April 11, 2017

Humans are capable of high levels of misunderstanding

Thomas Nagel, "Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False" (2012)
Bhakti Vedanta Institute of Spiritual Culture & Science
Princeton, NJ, USA:

Dear Vinod,

Namaste, Please consider this carefully. I have already explained this very simply to Deepak in a previous email. 

1 Thought come from thought. We all have this direct realization in our own daily experience.

2 It is thinking that posits an origin of thought [such as Mind, or anything else].

3 Thus it is a thought that is produced by thinking.

4 Therefore thought comes from thought.


To think otherwise is an illusion, a mistaken conception of the identity of thinking with itself in its own difference within itself as mere difference from itself. 

B Madhava Puri, Ph.D,
BHAKTI VEDANTA INSTITUTE – of Spiritual Culture & Science

Dear Serge,

You said:

If we say we have a theory of consciousness, then this theory must be able to explain how the physical (sensory) signals become transformed into the elements of subjective experience.

My theory does precisely this. However, I would like to add that it should do so either in a way that is most like how science explains the most similar explained phenomenon, or in a way that predicts unexpected experimental results. Just saying the processing of visual information results in colours or invoking some other functionalistic criterion isn't good enough because we have no grounds to think it could be correct, and no way to gain such grounds by experiment.

My theory satisfies both these criteria as a suitable experiment is detailed in my book The Blind Mindmaker.

I would agree with you that the word 'perception' was not the best choice in the context - which is why I said perception/experience. However,  I was talking about the consciousnesses that I believe apply to every quantum particle.  I believe they have experiences caused by other quantum particles and act by causing changes in their experience (which causes them to cause other changes in the experience of other particles etc. ). If this is true a quantum particle can be described as perceiving other quantum particles, and its experience is a perception.

Obviously your perception meaning (1) is ruled out in this context.  But I also think your meaning (2) and (3) are too restrictive. For me a perception is just information about the world being represented in experience. I see the brain,  not consciousness, as the processor. It just encodes the output in qualia to maximise the probability of getting a suitable response from us consciousnesses whilst maintaining the randomness in its focus of attention. Hope that answers your questions.

Best wishes,


(C.  S.  Morrison,  author of The Blind Mindmaker: Explaining Consciousness without Magic or Misrepresentation)

Dear Colin and Serge,

Consciousness  in form of the conscious  self or subject already exist irrespective  of the fact whether physical  sensory signals are converted into subjective experience  or not. This represent  perceptual part of the subjective  experience. Additionally, subjective experience  is composed of cognition  of different  types. The existence  of  conscious  self is not contingent  on any subjective  experience  --- perception  or cognition. In fact, there can't be any scientific  theory  for consciousness  since theories are for the emergent phenomenon. Consciousness  is not not an emergent phenomenon. It is fundamental  and there can't  be any theory for a Fundamental.

Vinod Sehgal 

Dear Jo,

Thanks for your comments (below); I’m sorry to have taken so long to reply to them.

You wrote:

On a more positive note I agree with Nagel that the meaning and value associated with experience must somehow be central to the goings on of the world. But is it not hubris to think that we humans have some monopoly on this? Maybe the height of understanding came with the Neanderthals, who unfortunately they got killed off or outbred by these dreadful Homo sapiens oiks who believe in stuff. Maybe crows and hummingbirds understand the value of things better than us. Maybe true understanding of value is to be found in radio waves. Maybe what distinguishes human subjects from others is that they have a more complicated misunderstanding of their own nature.

Neither Nagel nor Plato nor Hegel thinks “humans have some monopoly” on meaning and value. They do assume that up to the present, we have no convincing evidence that other species think about meaning and value as effectively as we do. The alternatives that you mention are all “maybes.” I have no doubt that when and if we identify other species that think as effectively as we do about meaning and value, we will try to enter into some kind of dialogue with them and have the benefit of their experience. This would be entirely in the spirit of Plato/Hegel idealism. 

As to your suggestion about radio waves: Why should value or meaning depend upon a particular medium of sensation? 

It certainly is true that humans are capable of high levels of misunderstanding; we experience this every day and in every century. But it would be natural to suggest that this follows the principle of corruptio optimi pessima: our screw-ups are spectacular precisely in view of the heights of which (as we also know from experience) humans are capable.

You also wrote:

Reduction is a pejorative weasel word that has little to do with the business I am familiar with. No, I think reductive materialism is actually an ill-formed conception of the world held by the man in the street and a lot of philosophers unfamiliar with practical science. 

It’s not so easy to spell out an alternative to what you call “stuffism” in language that ordinary academics and people-in-the-street might understand, and which doesn’t collapse into mere subjectivism (“reality is simply my experience”) as George Berkeley’s and Immanuel Kant’s “idealisms” threaten to do. 

This is why professional philosophers, who are familiar with Berkeley’s and Kant’s failures, tend to lean toward versions of “stuffism.” The online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s article on “Idealism” will give you an idea of how  muddled the present-day technical discussions of alternatives to “stuffism” can get. Nagel is very aware of this problem, and he is correspondingly tentative in the alternatives to stuffism that he sketches. 

Best, Bob Wallace

In simple terms what I mean by stuff are the notional constituents of a universe conceived in static or kinematic terms - i.e. the same as the ‘matter’ of materialism. But physics is based on a dynamic analysis that has no commitment to matter in this sense. Thus, materialism is largely a straw man created by philosophers and mystics who want to have a different explanation for events.

All we need are causes and effects. There is no need for stuff to do that. Bringing in stuff is just inserting our brain code for events - the way they appear to us - into a description that should be purely mathematical. The mathematics are there to predict what experience we are going to get but there is no need to insert experiential concepts into the middle of the maths because experience is only ever proximal. It has nothing to do with our understanding of the distal.


Dear Robert,
I see no problem in spelling out an alternative to stuffism. It is dynamism, as Leibniz said. I may not be a professional philosopher but I have spent much of the last fifteen years in philosophy full time. I agree that present day philosophy is totally muddled. Dynamism is all we ever needed but it goes against powerful intuitions. Berkeley is entertaining and made some sensible suggestions about learning about space from vision and touch but I am not sure he really added much. Kant for me is someone who missed the point of Leibniz (as people said at the time).

My comments about humans having a monopoly on value and meaning were a bit tongue in cheek but I think there are much deeper layers to the problem than people think. The idea that somehow ‘we' are doing better than crows or lemurs, or toads or photons seems to me to make unwarranted assumptions in terms of value - and also the identities of these ‘we’. Perhaps the human subject is a rather banal confined structure that parasitises much richer modes of existence. Rather than sampling the world in the raw it samples signs created for it by neural networks that merely co-vary with the wider world in a way that assists the parasitism. Consider the lilies of the field…

But I have to admit to playing a Devil’s advocate in part. Like Leibniz I see our level of knowledge as some high point in the world. But also like Leibniz I am keen to unearth the most egregious of our misinterpretations of what our unconscious brain processes provide.

Best wishes

Jo E

Dear George,


As per (Weissmann & Larson, 2017), “Quantum Paradigm, where ‘paradigm’ is defined as [the] structure of experiential reality. […]  The resulting Quantum Paradigm is "realist" in the sense that it provides a description of what is actually happening: namely[,] the arena of all happening is Mind or Consciousness—from which mind and matter, subject and object, individual and collective, and time and space co-dependently arise."

Your framework ‘Quantum Paradigm’ (QP) is related to the quantum structure of experiential mind-dependent reality (MDR), which seems close to my monistic extended dual-aspect monism (eDAM) (Vimal, 2008b), (Vimal, 2010c), (Vimal, 2013), (Vimal, 2015g), and (Vimal, 2016d) summarized in (Vimal, 2016b) . The eDAM is consistent with Buddhist version of dual-aspect monism that includes Buddhist philosopher Nāgārjuna’s dependent co-origination, where the inseparable mental and physical aspects dependently co-arise, co-evolve and co-develop; see also  (Vimal, 2009a).

This avoids confusion that your QP framework is based on idealism, where the idealism is defined as mind/consciousness is the fundamental reality and the appearances of matter (not the matter-in-itself) are derived experiences. This version of idealism rejects matter-in-itself, whereas the materialism rejects consciousness-in-itself and the dualism proposes that both independently exist. However, all these three metaphysics has serious problems as elaborated in (Vimal, 2010d), (Vimal, 2012c), and (Vimal, 2013). Therefore, the eDAM and QP are justified.

The eDAM implicitly proposes the matter-in-itself and the consciousness-in-itself as inseparable physical and mental aspects of a state of an entity with the varying degree of manifestations depending on an entity under consideration. It seems to me that the QP is not inconsistent with the eDAM.

Kind regards,
Rām Lakhan Pāndey Vimal, Ph.D.
Amarāvati-Hīrāmaṇi Professor (Research)
Vision Research Institute, Physics, Neuroscience, & Consciousness Research Dept.
25 Rita Street, Lowell, MA 01854 USA
Alexander Blanchard
Hume demonstrated that an appeal to reason is simply not enough. As humans we rely more on the conjunction of ideas and custom rather than reason. We cannot account for many of the things we do and believe other than by accepting that, for all our lofty pronouncements on the superiority of homo-sapiens, we act almost animalistically – through habit. Hume argued against the existence of innate ideas, concluding that humans have no actual conception of the self and, through his account of causation, offered an alternative perspective of morals and motivation. Published 4th November 2011 

No comments:

Post a Comment