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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2 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.


    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 😜


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