Author: David Christopher Lane Publisher: The Neural Surfer Publication date: 1996
E-mail David Christopher Lane directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Patricia Churchland Meets Ramana Maharshi At Faqir Chand's Ashram For A Round of Cokes With Ken Wilber When Nicholas of Cusa and Richard Feynman Show Up Unexpectedly [Also titled: Glen's Insomnia Cure] "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 TWO of a five part series --------------------------------------------------------------------- Why did I go on at length about pretext, text, context (alphabets/books/purviews)? Because in trying to understand consciousness (soul?) we usually run in two directions: deflation--hey, Crick's right, I am nothing more than a sophisticated neural net; or, inflation--hey, Wilber's right, I am Pure Spirit. In the middle of such opposing sides is relation: the connection between these two views (such as, hey, all I know is that I "feel" more than the body, except in those cases when I have a really bad headache or toothache.). What is fairly obvious in understanding a book (pretext: alphabet/phonics; text: words/sentences/paragraphs/chapters; context: when was this book written? where was it published? what mood am I am in when I read it?) can also be applied via analogy (literalists beware!) to consciousness: pretext: brain/neural net/connectionist/PDP text: "I" consciousness, personality, "the lived through sense of me" context: in what city does this "I" live; what relationship do I have to my family, to my nation, to my religion, etc. Given this simple scenario it becomes obvious that we can reduce consciousness down to its pretext (the brain) and we would be only partially correct. We would not--perhaps could not--understand the "qualia"--the phenomenology of my own lived through experiences (John Searle's "first person") if we merely stayed at the level of neurons. No doubt, we would understand a tremendous amount (and my biases lean, I should point out, with the Churchlands' for intertheoretic reductions whenever possible), but something would be lost in the reductive translation. We need text (read: the personality at its own level, at its own understanding, at its own self-reflections) Moreover, there is something about consciousness that is not merely the brain, but also the body entity (as Descartes' Error strongly suggests). Additionally, consciousness--as such--arises within a larger field, that of family relations, societal relations, ecological niches, etc. It is this larger field which informs and shapes much of what we know about our consciousness and personality. This larger "context" is essential, especially when one considers the vast differences in cultures throughout time and place on this planet. The above tripartite schema is clear enough and I would venture to guess that most would not disagree with it. Where we run into difficulty is when we start to think of consciousness as "transcending" physicality. Well, to be sure, there is a transcendence of sorts when the alphabet turns into words and words into sentences and so on. But it is not divorced from the prior structure. Indeed, each higher level is situated upon--sits upon--that former and under girding pretext. Okay, the Great Gatsby transcends a mere random collection of letters (there is a point, there is meaning, there is character development), but take out those very letters at any stage and the entire superstructure of the "novel" collapses. As Wilber would point out (or any good physicist for that matter), the alphabet is more "fundamental" than sentences, though sentences are more significant (convey more meaning, have more depth) So at each stage of explanation we are confronted with this situation: what is the pretext? (alphabet, the rudimentary symbols by which we comprise larger sets. Hint: this can be applied to anything: Atoms? electrons/nucleus. Molecules? atoms. Living Cells? dna.... and so on) what is the text? (this is actually quite arbitrary and it depends where and when we want to measure something, but once staked out it becomes the ralling point for pretext and context) what is the context? (in what larger field does the alphabet, the dna, the atoms, the quarks, etc., arise?) But here's the catch: none of these larger texts or contexts is divorced or separated from its predecessors. Indeed, in terms of genealogy, it is impossible to have a book, as such, without a rudimentary symbol system. It is impossible to have molecules without atoms. It is impossible to have a brain without neurons (A note of caution to my A.I. friends: this is merely an analogy; i am not denying that silicon chips could not in theory replace neuronal components.... Even then, there is still a pretext--sand!). So when one speaks of consciousness without a brain, or beyond the body, or without physicality, it is naturally criticized by those conversant with neurology. They don't buy it, since they know that by understanding the pretext of the brain they can actually change how the brain functions. They know the code. And there is nothing to suggest that consciousness which arises in the brain can somehow fly away from the body or code without any restraint whatsoever. But this is exactly the point about any physical or mental or spiritual thing..... Things arise from other things and those very things arise in fields of emergence...... Yet, there is no absolute separation from the quantity of one thing into the quantity of another (or new thing)..... To put it to consciousness, we have the following: neurons: subset brain: set personality: post-set or personality: preset society: set ecology/environment: post-set all the way down, as Wilber says, holons all the way up, as Wilber says, holons Yet, Wilber makes one huge "sky-hook" mistake (thanks Daniel Dennett) when he argues that Spirit is the basis of all matter. Wilber wants us to believe that Spirit is not based upon matter, but the reverse. This is where he makes his leap and where any materialist worth his salt is going to have huge difficulties with Wilber. What Wilber should concede (he doesn't) is that he does not know what Spirit is.... (i don't either). Why? Because what Wilber really means by Spirit is the Context of every pretext/text/context.... That is the Infinity in which everything arises..... Well, I don't know what that is; Wilber does not know what that is; I would imagine nobody "knows" what that is. What we do know, partially, are limited frames of reference, and, as such, we can pontificate upon them--from quarks to atoms to molecules to cells to people to societies to nations..... But let's not go to far. There may be an astral plane, but we have no evidence--at this stage--to comprehend it. We only have limited symbols which may point to it. Yet, do we admit to this contextual impasse? Do we, in fact, say with humility, "there might be?" Yes and No. When one reads Wilber or anybody (including almost all of my early writings) you get the impression that he/she/it has a lock on the ultimate truths..... Woe,, we just found out about DNA.... and that only explains the alphabet of life processes. Before the 50s we didn't know. So can we then take a huge leap from DNA to the fabulous inner regions of Sahans-dal-Kanwal? We can, but my hunch is that we are merely "infusing" contexts that we do not as of yet know exist. And by doing such we "confuse" ourselves unnecessarily. Dennett would say we are going for sky hooks, not cranes..... But it is cranes all the way up that produce the higher orders, the complex systems..... Not the other way around. What meditation may indicate is a higher context.... but that very higher context will, by necessity, be grounded in the text that precedes it. What is that? The brain. So there is no way around this--from a bottom up perspective--but to admit that everything is higher order materialism..... I could say "spirit" but that would incline itself to meaningless gibberish...... When I say "matter is all there is," it tends towards reductionism and thus is more locatable in terms of its pretexts..... It does not mean, of course, that I "know" what matter ultimately is. I don't. What it suggests is that we ground our speculations, as always, with the rudimentary tools that are available. Wilber and others with a Consciousness bent (read: Big Context takes Over ALL) will heartily disagree with my slant, thinking that I have sold my soul in exchange for quantum mechanics and neurology and evolution. No, I have come to grips with the fact that whatever my soul may be is grounded in the pretexts/texts/contexts of everything that arises within my body and without it. Thus, i think we will understand a lot more of what we mean by "soul" if we start with what we mean by "body", by "brain," etc. Now if there is indeed a context which transcends this frame of reference, this waking state, then having a humble approach to it, I would argue, will be even better. We will be more open and skeptical. Open to the possibility; skeptical of misguided confusions of pretext and context. What we get instead with Wilberian type thinking is actually a bit of hubris.... and a whole lot of arrogance (well, he is on the seventh plane.... she is on the eighth plane.... and Free Willy is stuck in the bowels of the astral). Think for a second. How many times have we engaged in arguments over inner level attainments from the comfort of our own chairs? And all the while we cannot even explain--in terms of physiology--how we grow hair on our arms.... I find it completely amazing that we cannot define this universe (which is the emerging context by which we can empirically understand our lives), but geez we most definitely know the ins and out of the astral plane and who resides there...... Materialism is multi-dimensional..... The reason it is probably nicer to use that term (versus spirit) is that it tends towards reductionism.... It tends towards looking to its primary alphabet...... By positing a materialist position, we look first for the cranes; by positing a spiritualist position, we look first for the sky-hooks. Or in the terminology I have been using: by saying matter first, we look for pretext; by saying spirit first, we look for super-context (usually divorced from any empirical referent) Now it is correct to look for both pretext and context.... but both arise in a relationship in the here and now.... Super-contexts (or SPIRIT) is usually too far up the hierarchy to mean anything useful. I could say anything to posit a super-context (Elvis, Sugmad, Anami Purush, God, Jesus, Nanak, etc.), but it would given our grounded lives here mean zip...... Why zip? Because it can stand for anything...... Yet matter is the same thing, one might counter? Yes, but it has one advantage..... it looks to its predecessors, to its genealogical parents, to its alphabet, to its cranes, to its roots...... And when such is lacking, then and only then can it make the slow climb up. Spirit--we could actually say Infinity instead--is never definable because it is by definition never ascertainable or limited. Matter is about limits, or at the least our understanding of how energy/matter interacts at a certain level (our text?). But matter is not something flat, not something grey...... It is absolutely beyond my fullest comprehension..... And yet, as Einstein rightly said (he was an Atheist and a Materialist...) the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.... Thus we may not ultimately know, but we know a little..... and that little grows by looking to its roots...... The Churchlands' also point out that development can be co-evolutionary (that is we can expand our understanding both by pretext and context, both by reductionism and systems theory)....... End of part two....... you can wake up now Glen! Part three: Ken Wilber's Achilles' Heal: The Art of Spiritual Exaggeration
E-mail The Neural Surfer directly at email@example.com
I want to go back to the home base now.