“Notes to Consider – 1”


(Prague, Czech Republic—2003)

(1)  On Intuition

     (a) speculation: Intuition is a way of knowing that is non-rational. It is a way of using knowledge, but a process of using that knowledge which occurs below the threshold of awareness. In contrast, rationality is a way of using knowledge which occurs with full awareness of both the process and the knowledge. (March 2003, Prague)

      (b) speculation: Intution is a sense, like seeing or hearing. (March 2003, Prague)

(2)  On the Will

     (a) speculation: There is no human will in the sense that there is an eye or a hand. The notion of such a will is an illusion. Will is an ability, a capacity that one learns. It is like a muscle that can be strengthened. Some people have very little will, others have a lot. Will can be developed; it can be lost. (March 2003, Prague)

     (b) speculation: The will is another name for desire and pursuit. When one desires something strongly and pursues it, he appears to have will. If desire is absent, or the motivation to pursue something is absent, then the will appears to be absent. (March 2003, Prague)

(3)  On Hegel’s Theory of Dialectic

Hegel’s most important contribution to human culture was his Theory of Dialectic. The thesis-antithesis-synthesis paradigm accurately describes the process by which we improve our symbolic map of the world (the human mind). The paradigm affirms the necessity of conflict but also the necessity of resolution, and provides a means for that resolution. The synthesis preserves the truth to be found in both thesis and antithesis while canceling the opposition between them by means of a creative resolution that overcomes (transcends) the apparent conflict. The resulting unitary synthesis is more accurate (truthful) than either the underlying thesis or the underlying antithesis. However, the synthesis eventually will become the thesis for an emergent antithesis, giving rise to a new synthesis.

Example: The thesis that everything is always in flux (Heraclitus) and the antithesis that everything is changeless (Parmenides). Plato used these two view to synthesize a model in which the sensible world is always in flux but the intelligible world is changeless. This synthesis led to the dualisms of substance-form, real-ideal, body-mind, body-soul, and body-spirit which still plague us in the West thanks to the Christian co-option of Platonic philosophy. In Plato’s time, the synthesis was useful. Now it is outmoded, but we still use it. Time for a new synthesis. (March 2003, Prague)

(4)  On Kant’s Pure Concept of the Understanding

Kant stands alone and apart in the history of philosophy. He is the most important philosophical creator since Plato, and the one who eventually will topple Plato, who yet reigns as king. Kant thrust the human being who knows into the equation of knowing. He possessed the courage to assert that the human mind interprets and organizes the world in accordance with the limiting structures of that mind. He first acknowledged that the point of view of the perceiver shapes what is perceived, that the perceiver shapes the world. With this assertion, he laid the groundwork for all modern ideas found in philosophical existentialism, physical relativity, and biological systems theory. Some day, we will discover his assertions also describe the very foundations of religious mysticism. Kant: the Earth-shaker. (March 2003, Prague)

(5)  On the Phenomenology of Being, Consciousness, and Mind

Sartre asserted that consciousness is empty. In the context of Sartre’s usage, the term “consciousness” simply means awareness. Though Sartre uses the term “consciousness” rather than “awareness”, in this note I will instead use the latter term. The purpose is clarity; the term “consciousness” has a long history of misuse and confusion.

So: Sartre asserted that awareness is empty. Stated in this way, we see the assertion is meaningless—as meaningless as asserting that awareness is full, or half-full. The problem is that the terms “empty” and “full” indicate space and therefore imply awareness encompasses space, is a thing, an object like a container that can be empty or full. Sartre also at times said that awareness is “a transparency”; this image, too, is faulty.

Elsewhere, however, Sartre stated his meaning more clearly. He asserted that awareness is always of something, of the “world of things.” Awareness is intentional. By using words like “empty” and “transparency,” he was trying to assert that awareness does not exist except in relation to something else.

In Sartrean terms, there are two regions of being within awareness. The first region is called “being -in-itself” (being en soi). This is the region of objects of awareness, the region of things-in-themselves. These things exist independently of any awarenes of them. According to Sartre, these things possess no awareness (with the exception of other human beings). These things are bound by causal law and are causally determined; they are not free.

Sartre calls the second region of awareness “being-for-itself” (being pour soi). Being-for-itself does not stand alone; its existence is contingent on objects of awareness. Being-for-itself exists only in relation to being-in-itself (including other human beings, who also exist as being-for-itself).

An important aspect of being-for-itself is awareness of awareness: self-awareness. However, this self-awareness is relational only to awareness. Self-awareness is not aware of being-in-itself; it is not aware of the perceptions of being-in-itself. Nor is self-awareness aware of the phenomena we commonly associate with an “inner life”: feelings, thoughts, beliefs, etc. We are aware of such phenomena, but we are not self-aware of them.

What, in my view, are the implications of that assertion? If the phenomena we commonly associate with an “inner life” (feelings, thoughts, beliefs, etc.) are phenomena of the human mind, then we are aware of the operations of mind but we are not self-aware of them. Instead, self-awareness exists within the human mind. The question arises: Is self-awareness a part of the mind, a sub-structure of it, or is it an operation of the human mind, such as comparing? It is both, which is why we have difficulty if we try to treat it as only one or the other.

Before going further, it is important to define what is meant by “human mind”. A human mind is the total structure of the human’s symbolic systems; the total structure includes the symbols, the operations between them, and a self-regulatory operation. The functions of mind are to observe differences in the region of being-in-self, which is done by perception; to identify those differences as objects, which is done with symbols (linguistic, visual, aural, etc.); and to identify the relations between those objects, which is done with symbols (linguistic, visual, aural, etc., as above, but also with the set of symbols we call mathematics). An essential fourth function of the human mind is the self-regulatory function; this is its ability to modify its own structure. The total structure created from these perceived differences, their symbolic representations, the symbol manipulations representing their relations, and the self-regulating function, is the human mind. The human mind is a symbolic representation of being-in-itself, of the world and how it works; speaking metaphorically, the human mind is a map.

Each human mind is unique. Specific perceptions and symbolic representations vary between individuals, so no two human minds are the same. Cultural patterns may create patterns of perception unique to a culture (an Eskimo perceives differences in snow that a Hawaiian would not perceive), so individual minds within a culture exhibit unique commonalities not found in individuals outside that culture. Similarly, patterns of perception shaped by a religion can create similarities in the human minds of the individual believers of that religion. Extrapolating, we understand that the individuals of any human group (a family, the community of scientists, the practitioners of classical music, speakers of Arabic) will share similarities in the structures of their minds. Because a single person will be member of several groups (a scientist who speaks Arabic and plays the cello), we understand that the number of possible configurations is very high. The more groups (sets) to which an individual belongs, the more the structure of his mind is modified, and the less his mind will resemble the shared structure that would result from belonging to a single set. If we account for the unique personal perceptions each individual experiences and processes, the total number of sets equals the total number of human beings: each human mind is unique, though it will share some similarities of structure with other human minds.

However, there are some similarities of structure in the human mind that are common to all human beings. Kant pointed to the cause of those similarities with his “pure concepts [categories] of the understanding”. Those categories fall into four classes: quantity, quality, relation, and modality. Within quantity, we find unity, plurality, and totality. Within quality, we find affirmation, negation, and limitation. Within relation, we find substance-accidents, cause-effect, and causal reciprocity. Within modality, we find possibility, actuality, and necessity. The details (or even correctness) of those twelve identified categories are not what is important to this discussion; what is important is that such categories exist and that they determine the way in which we perceive the world (being-in-itself). Kant asserted that these categories of understanding are a priori, that they are functions of the structure of the human brain and human perception—of human awareness—and that all sense data of the world (being-in-itself) is organized into knowledge (information) by means of those functions. (Note: Data is defined here as sensation, while information is data with meaning.)

While every human mind shares similarities of structure caused by the categories of a priori awareness, and while each human mind shares some similarities of structure with others in a group or groups, each human mind is finally unique because of the individual experiences creating the structure.

In Sartrean terms, the human mind exists in the region of being-in-itself. That is, the human mind is not in the region of being-for-itself, which is pure awareness, but is in the region of things we are aware of. We are aware of the differences we perceive, the symbols we assign to those differences as objects, and the symbols we assign to the relations between those differences (objects), and those perceptions and symbols and relations exist within the human mind. Along with a self-regulatory function, they are the sum of human mind. Self-awareness, because it is not pure awareness, exists in that region of being-in-itself. We are aware that we are self-aware, and so the self-awareness is an object of our awareness. But it is not the same sort of object as a stone. Self-awareness is an object of the “inner life”, more akin to a thought or feeling than a stone.  In that role, self-awareness is a phenomenon within the structure of the human mind.

But what sort of phenomenon is it? To return to the earlier question, Is self-awareness a part of the mind, a sub-structure of it, or is it an operation of the human mind, such as comparing? Earlier, I asserted that it is both, which is why we have difficulty when we try to treat it as only one or the other. On the one hand, self-awareness is an object of awareness, a perceived difference which is assigned a symbol in the human mind; the linguistic symbol for the phenomenon is the word “self-awareness.” Yet self-awareness seems to be something more, as well. Sartre asserted that it is not something else, it is only what it is, an object. On that count, he is wrong. Self-awareness also has a role as an “operation” of the human mind, though that role might better be termed a “function” of human mind. What, then, is its function?

Put most simply, self-awareness serves the function of self-regulation. To explain that by analogy, consider a thermostat. A thermostat is part of a mechanical system for modifying air temperature in a room. At any time, the thermostat exists within the ambient temperature of the air in the room. If the ambient temperature varies from a designated point, a point that can be adjusted within the thermostat, the thermostat closes an electronic switch which starts the mechanical system to working; when the ambient temperature reaches the point designated within the thermostat, the switch opens and shuts the mechanical system off. The thermostat is an object, a part within the mechanical system, but also functions as a regulator of the larger overall system (meta-system), which includes both the mechanical system and the surrounding air in the room. The thermostat permits the meta-system to self-regulate. The thermostat performs its function by providing feedback within the meta-system, telling the mechanical sub-system when to turn on and off. To perform this function, it acts as an interface between the mechanical system and the larger meta-system. Similarly, self-awareness is an object, a part within a system called the human mind, that functions to regulate the human mind, and does so within a larger meta-system which includes awareness, or being-for-itself.

If a thermostat functions to change the air temperature within its meta-system, then one must ask what does self-awareness function to change within its meta-system? By analogy, it would seem to change something within awareness, being-for-itself. But being-for-itself is intentional; it exists exists only in relation to being-in-itself. Therefore, self-awareness must change something in the relation between being-for-itself and being-in-itself. And this is, indeed, the case. Self-awareness changes what being-for-itself perceives in being-in-itself. The change in perception results in new content, in new information. The new information is integrated into the structure of the mind, modifying its symbolic representation of being-in-itself, of the world and how it works; speaking metaphorically again, the map is modified. Generally, this process is referred to as learning. With learning, the metaphoric map becomes a better predictor of events within the world.

All this is not to say that self-awareness is essential to learning. Learning is characteristic of all forms of being we call living, all forms of being that meet certain criteria of biological behavior. At its simplest, learning is a perception of difference and adjustment to that difference. By that meaning, a bacterium that successfully adjusts to its changing biochemical environment has learned. It also means the bacterium is aware of its environment. It does not, however, mean the bacterium has a mind, nor does it mean the bacterium is self-aware. One can speculate that the bacterium has a mind and is self-aware, but if that is the case, we have no way of ascertaining it because we share no system of symbolic representation with bacteria. What we can know, by definition, is that bacteria are aware; they perceive differences, they exhibit awareness of them. And we know bacteria learn; they can adjust to the differences they perceive.

It’s worth noting that the example of a bacterium exhibiting awareness illustrates the advantages of the term “awareness” over the term “consciousness”. Many will argue that a bacterium is not conscious but will agree that the bacterium is aware. Similarly, many who will agree that a tree exhibits awareness will protest against the notion of the tree having consciousness.

On the other hand, there are those who argue that everything which exists is conscious, is aware. By my definition, that is not the case: No perception equals no awareness. Some will disagree. Advocates of the concept of “cosmic consciousness”, for instance, will complain that the term “cosmic awareness” falls short of their intentional meaning, that I am insulting a stone by saying it lacks awareness. I can only respond that if they wish to assign awareness (consciousness) to a stone, then surely they can assign it the capacity to perceive, as well. Perhaps they will do so, and will argue that I simply fail to perceive the way in which a stone perceives. Well, they are correct; I do not perceive any way in which a stone perceives. Nor do I see any way in which it successfully adjusts to its environment, or learns. Over the ages, a stone on a windy hilltop slowly erodes to particles, but I would not call that a successful adjustment; it is no longer a stone, nor are its component parts any more structurally complex than that of the stone’s. A decomposing stone is no more aware (but could be less aware) than a decomposing biological organism.

(6)  On the Minds of Animals

Do animals have minds? Yes, some probably do.

For biological organisms, a “mind” is not a thing like a fin or a foot, the sort of thing an organism either has or does not have. Even assuming it was, one only need point out that a fin is much like a foot, and may in fact even be a primitive foot in evolutionary terms. Similarly, the front paw of a dog is a kind of hand, and the front paw of a raccoon is in fact a hand. That the raccoon’s front paw is more functional as a hand than a dog’s front paw, and that the human had is more functional as such than a raccoon’s hand, merely serves to illustrate that many characteristics of biological organisms are not binary, on-or-off matters. Why should the mind be any different?

Of course, if a dog has a mind it is likely quite different than a human mind, just as the dog’s front paw differs from the human hand. So to entertain the question, Do animals have minds?, we must establish some definition of what constitutes mind.

Elsewhere, I have defined the human mind in the following way: A human mind is the total structure of a human’s symbolic systems; the total structure includes both the symbols and the operations between them. The functions of mind are to observe differences in the region of being-in-self, which is done by perception; to identify those differences as objects, which is done with symbols (linguistic, visual, aural, etc.); and to identify the relations between those objects, which is done with symbols (linguistic, visual, aural, etc., as above, but also with the set of symbols we call mathematics). The total structure created from these perceived differences, their symbolic representations, and the symbol manipulations representing their relations, is the human mind. The human mind is a symbolic representation of being-in-itself, of the world and how it works; speaking metaphorically, the human mind is a map.

I will define the general term “mind” in the following way: Any mind is the total structure created from perceived differences, the symbolic representations of those differences, the manipulations representing relations between those symbols, and a self-regulating function.

If an animal has a mind, the difference between it and a human mind is likely to be found in the kinds of symbols used. Let us take, for example, a dolphin. A dolphin has a brain with a cerebral cortex (the brain region used for language) that is larger than the cerebral cortex of a human brain. A dolphin perceives differences; a dolphin is aware. (Whether it is self-aware is another matter, though self-awareness is a prerequisite for mind, for reasons we will see.) Dolphins apparently do not use written symbols to communicate, though human-dolphin experiments show that dolphins can recognize written symbols and differentiate between them. Between themselves, dolphins communicate by using aural symbols (language symbolized by sounds). Experimental study of communication between dolphins indicates that dolphin language is quite sophisticated; that is, they communicate complex signals which imply complex meanings. Because we humans do not understand the language, we cannot tell precisely what is being said; we can only watch their behavior subsequent to communication and speculate. Still, it is safe to say that the aural communication does constitute symbolic representations of perceived differences (ie. “here are some fish” ). Because such symbol usage indicates manipulation of the symbols to show relations between them (i.e. “the fish for eating are over here, not over there”), dolphins appear the fulfill the third criteria for mind.

The question, then, becomes: Do dolphins possess the essential fourth criteria of mind, the self-regulatory function? Because self-awareness is what provides the self-regulatory function, the question can be rephrased thusly: Are dolphins self-aware?

(7)  On Husserl and Plato

Husserl’s concept of eidetic reduction is connected to Plato’s theory of forms (and thus to Socrates’ theory of universally true definitions).

For Plato, a form (he also uses the term “idea” synonymously) is pure, eternal, unchanging. Forms are real; they exist independently of anything else. Plato sometimes calls these immutable forms/ideas “essences.” In contrast, the world of things is in constant flux, is always changing. Any actual particular thing in the world is knowable only to the extent that we can name or identify it by a form; the thing is a member of a class of things which share the same form. A thing is contingent upon its form (idea). Thus we have Plato’s dualism: the invisible world of substance (forms, or ideas) and the visible world of shadow (particular, material things).

For the phenomenologist Husserl, eidetic reduction is the process by which one pares away the particulars of a perception (awareness of an object) until its essence is revealed. The means by which this is done is intuition; this intuition of essences and essential structures, he calls Wesensschau. How does it work? One forms a multiplicity of variations of what is given, and while maintaining the multiplicity, one focuses attention on what remains unchanged in the multiplicity; what remains unchanged, what continuously maintains itself during the process of variation, Husserl calls the invariant. He also calls the invariant an “essence.”

Plato’s form (idea) is Husserl’s invariant.

For both, it is called the essence.

And while both philosophers asserted the existence of an essence that they could not see, neither could bring himself to assert the existence of the world he could see.

Every philosopher, in the end, stubbornly demanding an internal consistency to his philosophy, becomes silly.

Except for Nietzsche.

(8)  On Socrates and Moral Philosophy

Socrates asserted the necessity of reason for moral conduct. Rationality, he said, is the dominant and even exclusive factor in determining moral conduct.

This is not to say that moral conduct is not influenced by other factors, such as fear, anger, greed, courage, compassion, and so on. Non-rational factors of instinct, emotions and impulses play a very large role in our conduct. Still, by agreements of social convention all conduct has moral implications; all conduct exhibits an expression of moral values, and may be judged in terms of moral values.

Moral values, as social conventions, are cultural patterns. Moral values vary in space and time; they vary among differing cultures, and vary through history within any single culture. However, this quality of relativity—the absence of any absolute universal morality—does not remove rationality from the process of determining one’s moral conduct. Moral conventions are relative to a place and time, but they still are principles, and the application of a principle to a specific situation requires the use of reason. So if one wishes to base his conduct in accordance with moral values, reason is necessary. And that reasoning must be the dominant and even exclusive factor in determining the conduct, for it often must enable one to resist and overcome powerful passions and instinctual impulses which the moral principle attempts to limit. “Thou shall not kill” becomes a useful principle when and only when one feels a great desire to kill.

The problem which arises everywhere is that all of us at times, and some of us much of the time, do not base our conduct on moral values. Reason then is abandoned, even willfully avoided. It may be employed by others who subsequently judge our conduct in moral terms, or even by the person himself in attempting to explain his conduct after the fact: “I was angry,” or, “I did what I thought best in the moment.” In this way, reason is used less for choosing moral conduct than for explaining away immoral conduct.

Reason: a tool used for choosing moral conduct.

Reason: a tool used for explaining why we did not use it.

(9)  On Hegel, Marx and Christian-Islamic Conflict

Those who bemoan the current circumstance in which the USA is the sole global superpower are, whether they know it or not, asserting the importance of Hegel’s theory of dialectics. Any process, including historical development, involves a thesis, an antithesis, and a synthesis. The opposition of the USA and the now-defunct USSR provided a dialectic of capitalism versus socialism. With the collapse of the USSR, many believe there now is nothing to perform the antithetical socialist role to the capitalist thesis. Some believe that necessity will create an alternative dialectic. They worry that the capitalist juggernaut has defeated socialism, that the new dialectic will be based not on economic ideology but on some other kind of ideology, perhaps political or religious. They point to the present conflict between the West and the Middle East; they assert it is a religious dialectic of Christian fundamentalism versus Islamic fundamentalism, or a political dialectic of secular democracy versus theocracy, or perhaps both.

They are right on some points but wrong on the principal point.

The religious conflict between Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism will die away after several decades of violence; in the greater historical scheme, it is a small if vicious dialectic. The political conflict between secular democracy and theocracy will die along with the religious conflict; in fact, it will die much sooner than the first. The Islamic states will democratize, and as they do, Islamic fundamentalism will assume the same role Christian fundamentalism has in the West: participatory in state affairs, but subordinate to the state. Just as the Christian fundamentalists continue to rattle their swords in the West, but decline to use them without state sanction, Islamic fundamentalists will beat their chests within the limits of their status as state citizens. Thus the democratic-theocratic dialectic is as minor as the Christian-Islamic dialectic.

The principle point missed by those wringing their hands over the USA as solitary global superpower is that the capitalist-socialist dialectic has been resolved. A synthesis of those two ideologies, of thesis and antithesis, already exists. We simply fail to see it because the capitalist ideology still thrives after the socialist one has died. The capitalism practiced by the USA is in its death throes; by the end of this century, it will be dead. People everywhere, globally, recognize its dehumanizing character; they recognize the beneficiaries of its wealth are increasingly few; they recognize its capitulation of democratic rights to corporate authority. And they do not want it. What they want is its products, not its capitalist ideology. The major beneficiaries of capitalist wealth believe the two things are virtually identical, that the products and the ideology are mutually interdependent. But they are wrong.

So what is the synthesis that already exists? Democratic socialism. In now exists in small pockets of the world, principally the Scandinavian countries, Holland, Austria, and Germany. Variants of it exist in Japan, France, and several Central and Eastern European countries formerly of the Soviet bloc. The democratic socialist synthesis is healthier in some countries than others. Where the synthesis seems precarious, the reasons are various (the merging of West Germany with East Germany, the early development of private enterprise in former communist countries), though the single largest reason is that democratic socialist countries must compete globally with the final efforts of American-style capitalism. But the democratic socialist synthesis will survive to flourish after American-style capitalism has died.

The country that will take the democratic socialist synthesis and become the next global superpower by its use is China.

China: a long history, a deep culture, a people of great patience, an enormous territory.

China: an emergent democratic socialist country, the next global superpower.

And that, too, will eventually change. The synthesis of democratic socialism will eventually become a thesis in opposition to some antithesis. What that antithesis will be, we do not know. But we will know it by 2150.

Some questions to consider:

– relation of intellect to mind
– non-moral self-awareness as social, as a function to morality
– travel and exposure to cultures (seeing patterns of mind) leading
       to better self-awareness and mind
– what is the role of memory and how does it work?



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