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Posted on August 25 at 9:16 a.m.
pk, your last post mis-stated my views and my previous arguments pretty seriously. Since you've read and commented on my columns pretty consistently over the last few years, I'm surprised that you would have mis-read my views that substantially. Most likely, it was just shorthand, but regardless we've been over this ground before in terms of why I think materialist and dualist views of consciousness come up short. The only other options are idealism and panpsychism. Idealism, I feel, makes a similar but opposite mistake as materialism in that it doesn't seem to adequately explain matter and its relationship to mind. Panpsychism, therefore, rises to the fore.
On A Mini-Discourse on Spiritual Method
Posted on August 24 at 3:55 p.m.
For the record, I'm a supporter of panpsychist solutions to the mind/body probem (as opposed to materialist or dualist solutions) and a supporter of a panentheist (not pantheist) worldview when it comes to discussing matters of spirituality, meaning, and faith.
Posted on August 24 at 3:52 p.m.
pk, you're mis-stating my positions, as I think you know. I think I've said all I can at this point on the concerns you've raised. You don't have to agree with me, but, as always, I enjoy the dialogue.
Posted on August 24 at 2:06 p.m.
pk, I didn't ignore that part of Russell's statements. I clarified that his statements were meant to rebut the Cartesian notion of substance, and the philosophical position of substantialism. I then suggested that my points, based on Whitehead's anti-substantialist process philosophy, addressed your and Russell's critiques.
On Something from Nothing?
Posted on August 24 at 2:04 p.m.
Scientifik, I suggest you interview some scientists about their ideas, judgments and process. You will find that indeed all of human judgments are feelings and opinions. What is a fact? Something that a lot of people feel is firm knowledge. But facts change as opinions change. Is it a fact that continental plates move slowly as they ride on the earth's mantle? It is now, but it didn't used to be.
What is a theory or a scientific law? Something that a lot of scientists feel has merit in explaining observed phenomena. But theories change all the time, and even laws change over time. It's all a moving process of judgment based on feelings and opinions. That's life.
You mention as an example a peer reviewer finding a flaw in a study. All such flaws are based on the reviewer's opinions and feelings about how studies should be conducted. There's no rulebook written in stone on these things. It's all a matter of opinion and reasoned judgment. That's how science proceeds and how theories can and do change over time.
Posted on August 24 at 1:44 p.m.
On your second question, we can compare the statements from both early scientists/philosophers and spiritual seekers with statements from todays' best scientists and philosophers of science. We can see quickly that today's approach to knowledge, when carefully framed, is far more humble about the certainty (or lack thereof) of our knowledge. As an example, Richard Feynman wrote: “[E]ven those ideas which have been held for a very long time and which have been very accurately verified might be wrong …. [W]e now have a much more humble point of view of our physical laws – everything can be wrong!” Whitehead wrote in Process and Reality: "Speculative boldness must be balanced by complete humility before logic and before fact. It is a disease of philosophy when it is neither bold nor humble..." Kuhn wrote: “Scientific theories, it must be remembered, attach to nature only here and there.”
You write: "You describe Christianity and Buddhism in particular as resting on the notion that there is no improving our collective knowledge because all has been previously revealed. However, you then point our that such traditions do in fact 'evolve, through insight, dialogue, schisms, conflicts, and so on.' So even if a given believer or set of believers might claim that their understanding of the world is unchangeable, history of religions shows that a dynamic tension exists in these religions that leads to reevaluation as knowledge and historical conditions change."
You're suggesting that I've contradicted myself or that my statements are not coherent, but that's not the case. My point was that for followers of Christ or Buddha, for example, there is a common view that these founders had ultimate knowledge and that we simply need to listen to what they've said, follow their example, and we will find realization. And this may indeed be the case for a lot of people. Schisms happen, of course, as I describe in my essay, but these schisms are generally a result of different interpretations of the founder of the tradition's teachings, and differences over administrative matters or, perhaps most often, control and power struggles. They're not generally the result of new teachers saying that they have gone beyond the founder's knowledge and thus a new denomination is required. There are, of course, exceptions, such as Mormonism, where the Book of Mormon is just that - an addition to the Bible, as revealed to Joseph Smith. But generally speaking, new denominations come about due to different interpretations and power struggles, not because of the new founder's ostensible going beyond the original teachings or insights.
Posted on August 24 at 1:36 p.m.
pk, as always, I appreciate your feedback and willingness to wade in on complex issues. However, I haven't ignored the literature at all on my broader claims about panpsychism, as you suggest. As you've read in my previous columns, I've addressed the emergentist/materialist and dualist views head on. I've pointed out in some detail where they come up short, acknowledging that these matters are always debatable and no proof is possible.
I began my inquiries about 25 years ago by reading with great pleasure the works of Dennett, Hofstadter, Dawkins, etc. These are all committed materialists. I found their ideas entirely convincing as a teenager and during my twenties. But over time I came to realize I didn't agree with their ideas. And in my late thirties I began to formulate my own ideas and started to write in these areas. So my own views have evolved considerably, starting from what are generally considered to be mainstream views in philosophy and science and shifting over time to find the very long tradition of panpsychist thinking to be more convincing. Keep in mind that the panpsychist thread goes back at least two and a half thousand years ago, to Heraclitus in the Greek tradition.
Anyway, I realized that our debate on the matter at hand - what one can conclude from the sheer fact of experience, here now, in each of us - is not that relevant to my broader points I'm trying to make in this and my last column's discussion with you. We agree that there is experience, here now, and that this is our primary reality. We agree that all else is inferred. And that's my broad point about the need for today's science to accept these facts and approach the search for knowledge from a more humble position, and to recognize that there is no real dividing line between traditionally defined external and internal worlds.
Addressing your specific points, you write: "The Buddha's teachings were based on observations about, and insights into, the general human condition. What advances in the knowledge base since his day would lead him to pull back from those teachings? And in what sense are "we" more humble in our approach to knowledge than he was?"
On your first question, I would refer you to the new fields of neuroscience, cognitive science and psychology. Surely you'd agree we've learned a thing or two about how the mind works since the Buddha's time? And even in the same tradition that the Buddha followed (introspection and analysis), surely you'd agree that practitioners since Buddha's time have learned valuable insights? Nagarjuna is often considered to be the second most important Buddhist thinker other than Buddha himself. Surely you'd agree that Nagarjuna's insights are worthy additions to Buddha's insights?
Posted on August 24 at 11:16 a.m.
Siggy_G, belated thanks for the compliment and feedback.
On Is Gravity the Whole Story?
Posted on August 23 at 10:58 a.m.
pk, how can you argue, rationally, or even in such a way to pass the laugh test, that there can be experience without an experiencer. What is experience if not a quality that belongs to an experiencer? Russell's criticism of Descartes' substantialist views match well with what I've argued here, and echo what Whitehead's whole philosophy is about. (Keep in mind that Russell and Whitehead were partners for decades, at least on mathematical philosophy, if not on all points of their metaphysics; Russell made some statements that suggest he was sympathetic to panpsychism, as described in Skrbina's Panpsychism in the West).
Whitehead argued against substantialism in favor of a process view of reality. "Process and Reality" is the title of his magnum opus. And as you know from my columns, my work is inspired greatly by Whitehead's system of thought.
There are no substances in Whitehead's philosophy and no dualism. There is instead a neutral monism (as in Russell's system) and a balance between relations and things that he called process. All things are constantly in process, so no static entities exist. I am not here arguing the cogito in a way to support the notion of a mind or soul substance. Rather, I hope I've made it clear, I'm arguing for the sheer fact of experience, which is undeniable for each of us, as the primary and undeniable evidence of an experiencer existing in that moment that there is experience. This allows us to make the following arguments:
1. There is experience/subjectivity here now2. There is an experiencer3. There seems to be a world4. That world seems to contain me as an experiencer5. I can infer certain things about the world, based on rules of logic (inductive and deductive)6. I can infer rules of evolutionary change that suggest how I came to be 7. The only thing I don't need to infer is the fact of my experience and my own existence as an experiencing being. All else is inferred.
I may re-think these points as I write my column(s) on deep science, but this gives you some grist for the mill.
Posted on August 23 at 9:35 a.m.
pk, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. The point I've made a few times in different ways is to me as plain as the nose on my face. Actually, a lot plainer b/c the nose on my face could be a simulation, or imagined... But the fact of my own awareness, and therefore, the fact of my existence as a being of some kind that is aware, is incontrovertible and undeniable. I don't understand how you can disagree on this, but so it goes. I've already stated that I agree with Russell's point about limiting Descartes's cogito, so maybe you're just being argumentative at this point?