Reply to Herbert Muller's "CONCEPT-DYNAMICS
AND THE MIND-BRAIN QUESTION"
KARL JASPERS FORUM
Target Article 32
CONCEPT-DYNAMICS AND THE MIND-BRAIN QUESTION
by Herbert FJ Müller
October 2000*, posted 28 November 2000
Some difficulties of the relation between thinking and brain function can become more easily comprehensible through an examination of the relevant concept-dynamics. This concerns mainly the transcendence of experience by concepts, and following from here the subject/object split (of ontological or functional type), development and functions of static metaphysics ("realism"), and further the concept-surpassing (encompassing) property of experience. Momentary ongoing experience is the nucleus of thinking ("consciousness") and must not be neglected in the study of this question. It is "given" (ie, not invented by us) but it is structured by us in its entirety.
This sounds OK to me, in that you seem to be proposing a kind of dialectical empiricism that starts from phenomenal experience, which is allowed to transcend itself but is then synthesized by a higher type of *encompassing* experience. What bothers me is that I am not sure you take the structures which arise at the antithesis stage of this dialectical empiricism as seriously as you take the thesis. Nor am I sure that you regard the encompassing experience as an emergent synthesis that supersedes the thesis, which is of course the "given" phenomenal experience.
In Niels Bohr's concept of the "phenomenon", the phenomenal experience, with which you start would correspond to his early 1926-7 definition of the phenomenon as what reveals itself to us through the measuring device, while the encompassing experience would correspond to the later post-1935 definition of the phenomenon as the wholeness of the entire experimental situation, encompassing the noumenon which is being observed as well as the observer. This is what I call the oroboric connection between the observed and the observer, between the quantum physical and the meta-physical classical, between the first world and the seventh world. The subjective experience, which is your starting point, as well as Bohr's early definition of the phenomenon are in the fifth or phenomenal world.
Whatever can be said about the brain and its functions uses concept-structures which are made by us within given experience.... A belief in mind-independently structured reality blocks the access to the question about this process. On the other hand, metaphysics can become functional in the form of working metaphysics, and in this way the encompassing aspect of experience remains evident.
Again, I am concerned that you are not allowing the antithetical "concept-structures" to transcend the seat of their genesis and hence you are not allowing the encompassing experience to emerge as something new and self-transcending in character. I am, however, very amenable to the notion that consciousness is the cosmic verity and it spins all else out of itself.
CONCEPTS AND EARLIER STRUCTURES
In the meaning of the word CONCEPT which will be used here, a concept is the result of COUPLING A WORD TO AN EARLIER FORMATION OF SENSATION OR THINKING. Words are exclusively human products, while animals too produce and use the earlier structures of experience. ("Earlier" and "later" refer here to the ontogenesis of the individual as well as the phylogenesis, and the development of specific concepts in an individual as well as in society.)
In my experience, these "earlier formations" are not necessarily a lower faculty at all, but seem to involve spiritual intuition. I question whether this is the same as the instinct found in animals. I am amenable, however, to your definition of concept, which seems to fit the facts of my own experience of concept formation.
Conceptual thinking pre-supposes concepts. This may cause difficulties in understanding insofar as we ourselves produce the concepts: either we have done this previously or we do it on the spot (or else we accept those made by others). This is a BOOTSTRAP OPERATION, in which a fixed initial scheme is used ("posited") as when starting a computer, and if this works, further forms can be developed from there during the function (or some already formed ones are added from storage in memory). A religious version of this is "in principio erat verbum". This concerns individual conceptual thinking as well as communication by language.
Here you are beginning to touch on something that I think you cannot fully explain. If, as I claim, these structures which arise from experience transcend experience and constitute a genuine antithesis to it, then there is the real possibility that some other focal point of being within the structure may arise and claim to be the source of the whole structure, including experience. This is related to Martin Buber's I-THOU, but more precisely it is related to the idea in the East of Guru and of God. The idea is that the sentient being in its untutored experience is basically in a state of ignorance, from which it can emerge only through the grace of the Guru. The Guru is in a very real sense the coexperiencer within the overall structure of the person's experience. The concepts that are formed as structures of experience are mutually configured by the Disciple and the Guru. In a sense they represent the relationship of Disciple to Guru and Guru to Disciple. In a very real sense they are psycho-kinetically and telepathically transmitted from Guru to Disciple. When Guru and Disciple see eye to eye, clairvoyance, or clear seeing, has been achieved.
This final state of affairs is described by Niels Bohr in the following quote from "Physics and Beyond", p. 209: "You all know Schiller's poem, 'The Sentences of Confucius,' which contains these memorable lines: 'The full mind is alone the clear, and truth dwells in the deeps.' The full mind, in our case, is not only an abundance of experience but an abundance of concepts by means of which we can speak about our problems and about phenomena in general. Only by using a whole variety of concepts when discussing the strange relationship between the formal laws of quantum theory and the observed phenomena, by lighting this relationship up from all sides and bringing out its apparent contradictions, can we hope to effect that change in our thought processes which is a *sine qua non* of any true understanding of quantum theory."
Here may also be a further difficulty of understanding. Experience itself is pre-supposed, "given" - we do not invent it. In contrast, the structures of reality are not given. All structures which are, and must be, used in experience, and which determine (define or structure) it, are made or invented by us (individually and collectively) within experience. The ELABORATION OF GIVEN EXPERIENCE happens WITH THE HELP OF SELF-PRODUCED STRUCTURES: this is CREATION OF STRUCTURES, AND NOT INTERPRETATION (OR "RE-PRESENTATION") OF AN ALREADY PRE-STRUCTURED WORLD.
I agree that the structures of reality are all spun out of consciousness, but not necessarily human or animal consciousness. There is a hierarchy of conscious entities, ranked according to their creative capacities. This is called the Great Chain of Being. The lesser evolutions soon learn that it behooves them to surrender to and learn from the higher evolutions, to imbibe their light and their knowledge and power. Ultimately, this process of social climbing reaches its conclusion when as a human being the reality of Guru or God dawns in one's experience.
Is the human being then the creator of the world or is God? It soon becomes evident that God knows the human being better than he knows himself, and so the human being finds a new identity in God. This corresponds in the Copenhagen Interpretation to the proposition that there is a standard for consensus reality, namely the archetype of the classical paradigm, which is transcendental to unstructured subjective experience. The classical paradigm is not God, but the revealed identity of the Observer. God or Guru is the true Mind of the Observer. That Mind is the quantum implicate order, and as such, it is that from which all else unfolds, so it is truly a viable alternative to subjective experience as the source of all.
The concepts thus have the following origin, position, and function : (a) experience is "given" or "found", not made by us (ie, not invented). (b) All structures of experience (pre-conceptual as well as conceptual ones) are in contrast made by us within experience; they are not given or found, even though beside their practical success other objective (eg., genetic) factors largely determine which structures are developed. (c) Concepts are combinations of words with pre-conceptual structures, and help with communication and stabilization. (d) Experiential structures (for self-and-world) are accepted (provisionally-heuristically, through belief, or via knowledge as strong belief which is often well supported by practical success). (e) Extrapolation, starting from accepted concept-structures, enables enlargement of the experience (with the help of fantasy, tales, theory, techniques, etc.)
Subjective experience is not quite the sacrosanct "Holy Cow" that you make it out to be, nor is it the entirely solid foundation for a good sense of reality. According to Paramahansa Yogananda, a very great yogi who came from India to America around 1920, subjective experience has the character of a motion picture. It is indeed manufactured by a universal motion picture mechanism of light, which Yogananda experienced in one of his numerous peak or yogic experiences. When one grants transcendence to concepts then and only then do they reveal their true potential for transformation.
If subjective experience is the source of all, as you say, why is it so imprisoned in the material structures of its own creation. Only through transformation and self-transcendence can the human being attain a status of true freedom from material structures. The alternative is to stick your head in the sand and pretend that the world which confines you has lost its confining power simply because you *believe* that you are the source of it. Or else you would have to rationalize this by saying that experience itself just happens to have this character of always seeming to be restricted by material structures beyond its control.
ORIGIN OF STRUCTURES
The origination of structures of thinking, self, and nature from within non-structured experience may be called zero-derivation (0-D). This does not mean that in practice thinking takes place without structures, nor that one would have to, or even could possibly, start with an unstructured experience - a la "tabula rasa" - nor also that all structures have to be always created anew. They are stored in individual and collective memory (eg, in books).
As I have stated, I believe that consciousness is the cosmic verity and all else is created by it. However, I do not accept your limitation on the possibility of experiencing the truly unconditioned and primordial consciousness. I have in fact experienced it, the absolute "tabula rasa" of absolute or pure consciousness aware only of itself. This state of pure consciousness was achieved through a very high-energy and effulgent out-of-body experience. I believe it was a form of Kensho, or enlightenment. It also constitutes the real performance of the phenomenological reduction of Descartes and Husserl. As Husserl said, it is incumbent on each human being to perform the phenomenological reduction (experience Kensho) at least once in their lifetime.
THINKING AND BRAIN FUNCTION
How can thinking come from the brain ? (Or more generally: how can consciousness emerge from matter ?) The problem is often formulated in this manner. But this cannot be answered, because it is the wrong question. It is the reason for the so-called "hard problem of consciousness" (Chalmers), an artifact which results from an erroneous exclusively-objective point of view. One faces here the effect of non-consideration of the situation discussed above in -.
A short answer is : THINKING DOES NOT COME FROM THE BRAIN, INSTEAD THE BRAIN COMES FROM THINKING. A little more elaborately : for our objective knowledge of the world, including the brain and its functions, we are exclusively dependent on our structures of thinking, and these can only arise within momentary overall (ie, self-and nature-)experience. But the same also applies to subject- structures like "self", "I", "soul". This implies that neither "objects" of any type, nor "the subject" in one or another formulation can be identical with ongoing experience.
That is fine, but it seems then that you are putting it somewhere in between the objective structures of the physical world and the subjective structures of the meta-physical world. That is, you seem to be putting it in the phenomenal world of the ontological system of worlds. In my reconstruction, the seven worlds are: physical, emotional, mental, etheric, phenomenal, causal, and meta-physical. The physical is quantum, the meta-physical is classical and the Freudian Ansatz of id, ego, and super-ego would be in the meta-physical.
If this is what you are doing, even implicitly, you should say so, otherwise you are just obscuring your own viewpoint. Perhaps you are saying that there are no worlds, there is only subjective experience, but then "where is this subjective experience?", "what is the mode of its existence, especially the context or environment for its existence?" If you are simply ignorant on this point, you should say that, but in any case, from my point of view you are just not being straightforward. The reason you are doing that, IMHO, is that by being vague and obscure you thereby avoid criticism and scrutiny - it seems to be a form of dishonesty.
Concepts must in principle intend the whole of experience, both interior (self) and external (environment, world), though each of both to varying degree. Neither naïve or explicit ontological objectivity nor ontological solipsism are for this reason able to ask the proper question concerning the mind-brain relation. Both imply erroneously a primary subject-object split. This also means, among other things, that the commonly used distinction between "third-person" and "first-person" description cannot help much, unless the question of encompassing experience is included in the discussion as a central point.
I think the subject/object split probably is primary, but even granting your premise that it is not, you admit that it is the internal structure of all "self-nature" experience. At the stage of concepts, if you allow those concepts to be transcendental, this experience will then refer to something beyond its solipsistic origin. Presumably we have experiences in order to relate to that which is transcendental to ourselves. If you don't allow that self-transcendence to occur then it seems to me you defeat the whole purpose of the experience and indeed the existence of the individual organism, or soul if you will.
Even if you want to go back before individuation to the original and universal consciousness, that still transcends itself in the direction of its creation. You admit that you have not and cannot even conceive of going back to the pure unstructured "tabula rasa" of absolute or pure consciousness. Well I have done it, and I can tell you that it is not the end-all and be-all that you think it is. It is just emptiness, pure self-existence, it is in a word b-o-r-i-n-g, not in a bad way, since there is no one to get bored and it is after all an experience of infinite light and infinite consciousness, but in a factual way that makes one think there must be something more. A nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there - take my word for it.
Many scientists are, despite the conceptual difficulties, still committed to an EXCLUSIVE OBJECTIVITY metaphysics (in the form of naïve or explicit realism, materialism, empiricism, naturalism, positivism), ie, to the existence of mind-independent reality and truth. But if one insists that objectively-describable processes are the only reality, THE SUBJECT DISAPPEARS AUTOMATICALLY when it becomes thematic (cf. Crick, Nagel, and others). From here stems the inability of these views to deal adequately with the question of the relation between thinking and brain activity. In that case there is a blindness for a subject-inclusive explanation, and sometimes for the possibility that the mind-brain-relation has a conceptual aspect at all. But even attempts to free oneself of MIR usually end in relapse into traditional MIR, probably because no evident alternative is seen as being available, except for an even more absurd static solipsism. This is clear from the history of western thinking (Müller, 2000).
I am granting your premise (for now) that subjective experience (SE) is the starting point and that it creates or generates its own structures. But the question is, "How does SE conceptualize itself?" In other words, "How does it fit into its own conceptual scheme?" Surely you grant that the subject/object polarity along with all that we commonly regard as reality does arise from experience and it would seem that experience must then locate itself somewhere within that scheme. You still have an unresolved "hard problem" in trying to provide for experience an adequate (functional) means of conceptualizing itself.
A part of this problem is that the structural difference between subject and object is understood as primarily given [25ff], and this is, perhaps even more than the MIR-belief itself (which results from it), a cause for conceptual difficulties with the mind-brain question. If this is pre-supposed, one can only think in terms of two impossibilities : either MIR, or in case MIR is denied, ontological solipsism. This subject-object distinction is however on the contrary secondary, the result of one of the earliest active structurations within the originally unitary experience. (This differentiation is needed for practical purposes; the difficulties arise in case it is ontologized because of the transcendence of experience by concepts .) The mind-brain problem thus is thus largely a consequence of belief in a (for instance Cartesian) primary subject-object split. But instead of trying to eliminate either the subject or the object, in order to deal with the conceptual problems, one can return to the early undivided experience, and follow the structuring process from there.
It is really a moot point you are making. Whether ontology and reality are primary or "as-if" as you say, they are a fact of our existence. The problem remains exactly the same from a scientific point of view, in either case. How do we understand the functional relationship between subjective experience and all the structures we observer in nature and in ourselves? The presumption of the "hard problem" is that we can and must formulate this functional relationship in a scientific way, which leaves no room for the obscurity you seem to champion, but perhaps that is what you are objecting to - perhaps, like Whitehead, you simply do not think this subject matter can be or should be described scientifically, i.e., in terms of universal concepts.
Peter Joseph Mutnick 1949 - 2000