on humanism and environmental crisis

Archive for the ‘nature of reality’ Category

We are in the center of the Universe

 

         

          I think we, humans and other beings on Earth, are in the center of the Universe. We are in the center of our Universe and this is the only Universe that exists. It is important to ponder this as if it is really so, it brings a lot of the responsibility to us, humans, as the squirrels and dolphins , as pretty and smart they are, they won’t help much.

As a philosopher, I think that the solution for the present pickle will come from the maturing of the human mind rather than from more successes in the technology. As would Einstein put it -“no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

     An idea that we are in the center of the Universe seems like the fine place to start from! The argument usually involves astronomy and physics . The theologians, after the setbacks handed by Copernicus, Darwin and raging capitalism are trying to side with science to regain some respectability. They are conspicuously absent from the fry.

       But I am a pediatrician, for Goodness Sake!

Well, for the last 50 years I was playing with babies. I was watching them, talked to them and studied their development. I was studied the similarities and the differences in their thinking and feeling as compared to primates and other simpler animals. And the idea of us being the center of the Universe came straight from the evolutionary neuroscience and developmental pediatrics.

Every behavior that benefits an organism’s evolution has to be communicated and encoded.  The speed of the evolution is uneven. The traits/ behaviors which relay on body changes are slow, but the ones relaying on communication are fast.  The more complex, the  smarter you get, the faster  you get even smarter. Your brain is  better, your society is more complex, you communicate faster.  Your brain, your synapses evolving on the neck-break speed starting to get shortcuts. When you start communicating with shortcuts, these are words. So you start to relay  on them, there is more and more to teach an infant, which become smarter and smarter.  Soon they become speakers, for these exchanges you need  grammar and then language. So these communications which started with the simple descriptions of a beneficial behavior (swim towards warmth) now name actions, feelings, reasons and most amazing – THINGS. We teach infants these words and they see them as independant of communication , independent from language.

      Every animal’s brain evolved to fine tune this animal’s behavior in given environment. To perceive, to see, to understand, to adapt, this for an animal is the same thing. It is what an animal does, without splitting it into categories. The animal’s world  (Nagel’s “What it is like to be a bat” will not tell you much…) is very different that mine and yours. It is not subjective and it is not objective- there is no self to make this distinction. It is obviously dependent on the observer (the animal itself), made by the animal’s peculiar, primitive perception and memory, but it is out there. Birds’ migration shows that they can coordinate complex actions, but the sharing is automatic, not via intentional communications. So, the animal’s world is outside, around the each animal, built mostly over the eons of the evolutionary time, with just a little of it built during the life of the animal- to allow for diversity beneficial for the species survival, the world of behaviors. Even if the evolution created homo sapiens with the vastly improved brain, the communications ability, and thinking skills, each of us still builds his or hers personal world, with the Universe getting bigger and bigger around us. So, again, an young infant, with minimal activity of cortex, the human baby has the world out there, instinctual and emotional. But, unlike the animals, human infant rapidly activates upper limbic centers and prefrontal cortexes. The rich social communications add to the world of behaviors two new worlds: the world of language and the world of things. The world of behaviors enables the world of language, the world of language enables the world of things, but there is a huge difference between the first and the last two of them. The world of behaviors (shared with the animals) surrounds each baby, (each animal ) making, her own Universe (Umwelt) but the worlds of language and things are shared with other human beings, they feel like floating outside and independent of us! This transition happens around 6 to 9 month of age in infants, this make them cranky and confused, they can’t sleep, suddenly clinging to mom. Psychologists call this the development of the object permanence, I call it losing of the object impermanence, or even better – entering from My Universe into the strange Universe which is Nobody’s- it is just there.

 

     Now imagine 7 billion personal worlds all mingled, shared, interconnected. Then add 14 billions of the mom’s and dad’s worlds which were the base of the each of our personal worlds, add all the ancestors’ worlds, further and further back in time.  All sentient beings contributed to the process of building subsequent generations of personal worlds.

  Space, time and other dimensions are products of this complex masterpiece. The main function of the evolving animal’s nervous system is to create understanding, in other words -the cognition (the way for control). And this works through categorizing, naming, creating semantic shortcuts, the metaphors.

According to the Gaia hypothesis, kind of similar to my philosophy, the interconnected sentient beings create super intelligence, like interconnected neurons and dendrites, create the conscious brain. To me, these connections  between humans are mostly related to ancestors via genes and culture via instincts and the core of human nature. These connections make possible for each of us to become conscious and create a meaningful world.

During the last 80 years, science and philosophy are grappling with the explanation of the observed vs observer dilemma. From Bohr and Einstein to Maturana and Varela and Thompson , the concept of observer-built reality is gaining ground. See also Archibald John Wheeler’s Participatory Universe and Anthropic principle debates.

And, of course, about 100 000 years ago, the culture and the technology for the practical reasons developed “the agreement universe” so we could hunt the mastodon or build the bridge or a spaceship. The other names for this are “nobody’s universe” or “reality”.

 

My world which is interconnected with 7 billions of “you’s” and it was built by our ancestors and the ancestors of ancestors down to the beginning of life..

You are in the exactly same situation, these are all assets we have, and if we are not extremely careful, we are going to blow them out in the nuclear holocaust. Or starve slowly, take your pick.

After the last human dies, a computer in some deep bunker will still continue to churn out data revealing new “discovery” based on Cosmic Microwave Background measurements.

 But it will be no CMB, this term will become completely meaningless. And it will not matter whether the report is in English, Arabic or Chinese. If there is nobody to read it, there is no CMB, period.

Really, see- “micro” means nothing, “wave” means nothing, “back” means nothing – there is no front so can not be back, there is no “ground” and no “cosmic”.

OK, you say “ let’s continue this story, and in a million years, the aliens discover this planet and this computer printout”… Not so fast: you can not discover anything if there is no concept of “discovery”. There are no years if there is no spring and winter, and if nobody is born and dies , the time is meaningless and useless. Without the human, there is even no story.

Yes. We are the center of the Universe.

    We are the only observers of the world. Naturally the world is fine tuned for humans (the Anthropic Problem) if they invented the measurements accordingly. And while animals’ world of behaviors occurs in time and space, only the humans with their worlds of language and things named them and are aware of them. We also invented the science that tells us, that we live as a tiny, insignificant specs, on the small planet, on the periphery of the remote galaxy, with the huge, cold, unknown cosmos around us. Some scientists are trying to cheers us up, like Primack and Abrams in “The view from the center of the Universe” and Tom Yulsman in “Origins”. They made it worse, their wishy -washy argument and wishful thinking goes from reassurance that our size is just right (sic!) to the hope that future science will alleviate our wretchedness to stating that the Universe does not have the center, therefore we can not be off it.

But while the scientists still ( and will forever ) argue, this should not make us feel like the insignificant specs, excused to be helpless and small, waiting for the creator to help us, please!

We are at the center of human experience, as we are building personal and interconnected worlds, the Universe consists of. We are responsible for it and every of us 7 billion, matters.

 

My 2018 Humanist Manifesto

My 2018  Humanist Manifesto

 

There is confusion and no consensus regarding who we are.

We are good people concerned with dire problem of humanity and trusting human nature being up to handle them.

We are responsible for this planet and to save it we have to stop fighting and put all our minds and hearts into the survival of our species and our environment.

The old “liberty, equality and fraternity” will lead to cooperation and democratic societies. The diversity is the base of our strength, not a reason to fight. These include nationalities ,religions, ethnic minorities, life styles, sexes, skin colors, education, wealth and worldviews.

We humanists explore human’s three major strengths – our hope against terrible odds of societal regression and extinction .

1. We have the ability to communicate, share our knowledge, love, empathy, and suffering.

2. We use the wisdom and achievements of the past, the mythology and science, to handle the problems of the present.(homo historicus)

3. We are curious, imaginative and intelligent with the passion for the success and happiness

We trust wisdom of religions but we distrust the magic part of religions.

We trust technology of science but we distrust materialistic philosophy of many scientists.

We trust evolution and progress but we distrust modern culture of material greed and violence.

We believe that all these principles are consistent with evolutionary built human nature, its intellectual, emotional and social characteristics.

We cherish beauty, art, music, humor and critical thinking – teaching them to our children is our main goal.

We believe in transcendent and sacred:

  1. The Mother and the Child ( the life, the birth)- our Christmas or Winter Solstice Holiday.
  2. The Love for the family, the friendship and the happiness- our Thanksgiving Holidays
  3. The ancestors and the peaceful death (completion)- our All Saints Day
  4. Human suffering and life -our Easter or Spring Holidays.
  5. The Love for Nature and animals – our vegetarian Harvest Holidays.
  6. The love for democracy, equality and societal transcendent bond- our Independence Holiday

These are the examples coming from the european, christian traditions, and while for muslim, jewish, african and asian people the names and dates will change – the sacred will remain.

If you too hold these part of human culture sacred, if you share these values -you are a humanist.

Notes and explanation from an evolutionary humanist.

You may replace the term “sacred” with the “important” but then the question arises “how important”. I like the term sacred because it emphasize the fact that we are idealists and we not afraid of concept and values that we can not fully understand or explain. These values are from the evolutionary perspective older than the concepts of personalised deity as animal, the sun, the omnipotent person. The confirmation of that sequence comes from anthropology, mythology, eastern philosophies and the interfaith movements.

How much are we ready to fight and sacrifice for these values? It differs from person to person but we should  never be violent or should the conflict dehumanise the opponent.

We also cringe in front of the concepts of “savior”, “creator” and “fatherland” as they, in our opinion, decrease the chances for saving our species and to create a peaceful and happy world.

     We observe this world and as observers it feels that we are the most complex system, but any other observer, like a whale or a squirrel would have the same feeling (without language and self reflection). On the other hand the concept of complexity is pure human invention, so even without language this comparison doesn’t make sense.( the same with the concepts of intelligence, magnificence, power or wisdom).

     The concept of intelligence in our understanding is related to the complexity of logical networks -biological or artificial. The artificial intelligence is still the human intelligence, no matter how much self learning it can accomplish unless we’d learn how to teach robots of the depth of our evolutionary past or the subconsciousness. The non-human intelligence to develop would have to repeat exactly eons of earth environment changes, the niches twists and turns and consequently repeat the exact  our pattern of the evolution which seems impossible. These concepts are species specific, Umwelt -specific. It is why breeding is so rare across the species. And in traditional human societies the cousins are the best mates , “the closest to share my world”.

I think that this concept of humanism works the best with the evolutionary theory and the theory of the evolutionary reality.

 

My worldview

As I am embarking on the task of teaching how to write your worldview, I thought I need to publish my own. The answers to the unanswerable questions are short, like at the Philozophy.com. In that way they can serve as a brief note to yourself, a reminder. It is also easier to compare them with others and to discuss them.  Here you are:

 

1.How did the Universe begin?

 

My Universe began with my conception. As I am learning from others and my experiences, my world shifts, gets bigger and more complex.  Where my understanding ends, on that edge, reversing the arrow of time, there and then the Universe begins

 

  1. What is the Universe made of?

 

My Universe is built from my birth with my instincts, my experiences and the experiences of other people I learned from. It is also solid and real. Maybe there is a Nobody’s Universe, independent of our personal worlds, but I doubt it.

 

  1. What is the origin of good?

 

Eusocial hominids, using mirror neurons, created and genetically encoded altruism and friendship. Surviving evolved into the drive to cooperate and to understand. The wisdom -understanding- translates socially into good, true and beautiful

 

4.What is the origin of evil?

 

Survival instincts and natural selection. We supposed to grow up and transform fear and greed of the caveman into the understanding and wisdom. I guess, we need to work harder on that. Tempus fugit.

 

  1. Is there free will?

 

As I have built my world, I am responsible for it and for my actions, even if sometimes I don’t know what I am doing. I feel that I have many freedoms, but in the same time I realize that I am a part of the cosmic interdependent web of causality.

 

  1. What is the nature of the mind?

 

The Mind is a cluster of functions of the brain. Thinking and feeling create my experience while consciousness, memory, attention make possible of me being aware of the performing these very functions. It is a concept, like a joy or pain.

 

  1. How do you find happiness?

 

With effort and intention of love, curiosity and gratitude, the results exceed expectations. It is transient, subjective and trainable. Practice to become happiable- ready for happiness.

 

  1. How do you find truth?

 

Truth is relative and mythic. It is what has been working for long time and for many people as a human nature and it is civilization dependent. So, I am trying to find wise books and wise friends to trust and then to ask.

 

  1. What is the meaning of life?

 

Being curious, doing good and having fun. It is how I am trying to do projects bigger than me. Working with people makes it meaningful and significant and beautiful.

 

  1. What is the role of evolution?

 

The evolution is probably the most important algorithm human invented to understand the world. It tries to explain how simple organisms evolved in Time and how the level of entropy and complexity can be so uneven across all dimensions.

 

  1. What happens after death?

 

I will live in others. If one does good for the reward after death, one will not be rewarded, if one does good to avoid punishment, that is one’s punishment. The judgement? It occurs inside our heads. Immortality? Sure, what you sow, you reap.

 

  1. Who or What is God?

 

The animal and then human intelligences were built through the process of the evolution. It is an awesome system, which we are trying to understand, often heroic and Divine. Gods are the parts of human mythology, therefore a part of human nature.

 

  1. What is going to happen to humankind?

 

Miraculously we will understand our unity, stop fighting, stop overpopulating, stop wasting resources. We will see our relatedness as Love and Friendship between us. Only then we will build a better world. A piece of cake but we need to hurry.

 

  1. What Question is missing?

 

What is the human nature?

Subjective, objective – which is which?

I am interested in human intelligence as it evolved from the animal intelligence. What are our abilities and our constraints? Looking into the past, into the nature of our world, who did what?  Which part is done by animals: colors, for sure?  Fear and pleasure, certainly? But reality??

The brain of mammals, our ancestors, is huge, compared with other animals, and is mostly consisting of neurons handling sensory perceptions and the interpretation of the perceptions in the view of survival/ adaptation benefits.  Attached to this behemoth are the ganglia ( we call them “old brain” but for the mammal, they are actually new), the neural centers responsible for the emotions. The animal “tries” to figure out constantly what is going on and if so, what to do. When a lion attacks, the sensory data combine with behavior menu and emotional impulses like fear and hunger.  We associate these actions, like emotions or feelings with the events going on inside us, in the head, in the chest, or heart, but with the animals, they are obviously ” out there”, as a part of the animal’s environment.

So, animal brain creates real world  with the brain which works on instincts and emotions? This does not make any sense. How that type of the brain can create solid objects, trees, antelopes etc.  Also, to confuse things even more, we think about the emotions and feelings as subjective, but subjective is related to reflective thinking and the robust self, while the animals just do not have the necessary brain structures (or minimal).

It looks like the split between subjective and objective is the part of the development of the human mind, and therefore is artificial. What’s worse that the new, invented part is an objective part.

Well, let’s put some order into this mess, an upside down order that is. When we build, as infants, our world around us we do not develop the “permanence of the objects”. We develop the world of impermanence. It is the world which we call the subjectivity, the one which changes, it resides in our “mind” or even “heart”, it is related to the development of self and reflective thinking. The brain we use to develop this new human quality is the newest part of the brain- prefrontal areas, verbal areas, the empathic brain. Animals do not have it, or have very little of it.

On the other hand, young human infant’s brain is like animal’s:  literal, permanent and real. It has no good feel for time- this comes much later. Her world occurs outside, feels objective and real and its complexity depends on the complexity of the animal (or the age- level of the development of the infant.) For the low complexity organisms even if feels real- the only world they have- it is very different than our reality.

The concept of dimensions, for example, develops one by one ( a simple bacteria detecting ony concentration of the chemical, i.e. distance, i.e. one dimension, E.coli can orient itself and has buding of tri-dimensional sensory). These realities, “Umwelts” (Uexküll) consist of gradually increasing number of elements and interactions and are built for survival, that is the organism’s niche. ( the idea that the world and the niche is the same deserves separate attention, no?- not I and thou but I and my niche!)

It seems that the objective world is just the evolutionary construct of the subjective experiences of our ancestors. As their ability to socialize and communicate increased they built something more sophisticated than bee’s beehive: the whole virtual shared world, our objectivity. How far back this construct reaches?  It reaches further and further back, as our understanding broadens, our science reaches deeper into cosmos and time and consciousness.

Our objective world is shared with the member of the species. Our sharing is vastly superior than animal’s world because of social connections via language and culture. Animals sharing is limited to social adaptive traits. So the lion and antelope do not see the same tree, even two antelopes see only as much of a “tree” as evolutionary minimally necessary.

This, when you think about it, puts all reality concepts upside-down and the consequences are mindblowing.

Recommended cycle of study

   Making  of the modern sage.

   

   Recommended cycle of study:

                                       SELF

                           ->                          ->

          WORLDVIEW                                  COMPLEXITY

           ->                                                                  ->

INDIVIDUALITY                                                           EVOLUTION

     <-                                                                                 ->

HUMANISM                                                           EVOLUTION OF NERVOUS SYSTEM

           <-                                                                   <-

          HUMAN NATURE     <-       SOCIAL ANIMALS

 

The transition from studying self (like, growing up) to the concept of complexity is the most difficult and revolutionary.

It is like a deep, narrow, rocky canyon filled with the cacti of self doubt. And at the bottom run wild rivers of cosmology, neuroscience, epistemology and ontology.

Some trying to hang the bridge of second order cybernetics, some-recently- bring predictive coding -bloody sheets of phenomenology and neo-Kantian tied end to end.

I am offering my own bridge : the theory of evolutionary reality.

But, when you get to complexity- further steps roll smoothly and naturally.

You can actually stick with studying complexity and treat all the step as the examples of  increasing complexity.

Everybody writes about the human nature but it remains a nebulous subject ( like: who? me??)

You do not need individuality to have a worldview, everybody has one or more, but I mean, working on the explicit worldview.

“Accidentally” – no, not accidentally at all, the level of explicitness of communication follows the same circle of progression.

Some steps will be your favorites, some – slippery and yucky like pickled okra, but if you miss one step you inevitably will get stuck, the chi of wisdom needs to flow, not spurt like a broken fossett.

Of course when you get back to “self” – good luck- we need to start again .

Lunch with Derrida ( Human Nature Grilled)

It seems that philosophy has been obsessed with human nature since the beginning of time. And, as times and philosophy change, so does the concept of human nature.
From Aristotle’s (384-322 BC) “Nichomachean Ethics” to Hume’s “A Treatise of Human Nature” (1738) human nature means just the way we understand and know the World, which includes all- ontology, axiology, praxeology, and epistemology. For Darwin (The Descent of Man- 1871) human nature is mostly about how we differ from the monkey, and how we came to have common ancestors. By the way, it looks that, the humanity is getting over this offensive detail of our nature. For E.O.Wilson ( On Human Nature-1971) it is about humans with their qualities to form the pinnacle of the evolutionary and the sociobiological process. For Chomsky, human nature represents an innate neurobiological structure responsible for the development of language. For me, human nature is all the above, but most importantly I see a human being as the evolutionary marvel, able to reflect on him- or herself, and to consciously build a personal world around and with the free will – own life.
This concept was discussed in the domains of biology, history, evolution, theology, and sociology and now the postmodernists want to take it away from us? Derrida in “Differance” denies the importance of humans interest in their history or biology. Absurdly, he preaches the absolute supremacy of text which, he thinks, means everything- but as there is no meaning- so ultimately- it means nothing. He says: “Differance is neither a word nor a concept. In it , however, we shall see the juncture-rather than summation-of what has been most decisively inscribed in the thought of what is conveniently call our “epoch”: the difference of forces in Nietzsche, Saussure’s principle of semiological difference, etc, etc”. (p130, I could not find a better quote). Of course, postmodernists question human nature but also the subject, truth, and moral standards. It is difficult to argue if the person you want to argue with, questions the argument itself, the process of arguing and the existence of the opponent.
Michel Foucault as the social historian and phenomenologist is less radical:
“It was not by studying human nature that linguists discovered the laws of consonant mutation, or Freud the principles of the analysis of dreams, or cultural anthropologists the structure of myths. In the history of knowledge, the notion of human nature seems to me mainly to have played the role of an epistemological indicator to designate certain types of discourse in relation to or in opposition to theology or biology or history. I would find it difficult to see in this a scientific concept.” (1971 debate, excerpts). And, actually, I agree with him about human nature being “an intellectual tool” rather than a biological or moral entity. During their famous debate, Noam Chomsky tried to defend the notion of human nature and pointed to the quality of creativity as the basic, innate human faculty responsible for the creation of the language, which made the culture and civilization possible.
For Foucault the forces behind human civilization are not personal, he sees discoveries and the changes as the inevitable result of societal progress. According to him human nature is just a “shopping list of science.”; humans can not not create anything, until the mechanism of the economy, politics, and psychological development of masses made it possible.
In my opinion, we should keep exploring the concept of human nature. With the progress in global education, improved critical thinking, people have become more and more individualistic, making their own decisions. The awareness of our cultural and sociobiological heritage, of our qualities and capacities for good and evil is very important in this age of the planetary crisis.
Human nature might be not a real thing, but as with the crisis in religious dogmas we are searching for origins of good, it would be useful to recognize the common origins of our character and values, pan-human brotherhood. And postmodernism is of not much of help, may be only by giving us the list of values one can question and telling us what humanity is not.

For myself, I would like to know that I can figure out my place in the world and my plan for action, conscious, deliberate and passionate action. This will be my human nature. And I wish that the people around me would do the same.
Or, would they rather go to lunch with Derrida???

To marry, phenomenology and the natural sciences both have to lose their virginity.

Or, because it is philosophical paper, to make it less biological, both parties have to forgo some of their purity and basic premises. But, the rewards are so big that the proposed cooperation or union has no “if” sign but “how” and “when” (are we ready?- I will return to this sub-question later).

      My idol, E.O. Wilson wrote a book about it: Consilience. The Unity of knowledge. 1998. In the endearing preface, he describes himself as a young scientist discovering the evolutionary way of thinking and dreaming about uniting biology, philosophy, and religion. He brings the metaphor of “Ionian Enchantment “ and human ambitious thinking like in the myth of Icarus: “Let us see how high we can fly before the sun melts the wax in our wings”. He says:(p.12)”There has never been a better time for collaboration between scientists and philosophers, especially where they meet in the borderlands between biology, the social sciences, and the humanities.” But he adds and I wholeheartedly disagree;”Philosophy, the contemplation of the unknown, is a shrinking dominion. We have the common goal(?) of turning as much philosophy as possible into science.” Italics and question mark are mine.

 “Frequently, the assumption has been that a better understanding of the physical world will allow us to understand consciousness better and rarely, that better understanding of consciousness might allow for better understanding of what it means to be real.” D.Zahavi. Phenomenology and the project of naturalization. (p.336). So, obviously, the natural thinking goes that the major beneficially of the ”phenomenology project of naturalization”- is this branch of philosophy. The more we put the emphasis for the phenomenological discourse of embodiment, the more societal recognition such investigation can obtain and more viable such a curriculum can be in universities. According to Merleau-Ponty, our experience is always “into the world” and through his famous intentional arc, it connects permanently the experience with the experiencing body and with the experienced world. Now, when the experience is dealt with by the psychology, the medicine, the biochemistry or anthropology  they talk about different type of sick and healthy bodies while the politics and economics try to tackle “our world” part of the experience. All of them are working disjointly employing distinct paradigms, models, and methods. Phenomenologists point to the naivety and narrow-mindedness of such an approach. Welsh cites Diaprose(1994):” The phenomenological model not only reinstates the dignity of the patient by stressing that the fabric upon which biomedicine works is the self, but also highlights the specificity of that person’s condition, however common that condition may appear to be” and she adds: ”A more phenomenological approach to illness would attempt to view illness in terms of the embodied person’s plans and projects, her relationships, her habits, and her environment.” T. Welsh, Unfit Women: Freedom and Constraint in the Pursuit of Health.(p75).

    In my opinion, though the science would benefit from the phenomenological thinking the most. And I think it is not a choice anymore, the cost of ignoring the role of an observer, the cost of unscientific(sic!) paradigm regarding subjectivity and objectivity, these costs are slowing the progress and the shift in thinking is required. It seems that at this time the science world acts like the left brain “interpreter”- if things do not make sense it explains them anyhow using even most weird theories.  When you read about “string theory”, the anthropic principle explanations, the description of “the time before Big Bang” or even Nagel’s “how is it like to be a bat”, the concept of the white bearded old man sitting in the clouds looks pretty sensible! It is why professor Nagel calls for a new paradigm, the theoretical physicists clearly need one, also non-human cognition and human preverbal cognition are stuck at the “explanatory gap” (Zahavi).

Phenomenology- au secours! Can it deliver? And what would it say? I think that the study of the evolution of the nervous system will be the great arbiter between phenomenology and the rest of the world. It takes phenomenology to do an excellent job with the boot-strapping ( a la’ baron Munchausen) of looking at our mind with our mind.

It is a little bit easier to look with our mind at “the mind” and  the behavior of a primitive organism and assume that the primordial principles of being and sense of reality could not be changed during minute steps of the evolutionary progression. Dan Zahavi talks about the book “Naturalizing Phenomenology” with four co-editors, among them the name of Francisco Varela is very familiar. He would agree, he worked with phenomenologist Evan Thompson and with His Holiness  Dalai Lama and he said: “living is making sense”. The book discusses in details different ways the phenomenology could be “naturalized” but, according to Zahavi, none of them are very satisfying or promising. The second part of the project , “Phenomenologizing Natural Science” was never written because Varela died in 2001 and also because that part would have to be more iconoclastic.

  Shaun Gallagher keeps trying the same thing in his 2016 chapter in Phenomenology and Science. J. Reynolds, R. Sebold (eds.) Intercorporeity: Enaction, Simulation, and the Science of Social Cognition. The term and the concept of “intercorporeity” comes from Merleau-Ponty  and together with “intersubjectivity’ and Husserl’s  “reversibility” they are trying to nudge the science to abandon Newtonian “objective world” and accept that of “lived world” where the experiences would create for each person his or her personal, real, world. So it seems that the phenomenology is very close to the bold revision of the subjectivity/objectivity concepts. “They also speak in favor of recasting the very idea of nature, and of the need for modifying our modern conception of objectivity, subjectivity, and knowledge. “ (again, Zahavi, p343).

   But science doesn’t seem to be ready to accept this “friendly help”. And not only sciences. It looks (and an insightful book of Adam Frank “About Time” illustrates this splendidly) that the changes in the way we live, our culture, the mores, and fears, they all have to open the door for the next scientific breakthrough. And, as long as we ride the frothy top of the technology wave, there is no chance for the paradigm shift. It would be sad if it took the global environmental catastrophe to find our way into our minds.

Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception or Shaking off the Dualism of Descartes.

 

 

        Writing about the cogito Merleau- Ponty says: “Insofar as, when I reflect on the essence of subjectivity, I find it bound up with that of the body and that of the world, this is because my existence as subjectivity (= consciousness) is merely one with my existence as a body and with the existence of the world, and because the subject that I am, when taken concretely, is inseparable from this body and this world.” Phenomenology, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

         It sounds so benign: “cogito ergo sum”. But it sounds benign for a reason- it actually sums up the intellectual grounds of humanity, the way humans feel the reality in its core- “this is me, my small subjective world, and that is the huge, marvelous, but separate, if not mine, then whose, objective world.” All philosophies are built with that automatic assumption at the core.

While fighting with each other, the theists and the atheists, Plato’s idealists and Stephen Hawking’s scientists, nobody messes with the subjectivity versus objectivity divide concept.

It feels beyond philosophy; it feels like linguistics.    

       I think this is the reason, from my paltry readings, both Husserl and Merleau-Ponty sound so, so… painstaking. As their new approach, their method would require this extremely honest and disciplined explanation of the philosopher’s personal experience. They had to explain the nuances in the meaning and explain the process of the concept development because the history and “the establishment” of traditional thought was so old and enormous.  They, Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, sound as if they were trying first and foremost to convince themselves of some odd truth, actually creating it as they proceeded. This truth or this method would attempt to put our intuitive feeling about reality upside down. If proven scientifically, it would be more ground-breaking than Nietzsche’ s killing of  God. These concepts combine perception, movement and intentionality in one conscious experience of a being engaged into the world.

“ How the body inhabits space ( and time, for that matter) can be seen more clearly by considering the body in motion because the movement is not content with passively undergoing space and time, it actively assumes them, it takes them up in their original signification that is effaced in the banality of established situations.” Merleau-Ponty, The spatiality of one’s own body and motricity, p.105.

     Amazingly, modern developmental neuroscience follow the steps of Merleau-Ponty, the philosopher. It was found that the motor neurons are the origins of the sensory and the thinking neural systems. Also motor activity precedes, sometimes by 0.1 second, our decision to make that move. The newborn baby’s body schema, as far as we know, is not subjective or objective, there is no duality, similar to the animals. The process of attachment, which will in the future decide whether one will hate one’s own body and be ashamed of one’s deepest emotions is a perfect example of the intentional arc. “The life of consciousness- epistemic life,  the life of desire, or perceptual life- is underpinned by an “intentional arc” that projects around us our past, our future, our human milieu, our physical situation, our ideological situation, and our moral situation, or rather, that ensures that we are situated within all of these relationships. This intentional arc creates the unity of the senses with intelligence, and the unity of sensitivity and motricity. “ ibid p. 137. Perception embodies the child and the mother, food, touch, love and the level of stress, all mixed together. It doesn’t occur in the baby’s brain, or in the mother’s brain or in between. The meaning of experience is being built and interpreted with the brain and the environment working in one spatiality and movement of feeding, sleeping, getting satisfied and happy… or not. This very real and crucial for future life event occurs in time and space that can only be called the baby’s world, not subjective, not objective, but nondual and phenomenological, baby’s world.

  Evolutionary ethology confirm similar mechanisms occurring in primitive animals. Their behavior, like seeking food or escaping a predator are directed by the “old” brain (the only brain available, in, for example, a lizard) This part of the brain, the medulla, the hindbrain nuclei, like amygdala, in the human corresponds with the “feeling” brain, with subjectivity, but for the animal these behavior occur obviously “out there”, in the animal’s non dual, only real world – out there is the food , out there is danger, out there is escape.

   Because of going beyond such a basic assumption, phenomenology has had to become first and foremost the method, the way of analyzing the conscious experience without the subjectivity versus objectivity divide, the way where embodied consciousness inhabits the world, not my world, not the nobody’s world, just the world, all the reality that any human has to play with.

    And if we accept that as humans this is the only world we have, this ceases to be only the method ( or the historical footnote), this becomes a huge responsibility and the unified force for the mankind.

 

Is Philosophy Dead? What Would Husserl Say?

(reading Husserl for my phenomenology class)

 

                    “Dead? Yes, he is dead… But not completely dead.”-

                            The Sorcerer about Wesley from “Princess Bride”.

 

                       “The entire universe of science is constructed upon the lived  world. And if we wish to think science rigorously, to appreciate precisely its sense and scope, we must first awaken that experience of the world of which science is the second-order expression.”

                             Maurice Merleau-Ponty “ Phenomenology of perception” p.9

 

     The future of philosophy is tricky. Science will continue its march into realms traditionally occupied by philosophy- the structure of the Cosmos and the nature of the Mind. But reading Husserl’s discussion on science’s shortcomings one can get a glimpse of the future philosophy as (as always) the queen of the human knowledge, with phenomenology providing absolutely necessary grounding for all human endeavors.

    Stephen Hawking, arguably the smartest scientist on the planet, in his book The Grand Design, declares that philosophy is dead. Obviously, the killer is supposed to be triumphant science. But if one reads this book further, very soon one realizes that the very same author washes his hands like Pontius Pilate and abandons the murderous plot. Hawking is interested exclusively in the building the model of the universe which agrees  with the maximal spectrum of the empirical data in the broadest possible spectrum of domains. He excludes from “his science” the big questions: what is, why, and what is the human place in this model.

   So I am not worried about Stephen, smart people are not a threat for philosophy. I am worried about the Trumps of the world, the stupid, scared and insecure people are the threat. They create and thrive in a shallow, greedy consumer culture fed by countless forms of fear and violence.  People do not read books, they don’t have the  skills and habits of conversation and dispute. The critical thinking and self-inquiry are rare.

One would say then , that Husserl, in his writings about the live world and the pre-given world of science is barking at the wrong tree. Well, maybe he is not so useless…

  Kant and after him, Husserl, both made a distinction between the noumenal world- that what really is, and the phenomenal world – that what we experience. But for millions of years animals and later humans used neither. They used a system of behaviors which helped them survive, i.e. the pragmatic “what works” world. By and by, they developed the senses,  perceptions, instincts, memory, and the motivation mechanisms of pain/fear vs pleasure. The behaviors became rules, laws, and commandments, the system became the science, and humble in-between noumenal and phenomenal space mushroomed enormously and became, well, the Universe.

Husserl, himself a mathematician and treating himself as a scientist, points out that in this magnificent world of science, the human experience comes first.  He writes:” In this world, we are objects among objects in the sense of the life-world, namely, as being here and there, in the plain certainty of experience, before anything that is established scientifically, whether in physiology, psychology, or sociology. On the  other hand, we are subject for this world, namely, as the ego-subject experiencing it, contemplating it, valuing it, related to it purposefully.” E. Husserl, The way into phenomenological transcendental philosophy. P.152. He investigates the world which can be experienced and can be shared through intersubjectivity: “ Thus in whatever way we may be conscious of the world as universal horizon, as coherent universe of existing objects, we, each “I-the-man” and all of us together, belong to the world as living with one another in the world; and the world is our world, valid for our consciousness as existing precisely through “living together”.  Ibid , p154. This world existed always, way before the era of science and should the basis for our thinking and especially feeling.

   So, science operates in the pre-given world, disregarding that its nature and origins might be not so obvious. It presumes its ultimate reality and bulldozes forward leaving humans with their unique conscious, transcendental experiences, behind. In Husserl’s words: “ Science is a human spiritual accomplishment which presupposes as its point of departure, both historically and for each new student, the intuitive surrounding world of life, pre-given as existing for all in common.” ibid, p. 163. And: “ If we made it clear for ourselves, the obviously an explicit elucidation of the objective validity and of the whole task of science requires that we first inquire back into the pre-given world.” ibid p. 163.

   Husserl proposed his new type of philosophy as the solution. Fantastic, phenomenal! (pardon the pun). “ There has never been a scientific inquiry into the way in which life-world constantly functions as subsoil, into how its manifold pre-logical validities act as a ground for the logical ones, for theoretical truths. And perhaps the scientific discipline which this life-world as such, in its universality, requires is a peculiar one, one which is precisely not objective and logical but which, as the ultimately grounding one, is not inferior, but superior in value.” ibid p.165. He argues that the study of the intuitive, pre-given world of our experiences can ground  science. And without it, without philosophy (in the Husserl’s case, without the transcendental phenomenology) scientific results will lack the experiential connection with human existence.

   In general, I agree, but I see two problems with his solution.  First, scientists don’t seem to worry about their science lacking life-world, intuitive, experienceable grounding. They actually abhor subjectivity and  are trying to be as “dry” as possible. Neither does general public: “If planes fly and the ATM pays cash, everything is fine.” Secondly, speaking from personal experience, phenomenology has little chance to become a worldwide popular movement or a Facebook’s darling. It carries all the foes that philosophers have grappled with for millennia- nobody listens to them, nobody cares about them, they are lonely and mostly forgotten. It is because phenomenology is intricate, difficult and without everyday applications.

 And here is the trick, I was talking about at the beginning – Houdini escape from the cold academic halls and dusty libraries straight to the 21st-century mass media.

There is a small chance that there is a trend in the evolution, which together with the complexity and explicitness of communication also increases the  organism’s individuality. This trend might be augmented in humans by mirror neurons, by culture, by democracy, education, and by the internet. So far it has shown up in the individualized shopping, weird hairdos, and tattoos. But maybe, just maybe, as the world population grows older, more lonely and more confused, more people will ask big philosophical questions. The personal worldview is something that everybody has, in his guts, in his heart, and in his dreams. This is the implicit worldview.

        But, what if a personal, experience-based philosophy can help a person with work on what until now has been a subconscious set of opinions and worries? Then these opinions and worries, as old and primordial as the humanity, and as important as birth and death, can be transformed. This personal worldview can be made into the explicit form, into the language, conversation, and written form. This can help a lot of people and save philosophy.

 

 

Big Question #10: What is the role of evolution?

Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another. Such immaturity is self-caused if it is not caused by lack of intelligence, but by lack of determination and courage to use one’s intelligence without being guided by another. Sapere Aude! Have the courage to use your own intelligence! This is, therefore, the motto of the enlightenment…

 Immanuel KantAn Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?

“We are what we are, we see what we see, and we know what we know, because of the evolution and according to the evolution.  Any scientific or philosophical discussion ignoring evolution is naive and lame. ” -Me

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  • Why things change?
  • Is there a trend?
  • Is there a purpose?
  • Can human mind evolve?
  • Is the history, the civilization, the Universe in its nature linear or circular?
  • How is this question relevant to our everyday life?

(It is not, you can live happily without being bothered by the idea of the evolution.)

How to work on the answer to Question #10

That is the only Big Question, which is not the part of the classical, unanswerable, basic questions of the mankind.  Adding this question to our list was partly personal, as I have studied evolution for the last 30 years, but beyond the personal, I think, the evolutionary look at the world is the part of any rational worldview.

 Examples of answers:

Ann Marshall: “To keep things interesting for God”

Linda Gambill: “To nudge us to look at the little sticker on the windshield that reminds us to change the oil.”

View more answers on Philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

Many our problems stem from the fact that we are so dreadfully close to them. They just sit in front of our fat noses and we can not see anything beyond them. Evolutionary thinking gives you a broader perspective. Modern human is also called homo historicus, as the species which has the history. But we can now look deeper and broader than history, we can look into the history of life on Earth, into cosmic space, into subatomic world, into time itself. Won’t it feel good?

 

An Interview

Well, the planned interview is not coming. I wanted to talk to Clement Vidal, a Belgian philosopher who wrote about the future worlds, evolution, worldview, and complexity. Here is my letter:

“Dear Clement, I read with the great interest your article about the worldview. I think you created the monster! You single handed created a new branch of philosophy; the philosophy of the worldview, with its own methodology, history and a purpose. this is great, this is needed. The people have a lot of difficulties when it comes  to creating the personal explicit worldview. But, I think, this work is rewarding, and the world would be a better place if more people work on it. It is why I and my daughter Sophia created Philozophy.com. Now I am writing a companion paper called “Worldview Owner’s Manual”. I am trying to shift from the attempts to improve on Aristotle, do unanswerable answers, towards something like savoir vivre  in the broad and literary sense ( I mean after one figured out how to hold the fork), something useful and beneficial for the participant. In the first part,  I am discussing the general issues, like what is the worldview and why one should write it down, etc. In the second part, there are 13 short chapters each for one of our Big Questions. At the end of each chapter, there is a “guest’s interview, an essay or a worldview story”. Again, rather than pure philosophy, I prefer personal insight or story.  The length varies- 1 to even 5 or more pages.

Some of the chapters are finished (need editing badly), some need badly to be written.
All this you can find on my blog evolutionandmeandyou.com under Worldview Owner’s Manual and in posts. Big Question # 10 is “What is the role of evolution?” I would be honored if you’d write something to finish that chapter because you are the best. But you are probably too busy to do it. So maybe I could call you and interview you on this subject (15-20 min), transcribe it the best I can and with your permission and approval, stick it there? Tom”.
He did not answer, so to avoid an empty page in this book I had to write something.
One of the best books I read about evolution is Adam Frank’s “About time”. It shows how human culture and the way of life parallel scientific discoveries. It is 158 years since Darwin’s famous book was published. Since then the view of the world slowly transforming, life forms disappearing, new ones appearing creating the magnificent tree of life connected and explained like never before is seeping into our brains, our culture and our language. It is not that it is difficult to understand what Darwin was saying. It is that every generation in our global culture slowly sinks deeper and deeper in the evolutionary understanding of the world. Scientific discoveries like the fireworks lit the road of the slow process of changing peoples minds, every generation a little bit further.
The genetics is now household concept, the dating of fossils, the background radiation, nuclear energy, and weapons- all these have no sense whatsoever without evolution. And yet more than 50% of Americans do not accept evolution. So fundamental is the role of evolution, it requires, often subconsciously, to rebuilt your vision of the universe and of ourselves from the ground up. The similar process occurred in our implicit sense of cosmos. The Earth was always stable, solid and unchangeable( even if balancing on the Great Turtle) with the Sun and Heavens looking benevolently from above. Then, slowly, over the last five centuries, the Earth moved, then the Planets, then the Suns and Galaxies and Universes swirling around us madly with deeper and deeper disregard for little bi-pedals. Similarly, we saw ourselves as unchangeable, as part of the family, we wanted our children to live better, but we saw our lives tougher than good old days of our parents and ancestors. With the invention of the history, we, for the first time, saw that the old times could have been quite different, maybe not so good. But surely the people were the same! Then, we, slowly again, started to worry about the other cultures about the “primitives” and “aborigines” and then Darwin shocked us with his crazy theory. Now we have to digest that our intelligence changed, from cave man to present, so will it change again in the future. We have to digest that our sensory mechanism changed, we see different things than the animals. According to neuroscience, our emotional and social brain changed.  And now how about a spiritual brain, how about the sense of reality,  the sense of freedom and individuality, All because of these prefrontals and reflective thinking and this obnoxious and annoying SELF…. After a century and a half, we just started to seriously grapple with this evolutionary worldview transformation, I guess we need to ask Millenials?