April 13, 2017

Understanding the self in a social context

Dear Serge,

Namaste. As I have tried to explain, thinking does not necessarily imply a first person perspective. This is the presumptive perspective that Descartes and and others bring to philosophy. It has led to the view of modernism including science that thinking is a purely subjective phenomenon of the finite spirit. However, there is no ontological necessity connecting thinking with the finite subject as Descartes merely presumed. He did not prove that. 

Again, as previously explained, Aristotle did not presume that thinking was the activity of a finite subject. He conceived thinking as the pure self-activity of the Absolute, noesis noeseous noesis, thought thinking thought. The modern dogmatic presumption that a finite subjective thinker is needed for the activity of thinking is not the basis for the Platonic and Aristotelian philosophies, although that is missed by most modern interpreters of ancient philosophy because of the inherent finite subjective perspective that is characteristic of the modern period. 

In order to rise above that perspective presumption to the absolute platform requires a completely revolutionary shift. As it is sometimes said of Plato, "Philosophy is learning to die." One has to transcend their present first person conception of the finite self as a starting point, and understand it is something to be arrived at or derived from the absolute perspective. This means that philosophy acknowledges that there is a First Person or absolute thinking that is not oneself. In the Vedic tradition this is called Adi Purusha. Religion understands this as God. Aristotle also called it theos. 

The First proposition is that thinking can think itself, without need of a finite spirit. After all, we do not know how we think. What bodily part in the brain or otherwise produces thought? Does the sunset produce thought of the sunset? It seems strange to think that something like the sun setting below the horizon can cause thought. Nothing of the non-thought world of existence can cause thought. This has been called the hard problem of philosophy. This problem can be traced back to Descartes which will be briefly outlined in what follows

Next we have to understand how pure thought or the absolute thinking that thinks itself, that has its own initiative within itself without the need of a finite subject? This difficult problem is addressed by Hegel in his Science of Logic. It involves the dialectical relation of concepts to their opposed conceptions. That is a subject in and of itself which I will not address here.

Hegel shows that starting from the most basic thought, Being, all the other categories or concepts such as the finite subjective thinker and consciousness or mind can be understood. Even if we start from Descartes cogito ergo sum,  we can understand that his identity of thinking-being as the first principle divides itself into two sides: thinking and being, where thinking is abstracted from its identity with being and identified with consciousness [res cogitans]  and being with the material world [res extensus], or content of that consciousness. This creates the hard problem mentioned before.

What this says is that the first principle thinking-being is not the object of consciousness but the source or origin of it. If we call thinking-being the self, then the self is before consciousness, so it can not be an object of consciousness. It is the self as thinking-being that divides itself into a subjective consciousness opposed to an objective world. Kant realized the necessity of this self and called it the unity of apperception. It has a necessary existence before we can specify what we call consciousness. 

So ontologically, according to this scheme, thinking produces consciousness, not the other way around by those of the modern period who have been conditioned to conceive thinking in terms of a finite first person subjective perspective. 

While Kant did not properly understand the unity of apperception in the way explained here, Hegel did. For Hegel the self was self-consciousness. What this means and why it is referred to in this way requires understanding the self in a social context, an ontology which no other philosopher has articulated as clearly as Hegel, although as Whit pointed out it is referenced in the ideas of Kant and the Scottish philosophers of common sense. 

This is already getting too long for an email message so I will end here.

B Madhava Puri, Ph.D.

Edwards, Jonathan, Apr 12, 2017
Dear Robert,
My understanding is that Leibniz’s concepts of perfection (two) are reasonably objective, although we may not be able to adjudicate on one of them.

One concept is absence of limitation. So the monad is imperfect because it is limited to one point of view of the universe when there are many. God is not limited in this way, being the totality of reasons for everything and so transcending any single point of view. The other concept is of maximum richness of possibilities arising from the simplest framework of reasons. I guess that the string theorists use that concept to try to explain the variety of all possible modes of excitation of fields (‘strings') with as few initial requirements as possible - in fact what scientists do all the time. Adjudicating what might be the most perfect system may be difficult but it is not hard to rank possible systems of reasons in terms of their Leibnizian perfection. So we do know how this world would qualify as best and can rank it as far as our limited point of view allows. I see nothing very surprising or unsatisfying about that.

The reason why I like Leibniz, in preference to Plato or Hegel, is that he lived at an extraordinary time when it was assumed that people doing empirical physics and people doing metaphysics would be the same, because the two are just different levels of the same exercise. Previously, and subsequently, ‘philosophers’ have tended not to be actively involved in practical science. The strength of Leibniz is that his metaphysics is always firmly grounded in empirically confirmed dynamics, as much as vice versa. Russell blows his own cover by referring to ’the unduly practical nature of Leibniz’s interest in philosophy’! 

Plato’s approach is wonderful, but it really does not quite work and it is of no help in making headway in physics. Leibniz’s approach works almost all the time, contrary to suggestions by Catherine Wilson and others, but very few people have caught up with what he was saying, partly because some of the validity has only become apparent with physics post 1980. Hegel worries me because he starts with very reasonable intuitions but then starts to draw broad conclusions using language in a way that looks to me bound to run into false inferences. If hegel says that Leibniz’s God is finite he must be wrong because Leibniz says He is not. Hegel must have slipped in a category mistake with his words - as so many philosophers do all the time. Leibniz is very rarely if ever guilty of this. That may not always be clear from reading a passage here or there but it becomes clear if one applies Leibniz’s principles to a practical physics problem. In a case where one is thinking pure dynamics without using any words the imperatives in Leibniz’s system show themselves to be a priori incontrovertible - very often in the sense that they have already been used to built the theory being interrogated.

I am not sure whether in Leibniz a monad strives for perfection in either of the above senses although it may be that Leibniz uses the word perfection in the third sense of a goal. But Leibniz certainly insists that a single dynamic unit tends towards some goal. This makes the description of a single dynamic unit telic in a sense, although, as indicated in my paper on Leibniz and Telicity for the 2016 300th Anniversary Leibniz meeting (on my Researchgate page and my website) there are complexities involved, as you will know.

I can understand your complaint that natural sciences often abstract away from all this and just deal with things from the outside. But there is some describing from the outside to be done and it is fair that some people should do it. Moreover, those involved in dovetailing neuropsychology from neurophysiology are very much interested in the inside view as well. I am not quite sure what oneness has to do with value though. That seems a bit of a conceptual jump.

I am not surprised if you found nothing very helpful at Tucson. Most of the stuff at TSC meetings seems to me to miss these basic metaphysical issues either from a blinkered mechanistic point of view or from an equally blinkered modern philosophy view. Most of the neuroscience contributions completely fail to understand that consciousness is a relation of a dynamic unit to its world from the point of view of that unit. I also tend to agree that there is not much on this on the chat forums. What I think people miss is that there is good reason to follow Leibniz in thinking that the deeper issues of value and subjectivity should be analysable in terms with precise truth conditions and mathematical regularity just like other aspects of physics, if only we can overcome ascertainment problems that currently beset the field.

Best wishes


On 11 Apr 2017, at 16:28, Robert Wallace wrote:

Hi Jo,

I share your sympathy with Leibniz, to whom I would add Plato (where most of this was first articulated), Aristotle, and Hegel. A major reason (I think) why Leibniz isn’t appreciated is the role of perfection and thus of value in his thinking. The stuffists (who include Kant, in his philosophy of nature) have persuaded many of us that value is merely subjective and plays no objective role in reality. So “perfection” would likewise be subjective, not real. 

In what sense is our world, as Leibniz maintains, the “best of all possible worlds”? To say that it has to be the best (because God chooses the best) and we simply can’t know how it is the best—the situation in which Leibniz seems to leave us—is not very satisfying. Why can’t we know or understand this? 

Plato in the Timaeus blames matter (“necessity”) for the world’s imperfection. Intellect (nous) is only partially successful in “persuading” matter to cooperate with it. Though the metaphor of “persuasion” is suggestive, the contrast between intellect and matter feels like another unexplained dualism. “Stuff” is still playing an independent and thus unexplained role. 

But in Republic book v Plato gives an account of what simultaneously “is and is not” (478d), which is his deeper explanation of the world’s imperfection. [...]
Feel Philosophy: Value and perfection are the goals at which the finite aims

Diego Lucio Rapoport 
Dear Colleagues

There is a notable most remarkable absence in ALL these discussions about consciouness, whether it is materialism, idealism, information, emergentism, process theory,or whatever particular epistemology is chosen, with its implicit ontology.

Never ever it has been raised that a logophysics is associated with any particular ontology. So there is a dualistic logophysics associated with two-state classic logic (principles of identity, non-contradiction, excluded middle) which is the dominant one in the sciences of nature -yet mostly unacknowledged as such. It operates by default. As Wittgenstein already noticed, it establishes a broken context. Bachelard also noticed that it is estalished by default. Other scholars working in cognition (Goertzel, for one; Vesey) have remarked that it operates "conspiratorially" (his choice of qualification, but quite accurate at that) self-feeding to the effect that it operates hegemonically.

These discussions seem to confirm this implicit-explicit hegemonics.

However, there are other more richer non-dual ontologies which have this dual ontology as a subproduct of them.

With respect to  minding it is quite clear that the dualistic ontology is NOT the case. 

So it cannot be a matter of surprise that a coherent explanation of all this is still wanting.

However pure thinking, creative thinking as in the case of music, and nature ALL operate through  non-dual (Hyper Klein Bottles) ontologies related to specific topological metaforms. 

It seems natural to pursue these discussions in this more generic ontoepistemological contexts. [...]

Bruno Marchal Apr 13, 2017
Glad to hear that, Serge. At least we will agree on this. I tend to think that all animals, and plants, are conscious. No certainty, of course, but it is my feeling from observation and natural empathy.

But the universal machine are not a new species of cockroaches, nor butterflies. It is a mathematical notion discovered by Emil Post, Alonzo Church, Stephen Kleene, Alan Turing, Andrzei Markov, more or less at the same time in the thirties of last century, when working on foundational problems in mathematics. Since then it has been shown to be a purely arithmetical notion, definable in elementary arithmetic, and whose existence can be proved, in the same sense that we can prove the existence of prime number, up to some nuances which I reserve for later.

To explain this shortly, consider a universal programming language. You can order the programs (computing function with one argument) written in that language: P_0, P_1, P_2, P_3, .... a universal machine is defined by a number u such that P_u (x, y) = P_x(y). That is, the number u emulates the program x on the data y.

The universal machine, or number, is not exactly a computer, but a computer is the physical incarnation, or implementation of a universal number. [...]

Rimina Mohapatra
Saturday morning on desire. First Hegel's India review, Pratap Bhanu Mehta in Indian Express! @pbmehta @IndianExpress

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