Materialism

“Having examined and explained Matter by physical methods and in the language of the material Brahman, -it is not really explained, but let that pass,- having failed to carry that way of knowledge into other fields beyond a narrow limit, we must then at least consent to scrutinise life and mind by methods appropriate to them and explain their facts in the language and tokens of the vital and mental Brahman. We may discover then where and how these tongues of the one existence render the same truth and throw light on each other’s phases, and discover too perhaps another, high, brilliant and revealing speech which may shine out as the definitive all-explaining word. That can only be if we pursue these other sciences too in the same spirit as the physical, with a scrutiny, not only of their obvious and first actual phenomena, but of all the countless untested potentialities of mental and psychic energy, and with a free unlimited experimentation. We shall find out that their ranges of the unknown are immense. We shall perceive that until the possibilities of mind and spirit are better explored and their truths better known, we cannot yet pronounce the last all-ensphering formula of universal existence. Very early in this process the materialistic circle will be seen opening up on all its sides until it rapidly breaks up and disappears. Adhering still to the essential rigorous method of science, though not to its purely physical instrumentation, scrutinising, experimenting, holding nothing for established which cannot be scrupulously and universally verified, we shall still arrive at supraphysical certitudes. There are other means, there are greater approaches, but this line of access too can lead to the one universal truth.

Three things will remain from the labour of the secularist centuries; truth of the physical world and its importance, the scientific method of knowledge, -which is to induce Nature and Being to reveal their own way of being and proceeding, not hastening to put upon them our own impositions of idea and imagination, adhyaropa, -and last- though very far from least, the truth and importance of the earth life and the human endeavour, its evolutionary meaning. They will remain, but will turn to another sense and disclose greater issues. Surer of our hope and our labour, we shall see them all transformed into light of a vaster and more intimate world-knowledge and self-knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo

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The Conscious Mind

“I do not solve the problem of consciousness once and for all, but I try to rein it in. I try to get clear about what the problems are, I argue that the standard methods of neuroscience and cognitive science do not work in addressing them, and I try to move forward.

To me, it seems obvious that there is something further that needs explaining here; to others, it seems acceptable that there is not.

So I have tried to keep my ideas compatible with contemporary science, but I have not restricted my ideas to what contemporary scientists find fashionable.

It seems to me that to ignore the problems of consciousness would be antiscientific. It is in the scientific spirit to face up to them directly. To those who suspect that science requires materialism, I ask you to wait and see.”

David Chalmers

 

Process and Reality

“In its use of this method natural science has shown a curious mixture of rationalism and irrationalism. Its prevalent tone of thought has been ardently rationalistic within its own borders, and dogmatically irrational beyond those borders. In practice such an attitude tends to become a dogmatic denial that there are any factors in the world not fully expressible in terms of its own primary notions devoid of further generalization. Such a denial is the self-denial of thought.

The chief error of philosophy is overstatement. The aim at generalization is sound, but the estimate of success is overstatement. There are two main forms of such overstatement. One form is what I have termed, elsewhere, the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. This fallacy consists in neglecting the degree of abstraction involved when an actual entity is considered merely so far as it exemplifies certain categories of thought. There are aspects of actualities which are simply ignored so long as we restrict thought to there categories. Thus the success of a philosophy is to be measured by its comparative avoidance of this fallacy, when thought is restricted within its categories.”

Alfred North Whitehead 

Living in a psychophysical world

I might be happy now and angry later. But, can I be in a superposition of these two states? If not, how shall we conceive the nature of an abrupt transition from one to the other? Are these solid and static accounts real or simply a convenient representation of reality?

These questions pervade all scales from the domain of cognitive sciences to that of particle physics. More specifically, the dominant levels of explanation in human psychology and animal neuroscience stem, benefit and suffer from the philosophical framework of Democritus theory of atoms. Therefore, it is worthy to explicitly discuss the origins and implications of what appears as a pervasive but implicit trend in the behavioral sciences: to conceive behavior as a sequence of frozen, impenetrable and discrete units of action. Put it plain, why did we move form the behavior of the atoms to the atoms of behavior?

In other words, we seek to identity, in theory and in practice, alternative views from which to think about behavior as a truly dynamical, complex and multidimensional process. By combining philosophical considerations and empirical results, we hope to spot the limits, fragility, and potentially pitfalls of complementary approaches, and suggest new directions.

We deem it timely to emphasize that the philosophical bases of modern neuroscience and psychology as empirical sciences are seldom stated explicitly by scientists, or even claimed as nonexistent or unnecessary. There is no such thing as evidence devoid of interpretation. The success of our inquiry is intertwined with our ability (and willingness) to clearly formulate the ideas that ground the explanation of our data.

In the current era of cutting- edge tool-driven neuroscience, data should not be a substitute for thinking, nor will it waive us from adopting a particular standpoint. When a philosophy, theory or framework (regardless of its usefulness) is elevated from a working assumption to the category of an empirical finding, the interpretations of the facts might be exposed to a great confusion.

So, what level of description in behavioral sciences? In analogy to Pauli’s exclusion principle, behavioral sciences seem to have dealt only with fermions while overlooking the existence of bosons in action. In this context, novel ways to describe and explain the motion of living and thinking systems might pursue the following directions. First, the design of experiments that would reveal a wave-particle duality of human (and animal) behavior. Second, the representation of data with sound, rather than graphs, via a canonical orchestra that would naturally quantify the dynamics of motion. Third, similar to our habit of having a materials and methods sections in our papers, the practice of acknowledging the philosophical assumptions used in every piece of science.

Trying to dispatch one of the problems that has occupied the brightest thinkers throughout centuries would be pretentious and absurd. But, perhaps, the following reflection can contribute: if the behavior of atoms is governed entirely by physical laws from which the emergence of living, thinking and conscious phenomena are sought to be explained, why cannot we suggest a reciprocal commute where psychophysics meets “physiopsychics”?

La evolución creadora

“… concentrada sobre lo que se repite, preocupada únicamente por soldar lo mismo a lo mismo, la inteligencia se aparta de visión del tiempo. Le repugna lo que fluye y solidifica todo lo que toca. Nosotros no pensamos el tiempo real. Pero lo vivimos, porque la vida desborda la inteligencia. El sentimiento que tenemos de nuestra evolución y de la evolución de todas las cosas en la pura duración está ahí, dibujando alrededor de la representacion intelectual proapiamente dicha una franja indecisa que va a perderse en la noche.

Mecanicismo y finalismo estan de acuerdo en no tomar en cuenta más que el núcleo luminoso que brilla en el centro. Olvidan que ese núcleo se ha formado a expensas del resto por vía de condensación, y que habría que servirse de todo, de lo fluído tanto y más que de lo condensado, para volver a captar el movimiento interior de la vida.”

Henri Bergson

 

Materia y Memoria

“Pero que tal o cual de ellos venga aquí a decirnos que es la ciencia, que es la experiencia la que nos revela un paralelismo riguroso y completo entre la vida cerebral y la vida mental, ¡ah no!, le detendremos y le responderemos: sabios, sin duda ustedes pueden sostener esta tesis, como el metafísico la sostiene, pero ya no es entonces el científico el que habla en ustedes, es el metafísico. Ustedes simplemente nos devuelven lo que les habíamos prestado. La doctrina que ustedes nos aportan, la conocemos: ella sale de nuestros talleres; somos nosotros, filósofos, los que la hemos fabricado; y es de la vieja, muy vieja mercancía. Ella no vale menos por esto, seguro; pero tampoco por esto es mejor. Denle lo que es de ella, y no vayan a hacer pasar por un resultado de la ciencia, por una teoría modelada sobre los hechos y capaz de moldearse sobre ellos, una doctrina que ha podido asumir (…) la forma perfecta y definitiva con la cual se reconoce una construcción metafósica.”

Henri Bergson

Language, sensorimotor metaphors & ill-defined questions

Playing seriously with words, it turns out that to comprehend an idea, or to “grasp” it, recalls the same action as to firmly hold a thing, namely, to grasp that thing. We might say we “understand” something when are placed under its full influence and power, namely, when we stand under it. To “see” means both to perceive with your physical eyes as well as to discern or deduce after reflection, expressing comprehension. This simple observation offers a provocative hypothesis about the origins of human language as necessarily embodied language, in which the meaning of abstract ideas emerged from sensorimotor metaphors.

In poetry -the highest expression of human language- actions, images and words are intensely and intimately intertwined. The poet, while trying to express and impress a whole complex personal experience on the reader, faces a unique and practically impossible task. The reader, failing to understand all that is behind the poet’s words, is provided with an image of it, one that is tangible and distinct enough that ideas seem to be extended like objects in space. From this point of view, words and sounds are neither the cause nor the effect of meaning. They are part of it. They form it in terms of space and time by means of images and rhythm, respectively. We express ourselves by means of words and think in terms of space. The interweaving of our sensorimotor capacities, our conception of time and space, and the unfolding of language is patent.

These reflections, despite shedding some light, raise more questions than those they may answer. This is because of the ill-defined nature of our endeavour, namely, to reduce what is irreducible: the manifestation of human consciousness into a computational problem. This can nevertheless be a departure point from to succeed in opening the doorways of meaning. Nothing prevents us from enquiring about the measurable nature of ideas as conveyed in language forms, despite then being left with nothing but their quantitative correlates devoid of any true qualitative element.

Ironically, the very same thing that we had sought to eliminate in the first place, and strove to keep out of the picture during our scientific detour, is precisely what we expect to emerge and what we fail to see fully at the end. Perhaps by attempting such impossible feats we shall become more aware of the necessity to lessen the duality (and the obscure confusion) between quality and quantity. Paraphrasing Bergson, it seems that language borrows from text and sound the meaning on which it feeds and restores it to them in the form of a dynamic structure which it has stamped with its own freedom. As the philosopher would put it, instead of seeking to solve the question, we shall show the mistake of those who ask it.

Being and Time

“The real movement of the sciences takes place when their basic concepts undergo a more or less radical revision which is transparent to itself. The level which a science has reached is determined by how far it is capable of a crisis in its basic concepts. In such immanent crises the very relationship between positively investigative inquiry and those things themselves that are under interrogation comes to a point where it begins to totter. (…) In biology there is an awakening tendency to inquire beyond the definitions which mechanisms and vitalism have given for life and organism, and to define anew the kind of Being which belongs to the living as such.”

Martin Heidegger

Mind – Energy

“Pleasure is designed to conserve life, but it does not indicate the direction. Joy always announces that life has succeeded. Wherever there is joy, there is creation. Having produced a work which will endure, he cares no more for praise. The joy he feels is the joy of a god.”

Henri Bergson

Frontier

Human beings stand upright, have the faculty of language and a superior mind when compared to other animals. Our frontier begins where our most precious endowment ends: intelligence. We excel at manipulating matter. We can build machines that build machines. The systematic application of our skills is overwhelming, as both the industrial and digital revolution testify. Science is their sovereign representative. Necessary as it was, I argue that reason crumples insufficient now. Frontiers do not call for refinements. To truly overcome our curb as a species, a transformation of our mind is required. I advocate for the need (and possibility) of a difference in kind, not degree, in the way we see reality. Why is this crucial? Nature manifests as an evolutionary process: matter gave way to life in it; then life entrusted its creative pursue to instinct and intelligence. And here we are, at the summit of the complexity gradient, with a nervous system that seems to hide more than we want to acknowledge and less than we are ready to accept. I believe that the decisive frontier is that which defines -and by the same token constrains- who we are. We must face this question: what will supersede mankind? We went to the moon, built particle accelerators, controlled neural activity. Yet little do we know about who we are. What empowered us, is now retarding our evolution. How can we address such a monumental adventure? My proposal is threefold: it needs to be a courageous, collective and conscious endeavor. Courageous as we spearhead it, with the willingness to find what is there to be found, not what we allowed in the first place. Collective beyond a one-man war; with true debate, collaboration and even communion. Finally, and unprecedented in the history of the universe, the effort to evolve can recruit consciousness. Frontiers are provinces where the unknown rests. Perhaps, after all, pushed by our survival instinct, our desire for immortality might not be an impossible feat.