Tag Archives: Darwin

A small Ode to Julian Jaynes

“The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”, is a book title ambitious enough to be suspect just on the face of its book cover. But what is philosophy if not over-ambitious science? The tragedy of Julian Jaynes maybe is that science has become nothing more than under-ambitious philosophy. His conjecture was one of Darwinian proportions: we are all schizophrenics who have learned to trust the voice()s in our heads to be our own. He then traveled the seven seas of ancient history to demonstrate how our forefathers, up to 1000 BC, literally heard the voices of Gods instructing them to write the books on which our society is still largely built. As a scientist he was looking for corroborating facts and he found them everywhere: in ancient texts and neurological neologisms like “bicameral”. By the time the book had made instant fame it was already infamous. Everybody debunked it, starting with the left/right brain hemisphere specialization underlying “bicameral” which as a scientific theory was as short lived as it is enduring in popular psychology books. Then historians picked the references of this psychologist self-taught as historian of all ancient cultures apart. D. Dennett and R. Dawkins quietly left the room of vocal supporters of the Jaynesian thesis and that was that. My plea is simple: don’t judge a book by its cover. Read beyond mere skepticism of the facts to discover the ambition of a true work of philosophy. You’ll discover inspiring beauty of thought. Enough said.

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Being of Two Minds: Anomalous Monism

“Anomalous monism resembles materialism in its claim that all events are physical, but rejects the thesis that mental phenomena can be given purely physical explanations.” D. Davidson, Essays on Actions and Events, Clarendon Press, 2001, p. 214.

The lack of clarity in philosophy of mind is a lack of clarity of its terms. That lack of clarity of terms is, in its turn, nothing else than a lack of terms. There was a time the discussion was about mind/body dualism whilst most recent scientific writing is, implicitly at least, based on the identity of brain and mind. It’s all a blur and no matter how many tokens of supervenience or emergency types are exchanged, it remains a blur of bodies, minds and brains. The classical solution to this lack of terms is to index terms like consciousness1 or prefix them with an adjective like ‘basic’ mind or some such. This is then a temporary definition just good enough to make a local argument without risking to enter into holistic arguments. Good for publishing but bad for discussion.

I have always thought that Davidson’s anomalous monism was a basis for getting out of this black hole of terminological unclarity. It has the strength of common sense: there are no extra-natural things but mental descriptions of natural things aren’t something purely physically determined either. The thing is this: anomalous monism of what? Of the mental and the physical, sure, but what about the brain and its mind.

Let me repeat that: what about the brain and ‘its‘ mind? That the mind is ‘of’ the brain would not startle many if I had not also italicized it (and – to play it safe – put it in scare quotes too). Well, if the mind is of the brain I think we don’t have enough anomalousness and still too much monism. Since the mental indeed doesn’t allow itself to be reduced to the physical, this leads to minds1 and minds2 and hence right back into the muddy waters of going mental at or talking past each other.

So I made a picture to try to put the mind right back where it belongs: very much outside the brain. So far out that the mind does not have a location at all, which seems to me rather in tune with the anomalousness of the mental.

twominds

Here goes the not so short explanation: Continue reading

On Saying “That”

Perhaps it should come as no surprise to learn that the form of psychological sentences in English apparently evolved in much the way these ruminations suggest. According to the Oxford English Dictionary

The use of that is generally held to have arisen out of the demonstrative pronoun pointing to the clause which it introduces.

(..)” D. Davidson, “On Saying That” in Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation, Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 106.

Charles Taylor is right, the question ‘Why?’ is humanly unavoidable. My question is why this is so. If we know why we cannot but ask ‘Why?’, we have resolved that part of the mystery of life which tends to separate people. I agree with Charles Taylor as well that naturalistic reduction – scientism is the more appropriate label – is a moral hazard but I think science, under the lead of the human sciences, must address why this is so. The strategy for doing so is the most basic strategy of all science: to trace to the origins of the phenomenon, just like Charles Darwin did.

Well, I think the origin of the word ‘why’ lies in the word ‘that’. The latter word has been the object of intense scrutiny for instance by Donald Davidson. Its non-verbal equivalent, finger pointing, is a  necessary gateway between the realm of things and that of thought. The word ‘that’ presupposes a lot. It presupposes a lot of things of which at least two need to be complex enough to point to some third thing. These things qua things are the subject matter studied by so called hard science. Kant called this pure reason. Most have forgotten his critique of it though. Basically: that this hard science presupposes subjects that do the pointing and have mastered a language consisting of a lot more words than ‘that’.

Indeed, on the other side of the word ‘that’ lies our language and therefore also lie we qua humanity as studied by human science. These are sciences that do not merely use words but are, strictly speaking, about words. The division between the hard and human sciences cuts across scientific fields, in particular across psychology, which explains why they are internally so divided. It has become a vulgar truth of scientism that individuals become objective if they just follow the insight of the hard sciences; that the question ‘Why?’ Is just a phenomenon, that there is no basic reason why this is so, that the word is the mental equivalent of an appendix that just needs to be removed when it is inflamed. This runs counter to the origins of hard science in multiple ways. Just take “that”: it’s no small matter that before it can be uttered there need to be at least two beings complex enough to point to some third thing and identify it as the same. The work of George Herbert Mead is a work of hard science and already explains that it takes a community to create anything that can be properly called an individual.

Tracing our origin to the word ‘that’ establishes a before and an after but only what comes after is capable of examining what came before. People may have little patience nowadays to appreciate  a difficult point: still, the hard sciences presuppose human sciences and not vice versa. They will be as incapable of overtaking them as the tortoise the hare. Scientism is a dangerous, and harshly metaphysical, fallacy that subjects subjects to matter. It’s to be fought with the type of science so characteristic of a Ludwig Wittgenstein. That’s a fight we will fight insight by insight for the patient who know solutions don’t come cut and dried and overnight. Everything I ever wrote is dedicated to this fight.

Another fallacy is the Augustinian one of spiritualism in which the before and the after of the word ‘that’ are impermeable. The word then stands alone without its body, without grounding and (speaking as an as of yet unconfirmed autist) leads to the kind of mysticism and skepticism that throws a tantrum every time its selfmade why it is so gets challenged and changed. It ignores that desire, vital energy in the sense of Bergson, was there long before the word ‘that’ – and that this desire is as fully permeating the creation of anything in language as it permeates any living thing. It ignores the fact that human science is science as wel: a human activity of reason (and therefore of mathematics) that can explain why a tantrum is thrown. Philosophical hermeneutics as proposed by Gadamer is nothing else as tracing what is after ‘that’; it is the origin of humanity in the survival of ideas that fit the environment of reason.

Before the word ‘that’ there was only desire and its dynamics of energy shaping matter against entropy; all a mere matter of pure probability whether physical, thermodynamical or evolutionary. After the word ‘that’ there’s a new force of energy in the development of reason that shapes thought, basically around the mathematics of probability. We’re still discovering how this is all linked but one link is a priori necessary (even if it is real hard to synthesize): that we are creatures driven by desire in developing reason and creatures of reason in driving our desires. Neither reason nor desire can rule (in) us – this is why asking ‘Why?’ is so basic, so universal and so common to all of us. What rules in us is judgment (it is Deleuze who explained me why Kant wrote 3 critiques). If we realize we all ask the same question for a same reason we can transcend the specific comprehensive answers that we individually need at any given time. This does not discredit any of these answers as such but opens the playground to develop understanding – to develop our common language, to discover the Rawlsian overlapping consensus we all share. We may be just (im)probable creatures, but as creatures we are necessarily driven to adaptation to a common judgment sharing as we do a common desire and a common reason.

So in this Charles Taylor is most probably wrong: there is a universal moral claim of reason – there is a “basic reason” of morality. We should not seek it in what specifically comes after the ‘that’, in what we point to (we should not seek it in the specific answer we give at a certain point to the question ‘Why?’). We should see it in the fact that we all use ‘that’ in the same way to point to what we believe (this is the universal ‘Why it is so’ we all ask that same question ‘Why?’). This may seem opaque but it really isn’t. It’s something we know in everyday life and everyday speech. There is nothing ultimately arbitrary or relative or perspectivist in what we point to with ‘that’. A bird is a bird even if it may be difficult to be sure we are pointing to the same thing. The same is true for beliefs in a ‘that’-clause, they are not magically lifted out of the realm of logic to do with as we please (not even Humpty Dumpty can do that). We can hold many false beliefs but once somebody points us out that the earth is round we simply can no longer also believe it is flat. You cannot hide stupidity in personal opinion even if it has become the most popular political opinion. There always is a fact in the moral, however difficult and endless it may be to uncover all the facts.

The Origin of Species: Author’s Introduction

“This is the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms.”,
The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin, Wordsworth classics of world literature, 1998, p. 5-6.

[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 06-06-2009. Not only a simple one, a long one also. It’s also blunt in combining Malthus and multi-culturalism.]

A simple one. Malthus has gotten loads of bad press. If at all a connection is made between Malthus and Darwin, it’s mostly made under the heading ‘Social Darwinism’, which is meant insultingly as misapplied Darwinism and associated to extreme right political views. This annoys me. Or more accurately:  infuriates me. But more importantly: it’s incorrect. And, most importantly: the error blocks us from an important insight.

First the error. Continue reading