East is East & West is West
[(12/17) This started out to be a contrast of the prophetic vs. pantheist traditions, but I was soon distracted with the metaphysics of existence, until the last paragraphs. My plan this morning is to again take up this contrast, but now in the context of Creation, on the next page.]
And now the twain will meet. (And once again, as you see, I ran out of parchment.)
Yes, I have given lip service to the immaterialism of the East, but the next step is, as usual, well past due. Not being under the Inquisitional pall that has dogged the prophetic West, the East is more like a Rorschach inkblot. You cannot peer into that multifaceted pattern without catching at least a glimpse of your own reflection. I am making no claims as to objectivity, that is not my shtick, anyhow. Objectivity is not the Eastern shtick, either.
The linking of the immaterialism of East & West will finally push immaterialism over the top, and it may happen in our lifetimes. It will also be the death of that Inquisitional step-child, fundamentalism, scourge of the prophetic tradition.
It is true that reductionists of various shades have found comfort in the metaphysics of the East, but, trust me, we immaterialists will be finding ammunition. The East was way ahead of the West in deconstructing God and Self. And that is always a useful exercise in anti-absolutism. But unlike our materialists, they long ago moved beyond reductive nihilism. Those moves will be most instructive to us postmoderns.
Does the East have anything to learn from the West, besides building bombs? Yes, they will be learning about the Second Coming and the BPW, yes, and Singularity. And it may go easier for them, not being trapped in orthodoxy to our extent.
'Buddhist reductionism' -- Mark Siderits (1997):
There has been much recent discussion concerning the relation between Parfit's Reductionism and the view of persons to be found in early Buddhism and Abhidharma. Some have claimed that Parfit is wrong to see in the Buddhist position an important anticipation of his own view-since the Buddhist view is not, as he supposes, Reductionist, but rather Eliminativist. Others suggest that while certain of the Abhidharma schools might have held a Reductionist position, early Buddhism may defensibly be interpreted as Non-Reductionist in character.
Parfit distinguishes between two versions of Non-Reductionism: the view that persons are separately existing entities (such as Cartesian Egos) and the view that while we are not separately existing entities, the existence of a person involves a further fact, over and above the "more particular facts" of the existence of a brain and body and the occurrence of a series of interrelated physical and psychological events.
I think we can settle these disputes by realizing that we exist in the mind of God and vice versa. But what about atheists, animals and atoms? How do they exist? Parasitically. Parasitism is the whole game: nothing is exempt. It is not fair to say that people are a cancer on the world. With monism there is a coherent spectrum, and perhaps a Wilberian spectrum of consciousness, too. Nothing is subtractable from or addable to the singular BPW, and everything in its own time and place, including revolution. Just as we become God, so does God become us. The singular cosmic cycle is one big revolution. Am I a singularity nut? No, just a monist nut. Am I opposed to diversity and ultraterrestrial civilizations? What is ultimately coherent is what we get. That's all. The only thing missing are the square circles. However, it may be possible to square the circle using the Monster group, along with a non-standard analysis of some kind. Never say Never.
Personal identity, like a flame, is a process. We can relight the candle at any time, especially when we realize that both candle and flame are figments of the cosmic imagination. And we can always play it again, Sam. You and I could be instant replays. Everything is play and replay. Does that violate singularity? The exceptions prove the rule. Past, present and future, memory and anticipation are not as distinct as we pluralists sometimes like to think.
The doctrine of the two truths distinguishes between what is called conventional truth and ultimate truth. [...] This device allows us to resolve the seeming contradictions in Nagasena's position. When he claims that adult and infant are neither the same person nor distinct persons, he is stating what he takes to be an ultimate truth. Since persons are conceptual fictions, any claim concerning the identity over time of a person must be ultimately false. His assertion that adult and infant are the same person he takes to be only conventionally true.
No. This is not coherent. Persons and concepts of persons are not distinct. The world is a fiction. It is literally a cosmic narrative. The ontic and epistemic are no more distinct that the analytic and synthetic. Holism is the only game in town.
Distinctions are fictions. They are useful pedagogical devices. Just don't take them too seriously. Should we take the world seriously. Yes, some of the time, because it's the only one we'll every really get.
But let's go back to Vasubandhu with Matthew, and some free association. It does not make much sense to say that a perceived object is composed of invisible atoms. A silver atom does not conduct electricity, but silver does. A chariot is more than the sum of its parts. Each part of a chariot has an irreducibly functional existence. Can we distinguish between the chariot and our concepts of it? How? But what about the Earth's molten iron core? Or that distant supernova? The fact is that the iron came from a supernova: one logically entails the other. But does logic exist apart from reason? But what about simple causality? Causality is contextual to a high degree. So is existence. Does anyone claim that relational contexts are mind independent?
But surely there are unobserved supernovas and planets. Yes, but only as a logical background to the actuality of our experience. That which is superfluous to experience is as inconceivable as a square circle, and with no more claim to existence. The larger context is the Best Possible World. The BPW and idealism are mutually dependent. Anything else is inchoate. Contexts cannot be inchoate. Existence is relational, but the whole of it is all or nothing. Existence is complete. Existence and meaning are practically synonymous and they share a thoroughly holistic nature.
A question in my mind concerns the decentralization of causation. Coherence and the Principle of Sufficient Reason might seem to invoke a single source of causation. With the Big Bang theory there is a single cause, everything else is mechanics. Can we invoke some of that mechanics and not conflict with the PSR? In our case it is an idealized mechanics that facilitates the equitable distribution of agency throughout Creation. This has to do with the idea of the level playing field amongst the creatures, where the action is metabolically constrained. What is the nature of those constraints in the case of immaterialism? Can we substitute logic for physics, or is there even a difference? Can we not invoke logic in the manner that Physics invokes mathematics?
Also at our disposal are memory and habit to serve as constraints. And, of course, there are atoms, which exist in the appropriate circumstances. But atoms are no longer the sole, or even the primary mediators of action, even in the inorganic realm. Nature is replete with habitual, cyclical processes in which the creatures participate.
How does non-atomic water learn how to behave? Who takes it to school, and where? But first, let it be noted that we do not have an atomic theory of water. Starting from quantum physics, no one has derived the vital bulk properties of water. Non-physicists would be shocked to find out how irreducible are virtually all the physical processes in the world. They all come under the rubric of 'phenomenology'. 95% of physics is not derived from basic principles. Actually make that 99.9%. Even at the level of elementary particles, 95% of the 'Physics' is phenomenological, and that's being conservative. It takes the most powerful computers in the world hours to make even crude estimates of one quark hitting another. And as for 'string theory', we don't even have the algorithms to put into the computers. Has any one ever wondered how the heck the particles know how to behave? Is there an even bigger computer in heaven? The whole idea of materialism and reductionism is so absurd, it is easily the biggest put-on in history. It is a conspiracy so vast and effective that only God could have pulled it off, thank you. If you think I'm kidding, well, ask your neighborhood physicist. We need some fresh ideas.
Back to water. If quarks don't explain water, then what does? The story starts with God dreaming about going for a swim. Is this being too crude? In the not so long-run, it will provide a more robust understanding of water than quarks can ever hope to. God likes the concept of water. So let's work it into history, and see how our characters respond. Shall we say that the creatures go with the flow?
But wait, how is God able to dream without a brain? I could ask you how you are able to dream with a brain, but I'm too nice of a guy to ask rhetorical questions. The point is that since we have not the slightest idea of the nature of the causal relation between mind and matter, it is totally arbitrary to suppose that one is logically prior to the other. But regardless of the logical precedence, the main problem of explaining the world comes with having to explain self-organization. Am I being biased in suggesting that the concept and functions of selves is much more amenable to the realm of mind than it is too matter?
But why should brains exist if they are not necessary for experience? What does the PSR say about this? Any 3-D game requires 3-D objects of various kinds. Animated sensory agents would be essential for most such purposes. Having sensory organs that are correlated with sensory capacities would seem pretty reasonable. Does that mean that God had to sit down and design eyes and ears? I would doubt it. God just imagines the main contexts and then lets the protagonists work out their own optimizations. It is self-selection, operating at the level of the self, not the DNA. That is what we are here for. The chemistry would work itself out later. Even Darwin would not feel terribly slighted. Continuity of forms is a major aspect of coherence.
Despite the lack of any known causal or logical connection between mind and brain, neuroscientists do find a high degree of correlation between the two realms. How do we explain such correlation if it is not causal?
The materialists go about explaining everything from the bottom up. They have no other choice. Materialism is simply the rule of atoms. We immaterialists have more choice. With our panpsychism, we can invoke upward and downward causation. With only one direction of causation permitted to the materialists, they can explain only half of the world, and it is the half that, by definition, is unobservable. What a shame!
Mind-body correlation is simple for us immaterialists. On the 'zeroth approximation' it's all in the mind: the cosmic mind, that is. But for the benefit of the creatures we need higher levels complexity. On the first level, we invoke bodies to be the foci of individual creaturely minds. One body, one mind. The body could be marionette, or a computer sprite that we move around on the world stage by remote control, but that would be artificial and clumsy. Consider the concept of natural continuity and integration of mind and matter. This is the only reasonable way to proceed with Creation. How much of the design work does God have to do? I think, not much.
Obviously mind is a powerful organizer. It can organize upwardly and downwardly. Upwardly through voluntary cooperation, downwardly by individual will-power. We can profitably remain agnostic about the pre-creational state of the cosmic mind, particularly as to the degree of its integration. In other words, the primordial level of entropy remains indeterminate. Primordial self-organization could have taken many forms and operated on many levels before the BPW began to take shape. This multi-level action would proceed into the domain of Creation proper, involving the BPW. The cooling down of the mental entropy leading to multifaceted symmetry breaking would have occurred on many levels, with just the minimum necessary coordination from on high. There would always be an ecology of mind. The symmetry breaking represents the formation of the interdependent ecological niches. There would, in effect be a self-speciation of mind, with the attendant bodily forms being gradually optimized through habituation. The potency of an evolutionary-style chain-of-being would play a major role in coordinating this process. It is through this back door that Darwinism enters the picture. The molecular details of the genetics can work itself out in the fullness of time. Very likely the Genome projects are, in a quantum-like or even alchemical fashion, forcing the molecular arrangements into their definite states, as we speak. If this sounds too teleological, well, that is the whole point of the Eschaton, so we had better get used to it.
During this whole ecological self-organizing process the integration of body and mind proceeds by all means on all levels. A seamless integration that we call Nature is the result. The further we probe the brain, the greater the resolution that we will find. But what will that prove? Not much.
Evolution is a great and compelling story. But is it the whole story? On its own terms, yes, it is. Do we have reason to suspect those terms? Our primary reason for suspicion has to do with the existence and nature of the mind. There are significant aspects of the mind which seem superfluous to the scheme of evolution. But if mind does seem profligate, we readily acknowledge that it is not evolution's only seeming profligacy. There being no objective measure of profligacy, we are left with anecdotes.
The primary feature of the mind is its organizational ability. This is also, of course, the primary feature of evolution. The issue of the completeness of Darwinian evolution obviously hinges upon its capacity to account for the natural order, not just in its details, but in toto. The Darwinists are comforted by the lack of any organizational measure. Natural selection could well suffice. Surely it accounts for some of the order, so why not all of it? Why drag in other speculative causes? Where is the compulsion to do so?
What is the rationale to consider alternatives to Darwin? The human mind is naturally speculative, why thwart it? Yet there is palpable resistance to such speculation. There is certainly no institutional support for the sort of fundamental speculation you see on these pages. And one does not have to be a brain surgeon to understand why.
Civilization has always been a precarious balance of competing forces, as is all of nature. Just ask Darwin. New ideas can and have disrupted that balance. Ask any scientist, politician or theologian. In fact, the outstanding standoff, the one that actually defines modernity, is the balance between science and religion. That armistice is based on one speculative metaphysical idea: the Cartesian dichotomy of mind and matter.
It is true that many scientists and philosophers are being paid to nibble around the edges of that dichotomy. The result of all that nibbling seems only to have been a reinforcement of Descartes' original intuition. Not too surprising considering the sponsors. Nonetheless, the apparent intractability of the Cartesian gap is a thorn in the side of evolution. A thorn not diminished by time.
The amazing and accelerating progress being made in molecular genetics across the entire spectrum of evolution, is serving to highlight the Cartesian gap in our understanding of the natural order. There has also been considerable progress in neuroscience, but none that speaks directly to the Gap. There has been comparable progress in Artificial Intelligence, but that too has provoked no new insights into the Gap. There is no discernable research program that directly addresses the issue. No such program has even been suggested that has been endorsed by anyone beyond its original proponent. Behaviorism and functionalism are the apparent exceptions, but the wide consensus is that they are failed stratagems aimed primarily at ignoring the problem.
David Chalmers' characterization of this Gap as the toughest intellectual challenge ever, has been widely touted. No one has offered a cogent demurral of this characterization.
At some point we will give up nibbling at this problem. There are already clear signs of fatigue on the part of even the most conscientious nibblers. If nibbling won't suffice, there is but one reasonable alternative. Swallow the problem whole. Such a strategy can only be based on an essentially non-reductive metaphysic. But what is that?
There is plenty of talk these days of emergence. What is that? It is non-reductive metaphysics. If it is the answer, what sort of answer is it? The basic issue is whether the term 'non-reductive naturalism' is oxymoronic or not. Is it fair to say that modernity hangs in this balance? Almost certainly.
By definition, emergence cannot be explained from the bottom up. It is non-reductive. But what would a natural explanation look like? There seems only to be the hope that a lot of little gaps will add up to the big Gap. Voila, the big Gap is reduced to little gaps, and modern life proceeds: business almost as usual.
There is a slight problem. No one agrees on how even to begin to carve up the mind. The mind has no agreed upon joints or seams. This fact does not bode well for naturalism. How do we begin to explain the mind if we cannot begin to analyze it. If nibbling doesn't work, people will try gobbling. But there is no evidence that anyone has even gotten their teeth into the problem. Non-reductive naturalism appears to be a non-starter, when it comes to dealing with the problem it is intended to solve. If nature tolerates one indigestible entity, the next entity in line will be the whole mind.
But wait. Is there not clear evidence that mind evolved? Yes, as long as we don't make the additional Cartesian assumption that all other animals are insentient. There is no clear reason for assuming that the snail's mind is not some fraction of ours. So there! We just have to figure out which fraction it is. And there's the rub. How can we speak intelligently of any scheme of fractionation without penetrating the mind in question? And, yet, even with all the benefits of language, to what extent can we penetrate our own individual minds or those of our closest acquaintances? We have another non-starter.
[I have a theory that snails are smarter than humans. Snails exist almost entirely in their collective unconscious, which ought to be rather more capacious than our individual consciousness. QED.]
Anyone for brain surgery? That is where we are with neuroscience: reasonably sophisticated brain maps, correlated with a spectrum of subjective experience. Those brush strokes are so broad that we cannot even distinguish between the connectionist and computationalist aspects of the mind, except to realize that neither model nor any combination of them is making sense or even getting us to square one with natural intelligence. Is there some new breakthrough model out there just waiting to be discovered? If it is non-computational, non-connectionist, non-reductive, non-local, non-verbal, non-mechanical, etc., aren't we running out of possible metaphors? This is why, in our desperation, would-be cognitivists turn to the strangeness of the Quantum in what appears to many as a last resort of naturalistic(?) speculation. But the Quantum is a decidedly mixed bag for naturalists. Its paradoxical reliance on observational processes and openness to unobservable processes renders it rife for dualistic speculation. But that is why it is so attractive to its proponents.
I'm not suggesting that naturalistic research be terminated. The naturalists should be given more than enough rope to hang themselves. We non-naturalists can afford to be generous in that regard. History indicates that research programs almost always implode from within (pleonastically?). What I am suggesting is that, Golly, maybe we should think about alternatives to naturalism. And, Gosh, what might those be? Let me think. Non-naturalism? How about something with a bit more of a ring to it?
But never mind. Heck, I kinda like being the only (Is it a fact?) non-naturalist speculator on the Web. It's a conversation piece at cocktail parties or a great pick-up line. And enough of this frivolity!
East & West? This was supposed to be the topic.
I have remarked previously on the seeming unfairness of the prophetic tradition. Prior to the advent of the electronic media, prophecy was a decidedly local phenomenon. 'Accidents', speaking colloquially, of birth and history would be paramount in determining who had access to what traditions. However, given Universalism, these 'accidents' are rectified in the end.
One of these 'accidents' was the compartmentalization of the prophetic and pantheist or immaterialist traditions. Had there not been this compartmentalization, there would not have been the opportunity for a dramatic convergence of the theist and pantheist traditions, attendant upon the exhaustion of materialism: a dramatic turn toward theistic idealism providing an intellectual revolution that would be integral to a messianic or parousiac event. The working out of the mutual completion of those two traditions would be nearly universally accessible in real time. Everyone could participate in one manner or another.
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