Apropos of Colin McGinn’s “The Character of Mind”
Before The Pump Was Invented, What Did The Heart Do?
The purpose of this question is to make us see that our ability to understand the world is limited to what we know; but what we know is the cognitive product of what we experience — thought being encompassed within what is experienced — and experience is the result of interpreting what happens in our lives based on what we already know.
Which is to say, everything we directly perceive, feel, and think, is passed through the filter of our already conceived knowledge of, and understanding of, the world and ourselves. So we are limited in our attempts to understand something new, owing to the need to not just meet this new knowledge with an open mind, but also the need to understand how it fits together with everything else. But sometimes new knowledge does not and will not fit in.
When this happens, we find that we are cemented in place when we attempt to break free of the bounds of our limited knowledge and understanding of how the world works. And there are many false halts along the way to a new way of perceiving how reality works.
I was recently reading Jung's essay "Synchronicity: An Causal Connecting Principle," and was struck by his assertion that, "It seems more likely that scientific explanation will have to begin with a criticism of our concepts of space and time on the one hand, and with the unconscious on the other." The 'unconscious', in my way of thinking, standing in for all the usual ways of explaining away the difficulties and impossibilities of consciousness and all it brings. While space and time are the theatre in which it all plays out, and which somehow are always already there, even in conceptions of nonduality, but that makes it a triple, not a one.
I read you essays, Mr. Mohrhoff, with anticipation of time well-spent on matters of great interest to me. I would like to suggest that all ideas of causality, and even Jung's "acausality," are the problem in our mental calculus, and that what underlies both the macro, as well as the micro, and as well, the stochastic (spontaneous), appearances is not a thing, not an entity, not even a conceptual one -- for they are relics of our causal worldview as the agents of whatever we are attempting to conceptualize -- and that at its heart, reality is responsive to conditions and latent possibilities in a coherent, yet within that coherency, creatively spontaneous, naturing of everything. This is Condition and Response versus Cause and Effect, so no agency needed. It's a complex subject that undefines as much as it defines, because that is how any truly new paradigmatic understanding of reality must proceed.
Difficult subject you have gone into, as someone already mentioned. I can’t comment on McGinn, but I’m admired at you taking it to read the entire book. I could hardly finish the quotations. The emergence of “consciousness” as a point singularity I cannot agree with, first of all because we know it is not true. You just need to move the clock back in time and tell us at which point you became endowed with that thing called “consciousness”. There simply isn’t such a moment. What there is, abundantly, is the positivistic tendency of turning adjectives into abstract nouns or, as Paul Weiss said it in The Living System: “promoting adjectives to the rank of substantives” and then, consequently, following the reductionistic trail in the usual manner.
What do we know? We know non-locality, or magic as you called it. Again, Weiss, “the patterned structure of the dynamics of the system as a whole co-ordinates the activities of the [so called] constituents”, that’s what he termed “macrodeterminacy”, and conscious organization does not lie outside of it, but is just another level in same the hierarchy. “[..] the top level operations of the organism thus are neither structurally nor functionally referable to direct liaison with the processes on the molecular level in a steady continuous gradation, but are relayed step-wise from higher levels of determinacy [..]”. Frankl called this property of mental systems the “self-transcendent quality” of being, that which points “beyond itself rather than being a closed system”.
Where does it point to? You simply cannot limit it. NK called it the “historical body”, that’s what our being conscious means. There is not a single part in the historical formation of our biological being that is not “consciousness”. Burtt, in all his brilliancy, defined the concept clearly, without fully subscribing to it: “There is no help for it, we must declare unreservedly that a consistent empiricism cannot stop short of maintaining that the mind is extended in time and space throughout the whole realm that is spanned by its knowledge and contemplation. How else can the facts be expressed?"(p.320)
Creative activity, purpose, value, spirit, without referring to these “macro determinants” it is impossible to talk about conscious being.
“The natural world after all is more the home and theatre of mind than its unseen tyrant, and man as expressing the functions of reason and spirit gathers to a focus far more of the flavour and creative fertility of the universe than the whole spatio-temporal object of his eager contemplation.
Mayhap we must wait for the complete extinction of theological superstition before these things can be said without misunderstanding. Such is the misfortune of modern thought as compared with that of Greece.”
I can’t remember who it was (was it Thomas, was it Wordsworth, or perhaps Borges? It might as well have been Spinoza) who said: “The first person who thought ‘I see a flower’ had a momentarily spark of self-awareness, but that one who said ‘the flower sees me’ penetrated the nature of reality”.
Thank you for revealing the secret processes underlying evolution and manifestation. It is a truly brave endeavour and you have stated with impending clarity the role of involution. What caught my curiosity was your statement "Quantum observables must be defined by something that is accessible to direct sensory experience". Is it possible to define some units and parameters in the cognitive domain that include neurosensory stimuli and include them in the quantum physics experiments as observer data, or is this line of thinking fallacious and inconclusive?