Author: David Christopher Lane
Publisher: MSAC Philosophy Group
Publication date: 1996

E-mail David Christopher Lane directly at

I want to go back to the home base now.

Patricia Churchland
Ramana Maharshi
Faqir Chand's Ashram
For A Round of Cokes
With Ken Wilber
Nicholas of Cusa
Richard Feynman
Show Up Unexpectedly

"as imagined" by David Lane

[With kudos to Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Da Free John (scary
isn't that i would cite this Big Boy? But regardless of his cultic
tirades he does say some very insightful things), Aaron Talsky, and
Paul O'Brien]

PART ONE of a five part series

It seems to me that we often get caught up in a tripartite dilemma,
one which is echoed in the following intellectual triangle:

pretext, text, and context


prehension, apprehension, comprehension


deflation, relation, inflation


reductionism, phenomenology, complexity


Illustration Number One:

Take a book, actually any book, but in this example we will simply
limit it to that wonderful little text published by Cambridge
University Press, WHAT IS LIFE? by Erwin Schrodinger. Not very long
(my edition is only 96 pages), but sufficient to get the point

Now if i wanted to know the "meaning" of the book, if i wanted to
"apprehend" its contents, I would read the entire tome. So
far, so good.

But let's say that I wanted to discover what "ultimately"
constituted the book. That is, i wanted to know what the common
underlying symbol system was that actually comprised the text. In
this type of quest (the pun is intentional), I would reduce the book down to its chapter
divisions, chapter divisions down to pages, pages down to
paragraphs, paragraphs down to sentences, sentences down to words,
and, finally, words down to letters.

Letters, individual (but only 26 variations in our alphabet) symbols
would be the fundamental unit by which information is encoded.

But let us imagine that I only read WHAT IS LIFE? in terms of its
letters, not the words they form, or the sentences they create, or
the paragraphs they construct, or the pages they comprise..... what

Would I "understand" the meaning of the book if i simply limited my
reading to the symbol units themselves?

The answer is fairly obvious: no.

Why? Because the letters "a" or "b" or "z" do not, indeed cannot,
convey the meaning as isolated units. They begin to form meaning
when they conjoin and develop a larger complex, a larger

Okay, so now we understand something called "Pretext." That unit
which is rudimentary to the book, but which is not yet readable as a

Important sidebar: as the latest studies in reading have shown,
"hooked on phonics" (Michael Landon's greatest legacy?) or the
understanding of the sounds that constitute words is very very
helpful to students for later reading and comprehension. Indeed, as
good as "wholistic" reading may be, phonics is even more helpful at
a fundamental level. The reason why is pretty obvious: the more one
grounds her self in "pre-text" the more secure the formation will be
when one moves "up" to "textual understanding." Why? Because there
will be less con-fusion of word or sentence formation.


But now let us imagine that we have understood pretext (symbols,
or the alphabet in our example) and text (the larger complex which
words and sentences and paragraphs develop). Is that all that is
necessary to "comprehend" (I am consciously using a different word
than "apprehend" at this stage) Schrodinger's book, WHAT IS LIFE?

Well, yes and no. Yes, because clearly i can get a fairly decent
sense of what our quantum theorist is trying to convey.

No, because there are certain things "around" or "beyond" the text
which the book cannot convey, but which strangely enough is demanded
for better comprehension.

That missing something is not pretext, or text, but Context. 

Context can range from the very simple: the paper quality, the
binding, the typography, the smell of the book (anyone who has read
books published in India will immediately know what i am talking
about) to the very complex: What year was the book published? What
prior knowledge of math, of physics, of astronomy, of biology is
necessary to better engage the text? Moreover, what is my mood? What
country am I in? What religious/scientific beliefs do I bring to the
text? Is it nighttime? Is the T.V. on?

Silly questions? Not really, since this larger infusing
environment--ranging from the rudimentary to the baneful to the
sophisticated--plays an important factor in any reading of any book
at any time. Context is the larger arena by which any text, formed
by any pretext, is understood.

Pretext: rudimentary/fundamental

Text: instrumental/informative

Context: bounding/eliciting/forming

And, as such, a pretext can "evolve" itself into a text which in
turn "evolves" itself into a context.... So that a context in a
different situation can become the pretext to a new text which
itself is housed by a new context.... And so on and so on. Or, as
Ken Wilber would have it, "holons, holons, and more holons." Each
holon, as Wilber would suggest, comprised of holonic parts, but
which itself acts a holonic part (I know it sounds oxymoronic... but
that's the point) of some larger holon.

Atoms have parts (electrons and protons, for instance), but an atom
is "part" of something larger (molecules).

Molecules have parts (atoms of varying weights).j, but a molecule is 
"part" of something larger (cells).

Cells have parts (molecular bonding), but a cell is "part" of
something larger (a simple organism).


Which leads to brains have parts (neurons, axions, synapses....),
but a brain is "part" of something larger (the human body).

The human body has parts (the brain, the heart, the liver....), but
the human body is "part" of something larger (family/environment)...

And so on.


Okay, so who cares?

Well, it seems as if we are always struggling with this dilemma:

reduce or inflate?

pretext or context?

What Wilber suggests, though I don't think he is aware of how
thoroughly materialistic his system can be, is that science tends
towards reductionism, towards Occam's razor, towards Churchland's
intertheoretic explanations, and that is its great strength... It
tends to explain things more simply.... and by more simply we mean
more "fundamentally."

For this reason it usually kicks butt on any or all "inflated"
theories (context which seems divorced from pretext?).

But reductionism can in fact "go too far." And what i mean by "too
far" is that it can actually become anti-informational when such
reductionism to echo the words of Dennett becomes "cheap."

What is cheap reductionism?

Let's go back to our book, WHAT IS LIFE?

Remember that we can reduce the text to a series of letters, and
such reductionism would be very very helpful at first. Indeed, it
would give us a tremendous grasp of what we could or perhaps could
not do with such a symbol system. 

But let's imagine that i wanted to "reduce" even further. I find
that the letters are made of little lines, so that a "W" looks like
two "V's (VV) conjoined. We can even go farther and see that all
letters in print are made of tiny atoms which are themselves made up
of atoms, and the atoms are (eventually) made of quarks.... and
quarks? Well, super-strings in nth-dimension are vibrating at a
frequency below Planck's constant, which is not /l at any
perceptive level.....

See, we have gone too far. It is nice to say that words are nothing
more than the congealed results of trapped electrons but it adds
very little in terms of instrumental or pivotal information. To be
sure, it helps to understand other things about our universe, but
given the complexity of letters it does not add to our present
domain-related discussion.

We have made a classic boundary skip, category collapse, and we have
indulged in "cheap" (not very worthwhile) reductionism.

Yet, this does not mean that reductionism is bad, it just means that
reductionism is quite useful in the right domain.... Reduce too much
and we lose. Don't reduce and we inflate too much.

Having said all this, it is obvious that the direction of science
must always be, fundamentally, in the path of "reducing" as far as
it can go while remaining useful and informational. 

Let us see how this works across disciplines:

physics (looks to math, perhaps our most precise and accurate
"human" language)

chemistry (looks to physics, especially quantum mechanics--just see
the work of Linus Pauling)

biology, especially molecular biology (looks to chemistry; just
think of Watson and Crick and the double helix model of DNA)

psychology (looks, or perhaps they should!) to neuroscience, the
study of the brain (Why? Because the greatest progress in psychology
has not come from Freud or Jung.... It has come from those pioneers
who have grounded their studies in evolutionary brain science....
Just think to yourself when you get a headache: should i call
1-900-shaman or should i take an excedrin extra strength? I would
have mentioned Prozac, but i was thinking about cross-posting this
to alt.religion.scientology!)

sociology (looks bad, but if it is to have a future, it should tend
towards biology/psychology/evolution). I know nobody likes
Sociobiology (its "new" name is evolutionary psychology--cool, now
we can do what E.O. Wilson has been talking about for some twenty
years). A sociology grounded in evolutionary theory may actually
come up with some revolutionary and cross-cultural predictions. Get
rid of Marx, but not his reductionistic spirit, and hitch it to
evolution and sociology may go some where. (I know from which I
speak on this subject, having earned my Ph.D. in the sociology of
knowledge... so i know too well its weaknesses)

Now each of these disciplines "succeeds" when they discover their
basic alphabet, their basic pretext. That has to be done and is the
key to any further scientific progress. Below is a very simplistic
look at various pretext/alphabets:

physics: at the subatomic level it is clearly quantum mechanics, and
its sophisticated reworking Q.E.D., which is so fudging precise that
no theory rivals it in terms of accuracy.

molecular biology: DNA as everyone knows is the blueprint for all

evolutionary biology: natural selection. Darwin's contribution, as
Dennett so rightly points out, is probably the single greatest
thought given to man.

But let's go back to WHAT IS LIFE?

Can i get a Q.E.D. reading of it?
Can i get a DNA reading of it?
Can i get a natural selection reading of it?

Yea, but it is not going to be as useful or as informative as
understanding the English language at its own level.

So let's jump domains and cut to the chase:

Metaphors coming (literalists beware!)

1. The brain is a text
2. Neurons are its subtext
3. The human body (thanks to DESCARTES' ERROR for informing us here)
   is the context.

Now I want to understand "me"!

Best to start with the brain's alphabet... (neuroscience 101)

Then look at the brain's architecture and how the neural symphony
comes together

And then look at the larger human anatomy and see how all the
various "beyond" brain parts work together.

Is that enough?

No, because just as neurons have constituent parts, so does the
human body have a much larger context or field of interplay.

That larger context or infusing environment always arises when the
pretext and text have reached their terminus, their limit....

Thus if we want to avoid "cheap" reductionism, we also want to 
avoid "expensive" inflationism (think of "fake" or "monopoly"

How this simple understanding relates to consciousness and the like
will be explored in PART TWO.