Throwing Down the Gauntlet (8): Conclusion and Vision Manifold

The question of morality brings us to the apex of our consideration. The hard problem of consciousness is not merely a quibble for academics to perennially organise conferences around. Instead it is an expression of the deepest spiritual questions of our age, which no “single vision” has the faintest hope of adequately addressing.

And twofold always.—May God us keep

From single vision, and Newton’s sleep! [1]

To suppose physics can be divorced from metaphysics is an error we have attempted to illustrate in this investigation, sometimes exchanging these terms for “evidence” & “paradigm,” “fact” & “theory,” or “science “ & “philosophy” while retaining roughly the same meaning. We must also affirm that science (and physics, and metaphysics, etc…) cannot be divorced from ethics without conceding our confidence in the former’s ability to tell us about the world or the latter’s ability to tell us how to live in it:

And threefold in soft Beulah’s night,

Morality is a question of how to live in the world, and it is a question which cannot even be posed unless we know what sort of place the world is. “Ex fructibus eorum cognoscetis eos.” [2] In other words, a continual mindfulness of our operative paradigm confronts us not only as a scientific, but as a moral imperative. Indeed, that these two appear divisible is, in the first place, an immediate function of interpreting the question through the very paradigm that methodologically divides them. The same paradigm that ignores gradients of qualitative value as a methodological tenet has nothing to offer one who with concerns in this respect, and we all have concerns in this respect, since “Sorge (“care” or “concern”) is the structure of Dasein itself.” [3] Thus, when Metzinger asserts that “there is a new image of man emerging out of genetics and neuroscience…It is strictly unmetaphysical,” [4] he is not merely making a scientific statement. Indeed, he acknowledges that the “self-knowledge” that modern science has delivered challenges traditional notions of the human being, Western or otherwise. Metzinger himself seems intuitively aware of the implications as he continues:

[Neuroscience suggests that] “There is no such thing as a soul,” and “You are basically a gene-copying device,” and it is not clear what that will do to us. A chasm will open between the rich, educated, and secularized parts of mankind on the planet and those who for whatever reason have chosen to live their lives outside the scientific view of the world, and outside the scientific image of man.

In this light, what may have hitherto struck the reader a confusion of issues between the hard problem of consciousness, the history of science and philosophy, and human nature itself will justify itself in this revelation of implicit unity. The hard problem is a single facet of something for which one finds no suitable name. A naïve realism supposes there is a world on one side and consciousness on the other, but we have already revealed the superstition inherent in this manner of thinking. Given there exists no plausible explanation for the emergence of consciousness from unconscious processes (or qualia from non-qualitative stuff etc…), one were better off not to posit it in the first place. It is arbitrary to posit a world outside of consciousness. Instead, they are correlative. The hard problem of consciousness, therefore, is a problem of the world itself.

While Dennett and Metzinger insist on “facing up” to hard problem of consciousness from within the paradigm of modern science and are bound, therefore, to bear witness against themselves by denying the existence of the very thing which they enlist for the denial (i.e. what would an unconscious denial consist in?), Chalmers and Nagel argue for an alternative approach. The title of a 2012 work by the latter, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False conveys Nagel’s standpoint in no uncertain terms. Both Chalmers and Nagel have sympathetically considered the notion of panpsychism, which amounts to a resolution of the hard problem not by questioning the notion of a conscious mind, but that of inert, unconscious matter. Panpsychism is, in fact, a doctrine that is as old as the hills, and Chalmers’ and Nagel’s position is notable for its historical context more than its content. Indeed, Plato’s “likely account” of cosmogenesis from the Timaeus conveys the spirit of panpsychism in the most expressive manner:

The Demiurge (Architect)…engendered lōgos (λόγος ) within psyche (ψυχή), and psyche within soma (σῶμα) as He fashioned the All, that so the work He was executing might be of its nature most fair and most good. Thus, then, in accordance with the likely account, we must declare that this Cosmos has verily come into existence as a Living Creature endowed with psyche and lōgos owing to the providence of God. (28a)

The philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead, embracing the project of philosophy as a “series of footnotes to Plato,” opted for a panpsychist metaphysics to develop a comprehensive paradigm to reconcile science with immediate experience. In the early hours of this exploration, we also offered a brief treatment of approaches by Berkeley, Leibniz, and Spinoza. Thus, it is apparent that insisting that consciousness be explained in terms of unconscious processes is not the only way to face up to the hard problem. Personally, the most sensible approach to me seems to be (in the lineage of Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, J. W von Goethe, Rudolf Steiner, Owen Barfield, and many other eminent thinkers of the Realist tradition before the scientific revolution rendered that term became synonymous with Materialist, but rather when Realism retained its natural connection with res and with rhei; when it referred to the original identity of thinking and being, the spiritual unity whereof thinking and being are two facets—in the words of the goddess: “for the same can be thought as that can be”) that consciousness is the obverse of the external world.

In any case, following this exploration, we must conclude that the methods of modern science are unsuited to solve the hard problem of consciousness because it is precisely the paradigm that the former assumes that creates the latter in the first place. We have attempted to trace trace the aetiology of this conception and to understand its implications. One is left to affirm the impossibility of explaining consciousness from anything other than itself because any explanation presupposes it. An explanation implies consciousness because an unconscious explanation is a contradiction in terms. It is possible to write it, or say it, or argue for it at a conference or an opinion piece, etc…but it is impossible to mean it. Any theory that not only fails to account for, but literally denies to one, the ability to theorise, is a theory in need of improvement.

Now I a fourfold vision see,
And a fourfold vision is given to me;
’Tis fourfold in my supreme delight,
And threefold in soft Beulah’s night,
And twofold always.—May God us keep
From single vision, and Newton’s sleep!


***    Finis ***

Thank you to my readers who have joined me in this Odyssey.

Blake’s “Newton,” first completed in 1795, but reworked and reprinted in 1805.

[1] William Blake, “Letter to Thomas Butt,” 22 November 1802. Quoted in Geoffrey Keynes (ed.), The Letters of William Blake (1956).

[2] “By their fruits shall ye know them…” Matthew 7:20.

[3] Heidegger, The History of the Concept of Time, 293.

[4] From Susan Blackmore, Conversations of Consciousness. “Interview with Thomas Metzinger in Conversations on Consciousness,” Oxford University Press, 2006, 150.

The full paragraph from Metzinger is quoted as follows:

There is a new image of man emerging out of genetics and neuroscience, one which will basically contradict all other images of man that we have had in the Western tradition. It is strictly unmetaphysical; it is absolutely incompatible with the Christian image of man; and it may force us to confront our mortality in a much more direct way than we have ever before in our history. It may close the door on certain hopes people have had, not only scientists and philosophers but all of us, such as that maybe somehow consciousness could exist without the brain after death. People will still want to believe something like that. But just as people will actually still think that the sun revolves around the earth—people whom you basically laugh at and don’t take seriously any more. So there’s a reductive anthropology that may come to us, and it may come faster than we are prepared for it; it may come as an emotionally sobering experience to many people particularly in developing countries, who make up 80% of human beings, and still have a metaphysical image of man, haven’t ever heard anything about neuroscience, don’t want to hear anything about neural correlates of consciousness, want to keep on living in their metaphysical world-view as they have for centuries.

[4] My laborious translation of the goddess’ affirmation to Parmenides: “τὸ γὰρ αὐτὸ νοεῖν ἔστιν τε καὶ εἶναι.” (DK 28 B 3)



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14 Comments Add yours

  1. Hesiod says:

    You’ve thrown down the gauntlet indeed Max! While I have had the time to only read through a few of your posts, when I have the time I will undoubtedly be spending it in careful reading over all eight posts.

    Bravo!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Max Leyf says:

      Thank you, Paul. I hope that you feel the same once you know what I actually wrote 😜

      Like

  2. Eric Cates says:

    Max, I appreciate the Nietzschean blend of the poetic and philosophical in your series of posts on the hard problem here, as well as the illuminating etymological notes. Your points about the mathematizing, abstracting, experience-subtracting methodology of modern science are reminiscent of points made by Raymond Tallis in Of Time and Lamentation. I think that Dennett’s and Metzinger’s views are more nuanced than you portray them (we can go into that if you’d like), though I agree with your critique of Metzinger concerning things vs. processes and his unnecessarily paradoxical way of framing personal identity. My main questions are: 1) Why would determinism spell the death of philosophy? (many philosophers are determinists, after all), and 2) What new method of scientific investigation of consciousness do you propose, which goes beyond the practices of current neurophenomenology (that is, beyond introspection, phenomenological reports, observations of behavior, and neuroscientific experiments)?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Max Leyf says:

      Hello Eric, thank you for the kind words and the very considered questions. I agree with you that Dennett’s and Metzinger’s views are more nuanced than I portray them. It is probably clear from the piece that I am less interested in what individual people think than I am in understanding the issue at hand. Thank you for your point though. I have a bit of an appendix to this, but I will include it as a second comment later. I will do my best to answer your questions concisely and clearly.

      (1) Determinism is antithetical to philosophy because if every process were determined, then there would be nothing separate to notice this, since this noticing would be just part of this same concatenation of effects. This necessity of a reflective consciousness (as opposed to mere sentience, for instance) explains why philosophy as we think of it started relatively recently in human history and under very specific conditions, and why it is impertinent to suppose the practice of philosophy is relevant to angels or to animals.

      (2) I tried to outline what I take to be amongst the most promising alternative to the conventional scientific method in other studies I have posted on Theoria-press. Specifically in the series on Goethe’s way of science (https://theoriapress.wordpress.com/2019/03/27/goethean-science-1-introduction-and-an-evaluation-of-methods-and-principles/), and “On Truth” (https://theoriapress.wordpress.com/2019/07/12/on-truth-1-introduction-mythos-logos/). Thank you again for your comments.

      Sincerely,
      Max

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Eric Cates says:

        Hi Max, thanks for your replies. I will check out the posts you mentioned and get back to you later this weekend regarding a new scientific method, the relation between determinism and reflective consciousness, and the representation of others’ views in the pursuit of truth. On a slightly tangential note: is it really true that angels are unreflective creatures according to Jewish or Christian mythology? Is this based on a comment by Aquinas in the Summa Theologica, perhaps? At least Milton’s Lucifer seemed pretty reflective to me. I suppose that angels, “messengers,” could simply be the mouthpieces of Yahweh, spouting out his proclamations without pondering anything. However, one might wonder whether a creature that exhibits so much intelligence that it could be confused for a human being (as happens in several biblical stories) wouldn’t also have the capacity for reflection. I suppose, too, that I like to imagine heavenly symposiums in which angelic philosophers debate how many humans can stand on the point of the Space Needle 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Max Leyf says:

        Yes, thank you for making these distinctions about angelic intelligences. I am using “reflective” to indicate the capacity for present consciousness to recall prior sequences of thought. In fact, being in the past is a condition for us to become conscious of a thought in ordinary consciousness. Struggling to recall a dream offers a very telling example of this phenomenon: obviously you were in some way present during the active elaboration of the dream, but both you as a concept as well as the dream as an object both come to consciousness only through reflection. In this way, self-consciousness and the objective world arise together and are contingent on one another.

        Animal consciousness never separates itself from the stream of present experience. For this reason, animals have no self-consciousness (i.e. self-concept as a stable orientation point amidst the flux of experience) nor concept of the external world. Instead of an external world, they experience immediate “affordances” or behaviour-potentials, which are neither subjective nor objective.

        Angles are unreflective because their consciousness is not narcissistic in that it does not depend on being mirrored to know itself. It is intuitive in contrast to reflective.

        I hope something I said will spark your interest or imagination.

        Like

      3. Max Leyf says:

        Apropos arguing over their brethren on the Space Needle, this should indicate Thomas “Doctor Angelicus” Aquinas’ perspective:

        Some, however, have been deceived in this matter. For some who were unable to go beyond the reach of their imaginations supposed the indivisibility of the angel to be like that of a point; consequently they thought that an angel could be only in a place which is a point. But they were manifestly deceived, because a point is something indivisible, yet having its situation; whereas the angel is indivisible, and beyond the genus of quantity and situation. Consequently there is no occasion for determining in his regard one indivisible place as to situation: any place which is either divisible or indivisible, great or small suffices, according as to his own free-will he applies his power to a great or to a small body. So the entire body to which he is applied by his power, corresponds as one place to him.

        (Summa Theologica, 1.52.2)

        Like

      4. Eric Cates says:

        Hi again, Max! Regarding determinism and philosophy: I do think that the reflective consciousness that makes philosophy possible is a physical process, and therefore a part of the chain of physical events. It does not require anything separate from that causal chain. Can you explain why you think that is a problem? (For more about my views on consciousness, please see my recent couple of posts about the hard problem: https://vertiginousquestions.com/2019/09/08/why-is-there-a-link-between-physical-and-conscious-events-part-1/).

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Max Leyf says:

        Hello Eric,

        Thank you for your comment. Briefly, I think it is problematic to explain consciousness through an appeal to purely physical processes because of what we mean by “physical,” which does not say anything about consciousness at all, hence “the explanatory gap.”

        Thank you for the posts. I enjoy your writing, and your clarity, though I am unconvinced by some of your arguments. For instance, in differentiating a marvel from you mystery, you wrote:

        “Let us stipulate that a marvel is something strange, counterintuitive, surprising, or awe-inspiring that nonetheless is known and does not stand in need of further explanation. I might marvel at the collective ingenuity and organization of an ant colony while knowing all the relevant eusocial details about how those traits emerge. I might consider a certain conclusion of relativity, quantum mechanics, or particle physics to be marvelous, without needing to believe that some more intuitive mechanism must explain its weirdness. It may just be a bizarre, brute fact about physical reality. Human cognition may be limited in its ability to find such facts intuitive, yet still competent to discover whatever facts there are.”

        Your examples and appeal to “brute facts about physical reality” strike me as exactly the reason why I do not think that they are explanations. For a similar reason, I don’t think parrots can speak English, even if they can pronounce “the relevant [phonetic] details about how” the phenomenon of English speech emerges. The concept of “marvels” that you delineated delights me, but I think it begs to question to appeal to them in respect to philosophical questions like the hard problem. I think you partly addressed this fact in your second post, which I also enjoyed, and I look forward to your third.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Max Leyf says:

      I think that some degree of caricature of the views of figures in the history of philosophy is inevitable as a condition for us to discuss the same history. It is a sort of sacrifice that these figures undergo to become symbols or metonyms for different viewpoints. If we did not do this, we would be undertaking biographical studies and not philosophical ones, since there is no end to how much a single person’s views could be analysed and and juxtaposed against the views of others in comparative studies. By analogy: to appreciate literature, it is imperative that psychoanalysis of the author not be the primary concern because otherwise one has changed the subject, as it were, and one’s investigation will come at the expense of grasping the meaning of the work. Returning to the original question of philosophy, Aquinas captured the spirit that I am trying to convey better than I will, so I might as well quote him: “Whichever of these may be the case, it is of little concern to us, because the study of Philosophy aims not at knowing what men think, but in discovering the truth of things.” ( 1 Lib. De Caelo, lecture xii). I wonder what you think of this.

      Like

      1. Eric Cates says:

        I, too, am more interested in the pursuit of truth than the cataloguing of opinions. But I think that Socratic dialectic is a very useful tool for pursuing truth, and dialectic requires understanding and correctly stating the opinions of others. It’s fine to refer to general opinions or ideologies. But the denial of the reality of consciousness is not an opinion that I think any serious philosopher or scientist has ever had. What is denied is certain claims about the nature of consciousness. Dennett (1991), for example, has been frequently quoted out of context for saying, “We’re all zombies. Nobody is conscious.” But the full sentence is: “Nobody is conscious—not in the systematically mysterious way that supports such doctrines as epiphenomenalism!” (406). In the next paragraph, Dennett goes on to write: “In chapter 2, section 2, I set up the task of explaining consciousness by recollecting an episode from my own conscious experience…” Clearly, he accepts the reality of conscious experience.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Max Leyf says:

        Thank you for your comment. I appreciate and largely agree with your points. I still think Dennett’s stance is completely incoherent and self-contradictory. He would have no reason to assert that consciousness is an illusion if “clearly, he accepts the reality of consciousness.” Conversely, if he does in fact accept the reality of consciousness, then it is misleading for him to say it is an illusion and that no one is conscious and that we’re zombies, etc…. Forgive me for being critical, but he has been very successful with this method, if success if defined by publicity. The fact that you and I are talking over his work is a testament to this. I’m sure he has benefited financially from his sensational assertions, but I can only conclude that he is functioning in the capacity of a sophist and not a philosopher in this respect, for the reasons I mentioned.

        Kindly,
        Max

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Eric Cates says:

        Hi Max, thanks for your thoughts. Let me say that when it comes to philosophical temperament, I find Dennett to be dangerously close to dogmatic on certain views. Chalmers is closer to the kind of philosopher I want to be: open-minded, generally affable and charitable to others’ views, and honest about the points for which he is less certain. He is also a great communicator and clarifier of ideas, I think.

        That said, I do think that Dennett has made some valuable contributions to the contemporary dialectic about consciousness. While I agree that his comments about consciousness being illusory can be misleading, I think he does clarify what he means, and I don’t think that the conclusions are self-contradictory. When we say that something is an illusion, we mean either that it doesn’t exist, or that it has the tendency to mislead us about the nature of the world. The latter is Dennett’s point. One can say that mirages exist, but they are illusory in the sense that they mislead us about a nearby water source, for instance. Similarly, various features of consciousness have evolved according to what was genetically beneficial, and these features can mislead us about the reality independent of our particular minds. It can even mislead us about the nature of our own minds and selves.

        I am enjoying your series on Goethean science, and will be getting back to you later this week about it.

        A eucatastrophic rainstorm has fallen over my city. Hope your Monday is majestic,

        ~Eric

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Eric Cates says:

        Hi Max, I just left a comment about Goethean science in Part 2 of that series.

        Best wishes,
        Eric

        Like

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