition of results and the submission of those results for peer review and criticism until a general consensus is reached) is, by and large, the best place to begin as it is something that most people (outside of certain school districts in Kansas, Oklahoma and the Bible Belt, at least in the USA) can readily agree with. So, like any good Cartesian dualist (“I think, therefore I am” being pretty much accepted as the first statement of the mind/body split-- res extensa being the material and res cogitans being thought —to have as much an effect on Western Civilization as Plato’s division of psyche from soul), they—our heroes of Hard Science—went ahead and looked for manifestations of the mechanisms, the gears and springs and cogs in the clock.

They want to know what makes us tick. Literally.

And now, for a slight digression.

In an unusually contemplative moment, the caliph of Baghdad pondered: ‘What is this life? Is it what the Hindus call Maya -- a veil that separates us from eternal truth? Or is it a test of our wills and hearts, put forth by the Divine One, to see if we are worthy to enter Paradise? Or perhaps some small part of the Greeks might hold the key as our geometry and astronomy would be naught if not for the teachings of Euclid? We may certainly rely on numbers, but what are they? And if we doubt numbers, then what of letters? To the masters of the Kabbalah, they are the same...’

These questions plagued the caliph’s dreams and vexed his waking hours, and so, as his city was also one of the world’s greatest centers of thought and learning, combining scholars from Greece and Cathay, Talmudic Hebrews and Indian followers of the Upanishads, he invited the wisest philosophers and teachers, along with diplomats, businessmen and religious leaders, to his palace for a month-long banquet. There, he fed them sumptuously and offered wines, sweets and coffee. Also, to relax the mind and create a harmonious atmosphere, he brought in musicians, singers and poets, dancing girls and concubines, and jugglers, fire-eaters, contortionists, sword-swallowers, and other entertainments. In this way, he hoped to foster an atmosphere of open and unprejudiced exchange, wherein all would feel free to speak of the subtlest and most radical thoughts without fear of reprisal. However, by the time the feasting and discussion had wound down, he had heard many answers yet none satisfied him.

After the best and the brightest had withdrawn, he walked the halls of his palace deep in rumination, his faithful seneschal ever at his elbow, observing the stragglers snoring at the tables uncleared by his serving staff. In one of the last chambers, somewhere between the kitchens and the stables, thick with the haze of clove cigarettes and hookah fumes, he found a nervous jewish tummler, sweating at a podium as he ran through a series of bad riddles, his sole audience: a Venetian publican famed for his dispensing of good advice (along with his spirits), still standing and yawning at his taps, another whose shaven head and saffron robes identified the wearer as a buddhist monk, and Hakim, a well-known rug merchant.

“So, there was this caravanseri who walked into an oasis and said-”

“Marone! This is the third time you have told that tale, Lev,” the publican groans. “Give it a rest!’

“Ok, ok, ok. I got a good one! A new one, a new one! Ok? Well, you know about the caliph, right, about why he threw this shindig, right? About all these questions everybody’s been yammering about for the past month, right?”

At this sudden shift of tone, the caliph draws back into the folds of the damask curtain in the archway. The publican rolls his eyes and his hand, a gesture approximating, ‘Yeah, move it along’. Hakim nods and shrugs. The monk sits perfectly still.

Lev continues. “Ok. So, I’m telling my cousin Hymie--you know? ‘Honest Hymie, Baghdad’s #1 source for previously-owned dromedaries’? Third stall from the left off the South Casbah?”

Here, Hakim interjects, “Yes, I know the son of a she-goat who mated with a serpent. The last nag he sold me as ‘just weaned off the Silk Road and her mother’s milk’ was a walking flea colony, blind in one eye and its second hump was from bone disease!”

“A used camel-dealer?” The publican gapes, “You’d discuss the caliph’s concerns with a cheap huckster of damaged goods?”

“Not cheap, not cheap!” Lev is quick to explain, “Inexpensive. Reasonably-priced. At any rate, Hymie, who is a very wise man--lots of rabbis have been known to haggle with him for hours--Hymie says, when I tell him what’s going on, he says: Lev, sounds to me like the caliph has a classic case of the old parable from the Burmese called ‘Nine Ways Of Describing An Elephant’.”

At this, the publican stops wiping out the goblets, Hakim stops puffing his water pipe and even the monk seems to sit straighter, more attentive without moving a muscle. “This I have not heard of,” says the publican. “And I’ve been around. How does that go?”

“I said the same thing to Hymie, and he said: ‘Among the people of the plains, there was a fakir who blinded himself in order not to be tempted by the ways of the flesh and desires of life. Such was his fame that eventually he picked up a few disciples along the way, who also renounced sight in order to have a clearer vision, and they numbered eight in all. Such as it was, they would wander from town to village, offering blessings in turn for food and shelter, traveling along with the fakir in the lead and each behind him with his hand on the shoulder of the other in a train. It was when they had left the plains for the hills, where, in the deepest of forests, they were suddenly scattered about by a tremendous force. When they tried to gather an impression of where they were, they were sore confused. The fakir then asked each to describe what it was that had so disturbed their contemplations. And as each reached out, they spoke of what they could feel: the bark of a tree, a snake, a rope, a velvet leaf, a wall of wrinkled vines, a slimy snail in its shell, a sharp spear, and a row of stones. The fakir himself then reached out and his fingers closed around a flattish knob of moss which then howled and spurted goo all over his arm. At this, the fakir jumped up and screamed, “WE ARE BESET BY DEMONS! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!” All the disciples fled in different directions becoming forever lost in the forests, never to be heard of again. But a woodsman, who was gathering fuel nearby, watched this all happen and told a different tale to his wife. ‘Talk about crazy? All these blind guys get scattered by an elephant, get up, and one touches a leg, another the trunk, another the tail, another the ear, another the side, another puts his hand in its mouth, another the tusk, and another the toenails. When the last guy grabs its nose, the poor animal has to sneeze, snot goes flying, the old man yells something and everybody takes off like a chinese fire drill!'” Lev claps for himself, laughs and tries to egg on his few spectators to do the same…who only sit in a stony silence.

The publican breaks the tension. “So that’s ‘Nine Ways of Describing an Elephant,’ is it? Is there some kind of moral that goes along with it?”

Lev, supremely disappointed by the lack of a standing ovation, merely adds, “Well, I actually asked Hymie the same thing, but he had to go off as this new sheik came in looking to outfit a van for the Negev, so he never got around to answering me. I dunno. Maybe it’s like, you know, what they say: The Devil is in the Details, hah?”

Hakim, peeling a final grape, makes a moue and pouts. “We say the same thing about god.”

The publican weighs them both and adds his two dinars. “I’d say it’s all in the process, isn’t it?”

Then the monk rises from his cushion. “This has been most illuminating,” and bows to the stage and the other two. “Thank you all for your valuable contributions. I must be going back to my lamasery, but, before I take my leave of you I would like to offer my humble opinion. If my master were here, I am certain he would approve my observation of moral: It all depends on where you stand.”

At this, the caliph slumps into the curtains, his seneschal jumping to his aid, only to find his master bent double suppressing a terrible attack of mirth. When he catches his breath, it is only long enough to say to his servant. “Go back to the chief eunuch of my harem and tell him I want some Lebanese blonde. And then get my hashish dealer and tell him the same.”

Which (if you have been scratching your head until you’ve got blood in your dandruff you may now cease) leads back to my original point on the “easy problem”. You’ve got one referring to it as a “thing”, another, as the system that generates the Qualia, and another as the central mechanism that directs how it is employed. THEY ARE ALL DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE SUBJECT WHOLE, see?

(much more on this later)


...another scribbler with too much time on his hands.

However, before beginning this, it seems like a good place to say just why this exists.

A few years back, there was a period where Time and U.S. News & World Report, as well as the NYT, were all publishing articles on the above-captioned subject. I became fascinated and took some notes, just so I wouldn't get lost in the thick of it. This coincided with some philosophical avenues I was exploring as well. Suffice it to say, when one starts feeding into another, there is a tendency to get overwhelmed by information, especially when you have no one to share these really weird thought with. The funny thing was, though, I did have a correspondent, a young lawyer who was on a dull document review case and asked me if I had anything to relieve the boredom when she took a break. That started me off sending the first two e-mails.

That sort of died out when she told me it was a little too... (well, you'll see) It lay dormant until I got a job at another firm and struck up a similar conversations with another lawyer. His interest piqued mine as well and I went back to the material. I will speculate that it was the "fallow field" (in case you are unaware of the term, it comes from some aspect of farming, where the acreage is left unplanted and untilled for a few seasons, just to let the nutrients re-accumulate) which let the next crop germinate unbeknowst to me, until I started harvesting the next couple sections.

I hit something of an impasse then because what I wanted to end it with was not really ending where the research led me. There was something else out there that kept me digging.

I do not actually want to call the end of this a "EUREKA!" moment. It was more like an "oh...yeah...right..." kind of thang. As I write this, it still exists only in notes, but the purpose here is to finally finish it, just for the hell of it.

If you read what follows and like it, great. If you read it and don't, I would be fascinated to have any input on where my logic/proofs/suppositions/premises, whatever, fails. I can't pretend to argue like a master, but, having put this together as rigorously as possible and taken pains to pick at every last nit of error and confusion, I can't see where I've gone wrong.

So I leave it to you.