Pretext: Part Two

Author: David Christopher Lane
Publisher: The Neural Surfer
Publication date: 1996

E-mail David Christopher Lane directly at dlane@weber.ucsd.edu

I want to go back to the home base now.

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 dlane@weber.ucsd.edu

I want to go back to the home base now.

Make your own free website on Tripod.com